Yoga and the Art of Sustainable Building
Twenty-two years ago, when yoga instructor Chris Borton and his partner Linda Welsh sought a bank loan to finance a new kind of business based on renewable energy and sustainable living, they were turned down flat. After all, what did a yoga teacher know about wind power and straw bale construction?
Did he even know how to build a house, much less a state-of-the-art, off-grid, environmentally sustainable home and business center?
Today, the 49-year-old founder and director of Sage Mountain Center in Whitehall, Montana readily admits that he had no training or experience in the construction industry back in 1990, when he started Sage Mountain Center as a demonstration center for sustainability classes, workshops, and consultation.
The only profession he really knew back then was yoga instruction—but that’s not so different from homebuilding, he insists.
The practice of yoga is based on an understanding of the workings of the human body. And a house, according to Chris, “operates exactly like a body.”
“They both have the circulatory and digestive systems,” he explains. “In a building, the electrical system correlates to the nervous system and the spine in the body.”
Construction based on the principles of sustainability, Chris says, has the same goal as yoga: utilizing natural energy to get everything working together harmoniously. In that regard, Chris observes, “most conventional houses are really dysfunctional. But we’re building a thing that works in harmony with nature. It’s simple, really.”
Back in 1990, no banks were interested in financing a yoga-based construction project, and in the end Chris and Linda had to borrow from relatives to build Sage Mountain Center and get its business operations off the ground.
Today, customers come from all over Montana and beyond to see what they have done at Sage Mountain Center and to learn lessons about sustainable living that can be applied anywhere.
For example, Sage Mountain Center pays no electric bills. Anyone with sun on their property, he insists, can drastically reduce their dependence on the grid. “Solar is here,” he says. “It’s not a new technology anymore, and the prices are coming down quickly.”
“Montanans should just do it.”
Sage Mountain Center was built literally from the ground up to minimize the need for inputs of energy and materials from afar. The plaster and mortar of the house, for example, is mud from the property. The insulation in the walls is local sawdust.
Solar energy and wind power provide 100% of the center’s electricity, and composting toilets provide organic, odor-free sewage treatment.
Visitors often remark on Chris’s outhouse, which has been described as the world’s most pleasant outhouse. The walls are nicely plastered, the air smells clean and fresh, there’s “passive solar” lighting, and of course a crescent moon in the door.
“Sustainable living applies to everybody,” Chris likes to point out, and the demographics of his customers back up his claim: old and young, right-wing and left-wing, farmers, ranchers and businesspeople.
At Sage Mountain Center, they study the principles of sustainability and participate in hands-on workshops to master particular techniques of holistic living and environmentally sound construction, such as straw bale construction and thermal energy systems. Chris also provides site assessments and consulting services for individuals, businesses, and organizations.
And, of course, to continue to sustain the harmony of the human body at Sage Mountain Center, Chris still teaches yoga.