Yoga as an Environmental Practice


As a whole, yogic practice is a process of systematically liberating ourselves from needless suffering. In the yogic worldview, we suffer due to perceiving ourselves as separate from the enduring, cosmic essence from whence we were created.  We practice yoga, essentially, to touch our divine nature, which is untouched by human error.  

For me, being an urban yogi requires frequent expeditions out into nature to reconnect with the source of our energy, prana.  Prana exists in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods of the earth.  We increase pranic energy in our bodies through yogic practice and lifestyle.

Yogic practice takes many forms, each one pointing the way to the divinity within us, and around us.  The yamas and niyamas teach us basic morality and how to go about our day-to-day lives in excellence. The asanas we use to invigorate the body and set it free from its stressors.  We learn to breathe for greater vitality and "give the mind a bone" in pranayama.  We tame the senses á la pratyahara to be in control of our lives.  We boost our effectiveness by concentrating in dharana.  We transcend the limits of the mind in meditative dhyana. We embody our highest potential of living as a divinely connected human being in samadhi

In teaching my students these eight "facets" of yoga, as Nischala Joy Devi refers to them, much emphasis is placed on our individual processes of assimilating these teachings.  It takes a lot of reminding ourselves to stand with axial extension (asana), to stop interrupting people (asteya), and to be kind to ourselves in the process (ahimsa), as examples.

While the self-study (svadhyaya) of understanding our personal challenges and triumphs in yoga is essential, it tends to dominate much of the conversation in the yoga teacher trainings I've led and attended.  While we strive for yogic equipoise, the natural environment that provides our life force is reeling from worldwide human behaviors that are decidedly non-yogic.  It's time for us, as role models in our communities, to look at how we treat our planet, and to align what we see with our yogic pursuits.

There is no separation.  The cosmic order that gave rise to us, according to yogic philosophy, gave rise to our environment and the universe at large.  We focus so much on our physical bodies in yoga.  How about applying ourselves to the task of healing our ecosystems, to which we are inextricably linked?  We adopt the first yama of non-harming (ahimsa) in relation to ourselves and others. Isn't it also essential to not harm what feeds us, and gives us all that we cherish?

From my pirch here in San Diego, I see how profoundly blessed our yoga community is to live where we live and do what we do.  Not everyone is as fortunate as the yogis of Southern California.  For this reason, I feel that we have a much greater responsibility to the world, to be less self-centered and more of service to the world's needs.

I presume that since you're reading this, you're at least aspiring to a level of consciousness that inspires you to be more kind to the environment than not.  I imagine that everyone on earth is doing their best to deal with what's on their plate right now.  I think our best contribution with regard to protecting life on earth is to make it the norm that we consider the environment in all we do, and act accordingly.  It's truly in our best interest.  As in yoga, the exact approach will vary depending on who we are,  where we are, and what we're up to.  There are a million ways to practice yoga.  There are a million ways to care for the planet, too.  

In our household, our approach includes composting, limiting our driving mileage, voting on environmental policy, reducing single-use containers, and using remotes to turn off our power outlets at night.  Could we do more?  Absolutely.  And I consider every little effort to be yogic in nature.  

What if we tapped into the devotional bhakti of yoga as a resource to put back into the ecology that gives us life? Why not attend to our environmental best practices as thoroughly as we attend to our asanas?  What if we approach caring for Mother Earth as fervently as we try to master Yoga?  Karma, cause and effect, reveals itself in time, but what matters now is action.  As Lord Krishna stated in the Bhagavad Gita, "established in Yoga, Arjuna, perform actions."  We must act on behalf of our environment now.  It is our collective dharma to do so, and every choice counts. 

I love that "mental" exists within the word "environmental."  We know yoga to be as much a mental exercise as it is physical and spiritual.  While we're at it, let's make yoga an environmental practice of supporting the web of life that supports us.  Please, share your thoughts and ecological practices or resources below.

In gratitude,

Susana Jones

Welcome Om: A Forum for Urban Yogi Teacher Training Grads

Dear Ones,

I am feeling the call to engage with you all, and see where you're at on the "web of life" lately.  How might we propel each other through these times on Earth, as fellow seekers and teachers?

Perhaps you'll join me and fellow Urban Yogi teacher training grads on a weekend morning in the park, to connect, practice and share teaching resources and opporunities. I'm considering either Saturday 11/11 or 12/2 as a possible date before the new year.  I'd love to see you! 

I started my day today with an Energizing Yoga practice, led by one of your fellow graduates of The Teacher Within, Sofie Blicher, at the new Saffron & Sage therapy space in Mission Hills.  It was so sweet to be her student, and to see the ways in which she has adopted the teachings she gained through her 200 hour training, and made them her own.  How lovely it would be to partake in more classes led by those I've guided through training, or at least see their faces again!

