Join in the call for a friendlier, healthier planet by participating in Earth Hour by dimming your lights on March 28th (and before and after when you can).
A few years ago — just before the Al Gore movie came out — I went to a talk and movie about what we can do about global warming. A Nepalese attorney who had been working on a case before the World Court that related to saving the snows of the Himalayas (good luck), said something that fully resonated with me. He said he did not understand why Americans turn on electric lights on a sunny day. I think about that every time I see a light on at the same time as bright daylight is coming through the window. If I have the power to turn off the light (or not turn it on in the first place), I choose to do so.
My first reaction to the switch to Daylight Savings Time this early, I admit, was to protest and whine, but still to force myself into the new schedule. This is a great example of tamas (the protesting and complaining without doing anything productive) and rajas (the forcing myself into the routine) being out of balance. This resulted in my feeling both sluggish and edgy at times during the day.
By stepping back and observing that the feeling of being out of balance could be related to the time change, as well as the erratic weather, I was beginning to bring the elements back into balance, allowing rajas in the form of mental discrimination to bring me to a place where I could take action.
Last night I practiced seated forward bends andchandra bhedana (alternate nostril breathing, in breath through the left nostril — the moon side — and breathing out the right nostril). I went to bed at my regular time and slept sweetly. This morning, it was still hard to get up in the dark, but before meditating, I practiced kapala bhati (skull shining breath) and surya bhedana (alternate nostril breathing, with the in breath through the right nostril — the sun side — and the out breath through the left nostril) in the morning to bring in light and energy. I now feel energized and light and ready to face a long work day.
By practicing in this way I used rajas, as will, knowledge, and determination, not to force myself to get through the imbalance, but rather to try and balance my energy. Tamas predominated at bedtime where it was in balance, and the rajas needed to get out of bed with the alarm led me to my seat for pranayama and meditation without forcing.
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.
After the five mahabhutas (great elements), the five tanmatras (subtle elements), the five karmendriyas (organs of action), and the five jnanendriyas (organs of cognition or sensing), come the three antahkaranas (internal organs). The antahkaranas are manas (mind), buddhih (intellect/intuition), and ahamkara (ego, sense of self as an individual). These 23 tattvas describe the objective world and our place in it as manifest physical beings and as beings who sense and think about our place in the physical world.
The next two tattvas are more in the subjective realm: purusha (nature) and prakriti. In the classical system, the 23 described above plus purusha and prakriti are the sum of the tattvas. In that system, prakriti, is interpreted as “spirit.” It is not the world spirit or the transcendent spirit, but more our individual spirit. Nature is divided from spirit and all of the objective world and individual spirit are different from “Atman” or “Brahma” what is real. In Kashmir Shaivism, there are another 11 tattvas — the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) and the five suddha tattvas (pure elements) that describe the relationship between the individualized, diverse, perceptible and perceiving realm, and the purely universal.
Purusha (nature) is a name or way of looking at the 23 earlier described tattvas and prakriti describes the sense we have of there being something more that is unifying and universal among all that is manifest, but still from the perspective of our own individual perception. When we look at nature (purusha) from a more universal perspective, we look at it from how it behaves generally, how it moves, and what moves it, as we look at the laws of nature of physics. In yoga, nature is described from the perspective of the three gunas — tamas, rajas, and sattva.
Tamas is dark, dormant, inert, and heavy. Rajas is fiery, energetic, and impassioned. Sattva is pure, clear, and light. From a classical perspective, tamas is a state we need to transcend to connect to spirit, rajas is the motivating energy that helps us move past tamas to a sattvic state. From the tantric perspective that underlies the Anusara principles, we recognize that tamasic qualities are part of nature and we embrace it where it leads us to a place of balance. At night, for example, it is better to be still and dark for optimal sleep. In this latititude, gardens need a period of dormancy in winter to thrive. When we are sick or exhausted, restorative postures may be more healing and balancing than would be power flow or even meditation. When tamas is out of balance, though, we are sluggish and slothful. We can be stuck in our ways — ways that are unhealthy for ourselves or the planet. We then need to cultivate more rajas. We use fire and passion to transform, to find new ideas, to shift our behavior, to find discipline. If our bodies are weak or inflexible, rajas helps us activate our practice to build power. The rains and warmth of spring make the garden grow. From this perspective, being light and pure based on particular dietary and behavioral strictures is not necessarily the ideal. Rather being sattvic is being in optimal balance; it is knowing ourselves well enough to know when darkness, earthiness, and stillness or light, activity, and “spiritual” practices best serve ourselves, other beings, and the earth. Being sattvic is being clear enough in the multi-faceted relationship between the world around us and our own mind, body, and spirit that our sense of spirit in all things and ourselves is unsullied, and illuminated.
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)