“The trees are our lungs, the rivers our circulation, the air our breath, and the earth our body” –Deepak Chopra
April 22 is Earth Day. Started in 1970, it began as a day to bring awareness to the intimate connection between the health of our environment and our collective public health. It’s not just an esoteric philosophical idea that we are intimately connected to the environment. In fact, a foundational concept in the traditional healing system of Ayurveda is that the environment, or Earth, is our extended physical body.
Ayurveda is a complete medical system that is based on the basic principles of nature. It explains that you are part of the entire ecosystem of nature and encourages you to live in alignment with the rhythms of the Earth in order to stay healthy. According to this philosophy, there is no real separation between the Earth and your body, but that you erroneously have the perception that you are separate, when in fact the matter within your body is the same matter that makes up the Earth. What this means is that anything that is happening to the Earth is happening within your body.
In fact, research has shown that many of the chemicals and pollutants that fill the air, water, and soil are also floating around in your bloodstream and can be stored in your tissues. In addition, the depletion of natural bacteria in the soil is reflected in the depletion of these natural bacteria in your gut. The lack of mineral content in the soil, from modern agricultural practices, has created a food supply lacking in the concentration of nutrients that used to exist in these foods. When the Earth is unhealthy, so are you. Although this sounds daunting, it’s not all bad news.
The good news is that the Earth has, as does your body, an incredible self-regulatory and self-healing ability. Given the time and the right conditions, the air and water can detoxify. The soil may be replenished with minerals and healthy microbes, and as the Earth heals, you heal—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Connecting more intimately with the Earth and taking care of it as you would your own body, can stimulate your own regenerative capacity.
Here are some proven practices to help you connect to the healing power of the Earth through your senses:
Find a natural environment, close your eyes, and take in all the sounds around you—be it rustling leaves, singing birds, or flowing water. Research shows that sounds of nature can calm stress and even reduce pain.
Take off your shoes and walk on the Earth. Whether it’s walking on natural grass or soil, or dipping your feet in an ocean or river, make a physical connection to the Earth. This process, called grounding (or Earthing), synchronizes you to the rhythms of the Earth and can result in reduced chronic systemic inflammation.
Gaze up at the sky—be present with the clouds, stars, and tree branches. Simply take in the shapes and colors without any judgment about the experience. This is a great way to develop mindful awareness and viewing nature has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, among other health benefits.
An organic, whole-food, plant-based diet from nature is best for your physiology and your intestinal health. Buy natural, local, and seasonal foods and eat them slowly, taking in the taste and texture. There is evidence to suggest that your natural gut bacteria cycle with the seasons by taking in cues from nature; therefore, your bodies are ready to digest foods that are seasonal and local.
If flowers are blooming in your area, take in the aromas of spring flowers in your environment; if spring hasn’t yet sprung, take in other natural smells that you have access to—the soil, ocean, leaves, and plants. Although these may be more subtle smells, some of the health benefits occur through inhaling substances emitted by plants and trees, called phytoncides.
What all of this means is that caring for the Earth is vitally important for your own personal and collective health and well-being. Cultures around the world have always celebrated the gifts that the Earth gives us, and living in harmony with nature is a foundation for many traditional healing systems. Ayurveda encourages you to connect to and align yourself with the rhythms of nature, as they are your own biological rhythms. An ancient aphorism says, “As is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm”, recognizing the fact that you must pay attention to the health of the whole system if you want to be healthy yourself.
The past year has given us time to pause and consider how our behaviors affect our “extended body.” Although the current pandemic has created challenges and hardships for many, the silver lining here may be the opportunity for the Earth, and your body, to heal.
We have an opportunity to become more mindful of our connection to nature and the Earth, and perhaps we can all change one behavior that would allow the Earth to continue to heal. Most importantly, today, of all days, let’s all take a few moments to step outside, breathe the air, and commune with our extended bodies, feeling gratitude for the gifts that the Earth gives us every day.