In the yoga classes that I teach, I so often tell my students to grip the matt with their toes. When gripping the mat like this, toes trigger the hamstrings to light up, engaging the entire legs. Instead of simply taking the form of the pose, the legs now form a stable base. Instead of standing on top of the mat, the feet press into it, grounding down, gripping, planting. Try to push this person over; it is much harder. This person is balanced. This person can now move freely in their upper body, be taller, lift up. This person can grow.
I understand this concept in yoga: root down to rise up. It makes sense to me. And it works in every pose: first find a steady footing, then using that grounding energy, expand out. Radiate out.
However, in the past weeks, I’ve been thinking about the practice in a more philosophical manner. Root to rise in life. These musings also occur alongside, or perhaps partly due to, the fact that a dear friend lent me a memoir by Patti Smith filled with bits like, “’Where does it all lead? What will become of us?’ These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.” Stuff like that, plus introspection, starts to mess with you.
In the middle of last month, I made a trip to Northern California. My one insistence upon planning this trip was that we must, MUST, see the Redwoods. (Also, wine country, because the theme “Redwoods and Red Wine” is too good.) Those trees, they fascinated me. Or, I should say, the idea of seeing them fascinated me. So we did, we built a trip around trees (and alcohol). We flew into San Francisco, visited Muir Woods on a foggy, misty morning, and then later, the Armstrong National Forest.
And the trees! They didn’t disappoint. Think about this. Something that has been standing for a thousand plus years. Something as old as Roman ruins. Something that has watched and outstood generations and technological advancements. Electricity, internet, pagers, mp3 players (not that that is much of a feat), flip phones. Something that if it knew our petty worries and fears would surely laugh. Something that has been standing, living, next to its neighbor for centuries. Something that has a millennium-long lease on a patch of earth. Something more permanent that tragedies and loves. Yet, something that is simply wood. Simply a tree. These trees know things.
I was absolutely struck by the idea that we are temporary, passing. That there is a deeper wisdom. And, yes, I realize that I am quickly and dangerously approaching hippie-talk. And, yes, I will admit that I hugged a Redwood on this trip. And, yes, I do recognize that that is frowned upon by the National Parks Service.
These huge trees, these goliaths, mammoths, pillars, need roots. As tall as they grow, they must have an extensive root system. If that fails, the tree falls. The tree never grows to be a Redwood Redwood. It dies as a sapling, or it falls as an adolescent, or perhaps more tragically, as an adult. (Does it make a sound?) It does not live to its sky-high, eon-long, potential. So it must root to rise.
And, so, again, here I am confronted by the idea. Yet, I have difficulty rooting in small and big life things. I move away. I have an erratic shower schedule (to clarify, I shower, just at odd times). I shy away from long-term relationships. I change with seasons. I cut my hair. I am always looking for the next thing. Looking for the propelling thing. In a strange way, I usually feel grounded by my constants – family, faith, philosophy, friends, yoga – yet, I feel free, unrooted.
However, as I am facing a move in a month, a new place, a new phase, I finally, and ironically, feel my most rooted. A year out of school, I have created a world back at home. New jobs, friends, practices, relationships, goals. I feel confident and excited, established and wildly happy here. Yet, it is time to rise.
The ironic part about roots is the father they go down, the farther the tree can move from them. The more we twist and tangle ourselves with people and places and ideas, supposedly, the more we should be about to grow from them. But we are still connected. Smith says, “We went our separate ways, but within walking distance of one another.” We are always in walking distance of our feet. I have sometimes been afraid to root to something for fear that it traps me, limits me. But isn’t this the opposite of the truth.
Does a Redwood know that it is a Redwood when it is but a sapling? Is it aware of its monstrous potential? Are we aware of ours? I am fascinated and terrified by the prospect of the distance between my toes and the tips of my finger.
I cannot fear my roots, or losing them. They do not hold us, they exponentially enable us.
We can be bigger, stronger, taller, lighter even with commitment. Let us not fall easily.