Revenge on Race Point – A Vera Nyberg Mystery

Vera Nyberg tugged on her floppy bonnet, scrunching it down to the tops of her ears. She had braided her hair into a high bun earlier in the day, and reaching into her back pocket found the silver-plated Alice Teapot hatpins she had brought with her, pushing them though the hat and bun.

The wind was blowing hard, gusting off the ocean, and the fine Race Point sand stung her bare calves below the black Capri’s she was wearing.

Looking ahead she broke into a trot to catch up with her friends. The bonnet stayed in place.

She had ridden her bike to the beach after finishing her late afternoon holiday class at Yoga East, past the Province Lands Visitor Center, and walked the surf to the near side of the lighthouse and Hatches Harbor. Race Point was the only beach on the east coast on which you could stand and see the sun set over the ocean in the west behind you. Twilight was close by, but dusk was still more than an hour away, more than enough time to fly kites, if she could get hers off the ground.

“I haven’t flown a kite since I was a kid,“ said Vera said as she came abreast of her friends.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” said Caleb. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Her three friends were year-round Provincetown residents who operated an inn and guesthouse on Washington Avenue between the main thoroughfare, Commercial Street, and Bradford Street. Caleb had been flying kites the past two summers on Race Point Beach.

Four kites were laying flat in the sand.

“Yours is the delta,” said Caleb, pointing to a purple, blue, and bright green kite with streamers off the back points. “The sled is mine, and the two diamonds, that’s Elliott’s, and the one with the Tasmanian Devil on it is Bruce’s.”

A Looney Tunes cartoon of the Tasmanian Devil was emblazoned on a yellow field bordered in black. The gaping mouth of the devil was red and lined with gleaming, white fangs.

Vera turned to look at her kite and asked, “How do I make it go up?”

“There’s nothing to it,” said Caleb “Delta’s are easy to launch, they fly no matter what, and almost always sit at a good steep angle. But, they’re unpredictable in gusty winds, so watch out.”

Caleb tossed a handful of sand up to see which way the wind was blowing and then turned his back to it. He held the kite in one hand and unwound several feet of string onto the sand. He gave the kite to Vera.

“Hold it over your head as high as you can with the tow line facing you,” said Caleb. “Let the kite go as soon as it fills with wind and starts to pull. Unwind the string as you go, but make sure to hold the spool and not the string itself.”

Vera released string from the spool and the kite darted higher and higher, its streamers snapping in the wind. In a few minutes all the kites were flying high and spread out above the sand dunes.

When Vera’s kite slid downwards and she struggled to turn it parallel to the wind, Caleb came close enough to her to be heard, “Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.” Vera pivoted towards the gloaming ocean and let out string, watching the wind take the kite. As she did she wondered who was flying the kite, her or the wind.

“There’s a saying that those who fly a kite live a long life,” said Elliott as they walked back to the parking lot in the falling darkness.

“Flying a kite lifts my spirits,” said Bruce.

“It’s a little bit yogic, too,” said Caleb. “As you look up following the kite near to far, your neck opens. It’s a counterbalance to looking down or at eye level all the time. You have to pay attention. It keeps you in the moment.”

“And it’s fun, like happiness on a string” said Vera.

They walked side-by-side along the surf. Gray seals played peek-a-boo just outside the line of breaking waves. Ahead of them several large gulls were dive-bombing something rolling in the surf.

“It looks like they’ve found dinner,” said Bruce.

“Herring gulls,” said Caleb.

“No, those are the black-backs,” said Elliott.

The surf was heavy and the water foaming. The gulls let the wind take them away as Vera and her friends drew nearer. They soared across the beach and hovered along the ridge of the sand dunes.

“What is that?” asked Caleb as they approached the bulk the gulls had been attacking. A gang of sanderlings skittered past them, their skinny legs a blur, racing after the receding waves.

“Oh, my God, it’s a person, a man,” exclaimed Bruce, who was in the lead, stopping short.

The others crowded around him, but then en masse ran into the crashing surf, grabbing what they could of the man, and dragged him out and onto the backwash-rippled sand. In the tumult they pulled him facedown as they had found him. Quickly rolling him over on his back they recoiled from his lacerated face, pockmarked with slashes. His scalp was mottled. The gulls had pecked his eyes out.

Time stopped for a moment and at the end of it was embossed on the memory of the four friends looking down on the man in cargo shorts, his stomach bloated by the ocean and features ravaged by the birds.

Vera looked across the expanse of Race Point to the dunes and then across the open, endless water. She thought as far as death is concerned we all live in a world without walls that are always falling down.

Caleb broke the spell by asking if anyone had brought a cell phone, but no one had. Elliott volunteered that his was in the car and sprinted to the parking lot. As he grabbed his Samsung out of the glove compartment of his Ford Fiesta the idling engine of a Cadillac Esplanade parked on the far side of the lot purred.

Vera and Bruce sat down on the sand a short distance away from the surf, waiting, while Caleb stood guard over the dead man. The black-back gulls circled overhead, angry, cawing and squealing.

In the distance Vera heard the wailing of a siren.

The Cadillac Esplanade slid out of its parking spot and skirred towards the Provincetown Municipal Airport.

A hard rain fell the next day, Tuesday, the day after Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer on Cape Cod. It turned roads into rivers and all afternoon cars on Route 6 were compelled to pull off to the side, unable to see through the watery white-out. In the middle of town at Bradford Street beneath High Point Hill Road, at the bottom of Pilgrim Monument, sewers clogged and the street flooded. A Fire Department pumper was brought in, creating wakes as it slowly plowed to the middle of the road.

A minivan stalled halfway through the deep water. The driver clambered on top and sat beneath his multi-colored umbrella, watching the volunteer firemen, their hoses snaking away to MacMillan Pier, while a highway crew worked on the snarled drains. The rain turned to drizzle, but the sky stayed dark and threatening as the storm rumbled northeast towards Maine.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, the sky a cerulean blue. Vera tidied up her room, showered, meditated on her mat for a half-hour, and then, not finding her friends anywhere, either in the guesthouse or the inn, found her way to the backyard enclosed by cypress hedges. She watched tree swallows and hermit thrushes darting in and out of the bird feeder.

Stretching her legs out, she slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops and walked up Commercial Street to the Portuguese Bakery, where she ordered eggs on a papo seco and Darjeeling to go. She walked to a bench at the far end of MacMillan Pier and ate her sandwich while looking out over the flat water. A black-and-white Provincetown squad car made its way slowly up one side of the pier, turned, and began to make its way back. As it approached her bench it stopped and a policewoman poked her head out the window.

“Hi, Vera,” said Patrol Officer Rachel Amparo, and stepped out of the car, its flashers blinking. Vera and the policewoman had become acquainted over the course of the summer at the twice-weekly primary series Ashtanga classes Vera taught and Rachel Amparo struggled at.

“Hi, Rachel, nice day,” said Vera. “Especially after that storm we had.”

“You bet. Hey, I heard you discovered the drowned man on Race Point the other day. That must have been a shock.”

“It was, but we couldn’t help him. We pulled him out of the water, but it was too late. Have you found out who it was?”

“We did. He had a record and we were able to match his prints, lucky for us, because his face was a mess.”

“He was a criminal?”

“No. In fact, he was one of the Stoddard’s, maybe you’ve heard of them, the Boston fishing and shipping people.”

Vera had never heard of the Stoddard’s, or their company, and since she was a vegetarian didn’t give fish much thought.

“Some vegetarians eat fish, you know,” Bruce had told her when she moved to Provincetown.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, wondering what he was talking about.

“Stoddard was arrested two years ago at an Earth Day demonstration on the Commons. It wasn’t much, the way I saw the report. He pushed a policeman into the Frog Pond, but they processed him, so his prints were in the FBI database.”

“What happened? How did he drown?”

“We don’t know, but there was water in his lungs, so we know that’s what happened. We don’t know how it happened. We’re thinking he fell off a boat, the way the tides work there, but no one has reported anything, and the Coast Guard hasn’t spotted anything adrift.”

The radio on the policewoman’s vest squawked and she stepped back and to the side, speaking into it.

“Vera, I’ve got to go, fender bender on the Shore Road,” said Officer Rachel Amparo, walking quickly back to her squad car. “See you in class tomorrow.”

“Bye, see you then,” said Vera, waving.

She finished her tea, tossed the sandwich wrapping and paper cup into a trash can outside a trap shed showing large-scale photographs of Cape Cod schooners, and walked to Commercial Street. But, instead of turning right, back to the guesthouse, she turned left and walked to the Provincetown Bookstore.

The bookshop was in a weathered white building with black-framed windows. A small sign beside the door said “Since 1932”. Inside, stacks of books, most of them best sellers, romances, and self-help tomes, but with an offering of poetry and mysteries, as well, overflowed thick tables and disorderly floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

On the far side of the counter was an autographed photograph of John Waters, who had worked at the bookstore before departing for Hollywood.

A trim middle-aged woman manned the small front counter. She glanced at the door with an expression of mild exasperation, pushing her reading glasses up her nose with two fingers. A just opened cardboard box of books squatted on the counter.

“Oh, Vera, I was just thinking of you,” she said, breaking into a smile.

“Hi, Hattie, something good, I hope.”

“The UPS man was only now here and gone. I think maybe that Charles Bukowski you asked for might be in this shipment.”

She pulled hardbound books out of the box one at a time, glancing at the covers. “Here we go, I was right.” She handed the book to Vera.

The cover was in black and lurid yellow. The title Women was scrawled in jittery capital letters on the black background, while in the yellow field above the title a woman in a tight dress and stiletto heels imaged from the waist down bent over to scratch one of her ankles.

“I don’t know what you see in him,” said Hattie.

“He was an alcoholic, a postal worker, and probably a misogynist, too,” she added. “That book,” she said, pointing at it with her chin, “is about every sexual penchant of every woman who ever dared to sleep with him after he got famous. Most of them were mad as hornets after the book was published.”

“Ham on Rye might be the best American novel ever written,” said Vera. “ I know he could be simplistic and disgusting, and even narcissistic, but he was honest, maybe to a fault. He was always honest.”

“Vera, he was crazy honest, or honestly crazy,” said Hattie. “He never worried about what to say or how to say it, or how it could affect others, he just said it. That can’t be right. And you call yourself a yoga teacher.”

“He makes me laugh,” said Vera, abashed, but unwilling to abandon her recent enthusiasm for the writer. “It’s the truths he tells, it’s like you’re hearing them for the first time, and they can be very funny, even when they’re serious.

