Category Archives: High and Low

Lord of the Fishes

img_2559-e1561245035881.jpg

The red sand North Rustico beach lays at the mouth of the harbor of the town, on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. The crescent shaped island is tucked into the shoulders of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, across the Northumberland Strait. On the far side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is Newfoundland. Europe is the farther landfall across the Atlantic Ocean.

The small town of North Rustico is on the north-central coast, on Route 6, between Cavendish and Rusticoville. Some of it can be seen from the deck of Pedro’s Eatery, where Route 6 dips and curves through the middle of town, the market and gas station, the bakery and the credit union, the lobster restaurant and the post office. The rest of it is within a few minutes, down the harbor road and up side roads.

Frank and Vera Glass, staying at the Coastline Cottages just outside of town, drove the mile-or-so from their cottage along the coast road, past Rollings Pond to the parking lot at the back of the beach, where a creek empties, up the dirt road to the other parking lot, parked in front of a sign saying the beach was unattended by life guards, walked up and then down the path to the beach, and made fast at a nice spot on the sand not far from the shoreline.

It was sunny and fair, the sun behind them, as they unfolded their low-slung blue canvas chairs, plopping into them, pulling books from their Pedro, a yellow and black re-purposed bicycle messenger bag.

Vera was reading an autobiography of Agnes de Mille.

Frank was reading “The Durrels of Corfu.” He interrupted Vera every few minutes with something funny he had just read. Vera thought, you’re slowing me down, dude, even though she was a slow reader, anyway.

“Did you see that sign?” she asked Frank.

“No, what sign?”

“The sign beside the lifeguard cabana, the one that said, ‘Caution! Attention!’”

“There are no lifeguards, not until next week,” said Frank. “I saw that sign when we parked.”

“It’s the North Rustico Beach welcome sign, the big red and white sign when you walk onto the beach, the one that says rip currents, strong offshore winds, beware of large surf, and don’t use inflatables.”

Frank looked out at the flat quiet water, the spaghetti surf, and the wide sky dotted with puffy clouds standing still.

“No, I didn’t see that sign,” he said. “Anyway, it seems beside the point today.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” said Vera, smiling at her husband.

They read their books, watched couples walking by barefoot, children running, and a head down in a cell phone shuffling past. A family set up camp nearby, Vera took a nap, and Frank rolled out of his canvas chair and practiced a half-hour of yoga on the warm sand. He didn’t have a mat, but it didn’t matter. He turned and pulled and released and twisted one way and the other.

When he was done he rolled back into his low-slung chair.

“That felt good,” he said.

“I’m glad, honey,” said Vera. “What was that last thing you did, the twisty thing? I haven’t seen you do that before.”

“It’s called Lord of the Fishes,” he said. “It’s supposed to be good for your lower back.”

Vera didn’t do yoga in any of its forms, although she was glad Frank did. He had a bum back and the exercises kept him on his feet. The thinking behind the practice – Frank liked to call it that – also seemed to be good for him, keeping him on the tried and true straight and narrow.

“Do you remember the last time we had dinner with Barron at Herb’s Tavern, and he spent coffee and dessert railing about how steady as it goes has gone big top high wire?” Frank asked Vera.

“Yes, I do,” said Vera, remembering the carrot cake she had not been able to fully enjoy.

Barron Cannon owned and operated and taught at a small yoga studio near where Frank and Vera lived in Lakewood, Ohio, an inner ring suburb on the shores of Lake Erie, west of Cleveland. He was between young and middle-aged, married but divorced – what woman could stand living with him, Vera wondered – a post-modern sensibility with a PhD in philosophy, but a yoga traditionalist. He taught the exercise poses, but always in the context of the other arms of yoga, which he considered the essential parts of the practice.

Whenever he was in high dudgeon he complained about the 21st century western emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga.

“Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, it’s asana on the mat, in a hot room, an hour of hard work and it’s back to whatever else you are up to. When did yoga become work hard, no pain, no gain? When did it become just another something on the checklist, getting fit, staying ahead? When did it become competitive, a race to the finish, another rat bastard in the rat race?”

Barron was Frank’s friend. Vera tolerated him for her husband’s sake. She didn’t dislike Barron, but she disliked it when he said things like, “Nobody worth their salt is nice.”

“I was going to tell Barron about Eric Young, mention his ideas, but I didn’t,” said Frank. “We would never have gotten out of Herb’s, at least not until after closing time, if then.”

“Who’s Eric Young?” asked Vera.

“A Baltimore guy, a lot like Barron in some respects, teaches some yoga, aerial style, a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which is too bad,” said Frank.

“Why were you going to bring him up to Barron?” asked Vera.

“Because he’s on the other side of the teeter totter,” said Frank.

“What’s too bad about the Orioles?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Competitive yoga started in India, not the west, but that’s a minor detail,” said Eric. “I am curious, though, at the idea of the physical becoming the more dominant focus, and so many people feel the need to tell other people that’s not yoga when there is no agreed upon definition. If we are all properly practicing an inward journey, shouldn’t that remove the need to be concerned what others do and what they call or label the activity in which they are doing it?”

