This summer, as last, I have spent a considerable amount of time observing the frogs in my pond. By pond I actually mean half a dustbin, dug into a corner of the garden. Just in case you were imagining some expansive stretch of still water, with koi carp swimming idly amongst the water lilies, dragonflies skimming the surface in an endless aerial display. Perhaps a little stream running in at one end and a curving Japanese-style bridge over…nope, those are only in my dreams, the reality is half a dustbin.
This has set me to wondering, in recent weeks, what can we learn from a frog? My froggy residents demonstrate a number of qualities that yoga holds in high esteem. The first thing that springs to mind is acceptance. My resident frogs appear to be very accepting of the premises I have created, despite their humble nature. There are plants for shade, stones alongside for basking in the sun and easy access in and out of the water. I presume food is plentiful as they keep growing! It may not be luxury but it fulfils their needs. My frogs are not proud. Acceptance of our situation or making do with what we already have doesn’t need to mean we no longer strive to improve things, but rather that we can be content with the here and now, accepting each moment as it is.
My resident frogs are not early risers, but come to rest around the edges of the pond or on the surrounding stones from mid-morning. I guess they wait for the sun to come round and warm the surface. Unless they are disturbed, they will sit for hours in the same position, unmoving apart from the occasional blink of an eyelid. Are they deep in meditation, I wonder? Or waiting for something tasty to move within range? Maybe their capacity for stillness is an essential survival trait, but nevertheless it is a quality that can help bring space into our busy lives as well. Even if there is a need to be physically busy we can cultivate the stillness within that allows us to recognise the busyness and work through it.
I am also drawn to their ability to co-exist peacefully. From just one frog to begin with, I have now spotted up to 7 individuals any one time. They sometimes sit huddled up together, sometimes spaced out around the pond, occasionally one is spotted out on safari around the garden. If a newcomer arrives, they just make themselves at home. No-one gets upset or territorial. Living in harmony is something humankind seems to struggle with on our overcrowded planet, both on a local and a global scale. Perhaps we all need to think more like a frog.
Daily life can be so hectic that there is little time to even consider the more spiritual aspects of our being. Most people coming to yoga tell me that they are looking for an opportunity to become more flexible and maybe to relax. Somewhere along the way, pursuing these goals opens the door to making a greater connection to our spirituality. Maybe we don’t have time to take a drive out into the countryside on a regular basis, but attending a yoga class can create the much needed space that helps us to connect to our inner selves and reassess the values by which we live our lives, perhaps even redefining how we find a meaningful connection to something greater than ourselves.
A mindful approach to our practice gives us the skills to fully appreciate time spent outside, cultivating an attitude of enquiry and wonder. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary and mentor of Thoreau, said that “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”
Why not take that childlike wonder outside this summer, and marvel in the beauty and complexity of nature?
- Go for a walk somewhere new, or do a familiar walk in the opposite direction. Somewhere along the walk allow some time for a period of slow, walking meditation, focusing on the process of walking and the feel of the ground beneath your feet.
- Spend time sitting beside a river or lake watching the water. Consider the endless changes and interconnections the river represents.
- Use the macro settings on your camera or a magnifying glass to get up close and personal with nature. Marvel at the tiny patterns that mirror the larger ones we see so frequently.
- Practise a listening meditation outside, and see how much of nature you can hear all around you.
As a scientist by education, I have spent much of my life asking the question “What am I?” However, as I get older I am increasing drawn to the more spiritual question of “Who am I?”
I personally find a deeper connection by being out in the natural environment. There is something about nature that lifts the spirit and nurtures the soul. I invariably feel much better for time outside, whether walking or just sitting and admiring the view.
On holiday this spring I visited Lindisfarne, a place of great natural beauty as well as being considered an extremely spiritual location. I was keen to go there, having visited Iona some years ago and been blown away by the experience. In fact, it was monks from Iona that set up the first monastery on Lindisfarne. A number of reviewers online had commented that it’s hard to find the spiritual side of the island as it’s so busy, and I quite agree! However, we stayed there through the high tide period when the island was almost deserted and then it is another matter entirely. A sense of peace envelops the island and the connection with nature is heightened.
This is a feeling that is seen in prose and poetry throughout history. One of the great American Transcendentalists, David Henry Thoreau, spent a year in the wilderness which culminated in the publication of ‘Walden’, the story of his experience. In this book, he wonders “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life…When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality.”
Such is the power of time spent in nature to put life into perspective!
I couldn’t resist posting another picture of a goose. They are regulars at the pond in Bournville and I love to watch them going about their daily business. They have their habits according to the time of day and the time of year, but overall they remind me to go with the flow and listen to nature. So often we superimpose our ‘lifestyle’ on nature’s rhythms. Perhaps we should listen more and do less.
