Duck Soup

By Ed Staskus

   When I was taking yoga classes at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio I learned a lot about the practice, from the thinking side of it to the action side of it. It learned it wasn’t any one thing but several things mixing it up in the melting pot. The core of it was simple enough, but the branches bore investigation, from headstand to meditation, no matter how exasperating they might be.

    I wasn’t able to do headstand except against a wall for a long time until one day I was doing it, no problem. After that I popped up wrong side up at home, too. When a guy toppled out of the pose and crashed into me in class, I thought, man, what an amateur. I changed my tune when I almost killed myself trying to get a grip on handstand.

   I never did get the hang of it.

   The teachers were all different, all sincere, all good. They demonstrated the nuts and bolts of poses. The explained the idea behind them. They helped with adjustments.

   They encouraged us, which was a good thing, if encouragement was what you needed. Encouragement and hope are two of the best things you can give another person. For my part, lack of encouragement has never been a deterrent. I am irascible enough to not be put down, even if I have to bide my time.

   One element of studio classes always bothered me, however, which was the catch phrases the teachers used. Not all of them, of course. Lingo like drishti, bandhi, and chaturanga were helpful to know. Everything seemed to revolve around tadasana and down dog, making it essential to jump to attention when hearing those words. Lift your leg, open your chest, and bring your feet together were sensible and understandable. Some of them, though, got under my skin.

   “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

   For one thing, breathing is breathing. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a fact of life. Breathing consciously or unconsciously, awake or asleep, running a 10K or doing Chair Yoga, is staying alive. Not breathing for a couple of minutes is losing your good luck charm at the crossroads.

   For another thing, exhaling the past would mean puffing away everything you have learned and know. The past informs the present. It’s all gone, sure, but it isn’t going anywhere. As for inhaling the future, who can wait that long? When I was on the mat scuffling to keep up, I had to gulp air right now.

   Besides, teachers were always saying, “Be in the present.” Today was tomorrow yesterday. Every pose was right now.

   “Letting go is the hardest asana.”

   Nobody who has ever taken an Ashtanga Yoga or Bikram Yoga class can possibly believe this. Bikram classes are a torture chamber and Ashtanga classes are simply torture. After finishing a pose, letting go isn’t hard. It is the easiest most wonderful thing in the world. I have seen folks letting go at Bikram Yoga studios and never coming back.

   What is so hard about kicking back on the sofa?

   “Release the toxins.”

   Hearing it always reminded me of “Release the hounds.” What if I released my toxins and they started attacking others in class, for God’s sake? The teachers never explained the mechanics of it, except for saying nonsense like it came out in perspiration. There is no such thing as toxins that come out in sweat. Anyway, if I knew how to release them, assuming I was keeping toxins prisoner in my body, I would do so without anybody having to cajole me. Who needs toxins messing around their internal organs and circulatory system?

   The phrase that dazzled and perplexed the most was “It’s all yoga.” It was like saying “It is what it is.” When I asked what it meant all I got was mush that implied yoga was woven into the fabric of life.

   The life of the Mafia and Taliban? The life of Nazis and Commies? The zany cesspool of the NRA and the Grand Old Party? There are many monsters running loose and yoga is not in their DNA. The nut cases who shoot up schools and shopping centers don’t have a drop of blood of yoga in them. They could use it but eschew it for the darkness.

   Even yoga isn’t all yoga. Much of it in the New World is a hodgepodge of calisthenics, jazzercize, and core work. Many don’t even bother paying lip service to the ethical and spiritual side of it anymore. The Old World is catching on to the economic repercussions and following suit.

   There are practices Like Beer Yoga and We’re Stoned Yoga that have as much to do with yoga as the Three Stooges had to do with Schrodinger’s cat. Now you see it and now you don’t. Better to sleep it off than try to figure it out.

   Some big-time teachers oozing sincerity have been the most insincere yogis ever, opting out for sex and greenbacks and adulation. They are always banging on Heaven’s door with news of the next Ponzi scheme. It was all a scam until the breadcrumbs led back to what they were really all about.

   Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.

   When I looked around Rocky River it was the haves who were enjoying “It’s all yoga” the most. They had the time and energy levels. Next door in Lakewood folks enjoyed some of “It’s all yoga.” The problem is their income levels don’t match up, so they don’t have the same time or energy. The west side of Cleveland, where yoga isn’t a virtue except for the scattered islands of the gentry, it wasn’t all yoga, at all. The streets are meaner there and there isn’t the time or money to make classes essential, or even possible.

   I don’t take classes anymore, saving myself several thousands of dollars a year. I practice at home almost every day. There’s nothing complicated about yoga once a few basics have been mastered. It’s easier than grafting plants or installing a garbage disposal. It has lots of benefits to it, like staying in shape and finding some peace of mind. When I get on the mat at home, I get to be me, not what somebody else is telling me I should be, using buzz words that conflate fantasy with reality.

   That’s the best thing about the practice, the freedom of it.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Breathless (Brew Crew)

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By Ed Staskus

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.

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

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

 

 

 

Swimming in the Safe Room

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By Ed Staskus

   Mike Butler was catching some zzz’s beneath a clear night sky and three-quarter moon. When he woke up, he woke up quickly. The car came to a stop below him, the engine went dead, and a car door opened. It closed quietly, a trunk opened, and closed quietly.  He peeked down through the slats of the second story deck. The trunk wasn’t a trunk. It was a hatch. The car wasn’t a car. It was a black Lexus SUV.

   A man carrying a rolled-up bundle, like a carpet, wrapped in plastic, over his shoulder, went into the house through the side door. He beeped his way in with his set of keys. Mike rolled quietly off his folding chair. He stood to the side of the sliding glass door. No lights had come on and he couldn’t hear the man in the house. Was he coming upstairs or staying downstairs?

   Should he go or should he stay? He knew he could ignore the stairs, swing over the railing, and drop soundlessly down on the sand at the back of the house. He didn’t know where the windows there were, not exactly, even though he had helped cater some parties in the house last year. He decided to stay.

   He didn’t have to wait long. When the man came out of the house he walked to the front of the Lexus, leaned back on it, facing the dark ocean, and lit a cigar. In the flare of the lighter his lips were pinkish, like pink goo. The ash from the cigar flaked off and floated like charred mercury onto his safari jacket.

   Mike stayed in the shadow of the eaves where he could see the man but the man couldn’t see him. He could hear Cape Cod Bay at high tide on the other side of the beach. The man with the cigar in his mouth got into the SUV and drove away.

   Mike went the way he had come, walking up Chequessett Neck Road to Great Island where he had parked. At home he rolled a smoke. He had been surprised as anyone would be surprised by anybody showing up at a seasonal mansion in early May, in the middle of the night, even though the weather was unusually fine.

   Vera Nyberg was and wasn’t in a hurry. If she left in the next five minutes she might be on time for work. If she took Archie for a walk she would be late for sure. Halfway into spring, halfway to summer, her job wasn’t so much work as it was holding down the fort. It’s never too late to go and get that fresh air feeling, she thought, thinking about going for a walk.  

   Besides, unless it was summer, when everyone on the Outer Cape worked like dogs, she tried as much as possible to get to the office late and make up for it by leaving early. If she left early today she could make the five o’clock Strong Flow class at Quiet Mind in Wellfleet.

   “Come on Archie,” she clapped, reaching for the Airedale’s leash. They left the house on Washington Avenue and walked up Commercial Street. When they got to Lopes Square they turned down MacMillan Pier to the end where the ferry came and went to Plymouth. 

   Archie was her constant companion, her watchdog, and one of her best friends. He liked running full speed ahead into streams ponds ocean. In the 1920s President Warren Harding had an Airedale. His name was Laddie Boy. President Harding always included the dog in his cabinet meetings at the White House. Laddie Boy had his own special hand-carved chair.

   They’re all mongrels now, Vera thought

   “Come on, boy, let’s go home,” she said.

   Archie liked Vera more than anyone. He felt like there were three faithful friends in this life, ready money, a good dog like himself, and a good master like Vera. He liked everything about her. She enjoyed reading books at night. He curled up at her feet, keeping her feet warm and his belly warm, too. “Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend,” said Groucho Marx. “Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

   Archie didn’t take it the wrong way. Besides, he didn’t know how to read. He wasn’t planning on learning, either, although Vera sometimes read stories out loud to him. Learning to read was the first step on the path to a career. He was not a working dog.

   Dick Armstrong was a well-built man with thick lips and a crooked smile. At least Vera Nyberg thought so. She smiled back at him as he sat down carelessly. He wore a cotton safari jacket and aviator sunglasses. He had scrupulously white teeth, but she didn’t like the way he smiled, or the way he sat down. His face was scabrous and she found herself looking away, only glancing at him.

   Vera shot an eye at his driver’s license. He did and didn’t look like himself, two-faced.  She thought she might not like him. What if she had planted a bomb in the seat cushion by mistake?

   “What can I help you with, Mr. Armstrong?” she asked.

   “You work for me,” he said. “You watch our house.”

   Vera smiled politely and imagined a small bomb in the seat cushion, again.

   Vera Nyberg was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher, but yoga didn’t pay the bills in the off-season, or the on-season, either. She worked part-time for Focus Home Security, in Orleans, in a small office condo off Cove Road behind the Orleans Post Office. The office was on the first floor and faced south, lit by bright natural light on sunny days and gray natural light on cloudy days.

   The drive was more than forty minutes from her rented room in Provincetown, but since she worked part-time, and since it was an off-season job most of the time, it wasn’t too long or too much. Route 6 was never overburdened in the off-season. Besides, most of her work was on-the-road work like property checks home watch resetting smart home features in Wellfleet, Truro, and P-Town itself, all of which were closer than the office.

   She baby sat summer vacation mansions and held the hands of absentee landlords. Vandalism, storm damage, and frozen pipes were usually as nerve wracking as it got. Property surveillance was Focus Security’s bread and butter.

   “I pay for your key-holding service, and since I was passing through, I want to stop at our house and walk through it, look everything over, before we come up next month,” said Dick Armstrong.

   Who passes through the back end of a peninsula? Vera asked herself.

   “Of course, we can arrange that,” she said. “When would you like to inspect the house?”

   “Now.”  

   Twenty minutes later they got off Route 6 and drove through Wellfleet to the bay side of the town. The Lexus blotted out the sun as Vera followed behind Dick Armstrong down the curvy Chequessett Neck Road. Archie lolled in the back seat of Vera’s Honda CRV.  

   She had never been inside the Armstrong house, but had seen it often enough. She took Archie for walks on the long beach past what was called The Gut. After parking at Great Island, unless she cut through the woods and took a track on a backside dune, she walked past the house at the end of the road. She had even parked in their driveway several times, when she knew the house wasn’t occupied, when she was short on time for a quick short hike. 

   The Focus Security magnetic vehicle sign came in handy then.

    The house was on the edge of the Cape Cod National Seashore and stuck out like a sore thumb. She knew it had a reputation. Eight years ago, when it was being built, it was sometimes called Horrible House. 

   An older, smaller house had been bought and torn down and the Armstrong’s had somehow convinced the town’s building inspector to give them a permit to build a house three times the size. It dominated the view across the Herring River. Wellfleet’s homeowner’s association and the National Park Service appealed the permit, but the house got built, anyway.

   “Kill the Rich!” had been spray-painted below the garage door windows before the house was even finished. Focus Security parked a man in the driveway until the commotion died down. Since then, the Armstrong’s spent three or four or five middle-of-the-summer weeks on the Outer Cape. Sometimes their children, extended family, and friends took the house over for a weekend. After Labor Day it was shut up for the winter.

   Everything about the house was Cape Cod-like, from the cedar shingle siding to the paired windows on both sides of the central front door to the fishy weathervane. Everything was right about it, perched on the sea, except for the King Kongness of it.

   They parked in the driveway. Vera looked up at the second story deck. She liked the deck, round high facing the ocean.

   “Unlock this door,” said Dick Armstrong, pointing to the side door. “I don’t want that in the house,” he said, pointing to Archie in the back seat.

   Archie didn’t like the way the man said it, but he didn’t bark about it.

   As soon as they were inside the house, he jumped out of the car window Vera had left open for him. He barked at the Lexus. He sniffed at one of the rear tires, lifted his hind leg, and peed on it. Archie could hear and smell the ocean. In a minute he saw it and in the next minute he was at the shore, in the water.

   Inside the house Vera sat at the kitchen table while Dick Armstrong strode through the rooms, strode upstairs, and strode back into the kitchen.

   “Everything looks good,” he said. “Come down to the panic room. I want to check the alarm system and security cameras.”

   “I thought they were called safe rooms.”

   He gave her a sharp look. “Panic room.”

   The basement floor was a mirror-like epoxy painted slab. There were a pool table, a billiards table, a snooker table, and a bar with eight or nine stools. The safe room was a concrete square in the corner. The door was a steel door. The hinges and strike plate were reinforced. A table with four chairs was to the right of the door. An open bathroom with a first aid kit on the wall was behind the table. On the left a two-door cabinet held dry goods, bottled water, and gas masks. In the left corner were an office chair and table, an iMac, shortwave radio, and closed-circuit monitors.

   A woman was splayed on the floor, dress disordered eyes closed face blank, dark red blood drying in her blonde hair.

   Vera looked up as Dick Armstrong took a step at her and grabbed her by the throat. His face looked like murder. She slashed at his mouth. His lips came off in her hand. He hit her with a short hard right to the temple and her legs went wobbly. She leaned into him. A black inky film filled her eyes. She lost consciousness as he let her go to the ground.

   Archie was almost dry by the time he ran back to the car. He had a hard dense wiry coat. Thick heavyset dark clouds were rolling in across the bay. When Dick Armstrong came through the side door Archie wondered, where’s Vera? The side door slammed, and the man strode towards his car.

   Archie didn’t like the smell of it. The man had a sour smell. He wanted to ask him where Vera was, but the man, opening his car door, kicked at him. Archie was an Oorang Airedale. His great-great-great-great grandfather had been a fierce competitor in water-rat matches. He jabbed headfirst at the man’s leg, slashing through the pant fabric, and biting into warm flesh. He could taste blood in his mouth.

   It tasted good.

