We have been tasked with using biodynamic methods on our herbal garden plots at the RBGE. I don’t know whether this is new to me or not, in that there’s a real cross-over here between the kind of old gardening wisdom I’d hear from my Uncle Ken, my Dad, and their compatriots, and the information contained in texts on the biodynamic method. Originally attributed to Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the biodynamic method is being increasingly granted scientific foundation by formal knowledge gains in both astronomy and horticulture.
In that sense, and to indulge in a little old skool sexism, biodynamic horticulture seems to be the masculine equivalent of herbalism, where much historically intuitive, tried and tested, mostly female folk wisdom is now being validated (and appropriated) by the scientific academy.
So whilst it seems, from our historical perspective, that much lay wisdom is now being validated by scientific findings, the inter-relationship is complex.
For example, we in the West are not alone in inheriting a rich folk relationship with our biome. Consequently, we must also consider the Western-centricity of what we currently accept (and do not accept) as biodynamically, or herbally valid. It may be that some of the considerations found in the East are simply not relevant to our climatic conditions, or it may be that so many of our equivalent forms of understanding have been lost or destroyed (by a couple of centuries of vicious witch-hunting, for example, or by the practical restrictions imposed by early transcription and printing methods).
Either way, many of us — particularly city dwellers — have become increasingly detached from the planet on which we live. On a daily basis, how many of us touch the bare earth, with either hands or feet? How many of us can decode and predict the increasingly erratic patterns of birds and weather? How many of us even feel we have the time?
Recognizing the decline of earth-centredness in my own daily routines across my 50+ year life span, I decided to begin my biodynamic gardening practice by re-attuning myself to my planetary environment.
And for that, I have found myself looking Eastward.
The Ashtanga yoga tradition seemed to offer the best option since, like biodynamic gardening, its practice is specifically tuned to moon days. The website ashtangayogacenter.com explains the connection thus:
Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition.
Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.
The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.
The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest. Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it
I took my first class on the Monday immediately preceding the new moon (on Wednesday November 7th, 2018), rested on the moon day, and practiced again the following Monday.
So far, the endorphin boost from the exercise itself is feeling great. I’ll need to take quite a few more classes before I’m familiar with the Primary Series 1 (beginner’s) sequence, and complete a few monthly cycles before I can begin to feel more attuned. So I’m off now to book my next class, and I’ll keep you posted….