Saludos, amigos! Greetings from the Andes!. Each time I spend time here, I give thanks that I have the opportunity to step into a more grounded relationship with myself and with the earth. My time in the Peruvian Andes shifts in the ways in which I experience and connect to the earth. This year, particularly, I have been exploring some rich and varied ways to engage my sadhana (my spiritual practice) to experience a deeper connection to nature’s rhythms. I am calling these Earth Sadhanas.
I have a strong desire to make offerings of wisdom teachings and practices to help people reclaim their connection to the natural world. My desire to offer these wisdom teachings and practices at this time stems from my belief that a true path of yoga must go way beyond what we do on the mat and cushion and encompass all of our daily activities and help us reclaim our connection with the natural world. Yoga is about connection, and we need more of this!
I’ve spent 25 years in the yoga world, and while I think that it’s wonderful that yoga has become popular and that the many more people are experiencing the benefits of yoga, at the same time, I feel that the popular physical posture-centric yoga culture often misses the true point of yoga, which is to instill a deeper connection and nurture a deeper alignment to the Cosmos, which includes the Earth, the Sky, the Star Filled Heavens and all the Beings therein.
As I write this from the Andes, my environment is a rural landscape, surrounded by majestic mountains, apus, with views of corn fields, potato fields and quinoa fields. It is a place that nourishes both the body and the spirit. Being down here teaches me a lot about how humans can interact and connect to their natural environment. Here the landscape is considered animate and sacred and everyday people venerate Mother Nature. People here are still connected to the agrarian calendar and live in rhythm with the cycles for planting, harvesting, and nourishing the land. They know where their food comes from and are actively engaged in the food system.
Life at 13,000 feet
I’ll give you an idea of what this is like: Recently I spent the day with a Quechua family from a highland community. They live at about 13,000 feet. They live in simple but beautiful, traditional adobe homes, made of the earth, and painted with beautiful designs in clay paints. In the fields near their home, they grow and harvest corn, potatoes, barley, wheat and quinoa and they have a bountiful garden with herbs, greens, and flowers. Inside their home, their cooking stove is earthen and they cook and heat with wood. They raise alpacas, sheep, cows and guinea pigs. They spin and dye their own wool and the women make incredibly beautiful weavings. They make their own medicines with the native plants of the environment. They live a very rich and beautiful life with a deep connection to the earth.
Ayni, Sacred Reciprocity
One of the most beautiful teachings in the Andean tradition that I have learned is that of ayni or sacred reciprocity. The essence of this teaching is that we as humans are in a dynamic relationship with each other, and with nature. The idea of ayni is that when you give something, you receive something in return. This keeps the balance in the relationship and more than that, it nourishes the relationship.
In the Andes, ayni informs people’s relationships with each other, with their animals, with their fields and with the landscape. This plays out in people’s commitment to helping one another with planting, harvesting and house building. This plays out daily when people sit to exchange coca leaves and chew coca leaves together. As they exchange the leaves, giving and receiving bundles of 3 coca leaves, called a kintu, they are affirming their relationship of mutual support with one another, not only a social nicety, but also a necessity for survival in the high altitudes. People practice ayni daily as they greet their planting fields and offer gratitude, and specifically at the time of harvest when people make an offering to the earth before digging up the harvest.
This is relationship with the sacred landscape and this innate experience of the earth as being a conscious entity with whom you can have a relationship is a very different understanding than we have in modern U.S. culture, where we view the natural world and the earth’s resources as something we can use and take without offering anything in return.
Each time I spend time with families like this, I feel uplifted and inspired to strengthen my connection to the earth.
A Simple Practice to Honor the Earth
Recently, it was the New Moon. On our property here in Peru, we have felt called to create an offerings of thanksgiving to the Pachamama, Mother Earth on the New Moon. We engage in a simple act of giving thanks for Mother’s Earth’s bounty and beauty and for the majesty of the landscape. We feel deeply grateful and take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of the land.
On the New Moon, we gather around the fire pit at dusk to share songs. We offer chicha morada (purple corn drink), coca leaves and sweets to the Earth, and enjoy one another’s company in music and conversation. It is a simple, heartfelt and enjoyable ritual that creates a deeper sense of connection between us as family members and friends, and greater connection and love for the earth.
If this isn’t yoga, I don’t know what is!
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach yoga instructor.