What Yoga Can Teach Us About Sustainability

yoga After a brief hiatus, I’ve recently taken up yoga again as way to inject a little clarity and exercise into my otherwise crazy daily routine.

For those of you not familiar with yoga, let me say first that it’s not just about stretching (although that’s a part of it). In fact, what we Westerners think of as yoga is actually just the physical component of an overarching mental, physical and spiritual practice that originated in India.

In most yoga classes in the U.S., students spend time moving through a series a poses or postures – some seated, some standing, even some inverted or upside-down. Each pose, or asana as they are called in Sanskrit, is a measured movement that aligns physical effort with breath.

Sometimes you do poses quickly (to generate heat) and sometimes slowly (to increase strength and endurance) – but no matter the speed, yoga poses are rigorous, physically challenging, and precise. Each new movement requires focus, concentration and calculated positioning to ensure the alignment of body and breath.

Interestingly, while your body works hard in each pose, your mind and spirit do as well. Each day you come back to yoga, your body responds differently. Some days you’re tired or sore, while other days you feel light and nimble. Each scenario requires both mental and physical adjustments, and those can only happen when you clear your mind of other details and focus solely on the pose at hand.

In yoga, each student brings unique abilities and challenges to class. Some students are more flexible than others, for instance, while other students have more trouble balancing or finding stillness.

In a roomful of yoga students, sometimes I find that it can be easy to get competitive, to want to “be better” than the person next to me, to reach farther or hold a pose longer. Other times when I see someone who’s obviously better than me, I want to throw my hands up and leave the studio, thinking it’ll be easier to save face by walking away entirely.

What I love about yoga, however, is that it’s not about winning. It’s not about being competitive.

Instead, yoga is about a continual acceptance of where you are at that very moment.

In its most basic form, yoga is a practice. It’s a journey.

It’s not about perfection – it’s about checking in with yourself, taking stock of your progress, and making adjustments and corrections to find the right position.

As a recent class wound down, I started to think about all of these things and in the process, had a bit of an epiphany: in many ways, yoga and sustainability aren’t that different.

Like yoga, sustainability is rigorous, demanding, and requires careful and measured movement. Companies must work tirelessly to create sustainability programs of substance, ones that actually have a powerful and lasting impact on communities and our environment. And to make that progress, sustainability officers must somehow find ways to cut through the clutter, clear their desks, and focus on the big questions at hand.

Yet also like yoga, sustainability is a practice – a long journey towards what’s achievable.

Like me in my yoga classes, companies may strive for perfection, and at times may also face the urge to compete against others and to win. Alternatively, some companies may choose to not even give sustainability a try, fearing that they'll be exposed as incapable or inadequate.

In the end, corporate sustainability it isn’t about being perfect.

Instead, it’s about being thoughtful, discerning, and patient in our move toward progress. It’s about taking stock of where we are and recognizing the small and big adjustments we can make to improve and/or reduce our footprint.

Just imagine how powerful our sustainability efforts could be if we stopped thinking about it as a public race to the finish line, and instead saw it like a collection of students, each striving toward incremental yet powerful improvements for our planet and our communities.

Now that’s something to ponder the next time you’re in child’s pose!