“Anyway, like Bukowski said, great writers are indecent people. They live unfairly, saving the best part for paper. You should know that, being a bookseller,” added Vera, and they both laughed.

“Oh, I heard you and the boys found that man on Race Point,” said Hattie, suddenly changing the subject. “What happened? Who was it?”

“I don’t know, he drowned. That’s how we found him, drowned, rolling in the surf. He was from Boston, one of the Stoddard family, but I don’t know who they are, although I heard he was an environmental activist.”

“Aidan Stoddard? I can’t believe it. He’s been on the Outer Cape most of the summer. He was living down in Wellfleet. He was here just a few days ago. He was always buying something, especially about the oceans and climate change, that kind of thing. He was friendly with Bruce, did you know? But, how could he drown? He was a champion collegiate swimmer. I heard he was good enough to try out for the Olympics, even though he didn’t make the team.”

“Oh,” said Vera Nyberg, the hair on the back of her neck standing up.

World-class swimmers don’t sink to the bottom of the pool or wash up on Race Point in a pair of cargo shorts.

Walking back to her room, the book under her arm, Vera thought about Aidan Stoddard. How had he died? It didn’t seem to make sense.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us,” was something she remembered Charles Bukowski had written. Had Aidan Stoddard laughed at the odds, or had death been forced on him somehow? She would have to talk to Bruce.

“That couldn’t have happened,” said Bruce that night when Vera told him, the two of them sitting in the backyard.

“He could swim for miles, I mean, the man was like a seal. Really, there is no way he could drown. Once he told me that they used to practice underwater breath holding until it felt like you were drowning. He said the sensation makes you remember everything you ever knew about swimming and he knew everything about it. He was really strong and in the water he was weightless and even stronger.”

“But if he didn’t drown,” asked Vera, “and the police say he did drown, what happened?”

“What I mean is, he couldn’t have drowned unless something, or somebody, drowned him,” said Bruce. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that Tyler boyfriend of hers. I wouldn’t put it past him. He looks like he would do anything for money.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Aidan’s wife, Emily, and her boyfriend. I forget, you didn’t know him, I mean, Aidan, or any of that.”

Bruce was quiet for a moment. Vera watched the late season lightning bugs in the twilight. She thought of how when she was a girl she and her friends would catch them and holding one between their fingers pretend it was a diamond ring.

“Aidan was one of the Stoddard’s, the Boston fishing family that goes back more than one hundred and fifty years. You know how Cape Cod in the 17th century was named for the near-miraculous shoals of cod that were in the waters. Back then you could catch them as fast as you could bait and haul in line.”

A process of seagulls soared overhead toward the bay.

“A hundred years ago hooks gave way to draggers and the boats got bigger and bigger. Then the fishermen started using echo finders and satellite positioning and by the 1980s the fisheries around here collapsed. There were almost no more cod left. The government closed down 8000 square miles of ocean, but even though scallops and haddock have come back, the cod still haven’t. The Stoddard’s were one of the fleets that emptied the ocean. They were the biggest and most modern, and not only that, they were so powerful and connected they worked hand-in-glove with the New England Fishery Management Council, which meant that every decision the council made favored the fishermen, at least in the short term.”

“Didn’t the Stoddard business collapse when all the fish were gone?” asked Vera.

“No, by that time they had diversified, not just into banking and shipping, but they were still in the fish business, processing the catch of floating factory trawlers out on the Atlantic. They had finished off the fish here and were hoovering it up out of the rest of the ocean.”

“What about Aidan?”

“He was groomed to take over the family business, went to Harvard Business School, and married a Hampton’s girl, but then things started to change with him. He was taking lessons at the Boston Old Path Sangha, like me, which is where we met.”

“How was he changing?”

“We had lunch one day last year. Oh, yeah, he had become a vegetarian, like you.”

“It’s better all around, you know.”

“Right, anyway, he said civilization was a conspiracy to keep us comfortable. One natural disaster, he pointed out Hurricane Sandy, and you can see we’re at the mercy of nature, not the other way around.”

“Sometimes it’s a mistake to not be in awe,” said Vera. “Mother Nature’s teeth can be sharp.”

”When he showed up here this summer he told me his father had died and left him eight million dollars, he was divorcing his wife, and had enlisted with Greenpeace. I wasn’t surprised about his wife. Emily is a harpy. And she was having an affair behind his back, although he knew about it. What I wouldn’t be surprised about is if she had something to do with this.”

“Why?

“Because he was giving a lot of his money away to Greenpeace and to Coastal Studies here in P-town.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Vera.

“I think I’m going to talk to Ralph in the prosecutor’s office tomorrow and see what he can tell me.”

The next morning as Vera was rolling up her yoga mat in the backyard where she had been practicing Bruce barged through the gate with his car keys jangling.

“Vera, come to Sandwich with me.”

“Sure, but why?”

“They’re issuing a death certificate today,” said Bruce.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Sandwich was a one-story building with a high, sloping gray roof, gray clapboard, and a brick entrance. Parked to the side of the front door was a Cadillac Esplanade.

Inside at the front counter Emily Stoddard and Tyler Bullock were talking to a tall bulky man with thick gooish lips. As they came up to them the man handed Emily Stoddard a manila envelope, shook her hand, and turning on his heel walked away down a disappearing hallway.

When Emily Stoddard saw Bruce she scowled, but then composed her face.

“Hello, Bruce, what a surprise to see you,” she said.

Bruce looked down at the manila envelope in her hand and back at her.

Emily Stoddard smiled pleasantly.

“They’ve ruled Aidan’s passing was an accidental death and issued a death certificate,” she said. “It’s all so very sad, but now we can go on with our lives.”

She smoothed the front of her skirt, glanced at Vera, and back at Bruce.

“Goodbye,” she said.

“Wait for me in the car, I’ll just be a minute,” said Tyler Bullock.

As Emily Stoddard walked out he asked Vera, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere, riding a bicycle, maybe?”

“Maybe,” said Vera.

“Bicycles are for little girls,” he said, and followed the Medical Examiner’s steps into the building.

“What was that all about?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t know,” said Vera.

As they walked along the front of the building to their car a sharp gust of wind blew Vera’s bonnet off her head. It somersaulted along the side of the building and came to rest in the thorns of a Rugosa bush at the far rear corner. Vera jogged to the bush and disentangled it.

She could smell the spicy clove fragrance of the white flowers.

As she straightened up she saw the Medical Examiner walking to his car and Tyler Bullock standing at the rear door.

What were they doing, she wondered?

As she made to go Tyler Bullock suddenly turned in her direction and glared, surprised and suspicious.

“What do you want?” he asked, loud, coming towards her.

“Just my hat,” she said, stepping back with it in her hand. Tyler Bullock was a large man.

“Go find your bike,” he said.

In the car Bruce asked, “Did you forget your hatpins?”

“Yes, I’ll have to make sure not to do that again.”

Later, circling through the Eastham-Orleans rotary, Vera asked, ”I wonder if the folks at Coastal Studies would tell us anything about the money Aidan was giving them?”

“They might,” said Bruce

“I’ll go see them tomorrow.”

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies was on Bradford Street across from the Pilgrim Monument. As Vera came through the front door Kathy Neves da Graca, the executive assistant, turned from the filing cabinets she was stuffing with file folders toward the sudden breath of air.

“Hi, Vera, long time no see.”

“Teaching the tourists to twist and turn,” said Vera.

“Which reminds me…”

“I know, I’ll see you in October. But, that’s not why I stopped in.”

“I didn’t think so. What is it?”

“Have you heard about Aidan Stoddard?”

“Oh, my God! We couldn’t believe it. He was such a great kid.”

Kathy da Graca was in her mid-50s with two children in their mid-30s. Everyone 30-and-under was still a kid to her.

“He worked with us all summer, was a big help, and had signed on to Greenpeace. He was leaving for New Zealand next week. He was so excited. They had found a place for him on the new Rainbow Warrior. It’s such a loss.

“On top of that he was going to contribute a large amount of money to us. Now nobody knows where that stands”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”

“I don’t know much about the details. You should talk to Ran Olds. He’s our development officer. He’s out on the pier today, cleaning up our kiosk. He would know everything about it.”

As Vera walked onto MacMillan Pier Rachel Amparo waved from the front of Outermost Kites and joined her.

“You’re on foot patrol today?” asked Vera.

Rachel Amparo pointed to the Pier Parking Permit Required sign.

“The boss was cranky this morning and I rubbed him the wrong way. This is my reward,” she said.

“I’m going over to the Coastal Studies kiosk to talk to Ran Olds about Aidan Stoddard. Kathy told me he was handling the money Aidan had pledged to them. I just have a feeling there is something not right about what happened to him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was a world-class swimmer, but he drowned. How did he get out there? No boat, does that mean he paddled out on the spur of the moment wearing cargo shorts? He was leaving his wife and giving some of his inheritance to Coastal Studies and some of it to Greenpeace, but he ends up dead. What happens now? Does his wife inherit everything? There’s just something fishy about it.”

“I’ll tell you something really fishy,” said Rachel Amparo. “The Plymouth County District Attorney got a copy of the death certificate from the Medical Examiner in Sandwich this morning.”

“What’s fishy about that?” asked Vera. “Did it say someone killed him?”

“No, it basically said accident, or death by misadventure”

“What’s fishy about that?”

”The Medical Examiner’s office in this state is a mess. They’re underfunded and understaffed. I mean, that office in Sandwich, they built it in 2009, but it was unused until it opened in 2012. They couldn’t afford the staffing. They have long, long delays in producing death certificates. We’re talking a year-or-more. Homicides get missed and court cases delayed. Time is not your friend when you’re investigating a case or prosecuting it. But, here we’ve got Aidan Stoddard, it’s not exactly cut and dried, and we get a death certificate inside of a week.”

Vera thought suspicion was often recouped by finding what we suspected. She was not herself a suspicious woman. But, what had Tyler Bullock and the Medical Examiner been doing behind the building in Sandwich, she wondered again?

The door of the Coastal Studies kiosk was open. A man stepped out with a banker’s box and set it on top of two others. He was trim with thick salt and pepper hair, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

“Mr. Olds?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I’m Vera Nyberg, and this is Rachel Amparo of the police department. I wonder if we could ask you a few questions about Aidan Stoddard?”

