Green Yoga by Anna Semlyen

How did I come to Yoga? By bicycle is the short answer. A driver failed to stop at a give way sign, sending me, a cyclist, unconscious. My broken left leg had three surgical operations. After physiotherapy, acupuncture, Alexander Technique and regular swimming, I turned to yoga as, three years later, I was still limping. The crash sparked my interest in healing and green transport.

Although I first encountered yoga in my teens, I only began to attend classes regularly when I was 24. To aid my recovery I started a daily self practice. I badly wanted to return to full health, both for my everyday life and for my main hobby at the time of juggling and circus skills.

Time and repeated standing asanas have restored my physical health - see the photo of me in tree pose standing on the damaged leg. All eight limbs of yoga steer me towards a calmer mind and spirit.

I teach juggling and staff spinning and am interested in health and so thought of learning a therapy. After looking into Alexander Technique, I decided to train in yoga since it was more accessible in terms of the cost of tuition and for the students. I gained a British Wheel Diploma in 1999 and now yoga is my principal self employment. Work days are also engaged in caring for my baby, writing, transport consultancy and doing circus skills - an eclectic mix.

I have 100 yoga students in peak weeks. My classes cover general Hatha and an introduction to Ashtanga yoga. Private lessons are available from my house. These usually include a diagnosis based on the client's predominant dosha, its imbalance and then the preparation of a personalised yoga practice plan. I aim to enthuse people so that they use yoga in their lives, practice at home and benefit in body, mind and spirit. As well as individual self realisation, it's also about building community and social integration.

Greener Yoga

Yoga's main environmental impact is in transport. Distance and methods travelled to classes matter as yoga's aim is to improve human health, which is dependent on planetary health. Ideally, green yoga is car light or car free, though this is much easier in towns than in a rural setting. Cars are useful in some situations and essential in others. Yet, all too often people drive without thinking of the long term consequences for themselves and others. Is it an addiction to convenience? Over indulgence is one of Patanjali's obstacles to living fully.

My self help book, Cutting Your Car Use, is about travelling less by localising, using more sustainable transport methods and how to minimise the damaging effects of driving. Changing travel habits lifts the quality of life of individuals, society, reduces environmental impacts and is often cheaper. By following just a few of the book's suggestions, people can be healthier, save money and be greener.

Writing this book was a form of cathartic karma yoga. I hope that it is a yogic view of personal transport and provides wisdom (jnana yoga). The Hatha yoga pradipika, for instance, advises that in the beginning one should avoid "long trips" because they drain energy - not just personal prana but now also scarce fossil fuels.

Traffic reduction was a topic I felt I had to write about as there is a desperate need for change. Because I belong to many transport charities and a green travel consultancy, I could compile research and hints on driving less distance or frequently, plus how to drive more safely and energy efficiently.

Transport Facts
Did you know that ...

Road traffic is predicted to rise by between 24-51% over 1996 levels by 2016.
Air pollution inside a car for drivers and passengers is three times more than for walkers or cyclists.
Asthma and other lung diseases are rising.
Up to 24,000 people per year die prematurely due to traffic pollution in Britain.
A car crashing at 20-30mph into a cyclist or walker will be fatal in 45% of cases yet 69% of drivers regularly break the 30mph urban limit.
Over 335,000 people are injured on British roads per year, 3,580 fatally.
Road transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases causing climate change.
A sedentary lifestyle is leading to more obesity.
Britons had 23 million cars at the end of 1998, with 32 million cars predicted by 2031.
Excessive car use destroys community.

No one commissioned this book. The Government were only funding traffic reduction education for companies and public bodies, not individuals. Yet, there is a market because a third of drivers say they aim to use their cars less. Leading organisations are establishing green transport plans. This is mainly due to pressure on car parking space.

The book took 18 months part time. Shocked at how expensive having a car is (83 weekly for a new car with an engine up to 1400cc, for 10,000 miles pa) , I decided that people needed more information. My book and seminars encourage people to drive less and to minimise the damaging effects of driving. An extensive directory of suppliers of traffic reduction services - such as delivery, home working, public transport details, safety reflectives, cycles and trailers appears in the book. There are spaces to write in local details and cartoons.

Eco Travel to Yoga

Cycling along a beautiful traffic free path takes me the half mile to my yoga venue. People benefit most from a Hatha yoga class if travelling by their own power. We'll arrive on time and relaxed if walking or cycling as these are meditative activities. My flier asks students to try not to drive - not because they'll leave feeling too relaxed for safety, but because drivers and passengers suffer health problems due to inactivity, tension and breathing the pollution in the middle of the road.

I give out free cycle maps and the bus number on my flier, plus directions. Note the new national number for public transport information: 0870 608 2 608. Lift shares are also organised.

When I taught on the outskirts of town nearly everyone drove. But I didn't want to create traffic, its pollution and danger through teaching yoga! Now I hire a central hall close to bus stops and have classes at lunchtime and at 5.30pm and 6.10pm when people are leaving work, so they don't have to travel twice.

When answering new enquiries, I ask where people live and work to recommend the most convenient location. Four other teacher's telephone numbers are on my publicity. Co-operation benefits us all as beginners are most likely to continue if classes slip easily into their schedule.

Living lightly is a central commitment in my life. I am car free, have localised my main activities to be close to where I live and usually cycle or walk. Though I hate driving myself, I sometimes take a taxi or my husband, Jim, hires a car when we go further. The arrival of baby Rosie (on Car Free Day 22 September) has made travel slower, as I push her pram, but this is surely fresher and more interesting than being strapped into a car.

All three of us practice yoga. We also teach residential courses in circus skills and yoga. I enjoy combining juggling and yoga, which I call joga.

My yoga site is For a free car costs self completion worksheet send an SAE to 24 Grange St, York YO10 4BH or get a pdf from Signed copies of the book Cutting Your Car Use are from me for 4.80. There are discounts for bulk purchases down to 1.20 per copy.

A Planetary Pledge

I commit to be greener
Environmentally keener
A seeker of a natural future
So I'll reduce, reuse, repair and recycle
I don't drive, but walk or bicycle
Engage in permaculture.

Anna Semlyen
British Wheel of Yoga Diploma

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