By now, given yoga's broad popularity, many people know that the word yoga means to unite or yoke together. When one moves past the common notion that yoga is mostly about exercise, flexibility, and relaxation and begins to delve into the underlying philosophy of yoga, one begins to encounter conceptually and experientially what this business of unity is really about. From the moment you stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and ground through your feet, you become aware that the actions of your feet have a direct and palpable effect on your ankles, your legs, your spine, indeed, your entire body. In other words, all the parts of your body are connected to one another. Well, duh! Except that I don't just mean connected in the sense of "your knee bone connected to your thigh bone". It's rather that all these parts exist and work together in a functionally integrated whole; they are inter-connected. This tangible and seemingly mundane experience can serve as a springboard to the greater realization that not only the parts of our body but everything around us, from our neighborhoods and nations, to our planet and the universe, is linked together like parts of a vast jigsaw puzzle. Just as what happens to our hip affects our knee, so what happens in our neighborhood affects what happens in our county, what happens in our county affects what happens in our state, and so on. We and everything surrounding us, from the clothes we wear during the day to the light of the distant stars twinkling in our eyes at night, are enmeshed in an intricate dance of action and reaction, cause and effect that connects each of us to each other and to everything else. It is this interconnectedness that lies at the heart of yoga. It is also the foundation of the relationship between yoga and our environment.
Every time I pick up a newspaper these days, I see something about the degradation of our environment: global warming, the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, the disappearance of polar bears; not to mention the ongoing problems that have been worsening for years. Oysters and crabs are disappearing from the Chesapeake bay, the oceans are being overfished and polluted, trees are being cut down in alarming numbers, heavy metals appear in the milk of a huge percentage of nursing mothers, and on and on. Of course, global warming is the overarching environmental dilemma confronting us today. I'm no expert when it comes to science and our environment, but if the consensus of nearly every responsible scientist is to be believed, we have only a very short period of time to take powerful actions to mitigate some of the dire effects that global climate change will have on us and our children's and grand-children's future well-being.
Yet by the same token, just as everywhere you look, global warming alarms appear, so, too, do green initiatives to begin to deal with these problems. In much the same way as yoga became ubiquitous in the media a few years back, now "green" is the "in" word on the pages of newspapers and magazines. And this is a good thing. It will take broad awareness of the seriousness of the situation to begin to galvanize people to support the changes that are necessary to avert the worst of the outcomes that appear to be facing us.
The yoga community has begun to recognize this need in a variety of ways. The Green Yoga Association was founded in 2004 (I am proud to be a founding member) and has been in the forefront of awakening environmental consciousness in the yoga community and beyond. Toward this end, an increasing number of articles have begun to appear in publications directed toward yoga, spiritual practice, and alternative lifestyles. A new book, Green Yoga, by Georg and Brenda Feuerstein, has just been published and has received high praise from a number of reviewers. More manufacturers and suppliers of yoga equipment and products are creating green alternatives. More centers are beginning to buy and sell green products and to use green technology in lighting, heating, and decorating their centers. More teachers are beginning to address the link between yoga and the environment in their teaching. (To find out more about the efforts of the yoga community to promote environmental consciousness, search "green yoga".)
In the Washington area, the consortium of yoga centers that organize and sponsor DC Yoga Week, presented a day-long program at Lisner Auditorium last year in conjunction with Global Yoga Mala, an international organization dedicated to promoting awareness of global warming.
Here at Unity Woods, we have increased our offering of ecologically sound yoga supplies in our Beyondananda Boutique. We print our newsletter on recycled paper and use soy-based ink, buy recycled paper supplies in our office, and encourage our students to get their information and register online to save trees. In our recent renovation, we used low VOC paint and energy efficient, full spectrum light bulbs. We are replacing worn mats with new Jade yoga mats, which are made of natural rubber free of PVC's. The flooring in the reception area is a special product resistant to microbial agents. We still have a way to go to be as green as we'd like, but like our Trikonasana, we're working on it. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions.
Truth be told, however, from what I read, we aren't going to make enough of a difference by using only one sheet of toilet paper, changing our light bulbs, or shopping with reusable shopping bags. Although they are important on a lot of levels, the problem is simply too large for these kinds of measures to be sufficient. We must encourage sweeping technological advances to deal with challenges of the scope we are confronting. Designing air conditioning in large building complexes after the same system termites use to maintain temperature in their mounds can reduce energy consumption by 90%, for example. Or by studying how seashells turn off the process of growing their shells, we can produce a nontoxic product that can be released into plumbing that sticks to the inner surface of pipes and keeps them free-flowing. This can prevent millions of gallons of noxious chemicals currently used for this purpose from being flushed into the environment. Redesigning our living and work spaces and the cities in which they're built is crucial for developing a sustainable lifestyle for large populations.
To bring about these technological advances, we must create a social environment that demands them. Business and government respond to the demands of the market place and the populace. Already, partially as a result of massive federal government inaction and a burgeoning awareness of the severity of the crisis, a number of local and state governments and an expanding coalition of large corporations are coming together to do something to change our present course. Creating the demand for environmentally sound products and policies and sustainable development and infrastructure becomes then the job of us all.
The energy for that task will be greatest if it based on the consciousness that we are all in this together. We must realize in the very core of our being that we are linked one to another in a vast web of Being. We must truly understand, feel it in our bones, that our actions and the actions of others have and will have a direct and profound effect on us, our children, our neighbors, our planet. We must allow ourselves to feel the beauty of this our Mother Earth and the power of our heritage as divine dust from the stars. This realization, this understanding, is the true stuff of Yoga, and it can provide the inspiration and faith needed to embark on the difficult and essential quest to save our planet.