What is Forest Bathing?

What is Forest Bathing?

In a time when our dependence on technology and our separation from the natural world is becoming more and more apparent, taking time to unplug and practice forest bathing has never been more important. But what is Forest Bathing?Here’s a hint – it’s not taking a hike into the woods and plopping yourself into a bubbly bathtub.

Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, is about bathing the senses in the natural world. Since we receive healing energy, or prana, through our senses, it is no wonder that people feel great after doing the practice. And there’s science to back it – studies have shown that Forest Bathing not only reduces stress, but uplifts the mood, reduces inflammation, pain, blood pressure, and induces an overall sense of well-being. 

Add all of those benefits to the fact that trees can enhance your blood oxygen levels and give you immune-boosting phytoncides, and you’ve got a pretty simple way to improve your health. 

 Forest Bathing, and Nature Therapy in general, can be integrated into any holistic healing regimen. It works synergistically to supplement the healing effects of Yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, breathwork, and proper diet/lifestyle.  

How to Practice Forest Bathing

Anyone can practice forest bathing, regardless of your age or background. The steps are very simple, but they may take some practice to perfect.

1. First, turn off your phone, put it on silent, and/or put it away if you feel safe doing so. This will get rid of unnecessary distractions.

2. Get into any area with trees, the more secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the better.

3. Let go of any agenda what-so-ever. There’s no destination. No running, no journaling, and no thinking about your to-do list. No planning. If you have a restless mind, a good session of breathwork and/or meditation before your practice can help calm the mind

4. Walk slowly. Pauses to sit or relax are encouraged.

5. Spend time mindfully observing in each of the five senses. What can you smell, feel, see, hear, or taste?

6. Focus on deep, abdominal breath throughout the practice. This helps keep you grounded in the present and reduces stress. 

7. If you are in a group, practice silence or mouna as much as possible. Talking can be a distraction fro the wonders of nature around you. 

8. Lastly, spend as long as you comfortably can in nature. Start with short intervals and build yourself up to two hours or more for a complete practice.

Next Steps

Spending time outdoors is not just a hobby; it is an essential human need. Humans actually get sick if they spend too much time indoors and away from nature. That’s why connecting with nature in any capacity is beneficial for your health.

If you live in a city, desert, or anywhere far away from a forest, you can still experience the benefits of nature immersion. While the specific practice of Shinrin-Yoku traditionally requires a proper forest with trees, the above principles can be applied in any ecosystem. You can even practice nature awareness indoors with house plants!

If you seek further guidance in forest bathing, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy offers a list of certified guides. Here are some additional tips for beginners: “Your Guide to Forest Bathing”.  The Sivananda Yoga Farm also offers outdoors and nature programs and retreats.

That’s all there is to it! There’s nothing to do, and nowhere to be. The goal is to just be fully immersed and connected with nature. Side effects may include deep relaxation, weight lifting off of your shoulders, feelings of awe, gratitude for being alive, and positive life-changing experiences.

Colin Eldridge (Krishna Das)

Colin teaches and helps coordinate Yoga, permaculture and outdoors programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm. He is a trained Sivananda Yoga instructor, permaculture designer, and Yoga Health Educator.

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What are the Permaculture Zones?

What are the Permaculture Zones?

The following text on the permaculture zones is an excerpt from the “Create a Harmonious Legacy through Permaculture” by Dwayne View, which is the workbook for Dwayne’s gardening courses. The full workbook is available for purchase through our on-site boutique.

Permaculture zones and the elements that are placed into them are chosen according to the amount of attention (labor input) those elements within each zone require for success. These zones move from higher input levels to lower input (or no input) levels. As the level of input decreases, the distance of that zone increases from the living areas.

Every space and each element should serve more than one function. Please consider this example; a fruit tree can be located to provide shade to a patio space or to the west side of a building, and it can yield edible fruit. And everything in each space is supported by more than one element.

The basic layout of the zones is a series of concentric rings that ripple outward centered on the dwelling structure. However, there is opportunity to be had in thinking about the zones in a less ordered manner. Have the zones’ perimeters and shapes conform to the needs of your site.

Zone map of the Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, California. Zone diagrams courtesy of Fractal Permaculture.

Zone 0

Zone 0 is home or a cluster of human dwelling structures. Some of the activities well suited to Zone 0 would include an appropriately sized space for culinary preparation. This space should be available to process and preserve yield from your permaculture site.

It too should accommodate sprout production and fermentation projects. All wastes that are generated in Zone 0 should have designed-in systems for their collection with a method to easily move those by-products to their appropriate outer zone for further processing.

Additional spaces in this zone should include areas for meditation, for education, and for sleep. A well thought-out bath space to accommodate the average amount of users would be important to place into this zone. Some residents will have companion animals that will require their needs to be met.

Other structural items in this zone could include attached greenhouses, shade houses, sod roofs and energy collection and storage systems.

The home dwelling and kitchen space are important aspects of Zone 1.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is the area surrounding the home. The two main attributes of this zone are constant attention and the requirements of daily interaction with the elements and systems within it. You should be alert to the need for implementing wild fire safety designs in this zone.

Be mindful of creating convenient and numerous access points between this zone and Zone 0, thus increasing niches for success. Some activities that could be accommodated in this zone would include meditation, exercise, education, cooking, dining, and processing yield.

Some of the permaculture systems that could be included in this zone are: potted plants, propagation tables, culinary herbs, garden beds, egg-laying boxes, compost collection, and locations for utilities. Cob, rammed-earth, adobe, metal, masonry, stone, and stucco surfaces can help to offer improved fire protection over extensive use of wood as the main design themes.

Plant herbs right outside of the kitchen door to reduce labor in zone 1.

Correct grading and ,the use of permeable paving would be highly beneficial in this zone. All areas of this zone should have some form of mulching. It could be a nice gravel that is comfortable to walk upon, kept clean and would help to reduce fire danger. Then the garden beds could be dressed in compost.

Zone 2

This zone is going to need regular interaction with input to tend the needs of chosen animals and plants. You should continue to treat this zone as a “fire management area.” Make informed choices that will reduce fuel loads and crowding of flammable materials. Consider adding permanent fire-fighting systems.

