Wednesday, March 27, 2019

GREEN YOGA! Or Environmental Action as a Spiritual Practice by Karen Cairns

View of Kedarnath and Chaukumbh from Guptakashi, India.
Yoga is about balance, about ethics and relationships within the web of life.  All yoga is ecological by nature.  We can look at the Yamas and Niyamas first as relating to ourselves, then expanding these outward to our shala, our community, our region, country, the planet.  Like skimming a stone over the surface of water.

Environmental awareness and action is based upon ahimsa (not harming by actions including ethical issues about purchases and materials), asteya (not using more than my share of resources- as the Quaker saying goes:  Living Simply So That Others May Simply Live), sauca or cleanliness and non-polluting.  
There are many actions we can take to honor these fundamental limbs of yoga.  We need broad action, collective action, voting and protesting when applicable, changing laws and holding corporations accountable…of course.  Individual action is not the complete answer but it is a step we can take:  it is right action.
So…in our shala we can support ourselves and Bhumi Mataji (Jai, Mother Earth!) through many steps.

  • Using candles that are non-polluting and that have less waste.  No tea lights- these are made from fossil fuels and also produce indoor air pollution, increasing respiratory difficulties.
  • No more burning incense inside.  The least polluting I have found are the Japanese ones made without a stick in the middle, but even these have smoke and put particulates in the air we breathe.
  • Buying and using toilet paper that is made from recycled paper with a high post-consumer recycled content.  This has a double benefit:  virgin forests and trees are being cut down for regular toilet paper.  The average person using regular toilet paper is responsible for 384 trees being cut down in their lifetime (NRDC).  When we buy recycled paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues), we are not only saving trees but we are supporting the market for recycled products, which is extremely important for recycling to work.
  • Using regular, good old-fashioned soap bars instead of soap in plastic bottles.  Research has shown that this is both effective and just as healthy (or more healthy than soaps that are “anti-bacterial”).  This goes for lotions also- if possible buy in glass or buy in bulk by bringing your own glass container.  Many health food stores now have soaps and lotions in bulk.
  • Flowers: best are local and/or homegrown, next would be flowers grown in USA, and worst would be flowers from South America (cheap roses often grown in Colombia and cared for and picked by women and children with much exposure to horrible working conditions and high levels of pesticides).  Many flowers are labeled with country of origin; if not, we can ask where they are from.
  • Cleaning: we want to avoid harmful chemicals, especially bleach.  Most cleaning can be done with white vinegar and water and soap!

Yes, this is somewhat more expensive but so worth it.  Perhaps we can have an Eco-Fund for donations to support these efforts.  Certainly when we donate (bless you, donors!), we can donate with awareness about packaging and products.  Maybe large bags of chocolate that is not in individually wrapped pieces? Oh, have I gone too far?  Okay, baby steps!

Karen Cairns, RN, MPH, EdD  is a member of Yoga East’s Board of Directors, a long-time dedicated Ashtanga practitioner and KPJAYI Authorized teacher.  She received her doctorate in environmental education from the University of Louisville in 2001 and worked at U of L in environmental research and environmental justice.

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