exploring the intersection of yoga + permaculture: use small and slow solutions


Image by @epan5

Image by @epan5

“Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, make better use of local resources, and produce more sustainable outcomes.” David Holmgren

The 9th permaculture principle, “Use small & slow solutions,” relates to the innate essence of a sustainable yoga practice. Consider the tale of the Tortoise & the Hare. Through this depiction, we can assess the symbolism and draw parallels regarding how perseverance and patience pays, and how  determination and discipline determines destiny. Multiple options for short cuts and half-hearted options appear on our path. We are given the choice whether to rush and leave loose ends and unfinished business or whether to to live in a purposeful, mindful way. Although moving faster through life may allow for more moments , the quality of mindful moments will be invaluable, rich and full of life. 

Everyday, we are confronted with quick fixes, crash diets, funky fads, get rich quick scams and a plethora of other enticing offers. As the gardener on a tiny farm at a retreat center, I’m given one shot each season to produce a substantial harvest of produce for the staff and guests. Feeling the pressure, I’ve come across products which claim to make a garden grow faster and bigger and better. Grow lamps, various tonics and powders and fertilizers all suggest that their use will decrease effort and increase yield. However, there is the simplistic and resourceful beauty and virtue of preparing soil with time consuming compost; saving seeds or buying them from a valuable, organic source; planting the seeds; giving the seeds water and sunlight, and waiting for them to grow. The wonder and magic of seeing new life sprouting up from the earth never grows old, and these time tested approaches still produce an impressive bounty. 

In the same way, large quantities of money and time can be spent trying to be healthy. In reality, drinking enough water is a slow and small solution. Personally, I barely drink pure water and spend most of the morning drinking acidic, delicious coffee. One slow & small solution I plant to implement is hydration. Even  the most lovingly harvested, organic seeds, if sitting in rich, fertile, soil without water, they will be undernourished and will rarely sprout and grow. All of the components of soil, seed, sunlight and water must be present for the plants to survive and thrive. So it is with our own lives. 

I remember a time I felt like I needed to get fit before I could go to the gym. This is a rather ridiculous notion, yet arises in both conscious and subconscious various ways in the psyche. People may think they need to be a certain way before they can be the way they dream of being. In the 12 step program, it is known and taught that the first step is the hardest. I reckon the 7th step is seventh hardest. Run, fly, tip toe, start somehow, just go! Whatever you need to take the first step, and then the second, you must. The pace is less important than consistency. Imagine sprinting through the first 8 steps, then falling face first and giving up. It would be better to crawl along or hop on one foot until you reach the finish line. 

Focusing on daily practice of asana, pranayama and dhyana with dharana can result in dramatic shifts over time. Patanjali wrote: “When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation” (Yoga Sutra 1.14)

Yogapedia defines dhyana and dharana in the following way: “Dhyana is a Sanskrit word meaning “meditation.” It is derived from the root words, dhi, meaning “receptacle” or “the mind”; and yana, meaning “moving” or “going.” An alternate root word, dhyai, means “to think of.” In Hindu traditions that are derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, dhyana is a refined meditative practice that requires deep mental concentration. This kind of meditation is taken up only after engaging in preparatory exercises. Dharana is the sixth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to concentration of the mind. Practicing dharana involves fixing the mind on a particular object — either external (such as an image or deity) or internal (such as a chakra). Dharana is a Sanskrit word which means ‘concentration.’”

I took a crash course in Shamatha. This is a type of meditation, where you sit on your gomden, rectangular cushion, or zafu, round or crescent cushion, which sits upon a Zabutan, larger flat rectangular cushion. Sitting cross-legged with a straight spine and keeping your eyes open,gaze just in front of you, toward the floor, allowing thoughts to arise and then let them go. You continue this practice for as long as you determine. I decided to join a program where we sat for 8 hours a day. I felt like I was going crazy. My thoughts were coming and I was trying to let them go, though I started to find them rather good company, since I was sitting silently on my cushion all day. My to do list arose repeatedly. Songs I haven’t heard in years were running through my mind, word for word, like a broken record. Meditation is a beautiful practice, though after that day, I took a few months off. It was like reading the Bible straight through and never wanting to open the book again. I realized it is better for me to sit 15 minutes a day, to sit even 5 minutes everyday, than to sit for an entire day and get burned out. Utilizing slow and small solutions hold sustainable and lasting value. With consistent practice of any length, meditation practice can produce amazing fruit in our lives. 

Likewise, arriving at our yoga mat with regularity, in whatever mood and physical condition, allows us to truly develop an authentic practice. Developing a disciplined daily practice of yoga and meditation results in increased concentration and focus. “Samadhi is derived from the Sanskrit, sam, meaning “together with,” “completely,” or “perfectly,” a, meaning “near to” or “all around” and dha, meaning “put.” Its most basic definition implies a complete state of concentration. For a practitioner of yoga and for a disciple of meditation, the spiritual significance of samadhi is much more profound. In the classical system of Patanjali, samadhi is the eighth and final step in the meditative process before the Self is released from its self-ignorance and enters the ultimate condition of kaivalya, ‘aloneness’” (Yogapedia). 

“I think that this permaculture principle applies to patience and gentleness in practice. Grand ideas of enlightenment or complex poems can transport us outside of where we are, and drain of us of our motivation. Taking those preliminary practices of basic asana, or dealing with our most glaring klesha, emotional defilement, first in meditation, may be less glorious than ideas of samadhi or hanuman, whatever it may be. This may seem less glorious of an idea, though it is what gives us roots and is the only way to move forward, without hurting ourselves or draining our resources unnecessarily, or moving us into stagnation or a misuse of the practice.” Breeze of Compassion, forest yogi.  

Bill Mollison stated, Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.”  In what wayscan you take achievable, sustainable actions, which will result in the larger changes you seek? Consider how methods of going faster and further could actually be slowing you down. What disciples would you like to cultivate in your life? Think of a challenge you are facing. Contemplate if there may be a slow and small solution. What tangible steps can you take to achieve the dreams in the core of your being? How can you nourish your mind, body and spirit by creating simplistic, valuable daily routines? 

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