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Hand On the Plow

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“Keep your hand on the plow, hold on, hold on.” Mahalia Jackson

Yoga is one of those things in this world that’s between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is, except that somebody is always trying to make it into something. Although it’s true God made everything out of nothing, it’s also true the Big Bang will one day become the Big Crunch, when everything will collapse into a final singularity.

There’s a lot to like about the practice. There always has been. There will probably be a lot to like about it for a long time to come. It’s a practice with a get it done now point-of-view and a going going gone view of things, too. It is practical and spiritual, hands on about what is right in front of you, and taking in everything else at the same time. It is getting physical and metaphysical, all on one plate, without blinking an eye.

There’s a boatload of tradition to it, but nobody needs to know much of it to practice it. Teachings and teachers are a big help, but past the point of breathing and meditation and concentration, and staying on the good side of the Golden Rule, it is a practice accessible to everyone because it is within everyone.

Everybody knows it’s better to be considerate rather than merciless, generous rather than greedy, rock steady rather than raging. It’s only the wise guys, our politicos machine gunners bankers power brokers movers and shakers and parade makers, who don’t have the wisdom to see past their noses.

One of the reasons they are horse tack blinkered is because their noses have grown so long they can’t see around them anymore. It ain’t the yellow brick road anymore when it leads to Orange Julius in the Oval Office.

The practice of yoga doesn’t demand you sign on the dotted line. It doesn’t squeeze you into any forgone conclusions. It doesn’t ask for your loyalty. What you get out of it is what you put into it, not the other way around. There’s no Church of Yoga or Chamber of Commerce of Yoga or Supreme Court of Yoga. It’s a way of life anyone can practice in the backyard, at work, and out in the wide blue yonder.

It is able-bodied and red-blooded. It is living and breathing with your heart in the right place. What’s not to like?

The fly in the ointment is asana practice. If the other seven limbs of the eight limbs of yoga make all the sense in the world, why does what passes as yoga on the mat pass itself off as the by the book way to work out the body in order to sustain health and fitness so that our minds spirit energies stay strong and on track?

There’s always something sketchy about orthodoxy.

When did you start needing a fitness membership at a yoga studio in order to practice yoga?  Why are there so many yoga classes at Planet Fitness Gold’s Gym Anytime Fitness? Does anybody just make it up at home anymore, or not?

Where did the idea that performing an ordained sequence of physical postures will get you closer to equilibrium come from? It’s as though your doctor wrote you a prescription for the up dog side angle touch your toes pill as a catch-all remedy for what ails you.

Why does Yoga Journal spit out articles like ’38 Health Benefits of Yoga’ month after month?

If not a cure-all, yoga is often touted as the Swiss Army knife of fitness.

The idea of today’s yoga exercise sequences seems to be that what makes “a true yogic practice unique is that its focus is on sustained feeling of freedom and wholeness,” according to Alanna Kaivalya, author of “Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition”.

In keeping with that definition, however, anybody with a million dollars in the bank is having a true blue yogic experience, because a fistful of that much money in the bank is a no-brainer for feeling free and whole, no matter how you got the greenbacks or what you plan on doing with them.

The only problem with having a million dollars is that there are always a million guys trying to take it away from you. That’s where aparigraha comes in handy. It is one of the ten yamas and niyamas, the moral and ethical guidelines of the practice. It basically translates to non-greed, non-possessiveness, and invokes the frugal gene.

Since the rich are always complaining that being rich is harder than it looks, yoga might be a big help for them.

Yoga is like old-time religion, even though it isn’t a religious practice. It’s got its hand on the gospel plow. But most of what is known as yoga today is largely about being led through a workout on a mat, with an emphasis on paying attention to your breath, and maybe a dollop of meditation to round things out. There’s no magic to it, but there is a healthy dose of hocus pocus involved.

For a long time, as yoga was booming in the modern world, the third limb of the practice was venerated for its timelessness. It was said that the postures were thousands of years old. They had been burnished honed systematized to perfection. When Mark Singleton wrote “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice” several years ago the genie was out of the bottle. It turns out almost everything being done on yoga mats had been invented in the past one hundred years-or-so.

A hundred years ago what is today taught and practiced on yoga mats far and wide was something else. It was Danish calisthenics British Army exercises YMCA strength work and Indian wrestling. It was a little bit of everything.

The “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” – written about six hundred years ago – enumerates fifteen physical postures. That’s all of them. Fifteen. The legendary text “Yoga Korunta” that Krishnamacharya and K. Pattabhi Jois based the Ashtanga Series on remains to this day legendary. In other words, undiscovered, unhistorical, and unverifiable, largely because ants supposedly ate the text. It was written on banana leaves.

Practicing the series, which is hard in the doing and fulfilling in its own way, may land you on cloud nine, but the origin of the series is pie in the sky.

