Odd Man Out

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By Ed Staskus

It was on an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they ran into him picketing a vegan restaurant on the far west side of their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. Faces peered through the plate glass windows. Passersby stopped to see what was going on.

They had dropped by several times since, but once winter got cold and crusty had not paid him a call, not that Vera minded, or even gave it a thought.

The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it.

HYPOCRITES! In capital letters. In cold blood red crayon.

The two patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.

The exasperated cops drove away.

He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”

It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He didn’t have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.

Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Mr. Moto and Sky King, who slept with them most nights. She didn’t think of them as slaves and was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.

“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.

“I don’t think so,” said Barron.

A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid federal student debt, Barron was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested in seeking employment.

He didn’t vote, although he enjoyed Donald Trunp’s antics whenever he heard about them, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion. Vera thought of his pursuit as a dead end, but didn’t say so.

Barron had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs for cash only. But he only worked for them if they didn’t have cars and agreed never to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.

“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.

Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them. He is a queer duck who lives on Hogsback, Vera calculated to herself

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” she asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from their house.

Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had gone on-line, rapidly read about what he considered a simple chore, dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he put down and buried a concealed transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a true blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of loopy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.

Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. Barron gave Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”

Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a bright smile at Barron, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.

As they approached Hogsback Lane looking over the Rocky River valley, they saw a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.

Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.

“Vegans are as bad as my parents, the whole lot of them,” said Barron, a lone wolf.

“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their immersions in the Bahamas, and everywhere else around the globe for their holiday retreats, never mind the carbon footprint, and I’ll show you the real hypocrite who’s burning up the planet.”

Since Barron didn’t own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were glad to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.

“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.

“It’s a yurt,” he said.

It was round, orange, and circled by a necklace of large white stones, like what kids do at summer camps.

“Whatever,” Vera said under her breath.

Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.

“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.

“Here in the backyard, every day, and sometimes at the studio across the Detroit bridge in Rocky River. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”

“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.

“Maybe,” said Barron.

He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging her wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and loose soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a chattel to the supermarket. Freedom is the best idea.”

As they got ready to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed the bag to Frank. He was still unsure of Vera.

“You should take every chance to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge wasn’t the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge.” It was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents back then to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.

Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. Frank gave her a glance. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.

“Man, oh man, I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron would have a cow, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”

They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

Or maybe he was just his own incarnation of everybody’s cranky uncle.

They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of-mind.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Leap of Faith

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By Ed Staskus

Names are signifiers and we are the signified. We have proper names, like Daniel and Kate and Muhammed. Some given names, like Lola, sound good in song and dance. Some names, like Ratso, don’t sound good under any circumstances. We have surnames, like McCarthy and Doiron and Zapatero.

We have pen names, like Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, and John le Carre. There are logo names, like Colonel Sanders, who is the current Secretary of Defense in the USA. Sometimes we have pet names, like Winnie and Booboo, whether we have pets, or not.

There’s nothing and everything in a name, since a cauliflower is a cauliflower is a cauliflower, except when it isn’t, as in Denys Morgan, who is Denys Morgan, living and working in Cleveland, Ohio, except when she’s Devta Kaur, living and breathing and practicing Kundalini Yoga.

It was during an immersion teacher’s training course at the Kundalini Research Institute in New Mexico seven years ago that Denys Morgan received her spiritual name, Devta Kaur, which more-or-less means “one who has the consciousness of the divine or angelic.” It was a leap of faith.

The owner of Total Body Solutions in C-land, she is a masseuse and yoga teacher. She is hands on the wheel on a mission. She’s the kind of grass roots working woman that if she couldn’t cut hair, she wouldn’t open a barbershop. The change of name didn’t lead to a change of heart. She’s always been about service.

“My services are for those searching for freedom from stress and pain,” she says. She takes a holistic approach towards vitality and longevity. “My goal is to share my passion for massage, yoga, meditation, sound, vibration, and energy therapy with all. My mission is healing the world one person at a time.”

Zachary Lewis was one person one day when Denys Morgan gave him a hands-on demonstration of Shiatsu, a massage modality that translates as “finger pressure.”

“Lying shirtless on a mat on the floor, I marveled at her power to zero in on my tightest, sorest spots and to relieve tension in areas where I hadn’t even sensed it, such as my neck, shoulders and spine,” he said.

“Some techniques were new to me. Where most therapists place your limbs gently back down, she let my legs and arms drop heavily to the floor, or even tossed them down. Other times, she’d hold and shake them vigorously. While she used her feet to walk on or knead my muscles, or push me into a stretch, she was also just as likely to use her elbows as a wedge to break up knots.”

Shiatsu is using all your fingers and toes and elbows.If you’re Denys and Devta rolled into one, it’s going at it with twenty fingers and multiple elbows. If you’re Zachary Lewis, it’s rolling with the punches.

He left a new man.

A pseudonym is a name someone uses instead of his or her real name. Pseudonyms include aliases, pen names, stage names, nicknames, superhero and villain names. Some are on the upside and some are on the downside. “Baby Face” Nelson sounds good, but he was a bad man. Beta Ray Bill defends those threatened by monsters. Vlad the Impaler says it all.

James Butler Hickock was known as “Wild Bill” by the wild men he ran to ground. GM’s CEO Charles Wilson was known as “Engine Charlie.” Kal-El’s alias is Clark Kent and Clark Kent’s stage name – star of comic book and screen – is Superman.

In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because they are part of a cultural or organizational tradition, for example, devotional names used by members of a religious or spiritual fraternity.

In the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, a spiritual name is both vibration and vise grip helping to elevate energy through the power of sound and meaning. It is your soul’s identity. It challenges you to live up to your highest consciousness. Adopting a spiritual name is taking a step toward leaving old habits and old thinking behind and connecting more deeply with your real infinite self, according to 3HO.

3HO and Kundalini Yoga are what Yogi Bhajan brought to the western world from India in the late 1960s.

“You are all here and we will ask you to understand your spiritual incarnation and your spiritual name and try to find the strength to live it. I give you a healthy, happy, holy way of life,” he said.

“Thank you, Guru Ram Das, for building the beautiful Golden Temple for seekers to find their way home. I will never forget the palatable presence of the Naad as I stood in awe in the sacred, timeless place. Truly the highlight of all my trips to India! On the day of your birth, I bow to you again and again!” said Devta Kaur about her most recent visit to the sub-continent.

The Golden temple in Punjab, India, is called the Golden Temple because it is plated in gold. It is the most prominent pilgrimage site of Sikhism. The construction of the building was completed by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of the Sikh tradition, in the late 16th century. To this day a unique feature of it is twenty-four-hour free food. The Golden Temple gives out grub to thousands of people every day, on the house, for the asking.

Denys was certified as an aerobics instructor by the Aerobic Fitness Association of America in 1986, launching her career in the health and fitness way of life. She has since drilled in many different kinds of aerobic exercise and strength training.  In 1997 she was certified as a personal trainer with the National Alliance of Fitness Professionals.

Her academic work has been mostly in biology and psychology. She holds an Associates in Arts degree and studied pre-med at Cleveland State University. She spent a semester abroad studying biology at the University of Westminster in London.

She spent more than ten years as a Red Cross volunteer certifying people in CPR and first aid. Anyone who jogs on running trails, hits the weights at their gym, plays touch football, will need first aid sooner or later. In the meantime, a good massage is a good balm.

