Yoga at the United Nations

It is not often that a head of state discusses transformative practices such as Yoga at the UN General Assembly, the policy-making organ comprising all 193 members of the United Nations.  Yet that is just what the Prime Minister of India recently did. He said, "Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being. It is not about exercise, but about discovering the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change."

We often rush to blame greedy corporations and self-centered nations for climate change, forgetting that individuals design systems, build organizations, and constitute nations. We are equally quick to look outside ourselves for solutions to climate change, but we often forget that our efforts to change our external environment need to be balanced by our efforts to change our internal environment.

We have learned a lot by asking how humans contribute to climate change, but we rarely ask why we leave a larger-than-necessary carbon footprint. If we are serious about avoiding the worst effects of climate change, we must question economic growth itself. In addition to economic changes, we need social changes that shift our emphasis away from materialistic values, the cause of global warming and ecological collapse.

We can think of the yoga practice as a wheel, where yoga starts out providing us with optimal tools for stress management. As we develop stress resilience, we develop self-awareness, and we begin to recognize the chasm of difference between "I am sad/mad/stressed" and "I am feeling sad/mad/stressed." As we develop self-awareness, we gain greater ability to regulate emotion, the ability to act rather than react, to develop the self-control to resist an impulse to acquire something that we may want but do not need. All of these three capabilities then translate into healthy relationships with everyone and everything around us, with growing empathy.

As we continue to traverse this wheel, we spiral toward an evolution of our consciousness, the awareness that we are all intimately interconnected and interdependent. As we move around the wheel aligning our thoughts with actions, we can adaptively reduce our individual carbon footprints.

Imagine the possibilities if most of the people in the world were acting through emotional regulation and self-mastery most of the time, with each striving to be mindful of future generations. Humanity would make great strides toward leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint arising from a palpable awareness of interconnectedness. Imagine the possibilities if every child in the world could learn these transformative life skills from childhood—we could possibly reverse global warming and save this fragile planet from disaster in a single generation!

Note: These ideas are articulated in a whitepaper on "Yoga, Personal Transformation and Global Sustainability" written a few months ago by Bidyut Bose, PhD of Niroga, Matthew Wilburn, King, PhD of the Living GREEN Foundation and Rob Schware, PhD of the Give Back Yoga Foundation.