Zone 2 has quite a diverse offering of elements that are well suited here: greenhouses, sheds, barns, compost bins, propagation area, and multi-purpose spaces. Your domesticated animals along with their housing and feed can be blended into barns and stables. Hardier edible annuals and perennials can be established as the permaculture’s main production beds.

Large greenhouses are a source of major vegetable production in Zone 2.

Dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees, including citrus if climate permits, can be established as an orchard. The orchard can be surrounded by and intermixed with fruiting vines and bushes. The integration of plants that support pollinators and beneficial insects belong in this zone, too.

Bee boxes for solitary native bees and bee hives for honey production are desirable for generating higher yields from your garden beds. Include ponds with larger margins to increase the opportunity for niches that will help to remove pollutants from your permaculture system. Slow flowing shallows with natives, rush (Juncus patens) and yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica,) are well suited to remove pollutants from aquatic systems.

Two additional elements included in this zone might be wind breaks and the first installation of guilds. Wind breaks could be well suited to your site, offering protection from harsh winter winds. Successful guilds are your biologically diverse creations that provide support within their system and yield from their production. The guilds are to be permanent, dynamic living systems.

This peach tree guild in the Yoga Farm orchard hosts daffodils, tulips, clover, lavender, lupine, oregano and more.

Zone 3

Known as “the farming zone.” Some of the elements that are well suited in this zone include large fruit and nut trees, orchards, berries and brambles, long-lived woody perennials, beneficial annuals to support pollinators, pasture areas for self-
grazing animals, large water storage, guilds, and wind breaks.

Again, be mindful of fire risks and design in elements to reduce the dangers. This zone will be visited less than Zone 2 and the elements here should be hardy enough to handle occasional neglect and weather extremes with resilience. This zone may not even have any piped irrigation and might subsist on precipitation alone.

So the construction of swales and ponds would make a huge difference in extending the time of available soil moisture into late spring or even summer and the extra water that is retained will continue recharging the water

2 acres of low maintenance lavender fields are part of zone 3 on the Yoga Farm property.

Zone 4

Zone 4 is a “wild food gathering” range. This zone may or may not be on your physical property. Be mindful to reduce fuel loads and remove fire dangers, if it is within your property boundaries. Activities and elements that belong in this zone include more water storage, native tree and plant restoration, habitat for beneficial native insects and animals, wood cutting, food gathering, limited technology that specifically supports the permaculture system, and hasty animal grazing to improve habitat.

You and other members of you community may visit this site only a few times per year.

Zone 5

Zone 5 is the outer most zone in permaculture design. Again, this zone may or may not be within your permaculture boundaries. It could even be a zone that might not get visited. Consider this area to be a “natural unmanaged area.” This space can serve as wildlife preserve and corridor.

Untouched ecosystems are important and vital aspects of any permaculture design.

Members and animals of your permaculture community might occasionally forage inside this zone. However, it would be best to leave it untouched. This could be the zone where, over large periods of time, your community creates lasting habitat for endangered species.

Chances for wildfire in this zone are immense! Natural and man-made conflagrations will pose significant risk to the residents, the animals, and the infrastructure of your permaculture site. Your energy overlay and library research could reveal how wildfire might move across your site, giving you the ability to implement defenses.

Dwayne received his Horticulture Degree in 1996 and recently received his SmartScape and Qualified Green Gardener certification to further his plant knowledge. He currently works as the Nursery Operator in the Outdoor Garden Center at Emigh Ace Hardware in Sacramento. He has written multiple educational workbooks on topics such as gardening, permaculture, horticulture and has designed landscapes for yards, gardens, river-friendly purposes and more.

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Yoga Guidelines for conscious self healing and healing of the Earth

Yoga Guidelines for conscious self healing and healing of the Earth

A satsang with swami Sitaramananda

May 3rd 2020 edited


The talk today is about Self Healing and Healing of the environment using Yogic principles. The word Yoga here implies classical Yoga taught holistically in a philosophical traditional background and not just modern urban commercial exercise Yoga taught in a hectic stressful environment. This is an appropriate topic in the context of our public and personal health and immunity crisis due to the outbreak of Corona virus. We just celebrated the 50th Earth day in the middle of the pandemic. We also face more and more Mother Nature protests in forms of global warming, tidal waves, droughts, forest fires and floods.

Our urban and artificial societies are more and more sick and dependent on drugs and medication, feeding on processed food with little prana and creating health problems such as obesity, cancer, cardio vascular and digestive problems, and most recently respiratory problems. Our minds are full of disturbed media scenes of sex and violence, instead of experiencing mountains, sky, water and plants around us. Our world leaders are themselves alienated from nature and our corporations motivated by short term profits, lead us away more and more from our peace and health.

Overall we are externally driven, feeling unstable and empty. Again, we revisit the the old idea of the correspondence between individual health, public health and health of the planet we live in and what can we do about it? How do we balance ourselves in a world out of balance? How to keep our faith and hope and do the right thing in this world in crisis? Together let’s explore the philosophical and practical foundation for a life in Total Harmony with Nature and let’s face our spiritual ignorance(avidya) at the root of our mistaken identity and mistaken perception of the environment we live in. 

There will be a few sections to our talk today:

  1. What is Health according to classical Yoga? What is Healing? what is Self Healing?
  2. What are the principles to follow and certain behaviors to abstain from in order to address the root causes of our physical-mental spiritual ill health? 
  3. What are the behaviors to adopt in order to improve our energy and our body-mind-spirit health?
  4.  How do we apply these principles to the environment? How do we harmonize with the world of nature and with the Cosmic Spirit behind it? Let’s get familiar with some examples of restrictions and observances we can follow when come to the environment.
  5. Vedanta philosophy applied to the environment.  Is there any difference between the inner and outer reality? The individual and the collective energy? How to reconcile material universe and spirit? How do we solve the problems of division, separation and lack of unity? How do we practice unity in diversity?

What is Health?