Denys got going on massage therapy in 1991 and received her license to practice from the State Medical Board of Ohio in 1994. In general, she offers therapeutic deep tissue massage combining a variety of different techniques. Her specialties are Japanese Shiatsu, Chinese Medicine, and Native American healing.  She has trained in other massage modalities, including Swedish Massage, Cranial-Sacral Therapy, Trager Method, Myofascial Release, Reflexology, and Reiki, among others.

She has been named “Best Massage Therapist” in northeast Ohio and has been a guest several times on local radio and television stations. Her clients include all walks of life, professional football and basketball players, dancers from the Cleveland Ballet, triathletes, cyclists, marathon runners, not to mention unheralded weekend warriors and office workers who spend all day in a chair, to their regret.

Denys has worked professionally with movement and fitness for more than thirty years, and in a few years, burning the midnight oil, will have been studying yoga for thirty years. She began at the Reese Institute in Orlando, Florida, and in 1992 completed her teacher’s training. In 1994 she started teaching yoga in the Forest City. She has developed an eclectic blend of several styles, including Hatha, Ashtanga, Raja, Bhakti and Kundalini, as well as Dynamic Meditation and Tibetan yogic techniques.

It’s diverse and eclectic, but it’s more old-school yoga than spin yoga or yoga tone and sculpt or yogalates. It’s more than exercise. It’s more than just fitness, although a component of fitness is one of the gears. It’s not about the Body of Steel. It’s more like the Christian Body of Glory or the Tibetan Rainbow Body. It’s a frame of mind.

Much of her knowledge comes from the horse’s mouth, having spent time in ashrams up and down India. In 2007 she worked on Kriya and Raja Yoga, Osho and Vipassana Meditation, as well as Yoga Trance Dancing for six months. While there she committed herself to Bhakti Yoga and took lessons in leading devotional singing and Sanskrit chanting.

Two years later she was back in India for six more months, furthering her studies of Dynamic Meditation with an Osho Master. She spent several months in the Himalayas completing her International Teachers Training Program, accredited through Yoga Alliance, giving her a total of over 800 hours of overall training in all aspects of the vocation. She took courses in sound therapy, learning the vibrations of Tibetan Singing Bowls, chimes, and symbols to create healing energy through sacred sound. She spent several months in the practice of Bhakti Yoga, singing bhajans daily.

She has led retreats to India, as well as in Central America. She has taught in Serbia, England, and Italy. She spent several years living in Costa Rica practicing yoga and massage and ran a retreat center. She co-hosted adventure yoga and surfing on the Caribbean coast.

Sometimes the highest goal of human existence is sprinting to the surf to catch a bitchin’ barrel.

In 2010 Denys co-hosted a 10-day yoga retreat to Goa, India, authorizing the participants to an 80-hours training certificate accredited through Yoga Alliance. She helped them sightsee some of India’s holiest places, such as Hampi, the birthplace of Hindu culture, Varanasi, the place where pilgrims come to worship the Ganges River, and Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment She was a kind of spiritual Rick Steves, sans cable TV show and eat drink make merry.

In 2015 she co-founded the Ananda Bhakti Hatha Yoga teacher Training program. In 2017 she started a program called “Stay Sane,” which incorporates Kundalini Yoga to help those struggling with mental health issues.

As a teacher she has an extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology, yoga philosophy, and brings enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to her work. As a healer, bodyworker, and spiritual mentor she relies on her intuition and inspirations.

Denys follows the tenets and spark of Shirdi Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Baba, Pramahansa Yogananda, Meher Baba, and Yogi Bhajan. “By their grace I am blessed to spread their message. The essence of my work is prompted by my guru, Sai Baba. ‘Love All, Serve All’ and ‘Help Ever, Hurt Never.’”

In the past year she has joined forces with Pop Life. Located in the Waterloo Arts District, on the east side of the North Coast, the collaborative is rooted in art, design, and wellness. They work with artists and designers and the space features a gallery, yoga and wellness studio, and a cafe. She is the yoga and wellness director.

Next year she will be conducting a RYT 200-hour certified course at Pop Life featuring Kundalini Yoga. “Level One Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga is a transformative experience, whether you decide to teach, or simply use it as an opportunity for personal growth. You will change,” she says.

We all change as we grow, but the only time you need a change of heart is when your heart isn’t in the right place to begin with.

Her intention for the program is inspired by Yogi Bhajan. “I want to make my teachers ten times greater than myself” and “I have come here not to get students, but to make teachers,” he said. Although the program will be diversified, it will regardless offer authentic philosophical and devotional components.

“Those changes can be a challenge to your family and your community. Don’t take it personally and definitely don’t make any big decisions during training. Simply allow yourself to dive deeply into your own identity. It is a physical and mental challenge. Do your best to keep up and set up your life.”

Pop Life isn’t like Pop Art. It’s not on the outside looking in. It’s not stuck in any moment. It’s on the move. It doesn’t look like anything other than what it is.

Denys Morgan, even by another name, whatever the signifier, popping the collar of whatever hat she’s wearing, living her life heart desire, is the thing itself, everything that is significant.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Busting Out the Yoga Pants

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By Ed Staskus

Slightly less than 20% of everyone in yoga classes are men. That is sharply down from the 100% it was one hundred years ago. Since then the practice has been annexed by gals bending like pretzels. Even when they aren’t lithe and limber, they’ve fine-tuned in to the mental and physical health benefits of yoga.

The twist is that for thousands of years it was a men’s club. No women need apply. The idea of Daisy Dukes doing yoga was anathema. The prohibition was laughed out of the closet about fifty years ago. Now it’s a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

“I’ve been teaching yoga for over 25 years and I can’t believe how the number of men participating in yoga has not really increased,” says Yogi Aaron, director and master teacher at Blue Osa in Costa Rica.

When it comes to the practice nowadays, many men are like honey badgers. They just don’t care. Some of them have thought about it but never taken the first step. They don’t think it is intense hardcore challenging enough. The “no pain no gain” school of thought is still going strong. A few strong men, like Chuck Norris, do some yoga for flexibility and balance, even though they don’t need to, being Chuck Norris.

They don’t worry about anybody’s pantywaist deconstruction of the practice. They roll up their sleeves. They bust out the action pants.

The action movie star and martial artist never loses his balance in any posture. Balance loses to Chuck Norris. When he does inversions, he doesn’t go upside down. He tips the universe over. In honor of this feat the new 7th series in Ashtanga Yoga is called “Chuckitsa.” It cleanses every drop of lily liver from your body and soul.

“Many men have misconceptions about it,” says Gwen Saint Romain, a wellness instructor and registered yoga teacher at the Rex Wellness Center in Raleigh, N. Carolina.

“I think that one of the misconceptions is that it is always very gentle, meditative and mindful, that there aren’t physical benefits,” she says. “But it’s definitely not just meditating. Some yoga classes, like power yoga, are extremely rigorous, sweaty workouts. A lot of guys come to a yoga class for the first time because they are invited by a friend, a spouse or girlfriend. They find out quickly that yoga can be a very intense workout.”

Chuck Norris finds intense yoga classes right up his sleeve, although he doesn’t break out into a sweat about them, cool as a cucumber. “How many push-ups can you do in chaturanga?” he was asked. “All of them,” he said. He pulls his Action Pants on both legs at a time. The secret ingredient in Red Bull is Chuck Norris’s piss and vinegar.

The yoga entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury challenged him to 90 minutes of super-hot yoga in his LA-based “torture chamber.” He said it would make a man of him.

“I’ve got to tell you, partner, I once bet NASA a cold beer I could survive re-entry without a spacesuit,” Chuck told the Speedo-clad taskmaster.

