Root to rise

Aerial image of a mangrove forest by the sea

Tending To Our Roots

Much like plants, we all need room to root and grow

I left it a bit late, but I did it. Last year, I got a couple of small jasmine plants, with the hope that they’d become thriving additions to my balcony-garden. I just love the smell of these relatively unassuming white flowers. My love for their scent is closely matched by my fondness for that of roses, but I find that jasmine has a headyness to it that has the power to transport me to another time and place. At the time of purchasing the plants, I made a rookie mistake: I got decorative pots, ones that don’t offer drainage (which matters because overwatering is a thing…). 

We had a garden when I was a kid. It wasn’t big but it was lovely. We had shrubs, herbs, multi-colored climbing roses which draped across the small lot over the fence, and a giant and slim birch tree, which I like to think didn’t just overlook but protected the lilac below it. My parents weren’t keen gardeners, but they showed me what they knew. So now would be a good time to say that while I enjoy gardening, I don’t really know what I am doing with potted plants. However I have good intentions, I wish them well, and my plants seem to do okay. Most of them, most of the time. 

My jasmines were a bit annoyed to be taken out of the plastic container they had become accustomed to in the past months. There weren’t many options for growth for them there. But we get used to our environments, right? Not thriving, but surviving. Their tiny roots had started to extend through the holes, at the bottom of the pot, seeking something to root themselves into. 

It was time, that Spring, to uproot them and give the jasmines a new home. At last I had made the trip to buy organic potting soil, a large glazed terracotta pot, even some clay beads to help air the soil to promote root development and help drainage in their new digs (thanks, Google).

Finally, I got ready to extract the jasmine out of its snug, if inappropriate home. Gently, firmly, I pressed the rigid exterior of the pot to wiggle out the thankfully lightweight plant. Patience, I repeated to myself. Don’t go too fast, don’t pull too hard. I felt frustration mounting. ‘It’s not going to work,’ I said to myself.

So I delicately attempted to separate the external tangle of tiny off-white coloured filaments, so they too could come out the other end, not too damaged. ‘Yikes, I feel like I’m hurting you,’ I kept thinking, looking at the shrub. By then, it was horizontal in the air, my right hand trying to pull it out, the left squeezing as best I could the black shell surrounding it, hoping to ease (and expedite) the process.

I talked to them throughout: ‘I know, it’s not great, but it’s only going to be unpleasant for a bit. Look where you are going, you’ll see it’s going to feel a lot better soon. I’m sorry, I hope this isn’t too bad.’ 

I heard it’s good to talk to plants, which I hope is true because I’m doing it anyway. My cat Fifi was easily jealous of my favorite, a cluster of Agapanthus (also known as African Lily, or Lily of the Nile) which lives on my big south-west balcony. I guess it was the tone I used when I talked while watering them. She would come out and size up the competition, make her presence felt, and leave reassured, if perplexed, with a loud meow. 

I managed to finally pull out the plant, relatively unharmed, but I felt bad. Despite my intentions, rather inevitably, roots were torn. 

Since then, the plants have been carefully, patiently (according to me) repotted, watered, and have even been dosed with a good sprinkling of a high quality, organic fertiliser. My work is done. Or rather, that bit is done. 

Fast forward to the next day, when I woke up thinking of roots. I don’t know if it was because of the jasmine or because of something else. Later I was practicing yoga, my mat facing the TV where I was streaming the class on Zoom, a gift of technology given that my teacher Annie Carpenter, is based both an ocean and a whole continent away. During the sun salutations, she often invites her class to ‘root to rise’: ‘Ground into the feet, flat back, come up with arms wide, and release in ‘tadasana,’ mountain pose.’ 

My online yoga situation

Root to rise.

A whiff of feelings about the current war in Ukraine came up. So many people are being uprooted from their land, their homes, with so much violence. And this is true of so many others, in various regions of the world. The very visible war (if you are in Europe, like I am) shows the Ukrainians not only deeply rooted but also rising strong, as a people, to defend themselves, their country, their loved ones. 

I stood on my mat, and I looked out to the park below my apartment, the city’s roofs, to the mountains beyond. How about my own roots? 


I uprooted myself, and it was 100% my doing – my family didn’t approve or support my move abroad. It’s no wonder why I left, though. I never felt like I belonged in my environment. Despite the mountain peaks around, to me it felt confining, perhaps not unlike the tight rigid container the jasmine had been sold to me in. It was always meant to be a temporary situation for the plant, and I guess that was the same for me. 

‘Thank you for housing me for this long, I must find the right ground for me to expand now,’ is kind of what was going on in my mind as I said goodby to Geneva and set off to London. 

