Stressed Out Zeroed In

Stresed Out

It is hardly surprising that most lists of the toughest jobs in the United States routinely list flying planes, fighting fires, and fighting crime as the most stressful occupations. They are life-and death tasks, like being a paramedic or atomic energy repairman, jobs with tension built in. Some livelihoods mean there are no do-overs when getting it wrong or blowing it up.

What is surprising is that many lists routinely flag numerous other professions, such as teacher, social worker, and corporate executive. The corner office has gotten so nerve-racking, apparently, some executives need to take a year off to sail their yachts to Greece and back. Teachers and social workers get to take a sick day-or-two.

Even event coordinators get into the act.

They cracked the Forbes Top 10 list in 2017. The magazine’s stress score for airline pilots was 60.5 and for police officers 51.6. The stress score for event coordinators was 50.1.

Who knew planning the scope of weddings and conferences and conferring with on-site staff could be such a hassle? It points out that stress can be more real than the real jaws of death, like when bullets are whizzing by your head, and can simply be in the eye of the beholder.

Sometimes hell is a foxhole. Other times hell is other people.

Even though stress is primarily a physical response, more often than not what we are responding to in the modern world is what we make it. For millions of years it was see the predator in the wild, there’s the potential danger, fight or flight. Adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine flooded the body to focus one’s attention on the fangs of danger. It was beat the bully or beat the feet to get away.

The Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars were extremely stressful, especially if you were involved in them, which hundreds of millions of people were. More than fifty million alone died during the Second World War.

Today armed conflicts are more in the line of skirmishes. Unlike the World Wars when everyone was all in, relatively few people in terms of sheer numbers are on the firing lines of the War on Terror. It doesn’t make it any less stressful for those involved, but most of us aren’t involved.

Nowadays it’s the kids won’t stop screaming, the boss won’t stop screaming, and the bill collectors won’t stop screaming. Not to mention losing your job, getting divorced, moving, and, worst of all, making a speech. Many people claim to fear getting up at a lectern in front of a group and talking more than they fear death.

There are many ways of coping with stress. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid drugs and drink, take a break, and share your problems, although taking a break and listening to all of someone else’s problems without a stiff drink at hand is problematic, at best.

Or have a drink, after all. Like W. C. Fields said, “I never worry about being driven to drink. I just worry about being driven home.”

Some of the most popular 21st century techniques for reducing stress are meditation, stretching, physical movement, mental imagery, and controlled breathing. When those techniques are rolled into one package, presto change-o, you get 16thcentury yoga.

Aside from its other benefits, yoga is tailor made for dealing with stress.

Cat cow stretches, down dogs, lunges, bends, twists, inversions, and whatever else you’re tuning into are all good for you. They’re good for you every day, even if it’s only happy baby pose when you’re tired and winding down.  Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they are stressed daily. That’s why ten out of ten should probably get on a yoga mat. Nobody stressed out left behind.

There are physical benefits to the physical side of yoga. It keeps you active. It keeps you fit. It keeps you healthy. Besides the physical fitness benefits, it keeps you mentally fit. Yoga makes you more alert, less fatigued, and revs up cognitive function. It produces endorphins. You feel better in spite of yourself.

When your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters get bumped up it puts pep in your step.

Yoga exercise practiced regularly increases self-confidence and reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It helps you sleep better, too. Tossing and turning aren’t what you want to be doing in bed, at least not that kind of tossing and turning.

Guided imagery is a stress management technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, symptoms of PTSD, and relieve physical tension. It’s a simple technique, simply using your imagination to take you to a calm place. It involves getting comfortable, closing your eyes, and Imagining yourself in a peaceful setting – like a tropical beach, bright blue water, surf and sand – which helps you relax and relieves stress.

Yoga teachers do it all the time.

All yoga classes end with savasana, or corpse pose. It’s a relaxation pose, done flat on your back. What’s more relaxing than being flat on your back? Teachers methodically annotate the experience. “Soften your face, your shoulders, arms. Breathe. Soften your abdomen as it rises and falls. Breathe. Soften your thighs down to the tips of your toes. Breathe.” Or they script the experience, leading the class in a systematic relaxation, images like a leaf floating down a stream or walking through a sunlit forest being the narrative.

No one can avoid stress completely, not cavemen in tooth and claw days nor up-to-the-minutemen. It’s not even certain doing so would be a good idea. But, how we react to stress is up there. Stress is a common trigger for headaches, from the tension kind to the migraine kind. Fighting it all day leads to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. It suppresses the immune response. It can make you literally sick of it.

Take a breath.

Controlled breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing and paced respiration, is a tried and true stress reduction technique. It is the cornerstone of the relaxation response, first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. It encourages full oxygen exchange, slowing down the beat of the heart and stabilizing blood pressure.

Take a deep breath.

Deep abdominal breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting calm. It’s easy to do whenever you want, at a scheduled time every day, any time you have a time out, or waiting during your appointment with your tax preparer. “It’s the fastest way to calm down,” said Time Magazine. It’s a stress eraser.

Breath control is one of the eight limbs of yoga. It has been since the beginning of the practice, long before worry, anxiety, and stress became the bugaboos of modern life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 10 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. If they went to a yoga class they would hear from the word go to breathe consciously, control the breath, and connect to your breath.

If we all breathe 10 to 15 times a minutes, that’s about how many times yoga teachers use the breath word.

Unconscious shallow breathing is part and parcel of the primitive part of the brain. Conscious breathing comes from the cerebral cortex. Conscious breathing is about controlling the mind. Connecting with the breath, since we breathe all the time, is connecting with the present. It’s a way of being in the present, not in the past where something has already happened, nor in the future where something might or might not happen.

Whatever bad thing might or might not happen today, time spent concerning yourself with it is a waste of time, since it’s already tomorrow on the other side of the world. Besides, what most people worry about never happens, anyway. Don’t worry about the horse going blind. Just get the wagon loaded up.

A big part of the practice of yoga is controlling prana – which can be referred to as energy, life force, or breath – through pranayama, or various methods of controlling the breath. The goal is to raise one’s energy, or prana. It’s an essential pert of meditation, another of the eight limbs of yoga.

When it comes to breathwork, yoga is soup to nuts : bellows breath, breath of fire, and lion’s breath. Going all out, if you are especially stressed, is skull cleanser. It’s a cleansing breath to raise your energy level. It also involves a fun hand sign, which is making your hands look like a dog’s head by resting your ring and middle fingers on your thumb while sticking your pointer fingers and pinkies up like ears.

The last tool in the toolbox of stress busters is meditation. “Anyone can practice meditation,” says the Mayo Clinic, “It’s simple and inexpensive. It can wipe away the day’s stresses, bringing with it inner peace.” The relaxed breathing and focused attention of meditation clear away the overload of contemporary life, from eight-lane highways to information superhighways. Meditation helps you be self-aware, not simply aware of your surroundings.

Meditation is the penultimate port of call on the eight-fold path of yoga. It isn’t just a monkey wrench for solving problems, be it stress, or anything else. It’s about getting into a state of consciousness different than either the waking or sleeping states. It’s about pivoting the mind inward. The mind often has a mind of its own. Meditation is designed for it to find stillness.

If you can find it, there’s no stress there.

Meditation is a practical way of calming yourself down, slowing down the endless sturm und drang, leaving distractions behind and focusing all your attention on one thing, be it your breath or an object. Or you can hum along. It’s not about thinking about nothing. It’s about paying attention.