“Nothing is impossible, believe me I know” said Bikram. “Girls hang all over me and thousands of people pay me thousands of dollars to tell them how to lock their knees, but that’s impossible.”

In respect for the ancient practice of yoga, an esteem he didn’t necessarily feel for the fitness guru, he let the comment slide.

When he pulled the space stunt a stark-naked Chuck Norris re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, streaking over 14 states, and reaching a temperature of 3000 degrees. He landed on his feet and ran two hundred miles to the nearest airport for a flight home. An embarrassed NASA was compelled to deliver a growler of ale to his front door.

When Bikram demanded he lock his knee in class, Chuck Norris stormed the big wig’s throne and put him in a headlock. He didn’t release Bikram until he had counted to infinity. The groupies in class got impatient, although Mrs. Bikram wasn’t even aware her husband hadn’t been home in a long time.

“From physique to mental health, yoga is one of the most beneficial practices in the world. Most Western yoga classes are dominated by women, but more and more men are starting to become interested in getting on the mat,” says Lanai Moliterno, a yoga instructor in Encinitas, California.

“A lot of men have jumped on board, have discovered the numerous benefits yoga can bring, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Enhanced strength? Injury prevention? Better sexual performance? Increased calm and focus? Who knew stretching and breathing could do all this?”

Chuck Norris agrees yoga is a steady hand to helping stay calm and focused, even though he has never not been calm and focused. When he goes target shooting, he always hits 11 out of 10 targets. With nine bullets. He always wins games of Connect Four in three moves. He wins every game of chess in only one move, a roundhouse kick to the face.

Although there was little confusion a hundred years ago about what and who yoga was for, the case for the practice today is a little more complex, especially in the mano a mano world.

“Years ago, just as Jay Cutler was ascending to the top of the bodybuilding world, he told me about a secret he’d recently begun to incorporate into his training,” says Steven Stiefel, an LA-based writer for health and fitness magazines.

“It was yoga! He credited his improved flexibility with his ability to train more efficiently and avoid injury. And then he won the Mr. Olympia title.

“Today, there are more yoga classes than ever, but a lot of people, men in particular, remain confused about what happens inside those classes and how they should feel about it. Is it stretching, meditation, some combination, or something else entirely? Could it be the secret to unlocking your tight hips and superhuman athletic potential, or will it just make you sprout a man bun and go all new age?”

You don’t want to get it wrong, unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, in which case you’ll hit the nail on the head.

The only time Chuck Norris was ever wrong was when he thought he had made a mistake. His computer has no backspace button. He doesn’t make mistakes. Chuck Norris has done yoga and not gone new age or sprouted anything under his cowboy hat. He has cows in the back forty grilling his steaks for him.

Many weightlifters have added yoga to their fitness routine. There are several ways it can improve lifting, including increasing range of motion, reducing soreness, minimizing risk of injury, and fomenting correct posture.

Holding and releasing poses in yoga class relaxes tight muscles and encourages flexibility. Yoga draws oxygen into muscles. It flushes lactic acid. The practice enlivens balance and strengthens joints and smaller stabilizing muscles, helping prevent injury. Big men tend to be top-heavy. Core strengthening work, emphasis on the back, and chest and shoulder opener poses are instrumental at improving bearing and carriage.

There are many reasons why yoga might not be a good fit for many men, however. While it’s true their postures would probably improve, most men never have any trouble with back pain. What would they do with all the balance and flexibility they gained? Yoga sharpens focus, but men are fee-fi-fo focus fighters, anyway. Their heartrates and blood pressure are fine exactly where they are. It’s square enough yoga is a stress buster, but stress makes life more interesting. Busting out a mat is getting on the road to dullsville.

Nothing Chuck Norris does is ever dull. He can roundhouse kick his enemies yesterday. He sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of him. He can drive in Braille, and when he misspells a word, the Oxford English Dictionary changes the actual spelling of it.

Despite the best efforts of yoga promotors vendors marketers and merchandisers, there are still more gals than there are guys in classes. Studio owners and teachers say that the number of women to men is usually 80 to 20. Surveys by Yoga Journal have consistently found that the practice attracts far more womenfolk than menfolk.

Why don’t more men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” says Praneetha Akula, a Silver Spring, Maryland, resident who dragged her man to the studio.

Chuck Norris never gets bored, inside or outside a yoga studio. Getting bored is an insult to yourself. Chuck Norris’s head would explode if he ever insulted himself. Anybody else’s head, if they insulted him, would instantly explode just from the thought of it.

Maybe men shouldn’t bother doing yoga, unless they are like Chuck Norris, which is impossible. When he meditates, going inward, he finds a smaller tougher Chuck Norris inside himself.

“In a society that places people in convenient ticky-tacky boxes, it seems today’s yoga is clearly for women,” says Dr. Phil Maffetone, an endurance athlete, sports medicine clinician, and author of the “Big Book of Health and Fitness.”

Do real men do yoga?

“Knowing its potential value in health and fitness, various forms of yoga are something I have recommended over my career, to both men and women. But I don’t do it. Having tried various styles, there are more than 100 different types of yoga, I never enjoyed any of them,” he says.

“I get the same benefits of yoga, its scientific and perceived values, from other approaches, without the formality, the special clothes, or going anywhere. I wonder if men are turned off to things like chanting, Sanskrit terms for poses, cliché yoga music, and pretzel poses. Or, maybe men are too aggressive in their workout ethics to even try yoga, which might be the reason they are more often injured than women.”

On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the reason more real men should get their get up and go butts down on the mat. Take a breath. Slow it down. Forget the finish line.

On top of that, it’s more manly than most men think. It was originally created designed practiced by men, taught by men, for men. It stayed that way for thousands of years. It was physically demanding enough in an age when everything was physically demanding. In the last half century women have crashed the party, which is all to the good.

Who wants to do yoga in a room full of dads, dudes, and varmints? Rooster Cogburn in tree pose would be a sight for sore eyes, but it would also be a sore sight.

Yoga makes everyone, women and men, better at what they do. If you’re flexible, it will help you build strength. If you’re strong as hell, it helps you find balance. Ethically, it grounds you in the Golden Rule. Mentally, it gives you a way to handle pressure and stress.

We can’t all be Chuck Norris. In fact, no one can be Chuck Norris. He once inhaled for 108 seconds – 108 million seconds. He has never read the Yoga Sutras. He stared them down until the Sutras squealed and told him everything he wanted to know. He would be the crazy best yoga teacher of all time. His classroom adjustments would never be forgotten by anyone, ever.

Since he could sail around the world in boat pose, if he ever wanted to, it wouldn’t hurt men to jump the Ship of Fools and join him on the USS Chuck Norris. But Chuck don’t care if you do, or not. Why should he? After all, when Chuck Norris does yoga, starting with sun salutations, the sun salutes him.

At the end of the day, yoga is about the self. Gird your loins and find some sunshine on the forward deck. Do your own warrior poses. Don’t worry about Chuck Norris. He’s the only man dead or alive who can divide by zero. He can take care of himself. Zero in on yourself.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

When Hell Freezes Over

By Ed Staskus

“The Hells Angels are so much aware of their mad-dog reputation that they take a perverse kind of pleasure in being friendly.”  Hunter S. Thompson

When Frank Glass pulled his Hyundai SUV into the back parking lot of Quiet Mind, on the border of Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, and got out with his rolled-up mat under his arm, he was brought up short by a fleet of Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside the door of the yoga studio. Inside the lobby, he peeked into the practice space, where a mob of muscled-up bare-chested men was in awkward cross-legged poses on rental mats. The denim vests and jackets hanging on coat hooks bore the Hells Angels colors and moniker, red lettering displayed on a white background.