One of the only yoga sutras mentioning anything about asana simply says one of the most important aspects of it is that it should entail “appropriate effort.” There isn’t anything in any traditional yogic text that says headstand or handstand or standing in tree pose for five minutes is what you need to do to get fit.

All you need to do is show some gumption.

“Yoga practice is supposed to make us structurally stable, enable us to move with grace and ease, free us from physical suffering and enable us to withstand changing circumstances,” wrote Olga Kabel in ‘Traditional Goals of Asana Practice’.

Yoga exercise is part of the package, not the whole package, as it has been misconstrued while being repackaged as a fitness regimen, another get fit commodity in the long line from barbells to jazzercise to spinning. It isn’t even clear that yoga is best for stability, best for enabling us to move with grace and ease, and best for alleviating suffering.

It is beyond doubt best for helping us adapt and deal with change, but that isn’t because of the exercise, but because of the rest of it.

“Traditionally, the practice of asana was always considered as an integral part of a holistic practice, never as an isolated fitness system,” said Gary Kraftstow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute.

When it becomes a fitness system is when it starts selling monthly memberships.

“Many gyms that offer yoga emphasize the physical exercise without teaching the essential self-awareness that differentiates yoga from any exercise,” said David Surrenda, founding dean of the Graduate School of Holistic Studies at John F. Kennedy University. “The result of an emphasis on exercise misinterprets what the real intention of yoga practice is. Yes, one can increase muscle mass and decrease waist size, but that’s not the real goal. Much of the yoga practiced today has actually become the antithesis of yoga as it is meant to be.”

Yoga might be whatever you want it to be in its post-modern guise. Whatever it was meant to be way back when is neither here or now. Maybe that’s the beauty of the practice, shape-shifting to suit our intentions. You’ve got to stay on your toes to stay in the present, be in the moment, which is an integral part of the practice.

Nevertheless, even though stretching and lunges and twists and jump backs on the mat are good for you, so are riding a bike and lifting weights. In fact, yoga doesn’t even crack Harvard Medical School’s Top 5, which are walking, swimming, strength training, Tai chi, and kegel. The best fitness exercises are still basic hip and hamstring stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and presses, and burpees.

As part of an overall fitness regimen, yoga exercise is by all accounts a Top 10. Everyone does push-ups and sit-ups on the mat without even realizing it. The burpee is a foundation of all vinyasa sequences. When it comes to flexibility, yoga is certainly Number 1 on the Hit Parade. Sometimes people say they aren’t flexible enough to do yoga, but that’s like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.

Getting all the poses on the mat right is keeping your eye on the wrong prize.

Anyone who subscribes to the eight aspects of the practice is doing yoga, but no one who just does stuff on the mat is doing yoga. They are doing something, but it’s like soda pop to a scotch straight up. They are fooling themselves when they believe the bright shining proposition that they are achieving some greater good by doing what they’re told to do on the mat. Anyone will get fit if they spend enough time at a yoga studio, but they will get fit if they spend enough time walking around in circles, too.

Yoga is about mastering the modifications of your mind, not just the modifications of your body. When exercise is the be-all and end-all, it is a good thing in and of itself, but it’s not yoga. When exercise is linked to the breath, the breath to the mind, the mind to the spirit, in a kind of virtuous circle, it’s yoga whether you’re in a studio or walking the dog in the park.

Like K. Pattabhi Jois said, “Just do.”

Hatha yoga is what leads to physical health mental clarity and a cool as a cucumber spirit. When practiced alongside the yamas amd niyamas, the ten principles of daily life, it’s the second to none way of transforming yourself from the outside in and the inside out. There’s no monkey business to it.

The fitness aspect of yoga doesn’t have to be the tried-and-true of what has come to be standardized in how-to books youtube videos and studios. It can be cobra and down dog. It can be power lifting. It can be archery. As long as your mind and spirit are one-pointed and your aim is true, whatever we do will gird us to get where we want to go.

All anyone needs to do is keep their hand on the gospel plow.

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(Black Flag) Back to the Mat

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“Anarchy is the only slight glimmer of hope.”  Mick Jagger

In the 21st century yoga has gone do-gooder. It has gone the voice on a soapbox. It has gone bully pulpit.

It has lost its mind.

After more than five millennia of minding its own business, it has lately been sticking its nose into everyone else’s business. The first of the eight limbs of yoga are about giving peace a chance, don’t steal the other guy’s stuff, truthfulness, the right use of energy, and self-reliance. There isn’t a word about consciously deliberately engaging with the wider world through good deeds.

Salvation through good works is a Judeo-Christian conceit, not a yoga concept. The Epistle of James makes plain that “faith without works is dead.” In the Jewish tradition, mitzvah means doing something kind charitable beneficial from religious duty. Even the Puritan work ethic is conceptualized as a duty that benefits both the man and his society as a whole.

In the beginning yoga was about suppressing the activities of body mind and will so that the self could realize its distinction from them and find liberation. Then it became a discipline that involved meditation, breath control, and bodily exercise postures for life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now it’s connect participate get involved.

