Thursday, February 18, 2010

Escape from the Ether

Final savasana.

We’ve been here countless times. No matter how terrible a class I’ve had, I always have a “heck yeah, you made it!” moment as I lie on my back, honoring myself, the teacher, and fellow yogis for being there and getting through another class.

I always experience fear when I’m in the hot room. Backbends were my forte when I practiced Ashtanga, but in Bikram yoga, they terrify me. I need that teacher to shout, “Don’t be scared!” during Half-Moon pose as much as anyone. My mind races with fear—“You’re gonna die! You can’t do it! The teacher is going to eviscerate you with a samurai sword!” Of course, I don’t die, and, so far, no one has ever busted out a sword. (Although there is that one quiet guy in the corner who brings a really big towel… it’s the perfect cover, really ;-)

By final savasana, though, I feel … cleansed. Emptied. The fear is gone, and the problems with work, my endless doubts about my ability to succeed, all that is quieted.

In savasana earlier this week, that line from the T.S. Eliot “Prufrock” poem came to mind. I thought I kinda felt like Prufrock, a “patient etherized upon a table.” Initially, I was pleased with myself for making such a profound literary connection ;- ) But is that really the right description? Does yoga really etherize us? Or does it do the opposite?

Because my literary geekiness parallels my yoga dorkiness, I just have to explore the poem a little more. Here’s my attempt to sum it up succinctly, admitting that it’s a complex poem that warrants several reads. “Prufrock” centers on a man of a certain age who looking back on his life. He seems to be angry with himself for having lived his life cautiously. Full of the wisdom to know what choice he should make, he has never been able to act on anything. He tells us that he has “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons,” that he is “politic, cautious, and meticulous.” By the end of the poem, we learn that Prufrock is simply afraid. That etherized patient is him—immobile, paralyzed, aware but unable to act.

Is yoga an etherizing agent? Or is it an escape from the ether? I’m thinking it might be the latter. Throughout my day (the non-yoga part), if I’m lucky, I’m aware of the fact that I’m not aware of much. The thoughts that run through my head are utter nonsense. Even when I’m teaching I have to fight to get control of my thoughts: “How do my clothes look?” “I wonder what bakery that donut came from.” “Am I rambling like an idiot here, or have I tricked the students into believing I might know what I am talking about?” And it’s when I’m teaching that I’m the most present, yoga or other intense experiences aside. That’s a pretty terrifying realization.

But in yoga, uh, wow. Our fear, anger, and self-doubt, it’s all there. It’s right on the surface, in fact. That means we’re aware of it, right? That means we’re working on it. Unlike poor Prufrock, we’ve “bitten off the matter with a smile.” We fucking owned it. We ate the yolk.

I think that the way we feel in savasana is how we should be feeling all the time. Anyway, I wish I could carry that feeling around all the time. I appreciate my strong heartbeat. I can practically feel my little cells vibrating with life. I actually like the fact that I’m lying in a puddle of my own sweat. “Hey, ma, look what I just did! Enormous sweat puddle!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

For a few minutes, anyway, we can lift ourselves out of the ether.


thedancingj said...

I really like this.

I'll have to go read that poem again once I'm done watching the Olympics... all I can ever remember is "do i dare to eat a peach??"

Christina said...

Great post. I also love the final savasana and wonder how I make it through each class. :)

bikramyogachick said...

This post is awesome! I agree with you, it's the latter, we are pulling ourselves out of the ether. I love that feeling of laying in that puddle of sweat in final savasana too....
Never thought I'd say THAT.

Yolk E said...

Hahaha, thanks, BYC :-) Glad I am not the only one who doesn't mind the sweaty finale.

Thanks, todos. I love that poem. I remember reading it quietly to myself when I was 18 as one of my teachers droned on about something else. Initially, I didn't know why a poem about a middle-aged man was so meaningful to me, bt we all know what it's like to be paralyzed by the fear.

lz said...

In the yoga room, everything comes up to the surface - we are forced to be aware. Final savasana is indeed such an awesome feeling - the reward after 90 minutes of focus, determination, and awareness.

catherine said...

Is yoga an etherizing agent? Or is it an escape from the ether?

I struggled with this a while back, and I agree with you that "I think it might be the latter."

I really love this post. I've been thinking a lot about fear lately. Now I'm compelled to go revisit this poem. Thanks!

Sisya said...

Thank you for a great post, E!

Yolk E said...

Thank you, C and Sisya. Yeah, go reread the poem :-) I come back to it every few months or so. It's one of my all-time faves.