- By Caitlyn Borowsky, Student & Karma Yogi
What have we been up to so far this Spring at Niwas?
Planting, dreaming and preparing Annapourna Garden.
We began this season with planting onion seeds in mid-February followed a few weeks later with a variety of flowers. So far, we are grateful to be nurturing four types of onions, three varieties of lavender, viola, lupins, ornamental oregano, two varieties of snap dragons, portulaca, asters, chilli peppers, and petunias. On the Piscean New Moon we sowed the seeds of basil and tomatoes, which will become delicious Niwas tomato sauce in the last weeks of Summer.
In addition to planting and tending to the seedlings, we are thoughtfully setting the garden and ourselves up for success for the growing season. We are not only tending to the Land in anticipation, we are also tidying up our own actions and energies to make space for the manifestation of abundance and beauty, so we may spend this next cycle offering from a place of simplicity and full-hearted love.
We are preparing the garden beds to hold and nurture new life by clearing the remnants of last year’s crops and using those remnants to feed the compost which will cycle back to the Earth. Currently, 'Niwas feels much like a space of transformation, regeneration and preparation. Personally, I am am feeling Spring’s frequency of optimism and opportunity, especially as I walk through Annapourna Garden, hearing and dreaming of the possibilities that are on the horizon.
The Awakening of Possibility and Opportunity
Although nothing truly dies in Nature, Spring does bring about a tangible experience of vitality and life compared to the quietude of Winter, where activity is slower and beneath the surface. We see new life emerging everywhere, from the fresh tips on the fir trees, geese making their way back home, and all of the onion and lavender seedlings thriving towards the Sun. We hear the various melodies of birdsong among the treetops where silence once hung, and we smell the aroma of pine sap beginning to ooze to the surface of their bark. The potentiality of this new growth would not be possible without the offering of what has come before.
At 'Niwas this regeneration is witnessed most tangibly via…compost! Last years' pea shoots, buckwheat stems and oat straw have been broken down and mixed with a generous amount of cow dung all winter to become a vibrant heap of nutrients for this years crops. This regenerative re-cycling shows us the opportunity of letting go of what has served its purpose and to utilize the breakdown of this ‘death’ to fuel what is to come, what is to be birthed and brought to life.
Today, in Annapourna Garden there is a sacred sense of vacancy and as I walk along the dormant strawberries and hibernating garlic, the crunch of fallen pinecones and the last remnants of snow beneath dirt covered boots treading where bare feet will soon dance again awakens a sense of joy and optimism within me. At first glance, the garden plots may appear bare and empty but if we take a moment to truly listen, we can sense the vast possibilities that await. Those rows of bare dirt and rotten leaves will soon be transformed into an environment bustling and blooming with calendula, cabbage, tomatoes, honeybees, pumpkin, foxgloves, lupins, chili peppers, and bushes heavy with raspberries and groundcherries. This is what I think of when I imagine explaining what 'Niwas feels like. A home for opportunity and growth and abundance for all living beings, not only reserved for Yogis but also for the insects, the dark eyed juncos and crows, chipmunks, goats and the plants themselves.
- By Sannyasi Gyanhira
Yoga Ecology is beginning to take the spotlight as the next crucial role of Yoga in our evolution, health, happiness and survival as a species and planet. Together Yoga, often translated as "unity," and Ecology, defined as the relationship of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings, come together to indicate the mutually interconnected nature of ourselves with our fellow humans and the environment. For better or for worse, our actions, thoughts, desires, decisions, and feelings are impacting each other and the environment all the time.
When I think about what Yoga Ecology means to me, it ultimately comes down to a fundamental shifting of perspective from "Me" the self-centred individual to "We" the society and beyond, while also striving to find a healthy balance between the two. Helping our children to see and feel through the filter of "We" is going to be the task of today's parents to ensure that our children have a beautiful tomorrow. Yet, before we can help our children to think, see and feel as a "We," we parents have to do this internal work first. Because we know that our children often learn best by observing, and not by listening (at least that is the case with my kids!).