“Yoga is something we do to connect and engage with the world,” says Kate Saal, a teacher and educator at One Flow Yoga in California.

When did that happen?

It happened when yoga sprang to life in the Land of Californiacs in the 1970s, but it happened even more in the new millennium when Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, and Suzanne Sterling dreamed up Off the Mat Into the World. It is marketed as a bridge between yoga and community action and a broader expression of service on the planet. The organization works tirelessly to “train leaders worldwide in social change.”

Although worldwide is everywhere, and everywhere is too much to handle, the activist Seane Corn believes everyone needs to start somewhere. “What are you doing for the people in your own backyard” she says, getting you started. It’s not just hashtag activism, either. She means make things actually happen in real life.

Off the Mat Into the World is Karma yoga writ large for the new world.

Karma yoga is doing your duty, whether “as a homemaker, carpenter, or garbage collector, with no thought for one’s own fame, privilege, or financial reward, but simply as a dedication to the Lord,” says Harold Coward, a scholar of bioethics and religious studies.

Karma yoga is a “disinterested action” idea found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as yoga. However, in the yoga tradition, it is derived from the Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem composed for the benefit of the warrior class back in the day. Its goal was to get the troops back on the battlefield for the next day’s carnage. The reasoning was simple cunning brazen.

“Set firmly in yourself, do your work, not attached to anything. Remain even minded in success, and in failure. Even mindedness is true yoga,” says Krishna with a straight face.

The reason we have breakfast lunch dinner is so we don’t die of true yoga. The truth often depends on a walk around the lake, or a good nap, not necessarily blood and guts, as gods and world leaders would have it. It isn’t always what’s right, either, no matter the medals on the chest of the madman at the front. The truth isn’t always the gospel truth.

Yoga used to have its hand on the gospel plow. Now it’s full speed ahead, two hands on the steering wheel. Instead of making you a better person, it’s make the world a better place. The small portrait of the guy or gal on the mat has been replaced by see the big picture.

There’s the Purple Dot Yoga Project battling domestic violence. There’s the Yoga Bridge supporting those healing from cancer. There are the Yoga Gangsters who “utilize their thoughts, words, and actions to empower humanity.” It’s a tall order, but desperate times demand desperados.

Yoga supports many causes, giving back to the community, helping those who are less fortunate, such as the St. Jude Medical Center, Advance Housing, Ronald McDonald Charities, iFred, and Prevention Works. The practice has even offered a helping hand to the Council for Prostitution Alternatives.

Searching out alternatives, however, begs the question, why is it punishable to get paid for an act that is legal if done for free?

Off the Mat Into the World has expanded yoga from transforming ourselves to transforming our neighborhoods, nation states, and the world. “Rooted in compassion and connection,” they say, “we are called to awaken to suffering and take action in response, creating a peaceful, just, and connected global community.”

Although get up stand up is yoga, getting up and standing up for a just peaceful connected global community is not yoga practice, unless you say it is and go on missions of mercy no matter what. In the past fifty years yoga has been co-opted by corporations, the military, and western culture. The latest Johnny-on-the-spot is the Good Samaritan.

What yoga has to do with the global community is moot, open to debate. What yoga has to do with a person’s essential being is an open and shut case. Yoga is more in the way of an anarchic undertaking than a recipe book of groupthink or mother knows best. It’s not a team game.

Even the Boy Scouts, paradoxically, believe the same. “Character training is to put responsibility on the individual,” said Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouts. Individuals have to make the effort to define values and principles for themselves, apart from man-made authority and teamwork.

Anarchists, like yogis, do not believe that the collective needs of the group are head and shoulders ahead of their individual interests. When you’re one of the gang, you’re in a gang. Who needs gangsters? Playing the gangster game is the same as playing the society game, just with slightly different rules.

Although anarchy has long been regarded as mayhem, nihilism, and lawlessness by the forces of law and order, it is more the case that it is a belief in the absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a societal and political ideal. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines anarchy as “an absence of law.” Even though, if there was ever an anarchist on the planet, Jesus was the one.

The brain wave of anarchy is that individuals aren’t made to widen the scope of society, but that society is made to widen the choice of individuals. Anarchism strives to dream up a society as efficient as possible, leaving it at that, so that society can provide individuals with the widest range of choices. Anarchy comes from the Greek word anarchia, meaning the absence of government. Anarchists believe they don’t need policemen to make them behave.

In other words, good people don’t need laws, while bad people don’t obey them. Spend enough time on a yoga mat by yourself and you’ll become an anarchist sooner or later. If everybody got down dog there wouldn’t be any need for laws jails judges the end of the line.

The flaw of the Good Samaritan is that they, like the state, like its agents the agencies of government, like its enforcers the forces of law and order, like its arbiters the halls of justice, believe they know what is best for you. Anarchists, on the other hand, don’t stick their noses into other people’s business. They don’t make causes out of thinking they know what is best for one and all.