   Dick Armstrong yawped and flung himself into the Lexus, lurching and grabbing at the door. Backing out of the driveway he swerved at the Airedale, but Archie was graceful fast lissome, and it was child’s play jumping to the side.

   The better I get to know people, thought Archie. He wasn’t trying to be narrow-minded, but what he liked about people most of the time was their dogs. Dogs never bite me, only people. He jumped into the CRV. The rain fell like dread.

   Vera Nyberg blinked her eyes open. She was lying prone on a medical exam table. The ceiling was white. She took ten twenty then a hundred slow steady breaths staring into the white. When she was done, she tried to prop herself up on her elbows. She slowly deliberately wary lay back down on her back. Her head hurt like somebody had hit it with a hammer. Hedging her bets, she closed her eyes and fell back into the inky blackness. 

   Officer Matheus Ribeiro was stocky and had short stocky black hair. Besides routine patrol work, he was the medical supply officer and detainee monitor. He sat across from Vera in an interview room in the Wellfleet Police Department checking and double-checking a sheaf of papers on a clipboard. Vera knew him, not so much as a policeman, but more as a friend of Rachel Amparo, her friend on the Provincetown Police Department.

   He was from Brazil, Porto Velho, one of the state capitals in the upper Amazon River basin. He was a graduate of the Plymouth Police Academy and had been on the Wellfleet force for six years. He spoke Portuguese, Rachel spoke Portuguese, he was a great cook, and Rachel loved great food.

   One night, over plates of bacalhau, Vera asked him what he liked about being a policeman.

   “I get to drive as fast as I want,” he said.

   Rachel, whose duties routinely involved foot patrols, scowled.

   “What the hell, Vera,” he said. “What happened?”

   “Where’s Archie?” she asked.

   “He was asleep in the back of your car. We called Bruce. He and a friend of his picked Archie up and your car and took them home. Now tell me what happened.”

   When she was done, she laced her fingers, reached up and behind the chair, and stretched. Officer Ribeiro leaned back in his chair, tipping on the back legs. He straightened up.

   “Mr. Armstrong was who called us about you,” he said.

   “What?”

   “He called the department and said he was worried, said he had called from Boston and asked that somebody from Focus walk through his house, that he was coming up for the weekend, since the weather was so good. He said you volunteered and would call him back within the hour. When you didn’t call by the end of the day he called your office, no answer, and then called us.”

   The policeman drank from a bottle of Poland Spring.

   “He asked us to drive by, see if everything was OK. When we pulled up your car and Mrs. Armstrong’s car were in the driveway.”

   “Mrs. Armstrong? There was no Mrs. Armstrong, only him, by himself. And the woman.”

   “The woman was Mrs. Armstrong. She was in the safe room in the basement, with you, except she was dead.”

   “That was the first and only time I ever saw her.”

   “I was going to ask you about that. We’ve told Mr. Armstrong about her death, and he’ll be here today.”

   “If that’s him in the picture you showed me, that’s not exactly him. That’s not the man who slugged me.”

   “There’s something at odds here.”

   “What time is it?”

   “Nine, nine in the morning.”

   “When did Mrs. Armstrong die?”

   “The medical examiner so far is saying ten, eleven o’clock, the same time you were there.”

   “How did she die?”

   “The same as you, blunt force, but you didn’t die.”

   “Am I a suspect?”

   “Yes and no.”

   “I like the no part better. Can I go have breakfast?”

   “How’s your head?”

   “It could be better.”

   “There’s no substitute for a hard head. Where are you going?”

   “The Lighthouse, then home, I’ve got to shower, and change. I’ll be back.”

   “How are you going to do that?”

   “I was hoping you could drive me to the Lighthouse. I’ll call Sandra on the way. She can take me home. Archie and I will be back by five.”

   “This isn’t exactly how murder investigations are supposed to go.”

   “You’re right about that, about this being murder. He was the man who slugged me, with his wrong face or no wrong face. I think it’s all just sand in our faces, just some sleight of hand.”

   “We’ve confirmed him to be in Boston with a friend yesterday.”

   “What kind of a friend?”

   The policeman hesitated. “A close friend.”

   “It has to be something about the house, something personal. Why not solve your problem in Boston, or get someone else to solve your problem, make it disappear? I’ve got a friend, one of Sandra’s catering guys, who was once a jailhouse lawyer, before he went more-or-less straight. He’s an IT jack-of-all-trades, good at following the money. He’ll know how to find out.”

   “I know Mike Butler, so let’s drop that within earshot of me,” said Officer Ribeiro.

   “Man, that’s crazy, I was there the night before last, hanging out on that second story deck of theirs,” said Mike Butler.

   Vera, Sandra, and Mike were having a late breakfast at the Lighthouse. They sat at the bar. Sandra lived in Eastham but worked part-time at Herridge Books in Wellfleet. It was a small bookstore with no magazines and no café, just books. There were books in stacks on chairs tables and the floor. It smelled like a bookstore even with the windows open.

   Sandra catered private parties on the side. Mike was one of the local men who worked with her. In the off-season, in the late afternoon or evening, he often roosted on decks and porches of unoccupied seasonal houses on seaside lots. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” he said. He never brought his iPhone. He never parked in the driveways. He always brought his own Eddie Bauer folding chair.

   “Yeah, there was a guy, some kind of black car, a big one, like a Caddy, or a Lexus, maybe” he said. “He carried something into the house, didn’t stay long. As soon as he was gone, I made myself gone, too.”

   “Can you find out about that house, about them, who held the purse strings, and who was on the outs with who?”

   “Sure, after breakfast, give me a few hours. Call me if I don’t call you. I might be taking a nap.”

   Men are most sincere when they’re in love, when they’ve been empowered, and when they’re committing murder. Dick Armstrong must have fallen out of love with his wife, thought Vera. Murder wasn’t the next step, but it might be if his love had turned to hate. Murders are always a problem when they’re spur of the moment crimes, when they’re mistakes. But Dick Armstrong had gotten too clever for his own good trying to send a message to the graveyard. When someone has thought and thought about something it isn’t hard working backwards and reading their thoughts.

   Vera showered, fed Archie, and meditated for an hour. Most days she meditated for half an hour, except when she was busy. Then she meditated longer. She had been busy the past day-and-a half. Breathing exercises and meditation were about everything and nothing at the same time. They were acts of slowing down, getting centered, and finding some understanding and compassion for the living and the dead.

   “It’s his money, real estate money, plenty of it and plenty of it shady, but all the personal property was in her name,” said Mike Butler as they sped down Route 6 to Wellfleet.” She was after a divorce, she’s saying abuse, but she wanted more than alimony, she wanted the summer house.”

   “The horrible house,” said Vera.

   “It’s not so horrible, kind of big, but a great view of the bay.”

   “Why did she want the house?”

   “She wanted it because he wanted it. He planned the house just the way he wanted it, he bought off everybody and his brother, he went to court, fought off the do-gooders, the Feds, got it built even though they made him jump through hoops, got it done. Hell, he probably loved that house a lot more than he loved her. She probably knew that, too.”

   Mike Butler had grown up in old Provincetown before it became new Provincetown, when property was cheap and rents low and gays and hippies were starting to show up. He didn’t downpress anyone one way or the other. His father had fished for cod on his own boat out of Provincetown Harbor. Mike still called Commercial Street Front Street and Bradford Street Back Street.

   He didn’t care about bankers and stockbrokers buying up land, either. He had his family’s old small house in Provincetown. The front door still faced the ocean, unlike most of the town’s waterfront houses, which had been turned round so the front doors faced the street. He kept to himself, except when he was working, or watching a BoSox game at the Lighthouse, a Pabst Blue Ribbon at hand.

   Mike lived with a box turtle he’d had since he was a kid. Inscribed on the underside of the shell of the turtle were the initials M. B. and the year 1979, where he had carved them with a pocketknife on his 18th birthday, six years after his father gave him the baby turtle for his birthday.

   Archie liked riding in the CRV with the windows open, just in case anything came up that he needed to bark at. But he had a bad habit of barking at anything that moved, a crossing guard, a passing bicyclist, a rafter of wild turkeys on the side of the road. Sometimes Vera told him to “Shut the hell up.” He didn’t know exactly what hell was, but he knew exactly what she meant when she said it. She wasn’t shy or dry nor someone who beat the sense out of words.

   When they pulled into the Wellfleet Police Department parking lot and Archie barked at Dick Armstrong getting out of his white Lincoln Navigator, Vera said, “Good dog.” Two men in suits went into the station with him. “At least one of them is a lawyer,” said Mike. He rubbed the top of Archie’s head.

   The police station was on Gross Hill Road off Route 6, tucked beneath Oakdale Cemetery where Cemetery Road began and ended. “I’ll stay here, maybe go for a walk in the graveyard,” said Mike. Vera and Archie went into the station. Vera sat on a plastic chair in the lobby and Archie flopped down on the floor. She had gotten a good look at Dick Armstrong and couldn’t swear he was Dick Armstrong.

   A half-hour later, when Officer Matheus Ribeiro came out to the lobby and asked her if she could identify Dick Armstrong as the man who had attacked her in the safe room, she said, “No.”

   “Too bad,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to charge him with anything.”

   Ten minutes later Dick Armstrong and the two men accompanying him pushed into the lobby on their way out of the police station. One of the men gave her a look-see. Dick Armstrong stopped and eyeballed Archie.  

   Archie jumped up and started barking his head off. It was the sour-smelling man he had bitten outside the big house. He barked and barked but could tell no one was making heads or tails of what he was trying to say. “Keep that damned dog away from me,” shouted Dick Armstrong.

   Archie lunged at him, got his teeth into the right pants leg, and tugging violently tore the fabric off the leg at the knee. One of the men started to beat Archie with his briefcase. The police dispatcher, another policeman, and finally Officer Ribiero burst into the lobby, manhandling Dick Armstrong away from Archie, pulling Archie away from him, and pushing the lawyer with the angry briefcase away from the fracas.

   “Look what that goddamned dog did to my pants,” yelled Dick Armstrong.

   Everyone looked

   “Look at his leg,” said Vera. “Look at the bite mark on his shin.”

    Everyone looked.

   The bite mark was black and blue in an ugly ring where the skin had been broken. Five inflamed red marks defined where canine teeth had drawn blood. Some kind of antiseptic cream was smeared over the wound. Two of the red marks were back-to- back.

   “That’s Archie’s bite,” said Vera. 

   “What?” asked Officer Ribiero.

   “One of his baby canines got retained, and since it wasn’t bothering him when his permanent teeth came in, I just let it go. He’s got two canine teeth on that one side, which is why his bite mark is the way it is. I’d know it anywhere, because that Dick Armstrong isn’t the first Dick Armstrong he’s bitten. If this man was in Boston yesterday, how did he get bitten by my dog on the same day?”

   “Get the Medical Examiner on the phone,” Officer Ribiero said to the police dispatcher. “In the meantime, I think it’s best if we all go back inside and go over this from the beginning. And you,” he said, pointing to Vera, “bring that dog with you.”

   Only the lawyer with the out of gas briefcase objected.

   “They took photos, took some measurements, and took some samples from Archie and Armstrong,” said Vera.

   Rachel Amparo and Vera were at Terra Luna in North Truro.  They sat at the bar and shared plates of artichoke heart pate and grilled sardines. Rachel sipped on a Flower Power cocktail while Vera pulled from a bottle of Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.

   “If the DNA matches it’ll throw a new light on everything,” said Rachel. “That’s when the trouble will start. One lie will lead to another until it’s all a house of cards.”

   “I’m always telling Archie he’s not allowed to bite people,” said Vera, crunching on a sardine. “He agrees, I think, but he seems to think it’s OK to bite anyone who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.”

   “He’s a good dog,” said Rachel.

   Archie was on his stomach lounging in the orangey sunset at the back of the small restaurant. Tony was working in the kitchen. He could see him through the screen door. Archie’s chin was flat on the warm grass, back legs tucked up under him. His front legs were extended before him. He could clearly smell pork chops being grilled.

   Maybe Tony will bring me something to eat soon.

   He was glad he had been able to help by biting the sour-smelling man. He didn’t often bite people. He preferred to bump them when he had to.

   One night Vera had read a story to him called The Dog Who Bit People, about Muggs, an Airedale like him, but unlike him a dog who bit everyone in sight, although he didn’t bite his family as often as he bit strangers. “When he starts for them, they scream and that excites him,” explained the mother of the house. The city police wanted him tied up, but he wouldn’t eat when he was tied up.

   Archie thought Muggs lacked good sense.

   When the screen door swung open Archie jumped up. Tony was bringing out a bowl of water and a plate of pieces of pork chop and the raw meat bone.

   “The bone is for after your meal,” said Tony.

   Later, chewing on the bone, he thought the sour-smelling man may have had the wrong mug shot, but he knew in his bones he had bitten the right leg on the right man at the right time.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Breathless (Wonder Wheel)

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By Ed Staskus

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.

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Shock and Awe

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By Ed Staskus

“You’re early,” said Barron Cannon.

“I know, but I wanted to come in before class and ask if you would help me navigate my new electric pants,” said Zadie Wisniewski.

She was wearing cherry pop yoga pants.

“I don’t think you need any help from me,” said Barron. “Your pants look electric enough.”

“What do you mean?”

“The color, you can’t beat that red.”

“Oh, right, they are bright. They’re a special pair. They’re usually black.  No, what I mean is, they’re actually electric.”

Barron Cannon owned operated taught at a yoga studio called Quiet Mind at the crossroads of Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. Zadie was there for his Wednesday early evening Hot Yoga class.

She was wearing sparkling new Nadi X yoga pants. The X pants are high-tech high-performance yoga wear, trumping Perfect Moment, Runderwear, and Lululemon. They are like wearing a self-driving car.

There was a battery attached to a port on the pants. Wires were woven into the fabric. Sensors sewn throughout the pants were synced to an app that collected data as the wearer practiced yoga. If a pose was off wrong lopsided, the app would make that part of you that was getting it wrong vibrate, a low-voltage electrical charge. When you made an adjustment, the app piped up with praise. If you kept getting it wrong, the app would keep buzzing you and say, “Please try again.”

“Are you pulling my leg?” Barron asked.

“No, of course not,” said Zadie. “These pants cost me two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“They’re cool,” said Folasade Adeoso, an influencer with 86,000 followers, the day she first pulled the pants on and went at it.

