Yoga & The Environment (Or Why Yoga Is Bad For Our Earth and What You Can Do About It)
I have been teaching one of my favourite sets of yoga philosophy themes lately, the yamas and niyamas.
The yamas and niyamas basically provide guidance to anyone who wants to lead a more yogic, a more ethical, life. Whilst the niyamas are philosophic ways to cultivate behaviours that help us be better towards ourselves, the yamas tell us about behaviours and actions that we should control or stop doing, so we can be good towards others and the environment. And it’s one of the yamas I am going to base the following views on: ahimsa, or non-harming.
I am not a fan of dogma, or in other words principles of behaviour that sound like “you must, you have to, you should”. But there are a few areas in today’s world (beyond the ones that are non-negotiable to enable us to live together peacefully, such as laws) that we must do better in than we are now, particularly as practicing yoga students. I will go further (and maybe cause controversy, but without controversy, we don’t get anywhere these days): If you don’t consider making yoga’s ethical rules a part of your day to day life, you aren’t doing yoga, you’re merely doing fitness.
So why am I making this point? It started with this: Heat.
Hot Yoga & The Environment
Since I opened Unwind Yoga Studio I have been approached a few times to consider offering heated, or even hot classes, particularly since the local hot yoga studio went out of business last year. I know that people like hot yoga, and whilst I am myself not a fan as I just don’t feel good doing yoga in a hot, sweaty room, I get why people like it. We have even tried putting on a warmer class, but here is the reason I cannot get myself to seriously consider it: hot yoga is bad for the environment and negatively impacts climate change.
I think what people that attend hot yoga classes do not consider is the amount of energy it takes to heat a studio space. Each degree increase in heating a space takes 3-5% more energy. We keep Unwind at around 21 C. If we were to heat it to hot yoga levels at 32 C, we would use up to 55% more energy. Probably more, as at the moment the studio is not insulated well enough, something which I hope to change in due course with installing double glazing and adding more insulation to the walls. But I am not changing insulation to create an environment for hot yoga, I am doing it to cut energy usage for keeping the studio at 21 C! Hot yoga studios also offer showers, and they have an increased need for cleaning and washing mats. Sorry, hot yoga lovers, but every time you attend a warmer than regular class, you are in fact contributing to the climate crisis. Especially in the cooler months, when many love hot yoga even more. It’s bad, and for that reason, as an eco-friendly business, I cannot offer hot yoga classes.
It started with heat, but then I thought more about how today’s yoga is impacting the environment negatively, so next up: swag.
Yep, yoga swag is another one of my biggest issues – yoga props, gear and clothes. Urgh…I know, I know….hate me, guys, but your PVC mats and polyester, nylon, lycra leggings and tops are a problem. Micro-plastics are a real issue and more and more of it is passed on to humans through the food chain, including plants. Now, as long as you keep wearing your lycra it’s fine, it’s when you throw it away that the problems start. Fact is, our crazy over-consumption of non-eco-friendly active wear is scary. And every time you throw away a mat, or item of clothing, or prop that is not recyclable, or compostable, or bio-degradable, you are in fact destroying the planet a little more. Also consider that every time you wash your mat or man-made fibre fleece, your washer takes micro-plastics straight down the drain and into the environment (unless you use a very good micro plastics filter). Buying new yoga gear should not be a “I need / want this” exercise. This level of materialism and consumerism fired on by social media is not sustainable.
Here is another one: travel. Yoga retreats are booming, and it seems the further away the better. I know, I know, we have been locked in for a long time and I am myself craving some sunshine and a white sandy beach. Or maybe you are staying local but attend a training from an international yoga teacher – some of them make a point of “I travel the whole world to teach”, again often on social media. But is it really so cool? The carbon footprint of all that traveling is huge, the environmental impact every time you head to a retreat is immense.
Hate me yet? Well, read on :)
What to do?
It’s easy to bash hot yoga, polyester and far flung retreats, but I like constructive criticism, and solutions. What can you do better, or what can you do instead? How can you cultivate ahimsa (non-harming) in terms of your yoga practice?
Fact is, and boy this is hard for me as I run a physical studio…, Zoom / online yoga is actually much better for the environment than a studio class. No heat, you can do it in your bamboo pyjamas and you don’t travel to a studio, or retreat. Yes, from an environmental point of view, online yoga is a winner.
But we want you to come to the studio of course, and there are so many benefits of practicing in real life with real people. So how can I encourage you to make every yoga practice as eco-friendly as possible?
I encourage you to buy eco-friendly swag. Organic cotton bolsters, straps, eye pillows. Natural rubber mats. This stuff is highly functional, lasts longer and looks good. It’s slightly more expensive, but nothing compared to the cost of destroying our Earth with polyester filled bolsters and PVC mats.
I encourage you to consider bamboo, organic cotton, linen, lyocell or recycled materials for yoga clothing. There is so much fantastic stuff out there now.
Buy everything you can from a local producer, reduce the carbon footprint.
For retreats, ask your retreat facilitator whether they are off-setting any carbon emissions that the retreat generates, and how they ensure an eco friendly retreat from A-Z. Travel with public transport, or in groups. Stay local. Or combine a retreat with a trip you are doing anyway, a holiday, a business trip.
And don’t attend hot yoga classes.
Help co-create change. Begin to change your yoga habits. Changes can be small, but you have to start somewhere to make a difference – and collectively in this yoga community, we can. When we talk about ahimsa (non-harming), let’s direct the compassion we develop in our practice to the environment, too.
Yes, maybe you hate me and find me over top after reading this, but I think it is time that more of us spoke up. That more of us took a stance. Let’s turn this into a movement and bring back yoga to a simpler, less impactful (for the environment) practice. I have been committed for a while, are you joining me?
Unwind Yoga Studio was built eco-consciously from day one. The building materials we used, the props, the retail items we sell, everything is done with the underlying principle of ahimsa, non-harming, of the environment. We strive to be zero waste.
This blog is inspired by the Earthshot Prize Award Ceremony on 17 October 2021. For more info: https://earthshotprize.org/london-2021/