"Backward bending, everybody together."Don't be scared" is a good instruction. Because there's no doubt that backbends are really scary at first. Fear is what really restricts people's backbends in the beginning, much more so than inflexibility. But why are backbends scary?
Your back is going to hurt like hell, don't be scared."
- Dialogue for Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class. Verbatim.
They're uncomfortable at first, that's for sure. They're also unfamiliar - many people have never experienced the particular sensation of backward bending. They're exposed - the whole front of your body is open and vulnerable, especially your pelvis, your chest (heart), and your neck. And they're disorienting. Especially in the beginning. If you're like most people, you're stuck in a limbo somewhere looking at the wall or ceiling. You can't see in front of you. You can't see behind you, not yet. You feel like you're going to fall and you have no idea what's going on!
The technique of the posture makes it nearly impossible to actually fall backwards. But in the beginning, you don't know that you have a safety net. Whatever's back there, it's an unknown quantity. Someone is telling you, "Go back, way back, more back," and you're probably thinking, "Are you kidding?! I am NOT doing that. Can't do it. Something bad would happen. I don't know what's back there."
Amazing, the day when you stop being scared, take faith, and just go back. That's when you cross the border between what you thought you could do and what you can do. It's great on the other side. And that's when you realize: those teachers were right all along. And it's okay. They were never going to let you fall.
Many of you heard by now that one of Bikram's senior teachers passed away last week. Maybe it means something to you, maybe it doesn't. I wrote about it last night here: Dedicated to Ren. I was freaked out. Sad. Scared. This just didn't seem right, that a youthful and vibrant yogi should suddenly be dead.
Death must be the ultimate unknown. There's something back there, but we don't really know what it is. We try really hard to figure it out. We interrogate the people who have been nearly dead or dead for a few minutes. We build religions. We even try to create order and make rules: if you do this when you're alive, then this will happen when you die, and if you do that, then something else will happen. But really, I guess the only way to know what happens after death is to experience it. And once you've gone over that edge, you don't get to send any postcards back home.
But here's the thing. When someone told me, "now he is everywhere at once," I knew that she was telling me the truth. It actually felt true. I'm not sure if that's what you would call "faith." But maybe, maybe, just maybe... this whole "death" thing is just another instance of "don't be scared." Maybe, when it's the right time, you just lean backwards into the unknown, and you are caught, cradled, and cared for. Or you dissolve into stardust and light, and you go everywhere. You disperse into your separate parts. You remain.
Maybe that's not so scary...