Swami Sivananda said that “the laws of health are the laws of nature and they should not be violated. He said that there is an intimate connection between the mind and the body. And all diseases take their origin in the mind. The pains that affect the physical body are called secondary diseases, while the vasanas that affect the mind are termed mental and primary diseases. If bad thoughts are destroyed, all bodily diseases will vanish. Treat the mind first. Mental health is more important then physical health. “

Ayurveda says that the prime cause of disease is forgetfulness of our true Nature as Spirit. This means that when we are forgetful, we identify with body and mind vehicle as ourselves and make wrong decisions about lifestyle or about our path to happiness, thus we bring upon ourselves stress and tension leading to diseases. Yoga talks about holistic healing, i.e. healing of body mind spirit.

What is Healing? What is Self Healing?

Yoga talks about the free flow of prana and changing our vibratory level. Ayurveda talks about restoring balance and health getting back to Nature. Vedanta talks about rememberance of our True Self (the Atman) as the ultimate Truth and to have an attitude of detachment towards what the body and mind can come up with as reality. Healing means ceasing to forget ourselves in our constant identification with the body and mind. 

Healing means to realize that we are Pure consciousness behind all things including our body.  

Healing means ceasing to identify with our separated-ness but to see the Oneness. Healing means to cease to identify with our vehicles, and to see

through the veils of consciousness (our body, our prana, our mind, emotions and senses, our intellect and ego). At the same time, healing means connection with Nature and not just indulgence in technology. The Healing journey is a long way. In that journey, we need self aware teachers and leaders who have found the way to peace themselves.

Self Healing means Self Realization, realization of our divine connection with nature and spirit in nature.  It implies changing of one’s own consciousness and lifestyle to come closer to the Truth.

The opposite of it is, getting lost in the habits and mental grooves of the past, getting lost in the restlessness and the desires in an unceasing pursuit of external happiness, and getting lost in the promise of more power in a more advanced technological society. The yogic guidelines for conscious self-healing help us to correct our thinking and isolated feeling, alleviate our sufferings, become clearer in our perceptions of our own self and love of others, and bring us closer to true Health, Peace and Self realization.

Self Healing success is when we are able to break through the chain of karma. In other words, success is being able to retrain ourselves not to repeat the same pattern of conditioned behavior which binds us. The reason why we are not happy comes from the fluctuations of the mind and the constant replaying of its unhealthy patterns. The mind keeps projecting thoughts and emotions that were gained through past experience and reacts to them, thus keeping us bound in the mirage of its own creation. We experience the roller coaster of our mind and emotions and miss out on the rewarding and fulfilling experience of being our own peaceful, loving, happy, present, blissful Self.

2. The foundations of Yoga: the yamas (restrictions) and niyamas (observances).

The yoga masters have given us guidelines for conscious self-development that go to the root cause of our suffering by consciously correcting the course of our actions. We train ourselves in two ways: on one side guarding ourselves not to misbehave, thus repeating our patterns leading to suffering (these are the yamas); and on the other side, actively cultivating positive attitudes and helpful conducts (these are the niyamas). Thus we straighten out our mind, squeezing the impurities out of our mind from both sides, the “not to do’s” and the “to do’s”.

The mind in its pure state is capable of reflecting our beautiful Self or Atman in all situations, in ourselves and others. By purifying the mind, we alleviate our ups and downs, our inner turmoil and conflicts, and we feel free. Otherwise we struggle to remember ourselves and spend our energies in distractions and forgetfulness. The ideal is reached when there is no more forgetfulness of Self and one relaxes in the Peaceful Being.

The Yamas and Niyamas are universal guidelines that if followed will improve our lives in the long term and help remove obstacles stemming from our karmic tendencies, character defects, and bad habits. These guidelines address the fundamental egoistic and desiring nature of ourselves. One might find a character defect more dominant than another but working with one will bring light to the others as well. No one can be exempt from working on oneself.

In the same manner, we expect everyone to follow the rules of traffic, driving on the proper side of the road and observing traffic signals. The Yamas (restrictions) and Niyamas (observances) are to be consciously practiced in thought, word and deed. However, it is important to realize that these self healing guidelines do not turn into judgment to be interpreted as rigid moral rules.  In Truth, the Self is One. The bottom line is that we are one Universal Spirit in myriad expressions.

3. What are the principles to follow and certain behaviors to abstain from in order to address the root causes of our physical-mental spiritual ill health? 

  • Yamas: Restraints (The Things Not to Do)

1/ – Ahimsa:  Ahimsa is the practice of controlling the emotion of anger. Anger comes from selfish desires or expectations unfulfilled. Selfish desire comes from our failure to recognize our fulfillment in the True Self, and our looking for happiness in external objects or situations. Ahimsa means restraining oneself from the reactive tendency to be angry when one’s desires are not met, or the tendency to abuse others and enter into conflicts or wars.

Raja yoga methods to deal with anger: The antidote of anger is contentment or letting go of expectation, accepting that, “It is not my will, but God’s will”. The practice of Non violence requires calmness, courage, self control, self restraint and the practice of serenity. Practice of ahimsa leads one to develop good quality of the heart and leads one to develop mercy, kindness, unselfishness, patience, forgiveness, pure Cosmic Love, compassion, perseverance and peace. If we practice ahimsa, we will be able to maintain durable, positive and loving relationships. To note that one can act out of dharma-righteousness in the spirit of selflessness without being violent or selfish.

Karma Yoga methods: Do service to others to develop love and equal vision instead of basing one’s life on one’s needs, desires and egoism.

Bhakti Yoga methods:  Connect with the secure and fulfilled Divine Love. Trust that the Divine has a plan for each person and surrender to the Divine Plan. Contemplate and glorify the Divine Mother, God, Nature, the Universe. Find acceptance. Practice of listening, giving, serving, humility, remove pride, cultivate devotion and practice friendship with all.

Jnana Yoga methods:  Do self enquiry. Remind of the SatchitAnanda Atman beyond desires. Discriminate and detach from situation that causes irritations. Seeing the big picture.