2020 has been a big year in terms of perceptual shifts. It's many challenges have forced us to acknowledge that we are all profoundly connected. Not just in theory anymore, but actually. Undeniably. Connected.
The rampant wildfires of 2020, among other events, have made a deafening announcement about our interconnectivity on this planet. The global warming that is taking place as a result of recent human activity has produced an exponentially more destructive wildfire season. The land has burned out of control, taking life, devastating ecosystems, and sending cloaks of thick, choking smoke around the globe, plummeting air quality in some parts beyond the worst rating available on the Air Quality Index. We quickly gained a new appreciation and value for what we most often took for granted: clean, breathable air.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the truth of our profound interconnectedness in myriad ways, from our dependence on essential workers for our survival (think food, goods, medicine, vaccine development, healthcare), to the need of childcare and a healthy economy for employment, to the previously unnoticed and extraordinarily intimate connection between the breath of persons in near proximity, to the utter dependence upon others to put individual wants and desires aside to stay home and save lives. What's more, we have begun to notice that technology is not enough to connect us; Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, SnapChat, whatever platform it may be, is not enough. We NEED the real thing. We miss each other amidst the necessary lockdown and social distancing restrictions. We are longing for each other. At long last, we want to put the phone down, look up, take the ear buds out, turn the TV or video game off and be in each other's presence. For real. We find ourselves texting less and phoning, Zooming and FaceTiming our parents, grandparents and friends more. We want more of each other, not less.
Why is this value in one another increasing? We are recovering an appreciation for each other that had, for a moment, become lost in digital connection. We are remembering and appreciating how valuable the real human connection is. And recovering and nurturing this value in both each other and Nature is going to be key. These are the lessons we are learning in 2020 that may end up being our most important legacy to our children. Valuing. Appreciating. Conserving. Protecting. Sacrificing. Balancing.
In the end, we all win from a "We" perspective; the individual is part of the collective. The individual also lives among Nature, and is a part of Nature. If we all operate from a "Me" perspective, sooner or later there won't be enough for "We" anymore, and then it's only a matter of time until there is no longer enough for "Me." No man is an island, and the pandemic has shown us this. The wildfires have shouted this.
So, the question becomes, how can we embody this new appreciation of each other and the environment so that children, too, can imbibe and understand that we, and the environment, are not unlimited resources to be mined, and that we must remember to value, conserve and protect both each other and the environment by acting with the knowledge that we are dependent upon each other.
Oftentimes in affluent, first-world societies, it is easy to forget that the Earth has limited resources. Water, for example. We use it without a single thought of it ever running out and becoming unavailable. It is always there for us, and so we forget to appreciate our dependence upon it. Then, we fail to respect it, it loses value, and we waste it.
When I lived in Swami Niranjan's Yoga Ashram in India between the years 2012-2015, I learned a lot about Yoga Ecology that I am just realizing now. There was, in the Ashram, a very particular attitude toward water. It was valued and therefore treated with great respect. It was not wasted. I'll never forget when, during my first days in the Ashram, I was washing my plate after dinner and I turned the tap on and let it run while I soaped my dish when one of the Ashram residents came and turned the tap off, indicating to me not to waste the water. Until that moment, it had honestly never occurred to me in that context before. The same principal thing applied while brushing one's teeth: wet the toothbrush, turn the water off. Brush the teeth. Turn the water on again to rinse the toothbrush. But, do not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth. That is wasteful. And sometimes we did have to briefly go without water when the well ran dry or the power shut off, which helped foster a much greater awareness of our relationship and responsibility to one another to only take what we needed so there was enough left for someone else, as well as helped us to understand our real place and position within Nature. We need her, and yet we often do not even ensure that we protect those aspects of her which we need most for our own survival. The awareness just simply isn't there. Now, 5 years later back at home in Canada, I cannot leave the water running while brushing my teeth, washing a dish or washing my hands. When I see it happen, it makes me cringe. We practice saving water in our own household, among other efforts such as using a bidet to save toilet paper, and assigning our 3 year old the job of turning off all the lights before we leave the house. These are small attitudes and behaviours that we can exemplify to our children that make one thoughtful and can make a difference in how we view and treat each other and the Earth.
