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September 2011 Yoga and Nature

Dear Yoga Friends,

Autumn is here, time to let go of summer. Not that difficult here in San Francisco, where sometimes our fall is more like summer. But still, the rhythm of life changes with summer travels over, school starting, holidays approaching. I love summer in the mountains, the snow having melted to reveal rocky talus, beckoning a scramble to a ridge with stunning views, lakes finally barely warm enough to swim in, wildflowers blooming in high meadows, and whitewater streams and waterfalls coursing through rocky channels.

What is it about nature that is so calming and offers us respite? The discussion of nature in the yoga sutras helps us to answer this question. Sutra II.18 (translation from B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali):

Nature, its three qualities, sattva, rajas, and tamas, and its evolutes, the elements, mind, senses of perception and organs of action, exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation.

What fascinates me most about this sutra is those last four words "for enjoyment or emancipation". Our culture, so focused on sensual enjoyment, has evolved sophisticated technology to assist in that pursuit. In many ways, our vehicles, computers, communication devices, and machinery are technologies for assisting us in our efforts to attain comfort and pleasure. Interesting that they don't always do that so well and can even deliver the opposite.

When we go to the mountains, the beach, or any place of exquisite natural beauty, we first take in the sensual experience, the beautiful view, the peaceful sounds, the smells. After we have allowed ourselves to soak up that rich experience of the senses, that aspect eventually gives way to a peaceful feeling of just being part of a larger harmonious world. A similar transformation takes place while doing yoga. We begin with the feelings of invigorating movements, stabilizing actions, stretching and release of tension, and many other subtle sensations. Then, assisted by an awareness of the breath, we can move beyond the "feel good" aspect of the practice and begin to find a sense of peace, inward focus, of integration with something larger, the possibility of emancipation described in that sutra.

It is quite human and fun to come to nature for enjoyment of the senses. Same with yoga practice, that's the hook that can keep us coming back, and we can be thankful that there is that attraction. But maybe if we stay with it, allowing that sensual aspect to run its course, there is something bigger waiting for us.

Hope you are enjoying the early autumn and some of these gorgeous Indian summer days!





Chad Balch