Tag Archives: Ed Staskus

Lone Wolf on Hogsback

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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 on their bed with them most nights. She didn’t think of them as slaves, and she 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.

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” Vera 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 the worst, the whole lot of them,” said Barron.

“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

Leap of Faith

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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.

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

Action Pants vs. Pantywaist

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Slightly less than 20% of the folks 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 Rico.

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.

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. It is Chuck Norris vs. pantywaist yoga.

“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 alley, although he doesn’t break out into a sweat about them. “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.

Bikram Choudhury once challenged him to 90 minutes of super-hot yoga in his LA-based “torture chamber.”

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

“Nothing is impossible,” said Bikram. “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.

In 2012 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 delivered 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 never realized 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?

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 had a mind 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? 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 can take care of himself.

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

 

When Hell Freezes Over

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“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 Tucson 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 they are “The Club.” The Angels are the best known of what are known as the 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 went on were dangerous courageous literally death-defying.

Death head’s scowled from the middle of the back of the peacetime vests and jackets hung on hooks.

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 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. Mindfulnesss 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 stepped into the street.

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

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

 

Why Congress Should Outlaw Yoga in the United States

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“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, 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 as bully pulpit.

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.

Many 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 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.

Some of the laws Congress makes 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 recent 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-monger atheist mouthing Christian platitudes, although it doesn’t seem to matter to his zany supporters. They rally around the 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 had already blithely declared, “Capitalism is dead, consumerism is king.”

Even President Donald Trump, with his fast fast thumb on social media, and incredibly busy with issues such as body-shaming Senator Elizabeth Warren, trying to remember that Dayton, Ohio, is not Toledo, Ohio, 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 and Again!

“The fact that I have gone through a three-year vicious Witch Hunt, perpetrated by the Lamestream Media in Collusion with Crooked and the Democrat Party, there can be NO WAY, with the greatest Economy in U.S. history, that I can be losing to the Sleepy One.”

Make America Great Again and Again!

“My Approval Rating on Economy is at 52%, a 4 point jump. Shouldn’t this be at 100%? 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 and Again!

President Trump has embarked on one trade junket after another over the past year, 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 bedrock of nationalism and shouted his message for all to hear, both prophet and salesman.

It is nearly incredible and just about impeachable that he hasn’t focused his tweeting laser eye on yoga.

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.

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 that is the spigot, and that is the physical aspect of it, from studios to mats ‘n’ stuff to groovy outfits, and 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 rest of the 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 of the myth of 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. Its objectification only serves the merchandiser, not necessarily the consumer.

Buyer beware!

Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots, makes about $40 million a year. His football fans far and wide are who ultimately fork over the $40 million. 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 $40 million part of the practice is exercising the brain.

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

Old-school yoga is the 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 gadgets, never being satisfied. 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.”

Buying into non-consumerism is throwing the flag into the mud and trampling on it. The American government has often intervened interfered intruded into life in the USA in order to advance and preserve what it considers the aims and ambitions of its people. The country may be doing great now, the economy 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 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 a big part of yoga. They ain’t a big part of going shopping. Samtosa is defined as contentment. If that concept ever got adopted, there would be hell to pay at the shopping mall.

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.

Yoga has been integrated into the fabric of life in the USA, 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.

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 Donald 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 rephrased the phrase, saying “Build the wall” in the 20-teens. It is time he includes the practice of yoga, and its foreign influences, to the 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 Trump Wall is meant to keep bad people out of the USA. 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 USA in the 21st century.

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 in the USA. Loyalty and permanence are undermined by consumerism, but that’s the way it is.

Get to work, Congress. Do the right thing by the homeland. Yoga can go back to where it came from.

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

 

 

Monkey On My Back

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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.

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

Lord of the Fishes

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The North Rustico beach squats 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.”

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

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

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

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

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