Rachel Amparo gave Vera a sharp look. She ignored it.

“Sure, how can I help you?”

“It’s about the money he had pledged to Coastal Studies. Can you tell us how much it was going to be, and are you still getting it, now that he’s died?”

“It was a substantial amount.”

“How much?” Vera persisted.

“There’s probably no harm in telling you, now that we’re not going to be getting it.”

“No?”

“No, we got a call from Mrs. Stoddard’s lawyer yesterday afternoon that the offer was being rescinded, and a letter would follow to that effect. It was very disappointing.”

“How much are you not getting?”

“Mr. Stoddard had pledged three million to us and the same amount to Greenpeace. I doubt they will be getting theirs, either. We’ve been looking for funding to study the gray seals, but it looks like it’s going to have to wait.”

“The seals?”

“Yes, the hue and cry about culling them. Fishermen blame the seals for eating all the cod. Some call them wolves that go into the water.”

Ran Olds gave them a thin smile.

“They say they attract sharks, too. They probably do, but the cod aren’t coming back because they were overfished, not because the seals are federally protected. But, many people on the Cape believe they’re overabundant. There is even a group calling itself the Seal Abatement Coalition. Aidan didn’t agree and had earmarked some of his pledge to study the issue.”

“That’s too bad,” sad Vera.

“Yes, it’s too bad.”

In the backyard later that night Vera grilled balsamic vinaigrette tofu for herself and beef patties for Bruce’s hamburgers. As they ate she looked at Bruce’s flowerbeds. The fragrance of the asters filled her with nostalgia. Vera’s mother had vigilantly tended flowers when she was a child. Her knees had always been green at the end of the day.

After eating they lingered over bottles of Harpoon IPA.

“Did you know burning aster leaves keeps snakes away?” Vera asked Bruce.

“No,” he said. “What brought that on?”

“Tyler Bullock,” she said.

“Oh, right.”

“There’s something about the Medical Examiner that rubs me the wrong way. He was talking to Tyler Bullock behind the building before we left. It just makes me think there’s something not right about the death certificate. If only there was something we could do.”

“I could talk to Ralph tomorrow and check if his office can ask for a second opinion on the autopsy.”

“Do you think he might do that?”

Bruce took a pull on his Harpoon.

“We’re friends, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Vera slept well that night, her breath beery and her window open wide to the cool breeze off the bay. The next day she did laundry and borrowed Elliot’s Ford Fiesta to get groceries from the Stop & Shop before jumping on her bike to go teach her classes at Yoga East.

She was sitting on a bench outside the studio waiting for her early evening class to assemble when her iPhone rang.

It was Bruce.

“Vera, Ralph called down to Sandwich, but it’s not good news. Aidan’s wife had him picked up that same day and he’s already been cremated.”

“Holy moly!” Vera exclaimed.

“It’s like a dead end, water’s edge,” Bruce said.

Vera put on a brave face for her hot flow class, practicing along with the students to stay engaged, mixing in more sun salutations than she ordinarily would have.

“Great class everybody, namaste,” she said after corpse pose, the class dispersing to their cars, scooters, and bikes.

When the parking lot had emptied a Cadillac Esplanade pulled quietly up to the Garden Renovations Nursery on the far side of Yoga East. Tyler Bullock let the engine idle.

“Don’t be long,” Emily Stoddard had said when he dropped her off at Race Point Beach.

“Save some of that for me,” he said pointing to the bottle of Dom Perignon dangling from her hand.

“I’ll try, sweetheart. Just don’t be long.”

When Tyler Bullock saw Vera in his rearview mirror with her back to him locking the front door of the yoga studio he stepped out of the black SUV and briskly crossed the parking lot to the sidewalk Vera was descending to her bike.

“You’re quite the busybody,” he said as he stepped in front of her, blocking her way.

“Your name keeps coming up. I don’t like that.”

His arm shot out and his hand clamped on Vera’s throat. He squeezed when Vera tried to pull back and wagged the fingers of his free hand in her face.

“Don’t,” he said.

“I’ll tell you once and once only. Stay out of my business. Remember the champion swimmer who drowned. You don’t want to be the yoga lady who ended up twisted into a pretzel.”

He lifted her up slightly so that Vera had to stand on her tiptoes to keep breathing. He smiled at her, his teeth showing. Gasping for air, Vera suddenly remembered she was wearing her bonnet. She reached up with her right hand and in a fast underhanded swing drove an eleven-inch Alice Teapot hatpin as hard as she could into Tyler Bullock’s left thigh.

He reacted instantly, jumping back, shouting in pain, spittle spraying Vera’s face, and fell to his knees. When he looked down and saw the silver plated hatpin he grabbed and pulled it out of his leg.

“I’ll kill you,” he screamed, but when he tried to stand up he fell down.

But, it was no matter by then. Vera was at the near side of the yoga studio, on her bike, crossing Route 6 and not stopping until she swerved into the Cumberland Farms gas station on Shank Painter Road, punching 911 into her iPhone.

In the morning Rachel Amparo picked Vera up at the guesthouse.

“I could have walked,” Vera said.

“No, we’re not going to the station. Ralph said it was all right if you heard it for yourself. The fisherman is still out on the beach, although he said he would be leaving by two, three o’clock, didn’t think he wanted to do anymore casting.”

“Can we bring Bruce along? He and Aidan were friends.”

“I think so.”

A park ranger met them at the south access ramp of Race Point and they crossed onto the beach, following the vehicle tracks, surprising terns hiding in the ruts. On the backshore side of the beach were scattered a half dozen RV’s.

“They’re self-contained vehicles. We call them SCV’s,” the ranger explained. “They carry their own water and toilet holding tank. Folks camp on the off-road corridor and fish, some of them for two, three weeks. There are families that come here every summer.”

He made a line for a white RV with blue trim and a slide out awning. The tires looked almost flat. A jolly roger was flying from a plastic pole stuck in the sand. The skull on the flag sported a red bandana and black eye patch.

A stocky middle-aged man met them outside the shade of the awning in the mid-morning sunlight.

“Bob, this is Rachel Amparo, Provincetown police, and these are the interested parties, Vera and Bruce,” said the ranger.

“The wife is watching the news. Maybe we could talk down by the fire pit,” said Bob.

“You have TV out here?” asked Bruce.

“Sure, satellite,” said Bob.

The fire pit was round with a flat donut mound in the middle littered with charred firewood. Bleacher seating had been dug out of the sand in a circle around the donut.

“I was taking a walk,” said Bob once they were all seated.

“The wife was making dinner and I had an hour. She said to make myself scarce since she was making something special. I thought I’d work up an appetite.”

He grinned, but without mirth.

“I never did have that dinner.”

He got a flip-top pack of Marlboros out of his breast pocket and lit a cigarette. He threw the match on the dead fire.

“I didn’t see her at first. I was watching the seals as I walked, there were so many of them, close in to shore. You don’t see that many around here, not like down in Chatham. When I did see her I wasn’t sure of what I was seeing.”

“What was it?” asked Bruce.

“There were seven or eight seals, I think, on the beach. The lady was lying on the sand, her legs stretched out to the breakers. She had a bottle in her hand. They had her penned in. At first she wasn’t moving, none of them were. Not her or the seals. When she tried to get up is when all hell broke loose. One of them clamped his mouth on to her ankle and pulled her down. She was hitting him with her bottle, but then the others got her by both legs and started pulling her into the water.”

He took a drag on his Marlboro.

“It all happened so fast. I didn’t know they could move that fast. They use their flippers, and sort of wiggle. By the time I got close enough to maybe help her, they had her in the water and there wasn’t anything I could do.”

He stubbed his cigarette out in the sand and put the butt in his pants pocket.

“She was trying to keep her head above the water, but they had her by both legs and one of them was biting her face. She was screaming something awful and the seals were making a crazy high crying, like a dog howling. Then, just like that, it was all over, and it got real quiet. They pulled her down into the water and I didn’t see her or them again. When I looked up all the other seals who had been watching were gone, too.”

The man stood up and brushed sand off his pants.

“That’s what happened. At first I couldn’t believe it, but when I saw blood on the sand and the broken bottle I called the rangers,” he said.

Vera looked out at the horizon.

“I’ve got to go. We’re packing and leaving, going home. Oh, yeah, one other thing I forgot to tell you folks,” he said, looking at Rachel Amparo.

“There was a man who came down the beach, yelling, and lurching, like one of his legs hurt. I think he saw what happened, too. He fell down after the seals took her and started to slap the sand. He kept saying damn, damn, damn, but when I tried to get close to him he gave me an eye that made me stop. After that he got up and dragged himself back towards the parking lot. He wasn’t walking too good, but it didn’t seem like he wanted my help.”

“Thanks, Bob,” the park ranger said.

“Sure,” said Bob, nodding at the others before he turned and walked away.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said the park ranger.

At Fanizzi’s, a restaurant on the quiet side of Commercial Street, Vera, Bruce, and Rachel Amparo sat at the bar, staring through the windows that made up the back wall of the bar onto Provincetown Harbor. The policewoman worked on a plate of fish and chips, Bruce nursed a bottle of Magic Hat No. 9, and Vera played with the straw in her glass of ice water.

She wasn’t hungry or thirsty, just lonely.

The bar would begin to fill up soon, but she didn’t want to be there when it did.

“I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they’re not around,” Charles Bukowski had once said. Maybe Hattie was right about him, Vera thought. Or maybe she was all wrong.

“Are you thinking the same thing I am?” asked Bruce.

“Probably,” answered Vera.

“So, tell me.”

“The seals knew it was her.”

“That’s a relief. I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

Rachel Amparo, twisting towards them in her seat, a forkful of cod almost in her mouth, said, “That’s crazy talk. Seals are just, you know, seals.”

“Don’t let the cod hear you say that,” said Vera, and leaned sideways as Bruce spit up a noseful of beer, sputtering, and the policewoman clapped him hard on the back.

“Oh, Vera,” said Rachel Amparo, sliding a thick, clear plastic bag marked ‘Evidence’ in black capital letters across the polished bar to her.

“I found this last night. I thought you might want it back. You never know when you might need it again.”

Inside the plastic bag was an Alice Teapot hatpin.

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Ask the Yogi

I was busy on our front porch one rainy afternoon, sticking my thumb into our cat’s mouth and springing his fangs with my fingernail, something he never tires of, when my wife interrupted us.

“I’ve asked you to not do that,” she said impatiently. “You’re going to break his teeth and then we’ll have a toothless cat.”

