The yoga philosophy & sustainability – An interpretation of the Yamas

Yoga-Philosophie und Nachhaltigkeit sind auch neben der Matte gut vereinbar.

Let’s look at the yoga philosophy from a sustainability perspective.

Beginning this article we need to add a little side note about what we refer to as the yoga philosophy – because the yoga philosophy is a wide field.

So we are referring to the Yoga sutra written by Patanjali. Patanjali was an Indian philosopher, scholar, and author. For some, he is also known as the “father of yoga”. Only little is known about his life and he lived sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD.

Patanjali, the eight-part yoga path, yoga philosophy and sustainability

The Yoga Sutra is written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient Indian Language and it is very likely that you might have already heard the one or other word in Sanskrit in your yoga class.

In his piece of writing, the Yoga Sutra Patanjali has given us a guide that shows us a conscious way of life, both as students and as teachers. This path is divided into eight steps and is therefore also known as the eight-level yoga path.

The first two stages are the so-called Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas in terms of sustainability

The Yamas define our behavior with the outside and can, therefore, be interpreted wonderfully in terms of sustainability:

  • Ahimsa – practicing non-violence is one of the first disciplines you learn when you dive deeper into a yoga practice. Practicing non-violence has many facets. It starts with being kind and forgiving to yourself. For example, being friendly to yourself could show that you prepare particularly beneficial food, but extends to being attentive and respectful to the world surrounding you. For us, Ahimsa is another example that sustainability and yoga go so well together: Being kind to the world also means doing no harm to the environment and creating a place that is liveable for future generations.
  • Satya – means truthfulness. It is another principle from the yoga world that we interpret a little differently: Our thoughts, emotions, and moods are always changing, yet they create our own truth. e often identify completely with our emotions and thoughts, the good, but mostly the bad. Complete honesty with ourselves requires us to create a little bit of space, stillness, or slowing-down of the mind. But it is worth it to create our personal, more rational truth that is worth living in. Only when you find truth worth living in, you’ll have the strength to stand up for others and sustainable development.
  • Asteya – the third principle means something like “do not steal”. We like to very freely translate it with the concept of minimalism as stealing also has something to do with wanting and wishing. Minimalism means being free from the ballast, from superfluous things, from expectations and demands on others and on ourselves. Getting rid of misconceptions about what life should be like, getting rid of wanting, and wishlists. In the end, it’s all about: Letting go.
  • Aparigraha is often translated as non-greed and non-attachment. The more we hoard material possessions, the more we weigh ourselves down with baggage, and the more we worry about our belongings. Aparigraha helps us to move towards living a less cluttered life.
  • Brahmacharya is the last principle from the Yoga philosophy that deals with the moral vows for the world around us. Translated from Sanskrit it actually means something like being abstinent. For us being abstinent means consciously directing your energy. It means staying away from things like gossip or overconsumption and to rather mediate or being out in nature.

When looking at the Yamas we often think about how wise this man Patanjali already was hundreds of years ago. What if his writings would have been read by more people from outside the yoga world? We think it is not only us who look at the Yamas from a sustainable perspective, but that the entire yoga philosophy and sustainability go very well together. This way of interpretation gives us hope and it also often helps us as a reminder in challenging situations. We hope you feel the same way about it.

Stay tuned for an interpretation from a sustainability perspective of the Niyamas.

Photo Credits: This is Holy & Anne Caspar