International Yoga Day & Sustainability, by Akhil Santosh

How Yogic Philosophy promotes Sustainable practice

Sustainability according to the (Brundtland Report 1987) states that “sustainable development should be viewed as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Sustainability is a holistic approach that considers ecological, social, and economic factors, recognising that all dimensions of life must be considered together to find lasting prosperity. The responsibility lies with each individual, whether they choose to lead their lives based on the principles of sustainability or not; but we tend to find fewer people who are actively living sustainably. The philosophy of yoga provides us with great insights around sustainable lifestyles and we’ll explore yama and how it promotes sustainable living.

Yogic philosophy is one of the oldest of the world, shared by sage Patanjali. It’s also known as Ashtanga Yoga, as it consists of eight limbs and eight sequential steps which are outlined below. 

“yama-niyama-asana-pranayama-pratyhara-dharana-dhyana-samadhayo’stav-angani” (Patanjali, 2:29)

Generally speaking, many Indians and practitioners of yoga in the west don’t pay much attention to the first two limbs of Ashtanga yoga however, these two limbs are critical for promoting sustainable and ethical living in society. They are known as Yamas and Niyamas which consist of ten interrelated moral and ethical principles, guiding individuals to reduce their carbon footprint and live more sustainably.

YamasDefinitionAdaptation towards Sustainable living 
Ahimsa (Non-violence)Not to injure any beings either by thought, word, and deed. Little or no consumption of meat, not to destroy or disrupt natural habitats 
Satya  (Truthfulness) Being honest and truthful by thought, word and deed.Being accountable for individual actions
Asteya (Non-stealing) Not taking things which do not belong to us.Not to over exploit natural resources such as forests, oceans, etc
Brahmacharya (Consciousness)Not to fall into the trap of desire or pleasure. It helps with self-regulation.Differentiating between needs from wants which helps in more conscious consumerism 
Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)Not be selfish and greedy.Changing perspective as we are here for a temporary period of time and we need to be responsible for the impact we have on our environment

Table 1: Brief description of Yamas

Ahimsa (Non-Violence): Ahimsa doesn’t directly translate to ‘not consuming meat’ or ‘becoming vegan’, however it points towards the balance to be had. Following the principle of Ahimsa provides a solid foundation for leading a more sustainable life. Aquatic and wildlife creatures are harmed when waste is dumped into their habitat – they consume it and naturally suffer which inevitably comes back round to humans, if and when we choose to consume fish. Indirectly we as a human race are responsible for the damage to aquatic life. A practical action would be to reduce our plastic usage, particularly single-use plastics and switch to re-usable alternatives. Another way would be to reduce or stop eating meat, to protect and respect mother Earth’s resources and enable living creatures to thrive. To follow the principle of Ahimsa, we should use the resources we do have sustainably and not waste.

Satya (Truthfulness): Satya means to be held accountable for our individual or collective action. An example of current affairs: some companies are not honestly stating whether their products are eco-friendly and instead they are using fake product labels and marketing them as sustainable (greenwashing) which is going to have a lasting impact on sustainability efforts – the Volkswagen emission scandal is one example. By following the principle of Satya, both organisations and individuals can help in promoting more sustainable goods made in ethical supply chains, which in turn helps to reduce our overall negative impact on the planet and people. A simple action here is to research the companies we buy from before purchasing anything: a handy resource

Asteya (Non-Stealing): Steya means unlawfully taking possessions belonging to others whereas, Asteya means abstention from such tendencies, even in one’s thoughts. There are many instances where people or organisations encroach on indigenous lands, forests, lakes and displace many communities and species. Furthermore, poachers are killing endangered wildlife across the globe. These activities come under steya. An important action here is being aware of brands selling products made using resources from endangered wild life. By being vigilant and not favouring these companies, we can help in reducing the money which funds poachers. Moreover we (humans) are not the only habitants of this planet: we need to be aware of all other living beings and not exploit their resources. By practicing Asteya we can be more sustainable, by not exploiting resources which don’t belong to only humans but to the entire planet.

Brahmacharya (Supreme Consciousness): Bramhacharya is not to be misunderstood as only abstinence from sex, rather it goes much further than this. It is about the control of our sensory organs, being connected to our soul. By controlling our senses, we are able to have greater self-awareness and overall self-regulation. This self-regulation helps in differentiating our needs from our wants. Needs are basic things required for functioning of the individual however, wants arise to satisfy short-lived waves of pleasure. Brahmancharya helps individuals to follow simple lifestyles where they can live with minimum resources and be more conscious of their consumption.

Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness): Aparigraha means non-attachment or not being selfish and greedy. Exploiting natural resources is due to the greed of the individuals and corporations who want to simply grow wealth, at any cost or damage to the environment, ecology and communities. We need to remember the quote given by Mahatma Gandhi “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed”. Every individual should remember that we are here on this planet for a temporary amount of time and we shouldn’t destroy the planet. By practicing Aparigraha, individuals can become better people by shedding their attitudes which don’t serve them or the planet well, keeping sustainable living at the forefront.

Following the five principles of yama encourages indviduals to live ethically and responsibly which also helps in sustainable development. Let us integrate yamas into our life and make sure that we live our lives as sustainably as possible to protect the planet.

The meaning of yoga is derived from Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to unite. We can use such principles to respect all living beings and live in harmony with nature, without causing destruction or degradation.


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