2/. – Satya:  Satya means truthfulness– It deals with our fear of not meeting our goals, in the eyes of ourselves or others. Fear comes from attachment. We will not be afraid if we do not have any attachment. In truth, we can not gain nor lose anything externally – either name, fame, prestige, position or love because we are already perfect in ourselves and we can not be greater or smaller then what we already are.

Applying Satya, we refrain from the tendency to exaggerate, to manipulate others, or to tell lies in order to achieve an egoistic goal. Sincerity, honesty and straightforwardness will help to simplify and clear the mind, thus achieving inner peace. Purity, Peace and Truth are synonymous terms. Truth comes in the form of righteousness, justice, harmony, ahimsa, harmlessness, forgiveness, impartiality, transparency, desirelessness, modesty, goodness, renunciation magnanimity, nobility, devotion, compassion.

The opposite of truth is deception, falsehood, dishonesty, exaggeration, twisting, egoism, lies, crookedness, manipulation, meanness, dissimulation, cowardice, fear, lack of courage.

Benefits of truthfulness: Health, fearlessness, freedom, clarity, wisdom, strong faith and absence of anxiety. Lies and fearful living create blockages t the flow of prana.

Raja Yoga methods: Calm and clarify the mind through the 8 limbs to discern the truth within that is beyond all concepts of the mind.

Bhakti Yoga methods: Be transparent and humble. Surrender to God’s will. Keep love and faith while cultivating Satsanga with truthful and virtuous people. We count on God to give us what we deserve or need and not what we desire. Making amends, atonements, confessions asking for forgiveness and humble attempts to come closer to the source of Being that is Truth.

Karma Yoga methods: Surrendering of doership and offering of the results of one’s actions, staying even in success or failures will remove fears and anxieties which can lead to lies. The motivation is being kept pure.

Jnana yoga methods: enquire into the nature of ephemeral gains. Examine the attachments and the tendencies of the mind of likes and dislikes. Contemplate and discriminate between the truth and untruth, the real and the illusory, the Self and the Not self. It is the beginning of Healing.

3/ – Brahmacharya:  

Brahmacharya is control or sublimation of the sensual and sexual drive and deals with the emotion of Desire and Lust. Through practicing brahmacharya, we can restrain the tendency to seek sensual pleasures as the goal of life, and to misuse our sexual energy–which is be converted into spiritual energy. This guideline advises us to avoid sexual misconduct and to regulate our impulses, question our motives, and help bring clarity to our human interaction. Applying Brahmacharya in our dealings with others, we will be able to transform our emotional and desirous nature into a fulfilling relationship with the Divine, based on devotion and pure love.

The sexual instinct is the strongest instinct in us, stemming from the instinct of reproduction. It involuntarily prompts a person to the sexual act for the preservation of his species. It is in reality, the creative force in man. It comes from Rajas; Sexual energy can be transmuted into spiritual energy by pure thought. The practice of Brahmacharya is the practice of Purity, to be practiced along with ahimsa, and satya. It is a dynamic conversion process, not a matter of suppression or repression. The reproductive energy is transmuted and transformed into Ojas Shakti or spiritual power.

Truth can not dwell where passion lives. The Atman is sexless.

Raja Yoga methods: By right diet, asana, pranayama, turning inwards of the senses, concentration on sublime thoughts, meditation, japa, worship, the sexual energy is converted into Ojas Shakti.

Bhakti Yoga methods: By intense devotion to one’s pure ideal, the energy of desire for union can be sublimated into pure love.

Karma Yoga methods: By dedicating oneself to the service of the ideal divine beloved, one can elevate this instinctive self-serving energy of desire into the selfless impulse to do good for a larger whole.

Jnana Yoga methods: By seeing the other as one’s own Self, one can disassociate with the idea of a desirable mate. Through the sophisticated development of pure intelligence, we can discriminate between the mental habits of accumulated instinctual lifetimes and the Atman. The practice of Purity allows us to aspire to taste the super sensual Atmic bliss. Healing of the Mind and the emotions that leads to the recovery of the True Self often starts with the calming of passion.

4/. Asteya:  non stealing, not taking what doesn’t belong to you.

It is also non-covetousness. It deals with our tendency towards jealousy and envy. Observing this guideline will counteract our tendency to give in to our desires, or think that satisfying material desires is the goal of life. It will help us to be content, knowing that what is supposed to come to us by our own karmas and merits will come naturally, without our manipulation or intervention.

Raja Yoga methods: be content with simple life, count your blessings, practice of giving instead of taking or stealing.

Bhakti Yoga methods: See someone’s happiness as your own. Keep good relationships and pure love. Surrender the ego.  

Karma Yoga methods: Accept our karmas, and do our duty, let go of results. Understand that it is better to work through one’s own karma rather than someone else’s karma.

Jnana Yoga methods: Know that all is impermanent and desires are illusory and changing. 

5.- Aparigraha:  

Aparigraha means non-accumulation or non-acceptance of bribes. It deals with our tendency towards greed. Observing this guideline counteracts our tendency to think that the more we attain or possess, the more we will be safe and secure. It further guides us not to forfeit our soul to the material life, and to cultivate an attitude of detachment towards material possessions. Leading a simple life allows the spirit to remain light, detached and self-reliant. It also helps us in our dealings with others to be strong and free as others can manipulate our weakness by bribery.

Raja Yoga methods: The opposite of greed is charity, austerity, sacrifice, simplicity and renunciation. Avoiding distractions, keeping discipline and focus will help avert the tendency towards indulgence in what one’s likes.

Bhakti Yoga methods: connect with the secure and fulfilled divine love. The sublimation method is to give in charity to spiritual or humanitarian institutions.

Karma Yoga methods: Actively helping the downtrodden, the poor, lonely and forgotten.

Jnana Yoga methods: Patanjali said that the conquest of greed leads to one’s true meaning of life and the knowledge of the purpose of birth. The purpose of birth is Self Realization, to see Spirit in Matter. Accumulation of matter and negligence of Spirit lead us away from this truth.

  • What are the behaviors to adopt in order to improve our energy and our body-mind-spirit health?