“Charity begins at home and justice begins next door,” said Charles Dickens.

“God helps those who help themselves,” said the political theorist Algernon Sidney.

The same as anarchia, Sidney’s well-known phrase originated in ancient Greece, the first democracy. Athenian direct participation democracy had more in common with anarchy than any modern bourgeois democracy. It was bottom up. Today’s state is top down. Even our day-to-day sustenance is contrived as the result of trickle down. Everyone, even the rich, is trying to help you out, they proclaim. Republicans and Democrats alike fight it out for the right to say the same thing.

Fight for your right to belong to the wrong party.

Yoga practice is a party of one. On the mat doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else, not your neighbor, not the brightly colored flag you wrap yourself in, and not the world.  When Off the Mat Into the World says it is getting off the mat, they mean exactly that, however much they don’t mean it. Socially conscious causes have nothing to do with yoga, which is a living current of consciousness within the individual self.

Just like yoga isn’t exercise, touching your toes and flipping up into headstand, it isn’t something you do for others, either, jetting off to third-world countries to eradicate malaria or digging wells in sub-Saharan Africa. Yoga is who you are, or who you want to become, like the anarchist looking for freedom. It isn’t feeling good because you’ve done something, done good works, made the world a better place to live in.

It isn’t the narcissism of accomplishment. It’s about making you a better person from the inside out. It’s better to be self-made than letting somebody else cook you up.

Even though we all live out in the open, yoga is not about shifting the perspective of the world. It’s not about doing right. It’s about getting right with yourself.

It’s about focus strength stamina all together tilting windmills toward an inner shift of perspective.

It’s about standing on your own two feet.

Calling All Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They ain’t flatfoots, if they ever were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s still trying to touch his toes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety is the number one priority of all lawmen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same goes for members of the body politic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He just might know what you’re talking about.

Shouting Out Om

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Om can be whatever you want it to be, since it represents the past, present, and future. It is both a symbol and a sound. It is omega, omniscient, and omnipresent, all words that start with Om. It’s the same as omelet, all your eggs and veggies on one plate.

Nobody knows exactly how old Om is, although everyone agrees it is along in years. It’s the sound that was never new and never gets old. It is sustainable energy that thrives and survives.

It’s the sign next to the door that says “Inquire Within”.

“In the beginning was the Word.”

Except in the beginning was the vibration.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration,” said Nikola Tesla, best known for spearheading the design of today’s electrical supply systems.

String Theory, a kind of theory of everything, says matter is made of small wriggling bits of energy that look like strings. It’s the vibration of life. It’s what ties it all together.

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together,” said Max Planck, who discovered energy quanta and won the Nobel Prize for it in 1918.

We are all electromagnetic fields, our own little solar systems. Just like the Big Bang. The big paradox about the Big Bang has always been the chicken or the egg question. It’s the same with Om. Do we make vibrations when we chant, or do the vibrations of our chanting make us, or does it matter?

Someone once asked their yoga teacher how long it would take to gain enlightenment if they practiced Om faithfully.

“Ten years,” said the teacher.

“How about if I really work at it and double my efforts?”

“Twenty years.”

It might take ten minutes to chant Om 108 times. At that rate you’ve got the rest of your life. Or, at least, you’ve got right now.

Why chant Om 108 times? Because 1 represents one thing, zero represents nothing, and 8 represents infinity. It’s the whole ball of wax wrapped up in one package, bound up by a red string.

Om is like getting a big bright box with a bow on it for your birthday. You open the box and find out it is empty inside.

“Aha!” you say. “Just what I wanted.”

It’s got that old time religion, the hand on the plow. It’s got the flow, the vibe. It doesn’t even have to do anything, just be in the room. When you’re chanting there’s suddenly more air in the air, like you’re at the seashore, back before the Machine Age, back before the air got sucked out of everything.

“We know that all things in the world are electric forces at their root,” said Swami Krishnananda.  “Every object is an electromagnetic field. Om is a vibration. The whole world is made of subtle vibrations. Everything in the world is made of energy. When we chant Om we are generating energy.”

Om is energy breath life. The basic building blocks of everything are strings particles atoms molecules. Prana is life sustaining life-force lifetrons. Om gets your lifetrons moving up and down your spine. When the energy gets to the top of your head, you get perception discernment awareness.

It puts you in the groove. It’s the sound that puts you in tune with the old, but that keeps you young. It’s the virgin spring and the end of time. When you chant Om 108 times you’re on the road back to the Big Bang and looking ahead to the Big Kablooey.

The distance between the earth and the sun is about 108 times the sun’s diameter. The diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth’s diameter The distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon’s diameter.

There are no coincidences, unless you believe every single moment is a coincidence. It is no coincidence Om is the Tibetan Hum, the Muslim Amin, and the Jewish Protestant Catholic Amen. Om is the seed mantra, long before there were forks in the road.

