• Matt

Tattoo Story - The Banyan

Updated: Apr 27


New Year's Day 2020 was cool and overcast in Ubud, Bali. Three days into the Wildly Woven Yoga Retreat, we all felt bonded and ready to take on a challenge together to start the new year strong.

To invite in discipline and drive, eight of us committed to completing 108 sun salutations at high noon on January 1, 2020. This flow would be the first time I led the traditional practice of 108 salutes, so I was both nervous and excited. These feelings were amplified when it started drizzling rain at 11:55am.

I asked around, and the other 7 yogis were ready to do the practice despite the rain. We started the silent flows by coordinating breaths and movements. After about 10 completed salutes, the rain picked up. Buckets dropped. Then lightening. Then thunder. Then fear.

I looked around at the determined faces and felt assured that they were committed to completing the cycles of Sun A. I felt pride and drive as I continued to silently cue pose after pose, getting into the steady, meditative rhythm of the challenging, repetitive asana.

As we passed halfway, all of us were soaked to the bone. We had swallowed and inhaled water. Our wills had been tested, but none of that had prepared us for what came next.

After finishing a cycle and bringing our hands to heart's center, we heard a loud CRACK. The ancient giant above us, a tree we had been admiring all week, had a large branch that became waterlogged and heavy. Finally, it snapped and fell, plummeting down towards our semi-circle practice area.

When it hit in the middle of our group, the huge branch exploded, shooting shards of wood in every direction. Shocked, we all jumped back with looks of awe on our faces.

The group looked to me for a cue of what to do. Were we going to stop? Seemed like a logical decision given what just happened and the risk of it happening again. Were we going to continue?

I looked up at the tree, then the sky, and I expressed gratitude. I searched my soul for what to do, and without really thinking, I said, "Anyone is welcome to stop now. It is your decision. I am going to continue."

I brushed some wood chips off my mat and stepped to the top. To my surprise and delight, the other seven did the same. With a big inhale while our arms raised, we continued our practice until we completed all 108 salutations.

After the last one, we all exhaled a big celebration. I asked everyone to grab a piece of wood from the branch that fell and return to their mats. I led a guided "blue-sky" meditation, focussing on the concept of an omnipresent blue sky or bliss behind clouds, storms, and fear. Afterwards, we all shared what came up for us during the practice, and the testimonies about mortality, fear, and perseverance were powerful.

Upon reflecting on the experience, I knew it was the most powerful teaching moment of my life, and I learned a lot from the tree missile and all the shares from our Wildly Woven kula. I had come to Bali considering a tattoo, but wasn't sure what to get. After this experience, it was clear.

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I found Yande while searching local tattoo studios in Ubud. Karma House is a well-known shop, and Yande guest-spots there a few times per month. Another friend had just gotten a piece by Yande and recommended working with him, so I set up a consultation.

I found out more about what type of tree we were practicing under, the Banyan (also referred to as Beringin or Ficus). It's a parasitic type of tree that requires a host tree to survive. It also grows upside-down, seeding in the canopy and vining/branching down the trunk of a host tree to the ground. For a host tree, I picked a Redwood because my MindFulOn 200 hour yoga teacher training was in the Redwood Forest in California during the spring of 2019.

Yande designed a Banyan wrapping around a Redwood tree eight times, to represent the 8 people in the practice on New Year's Day, and the eight limbs of yoga that I strive to live by. In the roots, he wrote SATYA, which means Truth (one of the Yamas in Yoga). Specifically, it means speaking the truth that does the least harm and the most good. He also included an OM symbol as a root that starts the tree design, since OM is considered the sound that started the vibration of existence, and how most yoga practices begin.

I sat for about 7 hours while Yande worked his magic. He took occasional smoke breaks, when I would run over to the mirror to check out the progress excitedly. During the last 3 hours, Yande focussed on shading the trunk and leaves, which was the most painful part, since he would go over the same (already raw) areas again to shade them effectively.

When we finished, we celebrated together. I was so happy with the result, and Yande was proud of his handiwork. He thanked me for trusting him, and I thanked him for sharing his talent. We parted ways after a few pictures, then the healing and sharing process began.

#tattoo #bali #ubud #banyan #beringin #yoga

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© 2017 by Matt Thomas

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