“He likes it,” I said. “Besides, I think it strengthens his teeth.”

“Oh, never mind.” she said. “Look what came in the mail. It’s the yoga magazine and your friend Barron’s in it.”

She has called him my friend instead of our friend ever since he dug up his mother’s flower garden and replaced it with a root vegetable garden.

“Barron? What did he ever do to become newsworthy besides spend half the day on his mat exercising and meditating?”

“He hasn’t done anything, but he’s writing an advice column for them.”

I was so surprised I jumped out of my seat and the cat scattered pell-mell. I had been sending stories to the magazine for more than three years and been ignored, never even receiving a rejection letter.

“An advice column? What does Barron know about advice?”

“Honey, Barron is the kind of man who, when he asks if you want a piece of advice, it doesn’t matter what you say, because you’re going to get it anyway.”

I snatched the magazine from her hands. It was folded to the full-page column, and staring me in the face was a picture of Barron Cannon, standing on one leg in the middle of his parent’s backyard, where he lives in a yurt.

I fell back into my chair and began reading ‘Ask the Yogi’.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I enlisted in the army last month to defend our country and fight terrorists. I expected basic training to be hard, but I was ready for the challenge. Now I find out that yoga is going to be part of our fitness training. Our drill sergeant says it will keep us flexible instead of bulked up and meditation will keep us calm when things get nerve wracking. How can that be? Yoga is for chicks, isn’t it? I need to know the right way to hold my rifle, not the right way to touch my toes, and I need to shoot when I see the whites of their eyes, not get in touch with my third eye.

Signed, Dismayed in Fort Hood

Dear Dismayed:

Not to worry.

After Osama bin Laden was killed and thrown into the ocean, Gaiam Life, the leading yoga accessory manufacturer, issued a “special edition” yoga mat thanking Seal Team 6 for taking care of business. There are lots of yogis going heavy. Even the Dalai Lama says that if someone is going to shoot you, shoot back first. Many people are skeptical about the power of yoga, but not the Navy Seals. When interviewed they often mention how closely yoga training resembles their own. Some Seals have even set up fitness schools, blending yoga exercise with combat techniques. Since you’re just a grunt in boot camp, you’re not going to argue with the Seals about the power of yoga, are you, grasshopper?

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

It sounded just like Barron Cannon; in other words, snippy and deific. It didn’t sound like a mass-market magazine that knows how to trim its sails.

And, what did he mean by ‘Your Dutch Uncle’?

I had to get to the bottom of how Barron Cannon, who lives off the grid, had gotten his scribbling onto the pages of a magazine with millions of subscribers as well as more advertising pages than pages of anything else.

I couldn’t understand how anyone like him, who, if he had stooped to be on Facebook would never get a like in his life, could possibly have gotten a corporation to pay him for his opinions. To say he was not only curmudgeonly and out of the touch with the yoga generation was understating the obvious.

It had stopped raining, so I rolled up the magazine, stuck it into my back pocket, and took a walk the two-or-so miles up Riverside Drive to Barron’s yurt on the heights of Hogsback Lane overlooking the Rocky River.

Barron and I were soon sitting on the edge of his parent’s backyard, on a pair of plastic Adirondack chairs he had scavenged somewhere, while he unrolled the magazine and admired his handiwork.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I have been married for 12 years and have three children. I love yoga, but my husband has never had any interest in it, so I have always gone to the studio without him. He enjoys sleeping, eating, and watching sports on TV. In the past year I have fallen for a man with two boys who also passionately practices yoga at my studio. He is very fond of me, too. His wife is ignorant and irresponsible. I think he would be a wonderful husband and a great father for my children. Should I take the plunge, leave my husband, and start a new life?

Signed, Troubled in Minneapolis

Dear Troubled:

Have you lost your mind?

First of all, do you realize there are five children involved in your so-called yoga romance? How do you think they are going to feel when not one but two families are broken up? Second, what does yoga have to do with cheating on your husband, besides breaking most of the principles by which it is practiced? There is more to yoga than standing on your head, which you seem to be doing quite well. There is no reason to be unhappy in love, certainly, but dump the yogi lothario and try helping your husband off the La-Z-Boy. Maybe there is a reason he is such a slug. Living to eat and watching sports 24/7 is living the zombie life. Get him off his butt, on his feet, and off to the studio with you. It might be the way to bring him back to life, and your marriage, too. When you help him you help yourself, as well; it might also bring you back to your senses.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

After Barron’s long-suffering mother had brought us coffee and scones, I came right to the point.

“How on earth did your words of wisdom make it into print?” I asked, incredulous.

“A word to the wise isn’t what I’m doing, since it’s usually people on the stupid side that need me the most,” he said.

“I would have thought offering advice about the day-to-day was beneath you.”

Barron Cannon has a PhD in philosophy. He lived off the grid because no sooner had he won his diploma than he realized politics had replaced philosophy in the modern world.

“It’s not really advice,” he said. “Advice is free, but since it’s in a magazine that people have to pay for, it’s more like counseling.”

“You don’t sound like the friendliest counselor in the world,” I pointed out.

“I’m not trying to be their friend, because no friendship could stand the strain of good advice for too long,” he said.

“Which is it, council or advice?”

“It’s both,” he said. “But don’t worry, I never give them my best council, or advice, or whatever you want to call it, because they wouldn’t follow it, anyway.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

I practice at a large yoga studio and often hear our various yoga teachers say things like “Live in the now” and “It’s all good, it’s all yoga”. But, what about learning from the past and planning for the future? And, it can’t all be good, can it? Some things have to be right and wrong. Don’t they?

Signed, Baffled in Boston

Dear Baffled:

It is obvious you don’t understand yoga, which is our most beloved Eastern philosophy because it is so accepting of SUV’s and Ayn Rand. It is also obvious you have not read the Bhagavad-Gita, one of yoga’s most important guidebooks.

In the book, which is a long poem from a long time ago, a warrior named Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle, telling his chariot driver, who happens to be the god Krishna, that he doesn’t see the sense of it. He decries all the slaughter leading to nothing but disaster and ruin. Krishna has his own agenda, which is revealed later in the story, so I won’t ruin the surprise. Needless to say, he musters many top-down arguments to convince Arjuna he must go to war, among them the “be here now” argument and the “there is no evil” argument. It turns out it really is all in as Arjuna goes to war, after all.

The newest translation by Stephen Mitchell is the best and most accessible and I recommend you get and read it as soon as possible. All will be revealed.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“If you’re sensible enough to give good advice you should be sensible enough to give no advice,” I said. “ So, what is it you’re trying to accomplish?”

“I say a good scare is better than good advice, so maybe I’m trying to throw a little scare into them,” he said.

“But, it benefits me, too. Living in mom’s backyard suits me, such as it is, but I’ve been thinking of a girlfriend, which means I need some ready cash. I’m getting paid for telling people the best thing they could do when falling is not land, and that’s a gift horse I’m willing to look in the mouth.”

When I heard the words girlfriend and money come out of Barron Cannon’s mouth I almost fell out of my chair for the second time that day.

Barron had been living a no expenses life since graduation. He had sold or given away almost everything he owned he didn’t consider essential. He lived off his root vegetable plot, some fruit trees, and a solar array. He practiced yoga and meditation, read only e-books on the Lakewood Library site, and went for long hikes in the Metro Park.

“Don’t look so shocked,” he said.

“Having a girlfriend doesn’t necessarily invalidate my criticism of the capitalist mode of production. I just need a few dollars to take her out to lunch.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know, yet. She brings a group of schoolchildren to the Nature Center every Friday.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

After I moved across town and changed yoga studios I noticed that more and more of my friends from my old studio fell to the wayside. I had two long-time friends who disappeared from my radar screen completely. My question is, do I just let these good friends slip away? Or do I try to save our friendships?

Signed, Confused in San Francisco

Dear Confused:

I don’t blame you for being confused. It is one of life’s most common problems, when all of a sudden you are not so close to friends anymore. Friendships enhance the quality of our lives. What to do? Give those old friends a call. Invite them over for dinner or go out on the town. Catch up with what they have been doing. When you visit with your friends you do something good for them and yourself.

Here is what the Buddha said about friends: “He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you are down and out he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

I wish you the best of luck reconnecting with your friends. If it doesn’t work out, remember you can always make new friends at your new studio. The Buddha’s not around anymore, anyway. That’s what former friends are for in our modern age, aren’t they, fodder? It’s like seeing one of them in a crowd; you just want to look away.

I’ve heard it said, if you really want a best friend, buy a dog.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“How is your column going?” I asked. “Is it doing some good?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m dealing with people for who the worst advice you could give them is be yourself.”

He leaned back in his chair, studying the sky.

“Good advice is always going to be ignored, but I just ignore that, so it doesn’t bother me. After all, I’m getting paid so there’s no reason to not pontificate. I try to stay aloof to whether or not anyone pays any attention to it, and I don’t persist in trying to set anyone right. After all, like Sophocles said, bad advice is hateful.”

Barron could never resist being pedantic.

“What is that business of signing yourself as someone’s Dutch uncle?”

“Firm, but benevolent, my boy, firm but benevolent,” he chuckled.

On my way home I reflected on the irony of my many hours researching articles that never got accepted, while Barron Cannon, an Occupy Marxist, simply spouted off, got into print, and got paid, as well. Once at home I searched out my wife, who was doing yesterday’s dishes, and asked her how I should resolve what I saw as an unfair state of things.

“Honey, if you’re asking for my advice that means you probably already know the answer, but wish you didn’t. Why don’t you go play with the cat? I’m sure it’ll come to you,” she said.

“Just don’t do that thing to his teeth.”

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From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones

When Krishna Venkatesh, a musician who wrote the score for the yoga documentary movie ‘Enlighten Up’, suffered a serious back injury in 2008, he began a yoga practice, searching for relief. He explored Iyengar and Ashtanga practices, and eventually found the Stone Center for Yoga and Health in Teaneck, New Jersey, outside New York City. He immersed himself in the study of Stone Yoga, an adaptive, therapeutic approach accredited by the Yoga Alliance, in time resolving his back pain.

He returned to the music world, recently producing a groove re-mix chant CD with David “Durga Das” Newman, but in the meantime began teacher training at Stone Yoga. After completing his studies, the newly registered yoga teacher began working, with a focus on precise, but case-sensitive alignment.