Om is a one-syllable word made up of three syllables. It’s the three-in-one lunchbox. It’s like the Holy Trinity, except you don’t have to worship it, just do it.

A-U-M. Aweooommm.

Awe, when it vibrates in your belly. Ooo, when it vibrates in your chest. Mmm when it vibrates in your mind. Say it loud and say it proud. There’s a fourth syllable, the sound of silence at the end, but that’s just merging into nothingness. It’s the sound of the universe.

The Om frequency has been likened to the sound of the sun as recorded by NASA several years ago. It took NASA 40 days and 40 nights to do it. 432 Hz is the sound of nature, of the earth, of everything. Let the sunshine in. It’s better than being lost in the dark, lost in space.

The rhythmic pronunciation of Om slows down the nervous system and focuses the mind on one thing, slowing down, getting meditative, concentrating energy in one place. Chanting Om means being fully present. Be here now is one of the eight limbs of yoga.

Meditation is not concentration, but concentration is meditation.

Om may have only one lyric, but it’s the chart-busting song of all time, the ‘Rock of Ages’ without the blood and judgment.

“If you give it good concentration, good energy, good heart and good performance, the song will play you,” said the Band’s Levon Helm.

Om gets best when the sound goes down, from out loud to an undertone to stillness to the void, as silent as a sunbeam.

You are what you think. That is the basic principle of existentialism. When you chant Om you find out who you are. Om is home sweet home. It’s getting back to where you came from. It’s the sign in the front yard that says you’re on the right track.

“If you lived here you’d be Om now.”

Backbend Bombshell

Kim Jong-un

Breaking with rigid societal control, secretive totalitarianism, and his own familial tradition, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has proclaimed his nation will cease to be a Stalinist throwback and alternately intends to adopt yoga as its ruling ideology.

“We will no longer be a Cold War relic,” he asserted while making his stunning announcement.

When asked if the unprecedented changeover would be immediate or phased in over time, he proclaimed August 15th, Liberation Day, as the day yoga would officially become the new law of the land.

Liberation Day commemorates the independence of the Korean Peninsula after the defeat of the Japanese by the Allies during World War Two. It is the only official holiday celebrated in both South and North Korea.

Several immediate changes were made public.

“We are dissolving the Worker’s Party of Korea, demobilizing 90% of the Korean People’s Army, and abandoning all atomic bomb and guided missile development,” said Kim Jong-un in his role as Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Under the decades-long Songun – “military first” – policy of the country there are almost 6 million paramilitary personnel on duty, nearly 25% of North Korea’s population. The regimen emphasizes the military over all other aspects of state and society. Decommissioning 90% of the military and reservists will return more than 5 million men and women to civilian life.

Junta power was quickly brought to an end. The arrest and detention of numerous vice-marshals, generals, and flag officers of the ground forces, navy, air force and rocket services was reported concomitant to Kim Jong–un’s statement.

A North Korean spokesman said the Supreme Leader would brook no dissent regarding his revolutionary about-face.

“A revolutionary party is, in its essence, the party of its leader that carries out his ideology and cause, and the main thing in its building is to ensure the unitary character and inheritance of his ideology and leadership,” said Kim Jong-un, asserting his authority.

Radio and television sets, pre-tuned to government stations that until the announcement delivered a steady stream of propaganda, began broadcasting yoga philosophy lectures and youtube videos of the practice.

When asked about his prospects of success in transforming North Korea from an armed military camp to a nationwide yoga studio, Kim Jong-un replied, “It is a proud tradition and fighting trait of out people to rise up like mountains and go through fire and water to unfailingly carry through the party’s orders and instruction.”

Stepping away from the podium, he deftly demonstrated Mountain Pose.

World leaders were flummoxed.

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who has been quoted as saying North Korea needed to “change paths” and put the interests of its people first, was speechless, deferring comment.

“We will continue to work closely with the international community to ensure that pressure on North Korea continues and sanctions are strictly enforced until Kim Jong-un matches his words with concrete actions,” said an official spokesman for Mrs. May.

“Kim Jong-un is shrewd and mature,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He has stated his strategic task. He has outplayed his rivals. I think he has obviously won this round.”

President Putin recently admitted he admires those who achieve results in yoga. “Even though I prefer to look at yoga from the outside, I very much envy those who achieve some tangible results. This just shows the character of the people who achieve such results in this activity. Sometimes you look and just cannot believe your eyes.”

“Fake news, fake news,” said Donald Trump, who was recently derided as a “mentally deranged dotard” by Kim Jong-un.

John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, who has described the North Korean state as a “hellish nightmare,” reserved response, saying the matter required further analysis.

“We all agree on one goal, a denuclearized North Korea,” said Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, applauding the implications of the announcement.

The hermit kingdom’s nuclear saber-rattling had been on the rise since its young leader came to power in 2011. During the Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry said, “What Kim-Jong-un has been choosing to do is provocative, it is dangerous, reckless, and the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Since then North Korea has conducted at least three successful nuclear tests and developed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland.

