The first time I practiced yoga outside was on a beach in Costa Rica. Our teacher guided us through a beautiful practice where we moved with the energy of the sea. We inhaled as the waves came in, and exhaled as the water retreated. We saluted the sun as it rose overhead, and took time to notice the sand between our toes. Moving in synchronicity with something that is literally connected to our entire planet is an experience that words simply cannot do justice.
As a child, being outside was something I always loved. Whether I was building a snowman in the winter, swimming in the lake during the summer, or simply laying in the fresh-cut spring grass, I always felt joy outdoors regardless of the season.
Yet as I grew, my relationship with nature changed. No longer was I running through the woods, playing hide and seek, or climbing trees. No longer did I roll around in the grass or try to catch lightening bugs in jars. That’s not to say that I lost appreciation for the world around me, but rather that those magical elements that exist within nature faded from my mind.
It’s probably no coincidence that as these experiences and the memories drifted, so did my ability to live in the moment. To appreciate the little things. I became future-focused, goal-oriented, and driven – all qualities that, while considered by many “desirable,” also seem to serve as an earmark for the quote-unquote “loss of innocence.” The waning of wonder. And over time it became exhausting, constantly focusing on the future, and setting higher and higher goals. I was so focused on what was next, that I didn’t take time to appreciate what was now…
It wasn’t until I found yoga that I rediscovered the magic that nature holds. The experience of practicing outside has become incredibly spiritual for me. Feeling my feet on the earth, the wind swirling through my hair and the sun on my skin allows me to truly appreciate the moment. It reminds me to take time to notice every element, and to allow myself to become one with my surroundings. It even assists me in deepening my practice, allowing me to draw on energy from nature to carry me through the sequences.
The experience of practicing yoga in nature truly demonstrated for me what it meant to be in the moment. And it was this experience that allowed me to appreciate nature as if I were a child again.
As my relationship with nature has developed, so has my understanding of the importance of living a sustainable life. Of taking care of our planet. Recycling, conserving water, thrifting clothes, supporting local businesses, and purchasing eco-friendly products are all things I have begun to do to cut back on my impact.
The Yoga Sutras gave me a framework for understanding my behavior, and the greater impact it can have on others, myself, and the world.
The Yamas are the moral, ethical and societal guidelines suggested to yogis. Aparigraha is the fifth Yama discussed in the Yoga Sutras. It is the concept of non-greediness, and non-possessiveness. It implies that we don’t need nearly as much as we think we do in order to be happy. And that limiting our attachment to material things is beneficial in that we can be happy without the excess that society tells us we need.
Applying aparigraha to my life has helped me understand that I don’t need a ton of clothes; I don’t need individually packaged items, or even to eat strawberries in the winter. It has helped me be happy with what I have in the moment, and understand that I don’t need to reach for more. It has helped me realize that constantly reaching for more has a cost; a cost that is impossible to continue paying. A cost that ultimately outweighs what we are getting in return.
And so I limit what I buy. When I buy I buy consciously. Not only have I grown a concern for which types of products I'm purchasing from and from which type of companies, but I now also think about the affect of where I shop. Shopping at farmers’ markets and local stores means that I’m purchasing items that are produced locally, rather than shipped across the country. Locally produced food travels less of a distance, causing less carbon monoxide and using less fossil fuels. Changing where you shop is such a small thing that can truly have a big impact.
Clothing is another item that travels long distances, uses energy, and has a large carbon footprint. Second-hand shopping at thrift stores, consignment, or vintage shops is a great way to reduce impact. While the sweater hanging in the brand-name store likely traveled thousands of miles to get there, that same sweater hanging in the second-hand shop likely traveled a much shorter distance -- from the first owner’s home to the thrift store. More so, second-hand clothing keeps those items out of landfills, and reduces waste produced with packaging new items. Not only are you reducing waste by shopping second-hand, but you're also likely to find unique items that are absent from the racks in regular stores. (Plus it's generally cheaper, too. And who doesn't like saving money?)
If the whole “someone else wore it before” thing weirds you out, looking into the mission statements of the companies you shop at is an easy way to see which brands value the environment. There are lots of people out there who care about the environment and wish to produce sustainable, eco-conscious products, and supporting like-minded businesses is a great way to begin to shift the culture -- sending the message that these are the types of products we want. Sometimes we forget how much power we as consumers have.
I take care of nature, because nature takes care of me. It asks little of us, but to be present with it.
It requires only that we don’t’ take advantage of it’s beauty and generosity. Nature is always there to support us, to nourish us, and to inspire us.
And so I read with nature. I walk with nature. I breath with nature. Nature has been there for me since I was a child chasing lightening bugs and climbing trees, and nature is here with me now as I practice yoga, read, and meditate.
By: Michelle Harrison
Inner Fire Luminary & Nature Nomad