“That’s an arm and a leg,” Barron said about the bleeding-edge hot pants designed to make you bleed money.

“So, I wonder if I can roll my mat out right in front of you, and if you would handle my phone, keep it next to you?”

“Sure,” said Barron. “I’ll do my best.”

“Great!”

“You said navigate. What does that mean?”

“The app is supposed to do it all on its own, but I would feel better if you kept your eye on it.” She handed Barron her iPhone.

“It would be super if you would put it on your mat where both of us can see it.”

“All right,” he said. “But I’ll be damned if I like this. You’re the one who should be paying attention to what you’re doing, not relying on an app. And besides, when you come to the studio, that’s my responsibilty.”

“I know,” said Zadie, “but this will be for at home, when I do yoga in my spare room.”

Nadi X yoga pants are the brainchild of Billie Whitehouse, a fashion and tech designer. Seven years ago, she developed vibrating underwear that buzzed for its own reasons. A few years ago, she developed a driving jacket that vibrated right side left side to alert you to turn right or left. The next thing she and her team thought up were vibrating yoga pants.

“The vibrations on the body cue you where to focus and the app lets you know how you went at the end of each pose. Get the smartest yoga experience!” is how the experience is described.

Nadi X guides your yoga practice through the latest state-of-the-art technology based on your body’s alignment. Listen to the audio instructor on your phone and feel the guidance on your skin.”

“The vibrations will guide your focus,” says Billie Whitehouse.

It is totally woke to go modern, take sense and mind out of the equation and go straight to machine learning, go straight to the Big Brother of asana practice, the brother who certainly has your best interests in mind and won’t mine any of the data it collects about your body.

“Wearable X is the future of wellness that brings together design and technology to create a better quality of life through experience and fashion,” says Wearable X, the Australian cyber company behind the yoga pants device.

“Putting electronics into garments is still so new and so difficult,” says Ben Moir, co-founder with Whitehouse and chief technology officer. “Yoga pants get stretched, get sweated in. The sensors had to be invisible, and the pants had to not be a tech-looking product. That’s kind of an engineer’s nightmare.”

“We’re very proud that it is at its peak.” says Billie Whitehouse about their new clip-on cow nose ring attire device, proudly pointing the way to the unforeseeable future.

“I gotta bounce on that,” thought Barron. “I smell a rat.”

“They make my butt look good,” said Isabelle Chaput, half of a French performance-art duo, a few months earlier during a demonstration of the pants in New York City

The high-waisted four-way stretch level one compression pants aren’t just for gals, either.

“These leggings are extremely well made. The high waisted band is flattering, and these are honestly my go-to leggings for everyday wear,” said Justin Gong, reviewing the pants on Amazon. “Whether it’s a full 40-minute flow or a 5-minute session, my Nadi X allows me to flow whenever I want.”

It’s great to get what you want, whenever you want it, whether you’re a gal or a guy, or whoever whatever.

They were named Nadi X for a reason.

“In Sanskrit, the nadi are the highways of communication that exist around the body when all your chakras are aligned,” Billie Whitehouse spelled out, updating the past, eliding then and now.

“As You Think You Vibrate” is one of the company’s mantras.

Over the next twenty minutes the Hot Yoga class at Quiet Mind filled up, a quiet buzz and energy filling up the room until there were thirty-some mats lined up in a loose order alongside and behind Zadie. Barron taught a one-hour basic flow class in a room heated to basically the low 90s. His method was to start slow, pick up the pace, end slow, and encourage a five-minute corpse pose at the end.

He didn’t like it when folks rolled their mats up after the last pose and bolted the room.

“Hold your horses!”

The Nadi X pants are manufactured in Sri Lanka, an island country off the southern coast of India. The nation is prosperous economically, has a strong military, and is the third most religious country in the world, with 99% of all Sri Lankans saying religion is an important part of their daily life.

They are by all accounts proud to produce the vibrating pants for the spiritual practice of yoga.

Wearable X has even designed several yoga sequences for travelers, making the pants and the app work with phones on airplane mode, assuming the flight attendants don’t mind a downward dog in the middle of an aisle at 38,000 feet.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” said Billie Whitehouse. “This is a genuine epidemic. It’s not just because we’re at desks all day but because we’re constantly on airplanes.”

Baron Cannon had never been on a big plane, only a seaplane that flew 30-minute tours over Long Lake in the Adirondacks. He had been on it several times, whenever he went north to the High Peaks for a week of hiking, always flown by the same pilot, a short gruffly pleasant man by the name of Bob, who if you saw him in the street you might mistake for a bum. He flew his battered Cessna with one hand, pointing out landmarks. Sometimes he flew the little plane with no hands, talking with both hands. He always landed it, fair or foul weather, like the lake was a baby’s bottom.

Nadi X is the godsend for all the yogis who burn up the carbon, flying here there and everywhere, globe-trotting for profit and diversion.

The pants are machine washable and powered by a rechargeable battery that lasts up to an hour-and-a half, which is as long as most yoga classes ever are. The battery connects by Bluetooth to a smartphone, letting one and all choose the level of effort they’re going to be putting into the practice.

It is a 370 mAh battery. “Once you have set your vibration strength, you can place the phone next to your yoga mat during your session. Your pulse is monogamist to your phone. You can have different Nadi X pants, but your phone will always want to connect to your pulse.”

Everyone knows that their smartphone never screws up and is always up to snuff. Silicon Valley would have a heart attack if it was otherwise. That would be the day a robot car runs into a robot directing traffic, accidentally killing it.

“The audio instructions are paired with gentle vibrations to give you clues where to focus. The accelerometer values are processed in your smart phone and the audio instructions will let you know if you have made it into the pose at the end of each pose.”

After a couple of audio instruction noises from the phone, Barron shut the sound off, muttering to himself.

Within ten minutes it all fell into place for Zadie. She wasn’t an expert, but she wasn’t a novice either. In her late 20s she was strong and fit and smart, smart enough to catch the cues and act on them. By the middle of the class there were hardly any cues anymore, anyway. She was into the flow and getting it just right.

That’s when the trouble started.

Even though she was going good and strong and was intuitively aware of how good it was all going, Barron the yoga teacher not even glancing at her, he knew she was into the flow, she was getting zapped more and more frequently. The vibrations were rolling up and down her legs almost continuously. There was something wrong with the device, she thought. Was there a ghost in the machine learning?

There must be it! It was going wrong! It was going the high-line! Maybe it’s all this sweat, she thought, mopping her brow.

She looked up from the floor pose she was doing, to ask Barron to turn her iPhone off, but he was gone.

He was patrolling the room making hands-on adjustments, alignment-based assists for backbends and forward folds. Barron didn’t push anybody deeper into their poses, but he tried to get them into the integrity of the pose, within the constraints of what their flesh tendons ligaments joints bones would bear.

A young woman had complained about it in one of his classes, saying that touching her was inappropriate, and reminding him about the #MeToo movement, saying its concerns were a real issue to her.

“You’re doing it wrong,” he said. “You’re compromising your safety.”

“I don’t care, hands-off,” she said. “My husband’s a lawyer, just in case you’re a pervert.”

“Oh, the hell with it, get out and don’t come back.”

“What?” She glared at him. The class stopped and everyone watched the goings-on. Those who knew Barron better than others rolled their eyes heavenward.

“You heard me,” he said. “Out.” He fixed his hand firmly on her arm and led her to the door.

When they were outside, he leaned into her and said, “Tell your husband the local Hells Angel chapter practices here one Saturday morning a month, so I don’t ever want to see your face again or hear a word from him about anything litigious, understand?”

“You’re an ass,” she said.

“Let’s leave it at that, sweetheart,” Barron said and went back to his class.

Love peace and understanding, he thought, were all well and good, except when it came to the empowered privileged well-bred wallets from the better neighborhoods, especially Lake and Edgewater Roads, where he was sure she sprang from.

At heart Barron was an anarchist. He believed anarchism walked the walk best with yoga. Any other affiliation with anything else, capitalism socialism democracy dictatorship consumerism minimalism left-wing right-wing high and mighty the lunatic fringe, was inimical to the practice. Barron was an idealist, but he paid his taxes and didn’t run red lights, and so believed it was OK to indulge himself.

Zadie was close to the breaking point. The longer the class went on, the sweatier she got, the more her pants shocked her. It was only 12 volts, she knew, but it was getting to be 12 volts every second. Maybe it was more voltage than she thought. Was it getting stronger? Yow, that stung!

“The hell with it,” she finally cried out. She ripped her cherry pop yoga pants off and angrily tossed them into a corner to the side of Barron. She was left wearing a pair of royal purple Under Armour pure stretch underwear.

Everyone behind Zadie gave them a good close look.

“Eyes on me, everyone, front and center,” Barron said. “Let’s get back to business.”

“Those pants can kiss my butt,” Zadie said, getting back into the flow of the class.

“And, no,” she said, looking straight at Barron, “I won’t need any adjustments for the rest of class today, thank you.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Revenge on Race Point

 

By Ed Staskus

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, 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 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 nape 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.

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

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Bad Day on Buzzard’s Bay

 

By Ed Staskus

“Release your bones,” said Vera Nyberg.

She sat cross-legged on a one-step-up platform at the front of the room, scanning the sparsely attended late afternoon class as everyone finished their yoga poses and settled down on their mats.

”Release your bones into the earth,” she said. “Feel the support of the earth beneath them.“

John Cerberus rolled out of shoulder stand and following her bidding lay down in corpse pose, squeezing his eyes shut and exhaling strongly. He made a mental note to tell her two things.

The first was to not teach any more classes wearing the leopard print Capri’s and black sports halter she was wearing. It wasn’t attractive. She was only a temporary teacher living in the dormitory, but he expected her to know better about how to dress for class, even though it wasn’t a dress code as much as what was understood to be appropriate at the center.

The second was to wear contacts when she was teaching. The cat eye frame glasses she was wearing made her look old-fashioned and weird.

He made another mental note.

He would have to re-read the poison pen letters slipped under his office door earlier in the month, week, and day. There was something about the way they were written that reminded him of somebody, maybe like e-mails he had gotten a year-or-so ago. It was probably nothing, he reasoned, just another malcontent from the Amazing Grace days.

They were the last mental notes made by the Asana Director of the Kritalvanda Center for Yoga and Health.

The large room with its scattered practitioners lying prone on their mats was filled with dusk, the lights dimmed almost off, the late November sun setting on the other side of the row of yew hedges outside the floor to ceiling windows.

He relaxed uneasily into the last pose of the hatha class. It had been a demanding ninety minutes at the end of a long, demanding day. Maybe savasana wouldn’t be so bad today, he thought. He let his feet fall out to the sides and turned his arms outward, palms face up, trying to let go of his body.

He made an effort to quiet his breathing.

Around him the guests and day-pass visitors were lowering their bodies into dead man’s pose, what the Sanskrit word savasana was better known as, letting their eyes sink back and releasing their thoughts. Lying there they looked peaceful, Vera thought, giving the room a last once-over.

“Release your jaw and soften your eyes and tongue,” she said, easing the class inward. “Sink into the surrender of no thoughts, no ideas, into the you as you are in yourself, into the world as it is in itself.”

She closed her eyes, letting stillness envelop the room, and started counting her breaths to one hundred, which would take about ten minutes. Afterwards she would guide everyone back to a seated position and bring the lights up again for the end of class.

Corpse pose was hard for John Cerberus, a state of being neither awake nor asleep. The practice of bending, stretching, and twisting the body suited him, as did dead to the world sleep, but not the middle space between effort and sleep. He generally shunned the void of corpse pose unless he was taking somebody else’s class.

There was something, sensations, or memories, at the core of his body he knew better to avoid.

As he breathed to bring his thoughts to a standstill, he became aware someone was behind him, squatting down, large hands at the side of his head, massaging his temples. He was mildly surprised. Vera Nyberg hadn’t struck him as the kind of teacher who proffered head and shoulder savasana massages. She was schooled in Ashtanga Yoga, a more severe practice than most.

The fingers of both hands, one on each side of his head, moved from his temples down to the base of his neck. The sides of her forearms picked up his head and hands cradled his neck. He opened his eyes slightly and peeked backwards.

It wasn’t Vera Nyberg, after all.

John Cerberus started to smile, but then a knee pushed his left shoulder hard into the ground, and before he could react, his head was jerked sharply to the right and his neck snapped.e was surprised

Vera slowly opened her eyes taking her one-hundredth breath. Every day a little bit dying, she thought, something she heard Pattabhi Jois say at a workshop in New York City the last time he visited there. Jois said that corpse pose was a hard posture to master, quieting the mind and body.

“Most difficult for student, not waking, not sleeping,” he said in his broken English. “If student does not get up from savasana, or lifting student up is like a stiff board, savasana is correct.”

After everyone rolled onto their sides, then leaned up and were sitting cross-legged, she thanked them for coming to the class, reminded them about the center’s weekend activities, especially the back bending workshop she was leading Sunday morning, and smiling broadly said, “Happy weekend, everyone.

“Namaste.”

It was only after she had straightened up her area, tucking her iPod and water bottle away into her duffel, that she noticed the body still lying in corpse pose. Tossing the bag over her shoulder, she walked over, recognizing John Cerberus. As she bent down to touch him on the shoulder she noticed there was a small bright yellow flower that looked like a bird’s foot on the center of his chest.

His breath was neither rising nor falling, and when she looked him in the face, his head akimbo, his features were ashy and his unseeing eyes rolled up and back in their sockets.

She reached into her duffel bag, fumbling to find her iPhone.

Sam Fowler of the Wareham Police Department was lifting a pint of Backlash Holiday Porter to his lips when his cell phone began chirping where he had laid it down next to the plate of cod and chips in front of him. He was sitting at the short end of the bar at the Gateway Tavern and Grill. He looked at his Samsung in disgust, checked the incoming number, and then took the call from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

After listening for a moment he said, “OK, ask the Falmouth guys to keep a lid on everything until I get there. I’m just finishing something up here that can’t wait and when I’m done I’ll be on my way. How do you spell the place?”

He flipped open a spiral notebook.

“All right, I’ve got it. It sounds like it will be about an hour-or-so drive. I should be there by nine-thirty.”

