Manifesting the Chakra Garden

People often ask us, what did Heartwood look like before the founders, Ginny and David bought the property? Not much, it was an overgrown former farm property albeit with lots of potential. The Chakra garden was the first project we, as a couple, undertook.  Here’s the story of how the chakra garden can into being.

 In the beginning, there was nothing at all, just an empty patch of grass that the former property owner used as a secure area to train dogs. But we saw that empty space as the perfect location for a garden, and we envisioned a chakra meditation garden designed for inspiring yogis.

David consulted with a work study student who was a garden designer, and together they formulated a basic plan. The work began starting with digging out a pond that would be the focal point of the garden, and part of the Heart chakra space. We established a couple of benches around the pond to map out different meditation areas.

David had to do most of the work himself and as a mechanical and electrical engineer by trade, he had the skill set, the muscle, the vision, and the will. It took all we had just to buy Heartwood, so we didn’t have a lot of resources to work with for property improvements. We had to be creative.

We discovered huge rocks buried in the ferns and decided these could be used to establish the pond. David dug them up one at a time, dragging them with the help of work study students into the garden to place them into different strategic places to hold in place a pond liner and create a base for a waterfall feature.

Ginny had to put her 2 cents in as well, of course, giving her opinion about the pottery’s angle and how much water would flow. David decided every pond needs a bridge, so he engineered and designed one and put it together to hide a filter while providing a lovely walkway through the heart of the garden.

Students stood by watching or lending a helping hand. David had to get into the water to connect the filter and electrical to run a beautiful flowing fountain.

Then it was time to put in plants. And because we didn’t have a lot of resources to work with, again, we had to go with smaller, less expensive plants, just what we could afford with hope that in time they would grow and fill in the areas that we were looking to fill.

We next established the pathways and had a ton of gravel delivered for walkways. Ginny was inspired to create art that would blend with nature, so she began a project of making Chakra stepping stones to celebrate each of the chakra meditation areas. They were only a little art contribution but helped define this garden as a chakra garden meant for yogis.

She began searching out other elements of garden decor to enhance the ambiance of each chakra center. The couple endlessly pulled overgrown grapevine swallowing the property and turned that into archways to hold air plants.  It was time for mulch. And more mulch and more mulch. You could never get enough mulch for that garden it seemed. David put in a sprinkler system to keep the plants thriving, and the pathways were established with gravel. 

Ginny had given David a swing as a gift, so he build a roofed arbor for it, creating a special little place in the Muladhara chakra, the center for stability and the things that anchor us in life . Now beautiful little areas for people to go and have privacy in their meditation were taking shape. The garden was new, barely established, but we knew time and nature would take its course.

Things begin to flourish, and each area of the garden started to bloom, take root and find its own ambiance, calling people to the different areas according to what their soul needed. And each chakra center of this garden was independent and unique and yet part of a greater whole. The chakra garden had become a focal point of Heartwood, a place students loved walking through or sitting in to reflect on life. We were so delighted when we spied students out there, meditating or journaling or just basking in nature.

Ginny kept reading gardening magazine for inspiration, and when she saw competition in Country Garden’s Magazine she sent in pictures for fun. How wonderful if they could share this unique garden with others who loved gardening. The Heartwood Garden actually won Best Garden with a Purpose and was featured in an eights page spread, and now, even people who might never visit Heartwood could see and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

It was wonderful knowing the garden had been formally recognized by people who have seen thousands of gardens made with far more resources than we ever had to work with. The Heartwood Garden has since been appreciated by so many of our students, but like all things in life, nonattachment is necessary because all things are impermanent. Building a garden is sort of a different type of yoga practice. Two hurricanes and a variety of storms (as well as time) took its toll on the garden destroying so much of what we painstakingly built. Plants that took years to establish would suddenly die or were torn from the root by wind, trees fell on our fences, lighting was uprooted, and arbors were toppled. 

With each storm, we mourned a little and then began the process of rebuilding. New versions of the garden took shape. They could never be the same, but each version of the Chakra garden would still be beautiful and a part of the ongoing living art that is a part of life. There is an opportunity in loss to reinvent life – that’s the yoga view of gardening, and how to face obstacles in life.

