From Yogaville to Cheeseville

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By Ed Staskus

When Hannah Inglish interned at the North Country Creamery in Keeseville in far northern New York near the Canadian border for six months she didn’t know it was the penultimate step in her transition from Cleveland, Ohio, yoga girl to cow herder maven and cheesemaker.

She also didn’t know that a year later, eight years after she began studying pre-Christian non-theism, rolling out a yoga mat, and changing her eating habits, she would be making arrangements to move away from where there were 5000 people per square city mile to 15 people per square country mile, with only her boyfriend in tow, and take up farming.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen so quickly,” she said.

“But when I was at Yogaville” – a teacher training facility and retreat center in Buckingham, Virginia, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains – “I read Shivananda’s writings, especially the parts about adapting, adjusting, and accommodating, so the change has been kind of easy.”

Born in Oklahoma, she and her sister grew up in Lakewood, an inner-ring old school suburb of Cleveland, and graduated from Lakewood High School. In her senior year she started reading Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher and populariser of Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was an awesome philosopher, trying to explain the deeper meaning of things, the underlying energy you always feel,” she said. “It makes the unexplainable easier to explain.”

After high school she experimented with raw foods and vegetarianism and began commuting across town to Cleveland Heights to the Atma Center, a holistic studio dedicated to Satyananda Yoga. “They taught traditional yoga, with pranayama and chanting, not your typical soccer mom hot yoga. I wanted that.”

Satyananda Yoga professes an integrated approach to the practice and is known as the yoga of the head, heart, and hands.

The next year she signed on and went to Yogaville for three months to train as a yoga teacher.

“It was a great experience. I cut my long dreads and went by myself. All of a sudden I looked and felt different and I was around completely different people, waking up at 6 AM and meditating.”

Once back home in Lakewood, certified to teach the hatha style of Integral Yoga, she freelanced, teaching around town, but was disillusioned by the high cost of classes at studios and the prevailing focus on yoga as a workout.

“For me it’s more of a lifestyle, and the benefit of yoga is being present in the body and learning to relax. That isn’t really taught in a lot of classes.”

The next summer, with her boyfriend Max, she returned to Yogaville for another three months, but this time as an intern cooking for the ashram’s community.

“We worked in their big kitchen, cooking for hundreds of people, buffet-style, vegetarian and organic. It was another great experience.”

Returning home that fall, inspired by her kitchen work at Yogaville, she found employment at the Root Cafe, a local vegetarian restaurant, organic bakery, and espresso bar doubling as a community clubhouse featuring local music and art.

“It was my first serious cooking job,” she said. “I was the youngest person there. It was tough, although I got the hang of it. It was a lot of fun.”

But, the next summer she broke her wrist while crowd surfing in the mosh pit at a heavy metal concert and was unable to do kitchen work for several months.

“It was bad, really dumb, but I feel like it was almost like life telling me to slow down.”

After her slam danced wrist got better she returned to work, but her job at the Root Café having been filled, she instead found a new job at Earth Fare, an organic and natural food market in neighboring Fairview Park.

“I was doing my own thing at first, with the fruits and vegetables, but I kept getting transferred all over the store, and the managers were really rude, and it was just unfulfilling.”

Destiny has been described as the opportunities that arise to turn left or right when coming to a crossroad. Sometimes it takes karma to work out the windings on the road from Yogaville to Cheeseville.

“I was looking for another job, and not having any luck, but I had been thinking and looking at farm internships when I found an organic farm website I liked.”

It was the website of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. Hannah Inglish filled out an application for an internship, posted her resume, and sat back to wait. She didn’t wait long.

“Steve Googin from the North Country Creamery in Keeseville called me the next day, even though I hadn’t applied there. There are only a few little organic farms in Ohio, but when you look at New York state it blows up.”

According to the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, most of today’s young American farmers are first generation farmers, primarily interested in growing organic foodstuffs and grass-fed dairy and beef.

“He told me I was accepted. I made plans right away. My mom drove me up there, and it was so much more than I expected, all the young farmers and the movement that is going on there.”

Steve Googin and his partner Ashlee Kleinhammer, co-owners of Clover Mead Farm and the creamery, bought and rehabbed a small trailer for Hannah to live in. They tore out its thin carpet, replaced it with hardwood flooring, and parked it under the stars. A stray cat showed up. She went to work milking the twenty cows, feeding the calves, and doing the many odd jobs that farms have an endless supply of.

“All the cows have names, like Nellie, Petunia, Trillium. Trillium was my favorite. I would pet her and she followed me around, sticking her neck out, looking to be petted. They were all such gentle giants, except for Ida, who was cranky, not so gentle. If you got too close to her she would head butt you. Once, I didn’t realize she was right behind me and she got me, which was a big pain in my butt.”

No sooner than she had gotten the hang of herding and milking the shorthorns and Jerseys in her care than the plans Mr. Googin and Ms. Kleinhammer had been making to open a farm café to sell their milk, yogurt, and cheese bore fruit. They hired a cook with experience at New York City’s Blue Hill at Stone Farms to manage the café and put Hannah in charge of the cheese.

