Exploring the intersection of yoga + permaculture: design from patterns to details


Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed this atrium in Toronto, inspired by a forest canopy.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed this atrium in Toronto, inspired by a forest canopy.

Gazing at the big picture can inspire and motivate. The 7th permaculture principle, Design from Patterns to Details, gives a guideline as to how  we can create blueprints for our lives. 

In permaculture design, we observe and interact with the details of the terrain and our vision for the land or project. When we notice the patterns of energy sector flows, like sun, wind, and wildlife, we can gain a better idea of how to design the details. Similarly, we can notice patterns in geology, biodiversity, ecology, social structures and cultural norms.

Consider how patterns in nature are observed and mimicked. The canopy which branches of trees create can be seen in designs, such as tents and canopy beds. Nature provides models for us to explore, design and redesign. Spheres, spirals, waves, and lines inspire our art and architecture. Patterns in nature influence the patterns of human behavior, creating social values and norms.

In the landscape of your life and body, what habits, tendencies and patterns can you note? When you come to your yoga mat and meditation cushion, what are your larger goals? If you desire to practice yoga and meditation regularly, what details can you design to integrate your practice with ease? This may include a standard, achievable amount of time daily or a sequence of postures, according to your needs that day. Our human anatomy consists of a specific operating system and pattern of parts, yet each body is unique. Our character, values, personalities, interests and skills, the details of who we are, design our true essence.

“The patterns that exist in nature make life self sustaining and self perpetuating, enable energy to flow and are a natural response to their surroundings. If we don’t adhere to natural patterns, we stop the flow of energy and cause more work and lower yields. i.e. In fields of the same area using plants of the same size, a straight line crop would be able to fit 36 plants, a wavy line would be able to fit 45 plants. By sowing alternating compatible crops we can also improve yields “(Bill Mollison).

I have studied Hatha Yoga & recently began practicing Ashtanga. 

“Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind” (ashtanga.com).

“Ashtanga is a Sanskrit term that means ‘having eight limbs or components.’ The term comes from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and refers to his eight-fold path of yoga. In his writings, the yogic sage outlined eight limbs of yoga — eight steps on the path of internal purification that lead to discovery of the Universal of Supreme Self. These eight stages are: Yama (universal morality); Niyama (self-study and discipline); Asana (posture); Pranayama (breath control); Pratyahara (control of the senses); Dharana (concentration); Dhyana (meditation); Samadhi (union with the Divine). The term is also used to describe Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga was not specifically mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, but it later came to describe the eight limbs, or components, of yoga contained within his text. Ashtanga yoga itself was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamacharya in the 20th century (Yogapedia).

Ashtanga, in the series of asanas, as well as the 8-limbed path, are precise. My current teacher provides a specific sequence, which we practice each class. Eventually, these postures will be ingrained in our muscle memory & we’ll be able to practice Mysore style (without instruction).. This precise pattern may seem limiting, however it actually widens our capacity to fine tune the details as we flow through this sequence repeatedly. 

Another 8-limbed creature, the spider, gives us an amazing model of a detailed pattern. “A spider web…is a structure created by a spider out of proteinaceous spider silk extruded from its spinnerets, generally meant to catch its prey…When spiders moved from the water to the land…they started making silk to protect their bodies and their eggs. Spiders gradually started using silk for hunting purposes, first as guidelines and signal lines, then as ground or bush webs, and eventually as the aerial webs that are familiar today. Spiders produce silk from their spinneret glands located at the tip of their abdomen. Each gland produces a thread for a special purpose – for example a trailed safety line, sticky silk for trapping prey or fine silk for wrapping it. Spiders use different gland types to produce different silks, and some spiders are capable of producing up to eight different silks during their lifetime. Webs allow a spider to catch prey without having to expend energy by running it down. Thus it is an efficient method of gathering food. However, constructing the web is in itself an energetically costly process because of the large amount of protein required, in the form of silk. In addition, after a time the silk will lose its stickiness and thus become inefficient at capturing prey. It is common for spiders to eat their own web daily to recoup some of the energy used in spinning. The silk proteins are thus recycled. The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Its microstructure is under investigation for potential applications in industry, including bullet-proof vests and artificial tendons” (Wikipedia). 

Spiders utilize incredibly intentional methods for their web design, adapting as they construct, reconstruct and regenerate with self-sustainable efficiency. How can you use your innate and already available resources within you to design the details of the patterns you hope to create. How can you best store & utilize your internal energy outwardly? 

I’m a gardener and love the magic of planting seeds. Seeds remind me of the dreams we are designing with determination as we are purposely planting seasonally and throughout our lives. When we plant those tiny seeds, entire trees can grow. However, placing the seed into the soil is just the beginning. The specifics of the type, quality and source of the soil and seeds, and the details of sun and water are essential. In what ways are you nourishing the seeds of intention you are planting in your life? 

~ Arli ~ 

1 thought on “Exploring the intersection of yoga + permaculture: design from patterns to details”

  1. I’m writing about the eight limbs and spiders at the moment and also about biomimicry in the ecological emergency. So thank you for this! Wonderful stuff!

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