He pushed his Holiday Porter away, asked the bartender for a glass of water, and methodically began eating his dinner. The cod was seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon. He knew nothing about the Kritalvanda Center. He would have to call the station and let them know what was going on. Maybe Ginny Walther would know something. She was working the night shift at the dispatch desk. He had heard talk that she was into yoga.

An hour later, halfway to Wood’s Hole on the coastline of Buzzard’s Bay, an extra-large to-go JoMamas at his elbow, Sam Fowler called Ginny Walther and filled her in. He asked her if she knew anything about the Kritalvanda Center.

“I’ve been there a dozen times, or more, mostly one-day trips,” she said. “You can take any of the classes and workshops they offer on that day, and the day includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner in their cafeteria, although I have to warn you it’s all vegetarian.”

Sam Fowler’s scowl was audible over the phone.

“I spent a week there last year, on my vacation, on a retreat. It’s a wonderful place,” she said, “It couldn’t have been anyone there, they wouldn’t kill anyone.”

“Somebody was there,” he said.

What he found out from Ginny was that the center had its beginnings as the Yoga Society of Cape Cod in the early 1960s, in a derelict Shaker Trustee Building outside of Falmouth, its hippie residents living a communal life. As the ashram grew, which is what the residents called it, they outgrew the two-story saltbox building.

Twenty years later they bought a shut down Franciscan seminary on the peninsula northwest of Wood’s Hole and rehabilitated it to become the Kritalvanda Center.

“Since then they’ve really grown, because yoga has gotten popular,” Ginny said. “Almost 30,000 people cross the bridge every year to go there. They built an annex sometime ago, then a Wellness Center just this summer, new locker rooms, they have their own beach, hiking trails, and even a labyrinth.”

“Why would anyone want a labyrinth?” he asked. “You get lost in them, right?”

“No, it’s not what you think,” she said, “It’s for walking meditation and inspiration, for finding yourself. You should try it while you’re there.”

Steering with his knees he rummaged in the center console organizer of his SUV and pulled out a new recording by Maria Schneider. He liked her large jazz ensemble work, which he had heard her band play in a club in New York City, but this one was different. For most of the rest of the drive Sam Fowler listened to it, but the more he heard of it the less he liked it.

The music was not so much jazz than a kind of fusion, a poet’s poems being sung, lyrical and classy. Jazz was the kind of music he acquired a liking for from his ex-wife before things went sour between them. He kept their collection of recordings when she moved away, thinking he had gotten the better of the bargain.

He knew jazz was restless and wouldn’t stay put, but he liked its improvisation to stay within jazzy boundaries. Not like his ex-wife, whose restlessness knew no boundaries.

Approaching the windy deserted dark streets of Wood’s Hole, the detective let his GPS find Penzance Point Road and ten minutes later was pulling into the parking lot terraced into a hillside below the main building of the Kritalvanda Center for Yoga and Health. The Medical Examiner was outside the entrance doors, leaning against the yellow brick building, a cigarette dangling from his thick fingers.

“They didn’t even want me to have a smoke out here, Sam, they put up a stink about it,” he said, sullen.

“What happened in there?” asked Sam Fowler

“It was a 911 call. When the paramedics figured out what the problem was, they called Falmouth. They’ve got a couple of cars here, there’s me, and the paramedics are still here, too. They’re all parked around back, where the customers get checked in. That lot out front where you parked is where people leave their cars afterwards, for the day, or however long they’re here for.”

Throwing his butt to the side, he said, “Follow me, I know the way.”

Outside a second floor room a uniformed officer was waiting who showed them inside where two paramedics were lounging beside a gurney.

“It looks like his neck was broken and his breathing went haywire,” one of them explained as they stood over the corpse. “He died of respiratory failure, probably within five minutes.”

Sam Fowler glanced at the Medical Examiner.

“His name was John Cerberus. He was in charge of the exercise program here. I put his death at right around six o’clock. The class had just ended, and as I understand it, they all lay down, closed their eyes, and meditated for a few minutes. The teacher found him at about six-fifteen when she was closing the room. She’s the one who called. From the bruising on his neck I can say it was deliberate.”

“I thought it was hard to break someone’s neck,” said Sam Fowler.

“Despite what you see in the action movies, it’s almost impossible to break someone’s neck like this,” answered the Medical Examiner. “You have to be fast and apply a lot of torque to do it. You have to know exactly what you’re doing.”

“Wouldn’t someone have heard his neck breaking?”

“Like I said, it’s not the movies, where you hear a cracking sound.”

“So no one saw anything or heard anything?”

“I don’t know. That’s your job.”

When John Cerberus was gone, strapped down and wheeled away on the stainless steel gurney, Sam Fowler thought to himself that it was a hell of a mess when someone was killed in a roomful of people in broad daylight and no one saw or heard anything.

He walked out to the uniformed policeman in the hallway.

“Let’s get everybody who was in this room back here,” he said, “and I want to see whoever is in charge of this place. Get a list of everybody registered here, and all the staff people, and let’s make sure they’re all still on the grounds. Find out if they have any closed circuit, especially of the road in and out, and the parking lot. I’ll set up for interviews in the cafeteria I saw downstairs. Tell someone to get the lights on and some coffee for me.”

Ten minutes later sitting at one end of a long table in the cafeteria, his notebook and a microcassette recorder in front of him, Sam Fowler listened unhappily as he was told his options were the center’s signature-style Chai Tea or Moroccan Mint.

Vera Nyberg sat on the upper mattress of her bunk bed in the corner of the nearly deserted dormitory room, her knees pulled to her chest, leaning back against the wall, slowly twirling between her fingers the wilting Bird’s-foot Trefoil she had found on John Cerberus.

Where had it come from? She knew what it was and what it meant in the language of flowers. It meant revenge. Hadn’t she seen it recently? Although it had been a mild autumn, the temperatures not falling below forty, yet, it was late in the year for it to still be blooming.

“I know I’ve seen this somewhere,” she said as much to herself as to Elizabeth Archer in the bunk below her.

“What is it?” asked Elizabeth, swinging her legs off the lower bunk and taking a step on the ladder, pulling herself up by the railing of the upper bunk.

Elizabeth Archer was at the center on a six-month internship from the Columbia Business School MBA program. Like Vera she was immersed in yoga, but unlike Vera, who described herself as “a yoga teacher, that’s all,” she was an entrepreneur in the making. After graduation she planned on crowdfunding and opening and finally franchising high-end yoga studios. Her internship was a step towards that goal.

“I didn’t really like John Cerberus, but for someone to kill him, I just don’t know,” said Vera, her voice trailing away.

The principle of non-violence was a golden rule of yoga. Would anyone have broken John Cerberus’s neck, she wondered, even if he deserved to have his neck wrung. But, someone in her room had done just that. She knew it was someone who had been in her class because if anyone had come in through the door during corpse pose she would have heard them.

Maybe not their footsteps, but the pneumatic door closer was creaky and needed oiling. It was noisy.

“I know what you mean,” said Elizabeth, pulling her unruly blonde hair away from her face with both hands. “He flushed Amazing Grace down the toilet, but if that’s why somebody killed him, I guess he didn’t deserve to die because of that.”

Two years earlier, amid accusations of sexual impropriety with female students, and financial irregularities with the company’s pension fund, John Cerberus, a former New York City bond trader and founder of Amazing Grace Yoga, had stepped aside as CEO of a business that licensed almost two thousand teachers teaching more than a half million people worldwide his form of trademarked postural yoga.

Since then his conglomerate had crumbled. Amazing Grace’s headquarters building in Austin, Texas, barely five years old, had been sold, its teachers moving on to other disciplines, and the brand name disgraced. But, John Cerberus had weathered the storm and resumed teaching as an independent instructor, and in the middle of the year had been hired by the center as its Asana Director, supervising the teachers and offerings of the posture classes.

“I think it was someone in my class,” said Vera. “I’m sure of it.”

“No, not someone in your class!” exclaimed Elizabeth.

The center had been nearly deserted the Friday after Thanksgiving. The weekend was expected to be busier, especially since events like ‘The Healing Power of Drumming and Chanting’ and ‘Chakra Cleansing’ had been added to the calendar in hopes of attracting non-traditional holiday goers, or even traditionalists in need of relief from too much turkey.

When she asked Pattabhi Jois about being a vegetarian as step towards being a good yoga teacher, he said, “Meat eating makes you stiff. You will not be able to breathe right.”

Only nineteen people had taken Vera Nyberg’s class in a room that could easily fit seventy-five. Four of them were couples come down on I-93 from Boston for the long weekend. Three were good-looking young men, long-time friends of hers who lived in Provincetown year-round. A few were volunteers who worked in Food Services for their room and board and lived in the dormitory, like her. The rest were day-pass men and women who had come separately, and the last was one of the masseuses in the Wellness Center, who had slipped in late, after the class had almost started.

“It’s freaky to think there was a killer practicing yoga and planning to murder somebody the whole time,” said Elizabeth. “Who could have been that intense, and that quiet? You were all in the room, somebody would have heard them moving around, wouldn’t they have?”

Vera thought about what Lizzie was saying. She had a capable memory, but in a yoga room her mindfulness was sharp. For her the real art of memory was the art of attention. She paid attention to every person in her classes, making sure she knew their names beforehand, any limitations they might have, and where they were in the room so she could check on them whenever she thought it necessary. She hadn’t heard any footsteps during corpse pose, of that she was sure. Vera would have opened her eyes to see why someone was leaving the class early.

Who was closest to John Cerberus during the class?

Her friends had been in the front, where she insisted they be so she could keep an eye on any monkey business. They had clowned around up to the moment class started, but were good afterwards. Everyone else had been loosely knit at the center of the room, John Cerberus on the edge flanked by one of the wives from Boston, and on his outside hip, partly screened from her, there had been someone else. For some reason she couldn’t place the person. Their mat had been in a shadow between two high hats and off-center from her field of vision.

Maybe if she drew a map of where all the mats were in the room, and who had been on them, she would be able to see who had been on the mat just outside of John Cerberus.

“Lizzie, do you have a legal pad?” asked Vera.

Sam Fowler, who had been joined by a young plainclothesman, used his hands to push himself away from the table, stretched his stiff as a board legs out, and looked up at the ceiling. His notebook was almost filled with his illegible handwriting.

“Who do we have left?” he asked Jeremy Kroon, the only man the Falmouth station had been able to find on a late Friday night to help him.

“Just the teacher,” Kroon answered, pushing black bangs off his forehead.

How the hell did he get through the academy? He looks like one of the Beatles, thought Sam Fowler.

It was nearing one in the morning. Sam could feel the cold seeping in through the windows. The weather forecast was for a storm blowing in by Saturday night, although how stormy it might be was anybody’s guess. What was certain was that winter was close, he realized, rubbing his knees. The bone structure of the landscape would soon be all there was.

“Go ask somebody to get her down here.”

He had interviewed everyone who had been in the class, so far, and the Director of Program Development, as well, who seemed to be in charge since both the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating officer were out of town visiting family for the holidays.

Denise O’Neill was frank about her dislike of John Cerberus, although she admitted his qualifications.

“He is, I mean, was, excuse me, one of the most knowledgeable and experienced yoga teachers in the world, which is what he was always telling everybody. Maybe he was, I don’t know, I’m sure he was.”

She looked sad and annoyed at the same time.

“He studied with Iyengar, and he was once on their board of directors, too” she added. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Sam Fowler didn’t know who she was talking about and let it pass. He assumed Iyengar was yoga brass of some kind.

“Either it was because somebody owed him a favor, or it was the notoriety, or just a second chance, that’s why he landed here. We were supposed to work together, but he seemed to think he was my boss, even though I’ve been here eight years,” she added.

She had been reading alone in her room before dinner when John Cerburus was murdered.

“What were you reading?” he asked her.

“I was reading ‘The Courage to Be You’,” she said.

When she drew a blank from the police detective, she explained, “It’s a woman’s guide to emotional strength and self-esteem.”

“I see,” said Sam Fowler.

When she was gone he said to Jeremy Kroon, “Well, we know she didn’t kill anybody.”

The young police detective agreed, although he wasn’t exactly sure why.

Both couples from Boston said they knew John Cerberus from a new-age California music and yoga festival called Wanderlust they had been to three years ago, and that he had been the reason they had come to the center for the weekend. John Cerberus had taught a workshop earlier in the day about Tantra, the second half of which had been scheduled for Saturday.

“Tantra was the philosophical base of his Amazing Grace Yoga, did you know?” said one of the women, an attractive brunette in her late-30s.

“Isn’t that about sex?” asked Sam Fowler.

“That’s what most people think, but it’s more than that,” she answered. “It’s about sexual practice with the intention of spiritual awakening, increasing power, and experiencing bliss through embodiment. It’s not an indulgent practice.

“Everybody said John cheated on his girlfriends, and lied to them, but that’s not what it was ever about,” she continued, leaning forward. “Tantra is about using yoga poses, deep breathing, and stimulating acts, including intercourse, to hasten rapturous bliss.”

“Oh, I see,” he said, tilting his head and pressing his lips together thoughtfully.

She had been the last of the four Boston natives to be interviewed, one at a time, all of them separately. After watching her sashay out of the cafeteria Jeremy Kroon turned to Sam Fowler and asked, “You don’t think they’re involved, either, do you?

“No, they didn’t kill anyone,” he said. “They’re Back Bay people. They wouldn’t know how to break a chicken’s neck even if their own lives depended on it.”

Vera Nyberg’s three friends from Provincetown were excited about the murder, but at the same time nonchalant about the death. They had been asked, sitting in the hallway outside the cafeteria, to come in one at a time, but when they burst in together, Sam Fowler decided there was less bother in talking to them all at once than one at a time.

Only one person had killed John Cerberus. He doubted it was these three hens.

They didn’t so much answer his questions about what they seen or heard as talk about John Cerberus.

“What was all the partying about?” one of them said. “I must have missed that limb of yoga. And what about stealing retirement money from your employees? Patanjali has to be rolling over in his grave.”

“He was always jet-setting to Burning Man and Wanderlust,” another explained.

“He was the P. T. Barnum of yoga, the center of the world, and that whole posse of his, the kirtan bands and wannabe gurus,” the third man chimed in.

“It was a different kind of yoga?” asked Sam Fowler.