5 Niyamas: Observances (The Things to Observe or to Do)

1, – Saucha:  Saucha is purity. This observance will help us to counteract impurities in our bodies, minds, and outer environments, and help us come into deeper contact with our true selves. By purifying the emotions and thoughts, which are like coverings over our eyes, we can begin to see more clearly and gain a truer perspective.

Raja Yoga methods: The practice of the 5 points Yoga life(asana, pranayama, relaxation, diet, positive thinking, meditation) nurtures sattva and purify the mind and heart.

Bhakti Yoga Methods: Devotion and humility purify the heart and bring pure love. Devotion and love help one to overcome hatred, guilt and grief. 

Karma Yoga methods: Selflessness purifies the ego and its likes and dislikes, its attachments and aversions. By helping people with the same problems as yours, one gains perspective and regains the sense of Self Worth.

Jnana Yoga methods: We can be lost in the feelings of guilt, shame or grief. However, difficult it might be, remember the pure, the brilliant, the limitless, the stainless atman, untouched by any happenings and impurities. Try to forgive the past and feel strong in the present.  Remember that the mind is a distorted, imperfect instrument for seeing the true Self and reality. Remember the false self, the ego, that is attached to its own impurities. Remember not to forget ourselves, to turn within and to remember ourselves. This will dispel darkness and brings about light.

2/.  Santosha:  Santosha is contentment. This practice will help us counteract the tendency to look externally for happiness and become dissatisfied with our lots in life, rather than counting our blessings. Through practicing Santosha, we begin to realize that God’s grace is always with us.

Raja Yoga methods: The 5 points Yoga Life helps to calm the restless mind and turns it inwards. Concentration and meditation thin out the mind activities.

Bhakti Yoga methods: Praise the wisdom of the Supreme and know that all is taken care of. Surrender to God’s will and accept all as Prasad.

Karma Yoga methods: Serve others less fortunate then yourself, think of others who are more sick then you, this will keep the mind contented.

Jnana Yoga methods: See the whole world as your own home, and the wealth of Nature as your own wealth. Remove the I and mine and you will be contented.

3.- Tapas:  Tapas means austerity. This practice will help us to counteract the belief that comforts of the body and mind are the goals of life. It will help us avoid imprisonment in the sensual, limited life that is governed by the mind and the senses. Tapas will help us to assert our supremacy over the mind and emotions, freeing us and give the power back to the spirit. All practice of self restraint to turn the mind inwards is tapas. The world under lock down is practicing tapas. There are many forms of tapas. Bear insults, injury persecution, discomfort and fatigue are all forms of tapas.

Raja Yoga methods: all 8 limbs of Raja Yoga can be considered as training tapas. Meditation is the highest form of tapas.

Bhakti Yoga methods: Keeping the emotions controlled for the sake of Pure Love is emotional tapas. Keeping faith and loyalty instead of doubts and changing loyalty are mental tapas. Listening to scriptures, mantra chanting are tapas.

Karma Yoga: Serving all, willingly, at any time, all the time is tapas. Adapting oneself to the needs of service is tapas. Doing any kind of service whether one likes it or not is tapas.

Jnana Yoga methods: Keeping vigilance in Self Enquiry is tapas. Keeping discrimination, detachment, self remembrance are all forms of tapas.

4. – Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana: Self Study and Self Surrender: Swadhyaya is the study of scriptures. Doing this will help us to counteract the idea that only what we can see and what people tell us about ourselves is true. The scriptures, on the contrary, tell us of a reality beyond the normal perceptions and glorify the true Self; they will inspire us in our search for Truth.

– Ishwara-pranidhana:  Ishwara-pranidhana means self-surrender to God or a higher power. Self-surrender counteracts our tendency to think that we are the best and the top, that we have all the powers and that we are controlling our lives. With this egoistic bend of our mind, we do not have to adjust or accept something that is not to our liking, so we blame and resent instead of trying to see the big picture. Practicing self-surrender will help us work through our karmas by practicing acceptance and knowing that everything happens for a reason.

  • How do we apply these principles to the environment? What is the relationship between self healing and healing of the Earth? Examples of restrictions and observances when come to the environment.

The prana that we bring through Yoga practice has a healing effect upon our environment as well as ourselves. Self healing and healing of the Earth happen simultaneously. Yoga framework, the Yamas and niyamas, can become the spiritual guidelines for the ecological movement.

Yoga can contribute an integrate way of working with the forces of life to aid in the process of purification (Saucha) of the planet, as people become more still and content (santosha) , less indulgent and weak, being able to cooperate with Nature (Tapas), becoming more and more aware of the interdependence of things ( through study of sacred scriptures) and last but not least, by being able to surrender to the Supreme Being, thus not thinking that we as specie is the Master of the Universe (ishwara pranidhana).

As we elevate ourselves, and align ourselves with yogic principles, we as a collective can act responsibly and respectfully, abstaining from creating harm to the environment and others (ahimsa), we come close to the truth of Oneness of all Beings (satya), we control our desires and passions (brahmacharya) , we become content and respectful, not  taking what doesn’t come to us naturally (asteya) and most importantly we are refraining from greed (aparigraha) which is at the root of so many environmental harmful activities .

By bringing in these higher sattvic energies, and staying away from rajasic and tamasic energies, Yoga has the potential to help the world. The most remarkable things I have seen being reported during these days of global lockdown are the diminishing of city pollution (Himalayas ranges are being seen from Delhi!), the appearance of wild animals even though apparently the dancing dolphins in the canals of Venice was fake news, they were being spotted nearby in the waters but not in the canals of Venice.

Yoga movement hopefully is moving from just simply self concerned exercises to conscious improvement of our lifestyle, our way of eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves and consumption. Yoga and Ayurveda lifestyle automatically connect all with Natural methods of self healing by elevating our consciousness how to increase our supply of prana through the elements and how to balance ourselves.

