Yoga Bites: Baring Roots

rootsRootedness. I’ve had an uneasy relationship with the qualities of rootedness, stability, and grounding. For as long as I can remember, people have told me I’m “down to earth” and “grounded,” compliments I have hated. I think I wanted instead to be impulsive, fiery, and light on my feet. My mother liked to remind me that the women in our family inherit big, strong legs because we are sturdily connected to nature.

But despite these qualities—perhaps to spite these qualities—I’ve often found myself more invested in cultivating fluidity, movement, and instability. I’ve valued uprooting my life again and again because I’ve privileged reaching and experimenting over staying and growing in one place.

As always, my yoga practice has invited reflection about these tendencies. What does it mean to be rooted and what does it mean to move. Are these even opposing qualities? In Tree Pose (Vriksana), for example, we ground through one leg while extending from the core and reaching our arms to the sky as if to set the intention to grow even taller from the base of the spine. This posture is supposed to foster stability, concentration, balance, and focus. But never stillness. Stability is not still, but requires perpetual movement: the tree wobbles (at least mine does), requiring constant shifting and adjusting (sometimes falling), and it is never the same from side-to side or day-to-day. From Vriksana we learn that rootedness (grounding through our standing leg to the earth) facilitates change, and encourages reaching both upwards and outwards.

We might think of the yoga mat as a surface requiring the constant interplay between grounding and moving. If we go for a run, we measure progress in terms of the distance we’ve managed to cover, along with the speed of this coverage. If we lift weights, our workouts are measured by how many repetitions we’ve endured. But what about a yoga asana practice? We rarely move outside of the mat’s edges. Time becomes increasingly immeasurable as our practice develops. And reps? If we repeat a movement or posture more than once, it is never for the purpose of calculation. But we do move: we exhaust muscles, enhance strength, work up a sweat, grow taller and younger in the spine, and leave each practice capable of different forms of self-realization. This progress is all made within the space of a single 85-by-25-inch mat—no miles, no reps, but instead growing, moving, travelling while grounded in one place.

This is part of what makes the practice of yoga so rewarding: it develops an awareness that rootedness, groundedness, and stability depend upon movement. And it allows us to recognize that the opposite is equally true. In order to keep moving, or to move better, we need to cultivate—both bear and lay bare—our roots. We might think, then, of rootedness as the depth and extension that informs what happens on our mats.  What individual experiences, memories, feelings, and ideas do we bring to and take away from the mat? These ground our practice while also mobilizing its variances and changes over time. And what about the collective, traditional, and historical? There is no arbitrary movement or articulation in a yoga practice; every time we rise into Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) or connect thumb with forefinger in Chin Mudra, we tap into a rich tradition of thought and action (a science of life) that dates back to around 3000 bc. These roots might become increasingly less visible with the corporatization of yoga, but they are what fuel all of our transformations on the mat.

ginger rootIn between our attempts at Vriksana, and Virabhadrasana, there are other ways to explore the reciprocal qualities of grounding and moving. We can think about rootedness even more literally, especially as yoga can nurture vital connections between our bodies and nature. Roots, tubers, and rhizomes tend to be “superfoods” precisely because of the symbiotic qualities of stabilization and stimulation.

Think ginger root. The old French word for ginger is gingimbre, meaning “spirit,” “spunk,” and “temper.” In Sanskrit, ginger is srngaveram, denoting its  “horn body.” So it is a devilish, spirited, spunky root—both stable and unpredictable. There exists an Ayurvedic (yoga’s sister science) verse suggesting that everyone should eat ginger root just before lunch and dinner to enhance digestion, stoke the digestive fire, improve assimilation, and cleanse the circulatory channels of the body. Ginger is a powerful (spirited!) root because it moves, quickens, and stimulates metabolic processes.

Peruvian GinsengMaca root is another powerful stabilizer/mobilizer. Growing in Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina, Maca grows in mountainous regions where little else will: it survives exceptionally poor, rocky soils, low temperatures, and high winds. Maca root is sought after because of its capacity to stimulate: it enhances libido, fertility, and is said to increase sperm motility/semen volume. If that’s not exactly what you’re after, Maca is still a generous root. It stimulates the immune system, regulates metabolism, helps the body produce stable energy, is effective against chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, and can help to relieve symptoms of menstruation and menopause. A humble but busy root, maca helps to manifest the body’s most resilient forms of action.

 

 

 

dandelion rootDandelion root is just as much of a workhorse. Even more understated than the “horn body” (ginger), and even more humble than maca, dandelion root is a mere weed. We uproot it from our lawns in the hopes that it will never return. But it does. And why would we not cherish this weed/root? Let’s collectively upgrade its status because dandelion root is capacious. It is used as a mild diuretic, it stimulates digestion, it is regarded as a tonic for the liver, it can stabilize moods, and is particularly useful against depression. Again,

the power of the dandelion root derives from its capacity to stimulate the body’s channels of action and systems of movement.

There are many other roots and practices of rootedness to incorporate into daily living. But these are beginnings; ways to agree to embrace both stability and change as mutually dependent processes.

How do you balance your needs to put down roots while also fueling and feeding change?

 

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