Category Archives: Animal Kingdom

Fixing Frankenstein

By Ed Staskus

   The day Frankenstein walked into Barron Cannon’s yoga studio in Lakewood, Ohio, Barron could tell he wasn’t a happy monster. He walked as though he had never gotten over the rigor mortis of what should have been his one and only death before being resurrected by Victor Frankenstein. He was dirty as all get out and wet. His boots were caked with muck and mire. He needed a haircut and a shave. He looked like he could use ten or twelve square meals all at once

   “You look like hell,” Barron said. 

   “I feel like hell,” Frankenstein said.

   “I thought you were dead and gone, and only left alive in the movies,” Barron said. “The story is you killed yourself up on the North Pole after Victor died. That would have been a couple hundred years ago.”

   After being chased and pelted with rocks, flaming stave torches shoved into his face, shot at and thrown into chains, Frankenstein had sworn revenge against all mankind. They hated him so he would hate them. He had hated himself, as well, for a long time.

   “I was going to end it all when I floated off on an ice floe, but I froze solid, and it wasn’t until twenty summers ago that I defrosted.”

   An unexpected consequence of global warming, Barron thought to himself.

   “After defrosting I lost track of time,” the creature said. “It’s either all day or all night almost all the time. I built an igloo and learned to hunt seals. I caught and beat their brains out with my bare hands. I meant to go back to Geneva. But after living on the ice safe and sound, I changed my mind. There wasn’t anybody anywhere trying to kill me, which was a blessing. But then I got lonely.”

   “How did you get here?” Barron asked.

   “I walked.”

   “It’s got to be three, four thousand miles from the pole to here. How long did it take you?”

   “I meant to go back to Europe, but I took a wrong turn at the top of the world. Canada looked like Russia until I got to Toronto. By then I didn’t want to turn around. I had been at it for five months. I kept walking until I reached Perry, on Lake Erie. I met a boy and girl there. They were riding pedal go-karts on the bluffs. The girl said her brother was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. It was hard to believe. He is a small skinny shrimp. When I asked him whether he thought I was a monster, he said I looked monstrous, but was sure I wasn’t a monster.”

   Frankenstein had seen his reflection in water. He was aware of what he looked like. He didn’t like it any more than passersby did throwing him wary nervous glances and scuttling away. 

   “Was his name Oliver?”

   “Yes.”

   “You didn’t throw him and his sister down a well, or anything like that, did you?”

   “No, and I’m glad I didn’t. They helped me. They gave me some of their homemade granola bars.”

   “Don’t underestimate the boy. He’s taken on banshees and trolls, the 19 virus, Bigfoot, Goo Goo Godzilla, and the King of the Monsters himself. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s no ordinary child to mess with.”

   “He told me to come here and talk to you, that you were a yoga teacher and could unstraighten me. I’m stiff as a board all the time.”

   “I can see that,” Barron said.

   “I want to be able to touch my toes. I want to be a better person.”

   “I can help you with that,” Barron said. “Except the better person part. That’s up to you.”

   “I was benevolent and good once,” Frankenstein said. “Misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

   “I’ll do my best.”

   For once, Frankenstein had the feeling he had found a true friend.

   After Barron got back from the Goodwill store with XXL shorts and muscle t’s, pants and shirts, and threw away Frankenstein’s clothes, which hadn’t been washed in centuries, they got started on the yoga mat. Barron told him to get barefoot. When he did the smell was bad. Barron turned on the studio’s fans and opened both the front and back doors. He took the creature’s boots outside and tossed them in the dumpster. The dumpster burped and spit the boots back out. They landed in the parking lot with a clomp. Barron doused them with gasoline and burned them.

   “We’ll start with the twelve must-know poses for beginners,” Barron said.

   Frankenstein had no problem doing the mountain and plank poses, but that was the beginning and end of what he could do. He couldn’t do down dog or a lunge to save his life. Triangle, dancer’s pose, and half pigeon pose might as well have been rocket science. When he tried seated forward fold, he folded forward an inch or two, and farted.

   “More roughage in those granola bars than you’re used to?”

   “I lived on seal blubber for a long time,” Frankenstein said.

   He could do some of the hardest poses easily, like headstand. He balanced on his flat head like nobody’s business. He chanted like a champ, his deep baritone rich and heart felt. He did dead man’s pose like he was born to it. 

   When the lesson was over, however, he wasn’t able to get up out of laydown. His muscles were in knots. Barron pulled out his Theragun and went to work. It took all the percussion device’s battery power to get Frankenstein on his feet and into the storeroom, where Barron prepared a bedroll.

   “It doesn’t look like you’re in any condition to go anywhere, but make sure you stay here. I have three classes back-to-back-to-back. I don’t want you barging through the door and causing any heart attacks.”

   Frankenstein groaned and rolled over. He slept the rest of the day, that night, and part of the next day. Barron took him to the barber shop next door. Frankenstein had never gotten a haircut. His hair was halfway down his back and his beard down to his belly button. The barber gave him a taper fade crew cut and a shave. He trimmed his eyebrows and the tufts of hair growing out of his ears. He unscrewed the electrodes in the creature’s neck.

   The incisions around his neck, wrists, and ankles had long since healed. Barron found a pair of size 34 sneakers and second-hand bifocals for him. Frankenstein was out of practice, but he enjoyed reading. Barron bought two dozen thrillers biographies histories at the Friends of the Library sale.

   Monday morning dawned snug and bright. Barron and Frankenstein walked to Lakewood Park, where they could unroll their mats outdoors on the shore of Lake Erie. Barron had sewn two mats together for the big guy. Barron’s one goal was to make the creature more flexible. His unhappiness with the human race would have to wait. He wasn’t killing anybody anymore, at least. Frankenstein’s problem wasn’t a desk job and never exercising. He wasn’t rigid with chronic tension. He had been on an all-blubber diet for decades but enjoyed the plant-based diet Barron was converting him to. They started having breakfast at Cleveland Vegan. 

   He had never stretched in his life, which contributed to his stiffness and pain. His poor muscles were as short as could be. On top of everything else he was close to three hundred years old, counting his own lifetime and the lifetimes of the men he was made of. His synovial fluid was thick as mud.

   Barron and Frankenstein worked on standing forward bend hour after hour day after day. At first the creature could only bend slightly, placing his hands on his thighs. He did it a thousand times. He huffed and puffed. When he was able to touch his knees, he did it two thousand times. He broke out into a sweat. One day Barron brought blocks, setting them up on the high level. Frankenstein folded and got his fingertips to the blocks. The day came when Barron flipped them to their lower level.

   “Don’t be a Raggedy Ann doll, just flopping over,” Barron told him. “Do it right.”

   The gold star moment finally arrived when Frankenstein folded forward without blocks. His upper back wasn’t rounded, his chest was open, his legs were straight, and his spine was long. He was engaged but relaxed. He took several steady breaths as the space between his ribs and pelvis grew.

   “Great job, Frank,” Barron said, encouraging him.

   Frankenstein did the pose three thousand times. He was looking lean and not so mean. His skin was losing its yellow luster. He was getting a tan in the sunshine at the park.

   According to B.K.S. Iyengar, Uttanasana slows down the heartbeat, tones the liver spleen kidneys, and rejuvenates the spinal nerves. He explained that after practicing it “one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow, and the mind feels at peace.”

