Addressing climate change through the spiritual practice of yoga

Guest writer

Addressing Climate Change through the (Spiritual) Practice of Yoga“Let’s hope 2020 marks the start of a year and decade when we finally take climate disruption as seriously as the evidence shows we must,” David Suzuki wrote in a recent op-ed.

Climate solutions are out there … what we seem to be lacking is the political will to make the difficult transition. 

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Everyone and everything needs to change, according to George Monbiot (The Guardian).

We hear a lot about the sacrifices we will be forced to make, and the turbulence of the transition ahead. Some are even preparing for ‘the end times’. Many young people are understandably anxious about the future, and climate change grief is fast becoming the latest in a long list of mental health afflictions. But where some see potential chaos and constraint, others, (like futurist Guy Dauncey), see possibility and opportunity.

2020 could be the decade of change. Instead of a decline into self-centred destruction, it could be both the beginning of a revolutionary transition to renewable energy, and a revolutionary renewal of our human capacity for caring, community, and compassion.

The practice of Yoga, I believe, can help us make this moral social shift. When I began practicing yoga (in the ‘70s), it was considered by many to be a cult. In the past decade yoga has become widely accepted and very popular in the West, as a strictly secular practice. 

Yoga Alliance estimated in 2016 that approximately 37 million Americans practice yoga. A 2019 survey indicated that 1 in 5 Canadians practices yoga. In Victoria there is a yoga studio (like a Starbucks) on every corner.

Yoga classes in the West are centred on the physical practice of postures (asanas) to keep the body healthy, supple, and strong. Nothing wrong with that, but there is much more to this ancient practice. 

Patanjali, the first to write down the teachings of yoga (some 3,500 years ago, in the Sanskrit language) describes yoga in terms of eight limbs, the first of which are the Yamas – the practice of everyday ethics. (Asana, the physical practice of yoga postures is the third limb.)

The Yamas consist of 5 moral precepts or ethical guidelines to cultivate moral character — and prepare the path to ‘enlightenment’: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigrapha.


Ahimsa is usually translated as non-harming. In our yoga practice this might mean not hurting our body by attempting poses beyond our capacity. In the application of everyday ethics, it could mean not willfully destroying the habitat of other creatures with whom we share the planet; not polluting the air; not killing animals for food.


Truthfulness. Climate change denial is ‘fake news’, given that 99.9% of scientists say climate change is real, and human caused (primarily by the emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels). Is what you are sharing on social media true?


Asteya generally translates as non-stealing; not taking what is not yours. Intergenerational equity means not stealing the future from our children and grandchildren. The Law of the Commons also applies, as those who pollute the air and water knowingly are stealing from all who depend upon it.


Brahmacharya is traditionally translated as sexual restraint. I like to think of it as moderation; restraint from over-indulgence in sensual pleasure (whether that be sex, over-eating, over-imbibing, even binge-watching Netflix) that distracts us from practicing the other Yamas.


Aparigrapha means not taking more than you need. There is a saying from the ‘70s that captures this ethic beautifully: Live simply so others may simply live. Aparigrapha is the ‘refuse/reduce’ part of the reduce, re-use, recycle equation.

A few telling stats on consumption: 

• The richest 1% (of the global population) emit more greenhouse gases than the poorest 50%.

• If the richest 10% of the world’s population (that’s us) lowered their emissions to the average citizen of the European Union, global CO2 emissions would be cut by about one-third.

• Roughly 100 companies emit about 71% of total global emissions of C02.

• The world’s 22 richest men are wealthier than all the women in Africa.

If each of us who practice yoga accepts a personal responsibility to also practice the first limb of Yoga, the Yamas, we could have a tremendous impact.

Even if we committed only to practicing Aparigrapha, we could make a big difference.

Greta Thunberg says, “I know we need a system change [not just] individual change. But you cannot have one without the other. If you look through history, all the big changes in society have been started by people at the grassroots level. No system change can come without pressure from large groups of individuals.”

Young people like Greta are rising up to demand a better future. All of us who practice Yoga can join them.

Guidelines for Practising the Yamas as a way to address climate change.


To the best of my ability I will not harm myself or other sentient beings. I will be mindful of how my words, actions, and behaviour impact all with whom I share this Beautiful Planet.


I will seek the truth (from responsible media sources and accredited individuals); and I will speak the truth, (validated by credible sources), as I know it in my own heart.


I will not steal from future generations their right to a healthy life. I will be aware of how my actions impact the oceans, airsheds, and watersheds we all share.


I will practice moderation, and refrain from over-indulgence in sensual pleasure.


I will reduce my own consumption, and encourage and support others to do the same.

Addressing Climate Change through the (Spiritual) Practice of YogaKaryn Woodland is a lifelong student of yoga. She lives in Metchosin, where she has taught yoga for the past 20 years. She believes our yoga practice can contribute to better health for both people and the planet.

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE

Photo of stones by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

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