All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus lives in Lakewood, Ohio, on the northeastern edge of the Rocky River valley. Ed's short stories and non-fiction are at www.147stanleystreet.wordpress.com. Feature articles about yoga are at www.paperbackyoga.wordpress.com. The serial biography 'Dogs Never Bite Me' at www.dogsneverbiteme.wordpress.com. The serial novel 'Slightly Unhappy Constantly' is at www.slightlyunhappyconstantly.wordpress.com. He edits PEI Theatre, the blog of the Professional Theatre Network of Prince Edward Island, which is at www.peitheatre.com.

Showdown on Clifton Boulevard

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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.

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Not Now

Not Now

Living in the now has been around for a long time, back when now was in the past, from about the time mirrors and cast iron were invented. “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly,” said Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago.

Nowadays living in the now gets a lot of play. It has become a power phrase, meaning be aware of the moment, get out of your stream of thoughts, and make your life happen in the present. All you have to do is remember to do it amid the distractions of the modern age.

It used to be easier living in the now than it is now. Back when it was archaeological, much of life was spent in the slow lane, unlike now, when everyone is in the passing lane. Thousands of years ago everyone wasn’t always thinking about something that had happened, or might happen, or what they needed to do right now.

There wasn’t a whole lot happening, in any event.

They didn’t multi-task. There was no need to disconnect because no one was connected. It was more of a single-task time. They didn’t drive fast here and there and everywhere. Ox carts and horse-drawn wagons were generally one-speed. They didn’t have to appreciate nature because there was a lot of it, anyway. There was no need to take time out from the office for a nature walk.

Nonetheless, way back when, even Roman emperors, who had a lot to do, beating back barbarians and planning the next conquest, recognized the savvy of living in the now. “Man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant,” said Marcus Aurelius. “All the rest of his life is either past and gone or not yet revealed.”

Even not so way back the wisdom of living in the now was appreciated extolled recommended. “You must live in the present, find your eternity in each moment,” said Henry David Thoreau. “Fools look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.”

In our own time Oprah Winfrey has passed sentence on the past and the future. “Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future,” she said. “It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.”

The Now Generation is the Me Generation gone fast forward and widespread. Before the 1960s gratification was often postponed in favor of the future. But in the blink of an eye self-sacrifice became self-fulfillment. In the 70s and 80s the immediacy of lived experience and self-gratification became the lifestyle choices of a generation.

When Nike unveiled its ‘Do It Now’ slogan in 1987 it hit a home run. Before the end of the century its business grew by more than 1000 percent.

In the 21st century we spend about half our time thinking about something other than what we are doing, according to a study conducted by Harvard University. The only exception is sex, when almost everyone has his and her mind on the job at hand. Very few men or women whip out their iPhones when they’re in the moment, since they’re having a ringing good time, anyway.

The benefits of living in the now are many, notwithstanding better sex. Those benefits include less worry-warting and over-thinking, fewer distractions and improved concentration, putting your focus where it counts, getting things done, and having a richer experience from a direct-felt comprehension of reality. Staying foursquare in the present helps you be more creative, more decisive, and more happy, too, since you’re not lamenting the past nor fretting about the future.

Yoga has been associated with living in the now for most of its history. “There is so much power in the experience of the present moment that whole spiritual disciplines have been created solely to bring us into the now,” according to Kino MacGregor, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher and writer about the discipline. Some of yoga’s eight limbs, or precepts, can only be practiced in the moment. You have to root your consciousness in them to get anywhere.

Much of yoga practice is predicated on practicing with no judgment and no expectation. In other words, just do it. In so doing, the past and the future have nothing to do with it. Getting on a yoga mat means getting off the merry-go-round of attachment and goals.

The first thing Patanjali, the godfather of yoga, says in the Yoga Sutras is, “Now begins instruction on the practice.” He doesn’t say, never mind, we did that yesterday, or, we’ll get to that tomorrow. He says there’s no time like the right time, which is now.

“When life seems crazy and fast and full of distractions, I just remember that yoga is now,” explained Hayleigh Zachary, a Los Angeles-based teacher trainer.

It’s often said yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists. Don’t become attached to anything, just flow with it. The past can be depressing and the future an anxious place.

Sometimes we are self-absorbed and other times we are absorbed in what we are doing. When we are in mid-stream landing a big trout, steering a car through a hairpin turn, or extracting a wisdom tooth, we are absorbed in the now. There’s no checking the latest tweet about something-or-other.

Yoga used to be about spiritual realization. With the advent of living in the now it has become the pursuit of self-realization.

Athletes often describe themselves as being at their best when they are in the zone, playing in the now. “I treat every day like it’s my last day with a basketball,” said LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player of his age. “See the ball, hit the ball,” said Pete Rose, arguably the best baseball player of his age. “I never looked down the road,” said Jerry Rice, arguably the best football player of his age. “It was always about playing each and every game 100 percent.”

Being in the flow of the here-and-now means bringing a focused concentration to your game, dissociating yourself from distractions, ignoring the irrelevant. Being in the zone is like tunnel vision. Everything happens in slow motion, everything extraneous falls away, and everything you accomplish in the zone is effortless and purposeful.

You forget yourself and you become yourself, even though the phrase, which dates from the 1970s, came from the TV show The Twilight Zone and means, more-or-less, “out of this world.”

Although living in the now, savoring the experience, has its benefits, ignoring the past can have its costs. Remembering the past is a way of learning from it. It’s long been said, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. When you’re engulfed by the now, it’s hard to remember anything except right now. A life without past or future is like a tree without roots, a tree without buds in the spring. It’s like jumping off a skyscraper and on the way to the sidewalk looking around with a happy smile, so far, so good.

But, the past is disappearing fast and there ain’t no future in the trip down.

In 1876 the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ran for President of the United States against the Democrat “Centennial Sam” Tilden. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but when the votes were re-counted in Florida, the election was cast into the hands of an electoral commission, and one Republican Supreme Court justice decided the contest. “Centennial Sam” went home. “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes went to the White House.

One hundred and twenty four years later another Democrat won the popular vote, the election was thrown into doubt by hanging chads in Florida, and the ultimate decision of who would sleep in the East Wing came down to one Republican Supreme Court justice.

If the consciousness-raising Al Gore hadn’t been living completely in the now of the campaign, and had heeded his history lessons, he wouldn’t today be known as the man who for a few short weeks was the next President of the United States.

Politicians of all stripes believe in the tyranny of now. Rah, rah, rah, vote for me, take it or leave it, never mind what I said ten minutes ago. The bad old days are in the past. The future isn’t promised to anyone unless we make it happen today. That’s how they get elected. However, Donald Trump’s cynical 2016 campaign demonstrated the power of applying lessons from the dark past, even though those lessons were miserable and mercenary.

The only consolation is that he will almost surely twitter away now and his time will pass.

