Being a Tree & the Root of Wellness
Updated: May 8
This winter I've been reading a thought-provoking and heart expanding book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer is a scientist with a Ph.D. in botany, decorated professor and member of the Potawatomi Nation. In her book she talks about her efforts to study the complex language of her ancestors, and one thing she learns is the majority of words in the Native language are verbs. That is, they denote action, animation. In English, we refer to a lake or a tree as a noun, that is, a thing. However, one would say in the Potawatomi language, "being a lake" or "being a tree." What at first seems confusing and incorrect grammar reveals something deeper. All of creation is viewed as being infused with life. A lake or a tree is understood as having its own way of being. This concept extends to animals, rocks, mountains, meadows, stars, galaxies and everything in the natural universe. It is only man made items, such as a chair, which are seen as lacking life energy, or inanimate objects. I have heard before how indigenous cultures view nature as being filled with life or Spirit. But I was not aware how it was built into the very language. There's something about this that makes the writer part of me blissfully geek out. Also, there is an important lesson that is revealed. Language shapes our view of the world. The way we use our words plays a big role particularly in how we perceive relationships, in this case our relationship with nature. We can view a tree as an it, a thing, a natural resource. Or we can view a tree as a living being, with relationships of its own ‒ relationships with the land, with water and air. It provides habitats for other species and offers a symbiotic relationship with humans. In Native cultures, there is a sacred connection with the natural world. If we see a tree as a member of the "Standing People," it influences how we then treat or care for that tree. There are some parallels we can make with the yoga tradition. In yoga, one of the primary goals is to free ourselves from blockages that restrict the flow of life energy, or Prana.
In the language of yoga we might hear the term "pose" quite a bit. In English we've translated the Sanskrit word "asana" into "pose" or "posture." However, it loses something in the translation, I feel. If you are one of my former yoga students, you may recall how I frequently used the Sanskrit terms. I find the original language to have richness and depth; it feels more alive. "Pose" brings to mind rigidity, or a stationary or stuck feeling. Asana is neither rigid nor stuck. Even when we may be resting in relative stillness in an asana, breath flows, energy flows. Each asana is designed to enliven the physical body and stimulate the energetic body. Asanas work to activate the chakras and nadis to allow prana to flow more freely. In yoga we are not meaninglessly putting ourselves in various body positions. Each asana has unique qualities and physical and spiritual benefits. We draw in the very life essence of the asana. Indeed, in practicing vrksasana (or "tree pose"), we might even say we are "being a tree." Similar to Native languages, the ancient language of yoga reveals a sacred connection. It is a connection with our bodies and with life energy, and how they work together. You and I are part of the natural world. We are infused with life. As we go through our day, and remember this deep connection, we can use it to support our wellness. We can be inspired to get our bodies moving and nourish ourselves with healthy meals. We can make time for rest when the demands of life feel stressful and draining. It's about being our best selves. It's looking in the mirror and being you.
May you enjoy wellness in all ways, Kristi Bowman