Perhaps the most powerful tool in creating sustainable consumerism is not something that can be manufactured or engineered, but rather it lies deep within each of us, and tapping into it is really where an ethical business strategy should begin.
And it starts with a self-awareness in developing a harmonious relationship with different aspects of oneself; the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Accordingly, an understanding of yoga philosophy and practice can help in the development of an ethical framework.
In Dr. Saroja Subrahmanyan’s popular Jan term course (an undergrad term that offers opportunities to take non-traditional electives), students learn about the eight-step yogic philosophy and related practices to go on a journey of self-discovery.
The course has been offered with slightly different emphasis and titles (e.g. Yoga & Self Transformation, Nourishing Your Five Bodies, Know Yourself Through Yoga, Yoga Philosophy & Practice), but the core of it is based on applying yoga philosophy in a practical way to sustain the process of self-discovery and transformation.
Yoga Philosophy Briefly:
- The first two steps of the yogic eight-step path are called yama (things not to do) and niyama (things to do) and cover the moral and ethical foundations that form the fundamentals of a yogic lifestyle.
- The third step, asana, is more commonly known and practiced in the U.S. It helps us get in attunement with our physical body.
- The fourth step consists of breathing practices.
- The fifth step provides the foundations of how we can begin to focus our mind and avoid distractions.
- The sixth step provides the philosophy and practice of concentration that then naturally leads us into the seventh step of meditation.
- Once we are in this meditative state, we are able to access the innate peace and joy and glimpse our interconnectedness with all of creation in the final eighth step.
Yamas and Niyamas : The foundations
The 5 Yamas
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (not stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation)
- Aparigraha (non-hoarding or non-possessiveness)
The 5 Niyamas
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (self-discipline)
- Svadhyaya (Study of spiritual books or reflecting on life’s higher purpose)
- Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion or surrender to the divine)
The yamas and niyamas together form the ethical principles similar to the Ten Commandments in the Christian tradition and are universally recognized moral values. Subrahmanyan’s students are given a number of exercises for reflection and practice including those for mindful consumption, and instructed to maintain a yoga journal or diary.
A Pathway to Ethical Consumerism
A hopeful by-product of the course is an awareness of consumerism that transcends egocentric materialism and points toward global sustainability. Students often state that the course is transformative and helps them find meaning and purpose in their lives.
Dr. Subrahmanyan is e-RYT 500-hour certified by Yoga Alliance based on the extensive training she received at the Integral Yoga Teaching Academy over the last three decades. She sees these practices as not only offering a personal reward, but also a gateway to business ethics, mindful consumer behavior, and sustainable consumption.
Some of Subrahmanyan’s research in sustainable/ethical consumption is inspired by her yoga practice.
“This balance of inner and outer directedness makes spirituality an effective way to consider not only the consequences of one’s action on oneself, but on the entire planet.” (Subrahmanyan & Gould (2013),
“…focusing on ahimsa and non-harming can lead to consumption that consciously considers the harmful effects on animals or the planet. Similarly, focusing on Aparigraha or non-hoarding can lead one to considering whether acquisition of some products is necessary.”
In her paper, “Ethical consumption: Uncovering personal meanings and negotiation strategies,” she and her co-authors (Subrahmanyan, Stinerock and Banbury 2015), discuss how a strong ethical framework can inform ethical consumption practices. Currently her research is on Sustainability Education in Subsistence Marketplaces and Developing Viable Strategies for Businesses to address Homelessness.
Dr. Subrahmanyan brings her life practice to the classroom, changing lives and attitudes. Ultimately, her work with Saint Mary’s students may just change the world.
- Subrahmanyan S. and Gould S. (2013), “Achieving sustainable consumption through spiritual practices,” Purushartha: A Journal of Management, Ethics and Spirituality, Vol. V, No.2, September 2012-February 2013, pp. 79-92. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.859.4492&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Subrahmanyan, S., Stinerock R. and Banbury C. (2015), “Ethical consumption: Uncovering personal meanings and negotiation strategies, Geoforum, Vol 67, December, pp. 214-222. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S001671851500175X