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.
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.
It has been a longer winter than usual for DC, but that will make spring even more special. This month is filled with opportunities to start to flower along with everything around us, including your own garden.
Tuesday night Wm Penn House classes are always available for all levels on a drop-in basis with special pricing for not-for-profit workers, students, seniors, and those between jobs. Drop-ins also welcome any time at Willow Street Yoga — level 2 at 8:30 am (great way to start your weekend) and gentle/therapeutics at noon every Saturday.
On Saturday, March 13th, on the eve of Daylight Savings time, come join yogins and gardeners alike at this year’s Yoga for Gardeners. 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $40.00. Whether this is your first time taking the workshop or a repeat visit for the love of yoga and gardening, get ready to grow, align, cultivate, and rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit with joyous anticipation of spring and the coming gardening season! Suitable for novice and experienced yogis and gardeners alike, this workshop shows ways to align most optimally when digging into the dirt and also provide an opportunity for your true self to blossom. I will bel donating a portion of her profits to benefit the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum, so coming to the workshop will be yet another way to foster gardeners and gardens in the city. To register, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.
The third Saturday of the month wouldn’t be the same without the Serenity Saturday restorative workshop from 3-5 at Capitol Hill Yoga. This month will be extra special invitation to welcome the light on the Spring Equinox. For more information and to register, please visit www.capitolhillyoga.com.
Coming in April, along with the usual array, I’ll be teaching one of the special charity classes at Capitol Hill Yoga on Sunday, April 4th, from 3-4:30. Details to come.
Stay warm, enjoy the new budding of spring, and the last of the snow and winds of winter. Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Peace and light,
To see a hint of the beginning of the effulgence of what is to come click here.
I’ve been living with blooms from bulbs since just before Christmas. The amaryllis in the vase is the third bloom from a bulb I bought at the beginning of January; the third stem got too tall, so I put it in a vase, so it would not topple over. The orchid I have had since it was about half this size and have been tending it by bringing inside and out with the seasons for over a decade. It has bloomed every February without fail. The paperwhites were a gift. I enjoy a little of the scent, but find the usual presentation of several flowers simultaneously overwhelming. I have brought them to flower one at a time. As soon as the bulb flowers (and inevitably needs to be propped up somehow), I have cut the flowers to put in a vase and started the next bulb. By the time the flowers in the vase have faded, the next bulb is budding.
The cherry blossoms — this is why I dreamed of cherries blossoming; I had them in my bedroom. In a previous post, I showed the nearly bare branches from a tree that had fallen in the blizzard. Although gardeners would call bringing the branches inside “forcing,” I wonder whether I really “forced” these blooms. What I did was take branches that would have gone to a landfill, brought them into an auspicious environment and invited them to bloom. This seems to me, not unlike using props in yoga: I might not be able to experience the full opening of a pose myself, but if I properly use props, I can expand what I can experience. It is not the same as doing it on my own, but it still gives me a different sense of the beauty that can be experienced, just like bringing in branches that otherwise would have fallen or need to be pruned into the house to reveal their glory in advance of the spring blooming outside.
The last photo is of dogwood and cherry that were on the side of the street two days ago (cherry tree down at the Japanese War Memorial); dogwood in a pile on the north side of the street in the 300 or 400 block of D Street, NE. Start your own blooms, there is more winter in the forecast. I am fairly certain from my previous experiment that the cherries will start blooming in a couple of weeks, but it remains to be seen whether the dogwood will want to open.
I realize that this blog entry was in my drafts page; I never hit the publish button. As I ponder the few intervening weeks of snow (in some ways it feels as if time just stopped, except for the work that piled up and the lengthening of the light of day), I treat this as a reminder to myself to come back to “first principle” to respond with the most light — even in this unusually harsh winter:
On my way to Friends Meeting yesterday, I stopped at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market yesterday to buy whatever was fresh. When I got in line with a daikon radish, a bunch of turnips, and a couple of leeks, I noticed the way the woman in front of me in line was holding her selection: sunchokes. Her hands were held as if she had just received prasad — the offering sometimes made after a puja so that the fruits of worship may actually be tasted and injested, incorporated with our senses and our whole bodies into our being. “Your hands and those sunchokes are so beautiful,” I said, “may I take a picture and use it for my blog?” “Sure,” she replied, “and shifted her hands a little so that it would be easier for me to frame the picture.” We talked while we waited in line about potential ways to cook sunchokes and how happy we were that the farmers (these particular farmers’ must be incredibly good at working with cold frames) were out all year.
