Root to Rise: Yoga’s Natural Connection to Environmentalism
In yoga, as in nature, we have to root down in order to rise up.
Things Yoga Teachers Say
A lot of yoga teachers are talkers. It kind of goes with the territory. Over the course of an hour, your teacher leads you in and out of poses, often offering alignment instructions and maybe anecdotes or inspirational thoughts along the way. Your teacher says so many things that some of them may just pass in one ear and out the other. That’s okay because you’ll hear what you need to hear when you need to hear it.
You may hear “anchor your pelvis to the floor” in Cobra Pose for months or maybe even years and then, one day, you know what it means and you can do it. (Inhale through your anus may never make sense, or maybe, who knows, some miraculous day it will.)
One such saying is ‘root to rise’. I have a teacher who says it many times in each class, but only recently did it really start to sink in. And once it did, it became the most profound thing ever. It started to make sense in just about every yoga pose and, like the best yoga advice, to have implications far beyond the mat work we do in class.
Rooting the Body
The cue ‘root to rise’ comes primarily from the Anusara Yoga method. Although Anusara has had a much lower profile since the departure of founder John Friend amid allegations of misconduct in 2012, a lot of the alignment instructions from its influential heyday still hold up.
The idea behind the cue is that every pose is built from the ground up. Whatever part of your body is in contact with the earth is your source of stability. (Just imagine there’s earth under your steady and comfortable (Liforme, of course!) mat if you’re indoors.) That’s why we work on cultivating strong, active feet and hands that grip the ground.
In seated postures, with both butt cheeks firmly on the floor, we are able to feel secure and grounded so we can safely turn our attention inward and experience mental freedom and clarity. If we’re moving into a seated twist, we have to first establish an anchor point as the origin of our rotation.
In standing postures, we ground through the entire foot and up into the leg in order to grow from a place of security. The seal between our feet and the ground is called Pada Bandha. We pay attention to how our feet are positioned on the mat because that sets the stage for our hip alignment (as well as protecting the knee joint along the way). Sometimes that means taking the feet a bit wider in a Warrior pose or in a Lunge for balance. Once the lower body is secure, we can experience freedom in the upper body.
In arm balances and inversions, our hands take the place of our feet on the floor and so become the sources of our stability. Hasta Bandha, in which the hands are activated through the fingertips, helps distribute the weight throughout the hand taking some pressure off the wrists and providing steadiness. The unfamiliar feeling of being rooted through the hands while the feet leave the floor teaches us that it’s ok to experiment and stretch ourselves further when we have first established a strong foundation.
Down to Earth
Of course, we’re also going to get all metaphorical about it, because once you start rooting to rise on your yoga mat, you’ll begin to see how the practice naturally transfers to the rest of your life as well. In your job, in your relationships, in parenting, it’s much harder to make things work when our energy is scattered all over the place.
That’s why we crave grounding yoga that brings us into our bodies and meditation practices that focus our minds on the present moment. Once we feel comfortable in ourselves and are able to observe our thoughts and actions with some detachment, we are able to bring our attention to whatever challenges come and rise to meet them.
Taking a Stand
Nature is yoga’s teacher, always available to demo how it’s done. Plants go dormant for part of the year, conserving their energy under the surface. When the time is right, they send up new green leaves and extend shaky little limbs in all directions. The stability and the ease come into balance. The wind may shake the upper limbs, but, in most cases, the trunk holds. Not every branch bears fruit but as long as the roots remain there is an opportunity for the cycle to repeat.
Taking the metaphor a little deeper (you knew we would!), when we ground into the earth, we begin to feel a greater connection to the natural world. As the separation between people and planet falls away, we begin to take environmentalism personally. Any blatant disregard for conservation of resources or justification of pollution for the sake of progress offends us.
As we go through our days, we do our best to make the most ecological decisions possible. We want to preserve the Earth so we all have something to stand on and so that metaphors inspired by nature continue to be possible for future humans. And all this from planting our feet firmly on the floor!