That the eponymous Charlotte Stone of Stone Center teaches yoga, much less trains teachers, would have been difficult, if not impossible, to predict in 1973, when she began her yoga journey as a student at the University of Zurich

“I was born in Philadelphia, but my father was Swiss. We moved to Switzerland when I was ten-years-old.

“I was studying medieval literature and English, working part-time for an advertising agency, and doing competitive sports. I was stressed out. One of my friends said, ‘You’ve got to do yoga, because you’re driving all of us crazy.’ He gave me a book called ‘Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan’. After 28 days I could just about touch my knees.”

A weight lifter and swimmer, she was undeterred.

“I’ll be damned if I fail at yoga,” she recalls thinking.

Going into action was her method for dealing with failure. She found Sivananda Yoga
teachers near the university in Zurich and began attending classes.

Sivananda Yoga is a traditional system concentrating not only on exercise, but breathing, relaxation, meditation, and diet, as well. “They kept saying, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and I kept saying, when are we going to get to the good stuff, moving, sun salutations. I always skipped savasana because I thought it was a total waste of my 10 minutes.

“I didn’t understand the benefits of it. But, I stuck with it.”

Nothing takes the place of persistence. After a year she was able to touch her toes. She continued her efforts and eventually entered into an informal apprenticeship.

“They slowly but surely allowed me to ease my way into learning more.”

But, they warned her against ever teaching yoga to others.

“You must never teach yoga,” one of her teachers told her. “You are too competitive. You’re going to kill all your students. Never teach yoga, no, no, no.”

But, within a year, with their blessing, she was teaching an occasional Sunday morning class.

“I really fell in love with it,” she says.

She studied with physical therapists, medical students, and delved into Iyengar Yoga. “If I was going to tell people how to stand, how to move, I wanted to know more about physical alignment.”

After returning to the United States in 1977, enrolling at the City University of New York to pursue her master’s degree, and meeting her future husband, she taught power-style vinyasa yoga part-time at gyms.

She also taught at a small ballet school near Lincoln Center.

“The school was run by a Russian lady and one day she looked in on what the girls and I were doing. It did not go well,” Charlotte Stone remembers.

“What are you doing, teaching girls to relax? They are ballet dancers, must never relax! What is belly breathing? No belly breathing in ballet! They must suck belly in!”

“I regarded that as my exit cue,” she says.

In the next ten years she married, had two children, and worked in advertising, concentrating on focus groups, and later becoming a moderator and analyst. “We worked on issues like what shade of red should the next Maxwell House label be, which was apparently a vitally important question at the time. But, I do have to say I loved my work. I learned how to really listen and pay attention.”

She continued to regularly practice yoga, her own Ashtanga-based practice deepening, and continued to teach part-time.

Then, in the late 1980s she was involved in a serious car accident, which curtailed her professional career. “A truck and I had a close encounter on the George Washington Bridge and the truck won. “

After recovering from her immediate injuries she was in physical therapy for the next eight months. “It sidelined my ability to travel. I also developed repetitive strain syndrome in my hands from writing so much. I was only able to consult now-and-then.”

She fell back on her yoga practice, which brought out a side of healing that even her physical therapy couldn’t. She took gentle yoga classes at Kripalu. “It helped open my eyes to people like me, who had injuries.”

She began to share her newly adaptive style of yoga with others.

“I found, if I can’t write full-time, yoga is the only other thing I know how to do, so I did that. Whenever I brought it up, it always fascinated everyone. They would ask, what do you like about it, what can it do for me?

“The yoga began to take off, and I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was and get formally trained.” She enrolled with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a Vermont-based training program that combines old-school yogic wisdom with contemporary dialogue techniques with the aim of guiding practitioners to their edge of deep physical sensation, inviting insights about their lives off the mat.

“It was an eye-opener,” she says.

In 1991 she opened a small studio in Teaneck. “All my friends said they were tired of moving furniture around in our family room for classes. I thought I’m going to give it a shot.” Within five years she had trained as a Structural Yoga teacher, then as a Structural Yoga therapist, and moved the studio to larger quarters. She increasingly worked with people suffering chronic pain and illness.

“It’s based on anatomy and physiology, with a grounding in Ayurveda, and goes far beyond saying do yoga three times a week and call me in the morning,” says Charlotte Stone. “It’s being present for the person and inviting a change to occur.

“I feel what changed for me happened when I was seriously injured. I realized this body is very precious, that no breath should be taken for granted. It was a huge, huge change in my thinking about yoga.” While recovering she wondered how she would teach. Her anatomy instructor told her, “Now you’re going to become a really good teacher.”

The art of teaching is the art of awakening the mind and spirit, both student and teacher.

“I used to think yoga was a great sport. Over time I came to understand it is much more. In the Yoga Sutras it says yoga should be ‘steady and comfortable’. If you look at some of our yoga today, it doesn’t look steady, and it certainly doesn’t look comfortable. It almost makes me want to send letters of apology to my early students,” she says.

A member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Charlotte Stone blends her experience of Structural Yoga with the adaptive approach of Viniyoga, the principles of Ayurvedic balance, and the organic movements of Feldenkrais, which is a method of communicating with the unconscious through movement.

“Our motto is your yoga your way,” she said, explaining her multi-discipline approach. “It’s not about what you can’t do. It’s about what you can do. The practice needs to meet you where you are.”

Stone Yoga’s emphasis is on alleviating pain, reducing stress, and enhancing well-being at every level.

“Every day I’ve been granted after my accident, I think, there’s a reason I’m here. It began with me, peeling away all the illusions of who I was. It ended by working with others, who, like me, had to re-build themselves.”

Out of past beginnings had come a new beginning.

Postscript:

In 2014 Charlotte Stone began a new project, expanding Stone Yoga, recently voted #1 in her community for the second year in a row. “It’s exciting,” she said about adding another practice room. When asked what priorities she was assigning the new space, she replied, “The space will teach us what it’s there for.”

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Day of Reckoning (The End)

The Consequences of Yoga’s Growth in the United States

America’s greatness is premised on open competition and the profit motive, in other words, capitalism. In the past the fundamentals of capitalism were production and trade. In the modern world the keystones are CEO’s, movie stars, and sports.

Competitive sports hew to the original and still abiding spirit of capitalism, which is that everybody loves a winner.

Sports are an essential avatar of capitalism. That is why they are more popular than, say, ballet or book clubs. “Sport is a capitalist competition,” said the philosopher Ljubodrag Simonovix, a former star player for the national basketball team of Yugoslavia in the 1970s.

“It corresponds to the market economy and the absolutized principle of profit.”

But, sports matter in America not because of their impact on regional and local economies. In a society that is individualized and even to some extent atomized they generate expressions of enthusiasm and unity in their communities.

The professional sports sector represents annual revenue in the range of $50 to $80 billion in the United States, according to the International Association of Sports Economists. This is in an economy that’s almost $15 trillion in size.

“It’s a very small part of the economic output of the United States,” said Andrew Zimbalist, Professor of Economics at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. “One can easily explain the interest in having professional sports teams as primarily social and cultural in nature. People in America certainly enjoy and love sports.”

A widespread adoption of yogic principles would throw sports for a loss, since an essential component of the practice is non-competition. For example, tapas, one of the niyamas, refers to “keeping the body fit, or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show,” writes William Doran in The Eight Limbs. It doesn’t mean being fit so you can slam-dunk or stiff-arm someone in your way. Instead of grasping after Lombardi trophies and big paydays, yoga’s physicality is wedded to its philosophy, intended for the expansion of awareness and consciousness.

Hatha yoga is non-competitive. The practice is personal, played out within the individual, not played on a team on a field facing an enemy opponent. The Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem from the second century BC often cited within yoga culture, is about this cognitive orientation, and whether the struggle to make sense of the world is primarily an internal or external one.

Yoga is a collaboration of the body, mind, and spirit. Sports are a zero-sum game. There are no winners or losers in yoga. There are only winners and losers in sports. Yoga is first and foremost about a specific person pursuing the practice. Sports are always about the “other” through whom one is defined.

“The only things that matter in yoga practice are you, exactly as you are right then, yourself, your breath, your thoughts, and if you are practicing on one, your mat,” says Heidi Kristoffer of Strala Yoga in New York City. “To be sure, no one else matters.”

Sports are always about the short-term goal of winning right now. No one loves a loser. Yoga is about folding all its aspects into the broader tradition of self-inquiry.

Not only would the nationwide practice of yoga probably obviate sports, emptying our arenas and stadiums, and KOing up to $80 billion in economic impact, it would knock the legs out from an enterprise that underscores many of the premises that gird our society. Without the lure of winning and the goad of failure, sports would cease to be relevant. If sports became irrelevant in America, capitalism itself could become the next victim.

Capitalism is the great engine that drives the United States. It was in America in the latter half of the 19th century that “the tendencies of Western capitalism could find fullest and most uncontrolled expression” writes the economic historian William Parker.

Capitalism’s basic characteristics are the private ownership of the means of production, social classes organized to facilitate the accumulation of profit by private owners, and the production of commodities for sale. All capitalist economies are commercial, although not all commercial economies are capitalist.

I own, therefore I am, is the sound bite of capitalism.

The United States is a commercialized society. The creation and expansion of the modern business corporation is one of our most notable achievements. In America economic power dominates. We conceive of ourselves as producers and sellers. As such, this makes for several problems. “In a productive society the superiority of things produced is the measure of success. In a commercial society the amount of wealth accumulated by the dealer is the measure of success,” wrote the English historian and social theorist Hilaire Belloc.

Capitalism is as much, if not more, about amassing wealth as it is about serving men’s needs.

“Capitalism has turned our society into a commercial society, a society inclined to measure everything by a money standard,” writes Thomas Storck of the Center for Morality in Public Life. “Our modern world, and especially the United States, has elevated the acquisition of wealth to such a point that it tends to distort almost all social relations. Capitalism, the separation of ownership from work, of economic activity from serving man’s needs, is at the root of this.”

Capitalism’s problems are many, including that it tends to degrade the conditions of its own production, constantly seeking to increase profits. It works to expand without end in order to fulfill its reason for being, justifying all the means at its disposal to monopolize its market. Lastly, it polarizes the rich and poor, a process in the United States that has accelerated since the late 1960s. According to the Census Bureau the common index of inequality in America rose to an all-time high in 2011.

The yoga project does not reject goal-oriented activities or success, nor concern with outcomes. It does reject focusing on outcomes.