Seeing this offering of the earth itself, the farmers who tended the earth and grew the vegetables, the workers who made and repaired the vehicles that enabled the food to be brought into the city, the city and neighborhood for allowing the market to block off a street, the shoppers for supporting it, brought me back to my contemplations this week of what “first principle” means to me. I mentioned in an earlier post that my focus for winter classes would be Anusara sequencing principles. No matter what else we are doing or focusing on, it always starts with “first principle.” The “first principle” is what we call in Anusara “opening to grace.” For me, a large part of “opening to grace” is a recognition that all the nourishment we receive is a gift. When we practice such a recognition, then we practice receptivity, openness, gratitude, courtesy, respect, delicacy, and reciprocal desire to serve and make offering. How could one mindfully receive nourishment such as this fresh, beautiful food on a bitterly cold winter day, and not want to celebrate it by giving thanks, nurturing the earth, supporting the farmers and the market, learning how to prepare it as tasty and healthful as possible, and share it and other things with those around us?
My cherished friend Cynthia for who there will be a memorial service on Wednesday often said that her favorite time of year to garden was winter. She was not only a passionate gardener who had established an exquisite ornamental garden over a period of decades, but also a scintillating intellect. In winter, of course, she would tend the houseplants and have flowers from forced bulbs, but that was not “winter gardening;” it was just having some beauty in the house. Winter gardening for Cynthia meant sitting in her nice warm house, reading stacks of gardening books and seed and plant catalogs and planning ways to enhance and develop the garden come the new growing season. Cynthia did not practice yoga or meditation although she asked about yoga and exhibited her habitual, engaged and polite intellectual curiosity about my practice out of friendship.
After I took care of the house plants this morning, I sat down with a gardening book and read it while I had my morning hot drink and thought of Cynthia saying this was the best gardening time. This time last year, I was marveling that I had chard to eat from the garden and espousing the joy of sprouting indoors in order to have fresh food year round (still sprouting and recommend it to all especially this harsh winter). This year I cannot even see the containers (see picture below after five days of melting and before another coating to come this afternoon), much less any plants outside, so spring gardening will be a completely different experience than it was last year. I go back, then, to my books. I read about edible container gardening for climates where spring starts later than is typical for DC. I think about what I can start indoors and whether I will want to start with different plants. In the space of time when I cannot actually garden, I develop my intellectual knowledge so that my garden skills and experience can still develop. When I am out in the garden this spring, digging in the dirt, watching things grow, I will experience with joy in my very being the subtle and not so subtle differences from a dry, warm winter and a cold, snowy one throughout the whole growing season.
This pulsing relationship among practical experience, study, and joyous understanding is our true practice (sadhana). Steady practice includes not just actual doing of postures and meditation, but also repeated study for enhanced intellectual understanding of what we are experiencing (vikalpa samskara), and joyous, non-intellectual contemplation with heart and spirit (bhavana) of the burgeoning of combined experience and study. When we appreciate on the mat and off that there will be times for practical experience, times for study, and times just to rest with a rich fullness of contemplation of the fruits of experience and study for the joyous recognition of beauty and consciousness, then we will never be empty. We will not suffer from the confinement of a blizzard or an injury because we will know that it is time to shift our focus from being on the mat or on our meditation cushion or out of the garden (or whatever it is that is your work or hobby or course of study) and more to studying what others can teach us in words or demonstration. We will know that the more we enhance our practice with both practicum and book learning, the more we can move towards an ever refined and steady abiding of whatever is our passion in our hearts.