On April 22nd, 1999, I made my debut in the fashion world dressed in a black trash bag with used McDonalds french fry cartons, straws, and miscellaneous pieces of tin foil attached all around. My shoes were made of the finest white carry-out bags from Food City, and I rocked a buret, tipped to the side, constructed of used paper plates and dried macaroni. It was the prestigious Watauga Elementary School Earth Day Fashion show - don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it, there is still time for you. Our well intentioned teachers had planned this exclusive event as a way to raise awareness about recycling, and as such we were instructed to create our outfits exclusively out of things found in our trash bins at home.
Let’s get one thing straight, in case it's not already blatantly obvious, this was ridiculous. In rural Appalachia in the late 90’s, conserving the Earth was just simply not in our vernacular - bless our hearts. No, this performance had just one real purpose: to give the PTA moms of the upper echelons a chance to shine as their little ones walked the runway.
Before I continue any further, I want to make clear that I love Earth Day - I think it might just be my favorite holiday, because I wish it were everyday. Beginning in 1970 as a call-to-action against the industrial forces that were severely polluting our world, Earth Day is our annual reminder to protect and conserve our natural resources. But like most holidays it is also a massive paradox.
For centuries, religious and political institutions have created a sense of separation, through both language and physical design, between humans and the rest of the ecological realm. We have built cathedrals and other monumental buildings designed to block out the natural world, creating enclosed spaces that “transcend the chaos” of Mother Nature. We came up with odd notions like “manifest destiny” that rallied the white masses to commit genocide against indigenous peoples and thereby destroyed, in just a few decades, knowledge systems that had united humans and the natural world since our beginnings.
Of course, we now know what all of this has cost us, but we are in deep my friends. It is still extraordinarily difficult for us to remember and act as though we are inextricably connected to the natural world. And it is this separation that is making us, and everything around us, sick. While we have dramatically increased our ability to live longer, what has happened to our quality and satisfaction of life?
It is in this question that the paradox of Earth Day lies. We cannot flip centuries of disconnection in just one day per year, and I am certain the organizers of Earth Day would agree. This is going to take a concerted effort each and everyday, by each and everyone of us to turn back these tides. We need less trash-bag fashion shows and we will have to bolster up and make reparations to the indigenous peoples whose knowledge systems and traditional ways of living are some of the most advanced conservation practices we have. And collectively we will need to find new ways to advance that do not involve destroying all the positive progress we have made. This is not a return to the past, this is a call to the present moment (again) and towards biocultural regeneration.
This is yoga.
To arrive in the present moment fully requires our dedication to mindful awareness. We cannot authentically practice yoga without being conscious of what is happening here and now, and continually acknowledging that we are not separate from anything. You can show up to your mat and move through asanas for an hour everyday, but unless you allow yourself to stay seated in the present and aware of your connection to the world around you, regardless of how uncomfortable that may feel in today’s world, your yoga practice will be limited to a trendy workout.
In a previous article, I discuss the importance of creating a sadhana, or a daily yoga practice. It is through our sadhana that we have the most authority to create lasting change. Consider what would happen if you committed to spending 20 minutes everyday outside in nature. According to the current research, you would experience less systemic inflammation, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, feel an increased sense of creativity and awe, you could reduce anxiety and depression, and improve your ability to concentrate and focus. Not to mention, you will be actively connecting with nature each and everyday, thereby reinforcing the truth of your position in this world, which is an active part of this great living system.
Take a slow, deep breath. This is a heavy topic and if you are feeling anxiety, you are not alone. Take one more slow, deep breath.
Now go outside and do that again and again.