Witness Tree Yoga takes its name from a Robert Frost poem, called The Beech. I first read this poem years ago and have spent hours reflecting on it. Here it is for you –
Where my imaginary line
Bends square in woods an iron spine
And pile of real rocks have been founded.
And off this corner in the wild,
Where these are driven in and piled,
One tree, by being deeply wounded,
Has been impressed as Witness Tree
And made commit to memory
My proof of being not unbounded.
Thus truth’s established and borne out,
Though circumstanced with dark and doubt
Though by a world of doubt surrounded.
The poem centers on two words – wound and witness. Seeing this wound and this witness, Frost turns immediately into his heart and contemplates what these two things have to teach him about the boundaries of his own life. He ends in ignorance, curious and humbled by the reality of his boundaries and the power of bearing witness, of simply noticing.
Thus is yoga. In the yoga language, we speak of ‘samskara’ (pronounced ‘sam-scar-ah’) – wounds, memories, joys, trivialities – that leave traces on us and continue to shape us long after they have passed. Samskara may be physical, like chronic back pain, or emotional, like difficulties from old relationships. Yoga asks us to simply notice these things, to be their witness, and then to tend to them. In time, perhaps, we can let them go.
Yes, yoga brings confusion and humility – I am often as lost in yoga as Frost was in meditating on that beech tree. But it also gives us breath, mind and movement as our own personal tools to learn and grow stronger.
And we are never alone. Centuries of yogis precede us and leave us their wisdom. Indeed, we can be assured that when we explore life as they did, with authenticity and kindness, yoga promises a path to our own awakening and liberation.
Welcome to the journey.