It is practiced in the space between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is.

When you’re stressed out, get on a yoga mat. It will zero you in.

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Marching Orders

Marching Orders

Ask any army navy marine air force officer recruiter what is important about basic training and he will tell you it prepares recruits for all the aspects of martial service, physical, mental, and emotional. Most far-reaching, however, is it forces individuals to put personal freedom aside and act as a group.

Ask any corporate recruiter what they look for in new hires and they will tell you the ability to make decisions and solve problems. Nevertheless, the skill they most look for is the ability to work effectively in a group.

Ask any yoga teacher whether it’s better to practice alone or in a studio setting and most of them will say yoga is an individual practice. It isn’t groupthink. “Do what serves you” is often said and heard. Think for yourself.

Singing from the same sheet of music doesn’t necessarily serve you.

But, they will point out, there are many valuable lessons to be learned exercising in a studio beyond just discovering the nuts and bolts of the practice, such as gaining insights and corrections from experts, sharing energy and purpose, raising consciousness, taking you out of your comfort zone when practicing mat to mat with different kinds of folks, and breathing in union with like-minded people in a dedicated space.

It unifies everyone in the studio in the team spirit of yoga. You can still be yourself, no matter the size of the flock, or so the thinking goes. Singing from the same sheet of music can make great choral societies.

Practicing solo at home, of course, has its go-to reasons, as well.

“If you are self-conscious around other people, being in the safety of your own home can be comforting,” explains Mia Togo, a Yoga Works certified teacher and Life Coach.

However, going at it at home brings with it inevitable distractions, your family, your friends, your pets, your smart phone, and your own physical needs, like hunger, the bathroom, and hitting the sack. On the other hand, you don’t have to wear hundreds of dollars of fashionable apparel to earn your wings.

A t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants usually get it done.

When did Lululemon’s Reveal Tight Precision Pants become the first serious step in suiting up for a studio yoga class? Do the Reveal Pants have something to do with revealing the inner self? Whatever happened to the fun of wearing sweatpants?

Although it’s true they’re old-fashioned and nobody looks good in them, it’s equally true they are made for one reason, which is exercise, and they fulfill their reason for being without breaking a sweat or blabbing on and on about airflow and wicking.

The famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld looks down his nose on them, saying, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Nevertheless, they trap heat close to your body and help warm your muscles up quickly. You sweat more, you burn more calories, and you get a great workout.

After all, that’s what most commercial yoga is all about.

When did yoga become a studio practice? The easy answer is when it became a $16 billion dollar business in the United States and a $30 billion dollar-plus business worldwide. The real answer is it happened when it became a multi-billion dollar business everywhere.

When it comes to dollars and cents, even meditation and mindfulness are raking it in, more than a billion a year in the last calendar year in the United States. Group meditation classes, oxymoronic as that may be, have sprung up nationwide, costing real money for going inward. The “Muse” headband, if you want to know exactly what’s going on in the back of your mind, measures brain activity during meditation for only $299.95.

It doesn’t take any brains to know that is $299.95 too much.

Just like it doesn’t take any brains to tease out what the wizard behind the curtain is up to.

There is great pleasure to be found in yoga classes. That’s why millions of consumers go to them. That’s why many of them go to classes twice a week-or-more. That’s why they are willing to pay $12.00 to $16.00 a class. In some cosmopolitan areas it is almost double that. The wizardry of yoga studios is the awareness of the effect unrolling a yoga mat has on most patrons.

Just about everybody feels better walking out than walking in to a yoga class. It’s not because they’re happy it’s over. It’s because their muscles have been lengthened and strengthened and because they’ve spent an hour breathing calmly evenly steadily. The flow of prana, or life force, has been unlocked balanced juiced by the practice

GABA is a neurotransmitter. Low levels of it are associated with anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain. Higher levels are associated with the opposite. One way to replicate the activity of GABA is to drink beer wine cocktails. Alcohol binds to some GABA receptors in the brain.

Another way is go to yoga class.

According to the Boston University Medical School, people who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of GABA. In addition they have lower levels of cortisol, which is associated with a higher propensity towards depression. More GABA and less cortisol let the sun shine through. Who wouldn’t rather be on the Virgin Islands than, say, Moscow at night in january?

In any case, a sunny disposition always trumps a cloudy day.

Loosening and lubricating joints muscles myofascial tissue and the mind all feel good. Rubbing the Aladdin’s lamp of endorphins, releasing the genie, leads to feelings of euphoria, appetite modulation, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain and stress.

That’s why 91% of regular yoga practitioners are satisfied with their yoga studio, among other reasons. That’s why yoga is addictive.

That’s the great pleasure to be found in yoga classes. The top two reasons people do yoga is its impact on health and stress. That’s what is behind what yoga studios market, often without actually marketing it. That’s why there are almost 14 million yoga practitioners over the age of 50 in the United States. Many older adults have three-or-more chronic health conditions. As we age, not only does existence become more painful, we become more sensitive to pain, as well.

Who isn’t up for an elixir?

It’s more than a tonic for what ails you. If the key aspects of life are physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional, then yoga is the three-point shot goal kick touchdown pass all rolled up into a home run.

“Yoga, with its philosophical roots, flowing movements, student community, and capacity to aid in regulation of our thoughts and feelings, hits all of these elements to provide an overall sense of well-being,” explains Sarah Sung in ‘What Makes Yoga Feel So Good’.

Yoga is about getting you feeling good in your own skin. Why don’t more people, after they’ve mastered the basics of the practice, down dog their skins at home? Why march through rain snow sleet to the studio when you can throw on your sweatpants and roll out your mat in the rec room? Why run with the pack?

Even though 65% of yoga practitioners say they have practiced at home at least once, fewer than one out of four yoga practitioners in the United States have practiced yoga on their own in the past 12 months.

Yoga teachers stress it is important to be attentive to every individual in class so every individual can get the most out of their practice. That is easier said than done when there are a dozen-or-two people in class, much less fifty or a hundred. The larger the class the more cookie cutter it necessarily becomes.

Yoga studios advertise trust as an essential of their business. That’s the problem. Studios are businesses. Mutual trust devoid of mutual interest is sentimental nonsense. When yoga becomes a mutual transaction, it becomes a problem.

Just like guppies and yuppies, we are admittedly herd animals. When you’re in a herd you base your decisions on the actions of others. If you’re a guppy or a yuppie, that strategy works just fine. If you’re trying to walk the eight-limb path, that strategy is self-defeating.

Even though everyone in a herd is a self-serving individual, crowds are the phenomenon of people all acting in the same way at the same time. In a yoga class, the teacher on the platform is the opinion leader influencing persuading leveraging. If you’re good at headstand, that’s good for you. If you’re not, make sure you let your neighbor know.

Herd behavior is all about being harnessed.

Who wants to be harnessed?

The key to creating lasting change is to do things on your own. Developing a personal yoga practice is part of that package. Doing what everybody else is doing in yoga class week month year after year, which doesn’t take too much willpower to do since it’s follow the leader, makes you just like everybody else. When you’re a member of the team, you rely on the team. That’s why it’s a trope that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’.

Self-practice, which takes no small measure of self-discipline, makes you into you.

“I think self-discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets,” points out the cognitive psychologist Daniel Goldstein.