“That makes sense to me,” said Vera.

“There’s more,” said Frank.

“Setting aside the definitions of yoke and some of the more deeper translations and interpretations of yoga from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and setting aside the atman and seer ideas, for the average practitioner they will have no understanding, or care to,” said Eric.

“In my yoga teacher training class, I would say half had no idea there was anything beyond the physical. To many, yoga is a down dog, a bird of paradise, with a glass of wine after, and for some, a puppy or a baby goat wandering by. I say more power to them, for at least two reasons. First, if they are truly in the present, they are doing a lot of the work, even if not labeled as such, and if they do it enough, the work will pay off one way or another. Second, if I am doing my yoga, in whatever form that means to me, then I should not be bothered one way or another. As no one owns the term and there are so many different facets, it’s arrogant for me to say you’re wrong.”

“I’m not sure Barron would be good with that,” said Vera.

“You know how Barron is. He would have plenty to say,” said Frank.

“I will concede if your business is teaching, and I set up shop next door spouting I know as much and am as good a teacher, which I don’t and am not, you have every right to be bothered by this, but that’s business, not yoga,” said Eric. “I don’t think the gurus of yore were bothered by what another one did on the other side of the country. But for those who say because it’s not four thousand years old, only two hundred years, and it’s not authentic, I call that bullshit.”

“He speaks his mind,” said Vera.

“There is wisdom and there is gray hair,” said Eric.

“I wouldn’t put Eric and Barron in the same room,” said Vera.

“I don’t know about that,” said Frank. “They’re both on the same yoga planet.”

“What planet are you on?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, don’t put them in the same room, for God’s sake. They may be on the same planet, but they’re not coming from the same place. That would be a head-on collision.”

“I wouldn’t argue with Barron,” said Eric. “It doesn’t bother me. That’s the beauty of yoga.”

Vera and Frank heard a sudden loud squarking from the shoreline, and when they looked towards the sound, they saw a seagull dragging a rock crab out of the surf. When the bird had the crab out of the water it began to peck at it, killing it, if the crustacean wasn’t already dead, dragging it landwards whenever the surf rolled it back towards the ocean.

“I thought their shells protected them from birds,” said Frank.

“Maybe the shell was cracked already,” said Vera.

“One of the guys at the harbor told me that gulls will pick up shellfish, fly them up in the air, and drop them on rocks so their shells crack when land.”

“I didn’t know seagulls had it in their pea brains to be able to think that out,” said Vera.

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” said Frank.

They watched the seagull rip legs off and pull goopy innards out of the crab, until there wasn’t anymore left to be had. The big white and gray bird arched its neck, cawed several times, and flew away. The remains of the crab slowly but surely rolled back into the ocean.

“What time does Doiron’s close?” asked Vera.

“Six,” said Frank.

“What time is it now?”

Frank looked at his iPhone.

“Quarter of six,” he said.

“Drive me over me there” said Vera. “You can drop me of and I’ll walk back to the cottage.”

“All right, maybe I’ll drive up the parkway, go for a walk around Orby Head, and we can meet back at the cottage,” said Frank.

He dropped his wife off at the fish market.

Doiron Fisheries is on the wharf on Harbourview Drive. It’s been there since the 1950s.  It’s a small storefront with a big sign over the door, a long shallow front room chock full of haddock, hake, halibut, salmon, mackerel, oysters, mussels, scallops, and cooked crab.

Frank drove up Church Hill Road, past the Stella Maris church and the graveyard, and down to the National Park kiosk. They had a seasonal pass attached to the stem of the rear view mirror of their Hyundai Tucson, and when the attendant in the kiosk glanced up and waved him through, Frank swung the car to the left up the hill into the seashore park.

He had once stopped and asked the teenager in a National Parks shirt behind the drive-through window, “What do you call this building?”

“We call it the gate,” she said.

“The gate?”

“That’s it, yup, the gate.”

Frank drove past Doyle’s Cove and the Coastline Cottages. The cottages are in the Prince Edward Island National Park, but aren’t a part of the park. The Doyle’s kept their land, in the family for a dog’s age, not selling it to Canada when the park was established. There are a handful of their houses, one nearly a hundred years old, another one newly built last year, within sight. They are the only homes in sight.

He drove the two miles-or-so up the Gulf Shore Way, pulled off the road at Orby Head, and went for a walk along the red sandstone cliff. He lay down face forward on the other side of the rope fence and looked down at the waves churning and breaking on the narrow rocky landing far below.

A group of cormorants in a v formation flew past, nearly at eye level. He closed his eyes and breathed evenly for a few minutes. He heard a car pull in, its tires crunching on the gravel. He opened his eyes, got up, and walked back to his car.

When he stepped into the cottage the lowering sun was lighting up the kitchen window, and Vera was at the stove.

“What are you making for dinner?” he asked.

“Crab cakes,” she said.

