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Sustainability and the Yoga of Sustainability

Kelly has studied and taught courses on Sustainability for several years.  She is curious about the dialogue of what sustainability actually is, and how that looks as humans sharing a planet with so much life.  The following is an essay by Kelly written in 2008 about Deep Green Yoga – her integration of Yoga as a practice beyond the body.

Deep Green Yoga and the practice of Permaculture as Yoga

I remember growing up on a farm and learning to deeply appreciate the changing seasons.  The wind touched my skin differently as cycles unfolded in weeks, days, and months. I learned to think in terms of what was happening outside.  Our home was relatively simple and primarily heated by a wood-burning stove.  I saw farm animals birthing and dying, I watched the crops get planted, grow, and be harvested.  All these things molded the fabric of my life, and taught me much about how to live and move through a dynamic cycling changing world.

And then I went to college.  None of these things were important anymore…. I found climate-controlled buildings with the turn of a knob, I found valuable knowledge in books instead of landscapes.  Invariably I found new priorities and straightened out my “naïve” way of seeing.

Years later I stumbled upon ecopsychology, then deep ecology, then permaculture.  As an adult my personal priorities have shifted, and I have faith in the foundation of my own wisdom.  I no longer take my truth as it is fed to me, but recognize it as collaboration between observation, intuition, dialogue, and story.  Thus I came across these teachings and found a truth that deeply resonated with my center.  This is familiar, it is right; it is true in ways that have almost been forgotten.  I found myself inspired.

Ecopsychology recognizes connection to the natural world as an important facet in psychological health.  In other words, just like good self-esteem and strong family relationships promote healthy psychology, likewise a recognition and cultivation of relationship with the natural world will promote healthy psychology.  Deep ecology takes this a step further by describing humanity as a part of the Earth.  On one hand this may seem like a simple stretch – humans are part of the ecosystems, and we can readily see this.  One another hand, there is a deep spiritual assumption at the basis of deep ecology that is distant from our present notion of human verses world.

Permaculture is a way of designing in terms of whole-systems thinking.  Permaculture recognizes the larger ecological systems at work, and integrates human knowledge and technology with ecological intelligence for maximum yield with minimum work.  Permaculture is centered around three main principles including care of the earth, care of the people, and share of the surplus.  Basically, permaculture is intelligent action that stems from the understandings of deep ecology.

All this said, what about Yoga?  What does Yoga have to do with thriving homes, gardens, communities?  What makes “Deep Green Yoga”?  There are many ways people are overlapping Yoga and permaculture, all of which lead to immense possibility.  Deep Green Yoga, which is my personal take on the Yoga of Permaculture, is reweaving deep ecology into the forefront of both permaculture and Yoga.

The widely accepted definition of the word Yoga is “union”.  Some schools of Yoga teach a transcendence of the body.  While my initial training in India was from a school of this thought, Deep Green Yoga comes from a specific Tantra Yoga school recognizing the body as the seat of spiritual experience.  In the way I teach and practice Deep Green Yoga, Yoga is simply a practice of making space – of clearing the body to be prepared for union.  Basically I believe that there is an intelligence pressing out through life.  As we clear the body, we are making space for the wisdom of the life to flow freely and openly, thriving.  In thriving, we make space to experience the fullness of ourselves and the fullness of that which breathes us - union.  Thus Yoga is about cultivating flow through the body and opening the body up to optimal experience.  Permaculture is the same thing in the outer body.  In permaculture, we are essentially making space for the wisdom of the body to fully flow.  Whether this is through a home space, a garden, remediating damaged soil or water, we are always making space for the ecosystem to be a more open and thriving container for life.  Thus in permaculture we are also cultivating union.  And through Deep Green Yoga, we are facilitating the spiritual experience of Yoga as deep ecology – opening the exchange of union between the life in the personal body and life in the eco-bodies.

To take this a step further, we can bring in the permaculture principle that “everything gardens”.  As we step into deep ecology and recognize ourselves as part of the ecosystems and world that we breathe, then we can recognize the impacts we have.  In permaculture the idea that everything gardens means that everything we have in place is cultivating the whole.  Therefore it is imperative to take time and recognize the impacts of all the plants, buildings, elements, animals, insects, etc on the whole of your permaculture space.  We are always dealing with ecosystems, whether it is your personal body, your garden, your home, or your community.  Thus everything we do with our personal bodies impacts the world around us.  It may be subtle, and we may never notice, nevertheless our thoughts affecting our actions affecting our world make us part of what gardens life in this world.  That said, a personal practice extends far beyond a quiet mind.  It extends to where your attention goes.  It increases your ability to respond as you become more aware.

Another facet of Yoga in the personal body is that it makes us more aware.  As we practice, we become more aware of muscles, of emotions, of thoughts, and we become aware of how deeply they are interconnected.  This also appears as we step into the world of permaculture.  As we engage in the practice of clearing and cultivating a healthy ecosystem, we become aware of the interconnection of the many aspects of life and elements interacting.  As it does in the personal body, this increases a sense of well-being and connection, and also a desire to nurture that ecosystem so that it thrives.  Increasing awareness through the practice of Yoga, in the personal body and the eco-bodies, simply brings a higher quality of life through richness and depth of experience.

If nothing else, allowing my Deep Green Yoga practice to develop has given me great hope and deep appreciation for so much of life I hadn’t noticed in my adult world.  I realize now that through permaculture, we have a chance to thrive despite the crises of our world, and no matter what the outcome.  I realize now through Yoga that my body is increasingly interconnected inside of my being, but also to the web of life around me.  My view of life has changed in a way that brings me deep contentment and ongoing inspiration.  This, in the midst of teaching courses on sustainability in theoretical and practical settings, is a true gift.  The world can look bleak, but when we cultivate awareness and healthy flow through our practices, we can lighten things up through practical skills and a deep sense of thriving.

Yoga is permaculture on the front lines, and permaculture is Yoga off the mat.  There are many specific practices that crossover and inform these life practices, and I will be writing about these in times to come.  In the meantime, allowing Yoga and permaculture to meld into your own Deep Green Yoga can start by simply giving thoughtful observation, breathing awareness into new spaces, and beginning to find healthy edges in your stretching - both on the mat and in cultivating a healthier ecosystem in your personal home and community.  In the meantime, I appreciate all the gardening you do in all of your personal practices.  Thanks for gardening in our world.