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.
How can this aim be integrated into a modern lifestyle? The systems of governance we live under equate material and economic gain to success. How to stay in the pursuit of liberation and work towards unity when resources essential to living are being used at such a rapid rate and are accessible mostly to the small few who can afford the costs? How can these two systems help us find abundance in adversity?
Aparigraha – restraint from hoarding – is one of the Yamas, or moral codes, laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. BKS Iyengar in his book ‘Light on Yoga’ explains how by the practice of Aparigraha ‘the Yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or lack of anything then everything he needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.’ How to apply this attitude in a practical sense. Permaculturist and Activist Looby Macnamara in her book ‘7 Ways to Think Differently’ advises that ‘Gratitude leads us to experience our real wealth.’ She goes on to explain the different forms of abundance we can experience: ‘family, friends, love, time, creativity, ideas...’ She cites Ethan Rowland’s different types of capital. Though we currently value material and financial capital, there are other forms of capital which hold weight. Healthy soils, plants, trees and seeds equate to Living Capital which support us to ‘grow from good foundations’. Connections with friends and networks makes up Social Capital, which, when nurtured, builds in resilience. Attitude towards life and the reserves we have for happiness, joy and enthusiasm combine to make up Health and Well-being Capital. Our attitude influences our experiences in life and the outcomes to challenges we face such as illness.
So, by reframing the way that we look at the world around us, and recognising the resources that we have to hand we begin to see our ‘true wealth’. We are each of us a store house of resources. Looby Macnamara comments ‘the lens of abundance thinking is most influential when we use it first to reflect our internal landscape to shed light in our inner abundance’ which comprises skills, talents, purpose, passion, energy and enthusiasm. These resources are renewable, depending on the importance we give them. Through their full appreciation we can move from tendencies for hoarding in times of adversity and towards ‘santosa’, a yogic rule of conduct translated as ‘contentment’.
As a result of the consumerist society in which we live a great deal of waste is produced in the world. Not knowing how to best let go of it means it is clogging and damaging our ecosystems. Permaculture presents us with the principle ‘produce no waste’, challenging us to slow down our process of consumption. We can start by reframing waste as a resource. Food waste can become compost, water used for irrigation, rubbish of all sorts can be turned unto something else. Just as yoga practice uses a multitude of methods to still the ‘citta vrttis’ (fluctuations of the mind) to focus one’s energies and prevent them from being expended outwardly, permaculture invites us to be creative with how we treat our waste and incorporate it into other systems.
Nature is a wonderful guide when it comes to inspiration for inbuilt abundances. ‘When a flower seeds it produces many more than it needed knowing that not all will germinate... we too can build in abundance into our activities... Sharing allows us to participate in the flow of energy, we can open up to letting go and giving as well as also open up to receiving.’
Both yoga and permaculture give us insight into ways of surrendering to the natural ebbs and flows of life. By opening our eyes to the wealth of resources we have at hand we move from feelings of scarcity to abundance. Moving from sole reliance on material and financial capital we can be become more resilient as individuals and connected to the support systems we have around us. By aligning ourselves with our true needs we can be more mindful of our levels of consumption, and balance how much we take with how much we give back. What yoga and permaculture teach us is the secret is in our perception. There are abundances all around us and when we learn to tap into them there can be longer lasting justice, equality and fairness than if limits are imposed. Look more carefully and you will see the abundance that exists within your very being.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
George Feuerstein, ‘The Yoga Tradition’ Hohm Press
BKS Iyengar, ‘Light on Yoga’, Harper Collins
Looby Macnamara, ‘7 Ways to Think Differently’, Permaculture Publications