Understanding Nature to Understand Myself through Yoga & Permaculture

I am living evidence of my connection to Nature. When I walk out into the cold and look down to my bare arms I see the hairs on my skin standing up. In the heat of summer my skin begins to sweat. There is a direct connection between my physical body and the external world. Spending time connecting with Nature I realise how many patterns we share. The pores of my skin interlock like the scales of a pinecone; the bronchiole of my lungs branch out like tree branches; when I stretch my toes forward and press my heels down my trunk rises up, just as the trunk of a tree rises up from its roots.

As a specie we are rapidly losing out connection with Nature and our sensitivity to its inherent intelligence. I may feel this as I begin exploring the work of my feet in my practice of the Standing Poses: toes may be numb or frozen from years of blocking their connection to the Earth by encasing them in shoes. When I am out of touch I lose sensitivity and understanding.

Permaculture observes principles found in nature to guide us to rebuild this understanding. I can use these principles to reflect on my practice of Yoga and recognise its potential to connect me to the Natural world...

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8 Unearthing Abundances with Yoga and Permaculture

Permaculture and Yoga are two systems which give guidance for how to live integrated, balanced lifestyles. In this article I will explore how the two systems speak similar languages and what they can reveal to us on the topics of abundance and wealth.

Permaculture has it’s roots in farming. It’s pioneer, Bill Mollison, in the 60s began to explore holistic approaches to design for agriculture, many of which had been employed by our ancestors for years but brushed by the wayside to make space for industrial mass food production. The Permaculture approach recognises that humans are but one element amongst many, in a vast and complex system of life, and that for our survival to be secured we must understand and respect our place within it. Since its conception permaculture has become a design philosophy which has multitudinous applications, from land, to community, to the self.

In a technical sense Yoga refers to a far reaching range of ‘values, attitudes and techniques that has developed in India over the past five millennia’. The word ‘Yoga’ comes from the verbal root ‘to yoke’, implying ‘union’. Amongst many definitions yoga can be equated to a state of ‘ecstasy’ in which one becomes liberated. George Feuerstein, in his book ‘The Yoga Tradition’ succinctly describes how ‘liberation is not a technique but a way of being in the world without being of it’. This suggests having an understanding of the systems of this earth without being overly reliant on them. Yoga shares a common aim with Permaculture for finding unity in the world through a deep understanding of oneself, one’s environment and our higher purpose within it.

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Problem Solution

We all encounter problems in life, big ones and small ones. We can get engrossed in the difficulty of the problem and it seems as though we have no option but to turn the other way and run. Within every problem that we encounter, though, there is a lesson to be learnt which is especially apt to us individually. If we think of a map, the problems are like the turning points in the route to where we need to go. If we keep diverting the problem we end up walking in circles, ending up again and again at the same spot.

Within every problem there is a solution. All too often we are concerned only with the problem. To use physical ailments as an example, when an imbalance emerges in the body it is possible to accept it as something that we have to endure and allow it becomes a part of us, a part of our story. With this attitude we deny our agency in matters relating to health. Whatever the reason, whether it is fear of engaging with problem or lack of curiosity to explore it more deeply, we limit our growth and our potential. When we experience imbalance in the body we have a choice to find solutions.

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Change is the law of nature

‘This too shall pass’
        -Persian proverb

Change happens. Just as the seasons turn, the moon waxes and wanes, the tides come in and out, creatures live and die, and so must everything in life change. Even the deserts, even the seas, even the mountains will change. Change is the only thing of which we can be sure. Over the years our bodies will change with age, but also daily there will be changes and also in our emotions, mental state and importantly our awareness. This is why we practise every day, so that we might observe this phenomenon of nature in ourselves. We use our yoga practice as the constant by which we can measure the ephemeral nature of the human condition.

This is why it is so important to keep a regular practice, especially of the standing poses because they are the poses in which we are most grounded and so most able to measure change. As the mother of all standing poses, Tadasana is like the litmus test for our daily practice. Through correct and conscious practise of this pose we are able to tune into our present state, noticing the fluctuations that occur daily, even each minute, and coming back to our centre. Yoga practice is our anchor in the seas of change, keeping us stable and afloat.

People will tend to resist change, seeing it as a loss of the comfort of the past and fearing the coming of an unknown future. Yoga practice supports us through the bigger changes, helping us to balance life’s bigger challenges and losses and preparing us for whatever may come.

Through Yoga practice we regulate our bodies and our lives through the practising of certain asanas and sequences according to our needs. It also helps us to learn to embrace change, especially in the relaxation poses and through pranayama practice. In these practices we learn how to breathe, to locate tension with every inhalation and to let go of it with every exhalation. We exhale and let go, exhale and let go of physical, emotional and mental tension or stress. There is a moment at the end of every exhalation when we are completely empty of breath and it is there we reside with our awareness as we inhale. Inhalations happen, they are not intentional; we let them happen and stay with our awareness in the emptiness. This emptiness represents the present moment. We let go of the past and stay present and let the future happen. Like this we are prepared for the change by keeping our awareness in the present moment.

Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Maria Chandler


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Can I practise Yoga and Still Drink Coffee?

Drinking coffee seems at odds with yoga practice, as per the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre (HIYC) method, as it is very clearly a stimulant that affects our energy levels, metabolism, moods and digestion - all things we work to stabilise through our practice. To explore the question of whether we can drink coffee and practice yoga it is worth considering the effects of coffee as described in Ayurveda. Drinking coffee increases Vata and also Pitta in our bodies. If you are of a Vata constitution you may find coffee immensely stimulating to the mind, it may give you a boost, a sensation of being full of energy but flighty, unable to concentrate, hyperactive, you may suffer heart palpitations, rapid eye movement or a pulsing sense in the hands and body. If you are of a Pitta constitution you may become hot, sweaty, hungry, impatient, go to the toilet more frequently and even smell like coffee after drinking. If you are vata-pitta you will experience a veritable rollercoaster of any or all of these effects. If you are of a Kapha constitution you will experience fewer negative effects and are less likely to suffer from drinking a cup of coffee as your natural grounded nature will balance the caffeine, in fact it can help to galvanise your energy levels and encourage bowel movement. However it would still not be recommended for before yoga practice because of the over stimulating effects of the caffeine on the nervous system. Yoga and Ayurveda are about balance, between the Ha and Tha energies, in our bodies and in our lives. We do not wish to exacerbate existing imbalances but rather to even them out to find equilibrium. As we have seen, dependent on your constitution drinking coffee disrupts the balance, thus it should not be taken mindlessly with consideration for its potential effects.

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Sharat Arora
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