24 January 2014

One thing I’ve learned through doing Yoga is how to do the impossible.

Bend that arm back around there and loop it through your knee and grab your chin, stand up on your other leg, bend backwards until your forehead is resting on the ground. Now breath deeply.

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Your body can’t even twist to get into the starting position. Can anybody balance on their knees ? What do you mean levitate to the side ?

You can sit there and get frustrated and look around the room and try to solve it with your brain, but eventually you have to learn that your brain is the first problem.

  • Attachment to comfort,
  • aversion to discomfort,
  • attachment to your personal achievement,
  • aversion to (or in some cases attachment to) failure.

At some point you release your mental construct (“it doesn’t bend that way”) and curiously you find that it does indeed bend that way.

Physical Yoga (Asanas) can be said to be a system to confront these mental constructs through physical activity. But the point isn’t really to touch your toes - its to try to do difficult things and purify your mind of obstructing attachments and aversions. Its an exercise.

The same of course goes for the rest of your life.

Recently I learned first-order predicate calculus. The symbols were all a meaningless blur, my brain read the text but didn’t want to step through the hard work, but now it seems at least knowable, and I know the basics. I’ve got a grasp.

Balances and inversions (standing on your head etc.) are quite interesting. If you think about what YOU are doing (“I’m going to fall over !” or “I’m so great at this !” ) then you will fall over. So as you practice headstands (Shirshasana) you should work to reduce mental chatter and self judgement.

How to Do the Impossible - a step by step guide

  • When you first attempt to do something that seems impossible, start by removing or relaxing the mental state that declares it as impossible. In Yoga you don’t say “I can do it!”, you just do it.
  • Reach in the direction of your goal. Just reach in that direction - even though you cannot actually even touch your goal. Do that every time you practice.
  • Eventually you will touch the edge of your goal, just for a moment. Do that each time.
  • Then you can grab onto your goal for a longer moment.
  • In further practice you come to be more and more familiar with that goal with each breif visit.
  • Its like a moon that you clumsily crash on; you have a brief chance to gasp at the surroundings and then you bounce off. You might notice a crevice that you can grab onto next time.
  • Gradually you know the terrain, you are a regular. You have new habits.
  • Then you get a good grasp, then stability, then it becomes your new ground.

So, you can touch your toes now. What next ? Choose a more difficult stretch ? The point of Yoga is not to try more and more difficult poses. Its not stretching. As you advance you find that the work is within the pose, in the subtleties within the distance of the stretch. Eventually you no longer think of Yoga as stretching or even exertion. Its balance, unification of thought and body.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned first-order predicate calculus. Which was only because its chapter 9 in Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd Edition) and I want to get to chapter 14 (Probablistic Reasoning and Bayesian Networks). Soon I will have stretched my mind enough and can get to the work of actually doing something meaningful and subtle with it. I’m probably guilty of learning too much.

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