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Advertisements

Bad Boys of Yoga

3776892750_64764f8267_b

Keep your breath to cool your porridge.”  Jane Austen

There’s nothing new about scandals, be they political academic corporate celebrity religious personal financial. They are a dime a dozen. The reason they are so cheap is because there are so many of them. Crack open a newspaper, remote on a TV, open a browser, and there they are, today and every day. They take all shapes and sizes, not just nowadays, but way back when, too.

Back when the Olympics were the Greek Olympics, an Athenian pentathlete bribed his opponents to secure victory. He was found out and both he and his hometown were fined. He paid his fine, but Athens refused. It took the Delphic Oracle threatening there would be no more oracles for Athens to get them to pay up.

Five hundred years ago the Borgia’s, two of whom ruled the Holy City as Popes, were conniving entrepreneurs who bought their way to the top, poisoned friend foe and family alike, and at the Banquet of Chesnuts at the Vatican in 1501 encouraged their guests to enjoy the “fifty honest prostitutes” they had procured for dessert.

More recently, during the Gilded Age, there were more corporate shenanigans than you could shake a stick at. Somebody should have beaten James “Jubilee Jim” Fisk with a stick, but instead he became entangled in blackmail and was shot to death in broad daylight in the lobby of New York City’s Grand Central Hotel.

Everyone’s always got their reasons for falling into the tar pit. Even the bad have their good reasons. More often than not it’s not anybody’s fault, either, especially in our own exculpatory day and age.

“It’s because as a child Cinderella got home after midnight, Pinocchio told lies, Aladdin was a thief, Snow White lived in a house with seven men, I saw Tarzan practically naked, Batman drove 200 MPH without a license, and Shaggy was a mystery solving hippie who always had the munchies,” we explain in song and dance about how we became good-time Charlies.

Sex scandals are nothing if not more than everything else never new. They are the bedrock of dirty linen. Many a man has fallen into the hamper.

Grover Cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock and during the 1884 presidential campaign was dogged by Republican chants of, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” After he won, Democrats answered, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”

Bill Clinton had sex out of wedlock on top of the father of our country’s desk in the Oval Office, was almost impeached, but shrugged it off as though the disapproval was a misunderstanding.

When Donald Trump lays down with whores, it’s not a skeleton in the wedlock closet, for several reasons. First, he’s done it many times before, so there isn’t anything scandalous about him doing it again. Second, he’s a consummate dickhead, so there’s nothing unusual about it. Lastly, no one cares, not his evangelical brain-addled conservative base, nor the country’s liberals, for whom it’s the least of his foibles, nor the rest of the world, for whom it’s just a punchline.

No one holds him to any kind of standard, anyway, high or low.

When yoga masters teachers gurus, on the other hand, go sex crazy, it is a scandal, for many reasons, not the least of which is they are held to a higher standard. They are expected to hold firm to the ethical high ground, not rut around in the trough. Stand above reproach. Steer clear of the web of corruption. Practice what you preach, for God’s sake.

It isn’t necessarily what everybody calls you, but what you answer to. Rules guide the everyday. Right conduct guides the better man. Nevertheless, stick to what it says in the job description.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” observed Kurt Vonnegut.

If you can’t trust a yoga teacher, who can you trust?

It’s a long list of bad boys, sometimes a common vice, antics in the back room, sometimes darker. It can be a crime punishable by law, at other times simply an offense that outrages the public conscience. It ain’t the Hall of Fame. It’s more along the lines of the Wall of Shame.

It includes Kriyananda, Rodney Yee, and Akhandananda Sarswati, who was charged with 35 counts of sexual abuse in 1987, convicted, and sent to prison.

It includes Osel Tendzin, Dechen Thurman, known as the “yoga gigolo,” and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – whose relationship with The Beatles came to a sudden end over allegations he tried to rape the actress Mia Farrow. The “Giggling Guru” got away with it, expanded his TM empire, and ended up living in his own 200-room mansion, where he could transcendentalize whatever he wanted in whatever bedroom he wanted to.

It includes Satchidananda, Muktananda, and Rama, founder of the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, whose estate had to pay almost $2 million in 1996 to a woman who claimed she was forced to have sex with him.

Easy come, easy go, seems to have been the philosophy.

It includes Sathya Sai Baba, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Amrit Desai, who founded the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, and was compelled to resign after confessing to several affairs in 1994.

Kripalu still takes a low profile on the whole sordid business, stating blandly for the record, “Yogi Desai resigned as spiritual director of Kripalu.”

It’s like saying he had other things besides the spirit on his mind, or loins, as the case may be.

It includes the royal family of yoga.

In 2012 allegations of emotional and sexual abuse were made against Kausthub Desikachar, the grandson of the godfather of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya.

The next year Desikachar confessed, “I realize that some of the decisions that I have made in the past have not been consistent with the high standards that I usually set for myself. I also fully understand and acknowledge that these have had far reaching effects, way beyond myself. There is no way of changing the past. I wholeheartedly repent for what has happened.”

There’s nothing like slapping yourself on the wrist.

It includes Osho, John Friend, and Bikram Choudhury.

During his lifetime, Osho, a self-proclaimed spiritual guru, was otherwise known as the sex guru. He made no secret of it. Osho was always on the pull, day and night. He did make a secret of everything else, including allegations of drug-running and a prostitution racket.