   They walked to Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream in Rocky River. Barron had a scoop. Frankenstein had eight scoops. Children gathered around him asking a million questions, asking for his autograph, and asking for selfies with him in the picture. He was a ham with glowing eyes and never said no.

   From standing forward bend it was on to more beginner poses, then intermediate poses. By the end of the month Frankenstein wasn’t a yogi, yet, but he was more human than he had ever been. He joined Barron’s regularly scheduled classes. He was two and three feet bigger than anybody else. Barron put him in a back corner by himself where he wouldn’t accidentally clobber anybody while doing sun salutations.

   When the time came for Frankenstein to move out of Barron’s storeroom into his own apartment, Barron made him a gift of B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga.”

   “This is the book that will make you a better person, Frank. I’ve read it twice.”

   “I’ll read it a hundred times,” Frankenstein said.

   “What do you plan on doing?” Barron asked.

   Frankenstein thought about becoming a barber like the man who tended to him but bending over the tops of heads all day long would lead to lower back pain sooner or later. He knew full well he had arthritis. He threw that idea away. He thought about becoming a house painter. He could reach more areas compared to a shorter man. He could cut in walls and ceilings without using a ladder. That would save hours over the course of a job. The downside was having to paint low, like skirting boards. Stooping would do a number on his back. He threw that idea out the window, too.

   When he finally decided what to do, he was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier. It was a natural. It was how he had been granted a second life. He would be an electrician.

   An electrician is a tradesman who repairs, inspects, and installs wires, fixtures, and equipment. Much of the job involves installing fans and lights into ceilings. Being tall would free him from the need to go up and down a ladder for every install. It turns the work from a two-man job into a one-very-tall-man job.

   Homeowners in Lakewood were always restoring and upgrading their houses. He would advertise himself as “Call Frank – He Knows the Power of Electricity and Will Save You Money.”

   If he ever made a mistake, he knew he could absorb the bust-up of voltage. He had already been hit with more of the hot stuff than any mortal man and lived to tell the tale. He would look for another Bride of Frankenstein, too, a nice girl with a slam-bam bolt of lightning in her hair.

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.”

Loose as a Goose

By Ed Staskus

   Godzilla came to yoga late in life. He was 68 years old and getting long in the tooth. His rear end hurt. He thought it might be sciatica. He had trouble twisting to see who might be sneaking up on him. When he tried to touch his toes, it seemed like they were miles away, even though they were only a couple of hundred feet away.

   He was losing his vim and vigor. He was on the edge of losing his edge. He knew it better than anybody. He had to do something about it.

   The first thing he did after being born and getting up on his feet was stomp on Tokyo. When he was done, he lapped up all the spilled milk he could find. Then he took a long nap, sleeping all day and part of the next day.

   No sooner did Tokyo rebuild itself than he destroyed it again and again and again. In the ensuing years he destroyed New York City three times. He destroyed Osaka and Paris twice. In between he traveled extensively and destroyed London, Moscow, Sydney, and Las Vegas, among others.

   It seemed like his pulverizing days might be over. He tried supplements and devices. He tried long walks and strength training. He tried massage and acupuncture. He tried leafy vegetables, even though his favorite meal was eating cars.

   When he went to a wellness clinic, they told him there wasn’t anything they could do for him. He didn’t have medical insurance. On top of that he had never worked a day in his life and didn’t have Medicare. No cash no wellness. Besides, there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with him, except for his advancing years.

   He didn’t like their answers and stomped on the building, flattening it like a pancake. His best days might be behind him, but he still had his trademark stomp. However, he lumbered away with a slight limp.

   “Man, oh man,” he muttered. “I think I hurt my back.”

   He was ready to take advice from anybody, including his grandson Goo Goo Godzilla, who was an insufferable know-it-all. He thought he knew everything just because he could ask the Gods of Google anything. Whenever Godzilla saw a cell phone tablet laptop desktop he chewed it up and spit it out because it tasted so bad. That was what he thought about knowing everything all the time.

   “You can’t turn back the hands of time, pops, but you can slow them down,” Goo Goo said. “Get with it and get on a yoga mat.”

   Godzilla had never heard of yoga.

   “It’s a mind spirit body discipline,” Goo Goo said. “It’s thousands of years old. It’s the real deal.”

   “There’s nothing wrong with my mind or spirit,” Godzilla said. “It’s my body that needs a tune-up. I’m ready to try anything.”

   “Now you’re talking old-timer. Yoga is the way to go. They will fix you up in no time.”

   “If he calls me old-timer one more time, I am cutting him out of my will,” Godzilla grumbled to himself.

   Although few were aware he could fly, Godzilla could fly. When he let loose an atomic fire breath he could blast off like a missile and rocket himself anywhere in the world. In the summer one of his favorite places for R & R was Middle Sister Island. It was one of the Lake Erie islands. It was small but big enough for him. It was uninhabited. It was quiet. Goo Goo didn’t know where it was, and Godzilla planned on keeping it that way.

   One evening it rained hard. In the middle of the night fog rolled in. The next morning, he woke up stiff and achy. It had been happening lately, too often for comfort. He was determined to do something about it. He blasted off for Cleveland. When he landed, he looked for a phone book to locate a yoga studio. but there were none to be had. The Yellow Pages had disappeared.

   He roared off again, circling the city, and with his still keen eyesight located one on the west side of town. So long as he could see and stomp, he was still the boss man. He just had to limber up his old bones, get lean and mean again.

   He signed up for a complimentary first class at the front desk. He didn’t have a mat, so the yoga instructor unfurled a hundred studio mats for him. The first pose, mountain pose, was just the right one for him. He was, after all, as big as a mountain. After that it was all downhill. Midway through class, frustrated and peevish, he let loose a fire breath and accidentally burnt the studio down. All the men and women fled, and the fire department raced to the scene.

   The same thing happened at the next yoga studio and the one after that. Cleveland’s yoga owners called a hasty business meeting and quickly resolved to ban the monster from all their studios. They were, however, undecided about how to keep him out. He was as big as a forty- story building. He weighed in at 90,000 tons. He wasn’t hiding in any corners.

   Godzilla was determined to learn the moves and carry the lessons away with him. He had too many mean streets to cross to adopt yoga as a lifestyle, but he had too many enemies to not do yoga. He had to be able to do to his archenemies what they wanted to do to him.

   “How about if we offer him free private lessons, somewhere outdoors, somewhere there is plenty of outdoors?” one teacher offered.

   Everybody thought it was a good idea, but nobody wanted to be the teacher doing the teaching. One false move and they might get squashed. After much hemming and hawing all eyes turned to Barron Cannon. He was a single man, didn’t have a family who would have to mourn him, and was an anarchist to boot. Most of Cleveland’s yoga teachers avoided him, his social and political views making them fit to be tied, no matter how much they meditated and tried to think the better of their fellow man. It struck them he was the perfect candidate. He was self-centered and irascible and would give Godzilla as good as he got. 

   “How about it, Barron?” one of the teachers asked cautiously.

    “Sure,” he said and left the meeting to find Godzilla.

   Godzilla wasn’t hard to find. He wasn’t hard to convince, either. He thought one-on-one lessons were just the ticket. He motioned for Barron to hop on his back, and when he was hanging on tight, Godzilla rocketed back to Middle Sister Island. Before he did, he landed in the parking lot of a grocery store so Barron could stock up on hard tack, protein bars, and bottled water.