The problem with living in the now is that in nothing flat it’s gone. It’s always in momentum. It barely exists. If yoga is a practice of consciousness, the issue with now is that you can never be fully conscious of it. You can’t concentrate on it, be conscious of it, because it is so fleeting. The stream of consciousness on a yoga mat is one thing, but following the bouncing ball of now to nowhere is another thing.

In the 19th century American cities suffered high rates of typhoid, cholera, and yellow fever. The epidemics were especially deadly to children. Many infectious diseases were the result of unmanaged waste and dirty water. In time people got tired of living in the now. They brought the future into the present so something could be done about the past.

Nowadays Americans rarely suffer from typhoid or cholera, and never think about what now was like a hundred years ago. We don’t have to worry about anyone on the mat next to us who might have yellow fever, because someone a hundred years ago was committed to making things better for us.

Another problem with living in the now is that when we make choices in the moment without considering how they will be remembered in the future, we are playing with fire.

There is a reason Jerry Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, why LeBron James will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and why Pete Rose will never be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All team sports are bound by rules and regulations. They are the accretion of years and decades. The rules are not just the officiating on the playing field. Some of them make reference to the other side of the sidelines. When Pete Rose gambled on baseball during his playing days, he gambled on the pleasures of now over the set in stone proscriptions against gambling.

He came up snake eyes.

Jerry Rice and LeBron James have both described themselves as students of the game. They learned their lessons from the past so that they wouldn’t have any regrets. Pete Rose, on the other hand, flaunting the past, made sure he got nothing for something, forever tarnishing his legacy.

A compounding problem with living in the now is that now goes hand in hand with the past and the future. They are not three separate entities. The nature of time doesn’t work that way. When Alice asked the White Rabbit how long forever was, he said, “Sometimes, just one second.” When someone practices yoga in the now, they are practicing a five thousand year old discipline. It’s not a pop-up. It’s not going to disappear when you roll up your mat, even if you disappear. It is likely yoga will be fashioning split seconds into forever five thousand years from now.

Anybody getting into a self-driving car twenty years from now, kicking back on the way to their yoga studio, will be kicking back because somebody planted the seed of the self-driving car twenty years ago.

Time has long been thought of as a river, time passing by, never recovered. It might be better, however, to think of it as spacetime, in which the past, present, and future are materially identical. They all exist on a par with each other. We are spread out in the fabric of time. The past and the future are inaccessible because now, where you are now, is in a different part of spacetime.

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow,” said Buddha a long time ago. “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” said Albert Einstein not so long ago.

Forever is made up of everybody living in the now. Don’t miss out on forever. Be here now.

Beware the Snakeman

Yoga-instructor-correcting-the-posture

When Vivekananda stepped up to the lectern at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he was nervous about the speech he was going to give to an audience of 7,000, a speech that would plant a new seed of yoga in America. On another stage at the same time at the same World’s Exposition, an ex-cowboy and self-styled Rattlesnake King was squeezing oil, used in his patent medicines, from snakes he had just killed.

Clarke Stanley, one of the most successful and colorful tonic barkers of the 19th century, was an even bigger attraction than the exotic brown-skinned man from India. He wasn’t nervous, either. He claimed his Snake Oil Liniment gave immediate relief to both man and beast for everything from toothaches and sore throats to sciatica and rheumatism.

It never went rancid, either, said the snakeman.

“Ladies and gentlemen, come up close where everyone can see, it even cures squinting.”

Patent medicines are as old as Daffy’s Elixir, first blended in England in 1647, and popular in the United States into the late 19th century. The alcohol-fortified and drug-laced remedies were peddled by grocers goldsmiths tailors traveling salesmen. They were available for almost any ailment, colic cuts bruises baldness boils nerve damage lame backs deafness and “those painful complaints and weaknesses so common to our female population.”

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 led to the end of Joy to the World Pain Killer, laced with opium, Fowler’s Arsenic Solution, which was iron mixed with arsenic for heart ailments, and the wildly popular Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root, meant to treat something called “internal slime fever.”

The many medical advances of the 20th century and into the 21st, however, did not put an end to quackery. Empty nutritional and supplement schemes, fraudulent arthritis products, and spurious cancer clinics led the way. In 2017 the FDA warned stem cell clinics about their cure-all claims.

“Stem cell clinics that mislead vulnerable patients into believing they are being given safe, effective treatments that are in full compliance with the law are dangerously exploiting consumers and putting their health at risk,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

More than a hundred years ago Vivekananda believed health gave a leg up to making it down the yellow brick road to liberation.

“He who wants to become a Bhakta must be strong, must be healthy,” he said. “Build up your health. As long as the body lives there must be strength in the body. Yoga staves off disease.”

A Bhakta is a devotee of God. Bhakti Yoga, also known as Bhakti Marga, is largely a spiritual path. It employs yoga practice and discipline to help get to where it wants to go.

Vivekananda never said yoga was the snake oil of body mind spirit, that it was a tonic that cured all ills. If you don’t do yoga there’s no need to stress out about it. He seems to have believed the best cure was a quiet mind, like the best cure for sleeplessness is getting a good night’s sleep.

That’s not what contemporary marketplace yoga says. It says there is a remedy for every problem and the remedy is yoga. Step right up!

There are ‘4 Yoga Poses to Cure Diabetes’’ and ‘5 Top Yoga Poses to Cure Gallstones’ and ‘6 Effective Yoga Poses for Autism’.

There are ‘8 Easy Yoga Poses That Will Cure Fibromyalgia Quickly’ and ‘9 Yoga Poses for Arthritis Relief’ and ‘10 Yoga Poses to Heal Migraines’.

There are yoga poses to re-grow hair, alleviate and prevent nerve pain, fight epilepsy, help you poop, treat skin problems, restore irregular periods to a timely basis, improve heart health, lower blood pressure, calm down restless leg syndrome, ease ankylosing spondylitis, overcome PTSD, relieve neck shoulder lower back hip flexor pain, and resolve anxiety disorder and build your confidence.

There is ‘Pranayama Yoga Cures Almost All Incurable Diseases!’

The only thing yoga doesn’t seem to be able to take care of are gunshot wounds.

Writing in The Telegraph in a recent feature article called ‘Why Yoga Cures Everything’, Lucy Fry asked, “ My big question is no longer why are so many people doing yoga. It’s why isn’t everyone?”

On the other hand, Thomas Browne, a 17th century writer, argued against doing anything at all. “We all labor against our own cure, for death is the cure of all diseases.”

Tara Stiles is not Thomas Browne, but she has sold many more books than him. Thomas Browne was an English polymath influenced by the scientific revolution of Baconian enquiry. Tara Stiles is an American model turned yoga instructor. In her book Yoga Cures: Simple Routines to Conquer More Than 50 Common Ailments and Live Pain-Free she tackles everything from “arthritis to fibromyalgia to jiggly thighs and hangovers.”