He was deported from the United States in 1985 as the result of complicity in a murder plot, among other things. He was arrested on board a Learjet in North Carolina with $1 million in cash and valuables on board, trying to escape to Bermuda. Although 21 other countries denied him entry, India finally took him back.

He was welcomed by his disciples with a clap on the back. “We must put the monster America in its place,” he declared. He complained of being the victim of “evil magic.” He died five years later of a heart attack, the victim of clogged arteries.

Amazingly enough, he is more popular today than he was then.

John Friend, who studied long and hard with B. K. S. Iyengar, and who labored long and hard to create and establish Anusara Yoga, a new kind of heart-centered practice, stepped down from his leadership role in 2012. Two years earlier The New York Times had proclaimed him the “Yoga Mogul.” Thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of people around the world practiced his style of yoga.

A year later it was all gone, gone up in smoke.

The yoga gear supplier Manduka got stuck with a warehouse full of John Friend-branded mats.

Besides smoking a boatload of pot, which was illegal at the time, and slyly dipping into pension funds that weren’t his, which is still illegal, he slept his way through his closest female acolytes, married and otherwise. He dreamed up a Wiccan coven, calling it Blazing Star Flames, to keep things on the up and up, at least in his own mind. It was a kind of tantric dodge to explain himself.

Tantric sexual expression is said to be a God-like weaving and expansion of energy creating a mind-body connection leading to powerful orgasms. If only we could be gods is the idea behind the idea.

“On a chilly New Year’s Eve in 2009, John Friend—the popular and charismatic founder of Anusara Yoga—lay naked on a bearskin rug in front of a blazing fire at his home in Texas while three underwear-clad women hovered over him, massaging his body with sweetly scented oil,” Lizzie Crocker wrote in the Daily Beast.

“One rubbed his head, neck, and shoulders, another worked on his hands, while a third rubbed his inner thighs and pelvic region, her whole body writhing sinuously to the new-age sitar melodies playing in the background.”

He didn’t see that what he did with his friendmates was anybody’s business.

“The Anusara scandal to me, was focused on my sex life,” explained John Friend, who has since resurrected himself with a new kind of alignment-based yoga called Sridaiva. “My sexual relationships with women were private and consensual in my eyes, but the community considered my private life as something that they should judge. So, it was like a 21st century social media witch trial, which judged me as being unfit to teach yoga.”

Not everyone agreed.

“Attending a yoga class where a teacher is generating bed-buddies while expounding on spiritual matters is like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy,” countered Kelly Morris, founder of Conquering Lion Yoga.

Sometimes you have to change yoga teachers, when they just rub you the wrong way. In the event, Anusara Yoga went by the board.

Bikram Yoga was the brainchild of Bikram Choudhury, born and bred in Kolkotta, and transplanted to Beverly Hills, where he founded the Yoga College of India. In time it became a big success. He claimed his one-size-fits-all system cured everything from arthritis to cancer, although the talk was largely snake oil. By 2006 there were 1,650 Bikram Yoga studios worldwide. He was training thousands of teachers at $10,000 a pop for the privilege.

He attempted to copyright the poses that constituted his modus operandi, but it was thrown out of court when the judge determined touching your toes wasn’t copyrightable.

Bikram owned more than forty Bentley and Rolls Royce automobiles. He jet setted with the beau monde. He toured Las Vegas, dressing like a gangster, claiming to have testicles like “atomic bombs.” In 2013 it started to unravel, when several women accused him of false imprisonment, sexual battery, and rape.

In 2016 Bikram lost a civil lawsuit in California for sexual harassment and was fined $6.8 million. In response, he closed up shop, sold off everything he could, and went back to the sub-continent. The judge issued a warrant for the lothario, but to this day he’s gone, good riddance to bad rubbish.

“You find out who your real friends are when you’re involved in a scandal,” said Elizabeth Taylor, who was involved in her fair share of them.

During his reign of steam and sweat, many studio owners said they loved the 26-pose take-it-or-leave-it regimen, even though they were equivocal about the man on the platform, turning a blind eye.

It was the king’s new clothes, white silk suits and fedora.

“If you look at his values and his lifestyle, there’s nothing spiritual about it. The cars and the watches and allowing people to fawn all over him, it’s disgusting,” said Stephanie Schestag, “He treated people like shit. But the truth was, he was like the Wizard of Oz. It was all a smokescreen.”

When push came to shove, Bikram Choudhury found out he had few real friends. Most of the world’s Bikram Yoga studios have either closed or changed their names to something else not-so-hot. His wife divorced him. It is rumored even his gold Rolex found another wrist to call home.

Sometimes it seems like only our dogs will never betray us.

It can take a scandal, or two, or a dozen, to bring about reform. Maybe yoga will be practicing what it preaches from here on out. It’s not rocket science. The culture isn’t corrupt, even though some of the culture’s icons were and are. Trying to get it right isn’t like trying to dam up Niagara Falls with toothpicks. It’s about living for a principle, not always trying to make yourself the principal of swinishness and the gimmies.