If yoga is a personal journey, as is touted far and wide, no one can truly be oneself in a flow yoga class. It is impossible to be yourself in the middle of a herd. It’s like sporting events, religious gatherings, and riots. Everyone goes with the flow. Getting down with the group mind is antithetical to standing up for oneself.

The private self in the public world is always at risk of being subsumed by the mass of marching orders of congregation corporation government.

Standing up for oneself is not up to a public vote. What you make of your yoga practice doesn’t have anything to do with studio classes or influencers. It’s OK to listen to others. It’s not OK to become a follower. It’s not a team game. It’s an individual game.

The biggest mistake anyone can make is to believe somebody else is pivotal central crucial to one’s development. The best thing anyone can do is own their own practice. Watch the parking meters. It isn’t about what you ought to be. It’s about what you can be.

Can you get the same results doing yoga at home as you can get at a studio class?

You’ll never know until you try it. Making oneself specific original and a conscious human being means marching the other way, away from the marching orders from on high, whether it’s parents teachers leaders ringleaders or bosses.

Shepherds are for flocks of sheep.

Bust out the gray loose-fitting sweatpants. Just don’t look in the mirror. You might not like what you see. Are they chill? Yes. Are they all the rage? No. At least, all alone on your mat, there won’t be anyone around to judge you.

Burning Rubber

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“Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.” E. B. White

There are about 6 million car accidents in the United States every year, which amounts to close to 16,000-or-so every day of every week of every month. Car accidents cost more than $230 billion per annum, or more than $800 for every person in the country. In the last five years the number of accidents has risen by almost a million a year.

1 in 45 American drivers experience some kind of injury-producing accident annually. Almost everyone in the country knows someone who has suffered in a car crash. Not everyone, however, knows anyone who practices yoga who’s been in a car crash.

It’s not because they don’t drive cars. Yoga might be from back in the walking and horseback days, but everyone drives cars nowadays. It’s a birthright rite of passage right of way in the modern world. It’s more likely that since they practice yoga, and the lessons learned, they are able to stay out of harm’s way more often than not.

Some of the causes of car crashes are unavoidable, whether you practice yoga or not, like design defects of the car itself, potholes and tire blowouts, animals like deer crossing in front of you, and even slippery treacherous heavy rain. Most accidents, however, have nothing to do with a moose jumping in front of your car in a rainstorm as you hit a pothole and all your tires blow out. They are usually the fault of human misbehavior.

The lion’s share of mishap is the result of driving drunk, driving drug-addled, reckless driving, running red lights, and distracted driving. Driver error is by far the largest single cause of smash-ups in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It’s gotten to the point that almost 70% of all traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.

The wages of out on a limb driving, like carelessness aggressiveness tailgating turning and passing improperly violating rights of way sensation-seeking speeding road rage, are bump and grind life and death. On top of that, many drivers overestimate their own skill level behind the wheel. 90% of us believe we have above-average ability. But public roads are not proving grounds for bumper cars.

Going foggy mountain, making matters worse, young and old, men and women, no collar to white collar, are stopped all the time for driving under the influence. There are literally millions of DUI collars in the United States every year. No matter the source, such as spirits or various other drugs besides alcohol, drivers demonstrating impairment are arrested and charged.

Distracted driving prioritizes ordering a sausage mushroom green pepper pizza from your car while trying to find the cup holder for your Starbucks over being able to stop in a split second’s notice on a four-lane while whizzing along at 65 75 85 MPH. Even though safe driving depends on your ability to notice many things at once, it might be better to keep the deluxe pizza you’re dreaming about out of the mix.

Since driving is the most dangerous thing most people do on a daily basis, why do so many people turn into tools the minute they get behind the wheel? It’s one thing to cut in line at the supermarket. It’s another thing to cut in line on the superhighway. Two shopping carts in a catfight will end up in bruised feelings. Two SUV’s going mano a mano puts the lives of all involved at risk.

Why take the risk?

“When we’re in a car we often feel anonymous,” explained Erica Slotter, a social psychologist at Villanova University. “When we feel anonymous, we lose focus of our moral compass and are more likely to behave badly.”

Middle fingers fly fast and furious.

At even its most basic level, notwithstanding any points on the compass, yoga is good for your driving. Being stuck in a traffic jam can be a pain in the ass, but it is definitely a pain in the back. Not only are you sitting around seething, but once you get going there are acceleration forces, vehicle sway, and vibration. “Coupled with the design of the car seat itself, they can increase the chance of back problems,” said Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University.

Stop and stretch as often as you can, say most chiropractors.

Take a yoga class. All of the basic yoga exercises, from cat cow to downward facing dog to bridge pose to dolphin plank are good for your back. They stretch and lengthen your back. They strengthen your back. They help return your back to its proper alignment.

Take a yoga class once or twice a week. Consistent practice leads to better alignment overall, better posture, and better body awareness. Instead of slumping in c-curve style in the front seat, awareness of your body gained through yoga helps you maintain the natural curvature of your spine.

Twisting poses are a big part of the practice. Sitting at home, at work, and in a car stiffens up tissues, muscles, and joints. When you rotate your spine your back muscles mobilize and vertebrates decompress.

It makes reaching into the back seat easier.

Not only that, getting on the mat is good for visual acuity, such as being able to spot sudden obstacles and shifts in traffic patterns. A report in the ‘Journal of Modern Optics’ revealed that people who practiced yoga were able to detect that a flashing light was pulsing, rather than held steady, at significantly higher frequencies than control subjects. They were able to see danger ahead sooner than later.

If drugs and drink are the bane of road traffic safety, soaking up some of yoga’s lessons about on yoga off drugs might get some people to put the brakes on. Since drugs and drink are time-honored pastimes, the problem isn’t having a cocktail or a spliff now and then, but tanking up on opoids or booze or both. Fortunately, many drunk drivers get into one-car crashes and just kill themselves. Unfortunately, more than half of all fatal car accidents involve one drunk driver and one sober driver.

Drugs and drink slow you down, slow your reaction time, slow your brain down, slow the processing of sensory information, and generally impair your ability to use common sense. Mind-altering substances can be entertaining, but there’s a falling off point where they simply distort reality to no good end and lead to wild goose chases. In the end it amounts to little and ends in nothing.

Although it is true yoga requires effort to do, while popping a pill or bending an elbow is as easy as it gets, the rewards of yoga practice are there for the taking. It brings the body and brain into balance. Although there are no rules from on high that say everyone who does yoga has to be a teetotaler, it is a practice of awareness, not something for dumbing down your consciousness.

There are no hangovers after a yoga exercise meditation mindfulness class. It’s clear sailing ahead.

“It takes only one drink to get me drunk,” said George Burns. “The trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or fourteenth.” When you practice enough yoga, however, you usually remember to stick to the first or second one, and you’re always aware that driving juiced or junked-up is dangerous, not just to you, but to everyone else on the road.

When did eating fiddling with the radio grooming phone calling and texting behind the wheel while merging lanes become the norms of unsafe driving? At any given time about 10% of all drivers are distracted, according to Paul Atchley of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Kansas. It might be prudent every time you start up your car to assume there is someone out there who will be trying to kill you.

For every 11 miles driven the average driver is on their phone for a half-mile. Looking down at it for 5 seconds at 55 MPH is the same as driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. It’s relying on luck, walking the high wire between the vital spark and disaster. Maybe you’ll score a touchdown. Maybe you’ll get sacked for a big loss.

