It’s no secret the prevailing West Virginia stereotypes do very little to paint an attractive picture of our state. From the jokes about inbreeding – for which Dick Cheney, our own Vice President, recently apologized – to our appalling statistics related to obesity, smoking, and overall health, West Virginia isn’t shining so bright from the outside looking in.
What is it we’re lacking that places like Asheville, NC have tapped into as a source of social fertility and economic growth? Our state is just as beautiful as theirs, just as fraught with natural wonders and the potential for limitless adventure. Why are Colorado’s mountains crawling with a population of fitness fanatics, topping the nation’s statistical health charts, while in WV an unhealthy lot of us stay rooted like stumps in the shadows of the mountains that surround us, fast food gurgling in our bellies? In 2007, West Virginia surpassed Alabama as the country’s second fattest state, with 67% of our population either overweight or obese. This is a health crisis, physical and otherwise, and until our population as a whole begins to pull its collective body into a state of equilibrium, its mind and spirit will suffer as well, and its potential will lie dormant as a seed in frozen winter soil.
As a yoga devotee I understand the unavoidable, symbiotic connection between the different components of ourselves, both individually and collectively. On the individual level, we will often suffer physically from the result of emotional wounds, and vice versa. Spiritually, a shoddy foundation frequently diminishes the emotional timbre of life, continuing the circle of one thing making, forging, and creating the other. Yoga knows that the mind, body, and spirit must come together in one unified effort to continually grow into a brighter tomorrow, to always follow the light. Yoga does not stagnate. It does not tarry in complacency. It does not sit its butt on the couch and watch twenty hours of drivel a week while the world whispers past in its peripheral vision. Instead, it persists in always trying to be better.
Just as each person requires the proper balance of a healthy mind, body, and spirit, so too do populations. If the majority of any given group (such as the 67% of West Virginians who are overweight or obese) is suffering physically, odds are pretty good the society is suffering in general. Bad juju is like mold on bread, it just grows and grows into the space around it. The good news is that positive energy does too.
And in the world I live, here in West Virginia, I’m surrounded by forward-thinking, spiritually-focused, dedicated life-mongers. People who believe in West Virginia and its potential to begin a new life at the top of all the right national lists, happily owning its inherent goodness. In yoga, we strive to uncover the enlightenment glowing in our core – not to become enlightened, but to reveal that within which is already enlightened. As West Virginians we understand the compelling value of our land and people, and in my little yogic corner of the state we are striving to bring West Virginia to the light, because we are doing the same for ourselves.
The answer, then, to creating a new West Virginia stereotype, ultimately resides in the lap of each individual resident of the state. If we want to quit being the butt of every national joke, then we must take responsibility and seek to find our highest selves. We can’t do this very well sitting slack-jawed in front of the television or gawking at People magazine. Or while eating one toxic meal after another, or squeezing our lives into stress-filled shoe boxes. The happiness we so long for is here. We just have to commit ourselves to finding it, right there within the core of ourselves and the heart of our state, where it has always been, patiently waiting.