Jiggly thighs are flabby thighs that can’t be slid into skinny jeans or look sexy in a pair of shorts. The usual remedy is to do cardio-vascular exercises that involve your legs, like walking, and stop eating oily fatty sugary processed foods. Or buy Yoga Cures.

“If you’ve got an ache, pain, or ‘ism, she’s got the natural answer. So dump the over-the-counter pills and pop open Yoga Cures,” recommended Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Diet.

Cure-alls are remedies that resolve all evils, cure all diseases. The cure for everything, the miracle panacea, is driven by a belief that the humors or the liver or the spine is the root cause of all maladies.

In the past in the West leeches and bloodletting were used to balance the four humors, while in the East needles and acupuncture were used to balance the life force. Today chiropractors believe something called sublaxtions block the flow of something-or-other, which when unblocked will let your body heal whatever it is that ails you.

Cure-all approaches neglect to take into account causes of disease ranging from genetic to infectious to biochemical to traumatic to degenerative to metabolic to autoimmune, never mind all the environmental and man-made toxic things in the world.

Poison ivy grows everywhere in the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii. If you get the rash, draw hot water and find some soap, lather, rinse, repeat, wash, rinse, soak, and then go to the drug store and buy a bottle of calamine lotion. Don’t go to yoga class. You’ll only spread the itchy poisonous ivy’s urushiol on your skin to others.

If you go to India, the birthplace of yoga, don’t drink tap water. Drink bottled water instead. More than half of India’s population, more than 500 million people, practice open defecation. Much of the country’s water is contaminated by biological and chemical pollutants, which cause cholera, among other things.

Clean water and sanitation prevent cholera. No known yoga pose or sequence or mudra has any proven effect on its spread. It is endemic because the water is foul, not because you haven’t read Yoga Cures. Oral rehydration solutions, when promptly administered, treat the disease easily.

As good as yoga is as a mindset a practice and a way of life, it is not the cure for much, certainly not cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers of any kind, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, asthma, or gallstones. If you’ve got stones either take a wait-and-see approach, hoping the stone dissolves or dislodges, or join the nearly one million Americans who annually get their gallbladders surgically removed.

You need a haywire gallbladder like you need an infected appendix.

If you have cancer of any kind it might be best to ignore Dr. Joel Brame, a self-styled Cancer Prevention Consultant, when he professes that Bikram Yoga can reverse cancerous tumors. He seems to believe that exercising in Bikram’s Hot Room oxygenates the blood “creating an environment in which cancer cannot grow,” restores the immune system, and generally purifies the body, which in his world is good because cancers can only metastasize in a toxic body.

“Attend your yoga class on a regular basis and feel the magic happen!” he said.

Black magic, maybe, when hell freezes over.

Until that happens, sitting around in the waiting room, it would be worth anyone’s while to page through Timothy McCall’s Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. A board-certified physician who has long practiced Iyengar Yoga and has been the medical editor for Yoga Journal since 2002, he describes yoga therapy as “a systematic technology to improve the body, understand the mind, and free the spirit.”

Yoga as Medicine is largely a practical guide about how to use therapeutic yoga tools from exercise to meditation as complements and occasionally alternatives to medical care and medication. It’s about getting in tune with your body, which is what health is all about.

Yoga therapy doesn’t treat the disease, exactly. It treats the person who has the disease. It’s about learning ways of making and maintaining body mind spirit health.

Gery Kraftsow of the American Viniyoga Institute describes yoga therapy as a practice to help people “facing health challenges at any level manage their condition, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality, and improve attitude.”

He doesn’t blare, blare, blare about cure, cure, cure. Brenda Feuerstein has pointed out that it might be more helpful if the practice was regarded as something that “may be helpful in the treatment of something, but not yoga cures.”

Well-being is often the result of practicing yoga on a consistent basis. Yoga therapy isn’t a cure for acute conditions, but it is an aid in treatment, augmenting clinical care. Georg Feuerstein believed it was a way to integrate yogic techniques and concepts with medical know-how.

The difference between Snake Oil Yoga and Therapy Yoga is that one sells what purports to work for everybody while the other teaches what is appropriate to the individual and respects the differences in different people. Snake Oil men shoot magic elixir bullets. Yoga therapists try to gauge the capacity and direction of mind of the person before they draw any conclusions. They don’t quick draw. They don’t try to kill anyone with cold-blooded make-believe kindness, either.

Why does it matter?

In the British art critic John Berger’s TV series “Ways of Seeing,” broadcast at about the same time that today’s yoga came around the bend in the United States in the early 1970s, he argued that where when and how we are directed to look at something, to pay attention to it, determines what we see. How something is framed often makes what matters, and what doesn’t matter.

When we pay attention to snake oil salesmen we get sucked down into their wormholes. It becomes believing what you want to believe, the easy answer, one size fits all. When we practice yoga therapy there is no rabbit in the hat, just a lot of work on the mat, day after day. It’s not the easy answer. There have long been and still are plenty of mad hatters and carnival sandbaggers trying to pickpocket the out-on-a-limb with their cooked-up promises. But, there’s no yogi genie lightning in a bottle.

Yoga never was and never was intended to be a cure-all for ill health. “We must all pay attention to your health first, but we must not forget that health is only a means to an end, “said Vivekananda. “If health were the end, we would be like animals. Animals rarely become unhealthy.”

How the practice of yoga can effectively help those in need is being brought to bear by men like Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, not the flimflam men of Madison Avenue. Dr. Khalsa’s research focuses on the clinical effectiveness and psychophysiological mechanisms underlying the practice of yoga and meditation techniques.

His approach advocates yoga as a way of enhancing proprioception, the awareness of where you are in space, and interoception, the awareness of the sensations of your body in space. He believes awareness is what changes lifestyles, and since many diseases are lifestyle diseases, brings the commonness of those diseases under control.

“People change their diets,” he said. “They change their behaviors to ones that make them feel better, because now, for the first time in their lives, they’re actually feeling better.”

Feeling better not by staring down into the bottom of a bottle of snake oil, but rather straight ahead in cobra pose, firming the shoulders against the back, lifting through the top of the sternum.

When Vivekananda stepped up to the stage at the World’s Exposition in Chicago in 1893 it was one small step for a man. Thankfully, there weren’t any globs of snake oil on the stairs to slip him up. Otherwise, the large step that was ultimately taken that day might never have happened.

Painting the Town Red

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“Looking up at paradise, all souls bound just contrariwise, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” Dead Man’s Chest, a traditional sea shanty

When yoga got on its feet in the 1960s and started rolling in the 1970s, many Americans thought it was a fad. It was part and parcel of the culture of California, after all. It was for hippies and health nuts and religious fanatics, said working stiffs and wise guys, wondering where the success in it was.