“I think Steven really wanted to make cheese himself, and he did a few times, but they’re so busy doing everything else so they asked me to take over the cheesemaking.”

Cheese is sometimes seen as milk’s leap towards immortality, although age matters when you’re a cheese. Making cheese turned out to be the fulcrum that would take her back to Keeseville.

“Making cheese is 90% washing dishes and cleaning everything so it’s sterile, but I loved it, and besides, I really like cows. When you’re milking them they get so relaxed. I’ve seen them fall asleep right on the spot. It’s funny hearing a cow snore while you’re milking it.”

By the end of October her internship was over and she went home again to Lakewood, saying, “I was ready to come back and see my boyfriend.” No sooner was she home, though, than she started making plans again.

“I want to be a farmer,” she said. “But I can’t go out and do that anywhere. I have to go where I can learn from people, and Keeseville is where I decided to go. Even though I asked them so many questions when I was there, they weren’t saying there’s this dumb city girl, and all that. The community there is so attractive to me, the people actually doing it. Whatever it takes.”

With her mother’s help she bought a house in Keeseville and when spring comes is moving there with her boyfriend. She will go back to work at the creamery, milking cows and making cheese, and raise chickens and keep bees on the side  on her own. “There’s a beekeeper across Lake Champlain in Vermont who breeds Northern Survivor Hybrids that do really well in the north country. I’ll see what I can accomplish.”

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field,” Dwight Eisenhower, whose forebears were farmers, once said.

Farming is hard work and farmers are compelled to start over again every morning, very early in the morning, valuing their work, love of land and water, and their communities. It’s early in the sack, early to rise, no black limos for getting to work.

“The farmers around Keeseville, at Clover Mead and Mace Chasm Farms and Fledging Crow, they’re all young and it’s inspiring to see them doing that,” said Hannah.

“It’s hard, hard work, but super rewarding. Eventually I want to own land and build my own cob house. That’s the plan.”

From farm to table is the cheese way. From city girl to cheesemaker to farmer is the way Hannah Inglish has made for herself. When a cow crosses her path it means the animal is going somewhere. Here comes the cheese.

Once your plan has been signed sealed but not yet delivered what remains is bringing home the cows and getting them all on the tune of om on the milk machine so they can slumber away on their feet happily snoring.

A version of this story appeared in Rebelle Society.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

Hooray for the Home Team

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By Ed Staskus

I was excited when I got an e-mail from Inner Bliss on June 3rd, the day before the start of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Inner Bliss is one of Cleveland’s premier yoga studios.

“In honor of our CAVS, celebrate the beginning of the NBA Finals at Inner Bliss all day Thursday! Tomorrow, June 4th wear your CLE Cavaliers gear to any class, all day long and get $5 off your class tomorrow!

Show up and show our team that we’re #ALLinCLE.”

Who wouldn’t want to honor the hometown team? And celebrate, too, obviously, although I wondered if that would be appropriate if the Cavaliers lost the series, which seemed likely since the Las Vegas line was all on the side of the Warriors.

After the first game was said and done the smart money line seemed to be as straight as a Stephen Curry free throw: all net.

The pictures illustrating the Inner Bliss e-mail were galvanizing: a dramatic black-and-white shot of the hometown team taken from behind as they faced a sea of fans. The second shot was of a sea of yogis on their mats on the hardwood floor of Quicken Loans Arena meditating, some with their hands in prayer at their hearts. (Inner Bliss is part of a group that sponsors large citywide yoga events at places like the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Quicken Loans Arena.) The third shot was of the team’s furry mascot in a kind of lunge, like Warrior Pose, with his biceps flexed in classic muscleman style.

The last image was the corporate logo of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The difference between Las Vegas and modern yoga is that Las Vegas is more yogic about professional sports than yoga is. The only bandwagon Las Vegas ever jumps on is the one going down the yellow brick road. It doesn’t matter whose corporate sports logo is on the side of the wagon. There are no hometown favorites in Sin City.

At the bottom of the Inner Bliss e-mail it said: LET’S GET FRIENDLY!

But, what to wear to class on June 4th to get my $5.00 discount? I didn’t own any branded athletic gear of any kind, not even Cavalier gear, despite their rumble through the Eastern Conference play-offs. I looked up Cleveland’s NBA store, which was at the Team Shop in Quicken Loans Arena, and drove downtown to buy some gear.

Parking was $15.00, but I thought, it’s the CAVS!

I almost bought the J. R. Smith Adidas Replica Road Jersey, because J. R. has been my favorite player all year, impersonating Ray Allen from behind the 3-point line game after game and a professional basketball player most of the time the rest of the time, and besides, his sleeveless replica was only $69.95.

In the end, though, I bought the King’s jersey, the man who for all intensive purposes had single-handedly both willed and freight-trained his team into the NBA Finals. The LeBron James Adidas Gold Jersey was still in stock at $109.95, so I snapped it up before anyone else could get to the loose ball.

