Category Archives: High and Low

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ugly Yogi

Outdoor yoga class in West Hartford in 2011.

By Ed Staskus

“Our job as Americans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they’ve been sent to do their traitorous work.”  Joseph McCarthy

If Joe “Tail-Gunner” McCarthy, the 1950s commie-baiting senator from Wisconsin, could see what is going on in yoga studios from sea to shining sea today, he would roll over in his grave. Even worse, if he could spy into the hearts of American yogis he would rise from the dead and resurrect the House Un-American Activities Committee. It would be for good reason. In an America whose modern core values are consumerism, competition, and nationalism, yoga espouses acceptance, moderation, and finally, stilling the mind, withdrawing the senses, and dissolving the ego.

In the land of the free and home of the brave, in an America whose military-industrial complex has been at proxy or real war with someone somewhere every day every month every year since ground was broken for the Pentagon on September 11, 1941, yoga fosters compassion towards all beings, not blowing them up for gain revenge geo-political reasons.

The downpresser men are tossing and turning on their gilded king-size beds.

In a nation where bigger is better, expediency trumps virtue, and might is right, yoga espouses ethical principles and observances for personal and social betterment. In a 21stcentury in which increasingly problematic ends justify increasingly harebrained means, yoga posits the means not the ends as what matter.

It is a practice that doesn’t sacrifice life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on the altar of eschatology. Which begs the question, how did yoga become the popular pursuit it has become in the western world?

A little more than a hundred years ago yoga was largely unknown in the United States.

The first stirrings began a century earlier in 1805 when William Emerson published a Sanskrit work, and again forty years later when his son Ralph Waldo Emerson discovered the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, delving into jnana, bhakti, and karma yoga. Henry David Thoreau and the New England Transcendentalists studied Indian thought throughout mid-century, and by 1900 the New York Theosophists were devoting a substantial part of their many resources to studying the philosophy of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’.

But, at the same time as literary and cultural elites were drawn to yoga’s theories and practice, America’s mainstream was wary of its oriental heritage. Even though the charismatic Swami Vivekananda succeeded in being signed to a speaking tour of the heartland after appearing at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, ten years later yoga was being greeted with suspicion rather than interest.

The Los Angeles Times featured an article about yoga with the headline: “The Cult of the Yogis Lures Women to Destruction”. The Hampton-Columbian, with a readership of more than three million, in an article titled “The Heathen Invasion” claimed insanity “is another disaster that threatens as a coincidence in the practice of yoga.” It was conflated with white slavery and deviltry. “Latest Black Magic Revelations About Nefarious American Love Cults” blared The New York Journal

“Yoga was no longer just a queer pastime; it was evil, a con, a cult – uncivilized, heathen and anti-American,” Robert Love wrote in “Fear of Yoga” in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Fear and loathing of yoga rippled through the newspapers, the yellow press, of the teens and Roaring 20s. Hatha yoga in particular, as popular as it is today in its many forms, was singled out.  “It was ridiculed so much that only a few select people were practicing it,” B. K. S. Iyengar notes in ‘Astadala Yogamala’. Yoga was defined as the domain of the unprincipled and unscrupulous.

Pierre Bernard, arguably the first American yogi, fled ahead of the law from San Francisco in 1906, Seattle in 1909, New York City in 1911, and NYC again in 1918, followed by allegations of extortion and sexual misconduct. “In Bernard’s lifetime, yoga was labeled a criminal fraud and an abomination against the purity of American women,” Robert Love pointed out in his book ‘The Great OOM: TheImprobable Birth of Yoga in America’.

But, as the baby boomers came of age the times, as Bob Dylan noted, began a’changin. Yogananda’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ gained currency, Indra Devi was the darling of Hollywood and published ‘Yoga for Americans’, and encouraged by Selvarajan Yesudian’s ‘Sport and Yoga’ manyathletes began to incorporate the practice into their workouts. America’s war on yoga was winding down.

“By the 1960s yoga was becoming a part of world culture,” said Fernando Pages Ruiz in “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy”.

As the Summer of Love roiled the tumultuous decade the practice was no longer reviled, but rather embraced by the counterculture, along with all things eastern. In 1968 the Beatles made a pilgrimage to India, bonding with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the American Yoga Association was formed, and Yogi Bhajan arrived in Los Angeles, preaching an alternative to LSD in the search for higher consciousness.

Through the 1970’s yoga sprouted up on TV shows hosted by Lilias Folan and Richard Hittleman, the mass-circulation magazine Yoga Journal hit the newsstands, eventually growing to a readership of over a million, and ashrams like Kripalu slowly but surely re-branded themselves as year-round fitness, educational, and spiritual centers.

Yoga today is accepted nationwide to the extent that millions of Americans practice it at thousands of studios and gyms and daily at home.

“New agers embraced yoga in the 90s, and these days yoga has exploded into the mainstream,” Neal Conan broadcast in “The Booming Business of Yoga” heard on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Popularity cuts several ways, however. “Avoid popularity if you would have peace,” said Abraham Lincoln. If it depended only on popularity, Shrek and the Little Mermaid would be congressmen, eclipsing the little mermen in their power suits.

Many magazines like TIME have featured yoga on their front covers, McDonald’s folds lotus pose into their hamburger ads, and our American idols practice it to balance out their widescreen idoldom. Even children hopped into warrior pose on the White House lawn during the first yoga event ever at the 2009 Easter Egg Roll.

“It is a measure of how thoroughly this ancient spiritual discipline – once regarded as exotic, bohemian, even threatening – has been assimilated by the American mainstream and transformed,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in “Where the Ascetic Meets the Athletic” in The New York Times.

Yoga has woven itself into the fabric of American life in myriad ways.

”Yoga, with all its props, accessories, glamour, fastidiousness, and money making potential is very American,” said Cosmo Wayne of Bikram Yoga. Yoga businesses are expanding exponentially, and some, like Anusara and Lululemon Athletica, for example, have defied the Great Recession with their strong growth potentials. Anusara expects to double its gross revenues in the short term.

Many teachers believe yoga is as American as apple pie, not simply a commodity in the marketplace, but a discipline expanding the parameters of individual freedom.

“I think yoga is the ultimate American experience in so far as it teaches personal empowerment and the pursuit of well-being,” says Robin Gueth, a yoga therapy teacher and owner of the Stress Management Center. “The whole concept that you are in charge of how you think, move, express, and even feel is quintessentially American.”

But, what is yoga in America today all about?

Yoga in the USA is largely about two of the arms or aspects of yoga, which are asana, or exercise, which is by far the more popular of the two, and pranayama, or breath control, a necessary adjunct of exercise. “Yoga has taken on a distinctly American cast,” wrote Mimi Swartz in “The Yoga Mogul” in The New York Times.

“It has become much more about doing than being.”

The yoga that is accepted and practiced by most Americans is postural yoga.  “Today yoga is virtually synonymous in the West with the practice of asana,” wrote Mark Singleton in ‘Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice’.It has been cleaved from its spiritual side. “For many of us, we just use it as exercise during the day, just a quick pick-me-up,” says Hanna Rosin in her article ”Striking a Pose” in the Atlantic Monthly.

On the heels of jogging, aerobics, and spinning, yoga is the new, hip exercise of our times. Even though only 16% of Americans participate in an exercise activity on any average day, according to a recent Labor Department report, yoga asana fits into the American model because the proverb health is wealth has always been proverbial in the USA. It was with good reason that Richard Hittleman’s pioneering TV show introducing yoga to the masses was titled ‘Yoga for Health’.

The practice of yoga is about crafting a union of the body, mind, and spirit. But, it has been re-invented in America as a health-enabling and stress-reducing homonym.

Its bevy of health benefits is touted in ‘Slim Calm Sexy Yoga’ by Tara Stiles, featuring “210 proven yoga moves for mind and body bliss.” Along with laughter and art therapy the Mayo Clinic serves up yoga as a tension reducing technique. Even the Westin Hotels and Resorts feature pop-up videos of yoga teachers in their web advertisements, on their mats beachside beneath sunny skies demonstrating how yoga can help us relax on our vacations.

The problem isn’t that modern yoga doesn’t measure up to classical yoga. The problem is that modern yoga elides the wheel for the spoke.

Apart from its exercise side yoga is a problematic practice in a land besotted by competition, consumerism, and nationalism. “When this country was founded we were one nation under God. Today we are one nation under money, the land of the addicted, and the home of the terrorized,” says Kenneth Toy of the Kriya Yoga Ashram. At the core of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’are discipline, dedication, and self-awareness within a structure of moral action, personal observances, exercise and breath, sense withdrawal and concentration, meditation, and union with the divine, or liberation.

The core achievements of the American enlightenment, on the other hand, are “wealth, health, comfort, and life expectancy” wrote Edwin Locke in Capitalism Magazine.

Modern times are fraught with results, and so are uneasy venues for yoga.

Our lives are measured by what we accumulate and accomplish. We are either surging forwards, making progress, or slipping backwards. On the other side of the racetrack yoga offers an alternative to the scoreboard and stock market. “Many Americans get caught up in consumerism and competition,” says Tarra Madore of Inner Light Yoga Center.

“As a society we have lost touch with the American and human core values that are more related to peace and freedom.”

The ‘Rig-Veda’ first cites yoga approximately 5000 years ago, and the classical yoga of the Yoga Sutras antedates the USA by 1500 years. The thread of them is that yoga is a practice to calm one’s mind and unite with the infinite. “We need introspection,” says Judith Hanson Lasater, one of the founders of Yoga Journal. “We have a whole country full of restive people who are not contemplative.”

It may be that yoga is un-American. It is more likely that America is un-yogic.

“America is the Canaan of capitalism, its promised land,” wrote German economist Werner Sombart nearly a hundred years ago. Self-interest and competition are embedded in capitalism. They are the values and behaviors we all take for granted in our society and ourselves. “Uncritical faith in intense competition assumes the status of an unquestioned paradigm in America today,” wrote the political scientist Pauline Rosenau in ‘The Competition Paradigm: America’s Romance with Conflict,Contest, and Commerce’.

Americans enter their children in beauty pageants, their pets in breed shows, and themselves in pie eating contests. Team standings, both real and fantasy, are parsed daily.  The ups and downs of the stock market are a staple of the news. Militarism overseas is either being won or lost. American society is focused on desire and achievement. Dancing used to be a social activity. It is star-studded competitive hoofing that is growing by leaps and bounds nowadays.

Athletics were once the follow the bouncing ball footprint of the American Way. Its lessons were sportsmanship, teamwork, and discipline. Today, splashed across an alphabet soup of TV networks, as billionaire owners in skyboxes watch over their multi-millionaire performers, sport has been reduced to a win-or-else amusement, competition for the sake of riches and fame.

Businesses have always competed for the same pool of customers, but in contemporary America in the name of profit the results include the nearly universal model of concentrated animal feeding, schemes like credit default swaps, and out-sourcing, whose one and only goal is to satisfy shareholders. Diabetes and obesity have reached epidemic levels in the USA, weighing down the health care system, but sugary drink manufacturers continue to bottle their product and pay handsome dividends.

Our elected leaders have jumped on the competition bandwagon, falling off the wagon of the Founding Fathers.

The 1996 election for the White House and Congress cost a combined 2.7 billion dollars. In 2008 the same federal campaigns cost 5.3 billion dollars, making them the most expensive ever. The Adam Smith model of the invisible hand or co-operative competition has been superseded by a winner-takes-all hyper competitiveness, as though winning were the only measure of worth. Instead of statesmen the halls of power are filled with people primarily concerned with the next election and their own aggrandizement. The toll is reflected in a 2009 Gallup Poll that found members of Congress are among the least trusted professionals in America, just a nose ahead of career criminals.

“Soften and breathe into the resistance,” Nina DeChant often reminds her Core Yoga class at West Side Yoga. She does not say muscle up and kick some butt in chair pose. It is advice that reverberates throughout much of yogic thought, from exercise to ethics. Yoga in its entirety, not simply asana, is a practice whose goal is to unite the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, not simply win prizes by touching your toes.

“Yoga is un-American in that it is inherently non-capitalistic and non-competitive,” says Timothy Thompson of Monkey Yoga Shala. Competition posits an enemy, or other, against whom one is measured. It is always in some respects a fearful enterprise, Hobbesian in its underpinnings, as zero-sum sports rivalries, political campaigns, and bankruptcies attest. Even eating in America is freighted by the ruthless. Ray Kroc, the re-inventor of McDonalds, once said if he ever saw his competition drowning he would go get his hose to help make sure they did drown.

