When I came home from teaching today, I put together a salad of sprouted lentils, celery, spring onions, and walnuts, dressed with walnut oil and aged, organic balsamic vinegar. What made the salad special was freshness of the lentil sprouts, the subtlety of newly ground pink himalayan salt and the little luxury, the balsamic vinegar. In the summer, it would be great with a new cucumber from the garden on a bed of fresh mixed greens.
FYI, PEPCO Energy Services does offer “green” and “wind” electricity. Not perfect, but better than regular PEPCO. I think there are some other alternatives in Maryland. I have not investigated recently in the District, but switched to the “green” electricity a number of years ago.
Last year, some romaine lettuce must have bolted. I have baby romaine lettuce coming up everywhere. Having reverted to the wild, it is quite bitter. It is also taking up a fair amount of space, so to be able to plant more appealing things (new herbs and greens) I will be pulling it up. It has become, in essence, a weed. Later in the year, I’ll also have a surfeit of volunteer epazote and purslane, which many would pull as weeds. Those, I actively encourage, eating young the ones that come up over and over again through the bricks and confining in containers a few others to grow larger and to reseed.
Even though it is too bitter to be palatable raw, the now “weed” romaine tastes fine cooked as a tender green. So it does not get discarded. I just won’t make myself eat it in its bitter form as the salad green that it is “supposed” to be. Instead, since it is nourishing and tasty as a cooked green, it is a welcome early addition to the garden.
Just I have challenges and tribulations from whatever is my overall plan for the garden, I have my share of aches, pains, challenges, and disappointments, in life and in my yoga practice. The question is how to discriminate (viveka) among those that are poisonous, those that are bitter, and those that can be made nourishing and sweet, through the cooking of understanding, practice, and effort.
My gardening friends have been commiserating and worrying about the abnormally dry weather. For the past couple of days, we have all been concerned that this storm has brought so little needed rain, although we are grateful to get whatever rain comes. Other acquaintances were complaining yesterday that it still wasn’t sunny. When I mentioned drought conditions, they had not noticed. If they noticed once it was pointed out, they suggested reasons why for them personally, it would still be a better thing for it to be a sunny day. Part of the reason I garden is to keep me connected with the rhythms of the seasons and the weather. If we do not grow our own food and depend on the fruits of our labors, nor are taught the relationship between the weather and our survival, there is no reason to know it. We become disconnected from nature and from the earth.
For me, connection to the earth deepens my connection to myself and to spirit. How can we know ourselves if we do not know how the earth nourishes us and how we relate to the earth? How can we recognize the light within ourselves, if we are disconnected from nature? At the same time, the practice of yoga, with its inward questing (antar-vimarsha — the quest to touch or reveal the true Self), by revealing to us the subtle energies and knowledge of the relationship of body and mind, can lead us back to yearning for a deeper understanding of the world around us and for a healthier relationship between the give and take between us and the earth. We can thus reach spirit both by being more aware of the outside and seeing where we are disconnected in our practice off the mat and by reaching inward using our spiritual practice (the Anusara principles are designed to be a pulsation of reaching outward and inward for an ever growing expansion and understanding of mind and spirit) and then knowing the outside is not aligned and needs to be shifted. All this is the process of vimarsha, like a little more rain in the drought to nourish and encourage the unfolding of spring.
John Friend talks of “plugging into the source” when we need more power to serve, to offer, to fulfill our responsibilities, and also to find our own connection to the greater consciousness in asana practice. I understand this to mean to understand that we are not alone, that when we tap into the strength of community and spirit, we are empowered to do more.
In asana, as in anything else we do, I believe this means moving and acting with integrity and deep integration, rather than just powering through things for the sake of ego or other external goals. This means softening and opening to a greater purpose before moving or acting (opening to grace). We then use the other Anusara principles of alignment — especially muscular energy — to integrate muscle and bone into our core, so that we reach from an informed place of strength.
These principles help us stay healthy when we engage physically outside of ourselves, whether it is offering someone else a hand, lifting and carrying, gardening, or doing housework. When we slow down and steady ourselves with purpose and then plug in by using our own power as leverage, we will not only be healthier ourselves, but will have more to offer.
