Tag Archives: Deanna Black

Hot Room Cool Head

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By Ed Staskus

“I’ll have the whole grain pancakes and coffee,” said Barron Cannon.

“Cream and sugar?” asked Chris, the bartender, wearing a “Best Burgers” black sweatshirt.

“Black,” said Barron.

He was a vegan.

“And you?”

“Three eggs easy over, sausage links, whole wheat toast, cream for my coffee,” said Frank Glass.

He was not a vegan.

Barron and Frank were sitting at the bar at Herb’s Tavern in Rocky River for a late Saturday morning breakfast. “Add a lemon slice to the iced water, and no straw,” said Barron. “If you’re over three years old, or not disabled, you shouldn’t be drinking out of a straw. On top of that, whoever thought of disposable plastic straws should be horse whipped.”

“What got into you today?” Frank asked, changing the subject. Something was always getting into Barron. When it came to the environment and climate change, he wore blinders, always ready to get into it.

“I don’t know,” said Barron. “I was feeling good alert, just feeling it.”

They had come from Barron’s warm flow yoga class earlier that morning. Both of them, and probably everyone else in the class, had worked up an appetite. Barron owned and taught at a yoga studio on the east end of Lakewood, a ten-minute drive away.

“It reminded me of the way Kristen Zarzycki used to teach her Sunday afternoon five-dollar classes at Inner Bliss.”

“Is she still teaching?” asked Barron. “I thought she had gone into biotechnology sales.”

“I don’t know, but when she was teaching, she was a tiger by the tail.”

Frank Glass had gone to three yoga classes a week for three or four years, and then twice a week Bikram Yoga classes for two more years. He had a herniated disk in his lower back. Almost nothing helped. A hot water bottle helped, a daily NSAID helped, and yoga helped. He had attended a dozen-or-so workshops in his time. He practiced at home now, only going to Barron’s studio once or twice a month to stay in touch.

“That way you can stay in touch with me,” said his wife, Vera.

“There would be a eighty ninety people crammed into the class, you know how Inner Bliss is, some of them in trim, most of them trying as hard as they could to keep up, sucking air, it was a fast flow, and Kristen would be on her mat, doing all the poses, and doing the dialogue, cheerful and upbeat, while half the class was dying, just trying to make it to the end. In the summer, even with the windows open, it could get hot in there.”

“My classes are fun yet challenging, taught from a base of gratitude and commitment to taking care of your body so that students can shine in their space on the mat,” says Kristen. “On the mat, I have learned that as in life, each person has areas where they struggle and those where they shine, and that the collaboration of all of our gifts is what makes our world so amazing.”

When asked what was in the backpack she carried to and from class, she said, “Gum, lip gloss, and binkie.”

Whether she meant a baby’s pacifier, the high hop a rabbit performs when happy, or a stuffed animal, was unclear.

“Was she your toughest teacher?” asked Barron, a flapjack shard on his fork dripping maple syrup.

“No, Deanna Black was a boat load. She was freelance, thank God, so I only ran into her when she was subbing. She drove her classes at breakneck pace, and every few minutes we had to do ten push-ups, or twenty sit-ups, or some damn thing, and then it was back to the flow.”

“Push-ups are good for you,” said Barron.

“Never mind about your two cents’ worth,” said Frank. “The thing is, if you faltered, say you collapsed in a push-up, she would come over and do twenty push-ups right next to you, smiling like a wolf. She didn’t actually do the class, instead she prowled around, explaining cajoling threatening, but one look at her was all you needed to know she could it, all the physical stuff, and another class after that, with no problem. She was incredibly fit.”

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream,” Barron sang, lilting.

“She did that in the off-season.”

“The benefits are more than meet the eye,” says Deanna. “Your reactions to the challenges in your physical practice often reflect and carry over to those from the challenges of daily living.”

“OK, so she was lusty and tough as nails, good for her,” said Barron.

“But she wasn’t the toughest teacher I ever met,” said Frank. “That would be Brian Paquette.”

“Who is Brian Paquette.”

“He taught Bikram Yoga at Chagrin Yoga, although they didn’t call it that because they weren’t one of the Brainiac’s licensed studios.”

