How Yoga Impacts the Earth and Supports Environmental Protection
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
The conversation around how yoga impacts the earth and supports environmental protection is an important one.
Earth Day is an annual global event celebrated on April 22nd to raise awareness about environmental issues and promote sustainability. It was first celebrated in 1970 and has since grown to become a worldwide movement, with events and activities taking place in communities around the world.
Earth Day is a time to reflect on our impact on the planet and take action to protect our natural resources. It is a day to recognize the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.
Many organizations and communities use Earth Day as an opportunity to organize events and activities to promote environmental awareness and sustainability. These may include community clean-up efforts, educational workshops and seminars, tree-planting events, and eco-friendly product fairs.
Earth Day serves as a reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting the environment and creating a sustainable future. By taking action to reduce our carbon footprint, conserve natural resources, and support environmental initiatives, we can make a positive impact on the planet and ensure a healthy future for generations to come.
Yoga is based on the 8-limb path laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the guidebook for the yoga practitioner. The 8-limb path gives us a clear and concise playbook on the practice of yoga, both on and off the mat. The first step of the 8-limb path is our Yamas, which are our external disciplines that govern the way we interact with the world around us. There are 5 Yamas, and the first of the 5 Yamas is ahimsa, non-harm. In Sanskrit, whenever we see an “a” in front of a word, it means “non” or negates whatever comes next. And Himsa means “harm” so ahimsa literally means non-harming or in some interpretations, non-violence.
The very first step of the very first step in yoga is to practice non-harming. Part of Ahimsa practice includes being kind to our earth and our duty to protect the world we live in.
Yoga practitioners can pull eco-friendly practices into their day-to-day lives like using reusable water bottles and reducing the use of plastic, using paper straws and eating foods that are full of prana.
Yoga practitioners can even use their social media platforms to help raise awareness about environmental issues in a way that might inspire others to take action. When we share facts and information about the challenges our earth faces and we encourage sustainable practices, we are helping to build a community of people who think the same way we do and want to protect our environment.
Yoga studios and those in yoga communities can organize classes, workshops and other events that are themed around environmental issues. We can include classes that pull in the environment, like planting trees or cleaning up the communities where we live.
When I was in my 300 hour teacher training with Boundless Yoga, the lead trainer, Chris Loebsack, had us clean up trash in the Delaware Water Gap as a Seva project. Seva means service, and it is a yogic concept that encourages us to keep our earth clean and be more sustainable.
It’s also helpful when planning yoga workshops or events to teach the students about local ecology or invite them to participate in conservation activities like those mentioned above.
Yoga, and mindfulness in general, can help people to cultivate a sense of awareness and connection to their external surroundings, especially their natural environment. When we practice yoga in outdoor settings with natural lighting and fresh air, like parks or even the beach, I think it helps people feel more connected to nature. This can help build a greater interest in protecting the beautiful earth we live in.
Here is an Earth Day yoga sequence that is designed to help you connect with the natural world, cultivate gratitude for the earth, and support sustainability:
Begin by standing at the top of your mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Inhale deeply and lift your arms overhead, reaching towards the sky. As you exhale, bring your hands back down to your sides and take a moment to feel grounded and centered.
From mountain pose, shift your weight onto your left foot and lift your right foot up, placing the sole of your foot against your inner thigh or calf. Bring your hands to your heart center and hold the pose for several deep breaths, feeling the connection to the earth and the energy of growth.
From tree pose, release your right foot to the ground and come into a squat position, bringing your hands to your heart center. Hold the pose for several deep breaths, feeling the grounding energy of the earth and the connection to the natural world.
Sun Salutations are a traditional yoga sequence that are often used to warm up the body and energize the mind. Start by standing at the top of your mat and inhaling your arms up overhead. As you exhale, fold forward and place your hands on the mat. Step or jump back into a plank pose, then lower down to the ground and come into cobra or upward dog pose. Exhale and lift your hips up into downward dog pose, then step or jump forward and come back up to standing.
Repeat this sequence for several rounds, moving at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Remember to take deep breaths and move with intention, connecting with the energy of the sun and the renewal of spring.
From downward dog pose, step your right foot forward and come into a lunge position. Turn your left foot out at a 90-degree angle and come into warrior II pose, with your arms extended out to the sides. Hold the pose for several deep breaths, feeling the strength and stability of your legs and the expansion of your chest.
From warrior II pose, release your right foot to the ground and turn to face the left side of your mat. Come into goddess pose, with your feet wide apart and your toes turned out at a 45-degree angle. Bend your knees and sink down into a squat, bringing your hands to your heart center. Hold the pose for several deep breaths, feeling the strength and stability of your legs and the expansion of your chest.
Finish your practice with a few minutes of relaxation in corpse pose, lying on your back with your arms at your sides and your legs extended. Close your eyes and take deep breaths, feeling the connection to the earth and the natural world.
As you move through this sequence, visualize yourself as a part of the natural world, connected to the earth and all living beings. You can also incorporate environmental themes and affirmations into your practice, such as "I am grateful for the earth and all its beauty," or "I am committed to living sustainably and protecting the planet." By cultivating a sense of connection and gratitude for the earth, we can promote environmental awareness and sustainability in our daily lives.
Be sure to check out our Earth Day Meditation!