When the subject of attachment to one’s origins came up, whether in conversation with friends, or later when studying the chakras, I felt bad. So many people around me seemed to feel attachment to where they come from. Me, not so much. 

During my first yoga teacher training in 2019, the instructor, a very experienced and excellent teacher, explained at length how and why when we are not well rooted—in life, or in our base chakra, the muladhara (meaning ‘root’ in Sanskrit)—how disconnect or disjointed we may feel, and how that throws everything else out of whack. 

Some of the symptoms of a blocked or malfunctioning muladhara included a list of ailments, a few of which, like lax ankles, I’ve suffered from for a large part of my life. 

I felt my eyes widen as I listened to all the things that may be wrong with me, and noticed (or was I imagining it?) the teacher rolling her eyes at me, like ‘duh, did you not know this was going on?’ 

There may have been tears shortly after, but then again, the teacher training was intense and pretty much everyone in the small group ended up feeling emotional in the process. 

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I kept thinking: 

‘Why don’t I feel connected to this part of me, to my origins? 

Is this lack of belonging potentially making me unbalanced? 

Do I need to feel, to nurture, a stronger link to these roots?’

After the initial moment that the ‘oh no, I’m weird’ popped up, I scanned my mind, my body and concluded that no, actually I don’t feel particularly out of balance or lacking in that way. What’s my deal then? 

Images of great big majestic trees came to my mind, with their strong, partly visible powerful roots, disappearing deep into the ground, attaching them to the land they live in, connecting them to each other in ways we cannot see. ‘Yep, that’s not me.’ 

Then another picture showed up on the screen of my mind, leading me to develop another theory that felt like it could explain me, my relationship to my origins, my world traveller spirit and how I have come to find balance. 


Like many others, even you, perhaps, who are reading me, I always felt ‘different’. I felt like I stuck out at school, but bore with it, only to find myself uninspired when I got to university. I had this sense that there was something else, somewhere, that was awaiting me. This sense of not belonging, instead of plaguing me and making me retreat in myself (although I am known to do that on occasion), led me to boldly go seek out where I could feel more at home. 

First, I found that I belonged on stage. I became an aspiring singer, in quest of a music career, which started in Geneva. Yet there too, wasn’t quite right. 

The first time I decided to uproot myself, it happened after a rather romantic evening when, leaning on the window of my studio balcony, I looked into the night’s sky and asked the universe for signs. I had just finished my first demo and I had a full on baby blues. ‘So that’s done and now what, what am I meant to do with this thing?’ 

The signs came hard and fast, three within less than a week, and they all pointed me in a very specific direction: London. A city, which I must say, I had absolutely no interest in. I was dreaming of New York, you see. But off I went.

There, I found I really did fit in, and put down some roots (I did stay for 13 years). Later, I found other places too, but none were the village where I grew up, the country I was born in, or in the kind of career my parents had wished for me. After London there was New York, Paris, then Rome (though that last one, only part-time). 

I wasn’t a good match for Paris, and it was shocking how immediately I felt it. Sadly, I only became aware of that fact after having moved all my belongings to the French capital. Those two years I spent there were long and hard. I felt like I was suffocating, dying off – confined and isolated – and in many ways that was true. While I didn’t realise it for a while, I was near burnout. 

After all the moving, all the travelling, today, surprise surprise, I am back home, where I’ve come from, or a few kilometres away. And it turns out that, now, I do belong here. 

It’s through the travels, my friendships and experiences that I found myself. Of course, I do believe that our external environment plays a part in who we are and how we develop and yes, I’d be a very different person had I remained and tried to find myself by staying in the same place. I can’t say whether I’ll stay for very long, though I’d be happy to. My personal expansion no longer needs so much seeing of the world, my development now is more of an internal process. 

Knowing that, I realised that my lack of feeling connected to my origins is okay. Other people are very grounded in their land and family and traditions, and that’s good. We’re simply not all the same. 

You see, if I were a tree, I wouldn’t be a chestnut, a tall pine, a birch or a weeping willow. Or even a jasmine (though I kind of wish!). 

No, if I were a tree, I’d be a red mangrove. 

Image courtesy of the Mangrove Action Project

Years ago I had the wonderful experience of being taken to float in a mangrove river, in a protected biosphere south of Tulum, on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Have you ever seen a mangrove? You may have seen images and not known what it was called. One thing is for sure: it’s quite magical. 

I was on my first yoga retreat in 2008 or 2009, when Tulum was still a hippie spot, not the fancy luxury resort it has turned into. I’d never been to Mexico before and I was on my own so of course, when an excursion was offered by the hotel to discover the local flora and fauna, I jumped at the chance to go explore. 

