By Jess Robertson
Here we are! Three Pillars in to our 6-part discussion on the Pillars of Modo Yoga. If you’re just tuning in, thanks for taking the time and care it took to open this blog!
The first post in this series was about Pillar 1: Be Healthy, and looked at how a healthy yoga practice can help us embrace a more holistic sense of health, which can lead to making healthier choices off-the-mat.
In the second post, we explored the Be Accessible Pillar and how being open to our own truth, allows us to be more receptive to others, to new ideas, and to more diverse ways of living.
This third post is about Pillar 3: Be Green, and will examine its philosophical underpinnings, foundations in yoga, history as it relates to Modo’s beginnings, and most importantly… its applications in a Green-tastic life. Because, everyone needs a little Green-tastic! 😉
Pillar 3: Be Green
The essence of the Be Green Pillar is that the care, respect and protection of our planet is tied to our own well-being.
At the very core of who we are as a community, is our shared passion and dedication for creating positive shifts that will help slow the destructive effects of climate change.
But, the Be Green Pillar isn’t just about slowing climate change. It’s also about loving nature, respecting nature, and revering its limitless teachings.
We practice Be(ing) Green by reducing and reusing before we even think about recycling; by walking through a park at dusk and breathing deeply; and, by picking up a handful of dry Fall leaves, just for the sheer enjoyment of bathing in their scent.
Being green is as much about using less and planting more, as it is about taking time in life to enjoy nature as our first and ultimate teacher.
How Does Nature Relate To Yoga
The great sages, like the Buddha for example, passed on their teachings after spending quiet time sitting in nature.
The sages had a visceral sense that being in nature allowed us to connect with creativity and calm. Now, there is a vast body of science that is demonstrating the incredible effects that nature has on the human brain, and thus the body.
The more modern, 21st century teachers of Yoga continued this tradition of learning from nature. My first and most central teacher, Baba Hari Das – forever remembered with gratitude – was always sitting near a forest, taking in the sky, even when he was indoors or building walls made of stone. He would move so slowly. He modeled how to look at nature as something to behold – something to listen to with respect and reverence.
In many wisdom traditions, it is customary to retreat to nature in order to learn. The quiet from within emerges when we breathe in the fresh forest air.
Being in nature is a practice of yoga.
The History Of Be Green In The Modo Community
When I met Ted Grand, my awesome partner-in-peace and the co-founder and co-director of Modo International, we were both burnt out activists.
We practiced and taught yoga to rebuild a sense of hope – mostly within ourselves, but also in our work for the natural world. Modo was born of the goal to disrupt the way we were serving the Earth as activists. We wanted our activism to be more sustainable than it was when we were angry and burnt out all the time. But, for the record – I have a deep respect and immense gratitude for angry activists!
When I met Ted, I was teaching at a studio he owned in Toronto. He was living between Toronto and Vancouver, where he was co-directing another studio. We went out for some avocado rolls after class one day, and it was our first of many never-ending conversations about the Earth and our vision of creating centres of peace.
He talked about his work with Greenpeace. He worked in their Vancouver office before teaching yoga. He chained himself to old-growth trees, and got arrested in direct actions. And, like everyone in his office, he’d go at night to relieve the stress of that work with beer and cigarettes.
I told him about growing up on federally expropriated land, where old-growth Maples – still in danger today of being torn down by the Federal Government of Canada – were like my siblings. I didn’t have any idea that the Earth was in danger until I went to McGill University, and EarthSave had plastered signs in my cafeteria line about the consumption associated with eating meat. I was horrified. I became vegan, and hit the ground running. To me, being a conservationist was about taking care of a family member. I worked with EarthSave Montreal for 3 years and, after graduating, with Earthroots in Toronto.
Ted and I, along with all environmental activists at that time (post Al Gore’s first book on climate change), knew what we all know now – the science is clear that the Earth and its creatures, all living beings, are in danger of extinction. Flooding, fires, droughts, food shortages, tsunamis, and tornados all threaten the infrastructure of existence.
And so, Modo (or “Moksha” as we were called back in 2004 when this community began) was founded on a mission to conserve the health of the Earth, by simultaneously caring for our own inner health and wellbeing.