   They were no sooner airborne again than they heard sirens and watched police cars and SWAT teams from Cleveland, Lakewood, Rocky River, and Fairview Park descend on the grocery store, where shoppers were scattering in every direction. It wasn’t often that the King of the Monsters visited and didn’t destroy your city. They should have counted their blessings, but they were all boomers and echo boomers and felt as blessed as they were ever going to feel.

   On the island Barron got to work early the next day, even though Godzilla was cranky, wanting to sleep in. Hour after hour, day after day, he led Godzilla through endless sun salutations, until he could do them in his sleep. When he tried to beg off, Barron tongue lashed him.

   “Do you think Ghidora is laying around gazing at his navel? Do you think Mothra is lounging around eating grapes? Do you think Destoroyah is gaping the gals at a dance hall?”

   Godzilla had to admit none of them were doing any of that. They were all probably on the prowl. They were all like him. None of them had a friend in the world, only enemies. King Kong was the only creature Godzilla was remotely close to. They had fought to a draw several times and harbored a sullen respect for each other. 

   “I’m not going to bother you with the beliefs and principles of yoga,” Barron said. “It’s not because I don’t think they are vital to the practice, but because that’s the nature of the yoga beast these days. You’re only interested in what yoga can do for you right now. We’re going to move on to intermediate practice next, and after that to Ashtanga Yoga. You’re a quick study, big guy. Another week-or-so and I think you’ll be ready to make these exercises your own.”

   Godzilla whooped his approval. Barron dodged the monster’s inadvertent fire breath. At the end of the day Godzilla curled up and Barron curled up inside Godzilla’s curl, staying warm. At the end of the week Barron pinned a blue ribbon on Godzilla’s chest and declared him ready to go. The monster touched his toes with ease and beamed his appreciation. He was loose as a goose.

   His enemies were going to pay for all the slanderous things they had been saying about him, things like blobby slow and over the hill. With his newfound reptilian quickness, he was going to make mincemeat of them. He was as physically fast and aware as he had ever been, slimmed down to 80,000 tons.

   After dropping Barron off at his apartment in Lakewood and promising to never destroy his hometown no matter what so long as Barron lived there, Godzilla blasted off back to Japan. He had some scores to settle. He had nothing to prove, but he thought he might destroy Tokyo again, just to point out he could still do it.

   He couldn’t wait to put the moves on his glib grandson Goo Goo, either. He would show him the path to hell was paved with good intentions, even though he knew no monsters, not even his kith and kin, had anything but bad intentions. Barron Cannon had been right to not bring up the light of yoga. The light in Godzilla’s eyes had nothing to do with yoga.

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.”

Yogis Eating Animals

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By Ed Staskus

Evin Bodell often brings Napoleon, her Australian sheep dog, to her West Side Yoga studio in Lakewood, Ohio, where he is a kind of shaggy greeter, sniffing everyone up and down as they step out of their shoes in the lobby. Whenever the door to the yoga room is left open the dog snoozes on the threshold during the asana classes. He is an ever-present reminder of how good life can be, food and water in the lobby behind him and friends in front.

After one class, as I sat in the waiting room on a sofa and roughhoused with the dog, scratching his stomach as he rolled over, I asked Evin, a longtime yoga teacher and omnivore, if she had ever considered killing, barbequing, and eating Napoleon.

She said no in more ways than one.

When I asked her what the difference was between her dog and any of the other animals she ate, she said Napoleon was her pet and everything else wasn’t.

According to a 2012 Gallup Poll more than 95% of all Americans 18 years-and-older eat animals. That includes most people who practice and teach yoga. On average Americans eat almost 200 pounds of meat a year, most of it cows, pigs, and birds, and only very rarely dogs. In the United States we manufacture, slaughter, and eat nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

The world’s production of meat in 1961 was 71 million tons. Today it is estimated to be more than 284 million tons.

We are eating more animals than ever in human history.

We became animal-eaters at the dawn of the genus Homo, around 2.5 million years ago. “Early Homo had teeth adapted to tough food. The obvious candidate is meat,” said anthropologist Richard Wrangtan of Harvard University. Stone Age man lived as a hunter-gatherer eating food based on high-protein meat, fruits, and vegetables. Studies of the collagen in Stone Age humans living in England 13,000 years ago show that their diet, in terms of protein content and quality, was the same as the diet of wolves.

“Carbohydrates derived from cereal grains were not part of the human evolutionary experience,” said Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department at Health at Colorado State University.

Approximately 10,000 years ago people in several parts of the world, most notably in Mesopotamia, independently discovered how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. Our food staples gradually evolved to become beans, cereals, dairy, some meat, and salt, and remained so until the Industrial Revolution. From the mid-19th century to the present mechanized food processing and intensive livestock farming has led to a broader distribution of refined foodstuffs and fatty meat. In the past sixty years the availability of factory farm animals for food has expanded exponentially.

There are many reasons why we eat meat.

One reason is we have mastery over the earth, as most religions and governments preach. Many people believe animals are there for us to eat. In other words, if God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat? The Genesis chapter of the Bible states, “Man shall have dominion over the animals.”

But, does that necessarily mean we are free to imprison kill eat animals, or might it mean we should take care of them? The Koran forbids eating pigs, but most other animals are fair game. It also insists animals being slaughtered for food must be alive and the name of Allah be invoked at their deaths.

It is ironic mordant double-edged that Muhammad died after eating poisoned lamb.

Some people practicing yoga see meat as essential for their health. “In the past I experimented with vegetarianism and found I felt cleaner and less aggressive,” said Randal Williams, a yoga teacher and restaurateur in Lenox, Massachusetts. “But, on the other hand, I felt ungrounded and light-headed. I went back to eating meat and it was almost as if my cells were happier for having meat available.”

Meat is considered one of the food groups in the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid and is often eaten for its nutrients. Those nutrients include zinc, iron, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, and especially the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. When I asked Kristen Zarzycki, a powerful flow teacher at Inner Bliss Yoga in Rocky River, Ohio, why she ate animals, she said, “I need the protein.”

But, does anyone really need to eat animals to get the protein required for practicing yoga, even yoga as demanding as powerful flow? Maybe not, since many elite athletes are vegetarians, such as 4-time World Champion Ironman triathlete Dave Scott, 4-time Mr. Universe body builder Bill Pearl, 9-time Olympic Gold winner Carl Lewis, and 9-time NFL Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.

The amount of protein we consume is also open to question.

“The average American consumes more than twice the amount of protein that is the absurdly oversized U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance,” Jay Weinstein pointed out in his book ‘The Ethical Gourmet’.

The essential amino acids, or protein, not synthesized by the body must be gotten from food. Meat can be a convenient and tasty when grilled form of that protein, but those same amino acids can be easily gotten from grains and legumes. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has called for a new Four Food Groups that does not include meat, saying: “Two of the four old food groups, meats and dairy products, are clearly not necessary for health.”

It is rare that anyone has to eat animals for any nutritional reason, at all.

In fact, eating animals for protein can be dangerous. A study in the late 1980s of 88,000 nurses found that those who ate red meat were two-and-a-half times as likely to develop colon cancer as near-vegetarians. Walter Willet, the director of the study and a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said: “The optimum amount of red meat you should eat is zero.”

