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Decarbonising our yoga: responding to the climate emergency

We all learn early in our yoga experience that the basis of the teaching and the practice is the first two aspects of Patanjali’s eight: yama and niyama. And the very first injunction is ahimsa, not doing harm or violence. As we face not just a climate emergency, not just a nature and biodiversity crisis, but the breakdown of all the interrelated systems that sustain the life of humans and more than humans on earth, our habitual actions (samskara) fail to remedy the situation and often make it worse.

We’ve known about this prospect for a long time, and many people feel anger, grief and fear about what faces us. So there is an urgent need for change, and while global leaders are meeting at COP28 in Dubai, we could be thinking of how yoga leaders, organisations and all yoga practitioners, should be responding. 

How can we decarbonise our yoga practice?

The recent Yoga Space event ‘Yoga and Climate Action’ (held by Iyengar Yoga (UK) for members on 17 November) opened up discussion about this. Many people will undoubtedly have made positive changes in their own lives and households to reduce dependence on fossil fuels: buying less new stuff; eating and growing organic food; cutting out or cutting down on eating meat and dairy; choosing organic cotton; using public transport; walking and cycling; choosing energy from renewable providers; insulating homes and minimising energy usage; minimising plastic and polyester use; recycling and composting. But as yoga practitioners more action is needed from us collectively. So there are changes we can make in our own habits, and changes we can make as an organisation, about certain policies and requirements

Rebecca Solnit writes, ‘Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth’ (Hope in the Dark, 2005:16). As her book explains, despite the crises we face, we should remember all the positive changes that people have brought into being.

‘Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope’ (ibid).

We can make changes for the better; we can be better informed about the carbon emissions of our actions, and perhaps having a target for reduction can help motivate and drive change. 

Carbon Calculator

Here is a useful tool for assessing your own ‘footprint’ from yoga activity, bearing in mind that we should be aiming for a maximum of about 2.3 tonnes per capita per annum:

Measuring our carbon impact

We need to break down the carbon impacts into a few components and then add up the parts to reach an overall carbon impact. So we can ask ourselves and calculate the emissions in these areas: 

Yoga clothing

How much carbon is emitted as a result of the clothes specifically bought for yoga can be calculated here

Energy for yoga studios

Do studio owners obtain their electricity from a renewable energy source?  The annual energy bill for the building will be known and usually electricity bills say something about how much carbon is produced as a result of one unit of emissions. If we can calculate the carbon emissions released as a result of running the building per year, it should be possible to calculate the carbon emissions per user of the building per year (bearing in mind that each person could use the building multiple times over the course of a year). Emissions from gas used to heat the building would be the same as above.

Travelling to study yoga

Much of the tradition of Iyengar yoga worldwide rests in our habit of travelling to workshops and holidays and retreats and for immersive learning at RIMYI, the source of so much learning. Of course that travel causes immense harm; our actions have consequences, and those are borne most intensely, most painfully, by those living in the global south, so that unwittingly our habits and our practice directly harm others and continue a colonialism for which we should rather be making reparation.

Emissions Calculators

Emissions from journeys made to and from our class venues can be calculated using  


and just completing the transport section, entering how many miles are travelled to and from yoga sessions over a year and what kind of vehicle is used.  

Our travel for yoga is a very high emitting activity and definitely one aspect that together we can reduce by making sure events are organised locally and regionally rather than nationally, by finding lovely venues in Britain for holidays and retreats, and by committing to not flying – see

Flying from London to India

Here’s a sobering fact: the carbon emissions from a return flight from London to Pune are 2.92 tonnes. That’s blown an individual’s maximum ration for a whole year and five months – without any other travel, purchases, food, or energy use whatsoever!  

And a return flight from Manchester to Bodrum in Turkey would emit 1.06 tonnes; half a yearly quota for all activity.


These calculations look like a demanding lot of work, for sure! But even without doing the sums involved, it’s possible for us all to take action to reduce our carbon footprint and begin to contribute to being part of the solution not the problem, using the indicators above as a guide. And we know that having a teacher or guide to help us with our lack of alignment and to change bad habits is hugely valuable, and that learning together is inspiring and supportive. So it can be with our efforts to minimise our yoga carbon footprint:

For example: Climate Café

Registered Climate Cafés® share an ethos of being community led, inclusive, welcoming spaces for people to simply come together with a cup of tea or coffee, to chat and act for our climate.

A Climate Café® is an open, inclusive space for people to get together to talk and act on climate change.

Climate Cafés® are community led, informal spaces where everyone is welcome to join the conversation and get involved. Climate Cafés® create a space to bring people together from across communities, work places and campuses to focus on solutions. Many people find them inspiring and positive spaces to connect with others.

See more at

The consequences of inaction

Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the future if we take no action, remembering that the greatest burden will fall on those in the global south with the lowest emissions and the fewest resources:

Yoga: A key for change

Our yoga practice teaches us to be reflexive and to observe ourselves: svadhyaya. We can notice our behaviours and also the mental tricks which might inhibit us from recognising the truth of what changes need to be made. We understand the virtues of nirodhah, or exercising restraint of the body, mind and breath for the freedom of the consciousness, and so we can apply that learning to restraint in our ways of living. We learn the path of vairagya, renunciation and the quietening of desires. Surely we have valuable tools to help us work together to decarbonise our yoga…

Laura Potts, December 2023

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