Yoga and Nature
By Donna Amrita Davidge
Yoga Teacher and Retreat Leader
We are all a part of nature. If we live in a large city we may forget that connection unless we take time to look up at the clouds, the sun, a full moon or take a walk through a park or sit in a garden. For those who live in rural areas, there is often, but not always, a natural connection to that environment.
We are seventy five per cent water so those who live near water often report a sensation of soothing from living near water, whether it be an ocean, lake or river. Many seek out bodies of water when they take a vacation. In yoga, we often refer to the “waves of the breath’, each unique like an ocean wave, a snowflake or a star.
“The facts of nature cannot in the long run be violated. Penetrating and seeping through everything like water, they will undermine any system that fails to take account of them, and sooner or later they will bring about its downfall. But an authority wise enough in its statesmanship to give sufficient free play to nature - of which spirit is a part - need fear no premature decline.” - Carl JungThe ancient yogis were wise to the fact that we must honor that which gives us life - the breath, the earth, its beings, the entire ecosystem. The primary practice that supports our entire physical system is called the sun salutation, Surya Namaskara, in reverence to the sun rising every day to support us, as we should rise every day and show gratitude with this salute. For many modern yogis the sun salutes are simply a way to warm up for the rest of the practice, few may realize its devotional importance.
Beyond saluting the life that sun supports us with, its warm rays to heat us and grow our food sources, this multi stepped practice has poses that support the body in both strength and flexibility. A woman reported a story to me years ago about a man who came to her yoga class, quite tight and stiff. A few years later he returned. The teacher, remembering him, asked why his body had changed so much. “Why”, he responded, “you told me to do three to five sun salutations a day.” His body had transformed. Yoga also honors nature by naming many of the poses for aspects of nature; for example, the classic leg balance tree or arm balance crow.
The examples are many - peacock, locust, frog, eagle or rabbit, to name just a few. While fun ways to engage children in yoga, these names of poses are also to remind us of our connection to all beings and life, with reverence.
The next time you practice a pose and hear the name of the pose, whether in Sanskrit or English, think of how you are recreating in your own body the image of these beautiful beings we are a part of in the ecosystem, as well as our connection to earth, sky, sun and moon (Hatha, the physical branch of yoga, is often considered to mean the balancing of sun and moon aspects within ourselves). More: see this page.
Donna Amrita Davidge teaches yoga since the mid 1980s in New York City (donnadavidgeyoga.com and since 1997 summer months at sewallhouse.com in her great grandfather’s historic Maine home, where a college aged TR was healed of asthma by immersion in nature.