Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's ALL public

You ever notice how dramatic the difference is between what we think and what we say? Between what we imagine and what we actually do? It's common knowledge that to get by in this world you need to learn how to play the game, act the part, put on the mask. We have so many ways of convincing ourselves it's OK not to be genuine--we can lose ourselves just trying to make it through the day. As George Orwell famously writes, "A man wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it."

I've been thinking of this idea lately, and of course, I've been thinking about how it applies to yoga. There's an essay I used to use in one of my classes by James C. Scott, in which he writes about how people interact with both hidden transcript and a public transcript. Although Scott applies them to the interaction between the poverty-stricken and their imperialist overlords, the terms actually help define what happens to us psychologically on a daily basis.

The hidden transcript are the thoughts we deem too bitchy, too self-conscious, etc to be spoken aloud. For me, with the exception of rants on email chains with a couple of very special friends, most of these thoughts stay firmly inside my head. Therefore, they're hidden--they don't make it to public view. The public transcript is the "edited" version that gets spoken aloud. But in stuffing the hidden thoughts into a corner all day, every day, we can begin to go a little nutty.

Here's a more specific example from just the other day. I was going over a grammar concept in one of my developmental writing classes. One of the students asked a very technical question. We got into the topic a little bit, and suddenly I realized I wasn't going to be able to answer her question. I simply didn't know the answer. Hidden transcript: I'm no grammarian. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I shouldn't be allowed to teach this class. She's looking at me for an explanation of participal phrases! I'm totally fucked! 

The public transcript: "What a great question, Student X. But since that topic is so technical and actually beyond what we're discussing now, let's bookmark it and come back!"

The public answer was polite, but I left the class feeling like such a, well, phony. And also tired. I had spent the rest of the class making sure I was on top of my game, as it to make up for my perceived lack of ability.

That's what happens when our inner monologues are incongruent with the face we're supposed to put on for the world. If we put on the mask for too long, we feel like we've stepped out of our mom's or dad's closets wearing clothing too big and too "adult" for us. We pray that no one notices we're just posing, and it exhausts us. Or maybe the mask-wearing just makes us feel irritated. Or want to eat a cookie. Whatever. Point is, there's always a negative consequence when the hidden can never come to the surface.

But in yoga? It's all public. Physically, it's all out there. There's no hiding from the anger or self-consciousness under those fierce florescent lights and brightly-illuminated mirror. I remember the first time I took off my tank top and just wore the sports bra. I held off on doing so for a long time because I have scars on my back that make me insecure about my appearance. But deciding to wear just the sports bra was so freeing. 

Emotionally, you're out there too. You can't help but work your edge in Bikram yoga, and when you are giving 110% in a room full of people, you are 110% public. But how healthy--it's even more freeing than taking off the tank top! Everything hidden is brought right to the surface, and you can finally deal with it instead of stuffing it back under the rug. The nuttiness gets quieted down a bit. We can feel less like the kid dressed up in our mother's clothes and more like our own, unique selves.  

And now will you ever be able to analyze your thoughts without thinking of the hidden and public transcript? Or was this all just wannabe-intellectual silliness? :-) I know, I know: I really need to go to yoga tonight!  


bikramyogachick said...

You are spot on about the private and public transcripts. If somebody walked around with no "filter" and just spouted off whatever was in their head at the time they would sound a bit batty. We all have "stuff" rattling around in our minds that should stay...in our minds. It does get exhausting though, so it's so important to have somebody you can "expose" yourself to...to take off that mask w/out any judgements. Most of us can count on one hand the number of people in our lives like that. Maybe even on one finger!
Bikram really does force us to really put ourselves out there. There I stand no makeup, hair pulled back and soaked by end of standing series, scant yoga clothes also soaked and hiding no bumps, bulges or cellulite. Face red, raw, uncovered. Perhaps this is why we feel so close to teachers and other students...why we feel we can reach out across the internet and immediately bond with other bikram yogis we have not even met in person. It's quite a solid bond......and you're not allowed to wear your mask in that room.
Great post! You rock!

Sisya said...

That makes me think of the "Johari Window," a tool used in cognitive psychology. The healthier you are, psychologically, the bigger the "Arena," which contains all the things you about yourself that you have an awareness of and are willing to allow others to know about you. Yoga has made my Arena a lot bigger!

Sisya said...

Bah! I wish comments had an edit button. Messed up sentence, but I guess since you teach writing, you're good at deciphering bad writing and will know what I meant.

Yolk E said...

Ooh, great point, M! "Maybe that's why we feel so close to the teachers and students"--the rawness. Normally, we're so wrapped up in the layers! Thanks :-)

Sisya, you came across like crystal :-) I will totally look up the Johari Window. Thanks for sharing that idea! The arena idea makes a lot of sense to me, too.

Lady J said...

I remember the day I took off my tank top too! I felt so free, so out there for everyone to see and I didn't care. It was very liberating.

hannahjustbreathe said...

To further the point, I think that the more yoga you do and the more "public" you become in that hot room, the more confidence you gain in being "public" elsewhere, i.e., not hiding behind a facade, not making excuses, not avoiding discomfort or potentially painful situations.

People hide---their hearts, their bodies, their thoughts---out of fear and uncertainty. I think yoga breaks us of fear---and teaches us supreme certainty of ourselves.

Great post. :)

thedancingj said...

Funny what hannah says - I was just about to say that I think I have less and less of a filter every day!! To further THAT point, anytime someone asks me a question that I can't answer, I tell them, "I have absolutely no idea! Want me to look it up?" The only things I filter are the things that are super private or could actually hurt other people's feelings...

Yolk E said...

Thanks for the clarification. Of course the public thing becomes easier... you just get more comfortable in your own skin, and with that comes the ability to reveal things that you'd previously perceived as weaknesses :-) "The supreme certainty of ourselves"--lovely.

(And JUST for the record, when I don't know something, I always look it up and get back to 'em... for my own knowledge as much as theirs! :-)

Johan said...

I see what you mean but there is still plenty we hide in the room. I guess it's just because it's a silent class. But as Jason (one of the staff at my studio) said on my blog the other day: "It's weird, even though we speak about your practice regularly, reading your opinions unedited/diluted by conversation makes them more powerful, clearer and revealing."

There is still the insecurities of postures we aren't happy with etc. that gets hidden away. I guess the blogging helps strip that layer off as well. If you dear to go that far.

Writing this comment has made me remember what I really used to want from blog by those rock star practitioners when I started was to know how they felt about their postures. You'd see them in class and think everything most be so simple for them, knowing it most likely wasn't. I guess it's time to appease my younger self and write a posture summary post.