Green Yoga and the art of living harmoniously with nature

By Sandeep Chakravorty

One may wonder what is the link between sustainability and yoga? Is a link being established just because we are commemorating International Day of Yoga? To understand the link one needs to go no further than Indian philosophy, which posits the human being in the lap of Mother Nature. Let me elaborate with an example from the Isha Upanishad, which explains our position in the world.

“If all the Upanishads and all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse in the Isha Upanishad were left in the memory of the Indians, our civilization would live forever.” With these words, Mahatma Gandhi paid tribute to the remarkable Isha Upanishad, which by long tradition usually comes first in Indian collections. The first mantra of the Isha Upanishad says:

Isavasyam idam sarvam

Yat kincha jagatyam jagat

Tena tyaktena bhunjitha

Ma graddh kasya svid dhanam

(The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all. The Lord is the supreme reality. Rejoice in him through renunciation. Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord)

An interpretation of the above is that everything inanimate or animate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should, therefore, accept only those things necessary for oneself, that are set aside as an individual’s footprint and one should not accept other’s things, knowing well to whom they belong. So, when everything belongs to the Lord or to nature and we are only in trusteeship, who are we to ruin it, pollute it and destroy it to satisfy our greed?

When one hears the word yoga, what are the first images that come to mind? Asanas and exercises. Lately, it seems that yoga has become synonymous with the physical aspect of the practice—the asana or postures. But that is only one aspect of yoga. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is explained as having eight limbs or ashtanga. The physical practice (asana) is actually the third limb. The first two are the yamas and niyamas—ethical and personal guidelines for living. The rest of the limbs (pranayamapratyaharadharanadhyana and samadhi) ultimately lead to the union of the individual soul with the universal soul.

Can practising yoga help make the world a better place? Yoga is founded upon principles that promote awareness of one’s sense of connection, inborn identification and interdependence with all things. These central tenets convey innately ecological consciousness through the practice of yoga. And perhaps more importantly show that yoga can inspire conscious, peaceful, environmental stewardship for the betterment of society and the Earth.

We see the evolution of friends and family members who start to practice yoga all around us. They become quieter and more conscious. They begin to make healthy decisions in their lives, whether it’s paying more attention to the food they eat, what they wear, what they buy, or changing their lifestyle to accommodate sustainable practices. For me, my yoga consciousness doesn’t necessarily mean that I am very adept in doing asanas, but it translates to maintaining societal hygiene, working towards reducing single-use plastics and a passion for trees and water. In his book Yoga for a World Out of Balance, the late Michael Stone, a well-respected and well-loved meditation and yoga teacher, says, “The techniques of yoga—including body practices, working with the breath, and discovering the natural east of the mind—reorient practitioners to the very deep continuity that runs through every aspect of life until they realize that the mind, body, and breath are situated in the world and not apart from worldly life in any way.”

Yoga has the power to make one more sensitive to the world. Through this realization of shared energy and common life force, we learn to respect other living beings and understand that every tree or animal has an equal right to live on this planet. If we can open our minds to the original purpose of yoga, in addition to the physical, emotional and mental health that it brings to our lives, there is hope for this practice to encourage environmental sustainability. Yoga provides us with a set of guidelines and tools to help us deal with ourselves and with the world around us. It provides a framework for managing our inner needs and desires, and when applied to communities and societies, can be a toolkit for sustainable living and global change. It is my firm belief that practically applying the principles of yoga on an individual level can lead to large-scale change in our relationship with our planet. As the world grows increasingly complex, it has been easy to lose touch with the simple reality that has come down to us through ages in our scriptures.

At this moment, when we are grappling with covid, we have to redevelop the pathways for reclaiming the connection to nature and enhancing the capacity for compassionate action. Through the practice of yoga we become more sensitized to the interconnections of thought, energy and action. Yoga teaches us to care for our bodies and to make choices that are life-enhancing over those that diminish quality of life. Improving air and water quality is one such example. With a greater awareness of our surroundings and what goes into our bodies, we can begin to make choices that support clean air and water for all. It may mean walking to destinations more, using plastics less, switching off the lights, and switching on our minds.

Similarly, we can become more aware of the foods we eat and the water we drink. We can then choose not to buy bottled water or consume fewer processed foods. We can become aware of the various correlations and what it takes to bring food from the farm to the table or water from the forests to the jug. Our choices in the marketplace impact producers and in turn the environment those companies operate within. Thus the yoga we practice at home (Hatha and Kriya), and in our lives in general (KarmaBhaktiJnana and Tantra), not only changes us as individuals, it impacts the wider world in which we live.

Sandeep Chakravorty
Photo:-Jay Mandal/On Assignment


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Images courtesy of (Photo courtesy PTI) and Jay Mandal

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