Tuesday, June 16, 2009

114/165 - Noble Failure

Sunday 2:30 with Sherry

No, "noble failure" is not meant to describe Sunday's class, but it might just as well.  Class tried to beat me up, and for the most part, I would not let it.  I didn't have much energy, started feeling queasy about half way through standing series, and then my skin just started to burn on me, somewhere in back strengthening.

The skin burning sensation is one of my least favorites, and its usually a sign of very bad things to come (like splitting headaches later in the day).  So I played a game with it.  In savasanas, instead of dwelling on how miserable it felt, on how much I disliked it, I sat down and tried to simply pay attention to what it really felt like.  And the oddest thing happened, when I was simply observing the feeling (and to a certain extent savoring it), the discomfort that accompanied it would slide away.

A few years ago, I read that dogs pretty much smell for information, and without judgment.  I've known lots of people with good noses, and it seems to be an unfortunate trait, because those people are always complaining about how bad things smell.  (It seems like there are many, many more objectionable smells in the world than good ones.)  When I read this, I tried to take the same approach.  Instead of instantly reacting to what others might call a "foul" smell, I try to actually get a decent sense of what it smells like.  As a result, fewer things now smell bad to me than before (the distant odor of skunk is a pretty good example -- I kind of like it now).

Anyway, I think that what I did with the heat is somewhat similar, and its amazing the effect that it can have.  Of course, it was short lived, because once I started a new pose, the simple observation ended.  But who knows, perhaps this is a faculty that can be developed over time.  For Sunday, I'd like to say that that made the practice easier, and perhaps it did, but it was still brutal. 

The day 164 meditation actually is about the noble failure.  According to Gates, the noble failure is the almost utter inability of people to control their minds when they first try to meditate.  In Bikram, one of the goals is for the entire class to be a 90 minute moving meditation.  At the start, its anything but.  When you go into Savasana,  you are told to quiet the mind.  That's the point, I think where everyone first experiences the "noble failure."  

When I first started, my mind would race and race.  To what I'd be doing after class.  To things that happened beforehand.  To how I had done in certain poses, or what I feared about poses to come.  Or even to random things:  song lyrics, movies, books, just about anything that would get me away from the heat and from simply being there.

Gates says that asana is wonderful preparation for meditation, because its nearly impossible to give honest effort in any of the poses without also learning how to concentrate and focus on what you are feeling.  And like just about everything else, this kind of concentration improves with practice.  It may be this simple fact that explains why yoga seems naturally to improve the spirit.  I can't say that I'm anywhere near a 90 minute meditation yet, but my mind doesn't race like it did.   And the little exercise I described above, about simply observing the burning sensation on my skin?  Well, that would have been unthinkable when I started.  

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

I thought of this post today in class, as I tried really hard to "smell for information, and without judgement". I accidentally laid my mat beside a man who has terrible halitosis, and on top of that, is a chronic mouth breather during class. Each time I heard a strained open mouth grunt or exhale beside me I would cringe in anticipation of the waft.

By the end of class I was absolutely dreading final breathing. I tried to have empathy, not to place a value judgement on what I experienced, and to focus on myself only, I swear I did!

Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog, thanks.