Yoga, on the other hand, does not conjure up real or imagined adversaries. It is a practice whose edge is the strength and discipline to be actively non-competitive. It prepares the man or woman for real-life challenges off the mat. There are no trophies, no finish line, and no mishandled garden hoses.

Winning may be rewarding on many levels, but it is always one-sided because there must be losers. Winning is not its own reward. If it were, losing would be unnecessary, which has never been the case. Yoga, on the other hand, eschews competition. “Yoga is a technology to elevate the human spirit above the animal nature reflected in competition,” says Larry Beck of Kundalini Yoga in the Loop.

“Simply put, the meaning of life is to rise above instincts into spiritual consciousness, which is inclusive, nurturing, and flowing.”

Competition is said to bring out the best in people, but the winners are usually saying it. Yoga practice does bring out the best in people, all the people who practice it.

It is transformative exactly because it is non-competitive, reflected in the ethical concept santosha, the root of happiness, meaning contentment.

“Competition is a part of culture and society,” says Charles Secallus of Asana House. “It is a human trait and it is up to the individual to decide whether it works for them or not. Yoga is about growth and developing our own spiritual understanding of one’s self and relationship to others.”

Competition springs from desire and discontent, more for me. Santosha is a result of doing one’s best honestly and fully. While it is true all biological beings compete, yoga posits an alternate reality of a consciousness complementary to and beyond biology.

In the past sixty years America has become the consumer society par excellence. During the Battle of France in 1940 Winston Churchill made several speeches in the House of Commons. In the first he said: “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

Two generations later, and a week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon masterminded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, President Bush addressed the nation and said: “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”

He was asking Americans to go shopping.

Consumerism is the reigning culture in America, the shop-until-you-drop wonder of the world. It is what we live and swear by, a culture of desire that seems never sated.  “From the 1890s on, American corporate business, in league with key institutions, began the transformation of American society into a society preoccupied with consumption, with comfort and bodily well-being, with luxury, spending, and acquisition, with more goods this year than last, more next year than this,“ writes William Leach in ‘Land of Desire’.

Our consumerism is the equating of happiness with the purchase of something, something you will then possess, or be possessed of. By that standard, Americans should be the happiest people on the planet. Making up only 5% of the world’s population, they consume 23% of the world’s resources.

“God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West,” Mahatma Ghandi said more than sixty years ago. “If our nation took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

If that was a word of warning then, how would Ghandi react to the India of today, jumping on the bandwagon and boasting the 4thlargest GDP in the world?

The average worldwide income is approximately $7,000.00. The average American income is approximately $50,000.00.

But, the gap between the Third World and the First World is closing. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived the lifestyle of Americans we would need five planets to sustain all of us. “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns,” Jimmy Carter warned in a speech to the nation in 1979.

He promptly lost the next election, ridiculed for his “despair and pessimism” by Hollywood’s Ronald Reagan.

More than 70% of America’s economy is dependent on consumer spending. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the average American is exposed to 3000 advertising messages a day, and globally corporations spend over $620 billion a year to make their products seem desirable. Consumerism is the largest of the many cultures of modern America, and material possessions are its markers of status and success. Consumerism is consumption gone wild. It seems we can never get enough of what we don’t really need to make us happy.

Consumerism as a social system conflicts with the core values of yoga, especially asteya and aparigraha, by which moderation and sustainability are observed. “A large impediment to meaningful personal and systemic transformation in the United States is the overwhelming political and economic power of large corporations and institutions that promote values of consumption,” says Amy Quinn-Suplina of Bend and Bloom Yoga.

“Yoga is one of the many movements challenging socially and environmentally destructive institutions that promote competition and consumerism.”

Since the 1990’s the most frequent reason voiced by students for going to college is profitability, the making of money.

The pursuit of happiness has come to mean the pursuit of tangible, consumable things. Even though 10 years ago 99% of American homes had a television, and almost 70% of them had three-or-more, 100 million new flat-screens have been sold since then. In a 65-year life the average American will spend 9 years watching television, and will see more than 2 million commercials. Consumption is not only the imperative of our day-to-day, it is the wallpaper to our lives.

The health of America is measured by our consumer confidence, as though patriotism is determined by how much we are willing to spend and consume. It is doubtful the Declaration of Independence had consumerism in mind when it defined America as the land of freedom and liberty.  “The highest teaching in yoga is the same: freedom,” notes Cate Stillman, an Anusara Yoga instructor.

“You are so free you can choose to bind yourself to the ignorance of your limited, conditioned behavior. But, do yoga long enough and you wake up to yourself as consciousness or awareness itself taking form, unconditioned and completely free.”

Consumerism may not be the miracle it is cracked up to be, especially the model go-getting Americans have squeezed themselves into. “Encouraged by advertisers, friends, and family, many people think more possessions, more recognition, and more power will lead to more happiness, “says Gyandev McCord, Director of Ananda Yoga and a founding board member of Yoga Alliance.

“No one ever found lasting happiness that way, for the simple reason that nothing outside us can bring lasting happiness. Happiness is of the mind, not in things or circumstances.”

Consumerism’s premise is uncertain because it reads the economy backwards, mistaking the leaves of the tree for the roots. “The happiness that seems to be coming from your possessions is false, “ says Sri Swami Satchidananda. “It is reflected happiness.”

Attending to and living by the ethical precepts of asteya and aparigraha, meaning non-covetousness and non-possessiveness, means being aware and watchful about acquiring and becoming attached to things. There is no yoga gravy train because the basic propositions of the practice are contrary to the cultivation of unbounded desire.

There is more to life than having everything one can never get.

Nationalism was born out of America’s War of Independence and the French Revolution. Since the Great Depression nationalism has spread and intensified worldwide. It is many things, such as love of country, willingness to sacrifice for it, and the doctrine that one’s national culture and interests are superior to others. The problem with nationalism is not patriotism, which means devotion to a place and a way of life, but its identification with the power of the nation-state.

“Nationalism is inseparable from the desire for power,” George Orwell wrote in his essay “Notes on Nationalism” in ‘Polemic’. “The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige.” Patriots love their country for what it does. Nationalists love their country no matter what it does. Nationalism makes footstools of morality and ethics because what matters are the perceived interests of the state, regardless of what they are.

Imperialism is nationalism on the move. It is extending ones rule economically, politically, or militarily upon other states. In his Farewell Address of 1796 George Washington warned against foreign entanglements and foreign wars, advice that has fallen on increasingly deaf ears. The Canadian and Mexican wars of the first half of the 19thcentury were land grabs, but with the advent of the Spanish-American War the United States had grown imperialistic, fighting wars whose purposes were conquest and colonization.

“The United States has used every available means to dominate other nations,” writes Sidney Lens in ‘The Forging of the American Empire’. Some historians believe America’s imperialism is benevolent. Niall Ferguson agrees America is an empire, but insists it is a good thing, likening America to Rome, building republican institutions and civilizing barbarians. “U. S. imperialism has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past century,” Max Boot argues in “American Imperialism”.

Since 1945 America has intervened covertly or militarily in more than 70 countries, including the Philippines, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Grenada, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Some of these conflicts were for the purpose of extending hegemony, some to contain fascism or communism, others to secure resources, and all of them were supposed to make the world safer. The Vietnam War, or Resistance War Against America, as the Vietnamese called it, resulted in approximately 4 million Vietnamese deaths on both sides and the loss of almost 60,000 American troops.

What good came of the Vietnam War, and whether the world is safer today than it was a hundred years ago, after the loss of more than ten percent of the world’s population to warfare in the 20thcentury, is a moot point.

Conflict is inevitably a consequence of imperialism. Although all states claim to fight defensive or justifiable wars, even invoking pre-emptive strikes as justified, war never ends warfare; otherwise it would have ended with the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, or maybe the defeat of the Nazis. “I just want you to know, when we talk about war, we are really talking about peace,” President Bush said after the start of the Second Gulf War Occupation.

Nationalism is the pursuit of power no matter the Orwellian spin states put on it, setting it at loggerheads with yoga. All states claim God is on their side. All nations proclaim their God is the God that rules.

Yoga, on the other hand, strives to be on the side of God.

The practices of nationalism and imperialism, projects that have defined the American Century, are practices justifying and furthering state power. They are coercive and violent, ranging from the Pledge of Allegiance we recite as children to the armies we raise as adults.

The practice of yoga is antithetical to the realpolitik of the modern state. Rather than ignore the moral and ethical, yoga’s project is based on those principles and disciplines.  All the world’s major religions from Christianity to Islam to Buddhism have had their foundations of non-violence co-opted by states.

“One of history’s greatest lessons is that whenever the state embraces a religion the nature of that religion changes radically. It loses its non-violent component,” wrote Mark Kurlansky in ‘Non-Violence: Twenty-Five Lessons From the History of a DangerousIdea’.

Although not a religion, yoga is a spiritual practice at whose core ahimsa is a living, breathing concept.  It is an imperative for practicing any or all of the eight limbs or steps of the path. Pranayama is not a tool for steadying trigger fingers. There are no St. Augustines or Ibn Taymayyahs of yoga explaining away the Sixth Commandment.  If there were, then satya, defined as truth in word and thought, would have to be thrown out the window.

In a 2005 speech at Spelman College the political activist and historian Howard Zinn characterized nationalism as one of the greatest evils of our time, useful only for those in power. The nationalist argument is built on the assertion that the economic and military supremacy of the nation takes priority over all other interests. It is for good reason the United States maintains the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world and is the only nation that has ever used atomic weapons against an enemy.

The practice of yoga, on the other hand, is opposed to the nationalist agenda and the alienation of everyone on America’s Most Wanted list. “Yoga unites us not only to the core of who we are, but truly to every American,” said Michele Risa of NYC’s Beyond Body Mind Spirit. “As defined, we would in fact be embracing every person on the planet.”

Yoga is dedicated to the union of the body, mind, and spirit, both within ourselves and to others. “Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation,” wrote William Doran in “The Eight Limbs – The Core of Yoga”.

Violence does not resolve disagreements. It only leads to more violence.

The greater evil than nationalism is the endemic violence it begets. “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics,” observed Thomas Edison. “Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” Non-violence is one of the disciplines of yoga, according to the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’, as well as an obligation. It is only the undisciplined that believe every problem can be solved with violence.

“It almost seems anti-American to do any discipline,” writes Deborah Adele in “The Yamas and Niyamas”. The abstinences and observances of yoga are fundamentally rooted in ahimsa. Violence and killing are not stepping-stones on the yogic path, as they are on the highways of nationalism and imperialism. Violence is a morally confused idea, a means of getting things done that is neither a lasting solution nor an idea that God is on the side of.

“One is dearest to God who has no enemies among the living beings,” says the Bhagavad Gita, “who is non-violent to all beings.”

Although our Founding Fathers never practiced yoga, if they had they would have gravitated to styles that suited their personalities.

George Washington would probably have practiced Ashtanga, drawn to its discipline, splitting the mat in the Warrior poses with a steady, forward gaze. John Adams might have practiced Anusara, intellectually engaged by its principles of alignment, his back foot rooted to the earth in side-angle pose and his leading arm reaching to heaven. Thomas Jefferson would have studied Kundalini, exploring and releasing energy, practicing kriyas and chanting on the portico of Monticello.

It is doubtful they would look out on the landscape of America today, over the atomization of its citizens, its celebration of presidential birthdays with sales, sales, sales, and its century-long militarism, with any sense of accomplishment. “That part of America,” says Rita Trieger of Fit Yoga Magazine, “the intolerance, the judgments, the hatred, that’s the real un-American thinking. Our forefathers would be shocked.”

As far as modern America’s values are from its foundational myths, yoga’s values may be as near to them.

Yoga is a transformative practice of old-fashioned virtues opening the modern citizen to new thought and behavior, much like what the American Revolution accomplished for the New World.

“Perhaps the question is, are Americans being Americans?” says Denise Lapides of Divine Light Yoga. “Yoga to me is not un-American as much as Americans have become un-American. Practicing yoga, or living a yogic lifestyle, seems to me to be more in line with what was originally intended for our nation.”

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, said “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were the essentials of the American Dream. He also warned that competition and commerce often “feel no passion of principle but that of gain,“ that we should not bite at the “bait of pleasure,” and condemned war as “the greatest scourge of mankind.”