Bikram Yoga was masterminded by Bikram Choudhury, practiced in a carpeted room heated to 105 degrees with a humidity of 40%, like India even before climate change. The walls were covered in mirrors. Instructors were taught to be high-handed and to teach from a hands-off literal platform at the front of the class.

“That man was a nut,” said Barron.

“He was a nut, but if you wanted to climb the mountain of posture yoga, his 26 postures in the torture chamber was the mountain.”

Bikram Choudhury’s eccentric philosophy of yoga was making pupils work through pain. “I am a butcher and I try to kill you, but don’t worry, yoga is the best death,” he told his followers.

“You took classes in Chagrin Falls? That’s a forty-minute drive one way.”

“Twice a week for two years, until I had enough of the most unrelenting remorseless cramps I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t drink electrolytes fast enough to replenish. I got a vicious cramp driving home one night and had to pull off on the shoulder before I killed myself and everyone around me. That was the beginning of the end, although by then the economics of taking classes wasn’t making sense to me anymore.”

“Whoa, there, my friend,” said Barron. “You’re talking about my bread and butter.”

“It wasn’t just that, although bread and butter played a part. It dawned on me there wasn’t any magic, not that yoga teachers aren’t magic, most of them are, any magic in going to classes anymore. Sure, it was engaging to practice in a collective atmosphere, but I knew enough by then to stand on my own two feet. What I didn’t know, I knew I could just ask you over breakfast or lunch. Can you pass the butter?”

“What made him so tough?” asked Barron

“What made Brian tough was that he didn’t come across as tough, at all. He was chill in the hot room. He came across as a good-natured guy. And he was a good-natured guy, patient affable understanding. Most Bikram Yoga teachers, not if but when you had to stop, always wanted you to stay in the room.”

“Just sit down on the mat for a minute,” the apostle on the platform would say. “It’s cooler at floor level.”

“That sounds like Bugs Bunny physics,” Barron laughed.

“It was maybe one half of a degree cooler on the floor,” said Frank. “Brian let people leave the room. He told us, if you have to, you have to. Try to come back if you can. He encouraged us to drink as much water as possible. I had one teacher, she trotted out the harebrained idea that water weighed you down and we should only be taking a missionary-sized sip once in a while.”

“He sounds like a simpatico kind of guy. Is he from Ohio, from here?”

“I’m not sure, although I don’t think so. When I was taking classes in Chagrin Falls, he told me he lived nearby, maybe even within walking distance. One night, after class, we were standing around, he mentioned he had gone through some hard times. He had been a professional gambler, something like that, for a while, and had fallen into a downward spiral. He got connected to yoga, somehow scraped up enough cash for Bikram Yoga teacher training, and trained in Las Vegas, of all places.”

Bikram Yoga teacher training is learning the world-famous system and learning to teach it, according to Bikram HQ.  They are dedicated to teaching trainees the precise nature of yoga. Everyone is nurtured in a challenging, but safe environment, no kidding.

Trainees learn how to greet students professionally and jawbone intelligently about the mental and physical benefits of yoga. Everyone is encouraged to develop a dedicated hatha practice. They are taught how to speak clearly and how to teach the sequence confidently, correcting students appropriately and compassionately, no fooling.

They learn how to grow their own personal yoga practice, sans steam, since it impractical in most apartments condos homes anywhere. There’s no kidding about that.

The training takes about four weeks and costs between $12 and $15 thousand, depending on what paradise on earth the training is set. The total costs include tuition, hotel accommodation, transportation, lectures, classes, towels, and all the water you need to complete the training in one piece.

Even though Bikram Choudhury has recently fled the United States after losing a multi-million-dollar civil suit for sexual shenanigans, he continues to stage his tent show around the rest of the world.

“It was more like harassment and assault,” said Barron.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

“Brian taught hot yoga, but he was more engaged with Kriya Yoga, which was crazy at odds with the Bikram way of life, which was fancy cars and fancy girls and cash on the barrelhead. He didn’t ever say much about Bikram Choudhury, although he once said yoga had been around a long time and no one had a proprietary claim to it.”

“So, he was more a Kriya kind of guy than a fancy pants?”

