When I was learning arithmetic, I astutely asked my father why we didn’t just do away with the plus sign, in favor of the clearly more simple double minus. Why have two symbols when you could use one? Patiently, he explained to me that double negatives are confusing in language, and in math it is easier to use two different signs. Why is it easiest to perceive two opposites?
When the squid evolved their light-sensitive nerves that became the first functional eyes, they were able to sense which way was up and down. This made them able to make sense of the ocean, and made them much more survivable. Is this oppositional perception mirrored in our brains? To perceive lots of information categorically, the brain is able to save time and effort making sense of our surroundings. When does it become more survivable to unpack those categories and see each piece in its own detail?
At times, I get wrapped up in seeking things that are “good” and avoiding things that are “bad.” When I do yoga I try my “best” to make a “good” pose with my body. While I am grateful to my ancestors for seeking good, safe, comfortable things that kept them alive long enough to reproduce, I recognize the shortcomings of this strategy. I find that I miss out on a lot of information if I simply prescribe a good or bad to everything.
In the absence of language that enforces this dichotomy, the specifics make themselves known. A “good” downward dog, for example, becomes a downward dog with even pressure on the joints in my hands, and natural curves in my back, a pendulous head and neck, and legs that rejoice in the stretch through the heel. It is a downward dog that I feel at home in, with some wiggling movements to stretch different parts of my hips, or some bouncing just for fun.
This specificity helps me identify small changes that allow me ease of exploration. In using the scientific method, one tries to isolate one variable at a time to better predict an outcome. If I want something specific out of my practice, like easing the stiffness of an old injury, I would pick something specific to change and observe the results. If I were to change many things at once, variables could work against each other, and if I achieved a desired result, I wouldn’t know what the true cause would be.
Is it possible to do away with binary language entirely? Probably not. Language itself is a method of categorization, ripe with opposites. Hot and cold, near and far, dark and light, the list goes on. Yoga plays on awareness and perception, and without thinking too much we can observe the present moment, exactly as it is. For me, it is a break for my mind and a delight for the rest of me, to see clearly and unhindered by bulky qualifiers.