Written by A K Tripathi
In previous articles under this series titled “Sustainable Living”, we started with a concept called Connecting to Five Elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Void). The idea stems from basic fact that what derives itself from nature; ultimately gets backs to nature, i.e. the five elements called Panchatatvas viz; Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Agni), Air (Vayu), Water (Jal) and Void (Aakash). The human existence has a natural affinity to these elements and therefore we must connect to these five elements, in order to have a sustainable ecosystem. It is futile to talk about sustainability without such connection.
Also Read: Sustainable Living – Connecting to the Earth
Also Read: Sustainable Living – Connecting to Fire
In the first published article in the series, we explored how we can connect to the Earth (Prithvi). In the second article, we took this journey forward and explored how connecting to Fire (Agni) is also closely linked to the concept of Sustainability. In this the third article in the series, we discuss about connecting with another powerful element-Air (Vayu).
When India submitted its INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) in October 2015 to UNFCCC (United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change), the first point of Indian INDC reads “To put forward and further propagate a healthy and sustainable way of living, based on traditions and values of conservation and moderation”. INDC’s are actually the commitments from respective nations for their contribution towards to prevent global warming and climate changes. Putting forward this point by India as the number one point, amply highlights that the age old India concept of Value Based Living is pivotal to a sustainable world. Interestingly, the official INDC of India also starts with a sholka from Yasurveda which reads as follows:
ॐ द्यौः शान्तिरन्तरिक्षं शान्तिः
पृथिवी शान्तिरापः शान्तिरोषधयः शान्तिः ।
वनस्पतयः शान्तिर्विश्वेदेवाः शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्तिः
सर्वं शान्तिः शान्तिरेव शान्तिः सा मा शान्तिरेधि ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
This shloka also has a very powerful message of sustainability. It is a prayer for peace upon the universe, peace upon the earth, peace upon the flora and fauna, peace upon vegetation, peace upon all Gods and peace upon everything. It is a prayer for peaceful coexistence with all elements of the nature.
Connecting to Air (Vayu)
In fact, if there is one single most important element that connects most strongly to human existence, it is air. We can survive for months without light, days without food and water, but we would not last beyond a few minutes without air. Unlike food, water, sound, sunshine which we consume at intermittent intervals, we inhale air a high and regular frequency. On an average, an adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air each day.
Breath is life. The concept of prana (life) is in connected to air. A person is considered dead if the breath stops. The proverb taking the last breath therefore signifies end of life.
When something is so intimately connected with our being and enters every cell of our body almost every moment, it has got to have a close relation with our well-being. It’s purity or impurity is bound to have deep effect on health and happiness. Sustainable living therefore cannot be imagined without connecting to pure air.
Being away from Air
Much has been written on air pollution. It is a well-known fact that by virtue of our present lifestyles we have deprived ourselves of pure air. The air we breathe is increasingly getting toxic. Some human activities pollute air near the ground while some activities release pollutants that go up into the upper atmosphere, causing a thinning of the protective ozone layer. Whole world spoke in one language against this rising malice when 195 nations agreed on resolutions of COP21 at UNFCCC conference at Paris in December 2015. The US president Barack Obama welcomed the agreement saying “This agreement represents the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got.
As this article is being written there is a report published in Times of India dated 15 Feb 2016 that about 5.5 million people die every year in the world because of household and outdoor pollution. About 1.6 Million died in China and 1.4 Million died in India in the year 2013. We need to be serious to tackle this menace.
In COP 21 held at Paris it was resolved to contain mean global temperature-rise below 2.0 C while making efforts to contain the rise below 1.5 C. There are aggressive targets set for reduction in GHG by all countries. To achieve this, countries have given INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) which are commitments by the nations. Respective governments are now busy in breaking-down these INDC targets and passing them off to various industrial sectors and companies for compliance.
Amongst all the euphoria after the “historic” Paris agreement, we might forget that while Industry or Automobiles are responsible for generating pollutants, the central reason behind this situation is the unsustainable and insatiable need of humans. In this context, one is reminded of the saying of Mahatma Gandhi who famously said that “World has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”. We may spend billions of dollars to reduce, contain, capture or recycle the pollutants emitted by various sources, but unless we do something to contain the burgeoning human quest to look for comfort through unsustainable means, we will not be able to limit pollution substantially. Easy comfort and greed is the central source of rampant pollution.
Ironically, the long forgotten dictum of simple living and high thinking has been literally ridiculed and made redundant in the name of development. This concept was a mantra for sustainable living. It is such a pity that simplicity has been a big casualty in our world. But this so called modernity is unsustainable. World will have to come to a full circle by adopting simple living, though it might happen very late for our generation.
Oh a lung full of fresh Air!
Apart from the pollution which we are create, there is another aspect which we seldom give attention on – it is our breathing pattern. We seldom breathe completely and deeply. Most of us breathe shallow. Indian yogic scriptures have given lot of importance to breathing. It is such a powerful process that many diseases are actually cured through yogic manipulation of breathing (called pranayamam). Few minutes of conscious and deep breathing can drive away depression, can calm our mind and free us of many diseases.
Unfortunately we hardly put any consciousness or time in breathing. When people are asked about breathing, majority fail to recollect as to when they last inhaled or exhaled consciously and deeply.
