Published on May 21st, 2015 | by Scott Cooney
What Yoga Can Teach Us About Personal Sustainability and Green Living
Sustainable living means different things to different people. For some it’s personal sustainability—keeping oneself going with enough money and energy to get by. For others, it’s a global thing. But yoga offers some great lessons on sustainable living that transcends both spheres, melding them into one prevailing lifestyle and mindset that can create abundance in our personal lives as well as the life we share with everyone and everything around us.
Recently, I attended Wanderlust, a blissful four day festival with arts, music, great food, and a pretty inspiring community, all centered around yoga. My girlfriend, who is much more of a yogi than I am, says Wanderlust is one of her “happy places”. While I do love yoga, my true happy place is sustainability. So when I saw that one of the classes offered at Wanderlust was entitled Sustainable Practice, Sustainable Life with Nicki Doane, I signed up and went with my tablet in hand to take notes during the class and bring back the nexus between yoga and sustainability.
Lesson 1: Prioritize ourselves
Nicki Doane, the instructor for the class, said that the first step toward greener healthier living was to recognize that sustainability in our yoga practice leads to a sustainable life. The first thing she introduced (while we went through our first set of sun salutations to warm us up) was the idea of our metabolism, appetites, and the fuel we use (food). The food that makes us happy changes as we mature, both physically and spiritually, she said. In general, the grilled cheese we loved as kids now makes us less happy than a kale salad because we understand what it does to our bodies, and the effects it has on the rest of our day. She said that we should strive to prioritize ourselves more, and give ourselves the right fuel for the one and only body that we will ever inhabit. “My parents don’t want to eat organic because they say it’s too expensive,” she said. “They have the money and choose to spend it on cars that have good horsepower and the latest electronics. But the happiness those things provide is very fleeting, and the science is very clear on that. They put garbage fuel into their bodies to save enough money for this treadmill of ‘stuff’ they’re on.”
Lesson 2: Prioritize true, restful sleep
Doane said that the second big step we can all take toward sustainable living is to prioritize our sleep. “If you can’t let go of something at night,” she said, “it’ll keep you from getting deep sleep.” We need that deep sleep for so many reasons.
As the founder and CEO of a clean tech startup, I know sleepless nights all too well. Part of me thrives on them, as many entrepreneurs will attest that, like me, great ideas strike at all hours, and some of my best have hit me at 3 A.M. But would those ideas not hit me the following day if I simply got a good night’s sleep?
I go through phases of insomnia, so this part of Doane’s teaching really spoke to me. (Here’s 8 natural remedies for insomnia, by the way…I find them very helpful). After all, how can I make the world more energy efficient if I’m a space cadet at work after a night of lying awake with my monkey mind bounding around the room?
“When your eyes are tired, the world is tired, too,” Doane said. Amen, sister.
Lesson 3: Center, Align and THEN Radiate
We’ve all met some wonderful people with great spirits—exceptionally giving, beautiful, and loving people. Allow me to generalize a moment: most of the time these are women, and most of the time they’re yogis. These people radiate love and kindness, and are often described as a ray of sunshine. I am lucky enough to know (and count as friends) several of these beautiful people, and I know that they have influenced me to aspire to greater spirituality, consciousness, love, and happiness.
Research shows that these people are generally happier than average, and tend to lead more fulfilling lives. However, Doane said that we can’t simply emulate their behavior and make our lives better. We must first center and ground ourselves, align our mind-body-spirit, and then move on toward greater consciousness.
“The breath is one of the greatest calming tools out there,” Doane said. She finished the class by leading us through a breathing exercise that served to calm the monkey mind, slow and deepen our breathing, and made me feel much more grounded. Once we have connected to ourselves, embraced ourselves, and made our own beingness whole, then we can begin to let our love radiate out. The secret, at that point, she said, is to “let love radiate out with no expectations of results. This is the definition of unconditional love.”
The final lesson in sustainable living through yoga is that this process of grounding and alignment must continue. After all, if we become ungrounded and continue to radiate our energies outward, we will inevitably burn out, or spin out of control and lose our emotional bearings. So it is important to continue to ground, center, and align in our daily lives and in our yoga practices.
Related: Yoga with Sean Corne, from Vibrant Wellness Journal