Mental focus is a large part of yoga. It’s one of the eight limbs of the practice and is woven in and through all the other parts. There might not be any rules about drinking, but there is a rule that says pay attention and no texting while in headstand.

In yoga practice the idea of a focused gaze is called drishti. It essentially means a place to look. It is a core concept and was championed in the work of K. Pattabhi Jois and B. K. S. Iyengar, the two pioneering teachers of the twentieth century. On the yoga mat it means looking at one spot while in a balancing pose to help keep you from falling over. On another level it means paying attention to what you’re doing and being mindful of the moment.

“It appears that following yoga practice participants were better able to focus their mental resources,” said Neha Gother, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois about research published in the ‘Journal of Physical Activity and Health’.

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away.”

On all levels it means being able to damp down the chatter.

In page-one yoga and day-to-day life it means concentrate your thoughts on the task at hand. ‘Look, something shiny!’ doesn’t get you anywhere. On the open road it means eyes front and hands on the wheel. Put the smart phone away in the glove box. Better yet, throw it in the trunk. Manipulating it and talking both distract the brain. Driving is itself enough of a multitasking activity, at least until we are all being chauffeured by driverless cars.

The practice of yoga and driving are both about keeping the mind body in tune. Although yoga classes always end with savasana, otherwise known as dead man’s pose, there’s no reason to race to dead man’s curve after class.

“We both popped the clutch when the light turned green, you shoulda heard the whine from my screamin’ machine, Dead Man’s Curve I can hear ‘em say, won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve,” is how the Jan and Dean song goes. Everybody knows what happened at the curve in the road.

At its most elemental level yoga is about conscious breathing. The breath is what links all aspects of the practice. It redirects your focus. It imparts a sense of compassion, for yourself and others. When compassion kicks in it’s easy to drive close to the speed limit so that you’re not endangering others. It’s easy to stay sober and alert so that you aren’t making yourself a menace to society. It’s easy to let another driver merge into your lane without blowing a gasket.

But, if the screws do start coming loose, just breathe.

 

Cutting Dreams Down to Size

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“I want to get physical, let’s get into physical, let me hear your body talk, your body talk.”   Olivia Newton-John

There have been several religious revivals in the United States. There was one while it was still British America and another one in the early 19th century. They are called Great Awakenings, outpourings of the Holy Spirit, in other words. One sermon by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 was entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

It immediately breathed new life into godliness in the colonies.

The third Great Awakening of the second half of the 19th century was centered on the rise of contemporary churches, missionary work, and an emphasis on social issues.

The last more-or-less Great Awakening happened in the 1950s, when among the post-war baby-booming moms and dads of an expanding confident Pax Americana there was a revival of interest in religiosity, especially among conservative denominations, sparking theological battles and the rise of politically powerful evangelicals.

The Great Decline began in the 1970s when prayer, church membership, and service attendance started to take a nosedive. Although most Americans still claim to believe in God, they largely sleep in on Sundays. Maybe that’s what some evangelicals mean when they talk about “Soul Sleep”.

At the same time that interest in the spirit was fading away in the United States, a practice centered on the spirit started gaining traction. It was the practice of yoga. It first appeared on the coastlines of the country, the most secular places in the land, but it was a new awakening.

Although yoga today has been mainstreamed manhandled merchandised into cute outfits twisting themselves into perfect poses and posting the results on social media, Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi” and the man who brought the practice to the land of opportunity in the 1920s, thought it was something else.

“It is a profound science of unfolding the infinite potential of the human mind and soul,” he said. He thought the purpose of yoga was not asana exercise, even though health is an important component of the discipline, but rather union with the spirit, largely through meditation.

Yogananda wasn’t big on milk and honey. He didn’t necessarily believe cloud nine was going to be got to by wrapping yourself up in a lululemon heart opener knit wrap, the perfect light layer to wear to and from your practice. He might have thought they are great clothes, colorful and moisture-wicking, albeit tight-fitting for his plus-sized figure from a different fashion time.

The Great Decline was long in coming, set in motion by modern philosophy, questioning everything, modern ideas like agnosticism, deism, and evolution, and societal rebellion. Modern times have been trending to the secular for several centuries. It may not be true that when we stop believing in God we’ll believe in anything, but it is true we all believe in Wall Street and Main Street more than God nowadays.

The Decline of Awe also came into play in the steam age industrial age atomic age digital age. The heavens are full of stars photographed by Hubble. They aren’t portents of success or failure, victory or disaster, Heaven or Hell, anymore. Awe has been replaced by high camp comic drama self-promotion hurly-burly send-ups. The proof is in the pudding, in Facebook YouTube Twitter Instagram.

The four top social network amusement parks have almost 5 billion users between them. On the other hand, maybe 20 percent of Americans go to church on a regular basis, maybe less. The rest are on their cell phones. “Ask most pastors what percentage of inactive members they have, and they’ll say anything from 40 – 60 percent,” said sociologist Penny Long Marler in ‘An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America’.

There are far more No Church-affiliated Americans than Catholic Americans or mainline Protestant Americans. Only evangelicals are holding their own, probably because they believe in a success-oriented culture. Or maybe because they got their own haunted house ogre elected to the White House.

When yoga was getting its legs under it in the 1970s and 80s many Americans said they were spiritual, but not necessarily religious. What they meant was they weren’t organized religious. Even though arena-style mega-churches were springing up, seeming to be bursting at the seams, the writing was on the wall.

Just when the spiritual was fading away, along came yoga over the horizon, a ray of sunshine. A new kind of post-religious spirituality was on the way to a studio near you, brought to you from the East, where all religions have their roots. Sooner or later, everything old becomes new again.

Vivekenanda got the ball rolling in the 1890s, Yogananda popularized Kriya Yoga in the 1920s, and Yogi Bhajan inspired a large following in the 1960s with his Yoga of Awareness. At their core the practices were all spiritual. However, the spiritual aspect of yoga was not sustainable in the 20th century, not in a society becoming ever more secular and materialistic.

After World War Two greed rapidly outstripped need. By the turn of the new century the United States had become the most materialistic society in the history of the world. Yoga’s ethical guidelines, behaviors like non-excess, non-possessiveness, and self-discipline, were rapidly becoming irrelevant, even as the practice boomed.

Boomers and GenX’ers are less religious and spiritual than the Silent Generation. Millennials are the least religious and spiritual of any American generation. Americans are more focused on the freedom to do whatever they want more than ever before. The sense of spirit as the gospel truth has been tossed into the dustbin of history.

The problem for the bread and butter of yoga in the 1990s and 2000s was what to do. The union of the individual self and universal consciousness wasn’t going to pay the rent. In fact, being on the side of the spirit was being on the wrong side of the balance sheet.

The solution to the problem was to go back to Patanjali, who codified the system of yoga about two thousand years ago, and turn him over on his head. Modern yoga stepped up, dropped back, and threw a spiral for a touchdown. From the perspective of Head Coach Patanjali on the sidelines, the forward pass might have been thrown backwards into the wrong end zone. But, that was neither here nor there.

It was B. K. S Iyengar to the rescue.

He wrote a book all about yoga exercise, which was a blend of hatha, gymnastics, British Army calisthenics, Indian wrestling, and alignment. “Light on Yoga” was and still is a hit. “When teachers refer to the correct way to do a posture, they’re usually alluding to the alignment Mr. Iyengar instructs and expertly models in his book,” wrote ‘Yoga Journal’ in a tribute after his death.

