Nature & Health, February - March 2008

 I had managed to lock myself out of my apartment during a violent storm. Buffeted by what seemed like gale-force winds and soaked to the skin, I sought refuge under a large oak tree in my neighbour’s garden. During the three years I had lived in my apartment I had never noticed the tree. It was just, well, a tree. A big one.

Then a strange thing happened: the longer I waited, huddled against the tree's massive dark trunk, the more I felt strangely guilty for having ignored this knight in green armour that now planted itself stubbornly between me and the marauding elements. Here it was, comforting and protecting me, and I had never given it so much as an appreciative pat or glance, much less a thank you. Like so much in Nature, it asked nothing from me, but gave everything of itself to me, to keeping me healthy and alive and breathing. 

My pangs of guilt were replaced by a deep, warm sense of profound gratitude. Trees are so familiar to us that we usually just pass them by without a second thought. Yet they provide us with oxygen we need to breathe, they clean the air, provide shade on a sunny day, bear fruit and seeds for food, provide support for impenetrable cubby houses, act as wind and rain breakers, offer branches to climb, and even fight soil erosion. The beautiful trunks which inside contain the hidden stories of its life, can be turned into paper to write on, furniture to make life easier and even the homes in which we live. And yet the tree expects nothing in return. They are unconditional.

For centuries, humans have recognised the spiritual, even magical qualities of the tree. Trees have become icons, revered and used as representations of gods. In the Book of Genesis, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden from which God directly forbade Adam (and by extension Eve) to eat. The other tree in the middle of the garden was the Tree of life. Judaism and Christianity among other religions have their own interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve, however, the symbol of the tree remains as the focal point of worship. A symbol of life, longevity and fertility.

There are many symbols the tree has been used for. In Chinese medicine the tree represents that between heaven and earth with its roots burrowing down into the earth and its branches reaching high up into the heavens. It is also thought that the concept of Yin and Yang originated from trees. Originally, Yin was used to describe the cool, mossy side of the tree kept hidden in darkness while Yang was the side of the tree that was exposed to sunlight.

Forests are considered enchanted because of the mysteriousness of its trees. They bewitch and captivate us, giving a sense of the unknown. The gentle rustling of the leaves in the breeze suggests a secret language to which none of us a privy other than the trees themselves. As children we are convinced that the trees really do talk to each other, whispering the secrets of life, and we spend hours with our ears pricked silently hoping to crack the code. Always to no avail.

One of my favourite poses in yoga is Vrksa-asana. Otherwise known as tree pose. The beautiful stillness of this pose always brings me into a calm, meditative state. Being a balancing pose, this stimulates both hemispheres of the brain bringing clarity and stability to the mind. It is a pose that I can move into whenever the elements of life appear to be getting the better of me. Of course I can also just go and sit under my neighbour’s oak tree. After all I know that it will always be there for me - rain, hail or shine.