From Handstand To Lending A Hand In The Gulf, Brock Cahill Serves With Conviction
Once upon a time there was a catastrophic oil spill. The characters include a global conglomerate that displayed blatant disregard for the delicate balance of our oceans, and one Yogi, moved to action. Through this true story, we can learn something about heroism: whenever we are moved by horror, we have the power to shift our energy into action.
Meet Brock Cahill: a classical violinist turned Yoga instructor. Those who have attended his classes know that he uses strength to achieve seemingly impossible feats of handstand mastery. His philosophy: “We practice Yoga like this to continue pushing ourselves beyond what’s possible. We build our strength. We practice, and we don’t look for the easy way out. Things out there may look impossible, but they’re not. We just have to focus.”
Through Yoga, we learn to channel our energy and our breath into the present moment. In doing so, we become more adept at channeling our prana, or life-force into action while off the mat. On his birthday, June 22, 2010, Brock channeled his prana into practice.
A few days earlier, the LA Times broke a story about sea turtles “caught” in the oil booms off the coast of Louisiana and burned alive during British Petrol’s cleanup attempts. Most of these were Kemp Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, and some were hundreds of years old. The harming or killing of a Kemp Ridley carries a fine of $50,000, a fact instigating the claim that BP was burning the evidence.
The LA Times quoted research scientist Blair Witherington, “Much of the wildlife here seems doomed. We’ve seen the oil covering the turtles so thick they could barely move, could hardly lift their heads.” He added, “Turtles take a very long time to die.” Referring back to those caught in the sargassum weeds and burned alive before they could be saved, “I won’t pretend to know which is the nastiest.” (LA Times, “Death by fire in the Gulf,” published June 17, 2010)
A self-professed ocean lover, Brock took this news as a sign from the Universe to do something. In just weeks, he raised enough money to travel to the Gulf for a recon mission. When he arrived, every hotel room was booked out for 80 miles, “an hour and a half all the way from New Orleans to Venice, the site of the spill,” he explains. “There was nobody out on the beaches or anywhere to be seen.” When Brock looked into this further, he found out that almost all the “booked” hotel rooms were sitting empty, leading many locals to believe that BP had bought all the rooms to prevent media and others from getting close to the spill site. Says Brock, “I expected to see a bunch of organizations and people working, and instead, it was a ghost town.”
The ghost town was a result of the Federal Government’s July 1 order banning media from approaching the spill, boom, cleanup sites or workers under threat of a $40,0000 fine and felony charges. Reporters were ordered to stay 65 feet away. Planes had a no-fly ceiling of 3,000 feet. Government officials turned away anyone who attempted to photograph, video, report on, or talk to people about what was happening. Brock ignored the warnings to learn the truth.
Brock returned to SoCal determined to do something. The global Yoga community “Handstanded up and donations came in from all over the world,” Brock smiled. His home studio, Yogis Anonymous, held several fundraisers. From Los Angeles to New York and Europe to Asia, people sent in money from classes, fundraisers and private donations. This generosity enabled Brock charter a boat with a crew of five to gather evidence through oil samples taken from the ocean surface, sea floor and from sea life.
Joining the self-professed fireball Brock were a crew that included: Bonnie Schumaker, a NASA rocket scientist and independent pilot working with Sea Shepherd; Rex Levy, a USC and Pepperdine professor of sailing and nautical navigation; Dean Miya, a yogi and computer whiz; and David Hance, a criminal investigator based in Orange County.
Brock’s second trip lasted an entire month, aided by his partnership with Sea Shepherd. “I wasn’t just this crazy Yoga teacher from California: I was Sea Shepherd.” Doors opened a little easier and local fisherman talked a little freer. Sad to say Brock’s crew “was the only boat out there that wasn’t on BP’s or the government’s payroll.”
Brock was devastated at the tremendous loss of the Gulf sea turtle population. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project estimates that over 60% of Kemp Ridley Sea Turtles and over 75% of Loggerhead Sea Turtle have died as a result of the spill. Some turtles perished in the oil fires. Others sunk to the ocean floor too weighted down by oil to swim or breathe. (Sea Turtle Restoration Project).
“They live 200 – 300 years,” Brock explains, “and to wipe out that many is tremendously detrimental. An entire generation of hatchlings was also wiped out because the turtles that would have hatched this year no longer have a habitat.”
Brock transformed frustration into action. His crew focused on meticulously collecting information “so that people could understand what was going on down there and that it wasn’t okay.” Covering hundreds of square miles, they tagged sharks, collected shellfish to test for contamination and sampled the sea floor and surface water.