In late 2017 President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it refused to abandon its nuclear ambitions and “totally destroy” it if pushed to the brink.

Kim Jong-un’s unexpected pivot away from launching pad politics and nuclear blackmail has made the extreme scenario of atomic retaliation moot. ”There can be neither today without yesterday nor tomorrow without today,” he said.

“It is our party’s unshakeable stand to prevent a new war from breaking out on the Korean peninsula and accelerate economic construction in a peaceful environment, thus resolving at an early date the problems related with the people’s livelihood.”

“I’ll believe the Little Rocket Man when I see it,” tweeted President Trump.

“The North Korean leader was ‘very aware’ of his image and reacted to comments made about him in a ‘relaxed manner’ by joking about himself from time to time,” according to Reuters, the international news service.

Ironically, as the United States has demanded nuclear disarmament from North Korea, it has overhauled its existing arsenal and spent billions of dollars expanding the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. On the same day the White House announced Donald Trump was on again for the on-again off-again meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, the Pentagon revealed plans to both revitalize America’s weapons and create a next generation of them.

According to a report released In February the Pentagon highlighted North Korea’s “illicitly producing nuclear warheads” as grounds for the advanced undertakings at both Savannah River and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

In “The Yogi and the Commissar” – a collection of essays by Arthur Koestler published the same year that the only atomic bombs ever deployed as weapons of mass destruction were detonated – the commissar is the man who wants to change society by any means necessary, while the yogi is the man who wants to change the individual through an emphasis on yoga.

The 34-year-old Supreme Leader with the Fred Flintstone haircut appears to have shed his commissar cloak and donned basketball shorts and a muscle tee. Dennis Rodman, who has made multiple visits to North Korea, advised the country’s commander-in-chief on proper attire for the yoga mat.

“For some reason, he trusts me,” the former NBA star and flamboyant cross-dresser said, sporting a white PotCoin shirt with images of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the front.

“My job is to be a human being, to try and connect us with him.”

He was unable, however, to explain the elusive leader’s taking up yoga and declaring it the national belief and value. “What makes him tick? He’s always smiling, man, with his people, his sister, his brother. Just like regular people. Maybe that’s it.”

When asked what led to the unexpected change of heart, Kim Jong-un said, ”The year 2016 was a year of revolutionary event, a year of great change, worthy of note in the history of our party and country.”

In the latter half of 2016 the Obama administration sanctioned Kim Jong-un and ten other regime officials for human rights abuses. Before year’s end South Korea announced it had elite troops on standby to assassinate the North Korean despot if the need arose.

It seems unlikely, however, that threats were the impetus for change. “I will surely and definitely tame the Trump with fire,” declared Kim Jong-un after the American election season. Nevertheless, since then he has unexpectedly met with President Xi Jinping of China, who is his closest ally, visited South Korea, the only member of North Korea’s ruling dynasty to do so since the Korean War, and parlayed with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“Our cause is just, and the might of Korea that is united with truth is infinite,” he said.

A State Department spokesman, requesting anonymity, speculated the North Korean leader had taken up yoga as a solution for his health problems.

Four years ago the North Korean leader disappeared from sight for several months with what was described as “an uncomfortable physical condition.” At various times he has been reported to be suffering from gout, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Last year his weight appeared to balloon to almost 300 pounds. While visiting a cosmetics factory he had to be helped off his feet and onto a folding chair, his face bathed in sweat.

“Kim’s health is something out own intel community is trying to gain every possible insight on,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.

Regardless, no matter still fluffy and pudgy-cheeked, he has this year, by all accounts, looked slimmer and more active and cheerful.

There are many physical benefits to the practice of yoga, from muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, to cardiovascular effects, to weight loss. “Researchers have found that people who practice yoga have lower body mass indexes compared to those who do not practice yoga,” according to the Harvard Medical School.

Yoga develops awareness, including mindful eating, which may have helped Kim Jong-un develop a more self-assured relationship with food and eating, according to several experts. However, whether he achieves a svelte yoga body in the next few years is both an open question and beside the point.

Whether or not he moves beyond the mat is what matters.

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, “said Aadil Palkhivala. “It is about the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed. It is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been. It cares about the person you are becoming.”

Very few, if any, dictators have ever practiced yoga in its long history. The practice is antithetical to tyranny, or buffoonery.

In our own time the glamorous daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator has posted pictures of herself on a yoga mat. A broadcast on Radio Free Europe pointed out her “skimpy workout clothes and the prurient nature of some of the yoga poses overstepped the boundaries of propriety.”

The children of the powerful usually believe they know everything.

Kim Jong-un making the eight limbs of yoga government policy in North Korea is anybody’s guess.  “Suddenly, the whole country is engulfed with happiness and the people endlessly inspired,” the Supreme Leader said. Observers have been hard-pressed to believe the newfound true believer yogi will be able to execute his ambitions, given the unwonted transformation.