More than twenty years of research at the Loma Linda University in California has revealed that men who eat animals are three times more likely to suffer from prostate cancer than vegetarians.

Some people say they eat animals because they were raised on meat and our culture accepts the food practice. “If your grandmother is making a wonderful meat dish that you have loved since you were a child, is it yoga to push it away?” asked Mary Taylor, a Boulder, Colorado teacher and one-time student of Julia Child.

Although yoga touts acceptance as one of it virtues, that may not necessarily be the best of reasons, given that our culture once forced African-Americans to work for free less than three generations ago, denied women property and voting rights fewer than two generations ago, and has been imposing its foreign policy by way of nuclear threats and armed conflict for the past generation and up to the present day.

What if your grandmother and our culture accepted cannibalism as proper and fitting?

Many people simply like the way meat tastes. They enjoy eating animals because they are delicious. “I love meat because I love the taste,” said Ginny Walters, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio-area. “Give me a great steak on the grill in the summer and all is right with my world.”

Cookbooks are rife with recipes for beef, pork, fowl, and lamb. Some people, like the famous chef and author Anthony Bourdain, cannot do without eating animals. “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, and organ meat is a life not worth living,” he said.

But, what about satisfying our other senses, such as hearing and seeing?

What if someone enjoyed listening to pigs squeal in pain? Would it be okay for them to stick switchblades into pigs to hear them cry out? Is it okay to crowd cows into feedlots that resemble concentration camps where they spend a month-or-so shin deep in their own excrement being fattened up for the dinner table? Would the same practice be acceptable if someone just liked looking at cows stuck in shit all day long?

What harm can there be, many people ask, in eating a double cheeseburger?

As it happens, plenty of harm happens. There is a daunting amount of damage done to our environment in the process of the energy-intensive raising of livestock, the damage bordering on cruelty done to animals during their brief lives, and ultimately the killing dismemberment packaging of the animal itself.

More than 30 percent of the earth’s usable land is involved in the production of animals for food, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Even though approximately 800 million people in the world are underfed, most of the corn and soy grown in the world feeds our livestock. James Lovestock, the British scientist best known for his Gaia Hypothesis, has estimated, “If we gave up eating beef we would have roughly 20 to 30 times more land for food than we have now.”

The amount of waste produced by the animals we raise for food is of biblical proportions, roughly 130 times the waste of the entire population of the United States, according to a 1997 report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture. The hog farms in North Carolina alone generate more fecal matter than all the people in New York and California combined. Nearly none of this hog waste is treated and vast amounts of manure nationwide pollute rivers, lakes, and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that almost thirty thousand miles of American waterways are dead or close to dead due to this pollution.

“When you look at environmental problems in the United States,“ said Gordon Eschel, an environmentalist and geophysicist at Bard College, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production.”

In  2006 the United Nations issued a report saying livestock production caused more damage to the environment than all the cars, trucks, trains, and planes in the world all put together. “I do not eat meat,“ said Rafael Sarango of the Yoga Center in Houston, Texas, “because eating animal products is not good for the environment, which is the greenest act a person can choose.”

Most of the animals we eat are grown in what are known in the meat business as animal feeding operations. These are factories making the most meat at the lowest cost. To achieve economies of scale chickens are crammed by the tens of thousands into enormous windowless sheds where they live their genetically modified forty days in clouds of ammonia created by the accumulated waste of generations of them. Some corporate chicken factories are filled with up to a million birds in cages, a cornucopia of drugs daily mixed into their feed.

Americans take 3 million pounds of antibiotics yearly by prescription. The animals we eat are fed approximately 28 million pounds of antibiotics every year to keep them alive in their Augean stables. Intensive piggeries, often producing hundreds of thousands of swine for slaughter a year, confine their animals in sunless steel buildings in close quarters where the air is so poisonous the animals are routinely sprayed with insecticides. Despite the antibiotics fed to our animals they are still often contaminated.

“The meat we buy is grossly contaminated with both coliform bacteria and salmonella,” said Dr. Richard Novick of the Public Health Institute. To make matters worse, the overuse of antibiotics has led to a scourge of drug-resistant infectious diseases the World Health Organization says is a leading threat to human health.

In the Yoga Sutras the first yama is ahimsa, which means non-violence or non-harming. Like the Golden Rule of Christian ethics, ahimsa is one of the principles central to yoga. “Non-harming is essential to the yogi,” Sharon Gannon says in her book ‘Yoga and Vegetarianism’. “According to the universal law of karma, if you cause harm to others, you will suffer the painful consequences of your actions. The yogi, realizing this, tries to cause the least amount of harm and suffering to others as possible.”

Sharon Gannon includes all breathing beings in her sense of others, and as parts or doubles in the construction of the self. If ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, slaughtering animals for hamburgers cannot be part of the non-violence plan. Killing animals by proxy makes us killers no matter how we cut it.

Many people who practice yoga feel ahimsa is something that should be applied to oneself first and foremost. “If eating meat in moderation works better for the individual to help sustain a well-balanced life, then I think it is important to consume meat,” said David Sunshine of the Dallas Yoga Center. Yogis are not selfish, in principle at least, but putting themselves at the front of the line and justifying it as a matter of balance makes them selfish in practice. We are all born into a Hobbesian world, but it is an interconnected world, and yoga is one of the ways of realizing that complexity and learning to be less, not more, selfish.

Non-violence approaches being a tenet of yoga. But for many it is a method rather than a mantra. “Ahimsa and all the yamas and niyamas are meant to be guidelines of inquiry and empowerment, not about dogma or morality,” said Danny Arguetty, a yoga teacher at Kripalu, a health and yoga retreat in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, as well as a nutrition and health counselor.

This flexible approach stresses yoga’s structure of flow on and off the mat as opposed to any set of commandments. “The yama of ahimsa is not for cementing a fixed morality,” said Randal Williams. “I would offer this inquiry, is it an act of harming to dictate diet to someone else or for someone else to dictate to you what you should eat?” Nevertheless, whether ahimsa was commanded or created, whether old school or redefined in relativist terms, it is a simple proposition espousing the avoiding of harm to living creatures.

To spin the concept is to split hairs.

Wrestling with their appetites, many argue that harm is done to the natural world no matter what we eat. Underpaid and exploited migrant workers harvest our fruits. Corporations grow grains and vegetables in one place and transport them far distances, bankrupting local farmers with their economies of scale and needlessly consuming fossil fuels. Even the sophism that plants feel and suffer is invoked.

At the other end of the spectrum Steve Ross in his book ‘Happy Yoga’ insists that when grocery-shopping we should ask ask, “Are the farmers full of gratitude and love, and do they enjoy growing food, or are they angry and filled with hate for their job and all vegetables?”

These are naïve points-of-view, warping ahimsa as a prescription not to harm other living beings into a merry-go-round of what-ifs and one-upmanship.

Some yogis have made non-violence towards animals a core mandate of their practice. Pattabhi Jois, the man who originated Ashtanga Yoga, on which much of today’s yoga is based, said, “The most important part of the yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet.” He believed eating animals made his students stiff as a board.

Not everyone agrees.