“Money cannot buy me everything, “ said Swami Tyagananda, the head of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Boston. “It can buy me ‘stuff’ but not happiness, peace of mind, or a loving relationship with my family and friends, and stress-free life. If success is measured not simply in terms of wealth, then one’s life becomes more meaningful. If my answer is only in terms of dollars, then I am in trouble.”

Commercial activities, sales goals and success, profits and wealth building are not in and of themselves anathema to yoga. Rejecting success and the fruits of success are not its mantra. However, the competitive pressure of making more and more money, always maximizing the gap between cost and price, focusing on extracted profits as a matter of life and death, which are central to capitalism, are contrary to the maxims of yoga.

“Selfishness is the root of all bondage,” wrote Swami Vivekananda.

Satya, one of the yamas, means to take from the marketplace and life only what is necessary, not exploiting others. “It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have,” writes William Doran in The Eight Limbs. Aparigraha, another one of the yamas, counsels possessing only what we have fairly earned, not hoarding our possessions, and letting go of attachment.

“If we take more, we are exploiting someone else,” writes William Doran.

Capitalism is inherently exploitive, as seen through the lens of the labor theory of value, a view supported by both classical economists like Adam Smith and radicals like Karl Marx. The practice of yoga neutralizes the desire to acquire and hoard wealth. The ultimate aim of capitalism is to make 100% profits, or, in other words, get everything in exchange for nothing. The goal of yoga practice is to get nothingness, or the here and now right now, in exchange for everything.

According to the Bhagavad Gita yoga practice is not about gaining material ease. The ultimate purpose of yoga is consciousness.

“When the consciousness moves towards an object, that is called bondage,” wrote Swami Krishnananda in The Study and Practice of Yoga. “Consciousness should rest in itself. That is called freedom.”

If yoga were to attain widespread currency in the United States capitalism would come under severe scrutiny and risk collapse as a way of life, throwing the economy completely off kilter, cutting off at its roots American exceptionalism.

The United States has survived many threats since the founding of the republic 200-some years ago, from anarchists to terrorists and civil wars to world wars. The nation has survived Prohibition, the Red Scare, and Wall Street bankers. But, if yoga were to become the law of the land the American way-of-life as we know it might be irrevocably changed. From health care to the NFL the economic, cultural, and social landscape could undergo a profound transformation.

Whether such a paradigm shift would be for good or ill is an issue open for argument. With yoga expanding at its current rate it is an argument ripe for social scientists, futurists, and policy makers. What is a moot point is that if yoga did expand from sea to shining sea, in the space of the next twenty years America might see a return to its original founding vision as an entirely new ‘City Upon a Hill’, except this time it might be the ‘Ashram on a Hill’.

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Day of Reckoning (Part 2)

The Consequences of Yoga’s Growth in the United States

The first two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga are ten fundamental precepts called the yamas and niyamas. Unlike the Ten Commandments they are more like ethical guidelines. The first of the yamas is ahimsa, or non-violence. The word literally means not to injure or show cruelty to any person or creature. Ahimsa is one of the major reasons many people who practice yoga are vegetarians, seeing it as connected to the meatless path.

“The slaughter of animals obstructs the way to heaven,” says a verse in the Dharma Sutras.

More than a third of those who practice yoga are vegetarians, according to the Yoga Site, and more than half of all yoga teachers are vegetarians, according to Ryan Nadloneks, a Prana Flow Vinyasa Yoga teacher and journalist. Approximately 5% of all Americans are vegetarians, and 2% are vegans, according to the latest Gallup Poll.

“A vegetarian diet is essential for one who wants to follow a spiritual life,” writes Stephen Sturgess in The Yoga Book.

Sharron Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti Yoga and an advocate of ethical vegetarianism, is even more outspoken. A core concept of Jivamukti, as articulated by her and co-founder David Life, is that understanding the ultimate connectedness of all creatures is the goal of yoga. Her take on eating animals is that it amounts to “enslaving, degrading, torturing, raping, and slaughtering billions of them.”

For Sharron Gannon one of the first steps in advancing enlightenment is marrying yoga and vegetarianism. “If you wish to truly step into transcendental reality and have a lighter impact on the planet, adopting a compassionate vegetarian diet is a good place to start,” she writes in Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Path to Greater Health and Happiness. “Not everyone can stand on his or her head every day, but everyone eats. You can practice compassion three times a day when you sit down to eat.”

But, practicing such compassion would devastate the meat industry, shutting down innumerable farms in top livestock and poultry slaughtering states such as Minnesota, North Carolina, and Arkansas, as well as shuttering the doors of the 6,278 federally inspected meat and poultry processing plants in the USA. Close to a half-million workers might be thrown out of work and their combined salaries of $19 billion lost. The effect would cascade to the suppliers, distributors, retailers, and ancillary industries that employ 6.2 million people with jobs that total $200 billion in wages. In addition, more than $81 billion in tax revenues would be lost to federal, state, and local governments.

The meat and poultry industry contributes a total of about $832 billion to the economy, based on a 2009 study by John Dunham and Associates, or just under 6% of GDP. Through all its various production and distribution linkages it impacts firms in all 509 sectors of the American commercial landscape.

America’s exports would be affected, too, since in 2010 almost 7 million metric tons of meat products were shipped overseas. This would throw a monkey wrench into the USA’s balance of payments, already in the negative.

But, not only would the livestock and poultry industry be severely impacted, if not completely bankrupted, the healthcare industry would also receive another shock.

Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the three leading causes of death in the USA. These diseases, as well as type 2 diabetes, have all been linked to the Western diet of processed animal-based foods. Eating red meat is associated with a significant increased risk of premature death from cancer and heart disease, according to a 26-year study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012.

”When you have these numbers in front of you, it’s pretty staggering,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Frank Hu, a professor of medicine at Harvard, referring to the strong link between red meat consumption and mortality.

The China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a 20-year study begun in 1983, one of the most comprehensive health investigations ever undertaken, concluded that these diseases, some forms of cancer among them, could almost always be prevented by eating plant-based whole foods.

If everyone in the United States practiced yoga and vegetarianism, the healthcare industry would be dealt what might be a fatal blow.

If everyone were to turn to a plant-based diet, many of the major diseases Americans suffer from would in most likelihood be stunted. Without the customers that make up the bulk of their work, doctors and healthcare workers would be forced to return to general practice, at a fraction of the income the major diseases now generate for them.

A further consequence of everyone in America practicing yoga and subscribing to ahimsa, or non-violence, would be the collapse of the firearms and ammunition industry and the Department of Defense, both bulwarks of the American economy.

American companies manufacturing firearms, ammunition, and supplies for domestic use are a significant part of the country’s economy. They provide well-paying jobs and contribute substantial amounts in taxes at state and federal levels. They employ more than 98,000 people and generate an additional 111,000 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries. These specific jobs pay an average of $46,000 in wages and benefits. In total, the firearms and ammunition industry supports more than 986,000 jobs, says the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute.

In 2012 the firearms and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $31 billion in total economic activity in the country, and paid over $2 billion in taxes including property, income, and sales-based levies, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

A major trade association for the firearms industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation represents more than 7,000 manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and organizations. They are located in Newtown, Connecticut.

Parenthetically, in December 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, a young man wielding several legally purchased high-powered weapons massacred 26 people, among them 20 children at an elementary school.

In the past two years, amid difficult economic times and high unemployment rates nationally, the firearms and ammunition industry created over 26,000 new jobs “Our industry is proud to be one of the bright spots in the economy,” noted the National Shooting Sports Foundation in its Impact Report 2012.

Hunting and target shooting activities employ more people than Chrysler, Philip Morris, UPS, and Ford, combined. The economic activity generated by the hunting and shooting industries exceed the annual sales of most “Fortune 500” companies.

The consequences of a nationwide yogic adoption of the principle of non-violence would have multiple, ripple effects.

For one thing, although here are currently more than 300 million guns currently in circulation in the USA, a widespread belief in non-violence would mean far fewer people getting shot than are currently being shot in our times. For example, in 2008 there were 39 fatalities from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, where all handguns and automatic weapons have been effectively banned. The population of the United States is approximately 6 times that of England and Wales. By comparison, in the United States there were 12,000 gun-related homicides in 2008, or 307 times as many.

Every year in the USA there are more than 100,000 deliberate or accidental gunshot injuries, and more than 30,000 gun-related deaths, every one of them treated at emergency rooms and hospitals. The costs for these shootings run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and as a line item represent a profit center for the healthcare industry. If shootings were largely eliminated from the American landscape the healthcare industry would be adversely impacted in terms of its bottom line.

Of greater import would be the jobs and industries lost. It is no exaggeration to suppose that more than $30 billion a year could and would be drained from the American economy, affecting the wallets of workers, the stock of publically traded companies, and the coffers of government, from the local to national level.

If everyone practiced yoga and the attendant yama of non-violence, the intense debates over gun-control laws, which never seem to change very much, would cease to be relevant, or irrelevant, whichever may be the case.

Another victim of a widespread adoption of non-violence would be the elephant in the room, the Department of Defense, a $900 billion business. The Defense Department is America’s largest employer with over 1.4 million active duty and 720,000 civilian personnel. More than 450,000 employees are stationed overseas in 163 countries. Nearly 3 million people receive income from the Defense Department, either as National Guard or veterans and their families. Over half of the discretionary expenditure in the American budget goes to the Defense Department.

If the Department of Defense were to lay down its sword the ranks of the unemployed would increase by more than 25% overnight, throwing the country into another instant recession, if not a depression. It is instructive that among economists the common thought is that the Great Depression was resolved not because of the New Deal, but with the advent of World War II.

It is clear that an ethos of non-violence could be a death knell for the American dream, closing innumerable factories, throwing millions of people out of work, and extracting hundreds of billions of dollars annually from the economy.

It might also shake America to its core, splitting the bedrock upon which it is built.

Next: Yoga’s Threat to the Underpinnings of the West

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Day of Reckoning (Part 1)

The Consequences of Yoga’s Growth in the United States

Before today’s groundswell of yoga there was Charles Atlas in the 1920s and Joe Wieder in the 1930s, he-men manufacturing “97-pound weaklings into men.” Jack LaLanne, the godfather of physical fitness, opened his first health studio in California. Resistance training gained ground and Nautilus was invented in the 1940s. Isometrics or “motionless exercise” was the rage in the 1950s, and Universal introduced its first multi-station weight-training machines.