“Kim can presume a benevolent dictatorship provided he is the dictator, and he is the ultimate dictator,” said a White House senior advisor. “However, his coterie, his family, the military, and the senior members of the government, all have to benefit, otherwise he risks being overthrown.”

Just slightly more than a year removed from the Oval Office, Barack Obama pointed out the difficulty of making wholesale changes.

“Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said. “Some people may feel like a we need a 50 degree turn. They say, if I turn 50 degrees, the whole ship turns. But, you can’t turn 50 degrees.”

Nevertheless, even though Kim Jong-un has proposed turning his ship of state 180 degrees, there is a chance he can make it happen.

“There is a tremendous sense of optimism by the leadership and by the people I met with and hopes that they will be turning a new chapter in history, a new page,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. He visited North Korea the first week of May. He said he saw “a genuine desire to be more open.”

Former First Lady Michele Obama introduced yoga to the White House. In 2009 it became part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. The Obama’s were the only presidential couple to have ever practiced yoga.

Kim Jong-un may have laid an egg with his proclamation.

On the other hand, when it comes to yoga, as K. Pattabhi Jois once said when asked what it was all about, “Just do.”

Stressed Out Zeroed In

Stresed Out

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

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

Even event coordinators get into the act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga teachers do it all the time.

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

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

Take a breath.

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

Take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marching Orders

Marching Orders

Ask any army navy marine air force officer recruiter what is important about basic training and he will tell you it prepares recruits for all the aspects of martial service, physical, mental, and emotional. Most far-reaching, however, is it forces individuals to put personal freedom aside and act as a group.

Ask any corporate recruiter what they look for in new hires and they will tell you the ability to make decisions and solve problems. Nevertheless, the skill they most look for is the ability to work effectively in a group.

Ask any yoga teacher whether it’s better to practice alone or in a studio setting and most of them will say yoga is an individual practice. It isn’t groupthink. “Do what serves you” is often said and heard. Think for yourself.

Singing from the same sheet of music doesn’t necessarily serve you.

But, they will point out, there are many valuable lessons to be learned exercising in a studio beyond just discovering the nuts and bolts of the practice, such as gaining insights and corrections from experts, sharing energy and purpose, raising consciousness, taking you out of your comfort zone when practicing mat to mat with different kinds of folks, and breathing in union with like-minded people in a dedicated space.

It unifies everyone in the studio in the team spirit of yoga. You can still be yourself, no matter the size of the flock, or so the thinking goes. Singing from the same sheet of music can make great choral societies.

Practicing solo at home, of course, has its go-to reasons, as well.

“If you are self-conscious around other people, being in the safety of your own home can be comforting,” explains Mia Togo, a Yoga Works certified teacher and Life Coach.

However, going at it at home brings with it inevitable distractions, your family, your friends, your pets, your smart phone, and your own physical needs, like hunger, the bathroom, and hitting the sack. On the other hand, you don’t have to wear hundreds of dollars of fashionable apparel to earn your wings.

A t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants usually get it done.

When did Lululemon’s Reveal Tight Precision Pants become the first serious step in suiting up for a studio yoga class? Do the Reveal Pants have something to do with revealing the inner self? Whatever happened to the fun of wearing sweatpants?

Although it’s true they’re old-fashioned and nobody looks good in them, it’s equally true they are made for one reason, which is exercise, and they fulfill their reason for being without breaking a sweat or blabbing on and on about airflow and wicking.

The famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld looks down his nose on them, saying, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Nevertheless, they trap heat close to your body and help warm your muscles up quickly. You sweat more, you burn more calories, and you get a great workout.

After all, that’s what most commercial yoga is all about.

When did yoga become a studio practice? The easy answer is when it became a $16 billion dollar business in the United States and a $30 billion dollar-plus business worldwide. The real answer is it happened when it became a multi-billion dollar business everywhere.

When it comes to dollars and cents, even meditation and mindfulness are raking it in, more than a billion a year in the last calendar year in the United States. Group meditation classes, oxymoronic as that may be, have sprung up nationwide, costing real money for going inward. The “Muse” headband, if you want to know exactly what’s going on in the back of your mind, measures brain activity during meditation for only $299.95.

It doesn’t take any brains to know that is $299.95 too much.

Just like it doesn’t take any brains to tease out what the wizard behind the curtain is up to.

There is great pleasure to be found in yoga classes. That’s why millions of consumers go to them. That’s why many of them go to classes twice a week-or-more. That’s why they are willing to pay $12.00 to $16.00 a class. In some cosmopolitan areas it is almost double that. The wizardry of yoga studios is the awareness of the effect unrolling a yoga mat has on most patrons.

Just about everybody feels better walking out than walking in to a yoga class. It’s not because they’re happy it’s over. It’s because their muscles have been lengthened and strengthened and because they’ve spent an hour breathing calmly evenly steadily. The flow of prana, or life force, has been unlocked balanced juiced by the practice

GABA is a neurotransmitter. Low levels of it are associated with anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain. Higher levels are associated with the opposite. One way to replicate the activity of GABA is to drink beer wine cocktails. Alcohol binds to some GABA receptors in the brain.

