The Ecology of Physical Vitality
by Dr. Renée G. Soule
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “There is no such thing as an individual.” Within vast combinations of networks, we all belong, contribute, and receive. Because of this complex inter-being, tending one’s physical vitality can be a path of ecological awakening. Often this is where people begin. An ecstatic sense of physical belonging is easily accessible and even trendy. Yet, the body is a wilderness zone. Body-based practices can awaken us to our larger belonging. What is healthy for the earth is healthy for the body. Therefore, these practices are integral to ecopsychology:
- Conscious Eating transcends duality. We become what we eat. Deep physical vitality emerges from ethical coherence. What or who am I eating? What is its story? Does my eating contribute to or drain the vitality of other living systems?
- Gardening is a time-honored practice of ecological reciprocity. Getting dirty and growing things is, and has always been, a weaving of ecology and psychology.
- Hiking and outdoor pursuits help us fall in love with nature. Cherishing free and natural landscapes shapes the way we think and has political clout. The survival of every tree, wild river, and critter depends on whether people care. Like it or not, this is the current truth. Our falling in love with life REALLY matters.
- Holistic healing practices often bridge physical and ecological well-being because they rely upon nature as a source of medicine, insight, and power.
- Dynamic physical embodiment is a foundation of ecological belonging. Yoga, Tai-Chi, Qi Gung, somatic practices, and mindful meditation foster vitality. Iyengar asks, “How can you connect to God if you cannot feel your little toe?”
- Don’t forget dancing! Music. Rhythm. Joy. The body loves the dancing.
These are obvious practices that nurture vitality and several also benefit larger living systems. If we are concerned about our physical well-being, then the logical extension leads to be concerned about the body’s habitat. Constituents of the body are made of one’s surroundings. We emerged from soil and drink the rain just as flowers do.
There are other more subtle ways to care for the body that also have ecological benefits. For example, an aesthetic appreciation for the mind-blowing diversity of nature can encourage a wholesome love for our amazingly diverse human family. Loving what is wholly different from you and valuing a wildly diverse humanity may go hand in hand. For another, the body has an affinity for beauty. The body hates huge parking lots and ugly places. If we listen to the body, we will design beautiful urban habitats. We will also take care of wilderness and natural areas because our bodies like to be out in nature.
Connecting physical and ecological vitality is obvious, but what is less obvious? In what ways is feeling at home in one’s body a pre-requisite for ecological sensitivity? Does the nervous system have a deep affinity with the ethical laws of nature? If what befalls the earth befalls our bodies, what does devotion to health and healing imply?
Quite possibly, all of us who are devoted to physical well-being—and this is a wide range of people and professions—need become ecopsychologists. In many ways, we already are. The breathing, mobile, life-loving body is an ecopsychological event.