Ahimsa: The Yogic Way to Honor Our Planet


The practice of yoga emphasizes that an essential aspect of leading a conscious and sustainable life is the care of ourselves, one another, and our environment. Derived from the Sanskrit word for "yoke" or "union," yoga embodies a principle of interconnectedness, recognizing the inextricable link between all living beings - human, animal, plant, and planetary. This underlying philosophy suggests that through taking care of others you also take care of yourself. The inverse, then, is also valid.

Ahimsa, the very first of the yamas (yogic principles) outlined in the Yoga Sutras, encourages non-violence in thought, word, and action. When practicing ahimsa, we take the time to evaluate the impact of our actions and choose the path of least harm to any living being - directly or indirectly. Although humans have a history of causing harm to ourselves and others, it is undeniable that our collective desires are peace, kindness, and joy. Earth Day presents us with the ideal occasion to contemplate our influence on the planet and take meaningful steps toward fostering a healthier, happier world filled with compassion and care.

Earth Day was established in 1970 to provide a voice to an emerging environmental consciousness and to put environmental concerns at the forefront of science and media. In 1990, the campaign went global, “mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage” (source). Each year, on April 22nd, more than a billion people connect through their desire to create a world where ahimsa is at the center of how we treat our planet and all of the living creatures inhabiting it. 

“Start small, but start” - Dan Nielsen

With so many causes, organizations, viewpoints, and approaches, it can be hard to know where to start and how to make an impact on such a large-scale initiative. Although we can’t change the trajectory of our planet alone, individually we can take small steps and actions to honor and celebrate Earth Day - and do so in a way that personally resonates and upholds the ahimsa yama.

The Bhagavad Gita describes four different paths of yoga to reach the common goal of liberation. These four paths can also inspire our approach to Earth Day, as we contemplate our oneness with the planet. Let’s take a look at each of the four paths and how they can relate to celebrating our planet on Earth Day or anytime, below.

1. Karma Yoga: yoga of action and selfless service

“You are entitled to your action but not to the fruit of your action”. As Krishna describes in the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga involves providing selfless service to others, without expecting anything in return. Whether small or big, a loving act without any expectation of reward is one of the ways to purify the heart. Taking this into account, the first path of honoring our planet for Earth Day is by taking action. It doesn’t matter whether it’s small or big, all that matters is that the action you take resonates with you, and is coming from a place of loving-kindness. We may not see a large-scale impact in our lifetime, but we are acting on the behalf of others, whether the plants, animals, the planet, or the generation after us. We have agency and can use our power for the good of others who might not be able to act right now. Below are some options for how you can practice Karma Yoga to observe Earth Day.

  • Organize a beach/park/street clean up with your friends and family or simply spend some time cleaning up your community while out on a walk

  • Volunteer at a recycling center

  • Begin recycling or composting at home

  • Reduce your use of single-use plastic bottles and utensils

  • Consider locally sourced and seasonal foods from regenerative organic farms

  • Swap out your plastic bags for a reusable canvas bag. And if you need an extra reminder before going to the grocery store listen to this song.

  • Calculate your carbon footprint and explore some ways to reduce its size.

  • You can also take action by supporting a charity focused on an environmental cause like the ones listed below:

    • Women for India:  a youth-led organization dedicated to enabling themselves and others around to make India a clean and green nation.

    • Dunagiri Foundation: a sustainable platform for the preservation of rare and endangered Himalayan medicinal plants through an integrated model of education, cultivation, and distribution. 

    • Clean Water Action: organizes strong grassroots groups to protect the environment, health, economic well-being, and community quality of life.

    • Bee Girl Organization: a grassroots nonprofit centered on bee habitat conservation through research, regeneration, and education.

    • Humans 4 Reefs: a small but mighty reef restoration project that works on supporting coral restoration efforts in Cozumel and Mayan Riviera, Mexico. You can donate to this dynamic duo by purchasing some cool H4R swag or by donating on their site.

    • Farm Sanctuary: a founding farm animal Sanctuary in the U.S., Farm Sanctuary has rescued and provided refuge for countless survivors of the animal agriculture system. Donate today to help with the maintenance of the farm or adopt one of the farm animals to help support the medical bills and everyday upkeep.

