April 22nd is the day that we celebrate this beautiful planet that sustains us all. Back in 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by the devastation of a California oil spill a year before and by the energy of the anti-war movement, felt that Americans should mobilize around protecting our environment. He conceived the day as an opportunity for a “teach-in” about the problems facing our most precious resources—air and water. On April 22, 1970, 20 million people took to the streets to show support. Earth Day was largely a bipartisan effort.
The EPA was formed under President Nixon, and the first environmental laws were enacted during his presidency. Everyone understood that the health of our planet concerns us all. Our own health depends on the health of our environment. Yoga can help us live more sustainably on the planet.
Earth Day Yoga: Yamas and Niyamas
The Eight Limbs of Yoga speak directly to caring for the planet. Because yoga recognizes the interconnectedness of us all, the first two limbs, yama and niyama, can teach us how our behavior influences our own health and happiness and that of everyone else. Here’s a quick synopsis of how the yamas and niyamas might speak to environmentalism. There’s a lot more I could say about each one, but I want to offer just a small bit of food for thought. Practicing the yamas and niyamas may be the most effective way to practice Earth Day yoga.
Yama: Ethical Precepts or How We Relate to the World Around Us
- Ahimsa (non-harming): This one is the basis for all the other yamas. The others are all variations of non-harming. In practicing ahimsa toward our planet, we take time to consider the consequences of our actions in relation to the planet—not only for ourselves, but for other beings as well.
- Satya (truthfulness): We can seek the truth about what actions humans are taking that harm or help our planet and choose to act with the intention to support causes or practices that replenish our planet. We can speak, write or otherwise inform others about sustainable living.
- Asteya (non-stealing): We can endeavor to consume only what we need. When you buy things, look for sustainable alternatives to the usual mass-produced choices. Your yoga gear can be sustainable too!
- Brahmacharya (wise use of creative or sexual energy): We can use our creative energy to advocate and educate—through art, music, dance, yoga (read about sustainable asana practice here), planting a garden or volunteering to plant trees. So many possibilities here!
- Aparigraha (non-greed or non-grasping): Recycle, reuse, release the things you don’t need. Donate your time, energy and material goods. Put your good intentions to work in the world.
Niyama: Caring for Yourself with Integrity
- Saucha (cleanliness): Keep your own space—inside and outside—free and clear of clutter. As in aparigraha, donate what you don’t need.
- Santosha (contentment): This principle is at the root of sustainability. Being content with what you have reduces the compulsion to consume. Reflect on the blessings in your life.
- Tapas (commitment, energy): Invest your energy into one environmental cause that resonates for you. There are so many things that need to be addressed, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and give up. Choose one thing: trees, oceans, endangered species, global warming (which affects all the others) and commit to helping in some way.
- Svadhyaya (study): Read some of the great environmental writers such as Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest-Williams, Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold, Bill McKibben, to name a few.
- Isvara pranidhana (surrender to grace—or something bigger than ourselves): Remembering that we are one small part—albeit a significant part—of the larger web of life helps us put our choices into perspective. When we remember our interconnectedness with everything else, we’re more likely to treat our planet and all its inhabitants with generosity and caring.
We’d love to hear your ideas about Earth Day yoga. Please feel free to comment.
You can read more about the origins or Earth Day here.