Automatically Yoga and Ayurveda lifestyle will reduce the impact upon the environment when people follow vegetarian diet and stop the cruelty to animals and exploitation of our natural environment. Yogic lifestyle value simplicity and self restraint and automatically affect the way we consume and the excesses that come from a consumer society. Hopefully, the days and months under locked down, help us to curb our desires and needs for more stuff and help us realize that we can survive on the bare minimum and be healthy and happy. We need to contemplate on the meaning of what is “essential” need and what is “non essential”.

Classical Yoga teachers and Ayurveda lifestyle counsellors can promote the distancing from artificial living, the returning back to nature and to Earth as well, the simple living and high thinking in ashrams and retreats out of town, in beautiful nature, the self sufficiency on the land, the gardening and producing of our own food from our organic garden.

     Examples of what we can do to observe Yamas and niyamas and positively influence our environment:

Ahimsa: avoid injuring the environment, adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, driving, flying and traveling less; buying local organic food or producing our own, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle, compost, buying bulk, avoiding packaging.

Satya: follow up as much as possible in thoughts, words and deeds the ecological considerations by examining daily our choices.

Brahmacharya – do not indulge in the senses and sexual abstinence.

At the base of our desires for consumption is our instinct of reproduction. The problem is we never have enough reproductive success as we are never satisfied with our reproductive success. People desire limitless wealth, status, and power because those instincts helped our ancestors survive & achieve reproductive success. We can’t depend on how we feel (by doing what comes naturally) to achieve satisfaction. Modern society innovations intensify competition for wealth, status and power causing greed, crime, grief, hatred, disappointment, depression, and environmental destruction.

Asteya- do not steal: Simply taking what we think we need, without thinking about how it arrives to us, what may be destroyed as a result, how we may be taking from others, including future generations, is stealing. Try to find healthy, green products, ethical products according to scientific ratings. Example www.goodguide.com  Each product is given health, environment and society scores 1-10

Aparigraha – do not be greedy:  Live simply, avoid accumulating things, de-clutter, recycle what you do not use, live beneath your means.


Saucha – cleanliness and purity,  both inner and outer. We are what we eat, so we are encouraged to only eating fresh, organic food, preferably grown ourselves or nearby. Working to clean up the oceans, the lands, and our environment, reduce production of trash, abstain from non recyclable trash.

Santosha- be contented: Avoid over consumption.Avoid falling for illusory differences between products. Accept and appreciate that which is provided by nature, eat local seasonal food; Know your local herbs; Wait for the sun to shine to clean clothes so it will be possible to line dry them; Appreciate abundance of power on sunny days and avoid activities that require power on overcast days, use a solar oven to cook food on sunny days.

Tapas – perform austerities: Austerity means curtailing the insatiable demands of the senses. Fasting. Only eating local seasonal food. Adjusting to seasonal temperature changes instead of using air conditioning. Avoid bottled water which is convenient but bad for the environment.

Swadhyaya: self study and study of scriptures: Become more and more aware of our collective wrong doings and our karmic imprints:  learn how things are produced, merchandized and consumed, trashed or recycled, and try to find alternatives.

Ishwara Pranidhana: keep being humble and realize the interconnectivity of things in nature. Surrender to God’s will for us in everything and live respectfully and in harmony with the powers of the divine mother in Nature, instead of willfully create for ourselves a discarded, isolated, egoistic, unaware, sensual, lack of devotion, artificial life. Realize higher powers of consciousness present in all things. Keep connection with it and find peace and contentment is the key to yogic ecological living.

  • Vedanta for Ecological living:

Remember unity of life. -Unity in diversity. – Remember our mental habits to repeat our tendencies (in this regard, yamas and niyamas help to rebuild our course of actions). Remember the illusory nature of our perceptions which keep us in the same cycle of reactions (story of seeing the snake instead of seeing the rope). Remember that we are Satchitananda Atman, not a victim, not a consumer, not separated and alien, but the peaceful, powerful, supported at all times by Divine consciousness, self reliant and self delight Self. 

Vedanta philosophy applied to the environment is sustainable bridging our well being with the well being of Nature and others. There is no difference between the inner and outer reality. If we elevate one, we elevate the other. If we become self conscious, we will elevate the environment and heal the Earth. If the Earth is taken care of, we will also be taken care of. Individual efforts influence the collective energy and collective awareness influences our personal effort.  

Vedanta philosophy by addressing the root cause of our individual and collective suffering and recognizing our spiritual ignorance the source of it, solve the problems of division, separation and lack of unity between groups and nations.  The root cause of our suffering is our false identification with our culture, national boundaries, political leaderships, gender and race and forget our common oneness.

Bringing out the ecological and planetary importance of Yoga and Ayurveda is the real mission we need to undertake. This will benefit all of us now – our societies in stand still under lock down, but also will benefit our future generations. At this poignant time, let’s practice the yamas and niyamas as guidelines of high thinking and high living and not as dogma and moral rules which bring divisiveness, arrogance, judgment and holier than thou attitude. 

Let’s become compassionate and forgiving. Let’s teach more Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta to the masses. And let’s bow in gratitude for favors and support received from the Divine Mother seeing each other and all beings as brothers and sisters sharing the same earth, same sky, same water. Let’s celebrate our unity in diversity!

Let’s pray to the forces of Nature… This is the classical vedic mantra:

Shanti Mantras:

Om sham no mitrah sham Varunah  ̣(may the sun be good to us)

     Sham no bhavaturyamà (may the God of the Waters be good to us)

  • … you are indeed the visible Brahman. I shall call Thee just. I shall call thee Truth. May that protect me. May That protect the teacher. Om Peace, peace, peace.
5 Edible and Medicinal Springtime Weeds

5 Edible and Medicinal Springtime Weeds

At the Sivananda Yoga Farm, a winter full of precipitation ushers in bright green hillsides dotted with multicolored wildflowers. However, Spring also brings lots of new weeds in our garden and greenhouse. Not all weeds are bad though, in fact most of them have a use. While invasive annual grasses are an unwelcome guest our garden, there are many weeds that we leave in place for their benefits.

According to permaculture, every time you pull a weed, you create a disturbed soil condition ideal for more weeds to germinate. Some weeds beneficial, as they provide medicine, attract insects, protect the soil, and even increase fertility.

