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How Yoga Encourages a more Environmentally Sustainable Life

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How Yoga Encourages a more Environmentally Sustainable Life

Abstract:

Yoga has been connected with the Green movement for environmentally-sustainable living. Practicing yoga allows individuals to practice mindfulness, to recognize the interconnections of thought, energy, and action, and has been shown to heighten awareness of one’s self and one’s relationship with others and the natural world. For example, the practice of pranayama teaches individuals not just to breathe entirely, but to nurture a deeper sense of the exchange of oxygen and energy that sustains our bodily existence. With this knowledge and respect, yogis may gain a deeper understanding and connection through the breath. This connects them with the world in a more fundamental way. Can applying the principles of yoga on an individual level lead to a large-scale change in our relationship to our planet? This research will discuss how yoga practices such as breathing techniques, dietary choices, meditation, poses, and the philosophical underpinnings of yoga encourage mindfulness and peacefulness, and to explore the potential for yoga-based practices to encourage environmentally-sustainable living.

Introduction:

The word “yoga” comes from the root “yuj,” meaning “to yoke.” Yoke is no longer a familiar word in the English language. Yoking is a method used to connect and harness two animals. They would be “yoked” together, to increase their strength (for plowing a field).

Today, we know the word Yoga as a Sanskrit word meaning “union,” union with your true essence, beyond the body. Union of mind, body, and soul; of breath and body; of our lesser egos with our superior selves. A union with the universe, source, or god. Yoga is an ancient system of physical and mental practices that started in South Asia, India over 5,000 years ago. The functionality of yoga is to encourage harmony in the body, mind, and environment. Yoga is a practice of physical exercise, breath restraints, relaxation, diet control, positive thinking and meditation. Practices entail physical activity, postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), relaxation, and meditation.

The six major variations of yoga in Hindu philosophy are raja (“Royal Yoga”, the path of wisdom to self-realization and enlightenment), karma (the path of action), jnana(the path of knowledge), bhakti (the path of devotion), tantra (the path of expansion), and hatha (the path of force). However, the ultimate goals may vary between each. Every style requires self-inquiry and specific disciplines to reach the desired state. The practices seek to create union in some form; body, mind, and spirit; earthly and divine; or even oneness with all. The physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, is the most prevalent form in the West today. The goal of hatha yoga is to balance mind, body, and spirit through physical practice, breath work, and meditation.

Practicing yoga allows us to practice mindfulness and how it relates to our life on this earth and our interaction with nature. Through the practice of yoga, we grow to be more insightful of the interconnections of thought, energy, and action. We become more aware of the foods we eat and how it effects our energy and health and are often further mindful about what we’re consuming and how this may affect our planet. Yoga makes us more sensitive and present to the environment that’s around us.

Yoga traditionally, was practiced in retreats that were in nature, like in the mountains and forests or by seashores. Yoga students would cultivate gardens, care for the cattle, and actually learn how to live in the wild. This was an essential part of their training.

Hatha Yoga (Forceful)

There are many different types of yoga; Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar, Restorative (Yin), and the list goes on. All providing us with something different. Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga practiced in the United states. Hatha yoga allows us to find connection and balance with the mind, body, breath, actions and the environment. Within Hatha yoga, there is many different styles of yoga that are practiced, like mentioned above, and various philosophies and techniques for each. Traditionally, Hatha yoga is a physical practice. The purpose of Hatha yoga is to tire the body and become entirely comfortable in a yoga pose, without mental or physical stress. By forceful practice the body and the mind adapt to the poses and accept the tension, allowing yourself to go into a deeper meditative practice.

Ashtanga Yoga (The Eight Limbs of Yoga):

There are various types of yoga, all different, but the asanas may be generally the same. Ashtanga yoga, is one of them, meaning, “the eight limbs of yoga,” and is proven to be the most rigorous, requiring discipline, strength, and determination. Ashtanga yoga is the process of synchronizing the breath with a traditional series of asanas, producing powerful internal heat and purifying sweat that detoxifies the muscles and organs to result in harmony with the physical (Asana), energetic (Pranayama), emotional (Pratyahara) and mental (Dharana) facets of our being as a human. Ashtanga is a traditional set of asanas with a powerful focus on breath, moral and ethical principles, and mental clarity from within. Ashtanga yoga provides a set of guidelines for how to live a healthier life through yoga. The eight limbs define not only the significance of the postures practiced but also the moral and ethical principles to apply throughout one’s life.
The eight limbs are as follows:

Yama: Ethical Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows – rules for successful living in society

Niyama:  Ethical observances or positive duties; techniques for managing and purifying self

