Down to Earth

Can yoga help save the planet? Absolutely, say yoga scholars Georg and Brenda Feuerstein.

There’s no doubt about it—humans are wreaking havoc on the planet. In their new book, Green Yoga, yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein and his wife, Brenda, argue that though the Earth is in a state of ecological crisis, yogis can help by joining the green movement. The Feuersteins write that the core values and practices of yoga in fact coincide with those of environmentalism and that yogis face not only a practical necessity but also a moral duty to “go green.”

By far the most original and valuable contribution of their book is its discussion of the deep practical and philosophical connections between yoga, green living, and activism. They contend that the concept of purification, which is one way to understand the entire yogic enterprise, necessitates a green, sustainable lifestyle. At the level of fitness and health, yoga uses asana, Pranayama, and other practices to purify the body. But the many degradations of the environment—the polluted air, water, and soil, for example—make that process a lot more challenging by polluting our bodies and can lead to developing life-threatening diseases. There are also ill effects on mental clarity caused by social, economic, and cultural ramifications of ecological problems.

As the Feuersteins point out, the physical purification of the body provided by hatha yoga is also a part of a deeper purification of the mind. According to yoga’s teachings, say the Feuersteins, the most important part of this process is learning to see your true nature—your essential unity with all of creation. Yoga provides a philosophy that acknowledges your oneness with all life and a practical program for increasingly experiencing this oneness. Both the philosophy and the internal experience aid you in seeing reality more clearly, including the current ecological condition and the steps humans must take to remedy it. In addition, yoga practices build the equanimity needed to stave off crippling despair, anger, and grief as we struggle to restore balance to the planet.

Throughout their book the Feuersteins present compelling arguments about the compatibility of yoga with green living and activism, citing yogic philosophy and scriptures. But most of their book is devoted to describing current environmental woes, including water pollution, solid-waste disposal, deforestation, widespread erosion and nutrient depletion of topsoil, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. The couple focuses on global warming and its role in accelerating rates of extinction and loss of biodiversity, as well as its potentially horrifying human costs in terms of flooding, starvation, and economic and political upheaval.

Green Yoga closes with a list of practical steps (primarily consumer and investment choices, most of which are relatively inexpensive) you can take to significantly improve the health of the Earth. If yogis adopt these guidelines, say the authors, all of mankind will be better off, and so will the planet. And just as there’s little doubt that the Earth’s environment is in crisis, there’s little doubt about the timeliness and importance of the Feuersteins’ impassioned call to ecological action.

Contributing editor Todd Jones is a massage therapist and freelance writer.