From, or "Sun Salutations," to Tadasana, or "Mountain Pose," references to the natural world are ubiquitous in yoga practice. But aside from this connection to the environment in the language and physical practice of yoga, there are also many parallels to current environmentalism found within the teachings of yoga philosophy. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda, there are eight limbs of yoga--yama (abstinence), niyama (observance), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (super-conscious state).
Among these branches, the yama teachings of ahimsa (non-violence), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-greed) are most relevant to the concerns of environmentalists. Ahimsa, as it is thought of both by many yoga students and environmental activists, includes abstaining from meat.
"Just because the killing is done by somebody else, somewhere else, does not mean the karma, the responsibility, is not yours," says Sri Swami Satchidananda. For yoga followers and environmentalists alike, the assault on both animals and the environment (especially in terms of deforestation and inefficient use of grain crops fed to cattle) is one of the primary ways in which we can minimize our collective environmental footprint.
Protesting our modern agricultural system through a vegetarian lifestyle also involves the principles of asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-greed). With starvation around the globe, the grain given to livestock could in theory be used to feed millions of hungry people, so followers of these principles could conclude that both greed and stealing are inherent in eating meat. With 16 pounds of grain needed to produce one pound of meat, vegetarian yogis and environmentalists are devoting their practice to changing the inefficient methods of food distribution throughout the world.
Although abstaining from meat is a significant commitment for both yoga and the environment, connections between yoga philosophy and the environmental movement are not exclusive to vegetarianism. In our daily lives we encounter violence, theft and greed everyday, but what both yoga and environmentalism teach us is that the first step to igniting social change is greater consciousness of our actions on an individual level, which will lead to a collective difference on our planet.
Fear of Yoga: A Long Path...