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