Dr Kenneth Cooper’s aerobic training popularized jogging in the 1960s and in the 1970s modern health clubs began to spring up. In the 1980s Jane Fonda brought aerobics to the masses. Aerobicise, the world’s highest-grossing exercise video of all time, was produced, and the weight-loss fitness personality Richard Simmons became a household name. In the 1990s step aerobics was wildly popular, Madonna inspired women to weight train, riding a bike became spinning, and Tae Bo, or fitness kickboxing, was the hottest trend of the 1990s.

In the new century boot-camp style workouts, Latin dance, or Zumba, and Pilates were top fitness trends. But, in terms of growth, from the late 1990s through today, nothing has matched the marketplace expansion of yoga. In 2009 the National Sporting Goods Association reported that among activities in which more than 10 million people participated, yoga was the fastest growing of them all, its rise measured at a rate of 21% annually. This compared to 3% for aerobic exercise, 2% for weight lifting, and 1% for jogging.

Spending on yoga products has increased by 87% in the past 5 years, according to the Yoga Business Academy. Doctors sometimes recommend it to their patients and a few insurance companies already pay for the practice. The wellness industry is bringing it into its fold and the corporate world is busy mainstreaming it. Approximately one in sixteen Americans currently practice yoga.

“If the rate of growth continues,” said Mathew Schaser of Equity Engineering, “every American will be practicing yoga by the year 2032.”

The consequences for the American way of life would be both confounding and devastating.

Many people practice yoga on a physical level, going to yoga exercise studios or unrolling their mats at home. Yoga practice has specific health benefits, including greater range of motion, strength, muscle tone, pain prevention, and better breathing. Yoga breathing calms the central nervous system, which has both physical and mental benefits.

Scientific studies have proven that spinal flexibility and cardiovascular health markers improve with yoga exercise.

“There are all these wonderful cardio effects that come from the other end of the spectrum,” said William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga. “The relaxation of the heart, rather than the pumping-up phenomena that you get from aerobic sports.”

According to the Yoga Health Foundation the health issues yoga addresses include chronic backache, depression, diabetes, menopause, stress, asthma, obesity and heart disease, not to mention arthritis.

More than one in five Americans suffer from arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of Americans with arthritis is expected to climb to 67 million by 2030, estimates the Arthritis Foundation.

“People with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from low-impact exercises like yoga to help improve overall health and fitness without further damaging or hurting the joints,” said Dr. Cheryl Lambing, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California Los Angeles. “It may optimize both physical and mental health and play a vital role in disease management.”

Bikram Yoga benefits bad knees through poses that focus on stability and alignment, keeping the kneecap moving smoothly along its track. Iyengar Yoga provides relief from lower back problems. In a 6-month research study in 2009 at the University of West Virginia, subjects suffering from chronic back pain who engaged in Iyengar Yoga reported less ”functional disability and pain.”

For many people who practice yoga it is a game changer.

“I started yoga in 2002 and it has become a way of life for me,” said Dr. Rathore Ramkashore, a biologist and former editor of the Journal of Agricultural and Scientific Research who suffered from back problems. “It has given me physical and mental well-being.”

Given its applicability and success in dealing with many physical ailments, yoga practice poses a serious threat to the American healthcare industry.

Americans spend more than $8 thousand dollars per person, man, woman, and child, on healthcare every year. The American healthcare industry is the largest of its kind in the world. According to the World Health Organization spending in the USA on healthcare is close to 20% of GDP, the highest by far on the globe, even though American healthcare is ranked 37th in overall performance and only 72nd in overall health of its population.

American health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent in 2009. A recent report by Health Care for America Now noted that the country’s five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.

There are 784,626 healthcare companies employing almost 17 million people in the United States. According to the US Department of Labor the healthcare industry added on average 26,000 jobs to the economy every month in 2012.

The more people practice yoga the less likely they might be to need the services of the healthcare industry. That could spell trouble for an industry that employs approximately one of every eight Americans. For example, more than $86 billion dollars are spent annually in the USA treating back pain, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. If most of that money were extracted from the economy because everyone was practicing yoga and there were far fewer back problems for doctors to treat, it would result in significant downsizing and unemployment among healthcare workers.

Arthritis is one of the top 5 health problems plaguing Americans today. The total annual tab for treating arthritis exceeds $100 billion dollars annually, from prescription drugs to surgery. Everyone recommends exercise, or simply movement of any kind, from family doctors to the Arthritis Foundation. The reason is that exercise makes synovial fluid move within joints. The element that supplies nourishment and lubrication to joints is specifically this fluid. The flexibility and pivoting of joints is only possible because of it.

One positive effect of yoga practice is to get synovial fluid flowing. “One thing that yoga does for sure is move the joints into extreme but safe positions, allowing the obscure corners and crevices of each joint to be awash with lubricating, life-sustaining fluid,” write Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall in Yoga for Arthritis.

If everyone practiced yoga asanas, and if even half of them were able to stabilize or reverse their arthritis issues, the end result would be a loss in the range of $50 billion annually to the healthcare industry, forcing more contractions and subsequent lay-offs of personnel.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Approximately 600,000 people died because of it in 2011. Among those who practice yoga it has long been known to be good for the heart, in more ways than one. Now even the medical community is chiming in. “A small but promising body of research suggests that yoga’s combination of stretching, gentle activity, breathing, and mindfulness may have special benefits for people with cardiovascular disease,” writes Harvard Health Publications.

“Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” said M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. “Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits.”

Even if not a panacea, if yoga practice could make a dent in half of the heart disease in the USA, it would not only alleviate a great deal of suffering, it would significantly cut into the direct medical costs of the malady. One study estimated that over the course of a person’s lifetime, the cost of coming down with severe coronary artery disease is more than $1 million.

Even if you don’t develop heart disease, it is still costing you.

“You’re paying for cardiovascular disease whether you have it or not,” said Paul Heidereich, a cardiologist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. “You’re paying for it in your taxes and your health insurance premiums.” He estimates that the average person in the USA is paying $878 per year for the societal costs of heart disease.

The consequences for the healthcare industry of everyone in America practicing yoga become clear when focusing on lower back pain, arthritis, and heart disease. The result would be severe dislocations and unemployment, as well as the loss of significant revenue for hospitals, clinics, and doctors, not to mention support personnel and vendors.

Obesity in America would also likely be trimmed to manageable levels, or reduced to nothing, if everyone practiced yoga.

More than one-third of all Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat, or a body mass index over 30, says the Mayo Clinic. Since 1988 in the USA obesity has dramatically increased in adults at all income and education levels. Current estimates suggest that the yearly medical costs of adult obesity are between $147 billion and $210 billion. The weight loss and diet control market has been estimated to have reached $60 billion a year, led by commercial diet chains, multi-level marketing diet plans, and retail meal replacements and diet pills.

Although not primarily known as an aerobic activity, or an activity that raises ones metabolic rate, which is belied by such 90-minute practices as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, yoga has long been known to be a practice that changes people’s bodies and keeps them changed.

“Yoga practice can influence weight loss, but not in the traditional sense,” said Beth Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis. “Many yoga practices burn fewer calories than traditional exercise, but yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.”

Yoga professionals are more emphatic about yoga’s weight loss capabilities.

“Yoga facilitates weight loss in several ways and, when combined with evidence-based nutritional guidance, can be highly effective,” said Annie Kay, Lead Nutritionist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

What people who have lost weight through yoga say about it is the proof in the pudding. In 2008 Claudia Azula Altucher lost 30 pounds “and the weight never came back.”

“When it comes to losing weight I find that it does not so much matter what kind of yoga one practices, but that one does,” said the author of 21 Things to Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice. “The simple act of getting on the mat every day sends the body the message that one cares.”

Doing an about-face on obesity could cost the American economy $270 billion a year.

Although universal yoga practice would be dire for the healthcare industry, the picture for normative life in America gets worse when a light is shone on the rest of yoga, not simply on the physical exercise aspect of it. If everyone practiced all eight limbs of yoga society in America as we know it could very well be transformed, or collapse.

Next: The Repercussions of Practicing the Whole Ball of Wax

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Yogis Packing Pistols

In 1120 after the First Crusade recaptured Jerusalem for Christendom, a new monastic order was created to help and protect caravans making pilgrimage to the Holy Places. But, unlike earlier monastic orders, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar, was different.

Christian monasticism had always been a devotional practice. The basic idea of the practice, even today, is withdrawal from the world. It is similar to Pratyahara, one of the forgotten limbs of yoga. Pratyahara literally means, “gaining mastery over external influences”. It is firmly grounded in the same tradition. Christian monks lived ascetic, often cloistered lives, dedicated to worship.

The Knights Templar, however, was a military monastic order, among the most skilled fighting men of the Crusades. In 1177, at the Battle of Montgisard, 500 heavily-armored Knights Templar, backed by only a few thousand infantrymen, defeated the Muslim Sultan Saladin’s army of more than 26,000.

Although arms and monks may seem like strange bedfellows, they are not. In the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas, the influential scholastic philosopher, wrote: “A religious order can be fittingly established for the military life, for the defense of divine worship.” In the 16th century the monks of the Shaolin Temple battled Japanese pirates, who had been raiding their Chinese coastline for decades. Monks sometimes acted as shock troops during Europe’s Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Last year Buddhist monks joined the likes of Hindu nationalists, fundamentalist Christians, Muslim radicals, and ultra-Orthodox Jews in advancing their religious views at the end of a gun barrel.

Since they have all the answers, it is doubtful they have any faith, which implies there might be implacable mystery at the heart of things.

Yoga has long been perceived as being built on several core principles, among them non-violence. “The first yama – ahimsa or non-harming, which asks us to embrace non-violence at the level of speech, thought, and action – is truly the cornerstone of yoga as a way of life,” writes Rolf Gates in his book Meditation From the Mat.

Both cornerstone and culture, it is a behavior essential to the yogic lifestyle. “Practicing ahimsa is a way of cultivating an attitude of kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness in all situations,” says Heather Church, an Adjunct Teaching Professional at Ohio University, where she teaches yoga and yogic philosophy.

But, in a country that possesses 50% percent of the guns on the planet, even though it accounts for only 5% of the world’s population, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and where more than 20 million people practice yoga of some kind or other, according to Yoga Journal, it was probably inevitable that guns and yoga would one day intersect.

