I got on my pushy today for the first time in 9 months (it’s been raining a lot this year!) Rare in my life to be sans-bicycle for so long. Anyway, I took it out of the garage and oiled the chain and checked the brakes worked. You’ve got to do that when you live by the beach, everything gets encrusted in salt, and I live at the top of one of the steepest driveways in Newcastle. Anyway, I got on to ride head first down my driveway, and within 5 metres my front wheel had locked up and I went flying head-over-tail.
About 15 years ago the same thing happened in almost exactly the same spot. I ended up in hospital with broken teeth, holes in my face, and a neck brace. But that was before I was doing yoga.
This time however, I soared through the air and with a calm and bemused sentiment “oh far out, this is happening hey” and I automatically tucked, rolled, landed initially on my shoulder, and dispersed the rest of the impact through my butt and limbs. I was more concerned about the bike. I remarked out loud “Jesus that was intense” and got up to see what had happened. I thought the brakes must have seized up. Oh, it was the helmet hanging over the handlebars, the strap got in the front wheel. Oops. Off I went to the beach to practice yoga. I’ve got a few grazes, all over the place actually. Not a big problem.
See, as I get into my second decade of yoga practice, it is more and more clear that we are doing this to reinforce the body so that we can do excellent things all through our life. I am 44 years old and I’m much better at everything compared to me in my 20s. Much stronger, more flexible, more resilient and capable. It’s very clear why we do these yoga moves and poses, why we want to throw ourselves around, practice falling over, getting upside down, rolling around on our backs. It’s so that we can keep getting stronger with age – to oppose the superstition of fragility that supposedly awaits our life, post 40 years of age.
Doing headstands and handstands, especially those from Ashtanga third series, cultivates a great deal of automatic “bodily confidence”. You’re just so used to falling over that it becomes second nature. Rather than be pre-occupied with safety, caution, and a creeping sense of danger, you have a resilience that has been earned very slowly on the back of years and years of effort, failure, and an achingly slow drip-feed of occasional success. Great humility comes from exposing yourself for years on end to the same impossible tasks. The sporadic attainment of skills becomes secondary, almost accidental. This “purifies the ego”.
You can see here that a progressive and practical delivery of yoga is essential. These poses must be introduced at the right time for the right person, according to the individual’s situation. They must not be delivered too early, of course, but also must not be held back based on some distant dogma.
Yoga is here to make your life better, to hasten your evolution. Evolution occurs automatically, yoga just gives it a boost. You don’t need a guru (necessarily), and you don’t need sacred texts (although they sometimes help). You just live. You do the things you want to do, following the best sense you have in any moment, and see what happens. You refine your compass over many years.
I didn’t crash my bike elegantly due to my knowledge of yoga, yoga poses, philosophy, or anything else. I crashed gently because I have developed skills. All that talk about tucking, landing, spreading the impact across the body, that’s all post-hoc analysis. I didn’t have time to think about it. It just happened that way, automatically, compared to the much more horrible way 15 years ago before I was into yoga.
How come I developed that skillset? Mmmm well because it was fun, and it kept being fun even though it changed over the years. It kept me interested with heaps of cool tricks. It made my state of mind really nice in a way that I couldn’t describe.
I’m very lucky to have found Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga at just the right time. I had been doing “hot power” group-fitness style classes for about a year and they were getting boring – there’s only so much group-think and pop-psychology I can endure for the sake of learning cool tricks.
I could tell you “Namaste, I resonated with Ashtanga Yoga, it aligned with my path”. I could say that my higher self or my spirit guides or god communicated with me, moving the pieces of a puzzle together so that my calling could be fulfilled. I could say the universe urged me to manifest my divine destiny by creating a situation where my girlfriend broke up with me at xmas and my primary mental health optimisation tool (the hot power yoga studio) had closed for renovations, forcing me to search for alternative styles of yoga to make it through the holiday heartbreak.
Or, I could say that the human brain is wired to reward behaviour that is adaptive, pro-social, and evolutionary. That once my survival needs were met (my body was feeling strong and my brain chemistry was ace), I pursued activities that fostered community (socialising with people outside my nerdy childhood inclinations) and that allowed me to spread my genes/memes (through contribution in my role as teacher, business owner, and author), giving me a sense of significance and posterity.
The question of if either or both of these options is “true” is far less important than optimisation of the process. Academia that discovers and spreads good information is what we want. Writing that argues for the sake of argument is less useful. If it is optimal for us to think in terms of a spiritual self, so be it. If it’s better for us to think of ourselves as a circuit-board, no probs. Maybe a bit of both.
Hindu-based reincarnation theories say that the contents of your mind in the moment of death dictate the circumstances of your next birth. Thinking good stuff? Next birth is good. Full of loathing and regret at the time of death? The universe takes it as a clue to what you want in the next incarnation and delivers that theme.
Dropping concern over whether it’s “true” or just “a truth” makes this idea psychologically valuable. What a great motivator for controlling and ordering your mind and behaviour. It’s self-reinforcing of course; if the contents of your mind are altruistic, constructive generous, then you’re probably having a pretty nice time being alive. Worthwhile regardless of the unknowable truth. The point is that your life – right now – ought to be made better by such ideas.
It is all a thought experiment. Test out some ideas. Maybe you can find some that are integrative, constructive, adaptive. You can hasten evolution. You might discover yourself possessing a body and mind that is more resilient, calm, powerful. It should happen anyway – but maybe you can play it.
The subjective first-person consciousness has primacy, it contains all things, including metaphors, theories, sense perceptions, rules, data, evidence, memories, systems, philosophies and such. You get to choose what to run with, what to experiment with.
I recommend including the pursuit of things that make your body younger, stronger, more resilient. So that you can fall off your bicycle in a way that is fun, rather than injurious.
In Ashtanga Yoga (when it’s taught sensibly and progressively), you’ll find this and many other fantastic and unexpected outcomes.