Originally written for SPiRiTUAL SURViVAL GUiDE
Before yoga and through the rumble.
Truth be told, before I started practicing yoga, I didn’t give much thought to the environment, or how to help save the planet. I’ve always loved animals and nature and a good beach day, but sustainability wasn’t top of mind. I also loved shopping, fast food, and all the latest things—every week bags of trash would go out on the street. I think we recycled, but I’m not sure.
Years later, stumbling through young adulthood, feeling my life unravel, struggling with paralyzing anxiety and escalating panic attacks, by the grace of something, I found my way to yoga. There was a studio a few blocks from my corporate internship. I would run there after work just to catch my breath for an hour. It was in those yoga classes, few and far between, that I began to connect with myself, my true self, as cheesy as that sounds. In those moments of stillness, I began the roller coaster journey of piecing together the woman I wanted to be, not for society’s expectations, or my family’s approval, or a comfortable, safe, pre-planned life, but for me. How did I want to move through this life?
The thing that my young, unsuspecting self discovered, is that once I began questioning one aspect of my life, it was impossible not to question everything. My job was the first to go, then my relationship, then friendships, then the party scene, then even what I was consuming. So much of my life was no longer fulfilling, and I was becoming more and more sensitive to how the misalignment was affecting me.
This unraveling took years. It was extremely messy and uncomfortable. It makes me not miss my 20s even a little bit (insert relief emoji here), but the transformation has also been the most defining part of my life so far, and I’m grateful for it.
So how does this relate to sustainability?
The first years of my yoga practice were all about moving inward. How can I relieve my anxiety and manage my stress? How can I begin to confront the hurt and sadness and anger I feel in my body? There was a lot of discomfort and tension I was up against.
Fast forward several years into my practice, and I began to notice the discomfort of my pain fade millimeter by millimeter. (It’s still there for sure, just a little quieter.) What moved to the forefront was a deep, profound sense of connection. It’s difficult to put into words, but if you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve experienced it—a complete merging with the present, where time and our little-self-reality dissolves, and the feeling of being completely whole, safe, loved, at peace, and connected to everything wraps you up, all warm and tingly-like. That feeling is magic.
It’s those moments on my mat that have opened my eyes to how interconnected we really all are. Our thoughts, our words, our actions all have a reverberating effect on everything and everyone.
The same questioning that brought me to yoga began to push me beyond my mat. I started to notice the endless cycle of consumerism and wastefulness I was in. That we all are in. I wanted to know my part. I watched documentaries about global warming, meat production, the toxic products we’re drowning in, the plastic waste that’s enveloping our planet, the pharmaceutical industry that profits from keeping us sick, the systemic racism and oppression happening in our own backyard, and our government that’s intrinsically involved in all of this. It’s hard to watch, but it’s critical that we do.
A part of me felt overwhelmed and helpless. I still feel this way when I turn on the news.
But a part of me also felt empowered to act. Because this is it. We’re running out of time. 11 years, according to the United Nations, to prevent catastrophic, irreversible destruction. This moment in human history, that you and I are in, will be remembered (if we survive!) as the most decisive time for the future of our race and our planet. If it’s not us who changes things, who will?
Everyday we make choices—what to eat, what to buy, how to spend our time, what/who to give our energy to. Our individual choices matter. So. Much. Our actions can either support collective global change to move us past the tipping point, or hold us back.
In light of the questioning and at times uncomfortable nature of yoga, I want to take this conversation a bit further.
Going plant-based, saying no to single-use plastic, and choosing sustainable options is amazing if you’re in a place to do so (please do so!) because it’ll quickly show you how inherently broken our current system is. (Try staying vegan and plastic-free in a food desert.)
Sustainability has to go beyond our hyper focus on individual actions, which purposely obscures why the environment is in crisis. Because when we start talking about why, we have to talk about reckless capitalism, the top 1% of companies responsible for the vast majority of the pollution, complacent governments, structural violence, colonization, and white supremacy. This is not exactly an easy breezy conversation…
Half the people in the world live on less than $5.50 a day and do not have a choice when it comes to vegan, plastic free, or sustainable. The uncomfortable truth is that it is black, brown, and indigenous communities who are on the front lines of climate change. As I write this, the Amazon, Siberia, the Congo, and Indonesia are in flames.
I don’t have the answers, but what I do know is that we have to hold corporations and governments accountable, and use our voices for those who do not have one. The climate crisis is far more complex than pointing fingers at those buying bottled water (because their tap water is poisoned), or blaming people who still eat beef (because they don’t have the education or resources to go plant based). There are much bigger forces at play.
My hope for the Western yoga community (myself 110% included) is that we take our practice beyond our mats—beyond getting our yoga fix, green smoothie, and back to business as usual.
My hope is that we use yoga to go out into the world and have uncomfortable conversations; notice our part in perpetuating the status quo; VOTE; participate in grassroots movements; support causes we believe in; start disruptive businesses; write books; make art; create safe and inclusive communities for all bodies, all orientations, all human experiences; and pave a new way to live in harmony with ourselves and our planet.
If I’ve learned anything through yoga, it’s that we are more powerful than we realize, and this gives me so much hope for the future.
Here are some ways to support mother nature:
A simple but impactful change is to bring your own reusable bottle for water, tea, smoothies, you name it. Especially if you’re out and about, this makes a big difference. Americans use 3 MILLION plastic water bottles AN HOUR. Even if you diligently recycle, less than 10% of plastic bottles actually get re-processed. Municipal facilities simply can’t keep up with the waste we’re producing. Most bottles end up in landfills and oceans. Best bet is to skip plastic bottles whenever possible. Opt for glass or aluminum because these materials are more easily recycled.
2. Totes on Totes
Say “No thank you” to single-use plastic bags! I always have a folded tote in my purse for planned and unplanned purchases. Plastic bags are another single-use plastic that can be so easily avoided. Plastic never disappears, it doesn’t biodegrade because it’s inorganic, it just gets smaller and smaller, ending up in bellies of wildlife and eventually back on our plates. Full circle.
3. Perimeter Shopping
Buy fresh fruits and veggies, bulk beans, rice, nuts, and other non-packaged goodies usually located along the perimeter of grocery stores. Try to minimize the processed foods that live in the central isles. They’re filled with synthetics and preservatives, and are packaged in plastic. Keeping to the outside is better for your health, wallet, and planet. Win win win.
4. Meat Free Days
Try it out, and see how you feel! If a week feels overwhelming, start with one day. It can take time for the body to adjust, so go slow and steady. Always listen to your body. It’s much more effective to make small changes that last a lifetime vs. drastic changes that are one-and-done. The sad truth is that industrial animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis, the obesity epidemic, and many modern diseases (not to mention to extremely cruel suffering inflicted on animals). If you’re curious to learn more, check out Omnivore’s Dilemma and watch Cowspiracy.
Using our voice and voting is the single most important thing we can do right now. We have less than 11 years to prevent irreversible environmental destruction. This means massive change is necessary, and it has to come in the form of policy and legislation from governments and world leaders. There is simply not enough time for consumers to carry the burden of bringing their own bottles and totes and for mega corporations to continue business as usual. The 2020 election—for the presidency, the senate, and congress—is so critical. We have to educate ourselves and elect representatives who will choose the future of our planet over lining their pockets. It’s our last chance.