Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"don't be scared."

"Backward bending, everybody together.
Your back is going to hurt like hell, don't be scared."
- Dialogue for Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class. Verbatim.
"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?

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...

14 comments:

hannahjustbreathe said...

A truly lovely post, Juliana. So much of this yoga---so much of life, really---is understanding that fear is a fence we build 'round ourselves for "protection." But all fences, even the ones we create, can be jumped or broken or plowed through. And thank heavens for that.

aHappyYogi said...

Beautiful written,

Danielle said...

Wow. beautiful post. Thank you.

tracik said...

Beautiful post. And of course everyone reading it immediately started think about specid things in their lives. I know I did! Thanks for great thoughts!

bikramyogachick said...

What an awesome post! Fear is really what stops us from realizing our true potential. We are afraid of death, we are afraid of change, and yes, sometimes we are simply afraid of backbends. Perhaps, on the days we are more afraid of backbends than normal, perhaps those are the days we are also afraid of something else that is going on in our lives.

ariella said...

favorite factoid about backbending that I learned from Emmy... the "drop the head back" (camel and warmup back bend) and other look up toward the ceilings in the spine strengthening dialogue - this motion prepares the body to backbend. It's sending the signal to your body that you're backbending on purpose, you're not dropping back onto your head accidentally (when the body needs that fear and contraction reaction.) lovely post.

lz said...

"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. ... They were never going to let you fall."

Profound and powerful. You explore these intertwined concepts of fear and trust with such insight. Thank you so much for this post; truly resonant and thought-provoking.

thedancingj said...

Thank you all for reading and letting me know your thoughts! It is always SO appreciated.

ariella, yes, that is a good one! I love that it starts in pranayama, and it pops up all over the place for the rest of class.

lz, thanks for "intertwined concepts of fear and trust." I like that a lot. It's exactly right.

Big G said...

Thanks, J. After I read your post yesterday, I did my deepest back bends EVER in half-moon yesterday - both sets:)

thedancingj said...

COOL, Greg!

Bikram Yoga Rockstar said...

Great standing bow! Thanks so much for helping me! and how do you follow people on here. I'm new @ blogger!

miss m. said...

beautifully said.

i find the constant presentation of challenges in Bikram to be one of the most powerful elements: what limiting belief do i need to let go of, to return to my true-r self? so much of my work this year is revealing itself to be addressing those "fences" that hannah talked about. i think that's part of what "killing yourself" means--"killing" those fences through investigation and challenge...

thedancingj said...

BY Rockstar - if you haven't already figured this out, there's a clickable "follow" button right above the list of followers. (Geez, that makes it sound like a cult.)

Miss M - Yes, yes, yes. I'm loving your comments! And we are in sync again, by the way... did you read my little piece on "kill yourself" last week? Not to toot my own horn (ahem), but it's here - http://bikram101.blogspot.com/2010/01/day-one-just-kill-your-self.html Same thing that you said, basically. :)

ActionJoJo said...

Fantastic post Juliana!!! It is so true. I especially gravitated to the part about the fear of dying. I know a few people who truly are afraid of death and I've noticed a few similarities between all of them: 1) they feel life to is unfair either in generally or to them and 2) they lack a faith in themselves, in something greater than themselves...whatever it is, they seem to lack a faith.

Truly the heart of your post is the inverse connection between faith/trust and fear.

I remember a priest once described death this way: We go from this life to the next life by stepping through the threshold of death. It is not an end but merely a transition. So well put!