The bikers are sometimes called “The Red and White.” They are also known as “The Filthy Few.” Inside the club among themselves they are “The Club.”

The Angels are the best known of what are known as outlaw motorcycle gangs. The name comes from the P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers who flew in Burma and China during World War Two. The pilots were known as “Hells Angels” because the combat missions they flew were dangerous courageous literally death-defying.

Skulls of death scowled from the middle of the back of the biker vests and jackets.

Frank took a seat, instead of taking the class, seeing he was late for it, anyway, and the room was full. He might as well, he thought, read the book he was halfway into, and go to lunch with Barron, as they had planned, when the class was over. The book he was reading on his iPhone was David Halberstam’s “The Fifties.” Even though the Hells Angels were formed at the turn of the decade, and ran riot in the 1950s, there wasn’t anything about them in the book.

Yoga in the United States got going in the same decade, although it didn’t run riot. It kept a low profile until the next decade, when hippies made the scene, and adopted yoga as one of their motifs. Even when, from then until now, when yoga has grown exponentially, it has never run riot.

The Hells Angels and yoga have diametrically opposing outlooks on duty focus liberty life in general. The bikers are noted for violence, brawling, and fighting with fists pipes guns. They are notorious for being ruthless. They will cut the legs out from under you at the slightest provocation. One of the legs yoga stands on is ahimsa, or non-violence. Yoga stands up for its own values but doesn’t go out of its way to chop anyone else down to size.

When the class ended the Hells Angels filed out of the studio. It had only been them in Barron Cannon’s morning class. They slugged back bottled water, toweled off, and got back into their denims and Red Wings.

“I’ll be damned if that was a beginner’s class,” one of them said.

The biker standing next to him, his bald mottled head glistening, said, “That was a hell of a workout.”

“Workout?” another one exclaimed. “That was some kind of a torture.”

The Hells Angels are the biggest biker gang in the world. There are 444 chapters on six continents. They are banned in some countries, like the Netherlands, where they have been labeled as a “menace to public order.” The Angels don’t give a fig about the Dutch, so it’s a wash. There are only a few requirements for becoming a Hells Angel. First, you have to have a driver’s license and a seriously badass motorcycle, preferably a chopped Harley Davison. Second, you have to ride it a minimum of 12,000 miles a year. Third, if you were ever a policeman, or even ever thought of becoming a policeman, you cannot join the club. Fourth, you have to undergo a semi-secret initiation, resulting in being “patched.” Being patched is like achieving tenure at a university. Lastly, you have to be a man, and a renegade, to boot, no women allowed.

It’s best to be a white man when applying for membership.

In 2000, Sonny Barger, one of the sparkplugs of the gang, said, “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hells Angels. If you’re black, you want to join the Dragons. That’s how it is whether anyone likes it or not. We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.” When asked if that might ever change, he answered, “Anything can change. I can’t predict the future.”

As many Hells Angels as there are, there are many more folks who practice yoga, about 300 million worldwide. It’s easy to do, too. You don’t need a $20 thousand-dollar two-wheeler, you don’t need to ride it all day and night, and there are no initiation rites, half-baked or otherwise. You can be whatever race creed color gender you want to be. You don’t have to be amoral bloodthirsty ungovernable, either, although yoga is good for resolving those problems.

“What did you say?” asked one of the Hells Angels.

“Who, me?” asked Frank

“Yes, you,” the biker said, looming over him.

“I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here reading, thinking.”

“Keep your thinking to yourself,” the Hells Angel said, stalking out of the Quiet Mind Yoga Studio. Some of the other bikers glared at him but left without incident. One of them gave him a friendly wave and a wink. Frank breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a roar of 1690 and 1870 cc engines starting up in the parking lot. In a minute the troupe of bikers was swaggering down Clifton Boulevard towards downtown Cleveland. Frank had overheard one of them mention the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He wondered whether there was an exhibit commemorating the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where the Hells Angels had been hired to provide security, and 4 people were killed during the show.

Barron Cannon stepped out of the studio space, wearing loose black shorts and a tight-fitting Pearl Izumi jersey. He looked cool as a cucumber. Frank jumped up.

“What in goddamn Sam Hill was that all about?” he blurted.

“Missionary work,” said Barron, unflappable and insufferable as a post-graduate in philosophy can be. Barron had a PhD, although he eschewed academics in favor of his own leanings, which were economic Marxism, idealistic anarchy, vegetarianism, and yoga. He had grown up on the other side of Lakewood, camped in a yurt in his parent’s backyard while he was in school, been briefly married, and lived in a small 80-year-old but modernized apartment close by Edgewater Park, a short bike ride away.

Barron owned a Chevy Volt, but often rode his bicycle, always to work, shopping for groceries, visiting nearby friends, and training aerobically on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Metropark.

“Missionary work? What do you mean?”

“Let’s go across the street to Starbucks, get some coffee, some wraps or egg and cheese protein boxes,” said Barron.

Sitting down inside the Starbucks, which had transformed a vacant Burger King the year before, their food and coffee in front of them, Frank again asked Barron, “What are you up to?”

“Off the mat into the world.”

“The last time that came up you derided the idea, saying yoga had to stay close to the individual, close to its roots, and not try to reform the world.”

“Times change, bud,” said Barron.

“Trying to teach yoga to Hells Angels isn’t a hop skip and jump.

“No,” said Barron. “It’s a great leap forward, man.”

Barron Cannon took secret pleasure in conflating things like the moon landing and Chairman Mao, as though the past was play dough.

“How did it go?”

“Not bad, they got engaged in it. I think they might follow up on the class.”

“When hell freezes over,” thought Frank.

Barron Cannon laughed.

“That’s mostly true, but not entirely true,” he said. “No one is absolutely unsuited for yoga practice.”

Are you reading my mind?”

Sometimes.”

“Are you sure they weren’t just grandstanding?”

“If there’s one thing uncertain about yoga, it’s certainty,” said Barron.

Many law enforcement agencies worldwide consider the Hells Angels the numero uno of the “Big Four” motorcycle gangs, the others being the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos. They investigate and arrest the bikers for engaging in organized crime, including extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and violent battery of all kinds. They raid their clubhouses and haul the Filthy Few off to jail.

The police never bust up yoga studios, which are generally spic and span.

Members of the Hells Angels say they are a group of enthusiasts who have bonded to ride motorcycles together, organizing events such as road trips, rallies, and fundraisers. They say any crimes are the responsibility of the men who committed them and not the club as a whole, despite many convictions for racketeering, and riots, mayhem, and shootings.

One of their slogans is, “When in doubt, knock ‘em out.”

How did you get them into the studio in the first place?”

“I was at the Shell station up on the corner, filling up, when a Hells Angel pulled in behind me. He moved like a wooden Indian. He had to lean on the gas tank getting off his motorcycle.”

“And you suggested yoga?”

“You should try yoga,” Barron said to the biker. “It’s good for your back.”

“What the fuck?” said the biker, his arms tattooed from wrist to shoulder. “Who the hell are you?”

“I teach yoga just down the street. You should come in for a beginner’s class. You might be surprised what a big help it can be.”

“Fuck off,” said the biker.

“So what happened?” asked Frank.

“The next thing I knew, there they were when I got to work this morning. They took over the studio, one of them standing outside turning everyone else away, saying the class was full, until I got started.”

“How did it go?”

“They wouldn’t chant, and they didn’t want to hear much beforehand. They told me to get down to business, so what happened was that it turned into a plain and simple asana class.”

“How did they do?”

“They’re strong men, but most of them can’t touch their toes to save their lives. They tried hard. I’ll give them that. They were terrific doing the warrior poses, but things like triangle, anything cross-legged, and some of the twists were beyond them. Most of them were stiff as boards.”

Yoga plays an important role in reducing aggression and violence. It helps by becoming more thoughtful about your actions. It makes you more flexible in tight spots. The brain-addled in prisons have been specifically helped by the practice.

“Attention and impulsivity are very important for this population, which has problems dealing with aggressive impulses,” says Oxford University psychologist Miguel Farias.

Simple things like pranayama breathing techniques release tension and anger. Doing headstand is a good way to get it into your head that you can’t stay mad when you’re on your head. Mindfulness and awareness flip the misconceptions of anger.

“We can see anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality,” says the Dalai Lama.

Even the yoga concept of non-attachment can be a big help. No matter what patches you wear, you aren’t that patch. You are an individual who is free to make individual choices. The Hells Angel skull’s head is a reminder of the transitory nature of life. Make the most of it. Don’t be always punching your way out of a paper bag.

Frank and Barron finished their coffees and stepped outside. At the crosswalk they paused at the curb. The traffic was light on Clifton Boulevard, but a biker was approaching.

A trim young man on a yellow Vespa pulled up and stopped at the painted line of the crosswalk. He was wearing a turquoise football-style helmet. Both his arms up to the sleeveless of his black t-shirt were heavily tattooed. He waved at them to go. They went over the edge into the street.

Stepping up to the curb on the other side, Barron said, “There you go, Frank, not all angels are bats out of hell.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Throwing Down the Hammer

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By Ed Staskus

“I’m all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily, I came here for their special offer, a guaranteed personality.”  The Clash

In the United States Congress is made up of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. They are both in Washington D. C. The chambers are filled by direct elections in the fifty states by the American voting public. Statutory law is proposed and created by Congress, with the White House stage-managing business as usual.

Many of those laws have been progressive, from the activism at the turn of the 20th century to the New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression to the Civil Rights bills of the 1960s.

Most of them have been regressive, such as the marriage and property laws of the 19th century, the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, among other protectionist laws, and just about everything the GOP has done in living memory, bad laws in lieu of good ideas. Many lawmakers live on the wrong side of fear.

Some of them have been bone-headed, from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to Prohibition to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the last based on glib lies eagerly believed by the eager beavers ready to make a buck on waving the flag.

There are laws Congress makes that are homeland lifestyle laws. They are about America, about our allegiance and attachment to its ideals, interests, and traditions. They are about embracing a way of life. When they address the way we live now, they are about what makes life liberty and the pursuit of happiness a real way of life, not just foggy notions from long ago.

They are stale toast when they try to recreate the past.

The most up-to-date attempts to fossilize American values are from the font of the Make America Great Again Wall of Shame Rantings of POTUS. The Big Man in the Oval Office is a race-baiting tax-dodging whore-loving atheist mouthing Christian platitudes, of all things, although it doesn’t seem to matter to his zany supporters. They rally around the ranting and red hats. It’s spooky Americanism in the Haunted White House.

Homeland legislation has often been the purview of the good old boys in love with the good old days. Their guiding principle is “In God We Trust” and God forbid anything change anytime soon. Even though change has accelerated by leaps and bounds in the past one hundred years, and even though Orange Julius can’t keep his mouth shut, the conservative order in the United States is not very much different today than it was one hundred years ago during the reign of Silent Cal.

Thank God Congress is coming back into session next month, the week of Labor Day. They may only work 138 days a year, but they have their work cut out for them. If the United States stands for anything, it stands for free enterprise. It stands for capitalism. It ultimately stands for consumerism. In the mid-1950s the President of the National Sales Executives was already blithely declaring, “Capitalism is dead, consumerism is king.”

Even President Trump, with his crazy fast thumb on social media, and incredibly busy with issues such as body-shaming Senator Elizabeth Warren, trying to remember his wife’s name, and the mental health menace of xBox, is cognizant of what really makes America great.

“The WTO is BROKEN. NO more!!! Today I directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!”

Make America Great Again!

“I built the greatest economy in the World, the best the U.S. has ever had. Best stock market, economy and unemployment numbers ever! Most people working within U.S. ever! Low interest rates, very low inflation! Country doing great!”

Make America Great Again!

“Did you hear the latest con job? President Obama is now trying to take credit for the Economic Boom taking place under the Trump Administration. He had the WEAKEST recovery since the Great Depression, despite Zero Fed Rate & MASSIVE quantitative easing. NOW, best jobs numbers.”

Make America Great Again!

President Trump has raced Air Force One to one trade junket after another over the past year, burning up the carbon, and sent proposals to Congress, and taken to Twitter, going hard after Europe South America China with tariffs tariffs tariffs to protect American jobs workers businesses, humping the notion that the business of America is business. He has gotten on top of the mountain of nationalism and shouted his message for all to hear, both prophet and salesman and head honcho of the lunatic fringe.

“I have the absolute right to PARDON myself!” he tweets again and again.

It is hard to believe incredible bewildering just about impeachable that he hasn’t focused his tweeting laser-like eye on yoga. It might not be long, though. When Dhvani, an athletic-wear company from Oregon that makes yoga clothes, put up a 30-foot billboard in Times Square criticizing the president, the response was swift and sure.

“You’re just full of shit,” said Donald Trump Jr.

There are many things that threaten the American economy, from unemployment to energy prices to fiscal crises to cyber-attacks to data fraud to extreme weather events to large-scale involuntary migration to illicit trade to asset bubbles. There’s always something. If there is one thing that is a clear and present danger to the well-being of Main Street and Wall Street, it is yoga.

Although yoga pumps tens of billions of dollars into the economy, it is only one of the arms of the practice, the arm that is the spigot, the physical aspect of it, from studios to mats ‘n’ stuff to groovy lulu outfits, as well as ancillary products and services like seminars supplements physical therapies alternative regimens and R & R.

The danger yoga poses to the American economy lies in the other seven arms of the practice, some of which are so antithetical to the American way of life as to be nearly treasonous. Even though the commodification of yoga is a done deal, even the body beautiful, the face on the myth of beauty health success, is on shaky ground, since one of the aspects of traditional yoga is acceptance of one’s body, to be at one with it, in all its imperfections.

The body can be improved upon, but it’s not a lump of clay in search of aesthetic perfection. At least, not if you exist outside the star-studded world of the stars and pro sports. They’ve got the dough to work on the clay they are. Its objectification only serves the merchandiser, not necessarily the consumer. It is buyer beware, just like it’s always been.

Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots, makes about $40 million a year. His football fans far and wide ultimately are the ones who fork over the dough. When it comes to being careful with the merchandise, Tom Brady pays all the attention in the world to his body. Practicing yoga is partly exercising the body, but the million-dollar part of the practice is exercising the brain.

Practicing yoga is having a fan base of one, you.

Old-school yoga is a stuck in the craw problem for the United States. If it ever gains a foothold it could be dangerous. If it got out of hand it could threaten the consumer society that makes America as great as it is. At the very least, Aparigraha – meaning non-covetousness – should be outlawed immediately. The consumer society is predicated on coveting a bigger house bigger car bigger clothes and the newest devices, never being satisfied. The new minimalism is the old maximalism. It’s a wild goose chase, but it’s what makes the world go around.

“There’s nothing I’d ever buy, but I love consumerism,” said Johnny Rotten of the punk band the Sex Pistols. “I like being there, in the shopping malls. It’s wacky.”

What is hare-brained, and what Orange Julius and Congress need to understand, is that buying into non-consumerism is the same as throwing the flag into the mud and trampling on it. The American government has often intervened interfered intruded into life in the United States in order to advance and preserve what it considers the aims and ambitions of its people. The country may be doing great now, business is booming, but if the growth of yoga is left unchecked, and its precepts go invasive on native soil, it could cast a spell, causing a downward spiral in the economy.

The virtuous cycle is all about disposable income demanding more stuff and manufacturers ramping it up to meet the demand. Business spending on technology, productivity, and capital goods is a significant factor in sustaining the economy and raising the standard of living, but the mainstay is consumer spending. It is 70% of gross domestic product. It is the most important driving force of the economy.

When consumer spending drops off growth slows, prices fall, and deflation creeps in. If it goes on too long, and the economy steadily contracts, the result is hard times, recession and depression. The White House, and all our houses, start looking ragged at the edges.

The ground rules of yoga are anathema to capitalism and consumerism. It’s not just Aparigraha, either. The eight-fold path is meant to lead to a purposeful and meaningful life, by way of truthfulness and continence, among other things. There is little in the way of truthfulness on Madison Avenue and almost no continence. Self-discipline and spiritual observances are a big part of yoga. They’re a big part of going shopping. Samtosa is defined as contentment. If that concept ever got adopted, there would be hell to pay at Amazon. They would have to resurrect Stonewall Jackson to fight that battle.

In the United States, society is structured in such a way that many people are regarded and regard themselves as profit-generators. Everyone else is either helping or hindering you on the yellow brick road to Fort Knox. It is a selfish way of life, but a way of life that has led to the good life.

No one wants to go back to the Great Recession, much less the Great Depression, or any bust of any kind. President Trump has got his quick thumb on that button. His arch-enemy Hillary Clinton practices yoga, which he has pointed to as unacceptable.

“She does a lot of yoga, right?” he said. He mocked her for justifying deleting e-mails as an ethical result of yoga practice. “I think that one of the great crimes committed is Hillary Clinton deleting 33,000 e-mails after Congress sent her a subpoena.”

Yoga has been integrated into the fabric of life in the United States, but only the get up stand up part of it. The other parts don’t fit well. They fit so badly, indeed, that alarm bells are clanging coast to coast. Parents and school boards in Georgia, Alabama, and California have gotten yoga expelled from programs in their states, for good reason. They understand the treat at ground level.

Orange Julius and Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP need to take a hard look at the Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk, where yoga in all its forms was banned in 2015, under the rubric of it being foreign and subversive. The owners of the city’s yoga studios received letters telling them to close up shop and “stop spreading new religious cults and movements.”  Classes at a stadium and public meeting hall were suspended. Schools and local physical culture centers were advised in no uncertain terms to cut out the asana and meditation practices of “an occult character.”

That’s the spirit, comrade!

President Trump has torn more than one page out of the Russki playbook. Ronald Reagan said “Tear down the wall” in the 1980s, referring to the Berlin Wall. President Trump has repurposed the phrase, saying “Build the wall” in our own times. It is time he includes the practice of yoga, and its foreign influences, to the same blacklist where all the other foreigners his wall is designed to keep out of the homeland are listed in black and white.

Bad ideas are as bad as bad people. The president knows that. The Trump Wall is meant to keep bad people out of the United States. The president needs to build it higher. It needs to be built higher to keep out bad ideas. The ideas and beliefs that make up the practice of yoga are a menace to the zeitgeist of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave in the 21st century.

The Trump Tower might fall like the Tower of Babel, for Christ’s sake!

The activist Alyssa Milano has called on removing the president from office with “the power of yoga.” She proposes chanting a reality-altering mantra every day for throwing him out. That’s going to backfire. President Trump knows a bugbear when he sees one.

Consumerism and affluence may be a corruption of the American Dream, but it’s all we’ve got. Yoga would have us believe it’s best to never buy anything you can’t carry in your tote, the tote your children are carrying. They think that’s the future, but there’s no future in that. Bigger is better and more is more, not the other way around. Loyalty and permanence are undermined by consumerism, but that’s the way it is. It’s every man for himself and God against all.

Get to work, Congress. Do the right thing by the homeland. Send a bill up the hill. Since the commander-in-chief is still the commander-in-chief, at his command yoga can go back to where it came from. With a tweet and a fountain pen President Trump can outlaw yoga and restore American values.

Build the blockade make the stonewall make the country great again make the mats go away throw down the hammer bust those yoga blocks to bits no more standing on your head and ban foreign ideas foreign ethos foreign beliefs, once and for all!

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

 

 

 

Monkey On My Back

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By Ed Staskus

On the northeastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of North Truro is on the Outer Cape, on the other side of Route 6, on the other side of the ocean by about a mile, and looks across Cape Cod Bay. It is 20 minutes past Wellfleet, and 10 minutes to Provincetown, which is the last town at the end of the line.

US Route 6, once known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, runs from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Before Dwight Eisenhower got the federal interstates built, it was the longest highway in the country.

Going into town for scallops and an IPA is as easy as pie. The road from North Truro to Wellfleet rolls past scrubby trees, while the road to Provincetown narrows, tucked into sand dunes. The National Seashore, from Race Point to Marconi Beach, ranges for many miles.

When President John Kennedy created the new National Seashore in the early 1960s, he created something old by leaving it alone. From the overlook at Marconi there is a broad view of the Atlantic Ocean. Down the steep sand dunes is a long wide flat stretch of beach. Hotel and resort developers and real estate interests haven’t been able to turn the seashore from Orleans to Provincetown into their version of hellish happiness.

Although Provincetown gets jammed to the gills in July and August, the summer before summer and the summer after summer are laid back on the Outer Cape. It’s laid back, but there is plenty to do.

There is plenty of green space on the Outer Cape.

There is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, almost 8,000 acres of dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, and an old lighthouse. There is a nine-mile long sandbar accessible by kayak. Nickerson State Park is several thousand acres of woods, home to fox and deer, and hiking trails. Walk or jog or ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Explore Provincetown’s Commercial Street, chock full of restaurants, funky shops, and art galleries. There are street performers, although not all of them are official street performers. Some are in the flesh performance artists. There are comedy clubs and night clubs.

At the Wellfleet Drive-in, starting in September, old school movies like “Jaws” and “Grease” and “Back to the Future” are shown on the big screen. Families back their pick-up trucks in, flip the tail gates down, and spread sleeping bags out on the bed of the truck. Teenagers bring gigantic flamingo lounge pool floats and flop on them between the cars.

Or, don’t do much. Grab a book, a folding chair, a tube of sunscreen, and head to the beach. There’s plenty of sunshine. It’s always chill on the sand. There are always clams, mussels, and oysters afterwards.

There is some yoga on the Outer Cape, a very nice studio in Wellfleet, and several in Provincetown. They are smallish and on the small side spaces. Yoga East on Race Point Road might fit a dozen people on their polished sunlit floor. In the summer, unless it rains, they are half empty.

There is plenty of air and space to do yoga outside, on the shady grass behind the North Truro Library, at spots all over in the parks, and on the seashore. Not many do, however, an opportunity lost. Unless it is a class that has moved outside, spotting a yoga mat on the Outer Cape is like spotting Moby Dick.

Thar she blows!

Not that you need a mat to get it done. If you want to practice poses on the beach, it’s best to ditch the mat, anyway, and go natural. The hard sand closer to the water is great for standing poses and the soft sand farther back is great for floor work.

If yoga is a personal practice, meant to get you to go inwards, the ocean shore and many of the beaches on the bay side are great places to go solo. They are easy to find, all of them have parking lots, and either stairs or tracks down to the beaches. Almost everyone is usually tucked in within a few hundred yards of one another. Go in either direction, go a few hundred yards, and you will suddenly find yourself alone.

It’s where to go to get the monkey off your back.

You may be able to see Head of the Meadow Beach over one shoulder, and Coast Guard Beach over the other shoulder, but it will be just you and low tide and the seagulls and gray seals somewhere in between the two. The gray seals ply the shoreline, their way of steering clear of sharks, who stay away, aware of the shallow water and the dangers of getting stranded in the sand.

Although most yoga is practiced in group settings at studios, gyms, and community centers, back in the day yogic fundamentals recommended practicing alone. The idea was to connect with your breath and body without anybody else breathing on you or sweating up a storm in headstand on their mat inches away from you. Practicing yoga in a group setting, with somebody at the head of the class, is a structured ready-to-wear way to get your yoga in, but it’s somebody else’s structure.

Going it alone, there’s no need to keep an eye out for anybody tilting swaying and falling over on top of you. There isn’t any shake and bake, keeping up with the vinyasa, staying in step with the playlist. There’s no list of any kind.

Practicing alone means there aren’t any teachers telling you what to think, making sure you don’t have to think for yourself, since that is what you are paying them for, anyway. Practicing alone means you are free, on the loose to think for yourself, instead of ingesting received wisdom. Practicing alone means you can make yourself up, steering clear of holiness and hipster cant.

On the bay side of Cape Cod, from North Truro, where there are always front row seats to sunsets over Provincetown, it is about four miles south down the beach, past Pilgrim Beach Village, Cold Storage Beach  and Corn Hill Beach to Pamet Harbor in Truro, where the sand abruptly ends at the mouth of the harbor. For much of the walk, as far as Cold Storage Beach, houses are perched high on the sea cliff, out of sight, squatting quietly at the top of long steep weather-beaten stairs.

At the base of the escarpment, all along the narrow beach, the Atlantic Ocean stretching three thousand miles on the backside and Cape Cod Bay seventy-some miles into the distance, is a good place to practice yoga alone, walking the line, except when it isn’t.

“Are you all right?”

They were an older couple, out for a walk. He was wearing a snap brim straw hat and she was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. There was a concerned expression on her face.

“Yes, it’s just a yoga pose. It’s called Twisted Monkey. I do it for my hip flexors and for my lower back.”

“Oh, we thought maybe you had hurt yourself.”

“I did hurt myself, but that was an accident, and now I do this to get better.”

“Does it help?”

“It does help, in more ways than one, even though it’s not the be all and end all. It helps my backside, and it helps keep my head on straight, too, which is a good thing.”

“Did you hurt your head, too?”

“No, but I get headaches sometimes in this crazy world.”

“I’m with you about the craziness,” the man in the old summer hat laughed. “Maybe I should try some of that yoga.”

“Take some classes, learn the fundamentals, what have you got to lose?”

Take a step to the side, around the billboard, and there’s a different way of looking at things on the other side.

Yoga classes, under the direction of an accredited teacher, are the way to learn the practice. They are also a way to be in a community. They engender and reinforce a sense of purpose and place.

At the end of the day, at the end of the line, everyone practices on their own, even when they practice cheek to jowl in a crowded yoga studio. Unless they don’t like being alone, and the class is a way of pretending everyone in a crowd is on your side. They are, of course, as long as you stay in the crosswalk.

Practicing on your own internalizes what you’ve learned. Yoga isn’t rocket science. There is a bucketful of learning to it, but it’s as much horse sense as it is wisdom. Going it alone, without anyone bending your ear, listening to your own breath, shucking shellfish, walking on sunshine, can be the best way to get to whatever fresh clear air thinking is out there.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

 

Lord of the Fishes

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By Ed Staskus

The red and sand North Rustico beach slivers itself 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.

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 some side roads.

It’s all within easy sight of the flocks of seagulls who fly up and down the coast.

Frank and Vera Glass, staying at the Coastline Cottages just outside of town, drove the mile-or-so from their cottage along the parkway, past Rollings Pond to the parking lot at the back of the beach, where a creek empties, up the dirt road to the other 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.”

Vera and Frank heard a sudden loud squarking from the shoreline, and when they looked towards the sound, they saw a herring gull dragging a rock crab out of the surf. The crab latched onto the bird with large claw, swinging side-to-side as the seagull flapped up. The bird shook the crab off, dropping it into the surf, and going after it again, pecking and pecking. When the seagull dragged the crab out of the water it began to slash at it, killing it, if the crustacean wasn’t already dead, pulling 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 they 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. “Seagulls are intelligent. They can unlock trash bins. They’re omnivores and they’ll eat anything. I read about a black-backed gull down on Cape Cod that snatched up a miniature chihuahua, right off the beach, and the dog has not been seen since.”

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.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Bad Boys of Yoga

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By Ed Staskus

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’.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

 

 

 

Paint It Black

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By Ed Staskus

“Everybody needs a helping out, if that ain’t what it’s all about, tell me what.” Amy Grant

Going 9000 miles anywhere is a taxing no picnic undertaking. All roads may lead to the same end, but if you are an Iowa farmgirl since transplanted to Cleveland, Ohio, going to India is not the same as going to Seattle or Boston or someplace in between. It’s going halfway around the world to another continent culture world view.

Despite economic progress, India remains a poor country. Someone is always begging you for a hand-out. Pushing and shoving is a way of life. Personal space isn’t personal, it’s public. There are a billion Indians. Pick pocketing is common. Grab and go is even more common. Getting anything back after the fact is uncommon. Sanitation and hygiene are lacking. Among other things, Delhi Belly is a pain in the butt.

If you are a Western woman, staring and unwanted attention are par for the course anyplace anytime day or night.

When Deanna Black went to India last month, she made the trip look easy. She didn’t stand still for anything. She kept her eye on the prize.

“I’m not surprised,” said Frank Glass.

“The first class I ever took taught by Deanna was by accident, it was the hardest yoga class I ever took, and I had to sit out going to Inner Bliss the rest of the week.”

This from a man who three times a week for three years went to Bikram Yoga classes until he had no more sweat to give.

Deanna Black is a yoga teacher and holistic fitness trainer. Her point of view is far and wide. She studies engages practices aerobics, Prana Flow, Ashtanga, strength training, TRX, kettle ball, Insanity, Zumba, spinning, West African Dance, hoop dance, slacklining, stand up paddle board yoga, and “any other movement and activity that connects you with your body, your mind, your soul, and the nature around you.” She also assays positive psychology, which comes in handy when you are at the front of the room.

“Deanna was subbing that class. No one expected what we got,” said Frank. “She wasn’t bossy or demanding. She was actually encouraging, but she kept at it. She’s nothing if not relentless. I remember wondering if I was going to make it.”

She has studied with Shiva Rea and her Prana Vinyasa teacher training program since 2004. “The classes I create are designed to empower you to do more than you thought possible,” she says. “The benefits are more than meet the eye.”

She is an old-fashioned modern kind of gal, “balancing and aiming for what I want while leaning on the history of what worked and did not work from the past.”

The class was a mix of sheer effort vinyasa, endurance strength work, and baling hay, even though Deanna Black has done undergrad and grad coursework in advanced exercise physiology and psychology at Iowa State University. Making your way in the class, however, wasn’t about classwork and observation reading study reflection.

