Yoga Ecology: From Me to We

Yoga Ecology is beginning to take the spotlight as the next crucial role of Yoga in our evolution, health, happiness and survival as a species and planet. Together Yoga, often translated as "unity” and “balance,” and Ecology, defined as the relationship of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings, come together to indicate the mutually interconnected nature of ourselves with our fellow humans and the environment. For better or for worse, our actions, thoughts, desires, decisions, and feelings are impacting each other and the environment all the time.

When I think about what Yoga Ecology means to me, it ultimately comes down to a fundamental shifting of perspective from "Me" the self-centred individual to "We" the society and beyond, while also striving to find a healthy balance between the two. Helping our children to see and feel through the filter of "We" is going to be the task of today's parents to ensure that our children have a beautiful tomorrow. Yet, before we can help our children to think, see and feel as a "We," we parents have to do this internal work first. Because we know that our children often learn best by observing, and not by listening (at least that is the case with my kids!).

2020 has been a big year in terms of perceptual shifts. It's many challenges have forced us to acknowledge that we are all profoundly connected. Not just in theory anymore, but actually. Undeniably. Connected.

The rampant wildfires of 2020, among other events, have made a deafening announcement about our interconnectivity on this planet. The global warming that is taking place as a result of recent human activity has produced an exponentially more destructive wildfire season. The land has burned out of control, taking life, devastating ecosystems, and sending cloaks of thick, choking smoke around the globe, plummeting air quality in some parts beyond the worst rating available on the Air Quality Index. We quickly gained a new appreciation and value for what we most often took for granted: clean, breathable air.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the truth of our profound interconnectedness in myriad ways, from our dependence on essential workers for our survival (think food, goods, medicine, vaccine development, healthcare), to the need of childcare and a healthy economy for employment, to the previously unnoticed and extraordinarily intimate connection between the breath of persons in near proximity, to the utter dependence upon others to put individual wants and desires aside to stay home and save lives. What's more, we have begun to notice that technology is not enough to connect us; Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, SnapChat, whatever platform it may be, is not enough. We NEED the real thing. We miss each other amidst the necessary lockdown and social distancing restrictions. We are longing for each other. At long last, we want to put the phone down, look up, take the ear buds out, turn the TV or video game off and be in each other's presence. For real. We find ourselves texting less and phoning, Zooming and FaceTiming our parents, grandparents and friends more. We want more of each other, not less.

Why is this value in one another increasing? We are recovering an appreciation for each other that had, for a moment, become lost in digital connection. We are remembering and appreciating how valuable the real human connection is. And recovering and nurturing this value in both each other and Nature is going to be key. These are the lessons we are learning in 2020 that may end up being our most important legacy to our children. Valuing. Appreciating. Conserving. Protecting. Sacrificing. Balancing.

In the end, we all win from a "We" perspective; the individual is part of the collective. The individual also lives among Nature, and is a part of Nature. If we all operate from a "Me" perspective, sooner or later there won't be enough for "We" anymore, and then it's only a matter of time until there is no longer enough for "Me." No man is an island, and the pandemic has shown us this. The wildfires have shouted this.

So, the question becomes, how can we embody this new appreciation of each other and the environment so that children, too, can imbibe and understand that we, and the environment, are not unlimited resources to be mined, and that we must remember to value, conserve and protect both each other and the environment by acting with the knowledge that we are dependent upon each other.

Oftentimes in affluent, first-world societies, it is easy to forget that the Earth has limited resources. Water, for example. We use it without a single thought of it ever running out and becoming unavailable. It is always there for us, and so we forget to appreciate our dependence upon it. Then, we fail to respect it, it loses value, and we waste it. 

When I lived in Swami Niranjan's Yoga Ashram in India between the years 2012-2015, I learned a lot about Yoga Ecology that I am just realizing now. There was, in the Ashram, a very particular attitude toward water. It was valued and therefore treated with great respect. It was not wasted. I'll never forget when, during my first days in the Ashram, I was washing my plate after dinner and I turned the tap on and let it run while I soaped my dish when one of the Ashram residents came and turned the tap off, indicating to me not to waste the water. Until that moment, it had honestly never occurred to me in that context before. The same principal applied while brushing one's teeth: wet the toothbrush, turn the water off. Brush the teeth. Turn the water on again to rinse the toothbrush. But, do not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth. That is wasteful. And sometimes we did have to briefly go without water when the well ran low or the power shut off, which helped foster a much greater awareness of our relationship and responsibility to one another to only take what we needed so there was enough left for someone else, as well as helped us to understand our real place and position within Nature. We need her, and yet we often do not even ensure that we protect those aspects of her which we need most for our own survival. The awareness just simply isn't there. Now, 5 years later back at home in Canada, I cannot leave the water running while brushing my teeth, washing a dish or washing my hands. When I see it happen, it makes me cringe. We practice saving water in our own household, among other efforts such as consuming less beef and dairy, using a bidet to save toilet paper, purchasing sustainable products, buying from responsible companies (and not from irresponsible ones), and assigning our 3 year old the job of turning off all the lights before we leave the house. These are small attitudes and behaviours that we can exemplify to our children that make one thoughtful and can make a difference in how we view and treat each other and the Earth.

If we value, we do not waste. If we value, we protect, we sacrifice and we take great care, just as we do with our own children. The Earth is a kind of a mother, we need her gifts to sustain us. Yet, her health is often in our hands. We must build awareness of this unique relationship, and appreciate the reciprocal nature of it. Only then will we value each other and the environment, and find the balance between "Me" and "We" so that our children too can have a beautiful future for generations to come.

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