Now you’re probably thinking; ‘what is the relationship between yoga and environmental sustainability?’, and ‘how can my individual yoga practice have a positive impact on the environment?’
To answer these questions we need to go back to basics and look at the fundamental purpose of yoga. Yoga in Sanskrit means ‘union’, which can refer to the union between the mind, body and soul; but also to the union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness in a much broader sense. As a practice, yoga is not only good for exercising and stretching the body – it also has a lot of psychological as well as spiritual benefits, training the mind to observe and create an awareness of its own nature. Furthermore, it fosters a sense of harmony between the body, the mind and the surrounding environment, which in turn promotes conscious actions and behavior towards other humans, nature and our planet Earth.
Spiritual development through meditation
The practice of Yoga began in India thousands of years ago (nobody knows when exactly), but the practice was not like we know it from today’s modern yoga studios. Historically, the ultimate goal and true essence of yoga was enlightenment. This could be reached through different paths, such as love and devotion, knowledge and wisdom, or selfless work and action.
But to understand any positive transformations in our body and mind, we must first understand the concept of ‘prana’. Prana is best described as a life force or a universal energy, existing within and all around. Yoga provides the tools to properly explore and direct prana in our body, mind and breath, as well as connect to the environment and the four elements of nature; air, earth, water and fire. By practicing the awareness of prana, we may start noticing an energy shift around us.
Today, meditation is common in Yoga and can be seen as a modern path to enlightenment or awareness. It may be argued that the more aware of our own actions we become, the more we will want to do good and focus on a clean and conscious living. In fact, the ‘Journal of Depression and Anxiety’ discusses the matter in the following way; “Yoga aims at transforming our lifestyle and its awareness can help us in our struggle against climate change. The practice of yoga brings about balance, wellbeing, happiness and freedom to live life fully. We may actually see the beginning of a global shift in consciousness leading to a more balanced and harmonious planet.”
So it’s becoming more and more clear that good, smart life choices benefit the environment, and therefore they benefit us as individuals and vice versa. If we can unify our self-interest with the planet’s best interest, we have come a very long way.
Examples on how Yoga can inspire us to take care of the environment
Better breathing. Through breathing exercises (also known as Pranayama), we learn to appreciate the oxygen we inhale. This may in turn inspire more eco-friendly choices of transportation, such as walking or cycling (also good for our bodies), using public transportation and less flying.
Cleaner eating. The more aware we become of our bodies, the more inclined we may be to eat healthy and clean. This can for example include less processed food, choosing vegetables over meat, buying seasonal/locally grown/organic veggies and fruits, and so on.
Minimize unnecessary consumption. ‘Aparigraha’ in Hinduism is the virtue of non-possessiveness and non-greediness. If we can learn to be happy and appreciate the possessions we already have, we can avoid over-consumption. This will in turn benefit the environment as well as future generations and their ability to meet their needs.