“That’s right. You’d ask him what his favorite pose was, and he’d say, ‘Meditation posture, straight spine, because it brings peace.’ His favorite books were the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, Holy Science, and Autobiography of a Yogi. If you asked him what made him happy, he’d say, ‘Meditation, singing the names of God, and spending time with my family.’ His favorite quote was, ‘Read a little. Meditate more. Think of God all the time.’ I forgot to ask him who said that, but it was probably some old-school yogi.”

“My God, he sounds like a saint, not a badass,” said Barron. “I mean, one of my favorite quotes is, ‘You better take care of me Lord, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have me on your hands.’ What does that make me?”

“Who said that?”

“Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Fear and Loathing?”

“Right-o.”

“Brian wasn’t like that,” said Frank. “He wasn’t a saint, just a regular guy, really, although he did a hell of a lot of meditation. I mean, hours of it. What I mean about him being a badass is the way he went about his business in the hot room. He always came in last, wearing mid-thigh compression shorts, no shirt, and carrying a jug of water. He ran the class like a grade-school teacher. He wasn’t like a drill sergeant, which was a persona most Bikram teachers took on in some way shape or form.”

“Why did he need water?” asked Barron. “I thought Bikram Yoga teachers just shouted out the poses from their soapbox. Why did he need a jug?”

“He did just about the whole thing, which is why he needed it. That’s why he takes the gold medal of badass yoga teacher, in my eyes, at least. Every class there were plenty of people who had to take a break or leave the room. A lot of them were young and fit. Brian did it day after day, no sweat. Getting through ninety minutes of the torture chamber wasn’t any walk in the park, man, it was hard.”

“How hard can it be?”

“Believe me, beyond hard,” said Frank. “You don’t see me doing it anymore.”

“You finally accept an offer to go to a class thinking, easy, I can do this.” said Benny Johnson about his first Bikram class.

“I played real sports for a few years, so how hard can it be? You arrive at the class thinking, let’s do this! But then you walk into the class and the heat hits you. It is ninety-one thousand degrees. You set up your mat in an open space. Little do you realize the hell awaiting you. The poses are relatively easy but holding them is hard. And you actually really start needing water, but it does not help! By the final stretches, you’re just limping along. Then the torture ends, and you lay down in a haze and total defeat.”

“More iced water?” asked Chris, walking up to the bar.

“Yes, please,” Frank and Barron both said.

They drank their water, paid the bill of fare, and left Herb’s Tavern.

“How did Brian reconcile Kriya with Bikram,” Barron asked as they walked to the back of the parking lot. “The two seem mutually exclusive. Kriya is about selflessness and Bikram was only in it for himself.”

“I don’t know, we never talked about it, but his actions, how he did things, seem to say he did. He was both a badass and one of the more sincere people I ever met. If you asked him what inspired him, he would say, ‘My guru, my wife and my children.’ If you asked him who sees the real you in this sketchy world, he’d say God.”

“It sounds to me that the way he practiced in the studio was the test of his sincerity,” said Barron. “He was melding the two, but not selling out.”

“He’s a religious guy in a secular world, a spiritual guy teaching a totally incarnate practice,” said Frank. “He was always urging us to meditate, even though we were all there for the crazy boot camp workout because all of us needed it for our own almost always physical reasons. He was hard to make out.”

“The good of the body depends on the goodness of the spirit, and the other way around,” said Barron.

They got into Frank’s Hyundai SUV and pulling up to Detroit Road, a black squirrel built like the tailback Barry Sanders, crazy quick and elusive as the all-Pro, vaulted over the brick wall surrounding the outdoor front terrace with a chuck of stale bagel in his mouth. Frank feathered the brakes, but there was no need. He wasn’t the kind of squirrel who ran in circles and got caught under tires. He dashed to the grassy hillside endzone at the back of Century Cycles and disappeared into the trees.

“Have you ever noticed squirrels never say things like, if I had my life to live over, I would do whatever?” asked Frank.

“I know what you mean,” said Barron, chewing on a fresh bagel he had squirreled away in his pocket before leaving. “They’re just rats in better clothes, but they’ve got it going, for sure. What’s more free and right in the head than a squirrel? And they’re vegans, too.”

They might get run over by us, squashed flat like pancakes by car after car, but they never fall out of trees into a world not of their making. They are second to none at planting their own trees, too. They bury their acorns, but often forget where they put them. The forgotten acorns become oak trees.

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

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.

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Ed Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio. Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction.