Category Archives: Rocket Science

Calling All Cars

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It’s not easy working on the slopes of a volcano. There are molten lava, debris-flow avalanches, volcanic gases, not to mention pyroclastic density currents, which are gravity-driven, rapidly-moving, ground-hugging mixtures of rock fragments and fluid as hot as 1700 degrees That’s why most volcanologists study either dormant or dead volcanoes.

They don’t go hiking up into harm’s way.

Policemen don’t usually work anywhere near volcanoes, except when some addled dumb-ass with one of America’s 357 million guns gets trigger happy. At that point they might as well be on the lip edge of Mt. Vesuvius, staring down into the maw of excitable erupting lava. Their body armor best be fire-proof, their aim true.

Since 1784, the year the Revolutionary War ended and the United States became the United States, there have been 708 volcano-related deaths in the country. In that same time 21,541 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Policemen put their badges on in the morning not being completely sure they’ll be taking them off at home that same night.

Even though only a small percentage of the nation’s nearly one million police officers are ever killed by criminals, nearly one out of every ten are attacked every year, for one reason or another. There’s a reason they wear bullet proof vests and carry guns.

It’s a dangerous beat. It comes with a lot of risk and hazard. It’s not just punching a clock. There’s a load of stress built into it. It’s a wonder more cops don’t blow their tops. Even still, the suicide rate among policemen is one-and-a- half times higher than the general population.

The thin blue line can get ragged worn thin worn out.

Recruits train like nobody’s business at police academies to learn their trade. They study state and national laws, cop car driving, first aid, computers and patrol procedures, and drill with firearms. They get more physically fit. Contrary to the myth of the boys and girls in blue stuffing their faces with donuts, because police work is physically demanding, almost all officers routinely work out their physical capacity for the work.

They ain’t flatfoots, if they ever were.

Policing in the real world is physically and mentally demanding. Officers have to enforce the strong arm of the law, but have to be flexible, as well, when serving the public. Yoga is a mind-body practice based on strength and flexibility. That’s why some peace officers have been turning to it and meditation as a kind of continuing education.

“Police officers are suffering,” said Richard Goerling, a lieutenant on the Police Department in Hillsboro, Oregon, outside Portland. “There are so many stressors to being a police officer today. The job is incredibly complicated. The organizations are complicated. The legal climate is complicated, and our relationship with our public is complicated.”

He started a meditation and mindfulness program for his department in 2013.

“We’re driving fast, we’re riding with sirens. It’s game on. Mindfulness teaches us to mitigate the stress response. I started looking at what professional athletes and what elite performers in the military do. That led me to yoga.”

It works, which is why pros from the NBA’s LeBron James to the NFL’s Travis Benjamin to the NHL’s Jared Boll have added yoga to their fitness regimens. Except when it doesn’t work. When Shaquille O’Neal, a former NBA all-star, got on the mat he wasn’t able to down dog it, much less slam dunk it.

“I’m the worst yoga student in the history of yoga,” he admitted.

He’s still trying to touch his toes.

At the yoga mat level, the practice brings together physical and mental disciplines in one place at one time. It is physical postures breathing being aware of the moment without judgment. It is improved strength range of motion fitness and reduced stress anxiety blood pressure. It’s multifunctional. It is an ice cream swirl that feels guaranteed good.

It might be the silver bullet lawmen need in their holsters.

“It is meant for them,” said Olivia Kvitne of Yoga for First Responders. She founded and directs the program, addressing common problems policemen face. It has been estimated 30 percent of police officers have stress-based physical health problems and 40 percent suffer from sleep disorders.

“Why is it meant for them? It’s because the original and true intents of yoga are to obtain a mastery of the mind and achieve an optimal functioning of the entire being, from the subtle nervous system to the whole physical body. They become more resilient in the face of adversity.”

When it comes to policework, adversity isn’t a question of whether it’s going to get in your face, it’s when and where. Even though crime rates are at historical lows, policemen on the street deal with people who have mental problems, people round the bend on drugs and drink, and people crazed by anger or desperation and carrying weapons that are dangerous.

The daily tour of duty can be a front row seat to despair.

“Not everybody likes police officers” observed Oskaloosa, Iowa, Police Officer Blaine Shutts. “We see them at their worst times and we are used to that. But we have to watch out so that they can’t take a swing, punch, kick, or hit us with anything.”