No, it didn’t have anything to do with yoga, they said.

“The postures and classes were what you would expect, but that’s just a part of the practice,“ said the fittest of the three fit men. ”The rest of it, all the parts of it that really matter, he ignored or turned them into a gala ball all his own.”

But, they all impressed on him that no one deserved to be murdered, and insisted that violence was beyond the pale in the world of yoga, of which there were many parts.

“What kind of yoga do you do?”

“We do Bikram Yoga, where there’s 90 minutes of the same poses in a hot room that’s 105 or 110 degrees and humidity is steamed in.”

“If you get your hands on a suspect, let us know,” said the cleanest cut of the three neat men. “We’ll sweat the truth out of him!”

An operetta is simply a small and gay opera, thought Sam Fowler, as the trio left the cafeteria.

None of the employees, the kitchen staff nor the masseuse, or the day-passers, had seen or heard or knew anything. None of them had been involved in Amazing Grace Yoga, personally or professionally. They deplored but forgave John Cerberus’s indiscretions, as much as they knew of them, and repeated that no one who practiced yoga would have considered killing him, much less actually committing the crime.

Waiting for Vera Nyberg and looking over his casebook, something nagged at Sam Fowler, something that was missing. It was something one of them hadn’t said, he thought.

When Elizabeth Archer answered the knock on the door of their dormitory room, spying the Falmouth patrolman on the threshold, Vera Nyberg was ready. She had been busy at the writing table mapping the mats and their owners in the room that afternoon. She now knew who had been on John Cerberus’s outside hip, and she knew where she had seen the Birds-foot Trefoil earlier in the week, as well.

What she didn’t know was whether she was going to tell the policeman what she knew.

As Vera came into the cafeteria Sam Fowler looked her up and down. She was slim, he could tell, even though she was wearing baggy black cotton sweatpants and a zip-up hoodie. He put her in her early-30s. Her black hair was long, in a ponytail, her face angular, and her mouth wide. Her glasses were a vintage style, out of the 1950s. Her hands and feet were large. She was wearing flip-flops, her toenails painted a bright red.

He stood up, motioned her to the chair opposite him, and she sat down.

After getting her name and address in Boston, as well as her cell phone number, Sam Fowler asked, “When was the last time you saw John Cerberus alive?”

“When he lay down in dead man’s pose,” she answered.

”Did you know him?”

“Yes, he was my boss, more-or-less, he and Denise. But, I’m one of the work exchange teachers, and I was only here for the month, so we didn’t come into contact much.”

“Do you know of any reason anyone would want to kill him?”

“Not anyone I know, no.”

She remembered what Pattabhi Jois said, “One year, two year, ten years. No use. Whole life. Whole life a practice.” John Cerberus wouldn’t be practicing anymore. His days had come to an end. No one can say for sure that he will be living tomorrow. All of John Cerberus’s living had been suddenly stopped. We take care of our lives and Krishna takes care of our deaths, she thought.

“Could someone have come into the room from outside and attacked him?”

“I don’t think so. I would have heard them.”

“Do you think someone in the room killed him?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it had to be someone in the room, yes.”

“Do you know who that might be?”

“No, not really.”

She seemed to be hedging her bets, he thought, and made a note.

“Did you kill him?” he suddenly asked her.

“No, of course not!” exclaimed Vera, taken aback by the question. “I don’t believe in causing harm. It’s in the Yoga Sutras.”

That was it, realized Sam Fowler, that’s what hadn’t been said by someone that everyone else had said in one way or another, which was that no one who practiced yoga would kill anyone. Who was it that hadn’t said it? He was sure he would have it either in his notes or on tape.

“The Yoga what?” Sam Fowler asked Vera Nyberg.

“The Yoga Sutras,” she said. “They were written a long time ago, about two thousand years, maybe at the same time as the Bible. But they’re short, just a couple of hundred sayings. It’s a guidebook, not a how-to book. It’s about choosing your best ethical path.”

“Like the Ten Commandments?” he asked.

“No, not exactly,” she answered.

“The rule about non-violence isn’t a rule, exactly. It’s more about not causing unnecessary harm, which happens when you start to see the origins and effects of violence. My teacher used to say, “Yoga is not physical, very wrong. Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.” He meant it was about awareness, about expanding your consciousness. An open heart is what yoga is about, and as your heart opens not harming begins to make all the sense in the world.”

“What if you were attacked? Or if someone you loved was being assaulted? What would you do then?”

“I would do what my teacher always told us to do when we asked him questions in class.”

“What was that?”

“You do!”

“I see.”

Yoga takes care of its own, in its own way, thought Sam Fowler. In the meantime, somewhere in his interview notes someone had neglected to recite the mantra of non-violence. He wasn’t sure it meant anything, but it was the only anomaly of the night, so far. It wouldn’t hurt to find out who it was and interview them again.

“Thank you Miss Nyberg,” said Sam Fowler.

He had made a point to look and had not seen a wedding ring on her hand when he looked.

“I may or may not need to talk to you again tomorrow. We’ll let you know.”

The two police detectives watched her walk out.

“What made you think she might have had anything to do with it?” asked Jeremy Kroon.

“I didn’t.”

Sam Fowler knew better than anyone that nobody could read his scrawled cramped notes. He would have to review his casebook himself. In the meantime, he needed coffee.

“I need coffee,” he said to Jeremy Kroon. “Your job is to find some. I like JoMamas, but I’ll take Dunkin or anything brewed hot you can find at this time of night. Then you can call it a day, find somewhere to sack out, and we’ll get back to it at eight.”

An hour later, coffee at hand, Sam Fowler settled into a comfortable lounge chair in the main lobby, a table lamp lit on the end table beside him, and cracked open his casebook. Twenty minutes later, nearing three o’clock in the morning, the coffee barely touched, he was asleep, the casebook haphazrd in his lap.

The only sounds in the empty lobby the rest of the night were his breathing, the forced air from the furnace, and the winter wind testing the windows.

Vera sat up on the edge of her bunk at six-thirty, almost a half-hour before sunrise. She had wondered about the murder of John Cerberus for a short time, lying in bed after talking to the detective, but let it go. She quickly fell asleep, believing the answer would come to her in the morning.

She slipped nimbly down the ladder. Elizabeth was snoring softly carelessly in the bottom bunk. Peeking through the window Vera saw the sky was white-gray. The wind was downstream, neither rain nor snow was falling, although it felt cold through the glass.

It seemed like the storm had so far skirted them.

In the hallway she made her way to the new Wellness Center. Few doors were kept locked at Kritalvanda and the Wellness Center’s entrance door was not one of them. Once inside she thumbed the rocker switch and turned the lights on. There were five massage rooms in a row down the left corridor. She pored over the first room, and a minute later the second room. It was in the fourth room that she found what she was looking for, an empty glass cylinder bud vase on a mission-style corner table at the far end of the masseuse table.

Retracing her steps she made her way back to the dormitory and shook Elizabeth awake. “Lizzie, you know everybody here. Where does Lola Donning stay?”

Elizabeth pushed a mop of sandy hair away from her face and rubbed her eyes.

“The massage therapist?”

“Yes.”

“She’s in the west wing, in one of the semi-private rooms, on the second floor, although I think she’s been rooming by herself since she got here last month. I’m sure it’s room eight. But, you know, yesterday was her last day here. She gave two week’s notice.”

When Vera Nyberg got to Lola Donning’s room she found the door ajar and the room empty. The bed was unmade and the wardrobe closet, when she looked inside, was bare. The bathroom was shorn of toiletries.

Lola Donning was gone.

Leaning on the sink Vera Nyberg looked at herself in the mirror. Her gaze sank to the basin. Where had Lola Donning found Bird’s-foot Trefoil for her bud vase, the unusual flower Vera had noticed one afternoon while getting a massage late last month? It wasn’t a flower that grew in woodlands, like those that surrounded the center on three sides. It was a forage plant, grown for pasture or hay. She might have found it on the front side of the grounds, facing Buzzard’s Bay, but most of the front side was either sloping grassland that was regularly mowed or the terraced parking lot.

Then, without hesitation, Vera Nyberg knew where Lola Donning must have found the flower. She hurried back to the dormitory to get her winter coat.

“Lizzie, the policeman is sleeping in the lobby. I‘m going out to the circle. This is what I want you to do, and then meet me out there as soon as you can with your car keys,” she said, shrugging into her coat. “Pack some clothes, too.”

Once outside she wrapped a wool muffler around her long neck. The sky was bulked up with thick clouds and the morning light was raw and milky. The whitecaps on Buzzard’s Bay were sluggish. At the bottom of the stairs she avoided the parking lot and cut through to the labyrinth on the knoll.

The center’s garden labyrinth was not a maze with multiple dead ends and designed to confuse. The labyrinth had one entrance and a winding path to the middle. Vera walked to the middle where she found Lola Donning standing in a thin jacket with her back to her.

People don’t notice whether it’s summer or winter when they’re unhappy, she thought, and waited for Lola to see her. She glanced at the bracelet watch on her left wrist. It was seven-thirty.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to be you or the police,” Lola Donning finally said, turning to face Vera Nyberg. “When they didn’t say anything about the flower I thought maybe you had taken it.”

“Yes, I took it.”

“How did you know what it meant?”

“My mother was a landscape designer. She specialized in gardens.”

They stood quietly for a few minutes.

“My mother and I lived in New Mexico for a long time, where I grew up,” said Lola Donning. “They have labyrinths there, the Indians, you know. There’s one entrance, which is birth, and in the center is God. Sometimes it’s a family labyrinth, and in the middle of the circle is your original ancestor, and two continuous lines join the twelve joints, just like this one.”

She pointed to the center of the labyrinth.

“When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze, but that’s not what they are. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved, lots of choices to be made, but with a labyrinth, there’s only one choice to be made, which is whether to enter it or not.”

The yoga teacher thought of what her teacher told her when she asked him for advice at the end of her training in Mysore. “Each morning wake up. Do as much yoga as you want. Maybe you eat, maybe you fast. Maybe you sleep indoors, maybe you sleep outdoors. The next morning, wake up, and do again. Practice yoga, and all is coming!”

Was it like the labyrinth Lola Donning was describing, the labyrinth that had brought the two of them together, where the only choice was whether to be in it or not? Or was it like a maze in which everyone was doomed to make choices and then be forever defined by the choices they made?

She thought Pattabhi Jois would probably say that there is only the life we live as an experience, not as a problem to be resolved, like mice in a maze, whatever the final end might be.

“That’s where my mom met John Cerberus, when she was teaching yoga. It was in Loving, outside of Carlsbad. She was one of the first teachers he recruited, and she was with him until the end, two years ago. She died on New Year’s Day, almost a year ago, in the house I was born in.”

“I’m so sorry. What happened?” asked Vera before she could stop herself, suddenly realizing as she asked that it must have had everything to do with John Cerberus.

“She killed herself.”

The two women stood in the bleak cold, the thin line of dawn on the horizon behind them a mute pinkish orange slash, the late November wind a cold draft at their ankles and necks.

“She died because of him. I’d been working here less than a couple of weeks, and I saw him in a hallway one day. I almost fell down. I couldn’t believe it. I never in my life thought I’d see him again. But there he was, smug in his yoga trappings, on top of the world again.

“I wrote him a letter, telling him I knew what he had done, although I didn’t tell him who I was, and then gave two weeks notice that same day.”

Vera Nyberg stretched the muffler up her neck and over her mouth and ears as the wind rose, starting to gust.

“My mom said their yoga was special, the kind they pioneered. She was excited, right from the beginning. The yoga was about aligning the body and the spirit. Everything was done on a personal level, what they called the heart level. That’s the way it was for years, him and my mom.

“But, then they started training teachers and writing manuals and organizing workshops. They invited him to the Yoga Journal conferences and he was a hit. He got big. They had to project his image on screens in the conference rooms, there were so many people wanting to be a part of it. You couldn’t even see him anymore.

“He put together a traveling show and started going to all the festivals, and then he flew to Europe, and Japan, and he got even bigger. My mom thought it was the two of them, but it wasn’t, not anymore, although she couldn’t see it for what it had become.

“Then he brought sex into it, what he called left-handed tantra. He formed a Wicca coven with some of his students, in secret, and some teachers, but my mom wasn’t a part of that, either. She wouldn’t have done it even if she had known. She wasn’t like that.

“When she found out he told her the coven was a battery for his yoga, the foundation of his charisma. He said he was using sex energy in a positive and sacred way, but she told him he was out of integrity, and everything ended between them. She still worked for the yoga, but she wasn’t doing well.

“After everything fell apart and it came out into the open, my mom was devastated. Every day it got worse and worse until it was all over. I wasn’t living at home, but we talked every day. I was worried about her, but she sounded all right, until one day when she didn’t take my calls. I kept getting her voice mail, so I drove from Phoenix to Loving. It took me all night.

“I found her in bed in the morning. She looked just like she was asleep. She didn’t even leave a note for me, just for him, blaming him for everything.”

When men make choices only God is blameless.

“I don’t know what happened,” Lola said. “I didn’t mean to. I planned it, I think, yesterday, my last day, but at the same time, I didn’t, it just happened. It was like somebody else was doing it, like I was watching myself and couldn’t stop, like a bad dream.”

Tears were in Lola Donning’s eyes, the silent language of grief. The wind was blowing the rain away, but just for the moment.

“Since I’m going to be sticking my neck out, I think we should leave this place,” said Vera. “I don’t think there’s anything else to be found here.”

In the lobby Sam Fowler woke up. Elizabeth Archer was standing to the side of him, her hand shaking his shoulder.

“What time is it?” he asked, wiping a crumb of dried saliva from a corner of his mouth.

“It’s seven fifty-five,” she said, stepping back

“I must have fallen asleep. I didn’t know I was so tired.” He straightened up in the chair. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, Vera and I are supposed to drive one of the employees, really, an ex-employee now, she gave notice two week’s ago, to Boston, to the train station. We were wondering if that was all right?”

“You’re the desk girl, at the reception desk?” he asked, trying to place her.

“Yes, but I don’t think of myself as the desk girl,” she said, her voice cool and reserved. “My name is Elizabeth Archer. I coordinate our arrivals and departures.“

Sam Fowler would have preferred to be standing, not sitting in an easy chair.

