Yoga & Sustainability: Why SDG 17 Will Change the World

This summer I spent two months in India exploring something I’ve always been drawn to: spirituality. Surprisingly, the more I learned about yoga, the more I realized just how inherently related it is to sustainability. This article seeks to draw a few of these parallels. 

See, I was not really raised with religion. I’ve struggled with this concept quite a bit because, while I recognize the benefits of community and faith, the word religion to me as a kid meant something constricting and harsh.  

In India I came to understand religion and spirituality very differently than what I had been taught  in the West. Now, I’m still learning about Eastern religions, but what I am most interested in at this point are the yogi definitions of these concepts above. Yoga is not inherently religious, which is part of what makes it so relatable. 

The word religion involves ritual. It involves habit, and to many of us, we rely on it to keep us grounded. Commonly, we liken other activities and pleasures in our lives to the calm that religion can give us. I drink wine religiously; I ski religiously; I watch sports religiously. And we, yogis, practice yoga religiously. That is why we refer to it as a practice, rarely something that is mastered or complete. 

Second, the term spirituality. Yogis will tell you that the world is interconnected. We are connected to the earth, the animals, the plants, water, bugs, and air in the same way that they are all connected to us. This is not necessarily to say, in our Western context, that you must be a vegetarian (though of course, true yogis are and many faith followers in India are, as well), but it is to say that we must, without moment of hesitation, have respect for absolutely everything on this earth. We are interconnected through our minds, bodies, and souls to absolutely every other being on this earth. Yoga, the Sanskrit word meaning union, seeks to teach us this.

And this is where yoga connects to sustainability. 

I fundamentally believe that if people today were as connected to the earth as they were 200 years ago, then we would not have found ourselves in this situation of extreme deforestation, mass extinction of species above and below water, and overconsumption and production of trivial goods. But, the Industrial Boom took place, and the technology boom has exponentially increased the societal effects of the previous. And this can leave us with a bleak view to the future, with zombie consumers and greedy business people, and a soot-filled environment with little to no wildlife. But this isn’t the way that it has to be. 

Yoga can teach us all a lesson: If we are not good to our surroundings and our environment, then eventually we are not being good to ourselves. Everything comes back around. We are inherently interconnected. 

This is why, in my mind, SDG 17, the creation of public-private partnerships, is the most important of all. Working with international teams and industry leaders at the UNLEASH Lab 2017 in Denmark, Copenhagen taught me that we cannot have one without the other: we cannot have policy change without consumer and industry demand (in many cases), and we cannot have industry change (to the degree it needs to happen), without the push of policy. This is not the time for common ground and incremental changes, it’s time for the world leaders in politics, business, and community organizations to stand up with youth, voters, and society members to do the right thing for their children, grandchildren, and all people who have yet to experience this fantastic, awe-inspiring, and wild world. UNLEASH Lab taught me that though willpower and hard work are key aspects to change, so too is building the ground work that in too many industries does not even exist yet, to become sustainable. We need to remember that we are interconnected to the world around us and that whatever amount of poly-blends and plastic packaging we put out into the world will come back to haunt us.

In this respect, it is up to all of us, the current stewards of this amazing world, to work together, draw parallels, and approach new systems with a view to connecting various industries, organizations, and groups of society. We have worked in silos for far too long. 

I had a wonderful teacher who once said, “Whatever happens is what is meant to happen; whenever it starts is when it is meant to start; and, whoever shows up is meant to be there.” In offering Sustainable Kelsea Yoga lessons, I’m excited to share my practice, connecting ever more to the world around us, with you this summer. 

You can register today at sustainablekelsea.com or drop-in to a class from Tuesday-Thursday, starting June 5th.