This season at Camp Joy several of us have been taking Yoga classes. It’s good to stretch and concentrate on balanced body postures, mindfulness and breath. Helps create balance and calmness in our farming lives.
One of our teachers is an African man – Kofi Busia – who was educated in England and India. He is a skilled and perceptive teacher, circling around the room – touching, adjusting, expanding, giving individual guidance to his many students. Telling stories, using humor as well as discipline, giving insight into body-mind-spirit connectedness. It’s nice to find a man who is a mentor and a messenger of change and improvement through practice. Kofi’s impeccable English, his storytelling, his physical/spiritual insights and his teachings remind me of my first English teacher – horticulturist Alan Chadwick. I’ve come to appreciate some parallels in my understanding of ecological horticulture and my fledgling experience with Yoga.
In Yoga we focus on breath (prana). When we breathe in and out with the diaphragm, the great becomes a pillar of support, energy and strength for the postures (asanas). The idea is to create a healthy body through mindful conscious thought and sustained practice instead of through habit. When we lift and expand our body, we do the same to our mind and spirit – and in the center of this connection is our breath – supporting and nourishing the muscles, the blood and the skeleton.
Alan Chadwick also spoke of the rhythm and movement of breath. To be fertile, the soil must breathe. Soil life – the incredible complexity of microbial life (soil fauna and flora) is supported be a breathing soil full of “body”, containing air and water in constant flux. As we water and cultivate, the soil breathes in and out, the spaces are filled with moisture (itself containing air) and then as the soil dries, air is pulled back into the soil. It is the constant change, the pulsation of water and air, and of warmth and coolness which supports and nourishes the living soil. Soil life multiplies rapidly and then in dying as well, nutrients are released. The tiny root hairs shimmer and expand within this pulsation of fertility. A healthy plant exists in symbiosis or association with either mycorrhiza (fungi) or bacteria in the soil, both of which need this pulsation of air, moisture and warmth to flourish. Picture the soil as the flesh of the earth, fragile and sensitive, and then picture the globe with its tides like lungs – changing four times a day, expanding and contracting like the earth’s diaphragm.
In Kofi’s Yoga class the postures are balanced. We stretch one way, then the other. The sequence works to expand and balance and to bring more blood and breath circulating in our bodies giving us energy to grow and change. We finish with a relaxation pose bringing comfort and renewal. Through the practice of Yoga postures, we work to improve our mental and physical strength and health so as to withstand the challenges that come our way.
In natural systems horticulture, we work to enhance the soil body. Balanced fertility supports healthy growth and gives plants the strength to withstand challenges. Natural rhythms create balance. Each day the tension of sun and heat is followed by rest, relaxation and recovery. The cool of the evening, our sprinklers and cultivations, the dew, the moon and planets, the natural capillary action of the soil moisture – all help to renew the plants, the animals and ourselves. Organic practices work to expand the soil’s capacity to support productivity.
In the last day of Kofi’s recent intensive he suggested that we could make a conscious choice that our practice – each effort that we make – will improve us, that we will be better after the conclusion of each posture, each session – and that that improvement will carry over to the rest of our life. Alan Chadwich taught that by our intentions, our imagination, and by our efforts to give back more than we take (compost, cover crop, energy) we will constantly improve our gardens as they support us.
Once around the lunch table we wondered if the first yogi was a farmer, or if the first farmer was a yogi. Perhaps they are both manifestations of the same truth.