Gideon Reeve - June 2007
'In 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) produced its first report giving the views of over 300 leading scientists. These scientists pointed out that there had been a rise in average global temperatures over the last century of between 0.3 and 0.6 degrees centigrade. They predicted much higher rises in temperatures in the not too distant future and at a faster rate than at any time since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago.' (1) These findings influenced world leaders to sign the Kyoto climate change protocol, with the notable exception of the USA. This document, which came into force in 2005, was a legally binding agreement for the countries to reduce emissions of gases believed to be contributing to climate change. Recently, as reported on the BBC news this year, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that "global warming is the biggest challenge facing the world today." Of late it seems even the USA have come into line with world opinion and publicly admitted that climate change is happening.
Scientists believe that climate change will 'create more extreme weather conditions, raised sea levels, floods and droughts. This will adversely affect agricultural production, could cause large parts of the currently inhabited world to become uninhabitable and might also cause disease epidemics'. (2) There may appear to be a few benefits to climate change, for instance after a recent particularly hot spell of weather, Jeremy Clarkson asked on the BBC2 programme Have I Got News for You "Have you been enjoying the weather lately? Yes? Well stop complaining then, I caused that." However the general consensus appears to be that the bad will outweigh the good. The result could mean extreme suffering for many millions of people.
Yoga, the Indian spiritual tradition, is believed to be thousands of years old. Although many people today in the western world experience it through their local health club focussing mostly on the physical benefits of the practice, more serious practitioners probably know already that the original aims were much higher. They were to alleviate the struggle and suffering that is the human condition and to find a purpose to, and understanding of, life. This notion would seem to be backed up by the following quote: 'From the broadest possible perspective, all the various yogic approaches have the same overall purpose. That purpose is to help the spiritual practitioner transcend the ego- personality, or "lower" self , so that he or she may realize the "higher" Reality whether it is conceived as the transcendental Self or as the Divine(God or Goddess). The higher state is beyond the ego personality; material life and pleasures derived from body and mind are limited and temporary. The blissful happy state yogis and yoginis are aiming for is independent of the nervous system and the stimuli that can excite it.' (3) Yoga philosophy also states that the physical world and all the matter in it is an illusion described by the term maya. "Matter is convertible into energy and vice versaÂ?Â?. The body is convertible into spirit and spirit is convertible into matter. This is the eternal play of maya (the power of illusion and creation)." (4)
To recap then, this philosophy is suggesting that we can rise above suffering through yoga practice and all the world is illusion anyway. So do we need to do anything other than practice yoga to alleviate the problems caused by climate change? Carl Jung said "What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual continues to do it, the nation will do likewise. Only a change in the attitude of the individual can initiate a change in the psychology of the nation. The great problems of humanity were never yet solved by general laws but only through the regeneration of the attitudes of individuals."
Carl Jung aside, although I had been practising and teaching Hatha Yoga since 1996, I still had a great desire to do something more practical about the threat to our environment. I wanted to find a way of bringing my yoga practice and my efforts for our environment together, some sort of integration. I suppose you could say I started practising Environmental Yoga in about the year 2000.
First of all, I started donating some of the profits I made from teaching yoga to environmental charities. Later on that year I volunteered for a local environmental charity called the Wandle Trust who are dedicated to regenerating the ecology of the River Wandle in south west London. I soon became heavily involved with this group, consequently I am now a trustee of the charity and employed by them on a part time basis as their Education Officer.
In 2003 I passed the first module of an Open University degree in environmental science. Part of the course included an exercise which encouraged the students to look at their environmental footprint (their impact on resources) and attempt to reduce this. I did take various practical steps to reduce my footprint, for example turning off the tap when I cleaned my teeth in the morning. Over a year ago I scrapped my car, as it was on its last legs anyway. I now mostly cycle everywhere or, on occasion, I use public transport. And if I really need a car I am a member of a city car club, so I can hire a vehicle by the hour.
My philosophy has changed and become more crystallized also, I have moved away from the more 'traditional' styles of yoga. Instead of a belief in Brahman, the universal power or God, my universal power is nature. Darwin's theory of evolution suggests that creatures that adapt and develop survival techniques which work efficiently and well will prosper. Consequently my yoga postures have become functional and practical. Drawing on my studies in Yoga, Pilates, exercise and modern scientific understanding of anatomy and physiology I practice, and try to teach my students too, postures which help them function efficiently, joyfully and comfortably in our modern environment. This includes the built and the natural environment. My classes now take place in a converted church building in Battersea. You could say it has been recycled for a different purpose!
I run Environmental Karma Yoga days. My students and I go out as a team to improve our surroundings, getting into rivers pulling out shopping trolleys, litter picking and participating in activities such as this to try to clean up our local environment. I continue to donate a percentage of my profits to environmental charities.
All in all I now feel more connected to, and a part of, my local community and more at peace with myself.
If you would like to practise environmental yoga log on to www.environmentalyoga.com to find out more, or telephone Gideon Reeve on 0207 801 0562.
Copy write © Gideon Reeve June 2007
(1) Everett, Bob and Alexander, Gary (2004) Working With our Environment: Technology for a Sustainable Future. Energy File part 1A 2.5, pg.10. Open University.
(2) (Everett et al) )
(3) Feuerstein, Georg (1996) The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Shambala Publications, inc. Boston.
(4) Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati (1998 edition) Commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Publ. The Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, India.
About the author:I am a British Wheel of Yoga qualified yoga teacher and also working for a environmental charity.
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