Living Sustainably & Practicing Patanjali’s Yamas

Living Sustainably Blog post by Teacher Training graduate Astrid.

Climate change protests bring the reality of climate change to my doorstep and asked me to think about what we can all do to live more sustainably.

And while this may not be evident at first sight, it affects my practice of Yoga which is deeply intertwined with how I walk through life. At the latest, when my two Yoga teachers from Leeds joined Extinction Rebellion and went off to protest on London’s streets.

They do this because our resource use exceeds the amount we have available to sustain the beauty and abundant resources of our planet. 24% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions come from how we produce our food, and that other 14% come from moving us and goods around the planet, among others, on around 15 of the largest cargo ships. Every year, these ships cause the same greenhouse gas emissions as all cars worldwide. Such numbers, as scary as they can be, help us understanding which are the right tools to cope with this challenge; collectively and as individuals.

In face of finite resources they help us transforming towards a world of using less, sharing more and becoming more aware of our actions.

At the same time, the Yamas from the 8 limbs of Patanjali are guidelines which help us interacting with the world around us. They support us in living a simple life full of meaning and purpose.


‘Asteya’ translates from Sanskrit as ‘non-stealing’ and suggests to change our understanding of what we possess, by appreciating what we have, and asking whether and when we need more.

‘All wealth will come’ by practicing to not want more than we really need. Another way to practice Asteya is to share what we have, or let others use it, as if our possessions belong to everybody. By having less, we create more space – room for positive change.
Climate change asks us to make such changes — quickly. It requires to as much as we can, to stand in solidarity with the future of our planet. And, we are in a fantastic situation that unanimous science gives answers when we need to find out what makes a change, in our own life and collectively.

Sometimes it seems to me as if Patanjali had secretly been able to anticipate which challenges we would face centuries after he shared the Yamas. So, where to start?

We can do this

We are, in the first place, social beings. Sharing our views and concerns in non-offensive ways, brings them to the people and places that are close and important to us.
Psychologists showed that what we do influences others’ behaviours and risk perceptions. This includes how we vote, what we eat and how much electricity we use.

When we start living sustainably and adopting new behaviours they thus spill over to others around us. And change comes through individuals and their peers. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion started off with a few hundred individuals who deeply expressed care about the future of our planet, Fridays for Future with one Swedish teenager.

What do you really need?

Think twice about what you need. Even the canvas bag, the biodegradable cup (which may end up in landfill), and the Yoga mat made from old wetsuits require production energy, costs, and of course, is shipped in fossil-fuel run vessels.

Travelling with a small carbon footprint

Give yourself time by taking trains, or traveling less. Flying is the single largest action contributing to our Westerners personal carbon footprints. It effectively hinders cities like Leeds to reach their climate targets, by e.g., expanding the airport. Taking a flight from London to Glasgow emits around 230 kg of greenhouse gas emissions, a train around 40 – that saves 83%.

For local travels, use anything but cars whenever possible – with innumerable advantages such as better health, less pollution, preventing more greenhouse gas emissions, and lower risk of traffic accidents. We have started a car share group on Facebook so that if you need to use your car you could organise to share with other students.

Consider plant-based

Replace red by white meat, or, where possible, plant-based proteins, such as pulses, beans, tofu. When meat is produced, less than 10% of calories grown on a hectare of land end up in the human stomach – the rest is lost in energy needed to feed, grow and process an animal. Eating plant-based proteins means using resources more efficiently.

Replace high-fat dairy products by plant-based products. Dairy has a carbon footprint sometimes as high or higher than meat Scientists from the University of Oxford have looked at this on population levels – and describe replacing meat and dairy as the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce impact.

Buy Fresh and in Season

Buy seasonal (even when produce is imported e.g. from Spain). Fruits and veggies grown outside, even if imported from e.g., the EU, are substantially less energy intensive than those grown in a (heated) greenhouse in the UK.

Living sustainably includes buying less processed foods. Cooking, freezing, preserving, and then transporting foods in a cooled truck takes much more energy than fresh food.

Reduce Water Usage

Warm water use is the single largest contributor to emissions from energy use. It is a good start to replace lightbulbs, but it saves even more energy (and money) to make heating more efficient. See these Yorkshire water tips. Replace baths by showers,
and reduce shower time.

Take back your time by living sustainably.

And maybe most importantly: Enjoy the change and time you gain by avoiding shops, supermarkets, airport security checks, or garages. Use this time to make space, to do yoga, to meditate.

About Astrid

Astrid loves Yoga and science. She studies the science of science communication, including carbon footprints of food, and how we perceive extreme weather. She also researches simple decision rules that help individuals to better understand their impact on climate, and the above are examples for those. Since recently, she explores how to create space for positive change, by
practicing and learning about the beauty of Yoga, at the Yoga Space in Leeds.

For questions and comments contact: astridkause@posteo.de

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