In the brave new world of today’s yoga some are taking a different tack at tackling the issue of violence, eschewing self-restraint. Rather than, for example, trying to live what the Buddha taught, they are taking an Old Testament approach. The Pentagon has hired ‘Yoga Defense Contractors’ to deal with changes in basic training, combat readiness, and issues such as PTSD. On personal and societal levels, others are meeting the problem head-on by arming themselves.

“I’ll be damned if some religious extremist decides in his twisted head that he thinks he’ll clean the world by popping off some godless hippies and decides to walk in and spray some bullets into my studio with my students,” Cheryl Vincent wrote in an op-ed piece for Elephant Journal. “You better believe I’ll be packing.”

When yogis pack pistols their accuracy is generally better than most, making them daunting adversaries. Writing in Women’s Self Defense Weekly, which offers advice such as “Less-Than-Lethal Defense Options” and “The Neck Grab and Throat Punch”, Laura Simonian pointed out that the best-kept secret about yoga is that “it helps your shooting.”

She added that it was “great” for mental strength, core strength, balance strength, breathing control strength, and self-discipline, all leading to an aim that is true. “I bet you didn’t know all those core conditioning boats, crows, and warriors were benefitting you in more ways than flexibility and mental well-being. Yoga can actually aid your shooting.”

Shooting guns takes focus and concentration. “Yoga’s Zen-like quality can be applied to shooting guns in a lot of ways,” says Deirdre Gailey, a yoga teacher and vegan chef in New York City. “I like to shoot guns.”

Female participation in shooting in the United States grew 46.5% between 2001 and 2010, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, leading to pink pistols and purses with holster slots. They say Samuel Colt made all men equal. Now women are catching up.

Brandon Webb, who trained Laura Simonian on bolt-action rifles, described her as a “natural born killer” and explained that he has “definitely witnessed firsthand the positive effects yoga has had on his shooting.”

Laura Simonian trained with a Glock 34 handgun, as well. Although its longer barrel results in a slightly slower draw time out of the holster, it is still used by some as a concealed weapon. No one should try messing with yoga girl Laura.

A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that protection is the top reason Americans own guns, followed by hunting, sport and target shooting, and 2nd Amendment rights. Gun owners say that having a gun makes them feel safer. The NRA argues that if more law-abiding citizens had guns everyone would be safer from gun violence.

“You see peace and tranquility in the country and I see the Blair Witch Project,” Texas novelist Ruth Pennebacker writes in “Yoga and Guns”.

“You see cows and horses and I see lethal rattlesnakes ready to strike. You see friendly, down-to-earth farmers and homespun families and I see the two murderers from In Cold Blood. A gun. Shooting lessons. Sign up now. Before it’s too late.”

But, a study in the Southern Medical Journal in 2010 found that owning a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a family member or guest than in the death of an intruder. The more guns there are the more shootings there are. That is why in countries with few guns there are few shootings.

It is the protection paradox: the risks of gun ownership often overshadow the benefits.

For many people the joy of owning guns is entwined with the joy of hunting.

“Every shotgun and rifle in my family’s gun safe is brimming with stories,” writes Babe Winkleman in The Sportsman’s Guide. “I wonder where those walnut tress grew [for my rifle stock]. Was there ever a deer shot from the very tree that grew the wood for my deer rifle?”

Although more and more people in the United States live in cities, hunting expanded 9% from 2006 through 2011.  Some tramp through fields and woods because “doing things outdoors is healthy,” says Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some hunt because it is a rite of passage, growing up in families that have always hunted, and passing their knowledge down. Writing in “Buddhists With Guns”, Justin Whitaker, a Buddhist scholar, noted he and his sister, a yoga instructor, grew up in rural Montana and were introduced to guns early in life. “I think I skipped the ‘you’ll shoot your eye out!’ bb-gun that many friends were getting and moved on to a pump-action single shot pellet-gun around the age of 8.”

Others hunt to harvest their own food. In 2011 almost 14 million Americans went hunting, shooting squirrels, pheasants, turkey, and deer, among other wildlife.  Old-school yoga eschews eating animals. Sri Pattabhi Jois, progenitor of Ashtanga Yoga, recommended not eating meat because, “It will make you stiff.”

Most people who practice yoga today eat animals, but are sometimes sensitive about the issue. “When the rare occasion does rise for me to indulge in animal food, I do so with great respect and meditation on the sacrifice of the animal,” says Jerry Anathan of Yoga East in Cape Cod.

More than 150 billion animals a year are killed for food, both in slaughterhouses and forests. That is a great deal of killing. It may be what guns are made for, but whether that much suffering aligns with yogic values is an open question.

By 2010 shooting was enjoying a renaissance in the United States: 35 million Americans were participating in formal and informal sport and target shooting, surpassing all earlier estimates of the sport. “Firearms sales are way up, so it’s really no surprise that more people are enjoying the shooting sports than ever before,” revealed Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, Connecticut.

“AR-style [semi-automatic assault-style] rifles are rugged, accurate, fun to shoot, and they’re here to stay.”

Fun on the mat and fun at the range sometimes vibrate on the same plane. “Shooting guns and taking yoga on the same day was the biggest ‘You got chocolate in my peanut butter!’ moment I’ve had so far in my life,” writes Patton Oswalt in The New York Times. “I was one with my target, and my target was bliss. Namaste. Lock and load.”

Guns are the “new yoga”, CBS News reported recently. However, instead of foam props, parts of the new yoga include high-velocity metal projectiles.

Although it is usually hard to hear over the racket of gunfire, shooting a gun can be “just like yoga – meditative,” Caitlin Talbot recounted in an article in Elephant Journal. The same skill sets often apply.

In the same way that consciously relaxing your body, focusing your thoughts and gaze, and breathing evenly are the basic tools of meditation, so are they the basic tools of shooting, too. When shooting a gun the fewer muscles in use the steadier the shooter’s position will be. Focusing on the task at hand puts the shooter in the zone, making their efforts effortless. Lastly, shooters use breathing cues, relaxing on each expired breath, as they squeeze the trigger.

It’s just like yoga, except you don’t want to be on the wrong end of a gun. It’s not like being on a yoga mat, where any end of the mat is the right end. At least, until recently, when Mattthew Remski observed in “Should Yogis Want Their Guns Back”, that his yoga mat “sometimes smells like gunpowder” and that “authentic peace seems to thrive on the juice of authentic violence”.

Many gun enthusiasts, firearms industry spokesmen, and the NRA cite the 2nd Amendment as justification for the right everyone has to keep and bear arms. Owning guns is framed as a fundamental human right, although they seemingly never defend the merits of gun ownership without referring to the amendment, as though guns in and of themselves are only signifiers, not actual things.

The hue and cry is made despite the wording of the amendment itself: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” What Thomas Jefferson seems to have meant was that the right to possess firearms exists in relation to the militia, not in relation to teenagers possessing Glock 10mm and Sig-Sauer 9mm handguns, Bushmaster semi-automatic rifles, and Izhmash 12-gauge shotguns, and then using them to shoot and kill grade school children in Newtown, Connecticut.

Until this century all federal courts, liberal and conservative alike, agreed that the 2nd Amendment does not confer gun rights on individuals. However, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in a 5 – 4 decision, re-affirming a fundamental right to bear arms. Now that many of the arguments about who can have a gun – there are no federal laws requiring licensing to own a gun – have been settled, the Supreme Court might in the next few years try resolving the question of who can or can’t apply for a marriage license.

Gun aficionados from Rush Limbaugh to Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded. “I have a love interest in every one of my films – a gun,” said the Terminator.

Guns can be testy lovers, however. “The recoil from a .357 Magnum can really do a number on your chakras,” said one of the shooting yogis in “Higher Caliber, Higher Mindedness: The Story of YoGun”, an award-winning short film from SofaCouch MovieFilms.

As yoga has matured in the United States in the new millennium, it has begun to embrace the notion of gun ownership. “Yoga is starting to become more associated with the cultural right, used to train the military and promote Ayn Rand,” writes Carol Horton, a former political science professor and certified Forrest Yoga teacher.

“Until all governments disarm, the people have a right to bear arms,” argues Avananda, a ‘philosopher yogi’ and registered Yoga Alliance teacher. The argument is the same as the photo-shopped 2nd Amendment on the front of NRA headquarters: ”The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Like the NRA, many prefer the amended version of the amendment.

Michelle Comeaux Howard, a yoga teacher and mother of two in Mission Viejo, California, has argued that only by being armed can we successfully defend ourselves from being victimized. “I believe strongly in our Second Amendment rights because there will always be crime and I want to exercise the right to protect myself and my children in the event we were to become victims of a home invasion or if someone ever attacked us in public.” She believes all “law-abiding” citizens, including her, should be allowed to legally carry a concealed weapon.

Non-violence is one of yoga’s self-restraints, but it is being pushed out the door at the same time as gun control is coming to mean being able to hit your target.

But, maybe old-school yogis have it wrong about ahimsa, and what is really old-school are yogis tot’n the monkey. They apparently believed back then you could get more with a kind thought and a gun than with just a kind thought.

“From the fifteenth century until the early decades of the nineteenth century, highly organized bands of militarized yogins controlled trade routes across Northern India,” writes Mark Singleton in Yoga Body.

Yoga exercise, or hatha yoga, was a kind of boot camp or military training, keeping them in trim for the wear and tear of guerilla warfare. As Birgette Gorm Hansen writes in “Wild Yogis”, a recent article in Rebelle Society, yoga back then “was a bad ass practice.”

After putting down the 1857 Mutiny, the British colonial government of India began to systematically disarm the sub-continent’s population, and in 1878 introduced the Indian Arms Act, forbidding almost all Indians from possessing firearms of any kind. Although not specifically targeting yogis, it effectively ended the marauding of the armed gangs, who threatened both princely states and British economic interests.

They were forced to lay down their guns and turn to yogic showmanship as a livelihood, in the meantime keeping yoga exercise alive into the 20th century, when in the 1920s and 30s Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, took up the mantle and revived the practice of hatha, crafting it to become the booming posture practice it is today.

Today, modern yoga studios preach breath and exercise to keep us fit and healthy, sprinkling in concepts like Dharana and Dhyana to keep a few of the other limbs of yoga alive. But, back in the day, yogis were keeping the peace by going heavy.

Maybe the yogis packing pistols today are just getting back to the roots of yoga.

After all, even the Dalai Lama, arguably one of the most peaceable men on the planet, when asked by a schoolchild at the Educating Heart Summit in Oregon what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun, replied:

”If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

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