The Yoga of Sustainable Culture
Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living which is possible in any location. –Permaculture Co-Founder Bill Mollison
The world today is in need of more of everything radical, sustainable and renewable. Soaring oil prices, food shortages, rising
cost of commodities, lack of access to clean water, concerns about global warming and contamination of food and water supplies are only a few anxiety-causing headlines. In this crisis, we are starting to understand that industrialized methods of food production are unsustainable as they contribute to soil depletion and reductions in biodiversity. These methods also depend on exhaustible, polluting, greenhouse gas-emitting petroleum products and chemicals. Yet there is hope. A concerted grassroots effort with the potential for peaceful solutions is taking root through the spread of permaculture, an Earth-centered expression of the spiritual practice of yoga.
The term permaculture was originally coined in the mid-1970s by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. They used it to describe a design system pioneered in response to what they saw at that time as an impending eco-crisis. Originally derived from the words permanent and agriculture, the movement has outgrown its initial roots, which focused on creating strategies for sustainable cultivation of food, to become a worldwide movement encompassing all aspects of harmonious relationships with the Earth and her resources. From permanent agriculture it has come to mean permanent culture.
Permaculture encompasses taking responsibility for our actions and changing our behaviors of consumption and exploitation in order to recreate a world without destruction and pollution. This begins with first observing the patterns of nature, and from there, understanding the interconnectedness of the environment as a whole.
Permaculture is based on three core ethics:
- Care for the Earth (respecting the Earth as the source of all life).
- Care for People (helping others and ourselves to live sustainably).
- Fair Sharing: The distribution and sharing of surplus (using the Earth’s resources in ways that are equitable and wise).
These three ethical precepts are implemented through principles of design in an interconnected web of related ideas acknowledging that permaculture as permanent culture encompasses a vast range of domains:
- Land and Nature Stewardship
- Built Components of the Environment
- Tools and Technology
- Culture and Education
- Health and Spiritual Well-Being
- Finances and Economics
- Land Tenure and Community
Conceptually, the sustainable principles of permaculture design spiral out from these domains. Some examples include: yoga to cultivate health and spiritual well-being, passive solar and solar power as components of tools and technology and seed saving as an aspect of land stewardship. Permaculture’s principles of sustainable design are applied to the interiors and exteriors of living spaces, workplaces, communities and even societies.
Incorporating these design principles begins with stepping back and pausing to observe nature. This practice is reminiscent of taking a breath and feeling and assessing the body, mind and spirit in yoga. Tadasana – the Earth-based mountain pose – is the starting point from which design springs forth. Just this pause is a radical idea standing in stark contrast to the short-term approach often chosen of imposing man’s will upon nature.
From the posture of observation and cooperation, principles of design make up the asana (posture) in a permaculture vinyasa (flowing with the breath). The following are a few of these principles.
Working with Nature: We’ve seen first-hand the result of centuries of one type of relationship with the natural world involving humanity’s attempt to tame and manipulate nature. So rather than using large quantities of chemicals to control pests, why not encourage ladybugs or other natural predators? Instead of building nuclear power stations, why not construct with passive solar energy and wind power?
View Solutions, Not Problems: How we view a situation determines its status as an obstacle – or an advantage. Permaculture founder Bill Mollison is known to say, “You haven’t got an excess of slugs, you have a deficiency of ducks!” Los Angeles-area permaculture landscape designer Darren Butler says the problem is the solution. A dip in the landscape can be an area to collect water, or a shady spot can provide a home for dark leafy greens.
Every Function of an Ecosystem is Supported by Multiple Elements: Redundancies are important in any ecosystem. When we think about our food, favoring monoculture (one crop) leaves us vulnerable if that crop fails. Integrating a diverse range of edible plants provides greater security in agricultural planning.
Every Element in an Ecosystem Serves Multiple Functions: Take a moment and begin identifying the numerous functions of a tree: shade, oxygen production, home to insects and birds, production of fruit, stalwart symbol of beauty. The list goes on.
Relative Placement: Zones identified in permaculture design can be seen as a series of concentric rings moving out from a center point, whether the center of a home, a tree or our own bodies, and spreading out into the surrounding wilderness. The central zones enjoy the most concentrated attention while the need for intervention decreases in further circles.
Permaculture in the City: Snapshots of Activism in Action
Permaculture and our yoga practice can be integrated into our lives wherever we are, in whatever environment. We can implement victory gardens for peace at home. This idea has an inspiring precedent: In the 1930s and 1940s, Victory Gardens sown by nearly 20 million Americans produced nearly 40% of the food consumed. If this fact isn’t incentive enough, some of the following stories of urban permaculture reveal there is hope for a sustainable future – and present.
Satsang in the Learning Garden: The Learning Garden is a nonprofit vibrant community-focused garden project living on the Venice High School grounds. The polyculture explosion of plant life includes beds filled with beautiful edibles, medicinal herbs, fruit trees, perennial vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes as well as annual vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, okra, beans, peas, squash and cucumber. Within its grounds, the Sivananda Yoga Center community helps tend a designated permaculture plot to deepen the garden’s roots of sustainable design.
Food sharing is integral to the seasonal cycles here. “It’s all about feeding people,” says Garden Master David King. Sharing occurs in the harvesting of food for local food banks as well as the creation of Friday potluck lunches that are gourmet feasts of fresh produce. Here, it is a satsang at the picnic table, a spiritual gathering of people who are reconnecting with the Earth, and connecting with each other, sharing recipes and cell phone numbers. Get involved at: thelearninggarden.org.
