How Yoga Changed My Life: A Journey Into The Soul of Nature

I’ve long been a disciple of yoga.  So three years ago, when during my annual birthday Tarot card reading, the reader proclaimed that “working with nature was to be my soul work now” – I was skeptical.  But it turns out the cards were right.  Because while I haven’t left yoga behind, it has led me to a new path, one in which the “body divine” is a body awake and in active communion with nature.

Arriving to this place took years.  Because as yoga brought me ever deeper into my body, I began to discover a deeper place within myself.  One that was vast but comforting, sometimes light, sometimes dark, but always peaceful and steadying.  I began to sense and feel things that could not be put into words, but held my attention, wanting to be named. This I noticed happened most often outdoors.

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For example, during dog walks and hikes in local woodlands and hills, I became increasingly conscious of how my body “felt”.  In particular, I  began to be aware of a  bubbly sweet sensation that would rise up from my tummy into my chest.  This tingly suffused feeling I realized — was happiness!

I began to cultivate this ‘good energy’ like prana or qi, breathing mindfully, fanning the flame.  Then like Alice I would feel myself grow taller and lighter, my senses sharpening. I saw the tiny puddles of sun illuminating the incandescent ferns on the forest floor, the tumbling whirling activity of insects and bees, I could hear in sharp relief the songs of the birds, and the sounds of the wind as it rippled through leaves.  And all this beauty filled me further, leading at moments to a kind of ecstasy.

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Yoga’s gift was to bring me to this place. From  my limbs, skin, bones, heart and cells, I could feel how the ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ was also flowing through me.   Learning to “see” with the eyes of my body, reawakened my senses —and I realized what I felt in nature was love, a deep reverence for the life that shone in every drop of dew, every blade of grass, and every single creature.

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How had I ever become so disconnected from this essential nature of reality -ananda or divine bliss – in the first place?  Well for a start, little in yoga (or society) supports our relationship to nature. We practice indoors on mats that shield us from the earth, live in artificial technological environments and eat industrially manufactured foods. Cut off from the rhythms of the seasons, the phases of the moon, tides, changing foliage and weather, is it any wonder we’ve come to see nature as separate from us, existing outside our house walls and city streets?

And when our current scientific materialist paradigm (which divides spirit from matter) tells us that the cosmos, earth, trees, waters and animals, are nothing more mechanistic processes empty of soul,  nature is rendered a “resource” to be used as we see fit.  And as the desecration of old growth forests, the appropriation of indigenous lands and national parks for industry, the pollution of our oceans, the chemical poisoning of our fields, the death of bees and extinction of species,  continues unabated, it is clear we have forgotten a vital truth. We are all one.  Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

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I’ve spent much time pondering why so many of us – me included – can go on with our days as usual when we know the forests are falling all around us.  Because if we truly loved nature, with all our heart and soul – would this continue to happen?   And so I’ve come to be believe in an important tenet of  “deep ecology”—the idea it will take more than environmental laws to achieve true sustainability.  We need to re-establish our personal and spiritual connection with the earth.

And so my new path is the age-old practice of bhakti, an offering of my love, devotion and protection, to the divine embodied in nature – and all of us. My work with wild foods, plants, herbalism and wildcrafting seeks to reconnect us directly with our great mother, the earth, because it is her body that is source of all life and sustenance.

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And it’s why, when it comes to yoga, I’ve been developing a new plant and earth based practice that seeks to bring us into “healing harmony” with numinous cycles of growth, rest, and regeneration that govern all life on this planet. Because in this painful time of ecological crisis, when I see all I love desecrated, this yoga of ananda or divine bliss – gives me the faith and spiritual backbone I need to stand strong.

In my last Tarot reading my work with yoga was shown in a card filled with a large blazing fire and women dancing and leaping.  This card I was told, was one of culmination, of joy and celebration.  Then the reader drew another card showing a dark cave in a forest grove surrounded by wild animals.  A large “shining skull” illuminated the scene. But, she said, your true soul work lies somewhere deep in the mysteries of nature.  And she told me to get back to the woods and continue doing whatever I was doing there – and I’m listening.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Noémie says:

    Very well written 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for expressing so eloquently your experience, which mirrors mine.
    For me nature and yoga are inseparable, the wondor of becoming more embodied reawakened me also to the wondors surrounding me, is this what the union so often mentioned in yoga is all about?
    I hope yoga can bring more people back to nature, to our connection to Mother Earth and our responsibility to nurture her as well as ourselves 🙏

  3. Barry Craig says:

    If I might offer a thought or two:

    Perhaps, Danielle, you are crossing over from yoga to life. Yoga largely begins as an inward journey in the breath and increases our internal awareness. This approach has benefits but we all know some who emphasize the internal so much there may be difficulty adapting to what is beyond themselves. Perhaps this was what Krishnamacharya’s teacher was trying to get at when upon K’s “graduation” (having spent 10 years with his master) the teacher refused payment. Instead he requested his student to find a woman and have babies with her. There is nothing like a wife and kids that can make a man pull his head out of his ass and really “smell the roses.” (I am sure it works the other way as well but I have no experience that would give me the right to speak of that which I know not.)

    Even during my completely indoor teaching career I never lost an interest in the natural world. The orientation goes back to having been in most every state park in Washington before the age of 16, willingly driven there by parents in the old blue Buick wagon towing a 17 foot Dalton trailer. Many years later upon retirement I had to time to reacquaint myself with the natural world other than just during days off and vacations. I started fly fishing, recapturing a long lost hobby and becoming more focused as to my place in life. For some reason I preferred rivers and streams over standing water in lakes. When attending the Yoga as Transformation San Francisco exhibit in April of 2014, I read that the two most favored nature spots of yogis had historically been the top of mountains, hills and the confluence of rivers.

    So I think perhaps being a person is about exploring and experiencing both the inner world from within and the inner world from without. I remember one day on the Upper Columbia near Northport hearing the rise and fall of the river and never quite being able to figure out where what I thought I was hearing was coming from. My guide, Steve Bird, said, “Do you hear that rising and falling sound? That is coming from the river. It is breathing.”

    Steve’s never done an asana in his whole life. He leaned back, rolled a smoke and inhaled deeply. Just then a rainbow the length of a 30 inch salmon rolled over the surface and took a whack at my fly. I froze. My breath stopped.

    I looked over at Steve and we both had that look in our eyes of having seen a trout of mythical proportions attempting to swallow my fly.

    He offered me a smoke he had rolled.
    I took it and breathed deeply.

    Moving waters.
    Moving breath.

    Your life is your mat and your practice is life.

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