“Tail-Gunner” Joe McCarthy might not agree that yogic ideals like compassion, truthfulness, and non-violence are prototypically American, but it is likely Thomas Jefferson would. Our third president valued self-reliance, honesty, and hard work. Any American walking into a yoga studio today and rolling out a mat will discover exactly that, and find that yoga is as American as starting the day with sun salutations, followed by a plate of apple pie, and that there is nothing wrong with America that can’t be breathed out and breathed in with what is right with America.

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.”

Chaturanga Chatter

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By Ed Staskus

“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”  John Wayne

There are some constants common to all yoga classes, from the bewilderment of beginner instruction to the push and pull of Ashtanga, from the relief of restorative classes to the drumbeat marching orders of Bikram. One of them is setting your intention.

What yoga teachers mean when they say set your intention is to practice with a purpose, such as quieting your mind, or developing greater awareness, or simply nailing the poses. It is the same as setting a goal, or defining what it is you want to do so you can do it. Your body, mind, and spirit then become open to change and transformation.

“Every time that I begin a yoga class, I make sure to allow my students time and space to set an intention for their practice,“ said Dana Marie, a CorePower yoga instructor.

Intentions are a way to ground the mind, so that when one’s mind wanders there is always the original thought to return to. Intention creates reality. It’s better to be on the mark with intention than flop around by default.

“When my mind goes somewhere else, I just remember my intention and I come back,” said Jenniferlyn Chiemingo, Director of Yoga at hauteyoga in Seattle.

A second constant is that the teacher will emphasize, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, that it is up to you to practice in such a way that it benefits you. There is a steady stream of reminders across approaches that it is fundamentally an individual pursuit that is meant to move at an individual pace.

“You create your own experience,” said Greg Gumucio, founder of Yoga to the People. “You are responsible for your body. You are your best teacher.”

What they mean is that regardless of the instruction, and no matter what the rest of the class is doing, what you do in class and what you accomplish is up to you. The outward shape of the yoga pose, or asana, is not what matters so much as what you put into and get out of it

“The most important thing to remember is that yoga is all about you, it’s your practice and nobody else’s,” said Linda Schaar of Vibrant Life Yoga.

Yoga posture classes are about tuning into your body. They are about taking yourself as deep as you are willing to go, but at the same time being able to stay within the perameters of what is going on, to be able to recognize and respond to consequences.

“I can always choose to rest in child’s pose, chill out with my legs up the wall, or completely opt out of today’s fancy pose,” said Rebekah Grodky, a university administrator and yoga teacher in Sacramento. “Yoga is about self-love and acceptance of where we are right now.”

A third constant is that teachers will talk about going inward, of wedding your breath with your movement. An awareness of one’s breath makes you more aware of yourself and grounds you in the here-and-now. It is thought the more you go inward the more fully you can be present.

What teachers are talking about when they recommend going inward is the fifth aspect of the classical eight-limb system of Patanjali. This fifth limb is known as pratyahara, or inversion. It is generally thought of as a way of learning to lessen reaction to the distractions of the world around you, although it actually counsels withdrawal from the senses.

“The journey of yoga is a couple of hundred miles up a mountain, but it is a millions miles inward,“ said Lilias Folan, best known for her PBS series ‘Lilias! Yoga and You’. “There is a lot more to yoga than a ten-minute headstand.”

The last constant of most yoga classes, as soon as they actually start, after the homilies and theme-setting are over, is that teachers will do their best to thwart your intention, break your resolve to make the practice your own, and shatter whatever commitment you have made to go inward.

The first thing many yoga teachers do when class starts is plug in their iPods and twirl up their personal play lists, from MC Yogi to Bob Marley, from Krishna Das to Norah Jones. Even the Queen of Pop and King of Rock get in on the act. If it’s a Bikram class, the Leaders of the Pack climb onto their platforms and clear their throats.

When did yoga teachers become DJ’s? Or DI’s, drill instructors frog marching their cadets through the steam, as the case might be, in the world of Bikram Yoga? When did touching your toes become a Pavlovian response to ‘Head Over Feet’?

Music has become an elemental part and parcel vital ingredient of Vinyasa Flow classes, the most popular form of yoga. Sometimes musicians will even play live during classes. It’s entertaining, but it begs the question, what does it have to do with the practice? Does the Billboard Hot 100 enhance breath and awareness? Does it help focus attention on the inner man and woman? Does getting it together mean having to listen to the certified gold ‘Get It Together’?

Or is it just more noise, just another way of avoiding silence?

“The musical classes, if I wanted to dance, I’d go to Zumba,” pointed out William Auclair, who practices yoga in Monterey.

The next thing most yoga teachers do, once the soundtrack is spinning, is start talking and not stop talking until the class is over. Yoga was once made for doing, not for talking. “Just do,” said Pattabhi Jois when it was still old-school. If it’s a Bikram Yoga class, they talk twice as loud and twice as fast as other teachers.

Some teachers even talk during savasana, or corpse pose, in the guise of what they describe as guided meditation. Corpse pose used to be about sinking into stillness. Assembly instructions weren’t required. It was more a seat of your own pants thing. When it’s a Bikram class, corpse pose is the only time teachers don’t talk. They leave the hot room the minute class is over, leaving the sweat lodgers to chill out on their own.

When did the front of the room become a soapbox? When did yoga become a blank page for an editorial? When did yoga teachers start going center stage, like conductors of a symphony orchestra?

Conductors are meant to get their musicians to play all together for an audience. Yoga teachers are supposed to get posture students to do the work for themselves. Yoga isn’t a performance. Trombone players consciously and deliberately slide their telescoping mechanisms to make sounds concertgoers like. Yoga practice, on the other hand, is sliding into a consciousness of the unconscious.

How much talking should a teacher do during class?

There is a range of opinion mindset approaches.

Beginner classes are necessarily composed of a steady stream of instruction. Iyengar Yoga, since it focuses on body alignment and is largely about basic principles, involves precise verbal guidance. Bikram Yoga, hell-bent on obedience, is an unchanging and unending litany of commands.

The claim is that the patter keeps everyone on track, in lockstep. All yoga involves a certain amount of instruction from the instructors, or teachers, beyond just mechanically sequencing the class. That’s what they’re there for. A paramount concern of yoga exercise classes is that poses be practiced safely.

This is true from beginner classes, where instruction is vital, to intermediate classes, where it is complementary, to Ashtanga and other advanced classes, where it is rote.

Many yoga posture students appreciate the instruction they receive in class.

“If I didn’t want to hear my instructor teach and lead me I wouldn’t bother with a class,” said Amber Rose, who practices in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. “I want them to talk me through it, to help me reach a deeper level. When I want quiet time I’ll practice at home on my own.”

Some wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love the talk,” said Alicia Allen, an Assistant Professor at University of Minnesota Family Medicine. “Words of encouragement and relevant stories are always helpful to me.”

Others, however, even those going to class for instruction and physical adjustments, believe there should be some space for them to experience the poses on their own.

“Chit chat and personal stories are very different than cues and directions,“ said Emily Callison Heilbraun of Charleston, South Carolina. “I don’t need to be asked twenty times what my intention was when I started the class.”

Even at big studios in the middle of big classes people are often looking for opportunities for stillness and self-observation. No matter how much movement there is the room they want to keep a kind of quiet engaged. Steadiness comes from stillness of person.

Yoga is what bubbles up from the nothingness of silence, not from the everything of pep talks, sermonizing, and multi-media.

“When people come to do yoga, they come to empty,” said Cyndi Lee, writer and founder of the former OM Yoga in NYC. “If the teacher is filling up too much space with talking, too much music, or too many stimuli, it makes it difficult to empty.”

Yoga teachers need to stop talking so much, according to YogaDork.

“It may be because they love telling stories, or making oodles of verbal adjustments, or hearing themselves speak yogic poetry, but some yoga teachers just don’t know when to shut up!”

The question has even been raised if teaching poses in class has become secondary to other considerations.

“The instructor offered little to no guidance about how to actually do the poses,” Leslie Munday, a former yoga teacher, wrote on ‘Recovering Yogi’ about a class she attended. “She was practically turning herself blue in the face telling us how to live our lives.”

As a strategy for yoga classes the dispensing of advice has its problems. Benjamin Franklin observed wise men don’t need advice and fools won’t take it. Everyone else in class, for the most part, only wants to hear it if it agrees with what they were going to do anyway. The best advice may be to not take anyone’s advice.

Listening to advice is not without its pitfalls, including the misstep of ending up making somebody else’s mistakes.

Although most don’t talk until they’re blue in the face, some teachers talk “way too much,” observed Kimberly Johnson, an international yoga teacher trainer. “A lot of teachers say that their goal is for students to feel ‘better’ or ‘happier’ after class. Where it gets tricky though is at what point in your teaching trajectory do you deem yourself ready to teach philosophy or wax poetic?”

But, ready-made knowledge isn’t the role of yoga, at least not beyond beginner classes. It is rather a practice whose dynamic fosters conditions for invention and re-invention. The number 1 teachers don’t pose as number 1’s. They aren’t the ones who try to tell you everything, but the ones who inspire you to teach yourself.

“You have to grow through the inside out,” said Vivekananda, a key figure in the introduction of yoga to the Western world. “There is no other teacher but your own soul.”

Silence and speech are like yin and yang. Each depends on the other. Speech explains the mystery and silence brings us closer to it. Yoga is between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is.

Who listens to anyone who yammers on and on about the ‘deeper lessons’ of the practice? Who can focus on the intricacies of headstand when Elton John, the Liberace of my generation, is on the play list, hamming it up about his Rocket Man? Who can relax when somebody keeps telling you to just relax?

Yoga isn’t about texting, tweeting, and talking, talking, talking. It’s about stepping back, absorbing silence, and being in the moment. “It is to quiet the fluctuations of the mind,” said Patanjali about the purpose of yoga.

That can be hard to do when your teacher is yakking it up.

“When we’re constantly chattering, it’s a distraction and brings students into their heads,” said Karen Fabian of Bare Bones Yoga. “A great way to create presence is to allow for silence.”

Oftentimes the less you say is the more you are listened to.

Although soapboxes are tempting – who doesn’t enjoy the glow of attention – and there are plenty of yoga teachers who talk too much, many of them, based on my own walk in the door unscientific tally, talk just enough, sprinkling advice, observations, and encouragement in with instruction.

There are some who might even not talk enough.

A few years ago I was in a workshop in my hometown of Lakewood, Ohio, given by Naime Jezzeny, a teacher from New Jersey who specializes in biomechanics and its application to yoga. We were all in bridge pose when he walked over to our side of the large room. After looking over what a few other people were doing and briefly commenting on them, he stopped at my mat.

He looked my pose up and down, chewed on his index finger, and said, “Hmmm…” I looked up at him. He looked at my clasped hands beneath me.

Then he walked away to the next mat.

I’ve always wondered what he meant by what he said. Or meant by what he didn’t say.

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.

Busting Out the Yoga Pants

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By Ed Staskus

Slightly less than 20% of everyone in yoga classes are men. That is sharply down from the 100% it was one hundred years ago. Since then the practice has been annexed by gals bending like pretzels. Even when they aren’t lithe and limber, they’ve fine-tuned in to the mental and physical health benefits of yoga.

The twist is that for thousands of years it was a men’s club. No women need apply. The idea of Daisy Dukes doing yoga was anathema. The prohibition was laughed out of the closet about fifty years ago. Now it’s a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

“I’ve been teaching yoga for over 25 years and I can’t believe how the number of men participating in yoga has not really increased,” says Yogi Aaron, director and master teacher at Blue Osa in Costa Rica.

When it comes to the practice nowadays, many men are like honey badgers. They just don’t care. Some of them have thought about it but never taken the first step. They don’t think it is intense hardcore challenging enough. The “no pain no gain” school of thought is still going strong. A few strong men, like Chuck Norris, do some yoga for flexibility and balance, even though they don’t need to, being Chuck Norris.

They don’t worry about anybody’s pantywaist deconstruction of the practice. They roll up their sleeves. They bust out the action pants.

The action movie star and martial artist never loses his balance in any posture. Balance loses to Chuck Norris. When he does inversions, he doesn’t go upside down. He tips the universe over. In honor of this feat the new 7th series in Ashtanga Yoga is called “Chuckitsa.” It cleanses every drop of lily liver from your body and soul.

“Many men have misconceptions about it,” says Gwen Saint Romain, a wellness instructor and registered yoga teacher at the Rex Wellness Center in Raleigh, N. Carolina.

