“They [the spirits of wood] endow us with the ability to discern our path, stay clear on our direction, imagine possibilities, move forward toward our goals and take a stand for what we believe is right.”
~Lori Eve Dechar “The Five Spirits”
In preparation for my next retreat with my Yoga Teacher Trainees I have been writing about and contemplating the Wood element in Chinese medicine and the nature of Spring energy.
The magic of this element can both inspire and empower you with its various themes but there are three concepts that I feel most drawn to for our work because they not only provide fertile ground to realize our life's goals and aspirations, but they are incredible meditation instructions in and of themselves. Yin Yang Yoga is more than just asana, it is a companion on your life journey.
To understand these core characteristics of the Wood Element we can use the metaphor of a tree.
The Roots - Being Grounded
When standing in the presence of a breathtaking tree, it is easy to forget that what you are looking at is only half the picture. Below the earth is a system of roots that spread deep and wide gathering nutrients and forming the foundation for the growth that happens above the ground. Without the roots the tree wouldn’t have everything it needs to flourish and would easily be toppled at the first strong wind.
In our culture we often look at the outward achievements of someone and forget the years of "behind the scenes" work that went into their success. You can’t get a degree or build a business overnight. It takes a strong foundation to bring long term growth and success.
Being rooted as a person may not sound sexy, but if you know who you are and where you stand it, is easier to move forward with confidence towards your life goals.
The Trunk - Being Focused
While the roots are the unsung heroes of the tree structure, the trunk is the unified heart of the tree. The trunk is the strong single pointed part of the tree that supports the height and weight of the upper leaves and branches. It carries nutrients back and forth and is always in conversation with the foundation (roots) and aspiration (crown).
The trunk is a metaphor for focus and determination to reach your highest goals. While the roots and leaves spread to absorb as much as possible, the trunk stays focused and specific in its work. When you are working with a big dream, forming a clear structure and breaking down the path into tangible steps is important to avoid being overwhelmed.
The trunk energy is essential in order to put your head down and do the work you need to do in order to move forward and stay firm in your commitment. It is also important to note that focused is not just about staying on task, it is also the ability to discern what to let into your field and when say no to things that aren’t going to help you grow.
The Crown - Being Open
While the roots stay firm and the trunk bends only slightly, the crown of the tree is free to dance in the wind and bask in the light of inspiration and new perspectives without fear. The upward spreading of the branches and leaves represents the perspective and freedom that one can gain from building a strong foundation and growing with focused determination.
For example, I have a friend who worked through school to earn a degree (the roots) and spent years focused on building success in the financial sector (the trunk). Ten years ago he had the means to retire comfortably and now uses his business credibility to consult and inspire arts organizations in Boston (the crown).
He has done the work to not only live a wonderful life surrounded by music and art, but he is devoted to investing in the landscape because of his foundation, focus and open heart. Each part of his journey feeds the other parts. Without his foundational work or his focused years he would not have the means or expertise to do what he is doing today. But without the aspiration to devote his time to the cultural scene, he may not have seen the point in working so hard for so long in his business or education.
For many types of trees the crown is also the part that knows when to let go. On a yearly basis these trees shed their leaves in order to survive the winter months and conserve energy. You may also be able to relate to this in your own life. Perhaps after setting out on a path you realized after getting to a plateau that the view was not what you expected or that you didn't have the resources to continue to grow. Being open means that you can be flexible and shift your course once you have the perspective to see what is needed next.