Decomposition Through A Yogic Lens - Campbell Clarey

“In the chaos of today’s world, it can seem like we’re living through an age of constant destruction…seeking guidance, we turn to nature as our mentor and teacher. How does the natural world deal with death and destruction? Nature finds hope in its decomposers”- Austin Lewis.  

Decomposers. This was the theme of the TEDxMtHood conference. I thought about this a lot while preparing for the lunch-time yoga class I would teach at the event. Specifically, how do we view decomposers in the yogic context?

A blue-faced man comes to mind. His long hair is pinned up on the top of his head with a crescent moon and a snake is wrapped around his neck. His wife, Parvati, peeks out of his bun. This image of Shiva, the deity of destruction, is mounted on my bedroom wall. It made its way to this prime location after having been tightly wrapped in the Nepalese newspaper that safely carried it home from a retreat in Nepal last spring.

In Hindu philosophy, the Trimurti describes three key figures, three pivotal conditions, that the entirety of life exists within: creation, preservation and destruction. Brahma is the deity of creation; Vishnu is the deity of preservation, and the powerful Shiva is the force of destruction. Shiva destroys evil to promote transformation. As living matter decomposes into simpler organic matter, similarly, Shiva destroys the conditions of our reality needed to make space for new creation. 

In the spirit of creation, TED talks launched in popularity years ago. This prompted the development of similar events across the nation. TEDxMtHood was an independently organized TED conference event hosted at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon. Hundreds of attendees gathered to hear more than a dozen of speakers enlighten the audience with their 18-minute takes on “decomposers.” Yoga for Life was invited to lead a yoga class during one of the break sessions, and in hopes of keeping the event theme, I launched into a yogic study of decomposition. 

As I invited my class to lay down in their final resting pose, shavasana, I dim the lights and take a comfortable seat at the front of the room. Gazing at the room of still bodies, I begin to talk about Shiva, about destruction. Destruction, after all, does not only refer to the destruction of the physical form or death. Destruction occurs when we end a relationship or make a career transition. It is the destruction of habits and tendencies. Destruction is at play when we let go of parts of our identity, aspects of our ego, that aren’t in line with our true nature. As leaves decompose on a forest floor, we are called to acknowledge that our sense of self—the light and energy that exists within all of us—is revealed.