While supporting her Ashtanga students’ practice, Diana Christinson gently reminds them of their responsibility to support the planet. Each month, she recommends new environmental books to inspire them and asks new students to pledge to stop buying plastic water bottles. Her studio, Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala in Dana Point, California, participates in the 1% For The Planet program, donating 1 percent of its profits to environmental organizations. The studio also hosts two environmental fundraisers each year. "As yogis we know that it’s often the small adjustments that make the biggest difference in our bodies," says Christinson. "We’re trying to show that the same is true with the environment. Every little bit counts."
Connecting to the natural world is an essential part of any yoga practice. But faced with our current environmental crisis, yogis are increasingly taking their stewardship of the planet to new levels. They are raising funds for Earth-friendly causes, "greening" their studios, and finding imaginative ways to spread the word that the Earth is in peril—and that it’s our job to help.
"Because we’re often more sensitive, yogis know better than most people that living a healthy life requires a healthy environment," says San Francisco yoga instructor David Lurey. "People also look to yogis as examples of health. So we have a special responsibility to be role models of sustainability. And when we do, it inspires others."
A few years ago Lurey converted his dilapidated backyard shed into a green yoga studio that features everything from nontoxic paint to shredded blue-jean insulation to bamboo window shades and floors. The result inspired the Green Yoga Association to start a Green Studios Program. The program now mentors 75 studios on how to be more energy efficient and use fewer toxic materials.
Two years ago program members and husband and wife Gary Margolin and Melissa Cooper pooled their considerable talents to create Home Simply Yoga in Santa Monica, California. Inspired by their yoga practice, they had left high-profile jobs in New York City (Melissa was a successful green interior designer; Gary, a corporate lawyer) to open the studio, which was built almost completely carbon neutral. Brazilian mahogany from an old Armani store became the studio floor, recycled copper plumbing and old barstools turned into dressing rooms, and the building frame was made from reclaimed lumber. The studio uses a radiant heating system, relies almost entirely on natural light, and offers students discounts for figuring out ways not to drive to class. "It’s about ahimsa," says Margolin. "To define nonviolence and leave out the very world that supports us doesn’t make sense."
Meanwhile at the Metta Earth Institute, a yoga retreat center and residential ecology education facility in Lincoln, Vermont, there are big plans for creating a sustainable future. "We’re designing a community here that really exemplifies sustainability," says Gillian Comstock, who runs the institute with her husband, Russell. "That’s when we’ll start using solar panels and efficient heating systems. And since we manage 158 acres, we’re also learning about how to care properly for the forest." The Comstocks have already made an impressive start. The institute has a biodynamic organic garden, and Comstock herself sewed the organic pillows and bedding and waterproofed the organic canvas tents using natural materials. And the couple is spreading the word about their commitment through their traveling workshop, Metta Earth Yoga: Practices for Contemplative Ecology. "I think everything about our practice is to soften the hard edges of individualism into more understanding of the interconnection of everything," says Gillian Comstock. "The more we work with our consciousness in that way, the more we’ll be able to extend it to people everywhere and to our environment."
Yogis aren’t just trying to inspire other yogis in the studio, where they have a captive and sympathetic audience. Some are taking their message on the road—and the plain. This winter, for the second year in a row, members of Team YogaSlackers—a group of yogi adventure racers from around the country—set off to kite-ski 390 miles across North Dakota to raise awareness about the incredible potential for wind power in that state.
Founding member Jason Magness says the yogic principles of interconnection keep the expedition focused. "We used to be more into racing for our own egos. But once we embraced yoga fully, we started to experience the intention behind our actions and our connection with nature, and that changed everything," he says. "Whether it was shopping in more-environmentally conscious stores or riding a bike instead of driving a car, we wanted to do everything with the least amount of harm."