how small changes make a big difference
Last week I was standing in line at a major natural food store in San Francisco. While I waited for my turn at the register, I scanned the magazine rack. All of them were slick-covered trade journals that focused on health, food or spirituality. Almost without exception, each cover was scattered with the same phrases: “eco,” “green,” “organic,” “natural,” “alternative”. And absolutely without exception, each cover featured a gorgeous, well-dressed woman paired with these terms. These hot and relatively new concepts – when associated with a certain degree of affluence – raise more questions than answers in the average person’s mind. In this issue, our goal is to address some of those issues, specifically as they relate to running a yoga business in today’s confusing times.
As members of the yoga community, we have a natural concern for the health of our planet. The very essence of our practice cultivates a union with the world around us. And the concept of “ahimsa,” one of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, instructs us to adapt a non-violent stance toward ourselves, other humans and all living things. Our acceptance of this attitude toward the universe puts us ahead of the curve when it comes to comprehending the dangers of global climate change. But for the general public, the connection between individual actions and global warming has not been as vital. Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth has begun to have some impact there by putting global warming squarely in the face of mainstream media. Suddenly, major network newscasters are discussing climate change as reality rather than myth. And the people I know are speaking more openly about global warming and the part humans play in it. Our society has completed the first step in our path toward healing — admitting we have a problem. “Green” has become the latest buzz word.
What an ideal time for the yoga community to step up and lead the way. So besides just talking about it, what can we realistically do to lighten our footprint on the planet? First, we can set an intention to serve as an example. This starts with a willingness to try and culminates with becoming a resource and support network for our students, customers and communities. Just the thought of taking on this responsibility can feel overwhelming at first. That type of response is completely normal when faced with a crisis of such magnitude. It seems that we are plagued with a growing awareness of the issues but have been given no tools for resolution. I overheard someone in a restaurant saying that if they can’t afford a hybrid car and solar panels for their homes, what’s the point in trying? There’s a pervasive perception that only the most costly and radical changes will make a real difference. Social anxiety is running high.
Understandably, the prospect of greening your yoga business is bound to stir up similar emotions and questions. Let’s be honest. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself: How much time will this take out of my already insane schedule? How will it affect my bottom line? If I can’t afford solar panels, a wind turbine, radiant floor heating and bamboo flooring immediately, what’s the point? The point is to start somewhere. Be mindful that greening is a process, perhaps the most worthwhile one around. Greening takes time, effort and dedication. It will improve your relationship with the planet, with other beings and with yourself.
Sound familiar? It should; the practice of greening your yoga business is no different than your yoga practice itself. It’s impossible to separate the two. Think back to when you first began practicing yoga. Chances are you didn’t fling yourself up into a perfect sirshana the first day or even in your first year on the mat. The most important lesson yoga teaches us is that life is practice, and practice is a journey. You show up every day, do your best and breath by breath small, beautiful, sustainable changes begin to occur. Greening your yoga business is no different. The key is to start small, stay aligned with your intentions and eventually even your tiniest efforts will add up to having real impact. With baby steps, you begin to set an example that radiates outward into the community.
So now that you’re committed to beginning this practice, how do you get started? Let’s begin by taking a mental tour of your yoga studio. Walk in the door and turn on the lights. What kind of bulb did you just ignite, and with what kind of switch? For a minimal investment, you can install low-watt energy-saving light bulbs such as compact fluorescents. While compact fluorescents cannot be used with standard dimmer switches, they are now available in warm colors that flatter the skin tone and add atmosphere to your studio. Or, if you prefer to stay with traditional bulbs, dimmer switches on your overhead lights will help you save energy and money in the long run as well. Another idea is to only use lights when they’re really necessary.
But let’s get back to the door for a second. Is it weather-stripped, or is there free air exchange with the outdoors? A well-insulated door can keep the cold air out and warm air in, or vice-versa. While we’re on the topic of gas and electricity, remember to stay mindful of your utility bill. Some of the small changes you’ve just made should bring it down enough so that you’ll be inspired to continue the experiment.