“I think that one of the misconceptions is that it is always very gentle, meditative and mindful, that there aren’t physical benefits,” she says. “But it’s definitely not just meditating. Some yoga classes, like power yoga, are extremely rigorous, sweaty workouts. A lot of guys come to a yoga class for the first time because they are invited by a friend, a spouse or girlfriend. They find out quickly that yoga can be a very intense workout.”

Chuck Norris finds intense yoga classes right up his sleeve, although he doesn’t break out into a sweat about them, cool as a cucumber. “How many push-ups can you do in chaturanga?” he was asked. “All of them,” he said. He pulls his Action Pants on both legs at a time. The secret ingredient in Red Bull is Chuck Norris’s piss and vinegar.

The yoga entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury challenged him to 90 minutes of super-hot yoga in his LA-based “torture chamber.” He said it would make a man of him.

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

“Nothing is impossible, believe me I know” said Bikram. “Girls hang all over me and thousands of people pay me thousands of dollars to tell them how to lock their knees, but that’s impossible.”

In respect for the ancient practice of yoga, an esteem he didn’t necessarily feel for the fitness guru, he let the comment slide.

When he pulled the space stunt a stark-naked Chuck Norris re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, streaking over 14 states, and reaching a temperature of 3000 degrees. He landed on his feet and ran two hundred miles to the nearest airport for a flight home. An embarrassed NASA was compelled to deliver a growler of ale to his front door.

When Bikram demanded he lock his knee in class, Chuck Norris stormed the big wig’s throne and put him in a headlock. He didn’t release Bikram until he had counted to infinity. The groupies in class got impatient, although Mrs. Bikram wasn’t even aware her husband hadn’t been home in a long time.

“From physique to mental health, yoga is one of the most beneficial practices in the world. Most Western yoga classes are dominated by women, but more and more men are starting to become interested in getting on the mat,” says Lanai Moliterno, a yoga instructor in Encinitas, California.

“A lot of men have jumped on board, have discovered the numerous benefits yoga can bring, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Enhanced strength? Injury prevention? Better sexual performance? Increased calm and focus? Who knew stretching and breathing could do all this?”

Chuck Norris agrees yoga is a steady hand to helping stay calm and focused, even though he has never not been calm and focused. When he goes target shooting, he always hits 11 out of 10 targets. With nine bullets. He always wins games of Connect Four in three moves. He wins every game of chess in only one move, a roundhouse kick to the face.

Although there was little confusion a hundred years ago about what and who yoga was for, the case for the practice today is a little more complex, especially in the mano a mano world.

“Years ago, just as Jay Cutler was ascending to the top of the bodybuilding world, he told me about a secret he’d recently begun to incorporate into his training,” says Steven Stiefel, an LA-based writer for health and fitness magazines.

“It was yoga! He credited his improved flexibility with his ability to train more efficiently and avoid injury. And then he won the Mr. Olympia title.

“Today, there are more yoga classes than ever, but a lot of people, men in particular, remain confused about what happens inside those classes and how they should feel about it. Is it stretching, meditation, some combination, or something else entirely? Could it be the secret to unlocking your tight hips and superhuman athletic potential, or will it just make you sprout a man bun and go all new age?”

You don’t want to get it wrong, unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, in which case you’ll hit the nail on the head.

The only time Chuck Norris was ever wrong was when he thought he had made a mistake. His computer has no backspace button. He doesn’t make mistakes. Chuck Norris has done yoga and not gone new age or sprouted anything under his cowboy hat. He has cows in the back forty grilling his steaks for him.

Many weightlifters have added yoga to their fitness routine. There are several ways it can improve lifting, including increasing range of motion, reducing soreness, minimizing risk of injury, and fomenting correct posture.

Holding and releasing poses in yoga class relaxes tight muscles and encourages flexibility. Yoga draws oxygen into muscles. It flushes lactic acid. The practice enlivens balance and strengthens joints and smaller stabilizing muscles, helping prevent injury. Big men tend to be top-heavy. Core strengthening work, emphasis on the back, and chest and shoulder opener poses are instrumental at improving bearing and carriage.

There are many reasons why yoga might not be a good fit for many men, however. While it’s true their postures would probably improve, most men never have any trouble with back pain. What would they do with all the balance and flexibility they gained? Yoga sharpens focus, but men are fee-fi-fo focus fighters, anyway. Their heartrates and blood pressure are fine exactly where they are. It’s square enough yoga is a stress buster, but stress makes life more interesting. Busting out a mat is getting on the road to dullsville.

Nothing Chuck Norris does is ever dull. He can roundhouse kick his enemies yesterday. He sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of him. He can drive in Braille, and when he misspells a word, the Oxford English Dictionary changes the actual spelling of it.

Despite the best efforts of yoga promotors vendors marketers and merchandisers, there are still more gals than there are guys in classes. Studio owners and teachers say that the number of women to men is usually 80 to 20. Surveys by Yoga Journal have consistently found that the practice attracts far more womenfolk than menfolk.

Why don’t more men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” says Praneetha Akula, a Silver Spring, Maryland, resident who dragged her man to the studio.

Chuck Norris never gets bored, inside or outside a yoga studio. Getting bored is an insult to yourself. Chuck Norris’s head would explode if he ever insulted himself. Anybody else’s head, if they insulted him, would instantly explode just from the thought of it.

Maybe men shouldn’t bother doing yoga, unless they are like Chuck Norris, which is impossible. When he meditates, going inward, he finds a smaller tougher Chuck Norris inside himself.

“In a society that places people in convenient ticky-tacky boxes, it seems today’s yoga is clearly for women,” says Dr. Phil Maffetone, an endurance athlete, sports medicine clinician, and author of the “Big Book of Health and Fitness.”

Do real men do yoga?

“Knowing its potential value in health and fitness, various forms of yoga are something I have recommended over my career, to both men and women. But I don’t do it. Having tried various styles, there are more than 100 different types of yoga, I never enjoyed any of them,” he says.

“I get the same benefits of yoga, its scientific and perceived values, from other approaches, without the formality, the special clothes, or going anywhere. I wonder if men are turned off to things like chanting, Sanskrit terms for poses, cliché yoga music, and pretzel poses. Or, maybe men are too aggressive in their workout ethics to even try yoga, which might be the reason they are more often injured than women.”

On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the reason more real men should get their get up and go butts down on the mat. Take a breath. Slow it down. Forget the finish line.

On top of that, it’s more manly than most men think. It was originally created designed practiced by men, taught by men, for men. It stayed that way for thousands of years. It was physically demanding enough in an age when everything was physically demanding. In the last half century women have crashed the party, which is all to the good.

Who wants to do yoga in a room full of dads, dudes, and varmints? Rooster Cogburn in tree pose would be a sight for sore eyes, but it would also be a sore sight.

Yoga makes everyone, women and men, better at what they do. If you’re flexible, it will help you build strength. If you’re strong as hell, it helps you find balance. Ethically, it grounds you in the Golden Rule. Mentally, it gives you a way to handle pressure and stress.

We can’t all be Chuck Norris. In fact, no one can be Chuck Norris. He once inhaled for 108 seconds – 108 million seconds. He has never read the Yoga Sutras. He stared them down until the Sutras squealed and told him everything he wanted to know. He would be the crazy best yoga teacher of all time. His classroom adjustments would never be forgotten by anyone, ever.

Since he could sail around the world in boat pose, if he ever wanted to, it wouldn’t hurt men to jump the Ship of Fools and join him on the USS Chuck Norris. But Chuck don’t care if you do, or not. Why should he? After all, when Chuck Norris does yoga, starting with sun salutations, the sun salutes him.

At the end of the day, yoga is about the self. Gird your loins and find some sunshine on the forward deck. Do your own warrior poses. Don’t worry about Chuck Norris. He’s the only man dead or alive who can divide by zero. He can take care of himself. Zero in on yourself.

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.”

Bad Boys of Yoga

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By Ed Staskus

Keep your breath to cool your porridge.”  Jane Austen

There’s nothing new about scandals, be they political academic corporate celebrity religious personal financial. They are a dime a dozen. The reason they are so cheap is because there are so many of them. Crack open a newspaper, remote on a TV, open a browser, and there they are, today and every day. They take all shapes and sizes, not just nowadays, but way back when, too.

Back when the Olympics were the Greek Olympics, an Athenian pentathlete bribed his opponents to secure victory. He was found out and both he and his hometown were fined. He paid his fine, but Athens refused. It took the Delphic Oracle threatening there would be no more oracles for Athens to get them to pay up.

Five hundred years ago the Borgia’s, two of whom ruled the Holy City as Popes, were conniving entrepreneurs who bought their way to the top, poisoned friend foe and family alike, and at the Banquet of Chesnuts at the Vatican in 1501 encouraged their guests to enjoy the “fifty honest prostitutes” they had procured for dessert.

More recently, during the Gilded Age, there were more corporate shenanigans than you could shake a stick at. Somebody should have beaten James “Jubilee Jim” Fisk with a stick, but instead he became entangled in blackmail and was shot to death in broad daylight in the lobby of New York City’s Grand Central Hotel.

Everyone’s always got their reasons for falling into the tar pit. Even the bad have their good reasons. More often than not it’s not anybody’s fault, either, especially in our own exculpatory day and age.

“It’s because as a child Cinderella got home after midnight, Pinocchio told lies, Aladdin was a thief, Snow White lived in a house with seven men, I saw Tarzan practically naked, Batman drove 200 MPH without a license, and Shaggy was a mystery solving hippie who always had the munchies,” we explain in song and dance about how we became good-time Charlies.

Sex scandals are nothing if not more than everything else never new. They are the bedrock of dirty linen. Many a man has fallen into the hamper.

Grover Cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock and during the 1884 presidential campaign was dogged by Republican chants of, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” After he won, Democrats answered, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”

Bill Clinton had sex out of wedlock on top of the father of our country’s desk in the Oval Office, was almost impeached, but shrugged it off as though the disapproval was a misunderstanding.

When Donald Trump lays down with whores, it’s not a skeleton in the wedlock closet, for several reasons. First, he’s done it many times before, so there isn’t anything scandalous about him doing it again. Second, he’s a consummate dickhead, so there’s nothing unusual about it. Lastly, no one cares, not his evangelical brain-addled conservative base, nor the country’s liberals, for whom it’s the least of his foibles, nor the rest of the world, for whom it’s just a punchline.

No one holds him to any kind of standard, anyway, high or low.

When yoga masters teachers gurus, on the other hand, go sex crazy, it is a scandal, for many reasons, not the least of which is they are held to a higher standard. They are expected to hold firm to the ethical high ground, not rut around in the trough. Stand above reproach. Steer clear of the web of corruption. Practice what you preach, for God’s sake.

It isn’t necessarily what everybody calls you, but what you answer to. Rules guide the everyday. Right conduct guides the better man. Nevertheless, stick to what it says in the job description.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” observed Kurt Vonnegut.

If you can’t trust a yoga teacher, who can you trust?

It’s a long list of bad boys, sometimes a common vice, antics in the back room, sometimes darker. It can be a crime punishable by law, at other times simply an offense that outrages the public conscience. It ain’t the Hall of Fame. It’s more along the lines of the Wall of Shame.

It includes Kriyananda, Rodney Yee, and Akhandananda Sarswati, who was charged with 35 counts of sexual abuse in 1987, convicted, and sent to prison.

It includes Osel Tendzin, Dechen Thurman, known as the “yoga gigolo,” and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – whose relationship with The Beatles came to a sudden end over allegations he tried to rape the actress Mia Farrow. The “Giggling Guru” got away with it, expanded his TM empire, and ended up living in his own 200-room mansion, where he could transcendentalize whatever he wanted in whatever bedroom he wanted to.

It includes Satchidananda, Muktananda, and Rama, founder of the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, whose estate had to pay almost $2 million in 1996 to a woman who claimed she was forced to have sex with him.

Easy come, easy go, seems to have been the philosophy.

It includes Sathya Sai Baba, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Amrit Desai, who founded the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, and was compelled to resign after confessing to several affairs in 1994.

Kripalu still takes a low profile on the whole sordid business, stating blandly for the record, “Yogi Desai resigned as spiritual director of Kripalu.”

It’s like saying he had other things besides the spirit on his mind, or loins, as the case may be.

It includes the royal family of yoga.

In 2012 allegations of emotional and sexual abuse were made against Kausthub Desikachar, the grandson of the godfather of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya.