Since then, streaming into the 21st century, yoga has become as body conscious as it can possibly be. Five of the eight limbs of yoga have been lopped off and left for dead, leaving posture poses and breathing exercises in control. Meditation has been repurposed as mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about fully minding what’s happening, minding what you’re doing, and minding the space you’re moving through. It used to be called paying attention. The best thing about the new practice is you don’t have to sit around meditating for hours anymore.

Yoga is a practice that fills in the space between now and forever, or at least it used to. It has since expunged the forever side of things and made the now side the happening side. It was once something between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is. But, times have changed. Now it’s elbow grease, and any sense of wonder is beside the point.

“I don’t believe in all that spiritual mumbo jumbo,” or words to that effect, are routinely heard in yoga studios from coast to coast. It’s like hearing not the door slamming shut, but its echo.

Yoga has become a choreographed sequence of squirming facts on a rectangular rubber mat. Nuts and bolts were once baffled by imagination, but now studio classes are full of them. Yoga used to know what facts not to bother with. Now facts are confused with reality.

When modern yoga stripped away most of the limbs of the practice it was doing what it had to do to cash in on a good thing. Physical fitness was never the purpose of yoga, but physical fitness is what most people will pay $15.00 an hour for, not instruction in the benefits of the spirit. Intangibles are not the point of gruntwork.

Who goes to a gym for enlightenment?

Before the Great Split the dichotomy was, it’s either yoga, or it’s exercise. It didn’t matter what you were doing, bicep curls or sun salutations. What mattered was the ethical motivation non-competiveness spiritual orientation and where whatever you were doing was heading. If tight buns were the goal, it was exercise. If the subtle body was the goal, it was yoga.

It doesn’t matter anymore. Yoga has become whatever you want it to be, whatever you say it is, whatever pays the best in the marketplace. Deconstructing the structural unity of the practice has become constructing the fast food drive-thru of the obvious on a bland burger bun.

When yoga studios add profit centers to their footprint – mats branded apparel props essential oils lifestyle items – it’s because they need the real McCoy to stay in business. Retail can add 20 to 30 percent to the bottom line. Trying to make money off the spiritual is like trying to give fish a bath.

Yoga businesses need to be profitable. All earnings are dependent on shoppers, since if there weren’t any shoppers there wouldn’t be any stores or studios. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the groove on the mat they’re looking for or simply looking groovy. It doesn’t matter whether shoppers want an awakening or tight buns. The customer is always right.

“The act of shopping is a form of stress release,” wrote Rebecca Kotch in ‘Managing Your Yoga Retail Space’. “Shopping within a yoga studio environment seems to be an exceptional antidote to everyday stresses,” she said.

It obviates the need for wasting your time in corpse pose, as well. It begs the question, however, whether the new yoga is yoga by another name, or is it something different altogether? Is the old yoga dead and gone? Does it matter?

“Do I believe that yoga can be imparted without being grounded in its cultural and spiritual heritage? No. Whatever that is, it isn’t yoga,” Kavita Das wrote in ‘Any Practice of Yoga That Isn’t Spiritual Isn’t Really Yoga’.

Although there is no disagreeing with the sentiment, there is no doubt Kavita Das is completely wrong. Yoga has a cultural and spiritual heritage and the practice was, within the last one hundred years, grounded in that tradition. That is not the case anymore. Yoga today is whatever most people say it is.

Even before the Great Decline the idea that we are compelled to create meaning had been crashing into the past, redefining modernity. Everybody has to create meaning for themselves and create their own outlook. Life used to be what other people said it was. Life nowadays is whatever you say it is. Hanging onto the coattails of yoga’s heritage doesn’t get it done in an age of engagement and commitment to the now.

Although it is true the present is like an egg that was laid by the past, the present is never like the past. When you’ve got the present in the driver’s seat, running the show, you control both the past and the future. What we dream up now is tomorrow’s reality.

Most yoga today is branded, delivered, and consumed in a commercial setting, and has no spiritual aspect to it. The cultural heritage of the practice has become beside the point, except for the yoga tourists who pay homage to it by going to the sub-continent on vacation. However, what they practice at the fountainhead is ironically a mostly Westernized form of the discipline.

The Great Dream of yoga used to be awareness, self-control, and higher consciousness. The way it was gotten to was by training the body and the mind. Even though teachers were helpful, neither gym nor studio memberships were necessary. The best teachers didn’t explain or demonstrate, rather they inspired. They didn’t confuse things with their names.

The next step used to be about going beyond the physical, beyond the mind, even, and straight to the spirit.

Most modern practice, however, has evolved so that it’s never mind anything except the physical. Modernity has given the heave ho to thousands of years of meaning, and replaced it with the provisional, so that essence is what you make of it, once you have come into being. The physicality of existence is what matters more than anything else.

It may be reductive to do yoga as a workout, but the other paths have been largely washed away in the Great Flood of rationalism secularism commodification. Besides, yoga has been decontextualized to the point that anything goes, anyway. Who really believes in the past anymore?

Traditional yoga was an enterprise after states of insight. Modern yoga is an enterprise after health and wealth along material planes. Traditional yoga espoused detachment from physical pleasures, or at least many of them. Modern yoga is a shopping mall of physical pleasures. Traditional yoga was then and modern yoga is now.

We all dream up our own reality, although now and then it’s fine to pause in our pursuit of yoga and just do it.

Outer Ring Inner Bliss

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The been around the block practice of yoga, nowadays practiced by tens of millions of Americans, recently found its way to Westlake, an old outer-ring but rebranded suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In its time, when it was a village by another name, it seceded from Bay Village, a nearby town, parts of it later allied themselves with North Olmsted, another neighbor, and finally appropriated parts of Olmsted Township, yet another neighbor, for itself.

It changed its name and became a city of its own in 1957.

As recently as 50 years ago, after a black pastor’s home was firebombed, the mayor of Westlake responded by complaining that “no one was notified so the community could be prepared to accept a Negro family.” Although Westlake remains overwhelmingly white, median family income has risen to more than $80,000.00, and firebombing has gone out of style.

Westlake is a quiet tidy affluent town of 30 thousand–some people and more high-end cars than you can bat an admiring eye at. Crocker Park, an instant oatmeal mash-up of apartments offices stores and restaurants based on small French town-type living, is the crown jewel of the community. ‘It’s All Happening Here’ and ‘A Life Well Planned’ are the bookend slogans of the lifestyle center.

Inner Bliss Yoga, more than a decade down the road connecting body and mind in Rocky River, one suburb east of Westlake, recently expanded westward to a second location inside the halo of Westlake’s lifestyle. Doubling down to a second location, the new Inner Bliss Yoga 2 (IBY2, as it is called) also doubled up on exercise rooms.

The larger of the two spaces accommodates up to 75 and features a furnace system with the capacity to bring the studio to 95 degrees and 50% humidity for Hot Yoga classes. Although hot yoga doesn’t burn any more calories than a brisk walk, external heat and sweatiness have become the norm in the yogacersize of the times.

Old school yoga built internal heat with pranayama, or breath work. Modern yoga gets the carbon burners going. It makes it easy to believe in the intensity of your practice, if nothing else. It’s been said gold medals aren’t really made of gold, but of determination, hard work, and sweat. On the other hand, George Carlin once said, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

“It has all the ‘om’ and good feelings. The studio is big and they do amazing stuff with the lighting. I don’t know what it is about this place, but it’s addictive,” said an IBY2 devotee about where bliss happens.

“As you walk into the blissful sanctuary of Inner Bliss, you will feel a warmth hug you,” says Team IBY. Both practice spaces feature state-of-the art cooling and fresh air systems continuously flushing outside air in and stale air out. It is a kind of breath work. The smaller of the spaces accommodates 20 and is kept at a balmy 72 degrees.

The Rocky River IBY yoga studio has long been popular on the south coast of Lake Erie. “This place is legit, totally soaked in yogic vibrations. The best teachers in Cleveland,” said one man. “There is great energy here and the people you practice alongside are dedicated to the practice,” said a woman. “A great experience at Inner Bliss, seems like a great tight-knit group of people,” said a visitor from NYC.

Inner Bliss proffers an eclectic blend of Vinyasa Yoga, Hot Powerful Flow, and Beginner classes, among others. Students at all levels are encouraged to work at their own pace and ability. Some less well-known practices like Kundalini are also offered, as well as workshops featuring famous teachers, such as Max Strom and Janet Stone.

Max Strom travels high and low. He has recently spoken at the Inner Peace Conference, the World Government Summit, and the Lululemon Management Summit, covering the trifecta of the personal, the political, and the plutocratic. “You will feel better after only 10 minutes,” he has said about his events.

He doesn’t mind touting his powers.

Getting your third eye and handstand on for fame and fortune is big business in the yoga world. No one has to pay for the rights to uplifting quotes from the Dalai Lama or Buddha. Everyone has to pay the admission price at the door of the event.

Already featuring specialty classes like Kid’s Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, and Restorative Yoga, the new larger Westlake location plans to offer even more in the same vein of the future in the future. Modern yoga has splintered into a mixed bag of different styles, from go-for-broke Ashtanga Yoga to the loony tunes of Beer Yoga.

The hallmarks of the new Inner Bliss in Westlake are abundant natural light, recycled bamboo floors in both of the studios, three changing rooms, and spacious bathrooms. There is ample parking.

A perennial Top 5 finalist on TV Fox 8’s Hot List, Inner Bliss recently celebrated its crystal anniversary. Many of its talented group of teachers, some of whom have been at Inner Bliss for most of its years, have branched out and teach at the new Westlake location, as does the studio owner.

Tammy Lyons, a Yoga Alliance certified teacher and Bay Village resident, where she lives with her husband and children, came to yoga after many years of endurance sports. The problem with some endurance sports is that they are slow-motion calamities that can only be overcome by endurance.

“I was searching for a sweeter physical expression and a fuller way to live in my body,” she said.

After receiving her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification at Silver Lotus Yoga Institute in the fall of 2001, Tammy opened Inner Bliss in a small second-story former office in Lakewood, Ohio. A green gritty groovy inner-ring suburb on the lake, Lakewood is just east of Rocky River, across the bridge spanning the river. Quickly outgrowing the space, riding the wave of yoga’s growth at the turn of the century, the studio moved to larger quarters in the Beachcliff Market Square across the bridge.

In 2005, when Beachcliff Square was redeveloped, Inner Bliss moved to a still-larger leasehold in Rocky River on Lake Road. Since then the studio has grown to offer over 50 regularly scheduled classes a week.

“The intention of Inner Bliss,” said Tammy, “is to encourage a vibrant yoga community on the west side of Cleveland that supports a safe, nurturing environment for the exploration of the self through the practice of yoga.”

Tammy Lyons has, by any measure, realized her intention. IBY’s customer base is large and vibrant, and the practice of yoga pitched is professional, safe, and nurturing. Exploring the self is generally left up to yourself, since much of what goes on is sun salutations-and-more.

“It was 17 years ago that I fell in love with the practice,” she said during an interview with Andrea Vecchio for the video series “Driving Cleveland”. The program is sponsored by Porsche and involves noteworthy folks like Coach Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Josh Tomlin, a star player for the Cleveland Indians, among others, being chauffeured around town in a Porsche Macan and interviewed during the sightseeing tour.

“I was gigantically honored, and Andrea let me drive that car!” said Tammy.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yoj”, which means to unite or yoke. In traditional terms yoga means the union of individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. Yoking an individual by their seatbelt to the leather seat of a Porsche can be a universally spendid experience, be they a tour guide or a yoga businesswoman.

When Tammy first started taking classes, leaving endurance sports behind her, it was at Bhumi’s Yoga Center, one of the only places in Cleveland to offer yoga at the time. Bhumi, otherwise known as Harriet Russell, taught at the Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Yoga was on a low-key track then in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.

“After a practice-or-two I was in love with breathing and moving,” said Tammy. “I fell in love with how I felt afterwards.”

The practice of yoga is multi-faceted, ranging from the prosaic to the divine. It has something to do with the day-to-day as well as the metaphysical. It includes such branches as Bhakti, the yoga of devotion, and Jnana, the yoga of the mind. Unlike capitalism communism church state and heroes, it eschews worship at the altar of something somebody somewhere else getting it done for you.

Modern yoga has thrown its hat into the commercial ring of exercise and fitness. Hatha, or the yoga of postures, is the basis of most styles practiced in the world today. It is a popular branch of yoga centered on physical poses, breathing techniques, and a modicum of meditation to achieve better health, both physically and mentally.

“Many people come to yoga because their hamstrings are tight, they want to get in shape, they are stressed out, or their body simply hurts,” said Tammy.

The deep stretching, muscle endurance, and physical postures of yoga improve strength and flexibility. A study on low back pain by Alternative Therapies noted that yoga poses help lessen muskuloskeletal pain by “focusing on the control of voluntary nervous system and muscle functions using a series of postures that leads to a state of relaxation.”

Sometimes misconceived as only a spiritual or way of living practice by those not in the know, the practical regimen of yoga exercises, breathing, and mindfulness, which is replacing meditation, can relieve, and in some cases alleviate, muscle and joint pain. Over time the increased flexibility and core strength developed from the practice enhances body awareness, encouraging the body to sit and stand tall.

A 2008 Temple University study found that a control group of women aged 24 to 65 on average added nearly a half-inch to their stature after nine weeks of regular yoga practice. Another of the most studied benefits of yoga is its effect on the heart. It has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow heart rates, benefitting people with high blood pressure and heart disease.

Yoga is a stress buster, but it is also a workout for fighting fat. Studies show that yoga lowers levels of stress hormones and increases insulin sensitivity, which is a signal to burn food as fuel rather than store it as fat.

“There are many physical reasons people come to yoga,” said Tammy. “But, I think they stay out of love for the practice that goes above and beyond the physical. I think they come to open up their tight hamstrings, but they stay because they are opening up their minds.”

The mantra of many yoga teachers is that it exercises not just your body, but also your mind, and ultimately your spirit. It’s a mantra harking back to long ago. Nevertheless, Inner Bliss has worked with Cleveland’s professional sports teams to help keep their bodies in shape to torment the minds and crush the spirits of opposing teams.

“In my third season in the NFL the head coach at the time introduced yoga to the whole team, made it mandatory in the off-season,” said Joe Thomas, a ten-time All-Pro offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns. “He brought in the girls from Inner Bliss, taught yoga to the whole team.”

