«Yoga» by Emmanuel Carrère: an extremely recommendable redeeming self-exorcism

“Yoga”, Emmanuel Carrère’s latest book, is a journey through the author’s personal and existential shadows, where its close link to the healing dashboard of yoga practice, Tai Chi and meditation keeps his head above water, somewhat… Through it and through his experience, told with no frills and with all the rawness he can muster, he shows us the ridges but also the light in his own path. And all of this is done sharing the joys that this triad (yoga – Tai Chi – meditation) have brought to his life, while he narrates in the first person one of his deepest episodes of depression, that led to his having to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for four months, and being diagnosed as having bipolar disorder…

“It is disturbing when you are almost sixty to be diagnosed with an illness that you have suffered, without naming it, all your life. At the beginning you rebel, then you read what you can about this subject, you look back over your entire life and you realize it makes sense. That my whole life has been subject to alternating between phases of excitement and depression, where those highs are higher and the lows are lower than average, to the point that their succession becomes almost pathological.”

As I mentioned before, “Yoga” is direct and without gimmicks, that is exactly what makes it so appetizing and devourable. One weekend is enough to wolf it down, although I advise you to savour it. It’s worth the effort. To bury oneself in it implies to sink through layers and cross muddy waters that Carrère himself recounts painfully, but that are necessary for the self-exorcism to take effect, and so that we can see things from his perspective in search of common ground. Because we know that it’s no good sweeping it under the rug…

“Meditation is everything that crosses your conscience during the time that you are still, in silence. Meditation is to provoke a witness within you that observes the whirlwind of your thoughts without allowing you to be swept away by them. Meditation is to see things as they are. Meditation is to discover that you are something other than your ego. Meditation is to dive into and settle in the setbacks of life. Meditation is not judging. Meditation is to pay attention. Meditation is to be aware that others exist. Meditation is to be in your place, wherever that is. Meditation is to accept everything that presents itself. Meditation is not telling oneself any more stories. Meditation is to live in the present.”

On the other hand, one of the things I have enjoyed the most about “Yoga” is the way Carrère shares his learnings, without wishing to evangelize or idealise. And that is what makes you feel a greater bond with his discourse, without feeling that you’re being led along, because he always describes his experiences and sensations from a critical but not at all instructive point of view. And I say this because, although at first glance and given the title this may seem like a self-help book, it is not one at all. His vocation comes from a place of self-exploration and from the need to share what he has learnt, while admitting that he continues to walk along the path “to become a better person”.

Finally, and without wanting to give anything else away…, you must know that “Yoga” is also a travel journal, of memoirs, of experiences such as his Vipassana retreat, of tragic events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, and of anecdotes that help to make the author seem more human, and us too. Because we will see ourselves in his mistakes, his judgements, his regrets, his sadness, his self-inflicted punishment… and in the events that occur in his life, even if we haven’t lived those same circumstances, and we will connect with our own suffering, with blessed compassion and self-care as our path to salvation.

Editorial Anagrama.

(*) Photo: Rtve.