In the 60s and 70s, however, it was anything but a fad. It was the real deal. It had its feet grounded in a 5000-year-old tradition. If it was a fad it was a fad that had never gone away, the kind that had staying power. When Satchidananda led the opening chant at Woodstock, it wasn’t that week’s Top 10 smash hit. It had a legacy going back centuries. It had been a smash hit in year zero.

The practice stayed solid for thirty years, but by the 2000s it was flipping over onto its head. Celebrity jet-setting yoga teachers crisscrossed the country, burning up the carbon, peddling their brand of sermon. John Friend got high and got sexy. Yoga franchises with their instant oatmeal wisdom and Groupon specials popped up from Miami to Joplin, Missouri.

Yoga used to be the hub of the wheel. Then it became the spokes of the wheel. Anusara, Baptiste, Forrest, Integral, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Kundalini, Moksha, Sivananda, Viniyoga, Vinyasa, and Yin.

It’s a baker’s dozen.

Soon afterwards the spokes started to splinter. Nowadays there is Karaoke Yoga and Laughing Yoga, Tots and Tykes Yoga, Aerial Yoga, and AcroYoga, Glow-in-the-Dark Yoga, Naked Yoga, Trampoline Yoga, Trampoline Yoga While Naked, Primal Screaming Yoga, and Paddleboard Yoga.

No staying grounded there, just don’t drift off by mistake and get captured by pirates. What did the shipwrecked blindfolded friendly SUP yogi with the outstretched arms ask his newfound friends swigging mugs of suds while he walked the plank?

“Am I getting warmer?”

Picking yourself up off the ground is the premise of Rage Yoga. “I was going through a lot of pain,” said Canadian teacher and founder Lindsay Istace. She had recently gone through a break-up. She was a bittergirl. “It started to come out during my practice. Suddenly there was a lot more yelling, swearing, and emotional release on my mat.”

Down on the farm there is Goat Yoga, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s doing yoga with small cute goats, at least until their grumpy elders head butt you. Old Billy and his horns ain’t anything you want to partner yoga with.

“It might sound silly, but the way these classes are working, it’s becoming deeper and bigger than I thought, “ said Lainey Morse, who started the craze. The business has expanded to the point that she has quit her day job and is trademarking “Goat Yoga”.

Maa! Maa! Maa!

All of this is to not mention Bikram Choudhury, of eponymous Bikram Yoga-fame, whose crazy-like-a-fox marketing is legendary. “There’s a sucker born every day,” said P. T. Barnum, Bikram’s spiritual guru.

In more recent times yoga has gone from Jennifer Aniston’s six-pack abs, otherwise known as Jennifer’s Yoga Moves for Flat Abs, straight to six-packs.

Brewskis and poses was a practice born at the Burning Man fun festival. Who doesn’t need liquid refreshment in the middle of the summer in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert? Bend an elbow, help a brother out, bottoms up. A year later Germany’s BierYoga foamed to life, the marriage of beer and yogimeister Jhula’s brainstorm.

Jhula and her business partner Emily go by the names of Jhula and Emily. No surnames, please.

”It’s fun, but it’s no joke,” said Jhula. “We take the philosophy of yoga and pair it with the pleasure of beer-drinking to reach your highest level of consciousness.”

Or your highest level of semi-consciousness, as the case may be.

Yoga is meant to make you feel the way you want to feel without yoga. On the other hand, drink beer think beer.

The history of beer is the history of humanity. 6000 years ago the Sumerians, the oldest known civilization, were the first brewmeisters. They believed beer was the true blue drink of the gods. By the 14th century Germany was a country of world famous beer cities. Strong beer in imperial 20 fluid ounce pint portions isn’t a joke in Germany.

Miller Lite is strictly forbidden.

BierYoga Classes are conducted in a techno club in the heart of Berlin’s trendy Neukolln neighborhood. They are booked up solid weeks in advance. Disco balls hang from the ceiling. Everybody’s shuffling, everybody’s jump styling, everybody’s posing. The vibe is intoxicating.

“Has anyone not finished their first bottle? If not, bottoms up!” said Jhula during a full-house class.

Chug a lug in tree pose. You don’t want to nurse the beer, though. Your nipples will get soggy.

Beer Yoga is a new rave in London and usually practiced in pubs. The admission charge includes a mat and a beer. After a rough day at work, some hair-of-the-dog, stretching and belching.

“It complements the joy of drinking beer and the mindfulness of yoga,” said Beer Yoga’s Guzel Mursalimova. ”It adds a little more relaxation because a lot of people tend to be very tense when they come in. If this means you have to incorporate beer, I think that’s perfectly fine.”

It begs the question, however, if you had to incorporate horse to relax, would that be perfectly fine, too, or does heroin not complement the mindfulness of yoga in the same way beer does?

There is Beerasana in Washington, DC, and hops and hatha at the Quest Brewing Company in Greensville, SC. Awareness and self-observation are in the eye of the beer holder.

But, getting a buzz on during class may not be the best of ideas. “Not being able to tell your right arm from your left leg is not a healthy practice,” said Jake Panasevich, a wellness and yoga teacher. “Anything that alters your natural state of mind is no longer yoga in my book.”

Others say, lighten up.

“What a fabulous experience!” said James Villaruel about In the Spirit Studio and Wine Lounge in Scarborough, a borough of Toronto, Ontario. “Invigorating, yet relaxing yoga classes followed by first-class wine selections. I’ll definitely be back!”

Rah, rah, rah, that’s the spirit! Alcoholic drinks are sometimes called spirits because alcohol reduces anxiety and induces euphoria. Why are liquor stores not called spirit stores?

“Love this place!” said Sonya Dwyer about Zin Yoga and Wine in North Carolina. “Zin offers a wide variety of yoga classes and the clothing and wine selection is really great.” Getting loose in several different ways at once in brand new stretch pants.

Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape with a bold taste. “Either give me more wine or leave me alone,” said Rumi, whose best-selling poems are a part of yoga lore. He taught a kind of body movement in the 13th century, known as the Dance of the Whirling Dervishes, or spinning.

The thought of whirling after a couple of glasses of wine is enough to make your head go whee.

“Yoga can be very serious, but why not have it be really fun,” said Angela Gargano, the owner of Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison, Wisconsin, the state capital and a college town. She stage-manages weekend-long yoga and wine retreats. “Yoga is something spiritual to me. I feel we’ve lost the spiritual connection to the land food and wine grows on. That’s what was nice about the retreat, getting people to really connect to wine.”

That’s what yoga is all about, connecting. They don’t exactly tear it up, however, while connecting with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility. Vineyard tours and genteel five-course meals are fare of the weekend, along with a class on the mat on the side.

Although yoga can be serious, it is in the doing of it much more fun than fun, even without clinking glasses with the god of the grape. Nevertheless, Dionysus is a fun god, especially since the main focus of his cult back in the day was unrestrained consumption. “Prepare yourselves for the roaring voice of the God of Joy,” wrote Euripides in ‘The Bacchae’ way back when, when Athens was Broadway.