On my way home, since it was a fine, sunny afternoon, I took the old Shoreway, which winds west along the coast of Lake Erie, rather than the interstate. I began to question whether wearing a replica jersey was enough in terms of showing up and showing my hometown team that I was #ALLinCLE.

I should go to the games, I thought.

One of Inner Bliss’s stock-in-trade posts the past few years have been yogi blurbs titled: WHY I SHOW UP.

Sitting on the sidelines, as they say in yoga class, isn’t going to make you stand up true and straight. You need to show up. It’s all about heart. That’s what basketball players do when they make the big shot: thump their chests.

The first two games of the NBA Finals were scheduled in Oakland, the next two in Cleveland, and the series alternated after that until one team or the other finally won four games and snatched the brass ring.

When I got home I started searching for tickets.

At first I was mildly shocked. The worst seats at Quicken Loans Arena, in the nosebleed section, started at more than $400.00. Seats in the lower bowl were in the vicinity of $1,500.00. When I spotted what courtside floor seats cost I was seriously shocked: $60,000.00.

It wasn’t a brass ring the two professional basketball teams were grabbing for. It was a solid gold ring, encrusted with rare gems, and fashioned by the hand of God.

I would have to sell our house to buy two courtside seats, for my wife and myself, for the first two home games. I tried not to think about what popcorn and Big Gulp sodas might cost us.

Hopefully, the Warriors would sweep the Cavaliers in four and there wouldn’t be anymore home games. If there were I would go bankrupt trying to show up.

Mysore, India, is one of the birthplaces of yoga. It is where Krishnamacharya taught in the 1930s, B. K. S. Iyengar honed his craft, and where the K. Pattabbi Jois Yoga Institute is to this day.

If my wife and I moved to Mysore a two-bedroom apartment in a better neighborhood, with a full kitchen, WIFI, and daily maid service, and including utilities, would cost about $600.00 a month. Eating out in Mysore costs between $1.00 – $2.00 for breakfast or lunch and $2.00 – $4.00 for dinner. My wife doesn’t practice yoga, but if I took a daily class at a local non-famous studio it would cost $100.00 – $150.00 a month.

In other words, for the cost of two lower bowl tickets at two NBA Finals games at Quicken Loans Arena my wife and I could live well, and I could practice yoga every day at a studio in Mysore, for about six months. For the cost of two courtside tickets for two games we could stay there for about twenty years.

Since my wife is not interested in professional sports we finally decided against showing up at #ALLinCLE and the NBA Finals, and also decided that, although Mysore sounded good, especially the daily maid service, we would stay in Lakewood, on the west side of Cleveland, for now.

I gave my King jersey away to my 18-year-old nephew, who doesn’t know about yoga, but does know the world about professional basketball.

I didn’t go to Inner Bliss’s CAVS! Gear Yoga Day the day of the start of the NBA Finals. There was something that bothered me about rooting for one or the other team. I’ve read that players on both teams practice yoga as part of their fitness regimen and thought it best to just wish both of them well.

Instead, I practiced on my mat at home, and the next evening on Friday my wife and I went to the Cleveland State University Student Ballroom and heard Jai Uttal’s kirtan band spin long jazzy sing-along chants. Quicken Loans Arena, less than a mile away, seats 20,562 fans, which are about 20,412 more people than were at the Jai Uttal show.

On Sunday night, while the Warriors and Cavaliers battled it out at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, we had dinner at Ty Fun, a small Thai food restaurant in Tremont, a grungy but gentrified Cleveland neighborhood across the industrial valley from downtown.

My home practice doesn’t cost me anything, tickets for Jai Uttal were $30.00, and the fat noodle and tofu entrees at Ty Fun are $12.50. The bottled lager beer from Thailand was $4.50. All in all our weekend cost less than a jumbo box of popcorn and a couple of Big Gulps at Quicken Loans Arena.

We ate on the small outdoor patio at Ty Fun and all dinner long we could hear the groans and whoops of Cleveland sports fans watching the second game of the Finals unfolding down the yellow brick road on the flat screens at the Flying Monkey Pub next door.

Somebody was winning and somebody was losing. We just couldn’t tell who.

EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRA! The next morning, watching the highlights of the game on nba.com, I found out that the last roar of the night was a groan in Oakland and a whoop in Cleveland, as the Cavaliers edged the Warriors in their record-setting second straight overtime game of the series. That’s what world championships are made of: heart-breakers.

Sri Satchidananda of Integral Yoga once said, “Losses are always great eye openers.” Maybe there is something yogic about pro ball, after all.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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 Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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

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By Ed Staskus

What used to be called the Fountain of Youth, but today is called anti-aging, more than 5,000 years ago was known as the Plant of Life. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest book of all time, after a series of adventures the hero loses his best friend to the revenge of the gods of Sumeria (today’s Iraq). Gilgamesh buries his friend, but can’t stop mourning him and fearing he might suddenly die himself.