“I get angry, yes, actually, absolutely indignant, when I see students being frowned upon by some self-righteous teacher. There is a strong ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the yoga community that is keeping students, and even many teachers, locked firmly inside the meat-eating closet,” said Sadie Nardini, self-described ‘Ultimate Wellness Expert’ and founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga. She reasons it would be harmful to the health of many yogis to not eat meat, violating ahimsa at its most primal level. “People and animals alike would be far better served if we chose from more carefully regulated, caring and healthful sources,” she said, addressing factory farm meat industry issues

But, that is like being a vegetarian between meals.

In 1780 the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham asked, in his ‘Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation’, about animals, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” The answer to Bentham’s question is hiding in the light, not in the darkness of today’s pigpens. Everyone knows animals suffer when we force them to live in squalor, genetically modify them, separate them from their young at birth, feed them cheap corn laced with antibiotics and hormones, kill them with bolt guns, and finally eat their skin flesh organs after their suffering is over.

Everyone knows, which is why so many people say they don’t want to know when asked if they know how the loin of pork on their plate got there.

If modern feedlots and slaughterhouses had glass walls instead of barbed wire walls it is likely only the heartless would eat animals.  “I am a vegetarian because if I can’t kill it myself, why let someone else do it for me,” said Teresa Taylor of Yoga Quest in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “People continue to eat meat because they are distanced from the suffering and killing of the animal they are eating. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Many people do not want to inquire into the killing of the animals they eat because they perceive the cruelty built into our factory farms, but do not want to internalize how deliberate and unrelenting it is. “I have always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience,” Albert Einstein said before becoming a vegetarian late in life.

The inherent narrative in the yoga world is that it’s all yoga. What matters is how aware and compassionate we are with others and ourselves. What we eat or don’t eat is beside the point. It doesn’t matter.

But, what we do when we buy veal cutlets for ourselves, family, and friends may be more to the point than all the yogic love, reverence, and respect in the world. “Whether someone realizes it or not, if they participate in eating meat they are contributing to and encouraging violence. Not ahimsa by any stretch of the imagination, “ said Carrie Klaus, a teacher in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ahimsa is a personal practice, and everyone has to make his or her own decisions. Those decisions involve more than just thinking outside the bun, such as eating organic grass-fed free-range cows and pigs raised on local farms.

“In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle,” says Jonathan Safran Froer in his book ‘Eating Animals’. Is non-violence a cornerstone of yoga or just a concept on the menu? Does it benefit ahimsa to be thankful to the dead animals we eat? Are the yogic precepts of restraint really served by having a t-bone for dinner?

“I do not eat red meat, so that is a start,” says Kristen Zarzycki. “It breaks my heart to know what happens.”

Maybe it’s not that yogis need to change what they think about eating meat, but rather rethink what they think is food. We have transformed animals into commodities and main courses and forgotten they are sentient breathing flesh and blood beings much like us. Many yogis eat animals with compassion and awareness of what they are doing. “On the rare occasion when I do indulge in animal food, I do so with great respect and meditation on the sacrifice of the animal,” said Jerry Anathan of Yoga East in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

It is laudable to be grateful and compassionate for the sacrifice of the cow when sitting down to a steak dinner, but does it speak to the spirit of non-violence? Even though we have eaten meat for a hundred millenniums, perhaps it is time to lose our memory of eating animals and make a new paradigm for ourselves. We don’t live or think like wolves or cavemen and women anymore. Why should we eat like them?

“The food we eat is a profound way in which we connect with the world. Even if you never unroll a mat, you will lift a fork,” said Melissa Van Orman of Tranquil Space Yoga in Washington, D. C.

Eating animals is an instinct. Not eating them is a decision we make or don’t make every time we sit down at the dining room table, just like every other decision we make, from practicing non-violence among ourselves to being nice to our dogs.

“From what I have observed many of the yogis I have met are meat eaters,” said Danny Arguetty.

But, yogis don’t eat their pets. It is a dodgy distinction.

More than thirty-five million cows, a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and some nine billion birds are killed annually in the United States to be made into fodder for our butcher shops and supermarkets. It is an astonishing amount of life and death violence in light of going vegetarian, which never killed anyone at the dinner table.

We all have to eat, but maybe we shouldn’t take part in the killing and eating of animals anymore than absolutely necessary, if only in the interest of restraining ourselves from causing unnecessary harm in this life and to all lives, both ours and the lives of others.

A version of this story appeared in Integral Yoga Magazine.

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.”

Sunny Side Up

By Ed Staskus

“Here comes the sun, doo doo doo, and I say, it’s all right.” The Beatles

The temperature was in the 90’s, like it had been for weeks, and the humidity was swampy Louisiana, which it had been for weeks, when Frank and Vera Glass went for a walk on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile south of Lake Erie and the mouth of the river.

The Metroparks, more than a hundred years in the making, are a series of nature preserves, more than 21,000 acres, which encircle Cleveland, Ohio, and its suburbs. There are hundreds of miles of paths and horse trails, picnic areas and fishing spots, and eight golf courses.

Their home sat on a side street on the east side of the Rocky River valley. If there is ever another Great Flood, the river would have to rise more than one hundred and fifty feet up the cliff to threaten them. Turkey vultures nest in the cliff face and soar all summer like gliders in wide circles on the currents rising up from the valley. The Glass house, a dark gray Polish double, is ten minutes by foot from the park, cooler mid-summer in the shade of the forest and along the riverbank.

They walked down the Detroit Road entrance, past the marina, the dog park and the soccer fields, as far as Tyler Field, before turning around. As they neared Hogsback Hill, an isolated high point on the near bank of the Rocky River, Frank suggested they go up to see his friend Barron Cannon, whom they hadn’t seen recently.

It was a month earlier that they had gotten back from a month on the east coast of Canada. Barron had spent more than two months protesting on the east coast of Manhattan.

“You know I don’t want to,” said Vera.

“I know,” said Frank, turning up Hogsback.

Barron Cannon is a trim young man in his 30s who lives in an orange Mongolian yurt he built in the backyard of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback Hill. He has a master’s degree in Comparative Philosophy and is a committed yogi, as well as a radical vegan.

He practices yoga for two hours a day and meditates for another half-hour. Sometimes he chants or plays his harmonium. He’s thankful they have no nearby neighbors, and the house is slightly off the edge of park land, so the park rangers can’t bother him. His parents have long since thrown up their hands. They pray he’ll find a girlfriend and move away, but aren’t holding their breath.

“He needs to be committed,” Vera has said to Frank on several occasions, usually right after they have visited him and are out of earshot.

“Why couldn’t he stay and occupy Wall Street instead of his mom’s backyard?” she added.

Barron does not have a job or a car or a television. He reads books. He has never voted.

“I’ll vote when anarchists are on the ballot,” he told Frank.

Frank wanted to remind him that anarchists who vote are like atheists who pray, but he thought, what was the point?

They found Barron Cannon in the backyard, lying face-up in the sun on an Elmo Sesame Street blanket, on the south side of his yurt. He was naked except for a fig leaf covering his private parts.

It was a literal fig leaf.

Vera looked away when Barron propped himself up on his elbows and the fig leaf rolled away.

“Sorry,” he said, pulling on a pair of cargo shorts. “I was getting my daily dose of sunshine here on the acropolis.”

He was tan, from tip to toe. Frank could see he hadn’t been using an SPF lotion of any kind anywhere on himself.