The next year Desikachar confessed, “I realize that some of the decisions that I have made in the past have not been consistent with the high standards that I usually set for myself. I also fully understand and acknowledge that these have had far reaching effects, way beyond myself. There is no way of changing the past. I wholeheartedly repent for what has happened.”

There’s nothing like slapping yourself on the wrist.

It includes Osho, John Friend, and Bikram Choudhury.

During his lifetime, Osho, a self-proclaimed spiritual guru, was otherwise known as the sex guru. He made no secret of it. Osho was always on the pull, day and night. He did make a secret of everything else, including allegations of drug-running and a prostitution racket.

He was deported from the United States in 1985 as the result of complicity in a murder plot, among other things. He was arrested on board a Learjet in North Carolina with $1 million in cash and valuables on board, trying to escape to Bermuda. Although 21 other countries denied him entry, India finally took him back.

He was welcomed by his disciples with a clap on the back. “We must put the monster America in its place,” he declared. He complained of being the victim of “evil magic.” He died five years later of a heart attack, the victim of clogged arteries.

Amazingly enough, he is more popular today than he was then.

John Friend, who studied long and hard with B. K. S. Iyengar, and who labored long and hard to create and establish Anusara Yoga, a new kind of heart-centered practice, stepped down from his leadership role in 2012. Two years earlier The New York Times had proclaimed him the “Yoga Mogul.” Thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of people around the world practiced his style of yoga.

A year later it was all gone, gone up in smoke.

The yoga gear supplier Manduka got stuck with a warehouse full of John Friend-branded mats.

Besides smoking a boatload of pot, which was illegal at the time, and slyly dipping into pension funds that weren’t his, which is still illegal, he slept his way through his closest female acolytes, married and otherwise. He dreamed up a Wiccan coven, calling it Blazing Star Flames, to keep things on the up and up, at least in his own mind. It was a kind of tantric dodge to explain himself.

Tantric sexual expression is said to be a God-like weaving and expansion of energy creating a mind-body connection leading to powerful orgasms. If only we could be gods is the idea behind the idea.

“On a chilly New Year’s Eve in 2009, John Friend—the popular and charismatic founder of Anusara Yoga—lay naked on a bearskin rug in front of a blazing fire at his home in Texas while three underwear-clad women hovered over him, massaging his body with sweetly scented oil,” Lizzie Crocker wrote in the Daily Beast.

“One rubbed his head, neck, and shoulders, another worked on his hands, while a third rubbed his inner thighs and pelvic region, her whole body writhing sinuously to the new-age sitar melodies playing in the background.”

He didn’t see that what he did with his friendmates was anybody’s business.

“The Anusara scandal to me, was focused on my sex life,” explained John Friend, who has since resurrected himself with a new kind of alignment-based yoga called Sridaiva. “My sexual relationships with women were private and consensual in my eyes, but the community considered my private life as something that they should judge. So, it was like a 21st century social media witch trial, which judged me as being unfit to teach yoga.”

Not everyone agreed.

“Attending a yoga class where a teacher is generating bed-buddies while expounding on spiritual matters is like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy,” countered Kelly Morris, founder of Conquering Lion Yoga.

Sometimes you have to change yoga teachers, when they just rub you the wrong way. In the event, Anusara Yoga went by the board.

Bikram Yoga was the brainchild of Bikram Choudhury, born and bred in Kolkotta, and transplanted to Beverly Hills, where he founded the Yoga College of India. In time it became a big success. He claimed his one-size-fits-all system cured everything from arthritis to cancer, although the talk was largely snake oil. By 2006 there were 1,650 Bikram Yoga studios worldwide. He was training thousands of teachers at $10,000 a pop for the privilege.

He attempted to copyright the poses that constituted his modus operandi, but it was thrown out of court when the judge determined touching your toes wasn’t copyrightable.

Bikram owned more than forty Bentley and Rolls Royce automobiles. He jet setted with the beau monde. He toured Las Vegas, dressing like a gangster, claiming to have testicles like “atomic bombs.” In 2013 it started to unravel, when several women accused him of false imprisonment, sexual battery, and rape.

In 2016 Bikram lost a civil lawsuit in California for sexual harassment and was fined $6.8 million. In response, he closed up shop, sold off everything he could, and went back to the sub-continent. The judge issued a warrant for the lothario, but to this day he’s gone, good riddance to bad rubbish.

“You find out who your real friends are when you’re involved in a scandal,” said Elizabeth Taylor, who was involved in her fair share of them.

During his reign of steam and sweat, many studio owners said they loved the 26-pose take-it-or-leave-it regimen, even though they were equivocal about the man on the platform, turning a blind eye.

It was the king’s new clothes, white silk suits and fedora.

“If you look at his values and his lifestyle, there’s nothing spiritual about it. The cars and the watches and allowing people to fawn all over him, it’s disgusting,” said Stephanie Schestag, “He treated people like shit. But the truth was, he was like the Wizard of Oz. It was all a smokescreen.”

When push came to shove, Bikram Choudhury found out he had few real friends. Most of the world’s Bikram Yoga studios have either closed or changed their names to something else not-so-hot. His wife divorced him. It is rumored even his gold Rolex found another wrist to call home.

Sometimes it seems like only our dogs will never betray us.

It can take a scandal, or two, or a dozen, to bring about reform. Maybe yoga will be practicing what it preaches from here on out. It’s not rocket science. The culture isn’t corrupt, even though some of the culture’s icons were and are. Trying to get it right isn’t like trying to dam up Niagara Falls with toothpicks. It’s about living for a principle, not always trying to make yourself the principal of swinishness and the gimmies.

Love of men women humanity in general may be part and parcel of yoga practice, but not necessarily gimme your lovin’ you sweet lookin’ thang.

One thing all the sex-crazed yoga masters of our times have had in common is they all claimed they were somehow someway the bestest divines and what they were doing was divining the sacred word intent purpose for the way we live today, for your greater good, especially if you are a babe in the woods.

The hand of the man will show you the way out of the woods and down the garden path. The path can get thorny, though. Hero worship ain’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

“I’m breaking eggs to make an omelette because I see the big picture, and you don’t,” they all say, sly and sincere, straight-faced if not straight-laced, Tricky Dick’s to a man. It’s the classic refrain of self-styled masters of the universe, lady-killers one and all, but what can one say in the breach?

One can only say, don’t be a four-flusher. Don’t be a Donald. Stay in your lane bro’.

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.”

Cutting Dreams Down to Size

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By Ed Staskus

“I want to get physical, let’s get into physical, let me hear your body talk, your body talk.”   Olivia Newton-John

There have been several religious revivals in the United States. There was one while it was still British America and another one in the early 19th century. They are called Great Awakenings, outpourings of the Holy Spirit, in other words. One sermon by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 was entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

It immediately breathed new life into godliness in the colonies.

The third Great Awakening of the second half of the 19th century was centered on the rise of contemporary churches, missionary work, and an emphasis on social issues.

The last more-or-less Great Awakening happened in the 1950s, when among the post-war baby-booming moms and dads of an expanding confident Pax Americana there was a revival of interest in religiosity, especially among conservative denominations, sparking theological battles and the rise of politically powerful evangelicals.

The Great Decline began in the 1970s when prayer, church membership, and service attendance started to take a nosedive. Although most Americans still claim to believe in God, they largely sleep in on Sundays. Maybe that’s what some evangelicals mean when they talk about “Soul Sleep”.

At the same time that interest in the spirit was fading away in the United States, a practice centered on the spirit started gaining traction. It was the practice of yoga. It first appeared on the coastlines of the country, the most secular places in the land, but it was a new awakening.

Although yoga today has been mainstreamed manhandled merchandised into cute outfits twisting themselves into perfect poses and posting the results on social media, Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi” and the man who brought the practice to the land of opportunity in the 1920s, thought it was something else.

“It is a profound science of unfolding the infinite potential of the human mind and soul,” he said. He thought the purpose of yoga was not asana exercise, even though health is an important component of the discipline, but rather union with the spirit, largely through meditation.

Yogananda wasn’t big on milk and honey. He didn’t necessarily believe cloud nine was going to be got to by wrapping yourself up in a lululemon heart opener knit wrap, the perfect light layer to wear to and from your practice. He might have thought they are great clothes, colorful and moisture-wicking, albeit tight-fitting for his plus-sized figure from a different fashion time.

The Great Decline was long in coming, set in motion by modern philosophy, questioning everything, modern ideas like agnosticism, deism, and evolution, and societal rebellion. Modern times have been trending to the secular for several centuries. It may not be true that when we stop believing in God we’ll believe in anything, but it is true we all believe in Wall Street and Main Street more than God nowadays.

The Decline of Awe also came into play in the steam age industrial age atomic age digital age. The heavens are full of stars photographed by Hubble. They aren’t portents of success or failure, victory or disaster, Heaven or Hell, anymore. Awe has been replaced by high camp comic drama self-promotion hurly-burly send-ups. The proof is in the pudding, in Facebook YouTube Twitter Instagram.

The four top social network amusement parks have almost 5 billion users between them. On the other hand, maybe 20 percent of Americans go to church on a regular basis, maybe less. The rest are on their cell phones. “Ask most pastors what percentage of inactive members they have, and they’ll say anything from 40 – 60 percent,” said sociologist Penny Long Marler in ‘An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America’.

There are far more No Church-affiliated Americans than Catholic Americans or mainline Protestant Americans. Only evangelicals are holding their own, probably because they believe in a success-oriented culture. Or maybe because they got their own haunted house ogre elected to the White House.

When yoga was getting its legs under it in the 1970s and 80s many Americans said they were spiritual, but not necessarily religious. What they meant was they weren’t organized religious. Even though arena-style mega-churches were springing up, seeming to be bursting at the seams, the writing was on the wall.

Just when the spiritual was fading away, along came yoga over the horizon, a ray of sunshine. A new kind of post-religious spirituality was on the way to a studio near you, brought to you from the East, where all religions have their roots. Sooner or later, everything old becomes new again.

Vivekenanda got the ball rolling in the 1890s, Yogananda popularized Kriya Yoga in the 1920s, and Yogi Bhajan inspired a large following in the 1960s with his Yoga of Awareness. At their core the practices were all spiritual. However, the spiritual aspect of yoga was not sustainable in the 20th century, not in a society becoming ever more secular and materialistic.

After World War Two greed rapidly outstripped need. By the turn of the new century the United States had become the most materialistic society in the history of the world. Yoga’s ethical guidelines, behaviors like non-excess, non-possessiveness, and self-discipline, were rapidly becoming irrelevant, even as the practice boomed.

Boomers and GenX’ers are less religious and spiritual than the Silent Generation. Millennials are the least religious and spiritual of any American generation. Americans are more focused on the freedom to do whatever they want more than ever before. The sense of spirit as the gospel truth has been tossed into the dustbin of history.

The problem for the bread and butter of yoga in the 1990s and 2000s was what to do. The union of the individual self and universal consciousness wasn’t going to pay the rent. In fact, being on the side of the spirit was being on the wrong side of the balance sheet.

The solution to the problem was to go back to Patanjali, who codified the system of yoga about two thousand years ago, and turn him over on his head. Modern yoga stepped up, dropped back, and threw a spiral for a touchdown. From the perspective of Head Coach Patanjali on the sidelines, the forward pass might have been thrown backwards into the wrong end zone. But, that was neither here nor there.

It was B. K. S Iyengar to the rescue.

He wrote a book all about yoga exercise, which was a blend of hatha, gymnastics, British Army calisthenics, Indian wrestling, and alignment. “Light on Yoga” was and still is a hit. “When teachers refer to the correct way to do a posture, they’re usually alluding to the alignment Mr. Iyengar instructs and expertly models in his book,” wrote ‘Yoga Journal’ in a tribute after his death.

Since then, streaming into the 21st century, yoga has become as body conscious as it can possibly be. Five of the eight limbs of yoga have been lopped off and left for dead, leaving posture poses and breathing exercises in control. Meditation has been repurposed as mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about fully minding what’s happening, minding what you’re doing, and minding the space you’re moving through. It used to be called paying attention. The best thing about the new practice is you don’t have to sit around meditating for hours anymore.

Yoga is a practice that fills in the space between now and forever, or at least it used to. It has since expunged the forever side of things and made the now side the happening side. It was once something between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is. But, times have changed. Now it’s elbow grease, and any sense of wonder is beside the point.

“I don’t believe in all that spiritual mumbo jumbo,” or words to that effect, are routinely heard in yoga studios from coast to coast. It’s like hearing not the door slamming shut, but its echo.

