Before I had ever heard of yoga or something called “tree pose” I stood casually with my left foot (always the left) pressed against the thigh of my standing leg, watching Mom make us our Sunday pancakes. I stood like this because my mom read us the story of Ki-pat, who stood on one leg as he watched over his herd on the dry Kapiti Plain, waiting for rain to revive the grasses and feed his herd (Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain).
Every night the four of us would pile onto one of our beds for a bedtime story. We rotated between the girls’ room and the boys’, and we took turns picking the book. Sometimes Mom would read us two. We loved our books and the nightly ritual of listening to the familiar words and seeing the familiar illustrations of our well-worn picture books.
I am the oldest of four, eight years ahead of the youngest, so the books were always well below my grade level. Literary prowess wasn’t the point. Eventually we graduated as a group to “chapter books.” We would try to get an extra chapter out of her when things were getting exciting, but even after Mom insisted that it was time for lights out, those of us with more advanced reading skills never tried to sneak a peak to find out what happened next. It never occurred to us. We wanted to experience the story together.
Whatever muscular references I have now for tree pose, balancing on one foot will always make me think of the dry plains of Africa, just as overstuffed armchairs will always make me think of a little girl saving change to buy her mother a present (A Chair for My Mother) and having the heat on in winter will always make me imagine a retired piece of construction equipment living in my basement (Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel). These are the legends and histories of our private family culture, informed by our books, the movies we watched and re-watched (no TV), the games we played, the puzzles we designed, all guided and inspired by the loving and creative mind of my mom, who established (not on purpose I think) our rituals and encouraged our imaginations.
I am conscious in my yoga practice of trying to cultivate balance. I do poses on both sides, force myself to stretch the stiffer, less cooperative leg. Tree pose remains much easier on my right leg. I don’t mind this. In fact, I like the idea that years of standing in the kitchen like the big stork bird has created a permanent imbalance in my body, that childhood memories have imprinted themselves onto my bones and musculature.
More important than any ideals of well-roundedness or symmetry is the thought of a physiological badge, linking me forever to the little tribe of children, huddled close and listening to the gentle rhythm of their mother’s voice.