Next, let’s check out your bathroom. Are your paper products recycled? If not, that’s an easy fix. Or consider cloth towels instead of paper towels. What about your hand soap? These days, non-toxic organic soap is readily available and some brands (like Whole Foods 365) are even reasonably priced. Are your candles petroleum-based? If so, beeswax or soy candles are viable earth-friendly alternatives. Beeswax candles tend to be on the smoky side, but soy candles are clean-burning. Low-flow devices at your sinks, showers and toilets will help save water and save you money on your water bill.
Now it’s time to consider your cleaning products. Non-chemical cleaning supplies can be purchased at a green grocery or on the web, or you can make them yourself with some simple recipes that can also be found on the Internet. You can use these to clean your entire space and its contents: walls, floors, windows, doors, towels and yoga mats.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about the merchandise you’re selling: Do the yoga mats contain PVC – a highly toxic plastic? Are students buying water from you in non-sustainable plastic versus bringing their own water bottles and filling them up from a filtered faucet or cooler? Are the clothes you’re selling organic? As a rule of thumb, work your way toward offering items that are sustainable, non-toxic and fair trade. It might not happen overnight, but your intention to move in that direction is what matters most. Because, as you know from your own yoga practice, from intention flows action.
What about your marketing materials?
Whenever possible, the easiest way to make an impact here is to move whatever information you can about your business to the web. But for those items that must be printed, paper choices have come a long way. Try to print on tree-free or recycled paper. When opting for recycled paper, look for a high post-consumer waste percentage. The paper bleaching process can also cause serious environmental harm, so choose non-bleached or non-chlorine bleached paper. A smart marketing strategy toward this goal is to distill down the message you put on each piece of printed material. Say just enough to arouse your readers’ interest, and then refer them to your website. Don’t have a website? Now’s the ideal time to create one. Chances are good that one of your students, or someone in your network, has these skills and will trade with you for classes.
Speaking of your students, how are they coming to class? Encourage them to carpool, walk, take public transit or bike instead of driving to class solo. Provide a bike rack. Make sure that information about public transit is handy and is visible on your website. Create a sign-up sheet for car pooling. Start a dialogue with your students about your intentions to green your studio. Ask for their support and involve them in some of the changes you are making. They’ll be much more apt to spare the air and to make other small changes (like purchasing an eco-mat or bringing their own water bottle) if you give them a voice in the process. Another simple change to make: Place plenty of green plants around your space. They help to filter the air, provide fresh oxygen and soothe the soul. And don’t lose track of the obvious. Recycle all your waste paper, bottles and cans.
So once you have these modifications well underway, what’s next? Here are a few concepts to consider when you’re ready to make a larger investment in sustainability. We mentioned bamboo flooring earlier. This is an exceptional flooring choice for a yoga studio. Bamboo is the most renewable hardwood on the planet. It is considerably stronger and more durable than other types of hardwood. It possesses anti-allergenic qualities that will naturally improve the air quality in your studio. Plus, the surface finish of bamboo prevents it from absorbing sweat, odors or germs. Of course it’s more expensive than other types of hardwood flooring; but its strength, longevity and eco-friendliness make it worth a closer look. Check out ecotimber.com for information on how to get the best bamboo for your money.
Cozy and ultra-efficient, radiant floor heating is another great option to consider. Essentially, warm water circulates through flexible, specially designed tubing PEX installed under the floor. (PEX is cross-linked polyethylene. Visit thepexguy.com to learn more.) The heat radiates evenly throughout the floor, warming everything in the room from the ground up. Again, it costs more to install than other heating methods, but it has no drafts, fans or blowers to circulate dust, dirt and other allergens throughout your studio. And even better, it can save you 20-40% on your heating bills and significantly increase the resale value of your property.
What’s not to love about solar? It can reduce or eliminate your energy bill while helping to save the planet. Plus, with the rebates and tax credits now available for commercial consumers, installing solar has become more accessible than ever. Thanks to this additional help from the government, you should experience a faster payback period than most residential users. But before you get serious about solar, ask yourself: How many peak sunshine hours does my location have on an average day? How much shade does my building have? What direction is it facing? How much energy did I use last year? Once you know the answers to those questions, you’re ready to read the case studies and testimonials at gaiam.com/realgoods/.
Considering larger investments like these can start to feel overwhelming. So take a deep breath and remember that you don’t need to update everything at once. What can you reasonably update, and when, in terms of energy systems, flooring, shelving and so on? Make a checklist of things you want to address, assess the costs and make a sensible timeline for yourself. Check around to see if you know a carpenter, architect or contractor willing to donate advice to the cause. Remember, greening is a process and a practice. You have to start somewhere, and a little support can go a long way.
