In an essay posted on audubon.com entitled ‘What Do Birds Do For Us’, Barry Yeoman writes about a tree in the American Northwest called the white bark pine, that both humans and other animals have come to rely on.
Its large seeds feed grizzlies and black bears. The tree community provides a habitat for deer, elk and raptors (the birds, not dinosaurs, although they are related 😉 The white bark pine tree grows all the way up to the tree line, so they are effective at protecting drinking water supplies. The mountains they grow on are essentially water towers – equivalent to the water towers we see on the roofs of buildings in NYC. The tree’s roots hold the soil in place, preventing erosion, preventing avalanches. The roots of the tree are what stop the mountains from crumbling to pieces. The shade of the canopy slows down the spring snowmelt, preventing flooding from occurring.
The white bark pine tree’s seeds are dispersed by just one bird! One! This bird is called the Clark’s Nutcracker, and is a black and white winged cousin to the crow. The nutcracker has a long beak that it can use to open up the pine cones to reach its seeds. The bird either eats the seeds or stores them in the back of their throats. It then replants them, at the exact location (!) and depth (!) for the tree to reproduce.
Mountains = water towers
Trees = prevention of avalanche and flooding, protect drinking water, provide shelter & food
Birds = reproduction of trees, stops the world from ending
Humans = benefit from all this magic, cause unnecessary destruction
So what would happen if this one bird, the Clark’s Nutcracker, disappeared? The trees would disappear; natural disasters prevail.
This is just one example of how everything on this earth is interconnected and interdependent on each other. In a lecture by Alan Watts he discusses the idea that everything on this planet – humans, flowers, weeds, birds, bees; EVERYTHING – only exists because everything around it also exists. Flowers only exist because of bees, and bees only exist because of flowers.
The rainforests of South America exist because of dust storms in Africa. The temperate climate of the American Northeast exists because of the rainforest in South America, and so on and so on.
Unfortunately, humans have a hard time seeing all this. Most of us only see what’s right in front of us. We don’t see the connection between tiny little bees and the fact that they pollinate 70% of the global food source. We don’t see the connection between the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket and all of the human and animal labor that brought them there: farmers, pollinators, harvesters, bundlers, truckers, etc.
We don’t see the big picture, so then we say, “I am only one person, how does anything I do make a difference?” Multiply that apathy by the 7.7 billion human population, and we have a big issue.
So with global warming becoming a legitimate, present moment threat, what can we do?
In chapter 3 verse 21 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that a great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all across the world.
Humans have the unique ability of being the only animal that caused this mess in the first place, and the only one that can do something about it. If we take a cue from Krishna’s suggestion, and we lead by example, others will see what we are doing. It can be subtle, you don’t need to force your views on others. Maybe the person behind you in your local coffee shop sees your reusable coffee mug, in the supermarket they see your reusable shopping bags, in the bodega they see you reach for the tofu wrap, on the park bench they see your reusable utensils. Maybe they go out to get their own reusable stuff, maybe it sparks a conversation. You are playing your part, and saving the planet spreads like wildflowers.
The āsana practice can also teach us about the interconnectedness of it all. The alignment of tāḍāsana (mountain seat) exists within EVERY SINGLE OTHER ĀSANA WE COME INTO! No joke!
Equal weight in both feet, front and back, side to side
Calf muscles draw down towards the earth, front shins back, outer shins draw towards each other
As the lower legs are moving down and back, the upper half of the leg is lifting up – hamstrings lift, quadriceps lift, glutes lift (but without clenching the butt – New Yorkers do this too much already!), outer thighs externally rotate, as the inner thighs draw towards each other
The lower belly is pulling in and up as the tail bone draws slightly down, in a way that the pubic bone and tail bone are drawing towards each other and the hips are neutral
Rib cage lifts up away from the hips creating length in the side body, and the lower ribs pull slightly in (but remember to draw the tail bone back down!)
Sternum lifts up (with the ribs still pulling in!)
Shoulders move down and back
Upper arms externally rotate, as the lower arms internally rotate.
Chin parallel to the earth
The entire lower half of the body is grounding down into the earth and the upper half of the body lifts up
All of the joints are stacked: head above shoulders, shoulders above hips, hips above knees, knees above ankles – the spine is in its full integrity
I’m not going to go through another āsana here, but try applying this alignment in any and every other pose. If you don’t believe me, come talk to me 🙂
The āsanas all have the same physical alignment, they are just shaped different. Similarly, everything on this planet, living and inanimate, is made of the same stuff, we are just shaped different.
The mountain, or let’s say Earth, is also the connection between all of the other forms we come into. We come into the form of warriors and sages and saints, of animals- dogs, monkeys, birds, frogs, fish, insects. We come into the form of flowers and trees. We come into the form of tools – compasses, plows, boats. The mountain (Earth) is the common factor. Everything on this planet, even what we think of as inanimate objects, comes from this earth.
The practice of yoga, both physical and philosophical, teaches us how to relate and connect to everyone and everything around us in a meaningful and supportive way.
Mountain/ Tāḍāsana is also sometimes called Samasthiti – equal standing. The alignment of the āsana is equally balanced – front/back, side/side, top/bottom – but also we are on equal standing with the Earth. This Earth takes care of us – offers us food, water, shelter, a way of life, but we should take care of her just as much.
Peace, love and vegetables,
Barry Yeoman’s essay
Alan Watts lecture