We try to employ the philosophy of leaving as many plants in the ground as is practical. The weeds listed below definitely make our “leave it in the ground” list.

1. Chickweed

Chickweed is an edible green herb that also makes a great groundcover, meaning it will creep along the ground and cover an entire spot. It has small white flowers that attract pollinators, and it also a healthy salad green or soup addition!

It has medicinal properties as well, be but beware not to confuse chickweed with its poisonous lookalike, scarlet pimpernel. Caution: it can be hard to tell the two apart without their flowers. Only eat wild plants you when have a positive identification from an expert!

2. Yellow Dock

Yellow dock is a common weed that grows in old orchards, around trees, and often near waterways. It is an edible green high in minerals that is best eaten cooked. The plant can also be used medicinally as a laxative, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and diuretic.

Dock is also a mineral accumulator and may help fertilize the soil around it with iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus if you chop and drop the leaves. Plant it around your fruit trees for helpful companion plant with many uses.

3. Bittercress

This spectacular weed is in the brassica family, the same class of plants as broccoli, cabbage and kale. Likewise, it is full of good-for-you nutrients such as Vitamin C, glucosinolates (which remove carciongens from the body), and beta-carotene.

The sweet and bitter green will grow in USDA hardiness zones 4-8, and will commonly volunteer itself in gardens, pathways and untended lawns. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and used as a garnish or as an excellent addition to salads.

4. Mullein

Mullein is an essential herb for any herbal first aid kit. It is easy to identify with its fuzzy leaves. It is a biennial plant, meaning it has two-year life cycle. In its second year, it grows a 2-8 foot tall stalk with yellow flowers.

Mullein is an effective medicine for most lung related conditions including asthma, allergies, cough, bronchitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and more. It is also used to treat flu symptoms, cold, migraines, joint pain, gout, colic, diarrhea and a myriad of other symptoms.

We find the herb especially useful in California during the fire season, because it helps to cleanse the lungs. The dried and fresh leaf can both be used, and will store for a long time if dried. Mullein is a very common herb and can grow in poor, dry and compacted soil conditions.

While the leaves are the most commonly used part, the flower can be made into a tincture to treat swelling and ear infections. The root is used to treat nerve and muscle pain.

5. Dandelion

Last but certainly not least, we have dandelion, the word-famous lawn weed. Most manicured lawn-lovers hate this common weed, yet it is loved by herbalists, permaculturists and naturalists alike.

This powerful bitter herb has so many uses. The entire part of the plant is both edible and medicinal. The young tender greens in early spring make a great salad addition. Dandelion’s yellow flowers are also edible and have a sweet taste. More mature greens are intensely bitter and taste better when cooked.

The root can be roasted and made into a tea that is used a coffee substitute. Its bitter quality gives it liver cleansing and detoxifying properties, which is especially important in the spring time when the body is waking up and getting rid of winter weight. Research shows that dandelion can also be used to reduce inflammation and even treat cancer and diabetes.

Dandelion thrives in poor, compacted soils because of its strong taproot. It is one of the first weeds to show up in order to remediate tilled, damaged or compacted soil. The plant also provides joy for adults and children alike, because people enjoy blowing its mature seeds into the wind.

Weeds Are Your Friends

I always tell people, there’s no such thing as a bad plant. There are only plants that humans don’t want in certain places. Sometimes we feel the need to remove weeds to beautify spaces, increase crop production or take out overly invasive weeds. However, when done in excess, constant weeding can create imbalance on the land and then we miss out on the viable medicine and food they provide.

Weeds are mother nature’s warriors and healers. They come into action when land has been disturbed, in order to improve soil conditions and protect it from erosion. In the same way that certain weeds heal the Earth, many weeds are also medicinal herbs and can be used to heal people as well. Next time before thinking about pulling a plant out of the earth or spraying it with a pesticide, try to identify it first. Maybe it is there for a good reason.

Colin Eldridge (Krishna Das)

Krishna Das teaches and helps coordinate Yoga, permaculture and outdoors programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm.

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5 Tips for Tending a Winter Garden

5 Tips for Tending a Winter Garden

There are so many benefits of gardening, such as helping combat depression and making you feel more grounded. It’s especially important in the wintertime to do activities that uplift your mind and give you prana.

When leaves fall off trees and snow falls from the sky, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the growing season is over. Here are five simple ways to continue enjoying your garden in the cold winter months, so you can stay active and connected with nature.

1. Mulch

If used properly, mulch can help to increase fertility, water retention, protect the soil from erosion, and suppress unwanted weeds. If you are going to clear a garden bed for the winter, the bare minimum you would want to do is cover the bed with mulch.

For annual vegetable beds, covering with a mixture of straw mulch and composted manure will protect the soil over winter months and break down into a nutrient rich compost for spring planting.

For perennial plants such as trees, bushes and shrubs, surrounding the base of the plant with a ring of composted woodchip, shredded leaf, or straw mulch can help protect the roots from winter freeze-thaw cycle.

Composted mulch can also be used around fruit trees to protect them from cold winters.

Composted mulch is key, because fresh mulch will take much longer to break down and temporarily rob the soil of nutrients. If you have fresh mulch, you can make a seperate pile of mixed with manure or other nitrogen rich material such as pond algae, grass clippings, coffee grounds, or whatever else you may have available. Let the pile break down over a season and you will end up with rich composted mulch ready for use in the garden.

Keep in mind that if your winter months are cold and wet, too much mulch can be a storehouse for pathogens (i.e fungi and bacteria that harm your crops). Never pile your mulch directly on the trunks, stems or roots of plants; allow some space for the plant to breathe.

Here’s a recipe for bomb-proof sheet mulching.

2. Extend the Growing Season with a Greenhouse

You don’t have to be limited by the first frost when it comes to growing vegetables. A greenhouse can help you greatly increase your growing season and extend into it into winter months.

If you have enough land, big greenhouses or hoop houses are great for lots of production. However, you can make one even in the tiniest garden bed with a DIY cold frame.