“You should be careful,” he suggested. “Too much sun isn’t good for you.”

“That’s where you’re right, but even more wrong,” Barron replied.

“Too much sun may be bad, depending on your skin and heredity, but avoiding the sun is not good for anyone. Remember, we evolved in the sun, living outdoors for almost all of our two million years on this planet.”

He flipped on a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and leaned towards Frank.

“Then, not very long ago, we started messing with Mother Nature and started avoiding the sun. When you avoid the sun, you may not get rickets, because you can always take a pill, but all the pills in the world can’t replace the real thing.”

He pointed up to the sky.

”When you avoid the sun, like it’s life and death, you increase the risk of dying from internal cancers,” he said slowly solemnly.

Frank must have looked skeptical, because Barron tilted his dark glasses down his nose Lolita-style and exhaled.

“Look it up,” he said.

It turns out, when Frank looked it up, Barron was right.

“I really hate it when he’s right about anything,” said Vera.

The Journal of Epidemiology, more than 30 years ago, reported that colon cancer rates are nearly three times higher in New York than in New Mexico. Since then many other studies have found solar UVB induced vitamin D is also associated with reduced risks of breast and rectal cancers.

“When the government and our medical monopoly started telling us to avoid the sun, they forgot to remind us we would need to get our vitamin D somewhere else,” Barron said.

By this time Vera had wandered off and was commiserating with Barron’s mother about the flower garden her son had torn out, except for a small plot she had saved at the last minute, coming home from the grocery and discovering what he was about. He had thrown her flowers into a compost pit and replaced them with rows of root vegetables.

“Vitamin D is a hormone,” said Barron “and it’s produced naturally when skin is exposed to UVB in sunlight.”

Frank noticed a yoga mat rolled up and leaning against the alligator skin bark of a sweet gum tree.

“You’re still doing yoga outside?”

“I am.”

“In the buff?”

“You bet. It was good enough for the Greeks, it’s good enough for me.”

Barron told Frank vitamin D sufficiency is linked to a reduction in 105 diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Some researchers believe vitamin D deficiency contributes to nearly 400,000 premature deaths and adds a one hundred billion dollar burden to the health care system.

By many estimates vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic, with some studies indicating greater than 50 percent of the global population at risk.

Three out of four Americans are considered vitamin D deficient, according to government data.

“Do you know why?” Barron asked him.

“No,” he said.

“It’s because of overzealous sun avoidance, which has led to a 50 percent increase in that figure in the past 20 years,” he said, slapping a fist into his palm for emphasis.

“I take a vitamin D supplement every morning,” Frank said. “I don’t have to go out in the sun. Besides, it’s been unbearably hot and there are lots of bugs, since we had such a mild winter.”

“You think our time and space is complete and knows everything,” he said. “You assume science understands all the benefits of sunlight and that the only good it does is make vitamin D.”

“Yes,” Frank said.

“That isn’t true,” Barron said. “Let me give you an example.”

He told Frank about a recent study at the University of Wisconsin and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. They discovered that something in ultraviolet light retarded progression of an animal model of multiple sclerosis, which is a painful neurological disease for which there is no cure. While vitamin D suppressed progression of the animal model, ultraviolet light worked even better. The report concluded that UV light was having an effect independent of vitamin D production.

“If it’s true in humans, it means that sunlight, or UV light, contains something good in addition to vitamin D,” he said. “We just don’t know what it is.”

Our ancestors evolved naked, full frontal. Barron waved his fig leaf.

“The sun was directly overhead. We have a long evolutionary bond with the sun. Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D, and who knows what else, within minutes of  life and limb exposure to sunlight. It is unlikely such a system evolved by chance. When we sever the relationship between ourselves and sunlight, we proceed at our own peril.”

Barron Cannon gave Frank a sharp look and leaned back on his elbows

At a loss for words, Frank was grateful when his wife reappeared.

“I’m getting a little toasty in all this sunlight,” she said.

They agreed that they should be going. They bid Barron goodbye, Vera waved to Barron’s mother, and they made their way home.

After dinner that night, as Vera watched “Lawrence of Arabia” on Turner Classic Movies, while sitting on the front porch in the orange-yellow light of a quiet sunset, Frank skimmed a review of a paper in the British Medical Journal.

“Some people are taking the safe sun message too far,” wrote Professor Simon Pearce. “Vitamin D levels are precarious in parts of the population. They stay at home on computer games. It’s good to have 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to the sun two to three times a week.”

As he put his iPad down, he thought, I might give it a try in our backyard, without slathering on any sunscreen as I normally do, but definitely wearing a pair of shorts.

Inside the living room, on the flat screen, Lawrence and his Arab allies were charging across a sun-blasted desert outfitted from head-to-toe in long loose robes.

Where did Barron Cannon get fig leaves, anyway, Frank wondered?

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.”

When Hell Freezes Over

By Ed Staskus

“The Hells Angels are so much aware of their mad-dog reputation that they take a perverse kind of pleasure in being friendly.”  Hunter S. Thompson

When Frank Glass pulled his Hyundai SUV into the back parking lot of Quiet Mind, on the border of Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, and got out with his rolled-up mat under his arm, he was brought up short by a fleet of Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside the door of the yoga studio. Inside the lobby, he peeked into the practice space, where a mob of muscled-up bare-chested men was in awkward cross-legged poses on rental mats. The denim vests and jackets hanging on coat hooks bore the Hells Angels colors and moniker, red lettering displayed on a white background.

The bikers are sometimes called “The Red and White.” They are also known as “The Filthy Few.” Inside the club among themselves they are “The Club.”

The Angels are the best known of what are known as outlaw motorcycle gangs. The name comes from the P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers who flew in Burma and China during World War Two. The pilots were known as “Hells Angels” because the combat missions they flew were dangerous courageous literally death-defying.

Skulls of death scowled from the middle of the back of the biker vests and jackets.

Frank took a seat, instead of taking the class, seeing he was late for it, anyway, and the room was full. He might as well, he thought, read the book he was halfway into, and go to lunch with Barron, as they had planned, when the class was over. The book he was reading on his iPhone was David Halberstam’s “The Fifties.” Even though the Hells Angels were formed at the turn of the decade, and ran riot in the 1950s, there wasn’t anything about them in the book.

Yoga in the United States got going in the same decade, although it didn’t run riot. It kept a low profile until the next decade, when hippies made the scene, and adopted yoga as one of their motifs. Even when, from then until now, when yoga has grown exponentially, it has never run riot.

The Hells Angels and yoga have diametrically opposing outlooks on duty focus liberty life in general. The bikers are noted for violence, brawling, and fighting with fists pipes guns. They are notorious for being ruthless. They will cut the legs out from under you at the slightest provocation. One of the legs yoga stands on is ahimsa, or non-violence. Yoga stands up for its own values but doesn’t go out of its way to chop anyone else down to size.

When the class ended the Hells Angels filed out of the studio. It had only been them in Barron Cannon’s morning class. They slugged back bottled water, toweled off, and got back into their denims and Red Wings.

“I’ll be damned if that was a beginner’s class,” one of them said.

The biker standing next to him, his bald mottled head glistening, said, “That was a hell of a workout.”

“Workout?” another one exclaimed. “That was some kind of a torture.”