Thanks to nature’s unrelenting optimism, the garden did come back from every storm. Some things were lost and sorely missed, but new fresh elements were given a chance to take root. We learned that all the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today. And the truth is, the garden was never designed for Ginny and David to enjoy, but for all the yogis that would find their way through the gates. The chakra garden doesn’t enhance enrollment or have any benefit other than holding space for visitors. It was always meant to be a space for the future generation of yogis to unplug from the busy world and plug into one’s connection to nature.

The Chakra Garden at Heartwood is a living example that even when starting from scratch and you have limited resources, you can manifest your dreams. You just need to get your hands dirty and do the work.

We hope everyone gets a chance to visit the chakra garden at Heartwood and will spend some time soaking in the ever-unfolding history of how it came to be. We are proud to share this labor of love a humble garden made by yogis for yogis.

Ginny Shaddock, (IAYT Yoga therapist, ERYT-500 owns) Heartwood Yoga Institute with her Husband David (ERYT-500, IAYT Yoga Therapist, LMT). They are both yogis, avid gardeners and nature lovers who believe art and creativity are part of a spiritual path. Learn more

Devastation and Recovery – the yoga way

When you get my age (63) most people have survived numerous periods of devastation in life. I personally have undergone major crises and upheavals enough times to know, at least on some level, that this too will pass. As I walked through the grounds of Heartwood surveying the damage in the aftermath of hurricane Ian my yoga has never been more valuable. The level of destruction on the grounds was heartbreaking. Over a dozen huge trees down, fences shredded, bent, and blown down, electrical cables severed, huge bamboo toppled, my garden destroyed, and some damage to roofs. The very real issue of how we might possibly come up with the resources to put things back together plagued my mind. At the same time, yoga has taught me not to allow myself to wander down the rabbit hole of worry and to be careful not to invent a false narrative of how the repercussions of this storm will break us (a mindset it is easy to slip into when we can’t see what the future holds so we imagine the worst).

The news programs allowed us to witness how the devastation destroyed our neighbors to the south, ending lives and livelihoods. I know we have much to be grateful for. We lost dozens of huge trees that careened to the ground making it impossible to do anything but climb and crawl to the buildings and the astronomical price of removing them now feels like an insurmountable hurdle I have no clue how to cross.  And yet, none of the trees fell on the lodge or the house. One did fall on our pavilion, but only minor damage was result, and David can take care of that. Another fell on our two RVs, now totaled, but that is the one and only thing our insurance will cover, which means we just need to be creative with lodging until we deal with the insurance and replace them.   We had 8 students visiting when the storm hit, and no one was injured. More remarkably, they maintained the best of spirits and showed us compassion and support rather than expressing their own worry or disappointment that their training was interrupted in such a stressful way. They stayed until the airports reopened, positive and making do, despite our not having electricity for 5 days and their cars being trapped on the property by fallen trees so they couldn’t get out even if they wanted to. How honored am I to work with such practical, patient, and compassionate yogis?

I thought back to when Hurricane Irma hit us on Sept 17, 5 years ago. The next day students began showing up with rakes and gloves and smiles. They put hours of laborious work into raking the debris. Today, students started showing up just as they did before, some the very same faces revealing the durability of true friendships. During Irma, I entertained real thoughts of selling the property and ending Heartwood. It was just too much work for someone getting older every day.  I also remember that the efforts of those that showed up are what made me stay, reminding me of the value of the work I did and how privileged I was to have created a community with such decent, loving people. Storms such as this are a good reminder we need not be attached to the fruits of our labors and living your dharma means doing the work you are born to do without attachment to results. Even when it’s hard. Even when you are exhausted emotionally as well as physically. Yoga is why I put Heartwood back together and stayed after Irma, for yoga was stronger than any of my worries or resentment or fears.

I did not entertain thoughts of giving up this time, but I was still sad looking at Heartwood’s newest problem to solve. To begin, my normal resilience was somewhat tapped out. My father’s funeral was Friday before the storm, and I still carried grief over his loss. On the day of the storm, I received news of my brother’s serious cancer diagnosis and due to other health complexities, a sad prognosis for his future.  I had a major heart attack last Oct. and now, stress causes a piercing heartburn in my chest, which was going off as I assessed damage. I wasn’t alarmed that the pressure meant I would keel over, but it did remind me I have to take things slowly and keep my heartrate in a particular zone and stress at bay. Denver kept watching me, asking if I’m OK. She worries about me now in a way she never had before. I felt badly about that too. The collective weight of so much to emotionally handle at one time can make stalwart strength (a trait I’m known for) hard to generate. All you can do is breathe, right?