“I may want to talk to you and Vera again, but that can wait until you’re back, ” he said, still groggy, shrugging.

He watched her walk away towards the main doors, pulling on her coat. She went down the stairs, around the parking lot and to the labyrinth, where through the plate glass window Sam Fowler saw two women waiting. One of them was Vera Nyberg. They talked for a minute, leaning into the wind, and then walked to the far sidewalk that led to the rear of the main building.

He looked down at his lap. His casebook wasn’t there, nor was it or his Sony micro-cassette recorder on the end table next to his chair.

After he gotten down on his hands and knees and searched the floor ten and fifteen feet in all directions, and finally stood up alone in the lobby, he realized with a grim finality they were gone.

“Goddamn it,” he said under his breath.

Flipping through Jeremy Kroon’s notebook as they sat in the cafeteria twenty minutes later, Sam Fowler found it was filled with cryptic doodles, loose-limbed cartoons of some of the people they had talked to, and several versions of the paper and pencil game called hangman.

“I saw you were taking notes, and you had that back-up recorder, so I didn’t bother,” the chagrined Jeremy Kroon explained.

“All right,” snorted Sam Fowler.

“I’m going up to Wareham, check in at the station, and I’ll be back early this evening. Get everyone’s forwarding addresses, phone numbers, and they’re free to go. So far we have nothing, but there’s something I’m missing. I can put my finger on it, but I don’t know where it is, exactly.”

Sam Fowler relied on evidence he gathered at crime scenes to come to conclusions and knew that reconstructing everything he had seen and heard from memory was not only improbable, but also suspect. It would be like shining a flashlight from side to side in the dark. Only successful liars have great memories, and he wasn’t a great liar.

His SUV was still in the front lot where he had left it the night before, but on his way to it he changed course and walked to the labyrinth. Ginny Walther had said that labyrinths were for finding things, not for losing your way in dead ends. In the late November morning light it was a drab place, the flagstones slick with an icy rain. He found the middle of the labyrinth easily enough and stood looking down on Buzzard’s Bay.

He debated whether it was a labyrinth or a maze, and whether there was anything there for him. After a moment he turned to retrace his steps, but taking his first step the toe of his black oxford slid on a frozen clump of gnarled green and yellow. As he slipped a hard gust of wind hit him in the chest and he went head over heels onto his back.

He thumped on the ground, knocking the wind out of him. His diaphragm spasmed and he gasped for air, grunting involuntarily. His lungs would not inflate. He tried to relax, and when his lungs finally started working again he clambered to his knees, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. He looked down at what he had slipped on. It was a crushed flower shaped like a bird’s foot.

Elizabeth Archer was at the wheel of her Nissan Rogue, Lola Donning in the passenger seat, and Vera Nyberg in the rear seat as they left the Kritalvanda Yoga Center on their way to Boston. None of them noticed Sam Fowler gulping air and struggling to get off his back in the eye of the labyrinth.

Driving through Falmouth Vera Nyberg suddenly said, “Let’s stop here. There’s a JoMamas on the corner.”

As they were returning to the car with coffee, tea, and hot breakfast sandwiches, Elizabeth Archer paused and said to Vera, “Oh, wait, there’s that something I should do.”

She walked to the front of the coffee shop, pulled a spiral notebook out of her coat pocket, and began tearing the pages out and dropping them into the outdoor trash receptacle. When she was done she walked around to the back of the shop, and pulling microcassette tapes out of a small satchel one at a time crushed them beneath the heel of her zip boots. She tossed the tapes, the cassette recorder, and the bag into the dumpster, and walked back to the car.

They drove north on Route 28A to the Bourne Bridge, and then east on Trowbridge Road to the Sagamore Bridge, but instead of crossing the bridge and continuing on to Boston, Vera told Elizabeth to turn right onto Route 6.

“But, that will take us back on to the Cape,” she said.

“I know,” said Vera. “Lizzie, have you ever read ‘On the Road’?”

“No, what’s that?”

“It’s a book from the 1950s by Jack Kerouac, Anyway, in the book it’s about Sal Paradise, and he starts hitchhiking to California on Route 6, but someone tells him “there’s no traffic passes through 6.” It’s raining and he wants to go fast and have experiences, so he goes a different way. But, you know, it’s an old road, the kind where people used to have adventures, and it’s the longest road in the country. When you get to Provincetown there’s a sign that says ‘End of US 6, Provincetown to Long Beach, Coast to Coast.’”

“All right, but where are you going with this?” asked Elizabeth Archer.

“I think we should go to Provincetown instead of Boston. That policeman is no fool. He’s like my father, who was a policeman. He thinks we went to Boston. Only we know Lola’s with us. She can stay with my friends. They have a guest room that’s empty all winter and they can find work for her. She can start over. She can practice yoga there, get back on her feet. My friends are crazy for Bikram Yoga, you know, the hot room kind. They’re always asking me to try it. They even say Bikram has a slogan that if you do his yoga every day for thirty days it will change your life.”

The afternoon sun peeked through the clouds as they sped east towards the end of the Cape. Once, when she asked Pattabhi Jois where inner peace came from, he told her, “Without yoga, what use? You practice many years, then shanti is coming, no problem.”

“Would you like to do that?” Vera Nyberg asked Lola Donning.

“Yes, I would,” said Lola, twisting in her seat towards Vera.

“I woke up every morning wanting to break his neck, thinking revenge would be sweet, but it’s not. I thought revenge was justice. It’s not. I should have left it in the hands of karma to take care of him. I hate what I did. I feel like a worse person than he was. The best revenge would have been to be as much unlike him as possible.”

At Orleans they drove into and out of the traffic circle, towards Eastham, Truro, and finally Provincetown at the fist end of the Outer Cape.

“I’ve heard Provincetown in the dead of winter is cold, but maybe the yoga there will warm up my heart,” she said, turning to stare out the side window.

She wrapped her hands around the extra-large cup of JoMamas and took a long slow sip of her special blend holiday chai tea.

“We’ll all warm up in Provincetown,” said Vera, as Lizzie flicked on the headlights to light up the gloom on the road ahead of them.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

 

Cirque Du Asana

JohnathanLeeIverson

By Ed Staskus

Exercise used to be one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, along with restraint, observance, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and samadhi, the last literally meaning putting it all together.

Not anymore. Not nowadays. It’s not eyes wide open anymore. It’s eyes straight ahead on the posture. The practice of asana is today on the fast track to becoming the trunk of yoga, while the other limbs are paid lip service, wither away, or are simply ignored.

For many years yoga exercise, as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, was a small means to a big end. The basics of asana were defined in the sutras as a “steady or motionless posture accompanied with a sense of ease or comfort.” The mastery of it was meant to “loosen effort while meditating on the infinite.”

Sometime in the latter half of the last century asana began to forge its own separate identity, that of strengthening and revitalizing the body, the idea being that it was through the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, which are the physical postures, that all the other limbs could be realized.

As yoga pressed ahead and onward asana masters like Bikram Choudhury and Baron Baptiste designed new forms of yoga exercise, such as sequences practiced in hot rooms with no motive other than to lock the knee and “push, push, push” and other sequences that referenced only physical prowess, like Baptiste’s “Unlocking Athletic Power.”

In the new epoch yoga exercise has made many more great leaps forward, leaving its past farther behind, moving decisively into the worlds of athletic competition and extreme sports.

Today tournaments crown asana winners in Arizona, California, and New York, while overseas the European Yoga Alliance organizes an annual championship. USA Yoga, sponsor and governing body of the annual National Yoga Asana Championships, in what it says is the “spirit of healthy competition” is committed to bringing yoga asana to the Olympic games.

”Once yoga is in the Olympics,” says Esak Garcia, 2005 winner of the International Yoga Championship, “it will legitimize yoga for many people all over the world.”

Beyond the bright lights of the arena and its judgments on the perfection of a pose, its poise and composure, is the new world of extreme yoga. The Chicago Tribune recently ran a photo spread called “Extreme Yoga Positions” featuring a body artist named Yoga Yoga, whose real name is Michael Elias Mondosha.

He transforms Steady Eddy into 3-ring big top high wire on the mat.

Meanwhile, acroyogi partners perform poses like ‘Bird’, a horizontal “flier” supported on the feet and legs of a “base” staying rock steady, nailing the posture on top of stone parapets in the mountains of Nepal on the edge of sheer drops, all without the aid of spotters.

The back page of a recent issue of Yoga Journal featured a full‐page photograph of a woman in tree pose with hands in prayer behind her, standing on a ledge of the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. She was not wearing a tether, nor was there a net to catch her just in case she wobbled and fell.

It was here to eternity.

Even Native American Indians, famous for their work on bridges and skyscrapers, are careful about heights. “We have more respect for heights than most people,” said Dan Angus, a Kahnawake Mohawk ironworker, in ‘The Mohawks Who Built Manhattan.’

“You’ve got to watch it up there,” he said.

“I kept bringing my focus back to the pose,” the brave yoga lady on the bridge said.

She was watching it, but unlike the Mohawks, from the inside out, not the next step ahead. She wasn’t looking ahead down or up. Focusing on the pose and keeping it steady was undoubtedly a good idea. It is 78 feet from the deck of the bridge to the Allegheny River.

“I don’t see any benefit to it, especially since yoga begins with yama and the first yama is ahimsa, or non‐injury,” said Kenneth Toy of the Institute for Personal Development in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Which begs the question, why do it? If yoga is a spiritual practice with a physical component, why tempt fate? If yoga is just a gym rat’s bag of physical poses, again, why tempt fate? Even Olympic gymnasts don’t perform on the beams of bridges, much less without a padded mat below them to break the fall for when they inevitably fall.

“Talk about finding your edge!” said Carolyn Gilligan, an editor at elephant journal. “If you lose your balance on a bridge the risk is pretty tremendous. I think the key here would be having a calm, verycalm mind.”

‘One slip and it’s all over’ feats are often performed by circus troupes and extreme artists like Eskil Ronningsbaken, famous for stunts like balancing in handstand on a projecting steel rail of a lookout platform more than a thousand feet above a cold Norwegian lake.

“Yoga and different breathing techniques helps me to stay focused and hit the right wave of energy,“ he says, riding the wave

Yoga has a long history of bendy, stretching, balancing poses that seem incredible. Some are more amazing than others.

In the 1970s, on a television show called “That’s Incredible,” a performer named Mr. Yogi folded himself up, limb by limb, into a wooden box no bigger than a carry-all. When a lid was put on the small box the audience shouted on cue, “That’s incredible!” A big strong man carried the carry-all off stage to applause.

“Some yogis like to provide drama or accentuation or adrenaline to their poses,” explains Susan Pennington of Susquehanna Yoga & Meditation Center in Timonium, Maryland. “That is funny considering yoga is a practice of finding the middle. That is what balance is. Not the edge, but the middle.”

However, the middle way may not be the American way in the twenty-first century.

The Sanskrit word asana, from the root ‘asi’ which means to be, literally means a state of being. Today the meaning has been stood on its head, changed to mean a state of doing.

“Extreme balancing can be both fun and beautiful, calling for particular focus and skill,” said Alison West, the director of Yoga Union in New York City. “It’s a form of marketing through beauty and danger. Does it make one a better yogi? Probably not. But it looks that way.”

In Austin, Texas, artists perform yoga poses hanging from the skeletal beams of partially constructed buildings. Staging their suspension theater at night, the lines and cables they use are practically invisible.

“Tightrope walkers are now doing yoga poses in their routines,” says Cosmo Wayne of Yogagroove in Austin. “My question is, were they performers or yogis first, and does it matter? As for balance, either you have it or you don’t. People who can balance but are afraid of heights will be affected and probably not balance on the edge of a cliff. It’s all just fun and scenic.”

Whether extreme balancing has anything to do with yoga is a moot point, although Patanjali might be rolling over in his grave. His reasoning for the practice of yoga exercise was ultimately to be able to withstand physical and mental distractions in order to meditate.

“Yoga is a sacred practice of going inward and knowing who you are authentically,” said Michele Risa, a Kundalini Yoga teacher and New York City TV producer of yoga programming. “All this showmanship seems like a distraction at the least and the wrong message at worst.”

In many respects, however, in our post-modern times yoga has become a purely physical practice, and the message has morphed so now the headline is that the body beautiful can be gotten by anyone with a credit card, factoring in more dollars if you live on either coast and need to be really beautiful.

If perfecting the pose is the be‐all and end‐all of yoga, then cirque du asana might be the new third eye for raising awareness. If living the true yogic life is part and parcel of handstand, then performing handstand on the edge of the Grand Canyon probably validates the true yogic life and it would behoove all and sundry to get on the bus for the Rim‐to‐Rim tour.

Not everyone agrees that famous fitness instructors in yoga clothes or extreme sports performers with film crews in tow are the best guides on the path of the practice.

“I don’t believe risk taking is necessary to achieve the balance that a sound yoga asana and lifestyle practice can give us,” argues Nydia Tijerina Darby of Nydia’s Yoga Therapy in San Antonio, Texas. “It is beautiful and awe inspiring, but it seems to continue to sensationalize the asana and detract from the real beauty of a quiet and content mind, body, and spirit that does not need to push the limit in order to feel alive.”

Selflessness, balance, and humility are some of the core values of yoga. They are not the core values of our modern sports and entertainment culture. Exercising for fame and fortune is exercising for fame and fortune. It is not innercizing, which is the platform on which yoga was built.

What does gaining mastery in asana really mean, anyway? It doesn’t really mean doing handstands for an audience’s wonder and applause. It means doing handstand to gain awareness, to master a state of mind, to become, in a sense, bodiless.

“The pictures of extreme yoga are beautiful and certainly showcase a certain level of expertise,” says Tracey Ulshafer of One Yoga & Wellness Center in East Winsor, New Jersey. “But I do feel they are missing the essence of yoga. It is not for showing off. It is for exploring within.”

If yoga is a physical practice, then hitting a home run is worth the price of admission. But, if yoga is a spiritual practice with a physical dimension meant to keep the body strong and healthy for a lifetime of much more than asana, then home runs are only good for as long as they last, which isn’t long.

Who remembers last year’s World Series winner and loser?

“I believe asana is to help the work of unfolding inner Shakti, and so I see daredevil poses as something other than the true meaning of the practice,” says Ann Farbman of the World Yoga Center in New York City.