Plugging into ourselves in this context means not reaching out before stabilizing ourselves, moving from the core not the periphery — not “telescoping” to some goal without staying grounded and steady. To plug in mentally, we remember our ultimate purpose and stay connected no matter how diverse the issues. To stay plugged in physically when we are doing physical activities off the mat such as gardening or housework, we start aligned and stay there and then use our own body as leverage, for example, bracing one arm against our side or thigh before using both hands together before moving, pulling, or shifting something. If we can keep with this practice with whatever we are doing, we are not guaranteed to be free from injury, but we are much more likely to stay healthy and strong.
Yesterday afternoon when I came home from teaching I wanted to be out for a walk in the neighborhood more than I wanted to be alone in the garden, but I also wanted to be serving the garden. I combined the two by walking the ten blocks to Gingko Gardens — our wonderful Capitol Hill nursery. It is a little more expensive than some of the nurseries out in the burbs, but I know the owner and have friends in common, I always bump into neighbors when I am shopping there, and they are experts in what grows and works in our little urban gardens. I was thrilled when they opened a number of years ago and want them to continue to thrive, so I make a point of shopping there. I bought some seeds and some planting medium for starting seeds indoors and ordered a few containers and organic potting soil for delivery.
In addition, after having done a bunch of research on rain barrels over the week, I also asked whether Gingko would deliver and install rain barrels from Aqua Barrel, which is located in Gaithersburg. Answer, “yes.” (For those of you in the suburbs, Amicus Green also carries and installs them). It took me a long time to assess what style barrel would work for me and where it should be placed. I was hoping to support a local manufacturer to cut down on wasteful transportation. I also know that given my circumstances it is critical that it be installed correctly with a good diverter system. It is good for me to do the research but then bring in a professional to make sure it is right. I made an appointment and am looking forward to being able to align a little better with nature (by using rain water run-off instead of scarce, potable water for the garden) and to support the neighborhood (by buying locally and hiring resident professionals). And I bumped into a fellow yogi and gardener while I was shopping; inspired by the chat, she, too, made an appointment to discuss rain barrel installation.
To me, this is one way of bringing yoga off the mat. One of the key principles in Patanjali’s yoga sutras is the practice of brahmacharya, which literally means aligning with Brahma. The classical translation is celibacy. Many modern translators substitute “moderation.” This way of living, is of course, moderate. It is living a western lifestyle on the grid, but choosing to consume in a way that supports friends, neighbors, and manufacturers who use recycled materials to create products that will help us all to be a little kinder to the environment, while nurturing my home and self.
Unable to wait another 3-4 weeks before the first baby greens can be picked, I’ve been sprouting indoors. In 2-4 days, with just a little attention, you can have the taste of spring in the smallest and darkest of spaces. I had a good on-line experience getting spout supplies from the Sprout People.
Tonight I made sprout slaw. I chopped some red cabbage, minced some onion, added an equal volume of “French Garden” sprouts (clover, arugula, cress, radish, fenugreek, and dill). Dressed the slaw with sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, unsweetened soy milk (if you drink it, you could substitute milk or yoghurt — I just like to cut the amount of mayonnaise), vegan mayonnaise (you can make your own if you like–sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t), and sea salt. Went fabulously well with rice and beans (yes, my diet is still under the influence of the trip to Tucson).
Next Saturday, March 14th, 2:30-5pm, is the Yoga for Gardeners Workshop at Willow Street Yoga Center’s Takoma Park Studio. A portion of the proceeds will go to the benefit of the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum. It will be a most enjoyable way to prepare for the gardening season, especially after having been inspired by this weekend’s incredibly spring-like weather. Advance registration is appreciated, though not required, and all levels of yogins and gardeners welcome.
You can come just open to what will be offered — I’ve got lots to share — but if you have specific questions about how to use yoga alignment while gardening, how to address various challenges of embodiment in the garden, or even yoga philosophy or other gardening/yoga topics, please feel free to send them to me as a comment to this entry or by separate email. I may not be able to get to every question right away, but I will try to address common questions in the workshop and here on the blog and am also always available after class to discuss individual questions.