In and around New York City these days, Dina Ivas, a 15-year veteran of conducting yoga classes at top-rated fitness establishments, and Liz Howng, a certified wine expert, host Yoga Wine parties, which are private classes and wine tasting in the comfort of wherever you are.

“I finished the class feeling relaxed and a lot more confident about yoga,” said Miriam Gilbert. “Next, the wine tasting. We tasted a great range of wines. I’d certainly attend another party.”

There’s something oxymoronic about getting down for a  yoga wine party, but then again, we all fight for our right to party. There are shortcuts to happiness and drinking is one of them, although you don’t want to spend all day at Happy Hour. It can morph into Unhappy Hour. There’s an old saw that says good friends get drunk with you while best friends hold your hair back when you’ve had too much to drink.

Vino and vinyasa is found from coast to coast. Wine Body and Soul in New York. Downward Dog Then Drink Wine in Boston. Yin Yoga and Wine Night in Austin. Yoga Art and Wine in Redwood City. Vineyards from the Niagara Escarpment to Sonoma Valley are jumping on the bandwagon. No falling off the wagon on the way to class!

There’s nothing wrong with a beer-or-two at a ballgame or a barbeque, wine at dinner, or a scotch neat late on a lonely rainy night. Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but does anyone want to drink water all the time? It’s what rusts pipes. After all, like Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

One thing leads to another. Next up, absinthe and ashtanga, mantra and martinis, “cocktails and yoga, the perfect mix,” said Katherine Smith, yoga teacher, life-coach, and self-described “wild warrior yogi.”

“There is no good or bad, everything we feel, experience, think and sense is simply a manifestation of the divine,” she said. “Choose good quality alcohol.”

What about moonshine, bathtub gin, and rotgut? Since it’s all yoga, no good or bad, right or wrong, no heaven or hell in the divine scheme of things, what about rotgut? Live on the wild side!

Some of the new yoga doesn’t suffer in comparison with the old. It suffers all on its own.

Why conflate drink with yoga in the first place? Sure, everything was once new, just like today’s many new styles of yoga. There was once the first unclothed hard-core yogi back in the day when clothes were optional, although his practice probably didn’t include doing raging naked double flips arm in arm with goats. And if it did, he almost certainly wasn’t boozing it up at the same time.

Tomatoes are a fruit and fruit salads are full of fruit, but the wise saladmeister doesn’t mix tomatoes into their fruit salads.

There is nothing inherently demonic about drink, notwithstanding the screed of teetotalers. “Imagine getting up in the morning and knowing that’s as good as you’re going to feel all day,” said Dean Martin. Indeed, there are even benefits to demon rum.

Drinking responsibly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, helps prevent against the common cold, lowers the chance of diabetes, decreases the possibility of developing dementia, improves your libido, and can lengthen your life. It also reduces the risk of gallstones by a third, although the study of bile ducts at Great Britain’s University of East Anglia cautioned that “our findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake, but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems.”

The research is galling for anyone who still believes in the late not so great Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. There is no doubt Benjamin Franklin rolled over in his grave on the morning of January 16, 1920, believing God had abandoned the USA.

“Here’s to alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems,” said Homer Simpson. In other words, it’s better to drink when you’re happy, not when you’re unhappy, although it took the Great Depression to get Prohibition repealed.

Yoga is a broad practice, from meditation to exercise to ethics. There is no one correct form of it. “It’s such a big multifarious tradition you can find precedence for almost anything,” said James Mallinson, a senior lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical Indian Civilization at SOAS University in London.

“It’s not really about the body, but about the mind,” he added.

Since alcohol goes right to your head, maybe yoga and drinking do have something in common.

However, since under the over-influence of drink the brain goes haywire, a loss of fine motor skills, slowing reaction time, slurred speech, blurred vision, impaired hearing, and a daftness of muscle coordination and balance, it might be fairer to say that yoga and drinking have little in common.

Doing too much yoga, for example, isn’t going to land anyone in a detox center.

The yamas and niyamas are a set of ethical yoga rules, moral imperatives, and goals. They are the backbone of yoga, a kind of code of conduct. None of the social restraints or self-disciplines, as they are called, specifically address sidling up to the neighborhood bar.

“There is no mention of alcohol in the yamas or niyamas,” said James Bennitt, who studied with Rod Stryker and teaches flow-style yoga in Chicago. “A glass of wine or beer once in awhile isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when it becomes a habit, it is depleting to the system, not to mention clouds your judgment. Yoga is very much about building energy as well as clarity, not depleting yourself of them.”

Wine and beer and spirits ultimately have a sedative effect. At the end of the party end of the night, after you’re all done pulling the cork out of dinner and dessert, after you have stopped flooding the control center behind your forehead with liquid fun, your neurotransmitters slow way down low down. The part of your brain called the medulla gets sleepy.

Consciousness and clarity are located in the cerebral cortex. Do enough Beer Yoga and your senses, which process information for your cortex, get clumsy staggering punchy and inhibit thought processes, making it hard to get from point a to point b in a straight line. It devolves from I think therefore I am to I drink therefore I am.

“The ease with which I can now find an event that combines practicing yoga with drinking alcohol is at least unsettling, and at most completely mind-boggling in its depth at missing the point,” wrote Kelly McCormick in “Not-So-Happy Hour: Why Yoga & Alcohol Just Don’t Mix.”

If yoga is about energy and clarity, drinking is about relaxing and socializing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but yoga is something that makes your brain sparkle, while drinking makes your brain go fireworks and then fade away like the grand finale. Promoting the practice of yoga by wedding it to a fermented drug as the new hip thing to do is huckster work.

Nobody needs to mindlessly abstain. Everyone can mindfully enjoy a pint of craft beer or a glass of red wine at their local saloon. Nobody needs to do yoga, but when they do it gets them in a great state of mind. Everybody knows Miller time and yoga time are two different things, hucksters or no hucksters.

Getting a buzz on is living in your senses. Getting on the mat is transcending your senses. It’s all a state of mind.

 

Have Mat Will Travel

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When we were youngsters my brother, sister, and I went to two resorts every summer, except they weren’t called resorts. One was two weeks with other Boy and Girl Scouts and the other one was two weeks with second-generation immigrant boys and girls like us at a Lithuanian Jesuit camp. They were called summer camps.

It was how our parents packed up their troubles and sent them away. The scout camps were usually in the middle of a forest somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The Jesuit camp was in Wasaga Beach, on Canada’s Georgian Bay, in the wind and sunshine. The longest freshwater beach in the world was a 10-minute walk away.

We never had any trouble making the most of summer camp, even though sometimes there were bedbugs and some kids didn’t shower, even when the showers worked. One summer somebody’s parents wouldn’t let him in the car when they came to pick him up when camp was over.

“Go hose yourself off! What is wrong with you?” his mother complained, pushing him away.