The devil is in the details of yoga practice. The practice is partly about the power of asana, but ultimately it is about the power of consciousness. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali doesn’t say a word about physical accomplishment, because that is not the point of yoga practice. He mentions asana only four times. The Yoga Sutras are about states of being, maybe achieved through asana, but not beholden to them.

There are no contortionists on boardwalks or carnivals on the edge of believe‐it‐ or‐not in any of Patanjali’s 196 aphorisms.

“It is better to take risks in extreme savasana,“ says Francois Raoult of Open Sky Yoga Center in Rochester, New York. Get down on the mat and look up at everything.

Modern yoga may not see it that way, having opened its own Pandora’s Box, but there is no doubt Patanjali would agree.

A version of this story appeared in Elephant Journal.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Wheel in the Sky

By Ed Staskus

   “Mom, can you write me a note for school tomorrow saying I can’t be an altar boy,” I asked my mother after we had finished watching every minute of “The Wide World of Disney” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” She gave me a sharp frown. I gave her my best first-born smile.

   Every Sunday night my parents nibbled sliced-up smoked eel while my brother, sister, and I munched handfuls of popcorn from paper bags sitting in front of the Zenith TV console in the basement. It was a family ritual. We loved Walt Disney, but The Great Stone Face wasn’t a chip off the old block. The circus acts and comedians were fun, but the opera singers and dramatic monologues were dull as turned off. None of us understood what the Little Italian Mouse was up to, either.

   I asked my mom for the note after we were out of the tub, in pj’s, and book bags ready for Monday. I wanted it to be short and sweet, as though it were no big deal, routine, really. I thought something along the line of all my spare time was already being spent on my studies would be appropriate.

   I knew I was on shaky ground, though. My parents went to mass every Sunday, which meant we all went. “Everybody went to church back then,” my mother says. “There were two masses every Sunday. The church was full of people. We went early to get a pew.”

   My mother always went to church because she had always gone. “I grew up that way,” she said. My father was a true believer. He was an accountant and counted on getting to heaven. Even though he wasn’t a betting man, he put his money on Pascal’s wager. 

   The wager argues that a thinking person should live as though God exists and try to believe in him. If God doesn’t exist, there will only be a few finite losses, like good times with too much money and too many girlfriends. When you are dead and gone you won’t miss them. But if God does exist, there are infinite gains, like spending eternity in heaven, and no infinite losses, like spending eternity in hell. 

   After he told me about the parlay there was no arguing with him about whether I was going to faithfully serve out my altar boy time. “St. George is one of the Holy Helpers,” he said. I helped myself by biting my tongue. Everybody at school knew George was a stud, the Trophy Bearer.

   The most embarrassed I ever was as a child was when my parents made me go to Sunday mass dressed up in a Buster Brown sailor suit. Something criminal happened to the costume before the next service. It was never found alive again. I had to go to confession after telling my mom I had no idea what happened to it. 

   The fashion show took months to live down at school. I had to fight my way out of several mean-spirited jibes. There will be blood in grade school.

   The St. George church school and parish hall were all in a package, a rectangular two-and-a-half story brick building on Superior Avenue and East 67th Street. The church was on the top floor, the school on the middle floor, and the hall on the half-in-the-ground floor. The hall doubled as a civil defense shelter in case of nuclear war, even though it was unclear what we going to do down there after the atomic bomb had blown Cleveland, Ohio, to kingdom come.

   I was glad my mom didn’t down-press me about it, but wrote a note, sticking it in an envelope, sealing it, and finishing it off with my teacher’s name on the front. A small whitecap of uncertainty took shape in my mind at my mom’s readiness to do my bidding, but I put my doubts to rest and slept the sleep of the blessed.

  The next day I gave the envelope to my third-grade teacher, Sister Matilda, a gnarly disciplinarian who had press-ganged me and a half-dozen other boys the second week of school. I found out later it was an annual recruitment drive.

   She read the note, smiled, and said, “Very good, you start next Monday.”

   How could that be? What happened between last night and now? My own mother had betrayed me, I realized.

   The St. George edifice was the biggest Lithuanian building in Cleveland, built in 1921. It was at the center of the ethnic district and many parishioners had businesses and institutions, like the newspaper and some kind of historical outfit, nearby. The east side along Lake Erie was full of Poles, Serbs and Slovenians, and Lithuanians.

   The parish priest, Father Ivan, short for his civilian name Balys Ivanauskas, lived in a seven-bedroom Italianate-style rectory a stone’s throw from the church. It had been built for a big family in the 1880s. Our teachers, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, lived together in a slightly smaller house on Superior Avenue two or three minutes away. There were eight of them, not including the Mother Superior. They could have used some of Father Ivan’s empty bedrooms.

   The sisters were a hard-boiled bunch. They were serious as could be about us taking our studies seriously and behaving in class. Those were rules number one and two. There were no other rules. They weren’t above hitting us with rulers riding crops rolled-up Catholic Universe Bulletins and their hands. Nobody’s parents ever complained about it, so none of us ever complained about it to them.

   What would have been the point? They would only have asked, “What did you do?”

   The nuns never sweated getting the job done. In fact, they never sweated at all. Wearing thick bulky habits, they should have been the first to perspire whenever it got hot, but they never did. Nobody knew how they did it, if it was part of their training or some kind of black magic.

   Even though I wasn’t baptized at St. George, I acted as a bump on a log at many baptismal fonts. One time a baby spit a stream of pea green apple sauce puke on my surplice and another time another one burped and farted and messed up Father Ivan. I had to run back to headquarters and get wet rags. I sprayed the boss with the new-fangled aerosol Lysol a busybody had donated.

   I received my First Communion there and was confirmed there. The First Communion happens when as a Catholic you attain the Age of Reason. I don’t know how any of us were ever given the host when we were, because I definitely had not attained the Age of Reason, nor had anyone in my class, unless they were faking it.

   My reason was affected by reading boy’s books in my spare time, adventures about running for your life full moons spies foreign lands secrets ray guns tommy guns spitfires hooded supervillains risky back alleys conspiracies and the bad guys foiled at the last minute by the good guys. The paperbacks seeded my dreams and I cooked up twisty exploits every night, waking up happy I had survived. 

   Once we were thrown to the lions, we got trained in the basics, how to dress, the call and response, and how to arrange the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the big Missal. We learned how to hold liturgical books for Father Ivan when he wasn’t at the altar, when he was proclaiming prayers with outstretched hands. We brought him thuribles, the lavabo water and towel, and the vessels to hold the consecrated bread.

   We helped with communion, presenting cruets of wine and water for him to pour into the chalice.  When he washed his hands standing at the side of the altar, we poured the water over them. If incense was used, we presented the thurible and incense to Father Ivan, who smoked the offerings, the cross and altar, after which we smoked the priest and people. It had one flavor, a sickly-sweet rotting pomegranate smell.

   The thurible was a two-piece metal chalice with a chain that we swung side to side. God forbid anybody got slap happy and swung it too high, hitting something with it, and spilling the hot coals, threatening to burn the church down. That was when Father Ivan became Ivan the Terrible.

   We rang a handbell before the consecration, when the priest extended his hands above the gifts. We rang the bell again when, after the consecration of the bread and wine, the priest showed the host and then the chalice. 

   “Ring dem’ bells” is what we liked doing best.

   I started low man on the totem pole which meant the 7 o’clock morning shift. Even though everybody went to church, nobody went to church first thing in the morning Monday through Friday. At least, almost nobody. The big man was always there and at least one of his altar boys. I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning, pour myself a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice, catch a CTS bus on the corner of St. Clair Avenue and East 127th Street, toss exact change into the fare box, stay away from the crazy people, run through the church to the sacristy, get into my uniform, and make sure I had my cheat sheet.

   The mass was performed in Latin, most of the time the priest’s back to the congregation, and we followed his lead. There were prescribed times we had to respond by voice to something Father Ivan recited. It was when we offered Holy Communion that I finally faced the nave and saw the only people in church were old older oldest unemployed worried about something or in the wrong place. 

   One benefit to hardly anybody being in the pews first thing in the morning was whenever I made a mistake, it usually stayed between me and my maker. That is, unless Ivan the Terrible, who had eyes in the back of his head and hearing better than a moth, saw and heard what I had done wrong.

   Moths have the best hearing in the world, next to priests, who are accustomed to listening to whispers in the confessional. I was waiting for my turn one afternoon after school when I heard Father Ivan bellow, “What did you say?” and the next thing I knew a red-faced boy burst out of the booth running followed by the dark-faced priest. 

   I quietly slipped away. There was no need to put myself in harm’s way for somebody else’s mortal sins.

   When I started Father Bartis was in charge, but the next year Father Ivan became the parish priest. He was a burly man. None of us knew where he came from or how old he was, although we guessed he was between 30 and 60. He ran the parish until 1980. He smoked, we could smell it on his breath when he got close to us, and sometimes we caught a whiff of spirits. We all knew what strong drink smelled like because almost everybody’s parents drank.

   He liked to take walks and mind his own business, unless he was minding ours. We were always under the gun. He could be irascible to begin with and screwing around with his life’s work brought out the worst in him. Our school janitor said he never met anyone worth a damn who wasn’t irascible. Father Ivan was short-tempered, but his bark was worse than his bite. The nuns put him to shame when it came to crime and punishment.

   All of us carried cheat sheets. Latin was a foreign language, as well as a dead language. None of us were taking classes in it and none of us knew what we were saying. Our responses during mass were rote, except when something went wrong, when we improvised with mumbles. It wasn’t speaking in tongues, but Father Ivan warned us exorcism was imminent if we didn’t learn our lines.

   The Eucharist was the high point of mass. It got us off our knees and on our feet. We helped in the distribution by holding a communion plate under everybody’s chin when the priest gave them the wafer. There would have been hell to pay if there was an accident, the wafer falling out of somebody’s mouth, landing on the floor.

   It would have meant saying a million Hail Mary’s and a thousand turns around the Stations of the Cross.

   After acquiring seniority, I was promoted off the morning shift and started serving at Sunday masses, funerals, and weddings. Sunday mass was more of the same, only longer and more elaborate, but at least I got to sleep in and go to church in the family car instead of the city bus with strangers.

   Funerals seemed to always be scheduled on Mondays and Fridays. It happened so often I began to think weekends coming and going were a dangerous time. At one Friday funeral Father Ivan spoke glowingly of all the good works the deceased had done and how he was sure the man was going to heaven. “The way to the brightness is through good works,” he said. “The first thing we all have got to do is do good.”

   We were standing on either side of the dead man. The other altar boy leaned over the open casket and said to me, “What you got to do first is be dead.”

   The corpses didn’t bother us over much, but the mewling coffin sounds freaked us out.

   None of us especially enjoyed funerals, not because we were near at hand to the dead, but because they were sad dismal and mournful and on top of everything else we rarely were gifted with cash. It dismayed us to see the family light twenty thirty candles at a votive stand and push folded ones and fives into the offering box.

Weddings were a different story. It was festive. Everybody was in a good mood. It was always a sunny day. The brides looked great in their white dresses with trains. Heaven help the altar boy who stepped on a moving train and yanked it off.

   The number one perk of serving at a wedding was we were always rewarded in hard cash. The best man was usually the man who slipped us an envelope and told us what a great job we had done, even though we never did anything special beyond kneeling and standing around most of the time, like we always did.

   Weddings in July and August were often hot and humid. Before one of them the groom himself paid us in advance in Morgan silver dollars, ten of them for each of us. It was a windfall. We stowed them away carefully. I wrapped mine up in a handkerchief. Everyone was sweating during the ceremony, and when it came time for communion, I reached into my pocket for the handkerchief to dry my hands. It would have been bad if I let the cruet slip. 

   When I did, the silver dollars fell out pell-mell from my handkerchief, rolled down the two steps in the gap between the altar rail, past the bride and groom, and down the center aisle of the nave. A man stuck his foot out and corralled them with his shoe. I was alarmed until I saw it was my uncle, who was an accountant like my father.

   My tour of duty ended at the end of sixth grade, when my parents moved out of the neighborhood and I transferred to another Catholic school. They already had a full complement of altar boys, so my services weren’t needed there. I was happy enough to go back to being a spectator.

   When St. George closed in 2009 it was the oldest Lithuanian parish in North America. 

   At the last mass three priests presided and there was a host of altar boys and girls. Back in the day we would have welcomed girls. They were better at cleaning than us and we knew we could boss them around, although they were also getting to be nice sweet friendly to have as friends.

   The altar was given away to another church. The playground and parking lot were sold, and the grounds converted to greenhouses. The rectory was boarded up. The convent was long gone, since the school had closed long before. A chain link fence was set up all around the building, and that was that.

There were no more dragons real or imagined for the soldier saint to slay. George took a knee. The day of the Trophy Bearer was done. 

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Exercise for the Elite

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By Ed Staskus

All women carry a purse on their persons, with their money, car keys, cell phones, and paraphernalia close at hand. They buy their bags at big box marts or department stores or on hundreds of web sites. Their handbags range from seventy-nine cent beaded totes ordered on e-bay to luxury-crafted Louis Vuitton’s found in quiet malls in select cities.

One late afternoon after work I unrolled my yoga mat at a nearby yoga studio, early for class, and settled into child’s pose to loosen up my back. Laying my hands palms up on the floor beside me and letting the business day drain away, I idly listened to two ladies next to me talking. As I rolled up and reached for my toes in a seated forward bend, one of the young women asked the other one about the purse she had secured behind her mat.

The lady with the purse, sitting cross-legged, explained that she didn’t want to leave it in the lobby at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio, but preferred to have it near her, where she could keep an eye on it. She looked back at it.

It was still there.

“It’s a really nice purse,” said the other one, both of them now looking at the leather bag.

“Thanks, it’s Italian.”

“Oh, where did you get it?’

“In Italy, when I was in Florence. I just had to have it when I saw it.”

I straightened up, sat back on my heels, and snuck a peek at the purse. I can’t really tell one purse from another, but I can tell cheap from expensive.

The purse from Florence oozed expensive.