Gulls are one of my favourite birds. They often get bad press, especially when they congregate in large numbers and make a lot of noise and mess. However, it is often the action of humans that has attracted them in the first place. This image was taken at Weston-super-mare, where I am often surprised to find fewer gulls than we have in Bournville! Whilst you might find them raucous, the sound of their cries as they fly around their miniature sea (AKA the boating pond) takes me away from the city on a brief but welcome memory tour to the seaside. They present endless opportunities for photography. Whether you want to try and capture their earnest expressions, comical behaviour or play around with different techniques, they are invariably happy to oblige. If you are looking for some time out of the rat race, try watching the gulls.
I was interested to read in the news this week of a study that had explored the relationship between where we live and cognitive ability. Essentially, it was found that living near woodlands, parks, lakes or the sea had a profound effect on children’s development. These children were a year ahead of those living in more developed urban areas. The authors linked this difference in thinking ability to the higher level of air pollution in urban areas.
In addition, when considering the greening of our cities for good health, the University of Washington points to studies that have shown that time in a natural environment can restorative, boosting satisfaction and work performance. The incorporation of natural spaces into urban environments may also help to improve our ability to learn and our memory.
This makes a lot of sense to me, considering the impact of negative ions on our health and well-being. In his book entitled ‘Pranayama’, Andre van Lysebeth suggested that negative ions are part of the prana or life energy that is vital to our existence. In areas of high pollution, such as towns and cities, these ions are severely reduced. He refers to these as areas of ‘zero climate’. In contrast, more natural environments, particularly open spaces such as hills and the sea side, have much higher levels of negative ions in the air. As a result, we feel much more energised (literally!) from spending time in these places with ‘higher’ climate.
With the longest day almost upon us, it really makes sense to get out and appreciate the natural world around us in the fine weather. Look after yourself by spending time in nature this weekend; walk through the park, relax in the garden or take a daytrip to the countryside. It really is time well spent.
Wow! Everything is growing so fast! After almost 4 weeks of sunshine, plus a few recent downpours, my garden is transformed into a lush and verdant jungle. Geraniums feature prominently and should be in flower before too long. They are a great plant for attracting bees and hoverflies, who like the openness of the flowers. It has been the most fantastic spring so far, and I have been making a point of reminding myself of this on a daily basis. It’s so easy to slip into that so-very-British habit of complaining about the weather; always too hot/cold/wet/dry/cloudy/humid…you get my point! Do you find yourself quick to notice the negatives? It can be a powerful practice to remind yourself to think of something else that is positive each time and put life back in balance.
I love the colours of autumn. Although we start to see the flowers dying back as we reach the end of the summer, natures glory is far from over. Autumn can be the most colourful of seasons and this year the mild, dry weather seems to be prolonging this magical time. The changing colours and falling leaves are a timely reminder of nature’s seasons and the ongoing changes that we experience in our lives, moving from birth to death to…who knows?!
However random nature can appear, there is frequently (always?) an underlying pattern or symmetry to her designs. Take roses, for example. Blowsy flowers, dripping with petals that are seemingly bundled together around the flower’s centre. And yet each petal is carefully positioned as it forms inside the bud, creating an overlapping pattern to maximise use of the space and accentuate the attractiveness of the flower. Not just to humans who wish to adorn their dining table with a summer display, but more importantly to pollinators who will bring the chance of a future.
Our topic at the moment in the Tuesday classes is prana. A Sanskrit word, prana is generally translated as life force or energy. It denotes the sum of energy in the Universe. It is said to flow around the body in channels or nadis. In a healthy person, this energy is retained within the body, whilst in someone suffering from disease (or dis-ease) the prana is more easily lost. Whilst there is no conclusive evidence that prana exists, neither has its existence been disproven. It is possible that some of the proven benefits of yoga in reducing stress and balancing hormones in the body are at least in part due to the subtle influence that yoga has on prana. The bottom line is, we don’t know!
The ancient yogis spoke of prana in the Upanishads as life force;
“Life is the fire that burns and is the sun that give light. Life is the wind and the rain and the thunder in the sky. Life is matter and is earth, what is and what is not, and what beyond is in Eternity.” Prasna Upanishad, in The Upanishads, Mascaro (1965)
According to Andre von Lysebeth Prana “…is present in the air, yet it is neither oxygen, nor nitrogen, nor any other chemical constituent of the atmosphere. Prana exists in our food, water, sunlight, but it is neither vitamin nor warmth nor ultraviolet rays. Air, water, food, sunlight: all convey the prana on which all animal and vegetable life depends. Prana penetrates the whole body, even where the air cannot reach. Prana is our true nourishment, for without prana there can be no life.”
Prana is manifest wherever there is movement. This could be on the minute scale of electrons moving around the nucleus of an atom or the enormity of an earthquake. Prana is everywhere.