Until then, the mid-point of the story, the young Gilgamesh has addressed his fears of death only superficially. He goes searching for the secret of eternal life in the form of Ut-Napishtim, the survivor of the Great Flood and the only man ever granted immortality as a reward for saving mankind. Gilgamesh doesn’t get it, though, because the gods jealously guard immortality. He gets the Plant of Life, instead

Ut-Napishtim’s wife gives Gilgamesh the Plant of Life, which restores youth to the elderly, as a consolation prize. But, on the way home he loses the plant to a snake, which eats it and sheds its skin, staying young while men grow old.

Life extension and attempts to slow down aging have a long history, from Gilgamesh to SRT1720, the anti-aging pill. There has never been a time when growing old didn’t matter. Today, yoga is touted as the latest and greatest regimen in the anti-aging arsenal.

When Yoga Journal asked the 58-year-old Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller in its November, 2009 issue whether he found yoga to be a fountain of youth, he said: “It keeps my body healthy and my mind young. I’m still pretty flexible and strong and I rarely get sick.”

In an earlier issue Diane Anderson interviewed six master teachers about how yoga helps them age gracefully. “Sometimes I wake up stiff and wonder what my body will feel like if I start doing backbends,” said the 62-year-old Patricia Walden. “Twenty minutes into my practice I feel younger. Inevitably, the power of yoga takes over and you feel ageless!”

Writing in her blog ‘Confessions of a Wayward Yogi’, upon meeting Sharon Gannon and David Life at a Jivamukti Yoga immersion in Johannesburg, South Africa, the eponymous author exclaimed: “What really struck me is what young sixty-something’s they are! They look incredible. If anything is an advert for yoga, it’s these two beautiful people.”

Although some master teachers, like Rodney Yee, are critical of the connection, yoga and anti-aging are linked far and wide. Great Britain’s YOGA has described itself as offering yoga instruction to “control and aid ailments [like] the all important issue of anti-ageing.” In ‘Omm Away the Years’, an article by Marissa Conrad in Prevention, she writes yoga may be the ideal medicine for “relieving pain [and] ramping up energy. With regular practice, you’ll tone your muscles, improve flexibility, and feel younger than ever.”

In You: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty Dr. Oz recommends yoga as the best exercise for staying flexible. He and his collaborator Dr. Michael Roizen have appeared on Oprah with their ‘90-Day Live Longer, Feel Younger Plan’ in which yoga plays an integral part.

“I completely agree that it is a kind of fountain of youth,” says Kimberly Fowler, CEO of YAS Fitness Centers in Venice, California. “I’m one of those baby boomers who has turned yoga’s anti-aging properties into a fitness empire!”

While yoga has become the exercise of choice for more and more people in the last ten years, the health and beauty business has expanded by leaps and bounds in the past one hundred years. Americans purchase more than $6 billion dollars of nutritional supplements every year. They pay more than $10 billion for cosmetic surgery procedures, from face-lifts to liposuction. All told, it has been estimated the age management market is worth more than $70 billion dollars.

And it is expanding as the Baby Boom and Gen X generations grow older and try to keep Mother Nature from catching up to Father Time.

Living longer than ever and still largely affluent, hoping to slow down or reverse the effects of age, they have created a marketplace for anti-aging products that has grown exponentially, from herbal therapies and alternative medicine to hormone injections and genetic engineering.

But, if biomedical gerontology is new, the drive to live longer and better, to look and be healthier, has a long history. Medical papyrus in burial tombs from 16th century BC Egypt contain recipes to remove wrinkles, blemishes, and other signs of age. Cleopatra is said to have slept wearing a restorative golden mask. According to Hellenic mythology, when Pandora disobeyed Zeus’s command and opened the box he had given her, she unleashed sickness and death.

In classical Greece youth was beautiful and heroic, while old age was ugly and tragic, beset by the fruits of Pandora’s Box. “The gods hate old age,” Aphrodite says in the Odyssey. According to Herodotus, the world’s first historian, bathing in magical Ethiopian fountains could put the genie back into the bottle.

The Romans were equally conscious of old age and its consequences, of losing ones looks and mental capacity, according to Karen Cokayne in Old Age in Ancient Rome. Christians were no different than pagans. The waters of the Pool of Bethesda in the New Testament were said to be stirred by an angel and to have healing powers, restoring vitality.

Five hundred years before it became a multi-billion dollar biotech industry, Juan Ponce de Leon was the poster child for anti-aging. A Spanish explorer who led one of the earliest European expeditions to Florida in search of gold and conquest, after his death stories about his supposed quest for a Fountain of Youth gained currency and became both fact and legend.

Starting in the 19th century anti-aging advocates in America depicted old age as something to be feared and despised. “Youth comes but once in a lifetime,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the best-known lyric poet of his day, lamented. At the same time the pioneering neurologist Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was experimenting on himself by eating extracts of monkey testis for rejuvenation.

In the 1930s Cornell University nutritionists were underfeeding rats and finding they lived longer and better than well-fed ones. The modern era of research into senescence began in the 1960s with studies into the cellular-damage model of aging. By 1970 the American Aging Association had formed, devoted to extending the human lifespan, and in 1992 the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine was created as a distinct anti-aging medical specialty.

