Can burying your friends in the sand be a form of yoga? According to Russell Comstock, a yoga teacher and outdoor adventure educator based in Essex, New York, the answer is "absolutely." At a conference organized by the Green Yoga Association last September, Comstock and his wife, Gillian Kapteyn Comstock, a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and wilderness guide, led an "Ocean Yoga" day for nearly 25 participants. The group practiced asanas in front of the waves, searched for stones and pebbles to create devotional altars, and buried each other in the sand in Savasana (Corpse Pose) to encourage pratyahara (sense withdrawal).
"It was a total blast," says Russell, 43, who is working toward a master's degree in contemplative ecological leadership. "My belief is that many aspects of yoga have a connection to nature, whether it's focusing on our breath—which contains molecules of air from all over the globe—performing postures that mimic animals or elements of nature, or bringing a yogic awareness to the food we eat." That link to the environment, he says, is not often actively taught. And that's where classes like Ocean Yoga come in. "Yoga on the beach is a wonderful way for people to reconnect with a sense of joy and wonder."
But the Comstocks aren't stopping there. They recently established the Metta Earth Institute on a several-hundred-acre farm in New York's Adirondack Mountains. In addition to hatha yoga and meditation classes, the small eco-school will offer sustainable-living programs that teach organic gardening, small-scale farming, permaculture principles, and green building techniques. One of the center's first programs is a 10-day course, available through the University of Vermont, that combines yoga, ecology, and art. The couple will also practice what they preach by making green choices while building and powering the farm with solar electricity. "We want to model what we teach," Russell says.