This will be my 20th season in my garden. I know that my back garden — where I grow my herbs, flowers, and vegetables — is easily 4-5 weeks earlier than the gardens of my friends’ in Potomac and Silver Spring and the outer suburbs. It is even almost that much earlier than my front garden. I have a brilliantly sunny, south-facing, protected back garden with a brick patio that is against an unpainted brick house and a densely shaded, north-facing front garden. Not only is the back garden sheltered from the wind by the house on one side and the fence on three sides, but the bricks retain enough heat to change the temperature by a a couple of degrees. I have a special micro-climate. My climbing rosebush (pictured in the header) is already in leaf.
What does this mean? While my friends in the suburbs or those with east/west facing houses are starting seedlings for kale and spinach indoors, I can put seeds into outdoor containers in the next week or two without compunction. The seedlings I would need to start (if I don’t instead choose to purchase them from the organic farmers at the market) are peppers and tomatoes for planting in mid-April. If I start with strong 8″-12″ plants in mid to late-April (depending on the 15-day forecast), I can have and have had for at least 10 of the past 20 years, cherry tomatoes in May and peppers in early June. My greens, obviously, bolt earlier. I’ve figured out that certain varieties of chard do better in these conditions, and that spinach and lettuce do better sheltered by the fence where they get afternoon shade, so that I can have them farther into the season.
This kind of knowing by combining general book and teaching knowledge with personal observation of my little space, is much like the yoga practice of svadyaya (self-knowledge), which is the fourth niyama of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Svadyaya is literally study of the self through the scriptures. Implicit in that is the guidance of a teacher or guru. Ultimately, though, self-knowledge or awareness must be experiential. We make the effort to study and we listen to our teacher, but then we practice. We soften and open to who we (or our garden) truly are — another way of practicing and experiencing the Anusara principle of opening to grace — and then in the context of the teachings, accept who we are. As gardeners, that means accepting what zone we are in, how much shade, water, space, and sun we have. As yogins, it means accepting our strengths and our limitations. We can shift our zone by treating certain plants as indoor/outdoor or as annuals rather than perennials; we can enhance our water flow by storing it in rain barrels, but that is merely expanding the edge rather than making a complete change. We can expand the edge of our practice, but still need to accept the bodies with which we were born.
In yoga practice the concept of diksha — initiation or threshold — carries with it a sense of right timing and conscious understanding of readiness for the next level. For example, knowing I was not yet strong enough, this past weekend I chose not to try to jump from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to svanasana (headstand), but instead concentrated on doing the poses one at a time, even though I was surrounded by people who could do the transition with ease and my ego was challenged. Until I am stronger and better able to hold the alignment in poses at that level, I would be too much at risk of hurting my neck and shoulders.
In the garden, it is easy to be fooled by a beautiful weekend to move right to activities that are still 3-4 weeks premature. Even though it will hit 70F this weekend, it is not time to plant (other than perhaps an experimental row or pot of kale, chard, or beets, which like the cold). The best gardening you can do in the beginning of March when the weather is swinging wildly from below freezing to unseasonably warm is to read and plan and start seedlings indoors, just like it is best to warm up and work on strength, alignment, and flexibility before going for harder asana in your yoga practice. It will be tempting to get out this weekend, but do the prep stuff and the clean up.
Here are some favorite books of mine to get ready for planning. It is mostly more practical stuff (rather than the super glossy, beautiful garden as splendid art and architecture picture book reading) with some food and yoga overlap and a bias for small urban gardens.
The Yoga of Herbs — An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, D. Frawley and V. Lad (Lotus Press, 2d Ed. 1988)
Gardener Cook, C. Lloyd (Willow Creek Press 1997) (OK — this one is kind of cooking, gardening porn)
The Edible Container Garden — Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces, M. Guerra (Fireside, 2000)
The Bountiful Container, McGee and Stuckey (Workman Publishing Co., 2002)
Small-Space Gardening — How to Successfully Grow Flowers and Fruits in Containers and Pots, P. Loewer (The Lyons Press, 2003)
Kitchen Herbs — The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them, S. Gilbertie (Bantam, 1988)
The New Kitchen Garden, A. Pavord (Dorling Kindersly Ltd., 1996) (Also pretty and glossy, but still practical)