Tree Pose – Yoga For Trees?


Last month in my arboriculture class, I may have implied to my students that this instructor is falling off the deep end. I asked them to stand and assume the yoga position, tree pose. My objective was to introduce them to the biomechanics of trees.

Tree Pose

As humans, we integrate our core muscles with our mind by combining  strength, focus, and balance to get into the tree pose. Many of us are challenged by this potentially relaxing stance. Yet practice helps us to develop the posture.

The tree pose in yoga mimics a tree and seems like a good way to teach about the capacity that trees have to stay upright. Although there are no brains or core muscles in trees (maybe we thought so in the sixties), physiological processes are triggered by the forces of wind and weight. These processes stimulate the production of wood that allows millions of trees to stand with a wide range of interesting structural frameworks.

Quercus agrifolia
Quercus agrifolia

I asked students to feel the challenge of the tree pose and compare themselves to a tree. What would their tree need to do to stand, especially as branch growth, weight, and weather impose forces upon their simple upright form?

This led to the discussion about the mechanical design of trees. There are five points presented in the book Arboriculture by Harris, Clark and Matheny. In addition, Dr. Claus Mattech, one of the cutting-edge research scientists on this topic, presents his perspective in his scientific work, The Body Language of Trees.

Perhaps the science is a bit much for this blog, but I would be amiss if I didn’t share the points that make this arborist ponder the tree pose in yoga practice.

Ceratonia siliqua
  1. Trees grow to evenly distribute stress along their surfaces.
  2. Over time, there are no overloaded or under-loaded points.
  3. Mechanical stress results in active cambial growth.
  4. A tree’s internal anatomy is directly related to mechanical strength.
  5. The manner in which a tree grows reveals the pattern of stress.

Summary: Due to their anatomy and physiology, trees can remain quite stable and adapt to some pretty bizarre conditions, thus providing us with some very interesting aesthetic designs in nature.

Ceratonia siliqua
One hand balancing

You can read about these concepts or take my class next spring…or perhaps, try the tree pose while focusing on a tree right outside your window.

How can I help you with your trees?

Treemendously Yours,                                                                            

Bill Spiewak      

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF TREES

"Mmmm...feels good!"

      

6 Comments

  1. Bill, we do see some interesting and perplexing tree architecture. Gravity, as well as loading from wind, rain, snow and ice, and phototrophic response to sunlight all greatly influence growth form. Wind load, as we know, increases with tree height, spread and foliage density. As you mentioned, trees respond by adding new growth to locations that are overloaded or under mechanical stress. They typically add only as much new wood as needed to evenly distribute the stress. This is reflected in their ‘body language’. Another way to look at thie phenoma is ‘adaptive’ growth —trees adapting to changing conditions. Look at the strongly flared base of most trees. That’s where mechanical stress from wind is greatest, The force applied by wind must be transferred to the soil, so the trunk must be strongest at that point to reist breaking. If a tree develops a lean due to root instability, wind or some other event, it responds, assuming it is healthy and vigorous, by increasing the strength of the roots on the side away from the lean. It can also ‘bend’ itself more upright to the move the center of mass over its base. That explains some of the bowing we see in tree trunks. Bowing downward is the result of gravity and a poor growth response by the tree — not enough energy to add reaction or strengthening wood..Branch shape can also be altered. Heavy, horizontal branches tend to be quite oval (vertically) in cross section. This can be readily seen in deodars. These oval branches branches act like ‘I’ beams that resist splitting (shearing) horizontsally across the middle, As long as trees add enough new wood each year they can reist the forces of gavity. As trees gow older, growthy slows and instability increases. Ultimately, all trees will fall down. Tree form is also influenced by light. Trees will bend toward toward light to ensure growth at the expense of stability. Trees at the edge of a forest or clearing grow toward the light, away from the other trees behind them. To do so, though, they have to strengthen their trunks to resist gravity. It’s really important that arborists understand these phenoma when they assess trees them for risk or prune them.

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