The small group of tourists – it was just four of us – were taken to a trail through a protected biosphere, a lush tropical forest which extends all the way down into Belize, along the Yucatán coast line. 

After a walk amongst the exotic vegetation, we were offered a light lunch, and hopped on a boat to traverse a brackish water lake. The air felt completely still, the surface of the water like a mirror, and we admired the birds, though there weren’t so many (it was mid-November). The atmosphere was eerie and quiet. Finally, our guide dropped at the top of this light turquoise canal, a natural waterway, a couple of metres or more wide. 

All wearing safety jackets, we were told to just relax back, literally. The goal? To float and let ourselves discover this ancient Mayan waterway, simply by being pulled by the current towards the sea. The labyrinth of natural mangrove canals and lagoons were used back then as a trade route. 

All there was for us to do was to be, to observe, to enjoy, immersed that we were in the crystal clear waters. Forming the borders, making up the banks of these natural canals are endless mangrove trees. It was the most awe-inspiring, contemplative experience I remember having in my life. And I can see it in my mind like it was yesterday. The colour of the water, the sky, the very pale sand below and the unending tangle of roots, branches and leaves, mangroves as far as the eye could see. 

At the time, I didn’t even question how these trees could thrive in this environment. Because unlike most other species that cannot stand salt water, this extraordinary tree has developed multiple strategies to cope with, or release, the extra salt. 

Mangroves, I was amazed to discover, have multitasking aerial roots that arch high over the water and can branch and loop off the trunk and lower branches. 

For some of them, their aerial roots broaden at the base of the tree, and as I’ve read they, ‘like flying buttresses on mediaeval cathedrals, stabilise the shallow root system in the soft loose soil.’

Aerial roots provide oxygen. How clever is that tree? 

I also have my metaphorical flying buttresses: they are my connection to other places, to wonderful friends who are disseminated around the world, from LA to Miami and New York, to Mexico City, to London, to Paris, to Rome and all the way down under. I wasn’t made in just one place.  


Not long ago, when things got really hard (I’m thinking of the first, second and further lockdowns most of us experienced), I didn’t have the strong support of local ties. I am so unbelievably grateful for technology, because my wonderful, amazing non-biological family – my friends & I – were always connected, and I believe that at different times, this helped us in turn hold each other’s heads, or aerial roots, above water, even when everything around us felt so overwhelming. 

So for me, and for many of us, who leave home in search of a place we belong to, I say we’re probably a bit mangrove-like. 

You see, mangrove trees also have a unique way to reproduce: their seed pods are allowed to germinate on the tree and, when they are ready, they let go and drop into the water below. But the magic doesn’t end there. If for any reason they drop during high tide, the little pods can float and take root later when they find a solid place to ground. And it turns out, as beautifully explained in an article by the American Museum of Natural History, that mangroves are the original world-travelling tree: 

“Botanists believe that mangroves originated in Southeast Asia, but ocean currents have since dispersed them to India, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. As Alfredo Quarto, the head of the Mangrove Action Project, puts it, “Over the millions of years since they’ve been in existence, mangroves have essentially set up shop around the world.” The fruits, seeds, and seedlings of all mangrove plants can float, and they have been known to bob along for more than a year before taking root. […] Within 10 years, as those roots spread and sprout, a single seedling can give rise to an entire thicket. It’s not just trees but the land itself that increases. Mud collects around the tangled mangrove roots, and shallow mudflats build up. From the journey of a single seed a rich ecosystem may be born.”

Thinking of the intricate nature of their evolution, how mangroves thrive in seemingly inhospitable environments, I feel a kinship with them. 

In the tangle of their branches and roots, their travelling seeds, the refuge they become for other life forms that surround them, mangroves remind me of what I am – what we are capable of becoming, even when we’ve bobbed along in the world for a while. These trees reveal what’s possible when the time comes, when we stop, choose a spot and set ourselves up for a different kind of voyage. 

Occasionally, I have vivid dreams of crystal clear waters, and as I was looking for images of mangrove trees to illustrate my story, I suddenly remembered a recurring dream, where I find myself swimming around the coastline of a beautiful island, bordered with these emerald trees. The familiar tangle of roots and foliage I now recognise. 

Then I recall the cue from my yoga teacher: ‘Root to rise!’ 

Push down into the feet, as you rise, spreading your arms wide, and come all the way up to a standing position. Close your eyes. Feel your connection to the ground. Root to rise. 

Who knows what will come next. After all: ‘From the journey of a single seed, a rich ecosystem may be born…’