If we value, we do not waste. If we value, we protect, we sacrifice and we take great care, just as we do with our own children. The Earth is a kind of a mother, we need her gifts to sustain us. Yet, her health is often in our hands. We must build awareness of this unique relationship, and appreciate the reciprocal nature of it. Only then will we value each other and the environment, and find the balance between "Me" and "We" so that our children too can have a beautiful future for generations to come.
- By Sannyasi Shivani Howe
As we fully come into the depths of Winter I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on Self-care. Firstly defining what Self-care is: Self-care how we care for ourselves, not how we get others to care for us. This takes a high degree of self-awareness, kindness and a fierce commitment and responsibility to our own health; mental, emotional and physical.
Self-care means creating a life where we care about and prioritize (!) what is going on inside of us, and take responsibility for how we are contributing to the health and well-being of the world around us. So Self-care is really an aspect of LIVING Yoga.
Sometimes, even if we have been blessed enough to create a life where we love what we do, and are financially supported to do what we love, (as I hope most Yoga teachers out there feel) it’s still important to recognize that feeling burnt out and tapped are a very real experiences. These feelings are great signposts that we are no longer living in the flow of Divine will. The reality is that, if we are not strong, healthy and connected with our cup runneth over then, we don’t have a lot to offer the community.
The key is to learn to pick up on our subconscious cues early so we can make small adjustments to our day and routines to help us stay on track. As opposed to waiting until we are frayed at the seams and about to crack before we take a step back and recalibrate. It’s all about moment-to-moment awareness and adjustments. The little efforts add up considerably and when put together create a Sattvic lifestyle.
This means having a toolbox that we can refer to to help recalibrate, and reorientate our internal world to a state of harmony so that we can hold that space effectively in the community.
Here are a few gems in my toolbox that keep me inspired, present, my eye on the light and my cup overflowing.
MOUNA - By far this is one of the most profound and strongly recalibrating practices I have ever practised as a Yogini. Challenging if you have small children, but it's more about prioritizing it than making excuses. 2 hours. 4 hours. 6 hours. Block it off. Prioritize it, prioritize YOU. No books. No phones. No social media. No talking. (obviously Mouna is much more than no talking but let’s start small ) - IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE and literally changed my functional paradigm, especially if I can block off more than 6 hours. Not an easy practice, but nothing fills my cup faster.
UP BEFORE DAWN - Even if it is 10 mins before the sun rises, stepping into my day while it’s still dark outside is a real gift. To have the first light be a candle of remembrance and mantra rather than the blue rectangle of my phone is imperative to my mental health.
STARTING MY DAY WITH AJAPAJAPA or internal MANTRA - I’m not much of morning person. I love the mornings but I’m not always a big fan of other people in my mornings. So starting my day with my first words to be in gratitude to the Divine through mantra is really important for my orientation. My first words really need to be “Akhand-Mandalakaram” and not “Must have coffee”.
PUT THE PHONE AWAY - Seriously. It sounds do-able until I go to do it. Then I remember someone who is supposed to call, an email that I forgot to do three days ago… All of these things are Vata high (too much mental stimulation and anxiety - not enough grounding or presence) I try and keep my phone on silent or do not disturb outside of regular business hours. I love the practice of leaving my phone in the kitchen so that I can’t keep checking the time in the middle of the night or reading the online newspaper as I am known to do at 3am.
BALANCE THE WANT-TOS AND THE OUGHT-TO’S - Hopefully we are able to create a life where the ought to's and the want-to’s are one and the same. But even though I absolutely love what I do, sometimes even teaching feels like an ought to rather than a want-to. And this is my alarm bell that its time for some self-care.
Once we have established a baseline of Sattva (and I mean established - so that our wants are not just Swadhisthana self-sabotage desires holding us in Avidya) Our want-to’s will actually be showing us what we need to do to come back into balance and health so that we can serve.