Asana: Posture practices for physical and mental balance

Pranayama: Breathing practices for physical and mental balance

Pratihara: Withdrawal of senses; methods of detaching the mind from the senses

Dharana: Concentration practices

Dhyana: Meditation practices

Samadhi: The ultimate goal of yoga; the highest state of mental concentration that a person can attain; union, bliss, enlightenment

Yamas and Niamas can be broken down even deeper. (See image below) The first steps of the Yamas and Niamas are the ethical guidelines of living. Bringing in everything about the environment. Samadhi allows us to obtain good thoughts, a good mind and to live a more sustainable life through oneness with all living things. The Yamas and Niamas generate harmony within you, and in connection to your environment and to others around you. They provide you endless opportunities to truly transform one’s life. It’s about preventing actions that lead to suffering and difficulty and welcoming those that lead to happiness. And if you align your life with them, they’ll direct you to your greatest aspirations: peace, love, truth, purity, contentment, self-acceptance, and profound connection with the Divine; the true essence of happiness. (Dowdle, 2009)

How Yoga Encourages a more Environmentally Sustainable Life
“Awaken to the True Power of Yoga.” Ancient Wisdom, 20 Aug. 2019, ancientwisdom8888.wordpress.com/2019/06/25/awaken-to-the-true-power-of-yoga/.

Yoga & the Green Movement:

The green movement is a social movement concerning environmental conservation and developments to the existing wellbeing of the environment. The Green movement also encourages environmental conservation, restoration, and the total improvement of our atmosphere.

The wellbeing of our bodies for humans and for all other species depend on clean air, clean water and clean food. Yoga is rooted in an awareness of this interconnection. Traditionally, yoga cultivated in the perspective of a close connection with the Earth and a deep respect for animals, plants, soil, water and air. This respect for life is the foundation of the yogic teaching of ahimsa (non-violence, non-injury, non-harming). Global warming is an indication of imbalances throughout the world today that should cause us to wake up and take action, and yoga often helps us find balance in ourselves and the world around us.

Our sustainability of Earth’s life system is threatened. If we want to live and flourish, then we must realize how-to live-in harmony with nature. Now, we need to determine a sustainable relationship with the environment for generations to come. Developing a stronger connection with the Earth allows us to expand our sense of yoga as union.

Becoming aware really allows us to develop this strong relationship with nature.  Becoming aware of your surroundings. Becoming aware of your senses. Be in the present and not in the past or future. Maybe, allowing silence into your life. Walking outside barefoot, and feeling your feet ground into the earth, or the breeze through your hair. Becoming aware of the physical sensation of your body with the earth.  Observing the plants and the sound of birds or other species surrounding you.  Observing the sun and the moon. Every time you prepare food, becoming mindful about where that food came from. The fruits and veggies you are slicing are earths gifts to us. The Earth’s abundance nourishes and sustains each and every one of us. When you are on your daily commute to work, take this time to take it slow, to breath and to take in this beautiful landscape around you that this Earth is supporting us with. Practicing certain asanas, like Vrksasana (tree-pose) or Tadasana (mountain-pose) allow you to feel more connected to the Earth. Becoming more present, more aware, will allow you to experience a better connection with the universe. And as a yoga practitioner, we understand the needs of the Earth as a whole and we constantly cultivate gratitude for and sensible connection with the natural environments in which supports us.

Yoga is a method to help individuals with self-improvement and self-realization. An empowering tool for many, and many people who feel empowered are likely to change their actions and their negative habits to help themselves, their community and their environment.

Every time we practice our sun salutations or tree pose, or when our teachers use words like “grounding” and “root,” reminds us that yoga is connected to the natural world. Ancient practice of yogis lived in harmony with their environment, and today’s green yoga movement could be considered a modern manifestation of those ancient practices. Yoga used to be practiced outdoors, in nature, and now often times is practice in a studio. Now a days, we often stuck in our daily routines, and forget about our connection to nature, and yoga helps to reconnect us in and out of the studio.

Many studios have filter water stations and advocate bringing refillable water bottles. They often have yoga mats that are advertised as eco-friendly and compassionate about giving back. Jade Yoga mats is run by a former lawyer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The yoga mats are made of natural rubber or cork. They are committed to giving back to the earth, being that the mat is made from a tree, they plant a tree for every met that is sold. And they are processed and shipped from the US. They also donate to many different causes.

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Non-Violence (Ahimsa) & The Yogi Diet:

Yogis practice ahimsa, meaning non-violence or non-harming. Non-violence to ourselves, to others (including animals) and to the universe. We believe in respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others, which leads to the reason of why yogis are often vegetarians.

