Yoga, through its philosophy and practice, teaches us mindfulness and helps provide us with ethical guidelines. Amongst these guidelines are the yamas and the niyamas which, together with awareness, cultivate karuna, the quality of active compassion. This selfless compassion, the need to act upon seeing suffering, is an inspiration for individuals to live an environmentally kind lifestyle, by making eco-conscious choices in their everyday lives that minimize the harm to all that is around them.
Whilst it’s clear that the yamas and niyamas are more profound than a single issue; by referencing them to the tangible and very real problem of plastic pollution, which yoga contributes to, we can highlight the yamas and niyamas pertinence in our daily lives. Through acknowledging their applicability, and acting accordingly, that connects us more easily to their message, enabling personal growth whilst also acting to benefit the world around us.
The 5 yamas are restraints to be followed and include non-violence (ahimsa) and non-stealing (asteya).
Non-violence, or ahimsa, refers to our thoughts, our words, and our actions and how they may impact on ourselves, other living things, and our environment.
Pollution is a form of harm, a violence against all living things, Plastics, are now known, and can be seen, to be damaging eco-systems throughout the world. Plastic waste is now found at the very bottom of the deepest oceans, plastic particles are being ingested throughout entire food chains, chemicals associated with plastics are leeching from landfills to poison the surrounding countryside.
If we were unfortunate enough to witness someone being poisoned, then we could easily acknowledge that action as being contradictory to non-violence. When our actions, and inactions, do the same to our environment, we should also identify that as being inconsistent with ahimsa.
Non-stealing, or Asteya, is not taking what isn’t ours and includes not taking more than we need. Non-stealing refers to balancing our needs with those of the environment. If what we manufacture pollutes the environment, then we are destroying that environment and effectively stealing it from others. What was, is no longer, so a once unpolluted and biologically healthy forest, field, lake, ocean or river, no longer exists, it has been stolen from this and future generations.
If we were to take something from someone and never give it back we would quickly acknowledge that that is contradictory to non-stealing. By acknowledging how our actions contribute to depriving others of environments, we should also identify that as being inconsistent with Asteya.
The other yamas are truthfulness or satya, Moderation or brahmacharya and non-greed or non-hoarding, aparigraha.
Denial is the process of telling ourselves a falsehood and can be either active or passive. Actively, we might persuade ourselves that for reason X or Y a plastic yoga mat or block is OK, or passively, we may simply not have considered what our mat is made of when buying it.
Through moderation of all our activities we move towards a more balanced, harmonious existence, and non-greed encourages us to only own and use what is necessary, who, other than perhaps a very busy teacher, really needs 3, 4 or 5 yoga mats, irrespective of what they are made of. Not replacing the 4th or 5th mat when it wears out is also a step on the road towards plastic free yoga.
The 5 niyamas are practices to cultivate, such as contentment (samtosha) and purity (shaucha).
Contentment, or samtosha, is being satisfied with what we have. It’s about letting go of the search for a perfect ‘thing’ and realising that nothing (or no thing) can make us happy, thereby accumulating fewer things. This leads to fewer things needing to be produced and we all, as individuals, as groups and as a global population, ultimately have a reduced environmental impact.
Our yoga mats are a good example, there’s a tendency to search for a ‘sticky enough’ mat when any mat is great, some mats may offer us the benefit of needing to engage our muscles a little more. Contentment encourages us to realise that the answer is within us, not in the endless search for another thing to make our lives, or yoga practice, better.
Purity, or shaucha, can be viewed in relation to our body and in relation to our environment, be that the immediate space around us or the wider world.
In relation to our environment, local or global, what are the impacts of our choices? What do our choices do to the air we breathe, the ground we walk upon?
Purity, in a broad sense, concerns the contribution we make to our local and global communities concerning the impact on air, soil and water quality of our actions and choices.
The remaining niyamas are;discipline or tapas, the idea of doing something we don’t want to do because it’s the right thing to do, self-study or svadhyaya which encourages us to be guided to look at ourselves to see beyond our current state of existence with its myriad of compromises, and finally devotion or ishvara pranidhana which is, in part, the dedication to something greater and selfless action.
So, these sutras encourage us to be conscientious, truthful, content, to seek purity and practice discipline; when we take our yoga practice past the limits of our mat by actively living these qualities, for example, through their application to the issue in hand, we will make a real difference to the world around us.
Whilst views or opinions about its functionality may vary, it is undeniable that we are profoundly connected to all living things. Whether it’s through the myriad physical connections that create the global web of ecosystems or through more esoteric connections. By helping us to acknowledge and accept those connections, yoga can teach us to live well in the world and encourage us to have a positive effect on it.
Join us in committing to make a difference to this important, global issue. Given the abundance of plastic in yoga, it’s one that’s particularly pertinent, let’s turn off the flow of plastic into each of our yoga practices.
We hope that you will find these ideas thought provoking. We’ve focused on how these particular sutras relate to a specific issue so some may dismiss it as superficial, but that would miss the point. When we broaden our practice beyond the mat or the studio into our daily lives, our overall practice expands and develops, whilst we make positive changes to ourselves and our environment.
Amongst many other things related to a plastic free yoga, we will be looking at each of the yamas and niyamas in more detail in future blog posts where we will seek to explore and support the message that, as conscientious yogis, we should all be practicing Plastic Free Yoga through Less Plastic, More Yoga.
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