Safety is the number one priority of all lawmen.

“We say everybody comes to work and everybody goes home,” said Officer Shutts.

The training intensives of Yoga for First Responders focus on tactical breathing, physical postures for fleshing out muscular stability, and “neurological reset exercises to return the system to a balanced state.”

Everyone is in a safe spot when they’re balanced, their legs under them, stretching out into Warrior Pose.

Resilience is a trait shared by all warriors. It’s a necessary aspect of the breed. But a lack of empathy is not. Policemen are prone to expecting the worst and becoming cynical, given the day–to-day rough-and-tumble they encounter every day and night.

Police officer Richard Goerling found himself questioning his approach to encounters with the public almost ten years ago. “I’d leave a radio call thinking, ‘Hmm, I probably could have been more kind’ and really questioning whether or not the abrasive approach was an appropriate response,” he said.

When he proposed a yoga program for his Hillsboro department it was because he wanted “to cultivate an empathetic warrior culture that allows a police officer to see someone holding a sign that says ‘I can’t breathe’ and instead of responding with some defensive statement, it’s really an interrogative, tell me more about that.”

Yoga is about showing up when you fit the description, about fitting the bill, standing out in the line-up. It is about listening to your body, listening to yourself, and listening to others. It is about opening your heart a little and lending an ear

“I wish the community had a greater understanding of why the police do what we do, and sometimes we have to do a better job of putting ourselves in their shoes, as well,” said Don De Lucca, the chief of police in Doral, Florida, and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “We’re at a crossroads, and we both need to be willing to listen.”

Yoga fosters mindful listening. Police are trained to sort out, advise, and clean up things that have gone wrong. Yoga trains you to listen with openness and your whole attention. When policemen listen actively they get things right more often than not. When they practice buddhi, which is witnessing, mindful listening, they are able to listen with less judgment and more understanding.

The same goes for members of the body politic.

“As much as police need to learn to listen, listening to police is the simplest way to avoid conflicts with them,” said South Florida Law Enforcement Officer Jay Stalien.

Listening to what the other side has to say is good all around. It is a sincere kind of respect. The opposite of talking shouldn’t be waiting for your turn to talk. It should be about being present, not rummaging around in you bag of tricks for what you’re about to say. Listening is active. It’s about paying attention. If you’re not listening you’re not looking at what is right in front of you and you’re not learning,

“Officers are faced with life-and-death situations daily,” said Shayleen Halloran, a yoga instructor and wife of a Chicago-area patrolman.

They are always being confronted by bad ideas gone wrong. “That kind of stress can have a huge impact on their emotional and physical health. Yoga can help even out the roller coaster.”

When you’re writing out a parking complaint, running after a suspect, picking somebody up for shoplifting, pointing your firearm at somebody else, you’re on the incident roller coaster.

“It’s a good way to limber up and to bring you back down from that hyper vigilance,” said her husband.

Lawmen often drive alone in police cars working 10-hour shifts. Sitting and driving all day is not good for your back. Not only is yoga a proven remedy for stress, it’s great for lower back pain. Rolling out your standard issue peacemaker mat at the end of a long day is like Car 54 to the rescue.

“There’s a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights. There’s a traffic jam in Harlem, that’s backed up to Jackson Heights. There’s a Scout troop short a child. Car 54, Where Are You?”

“As an officer, you’re supposed to go in and do your job, handle the call and leave,” said Michele Garcia, an Arizona policewoman for more than twenty years. “After a few months of doing yoga, I noticed I was nicer to the people I was dealing with every day.”

If yoga makes cops better lawmen, there’s no reason for them to cop out on the next yoga class.

The next time you’re scratched the surface of lawbreaking and are pulled over for something, like turning on red when you haven’t seen the sign saying not to, or driving a tad too fast, and the peace officer lets you off with a warning, try saying namaste as he walks away.

He just might know what you’re talking about.

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Stressed Out Zeroed In

Stresed Out

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

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

Even event coordinators get into the act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga teachers do it all the time.

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

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

Take a breath.

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

Take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burning Rubber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why take the risk?

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

Middle fingers fly fast and furious.

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

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

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

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

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

It makes reaching into the back seat easier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Santa Saviors Corpse Pose

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“To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Bob Dylan

The difference between policies and principles is the difference between Santa, saviors, and savasana, or what is known as corpse pose in yoga practice. Santa and our many saviors, ranging from Islam to Christianity, much like our Messiah-like political leaders, have a heavy hand. They lay down policy like train tracks.

It’s my way or the highway. They enjoin the carrot and stick approach to order the reality they’ve carefully resolutely ruthlessly constructed.

Savasana is practiced at the end of yoga exercise classes. It’s a simple thing. You lie down on your back on the mat with your arms at your sides, close your eyes, and breathe naturally. When you surrender to Santa and the Savior you agree to live by their rules. When you surrender to savasana it’s just you just as you are, not as what anybody else says you should be.

Savasana only works when you’re being honest about it.

You don’t have to be an honest man or woman to live in the world of Santa and the Savior. You only have to do what you need to do to get along and get what you want. It’s playing hard ball with a wiffle ball. It’s OK to lie to yourself. Who cares about the spirit of the thing?

“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit,” said journalist Kin Hubbard a hundred years ago.

You have to be an honest man and woman to dive into the ocean of yoga. Otherwise, what would be the point? It’s sink or swim. There’s no one looking over your shoulder. There’s no lifeguard.

In the making of the modern age of mass media, mass merchandising, and mass more-of-everything, Claus and Christ are staples from about the beginning of November until the Big Day. The Savior once had pride of place, since Christmas used to be about celebrating his birth, but Santa is Top Dog in the 21st century.

“Christmas is a baby shower that went totally overboard,” the writer Anthony Borowitz has pointed out.

Sometimes it seems like the celebration is more about the birth of Santa Claus than Jesus Christ. Even though he doesn’t exist, Santa is everywhere during the holiday season, selling fashion electronics cars, whatever. Besides cash checks credit cards, there are even Christmas Club bank accounts to pay for last year’s presents.

A capitalist is someone who loves his fellow man and woman in groups of a million-or-more. The Money Markets and Scrooge never had it so good. They are laughing all the way to their McMansions, golden arches and all.

Santa Claus is a portly red-clad man who brings gifts to good straight arrow well-behaved children on Christmas Eve, or the morning of Christmas Day. He spends most of the rest of the year supervising elves in his workshop and making out a list of kids who have been naughty or nice.

Children who have been on the up and up get gifts. Children who have stepped off strait is the gate and narrow is the way do not get gifts, unless it’s a lump of coal. Santa Claus can be judgmental. There are some roofs he won’t land on.

Santa Claus is everywhere, in California in shorts, in Nigeria shooting off knockouts, which are like firecrackers, and in China playing the saxophone. Most Chinese reenactor Santa Claus’s, ubiquitous on street corners and at the entrances to shopping malls, are almost always jamming on a sax.

No one, not even the Chinese, seems to know the reason why. The Beijing-based writer Helen Gao thinks it might be because “the saxophone is portable so Santa can make Christmas music anywhere.”

He’s all over creation.

You don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, because then you’d ruin everyone else’s Christmas. Some black people are on the fence about him because they don’t believe a white dude would ever come to their neighborhood after dark. If he did dare, they ask, what’s in that pipe he’s smoking?

In any event, nobody shoots at Santa Claus.

Many children believe in him, up to a point. Shirley Temple’s faith was shaken at the age of six when her mother took her to a department store and the bearded legend asked her for an autograph.

Christmas was once the first step to getting safely home to your Loving Father in Heaven.  It was the start of the story, the starting gate in the stable. Over time it became more a state of mind, a tradition of good cheer for communities, retaining most of its original values. Today it’s a mash-up of visiting family and friends, of the economic miracle of gift giving “Make It a December to Remember With a Lexus” and the Golden State Warriors Cleveland Cavaliers NBA national broadcast on Christmas Day.

The Cavs stormed back late in the 4th quarter in 2016 and beat the Warriors by a point in the last seconds. Some broadcasters said it was a miracle. It was The Miracle on the Corner of Ontario Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Other broadcasters said what Cav’s forward Richard Jefferson did to Warrior’s forward Kevin Durant on the sidelines at game’s end was a sin.

But, when it comes to professional sports, and many other professions, sins don’t matter, one way or the other. They don’t actually affect the payoff under the tree as long as you believe whatever works is what works.

The problem with Christmas has always been the Old Testament God at the front and center of it, not just Christ, the New Testament third arm of God the Father, God the Holy Ghost, and God the Son. If Santa is a judgmental old man, then God is an infinitely more judgmental, eternally older man. Santa Claus may not give you a gift this year, but there’s always next year. His list is flexible. When it comes to Heaven and Hell, however, we all get one chance at it and the outcome is forever. There are no last-second miracles.

To accept the Savior, or any savior, into your life fibre being is to accept the belief that God has a plan for you. Hearing from him about the big picture is vital, the cog in the wheel of life. Listening following obeying the plan is everyone’s own personal decision. That’s why God grants us Free Will. Many people believe it’s in their own best interest to stick to the game plan both chapter and verse.

Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, proposed a bet about God. Sensible folk should live as though God exists. If he doesn’t exist you lose very little, maybe a roll in the hay and some good times on this earth. However, if he does exist and you live by his rules you stand to win the Grand Prize of Heaven. You also avoid the Big Bust, namely eternity in Hell. In the end, if you bet against God you bet against yourself.

Like it says in the Bible, “Whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You can say no to God’s way of doing things, but, come hell or high water, God will have his way, one way or the other.

The snag in this approach is inherent in the story of the angel walking down a road of good intentions with a bucket of water in one hand and a torch in the other. When someone asks the angel what he is going to do with them, he says that with the bucket of water he intends to put out the fires of Hell and with the torch he will burn down the mansions of Heaven.

“Then,” the angel says, “we’ll see who really loves God.”

Santa and the Savior rule from the top-down. They don’t necessarily care if you love them, or not. They didn’t get to where they are with a ho, ho, ho or a free ride. Santa Claus’s doppelganger is Krampus and God has many millennia of the Old Testament behind him, not just some forward-looking centuries of the New Testament.

The consequence of breaking the rules is risky consequential dire. The naughty are denied the sparkly magic of Christmas and sinners are turned away at the Gate of Heaven. “He who breaks the law goes back to the House of Pain,” said Dr. Moreau to the Beast-Men in the “Island of Dr. Moreau”.

Students follow rules. They have to please their teachers. Until recently women followed the rules because men made the rules. Dogs follow the rules. That’s why they’re man’s best friend. Women have recently been changing the rules, getting out of the dog pound.

There’s only one rule worth following. That’s the Golden Rule. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. It’s a homespun peg to hang your hat on, outside of school outside the workshop outside the law courts.

Santa Claus and Saviors, like everyone who has ever wielded power, are puppet masters pulling the strings. God is all-loving, but he’s all-powerful, too. A bag full of loot is one thing. Power is another thing. “If you must break the law, do it to seize power,” said Julius Caesar a long time ago. Like Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar was worshipped as a God.

From then until now the love of power has more often than not trumped the power of love.

However, there are no puppet masters in yoga, no Santa Claus and no Savior.

The reason the practice is puppet master-less is that the power of the practice doesn’t flow from the top-down. It’s not just another kind of trickle down from on high, economic or otherwise. It flows from the bottom-up. “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself,” said Vivekananda, a key figure in the introduction of yoga to the western world in the late 19th century.

Power lives and dies in a hierarchical tradition. There is no hierarchy in yoga, no Wizard of Oz. Power is like the Trump Tower. There is a penthouse at the top and a mailroom at the bottom. The Great Wizard is in the penthouse and the monkeys are in the mailroom. Yoga is more like a 5000-year-old tree with many branches. Power never stops sending its noisy tweets. Yoga quiets the body and mind.

The fly in the ointment of top-down power is when was the last time anyone at the top had a good idea? When was the last time Tim Cook Bill Gates Jay Y. Lee wrote computer code? When was the last time Barrack Obama Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping reduced their country’s armed forces? When was the last time Mark Cuban Dan Gilbert James Dolan sank a three-pointer from the corner office with time running out?

Savasana is sometimes thought of as the most important pose of yoga practice on the mat. It comes at the end of class and no one needs a teacher at the head of the room to tell them what to do. It is the nonpareil bottom-up posture, since you have to lie down on your backside to do it.

Corpse pose is about the self, and the non-self, and self-discovery. It’s about letting go of rewards and reincarnation and an afterlife in Heaven or Hell. When you’re in dead man’s pose nobody, not even the Downpresser Man, can boss your better half. You’re not doing something that somebody else told you to do. Nobody can tell you what to do because there’s nothing to do.

Letting Santa and the Savior read the riot act is a backwards way of living life, from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. Yoga is a practice of learning who you are by exploring yourself, not by reading a guide book. Marching in the ranks is fine on a parade ground, but who wants to be marching to a drill sergeant’s drumbeat all day and night?

“The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality, or whatever, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers or saviors,” said the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. “Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself, and that is why you must know yourself.”

It’s never question and answer time in corpse pose, because it’s the end of yoga class, and you’re tired, and Santa and the Savior are just going to have to wait while you and your breath take a break and recharge.

Putting Santa and the Savior and all the self-appointed Messiahs and their carrots and sticks on the back burner is to be up front, at the front of the class, knowing and being your own you, yourself as you are from the inside out.

Gray Matter (On the Mat)

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“I’ve got the brain of a four-year-old. I’ll bet he was glad to be rid of it.” Groucho Marx

The brain is the center of the nervous system, 100 billion nerve cells protected by a skull and each nerve cell linked to almost 10,000 other cells. A real human brain lifted out of a jar in a pathology lab weighs about three pounds. Although often described as gray matter, it isn’t gray, but rather red, very soft and jelly-like.

The neural network of the brain is affected by everything that happens during its lifetime, for better or worse. Our genes and our environment impact every step. The brain’s lifelong development is activity-dependent. Every sensory, motor, and cognitive activity shapes the way neural circuits end up being wired.

Our experiences lead to cells that fire together, leading to cells that are wired together, leading to a mind that can count the stars in the sky and how many sprinkles are left at the bottom of an ice cream sundae at the same time.

Your brain on math is like it’s gone to the thinking gym. Your brain on money, on the other hand, is your brain shouting out greed is good, greed is good, greed is good! Your brain on drugs is a cloudy day in a sundress.

Brains in the thrall of sports are described in Your Brain On Sports as bubbling with “all the batshit craziness that courses through the sports ecosystem.” The kookiness includes fans leaning over balcony bleacher railings into mid-air trying to grab t-shirts shot out of a cannon.

Our neurons can misfire across synaptic gaps, raising Cain and spinning nonsense, from the NRA’s zany Cold Dead Hands to Climate Change Ain’t Happening. Only crazy people take themselves seriously.

Human being brains are always humming and roaring. They are our best friend and worst enemy. Everyone has to do the best they can with it. In the same way it is impacted by most things the brain is changed by most things, too, including yoga.

By some accounts yoga, from exercise on the mat to breath control to meditation, is a game-changer over and above many other things. Neuroplasticity is how the brain rewires itself through experience. The experience of yoga is plasticity itself, especially what goes on twisting and turning on the mat. The more anyone unrolls their mat is the more new neural pathways are made in the brain. It is a pattern that can reshape one’s brain and one’s life, too.

“Our life is the creation of our mind,” said Buddha.

Not only that, practicing yoga seems to make the brain bigger, especially the somatosensory cortex, where the mental map of our bodies is located, and the superior parietal cortex, which is the part of the brain that directs attention.

Who doesn’t want a bigger brain and a better GPS of themselves?

“We found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas were enlarged,” said Chantal Villemure, one of a team at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which studied people practicing regularly. They presented their work, focused on MRI scans, to the Society for Neuroscience in 2013.

The health benefits of yoga exercise, from increased flexibility to stronger bones to relieving chronic pain, are well known. It even lowers the risk of heart disease, according to Harvard Health Publications. What is less well known is that it stimulates brain function, improving inhibitory control and working memory.

A University of Illinois study published in the ‘Journal of Physical Activity and Health’ found that cognitive reaction times and accuracy were better after hatha-style yoga practice than after other kinds of exercise.

“It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout,” said Neha Gothe, who led the study.

The brain gets stronger after yoga exercise. Working out on the mat boosts the body’s production of B.D.N.F., a protein called ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain.

Downward doggers know that getting long feels awesome. Beyond flexibility they also know it brings to heel something in their brains. That something is stress, which yoga helps to counteract. Yoga boosts GABA levels in the brain, according to research at both the University of Utah and Boston University. The higher the GABA levels, the better and brighter you feel. The lower the levels, the darker the day gets. Yoga literally switches off some genes related to stress.

Hatha yoga nowadays is closely associated with physical practice. The word means forceful in Sanskrit. But, before yoga and physical culture became synonymous in the last hundred-or-so years, hatha meant all eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is an eight-limb union leading to the last limb, which is equilibrium. Two of them, pranayama, which is breath control, and dhyana, or meditation, may affect life and limb of the brain even more than physical practice.

“Yoga isn’t about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life,” said Aadil Pakhivavl, author of Fire of Love. Everybody wants to be in good shape, but getting in shape is about more than jump throughs and plank pose. Like Buddha said, life is what the mind makes it.

Breathing is as essential as it gets. The words chi, psyche, and spirit are all related to breath. In the Bible God breathed life into clay making Adam. In Your Atomic Self it is breath that connects us to all aerobic creatures in the world. Prana is the Sanskrit word for life energy or life force. Pranayama is regulating and controlling the breath.

Patanjali, the founder of yoga philosophy, believed the ultimate goal of it was not breathing anymore, in other words, no more inhales or exhales. It’s an idea that literally takes your breath away.

Whether it’s bellow’s breath, skull shining breath, or breath of fire, the many forms of pranayama are all designed to concentrate one’s energy and attention. When under the influence of pranayama our brains ramp up in alpha and beta activity, whose electrical impulses can be detected by EEG testing. These dissimilar brain activities, paradoxically, are related to increased awareness and increased relaxation.

“The immediate effect of Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama and Bhramari Pranayama compared with controls shows that these yogic practices are related with increased orderliness of brain functioning,” noted ‘Yoga for Academic Performance: A Brain Wave Coherence Analysis’ in the European Journal of Psychology and Educational Studies.

Meditation has long been known to generate measurable changes in the brain. Hundreds of studies have been conducted since the 1950s. They have largely confirmed that the new found benefits of meditation are the same as the centuries-old benefits, from reducing activity in the selfish centers of the brain to enhancing and enlarging the links of neural pathways.

In ‘Brain Gray Matter Changes Associated with Mindfulness Meditation in Older Adults’, published in the open journal Neuro in 2014, a “significant gray matter increase was identified within the precuneus” after a six-week test period. The precuneus is located near the back of the brain and is involved with aspects of consciousness and the self.

Meditation is about bringing awareness to the breath, slowing down into stillness, and going inward. It is the conscious action of getting to the unconscious crossroads of the something that isn’t there and the nothing that is. Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher, described art as purposive without a purpose. The same can be said about meditation. It is about nothing and everything and everything in between.

Meditation acts on the brain in many ways, from reducing anxiety and depression to improving concentration to helping keep brains tip top in older people. It leads to volume changes, actually changing the structure of the brain. A study at UCLA has demonstrated that people who meditate have more gray matter volume from one end of their pates to the other. “What we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the brain,” said study author Florian Kurth.

The act of meditation is the action of focusing one’s mind for a period of time, usually in silence, sometimes while chanting, as in Kirtan Kriya, to get grounded and become more self-aware.

Anybody can meditate, as long as they are willing to acknowledge that the mind has a mind of its own. All you have to do is sit down, or even go for a walk by yourself, and try to be quiet for a few minutes. Even though it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking, it can have a huge impact. It’s not like climbing a mountain, but it does help cut most mountains down to molehills.

Even busy people too busy to meditate, who think they don’t have time to do nothing, are meditating nowadays, since it makes them more productive when they get back to being busy. “Half-an-hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy,” said Saint Francis de Sales more than four hundred years ago. “Then a full hour is needed.”

Today’s modern set calls it mindfulness meditation.

Back in the day it wasn’t even called meditation, which is a word dating from the 12th century, from the Latin word meditatum. It had more to do with attention and consciousness exploration. Meditation was closely aligned with dharana, or concentration, as in focusing one’s attention in continuous meditation.

Your brain on yoga is your brain diving into 5,000 years of the practice. It is also your brain being poked and prodded by the Harvard Medical School. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard and a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor, has conducted clinical case studies on yoga for more than a decade. The results he has presented in research papers, articles, and books offer compelling evidence that getting on the mat boosts brainpower.

The brain might be a mush melon-sized lump of gray matter, but yoga lights it up like a rainbow. In the end, though, yoga isn’t a thinking man’s game. Anyone who spends too much time thinking about the practice never gets any of it done. While it is true that it’s a mind-body discipline, it’s not just exercise on a sticky mat, keeping us fit as fleas, nor is it just the latest contribution to positive thinking.

“Yoga is a way to freedom,” said Indra Devi.

We are more than our bodies and brains. The spirit is the third rail of yoga, so that the train becomes a body-mind-spirit practice. Albert Einstein believed that “spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.” Like the electric action potential of neurons, the electric third rail of yoga is what supplies energy to the practice. When Buddha observed that our lives are what we think them to be, he meant thinking as a state of mind made up of cognition, words, and actions.

The humans of planet earth may be snared by force and their minds made small by propaganda, but the only constraints on the spirit are those we ourselves make. It’s great to have a good brain, but where the spirit lives is the good heart. We change our lives by changing what’s in our hearts. If there is a sweet spot of yoga, it is the heart, not the brain. It is the downtown of spirit and gateway to consciousness.

The heart is the ever-winding ever-adventurous ever-surprising yellow brick road to the incomprehensible. On the way to the Emerald City, no matter how big and better anyone’s brain gets, even when it makes a scarecrow’s leap from Groucho Marx to Albert Einstein, your brain on yoga is ultimately your brain emptying as the heart fills.

Until Triangle Do Us Part

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There are many reasons men and women become couples of all kinds, and even get married, even when they know better. They grow up, the clock is ticking, or they get cold feet about staying single. It seems like the next step, maybe there’s a baby on the way, and sometimes, best of all, they’re in love.

However, about half of all marriages in America end up in divorce, according to the United States Census Bureau. The separation rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. The unmarried break up faster than the married. Cohabitating parents are four times more likely to split up than those who are wed.

Couples stay together because they have made a family, or they’ve made their love last, or because they simply have shared interests. When they do have similar interests they always have something to share together. They are able to understand one another better during hard times and have great holidays and weekends. What’s better than having a mate who likes to explore for antiques or go rock climbing, just like you?

Or practice yoga?

“When you merge your practice with another’s, you fall into sync with that person,” said Michelle Fondin, a yoga teacher and member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. “Your breath, movement, and body positions find a rhythm together.”

Couples don’t and can’t do everything together. Even if they have the most fun of all fun times together, they still need to give it a rest now and again, and have some fun with their friends. They have their own lives, a life for each of them, even though they have a life with one another.

Although common interests don’t have anything to do with compatibility, it’s helpful to have interests in common. It may be true that two dog-lovers who don’t know how to communicate are probably not going to make it, but it’s more true that a dog-lover and a dog-hater are certainly not going to make it, no matter what their communication skills are.

Unlike sharing a tub of popcorn and a movie at the multiplex, sharing a yoga practice and traveling the same spiritual journey are more likely to join couples closer together, uniting them in a similar flow.

The word yoga, itself, means to yoke or join.

“When you focus on the breath, body, and movement of another person in yoga practice, your physical body will entrain with the other,” said Ms. Fondin. “It creates harmony within the couple.”

When couples get together on the mat, instead of “me” time on the elliptical it becomes “us” time at the yoga studio. Instead of focusing on the flat screen in front of the NordicTrack, they share the benefits of drishti, which in yoga means concentrated intention, or a focused gaze. Instead of being connected to iPod earbuds, they are connected to their partner, not Justin Belieber, I mean, Bieber.

“Both partners come away with feelings of synchronicity, cooperative spirit, and shared passion,” said Dr. Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist. “Then you throw in some spicy endorphins and it can be a real a real power trip for the relationship.”

Maybe that’s why there’s a kind of practice called Power Yoga.

There is a yoga crafted specifically for couples, called Partners Yoga. Unlike some rites of Tantra, which are sexual in nature, it eschews those aspects, although it emphasizes intimacy through touch and movement.

