What is Permaculture? An explanation for newbies...

I’d only heard the word “Permaculture” a few times in my life when I arrived at The Yoga Forest. I was there to attend a Kula Collective Yoga Teacher Training and I had no idea what it meant to live in a Permaculture community, let alone what it meant to approach life with the philosophy of Permaculture.

As my time at TYF passed, this lifestyle resonated slowly and naturally. I learned about Permaculture experientially — by living the life, not by reading or hearing or traditionally learning about it in any way.

As a result, when I returned home I still had to dig deep for a way to explain Permaculture. I’d lived it but I didn’t quite know how to articulate it. Over time I’ve found some words for those who, like me, are completely new to the amazing world of permaculture and permaculture design.

So what is Permaculture, actually?

I like this very simple definition: Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature… and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system." - Bill Mollison

This includes us as human beings: how can we design our day to day routines and the places we live as part of this ecosystem of creatures around us, as opposed to above it and taking from it?

Permaculture thought leaders offer specific directions and “design principles” that instruct on how to create life in this way. The Yoga Forest was built from the ground up with these guidelines in mind.

What does this mean practically?

Off the bat you’ll notice some very apparent applications of Permaculture living at The Yoga Forest.

  1. Compost Toilets: The toilets at TYF are compost toilets. This means that there is no flushing system, adhering to the Permaculture principle “create no waste”. Below the toilet sits an amassing (absolutely no pun intended, but now it makes me laugh) pile of poop. When it’s mixed with sawdust and ash it decomposes over time and turns to soil that can be used.

    • Interesting fact: Pee is what makes the compost toilets smell bad! At TYF you're asked to pee on the grass (and not the toilet) as much as possible. Your squatting game gets very good.

  2. Solar energy: Anything that requires power at TYF relies on the sun. This means that all lighting at the forest (including light in all personal rooms/tents), Internet and hot water for showers are dependent on the amount of sunlight “collected” each day. When the sun shines showers are generally warm, Internet works and there is ample light. On cloudy days the opposite is true.

  3. Trash cans (or lackthereof): There are very few trash cans on the property, encouraging and accommodating the minimal waste produced at TYF. I found that when there is nowhere to put it, it becomes habitual not to create garbage.

    • TYF creates “plastic bricks” with plastic water bottles and the small amount of waste that inevitably does crop up. Miscellaneous plastic and garbage is stuffed tightly into the plastic bottles until they're full, and then these hard bottles are used as bricks to build houses and other structures in the community.

  4. Natural products: When your products — shampoo, toothpaste, soap and so on — are all natural they can go right back into the earth without harmful effects. This allows us to use an amazing outdoor shower at TYF, to brush our teeth (and spit it out) anywhere on the property and to live harmoniously with our neighbors who live nearby on the land.

There are countless applications of Permaculture design at The Yoga Forest — from the crop gardens that produce our daily greens, to the animals who call the property home, to the blender bikes that makes smoothies and peanut butter. TYF runs amazing Permaculture tours each week to expose guests more deeply into the full design of the property!

Is it really applicable to me?

I didn’t expect Permaculture design to enter my life when I arrived at The Yoga Forest. I was there for Yoga Teacher Training, after all. I was even more surprised when Permaculture philosophy followed me home to New York City.

Many of us are accustomed to fast paced, mass produced life in big cities. This life barely leaves enough space to fully consider our own needs; it’s extremely daunting to explore our connection to larger systems.

But what is present in this life is a whole movement of very smart, very successful people who are seeking to refine. People everywhere are adopting more conscious lifestyles and habits, making changes in everything from the foods they eat to the ways they travel (think: ride sharing).

I now believe that many of these lifestyle changes are aligned with Permaculture design thinking.

So while we may not see compost toilets popping up in Los Angeles, I do think we’ll see more and more people making personal changes that reflect permaculture philosophy. A move towards “working with” our surroundings is applicable to anyone who is interested.

by Joanna Cohen