Path to Freedom in Pasadena: In response to concerns about consuming genetically modified (GMO) food, Pasadena resident Jules Dervaes started an experiment in his one-fifth acre backyard to provide fresh, organic food for his family. His Path to Freedom project is a model of how permaculture can be effectively applied to a small space to supply an abundance of food that is beyond belief for most of us. Travel on: pathtofreedom.com.
The Church of Community: The rector of Holy Nativity Church in Westchester, Los Angeles, has re-purposed a portion of the church lawn to create an edible community garden. Joanne Poyourow and the Environmental Change-Makers are working to break ground: envirochangemakers.org.
Sustainable Silverlake: When David Kahn became disillusioned with his career as an architect, he shifted from housing design to permaculture. In June, 2006, he started Edendale Farm, an urban homesteading project on half an acre of land in Silverlake where he trains people in basic permaculture principles including restoring soil fertility, conserving water, supporting healthy ecosystems, reducing waste and fostering community economics and relationships. Kahn’s ultimate goal is to create a model that can be replicated in any urban center. His meditative style of working gives him a calmness and equanimity that would be the envy of any established yogi. Learn more about Edendale at: sustainablehabitats.org.
Cultured Yogis: Through permaculture, we have the opportunity to choose a relationship with our food that allows us to cultivate a healthy spiritual relationship with our environment and connects us to the ancestral line of yogis as inhabitants of nature in her truest form. Vedic scholar Dr. David Frawley reminds us that yoga was traditionally practiced in nature, in mountains and forests or by riverbanks and seashores. Yogis cultivated gardens, tended cattle and lived in the wild. With the same wild spirit, permaculture allows us to explore our relationship to the natural world. Whether we are blessed with an acre of open space, a community garden plot or an urban sidewalk greenway, the practice of permaculture urges us to live in harmony not just with nature, but to become "of nature."
The Yoga of Permaculture
Consciousness is a central concept in both yoga and permaculture. The innermost zone of permaculture is a person’s immediate environment, our own body, the place where we as yogis, connect hands and feet to Earth. By moving through the outer zones, as we move through the different layers of our yogic being, we can extend our consciousness into our relationship with nature and our environment. By relinquishing our desire to control nature, we invite ourselves into connection with this fragile web of life. Nature and the seasonal cycles can be humbling and heart-opening. By digging our hands in the soil we connect very directly with Mother Earth. It is a kind of tuning in.
In the same way we cultivate patience, awareness, discipline, surrender and relaxation while exploring asana, we uncover our intuition by working with nature.
Permaculture at Home
We can incorporate permaculture's principles of valuing diversity, producing a yield, recycling nutrients through the environment and maximizing use of energy even in a small space or an urban environment with the following suggestions. Begin by observing the local ecosystem of your home with a fresh view to sustainability and create the sprouts of your own victory garden for world peace. Small projects can provide inspiration and the impetus to gather the results of seeds sown well.
Reduce waste by composting food scraps. If you have limited yard space, try cultivating a worm bin.
- Add some windowsill herbs to a sunny corner.
- Utilize patio or porch space to grow medicinal tea leaves.
- Start a garden in your backyard with vegetables.
- Plant a fruit tree.
- Turn your front yard into an edible landscape.
- Apply for a plot in a community garden.
- Explore the possibility of going solar (Rethinking Solar installs solar panels for a monthly rental fee rather than a large up-front investment: rethinkingsolar.com).
Quail Springs: Learning Oasis and Permaculture Farm: Offers permaculture design courses and other workshops at: quailsprings.org
Sivananda Yoga Farm, Grass Valley: Residential Yoga and Permaculture course certified with Permaculture Institute of Australia. Next course: November 8-15, 2008. Visit: yogafarm.org
|Permaculture on Film
Permaculture: A Quiet Revolution
21st Paradigm Films
||Filmmaker Vanessa Schulz traveled to the 8th International Permaculture Convergence in Brazil in 2007. A group of forward-thinking revolutionary agricultural activists from around the world are turning to permaculture for lessons in self-reliance and living in harmony with Mother Earth. So inspiring it could be subversive. Uncover a sustainable future at: 21paradigm.com.
Ecoworkshops in Urban L.A.: With C. Darren Butler. Solar energy, edible landscaping and urban permaculture. Visit: ecoworkshops.com.
Los Angeles Permaculture Guild:This tribe exchanges information ranging from permaculture denizens looking to share rooms in permaculture-designed homes to announcing courses and meetings. Check them out at: lapcguild.tribe.net.
Sivananda Yoga Center: Community activities include karma yoga, teachings on the yama and niyama (restraints and ethical precepts) and environmentalism, introduction to permaculture and yoga, hands-on permaculture gardening and the Earth-based teachings of Ayurveda. Find them at: sivananda.org/la.
Permaculture Principles: Based on the work of permaculture cofounder David Holmgren, this site provides diagrammatic illustrations of the interconnected permaculture principles. Get the flower power: permacultureprinciples.com.
Green Yoga Association: This nonprofit association brings together yogis incorporating green values and practices including permaculture into the philosophy of yoga with an E-newsletter, green studios program, regular in-person gatherings and a conference. Go green at: greenyoga.org.
LA Ecovillage: brings a community together to explore radical solutions at: laecovillage.org.
Design courses: (including Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo), design services, essays and inspiration by L. Santoya at: earthflow.com.
Vidya Chaitanya is director of the Sivananda Yoga Center in Marina del Rey, CA. She conducts practical workshops and classes on how to transition peacefully and positively to a lifestyle that honors yoga, permaculture and the environment.