While on a women’s retreat in October I had a chance meeting with Angela Preat, a yoga instructor, who had a winning smile, calming voice and subdued demeanor, someone I wanted to become friends with. I learned that she was from my area and had been using an outdoor area of our community park for her practice. She mentioned that she was looking for a place to teach on a temporary basis until she could afford to have her own studio.
It was on this retreat that I practiced yoga for the first time and really loved it. Always under the impression that yoga was about exercise, I’m surprised finally, I get it. I’m using those words, because eight months ago my doctor suggested that I should join a yoga class. I can recall him saying “Yoga would be great for you, but you really need to get it”. I didn’t quite understand his words then, but I do now.
Yoga is a physical practice of utilizing muscles to create strength and flexibility through postures achieving balance in the body. It is a non-competitive practice with a spiritual aspect which also involves using the forces of nature. I think it’s a perfect fit for the gardener.
In one of the practices while in a seated pose (grounding pose), Angela brought in the element of earth which immediately hit a joyful note with me. I can’t remember her statement but it referred to grounding yourself to the earth, feeling as if you were a tree with roots heading deep into that earth. That simple statement had an awe-inspiring effect on me. When I garden, I push my gloveless hands in the cool soil and immediately begin to feel a sense of calm and connection to the earth and as I move my head closer to the planting hole, I could smell its richness, another sensory pleasure, but her grounding statement opened up a whole new world to me.
My mind immediately made a connection to my gardens and knowing Angela was in need of a place to practice, I knew my Barn Theater Workshop where I held garden classes in the summer, would be a good place for her. Although it didn’t have a heat source yet, I offered her the space and she was delighted. Over the next few weeks, we worked on installing a heater, outdoor lighting and are currently working on a floor to make the space cozy for her practice here at our gardens. Today Angela published a Facebook page celebrating our new endeavor, she calls it The Lil Yoga Barn, and I’m so grateful for everything she has done.
I began to realize that the practices of yoga and gardening can be very complimentary to each other actually each one reinforcing some benefits of the other. A gardener can gain strength and agility and the yogini can harmonize with nature to allow the even higher powers of nature to infuse her. What a superior combination each can become.
Gardening, therefore can and should be like yoga, if you get it. The balance is there, nature will provide it for you. But you must allow her to provide it. This is a very difficult process for many gardeners. Allowing seems to be something foreign to most.
I hear so many people complaining of gardening tasks and I remember back when I used to dread them too. I’m grateful that I’ve learned it really isn’t about all of the labor intensive work that we tend to believe we must accomplish in order to keep up those pristine appearances. Gardening shouldn’t be back-breaking either, I’ve learned this after years of attacking rocky soil with just a shovel and lifting heavy rock filled wheelbarrows that I could barely move, let alone dump. I’ve learned (better late than never) to work with nature and wouldn’t dream of doing any of this today. I begin all of my areas with sheet mulching and I let the soil creatures do that heavy work for me. I don’t remove the rocks now, as I learned that they release minerals and hold soil moisture. I allow nature in to help.
It’s really about doing what little you can to connect with nature, even if it’s just to get outside and walk around looking at your garden, taking note as to the fleeting beauty of a blooming flower or a swollen bud ready to burst open and looking at the creatures that inhabit your garden. You don’t need to have a showplace, just look at the nature that surrounds you wherever you are.
To be one with the earth is what gardening should be, but we don’t allow ourselves that pleasure. Why? Possibly because no one told us that we should. We weren’t told that it was alright to have weeds in the garden. The city zoning officials would certainly put an end to that. If the grass is left to grow naturally, a fine is imposed, if you have weeds (doesn’t matter that they have health benefits to humans and wildlife) another fine.
We have become enamored with the Photoshop images of the perfectly fake landscapes. The few garden themed TV shows that still remain only seem to propel this image further. Our society has definitely morphed what should be a relaxing pastime into a high-stress neighborhood competition. Having a naturalized garden in a world of highly maintained gardens isn’t for everyone, but it’s the honest way of truly connecting with the earth. I can’t imagine having any other kind of garden.
As Angela’s students walk through the gardens to get to the barn, they will pass through lush beds of plants and even some weeds and they will see an ever changing color palette. They will watch how the winter dormancy turns into a brilliant rebirth in spring, all without any additional labor provided by this gardener. They can watch insects eating plants and birds eating the insects and rabbits eating clover and lawn weeds and anything else they want. These students will now be able to go back to the ways that yoga was traditionally practiced, within a retreat.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi