Yoga as an Environ-Mental Practice

Yoga 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 actions.  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

From ego-centric to world-centric yogis.

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 (ahimsa), as examples.  

It's easy to be so self-centered in our yogic pursuits that we lose sight of the role the entire world plays in our growth.

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 our own yogic equipoise, the natural environment that provides our life force is reeling from worldwide human behaviors that are decidedly non-yogic.  Many seemingly inconsequential things done without environ-mentality are proving to have big effects that we can no longer ignore. These, naturally, affect our wellbeing, as there is no real separation between us and our surroundings.  

Not everyone is as fortunate as the yogis of Southern California.

From my pirch here in San Diego, I feel profoundly blessed to live where I live, and do what I do.    For this reason, I feel that I have a much greater responsibility to the world, to be less self-centered in my practice and more world-centric, to use the phrase of Ken Wilber.  Our consumption habits as yogis, from what we buy, how much gas we burn, to the impact of heated yoga classes, must be acknowledged and reckoned with if we are to be truly aligned with yoga.

It's time for urban yogis worldwide to apply our yogic efforts to the wellbeing of our planet.  

We focus so much on our physical bodies and personal lives in yoga.  How about applying ourselves to the task of healing the ecosystems to which we are inextricably linked?  In yoga we adopt the first yama of non-harming and kindness (ahimsa) in relation to ourselves and others. Thus, isn't it essential to be as kind as possible to that which feeds us, and gives us all that we cherish?

Yogic devotion is a renewable energy source.

How about we tap into the devotional bhakti of yoga as a resource to put back into the ecology that gives us life?  Why not perfect our environmental practices as fervently as we approach our asanas?  The results will reveal themselves 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, our life-saving duty, to do so, and every choice counts. 

"Planet, my friend, how should we do this?"

I think our best strategy for loving the earth like we love our yoga, is to befriend the environment, and treat it like a friend in our daily actions.  When making plans with friends, we ask for their input as far as the logistics, their wants and needs.  Not doing so is, frankly, unfriendly.  When we're at choice about how to go about some thing, asking for the environment's input just seems more civilized, and could give us some wonderfully pleasant, and unexpected answers.  

Me: "Planet, my friend, shall I drive to the store nearby?  I am so tired and achy."

Planet: "Dear one, I am sorry you're not feeling well.  Perhaps a gentle walk to breathe my fresh air and see my sunset colors would make you feel better?"

Then, like friends do, you weigh the options and make the most logical, kind decision.

We need new societal norms around this. It is in our power to raise communal awareness and appreciation for that which sustains us. It is truly in our best interest to do so, and will undoubtedly serve to advance our yogic embodiment.  The exact approach, as in yoga, will vary per individual.  

There are countless ways to practice yoga, just as there are innumerable ways to care for our planet.

In our household, our environmental choices include urban composting, limiting our driving mileage, voting on environmental policy, reducing single-use containers, and using remotes to turn off our power outlets at night.  Can we do more?  Absolutely, and I consider every effort to be yogic in nature.  My next step is to extend my efforts outside of my work and home.  Thus, I've found the collective of San Diego-based non-profits and volunteer opportunities.  Angel Being.  Please check out their website if you're called to join a local effort that inspires you.

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 be inclusive of the environment as we take actions that shape our realities. Let's make yoga an environmental practice that supports the web of life that supports us.  Please, share your thoughts and ecological practices or resources below.

In gratitude,

Susana Jones

"The Blue Marble" from Apollo 17.   Photographed by nasa  in 1972, this first image of earth from space, and an iconic image of the environmental movement.

"The Blue Marble" from Apollo 17.  Photographed by nasa in 1972, this first image of earth from space, and an iconic image of the environmental movement.