There are, of course, some people who are aware of good effects of deep breathing and magic of pure air. But a completely bizarre problem has cropped up for them. So bad is the situation of air in many cities that while attempting to deep breathe fresh air on a morning or evening walk, people feel suffocated. In many city outdoors, people are actually deep inhaling more of toxic air. As a result, doctors in many places are now advising people not to venture out. Various room air cleaning and car air cleaning gadgets have sprung up widely in the market.
The worst thing is that children are getting affected the most. Children breathe faster than adults and they spend more time outdoors, so they face greater exposure to airborne pollution. World Health Organization estimates that children under age of five bear more than 80% of the burden from the changing climate and air pollution.
The Washington Post recently published an interesting but scary article on how smog is choking many parts of China. As concerns grow over the bad health effects of living in polluted environment, some Chinese consumers are turning to an unusual tactic: buying cans of clean air. Vitality Air, a Canadian company called Alberta, bottles the cool mountain air found in the scenic Rocky Mountain resort town of Banff and sells it for upwards of $13 a canister in China. (See Picture)
Picture: Marred with heavy smog in cities, Chinese consumers are buying cans of clean air. Consumers may order such bottles online or can buy in stores. Some restaurants are also serving pure air as part of menu which clients can enjoy over dinner.
Connecting to Air
The little questions
As a step towards sustainable living we must reduce our carbon footprints at individual level and try to keep our lovely little earth crisp with pure air. For doing so, we need to ask ourselves few little questions like- How much did I pollute today or how much pollution I did I save today ? Did I make any small sacrifice in my usual lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint? Did I use my air conditioner less than usual, just by adjusting the room temperature or by opening the windows or by starting the fan when it was easily bearable? Did I walk down to the nearby market (instead of taking my car) if that was feasible? Did I plant or nurture a tree today? Did I spray water on the dust that was created in the courtyard so that it does not go into air? Did I teach my children not to use fire crackers this Diwali? Did I ever give the humble earthen pot “ghada” a chance instead of opening my double door refrigerator for my cold drinking water requirement, if not for the whole day at least for few glasses? Did I consume at least some raw food in my diet instead of heavily cooked food thereby reducing my food’s cooking and carbon emission footprint? The central idea behind all these questions is what is my personal contribution to keeping the air pure?
Improving our Air interface
The place where we live is the most important place with respect to connectivity with five elements. At the end of the day our body and soul need nourishment. They need to rejuvenate. It should be our endeavour to live at a calm, green, open place even if it means longer commuting or spending a bit more on rent or price. In fact, the open faraway places are generally cheaper in cost and rent compared to mid-city dwellings. Even if is costlier, an abode in a clean environment is worth investing or worth commuting to.
Another way to improve our air interface is to reduce the amount of clutter and furniture we have in homes. If all the room space volume is occupied by furniture, where will the air stand? Sounds silly but it is true. It is advisable to ruthlessly discard all space guzzling furniture. Best thing is to keep appropriate furniture with smart functionality which do not cover all the floor or wall space. Keeping a minimalistic style helps the home become more airy and connects us to this vital element.
Another way to create better air interface is by keeping lush green plants in our lawns, portico, backyard or balcony. Any green plant or shrub works well. For bigger spaces neem is best, for smaller spaces any green plant is fine. At least a tulsi pot can be kept. Not only the plant helps in purifying air by emitting oxygen, it catches and settles hazardous dust particles. Moreover, we get a chance to come out of the confines and breathe fresh air at least while watering such plants. It is important find time to love the Mother Nature and admire the cool refreshing breeze that it provides.
The breath breaks
How can we connect to air if we do not breathe properly? Life has brought us to pace where we don’t have time to breathe. If we breathe deeply even for two minutes every hour, it can heal and rejuvenate us. People take tea break, coffee break, lunch break. Not a breath break. Taking two minutes breath breaks every hour would be enough. We can use these two minutes to take deep inhalation and deep exhalation. Both inhalation and exhalation are important. Our lungs contain approximately 2,400 kilometres of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli (tiny sacs within our lungs). We inhale so shallow that we never fill them full. We exhale so shallow that we never empty them fully. While complete filling and emptying is not attainable, we can at least try filling and emptying as deeply as possible. A practical way is to take walk cum breath breaks- for 5-10 minutes every 2-3 Hrs wherever we are, at home or office, in order to connect our soul to the panchtatvas. In such breaks, take a leisurely stroll, while walking breathe consciously and deeply and take a glass of water.
Air pollution isn’t just a threat to our health, it also damages the entire eco system thus making it unsustainable. Toxic air can damage our bodies, trees, crops, wildlife, lakes and other bodies of water. Each day, air pollution causes thousands of illnesses leading to lost days at work and school. We further complicate the matter because we do not breathe properly. And then we spend enormous amount on medication and insurance. Connecting to air can help. We need to individually connect to air. By doing so, we can save this mother earth, make ourselves healthier and our existence more sustainable.
- The Times of India, Delhi, 14.02.2016
About Author: A K Tripathi is additional General Manager and Senior Faculty in Strategy Area at the Power Management Institute of NTPC. He holds a BE (Mechanical) degree from BIT Mesra and MBA ( Gold Medal) from MDI Gurgaon. He is also certified on GRI G4.0 reporting from GRI and is a Certified Sustainability Professional from IEMA UK. He can be reached at email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are author’s personal views. All contents of this article have Copyright with A K Tripathi.