Love of men women humanity in general may be part and parcel of yoga practice, but not necessarily gimme your lovin’ you sweet lookin’ thang.

One thing all the sex-crazed yoga masters of our times have had in common is they all claimed they were somehow someway the bestest divines and what they were doing was divining the sacred word intent purpose for the way we live today, for your greater good, especially if you are a babe in the woods.

The hand of the man will show you the way out of the woods and down the garden path. The path can get thorny, though. Hero worship ain’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

“I’m breaking eggs to make an omelette because I see the big picture, and you don’t,” they all say, sly and sincere, straight-faced if not straight-laced, Tricky Dick’s to a man. It’s the classic refrain of self-styled masters of the universe, lady-killers one and all, but what can one say in the breach?

One can only say, don’t be a four-flusher, don’t be a Donald.

Stay in your lane bro’.

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Talk to the Fist ‘Cause the Face Ain’t Listening

clenched-fist-boom-hit-vector-2028105.jpg

Attendance at church services in the United States has been steadily declining for more than sixty years. Today, scarcely one in four Americans go to church, at all. When they do go, they don’t go, since more and more of them are going to online rites by way of app. Churchome Global – the brainchild of celebrity pastor Judah Smith – has set everyone free to worship in their bathrobes, thumbing bright icons and releasing glowing hearts to float around their laptop screens.

Jonathan Edwards, the Colonial Christian preacher who declared we are all sinners in the hands of an angry God, is rolling over in his grave right now. “What the hell happened?” he cries out. “What happened to the Wrath of God?”

In Europe and Australia fewer than 20% say religion is relevant to them. The Japanese and Chinese barely even respond to the question. Only in the Middle East and Third World countries do more than less respondents believe religion is important in their lives.

The yoga project, on the other hand, has been growing by leaps and bounds the past half century in the United States, Europe, Australia, and even Russia, once the motherland of godless Communism, where it has ballooned to a billion-dollar-and-more industry. Even though India, the birthplace of the practice, remains a hotbed, the rest of the world, especially the Islamic World and the Third World, has kept its cool.

When bead-wearing hippies began doing yoga in the 1960s they were drawing on a vibrant yoga culture that had thrived in the USA in the early 20th century, but which by their time had run its course. In the 1940s and 1950s the practice was nothing if not holding down the fort, what there was of it.

In the next 50 years the fort would grow to an arsenal overflowing with blocks, straps, and yoga mats, until today almost 40 million Americans say they do yoga. Nine out of ten of everybody say they have heard of yoga, no doubt far more than have ever heard of Jonathan Edwards, or want to hear anything he ever had to say.

Older Americans, the kind of people who once filled pews, are more likely than most to be found on mats. The number of them over 50 tromping to studios has tripled in the past five years. They believe “yoga is good for you.” They do it for their aches and pains. They do it to smooth out the rough patches, to tamp down the stress, to slow their breathing. It’s a way of counting to ten. They do it because it makes their lives better.

Even though yoga is a good fit when it comes to improving health, from flexibility to cardiovascular fitness, from reducing stress and pain, from overall quality of body to overall quality of life, they might be fooling themselves that yoga in its overall aspects is compatible with the way we have structured our lives and fortunes in the modern world.

Yoga made a lot of sense when it washed up on the shores of America in the Progressive Era, during the progressivism of the New Deal, and when Flower Power was free and easy, but it is questionable whether it is or ever will be relevant in our own age of post-modern capitalism, an age long since devoted to the idea that nature is a commodity to be marketed and consumed, that consumption must be encouraged at all costs, that unrestrained competition is a free market fundamental, and accumulation of wealth is the best of all possible worlds.

Talk to the cold hard cash fist full of money ’cause the face ain’t listening.

When the Grand Coulee Dam was proposed in the 1930s, there were myriad problems, not the least of which was that there were long-standing Native Americans living on the land that would be flooded, there were no manufacturers who needed the power and barely any farmers who needed the water, and the salmon and steelhead that ran the river would end up being cut off from their spawning grounds. It was the mid-30s, too, the middle of the Great Depression, and money was tight.

But the power that would be generated, its promoters promised, and the irrigation created would stimulate a need for itself. It would, just like the cutting-edge economists of the day said, create its own demand. And it did. The fish ended up swimming with the fish.

Fifteen years ago, as we were rounding into the new millennium, the richest 10% of the world got 55% of the world’s income, according to the World Bank. The poorest 50% got about 6%. Since then the only thing that has changed is that wealth concentration, especially among older Westerners, has grown faster than poverty reduction.

Non-greed and non-possessiveness are markers and moral guidelines on the path of yoga practice. Nevertheless, who wants to give up their two cars in the garage, their flat screens and stainless steel, their expanding portfolios and growing non-limit line on their credit cards. The good life has become what you’ve got in this life, not what you might get by making a life meditating on the mat.

Cold hard cash can buy you a fine warm purebred puppy. It’s uncertain a king’s ransom can make him wag his tail. You can offer your dog $10 million dollars and he might or might not wag his tail. Offer him $50 million and he might or might not do the same thing. Pat him on the head and say “Let’s go for a walk” and you will get his tail wagging, for sure.

