Yoga and the Ecological Self

May 29, 2024

When Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked by his students what the most important thing we can do for the healing of our world is, he replied, “The most important thing we can do for the healing of our world is to hear, within ourselves, the sound of the earth crying.”

This sentiment resonates with the many enthusiastic responses I received to last week’s postabout thinking like a lilac. It affirms that the unity awareness we foster in yoga isn’t just an esoteric concept removed from daily life.

Rather, seeing ourselves as part of the living body of the earth is a natural evolution of our awareness that strengthens and deepens over time.

This shift - from individual to collective consciousness - is sometimes referred to as the emergence of the ecological self - a term coined by Norwegian Eco-philosopher Arne Naess. It describes an expanded sense of identity that includes the natural world.

The body- and breath-based practices of yoga are rooted in the understanding that humans contain all the universal forces – the sun, moon, mountains, and all the rest - in microcosmic form. Early hatha yogis posited and experienced that by exploring our inner landscape we could know something about the nature of the cosmos.

The knowing we develop in yoga isn’t just intellectual; it’s experiential. We go from understanding with our minds that we are the universe in miniature form, to feeling and sensing in our bodies.

We come to realize that our muscles and bones hold the strength of the earth, our breath is not different from the wind, and the fluids running through our bodies are in essence the same as the rivers, lakes and oceans.

The medieval yogis were motivated by the inner quest to discover the mysteries of existence within themselves and find freedom from the ups and downs of worldly life. Today, our imperative is to embody this vision to mend the centuries of our imagined separation and live into the truth of our oneness.

Read more from the Beyond Asana blog