Thursday, August 6, 2009

154/214 - Fear of Death on the Mat

Sunday afternoon on the dock.

I did the series about as well as I could on the dock here. It was about 75 degrees with a nice breeze, and the sun was setting. For just about anything else, it was a perfect evening. But these are less than ideal conditions for Bikram yoga, and it showed.

The first and most obvious thing was the balancing. I didn't really have any idea how attached I had grown to the mirror. And it was really hard to balance at all without relying on the mirror. I need to talk to some teachers and see if that's something I should work to overcome. I know that there aren't any mirrors in competition, so my guess is that its better to be able to balance with them.

I also hadn't anticipated what a difference the surface would make. A hard rubber mat on a dock is much less forgiving than my thin mat on the carpet. And the surface was not quite so flat. And then there was the breeze. For everything else, the breeze was quite pleasant, but in the balancing poses a little light breeze felt more like gale force winds.

The next thing that surprised me is how long the series took on my own. I felt like I might be going more slowly, so I skipped the second set on a couple of the floor poses. And I still was at it for more than two hours. Some of this may have been extra time between poses, but I think I held several of the poses for longer than we do in class - definitely Fixed Firm, Half Tortoise, and Camel.

Overall it felt good to practice, and its always interesting trying the series outside of class. This time I did it without any other warm up (like sun salutations), and I didn't notice any obvious difference. I have no idea what adjustments I would make if I did start a home practice. It's an interesting question.

The day 213 meditation discusses fear of death, the last of the five afflictions, on the mat. I have to say that I'm pretty much at a loss here. Gates sees the fear of death everywhere. To me, perhaps in my ignorance, its pretty much irrelevant. The biggest problem I see with this meditation is that Gates seems to want to collapse all the other afflictions into this idea of fear of death. Thus he says that "[i]t manifists in our restlessness, our difficulty in savasana, It is the prevailing sense that we are not doing enough, and that we won't get there, wherever there is." And I simply don't buy it. I see the problems with the things that he's talking about, but I just don't see what they have to do with the fear of death.

I started the path that led to Bikram yoga a year ago February, when my wife insisted I read a book called Younger Next Year. There are lots of books about living longer. In an odd way, this isn't one of them. The authors pretty much take it for granted that, as a matter of statistics, most people are going to live longer. Ninety years is now a fairly reasonable expectation, and that age could increase. If you follow the advice in the book, it would probably increase the chances of living that long, but that wasn't the point of the book at all. Instead, the book focused on quality of life as we age. The aim was to show how, instead of being old and feeble for your last 30+ years, you could live a life that was active and full basically right up to the end. And you could do this by following a few simple, practical rules.

Anyway, my point is that even the impulse that brought me to Bikram yoga didn't have much to do with the fear of death. Instead, the idea centered around how to make life richer. Maybe I just have a blind spot to this idea.


thedancingj said...

Whoa whoa whoa whoa - are you competing this year?? Sweet!

You are right about the mirror, of course. Balancing without the mirror is really different. I actually find it MUCH easier once I get used to it. When you train for competition, you just ahve to practice all your balancing postures after class and do them facing the wall. In September and October, a lot of the teachers who are coaching students will say "competitors turn around!" during the balancing series and let us do that whole bit facing the back wall. :)

hannahjustbreathe said...

When I switched over to Baptiste for those five months last summer, one of the greatest adjustments I had to make was balancing without the mirrors. Slowly, over time, I actually began to like it more. I had to work harder to find my balance within, which was such an interesting excerise, both physically and mentally.

I can't wait to try to practice the series when I go to the beach in another week. I'll be down in North Carolina, so it'll be hot and steamy for sure! And, there's nothing quite like sweating through some Bikram yoga and then hopping in the ocean!

Bosco said...

Wow, I would love to do Bikram and then jump in the ocean! (or Keuka Lake, for that matter).

I, for one, find it much easier to balance looking at the floor than the mirror.

Gates seems to assume that all fears are ultimately the fear of death, not realizing that the more advanced thinking on this is that all fears are ultimately a fear of being placed in solitary confinement with a life insurance salesman.