23 Nov '16
Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw
A very old rendition of Tree Pose; from a 7th century carving at Mahabalipuram, on India’s east coast, south of Chennai
When we hold the leg up and balance in Vrikshasana, it is supposed to build mental focus and inner heat (tapas). It is like the simpler (but more difficult!) practice of holding one or two arms up, called Urdhva Dhana, described in the very old scripture called The Maitri Upanishad from the 2nd Century. There, it says, “A King called Brhadratha . . . went out into the forest . . . embarking on the highest asceticism, he stood, arms held upward, gazing at the sun.”
As described in the captions to Figures 2 and 3, yogis hold both Urdhva Dhana and Vrikshasana for unbelievably long amounts of time. Brhadratha is said to have held Urdhva Dhana for one-thousand days and the general prescription is to hold it for 12 years! Figure 1 shows another King, who’s name is a bit like Brhadratha. He’s called Bhagiratha, and his myth tells us he did Tree Pose for one thousand years to persuade the gods Brahma and Shiva to bring the Ganges River to Earth. (This was before the Ganges River existed on Earth!).
Close to Bhagiratha, there is also a cat in Vrikshasana (figure 4). Scholars think he illustrates a well-known Indian fable about a cat pretending to be a peaceful yogi; he fools mice (seen at his feet) before he eats them!