Agriculture is the primary source of pollution in several countries. Pesticides, fertilizers and additional toxic farm chemicals can poison fresh water, marine ecosystems, air and soil. Many pesticides are presumed of interrupting the hormonal systems of both people and wildlife. Fertilizer run-off effects waterways and coral reefs. (WWF) About 30 percent of our world’s “ice-free” land is being used to raise livestock. We grow crops to feed our animals, and we cut down forests to do that. Beef in particular, contributes a lot more of an environmental impact verses chicken and pork because of the amount of land that is necessary for beef. (Carroll, 2019) Eating less meat and animal products is also a way to live more ethically.

However, not all yogis are vegetarians. But non-harming could go further than just non-harming animals, it could go as non-harming our planet. Not depending on fossil fuels to deliver our foods, not buying foods that are toxic to ourselves and to the environment, and not buying meat that is being produced in commercial or unethical farms. This creates an awareness to buy locally sourced foods, supporting our local economy, and not depending on our food to be shipped from the opposite side of the country. We also often become aware of the products we use whether on ourselves, or in and around our houses, being more conscious, and purchasing or creating products that are non-toxic to ourselves and to the environment. Which then leads us to reusing, re-wearing and recycling. Shopping for locally sourced clothing, or shopping at the thrift store, selling or giving our clothing away (I always give mine to foster care!), buying reusable bags, water bottles and Tupperware.  

Not all classes are created equally, and not all teachers are properly trained. A genuinely yogic life-style minimizes our harmful effect on the environment. We often bring in the consciousness of the environment into our classes, for example, Vrksasana (Tree-Pose), “stand tall and rooted into the earth, and allow your branches to grow tall.”  The vegetarian diet reduces cruelty to animals and exploitation of our natural environments. Yogi’s often have values of minimalism and self-restraint which have outer implications too, disconnecting us from the consumer world and its overindulgences.

The Relationship Between Postures and Practicing Environmentally-Sustainable Living:

Postures are often named after animals (Pidgeon, Lizard, Cat, Cow) and nature (Tree, Mountain, Waterfall Pose), which help remind us that we are all connected. This came about when ancient philosophers in India noticed how animals live in harmony with their environment and their own bodies. Ancient Yogis found that mimicking these animals was an enlightening experience for both the body and mind. And many religious traditions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, who influenced yoga, found the animals to be symbolic. Animals can teach us a lot about movement. They know how to move their bodies to adapt and survive in the environment that they live in, such as ‘fight or flight’ response. This impression of animals helped to sustain our health and meet challenges of nature.

There are many different types of sun salutations (Surya Namaskara), that were used for awakening the body and saluting the sun. Sun salutations are a forceful group of asanas that were passed down from enlightened philosophers as a greeting of honor and respect to the sun.

Aspiring 46er

Ecological Mindfulness Through the Practice of Yoga:

Practicing yoga allows individuals to practice mindfulness, recognize the interconnections of thought, energy, and action, and heighten awareness of one’s self and one’s relationship with others and the natural word. Being mindful means becoming aware, and noticing our thoughts within, while practicing non-violence or non-judgement, and without over-identifying with them or reacting to them. Mindfulness is about being in the present; deepening our understandings with the environment, and encourages a greater relation with the natural world, which may normalize the creation of sustainable alternatives. Mindfulness stimulates individual well-being, compassion and interpretation of values, which can then lead to more sustainable actions. Being more mindful enhances our health and well-being, such as, depression, stress, anxiety, immunity or chronic diseases and our overall happiness in life.

Mindfulness is a psychological process of bringing our attention to the present moment. It is a kind, inquisitive and non-judgmental consciousness that allows us to relate to ourselves, others, and our environment with compassion. Mindfulness can transform how we think about environmental catastrophes that effect our world, and it can also allow us to take action and build more sustainable societies.

Health & Wellbeing:

