Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Starting from Scratch

"It's never too bad, never too late, and you're never too old or too sick to start from scratch and be born once again."  - Bikram, after Bishnu Ghosh

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."  - Carl Sagan

In Bikram yoga, we are reminded that it is always possible to start from scratch, to go back to the beginning and have a new, better life.  But what does it really mean to start from scratch?  How many layers do we need to peel away from our bodies and our minds, and how deep does the rabbit hole go?

On the surface, we have the layers of our habits.  An everyday yoga class gives good example.  Our habits become so natural to us that we don't even notice them; we think that this is "just the way we are."  Out of pure habit, our minds tell us so many things.  I need to stand in the cool part of the room.  I'm not good at standing head to knee.  That teacher doesn't like me.  I could never wear a sports bra with my stomach.  I can't get through triangle pose.  I can't do more than one class a week.  I really need some extra water.  I need to leave.  I'm too stiff, I'm too old, my back doesn't bend, my elbows don't lock, my knees don't straighten, I'm not strong enough, it's too hot, and I could never wear those short shorts!  These thoughts are all habits!  "Just the way it is" is a lie that holds us back.  Patiently, one by one, we need to peel these ideas away, release them, and let them float away into nothing.

On our bodies, we wear the layers of the years.  Like rings on a tree, our bodies tell the stories of our lives.  In a very real and physical sense, the body has a memory.  Look at the set of your shoulders, and you'll find the years that you spent hunched over at your desk job.  Look in your joints, and you'll find the marathon that you ran a few years ago.  Look at the weakness in your heart and lung muscles, and you'll see the year that you stopped exercising.  Look at the tension stored in the fascia, the deepest layer of tissue that runs through your whole body, and you'll see the stress and unhappiness left behind by your years in an unhappy relationship.  It's all in there.  But through yoga practice, these things can all be cleared away, until eventually the slate is wiped clean.

And we can go deeper.  Think about how subjective all of your experiences really are.  Imagine that you're in a yoga class with 30 other people.  You all are in the same room, listening to the same teacher, hearing the same dialogue.  At the end, have you had 30 identical experiences?  Of course not!  Thirty completely different events have just taken place in those 90 minutes.  (Thirty-one if you count the teacher.)  So why do we all hear the same words so differently?  Because the world we experience today is colored by everything we've done and thought in the past.  If we've been harsh and critical toward ourselves in the past, then even the most gentle correction can sound like a harsh reprimand.  If we've struggled with our own self-worth, then the simplest helpful reminder can feel like yet another blow.  In a way, these mental patterns are simply the deepest layer of habit.  But they are very sneaky.  They are hard to observe and difficult to break.  In order to truly "start from scratch," these are the thought patterns that we eventually need to dig up.  Don't worry; the yoga helps.

Now let's have some fun and look at the body again.  How far can we really break it down?  The body is made up of about 50 trillion cells (give or take a few), and each cell contains so many atoms that it'll give you a headache to think about it.  And when you get down to it (and remember your high school physics class), each atom is about 99% empty space.  So where does that leave us?  Roughly speaking, we are 1% sub-atomic matter and 99% energy.  Another good word for "energy" is "light."  You only thought that you were solid.

Carl Sagan says, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."  The same can be said of the human body.  Just think of where you came from; think of all the cosmic events that led to the creation of you.  Through divine energy or an accident of physics (depending on your viewpoint), the universe was created.  The big bang is dated at about 14 billion years ago.  The universe begins, and then expands.  Our sun is born, and our planet.  After a few billion years, single-celled life emerges.  Two or three billion years later, multi-celled life finally forms.  Fast-forward through another couple billion years of evolution, and here we are, walking, breathing, talking, and thinking.  Fifty trillion cells, capable of perceiving, hurting, giving, understanding, and loving.  Just think of it!

We are constantly in a state of renewal, and it's always possible to start from scratch.  As we turn over the calendar, to a new year and a new decade, now seems like perfectly good time to get started!  Sure, the calendar is arbitrary.  But don't underestimate the power of the collective.  When the bulk of the world's population wakes up on January 1st and thinks, "Okay, this is a good time for renewal," there's got to be some power in that.  Take advantage of it!

Happy New Year!!

P.S.  Be sure to visit Bikram 101, on blogger and on facebook, for the worldwide 101-day Bikram Yoga Challenge that begins in just a couple days, on January 1st, 2010.  It's a good way to kick off the decade.

P.P.S.  I am a shameless nerd, and I share a house with a future astronomy professor.  Here is the weird, funny, and beautiful video that inspired the Carl Sagan line of thought.


ActionJoJo said...

Well said J! Your insights always hit the nail right on the head. I can't wait till you start your journey as a bikram teacher.

In the meantime, happy new year! And here's to us and our 101 straight days and to breaking those habits that don't serve us!

p.s. You don't have to apologize about Carl Sagan or being a geeky nerd. We love him and we embrace our geekness in this household. In fact, The Husband ended up a physics major as an undergrad and applied to Cornell because of him. ;)

aHappyYogi said...

We all have our little geek within ourselves... :-) don't excuse!

Happy challenge and a new year to you.

thedancingj said...

Did I really apologize for being a nerd?! I thought I said I was a SHAMELESS nerd! I love my geekiness. :)

tara said...

I am trying to wake up for a rare (for me, anyway) a.m. class. I will probably need to reread this when I am actually awake, but for now, I appreciate being able to go into that class with the idea that I am mostly energy. I feel lighter and more awake for it, so I thank you.

bikramyogachick said...

I love this post! I was already excited to begin this challenge, but now after reading this I am truly inspired. I cannot wait to see where this challenge takes me and what layers it peels off! **hugs from Vegas**
p.s~ did you find a camera battery charger hanging around your house by any chance? I left mine somewhere in Ca!

miss m. said...

juliana--i just love your writing. i started reading your blog yesterday and spent most of the day catching up. i have just just started my bikram practice, and can already feel amazing changes happening within me. (funny that a yoga class that doesn't start off with chanting or incense or anything like that can be so deeply spiritual!) anyhow, reading your blog really helped to answer a lot of questions i have about the whys and hows of the practice, and are really changing the way i approach class. in fact, i am heading to the studio here in town for the 10:30-12am practice!

The Yolk said...

Wow. That is an especially compelling post. Thanks for the boost. We all need to be reminded of the hope that yoga has in undoing our grip on our past experiences.

There's that analogy that we are all holding onto the bars of our own cage. But we can turn around and walk away at any time. I think yoga can help us do that. Happy New Year!

thedancingj said...

tara - Ooh, yeah, those mornings can be tough. :) Glad to help you out!

BYC - Hooray! Sorry no sign of charger, but will let you know if it turns up.

miss m - Thank you SO much for giving me the best possible compliment. I'm so excited for you and your new practice. Happy new year!!

Yolk - I love that analogy too. There's one poem that I come back to ALL the time that uses that same image in its first half:

The Yolk said...

Beautiful poem, J. Thank you. The line, "I bent my skill to keep my cell locked" really resonates. What a precise image!

thedancingj said...

That line just about much sums it up, doesn't it? So glad you enjoyed.

Big G said...

One of the best descriptions I've seen yet about what Bikram Yoga really does for you. Awesome!

thedancingj said...

Thanks G!! I'm glad it's coming through. I feel like I have been gradually figuring out how to write the things that I really mean.