“In all the places that BP was claiming there was no dispersant sprayed and no oil in the water, we found massive traces of dispersant and oil in both surface and sea floor samples. We sampled the sea life and shellfish coming off of fishermen’s catch, and they were all showing signs of contamination,” Brock says. “The scary thing, folks? These fish are going to market, with the government’s stamp of approval.”
“I’ve learned a lot about the ocean, oil, clean energy and conservation; and what we need to do to keep this planet alive,” says Brock. “The only way we are going to do that is to break one of our biggest and seemingly most insurmountable stumbling blocks, and that is our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. We must make sustainable energy a part of our culture, and the Yoga community is going to be a big part of it.”
Brock emphasizes, “Individuals with strong passions and strong ideals” are the ones who will make a difference in this world, not organizations.
If we all stay present with our truths, we bring awareness to our convictions by being ourselves and living our lives. Our passion naturally influences other people and change happens.
“We have a community of like-minded individuals,” says Brock. ”Imagine what would happen if we all got involved?”
The day that I interviewed Brock was the six month anniversary of the oil spill, and the federal government had just rescinded its drilling moratorium on deep water drilling.
The only changes in safety regulations state: operators must have their blow-out preventers inspected by an independent third party; operators must produce a report saying how they would prevent or reduce a blowout at the wellhead; and they must get all their casing designs and cement production certified by a professional engineer. All of this means that the exact same scenario can happen again. This is frightening to contemplate.
Brock relayed that a third trip to the Gulf is in the works.
“The locals, as well as Sea Shepherd, are begging me to return. There is specific evidence that needs to be gained in the lawsuit against BP in direct refute of claims they have made regarding oil and dispersant in particular locations on outlying barrier islands and the surrounding waters.”
“We have eyewitness accounts of BP using heavy machinery and stockpiles of sand on these outlying islands to bury the oil on the beaches. BP denies this, but this is a great example of the cover up we know is happening. My crew was the only ones to get concrete evidence and execute the sampling missions with any level of competence, so the litigators and the scientists are clamoring for our help.”
“I would love to go, and be involved; my only resistance is that I worry about how much time I have spent away from my life and my career. My absence has ended up costing me one of my classes already. I can’t afford to lose any more.”
The good news? Brock decided to return to the Gulf.
For more information on Sea Shepherd, visit: seashepherd.org
For more information about Brock Cahill and his mission, visit: gravitycowboy.blogspot.com
Aria Mayland is a Yoga teacher, doula, writer and ocean lover. She lives in Venice Beach with her husband and two-year-old daughter: yogawitharia.com
Actions for the Average Yogi
By Brock Cahill
- Cut out single use plastics. Everything that’s been packaged in plastic still exists and will for another 500 years. Carry your bags to the grocery store. Don’t purchase items wrapped in plastic. Bring your own take-out containers when you go out to eat.
- Do your best not to burn fossil fuels.
- Embrace a cause. Do something.
April 20: An explosion occurs at 11pm EST on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The blow-out preventer, a device on the ocean floor engineered to stop the flow of oil in case of an emergency, does not engage. Crude oil gushes out 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.
April 28: The oil slick stretches for 100 miles. The Coast Guard suggests burning the oil. That same day, BP reports rise in profits as oil prices increase.
April 30: Obama administration issues moratorium on deep water drilling.
May 1: Original leak estimate of 1,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) is now up to 25,000bpd and rising.
May 3: Talk show host Rush Limbaugh claims that the oil spill was probably the result of “eco-terrorism,” that cleaning it up is a waste of time and energy because the ocean can take care of itself. “Oil is as natural as ocean water,” he says.
May 18: NASA images show that the spill is hundreds of miles long.
May 26: BP attempts a technique called “top kill,” in which thousands of barrels of sludge are pumped into the well to stop the flow of oil. This fails. Oil clean-up workers are becoming very sick.
June 1: BP denies the existence of underwater plumes, even though scientists have found more than one oil plume, one of which was “22 miles long, six miles wide and over a thousand feet deep.”
June 12: Flow rate is estimate is now up to 40,000 bpd.
June 17: The LA Times reports that sea turtles are being burned alive.
Sept. 19: BP announces that the “static kill” is successful. The cement plug has stopped the flow of oil. The well is “effectively dead.”
Oct 12: The Obama administration lifts the ban on deep water drilling. The new “gold standard” of safety standards enforced is neither specific nor achievable. Environmentalists say this move is “premature.” Oil industry operators are worried about getting the costs of making current equipment complaint with new emergency procedures.
Photos: Jerry Moran, Native Orleanian Fine Phgotography, NativeOrleanian.com
By Aria Mayland