Like most people, I became a yoga teacher because I love the practice. I love its impact on my physical and mental health and the way it benefits my students. I still love that.
However, I have become more and more aware of the need to include care of the environment in the way we manage our retreat here at Griffins Hill. We have always done that, but it feels more urgent than ever before. And all the guidance we need to take is contained in the Yoga Sutra, written by the sage Patanjali at least 1700 years ago.
From the Yoga Sutras, we know that the practice of yoga involves more than the asanas and pranayama; it also includes the practice of non-violence. Non-violence to the earth and the environment is part of that practice, based on the "eightfold path" outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
That path is called Ashtanga, which translates as "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). Within Ashtanga, if we look honestly, we find many reasons to change our practices as far as the environment is concerned.How Ashtanga and the five Yamas show us the way
These eight limbs guide yoga practitioners to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They prescribe moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct us to look after our health and help us befriend the spiritual aspects of our nature.
I've included the full list at the bottom of this article, but our duties to the environment relate mostly to the first limb, which is:
- YAMA: Restraint, and moral disciplines or moral vows.
Patanjali's detailed instructions about Yama are known as the five Yamas. It is within the Yamas that our environmental guidance lies.The five Yamas as they apply to our planet
While practising on the mat at home or with others in the yoga studio, the Yamas teach us both to be respectful to ourselves and others around us. The first Yama, Ahimsa, is the practice of non-violence, which doesn't just mean other humans but also all of Prakriti (nature). With climate change threatening the very existence of humans and all other life on the planet, yogis and yoga teachers must be part of the change needed to minimise our environmental footprint.
Our endeavour to live sustainably also applies to the third Yama, Asteya, which means non-stealing. For too long humans have plundered the resources of this planet without giving back and now mother earth is suffering. We have been stealing and we must stop.
If we are to survive we need to curb our use of these finite resources and learn to nurture the Earth. The fifth Yama, Aparigraha, which mean non-possessiveness, non-holding through senses, non-greed, non-grasping, non-indulgence, non-acquisitiveness also guides us in towards environmental care. It shows us that we can be moderate in all our needs, just taking enough and not more.Can we make a difference?
A common belief re climate change is that changing our own habits and energy usage won't make any difference, so what is the point! However, as yogis and especially as yoga teachers, we can have a great influence on others around us and our students if we take leadership.
Yogis may contribute unwittingly to environmental problems. But Yoga is big business. Millions of mats and yoga clothes are used or sold every year. Studios are heated (some to extreme temperatures as in hot yoga), or cooled. We drive to yoga, to work, and to the shop. We fly to Yoga events, and conferences. Most of the time, flying is unavoidable if we want to attend.
Can we make more mindful choices about what we buy and how we participate? Can we walk, ride our bike, take public transport, or share a ride with friends? Should we offset the carbon for our flight and do we know if this is effective? FlyGreen
For conferences or meetings, can we Skype sometimes instead of attending?
It is more important for yogis to care about the environment even more than other people do. One of the main purposes of yoga is to develop compassion, awareness and kindness. If we trash the environment then we are not practising these fundamental aspects of yoga. As compassion and awareness (of our impact on the planet and all its creatures, plants and resources) are fundamental to an honest yoga practice, which related to Satya, the fourth Yama.
We do not claim to be perfect at Griffins Hill, but we do celebrate what we have done to contribute to non-violence towards our planet. Among the non-violent practices we are proud of are:
- Growing our product organically.
- Sourcing organic produce where possible.
- Preferring local suppliers to reduce food miles.
- Buying green power. (We use The Power Shop to purchase our electricity but there are other good choices if shop around.)
- Collecting rainwater.
- Recycling food waste and packaging.
- Refusing plastic carry bags
- Using sustainable bags instead. https://biobagworld.com.au
- Using natural cleaning products and minimising the use of chemicals
- Use environmentally sustainable toilet paper https://au.whogivesacrap.org
We are also proud of our plans to increase our practice of the five Yamas to help the earth recover from climate change.
- Double glazing all the windows to reduce heat loss, and consumption of energy
- Installing more insulation for the same reason
- Converting to solar energy
- Investigating how to become a certified B-Corp, which is a fantastic initiative to help companies become sustainable.
Practice non-violence and the five Yamas are part of yoga. Although it's easy to feel we, as individuals, cannot make a difference in a world that seems so hell-bent on destruction, we are called to do so by the ancient eight-fold path of Ashtanga and the five Yamas.
By coming to our mat whenever we can, and reminding ourselves that the earth needs us to stay true to the moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline the Yoga Sutra describes. In looking after our health and befriending the spiritual aspects of our nature, we can begin to be part of the change we want to see.
- YAMA: Restraint, and moral disciplines or moral vows.
- NIYAMA: Positive duties or observances.
- ASANA: Posture.
- PRANAYAMA: Breathing techniques.
- PRATYAHARA: Sense withdrawal.
- DHARANA: Focused concentration.
- DHYANA: Meditative absorption.
- SAMADHI: Bliss or enlightenment.
The five Yamas are considered codes of restraint, abstinence, self-regulation, and involve our relationship with the external world (mother earth) and other people. They are:
- Ahimsa: non-violence, non-harming, non-injury (2.35)
- Satya: truthfulness, honesty (2.36)
- Asteya: non-stealing, abstention from theft (2.37)
- Brahmacharya: restraint of sensual pleasures, continence, religious studentship (2.38)
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-holding through senses, non-greed, non-grasping, non-indulgence, non-acquisitiveness (2.39)
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