by Ali Valdez
Going “green” and yoga go hand in hand. Or do they? Yogis in general respect the planet and have an eco-minded ethos. Stepping up to increasing demand, more yoga teachers are fulfilling their aspirations of travel by taking their students to far-off exotic locales for a week of yoga, play, adventure and cultural experience. It’s a great opportunity to take your yoga out into the world, but environmentally at what cost?
According to the Economist last year, the average person will contribute two to three tons of carbon dioxide as a result of an international trip such as San Francisco to London. What is this in context to daily consumption? Estimates range from nineteen tons per annum for Americas, and almost half less for Europeans. We can chalk that up to trains and subways in lieu of cars and in general less consumption minded populations. So to follow your favorite yogi to Om Shanti hot spot Bali will equal about ten percent of your total carbon dioxide footprint. But there are ways to dip into Pura Tirte Empule and not feel caged in at your local yoga studio.
Having hosted yoga retreats and teacher trainings in Asia, South America, Europe and soon Africa, my retreats have hardly cracked the code on airline emissions short of having my students rowing to Chiang Mai, and I doubt it can but there are choices I can make in my daily life and as I plan future retreats. I travel internationally on long haul flights almost every other month (blogging right now from Brazil as an example) thus creating a heightened awareness in me of the impact of my footprint and ideas around how to offset them.
All this to say, the flatulence of one cow on a sunny afternoon can obliterate all my good faith intentions, but that’s the cow’s karma, not mine.
But what about when looking for an green-friendly retreat or as a teacher, a place to host your own? When I am planning my yoga retreats and days spent further afield, I consider the following:
1) Pairing people up to get them to and from the airport saving time and gas. I prepare a dossier for travel prior to the event where everyone’s pictures are provided and matched by same flights with contact details. This enables fast friends to be made even before wheels up. This also gives them access to the coveted carpool lane. En route with one of my dear students and her husband, we shared a ride and a carpool lane up the LA freeway and got several good laughs in, too.
2) Advising on airlines that honor or seek to reduce their footprint, exploring alternative fuels or buying carbon offsets. LATAM, Alaska and United Airlines are a few. You can also choose to pay an investment towards carbon offsets. Although I have not done this, building some of that into the price of the retreat and then donating it back to a fund might be worth consideration. For retreats in Bali and Thailand, and whenever I am heading to Asia, I try to travel with Korean or Eva which have more efficient flight patterns from Seattle.
3) The Hosts. Yoga lodges are being erected like Starbucks coffee shops around the world but what to be looked for is not just the cost of the place, but how it was built and managed around green standards. Some things to consider: building materials, where and how they were sourced, chemicals used and how waste was disposed. This is also really important when managing the expectations of first time American tourists to exotic (read humid and full of mosquitos) and then taking them to places that lack amenities, even particular ones, like air conditioning. Later I’ll make some recommendations of some places I have enjoyed and would recommend. Last year, I was invited to host the first group at the Source in Peru. I flew in early and literally watched the last stages of construction on the place. I saw the local blankets being folded and artisan paintings hung. On the big Island, we went full out night ray and flashlights at night at the environmentally-sound Big Island Retreat center near Hawi and got wowed by the panorama of stars.
4) Activities and transportation. Try to be intelligent in how you are managing outings or activities that require transportation. Keep the driving to a minimal, clustering sightseeing in proximal locations instead of traversing back and forth. Whenever possible, take in silent walks, nature for your point A to point B excursions. If renting bicycles are an option that is something to consider. I encourage you to have a plan and map out your sites prior to. I learned this the hard way in Bali my first go around where roads are single lane and slow-moving. Don’t use Lonely Planet guides as your sources; buy guides with clear pictures and collaborate with your host’s staff to optimize the experience.
The good news with Bali, serendipitously we drove by a Circle K and almost had mutiny to stop the bus so the girls could stock up on domestic crunchy comforts, such as Pringles.
5) Food. Almost as important as the yoga, much of the local organically grown food not only tastes better, but is better for the environment. One outing I always enjoy is the local markets and spice traders. No, they don’t tend to look like Whole Foods in Ubud or Pisac but it provides a dose of real-world reality. Raw and vegetarian, whenever possible and sanitation is not an issue, requires less resources and delivers food that’s fresh. I have been cavalier like Anthony Bourdain around global delicacies and luckily never gotten ill from eating where and what the locals eat. Plastic water bottles; however evil, seem like the one area where we are hard pressed to find a reasonable and risk free solution. Anahalo in Kauai sources local and organic sustainably farmed foods from the local people and the Source in Peru where I have hosted has a stunning tiered garden of organically grown herbs and plants. When hosting on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Hawaii Island Retreat center, admittedly we got wicked sick of eating beets by day five of the retreat, but appreciated the commitment to local that the center valued.
I could tell you about the incredible foods locally sourced during a hosted retreat in Sorrento, handmade mozzarella made next door, tomatoes plucked from the vine, etc.
6) Packing: Bring only what you need, and possibly what you can leave behind. Pack smaller sizes of toiletries and sundries, no one needs forty pairs of shoes, a MAC counter of makeup and a Jeroboam of hair conditioner. I always bring good quality clothes that are older or outdated and donate them when I go. My driver, Wayan in Bali has a daughter two years younger than my own. Every year when we go, we have her clothes laundered and given to his daughter before we depart. Provide your travelers a packing list and outline what to avoid bringing.
7) Power: No, not the Baptiste kind. Fans vs. air conditioning units, types of lighting can make a big difference. Every other year I host in Peru’s Sacred Valley and love the ethos of the place we stay. “The Center’s water system is from the waterfall that sits above the center and the local river. We use solar panels for green electricity. There is also natural water running throughout the center through canals and a koi pond,” The Source Peru’s Kimberly Morton highlights.
8) Community Minded: Be sure to find locales that support and enable the local community, providing jobs with fare wages and good quality of life.
Plus, let’s face it no one wants to be toes in the sand on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica having a delicious fruit beverage served to them by a guy named Todd.
Yoga on Kauai’s mission is to share the teachings of yoga and meditation with everyone-especially communities that don’t traditionally participate. On Kauai, they are in collaboration with the non-profit Anahola Beach Retreat (anaholabeachretreat.org) and HCDC (Hawaiian Community Development Corporation) with proceeds from Yoga on Kauai go into community development projects for Native Hawaiians.
9) Act Local: There is no shame is keeping your retreats close (in fact, they may sell out quicker and maintain a lower cost for your students) keeping the need for planes unnecessary and travel time minimal. I live in the Pacific Northwest with an embarrassment of riches within an hour or two drive.
Again, back to the cows, we are never going to single handedly resolve ourselves of the environmental concerns facing our generation, but we can very easily apply mindfulness in honoring our planet while creating sacred spaces in new places for our beloved students.
Looking for recommendations by region? Feel free to send an email inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to recommend.