The Hells Angels are the biggest biker gang in the world. There are 444 chapters on six continents. They are banned in some countries, like the Netherlands, where they have been labeled as a “menace to public order.” The Angels don’t give a fig about the Dutch, so it’s a wash. There are only a few requirements for becoming a Hells Angel. First, you have to have a driver’s license and a seriously badass motorcycle, preferably a chopped Harley Davison. Second, you have to ride it a minimum of 12,000 miles a year. Third, if you were ever a policeman, or even ever thought of becoming a policeman, you cannot join the club. Fourth, you have to undergo a semi-secret initiation, resulting in being “patched.” Being patched is like achieving tenure at a university. Lastly, you have to be a man, and a renegade, to boot, no women allowed.

It’s best to be a white man when applying for membership.

In 2000, Sonny Barger, one of the sparkplugs of the gang, said, “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hells Angels. If you’re black, you want to join the Dragons. That’s how it is whether anyone likes it or not. We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.” When asked if that might ever change, he answered, “Anything can change. I can’t predict the future.”

As many Hells Angels as there are, there are many more folks who practice yoga, about 300 million worldwide. It’s easy to do, too. You don’t need a $20 thousand-dollar two-wheeler, you don’t need to ride it all day and night, and there are no initiation rites, half-baked or otherwise. You can be whatever race creed color gender you want to be. You don’t have to be amoral bloodthirsty ungovernable, either, although yoga is good for resolving those problems.

“What did you say?” asked one of the Hells Angels.

“Who, me?” asked Frank

“Yes, you,” the biker said, looming over him.

“I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here reading, thinking.”

“Keep your thinking to yourself,” the Hells Angel said, stalking out of the Quiet Mind Yoga Studio. Some of the other bikers glared at him but left without incident. One of them gave him a friendly wave and a wink. Frank breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a roar of 1690 and 1870 cc engines starting up in the parking lot. In a minute the troupe of bikers was swaggering down Clifton Boulevard towards downtown Cleveland. Frank had overheard one of them mention the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He wondered whether there was an exhibit commemorating the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where the Hells Angels had been hired to provide security, and 4 people were killed during the show.

Barron Cannon stepped out of the studio space, wearing loose black shorts and a tight-fitting Pearl Izumi jersey. He looked cool as a cucumber. Frank jumped up.

“What in goddamn Sam Hill was that all about?” he blurted.

“Missionary work,” said Barron, unflappable and insufferable as a post-graduate in philosophy can be. Barron had a PhD, although he eschewed academics in favor of his own leanings, which were economic Marxism, idealistic anarchy, vegetarianism, and yoga. He had grown up on the other side of Lakewood, camped in a yurt in his parent’s backyard while he was in school, been briefly married, and lived in a small 80-year-old but modernized apartment close by Edgewater Park, a short bike ride away.

Barron owned a Chevy Volt, but often rode his bicycle, always to work, shopping for groceries, visiting nearby friends, and training aerobically on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Metropark.

“Missionary work? What do you mean?”

“Let’s go across the street to Starbucks, get some coffee, some wraps or egg and cheese protein boxes,” said Barron.

Sitting down inside the Starbucks, which had transformed a vacant Burger King the year before, their food and coffee in front of them, Frank again asked Barron, “What are you up to?”

“Off the mat into the world.”

“The last time that came up you derided the idea, saying yoga had to stay close to the individual, close to its roots, and not try to reform the world.”

“Times change, bud,” said Barron.

“Trying to teach yoga to Hells Angels isn’t a hop skip and jump.

“No,” said Barron. “It’s a great leap forward, man.”

Barron Cannon took secret pleasure in conflating things like the moon landing and Chairman Mao, as though the past was play dough.

“How did it go?”

“Not bad, they got engaged in it. I think they might follow up on the class.”

“When hell freezes over,” thought Frank.

Barron Cannon laughed.

“That’s mostly true, but not entirely true,” he said. “No one is absolutely unsuited for yoga practice.”

Are you reading my mind?”

Sometimes.”

“Are you sure they weren’t just grandstanding?”

“If there’s one thing uncertain about yoga, it’s certainty,” said Barron.

Many law enforcement agencies worldwide consider the Hells Angels the numero uno of the “Big Four” motorcycle gangs, the others being the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos. They investigate and arrest the bikers for engaging in organized crime, including extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and violent battery of all kinds. They raid their clubhouses and haul the Filthy Few off to jail.

The police never bust up yoga studios, which are generally spic and span.

Members of the Hells Angels say they are a group of enthusiasts who have bonded to ride motorcycles together, organizing events such as road trips, rallies, and fundraisers. They say any crimes are the responsibility of the men who committed them and not the club as a whole, despite many convictions for racketeering, and riots, mayhem, and shootings.

One of their slogans is, “When in doubt, knock ‘em out.”

How did you get them into the studio in the first place?”

“I was at the Shell station up on the corner, filling up, when a Hells Angel pulled in behind me. He moved like a wooden Indian. He had to lean on the gas tank getting off his motorcycle.”

“And you suggested yoga?”

“You should try yoga,” Barron said to the biker. “It’s good for your back.”

“What the fuck?” said the biker, his arms tattooed from wrist to shoulder. “Who the hell are you?”

“I teach yoga just down the street. You should come in for a beginner’s class. You might be surprised what a big help it can be.”

“Fuck off,” said the biker.

“So what happened?” asked Frank.

“The next thing I knew, there they were when I got to work this morning. They took over the studio, one of them standing outside turning everyone else away, saying the class was full, until I got started.”

“How did it go?”

“They wouldn’t chant, and they didn’t want to hear much beforehand. They told me to get down to business, so what happened was that it turned into a plain and simple asana class.”

“How did they do?”

“They’re strong men, but most of them can’t touch their toes to save their lives. They tried hard. I’ll give them that. They were terrific doing the warrior poses, but things like triangle, anything cross-legged, and some of the twists were beyond them. Most of them were stiff as boards.”

Yoga plays an important role in reducing aggression and violence. It helps by becoming more thoughtful about your actions. It makes you more flexible in tight spots. The brain-addled in prisons have been specifically helped by the practice.

“Attention and impulsivity are very important for this population, which has problems dealing with aggressive impulses,” says Oxford University psychologist Miguel Farias.

Simple things like pranayama breathing techniques release tension and anger. Doing headstand is a good way to get it into your head that you can’t stay mad when you’re on your head. Mindfulness and awareness flip the misconceptions of anger.

“We can see anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality,” says the Dalai Lama.

Even the yoga concept of non-attachment can be a big help. No matter what patches you wear, you aren’t that patch. You are an individual who is free to make individual choices. The Hells Angel skull’s head is a reminder of the transitory nature of life. Make the most of it. Don’t be always punching your way out of a paper bag.

Frank and Barron finished their coffees and stepped outside. At the crosswalk they paused at the curb. The traffic was light on Clifton Boulevard, but a biker was approaching.

A trim young man on a yellow Vespa pulled up and stopped at the painted line of the crosswalk. He was wearing a turquoise football-style helmet. Both his arms up to the sleeveless of his black t-shirt were heavily tattooed. He waved at them to go. They went over the edge into the street.

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

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.”