Yoga has become a choreographed sequence of squirming facts on a rectangular rubber mat. Nuts and bolts were once baffled by imagination, but now studio classes are full of them. Yoga used to know what facts not to bother with. Now facts are confused with reality.

When modern yoga stripped away most of the limbs of the practice it was doing what it had to do to cash in on a good thing. Physical fitness was never the purpose of yoga, but physical fitness is what most people will pay $15.00 an hour for, not instruction in the benefits of the spirit. Intangibles are not the point of gruntwork.

Who goes to a gym for enlightenment?

Before the Great Split the dichotomy was, it’s either yoga, or it’s exercise. It didn’t matter what you were doing, bicep curls or sun salutations. What mattered was the ethical motivation non-competiveness spiritual orientation and where whatever you were doing was heading. If tight buns were the goal, it was exercise. If the subtle body was the goal, it was yoga.

It doesn’t matter anymore. Yoga has become whatever you want it to be, whatever you say it is, whatever pays the best in the marketplace. Deconstructing the structural unity of the practice has become constructing the fast food drive-thru of the obvious on a bland burger bun.

When yoga studios add profit centers to their footprint – mats branded apparel props essential oils lifestyle items – it’s because they need the real McCoy to stay in business. Retail can add 20 to 30 percent to the bottom line. Trying to make money off the spiritual is like trying to give fish a bath.

Yoga businesses need to be profitable. All earnings are dependent on shoppers, since if there weren’t any shoppers there wouldn’t be any stores or studios. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the groove on the mat they’re looking for or simply looking groovy. It doesn’t matter whether shoppers want an awakening or tight buns. The customer is always right.

“The act of shopping is a form of stress release,” wrote Rebecca Kotch in ‘Managing Your Yoga Retail Space’. “Shopping within a yoga studio environment seems to be an exceptional antidote to everyday stresses,” she said.

It obviates the need for wasting your time in corpse pose, as well. It begs the question, however, whether the new yoga is yoga by another name, or is it something different altogether? Is the old yoga dead and gone? Does it matter?

“Do I believe that yoga can be imparted without being grounded in its cultural and spiritual heritage? No. Whatever that is, it isn’t yoga,” Kavita Das wrote in ‘Any Practice of Yoga That Isn’t Spiritual Isn’t Really Yoga’.

Although there is no disagreeing with the sentiment, there is no doubt Kavita Das is completely wrong. Yoga has a cultural and spiritual heritage and the practice was, within the last one hundred years, grounded in that tradition. That is not the case anymore. Yoga today is whatever most people say it is.

Even before the Great Decline the idea that we are compelled to create meaning had been crashing into the past, redefining modernity. Everybody has to create meaning for themselves and create their own outlook. Life used to be what other people said it was. Life nowadays is whatever you say it is. Hanging onto the coattails of yoga’s heritage doesn’t get it done in an age of engagement and commitment to the now.

Although it is true the present is like an egg that was laid by the past, the present is never like the past. When you’ve got the present in the driver’s seat, running the show, you control both the past and the future. What we dream up now is tomorrow’s reality.

Most yoga today is branded, delivered, and consumed in a commercial setting, and has no spiritual aspect to it. The cultural heritage of the practice has become beside the point, except for the yoga tourists who pay homage to it by going to the sub-continent on vacation. However, what they practice at the fountainhead is ironically a mostly Westernized form of the discipline.

The Great Dream of yoga used to be awareness, self-control, and higher consciousness. The way it was gotten to was by training the body and the mind. Even though teachers were helpful, neither gym nor studio memberships were necessary. The best teachers didn’t explain or demonstrate, rather they inspired. They didn’t confuse things with their names.

The next step used to be about going beyond the physical, beyond the mind, even, and straight to the spirit. Stop making sense. There’s no time for words. Feel a little more alive. Stop making sense.

Most modern practice, however, has evolved so that it’s never mind anything except the physical. Modernity has given the heave ho to thousands of years of meaning, and replaced it with the provisional, so that essence is what you make of it, once you have come into being. The physicality of existence is what matters more than anything else.

It may be reductive to do yoga as a workout, but the other paths have been largely washed away in the Great Flood of rationalism secularism commodification. Besides, yoga has been decontextualized to the point that anything goes, anyway. Who really believes in the past anymore?

Traditional yoga was an enterprise after states of insight. Modern yoga is an enterprise after health and wealth along material planes. Traditional yoga espoused detachment from physical pleasures, or at least many of them. Modern yoga is a shopping mall of physical pleasures. Traditional yoga was then and modern yoga is now.

We all dream up our own reality, although now and then it’s fine to pause in our pursuit of yoga and just do 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.”

Painting the Town Red

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By Ed Staskus

“Looking up at paradise, all souls bound just contrariwise, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” Dead Man’s Chest, a traditional sea shanty

When yoga got on its feet in the 1960s and started rolling in the 1970s, many Americans thought it was a fad. It was part and parcel of the culture of California, after all. It was for hippies and health nuts and religious fanatics, said working stiffs and wise guys, wondering where the success in it was.

In the 60s and 70s, however, it was anything but a fad. It was the real deal. It had its feet grounded in a 5000-year-old tradition. If it was a fad it was a fad that had never gone away, the kind that had staying power. When Satchidananda led the opening chant at Woodstock, it wasn’t that week’s Top 10 smash hit. It had a legacy going back centuries. It had been a smash hit in year zero.

The practice stayed solid for thirty years, but by the 2000s it was flipping over onto its head. Celebrity jet-setting yoga teachers crisscrossed the country, burning up the carbon, peddling their brand of sermon. John Friend got high and got sexy. Yoga franchises with their instant oatmeal wisdom and Groupon specials popped up from Miami to Joplin, Missouri.

Yoga used to be the hub of the wheel. Then it became the spokes of the wheel. Anusara, Baptiste, Forrest, Integral, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Kundalini, Moksha, Sivananda, Viniyoga, Vinyasa, and Yin.

It’s a baker’s dozen.

Soon afterwards the spokes started to splinter. Nowadays there is Karaoke Yoga and Laughing Yoga, Tots and Tykes Yoga, Aerial Yoga, and AcroYoga, Glow-in-the-Dark Yoga, Naked Yoga, Trampoline Yoga, Trampoline Yoga While Naked, Primal Screaming Yoga, and Paddleboard Yoga.

No staying grounded there, just don’t drift off by mistake and get captured by pirates. What did the shipwrecked blindfolded friendly SUP yogi with the outstretched arms ask his newfound friends swigging mugs of suds while he walked the plank?

“Am I getting warmer?”

Picking yourself up off the ground is the premise of Rage Yoga. “I was going through a lot of pain,” said Canadian teacher and founder Lindsay Istace. She had recently gone through a break-up. She was a bittergirl. “It started to come out during my practice. Suddenly there was a lot more yelling, swearing, and emotional release on my mat.”

Down on the farm there is Goat Yoga, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s doing yoga with small cute goats, at least until their grumpy elders head butt you. Old Billy and his horns ain’t anything you want to partner yoga with.

“It might sound silly, but the way these classes are working, it’s becoming deeper and bigger than I thought, “ said Lainey Morse, who started the craze. The business has expanded to the point that she has quit her day job and is trademarking “Goat Yoga”.

Maa! Maa! Maa!

All of this is to not mention Bikram Choudhury, of eponymous Bikram Yoga-fame, whose crazy-like-a-fox marketing is legendary. “There’s a sucker born every day,” said P. T. Barnum, Bikram’s spiritual guru.

In more recent times yoga has gone from Jennifer Aniston’s six-pack abs, otherwise known as Jennifer’s Yoga Moves for Flat Abs, straight to six-packs.

Brewskis and poses was a practice born at the Burning Man fun festival. Who doesn’t need liquid refreshment in the middle of the summer in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert? Bend an elbow, help a brother out, bottoms up. A year later Germany’s BierYoga foamed to life, the marriage of beer and yogimeister Jhula’s brainstorm.

Jhula and her business partner Emily go by the names of Jhula and Emily. No surnames, please.

”It’s fun, but it’s no joke,” said Jhula. “We take the philosophy of yoga and pair it with the pleasure of beer-drinking to reach your highest level of consciousness.”

Or your highest level of semi-consciousness, as the case may be.

Yoga is meant to make you feel the way you want to feel without yoga. On the other hand, drink beer think beer.

The history of beer is the history of humanity. 6000 years ago the Sumerians, the oldest known civilization, were the first brewmeisters. They believed beer was the true blue drink of the gods. By the 14th century Germany was a country of world famous beer cities. Strong beer in imperial 20 fluid ounce pint portions isn’t a joke in Germany.

Miller Lite is strictly forbidden.

BierYoga Classes are conducted in a techno club in the heart of Berlin’s trendy Neukolln neighborhood. They are booked up solid weeks in advance. Disco balls hang from the ceiling. Everybody’s shuffling, everybody’s jump styling, everybody’s posing. The vibe is intoxicating.

“Has anyone not finished their first bottle? If not, bottoms up!” said Jhula during a full-house class.

Chug a lug in tree pose. You don’t want to nurse the beer, though. Your nipples will get soggy.

Beer Yoga is a new rave in London and usually practiced in pubs. The admission charge includes a mat and a beer. After a rough day at work, some hair-of-the-dog, stretching and belching.

“It complements the joy of drinking beer and the mindfulness of yoga,” said Beer Yoga’s Guzel Mursalimova. ”It adds a little more relaxation because a lot of people tend to be very tense when they come in. If this means you have to incorporate beer, I think that’s perfectly fine.”

It begs the question, however, if you had to incorporate horse to relax, would that be perfectly fine, too, or does heroin not complement the mindfulness of yoga in the same way beer does?

There is Beerasana in Washington, DC, and hops and hatha at the Quest Brewing Company in Greensville, SC. Awareness and self-observation are in the eye of the beer holder.

But, getting a buzz on during class may not be the best of ideas. “Not being able to tell your right arm from your left leg is not a healthy practice,” said Jake Panasevich, a wellness and yoga teacher. “Anything that alters your natural state of mind is no longer yoga in my book.”

Others say, lighten up.

“What a fabulous experience!” said James Villaruel about In the Spirit Studio and Wine Lounge in Scarborough, a borough of Toronto, Ontario. “Invigorating, yet relaxing yoga classes followed by first-class wine selections. I’ll definitely be back!”

Rah, rah, rah, that’s the spirit! Alcoholic drinks are sometimes called spirits because alcohol reduces anxiety and induces euphoria. Why are liquor stores not called spirit stores?

“Love this place!” said Sonya Dwyer about Zin Yoga and Wine in North Carolina. “Zin offers a wide variety of yoga classes and the clothing and wine selection is really great.” Getting loose in several different ways at once in brand new stretch pants.

Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape with a bold taste. “Either give me more wine or leave me alone,” said Rumi, whose best-selling poems are a part of yoga lore. He taught a kind of body movement in the 13th century, known as the Dance of the Whirling Dervishes, or spinning.

The thought of whirling after a couple of glasses of wine is enough to make your head go whee.

“Yoga can be very serious, but why not have it be really fun,” said Angela Gargano, the owner of Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison, Wisconsin, the state capital and a college town. She stage-manages weekend-long yoga and wine retreats. “Yoga is something spiritual to me. I feel we’ve lost the spiritual connection to the land food and wine grows on. That’s what was nice about the retreat, getting people to really connect to wine.”

That’s what yoga is all about, connecting. They don’t exactly tear it up, however, while connecting with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility. Vineyard tours and genteel five-course meals are fare of the weekend, along with a class on the mat on the side.

Although yoga can be serious, it is in the doing of it much more fun than fun, even without clinking glasses with the god of the grape. Nevertheless, Dionysus is a fun god, especially since the main focus of his cult back in the day was unrestrained consumption. “Prepare yourselves for the roaring voice of the God of Joy,” wrote Euripides in ‘The Bacchae’ way back when, when Athens was Broadway.

In and around New York City these days, Dina Ivas, a 15-year veteran of conducting yoga classes at top-rated fitness establishments, and Liz Howng, a certified wine expert, host Yoga Wine parties, which are private classes and wine tasting in the comfort of wherever you are.

“I finished the class feeling relaxed and a lot more confident about yoga,” said Miriam Gilbert. “Next, the wine tasting. We tasted a great range of wines. I’d certainly attend another party.”