In the same way that one of yoga’s core principles is non-violence, one of the core principles of today’s world is funding armed forces. United States defense expenditures are projected to rise from $682 billion dollars to $1335 billion dollars in the next 25 years, China’s from $251 to $1270 billion, India’s from $117 to $654 billion, and Russia’s from $113 to $295 billion.

When you add nine zeros to a number, you are talking real money. The human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Putting a gun to your head puts every one of those neurons in mortal danger.

Every neuron in every brain is connected to ten thousand other neurons. The aim of yoga is to get all of them firing in unison, all on the same page, all together now. The aim of the world’s armed forces is to keep their hands steady on the butts of their guns.

It’s talk to the gunhand ‘cause the face ain’t listening.

The essential aims of military might and yoga practice aren’t on the same page, no matter that the same millions of people who do yoga also pay for and support their armed forces. Everyone rallies around the flag. Nobody wants their patriotism questioned, no matter what. Wrong may be wrong, no matter who says it, but when it comes to patriotism, it means supporting your government and country all the time, no matter what anybody says.

“A patriot is the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about,” said Mark Twain.

Yoga is about finding your own way to knowing what you are all about. It’s not about hollering it up. It’s not about getting on a soapbox, or taking the word of some blowhard on his soapbox. Patriots are enemies of the rest of the world. The practice of yoga is about becoming a compatriot to the rest of the world. You don’t necessarily have to love everybody else, but you don’t necessarily have to hate them, either.

If yoga is about letting go of judgment, it is a problematic undertaking today. The rise of social media has led to the rise of a judgmental culture. It has long been thought judgment is inherently genetic, along with free will and the ability to choose, although it is much more probable that it is a learned behavior. It’s a way of living that goes back a long way, back to when we had to protect ourselves from harm on a day-to-day basis.

It was talk to the fist ’cause the face ain’t listening.

Even though snap judgments are no longer necessary for survival, at least not most of the time, it has morphed into our social behavior. Yoga advocates empathy and compassion. Social media is as much about pigeon holing as it is about cross-culturalism. For every curious explorer there is an angry nationalist. The practice of yoga is about creating a purposeful existence. The practice of judgment is living in lockstep with prejudice and bigotry.

Yoga isn’t a religion, there aren’t any churches or cathedrals, there are no martyrs or jihads, no shrines or wailing walls, no holy men or holy books. It is, however, a spiritual practice. It wasn’t a bad fit a hundred years ago, but it’s awkward today. The best thing that could have happened to the business, stripping it of all its aspects except for the physical dimension, is what has happened, and is why it is as popular as it is in the modern world.

It flies in the face of reason to believe that yoga can make it in the new world, at least not old world old school old fashioned yoga. It has little to no chance of making it in the Amazon Wall Street White House Big Oil Big Banking Big Corporations Big Ego scheme of things. When you throw in Big Tech, it becomes a Big Scheme.

Almost all of the principles of yoga are at odds with the way we live today. Something had to give. What gave was the last five thousand years. What broke into the open the past fifty-or-so years is the yoga we know works, the yoga we need, and the yoga we deserve. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need,” the Rolling Stones sang at about the same time the 1960s Flower Children got yoga going in the USA.

The future of yoga was always uncertain because the future ain’t what it used to be. But, there’s no living life backwards. We all have to look ahead, because that’s where from here to eternity is. Maybe the memory of what yoga was, and might be, will be the key not to the past, but to what is in the future.

After all, no fist can stay clenched forever, not in the face of the Wrath of God, which might be forever, or just simply more than the Hand of Man, just like every face has to face up to what it really wants and needs when rafting down the big river of time space and your own backyard.

 

 

Under the Gun

NRA

“All in all, it was all just bricks in the wall.”  Pink Floyd

For half a century, from 1916 until 1966, when Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine, shot and killed 16 people, injuring 31 others, shooting from atop an observation deck at the University of Texas at Austin, there were just 25 public mass shootings in which four-or-more people were killed. The young ex-soldier redefined homegrown massacres. He brought to bear a Remington 700, a .35-caliber Remington, a M1 carbine, a Sears semi-automatic shotgun, a .357 Magnum, a Luger, a .25-caliber pistol, and a big knife.

During the rampage a police sharpshooter in a small plane circling the 27-story building was repeatedly driven back by return fire. The first person killed was the eight-month-old not-yet-born baby of an 18-year-old pregnant student leaving the Student Union. She was shot in the abdomen.

Finally, two policemen stormed the observation deck, one firing his revolver, but missing, and the other killing Charles Whitman instantly with two blasts from his shotgun. The policeman with the revolver emptied his gun into the body at point-blank range, to make sure. He ran to the parapet yelling, “I got him, I got him.” He was almost shot himself by the police on the ground, who didn’t at first realize he wasn’t the shooter.

It remains to this day one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

In the 1980s, the FBI defined mass shootings as four-or-more people (not including the mass murderer) being killed in a single incident, typically in a single location. Since 1966 there have been thousands of them. Before 1966 there was a mass shooting about once every one hundred weeks, There is today a mass shooting about once every day.