Down Dogs and Buffalo Wings

Down Dogs and Buffalo Wings

By Ed Staskus

Very few, if any, men or women finish doing down dog pose at the yoga studio, roll up their mats, and that night eat the family dog for dinner. Some might have Buffalo wings, which have nothing to do with buffalos, and someone might even have a buffalo burger, which are actual buffalos made into sandwiches.

Although cats and dogs are out of bounds, many people eat an animal of some kind for dinner, mostly a bird, a pig, or a cow. When they do, it usually looks like something it wasn’t when it was alive. Sometimes it’s invisible, hidden by sauces and batter.

Whether they practice yoga, or not, almost everyone eats animals. In the Western world 97% of everyone eats them, according to Vegetarian Times. In the birthplace of yoga, however, which is India, close to 40% of the population is vegetarian. The remainder, for the most part, eat meat only occasionally, mainly for cultural and partly for economic reasons.

Many people who practice yoga today understand the conservative underpinnings of the practice that forswears eating animals. Most of them, however, sit on the farm fence about it. They don’t want to pick a bone about it.

Old-school yoga masters like K. Pattabhi Jois, the man who made vinyasa what it is, and B. K. S. Iyengar, the man who made alignment what it is, eschewed eating animals.

“A vegetarian diet is the most important practice for yoga,” said Pattabhi Jois. “Meat eating makes you stiff.”

“If animals died to fill my plate, my head and heart would become heavy,” said B. K. S. Iyengar. “Becoming a vegetarian is the way to live in harmony.” He had the sense of what bolt guns sound like.

Some modern yoga masters like Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti Yoga, believe a strict adherence to not only a vegetarian, but a vegan diet, is a vital part of the practice. She calls it the diet of enlightenment. Ms. Gannon regards today’s flesh food choices as not only harming animals, since they end up being killed, but harming the physical health and spiritual well being of people, too.

She says it endangers and degrades the environment, as well. She might be right on all counts.

Eating animals raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, hardens blood vessels, is directly linked to heart disease, increases the possibility of stroke significantly, and triples the chances of colon cancer.

In short, eating them shortens life spans, theirs and yours.

There’s also the animal cruelty factor, which can be, literally, sickening. Factory farming is “by far the biggest cause of animal suffering in the world” according to Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society.

The factory farming of pigs as it is practiced in the 21st century is as wholesome as toad’s juice. No disrespect to toads is intended.

The meat business is responsible for 85% of all soil erosion in the United States and according to the EPA raising animals for food is the #1 source of water pollution. It takes 2400 gallons of water to make 1 pound of beef. Every vegetarian saves the planet hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a year.

The consequences for the climate are also freighted with a dark brass tack, which is that more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal husbandry, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

But, everyone’s got to eat, because everyone’s continued existence depends on food. What’s for chow might be an existential choice for some people, but eat you must.

Killing animals and eating meat have been elements of human evolution since there was human evolution. Meat was part of the diet of our closest ancestors from about 2.5 million years ago. Nobody for those several million years could be a vegan because it isn’t possible to get Vitamin B12 from anything other than meat, milk, eggs, or a supplement.

Like food itself, it is essential to life. B12 protects the nervous system. Mania is one of the nastier end results of a lack of it. Humans became human by eating meat. In other words, it was meat that fueled human brain development. The “meat-eating gene” apoE is what boosted our brains to become what they are today.

That doesn’t mean that anyone necessarily has to eat meat, then or now. There have always been vegetarians, just as there are today. Their brains and bodies have done just fine.

Many athletes are all in on plant-based foods. Hannah Teter, a two-time Olympic snowboard medalist, Bill Pearl, a five-time Mr. Universe body building champion, and dozens-of-times winning tennis star Serena Williams are all vegetarians. Walter “Killer” Kowalski, a former Canadian pro wrestler, was a vegetarian.

Today even vegans like UFC fighter Mac Danzig and Iranian strongman Patrik Baboumian succeed at their sports. In 2013, after hauling a yoke weighing 1210 pounds a distance of more than thirty feet, Mr. Baboumian roared to the crowd, “Vegan power!”

It gives the lie to the myth of animal protein.

Yoga is a growth industry everywhere. It’s been estimated more than a million Britons practice it, 30 million Americans, and as hundreds of millions of waistlines swell in China, it is spreading exponentially there. At the same time that yoga is expanding worldwide, global meat production has more than quadrupled in the past 65 years. More people are eating more animals than ever before.

Even though the rest of the world is trying to catch up, in the United States meat is eaten at three times the global average.

Yoga is made up of 8 parts, often called the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which range from the discipline’s golden rules to breath control and exercise postures to meditation. Non-violence, or ahimsa, is one of the central tenets of the practice. It means non-harming all living things

Living things include animals like birds, pigs, and cows.

At some stage many people who practice yoga think about going vegetarian, or even vegan. They usually have one-or-more reasons for changing their diet. Among them are health, non-violence, and karma.

Since most people benefit by eating less meat, and since much of today’s yoga is about fighting stress and keeping your body toned, the healthy halo of going flexitarian, or better, dovetails with the practice.

The do-no-harm principle behind going vegetarian is stoked by the inescapable harm done to the animals we eat. We raise them in pens and cages, kill them, and chop them up into pieces for our pots and pans. Since violence is a choice, and since eating animals isn’t necessary to stave off starvation, ahimsa strongly implies vegetarianism.

Sri Swami Satchidananda, the man behind Integral Yoga, believed being vegetarian was imperative to achieving self-realization.

“Because when you eat animal food, you incur the curse of the animals,” he said.

It’s like ending up in a cheesy bad B movie, “Dawn of the Dead,” for example. “They kill for one reason. They kill for food.” The zombies can’t just pull up at the golden arches drive-through because they never have any money.

At the crossroads of yoga and yummy, what he was essentially saying was eating meat is bad karma. It means taking in the fear, pain, and suffering of the animals you are eating. It obviates the benefits of poses, breathwork, and meditation.

“The law of karma guarantees that what we do to others will come back to us,” said Sharon Gannon about eating animals. In other words, beware becoming stew meat yourself one day!

But, the goal of yoga is to change yourself, not specifically your eating habits. Whether it’s turkey or tofu on somebody’s dinner plate is not as a matter of course going to buff up their yoginess. Not eating animals doesn’t make anyone a good person in the same way that walking slow doesn’t necessarily make everyone a patient man or woman.

Besides, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you don’t have to become a vegetarian to practice yoga fully.

“Nowhere in the Vedas or in the ancient teachings is it said that you must be a strict vegetarian,” said T. K. V. Desikachar. He is, nevertheless, a vegetarian, and his father, Krishnamacharya, modern yoga’s founder, was also a vegetarian.

Eating animals is in our blood, or better yet, our DNA. Other primates are mostly vegan. People have been going carnivorous for a long, long time. We are always eating our way through Noah’s Ark.

However, it’s unlikely any of God’s creatures survived the world of the life-threatening Great Flood with the intention for the bright new future of ultimately ending up on somebody’s plate of hash.

It wouldn’t hurt anyone to give the birds and animals of the world a break by eating either fewer or none of them. In 1940 the average American ate about 80 pounds of meat. Today the average American eats about 170 pounds of meat a year. Our herds would surely appreciate another sunny day of home on the range, not the fluorescent lighting of the supermarket cooler.

And no one, after all, ever said a hot dog a day keeps the doctor away.

A version of this story appeared in International Yoga 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.”