Pro athletes of all kinds seeking a competitive advantage have gotten on the yoga mat. “It’s therapy for my muscles, and my muscles need that more than anything,” said Joe Johnson, a seven-time NBA All-Star. LeBron James, arguably the most competitive and best basketball player on the planet, credits yoga with improving his performance on the court.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been to the NBA Finals three years in a row. The Cleveland Indians last season set the record for the longest winning streak with no ties in Major League Baseball History. The Cleveland Browns broke a record this year, as well, slogging their way to the worst 47-game stretch in NFL history. Since November 2014 through mid-December 2017 the Browns have notched four wins and 43 losses.

Two out of three on the yoga mat ain’t bad.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, to avoid injury and learn the proper way to perform the exercises, yoga practice is best learned in a studio with experienced and credentialed instructors. All of Inner Bliss’s teachers are certified, having graduated from 200-hour or better yoga teacher training classes.

They are generous in fellow feeling as well as knowledge.

“My number one priority is to make each and every person who walks through our door feels comfortable and welcome, just as if they were coming into my home,” said Michelle Hunt, Yoga Manager of Bliss. Home is where the heart is, unless you believe a warm kitchen is what makes a house a home. Home is where the hot cross buns are after class, after you’ve worked up an appetite.

“We believe in breath and movement,” said Tammy. “We breathe deeply to soften where we are hard, get strong where we are weak, and get lit up from the inside out.”

In the meantime, Inner Bliss Yoga has expanded to a third location, the city’s newest brightest suburb, which is downtown Cleveland. Once thought long dead, the downtown district has found new life, enlivened by a theater district, new sports arenas, a new rail line, loads of specialty stores and restaurants, a casino, and loads of Millennials moving into converted warehouses and new condos.

Not far from Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cleveland Cavs play their championship-style basketball, the new IBY3 has a fun urban chic groove to it. A chalkboard at the entrance explains, “Today is a New Day!”

“This is the very best yoga studio in Cleveland,” said a woman from Avon, a far west exburb of the city. “It’s a sacred space filled with smiling faces, soulful music, heart-opening smells, warm hugs, sacred words, life lessons, deep breaths, and new friends.”

Taking a breath, she added, “And, of course, fabulous yoga!”

“We believe in yoga,” said Tammy Lyons.

“Well done is better than well said,” said Benjamin Franklin. “Just do,” said K. Pattabhi Jois, the mastermind behind the flow style of yoga.

Getting it done, getting yoga done, in the modern age isn’t so much a departure from the way yoga was way back when as it is paying attention to the moment at hand. The moment of brand building is here to stay. At least for now. It might stall out, but that’s a different day.

Inner Bliss Yoga impacts the lives of its customers. Down dog done right shows everyone that you care. Down dog done today is what matters. The business savvy Cleveland Magazine-saluted “Most Interesting” Tammy Lyons keeps contemporary yoga on the fast track in Cleveland.

Walking Tall

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“Waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive.” Dead Man’s Party, Oingo Boingo  

Barron Cannon laughed and made loop de loops at the side of his head with his index finger.

“Agent Orange has a screw loose,” he said. “But, since he’s at the top, he can take his crazy visions and turn them into reality. He’s like a saint from the Dark Ages who ate a moldy loaf of rye and saw God. It makes you wonder, am I or they round the bend?” He made a fist, raised his thumb, extended two fingers parallel to each other, and blew on the fingers. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Smoke signals and mirrors. Lipstick sour looks lapel flag pins and soapboxes in the halls of power. Men and women in ten thousand dollar suits slowing down when they see a mirror.

We were sitting in the only place there are any chairs in Barron’s small neighborhood yoga studio, at the front by the windows facing the parking lot. The Quiet Mind is on Clifton Boulevard on the Lakewood side of West 117th Street. Across the street is Cleveland, Ohio. He was drinking homemade Kombucha out of a Starbucks travel mug and I was drinking McCafe drive-thru coffee.

Barron had an Apple laptop in his lap. He was updating a Facebook post he had made offering yoga classes in return for turning in your guns. I chewed on my pencil. He was making like Wyatt Earp.

In 1881, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were running things in Tombstone, you could bring your gun into town, but you couldn’t keep it while in town. You had to check it into the sheriff’s office. There was stricter gun control in the Wild West than there is today. Nowadays in Tombstone, Arizona, anyone can carry a Ruger semi-automatic pistol in a fancy holster on his rattlesnake belt. There is no Wyatt Earp anymore with a Colt Peacemaker telling you to stash your gun in the sheriff’s office for the duration.

Barron Cannon’s amnesty program was in response to the massacre of 26 churchgoers in a small Texas town on November 5th, on a suddenly not quiet Sunday morning. President Donald Trump, kowtowing to the gun lobby, said after the shooting, “I think that mental health is your problem here.”

“I mean, when I say a loose screw, he signed a bill that Congress, the Republicans, the lunatics running the asylum, earlier in the year voted through that made it easier for crazy people to buy guns legally. I should probably say mentally ill, but if you’re buying six-shooters for protection, you’re crazier than the mentally ill. The horse is out of the barn. It’s blasting time, AR-15’s all around!”

Barron was working both sides of the street, as is his wont, but he had a point. One of Donald Trump’s first reactions in the White House was to roll back an Obama-era law that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy firearms. He made it easier, no trouble, a piece of cake.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for President Trump – who called the latest tragic mass shooting ‘a mental health problem at the highest level’ – to have rolled back a rule specifically designed to prevent some gun violence deaths,” said Senator Richard Blumental of Connecticut.

“Blaming mental health is a tactic straight out of the gun lobby’s playbook,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control group started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, along with 18 other people, at a constituent meeting in Arizona.

“Maybe it’s more like crazy as a fox,” I said.

“The United States used to be a safe place, but not anymore. This year it ranked 114th on the Global Peace Index. It ranks lower every year. We’re edging towards Iraq and Syria. Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe what we need are more not less guns.”

“Nope, wrong,” he said.

Barron Cannon can be abrupt high-hat holier-than-thou. He is not a sensitive, bias-free, politically correct man. Even though he has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Philosophy and is in his early 30s, he often behaves and speaks as though he grew up in the 1930s. He is as blunt barefaced austere as anybody from back in the Depression.

Barron Cannon is, however, hardly ever depressed. He says happiness doesn’t depend on the external, but rather on our mental attitude. The free flow yoga he teaches is as much about mental health as it is about physical health.

“The reason the United States is getting more dangerous is because there are more and more guns, not less,” he said. “Canada, Japan, and Australia are some of the safest places to live in the world, while here it’s every man for himself and God against all. Conservative Christians have more guns than anybody else.”

An American is 300 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a Japanese.

“There are hardly any guns in those countries,” he said. “All the guns are here.”

“They can’t all be here,” I said.

“Right you are, Jocko,” he said. My name isn’t Jocko, but Barron often fixes nicknames to people, like Shorty for a tall man and Train Track for someone wearing braces. His nickname for himself is Dazzy.

All of the White House men have had nicknames, from Father of the Country to Give ‘Em Hell Harry to No Drama Obama. Barron’s nickname for Donald Trump is Agent Orange.

“Not all the guns in the world are here, just most of them. There are fewer than 5% of the people on the planet here in the USA, but we have almost 50% of the guns in the world. Nobody messes with us. The Senate and the House, and now Trump World, they have their noses snagged in the NRA money clip. It stinks, but they can’t smell anything beyond the stench of fresh new one hundred dollar bills.”