There’s something oxymoronic about getting down for a  yoga wine party, but then again, we all fight for our right to party. There are shortcuts to happiness and drinking is one of them, although you don’t want to spend all day at Happy Hour. It can morph into Unhappy Hour. There’s an old saw that says good friends get drunk with you while best friends hold your hair back when you’ve had too much to drink.

Vino and vinyasa is found from coast to coast. Wine Body and Soul in New York. Downward Dog Then Drink Wine in Boston. Yin Yoga and Wine Night in Austin. Yoga Art and Wine in Redwood City. Vineyards from the Niagara Escarpment to Sonoma Valley are jumping on the bandwagon. No falling off the wagon on the way to class!

There’s nothing wrong with a beer-or-two at a ballgame or a barbeque, wine at dinner, or a scotch neat late on a lonely rainy night. Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but does anyone want to drink water all the time? It’s what rusts pipes. After all, like Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

One thing leads to another. Next up, absinthe and ashtanga, mantra and martinis, “cocktails and yoga, the perfect mix,” said Katherine Smith, yoga teacher, life-coach, and self-described “wild warrior yogi.”

“There is no good or bad, everything we feel, experience, think and sense is simply a manifestation of the divine,” she said. “Choose good quality alcohol.”

What about moonshine, bathtub gin, and rotgut? Since it’s all yoga, no good or bad, right or wrong, no heaven or hell in the divine scheme of things, what about rotgut? Live on the wild side!

Some of the new yoga doesn’t suffer in comparison with the old. It suffers all on its own.

Why conflate drink with yoga in the first place? Sure, everything was once new, just like today’s many new styles of yoga. There was once the first unclothed hard-core yogi back in the day when clothes were optional, although his practice probably didn’t include doing raging naked double flips arm in arm with goats. And if it did, he almost certainly wasn’t boozing it up at the same time.

Tomatoes are a fruit and fruit salads are full of fruit, but the wise saladmeister doesn’t mix tomatoes into their fruit salads.

There is nothing inherently demonic about drink, notwithstanding the screed of teetotalers. “Imagine getting up in the morning and knowing that’s as good as you’re going to feel all day,” said Dean Martin. Indeed, there are even benefits to demon rum.

Drinking responsibly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, helps prevent against the common cold, lowers the chance of diabetes, decreases the possibility of developing dementia, improves your libido, and can lengthen your life. It also reduces the risk of gallstones by a third, although the study of bile ducts at Great Britain’s University of East Anglia cautioned that “our findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake, but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems.”

The research is galling for anyone who still believes in the late not so great Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. There is no doubt Benjamin Franklin rolled over in his grave on the morning of January 16, 1920, believing God had abandoned the USA.

“Here’s to alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems,” said Homer Simpson. In other words, it’s better to drink when you’re happy, not when you’re unhappy, although it took the Great Depression to get Prohibition repealed.

Yoga is a broad practice, from meditation to exercise to ethics. There is no one correct form of it. “It’s such a big multifarious tradition you can find precedence for almost anything,” said James Mallinson, a senior lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical Indian Civilization at SOAS University in London.

“It’s not really about the body, but about the mind,” he added.

Since alcohol goes right to your head, maybe yoga and drinking do have something in common.

However, since under the over-influence of drink the brain goes haywire, a loss of fine motor skills, slowing reaction time, slurred speech, blurred vision, impaired hearing, and a daftness of muscle coordination and balance, it might be fairer to say that yoga and drinking have little in common.

Doing too much yoga, for example, isn’t going to land anyone in a detox center.

The yamas and niyamas are a set of ethical yoga rules, moral imperatives, and goals. They are the backbone of yoga, a kind of code of conduct. None of the social restraints or self-disciplines, as they are called, specifically address sidling up to the neighborhood bar.

“There is no mention of alcohol in the yamas or niyamas,” said James Bennitt, who studied with Rod Stryker and teaches flow-style yoga in Chicago. “A glass of wine or beer once in awhile isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when it becomes a habit, it is depleting to the system, not to mention clouds your judgment. Yoga is very much about building energy as well as clarity, not depleting yourself of them.”

Wine and beer and spirits ultimately have a sedative effect. At the end of the party end of the night, after you’re all done pulling the cork out of dinner and dessert, after you have stopped flooding the control center behind your forehead with liquid fun, your neurotransmitters slow way down low down. The part of your brain called the medulla gets sleepy.

Consciousness and clarity are located in the cerebral cortex. Do enough Beer Yoga and your senses, which process information for your cortex, get clumsy staggering punchy and inhibit thought processes, making it hard to get from point a to point b in a straight line. It devolves from I think therefore I am to I drink therefore I am.

“The ease with which I can now find an event that combines practicing yoga with drinking alcohol is at least unsettling, and at most completely mind-boggling in its depth at missing the point,” wrote Kelly McCormick in “Not-So-Happy Hour: Why Yoga & Alcohol Just Don’t Mix.”

If yoga is about energy and clarity, drinking is about relaxing and socializing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but yoga is something that makes your brain sparkle, while drinking makes your brain go fireworks and then fade away like the grand finale. Promoting the practice of yoga by wedding it to a fermented drug as the new hip thing to do is huckster work.

Nobody needs to mindlessly abstain. Everyone can mindfully enjoy a pint of craft beer or a glass of red wine at their local saloon. Nobody needs to do yoga, but when they do it gets them in a great state of mind. Everybody knows Miller time and yoga time are two different things, hucksters or no hucksters.

Getting a buzz on is living in your senses. Getting on the mat is transcending your senses. It’s all a state of mind.

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.”

Boomer Yoga Swarm

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By Ed Staskus

“Why don’t you all fade away, talkin’ ’bout my generation, don’t try to dig what we all say, talkin’ ’bout my generation.”  The Who

It’s been said everybody loves yoga nowadays. The love wasn’t always the case, at least not in the United States, which was a problem. It is the case today, which might be a worse problem. Yoga is good for everyone, but not everyone is good for it. Even yoga masters like John Friend and Bikram Choudhury, who created practices of great benefit, have not, because of the sex, drugs, and money scandals surrounding them, been altogether good for it.

Yoga in the western world has faced many challenges, from its philosophy being decried as a menace to society to the corporatization of the practice, but the latest threat may be the most menacing. That threat is being posed by the horde of Baby Boomers, as time catches up to them, swarming studios coast-to-coast.

Just fifty-some years before the first Baby Boomers came into existence, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, lectures and a subsequent speaking tour by Vivekananda inspired many Americans to see the light. They also led to trouble, to yoga being decried as a cult. “Police Break In On Weird Hindu Rites,” blared a New York City newspaper. Twenty years after Vivekanda had come and gone, feature articles like “The Cult of the Yogis Lures Women to Destruction” were still commonplace.

In 1928, Yogananda, the author of Autobiography of a Yogi, was hounded out of Miami, Florida, by hundreds of anxious and angry husbands and fathers who saw him as a sex threat. “Not with my wife or daughter!” they complained and threatened with shouts and clubs.

Throughout the 1930s so-called yogi crimes were a staple of headline writers. During the Cold War some Americans worried about yogis teaching Russian cosmonauts breathing techniques. But, in the 1960s the practice gained traction. It popped up on TV and the Beatles crossed paths with it. By the 1990s new converts were discovering it daily and yoga was off and running.

Baby Boomers led the charge, especially the cadre of Boomers who became teachers, from Sharon Gannon to Ana Forrest to Richard Freeman. “The defining moment when the medical community started taking notice of yoga occurred in 1990,” said Kathryn Arnold, the editor of Yoga Journal at the time. It was also the moment when yoga began to shape shift from a practice of awareness and freedom to a get on your mat get fit get strong sweat out the toxins check out those buns exercise routine.

Postural yoga, a stand-alone practice in pursuit of health, became the vogue it still is today. In A History of Modern Yoga Elizabeth De Michelis fleshed out posture practice as a “secularized healing ritual.” Ben Houhour noted in his History of Yoga in America that the “consolidation of yoga coincided with the coming of age of the Boomer.”

Early on in their reign Boomers got loose on acid with the aim of changing themselves through drug use. The later Boomers of the 1990s flocked to yoga studios and flipped up into headstand with the same resolve. “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” said Timothy Leary, the 1960s guru of LSD. “Drop in, tune in, turn on,” said John Schumacher, a long-time American yoga teacher who spent three decades studying with B. K. S. Iyengar.

In the oughts yoga became the fashion among the better off seeking to become even better off. In the 1970s and 80s the Me Generation had invested in health and exercise fads, self-help programs like EST, and New Age spirituality. As the new decade of doom and diversions unfolded it was yoga’s turn to cater to the Baby Boomers as the practice morphed into exercise for the elite.

Since then yoga has had to go head-to-head with one thing after another, from teachers behaving badly to capitalists doing what they do best. Bikram Choudhury did both, behaving badly and beating the moneymen at their own game, while boasting about it to boot. Some teachers became hatha celebrities, racking up frequent-flier miles, preaching from the pulpit about a practice supposedly sans pulpit.

The corporate world, always looking for the next big thing, licked its lips, liking what it saw of yoga swerving into the mainstream.

Lululemon Athletica, noted for its hundred dollar separates sewn for pennies on the dollar in third world countries, built its apparel empire piggybacking on the practice. In 2012 its sales were $1 billion. Three years later, in 2015, its sales almost doubled to $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, in the birthplace of yoga, most people still wear street shorts and casual t-shirts and women even wear everyday sarees when practicing. They aren’t accessorized for the yoga runway because they don’t push themselves up into shoulder stand on a rock star runway.

In 2002 Trevor Tice founded the CorePower Yoga franchise after taking a class in Telluride, Colorado. “I was very underwhelmed by the facilities and the delivery,” he said. “It was lacking anything a good customer experience should have.” Good yogis now pay up to $170.00 a month to be overwhelmed customers at CorePower Yoga.

Forecasting for 2016 the Advertising Specialty Institute recommended to its promotional pros that the time was ripe to tap into the ever-expanding yoga market. The practice has increasingly been defined, inside and outside its ranks, as a high-end leisure activity, a perception that Rodney Yee in 2011 described as “ass-backwards.”

Backwards never had it so good.

Although commercialization is a problem for a practice that on the face of it eschews commercialization, the immediate problem yoga faces in the next several years is who’s knocking on the door. According to a recent survey conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, nearly 37 million people now practice yoga in the United States, up from 20-some million in 2012. More than half of that recent growth has come from older practitioners, 14 million adults over age 50, up from 4 million in 2012.

It’s the Baby Boomers banging on the door.

As time catches up to them, dragging them down into rocking chairs, they are trying to stay on their feet. “It’s improved my flexibility and balance,” said 66-year-old Len Adelman of Herndon, Virginia.

“The majority of my classes are filled with individuals over the age of sixty,” said Michele Coker, a Certified Yoga Teacher in Maryland. “Many have had injuries and are fed up with physical therapy. They come because their physician suggested it.”

“More doctors are recommending that their patients try yoga to help with healing,” said Carin Gorrell, editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal.

Yoga isn’t Muscle Beach, fortunately for those entering their golden years. No one gets sand kicked in their face. There isn’t the notion of turning anyone away, no matter what, in yoga’s DNA. But, Baby Boomers come bearing baggage. It might be best to open the door slowly and cautiously since what’s on the other side could go boom.

Baby Boomers soaked the economy for all it was worth through the 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s. Greed is good, they chanted, and then left everyone else’s finances a wreck. Gen X is in worse shape than their parents and Millennials are worse off than them. The best Baby Boomer brains built fortunes for themselves on Wall Street. They then drove the country into the worst recession in 80 years. 34% of Boomers believe their own children will not enjoy as good a standard of living as they themselves have now, according to the Pew Research Center.

No one in Washington, D. C. ever says Social Security will be a problem for current retirees, in other words, the Baby Boomers. After that, all bets are off.

When the Greatest Generation had finished its run in the Nation’s Capital, it was time for the Boomer-in-Chiefs, Bill Clinton and George Bush the 2nd, to take up the reins. From his breezy approach to spending and debt to his philandering, Bill Clinton was the Boomer-in-Chief who the Baby Boomers deserved. Besides, they had transitioned from dropping LSD to dropping Viagra.

George Bush the 2nd, who was indulged as a young man, indulged himself in the Oval Office with fantasies of Weapons of Mass Destruction and money growing on trees. When the wars he started stalled he proclaimed victory. When the housing market collapsed he was on his way out of the White House, anyway.

Only Barak Obama hasn’t suffered the black eyes of Boomermania. The 800-pound gorilla with the souffle hairdo will not, hopefully, be the next Boomer-in-Chief.