Another way is go to yoga class.

According to the Boston University Medical School, people who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of GABA. In addition they have lower levels of cortisol, which is associated with a higher propensity towards depression. More GABA and less cortisol let the sun shine through. Who wouldn’t rather be on the Virgin Islands than, say, Moscow at night in january?

In any case, a sunny disposition always trumps a cloudy day.

Loosening and lubricating joints muscles myofascial tissue and the mind all feel good. Rubbing the Aladdin’s lamp of endorphins, releasing the genie, leads to feelings of euphoria, appetite modulation, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain and stress.

That’s why 91% of regular yoga practitioners are satisfied with their yoga studio, among other reasons. That’s why yoga is addictive.

That’s the great pleasure to be found in yoga classes. The top two reasons people do yoga is its impact on health and stress. That’s what is behind what yoga studios market, often without actually marketing it. That’s why there are almost 14 million yoga practitioners over the age of 50 in the United States. Many older adults have three-or-more chronic health conditions. As we age, not only does existence become more painful, we become more sensitive to pain, as well.

Who isn’t up for an elixir?

It’s more than a tonic for what ails you. If the key aspects of life are physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional, then yoga is the three-point shot goal kick touchdown pass all rolled up into a home run.

“Yoga, with its philosophical roots, flowing movements, student community, and capacity to aid in regulation of our thoughts and feelings, hits all of these elements to provide an overall sense of well-being,” explains Sarah Sung in ‘What Makes Yoga Feel So Good’.

Yoga is about getting you feeling good in your own skin. Why don’t more people, after they’ve mastered the basics of the practice, down dog their skins at home? Why march through rain snow sleet to the studio when you can throw on your sweatpants and roll out your mat in the rec room? Why run with the pack?

Even though 65% of yoga practitioners say they have practiced at home at least once, fewer than one out of four yoga practitioners in the United States have practiced yoga on their own in the past 12 months.

Yoga teachers stress it is important to be attentive to every individual in class so every individual can get the most out of their practice. That is easier said than done when there are a dozen-or-two people in class, much less fifty or a hundred. The larger the class the more cookie cutter it necessarily becomes.

Yoga studios advertise trust as an essential of their business. That’s the problem. Studios are businesses. Mutual trust devoid of mutual interest is sentimental nonsense. When yoga becomes a mutual transaction, it becomes a problem.

Just like guppies and yuppies, we are admittedly herd animals. When you’re in a herd you base your decisions on the actions of others. If you’re a guppy or a yuppie, that strategy works just fine. If you’re trying to walk the eight-limb path, that strategy is self-defeating.

Even though everyone in a herd is a self-serving individual, crowds are the phenomenon of people all acting in the same way at the same time. In a yoga class, the teacher on the platform is the opinion leader influencing persuading leveraging. If you’re good at headstand, that’s good for you. If you’re not, make sure you let your neighbor know.

Herd behavior is all about being harnessed.

Who wants to be harnessed?

The key to creating lasting change is to do things on your own. Developing a personal yoga practice is part of that package. Doing what everybody else is doing in yoga class week month year after year, which doesn’t take too much willpower to do since it’s follow the leader, makes you just like everybody else. When you’re a member of the team, you rely on the team. That’s why it’s a trope that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’.

Self-practice, which takes no small measure of self-discipline, makes you into you.

“I think self-discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets,” points out the cognitive psychologist Daniel Goldstein.

If yoga is a personal journey, as is touted far and wide, no one can truly be oneself in a flow yoga class. It is impossible to be yourself in the middle of a herd. It’s like sporting events, religious gatherings, and riots. Everyone goes with the flow. Getting down with the group mind is antithetical to standing up for oneself.

The private self in the public world is always at risk of being subsumed by the mass of marching orders of congregation corporation government.

Standing up for oneself is not up to a public vote. What you make of your yoga practice doesn’t have anything to do with studio classes or influencers. It’s OK to listen to others. It’s not OK to become a follower. It’s not a team game. It’s an individual game.

The biggest mistake anyone can make is to believe somebody else is pivotal central crucial to one’s development. The best thing anyone can do is own their own practice. Watch the parking meters. It isn’t about what you ought to be. It’s about what you can be.

Can you get the same results doing yoga at home as you can get at a studio class?

You’ll never know until you try it. Making oneself specific original and a conscious human being means marching the other way, away from the marching orders from on high, whether it’s parents teachers leaders ringleaders or bosses.

Shepherds are for flocks of sheep.

Bust out the gray loose-fitting sweatpants. Just don’t look in the mirror. You might not like what you see. Are they chill? Yes. Are they all the rage? No. At least, all alone on your mat, there won’t be anyone around to judge you.