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A Spiritual Journey: Yoga in Daily Life Goes to Rio+20

— The eco-warriors carried signs painted with slogans. The Occupiers protested corporate excesses. Scientists, farmers, mayors, business executives, and think tanks — they all came to Rio de Janeiro for two weeks in June to participate in the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

I was one of four teachers and students from the Yoga in Daily Life center in Del Ray, Alexandria, who participated in this historic event.

The Rio+20 conference marked 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which generated popular interest in environmental issues. This time, hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, including more than 100 heads of state, converged on the city. They tackled problems in food, water, energy, disasters, women’s rights and more.

Our group took a slightly different approach than most other non-governmental organizations. We were in Rio to advocate an ethical and spiritual approach to sustainability. We promoted not only practical measures, like water treatment and clean energy, but also a return to living in harmony with the planet and with each other.

At Yoga in Daily Life in Alexandria and at centers worldwide, we embrace the spiritual teachings passed down through the ages from teacher to student. We live according to ancient principles of ethics, integrity, respect and nonviolence toward all living beings.

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Yoga in Daily Life offers classes for the community in yoga, meditation and wellness at 2402 Mt. Vernon Ave., in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. Call 703-299-8946 or visit www.yogaindailyli...

At Rio+20, we joined the founder of Yoga in Daily Life, Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda ("Swamiji"). Swamiji is a renowned spiritual leader from India. With his leadership, we contributed to several "side events" — discussions outside of the formal government negotiations — on subjects such as interfaith approaches to sustainability, frameworks that respect the rights of people and animals, and the spiritual aspects of our relationship with the planet.

One of the highlights was Swamiji’s presentation at a press briefing about a rainwater collection project in a drought-stricken area of India, supported by Yoga in Daily Life centers worldwide.

Our greatest contribution may have been in creating novel opportunities to get our message out and to invigorate and re-motivate the conference attendees.

As the conference wore on, we sensed that the negotiations had bogged down and people were getting discouraged. Halfway through the second week, we organized an opportunity for conferees to meditate together, for Mother Earth.

The inspiration for this idea came from our Yoga in Daily Life experiences. This was Swamiji’s expertise: focusing people's energy on achieving something far beyond their usual routines.

The meditation was just what people needed. The room filled, and Swamiji conducted a warmly received meditation on what individuals could contribute to the conference on behalf of the planet.

Setting our sights even higher, we tackled a second inspirational event. We planted a "peace tree" on the conference center grounds, intended to be a lasting symbol of the commitments made at the historic meeting. With the support of United Nations and local officials, the tree selected was a Pau Brasil, the tree for which the country was named.

A crowd gathered, cameras clicked, and the tree-planting ceremony became a popular news item as well as an emblem of international cooperation.

On our last day, we submitted a "voluntary commitment," along with 700 other organizations. We pledged to take action at Yoga in Daily Life centers in Alexandria and elsewhere around the world by planting trees and cleaning local waterways. And we agreed to work with Swamiji to organize an international peace conference.

We had spent two busy weeks taking a stand for the planet, for ethics, and for a spiritual approach to sustainability. At Rio+20, we learned an important lesson: that spiritually motivated activity could indeed influence events beyond our daily lives. We celebrated our contributions, while acknowledging that our work back home had just begun.