If you’re serious about practicing green, joining the Green Yoga Association is a great step to take. Green Yoga is located in Oakland, California and was founded in 2004 by Laura Cornell. Laura is a Kripalu Yoga teacher who recently completed her doctoral dissertation on yoga and ecology. Other well-known board members and advisors include Clayton Horton, David Lurey and Judith Hanson Lasater. Green Yoga’s motto is to “practice lightly on the earth”. Their mission is to foster ecological consciousness, reverence and action in the yoga community.
In late 2005, Green Yoga launched its revolutionary Green Studios Program. The program provides structure, support and resources for studio owners and teachers striving to practice green yoga. An outcome of the program will be a detailed handbook written expressly to help studios make earth-friendly choices while managing their businesses. The handbook will address relevant topics such as energy consumption and sustainable options, recycling, eliminating toxins in your business environment, student and community education/awareness and how to make your retail inventory more eco-friendly.
Currently, the Green Studios Program is in its “pilot” phase, with 22 studios from around the country participating in Phase One of the pilot. Much like every yoga student is unique, each studio is at a different stage in the greening process. So don’t think that you can’t join the program because you’re not eco-savvy enough. Green Yoga believes that every studio’s participation is critical, at any level possible, in order to tackle the ecological crisis we all face. In that spirit, the ultimate outcome of the Green Studios Program will be a three-tiered Green Studio registration system. Each studio will be deemed either a Tier 1, 2 or 3 studio, with Level 1 being an easy entry point for studios just getting started with the greening practice. Levels 2 and 3 will recognize the more advanced studios for their accomplishments and green leadership in the yoga community.
The studios involved in Phase One engaged in monthly conference calls from November 2005 through September 2006. These calls were their opportunity to discuss whatever issues and obstacles they were up against – from the monetary to the mental. They shared ideas about renewable energy, PVC-free yoga mat alternatives, how to be more visible in their communities as green studios, how to increase student awareness of their goals, how to partner with environmental organizations and how to better market themselves. But perhaps most importantly, they transformed from a group of strangers with a common goal into their own community. They’ve supported each other through the toughest part of the greening practice – getting started. Now they are all moving forward as a united front toward Green Yoga’s mission of ecological consciousness, reverence and action.
We had a chance to speak with some of the studio owners and managers about their experiences in the Green Studios Program.
Pam Bliss from Yogasylum in Brookfield, Wis., said, “It’s really good for me to know that there are other like-minded spirits out there, and the Pilot Program is a way for me to feel connected to them.” Of the conference calls in particular, she noted, “I bring back what I learn to my students. It is a cyclical seed: I see their transformation and that inspires me and deepens my hunger for more knowledge to bring back to them.”
Katie Carter of Wild Mountain Yoga in Nevada City, Ca., said, “the Pilot Program is one way I can make a difference and feel like I’m helping to heal the planet and helping to heal this feeling of powerlessness. By being of service, by practicing yoga, I take time to go inward and find inner peace. I am trying to expand that out, but I need to find that first inside. It starts with me and it starts at home.”
Toi Lynn Wyle, World Yoga, Walnut Creek, Ca., said, “Yoga studios have a duty to represent the entire practice of yoga, and that includes ahimsa, doing no harm. We do harm when we waste energy resources”¦when we put toxins into our bodies and those of our students by using toxic materials in our studios. As representatives of the yoga world, we can make our impact as businesses by changing from the traditional model of utilization of resources for the biggest buck, to using our resources to affect positive environmental change. That is very exciting.”
The Green Yoga Association is now accepting applications for Phase Three of the Pilot Program. Phase Two of the Pilot Program will begin in October with 30 studios from across the country and Phase Three will begin as soon as 15 additional studios apply to participate in the program. Their goal is for 100 studios to participate in the Pilot Program before the Green Studios Program is released to the public.
But by now you realize that tactics like joining the Green Studios Program or installing solar panels on your studio are just that – tactics. They’re steps along the way in a larger journey that we all have to make together if we’re going to save the planet. So let’s get started; the world, in this moment, is primed for change.