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Earth Day Every Day

Sthira-sukham-āsanam

The seat should be steady and joyful.

Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali 2.46

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Each year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day, an annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First held on April 22, 1970, it now includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by EarthDay.org, including 1 billion people in more than 193 countries. One of the concepts that the environmental movement has helped people to understand is that of interdependence. All species--all flora and all fauna on the planet--co-exist in an interdependent web of life. What is done to one is in effect done to all.


Beloved Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term "interbeing" as a way to think about this truth of interdependence. Everything that exists "inter-is" with everything else. For example, there is no way to separate the trees from the clouds. Without clouds, the trees cannot exist for there would be no rain. The clouds and the trees "inter-are." Thich Nhat Hanh encouraged great respect and love toward Mother Earth. He said that we should "walk as if kissing the earth with our feet." In other words, we should walk in such a way that we honor the earth and remember the truth of interbeing.


This month's focus is on āsana, or the postures of yoga. In the Yoga Sūtra of Master Patañjali, there are only three verses dedicated to the subject of āsana. The first, sthira-sukham-āsanam, means the seat (or the posture) should be steady and joyful. Sharon Gannon, one of the co-founders of the Jivamukti Yoga method, teaches that the word "seat" implies a connection between two things: the one who is sitting and that which is being sat upon. According to Sūtra 2.46, that seat should ideally be steady and joyful, so we work on finding a balance of steadiness and ease in our practice of āsana.


However, in a wider perspective, Sharon Gannon encourages us to remember that we humans are always in connection with the Earth, not just when practicing āsana. We all "sit" on the Earth and are supported by her 24/7, but our relationship to her has not been steady and joyful or mutually beneficial as evidenced by the wide scale environmental crises Earth is facing. As Jules Febre writes in the Focus-of-the-Month essay, "The practice of āsana is understood to be the refinement not only of how our body moves through space or how we sit or even what we sit upon, but the quality of connection to the larger whole. Is the relationship to the earth steady and joyful?"


During this month of Earth Day, let us not only work on refining our practice of āsana so that it becomes more and more steady and joyful, but also let us work on refining our relationship to our Mother Earth so that it becomes less selfish and more mutually beneficial. Let us practice kissing the earth with our feet. May all beings be happy and free.

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