Even though Leon Kass, who was chairman of the US President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005, said, “the desire to prolong youthfulness is a childish desire to eat one’s life and keep it,“ today’s captive audience of more than 70 million Baby Boomers is fueling a marketing boom in anti-aging products and procedures with no end in sight.

At the turn of the last century Mark Twain said age was an issue of mind over matter. ”If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

But, it does matter because everyone does mind. It is the rare man or woman who is happy about getting inexorably older, losing their smooth skin, firm muscles, clear vision, and high energy levels. No one likes getting older, and no one likes being old. Worse than looking old is feeling old.

From aching joints to Alzheimer’s the consequences of aging can be daunting. Those challenges, as well as the simple threat of them, have driven many people to turn to western medicine for the magic bullet, ranging from drugs to lasers to surgery, to remedy or forestall their complaints. Meanwhile, taking a different, holistic approach, more and more people have instead turned to yoga.

“I am not sure I would agree with the implication that yoga is a fountain of youth,” says Trevor Monk of Infinite Yoga in San Diego, California. “But, it is a fact that practicing yoga improves your health and well-being, and if not your longevity, at least the quality of your life.”

Rather than a radical makeover or cure, since there is none for the incurable passing of time, yoga offers its own path to wellness. That path is built on asana, pranayama, and meditation.

“The yoga asanas really do wonderful things for maintaining health,” says Lilian Folan, who has introduced millions of people to yoga in the past forty years and has written Yoga Gets Better with Age? While disputing the notion that yoga is the Holy Grail most teachers readily admit its benefits.

“It is no surprise that by working through every joint in the body through asanas,” says Trevor Monk, “applying breathing techniques, and bandhas, or energy locks, that the body gets stronger and leaner, detoxifies, and heals itself.”

Describing her book New Yoga for People Over 50 Suza Francina, a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor, articulates what most teachers believe: “People are recognizing yoga for its ability to slow down and reverse the aging process. A complete health system, yoga not only restores vitality to the body, but also expands the mind and soul.”

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, is, as its name suggests, committed to the proposition that yoga and health are one and the same thing. “With yoga you can keep your body in the best possible health,” says Kara-Leah Grant in her on-line article ‘How to Stay Young Forever with Yoga’. Some yoga practitioners even claim the practice keeps most illnesses at bay and so prevents premature and unnecessary aging of the body.

There is widespread skepticism in the scientific community about anti-aging remedies and their effectiveness. Many doctors and researchers argue that the complexity of aging militates against the development of anti-aging therapies. “Anyone purporting to offer an anti-aging product today is either mistaken or lying,” write Jay Olshansky, Leonard Hayflick, and Bruce Carnes in their essay ‘No Truth to the Fountain of Youth’ in the Scientific American. They admit exercise and nutrition reduce the risk of many diseases, but insist they do not directly influence aging.

In recent years the FDA has increasingly cracked down on the anti-aging industry, especially on products like HGH and many other far-fetched supplements hawked on the Internet. The medical community does not recognize anti-aging as a specialty of medicine. Even though recent documentaries like To Age or Not to Age propose maintenance and life-extending solutions, the consensus is there is no proven medical technology or product that slows, prevents, or reverses the aging process.

“Aging is a disease that can be prevented or reversed,” counters Dr. Ron Rothenberg, the author of Forever Ageless.

But, the question is, is getting old a disease? It can be: the Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome is a disease of premature aging in the young. It is very rare, however; fewer than a hundred cases have ever been formally recorded. The fear of growing old is called gerascophobia. In the Western world this anxiety disorder has been fueled by a culture obsessed with being and staying young.

Medical dictionaries do not define aging as a disease, only that there is a gradual decline in physical and possibly mental functioning as people get older. Energy levels go down and muscle mass declines steadily, according to Julie Silver of the Harvard Medical School. Gerontologists admit that during the latter half of life people are more prone to diseases like cancer and diabetes.

But, getting older is not in and of itself a disease. If it were, every baby born would be born sick. Old age can be a shipwreck on the rock of ages, but it can also be a fine-looking boat making its way beneath both sun and storm. Yoga is not an anti-aging product, nor is it an anti-aging therapy. But, a case can be made that is an effective and credible strategy for becoming and staying healthy, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

Bye Bye Babs

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By Ed Staskus

When the wiseacres known as the Babarazzi, a New York City-based black-clad collective devoted to getting in their two cents’ worth about commercial yoga culture, called it quits in January 2014, after a two-year run, they announced their closing by saying, “We have decided to finally set the monkeys who write our pieces free.”

They were being unduly modest. It’s well known monkeys have always refused to read and write so they won’t be forced to work for a living.

Starting with their first posts during the debacle that became the end of John Friend and Anusara Yoga, the Babarazzi raised the skull and crossbones, firing broadsides at a yoga community they saw as a “silly cocktail party.”

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Their TMZ approach targeted what they called yogilebrities, or ”those who trade in the likes of such stupidity as yoga image, yoga fashion, and yoga lifestyle.” said Aghori Babarazzi, the official unofficial spokesman of the group.

