It’s still March, and we’re in the middle of one big and fabulous rainstorm. Tomorrow (Saturday) might not be a great day for getting out into the garden (unless you like wading in mud), but it will be an absolutely fantastic day to do yoga with an intention of readying body, mind, and spirit for the garden and to get in tune with all that is growing and has the potential to grow inside and out. Come join me for Yoga for Gardeners at Willow Street Takoma Park and help support the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.
The fifth sutra in Abhinavagupta’s Siva Sutras, is “udyamo bhairava” — the great upsurge of consciousness. When we are open and aware, we can witness this upsurge, the very pulsing of life energy in all that is in and around us, from the springing up of thought in our minds to the burgeoning of spring. The more we practice and live attentively, the more we will see the joy in this upwelling.
When I go out into the garden on the early spring days to see what needs to be cut back, what is volunteering, and what is coming up from fall plantings, I approach with great openness. When we plant in the fall, we do not know with any certainty what kind of winter we will have. Although the long-range forecast was for colder than normal with precipitation near normal (which translates into more than average snow), who could have expected three mammoth snow storms?
I plant with hope and some expectation, but am ready for the loss of some perennials, the failure of some seeds to germinate, and the unexpected pleasure of experiments working or welcome volunteers. This steady planting without specific expectation, with openness to discovery, with joy and attention to the miraculousness of what rises up in the spring, is a very tangible example of what I read in the yoga philosophy. It is how I, I believe, we most optimally would approach asana and meditation, as well as all aspects of our daily being.
Below: new spinach coming up in a container from seeds I planted around Thanksgiving from an expiring packet.
My friend and Willow Street colleague Natalie Miller taught a lovely class on Monday night, using sauca as her theme. She said that she had recently read a book that described the yamas as things we do to be better persons, but that the niyamas were precepts for our spiritual practice to lead us better on the path. In that sense, she suggested, sauca is about clarity or purity of intention.
What I love about contemplating and practicing with these concepts is that they are so pregnant with meaning; they have so much to offer wherever we are in our life and on our individual path of spirit exploration. The more we contemplate and visit and practice and discuss, the more we will discover both about the meaning of the concept and about ourselves.
The elevator I rode to my fifth floor office this morning was very full. Several of the people in the elevator were wearing visitor badges. As I walked on, I heard a woman say to a colleague, “…if you get a good one, they can do amazing things. I had a frozen shoulder, and it was just incredible the change from the physical therapist. I highly recommend [don’t remember the name].” Her colleague, who evidently had extremely limited range of motion and a limp from something with his hip, said, “that would be great, but I don’t have time for something like physical therapy.” They got off (slowly) on a lower floor, leaving me and someone I know who works on my floor.
“He obviously does not want to heal or change if he doesn’t have time for physical therapy for something that is debilitating,” I said. “He would vehemently deny it, if you told him that,” replied my co-worker. The reality is that if we want to change or heal or grow, we have to make an intention and then stick with it. Whether it is healing an injury through therapeutic yoga and/or physical therapy or a more internal shift sought through yoga, we must be steady and committed to our intention.
The first of Patanjali’s niyamas (part of the ethical precepts that are precursors to the practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation) is sauca — purity or cleanliness. The practice of sauca includes in it a literal exhortation to be physically clean. I think it also carries with it a sense of order, a cleaning out of physical, mental, and emotional clutter, so that we have more clarity. When we find more clarity, we can be more in the flow with the inexorable sequence of time and space.
Experiencing how we fit into the pulsation of time and space is one of the exquisite joys of gardening. This time of year, avid gardeners are eager to get int the garden, and it is tempting to get started to soon, to start new things without cleaning out the old. When we are more experienced (and know better the optimal sequencing of starting the garden with the shifting of the seasons), we also know that we might have gotten a few days in the 50s F, but it is still winter.
