Yoga Ecology and the Art of Compensation

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati, Switzerland

When students of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich went to Costa Rica to attend a conference on sustainable development, they felt uncomfortable. Their flight was causing damage to the environment they wanted to protect. So they founded a website. For each regular flight ticket, passengers purchased an ‘environment ticket’. Eighty percent of the proceeds would go to projects of sustainable development, so far in Costa Rica, Eritrea, India and South Africa. Here is an example of how the economics were worked out.

Flight Distance CO2 emission Compensation Cost of ticket to pay for the compensation
London-Calcutta-London 15,966km 3,008kg Solar collector in Eriteria must run for 37 months 72 Euros

So the conscience was clear. The environmental damage done by flying was compensated for with projects of renewable energy which, in turn, would help the local population and ultimately the world at large. The website is a success. Travel agents and big companies participate in it.

Environmental issues emphasise the fact that we share one, and so far only one, planet. Air, water and land are common property beyond political, social and economic frontiers. Their protection is a collective responsibility and claiming ignorance is no excuse, for we now know of the many ways to waste, use or save energy.

Mental pollution

The same argument applies to mental energy and the environment it creates. Head trips and gossip cause pollution every time we judge and criticise, slander and hurt. Negativity is ‘mental CO2,’ quickly emitted and affecting all. Redressing the balance is in the power of each individual. We have the choice to denigrate or encourage, to praise or scold, to be positive or negative. Mind management aiming at harmonious living generates a positive, personal environment as well as a positive social environment for our interaction with the world.

Compensation yoga

For yoga practitioners, yoga is the ‘ticket’. Its many tools reduce harmful emission and compensate should harm have occurred, without any feeling of guilt. Compensation is not only punishment; we can compensate with our body, mind and heart. The SWAN meditation may redress doubt and confusion. The ITIES counteract the non-ITIES. For words spoken carelessly antar mouna could be practised; anger might find its compensation in ajapa japa. Impatience might be balanced with yoga nidra. Time spent reflecting on the yamas and niyamas might make up for lack of understanding. Where kindness and care are missing, Swami Sivananda’s ashtanga yoga or one’s sankalpa might fill the void. Asana and pranayama ensure emission of positive energy. For any inattention, slip or failure of thought, word or deed, kirtan will always serve as a most worthy compensation. The storehouse of yogic practices offers infinite possibilities. They all develop and expand awareness.

In Latin compensatio means ‘balancing of accounts’. With the awareness of yoga we are able to restore lost balance and consolidate harmony. On the balance sheet, the first task is to get out of the red figures, out of the negative, out of the debt we owe ourselves, our social and natural environment. Once in the black and positive figures, harmony can always be improved upon – made stronger, last longer, draw wider circles. Harmony of physical health includes cells, organs, muscles and bones, yet above all, it requires harmony of thought, emotion and feeling. Social harmony refers to family, neighbours, colleagues, as well as the immediate and not so immediate environment. The repercussions of meditation and prayer on a wider community are well known and documented. The collective response to spiritual practice exists even though community members are unaware of what has caused the change in their behaviour and attitude. Preservation of the elements, the natural environment, is possible once we feel concerned, accountable and are willing to act. Through selfless service we create the spiritual environment.

Our shortcomings hurt all environments. The students use the ‘environment ticket’ as a bridge between north and south, east and west, rich and poor, but in the end all benefit from sustainable development, no matter where its projects are being promoted. In yoga, we find a source of renewable energy, no matter what practice we choose. Compensation yoga may start out as additional exercises — “For this lapse I’ll do that practice.” The idea of compensation heightens the awareness of our involvement and responsibility and gives us the motivation to act. The yoga ticket is also relational; it connects the practitioner and his/her practice to the world until sadhana, compensation yoga and everyday life become a single experience of harmony.

Living yoga ecology

Webster’s International Dictionary defines ecology as: 1. a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments especially as manifested by natural cycles and rhythms, community development and structure, interactions between different kinds of organisms, geographic distributions, and population alterations. 2. the totality of patterns of relations between organisms and their environment. Ecology, therefore, is about relationship.

For yoga, Patanjali has given the following definition: Atha yoga anushasanam. Swami Niranjanananda has commented, “Yoga is a process of obtaining inner discipline and governing the subtle aspects of human personality . . . Discipline is a way by which we can re-educate ourselves in relation to our inner nature and by which we are able to express the harmony of our inner nature.”

Personal effort is the medium. It will make us live yoga ecology; it will make us relate with discipline. A yogic life is prevention and compensation for damage, a contribution to the healing process of the environment – natural, social, physical, mental and spiritual. Living yoga ecology, we will make these words of Swami Satyananda come true: “Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow.”