And lastly, about four times a year I like to GET BORED. That’s right - I strip away any activity (sometimes I can combine this with a Mouna practice). No clocks, books, obligations, or plans. No cleaning. Just sit there. No chores. No hiking/forest walks. Nothing. I go outside, if I can, until I get utterly bored. So bored that cleaning or chopping wood or some other ought-to seems appealing. THAT’S when I know I have been reset, that my cup is full and I’m ready to serve.
I hope that some of these tools will also help you prioritize your self-care.
Gratitude and Grief are two sides of the same coin in the currency of Love. Just as fear is our experience of Apana Vayupushing up when Trust is moving down; Gratitude is the expression of Prana Vayu emanating outwards when Grief is imploding.
One of my favourite teachings of Martin Pretchel is ‘You have to praise (read be grateful/love) to the dead in order to grieve, and you must grieve the living in order to Love’. And it is through this lens that I feel the medicine of gratitude comes forth. For, when we bring gratitude, which lives in the heart and therefore is connected to the past, to the forefront of our mind we are allowing the positive flow of energy (prana vayu) of the past to empower the present.
As with Spring, Fall is also connected to one of Niwas’ Sadhanas - Navaratri; the nine nights of Durga. This Sadhana is a wonderful way of taking all that moving energy of the Fall, the change and the transition, and consciously directing it into a practice of mantra to refine and harness the energy of transformation for Spiritual evolution. The first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to Kali - in her ability to help us let go of all that is no longer serving us. The next three days are to Lakshmi, which allows her energy of abundance to come forth and fill the space created by Kali. The last three days are dedicated to Ma Sarsaswati to create integration and wisdom around the transformation (an important aspect that many in sadhana skip or avoid). The whole experience gives one a tangible cultivation of the energy of Ma Durga. Powerful, pure, loving and all-encompassing. If you missed the opportunity to practice the Navaratri sadhana this Fall, not to worry, you will have another opportunity in the Spring.
'Til then, keep your heart flowing in gratitude; love the people and beasts in your present and your past, and drink many cups of warm turmeric milk. A wonderful elixir for this time of year.
To set a Sankalpa that is befitted to a soul such as our own, first we need engage in some self enquiring and dreaming. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and needs, a technique known in our lineage as "SWAN". Dig deep and get an honest, inquiry of who you are and where you are at. What qualities do you like about yourself? Are you kind? Are you generous? Be honest and find out which of the qualities you express could benefit from some refinement. Do you anger quickly, for example? Is your generosity tethered with strings of expectations in return? Only when we have the courage to be really honest with ourselves are we able to see our true opportunities for growth. Then, with this honest picture in mind, dream about who it is you want to be. Do you want to be kinder? Do you want to experience less anger? Do you want to give more without worrying about your own coffers, thus coming into a deeper direct experience of faith? DREAM BIG. Dream your fullest potential… and then set a resolution, a Sanklapa, that is the (present tense) embodiment of that. For example, "I AM HEALTHY", "I AM UNCONDITIONALLY GENEROUS", or "I AM LIVING MY FULLEST POTENTIAL."
When these seeds are planted firmly in the heart, the universe will quickly manifest opportunities for you to move into the embodiment of this. And this is where awareness, courage, and action toward resolve comes in for, if we want to experience a change in our reality, we have to be the ones willing to change! Not always an easy pill to swallow in a society that is always looking to the outside to conform to our comfort.
Next, create ceremony. When you know your heart's desire for your inner potential, write out your Sankalpa on a piece of paper, light a candle, put the paper on the altar and sing or chant mantra to create an orb of frequency in the room that is of the light and that can receive this prayer of your heart. When you can feel this shift in the space, set alight the paper with your intention written on it. Dissolve the intention so that it permeates the very air you breath…
My prayer to you for this year ahead is that you experience the courage and Grace needed to journey consciously and with gusto toward your fullest potential, your love of life, and your path to Re-membrance of your soul.
Om and Prem.
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