Improving our health and well-being is both beneficial to ourselves and to those around us. Our well-being is likely to have an impact on how we perceive and approach sustainable actions. Which, having control of our health and well-being often leads to environmentally-sustainable behavior. For Example, depression, stress, and pain make it more difficult to consider societal troubles like climate change. Instead, we will most likely be looking within and be drawn to more prominent personal problems. If our own needs are not fulfilled, attentiveness for the environment will probably not be our main priority. Goal # 3 on the UN Sustainable goals is good health and wellbeing. The UN Sustainable goals is a design to attain a better and more sustainable future. They address the global challenges we face, including those correlated to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. There are 17 goals that are all interconnected. Goal #3, good health and well-being is to help ensure healthy lives encouraging the well-being at all ages is important to sustainable development. The idea of this goal is to increase life expectancy and lessen common killers that are linked with child and maternal mortality. Also reducing premature deaths due to noncommunicable diseases, which require more efficient technologies for clean fuel used during cooking, and the education of dangers of tobacco, and through prevention and encouragement of mental health and well-being. Ending epidemics of AIDs, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and combat hepatitis, water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases. By concentrating on providing more efficient funding of health systems, having better sanitation and hygiene, improving access to physicians and offering more advice on ways to reduce ambient pollution, substantial improvement can be made in serving to save the lives of millions. Improving our health and wellbeing will likely lesson these premature deaths and the transmission of disease.

Meditation

Compassion & Empathy:

Yogi’s practice compassion, empathy and loving-kindness. The promotion of mindfulness through loving-kindness meditation in schools and workplaces could promote both a sustainable way of life and a greater well-being. Compassion can also be offered to strangers or even members of different species. Compassion is indicated to be a predictor of psychological health and well-being, while also promoting humane behavior and generosity. (Ericson, 2014) The devastation of nature is the devastation of humanity. We are dependent on Earth.

Yoga and Buddhism advanced as sister traditions and share several similarities. The essential teaching of Buddhism is that the life of the Buddha exists in every plant and tree. It’s a philosophy originated on a deep respect for life. For example, someone who purposely litters, would be a selfish behavior, proving to have an ego that cares for nothing but themselves. A person picking up someone else’s trash may not instantly see the reward, but this is a reward for nature. Our planet has been kind to us. So lets be kind to our planet.

Having compassion can transform your life and increase your overall happiness. When you hear about a tragic event and feel compelled to act, that is an act of compassion. When you see photos of whales full of garbage from humans, or a starving polar bear on the arctic, or the kangaroos and koala bears racing for their life in Australia as their habit burns, and you want to help, that is compassion.

The practice of makes us strong enough to feel and to be present in our own suffering and all the worlds suffering. We then become conscious and take action to lesson that suffering. And that’s where compassion comes in. We have empathy for those who are suffering. The practice of Loving-Kindness is starting with one’s self, and the idea being that you can only truly give to another what you have given to yourself. Then expanding that loving-kindness to the universe.

The UN Goal 16 is Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The idea of this goal is to tackle challenges, such as homicide, human trafficking, intentional murder, aggression and sexual violence and create more peaceful and complete societies.

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Conclusion:

If we can broaden our minds to the first intended purpose of yoga, along with the physical, emotional, and mental health that it gives us, then we can accept this practice to inspire environmental sustainability. Yoga teaches us to care for our bodies and to make choices that are life enhancing. It affords us a set of principles and tools to support us and how we react to ourselves and to the natural world. It offers a structure to control our inner needs and aspirations, and when utilized for communities and societies, can be guidance for sustainable living and global change. Yoga and Buddhism both recognizes that there is suffering, and that freedom from suffering is imaginable. We believe in utilizing the principles of yoga on an individual level which can lead to large-scale shift in our connection to our planet. Yoga presents us with a holistic, cultivating and evolutionary approach to living a more environmentally-sustainable life.

Bibliography

Baenen, Alison. “Exploring the Eight Limb Path: The Niyamas.” Five Pillars Yoga, 12 May 2016, www.fivepillarsyoga.com/exploring-the-eight-limb-path-the-niyamas/.

Carroll, Aaron E. “The Real Problem With Beef.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/upshot/beef-health-climate-impact.html.

Dowdle, Hillari. “Path to Happiness: 9 Interpretations of the Yamas Niyamas.” Yoga Journal, 7 Apr. 2009, www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/path-happiness.

Ericson, Torgeir, et al. “Mindfulness and Sustainability.” Ecological Economics, Elsevier, 20 May 2014, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914001165.

Marzilli, Victoria. “Yoga and Environmental Sustainability.” Yoga for Humanity, Yoga for Humanity, 5 Aug. 2017, www.yogaforhumanity.com/journal/2017/8/5/yoga-and-environmental-sustainability.

Sharma, Manoj. “Yoga Poses, Benefits, Types & History.” EMedicineHealth, EMedicineHealth, 26 Feb. 2019, www.emedicinehealth.com/yoga/article_em.htm#what_is_the_history_of_yoga.

“Circular Economy: Definition, Importance and Benefits: News: European Parliament.” Circular Economy: Definition, Importance and Benefits | News | European Parliament, 10 Apr. 2018, www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits.

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“Sustainable Agriculture.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/industries/sustainable-agriculture.


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