The worst legacy of the Me Generation is still unfolding, which is the legacy of their burning all the cheap fossil fuels they could get their hands on, and then denying for as long as they could that climate change was happening. They will be long gone and not have to pay the piper for the heat-trapping gasses they’ve left behind. Hurricanes and floods are only now starting to rain on their parade.

It might be appropriate to bring a lump of coal to their memorial services.

Before they go to their just reward they are getting up from the stoop of old age and beating a path to yoga studios. Baby Boomers used to crow about never trusting anyone over 30. Now that more than 10,000 of them cross the threshold of 65 every day, the typical Boomer believes that old age doesn’t begin until 72. In other words, “Never trust anyone over 72.” They are putting their trust in yoga.

“It’s never too late, you’re never too old, you’re never too sick, to start again from scratch,” said the yoga master Bishnu Charan Ghosh.

Everyone who takes up yoga has their own reasons for doing it. It’s often the case that they are dissatisfied with something. If that’s the case, Baby Boomers are primed for the practice. Fully 80% of them are not satisfied with the way things are going and as a group are more downbeat about their lives than all other age groups.

They’re in a collective funk.

It was Baby Boomers who brought into life the health club era. Health is the motivation driving most of them to yoga studios, although calming their crazy minds is also a factor. They are less healthy and more stressed than other age groups, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are looking for ways to stay energetic and vital in the latter part of their lives. Fortunately for them, yoga can be practiced at any age, since there are so many kinds of it, from action-style Ashtanga to no-impact chair-style.

It’s a no-brainer for the Baby Boomers. Yoga builds strength and balance, keeps excess pounds at bay, and protects joints, according to the AARP. “It’s important to start caring for your joints, to help maintain your independence and preserve your ability to perform daily activities as you get older,” said Amy Wheeler, a yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino.

As a last resort, there’s always corpse pose, “which is a totally relaxing option everyone can do!” says the AARP.

Better late than never.

There are so many Baby Boomers taking up yoga that some teacher training facilities like the Yoga Sanctuary in Florida have classes where almost all the trainees are themselves Boomers. It takes one to know one seems to be the idea behind the curriculum.

Although Boomers represent a grave threat to the practice, because of their mercenary states of mind and narcissism, yoga’s motto is “Everyone is welcome here.”

It is literally true, to the extent that if you can’t make it to a studio the studio will come to you. The Prison Yoga Project has taught tens of thousands of jailbirds the practice, bringing mindfulness to cell blocks. “Use your body to teach your mind,” is how James Fox, the founder and director of the project, describes their mission.

Hardened criminals are one thing, but Baby Boomers are another, even harder thing. Nevertheless, yoga is a 5,000 year-old practice that has seen it all over the past 50 centuries and is probably up for the challenge. Most Boomers are taking up the practice in order to fix whatever it is they are being confronted by. They may get more, however, than they bargained for.

“I like to emphasize that we’re already completely whole,” said Niika Quistgaard, a clinical Ayurveda specialist in New Jersey. “We can enjoy ourselves even when everything isn’t physically perfect. It comes down to loving ourselves just as we are, which bring its own healing.”

It’s a way of chilling out and doing your best, rather than forever pushing and stressing out about how to become Masters of the Universe.

Baby Boomers may rediscover themselves in ways they never anticipated as they discover yoga. Although they and the practice seem like star-crossed lovers, it could be their way of staying true to themselves. In the end most people can’t be taught anything fundamental. They can only discover it within themselves. Much of life is a do-it-yourself project.

Maybe the Baby Boomers are up to the challenge of negating the self in order to discover the self, finally.

“They are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history,” wrote Paul Begala in “The Worst Generation.”

Yoga is about all the aspects of being, which are the body, breath, and inner self. The practice establishes the person in the self. It leads to self-awareness. Awareness of the self is the way to freedom, the freedom to choose and change. The Me Generation, even though burdened with all their special needs, after the long, strange trip they’ve been on, have one last chance to become the Self-Aware Generation.

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.”

Sitting Pretty and Beyond

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By Ed Staskus

“Yoga gives people of all ages the ability to grow old gracefully and stay in shape with lowered stress,” says Cosmo Wayne of Bikram Yoga in Austin, Texas. “My students share all kinds of success stories of reduced blood pressure, assistance with diabetes, faster healing, stronger digestion, and better sleep.”

Yoga does not treat age at whatever age it is like a disease to be cured. Getting old is not the problem since growing older can be accomplished by anyone who lives long enough. Yoga assumes asanas are good for everyone because the practice produces a stronger, healthier body with increased resistance to disease.

“Health is the chief idea, the one goal of hatha yoga,” says Swami Nikhilananda in Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works. In recent years the Harvard University neuroscientist Sat Bir Khalsa, who believes it can and should be the low-tech solution to many of the world’s health care problems, has gathered substantial evidence for the therapeutic value of the practice.

But, as essential to yoga as hatha practice is, it is still only one spoke in the wheel. Practicing asanas alone is like going to see Gone in 60 Seconds instead of Gone with the Wind. The Nicholas Cage movie looks like a movie, just like the Clark Gable one does, as long as you assume the elements of color, action, and sound are what movies are about, or that the plot device of stealing 50 cars is worth caring about.

Asanas are empowering, boosting energy and decreasing aches and pains, and even defending against major killers like heart disease and diabetes. But, hot vinyasa classes are not an elixir, no matter how hot they are or how real the myth of the loss of Eden remains even in our modern age. When asanas are added or yoked to the matrix of pranayama and meditation they become more than just the active ingredients in the Fountain of Youth recipe. Practicing yoga for it’s admitted anti-aging benefits is good for everyone’s body, but leaving it at that is empowering the tail to wag the dog.

“Yoga is ultimately more than a tool,” says Michael Caldwell of Yoga One in San Diego, California. “Sure, some people do yoga to get a firm butt and lose weight, but those who continue to practice tend to get much more out of it than an attractive outward appearance, because it is a philosophy, and ultimately when fully expanded, a lifestyle, a state of mind, and a state of being.”

Transforming asanas into a wrestling match with age can add years to your life, but it doesn’t necessarily make those years worthwhile. “Life is a pilgrimage,” says Swami Sivanada. It is a journey to a sacred place, or at least a search for significance. Reducing it to year after year of roadside attractions is to waste the years asanas may grant. The superstar Madonna is not the new Nero because she practices Ashtanga Yoga, but because she believes the internal heat and sweat of the practice are its most noble parts, or as noble as her egoism allows.

“Yoga is widely perceived as being a toolbox of youth, but it is far from being only that,” says Gyandev McCord of Ananda Yoga in Ananda Village, California. “Practicing only for its physical benefits is like seeing the Mona Lisa only in terms of its picture frame. Nice frame, but there’s something much greater happening there! Yoga is, above all, a technology for inner transformation, a means to experience directly the very essence of who you are.”

The Vedic culture, from which the Hindu path of yoga evolved, concentrated on diet, exercise, and meditation for its anti-aging therapies. Back in the day Rig Vedic verses were chanted to gain long life. As it is practiced today, yoga is not like it was in the past, but its aims are the same. Hatha yoga is meant to keep the body healthy and the mind alert through asanas, pranayama, and meditation, so that one can lead a dynamic and alert life, acting appropriately in changing circumstances.

There is suggestive evidence that yoga delays or prevents the onset of many age-related diseases, evidence garnered from studies conducted by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and even some done under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health. A study in the February 2000 issue of ‘Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America’ found that therapeutic yoga helps with the pain associated with osteoarthritis. “Medically, yoga maintains the body parameters to a ripe old age,“ says Dr. Krishna Raman in his book Yoga and Medical Science.

Yogis like Krisnamacharya, Indra Devi, and K. Pattabhi Jois have proven that asana practice can be maintained throughout life, well into one’s 80’s and 90’s. “I’m proof that if you keep at it, you’ll get there. I can do more now than I could 50 years ago. Forget age,” says the 84-year-old Bette Calman, an Australian teacher and author of Yoga for Arthritis, who still practices peacock pose and tripod headstand.

A good plastic surgeon can lift a face and make it last for ten years. Botox, the trademark of botulinum toxin, an otherwise lethal poison, can paralyze wrinkles for up to four months. Preparation H, in a pinch, tautens under-eye puffiness. Being a good Australian and not a Belgian endive all her life, Bette Calman is wrinkled from the sun, but her real beauty shines from the inside out. “Yoga keeps you young,” she says, meaning it in more ways than the anti-aging business does.

Yoga is not about worshiping youth, but rather about honoring all ages. That is why there is always a practice for everyone and it is always the right time to start a practice. “Never too late, never too old, never too bad,” says Bishnu Ghosh, who was Bikram Choudbury’s teacher.

If yoga were the Holy Grail of anti-aging no yogis would have wrinkles or arthritis. But, they do. When Diane Anderson asked David Life how his body had changed over the years, he said: “Do you really want the old list that we all know: less hair, more gray, fewer teeth, thinner skin, and so on? I’ve got all that.” Yoga has often innocently been called the art of staying young. There is no potion or pill or procedure that will keep anyone ageless, but yoga might be the next best consolation prize for the plant that got away.

“We’re not about growing old gracefully. We’re about never growing old,” says Robert Klatz, president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

The science of yoga posits the opposite view, not opposing nature with the chemical and surgical arsenal of Western science, but rather melding breath and asanas to flow with grace through time. In its various manifestations it offers many kinds of practice to the different stages of our life times, from hot vinyasa to earthy yin. “Yoga might give you a youthful posture and more peaceful face, but the reason people stick to it is the peace and awareness it brings,” says Debra Murphy of Shanti Yoga in McCall, Idaho, who also has a doctorate in Exercise Science.

For all of its admitted physical benefits, yoga is about being ageless on the inside rather than on the outside. The Buddha said every human being is the author of his own health or disease, but yoga is about more than health or disease. Yoga is not just a body practice, nor is it a body-mind practice. It is a body-mind-spirit practice.

The odds of aging are one hundred percent, but how old would we be if we didn’t know how old we were? “All life is yoga,” says Sri Aurobindo, progenitor of Integral Yoga. The purpose of yoga is not just to buff the body, nor master the mind. Its long-term project is to still the body and mind in order to apprehend the spirit. “The spirit shall look out through matter’s gaze. And matter shall reveal the spirit’s face,” explains Sri Aurobindo.

Asanas are always worthwhile in their own right, as is meditation and breathwork. Yoga exercise helps develop a strong posture so that the body can be kept steady and comfortable in order to meditate. Pranayama helps still the motion of the mind. But, to limit one’s yoga practice to these steps is to lose sight of what the pilgrimage of the practice is really getting at, which is the illimitable spirit that lives in everyone, mirroring timelessness. Yoga is a meditation on the here and now, not a better-looking past or airbrushed future. Wonder and awareness are found in the present moment, where there is no need for nips and tucks.

When the body is still the mind can be still. When the mind is still the spirit can be still. When the spirit is still, fear and desire, the ageless twins that drive the anti-aging market, are obviated. In the Yoga Sutra Patanjali’s guideline for life is the eightfold path, or ashtanga, which literally means eight limbs. Asanas are the path of health, the yamas and niyamas the paths of moral and ethical conduct, and pranayama is at the crossroads of the body and mind. The final four limbs of the circle of ashtanga – withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and connecting with the Universe – are the practices by which time slows down to a single point of stillness.

The effects of anti-aging products like Botox and HGH are ephemeral at best and dangerous at worse. Pursuing enlightenment on the eightfold path is to connect to the best of the whole of creation, not just hold hands with a corporate chemist’s lab.

At the end of the Epic of Gilgamesh, having lost the Plant of Life, the hero Gilgamesh returns home and looks up at the city walls he built, believing they will endure in his place. It is a false epiphany. Unable to step out of the flow of time he remains seduced by the dream of the snake. Five thousand years later his city’s ruins lie on the banks of an abandoned channel of the Euphrates River. But, what Gilgamesh yearned for then is in our modern age still a preoccupation.

“To this very day, the possibility of physical immortality charms the heart of man,” says Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Buying into the 21st century’s anti-aging technologies is to be beguiled by the snake, as though sloughing off one’s skin has something to do with revealing one’s true self. The authentic self is the spirit made visible, not a new, replacement face or head of hair. The real prize is not the skin you slough off, but the skin you live in, and how you live in the skin you are in. That is the gift gotten from yoga practice in all its aspects, never looking back and never looking forward.

Only here and now.

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.”