Click here for an easy DIY raised bed hoop house using only metal brackets, PVC pipe, and greenhouse plastic.

3. Grow Hardy Vegetables

There are many plants that will continue to grow well past Autumn and into the first frost. Examples include kale, beets, broccoli, Brussels, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, leafy lettuces, mustard greens, rutabaga, spinach, chard, peas, bak choi and more.

Depending on your climate, there are perennial plants that can be harvested in late fall or early winter, such as Jerusalem Artichoke. Fall is also a great time to plant flowers that will bloom in late winter or early spring.

4. Move Indoors or to a Sunnier Spot

At the Sivananda Yoga Farm, our garden plot is great for hot summer months when the sun is high in the sky. In the winter, however, the nearby trees shade out much of the garden and make it difficult to grow large amounts of vegetables.

There is a corner of the garden, however, that gets lots of sunshine even in the winter. We sometimes consolidate pots of hardy vegetables and herbs in that sunny corner.

Since winters are a bit too cold here in Grass Valley for citrus, we move our potted lemon trees indoors during the winter. They make a beautiful addition to our dining hall, which also happens to be a sun room.

5. Cover Crop Mix

Cover crops are used to cover the soil, protecting it from erosion, increasing fertility, and keeping the soil healthy when you are not growing your main crop.

At the Yoga Farm we use a cover crop seed mix that consists of winter peas, hairy vetch, clover, raddish, winter rye and few other species. It is full of nitrogen fixers (plants that add nitrogen to the soil), organic matter accumulators, and deep roots that help break up compacted soil.

Cover crops can also be edible plants, although it is recommended to chop down the crops before they go to seed and till them back into the soil. If you practice no-till in your garden, you can plant your cover crop using “seed bombs”, or little balls of seeds, compost and clay. Before the cover crop goes to seed, you can simply “chop and drop” the plants and then sheet mulch on top of them.

There’s five simple ways to extend your growing season into the winter, or even all the way through until spring. We hope you enjoy these simple tips. Happy gardening!

Colin Eldridge (Krishna Das)

Krishna Das teaches and helps coordinate Yoga, permaculture and outdoors programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm.

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Permaculture in Spiritual Community

Permaculture in Spiritual Community

What is the role of permaculture in a yoga community based on 86 acres of agricultural land? Below is an excerpt from an online article published by Permaculture Magazine.

Students of the Yoga Teacher Training harvest rose hips in the garden.

At the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, California, daily life can be an interesting and exacting experience. For one, things are done differently than the ‘status quo’ and strict yogic guidelines are followed. We follow a vegetarian diet and stick to a disciplined schedule that involves daily meditation and yoga.

Spiritual community is at the core of the lifestyle at the Yoga Farm. The primary focus and mission of the Sivananda organization is the dissemination and propagation of classical yoga. We teach yoga from a holistic perspective and it is a way of life rather than solely physical exercise. 

Our director and head teacher Swami Sitaramananda often jokes that the Yoga Farm ‘grows yogis’. For a long time, that statement was exclusively true. Until relatively recently, the Yoga Farm didn’t produce crops for harvest, despite the fact that the 35 hectare (86 acre) property is designated as agricultural land to the U.S. government. 

Permaculture Design Course students lay straw down on a swale that they just dug in the garden

Developing the Farm

The Yoga Farm was established in 1971 and the first garden was planted in the early ’90s. Since then we’ve expanded our garden, added a greenhouse, llama/alpaca/goat pen, solar panels, orchards and lavender fields. These projects and more were possible because of the dedication of our volunteers. It is the spirit of volunteerism that allows the community to flourish.

Everyone who lives at the Ashram, even the director, is a volunteer. And to be honest, we are often short handed. For this reason, it can be a challenge to see certain projects come to fruition – especially permaculture projects

A permaculture service day volunteer helps plant a peach tree guild with clover, oregano, lupine, daffodils, lavender and more

We’ve implemented small and slow solutions where we can: struggling fruit tree guilds here and there, dappled hugelkultur and sheet mulching in the garden, experiments with polycultures, composting, no-till methods in the lavender fields, fertilizing with on-site pond algae and llama manure … the list goes on. Often, projects are started and then fall apart until somebody comes along and revamps it.

Despite these challenges, community continues to present itself as the most valuable resource. As many permaculturists and gardeners know, many hands makes light work. Many hands also makes that work more enjoyable.

As somebody who wants to see permaculture projects thrive, I’ve learned that collaboration is vital. Guided by permaculture principles, below are some practical ways that we’ve expanded our permaculture department with the help of our community.

A Yoga Farm staff member uses a hula hoe to weed around the bases of young lavender plants, leaving the rest as groundcover

Observe and Interact

Interestingly, the Sanskrit word ‘Śuśrūsate’ translates to ‘the desire to listen to’ and ‘to serve’. The two meanings go hand in hand. For me, that is an indispensable lesson. When I first arrived at the Yoga Farm, I wasn’t good at listening. One could say I was overzealous in wanting to implement permaculture.

I got frustrated because there wasn’t enough time or people to do it at the scale I wanted. My ego got in the way and I started criticizing everything around me for not being ‘permaculture-y enough’. The longer I stayed, watching and participating in the community, I realized that my narrow ideas of ‘how it should be’ were limiting my capacity to see ‘what could be’.

Once my mind and emotions calmed down, I was able to take a step back and really listen. I was able to surrender and let go of my preconceived notions and judgements. I learned that before trying to change a system, it’s best to learn how it works. 

A group of garden volunteers smile in the sunshine.

I learned that the primary driving force behind the community was yoga and selfless service, not permaculture. Although permaculture was valued and desired, it was seen as a means to an end. It was only one of many methods to reach the organization’s mission of inner and outer peace.

This new-found clarity helped me collaborate with others without agitating the community structure. To do that, I had to stop trying to assert my own structure. As soon as I aligned with the systems already in place, the next steps became obvious.


Colin Eldridge (Krishna Das)

Krishna Das teaches and helps coordinate Yoga and Permaculture programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm.

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