Addressing Climate Emergency with Yogic ValuesAug 10, 2022
by Sarani Fedman
As we consider how to move forward in a world that seems chaotic, where there is hatred, evil, and selfishness, yoga shows us the way. Yoga doesn’t offer a simple answer to resolve our political conflicts, but it shows the way—and it’s a way inward to connect with truth and love in our own heart. With that strong inner connection, we can practice social justice—service in action—to create a world that reflects yoga’s message of unity, equity, and justice.
- Jivana Heyman, Yoga Revolution, p. 149
The current political and cultural landscape in the United States and across the world is hard to understand in its complexity and unmoored changes. We are filled with anxiety and grief over forces that seem beyond our control. I wake up one morning and the world looks one way, and the next morning there is an entirely different set of rules or laws or people in power. I am also startled awake in the middle of the night filled with fear, worry, and dread.
As a yogi, I have a set of principles in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that gives me a foundation for approaching this shifting of our ground. We can all look at the challenges we face through the lens of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the ethical principles outlined in the yamas and the niyamas. We are handed the tools to guide our responses to the outside world. In this effort we can use the principles of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), aparigraha (non-greed), santosha (contentment), and ishwara pranidhana (self- surrender) to find peace in the midst of chaos.
In the past, Accessible Yoga as an organization hasn’t taken action to address the climate emergency. We have been focused on, and sometimes overwhelmed by, bringing the benefits of yoga to all marginalized people, as our mission statement says. But climate degradation also unfairly impacts the communities identified in our mission statement. People who are under-resourced are often forced to live in locations that have been polluted or degraded in other ways. They face grave challenges to their health and well-being. Polluted air, water, chemical dumps, and weather emergencies are more present and devastating for those who lack the time, energy, money, and other resources to face these inequities. Recently, environmental justice has become much more of a goal for the climate emergency movement. If we are truly committed to the populations we aim to serve, we need to address these serious challenges to their health and well being. As yoga practitioners, we need to address these challenges to all beings because we are interconnected. What happens to me, happens to you--“the yogi’s message of unity, equity, and justice,” as Jivana says.
One way we can all further educate ourselves about the climate emergency and actions we can take is by attending Accessible Yoga's monthly programs this August, which focus on yoga and environmental justice.
As sentient beings with the ability to make choices and act in concert with our values, we need to examine our own ways of living on this planet. Are we making daily choices that support all beings, including the earth, air, water, plants and animals? If we are to live a life that is in alignment with the values of Patanjai’s teachings, are we making choices that support our world? Or are we taking the attitude that says, “This is all too overwhelming. It disturbs my peace. I am just one little drop in the ocean. What can my contribution do to really make any change?”
We have all probably heard and actually thought these things ourselves. But is it possible to practice yoga, to keep that sense of the unity and oneness of the world at the core of yoga, if we continue to mindlessly buy and consume and use up resources? If we ignore the plight of our earth and all of its inhabitants? Looking deeply at your consumption and impact on others with ahimsa and aparigraha will lead to satya and santosha--we shift to a more sustainable and regenerative way of living. This is more of a personal practice, but it can also be effective and rewarding to share your actions and gained knowledge with friends, students, and sangha. We can all be learning and educating ourselves so we can respond in thoughtful and positive ways. Tools like this Green Checklist from the Spiritual Action Initiative can support you in making changes and acting to support the world.
Many of us are finding ways to act and make changes in our personal choices, but we are becoming aware that we are leaving out the most significant forces for addressing climate degradation. We need to hold responsible the many culpable corporations and our governments. Action and change on this larger level is necessary to prevent total disaster. Change has to take place on a global level. As individuals and even as communities, we cannot bring change fast enough. But we can speak out, boycott, lobby, vote, galvanize change on a much larger level. If we refuse to buy and consume products that are harmful, if we help expose and lobby against practices that are killing our earth and the most vulnerable of its inhabitants, if we speak and write and act together, we become a force that leaders have to address.
I have been involved in social action efforts in the past. I slowly opted out of them because they seemed immersed in their own quest for power, immersed in self-serving agendas, and anger. If we join together as a spiritually-based community, keeping ahimsa, unity, and non-attachment as our foundation, we can become such a positive force on the larger stage. Our society is breaking down and falling apart. It may not be your style to go to the streets, but perhaps you can refuse to support large corporations like Shell Oil or Unilever or Enersystems, Inc. that are responsible for polluting neighborhoods and lands that are home to Indigenous People and POC. We are all capable of such compassion and beauty. We need to approach our problems with a wide lens, taking in what is needed for all people and all of our natural world, and looking at what answers are reciprocal, ecosystem-based, and equitable for all.
Find an issue or a practice that speaks to you. Find something--maybe water issues, or recycling, or propagation of native species--and act! Find ways to join with others. You can join an already existing environmental group. Support their actions and voices. Give money if you can. These are a few organizations that I have found to be doing good work: Pachamama Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Bioneers. Find a local environmental issue that affects under-resourced people and use your resources to address it. Vote.
I have joined with a few other yogis to form a fledgling organization, Spiritual Action Initiative. Our mission statement states: “SAI is an interfaith group dedicated to supporting the earth and its inhabitants…By approaching challenging issues through the eyes of love, non violence and truth telling, we act from a heart-centered awareness of our inherent peace and oneness with all beings.” We have an online event on August 13th, 2022 from 11:30-1:00 Pacific titled “Practical Spirituality and Current Climate Change Emergence.” The San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute is co-sponsoring the workshop. You can learn more and register here.
Most importantly as yoga teachers, don’t hesitate to encourage your students to send healing energy and prayers to our earth and all of its inhabitants. Meditate on a green, vibrant, and healthy earth. Visualize solutions. Send songs and mantras out into the world. Find ways to share and fold others into the search for information and action that will bring regenerative change. Many scientists and environmental activists are saying that the simple act of sharing your concern and the steps you are taking is the most effective way to bring change. Incorporate lovingkindness meditation into your daily practice and share it with your students. We need to join and connect in unity.
As we take small or large steps to bring our life into balance, we will begin to come to that place where we know we are doing our best to heal and support all. We can join in community to share our grief and fear. We can surrender our anxieties and grief to the higher universe, and at the same time, we can nurture ourselves and others. Go on walks in nature. Find a tree to regularly visit and sit under for meditation. Start or volunteer at a community garden. Watch the sunset. Take in the moon and stars. Connect and find ways to live in the present, knowing that each breath, each moment is a gift to be held in gratitude. These self-nurturing practices will help us cope and give us the energy and strength to act selflessly to bring equity and healing to our world.
Sarani Beth Fedman is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist who has studied, practiced and taught Integral Yoga for over 25 years. She has been involved in social equity work through her association with Accessible Yoga, political work, and as an early childhood teacher in both private and public schools where she worked with children and families with disabilities and diverse backgrounds. Finding peace and connection through spiritual practices as we work towards justice and equity is her vision to relieve the suffering in this world.
Join us for a FREE Community Forum on yoga & environmental justice!
August 31, 2022
12-2 pm PDT // 3-5 pm EDT
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