I recently moved to Tuscany, a place the pre-Roman Etruscans called “The Badlands.”
It was here, in a little corner of a remote olive farm, that I unearthed a hidden treasure: The Yoga Garden.
Until this discovery, I had never heard of a Yoga Garden.
For those of you with fertile imaginations, you may be envisioning a set of ancient Lululemon pants buried beneath the broccoli (do those things ever wear out?), or a bansuri (the bamboo flute played by Krishna) lurking below the lettuce, or maybe even miraculous, holy vegetables with growth patterns in perfect yoga poses.
However, what I found here had less to do with the mystery of the past, and more to do with the reality of the present.
This serendipitous discovery came about when I first dug my shovel into the clay-like ground. My intent was to remove some of the invading grasses, but the grass had other ideas—it refused to budge. I tugged and tugged, then sat back on my shins and straightened my back.
Suddenly, I realized I was in vajrasana pose. I took a deep breath and exhaled the struggle. Ah, outdoor yoga…
Now I have to admit, I haven’t attended a yoga class in a while. (This is coming from someone who took the time to be trained as a yoga teacher!) I definitely have not renounced yoga. I just find I have less time for classes because I’m doing healthy outdoor things—like gardening!
Determined to get every last blade of grass—I entered a yoga plank, kumbhakasana, reaching out to the middle of the field. I could feel myself getting into flow. My eagle eye spotted weeds lurking between the bean plants. One leg on each edge of the plot corner, I dropped my hands to the other side of the bean row—downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana).
Yoga queen was on a roll!
Next came the peppers and tomatoes—both tall plants, and the rows werequite close together. This called for side plank—vasisthasana.
The poses continued—in fact, I’m pretty sure I made up some new ones—and throughout it all, I breathed the good air in, practicing pranayama (controlled breathing).
As I worked, quietly listening to the music of nature—birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, insects buzzing—I became aware that nurturing this garden was a physical metaphor for the nurture of my own internal garden. Meaning, the gentle care of things that contribute to my well-being, the eradication of those things that serve no good, the awareness and appreciation of the beauty that blooms in me, and the watering of my soul.
In addition to nourishing my spirit, this garden’s bounty would nourish my physical body—with its home-grown, organic fruits and vegetables.
And so, from this yoga garden discovery, I propose the “Yoga Garden Diet and Exercise Program.”
It is certainly capable of becoming the latest health fad—having much more going for it than some of the crazy regimes of the past. For example, the Tapeworm Diet (In the early 1900’s people ate tapeworm pills so the little buggers would eat up the food in their stomach), the Twinkie Diet (Presumably, you can only eat so many before you get sick) and the Chewing Diet (Even Henry James endorsed this fatiguing practice of chewing your food until it became liquid in your mouth and spitting out anything that didn’t liquefy).
In contrast, consider all the benefits of the Yoga Garden Diet and Exercise Program…
First, we are breathing the healthy air of nature, as opposed to that of an air-conditioned gym. The air we breathe is critical to our health. Most of us spend way too much time in offices, cars and houses—breathing stale, recycled air.
Many of us go whole days, or weeks, barely getting outside. We wake up, drive to work or school, eat lunch in the cafeteria, drive home, maybe stop by the gym, then eat dinner and fall asleep in front of the TV. The next day, we get up and do it again. Well-oxygenated cells are healthy cells. Practicing vigorous breathing of fresh outdoor air blesses our body with wellness.
Second, we are connecting to Mother Earth—our sanctuary in the vastness of space. The more conscious we become of our connection to earth—and by extension, to each other as earth siblings—the more chance we have of curing our world problems.
We come from the earth—from the carbon creatures we call our parents, combined with the food, water and air of this earthly world. Throw in a spirit or soul, if you like, and voila! We have the recipe for the earth creature we call human. So, why not get to know your celestial parent, Mother Earth, with some gardening?
There is something special about letting rich, humusy soil run through your fingers. It’s a bit like holding our mother’s hand when we were small—it is a nice feeling.
Third, we are developing a close relationship with real food. The prepared food that comes in a box, mixed with chemicals and preservatives, coated with artificial sweeteners, or wrapped in microwaveable plastic doesn’t qualify.
A close, personal relationship with real food will open our eyes to the mess of the modern food system. I mean, do Fritos in any way resemble corn? Does strawberry Jello look like fruit? Are there really chickens that lay bright white eggs? It is no wonder we have such a problem with obesity, cancer and diabetes.
I offered an acquaintance a dried fig recently. She told me she had never tasted one—then added, “Oh, so this is what they make Fig Newtons out of!”
Grow and eat the real thing—your body will thank you.
Finally—we’re doing yoga!
Everyone knows yoga is good for us, though most of us know yoga as a form of exercise. However, yogis are traditionally less interested in a svelte body, and more interested in achieving a level of contemplation. One where they could exit the body—leaving the world behind and merging with the formless reality of spirit.
It is only in the last century that the idea of yoga have become synonymous with exercise. Traditional yoga encourages the following practices:
- Karma yoga, the path of achieving perfection through selfless and altruistic action.
- Bahkti yoga, the path of devotion toward, and oneness with God—motivated solely by the desire to please God, not by the promise of divine reward or the fear of divine retribution.
- Jnana yoga, the path of knowledge—rejecting all that is impermanent, imperfect and limiting, and affirming all that is pure, perfect, eternal and free.
There’s something to think about while you’re pulling those weeds!
Now, I know that not everyone can move to Tuscany and be given a garden to love—but everyone has access to soil. I have seen tiny, inner-city gardens in the landscape strips of parking lots. I have seen small, overgrown lots converted to community gardens, with a square meter for each participant. (Seriously, it is pretty amazing how much you can grow in a square meter.) I have seen condo verandas with pots of tomatoes, beans, strawberries and herbs.
Even these small endeavors provide the benefits described above, although perhaps with a little less planking required…
So, try Yoga Gardening today! Let’s grow ourselves some good food, from Mother Earth.
Then—at the end of a full day of exercise, good food and fresh air—take to your bed for one last pose: savasana (corpse pose).
Buona notte e dormi bene—Good night and sweet dreams!
Author: Cate Schultz Mighell
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Author’s own.