Emphasizing the practice of sauca now will serve the whole gardening season. When it is still cold, but the heart yearns for the garden, is the time to be planning, reorganizing, and cleaning to get ready for the days when it will stay warm enough for growing outside a cold frame or protected area. As I use a lot of containers, now is the time for me to see what containers need repairs, removal of perennials that did not make it through the winter, and new soil. It is the time to prune what is better pruned now than in the fall. This is not just trashing everything, but seeing what should be preserved, what should be repaired, what should be cleaned, and what should be discarded or given away. It is cleaning out what gets in the way of an optimal flow of energy to experience the greatest effulgence of nature. By practicing the cleaning and clearing out phase with intention and enthusiasm, I am present with the garden and also in sequence with the light and the temperature. In this way, just as I am when I practice these principles on the mat, I get the bliss of yoga.
At the Yoga for Gardeners Workshop, I will be ordering the workshop into (1) yoga to prepare for a session in the garden; (2) yoga pauses to do intermittently while gardening; and (3) yoga post-gardening. I’m off to enjoy the bright sunny day, to volunteer at The Lantern, and to take care of a neighbor’s cat, but I’m really enjoying getting ready for the workshop.
Feel free to send me question, as a comment to this post, and I will do my best to incorporate what you want to know into the workshop and/or the blog.
Please remember that I will be giving a portion of my profits to support the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum. Even if you cannot come next Saturday, do please consider supporting one of your local, teaching gardens.
My friend Dan posted a blog entry earlier this week talking about getting distracted by a rainbow. He wrote that he was sure that other “grownups” did not get distracted by the rainbow. As I was observing the way people were commuting this afternoon, grimly looking down, hurrying along, texting and phoning, and apparently completely disconnected to the beauty around them, I thought of Dan’s blog. I thought not seeing the sky or turning away from its beauty is not being fully “grown up.”
Part of my friendship with you, Dan, is sharing the wonder of looking at rainbows. It is the “distraction” perhaps that is the invitation, at least in my own practice, for more skill. In seeking to live the life of a “householder yogin,” I am trying to be the grownup who always sees the rainbow and takes time to see it, but has the skill to illuminate even the most mundane of daily activities with the wonder of seeing the rainbow.
I was reminded the other day of a principle of reading the great Hindu philosophical work: all of the meaning of the text can be understood from not only the first sutra, but the first word. The first sutra of The Yoga Sutrasof Patanjali’s is “atha yoga anusasanam” — now begins an exposition of the practices of yoga. Implicit in the “atha,” the now, is that something else has come before. The translations I have speak of previous study and preparation; the studies offered by Patanjali are not for the novice, but for one who has already been practicing. If we read Patanjali’s first sutra with the implicit understanding that the first word contains all of the exposition to follow and that we do not need the rest of the explanation and practice if we truly understand the first word and sutra, then I think more must be meant here by “atha” than just this exposition now comes after previous study.
In this latest contemplation of mine what the word “atha” must hold within it for the practitioner, I thought about the Anusara axiom of practice “the breath leads the way,” which has been the alignment focus in my classes for the past week. What does it mean to have the breath lead the way? At its highest level, it serves to bring us back to “first principle” of “opening to grace.” (As an aside, I note that I believe can apply to the Anusara principles of alignment the same method of understanding: the principle “open to grace,” and even the first word “open” holds all of the other Anusara principles. All the other principles and axioms are explanations and methods for living “open to grace.”)
When we let the breath lead the way, we start each pose by a deep listening, an openness to something greater, an openness to the pulsation between the universal energies and our individual self. We invite the subtle energies to support us and lead us like a great dance partner. We actively surrender to the dance, while still bringing our own skill to our part of the dance, the way the partner being led in a waltz is skilled both in the dance and in being led. In letting the breath lead the way in our yoga practice, we come to the very fullness of the present moment even as we move through a sequence of asanas in time and space. Being open to grace in each moment, in each part of the pose, and allowing our self to be led by the pulsation of the breath even as we move with it, brings us to a recognition that in each moment, we are both part of the sequence of time and space and more than time and space (akrama krama). We come to the atha of samadhi. We use the practice of letting the breath lead the way to teach us to open to grace, to find the exquisite timeless fullness of being itself in order to illuminate all of our practice. If we are already in that atha, that now, then we do not need any of the other practices or explanations, but if we cannot find it on our own, then again and again, the study and practice begins now — atha — so that we can experience in our very heart the fullness (purna) of our selves and better illuminate everything we do on and off the mat with the blissfulness of that fullness.