Thursday, June 19, 2008

New WV from the Inside Out

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.


Bob Coffield said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective and wonderful advice for all West Virginians. Your post speaks volumes about what we as a state need to do internally to help project the image out of state.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Excellent post. I've been saying the same thing in a different way over at my place. All we can do is look inside ourselves and change our own way of thinking and doing. Right action and right thinking feed upon themselves.
We can't change the desperate masses who prey upon others for their ego fix.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in West Virginia for seven years. For the first 31 years of my life I lived in southern California. It is where I was born and raised. Upon arriving in this state in August of 2001, I was amazed by the difference in culture. There is a degree of resistance to change in this area of the country. Sort of a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," kind of mentality. There is suspicion of anything "different" and outside of the box. As a massage therapist, I noticed a resistance to my profession. As a yoga practitioner, I noticed a resistance to the practice. But I do believe it is getting better.

What I believe contributes to this mentality is the fact that a good deal of West Virginians NEVER travel outside of the state lines. A yearly trip to Myrtle Beach is hardly enough to give one perspective on how the other half lives. In my practice as a massage therapist, many of my clients have opened themselves to new experiences based on what they experienced elsewhere. Ie; on vacation, a business trip, etc. They come back excited about massage, yoga, rock climbing, meditation, etc. because they were introduced to it through a vacaton package in Hawaii or the Caribbean, or New York, get the idea. Or perhaps they saw a show on TV that sparked an interest and then come looking for the equivalent in their own backyard. What is imperative for us, is to make sure that we have these alternatives available at all times. We need to have wellness studios ALL OVER THE PLACE. We need to have meditation centers in every corner of the city and state. We need to be out on the River Walk running and walking RAIN OR SHINE. We need to set the example. If we build it, they will come ;)

Great post. Keep up the good work.

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Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. I agree with what you have said. When I visit Asheville - I always leave with the thought that WV should be doing the same thing. I live in Morgantown where I was born and raised. I believe that when residents take steps toward using local and organic then others will follow. We have started a program for grade school students - where we talk about where our food comes from. The children participate in growing and caring for their own vegetable garden. It is fun and educational. In addition, our family participates in a share - where we buy our vegetable from a local farm. Just talking about these steps with others usually sparks interest.

If everyone focused on spreading the positive energy by telling their stories -- about how they live or what steps they are taking to make a positive change --others would listen. When something feels good, or sounds good then we natrually want more of it.

So I encourage everyone to share all of the great information about what West Virginians can start doing. Examples: start your own garden, compost, recycle, shop at farmers markets, if you must eat meat - buy local (same goes for eggs), educate children, learn about energy work, meditate, practice gratitude . . . and on and on.

If you are doing these things and it it makes you feel great then share that story because others will want to follow!

acomplia said...

Virginians have problems with overweight :)

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