How Being In Nature Affects Your Health
I used to live in Montreal, and whenever I needed a break but didn’t have a ton of time, I’d take a 10-minute bike ride up to Mont Royal and get right up into the forest (weather permitting of course)! I knew that all I needed was a bit of time around some big trees, for a sense of clarity and renewal to quickly envelop my whole being.
Today we know that when we slow down and take time to be still in nature, our prefrontal cortex is able to rest. The body is able to self-regulate stress hormones, and we are almost immediately able to think more clearly and exercise more rational problem solving.
But, this is just the beginning. Scientists like cognitive psychologist, David Strayer, are showing us that being in nature has a positive effect on the brain’s ability to make decisions.
There is now an entire body of peer-reviewed research around the health benefits of nature, and books on the subject abound. The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, for example, points out that Nikola Tesla conceived the idea for the electric engine while walking in a park!
We are more creative in nature, less stressed, happier, our immune system is improved, and we feel more clear-headed. And in terms of research, we are just at the beginning.
The Yoga Teaching Behind Be Green – A Community Commitment
The central tenet of yoga philosophy that inspires and roots our love of all things green, is the teaching of Ahimsa. Ahimsa, or non-harming, is the yogic principle that leads many yoga practitioners to eat a more plant-based diet.
Ahimsa asks us to think, act, and speak in a way that causes the least possible amount of harm.
As a community, we embody this teaching by building and operating all studios sustainably, using non-toxic cleaning products and green energy, and committing to as many habit-building green practices as possible.
In addition, every studio further expresses their commitment to the Earth in their own unique and creative ways. On top of green building and operational practices, some studios have green walls in their reception areas, where they grow lettuce for their community. Some plant trees each year, organize group garbage collection at community beaches, and host vegetarian cooking lessons for those looking to reduce their meat consumption (no, you don’t have to be vegetarian to come to Modo, but lowered meat intake is often a side effect of practice and conservation work)! And, some studios have acted as composting models, inspiring other local businesses to join a composting challenge.
Each Modo Yoga owner runs their studio as both a place to practice yoga, and as a community hub for inspiring change.
We’re always looking for new and better ways we can decrease our carbon footprint, so if you’ve got ideas to share on how we can better support the natural world, please email us at [email protected] anytime!
Be Green – An individual Commitment
First thing’s first – if you’re reading this section, I think you’re great! Just saying 😉
It’s so easy to get busy and distracted. Even the greatest of the great can ignore an inner call to make a difference.
Have you ever heard your inner call to make a difference?
Yes, we all want our children to know what a lion is, or to know what a forest or a lake feels like. And, of course we want clean water and air for our grandchildren.
But, we have a WORLD of powerful media and product-lobbyists (like the meat and dairy industries, or the oil lobby, or the auto industry), telling us that “we need these jobs.” Movies like Who Killed The Electric car show us that we have had solutions – that there are solutions – but that we need everyone on board using their voice. Yes, some of us will lose jobs when we shift our habits. But if we all die, none of us will have jobs! I say this tongue-and-cheek, but it’s painfully true. Our children’s children will know human extinction if the planet keeps warming as it is.
So, back to how we tend to ignore this inner call to make a difference…
For one, we say things like, “It’s too overwhelming! What can one person possibly do?” A LOT, actually! It only takes one single person to start ANY significant change in the world – we all just need to go ahead and do it! Let’s think of solutions, and let’s make the changes we need to make. Our minds are powerful. Yup, yours too! If you want to make a difference, you can.
We know this to be true, and yet we tell ourselves “Well, the Earth has always died in the cycle of evolution, and it will die again.”
I have a friend that was diagnosed with cancer about 6 years ago. She is a stunning and wise mother of two; a real teacher that has taught me a ton. Have you ever loved someone that was fighting against the odds to live? Would you ever say to them, “Well, you’re going to die anyway?” Nope, you wouldn’t. And we don’t say it to the Earth either. Yes, we’re all going to die, but until then – we’ll fight with love for the ones we love. Hope moves mountains.
We founded this community on the vision that we can move toward change with peace instead of violence. If you want to join this movement, we are right here with you. Share your dreams with us, and let’s all support each other as a community that knows what it means to Be Green.
Jess Robertson is the Co Founder, and Co CEO of Modo Yoga. She also plays music for yoga and contemplating, mamas her 2 cute kids, and plants and climbs trees whenever possible. @heyjessrobertson