Inner Bliss, just west of Cleveland, draws its customers from Rocky River and Bay Village, two suburbs on the south shore of Lake Erie. The median household income of Rocky River is $61,000 and the median household income of Bay Village is $83,000. The median income of Cleveland households, just one suburb away to the east, is $27,000.

Almost no one practicing yoga at Inner Bliss is from Cleveland.

In fact, very few Clevelanders practice yoga at all. There are only a handful of yoga studios in the city itself, and those are downtown or near the big universities, catering to the hip and privileged. Yoga in Cleveland is not in Cleveland, but rather in the suburbs, in up-scale neighborhoods like Westlake, Beachwood, and Hudson.

On the other hand Cleveland’s most populous suburb, Parma, a working-class community of auto and steel workers three times bigger than Rocky River and Bay Village put together, does not have a single yoga studio inside its borders.

Inner Bliss, meanwhile, has more than forty classes on its weekly calendar.

Yoga studios in cities nationwide, from San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, and New York reveal the same demographics.  “In general, yoga is a work-out pursued by the well-off,” says Amy Beth Treciokas of Yoga Now in Chicago. Yoga is practiced by the upper classes, not the middle class, and even less so among minorities like blacks and Hispanics and the poor.

“Yoga has become almost a household word now in the United States,” says Aaron Vega of VegaYoga, a struggling studio in a sizable Hispanic neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts. “But it’s an exclusive club.” When Michelle Buteau, the stand-up comedienne, wrote on her blog Who Said It, “Yes, I said it, I’m going to yoga. A black woman, who is not Oprah or Gayle is going to yoga, say what?” it was funny in a way the funniest things are: it was true.

More than a third of the people who frequent yoga studios in the United States have household incomes of $75,000-or-more, while one out of six have an income of more than $100,000. Their levels of education are equally high: 72% of them college-educated, and 27% of them holding post-graduate degrees. Rich people are more likely to exercise than their poorer neighbors, according to a 2009 Gallup poll, partly explaining why yoga studio parking lots overflow with BMW’s and hybrid SUV’s, rather than Fords and Kias.

American yogis spend upwards of 6 billion dollars a year on classes and clothes and designer mats. “Something that has bugged me about yoga for a long time,” writes Yogi Sip on her blog Confessions of a Wayward Yogi, “is that it is unashamedly aimed at the upper classes.”

They take workshops taught by celebrity teachers who command a high fee, spend four-day weekends at regional gatherings and yoga conferences, and vacation at yoga retreats in the mountains or on seashores around the world. Some yogis even jet set coast-to-coast to practice at select studios.

Practicing asanas at yoga studios in America is, if nothing else, an expensive form of exercise that only some can afford, in more ways than one. “I think it’s right to say that the people who typically take yoga are white, with disposable income, and more importantly with disposable time,” says Courtney Bender, a professor in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. “They’re in jobs and professions that allow them enough time to take classes. So there aren’t a lot of working class people, for example.”

Many yoga teachers and studio owners agree that it is the rich who practice yoga. “For the most part, yes, it’s an expensive pursuit, and seen as something for the elite,” says Janet Stone of Janet Stone Yoga in San Francisco. Where studios are located supports her contention. They are in the better neighborhoods of Boston and Los Angeles and all the places in-between where the upper middle class and rich live.

“No one can argue that the Americanization of yoga has taken place and that people with disposable income make up a large percentage of the base that supports the yoga industry in this country. It is true yoga appeals to a predominately white, upwardly mobile segment,” says Gabriel Halpern, founder and director of the Yoga Circle in Chicago.

Some teachers disagree that it is only the rich who can afford to practice at studios. “In my own personal experience of teaching yoga and Yoga Therapy in rural middle America,” says Mary Hilliker of River Flow Yoga in Wausau, Wisconsin, “I have found that my students are rarely elite in income, but that they are certainly rich in heart.”

Even at big studios in big cities there is the sense that a wide stratum of society participates in the practice. “While many of our students are financially well-off, I would guess the majority are middle class and some even lower class,” says Annie Freedom of the Samadhi Center for Yoga and Meditation in Denver. “I see a lot of regular folks in lower tax brackets practicing yoga for greater peace and spiritual awakening.”

But, it may be that the average American cannot afford to exercise at yoga studios. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the overall median personal income for all Americans over the age of 18 is approximately $26,000. Going to asana classes at a yoga studio three times a week at $12.00 a class would cost $1872.00 a year, or a projected 7% of the average American’s gross income.

“If I wasn’t a teacher,” Deanna Black, an iconoclastic instructor at Fitness One in University Circle, Ohio, told me, “I’m not sure I could afford to practice at a studio.” The average American can join Fitness 19 or Anytime Fitness and work out every day for $29.95 a month. Michael Hellebrekers, a financial consultant for Wells Fargo Bank, estimates that at best monthly and yearly rates for practicing at a local yoga studio are 4 to 5 times more expensive than lifting weights at a franchise gym.

Yoga studios, no matter what else they are, are businesses that need to pay the bills. They may be labors of inspiration and compassion, but they are sole proprietorships and limited-liability corporations, too, and must make sense in terms of profit and loss.  “Creating a studio setting, where the overhead is extensive beyond a student’s comprehension,” says Tammy Lyons of Inner Bliss, “and hiring the staff it takes to even open the doors, isn’t possible without charging what may be outside some people’s ability.”

The economic challenges studios must meet are the same that confront all businesses. “Let’s face it,” says Knekoh Fruge of Yoga Circle Downtown in Los Angeles, “you need a large space and you need to fill it, the rent is high, and teachers have to get paid. That’s why in large part the poor can’t afford it.”

Not everyone believes practicing at yoga studios has anything necessarily to do with yoga. “You’ve got to be kidding,” Ginny Walters, a Cleveland-area Ashtanga teacher said. “Maybe the studios are for the elite, but the practice is for everyone, money or no money.” Putting her pocketbook where her mouth is, Walters teaches many summer evening classes at a Rocky River city park overlooking Lake Erie, charging only a nominal fee.

Tammy Lyons of Inner Bliss, who taught herself yoga from a book checked out of the library, says:  “The practice itself can be done without anything, or at the very least a mat. When I started I went to class maybe once every couple of weeks, and spent less than $12.00 a month.” Yoga asanas, once learned from books, classes, or DVD’s, can be practiced almost anywhere. You don’t even need a roof over your head. Unrolling a mat in the backyard and doing 108-or-less sun salutations is as free as free gets.

Many teachers concede the costs of practicing yoga in a studio setting, but insist it is not a roadblock. “I have always reached out to students who are sincere and need financial assistance to take classes,” says Craig Kurtz of the Iyengar Yoga Center in Denver. “I strive to not let money be the issue that holds students back.”

Many teachers do pro bono work in their communities, at schools and shelters, and even in prisons, because they believe in the good yoga can do. “I would never turn anyone away,” Knekoh Fruge says, “and I guarantee you 90% of the yoga studios would never refuse someone who genuinely needed to practice but didn’t have any money. I offer work exchange, and I teach classes for free to people recently unemployed.”

There is, however, a wide divide between schoolchildren and prisoners, and the rich, and straddling that divide are the working and middle classes. Budgets and necessary economies are everyday issues in their lives. Not disadvantaged enough for charity and not rich enough in time or money to easily take three or four yoga classes a week, they are squeezed from both ends, pressured by desire and conformity. The rich among us may have the means to practice all the asanas we want, but the mass in the middle has harder choices to make.

When I asked Kristen Zarzycki of Inner Bliss whether or not yoga was an elitist activity, she reluctantly agreed it was. But then she added: “Everyone can be elite. Seriously, stop buying junk at Target and take a yoga class instead. Anyone can do it if they want to. I have coffee at Starbucks with my father two or three mornings a week. I could have bought a new sofa by now, with all the drinks we had last year, but I think it’s important to spend time with my dad. It’s the same with yoga.”

What we do with our time and money is what defines us, not what we have or don’t have. What we do, how we act in this life, determines who and what we are. No one practices yoga because they are yogis. They are yogis because they practice yoga. Everyone is a melding of his or her own choices. They are what their priorities have made them. Otherwise they are not themselves; they are someone else’s priorities.

Jean-Paul Sartre said we are all condemned to be free, to choose and to act, adding that we are responsible for everything we do. Not choosing is itself a choice. It is the accepting of conditions as they are. It is choosing the option of letting someone else shape you into a consumer or spectator.

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming,” said Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher. What he meant is that the ontological problem we all face is to find out who we are and what to do with ourselves. It is only in our decisions that we are important. In other words, the choices we make are ultimately what we are made of.

Practicing yoga is not predetermined. We can stay at home watching The Biggest Loser on HD instead of going to a yoga class and doing warrior poses. Americans watch 250 billion hours of TV a year, mesmerized by sports, car chases, and endless commercials for fast food, pharmaceuticals, and the next fad. We can cheer on our favorite celebrities and athletes, buying tickets to their movies and spectacles. Or we can decide to go to a yoga studio and pay $12.00 for a one-hour lesson in how to live our lives as an experience rather than a dog and pony show.

Maybe going to a yoga studio doesn’t have as much to do with money, or the lack of it, as it seems. Maybe it is just a matter of priorities, of deciding what to spend one’s money on. The most recent estimate by Street and Smith Sports Business Journal is that Americans spend upwards of $213 billion annually on sports events, or more than $700 for every man, woman, child, and baby in the country, watching men in bright uniforms throw, bounce, kick, or hit balls with a stick.

We drink $74 billion dollars of beer a year, more than 12 times the amount of money spent on this one alcoholic beverage than all the money spent practicing asanas at a yoga studio. According to the New York Times Magazine, even pornography is more popular than yoga. Americans spend an estimated $12-14 billion dollars a year looking at pictures of naked people.

“Many people avoid yoga because they perceive it as elitist,” said Frank Barnett, a former Cleveland, Ohio-based kirtan teacher.

But, anyone can practice yoga if they want to, not just the elite. Even tight-fisted budgets are only about what we can’t afford. They are not about keeping us from buying what we really need. One way of looking at choices is that they are ways of turning stumbling blocks into stepping-stones. Almost everyone’s resources are limited to the extent that priorities have to be set.  Going to a yoga class is not so much a line item in a budget as it is getting in line at the check-out counter of the mind, body, and spirit store.

“Anybody can afford to take a yoga class if they want to,” says Kristen Zarzycki. “It’s a matter of making it a priority.”

When McDonalds uses yoga and meditation in its advertisements to sell Happy Meals, it does so as grist for the mill to achieve its only goal, which is to generate profits for its shareholders. Yoga is different. “It’s not about getting rich,” says Melissa Johnson of Yoga Ananda in Avondale, Florida. “This is a labor of love for the community. No one is turned away for inability to pay.”

Yoga teachers take empowerment, spiritual, physical, and even economic, out of Sherwood Forest and make life better, not poorer. They even make the rich richer. “I agree it is exercise for the elite, but with certain qualifications,” says Graham Fowler of the Peachtree Yoga Center in Atlanta. “We help everyone become more well-off, more self-aware, confident and balanced, with qualities of heart.”

In the long run we shape our lives and ourselves by what we do. At the Yoga Hive in Atlanta, Renard Mills, a personal chef, started his own yoga practice just as the recession began to impact his business. Bad business or not, he continues to take two classes a week. “I used to be a worrier,” he says, “but I don’t do that anymore. I just breathe. I walk this earth differently now. In my family budget, yoga is the second line item, after food.”

Yoga changes people’s lives for the better, not for the worse. “It’s wonderful to see people get stronger, healthier, more vibrant and happy,” says Tara Rawson of Adashakti Yoga in Riverside, Florida.

Yoga is not about taking from the poor and giving to the rich. It is about making everyone rich. Having disposable money and time is one thing. What we do with the money and time we have is another. It may be true yoga is largely taught in the better neighborhoods of America, but the real goal of American yoga teachers is to make everyone’s neighborhood better.

“Yoga is not elitist!” says Dr. Rajvi Mehta of India’s Yoga Rahasya. “It actually breaks all barriers of economics, religion, class, geography, and politics. Once in a yoga class, we have a driver adjacent to the CEO of a company.” If the practice of yoga were really a matter of money, then the practice wouldn’t really matter. It would just be another commodity. But it isn’t, no matter what the thousand billion dollar advertising engine of the world believes. Choosing yoga is to stop resolving life as a problem and living it as a journey.

Yoga is a practice, not a product. Stepping into a studio is not about buying something – it is about becoming someone. Yoga is many things to many people, but fundamentally it is a pilgrimage. In Mark Twain’s book Innocents Abroad, when the American religion tourists on their luxury steam ship finally reach the Holy Land, and get to the Sea of Galilee, they protest against the cost of the two gold Napoleons for renting a ride on one of the local boats. The boatman, instead of haggling with them, sails away and the pilgrims are left stranded.

Practicing asanas at a yoga studio doesn’t have anything to do with walking on water, but at the end of many hot vinyasa classes one or two yogis will look like they’ve done exactly that, if only because they are totally exhausted or totally refreshed. Yoga does have everything to do with believing in what you do, and being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become what you believe in, even if it costs one or two gold pieces.

“Nothing in life is really free. If you are serious about something, you are willing to pay for it, “ says Paul Jerard, the director of teacher training at the Aura Wellness Center in North Providence, Rhode Island. “If you truly love yoga, and want to learn more, support your local yoga teacher, or your local studio.”

Teachers keep yoga alive, bringing it to life for their students. Their studios are way stations on the pilgrimage that the practice is.  “One of the things necessary for yoga,” said Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life Society, “is continuous study under a guide.” Giving ourselves to a yoga teacher is to choose to be elite, because that is what yoga does. It privileges everyone who chooses to make it even a small part of his or her life. It makes anyone who unrolls a mat at their yoga studio as elite as it gets, which has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with awareness and consciousness of self and others.

Even though yoga is not just exercise, asanas are the best known and most accessible of the eight-part path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body,” says B. K. S. Iyengar. “The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he knows God is within.”

Practicing at a yoga studio is never easy physically or financially. It means choosing to be in the company of people who think yoga matters, and not in the company of people who don’t.  It means standing up and making a commitment of time and money. Where we spend our money, rich and poor alike, is where our priorities lie. Ultimately it is not what is in your wallet that is important. It is what you do with what’s in your wallet that really matters.

A version of this story appeared in Elephant Journal.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”