Between 1999 and 2013 there were 31 mass murders per year on average. In 2015 there were 220 days of mass shootings and only 145 with none. In the first ten months of 2018 there were 307 mass shootings, almost as many as there were days.

It doesn’t bode well for 2019, with the White House still occupied by a crazy person, the National Rifle Association still staffed by crazy people, and millions of crazy Americans still armed to the teeth. The NRA, with reasoning crooked as a corkscrew, has re-interpreted the 2ndAmendment to suit their agenda. They and their supporters equate their success with goodness.

It doesn’t matter that rightness ends where a gun barrel begins.

There are more guns than people in the country, by far. There are almost 400 million guns in the USA. There are 12 million guns in Canada. There are 3 million guns in England. There a fewer than half-a-million guns in Japan. US citizens own 40% of all the guns in the world, more than the next 25 countries combined.

Until last year yoga studios seemed immune to the violence. Who ever saw a security guard at the front door of a yoga studio? At least, until last November, when Scott Beierle walked into Hot Yoga in Tallahassee, Florida, and shot to death Nancy Van Vessem, a physician and faculty member at Florida State University, and Maura Binkley, a student at the same university.

Maura Binkley’s father said his daughter had planned on becoming a teacher. “She truly lived a life really devoted to peace, love, and caring for others,” said Jeff Binkley. She didn’t live long. She was 21-years-old.

It doesn’t take long to go packing in Florida. There is no waiting period to buy an assault rifle. In Iowa no one needs a license to sell guns online. If you plan on selling lemonade, however, even if you’re a 7-year-old and your storefront is your front yard, you need both a food license and a business permit. In Texas, if you want to sell guns, go right on ahead, partner. It is the most heavily armed state in the country.

But, if you want to cut hair in Texas, you have to log 1,500 hours at hairdressing school. Scissors don’t kill people, people do.

Buying a gun almost anywhere in the United States is easier than getting a license to drive, filling out your tax return, or talking to tech support. It’s harder to pay off student debt, which typically takes about 21 years, than it is to buy a gun, which typically takes about 10 minutes. Anyone can walk into a gun store, pass a background check in record time, and get your gun. In some states no one has to even do that. They can buy a gun from a private seller or online, no background check required.

The United States has gone gun crazy. It’s not just mass shootings, either. In 2016, there were 15 people murdered with a handgun in Japan, 26 in England, 130 in Canada, and 11,004 in the USA.

Mass shootings have happened at casinos, nightclubs, hotels, military bases, music festivals, libraries, factories, airports, malls, courthouses, sorority houses, apartment buildings, Waffle Houses, backyard parties, Planned Parenthood clinics, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, the Empire State Building, nursing homes, baseball fields, grade schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities.

In Dangerfield, Texas, a man walked into a church and killed 5 people and wounded 10 others after members of the congregation had earlier declined to be character witnesses for him at a trial.

Besides the mortally shot, four others were wounded at Hot Yoga, a neighborhood studio, and one, a young man who, among others, fought back against the murderer, was pistol-whipped.

“Several people inside fought back, and tried to not only save themselves but other people,” said Police Chief Michael DeLeo. “It’s a testament to the courage of people who don’t just turn and run.”

One of them was shot nine times.

The shooting spree broke out on a Friday night as the yoga class was starting. Scott Beierle pretended to be a student, but then pulled a semi-automatic handgun from his duffle bag and started shooting anyone and everyone in sight without warning.

When the gunfire momentarily stopped, Joshua Quick took action.

“I don’t know if it jammed, or what,” he said. “So I used that opportunity to hit him over the head. I picked up the only thing nearby to hit him with, which was a vacuum cleaner, and I hit him on the head.” The shooter was staggered, but recovered his footing, and pummeled Joshua Quick on the forehead and nose with his gun. The yoga student fell to the floor, bleeding, but got back up

“I jumped up as quickly as I could, ran back, and the next thing I know I’m grabbing a broom, you know, anything I can, and I hit him again.”

“Thanks to him,” said Daniela Albalat, who was shot in the thigh, “I was able to rush out the door, slipping and bleeding. I want to thank that guy from the bottom of my heart because he saved my life.”

Joshua Quick did what the Dalai Lama would have done, except the Dali Lama would have gone heavy. Arguably one of the most peaceable men on the planet, when asked by a child at the Educating Heart Summit in Oregon what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun, he replied without hesitation, ”If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

By then, three minutes after the first 911 call, sirens were wailing and the police were showing up at Hot Yoga. Scott Beierle cleared the gun’s chamber, turned it on himself, and shot himself dead and straight to hell.

He lived in Deltona, Florida, about 250 miles from Tallahassee, and had no apparent prior connection with the yoga studio or anyone he gunned down. He had lately been a substitute teacher at the Volusia County Schools, even though he had a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University in New York and a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University. He had been arrested several times for battery for groping women on the FSU campus.

