I travel a lot, practice yoga & I read a lot of science fiction.
The travel is not the glamorous Instagram kind, it is the repetitive business kind. Repeated trips to the same destination in order to keep a project moving. For the last assignment it was about 26 trips a year to Plantation Florida of all places. If I actually posted pics of this on Instagram you would think my account was broken or taken over by a bot repeating the same images. However In that repetition I found a resonance with the supposedly repeating 26 positions of Hot Yoga and a concept called the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle. Practicing both taught me a lot about the connection of anxiety to novelty and helped me gain some insight for myself on reducing anxiety and living a calmer, more flowing life.
Novelty from Purposeful Repetition
The concept of the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle comes from the book 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. There are no spoilers here, the philosophy is really just an accessory to a futuristic space crime novel. The lifestyle is introduced in a scene where a young 200 year old artist who lives a life perpetually pursuing the next new thing is trapped in a tunnel with a seasoned 400 year old diplomat who has long since experienced all the new things one can even try in this era of technologically driven longevity. The two due to circumstances on the planet Mercury face a many earth days long walk in order to safely escape this featureless tunnel by reaching a side of the planet not being melted by the intense Mercurian day. For the young artist this is a form of torture with the only apparent novelty in her future being a service ladder appearing once every 20 miles of walking. For the seasoned diplomat it is a much different experience for he practices something he calls the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle.
In order to help this young artist retain her sanity he tells her about his practice. For anyone who practices Hot Yoga this will sound a little like something you have heard before. A Pseudo Iterative lifestyle is the attempt to find balance by repeating everything as exactly as one can. He always listens to the same live performance of Beethoven. He always travels by the same space liner booking the same room and ordering the same meal.
His purpose at first was to eliminate novelty and find perfection. Years of trying to find something new had worn into leaving him anxious that his purpose in life might be perpetual boredom. So he leaned into boredom. Tried to do things the same way every time.
But in doing so he discovered that no matter how hard he tried. He could never repeat the same experience twice.
And in that he discovered an infinite source of novelty. In the very small details of the present, everything was always new. He had not adopted boredom. He had just released himself of anxiously looking forward at a dwindling list of obviously novel things to try and distract from what was presently in hand.
After reading this book I actually attempted to apply the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle to my travels. I always flew the same airline, booked the same room, walked to and ate at the same restaurant. I discovered that many shallow things fell away from my life and a greater level of depth came forward. For instance I got to know the people around me who worked at that restaurant and instead of one more conversation about the weather with new food I got to know them as friends and learned of their goals, ambitions and troubles and discovered how different the same slice of arugula & pepperoni pizza could be each time I ordered it. I was more immediate and more present. And more relaxed and less anxious.
26 Always Different Same Positions
When I first started Hot Yoga I was just like that young artist. Everything was new. Each position and each class a true novelty. A couple months later I was more like a 300 year old from our story no longer thinking about the pattern. Knowing what was next by instinct. Not really listening to the calls but reacting to them. Noticing what small things I needed to do next session in order to progress. Wondering if my forehead would ever touch my knee or back ever lay flat on the ground. But one thing was for sure I was not bored from repetition.
The excitement is in the details.
Rabbit is my most consistent position and the one where my form most matches ‘ideal’. It is the one where I could be bored and still pull it off. But I am not bored. Each time it is not the same. Sweat drips differently, muscles pull differently, tension hangs in a different sinew or fiber. The shoulders move up a little or the breath catches ever so slightly held.
If one is present the very small things are exciting progressions.
It is in the sameness that one finds an immediacy. An opportunity and requirement to be more present. To find a stillness in the mind and with it an escape from worries of the day.
A way to escape Anxiety.
Depression is obsessions with the past and Anxiety is worries about the future. The present is the place where the future is balanced against the past.
One potentially unhealthy way to avoid anxiety is to constantly seek out novelty. A well known unhealthy form of this is to prioritize novelty over responsibilities perhaps even taking on debt in this pursuit. Or to rely on the chemical novelty created by substances be they sugar, alcohol or drugs. Someone with this unhealthy form of Anxiety can see the present as a threat. For if they become bored they will once again begin to worry about the future. They condition themselves to seek out and plan novelty as an avoidance mechanism.
And yet those fears are never realized in Hot Yoga because the practice teaches that being present is actually the furthest thing from boredom as boredom itself is actually a worry that the future will be more interesting than right now. Try balancing in Standing Bow while thinking about Tree Pose to come. It just doesn’t work.
The Pseudo Iterative lifestyle teaches that if you are bored, then you are probably not being present enough to notice the interesting or important things about where you are now. Attempts at perfect repetition help that become obvious.
My particular anxieties are more related to control. Fearing that I could not predict what would happen next and future tripping over the many contingencies I needed to create in order to be ‘prepared’. At first the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle looked like a way to control unexpected outcomes. But in the end it taught me that preparedness is fine but there is no way to control all things and that it is better to focus on what is happening now than put that energy planning out infinitely many possibilities.
In Hot Yoga I have also been taught there is not a lot of purpose to planning contingencies. Thinking about Cobra in the middle of Standing Head to Knee usually lasts seconds before balance is lost and gravity pulls you back to the present moment. And how can you plan Camel in the middle of Eagle? You won’t know how loose your back feels until you get to Camel. You don’t even have to remember the sequence as you have a kind voice on the call helping to do that as well. You can luxuriate in the present moment.
Past, Present, Mind, Body, Breath all in balance. A nice recalibration on what immediacy is.
My engagement with Florida is now over as is my experimentation with the Pseudo Iterative Lifestyle. It was possible in part because of the circumstances of that travel. It was also not the only thing I did to help with anxiety. But with that experiment and other practices I have learned to live more in a flow.
And yes I have found Hot Yoga and I do enjoy my time each week in the Pseudo Iterative practice of the Asanas. The heat cleanses, the poses strengthening & stretching, the physical balance challenging the small muscles and the compression circulating the waters of our body all of it leading back to the cleansing heat.
And of course in the repetition every repeated pose is new each and every time bringing a balance between sameness and novelty. Reminding me how much there is to deal with today and how little I need to be worried about every possible contingency for tomorrow.
The delight in the now. In that I find a healthy calm.
Gratitude to the dedicated teachers who help with the call, their tips on the posture and occasional call outs of encouragement. And gratitude to those studios like Pure Yoga that create the space in which to practice the most Pseudo Iterative Yoga.