A few years after I started taking yoga classes I started hearing about yoga retreats and resorts. The first one I heard about was Kripalu in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. More than 30,000 people visit there, attending more than 700 programs annually. The holistic health and yoga retreat is housed in a former Jesuit seminary.

On our way last summer to Canada’s Prince Edward Island, passing through the Berkshires on the I-90 Mass Pike, my wife and I veered off at Stockbridge, and instead of going south to the Norman Rockwell Museum, drove north to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The drive on the rolling wooded road was a welcome change after nine hours on the interstate.

The Berkshires emerged as a summer resort for the gilded during the Gilded Age. At first, what would become Kripalu was a 100-room mansion. Andrew Carnegie lived there summers. It was his summer retreat. “Mr. Carnegie wanted a quiet place where he could meditate,” wrote a local newspaper. At the height of his career he was the second-richest man in the world.

Rich is loud. Wealthy is quiet.

He was known as the “Emperor of Industry” and believed in staying calm by staying focused. “The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell,” he said, meaning focus on the oyster. Andrew Carnegie is the best-known philanthropist in American history. He gave away more money, adjusted for inflation, than just about anybody.

“The rich man who gives steals twice over,” said Edvard Munch. “First he steals the money and then the hearts of men.” It’s enough to make your eyes cross, or make you reconsider the merits of Marxism.

Andrew Carnegie died in his summer mansion, it burned to the ground in 1956, and the Society of Jesus built a new large brick seminary building just down the hill in 1957. But then the 1960s happened and in 1970 the Jesuits moved on. The Kripalu Center bought and renovated the building in 1983.

At the front desk we got the bad news. Two days and nights of their popular R & R Retreat, in a room with a bath, albeit a room fronting a small lake, would cost us more than $1200.00. The good news was the cost included a daily yoga class and all the “delicious all-natural” food we could eat. The yoga class sounded good. However, there was only so much food we could eat.

The two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen and front porch deck on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, on a 100-acre slope overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where we were going to be staying for two weeks, was going to cost us $1400.00 for the two weeks, although no food was included. There was, however, a co-op grocery store and fish shack on the harbor and plenty of outdoors where to unroll my yoga mat.

There are no parking meters on the red dirt cliff-lined coast for parking my mat, either.

“I went for R & R with my sister and it was perfect,” said Jayne Murphy, a recent visitor to the Kripalu Center. “Vinyasa yoga when we needed it, plus wonderful clean food. I’d live there, if possible!”

It would only be possible if you had about $105,000.00 a year to pay for your room and board. However, if you put that same money into U. S. T-Bonds, in ten years you would be able to buy a million dollar house, live like Andrew Carnegie, and have plenty left over for grub.

Retreats are group withdrawals for instruction, study, and meditation. Buddhists have gone on retreats since Buddha. Christian retreats date from the 16th century when St. Ignatius of Loyola, the man who founded the Jesuits, got the ball rolling with what he called Spiritual Exercises. Sufism, the mystical path of Islam, has been retreating for a millennium.

Yoga retreats used to be about getting out of the rut, the daily routine, or what is called dinacharya, recharging and getting deeper into the practice. They were usually more ascetic than aesthetic. Modern yoga retreats are more along the lines of a recreational holiday. There’s a slice of yoga on the food tray, but there’s no real need to resort to it at the resort.

When Shiva Rea invites one and all to Rhythmia, a yoga and wellness retreat, she is inviting one and all to a “new kind of all-inclusive vacation experience luxury resort” in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. When she says all-inclusive she means boffo it all: on the mat, meditation, life coaching, healing touch, mud baths, massage, juice bar, farm-to-table food, and colon hydrotherapy, just in case.

“Come get your miracle,” proclaims Rhyhmia. Miracles are events of divine intervention in human affairs. A good masseuse kneading out the knots in your shoulders is an outstanding accomplishment, but it’s doubtful it’s a divine phenomenon. The chef, however, is said to have come down from the clouds.

Once you get to Costa Rica the “life transforming vacation” will cost you in the neighborhood of $3000.00 a week. According to the Retreat Guru at the resort it is well worth it. “It is a beautiful way to reconnect to our basic sanity and health. Our aspiration is to inspire people to reconnect with their innate wisdom, strength, and kindness.”

The Retreat Guru’s ideas about reconnection only work if your wisdom strength kindness originally stem from growing up and living in a resort. Otherwise, maybe you are connecting with those virtues when you fly down to Costa Rica, but you’re not reconnecting with the font, no matter how wonderful the weather and spa services are.

When did yoga resorts become the zenspirational way to go for the well-off om class?

Resorts were once the James Bond lifestyle. There are more of them nowadays than ever. Resorts are places people go to for rest relaxation recreation, letting it all hang out. Yoga retreats were once about brushing up on the eight limbs, not getting your limbs buffed up. Except when the retreats go hand in glove with resorting.

The first resorts were the public baths of Rome. Many of them included gyms, theaters, and snack bars. In the 14th century a large resort area grew up around the iron-rich waters of a town called Spa in Belgium. Seaside resorts became popular in the United States in the late 19th century, followed by mountainside ones in the west.

Even the Dust Bowl had a resort in the 1930’s, Monte Ne in Arkansas, featuring the two largest log buildings in the world. Resorts are self-contained and are all about food, drink, lodging, shopping, recreation, and entertainment. There are resort towns all around the world.

The Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Thailand offers ‘Yoga for Life’, featuring exercise classes, breath work, and meditation, as well as mood mists. When you get off the mat there are naturopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and skin-care specialists to take care of the aftermath. “I was on a mat getting a Thai massage – in Thailand. Life was good,” wrote Meghan Rabbit in her ‘Escape’ travelogue in Yoga Journal.

An ocean side room for a week of the good life runs about $5000.00 per person. Off-season rates are better, but that’s when it rains most of the time, which is called the monsoon. The good life, unfortunately, gets flooded away. Temperatures zoom into the high 80s and the humidity is usually 90%. The peak season is the best season. That’s when the countryside opens up like an oyster.

“A yoga retreat to some amazing locations gives practitioners the opportunity to explore some mouth-watering scenery, such as the serene countryside, panoramic views of stunning mountains, and the opportunity to embrace nature at its finest.” pointed out Ledan Soldani in ‘Yoga Retreats Are Transformational’.

Every sunny season tens of thousands of people go to exotic places to yoga retreat resorts. The beautiful locations are one reason they go, but there are other reasons, too. They go to take a break from obligations, relax and de-stress, make new friends, surround themselves with inspiring people, open up free time for breath work and meditation, and expand their asana practice. Two classes a day are often offered, and when it comes to the buffet table to sustain your practice, all the work is done for you.

It’s time out for you and yourself.

‘Yoga Is for Every Body’ is a five-day retreat at the Kalani Oceanside resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. The retreat includes active and restorative practices, meditation, writing contemplations, and storytelling games. “This retreat will connect with your highest potential for alignment and restoration,” explains Kimberly Dark, the facilitator.