“Partners rely on each other’s support to keep proper body alignment, balance, and focus in a posture,” said Elysabeth Williamson, a yoga teacher and author of The Pleasures and Principles of Partner Yoga. “When you feel physically supported, not only do you experience a yoga posture differently, but you also begin to allow yourself to trust someone else.”

When you grab a loved one and hit the mat together good things happen, and it’s not just about creating shared moments. The power of touch alone is powerful, whether it’s doing double downward dog or simply a partner twist, cultivating emotional as well as physical support in the relationship.

“Partner yoga is the medium for building stronger communication and intimacy between human beings in any relationship,” said Cain Carroll, co-author of Partner Yoga: Making Contact for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Growth.

When partners expand beyond the mat, delving into the other seven of the eight limbs of yoga, they often deepen their connection with one another. When they dive into the spiritual side of yoga they find there’s a lot more below the lotus floating on the surface of the swimming pool.

In many senses asana, or yoga exercise, is largely an external practice, a device or technique of disposing the body in postures to satisfy a hankering for loose hamstrings or to alleviate back pain.

The rest of yoga, from meditation to the morals of the practice, is largely an internal practice. One of the eight limbs of yoga is even called dharana, which is commonly translated as introversion. Another, meditation, is about as private as it gets.

Yoga is partly about what goes on when touching your toes on the mat, but mostly about what goes on off the mat. Standing on your head is one thing, but what goes on inside your head is the rest of the thing. It isn’t nailing headstand that’s important, even though nailing it is nice. It’s about keeping your peace of mind when you fall out of headstand that’s important.

“Spirituality and the spiritual life give us the strength to love,” said the writer bell hooks. Everyone draws strength from the people they love and who love them in return. When couples are on the same page in body, mind, and spirit, it’s as good as gold.

Except when it isn’t. “You can make your relationship your yoga, but it is the hardest yoga you will ever do,” said Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher and the author of Be Here Now.

What happens when one of the partners falls off the yoga wagon? What happens when the shared awareness of yoga goes downstream? What happens when yoga becomes a triangle and something’s got to give?

There are many ways that yoga brings mindfulness to a relationship. One of them is the idealism of the practice. There are also many ways that people break up, separate, and file for divorce. They’re always squabbling, or lying to each other, or they simply fall out of love. Communication issues are a common problem and infidelity has long been a betrayal that can’t be forgiven.

Balance in the bedroom can be tricky.

Losing interest in shared hobbies or interests might throw a relationship out of whack, or not. How we spend out spare time doesn’t necessarily separate us. Losing interest in shared values, however, is usually deadly. Values are beliefs that are a fundamental part of who a person is. They are important in the sense that they are a man or woman’s rules of life.

“The mind endlessly grasps after things, clings to expectations, and resents your partner if he or she doesn’t share the same values,” said Philip Moffitt, founder of the Life Balance Institute.

Yoga on the mat is exercise, which is valuable, but the rest of yoga is a value system. Practicing yoga is a way of trying to lead a conscious, ethical life. Staying in a relationship with someone who behaves and relates to the world in a completely different way than you do would take a saint, and there ain’t many saints in this world.

Any couple can get healthy by practicing Core Yoga together. However, if their core values are mismatched, it’s doubtful whether they can have a healthy partnership.

But, if three’s a crowd, when it comes to yoga, two’s a crowd.

Yoga is not a solitary pursuit. It’s a way of staying present, not just on the mat, but off the mat, too. It’s a minute-to-minute experience. But, at the same time, it’s a solitary pursuit in the sense that no matter how open to the day it helps one to be, it’s a deeply private, self-centered practice.

Even though being self-centered is often thought of as bad, it’s not necessarily the case. “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are, and that person is not to be found anywhere,” said the Buddha.

Most yoga classes start with a moment of focusing the mind and breath. It’s a way of centering, forfending the external and self-centering, setting a baseline for the practice. On the other hand, turning one’s attention during class to the birds and bees in the room will off-center anybody.

Triangles can be deadly, on and off the mat, but yoga isn’t just triangle pose, nor is it just a love triangle on which love can get caught on one dead side. Rather, if there’s anything that can help weather the loss of shared interests, shared values, and even the loss of a shared love, it’s the electric third rail of yoga, if only because it’s the practice of freedom.

Freedom for you and freedom for me.