But breathing is not all you can do. More powerful yoga practices can shift how we react to the world. Vitarka is a negative thought. Pratipaksha bhavanam is the action of replacing that thought with a positive one and cultivating the opposite in heart and mind.

This doesn’t mean I can just say to myself, “My brother will be fine. Trust the universe,” or “I won’t have another heart attack, so stop worrying.” Or even,  “The repercussions of this storm won’t hurt Heartwood.” Because while these thoughts are positive, they simply are not true and deep down I know it. Bad things happen. Forced change happens. Loss is a part of life. What I can do is shift my thinking towards acceptance and trust and remind myself that whatever comes is a part of karma and one more powerful life experience to add to my ever-unfolding story. I can’t control any of the things happening. I can, however, control how I view and react to what is happening. Surrendering to whatever the future holds and reminding myself that all things are impermanent is the yogic response to life’s losses.  

My thoughts as I walked around Heartwood observing the crisis took new shape as my yoga mentality overrode my small self. My father is gone, but he is with me still, evident in the way I grabbed a rake and started doing what had to be done and was able to not make the devastation about “me and my stress”. I found the words to assure everyone things will be OK, even made a joke or two, to reinforce peace and acceptance rather than drama. (He gave me that.) My brother may be suffering and may not survive, but beautiful and poignant revelations often are unearthed when we face our mortality and I trust his life journey will continue to unfold with moments of beauty and love as he faces his personal crisis. My heart and body are speaking to me when I get that burning sensation, reminding me to practice self care and to not deny the evitability of aging and how this impacts my productivity. A heart attack demands I pace myself without frustration, judgement, or disappointment in what I’m capable of. Positive thoughts don’t mean being in denial of what is happening, but being in acceptance, with gratitude and trust, for life’s lessons, no matter how difficult they are in the moment.

The Heartwood grounds will get cleaned and nature always recovers. The landscape will shift. The lack of shade means many of our ferns will wither, my garden was destroyed and needs a total makeover and later, when things are sorted out, I can mourn the trees that have stood here for almost a hundred years and have met their end. I had such a connection and sincere affinity for those marvelous works of art created by mother nature. I will miss them more than anyone could know. The money required for this massive cleanup will be found one way or another and one day this upset will be another story of challenges overcome in Heartwood’s interesting story.  

I thought a lot this week about a time in my life when everything I held dear was lost. In 2010, my business, my marriage, my home, my career, my savings, my relationships with friends and my children were demolished. It took time and no small effort to put life in order again, but from those ashes a beautiful new life immerged. The loss led to my opening Heartwood, finding, and marrying my beloved David, and a deeper, almost profound sense of connection with my children that includes deep respect and shared sensitivity for what we all went through. What couldn’t be saved from that time, just wasn’t meant to be saved. While I still mourn some losses, they also taught me to appreciate what I have today in a sincere way. A lot of profound good came from that dreaded crisis.

Yoga teaches us that every crisis is a gift. Losses provide a platform for deeper introspection and a chance to put our priorities in correct order. We learn what we are willing to fight for and make sacrifices for.  We are reminded of what is truly important, and our spiritual path is awakened and deepened by challenges, whether we meet them successfully or experience failure.

I was hit by a storm this week. Like little tornadoes that pop up during a hurricane, I was hit with other life heartache simultaneously, as if to test my yoga fortitude. But yoga provided me with shelter from the storm and now shows me the path out of the mess. (The mess within me and the mess around me.)  

I believe in what I teach. It is nice to know that under pressing circumstances, I practice it too.  My hope is that everyone we have ever trained has gone home with these tools and that they keep nurturing and developing a deep relationship with yoga for times like these. In the end, Heartwood is not the trees or the garden, the buildings, or classes. Heartwood is the teachings, kept alive by those who embrace and practice them. That can hold up to a storm of any size.