The all-inclusive cottage cost is $2375.00, which includes sauna, hot tubs, and a clothing-optional pool. Maybe some yoga can be accomplished, but anyone contemplating writing would be best suited to stay away from the pool, as well as the spectacularly beautiful coastline, and tropical paradises, in general. Mouth-watering scenery is distracting.

Yoga and writing are similar to the extent they’re best done in private. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” wrote Ernest Hemingway about writing. Practicing yoga and bleeding on the page are about discovering what you believe. The problem with looking inward while at a resort is that the temptation to look outward is immediate tempting eye-popping.

“Going on my first yoga retreat five years ago was a major turning point in my life,” said Gigi Yogini. “So much so that now I lead yoga adventures for others around the world in places like Joshua Tree, Costa Rica, and Bali. Those are truly transformative experiences.”

Who wouldn’t want to be transformed in Hawaii and Switzerland, among other places? Who wouldn’t want to go to the Alpina Gstaad resort in Switzerland that is more than just a resort for the rich and famous, but a resort of Tibetan healing practices, a resort where you can practice meditation and yoga with monks who have been at it forever? Relax in a faux Himalayan salt cave. Throw in massages and the resort’s signature golden latte. Drink your latte on a post-modern deck nestled in the Alps.

What Yoga Journal called a “sanctuary” was profiled in their June 2017 issue. Sign me up! I mean, sign me up if I had the money. Alpina Gstaad was built by the developer Jean-Claude Mimran. He is known as the ‘Sugar King of Africa’. The Panorama Suite is $21,000.00 a night in high season, 40% off in the off-season. The glacier view in any season is a priceless outdoor experience at your fingertips, as long as you haven’t left home without your Gold Card from American Express.

Budgets have a lot of numbers in them. So do yoga resorts.

Yoga retreats were once intensives. Meditation was followed by morning practice by some classes on theory by some fruits and snacks by evening practice by dinner by self-reflection. In time it got mixed up with wellness and recreation. Now there are retreats that fuse yoga and music, yoga and dance, yoga and massage, yoga and detox, yoga and surfing sailing cycling hiking paddle boarding mountaineering, yoga and relationships, yoga and gardening, as well as yoga and food.

There is the five-day Cannabliss retreat in Ojai, California. The $1,200.00 all- inclusive price has all the black light yoga and weed on the menu you want. “This is a new frontier,” said founder Sari Gabbay. Munchies are bring your own.

Boy Scout camps were about raising the flag, working on merit badges, marching off for the day, collecting wood cooking cleaning with your patrol, and since our camps were often near water, swimming and canoeing. We followed the Outdoor Code. Be clean in my outdoor manners. Be careful with fire. Be considerate in the outdoors. Be conservation-minded.

But, Boy Scout camping was more than being a good citizen. Camping was about “the trees, the tree-top singers, the wood-herbs, and the nightly things that leave their tracks in the mud,” said Ernest Thompson Seton, the first Chief Scout. That’s why every tent had a first-aid kit handy.

We played mumble-de-peg with our pocketknives, standing opposite another scout, feet shoulder-width apart, throwing our knives to stick in the ground as near your own foot as possible. Whoever stuck the knife closest won the game. If you stuck the knife in your own foot you won immediately.

We played other variations like Chicken and Stretch. We raided the Girl Scout tents, making off with their training bras, running them up the flagpole. We crept into other Boy Scout tents, coaxing a sleeping scout’s hand into a bowl of warm water, trying to make him pee. It never worked.

The trouble with our summer camps was that they were so much fun. Who could pay attention 24/7 to Robert Baden-Powell’s maxims? Be prepared for every order. Make sure to think out beforehand anything that might happen. Know the right thing to do at the right moment. It might have been possible, except our camps were full of crazy curious high-energy 12-year-olds with pocketknives, which made thinking clearly difficult.

The trouble with yoga resorts is that they are sensual delights, from the food to the spa services to the sunny locales. Who can pay attention to the eight limbs of the practice when there are limbs in and out of bikinis at the pool? Who wants to meditate when they can nap in a hammock in the warm breeze? Who strives to be a better person when they’re in the best of all possible worlds?

You’d have to be a saint. Who wants to go on vacation with a saint?

Although it’s true that most people practice yoga by engaging in the physical postures, work on the mat brings attention to your breath, stilling your mind, and getting you to be present. The movement of the body, the quieting of the brain, which is usually in constant motion, and the rhythm of your breathing get you going on the way. When you breathe and center your attention, any place you are is where you are.

Anyone can play the Game of Fives wherever they happen to be sitting standing in hero pose. It costs zero dollars. Zero in on five things in your immediate environment. Look at them, smell them, and listen to them. Focus on your attention. When all of your attention is focused it’s clear skies and smooth sailing. You don’t have to resort to anything else to practice yoga.

When you go somewhere far, far away to find yoga you might or might not find what you’re looking for. You almost surely will have a good time, unless a monsoon rolls in. Exploring communing schmoozing with nature in Bali and Big Sur is organic and virtuous. We did it every summer as kids at Boy and Girl Scout camps. But, when you’re connecting with nature you’re not connecting with yourself.

“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart,” said Julien Green.

Yoga is an inside out practice, not an outside in practice. It’s not about getting on a jet plane and going out into the wide world looking for it. It’s hard to find out there, no matter how far up country you go. The best place to look for your heart’s desire is inside yourself. Ship ahoy! Home is where the heart is.

Sat Nam (One Hundred and Eight)

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“One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail. One beats and beats for that which one believes.” Wallace Stevens

Everyone has heard the words to thine own self be true, even if they’ve never read a word of Shakespeare. Not everyone has heard the words sat nam, which mean true self, even if they’ve done plenty of yoga. Shakespeare is remembered because he got human nature right. Yoga is practiced because it helps make human nature right.

Real life often means caving in to peer pressure instructions tropes status groupthink. Even though trying to fit in can make you temporarily insane, herd behavior is a longtime humankind habit. It can be a bad habit. The yoga life is about being stouthearted enough to be your true self.

You are what you eat. You are what you do possess believe say so. You are everything that has ever happened to you. The hidebound say you are what you were before the clock started ticking. Things are more like they are today than they’ve ever been. The pioneering say the best way to predict the future is to make the future, which is another way of saying that creating opportunities is creating you.

You are your life’s energy, one breath at a time, which is why yoga puts a premium on breathing. It is why breath control is one of the eight limbs of the practice. When you stop breathing you get stuck in time.

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

What is the self?

Philosophers psychologists psychiatrists say self-awareness is what leads to awareness, to consciousness, the difference between you and me. Is it your brain engaged in self-reference? “I think, therefore I am,” said Rene Descartes. Is it your private self, public self, better self? Are you your ego self or your observing self?

Society tells you to find yourself be yourself then tells you what to do. Is that what happens when you lose yourself?