“It was about peeing on the electric fence for yourself,” said Frank Glass.

She can back off the pedal to the metal if she has to, as when she volunteers for teaching dance fitness to seniors at the Westside Community House.

Born and bred in a small town in Iowa, living in the big city of Cleveland since 1995, Deanna describes herself as a “farm girl whose DNA is filled with farmers, teachers, trailblazers, and travelers, and an adventure yogini, thrive activist and bucket list catalyst.”

It’s a lot to be. It’s a lot like mixed farming.

Mixed farming is a blend of multiple crops and livestock, maximizing light, moisture, and nutrients, complementing land and labor demands across the year. Erosion is minimized, biodiversity is maintained, water is conserved, and habitats preserved. Monocultural farming may better increase production levels, but capitalism isn’t always the bottom line.

She goes back to Iowa often, especially during harvest time. Although she isn’t Old McDonald Had a Farm, she helps out in her own way.

“I can’t even call it a job, it’s so much fun,” she said. “I am taking care of the farm animals, which includes emceeing pig races and goat yoga. I am recess patrolling jumping pillows pedal karts apple slingshots and mazes. I am lifeguarding the corn pool, which includes acro yoga sessions. I am making delicious apple cider donuts and taste testing from our scratch bakery. And I have a team of farmtastic people to help.”

When she went to the subcontinent she went on behalf of the 88Bikes Foundation.

“They continue to be instrumental in my trips to India,” said Deanna. “For all the work they do with girls who are survivors or at risk for human trafficking. It is the timing of me doing this work with them on International Women’s Day, to empower, to educate, to let the world know that the female spirit is not to be suppressed. It is to be respected and honored.”

She arrived in Allahabad in early March. It was the day after the Kumbh Mela wrapped up. It had been going on since January 15th, although it’s been going on for centuries. The Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage. In 2013, the last time it was staged in Allahabad, an estimated 120 million people came to it over a 2-month period.

“Flags were still flying from each country represented,” she said. “Even with many tents and porta potties still up, the area felt abandoned. Still, a feeling of peace washed over me, particularly after I stepped into the Ganga with prayers and gratitude. Afterwards, I visited the birthplace of Indira Gandhi and learned not only how remarkable she was, but how the women of India stood strong all together and made a significant difference. It was an inspiration for leading into International Women’s Day.”

Indira Gandhi was the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Even though a politician, she had once been a child revolutionary, leading the Monkey Brigade at the age of 12 as part of India’s struggle against the British Empire for self-determination. Despite often criticized as a “goongi goodiya” – dumb doll – she was twice prime minister and was named “Woman of the Millennium” by the BBC.

She was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

The brainchild of Dan Austin, a writer, filmmaker, and one-time bicycle deliveryman, the non-profit 88Bikes was born in 2007. In return for a sponsorship of $88.00, a bike is delivered to someone somewhere in the developing world. The child gets a photo of the person who donated the bike, and the donor gets a photo of the child who received it.

“We feel strongly that you can connect people across the world like this,” he has said. “I think that’s the root of what 88Bikes is about, this one-to-one connection.”

It’s many thousands of bikes going to Peru, Cambodia, Mongolia, Ghana, India, two wheels at a time.

Deanna is aware of how much awareness it takes to get a bicycle into the hands of a kid with little chance of scoring one for him or herself. That’s why she goes halfway around the world. “It’s joy-based philanthropy,” she said. “What brings us joy? Connection!”

“The happiness they deserve is now within reach,” says Dan Austin.

Before she could get 88Bikes on the road, however, she found herself speaking in front of a large group in Allahabad gathered for the Run4Niine.

“The race is in recognition that thoughts and views on menstruation in India need to change,” said Deanna. “To say that this conversation is taboo is to say a conversation about women is taboo. To say menstruation is dirty is to say a girl or woman is dirty. It is beyond time to change this thinking.”

Even though menstruation is a natural phenomenon, like blinking heartbeats hairiness and breasts filled with milk, it is problematic in many parts of India. “Close to 70% of Indian women risk getting severe infection, at times causing death, due to poverty, ignorance, and shame attached to their menstruation cycle,” said Swapna Majumdar, a New Delhi journalist who writes on gender and development.

When they are menstruating, Indian women are not supposed to touch a holy book, handle kitchen utensils, or look at pickles. Demystifying what is supposedly taboo about periods and creating awareness about hygiene has been an uphill struggle in the country. More than 30% of girls in northern India drop out of school after they start menstruating.

“It is connection with birth and the cycle of life,” said Deanna. “It’s not something to be left unsaid. It’s part of the sacred flow of womanhood.”

The next day was the day to get into the flow of pedal power.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “Tomorrow one hundred girls are getting their own bicycle.” She and her companions, Ruby and Ramon of the Blossomy Project, were outside Kolkotta. About 500 miles east of Allahabad, on the Bay of Bengal, it used to be Calcutta, once an East India trading post, now the capital of West Bengal state, India’s third-largest city with nearly 5 million inhabitants.  It is regarded as the artistic, cultural, and intellectual center of the country.

It’s also the home of Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who is buried there.

The Blossomy Project is a non-profit organization that works to empower survivors of human trafficking through art-based programs. Since riding a bike is as much an art as a skill, they were partnering with 88Bikes.

Deanna had a big envelope full of donor cards.

“Each card is one of who donated to 88Bikes. I am taking a road trip to meet these girls and give them their cards with their bikes.”

It was bright day in the 90s. March is the sunniest month of the year on the northern east coast of India, although it is also one of the wettest. A heavy rain and hailstorm had passed by a few days earlier.

“Watch out boys,” said Deanna, giving a donor card and bike to the first young girl. “This girl has got a bike with things to do and places to go.”

The first girl hopped on her bike and raced away.

“She took off immediately to school to take a Sanskrit exam. With her bike she can get to school much more easily. These girls also use their bikes to patrol the neighborhood and visit communities and bring awareness about how to stay safe.”

Ruby and Ramon and Deanna exchanged high fives.

“Each time I come to Kolkotta, these two have been instrumental in getting me and the bikes connected with girls,” said Deanna. “So happy to have the Blossomy Project. Shout out to Ruby acting as translator and all-out rock star making things happen.”

“I can go anywhere,” said another girl, getting on her bike.

Deanna showed her the back of the donor card that came with the bike.

“You can go anywhere,” it said.

“I love moments like this,” said Deanna.

Sunday night was Funday night in Kolkotta. Everyone went out to a show by Tanmoy Bose, a percussionist and tabla player. A native of the city, he was one of the first Indian musicians to meld folk songs and tribal drumming into a large band setting. His own band, the Taal Tantra Experience, signifies worship through rhythm. The music is nothing if not spilling over with life.

“I’m still amazed with that violin,” said Deanna. “If anyone in Cleveland knows of concerts like this, let me know, I wanna go.”

After the bikes were distributed, it was time to go home. The return flight to the United States from India doesn’t take two three days, but it might as well, when you’re on the way back to your own digs. Once on native ground, she exclaimed, checking out the run-up to the NCAA tournament, “Yeeeaaasss!!! Nothing like coming back to the States during March Madness!”

A few days later she got a Facebook message from Amita Gour, one of the girls who had gotten a bike.

“Thanks for your visit to Allahabad, Deanna,” she wrote.

“So happy to spend time with you and your family,” Deanna wrote back. “Thank you so very much for all the time you spent with me showing me around. And thrilled about your new bike.”

The thrill is in lending a helping hand.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

 

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

mcmindfulness

 

By Ed Staskus

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.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.