A gun buyback program is a program to purchase privately owned guns, reducing how many guns there are in general among the general population. In 2003 and again in 2009 Brazil bought and destroyed more than a million guns. Firearm related mortality was reduced.

Gun amnesty programs involve handing in guns you shouldn’t have without being prosecuted for having them. In July 2017 Australia announced a national firearms amnesty. Anyone with an illegal firearm could turn it over to the police. Otherwise, they faced a quarter-million dollar fine. More than 50,000 guns were turned in.

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 tourists in Australia. It was the worst mass murder in the country’s history. By the end of the year, led by a conservative Prime Minister, sweeping gun control laws were put in place. A buyback resulted in more than 600,000 semi-automatic weapons being destroyed. There hasn’t been a mass shooting in Australia since.

In this country, more men, women, and children have been killed by gunfire in the past 50 years than have been killed on all the battlefields in all the wars America has ever fought. Gun control laws in the United States are, in general, laughable.

“I have a very strict gun control policy,” said Clint Eastwood, play acting being a bounty hunter dressed up as a rodeo clown in the caper movie “Pink Cadillac”.

“If there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”

That is the state of gun control in the United States.

After the Las Vegas bloodbath on the night of October 1st in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured by a lone gunman with an army squad kettle of semi-automatic weapons fitted with bump stocks, Malcom Turnbull, the current Australian Prime Minister, said the politics of gun ownership in America was “almost beyond comprehension.”

He pointed out the intractable problem guns pose in the United States.

“There is a ferociously strong political lobby and the National Rifle Association, and millions of Americans who own guns and cherish their constitutional right to bear arms, But, of course, the right to bear arms was an 18th century concept, long before automatic weapons were even thought of, let alone invented.”

Americans are crazy about their guns. They often claim they need them for home security, which begs the question, how many enemies do they have? However, they rarely, if ever, go to home security trade shows and conventions. They go to gun trade shows and conventions, swap meets online purveyors private sellers, no background checks required. They love their guns.

What’s crazy is that after Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 teachers were killed in an elementary school, nothing changed, except that more guns have been sold in the past five years. It has become the new normal to massacre concertgoers, churchgoers, and kids going to school.

“Aren’t mass murderers crazy?” I asked.

“Nope, no matter what Agent Orange says,” said Barron Cannon. “It’s about one in five who are delusional or psychotic. Neither the Orlando nightclub shooter nor the Las Vegas killer had any apparent mental illnesses, unless you believe shooting people in and of itself is a mental illness. What they were was angry and disgruntled.”

“That’s not what the White House says,” I said.

“I know, but that’s what the Department of Justice says, which knows better than Agent Orange, who only knows blowhard bluster on Twitter. Most mass murderers are injustice collectors with gun collections. When you have a paranoid streak, that’s a personal problem. When you have a paranoid streak and a boatload of guns, then that becomes everybody’s problem. That’s what Agent Orange doesn’t want to talk about. ”

The NRA and gun enthusiasts are fond of saying guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They oppose regulations protecting American citizens from crazy malevolent gun violence. They never talk about Jayne Mansfield or Tylenol, since it would make everybody dizzy at NRA headquarters.

In 1967, when the Hollywood sexpot Jayne Mansfield rear-ended a tractor-trailer, ramming her car underneath it and dying as a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration immediately made it mandatory for all semi- truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars. In 1982, when 7 people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, federal anti-tampering laws were immediately put in place. Bottles of everything medical have been hellishly hard to open ever since.

Between 1968 and 2015 the total deaths caused by firearms in the United States were 1,516,863. Getting shot is an immediate experience, since bullets travel on average 1,7000 MPH. Since 1968 it has gotten easier, not harder, to buy all the bigger badder faster-blasting guns you want. The pace of writing common sense gun laws has stayed at ZERO MPH.

“When it come to guns everyone’s got their reason, the 2nd Amendment, target shooting, recreation, whatever that means, hunting, and personal protection,” said Barron. “The NRA and Agent Orange gush about the 2nd Amendment as an argument against gun control, but almost no one cares about that.”

The Gallup Poll consistently shows that about 5% of people who own guns cite the amendment as their reason.

“Personal safety is the reason most people own a gun,” he said.

The Gallup Poll has always shown that protecting themselves has been, by a wide margin, the number one reason people buy guns.

Whenever there is a mass murder, like the recent mass murders in Las Vegas and Texas, support for stricter gun laws spikes. After a month-or-so, even though more than 80% of Americans consider gun violence a big problem, interest fades until the next mass murder. In the meantime, Congress and the White House do nothing, except mouth platitudes about their thoughts and prayers being with the dead the wounded and their families.

They never actually get off their NRA-bought-and-paid-for bottoms and buy into 21st century gun control. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The chances of that happening are close to ZERO.

“Sometimes the notion that American society is inherently violent is floated as a reason there’s so much gun violence,” said Barron. ”Or it’s video games or racism or poverty. Conservative Christians say Satan is to blame. Agent Orange and Congress spearhead the notion that only crazy people are mass murderers. They propagate it being a nut case problem, not a gun problem.”

He looked down at his laptop and finished editing his Facebook post. When Barron Cannon has a great notion it’s best to wait him out.

“That’s all wrong,” he said. “It’s essentially about the astronomical number of guns in this country. That’s the problem. The other problem is that no wise man ever took a handgun to a gunfight. The times change and technology changes. You always take bigger and better ordinance.”

The more guns the more shooting.

“Yemen and Serbia have the next-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, next to the United States,” said Barron. “The United States has the highest rate of mass shootings in the world. It’s Boot Hill all over again, writ large.”

In the United States the homicide rate is 33 per million people, greater than any other developed country in the world. In Canada it is 0.7 per million. You are 50 times more likely to be shot and killed on the American side of Niagara Falls than you are on the Canadian side.

When the front door opened both Barron Cannon and I looked up. The tall young man stopped in the doorway, the late morning light silhouetting him. He had a Glock “Safe Action” Sig Sauer stuffed into the waistband of his black Levi’s.

Ohio is an open carry state.

“What can we do for you, partner?” asked Barron.

“Are you the outfit that’s doing the gun amnesty?”

“Sure are.”

“Well, this is what I’ve got for you,” said the lanky stranger. He pointed down at the bulge in his pants. “I can’t shoot straight, anyways.” He tugged the gun out of his waistband and handed it butt first to Barron.

“It’s not loaded.”

“That’s neighborly of you.”

“So I get 20 yoga classes for it?”

“That’s right,” said Barron. He flipped open his laptop. “Let’s get you signed up.”

Afterwards, after we had delivered the Glock to the Lakewood Police Department, during lunch at Melt Bar and Grill up the street, over a whiskey on ice in a lowball glass that I insisted Barron buy me to settle my nerves, I asked him if he thought his gun amnesty program would make any difference.

“There’s no energy in death,” he said. “There’s only life energy. If the White House and Congress won’t pull the trigger on gun control, then what we need is more breath control. That’s where yoga comes in. You can learn to be breathless without getting the breath knocked out of you by a bullet.”

Mao Zedong, the Communist Chinese dictator, was notorious for saying, “In order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

“He’s long gone,” said Barron. “Good riddance. I say it’s necessary to take up yoga.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said.