“That’s how cheap yoga marketing works. It turns the seeker into a consumer.”

Reactions in the yoga community ran the gamut. One puzzled reader wrote, “I don’t understand this blog or the writer’s intention.” Another wrote, “Hey, it’s all yoga.” At the same time a curmudgeon wrote, “It’s high time someone shone light on the turd-fest of shameless, salivating self-promotion that has infiltrated the yoga world.”

The tag line of the web site was “giving contemporary yoga the star treatment.” It might as well have been Richard Pryor’s gag line, “I ain’t no movie star, man. I’m a booty star.”

But, behind the trash talk and cutting edge sarcasm was an earnest attempt to point out the many disconnects between the principles of yoga and the actual bread and butter practice of it in America.

“What goes on behind the scenes in yoga studios is the stuff daytime soap operas are made out of,” said Aghori Babarazzi about the wild and wacky world of modern yoga.

“Students who have never crossed that line in the studio have no idea how pig-ish some of the more fame-oriented teachers can be,” he said. “And I’m not talking about the nice piggies that live on farms.”

Although celebrities worry about illnesses and mortgages like everyone else, the magician Penn Jillette has pointed out that “we celebrities are desperate pigs.”

No sooner had the Babarazzi gotten their feet wet than they ran afoul of yogi entrepreneur Sadie Nardini and Elephant Journal by posting an article on Elephant Journal’s site titled ‘Is YAMA Talent More Harmful to the Yoga Community Than John Friend’s Penis Pursuits?’

YAMA Talent is a New York City-based management consultant and booking agency for teachers and brands seeking to be front of the line life of the party and profitable as possible in the yoga marketplace.

Sadie Nardini saw the piece as a below the belt blow aimed at her, YAMA Talent cried foul – “How dare we waste time criticizing our fellow yogi’s?” – while Elephant Journal disappeared the piece from its site, protesting its lack of attribution, arguing that the Barbarazzi was not a person, so could not have an opinion.

This was before the Supreme Court ruled in the recent Citizens United case that corporations are people, just like real people.

“What we do here at Babarazzi HQ is intentionally provocative,” the collective answered the back seat drivers who had forgotten to buckle up for the ride.

For the next year-and-a-half they posted, every three or four days, stories like ‘Whatever Western Yogi’s Touch Turns to Gold (Or Pooh?)’ about the big money leanings of bigger-than-life yoga events; ‘What’s More Boring than Athletic Wannabee Yoga Companies Suing One Another?’ about companies like Yogitoes and Lululemon keeping their steely eyes firmly on their spreadsheets; and ‘Snowshoeing and Yoga: Obviously You Need to Do This in Order to Be a Better Person’ about the endless proliferation of hybrids as subjects for yogic workshops.

The tabloid-style havoc of the Babarazzi’s journalism raised the ire of many in the American yoga community, from Colleen Staidman Yee to Tara Stiles, from Off the Mat Into the World to YogaNation. It’s difficult to take criticism. It’s difficult to take without resentment. It’s difficult to take without lashing back, no matter how much breath control meditation third-eye concentration you’ve done. Standing on your head is easier.

It can be painful, but it’s meant to be. It serves the same function as pain, calling attention to something unhealthy.

“The Babarazzi is a great asset for yoga in this modern world where concerns for what yoga is are increasingly tempered with concerns over what yoga isn’t,” said Paul Harvey of the Centre for Yoga Studies.

Although the Babarazzi seemed to reject the notion that there is one true pure twenty-four carat yoga, they also spurned the cult of personality, the sideshow of personal appearances and trade shows, and the endless merchandising of a practice for which stuff and more stuff is ultimately valueless.

In the commercial world it is a truism that men exploit men for the supposed greater good of everyone. In the world of yoga self-awareness is the same as doing good. Exploitation of oneself and others isn’t the yellow brick road to anywhere. Yoga is more on the order of being between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is, not shopping for something everything anything.

“The Babarazzi does a good job at pointing out the hypocrisies of so many self-proclaimed gurus,” said Jacob Kyle, a philosophy graduate student and yoga teacher in New York City, “and reminds us, in its own way, that the true teacher lies within each of us.”

The bad boys of mindfulness “drew a bead on the wide-ranging techniques and linguistic gimmicks being used to advertise, market, and sell yoga to middle class consumers,” wrote Stewart Lawrence in ‘Yoga’s Court Jesters’.

For all its wit and whistle blowing the Babarazzi were tilting at windmills. The imperative to exploit yoga in America is too strong. There are tens of millions of customers. Lululemon isn’t a multi-billion dollar company because it failed to notice the commodity yoga could be transformed into.

It’s a yoga rave with see-through pants!

Bikram Choudhury, for example, thinks he owns thirty five Rolls Royce cars, but isn’t sure of the exact number. Other than the YogaLife Institute few, if any, yoga companies are Certified B Corporations, or for-profit companies certified as being motivated by more than just a hunger for profit. Hand over fist has long been a fundamental pose on the mat.

