It all connects. The art of small actions (in yoga and creativity).

Elephant art experiments

This elephant art has a long history. Her face and ears are made up from some of my old paintings on paper. After cutting out brightly coloured sections, I upcycled them into this piece.

The pink background is a yoga mat, and as you can see I have drawn on lots of intricate details. The image on this post is blurry (oops) because it was windy on the day that I took the photo….which put me thinking about the expression “winds of change”.

My art process is not always about deep thinking, which is why I love it! Through making art I can enter into a state of meditation without much effort. Breathing deeply, painting, and allowing thoughts to drift off is soothing. It stops me from focusing on anything from the past or future. The act of creation keeps me in the here and now, if only for a few hours. I relish it.

Recycling, nature worship, and art

My childhood was spent close to a wild bird sanctuary, and the lake and land around it used to be inhabited by thousands of native trees. I loved all the sights and sounds around me. Growing up there instilled a reverence in me for nature.

In 1993 I started making art from recycled materials. It was fun to use whatever I could find to make sculpture. Of course like many artists, I found the cost of materials prohibitive so that motivated me to use found objects.

Most of all it simply felt right to reuse things. A few years later I became more aware of how some art materials were more polluting than others. That’s another story.

Teachers and leaders

When my son was born, sourcing organic vegetables to give him very best nutrition possible became a priority. On my quest to seek chemical-free food, I met people who kindly shared their wisdom with me. They taught me more about the environment and opened my eyes to planetary issues at a time when every day internet access to information had not yet manifested in Ireland. One small local market existed and Google was not yet a thing!

I loved books and learning then, and I still do. As my son grew up, my environmental grá* and awareness grew. Yoga came much later.

So does this post end in an amazingly happy ending? Did I evolve, become a yoga teacher, improve step-by-step and never make mistakes again?

Not all all. Look at this, for example:

From ‘cheap’ to change

This yoga mat started tearing and peeling after just four uses. Why? Because it is cheap PVC shit, imported from China, that’s why.

I bought a box of these mats just a few years for women who were on a very low income, knowing full well that the products would not last long. At the time I hadn’t the money to do any better.

The women were delighted to have a new mat each. They enjoyed the sensations they felt after yoga class and my work was done once they were ready to commit to classes locally. I wandered on to another area, very content that the mission had been accomplished, but with an uncomfortable niggle that grinded at me like a tiny stone in my boot. It rubbed and nudged at me until a blistering truth emerged. I could not ignore it.

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier

Uncomfortable truths

During those fun-filled weeks with the women in Limerick, I also tested one of the cheap mats at home. I felt dismayed (and disgusted with myself) when bits started peeling off so soon.

Mother Earth will probably always recover and replenish herself from our activities and pollution, however humans and animals are in grave danger. There are endless reasons for diseases and suffering, many of which are beyond our control. At the same time it hit me hard just how much my consumer choices are directly linked to pollution and illness.

When a person dumps a yoga mat that doesn’t biodegrade, where does it go?

Some mats end up in landfill, most are burned. Highly toxic gases are released into the atmosphere through the burning process. The gases that accumulate are lethal and so we need to avoid incineration.

It is estimated that 300 million people practice yoga asana worldwide. If one million mats are dumped each year, then how carcinogenic is that?

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Learn, move on, do better

Transforming old, damaged yoga mats into wall art is good, and avoiding PVC mats is the best. In 2017 I pledged to try harder, and so began the search for genuinely Earth-friendly options.

After trawling through lots of fake claims and endless ‘green’ clichés, I had to consult with ecologists to decipher some lies. Eventually I found the genuine article.

Now I use a yoga mat that is so Earth-friendly, when it eventually breaks down it can be added to garden compost!

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

Transformation comes from small actions

My yoga ‘regulars’ take eco mats from me and pay when then can. I encourage everyone to make the change.

Wherever you are reading this, whatever country you live in, I hope that you will be motivated to take action if you have not done so already.

Till next time, take care…

-Kathryn.

*Grá is the Irish word for love.

Kathryn Crowley is based in Kerry, Ireland.

References

Heather B. Patisaul, Heather B. Adewale (2009). ‘Long-Term Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors on Reproductive Physiology and Behavior‘, Front Behaviour Neuroscience.

World Health Organisation (WHO) 2016. ‘Dioxins and their effects on human health’ 2016.

Pihkala Panu (2020). ‘Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis’, Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science.

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