What do self-respect, self-control, and self-confidence have to do with it? Were you yourself at two, as a teenager, and your good old self as you are now? Is your self your self-image? Are you only yourself when no one’s watching?

“You are your life, and nothing else,” said the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

That is a Western view, the ‘I’ as an autonomous ego. In the East the self is often defined in its relation to others. You can’t be a self by yourself. In the West the self has been atomized. In the East who you are depends on where you are.

The philosopher Thomas Metzinger claims the self is an illusion. It’s all in your head. It’s just your brain and its neural activities, and nothing else. You are your genes. There is nothing about you that transcends the physical. There is no higher-order beyond the body and brain.

The question remains up in the air. Who are you? Make up your mind.

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

What is a mantra?

It’s simple enough, a sound or a word repeated to aid in meditation. The mantra of Main Street is bigger is better, the mantra of Wall Street is nobody goes to jail, and the mantra of D. C. Street is build a strong brand. Those aren’t mantras. They’re statements repeated ad nauseam to make you think they make sense.

There is meditation and then there is mantra meditation.

Mantra meditation is the act of repeating a sound, a few words, or a short phrase over and over. Sometimes again and again stops at 108 times, which is how many prayer beads there are on a string of them. It gets you into a frame of mind.

A mantra means ‘man’ which means mind and ‘tra’ which means vehicle. A mantra is a vehicle for the mind. One translation is “to be free from the mind.” It is the Magic Bus whose engine properties and sonic vibrations put you on the road to meditation.

In the same way that asanas on the mat are exercises for the body, mantras are exercises for the mind. Mantra meditation clears the decks of the mind of stress. It helps align the left and right sides of the brain. It connects the critical thought part of us with the creative side of us.

Breath and sound, energy and rhythm, help boost immunity, reduce anxiety, and release neuroses. Who wants to be nailed to the cross of their disturbed mind? It’s free and easy, too. All you have to do is show up and it works. No one needs to be an expert at busting out a solo. The world of mantra isn’t a stage. All you have to do is bust the breath from your belly and your heart.

Mantra is old stuff, from back in the day of campfires, the mother of meditation.

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

Why chant sat nam?

When you’re grooving on sat nam you’re getting back into the groove. Finding your groove is finding your balance. Chanting a mantra like sat nam is getting down with the original yoga rhythm section.

Sat nam is pronounced like but mom.

There are Sat Nam Fests at Joshua Tree and in the Berkshires, lots of yoga, lots of music, lots of chanting. “We thrive in tribes,” said Azita Nahal, a Kundalini teacher and author who spearheads workshops at the festivals. “Our bodies are the way in, our awareness is the way through.”

Sat nam is the seed mantra of Kundalini Yoga, a practice popularized by Yogi Bhajan in the 1960s. It is a synthesis of several traditions designed to bring to life the life force at the base of the spine. Kundalini Yoga is sometimes known as the yoga of awareness. Its method is in its physical postures, breath work, mantras, and meditation.

Sat means ‘true’ and nam means ‘identity’, more-or-less. Whatever it means, chanting sat nam means making an experience of your own consciousness. Consciousness is energy at its basal basic basement level. It also means having an experience of consciousness in general, of getting past the separateness.

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true,” said Vivekananda. What’s truer than true is that only you can be you. When in doubt be yourself, don’t be the other 999 guys, which is the best way to be a stand-up guy or gal, to tell the truth.

You can’t be free if you’re not truthful, at least to yourself, even if not to the truth of the matter. Who wants to meet themselves behind the wall of illusion, in the hall of mirrors? If you can’t find the truth within yourself, where do you think it might be? Is it in what somebody on their soapbox is saying? Is it in the flag-waving crowd? Is it in the great big spider web of the rest of the world?

Trying to find it there would be a mistake.

God knows we all make mistakes. Only God has never made the same mistake once. Although it’s true that mistakes can teach us something, the only mistake in the offing you don’t want to interrupt is the one an immediate mortal enemy is making.

Trying to find yourself outside of yourself would be a mistake because it isn’t about finding yourself somewhere out there, it’s about creating yourself from the inside out. After all, everybody has their one and only genetic identity. What’s better than being able to say I have my own selfhood and my own style?

It’s better to be a dead ringer of yourself than a knock-off of somebody else.

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

Why chant sat nam 108 times?

“By practicing chanting, breath work, or asana in rounds of this sacred number, the ancient yogis believed we could align ourselves with the rhythm of the creation,” Helen Avery wrote in “108: Yoga’s Sacred Number”.

When it comes to yoga, malas are made of 108 beads, breath work is often done in cycles of 108, and doing a traditional 9 rounds of the 12 sun salutations makes 108.

“Exactly how the yogis arrived at 108 we don’t quite know, but it seems to be a number that connects us to our place in the cosmic order.”

There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Since each of them has a feminine and masculine aspect, there are 108 letters. Chakras are energy lines in the body. It’s believed there are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra. There are said to be 108 stages on the journey of the Atman, or soul.

Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps leading up into them, meaning there are 108 steps on the path to enlightenment. The Mayans built their temple at Lamanai to be 108 feet high. The Sarsen Circle at Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter.

The big picture is that the distance from the earth to the moon is 238, 800 miles, just about 108 times the moon’s diameter. The diameter of the sun is just about 108 times the diameter of the earth. The distance from the earth to the sun is just about 108 times the diameter of the sun.

“It serves as a reminder of the wonder and interconnectedness of the universe,” wrote Helen Avery.

Why not chant sat nam 108 times when there’s wonder in it?

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

Why a mantra? Why use it as a tool in the first place? Sometimes it can seem like a broken record. Why not just meditate? The reason is because it’s a kind of white noise, muffling the commotion hubbub chatter.

“A mantra has the power to drown out both the surface noise and eventually even the quieter undercurrent of thoughts until all that is left is the repetition of a neutral mantra and the serene state of natural awareness which starts to emerge naturally,” wrote Chad Foreman in “Why Repeating a Mantra Is So Powerful and How to Do It”.

Some of the oldies but goodies are om, om namah shivaya, and om mani padme hum. Many of them have the word om in common, the sound of life and death. It’s been called the sound of the universe.

Aaaa-Uooo-Mmm.

It’s close enough, although sound waves can’t and don’t travel through the vacuum of space. Electromagnetic waves can, though, and they can be recorded by spectrographs. Quasars sound remarkably like the spitting image of om.

Sat has sometimes been translated as ‘existence’ and nam as ‘to bow’. In other words, bow to existence. We are part of the universe. The universe is in us. “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe,” said Marcus Aurelius more than two thousand years ago.

Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam…

The arc of the horizon bends at sat nam, the seed mantra. In a universe that created itself out of nothing, a universe made out of energy, a universe that works from within outwards, making a vibration making a sound making sat nam with your breath is a simple way of making your way in the universe.