Perhaps it's been some time since our paths crossed, but I think of you often. I have group photos of each Tribe here in my office.  Every time I see your yoga-inspired faces, it lights me up. What I haven't mastered yet in five years of raising new yoga teachers is answering to my students, "what happens next?"  The possibilities are endless, and I may take for granted my own experience of "just going for it" in building my career as a yoga teacher.  

The dizzying world of yoga opportunities may feel from the outside like a carousel moving at high speed.  We wait on the sidelines for that right time and place to leap onboard, grab a hold of something, and take a ride.  Once on board, the real work begins.  The highs and lows of life combined with the cyclical nature of teaching weekly classes puts our practice to the test.  Are you on that ride?  If so, how's it going?

Perhaps the right place and moment to "jump on!" hasn't happened.  Do you want it to, or  is life moving you in other great ways? 

Basically, how the heck are you? I miss you!

As you may know, my past year has been full of Yoga Therapy Training, and other life-changing events like my marriage to Brian Jones.  He's the best, and we talk about Urban Yogi all the time. As I go more deeply into this new domain of yogic healing, Urban Yogi wants to reach out to people and places of all sorts to bridge the gap between human wellbeing and yoga.  Do you want to be part of that with me?

However we decide to hold down our place on the "web of life", the world needs us, aligned and empowered, more than ever. I find that the yoga community is vital to my wellbeing and to our collective ability to shift things toward a harmonious direction.  I know you care deeply about the state of things in our country and on our planet.  You are not alone in your efforts and caring.  Let's hold each other up!

Welcome Om, dear ones.  That's what I'm calling a gathering I'd like to hold for the tribes of "The Teacher Within" 2013-2017. I see this being held outdoorse, free of charge, as a time to see and hear each other, practice yoga, connect with nature and share teaching opportunities and resources.

I'll get specific on our location, timing and lineup once I hear from more of you. In the meantime, would either Saturday November 11 or Dec 2 work for you, 9:30am perhaps? 

Thank you for your sweet attention, and for all you do.

Honoring the teacher and the yogi in you,

Susana Jones

Urban Yogi
E-RYT 200
Reiki Master
Yoga Therapist-in-Training


On Reiki: "Is it working?"

I pulled this excerpt from an e-mailed reply to a student of mine. Her inquiry followed what she considered to be a "true" experience of Reiki, provided by a new and awesome practitioner.  She wondered if her previous trials in receiving Reiki actually "worked."  Here's my reply:

I am so glad that you had a new experience of Reiki!  My response to your question of "it working" before you felt it so powerfully, is that Reiki is always working within our bodies, our planet and the universe.  It's the unifying life force energy of all things.  It's never absent, and thus is always contributing to the pulse of life in some way, shape or form.  A Reiki practitioner simply magnifies and helps direct the energy.  Some practitioners do this more effectively than others, and some people have a more visceral experience of it than others.

My experience in practicing reiki daily is that sometimes I don't feel much from it.  We're working with subtle energy so, by it's nature, it's not always obvious to the senses.  On other days, perhaps when I'm in greater need of it, or my senses are heightened by yogic practice or other variables, I actually feel energy moving in unexpected ways.  Whether or not I experience the characteristic tingling, warming, or pulling effects of Reiki on a given day, I feel qualitatively better for it.  Undoubtedly, part of that feeling is from the simple, yet profound reward of taking time for relaxation, and turning my attention inward.

By practicing yoga, we tend to be more sensitive to things.  Our self-awareness is heightened by the practice of going within and feeling the effects of different postures and ways of breathing.  Many people aren't so sensitive as to feel what we feel through yogic practice. A more stagnant lifestyle and externally-rooted awareness promotes less movement of energy and connection to one's body, which can make subtle energy less easy to detect.

Regardless, if this energy weren't working through us, our ecosystem and the cosmos, we would cease to be.

So, if you've been practicing more yoga and introspection than usual, perhaps you felt your latest treatment more powerfully because you're better able to feel it.  Or perhaps your system had different needs on this day.  Perhaps the Reiki practitioner was better connected to his or her own practice, and was thus able to direct a greater flow of energy through you.

We'll never know.  And I think that's ok!  But if you've found a Reiki practitioner who's work really works for you, then by all means, keep seeing her!

Here is a fabulous article I use in my Reiki classes to explain the science behind reiki.

Thanks for the opportunity to lend my "expertise" here.  It's such a humbling field to work in.  Reiki itself is the true healer!

Much love, and ease to you,