Photo: Yoga Teacher - Jessica Dewar (Jessica Dewar Yoga)
5 Ways to align your yoga practice with the environment
Underpinning the broad practice of yoga is a set of ethical guidelines. These nuggets of wisdom, known as the Yamas and Niyamas, and that many of you will be familiar with, provide a useful road-map to help navigate the many twists and turns of life.
The guidelines, laid out in the first two limbs of the ancient sage Patanjali’s eightfold path to enlightenment, apply to every single aspect of life, offering insights into ourselves, others, and the world around us.
The Niyamas highlight the relationship with one’s inner world, touching on cleanliness, contentment, good habits, self-awareness and spiritual growth. But it’s the Yamas, which focus on our relationship with the outer world, that really serve as a vehicle to practice yoga alongside environmental mindfulness.
Leveraging the wisdom of the Yamas, here are 5 practical ways to get you into earth-friendly alignment:
1. Choose with kindness - Ahimsa
Yoga’s first guiding principle, Ahimsa, reminds us to consider all living things and ‘do no harm’. Looking through the lens of the environment, you might apply this principle by investigating the invisible growing, manufacturing and distribution process behind your favourite yoga products.
Let’s take your yoga mat, for example. Yes, you can buy a cheap yoga mat at your local variety chain store. But the chances are it’s made from polyvinyl chloride (aka PVC) - a material that is harmful to the environment in its manufacture. Oh, and let’s not forget, PVC takes up to 1000 years to biodegrade!
Do a little research and pay a little more, and you can own a non-toxic yoga mat made from sustainable plant materials such as natural rubber and jute. Better still, mats made with the environment in mind are biodegradable.
It is also possible to donate your old yoga mat for uses ranging from charity yoga classes to pet bedding. Research collection points near you.
2. Speak up for the environment - Satya
The yogic tenant of Satya encourages us to speak, think and act in truthful alignment with our core values. In simple terms, if you believe the environment is in trouble, practicing Satya means not making it worse.
You can start by examining your beliefs. You can ask yourself do your views on the environment match your actions? What actually are your views? Perhaps you have never really articulated them.
Use the power of journaling or meditation to bring your personal brand of Satya into focus.
Next, ponder how could you marry your environmental values to your yoga practice. It could be something as simple as changing the soap in the studio bathroom because is not eco-friendly, or you realise the manufacture of your favourite brand of yoga pants or yoga props compromises the environment. Speak up, take action.
Want a bigger impact? Run or suggest a by-donation yoga class to coincide with an environmental awareness event, such as Earth Hour or World Water Day. Giving the proceeds to the associated charity, raising awareness and doing yoga - now that’s a win-win!
3. Rethink resource consumption - Asteya
Asteya advocates non-stealing and resisting coveting things that do not belong to us. In honouring the environment, this Yama might inspire a rethink of resources such as the energy consumed to facilitate a yoga practice.
Consider how much energy is required to heat, cool and light your practice space. What viable alternatives are available? Could you practice in natural light, and/or adjust your clothing rather than use energy to make the room temperature comfortable? If you are running a Yoga Studio, you can let students know why, for example, you are using natural light as opposed to electric light so that they know that they are also playing their part in contributing towards sustaining our planets resources.
And what about getting to class? Our cars are a major contributor to road congestion and outdoor air pollution, emitting a smoggy mix of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide - eek!
Consider leaving your car at home to arrive at your yoga class by foot, bicycle or public transport, lessening your personal contribution to the problem.
4. Concentrate your passions - Brahmacharya
Do you spend a lot of time and energy worrying about the environment?
Brahmacharya encourages us to distil our passions and desires into a focused, productive and potent energy. Inspired by this principal, try channelling your time, energy and beliefs to make a real difference to the world rather than feeling helpless.
Use your place in the yoga community to help the planet! Instigate a by-donation yoga class, with proceeds going to a worthy environmental cause, or become an expert on the organic cotton growing process, so you can help spread the importance of sustainable farming practices particularly in relation to the making of the yoga props you and others use.
5. Stick to your healthy limits - Aparigraha
Aparigraha translates as non greediness and urges against craving more than is truly needed . Think behaviours such as over eating, overspending or over consuming. Awareness of Aparigraha can help us discern a personal level of desire that is ‘just right’.
Aligning your yoga practice to the environment through Aparigraha may mean practicing contentment with what you have rather than discarding something that you perceive as outdated for the latest new trend in yoga gear.
You, yoga and the planet - beautifully aligned
When you immerse yourself in the practice of yoga, you’ll soon find yoga’s wise underpinning philosophies ready to guide you through life with care and consideration. Specifically, the 5 Yamas highlight how we, as yoga practitioners, can best show up and interrelate with the world around us.
Through inspired action flavoured by the Yamas, it’s possible to align your yoga practice with the environment. When you do, you can make a positive impact in the world well beyond your yoga mat!
Tell us in the comments below - what changes might you make to honour the environment through your yoga?
PS You may also enjoy 5 ways to a greener yoga practice