“He just gave off a psychopathic vibe, like someone crazy,” said Samantha Mikolajczyk, who had him as a teacher when she was in eighth grade.

He was fired for unprofessional conduct, which meant he had been inappropriately touching teenage female students. Five months later he checked into a Tallahassee motel, and on November 2, 2018, walked into the Tallahassee yoga studio he didn’t know anything about, and started shooting people he didn’t know anything about, except that some of them were women.

“I really didn’t know him,” said his neighbor, Rachel Rodriguez. “He was quiet. He was like a loner.”

He was an amateur musician who posted his songs online. One was “American Whore.” Another was “Homicidal Impulse.” In “American Massacre” he sang, “If I cannot find a decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. I find that if I cannot make a living, then I will turn, to be successful, I will make a killing.”

Mass murderers are all different, except almost all of them are men. They have their reasons for doing what they do, although none of them are good reasons, and many, if not all, mass murderers suffer from baseline mental problems. Mental health is not compatible with murdering people.

Although they and their reasons are variable, the one constant among them is the semi-automatic firearms they deploy. None of them carries a musket. None of them carries a Colt six-shooter. They bring their AR-15’s. They bring the blessing and imprimatur of the NRA and our self-serving rulers, the NRA that has successfully lobbied one Congress after another for decades to severely limit research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun-related violence

A few days after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in March 2018, then House Speaker Paul Ryan said his ruling Republican Party planned on keeping restrictions on gun research in place. “We don’t just knee-jerk before we have all the facts and the data,” said the longtime opponent of gun measures.

As long as his kneecaps aren’t getting popped, he’s not going to knee-jerk it.

“We are saddened and angered by the senseless shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee,” said Tasha Eichenseher, Yoga Journal’s brand director. “Studios are sacred places where we go for self-care and to feel safe.”

After Sandy Hook and Tree of Life Synagogue and First Baptist Church, it is doubtful there are any sacred places left. It is undoubtedly true there are no safe places left. If even Fort Hood, the biggest active-duty armored army base in the United States, couldn’t prevent Nidal Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist, from going postal and fatally shooting 13 soldiers, while wounding more than 30 others, it’s doubtful there is safe and secure anywhere.

“It was only a matter of time that gun violence would touch our community,” said Amy Ippoliti, co-founder of 90 Monkeys. “This should be a battle cry to take up the charge. The only way to change gun violence is through policy and politics. If you think yoga isn’t about politics, you need to think again.”

“You have a whole generation with this being more and more normal,” said Jeff Binkley. “That cannot happen.”

Nevertheless, as long as the crazy people we elect to rule in our state and national legislatures, and the crazy people we elect to our state and national capital houses, are the same wallet-stuffing vote-stuffing people allied with gun manufacturers and Second Amendment propagandists, gun-reform legislation and public-health funding are not going to happen.

They don’t give it a second thought.

President Trump performs by way of Twitter to the grass roots that believe they need their guns to make it in this world. They put their faith in his Punch and Judy show even though his grass roots were watered at a thousand country clubs where a thousand gun manufacturers dine and drink and play 18 holes. The security guards carry guns, since Orange Julius no more believes in responsible gun rights than he believes in the Constitution.

Two-and-a-half centuries later we don’t live in 1780s buildings anymore, we don’t travel in 1780s horse and buggies anymore, and we don’t turn on the lights with 1780s whale oil anymore. We don’t read one-page pamphlets and the penny press anymore. We don’t use 1780s medicine, like arsenic and leeches, anymore. There is no reason why a 1780s amendment to the Constitution, written to enable a militia, should enable mass murderers to buy whatever guns whenever and wherever they want.

But, that’s the world we have made and the world we live in.

Coming Soon! to a neighborhood near you. Maybe even your own neighborhood. Maybe even your own backyard.

Gun Crazy!

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Marching Orders

Marching Orders

Ask any army navy marine air force officer recruiter chief of staff what is important about basic training and he will tell you it prepares recruits for all aspects of martial service, physical, mental, and emotional. Most important and 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 supposed to be groupthink. “Do what serves you” is often said and heard. In other words, 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.

“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 gets 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 existing without breaking a sweat or blabbing on and on about airflow and wicking.

The famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld looked 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 good feeling 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 their awareness of the mesmerizing effect unrolling a yoga mat has on many 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, or cocktails. Alcohol binds to some GABA receptors in the brain.

Another way is go to a 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, Siberia 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 can be addictive, like happiness can be addictive. That’s why you go with the flow.

There is great well-being to be found in yoga classes. It’s always been like going to the store and buying a light bulb. 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, 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.

But 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 go with the flow when even dead done fish go with the flow?

Why not get it done for yourself?

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 most mammals, 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 cow, 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 and 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 live all their life with the bit between their teeth?

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 everybody knows 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 or crucial to one’s development. The best thing anyone can do is own their own practice. Watch the parking meters. There’s a reason there’s a slot for your money. Follow the leader long enough and you end up being an old abandoned car being towed away to the junk yard.

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 dog-earred 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 in your sweats and own original skin.

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Cutting Dreams Down to Size

shutterstock_158110640

“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.

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.