Yoga Journal, notwithstanding its endless proselytizing, is not a fair trade concern. It is an arm of Active Interest Media, a privately held company. The principals of the company are privateers, not necessarily interested in the public good. The bottom line, not the eight limbs of the practice, rules. After B. K. S. Iyengar died in August 2014 Yoga Journal celebrated his long life by immediately e-mail blasting advertisements far and wide selling Iyengar DVD’s.

The cult of personality, the creation of an idealized and heroic image, has long been a trick of tyrants. Not anymore. Constant media exposure has changed all that. It’s all fair game now. The practice of yoga is not free of its charms. When Helen Hunt gave credit to Mandy Ingber, a popular LA yoga instructor, for getting her body “Oscar-ready”, out came more cool contemporary yoga advice called ‘Yogalosophy’.

“It’s truly cool!” gushed the magazine Glamour.

Emma Watson and Ryan Kwanten have become certified yoga teachers, completing the circle of yoga teachers becoming celebrities to celebrities becoming yoga teachers.

The Babarazzi’s announcement that they were publishing their last post and desisting from further antagonizing celebrity yoga teachers and organizers of national yoga events both celebrated and snarked the status quo.

“The Babs is Closing Up Shop. Everything Must Go. Crazy Sales and Deals.”

Even though it is uncertain whether the Babarazzi ever had a bunch of monkeys pecking away on keyboards, writing their material, it is certain they never sold out to buy bananas for the monkeys. They doubtless were chronically short on greenbacks, since they never had anything to sell other than their dismantling iconoclasm, which is rarely a commodity in any marketplace.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

Flim Flam Man

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By Ed Staskus

There are 26 poses in the yoga practice as developed by the Lord of the Flies. There are 26 problems with the practice, notwithstanding Bikram Choudhury still looking super in a Speedo in his 60s.

1) Bikram Teacher Training Guide: “Do not wear green.”

According to Bikram Choudhury green is an unlucky color and is banned from all his studios. “Please try to avoid the color green. Don’t ask, just try.”

Problem: Green signifies rebirth and growth. The “Green Man” of pre-Christianity was a symbol of fertility. Among Muslims it is a holy color. In Ireland it is a lucky color. However, circus and traveling showmen in Australia do consider green to be bad luck.

2) “How many Rolls-Royce do I own? I don’t know. 35?” said Bikram Choudhury.

Bikram Choudhury owns many Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and Howard Hughes’s Royal Daimler, as well, with a toilet in the back.

Problem: Non-indulgence and non-acquisitiveness, or Aparigraha.

3) Bikram Yoga classes are taught in Hot Rooms heated to 105 degrees and 40% humidity, reaching a heat index greater than 120.

Problem: The risk factor of moderate activity in a heat index in excess of 115 is considered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be “very high to extreme.”

A common reaction to one’s first Bikram Yoga class is, “Man, this might be a mistake, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

4) “I am a product of Beverly Hills,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: Bikram Choudhury is a product of Beverly Hills.

5) Bikram Choudhury often refers to his studios as “torture chambers.”

Problem: Torture is inflicting severe pain on someone as punishment or to force someone to do or say something. That has nothing to do with yoga. Neither does chewing glass, lying on nails, nor being buried alive, performances often given by 19th century yogi fakirs.

However, this does not obviate the torture many have felt in a Bikram Yoga class.

6) “They are all a bunch of clowns,” Bikram Choudhury told Yoga Journal, referring to other forms of yoga exercise, such as Kundalini and Ashtanga. “Nobody knows what the hell they are doing.” He claims to teach the only true and pure hatha yoga.

Everything else is “shit,” he explained on another occasion.

Problem: Honesty and truthfulness, or Satya, as well as non-harming in deed and word, or Ahimsa.

7) In a sworn legal deposition Bikram Choudhury claimed that Harvard University was constructing a “Bikram building in their campus.”

Problem: “We checked with our capital-projects group and can confirm no new building in the usual sense of the term is under construction funded by Mr. Choudhury or by a donation in his name,” said Kevin Galvin, spokesperson for Harvard University.

8) Bikram Choudhury professes that Eagle Pose is rejuvenating. “It is good for sex. Cootchi, cootchi. You can make love for hours and have seven orgasms when you are ninety.”

Problem: According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine yoga can improve some aspects of sexual function. Wide-angle seated forward bend and other hip-openers are cited; the Eagle Pose is not mentioned.

9) “I’m not dressed like a guru, am I? I dress like a gangster!” said Bikram Choudhury.

When he is wearing clothes Mr. Choudhury flashes in shiny white suits, diamond-studded wristwatches, crocodile shoes, gangster fedoras, and designer accessories.

Problem: Restraint, or Brachmacharya.

10) Bikram Choudhury has claimed that he and his yoga regimen are able to cure cancer and multiple sclerosis, among other serious medical conditions.

Problem: There are treatments for cancer and multiple sclerosis. There are no cures, yogic or otherwise.

11) For more than 10 years of contentious lawsuits Bikram Choudhury claimed copyright protection for his 26 yoga poses.

