• Stephanie Kohler

The Yoga Of Plastic

There’s a lot of talk about yoga being too commercial. That it’s all Rumi memes, skinny people in tight clothing, mandala-printed mats. All that stuff dilutes the practice, etc etc.

I can agree. But I realize that there are other things which bother me a whole lot more. For example, I’m real fed up[1] with people who focus only on topics directly related to yoga. If your only yoga-related considerations are about perfecting sun salutations or meditating better, you’ve missed the greater implications of yoga practice. Failing to talk about life, in relation to yoga, also dilutes the practice.

Yoga is union.[2] [3] [4] You can think about that in terms of the union of body and mind, or body and spirit. I think about union in the sense of combining the limbs (such as postural practice and meditation) of my yoga practice with my life. In other words, the union of being mindful about yoga practice and being mindful about life. Mindful about the choices I make every day. Not just choices about what’s printed on my mat, but the choices that determine what happens in the rest of the day.

Consider the environment. So many of our choices affect the environment—thus so many opportunities to be mindful. Do you walk out of the market carrying a dozen plastic bags? Is there a flat of bottled water in one of the bags? On the way home, do you get some coffee in a single-use cup with plastic lid?

Honestly, “disposable” is a poor word choice when talking about plastic. We “dispose” of plastic because it goes away from us. But it doesn’t actually go away. It just goes elsewhere. Then maybe another elsewhere. And another.

Plastic is never fully disposed. It hangs out somewhere on the planet, for thousands of years. In that time it might break into smaller pieces. I remember reading in high school about the Pacific garbage patch, then about the size of Rhode Island. Now the Great Pacific garbage patch is twice the size of Texas. There are others in other oceans. Plenty of that plastic ends up in the stomachs of fish, birds, turtles, and other animals. And if you eat fish, some of that plastic ends up in you.

Convenience, and its partner, laziness, are literally killing nature. We have created natural disaster.

The falsely “disposable” consumables are ubiquitous. Yet, those falsely “disposable” consumables are also OPTIONAL. This is where mindfulness comes in.

If your yoga practice is only when you sit on a cushion or move on a mat, you’re missing the purpose. If you’re consistent in your sun salutations, but then buy things that poison the planet, how useful, really, are those sun salutations? When you step off you mat or stand up from your cushion, continue noticing your life. Repetitions of the Mahamantra are not enough.

When I started practicing meditation, mindfulness over my thoughts was overwhelming. When I started practicing asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork), mindfulness over my body seemed overwhelming. Over time, I realized that being mindful about thoughts meant one thought at a time. Being mindful about my body meant one posture at a time—sometimes even one breath at a time.

Those small steps have been the same in terms of mindfulness about my life. I haven’t used a plastic grocery bag in over 15 years. But I did it by finding a small way to remember to bring my own shopping bags—they’re always by my keys. At first, I had to write ON my shopping list: “bring reusable bags” because I still forgot. But the sum of those efforts is that one shopping trip at a time, I make less trash, one trip at a time. Try it. Be a mindful human.

Same with single-use coffee cups and those plastic lids—the latter of which are very difficult to recycle. If you’re drinking out of that setup, I doubt you collect the lids, rinse them, and bring them to a more specialized recycling facility—like I occasionally do, when I’m with someone who has one. Every coffee shop has those cups, but many of them also sell reusable mugs. A small shot of mindfulness goes a long way. Keep a mug by your keys. Or by your wallet. Or your backpack or purse. Be a mindful human.

Bottled water is worse. There’s the terrible, gigantic impact of all that plastic. There’s also undrunk water—how many plastic water bottles have you seen in the trash, that are not even empty? So water, now locked in plastic, until the plastic degrades enough for the water to seep out eventually.

Quick tangent—bottled water is also a terrible burden on the sources. An environmental burden, yes. But additionally, a burden on people who live near the sources. Fiji Water is from Fiji, where over half the people don’t have access to clean, drinkable water. Being in proximity to stores, continents away from the source, gives more access to Fijians’ own water than what Fijians have.

So, you can imagine my frustration at how often I see bottled water at yoga studios. Or in homes. Water composes over half of your body. You can’t live without it; you have to consume it your entire life, every day. Save up for a decent water filter. Maybe there’s some sticker shock. But you know you’ll drink water for the rest of your life—the money, over time, will work out in your favor. Be a mindful human.

We have created chaos. We can create order. Reusables are easy. They’re just as ubiquitous as “disposables,” just not quite as convenient. Your choices determine destruction or healing. Yoga philosophy talks about the illusions that thoughts often create and sustain—thoughts that often poison our happiness. Likewise, the illusion of “disposables” is destroying the environment. Living in a cleaner, kinder, better, more vibrant world starts with each one of us being mindful—one task at a time, one breath at time. This ability to care deeply about how we live creates the world in which we will all thrive. Be a mindful human.


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