I started my degree at the University of Vermont as an eager Environmental Studies major. I was passionate, motivated and most of all: critical. I came home that fall and scolded my parents for their obvious over consumption of resources. Luckily, my mother (surely anticipating this) already had a Prius, and to this day reminds me how she only runs the dishwasher when it’s full.
As I continued into my second and third semesters, I felt frustrated with people. Why didn’t they get it? How could they carry on with business as usual while the oceans are expanding, the glaciers melting, forests burning, trash rampant and so on, I wondered. I surrounded myself with people with my same level of “environmental awareness." I lived in a dedicated commune, ate strictly local, biked often and shopped little.
Somewhere in my second year or so of college, my interest in human health blossomed. I enrolled myself in such perfect classes as Human Health & the Environment. A subtle and complementary interest though it was, it changed everything.
It dawned on me that my ability to care, and fight deeply, for the environment was a great privilege. It spoke mostly to the lack of tremendous strife in my life. I was healthy, strong, educated and cared for. I didn’t have the burden of poverty, famine or violence in my life.
My realization was this: we have to heal ourselves before we can heal the planet. A broken heart or a broken home will take precedent over the need to buy post-consumer recycled toilet paper. And these aims are ultimately congruent. However, the missing link was compassion. Rather than criticizing, we have to include everyone in the standard of living we so desperately want and need. We need to cultivate a global community where clean air and water are priorities, where the standard includes the people and the planet.
Yoga plays into this vision in a huge way. Yoga is one of the most healing practices I’ve ever found; it’s a way that people learn to honor themselves first so that they can go out into the world as full advocates for change. If you’re running on empty you have so little to give. Yoga is the anecdote. It teaches us how to fill up so that we can pour ourselves into our passions. So this is my plea. Do both. Honor yourself, nurture yourself and then do the same for the earth.
Klean Voice Contributor Naani Sheva is a yoga instructor and member of RE:treat, an organization based in Telluride, Colorado, that offers yoga inspired adventure retreats in beautiful mountain locations around the world. Naani’s love for people and the connections that build community are her deepest motivations for teaching.