The Antifragility Yoga Program aims at being well and robust in every aspect of our human experience. This includes being strong and robust in the physical body-fabric through appropriate exercise. Also robust in what is going on in our own head-space, with our awareness and with our focus of attention – that is the place where mood is experienced. The work includes breathing (pranayama) practice and meditation / mindfulness practice. Some central threads of this work include personal responsibility, common sense and the principle that actions have consequences. Another central thread of this work is to make it as widely accessible as possible, hence it is not tied to any one tradition or philosophy – it is philosophy agnostic.
A common perception of yoga practice is that it is about physical exercise. But, there is more to the human experience than just the physical body-fabric. We perceive sensation, we think, we imagine, we sleep, we dream, we wake. The overall aim of this Program is to strengthen up and take responsibility for our own well-being, for all aspects of ourselves, as far as we can. This will enable us to make the most of our human experience. This Program is a concept framework for a holistic approach to enabling us to do that. We look at six broad areas of fragility that impact our human experience. This is not an exercise in being negative, but we need to get these basic areas right – otherwise, how can we expect a robust experience of well-being? These are things we can (usually) choose to do something about.
- Physical body fabric – this will tend towards weakness and dis-ease as a consequence of many factors including inadequate movement and exercise or excessive repetitive movement, sedentary living, lack of weight bearing activity, inadequate full range of movement to keep the joints open, carrying excess weight, … The asana or physical exercise practices of yoga will make a difference here.
- Breathing – typically we pay no heed to this vital activity, and use a relatively small percentage of the middle range of breathing, seldom taking a really full breath in nor a full breath out. Typically, we just don’t breath properly. A significant component here is the link between emotion and the breath. Locked-in emotion often goes together with locked-in breathing. The pranayama or breathing practices of yoga can make a difference here. Change your breathing and you change your thinking – change what you are feeling.
- Diet – our body fabric is made up primarily of stuff that went into our mouths. The body has nutritional requirements. Eating food that is nutritionally in-line with our body’s requirements leads to health. Eating food that is toxic to our body does not lead to health. Of course, what we eat is our choice, and it is good to enjoy it. But ideally, it should be a choice made with nutrition as a part of that choice, rather than simply “because I like it”. In much the same way as you put petrol into your petrol car, or diesel into your diesel car. You don’t stand at the fuel pump, debating, “Which fuel should I put in today?” Consider also, the link between diet and emotion.
- Focus of attention – this ends up a bit like our posture, or our breathing. We typically don’t pay any attention to our posture until some ache or pain draws our attention to it, or we engage in some activity that draws our attention to it – like dance or yoga. In these modern times we seldom develop and hold our own focus of attention. Attention is all too often held and lead by technology, smartphones, employment, advertising, social media, … Unless something heads us in that direction, we seldom turn our thoughts inward, an activity that leads to being comfortable and alone in the stillness of our own head-space, our own thinking. The meditation practices of yoga will start to make a difference here.
- Motive or goal – this is a subtle and multifaceted one. I think a significant issue of our modern times is a tendency to try to side-step responsibility. “It is my right to eat whatever I like, do whatever I like, whenever I like – and if I get sick (as a result), that is someone else’s responsibility to fix.” Usually in the UK, the NHS picks up the tab. Of course, there are circumstances beyond my control (like loosing a leg in a traffic accident, or a congenital heart defect), but also personal responsibility should play its part. “My health – my responsibility.” In so many areas of our lives, there is action and consequence. Often, we simply act, paying no heed to the inevitable consequences. Behind action lies motive or goal. We seldom act purely randomly and with no reason. Motive or goal is, all too often, like posture (and breathing, and focus of attention) arrived at without our being aware of it. In the absence of a clear reason for arriving at a motive, it tends to drift into “because it feels nice”, “because I want to do it / own it / feel it”, “because everyone is doing it”, “because it has always been done this way.” The issue here is not whether a motive is right or wrong (right or wrong as determined by whose set of values anyway?) Rather, the issue of whether the motive has been arrived at robustly, or just drifted into unthinkingly. How can right action and right consequence come out of motives that are unclear, undefined and fragile?
- Belief system – this is also a subtle (and usually contentious) one. In trivial decisions like whether you fancy a cup of tea or coffee, motive is trivial too. But in more complex actions and decisions, like what values you use to judge right and wrong, where you stand on euthanasia, on life after death or the value of compassion – motive is more complex. Here, just as motive lies behind action, usually belief system lies behind motive. Like many of these fragilities, it is all to easy to drift into a belief system. You end up believing something “because everyone does”, or “that is what my family does”, or “I was brought up in that tradition”, or “that is what I like doing”. Again, the issue here is not the debate whether our underlying belief system is right or wrong. Rather, as we did around motive, how we arrived at it. Has it been arrived at deliberately or robustly? Or has it been drifted into unthinkingly? Is it ‘robust’ or is it ‘fragile’?
This is the essence of the Antifragility Program in full. It is a holistic approach with the aim of being balanced and robust in every aspect of our human experience. To try to understand the factors and behaviours promoting health and well-being, as well as those contrary to health and well-being – as far as possible (and always with common sense). Not only to understand, but to actively take steps to do something about it. To take responsibility for our own life experience, as much as we are able to.
This work is not unique, and it is certainly not the only way. But it is a way to start, a way to make a difference. Start at the place you are at right now, knowing what you know right now, in the condition you are in right now, and let’s head towards improving. Let’s start along this road and see how far it goes.