An Essay Written by Erin McCaffery
I began to practise yoga after a sort of personal awakening, upon realizing how little I maintained my health and the effects of that on my depression. I’ve never been the very active type, but decided if I couldn’t handle a few minutes a day to build my strength by just simply existing in various poses then I was being far too lazy for my own good, which is another demon with which I am well acquainted. I began with youtube tutorial videos and then enrolled in Yoga I Winter 2015 semester as a means of forcing myself to continue with practice.
Alongside the physical changes I’ve been trying to grow within the myself, the past year I have had a shift in mindset. It began with philosophical talks with some well-read friends and an Existentialism class, and with my existing fascination for natural sciences this set me on a path with many Eastern roots. I’ve taken from what I have read, felt, and understood in my experience of the world to believe in the magic of nature and of the mind. Much of Eastern philosophy, Taoism having been my main focus, can be viewed as analogous to evolutionary patterns, the course of nature itself. As an existentialist I understand the importance of Now, the present moment, the only reality having any claim to existing. This is comparable to Awareness and Presence within the body practiced in yoga, which I feel when considering all three at once each only serves to deepen the others. As a scientist I understand the importance of bodily health in relation to mental health, the two are inseparably intertwined and guide the development of each other.
This was all comparably described in Iyengar’s Tree of Yoga. The tree of the self and the description of the roots, trunks, branches, leaves and fruit. The self is a seed that must be cultivated and grown until it is unable to continue, as all plants do. While I do not know if I believe in a God, I do believe that there is far much more to human biology and psychology than we will ever be aware of, and spirituality as a product of that deserves examination.
In Eastern countries yoga is considered to be as spiritual as is it mental physical, opposed to the simple Western goal of exercise. The everydayness of our society dulls us to our inner sensitivities, and this has led us down a slippery slope away from many achievable ideals of existences- we cease to see others as we are, we lose empathy, and we succumb to the darker parts within ourselves by our unawareness of them. And I by no means place the fault on any individual in society, but on society as a whole. Ignorance and pride, considered intellectual defects, desire and aversion, considered emotional defects, and even the fear of death is an instinctual defect.
With the practise of yoga I aim for self study, improvement, and peace. I see my place in society as one anyone may fill, and I am the only ‘anyone’ that I have control over so it has to be me. To live in a society that I support morally I must live as the citizen I see fit to exist. The elements of Ego Death in yoga also interest me,the sublimation of the self with the Universal Spirit is to me a living shift in mindset. There are so many things to celebrate of humanity- the depths of love, the powers of empathy, the beauty of art, the creation of every action one makes. Everything we know is a product of the Universe, and we have become its own introspective eyes. What we see is of our own creation, but credit and property are two of the largest illusions of our time. They blind us to each other, ourselves, and to the future. I practise yoga in order to see.