The Greening of Yoga
By Felicia M. Tomasko
Although we may begin yoga by working with the alignment of muscles and bones, the realization of its spiritual levels comes through doing the practice. Laura Cornell, director of the Green Yoga Association understands this and looks to the power of yoga to manifest the transformation of consciousness.
Through practice, Cornell says, we make a connection to our breath, spirit and soul. Not only do we learn to quiet the mind for a more internal experience, we can truly fall in love with the world. Cornell believes that the practice of yoga awakens what she calls a deep, profound reverence with the surrounding world.
Cornell is Founder and Executive Director of the Green Yoga Association (GYA). This is a group of yoga teachers, scholars and practitioners who are dedicated to seeing that yoga remains grounded in our many relationships with the earth and surroundings, including our connections with clean air, water and food. The up and coming organization is based in Emoryville, California. It produces a newsletter, “The Green Yoga Times,” and will hold The First International Green Yoga Conference in September in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Cornell is writing her doctoral dissertation on yoga and ecology, and the non-profit GYA has sprung out of her collaborative research work. The association helps foster ecological consciousness, reverence and action in the yoga community. It is circulating a values statement throughout the yoga community, calling for an environmental commitment on the part of teachers and students.
A sense of ecological consciousness is an essential element of the roots of yoga and the philosophies from which yoga springs, according to Dr. Chris Chapple, Associate Academic Vice President and Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. The written texts, he says, unite our physical bodies with the surrounding environment by repeatedly stressing the connection between the sensory and motor capacities of the body with the elements of nature. And, the earliest texts describe the importance of the protection of water and forest, as well as instructions about handling pollution. “Before technology was anywhere near the power as we experience it today, pollution was always an issue for human communities,” states Dr. Chapple. Therefore, neutralizing pollution was a significant topic even in sacred texts.
The Yoga Vasistha is one of the texts infused with an ecological consciousness through our intimate connection to the world around us. Chapple says the story of the man within the rock describes how our senses are connected to the earth and the mountains, how the water we drink is no different from the saliva in our mouths, how the power of the sun is connected to the radiance in our eyes, and how the wind in our breath is the same wind that taught the birds to fly and the plants to dance with the breeze.
Today, according to Dr. Chapple, “so much of our current environmental problem comes from thinking that human comfort can be maintained from the acquisition of manufactured goods. There is an imbalance in every object we own… every mile we drive…. One becomes defined by the things one owns, leading to a diminishment of the capacity to be grounded in one’s inner core.”
Dr. Chapple believes there are two issues that the green yoga movement addresses: obesity, which he describes as a manifestation in our bodies of thinking that ingesting more outside of ourselves will give ourselves inner solace, and the issue of proliferation of a variety of objects in our life, including the widespread use of household pollutants. The yogic precepts of nonviolence (ahimsa) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha), are “critical for enacting an ecologically sound and balanced way of being in the world.”
Green Yoga Checklist
The philosophical basis of ecology in yoga is both inspiring and enlightening, but it can be challenging to bring the values into the everyday. On a practical level, the Green Yoga Association has developed a preliminary checklist of five guidelines yoga studios can implement to minimize their environmental impact.
Printing for Prakriti (Nature)
Studios produce a multitude of fliers, handouts, schedules and newsletters. The environmental impact of promotion and education is reduced by utilizing recycled, tree-free paper, non-bleached or non-chlorine bleached paper when printing, GYA also encourages studios to close the loop, and recycle items like bottles, cans and paper.
Helping Students Keep Their Cars at Home
The Green Yoga Association encourages studios to set up a bicycle rack or keep public transportation information available or posted on the website. Although we rely heavily on our cars, how students arrive at a yoga studio can make a significant impact. Walking or biking increases the flow of prana or vital life-force and reduces air pollution.
Think Before You Buy
Choosing low-impact, energy saving or non-toxic options when purchasing commonly used items helps to green a yoga studio or space. Some GYA suggestions include using low-watt energy saving light bulbs, non-petroleum candles like beeswax or soy, recycled paper products in bathrooms, and non-toxic soap and cleaning supplies.
Green Spaces, Places and More
Greening the physical environment of the studio and retail space includes examining and choosing flooring and shelving options that are sustainable, reclaimed or nontoxic, stocking retail items that are sustainable, non-toxic, and fair-trade, installing water saving devices and including plants to detoxify the air and create a connection with nature.
Green Yoga Studio Memberships
Lastly, the Green Yoga Association is open for studios to become members. They are currently developing a resource handbook to assist studios in making the commitment to green their environment. The Association is also developing a pilot program calling on studios to help them develop a green yoga audit.
Studios Making It Green
Even before these published guidelines, many studios throughout Southern California had already implemented a number of the suggestions that are part of the Green Yoga Association’s checklist. Staff and owners often have personal commitments to sustainability and ecology that influence the decisions they made in their studio design or continue to make in the ongoing operation of the studio.
Rose Gresch, manger of Black Dog Yoga in Sherman Oaks, owns a hybrid car and believes her environmental commitment comes from living in the world. To bring this to the mat, both of Black Dog’s studio floors are bamboo, something she refers to as a noticeable statement, since there is so much of it. Not only is the material from the fast-growing bamboo more sustainable than slow-growing hardwood, Gresch says the bamboo is softer and warmer, and people love it. Black Dog has soy candles, sells hemp mat bags and Jade rubber mats, and utilizes non-toxic cleaning supplies. Being centrally located in Sherman Oaks, many students initiate walking or biking to the studio. Other eco-choices, though, are beyond Black Dog’s control, as they share the bathrooms with the remainder of the building.
GODA yoga owner, Corine Whitman in Culver City, is constrained by the building in which the studio is located. The toilets, lighting system and lack of bicycle racks came with the building, but the studio accommodates bicycles whenever possible. Culver City doesn’t have a curbside recycling program, so Whitman makes an effort to cull bottles and cans from the studio to bring home to recycle. She provides recycled paper products, and cotton towels for those who don’t want to wad up paper.
Michael Bengry, one of the owners of Golden Tree Yoga in Santa Barbara, had the ability to design the inner space of the studio, utilizing a set of “green on a budget” guidelines from a green architecture symposium held in San Luis Obispo. In order to take advantage of as much natural light as possible, Golden Tree features translucent materials to bring light in from the outside. Fluorescent lights that can be adjusted and efficient heat pumps further reduce energy dependence. Rather than installing hardwood floors, plastic laminate floors cover the studio space. In-house, Golden Tree uses recycled paper.
To reduce environmental impact, Cheri Paquin at Bamboo Yoga in Coronado strives to buy non-toxic products and has asked the city for a bicycle rack. Paquin finds it ironic that many yoga companies produce products that are harmful for the environment and searches for non-toxic products. There are challenges to being green, Paquin notes. She had to train people to use non-toxic cleaning products and has received complaints about the yellow tinge to the energy saving bulbs and would find it helpful to have a list of green resources available. At Bamboo, they are taking the commitment to the environment off the floor and into the spoken word with a series of summer lectures examining the choices we make when we buy food and material goods in order to educate yogis to make the world a greener place through conscious shopping.
The Green Yoga Association is striving to build community and open a dialogue among yoga practitioners and scholars, around returning an ecological awareness to the heart of yoga practice. Although each of our actions individually has an impact, our collective reverence for the Earth is a powerful yoga practice.
To find out more about the Green Yoga Association and their upcoming conference, check out their website at www.greenyoga.org.
Felicia M. Tomasko is a writer, yoga teacher, and Ayurvedic practictioner in Santa Barbara. FeliciaTomasko@yahoo.com
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