Bikram Yoga as Anti-fragility Training
Bikram Yoga helps people develop distress tolerance which is the ability to withstand challenge– some of which include emotional distress, difficult physical sensations, mind-racing or distorted thinking, and general discomfort with staying in the present moment. What’s the point of being able to withstand challenge? Shouldn’t we just eliminate challenge to make the world and all of our experiences in it nicer? Um, no.
Bikram yoga is EN–COURAGING.
That means you become courageous through practicing self-study for self-realization. What is self-realization? You pay attention to how you respond to challenge– to being YOU, and you practice nurturing the thoughts and habits that make you flexible and resilient and discard the habits that make you weak and fragile.
Anti-fragility: Yogis bend; they don’t break!
The fear, pain, and challenges NEVER go away (someone will hurt your feelings, steal from you, and other injustices, even the injustices you inflict upon yourself from negative thinking; shaming etc— count on it because this is human nature), but you CAN DEVELOP YOUR ABILITIES AND CAPACITIES to cope, survive, and dare I say even thrive! This development is one of both MIND and BODY.
QUESTION: So guess what the antidote to stress (whether from fear, threats (real or imagined), problems, mean people, oppression, offensive “violent” language, vulnerability, confusion, and bullying) is?
(*HINT: It’s not running away and it’s not distraction.)
A. Living in a bubble of protection, safe-spaces, and being coddled thus missing valuable opportunities to grow stronger, courageous and wiser.
B. Practicing with gradual exposure to difficulty and challenge to develop trust and faith in your abilities (that maybe you didn’t know you had!) and gain a greater sense of self, independence, and personal power.
C. See the world as good versus evil (without room for nuance) or worse “good groups” vs “bad groups” and fight the enemy until peace, justice, and perfect equality reigns (i.e. utopia)
D. Ignore compassion, forgiveness, friendship, and that people are prone to error, bias, negativity, and flawed and working through their own trial and error
The answer is B.
Yes, of course, there are actual injustices, abuses, and REAL threats to our safety, but the “concept creep” that Haidt & Lukianoff, 2018 talk about in their book has created a culture of coddling– a fear of fear and pain; a world where we try to control others to make our own always-pleasant-safe-spaces where trigger warnings will alert us to any potential intellectual offense that may make us feel emotionally distressed or uncomfortable. Where nobody gets hurt– ever. A place where behavior and ideas that differ from our own cannot possibly be tolerated because they cause us discomfort.
The best learning is uncomfortable and stressful because it catapults you from a safe space to an unsafe space; from a place of security to insecurity and back again and it never ends. Might as well decide you will try to enjoy this process, otherwise you will continue to suffer more and be forever frustrated that you cannot control other people and your environment or anything that may threaten. Accept vulnerability and pain and see them as your best teachers. This is the practice of yoga.
Sure, people make mistakes and bad things happen, but DO NOT accept continual extreme physical or psychological abuse or extreme danger, even the kind you might inflict upon yourself. There are extremes, but these are well, extreme, thus highly unusual or out of the norm. MOST transgressions are forgivable and can be managed as opportunities for personal growth.
One of the worst things you can do is deny people, especially young people/kids, opportunities to build resilience and hone their skills for stress management. Altering the learning process of direct experience– by censoring it, sanitizing it, limiting it, short-cutting it, or overly-controlling it is disempowering too. This kind of tyranny will destroy creativity, cooperation, friendship and growth. It turns out that facing your challenges and learning to cope with them is what makes you healthy and gives you purpose. As we say in Bikram Yoga– we will not spare you your struggle– to do so is an injustice! You practice suffering to get better at it rather than fighting tooth and nail to be pain-free which is an exercise in futility.