    • Only One: an action platform with a mission to restore ocean health and tackle the climate crisis in this generation.

    • Friends of the Earth: the world’s largest grassroots environmental federation focused on building a peaceful and sustainable world based on societies living in harmony with nature.

    • Rodale Institute: a nonprofit dedicated to growing the regenerative organic agriculture movement through rigorous research, farmer training, and education.

    • You can also take action by volunteering for a cause that resonates with you through IVHQ - the world’s largest volunteer travel organization.

2. Bhakti Yoga: yoga of love and devotion

The second path of yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita is Bhakti Yoga - the yoga of pure love and surrender. In the traditional sense of the path, Bhakti Yoga is practiced by praying, chanting, contemplating, and expressing devotion to the divine. Just as the yogis worship the divine power of creation, we too can worship the planet that feeds us, clothes us, shelters us, and provides us with sustenance and beauty. A simple and effective way to practice gratitude for the Earth is through a journaling/contemplation exercise, below:

Reflect on and answer the following questions:

  1. List all the things you are grateful for that the earth provides you on a daily basis

  2. Reflect on some of the most beautiful moments you’ve had in nature

  3. Write a list of all of your favorite animals and what you love about them

  4. Write down all the ways you’re currently supporting a healthy planet

  5. Write down 2-3 habits you can do right away to contribute more to the health of our planet

3. Raja Yoga: yoga of meditation

The third path of yoga described by Krishna is the path of stilling the fluctuations of the mind - Raja Yoga. By looking beyond the contents of the mind through practices like mindfulness and meditation, it is said we can achieve total absorption with the nature of reality, and reach the state of Samadhi. Studies have shown that spending time in nature is one of the most effective ways to reduce mental chatter and connect to the present moment. Furthermore, meditating on the unique elements of nature is an effective and simple way to immerse yourself in the oneness of our planet.

Below are some easy practices you can try as a way to celebrate Earth Day:

  1. Bring awareness to the wonders of being alive here and now with a gratitude meditation to connect to the Earth and give thanks for all she offers us.

  2. Spend some time in nature, observe the elements surrounding you, pause to close your eyes and listen to the sounds, explore the smells, and feel the textures of the plants.

  3. Try a 5-minute guided walking meditation

  4. Try this simple mindfulness practice: Find a comfortable place to sit or stand in nature and choose an object of mindfulness such as a tree, a cloud, or a flower. Spend the next 5-10 minutes observing the object. Notice how it moves with the wind, its shape, color, and texture. Focus your attention entirely on this object, allow yourself to get lost in the details of its being, and simply be present in the moment of observation.

4. Jnana Yoga: yoga of wisdom and knowledge

The fourth path of yoga is sometimes considered to be the most direct path to spiritual evolution, using knowledge of scriptures to examine our true nature and self-inquiry to discern the truth. Using knowledge and intellect, Jnana Yoga calls for constant self-analysis and contemplation of reality as it is. Perhaps one of the most impactful ways to celebrate Earth Day is to seek knowledge about the state of our planet and its living beings while taking the time to reflect on the information you gather. We have access to movies and documentaries on large streaming channels, endless articles online, environmental podcasts, and books to expand our knowledge of environmental issues and deepen our understanding of how our beautiful planet functions, overall.

Below are some of our favorite resources to grow your knowledge: 

  1. Documentaries:

2. Articles:

As you build up your knowledge and seek out information, make sure to give yourself time to reflect and process what you're learning. Consider the following prompts:

  1. How do you perceive your relationship with other living beings on the planet? Do you experience all life forms as interconnected and interdependent or separate and dependent, and what leads you to that understanding?

  2. What are some ways your attitude or behaviors would change if you perceived all life on the planet as mutually dependent and interconnected?

Steadiness in the Practice of Ahimsa

Just as there are many paths of yoga, there are many ways to take care of our home and celebrate Earth Day. It’s not necessary to change everything all at once, but starting with small, consistent steps each day is enough to make an impact. Just as in the practice of yoga, so in the practice of life, steadiness and wholeheartedness of our efforts are the main ways we will see results. The most important thing to remember is that the actions you take are rooted in loving-kindness and with the intent of reducing harm - to ourselves and all the living creatures we share this world with.

“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well-attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness” Sutra 1.14 - Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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