Problem: Bikram Yoga’s claims were overruled in 2012. The U. S Copyright Office said that sequences of yoga exercise are not the equivalent of a choreographed work.

Bikram Yoga is protected by trademark, not copyright.

Yogis worldwide were relieved to learn they could again touch their toes without fear of subpoena.

12) “I’m in show biz,” said Bikram Choudhury. “I entertain people.”

Problem: When did yoga become a Lady Gaga song and dance?

13) “A warm body is a flexible body,” says Bikram Yoga, explaining that heat softens muscle tissue. “Then you can reshape the body any way you want.”

Problem: About 5 minutes of cardiovascular work is sufficient to warm up muscles, according to Ben Ballinger of Athletic Performance. “The claim that Bikram Yoga allows for deeper stretching due to the heat is untrue.” Overstretching can even compromise joints and ligaments, causing instability and hypermobility.

14) “Did you pay to come here and listen to me?” said Bikram Choudhury “Wow! I am lucky. I go shopping tomorrow!”

Problem: Paying good money to listen to Bikram Choudhury so he can buy more Rolls-Royces.

15) Bikram Yoga offers up many testimonials of metabolisms made new and excess pounds shed. Warm muscles are said to burn fat more easily as the heat flushes and detoxifies the body. Fat will turn into muscle is the mantra.

Problem: According to the Health Status Calorie Counter power yoga burns 594 calories an hour. Bikram Yoga burns 477 calories an hour. Ballroom dancing burns about 250 calories an hour, while running a 10K in under an hour burns about 1000 calories.

“The benefits are largely perceptual,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. “People think the degree of sweat is the quality of the workout, but that’s not reality. It doesn’t correlate to burning more calories.”

16) Bikram Choudhury’s home in Beverly Hills is an 8,000-square-foot mansion seemingly built entirely of marble, gold, and mirrors.

Problem: Non-indulgence and non-acquisitiveness, or Aparigraha

17) Bikram Yoga argues that exercising in a heated and humidified room strengthens the body, resulting in greater endurance, internal organ conditioning, and a stronger heart.

Problem: “The human body is designed to tolerate temperatures between 97 and 100 degrees,” said Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “It is not designed to go outside those numbers. Core temperatures can go up very quickly. Over 105 degrees you will start to damage protein.”

18) “An Iyengar class looks like a Santa Monica sex shop with all those props,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: What was Bikram Choudhury doing in a Santa Monica sex shop sizing up the props?

19) Bikram Yoga proclaims itself the detox practice extraordinaire because it induces profuse sweating. “When you sweat, impurities are flushed out of the body through the skin.” Detoxification may be the most touted benefit of the practice, said to “cleanse and purify the system.”

Problem: “That’s silliness,” said Craig Crandall, director of the Thermoregulation Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Center at Dallas. “I don’t know of any toxins that are released through sweat.”

The liver and kidneys filter toxins from the blood. Sweating too much and becoming dehydrated could stress the kidneys and actually keep them from doing their job.

20) “I should be the most honored man in your country,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: Ahead of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloane Coffin, and Edward Snowden, among many others, both men and women?

21) The heat and humidity of Bikram Yoga are often explained as replicating the heat and humidity of India, where Bikram Choudhury learned yoga.

Problem: In India yoga was and is traditionally practiced in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day.

22) Bikram Yoga says its practitioners derive aerobic benefits from the practice. “You can derive these benefits [i.e. aerobic] from practicing Bikram Yoga.”

Problem: In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research one group of young adults practiced Bikram Yoga three times a week for eight weeks while another group did nothing. By the end of the study researchers found no differences in either group in terms of maximal aerobic fitness or cardiovascular measures.

23) Bikram Yoga studios are required to outfit their Hot Rooms with carpet flooring.

“Don’t throw up on the carpet,” said Bikram Choudhury. “It’s new.”

Problem: Carpets are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly, much less sanitize. Allergens are particularly adept at hiding among carpet fibers. Sweat-soaked carpets are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungus, and pathogens.

Vomit may be the least of anybody’s concerns in a Bikram Hot Room.

24) “Oxygen deprivation is a major cause of sciatica,” says Bikram Yoga, encouraging the use of breath to “break through the fear of pain.”

Problem: The causes of sciatica are varied, including degenerative disc disease, isthmic spondylolisthesis, lumbar spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

Oxygen deprivation is not one of the causes of sciatica, although it can be a cause of death.

25) “Because I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: All eight limbs, or aspects, of yoga from the Yamas & Niyamas to Samadhi.

The yoga master confessed he only has two bomb balls, which is fortunate for everyone, not just the girls. The world’s nuclear arsenal is big enough.

26) “The whole Bikram class is one big brainwashing session,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: No problem, as long as you believe applying systematic and forcible indoctrination is the best way to advance yoga.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

Mammon Goes Mantra

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By Ed Staskus

Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor met in India, studied Ashtanga Yoga with Sri. Pattahi Jois, married and moved to Miami, and co-founded the Miami Life Center in 2008. Tim Feldman is an accomplished teacher much in demand for workshops in Asia and Europe, while Kino MacGregor is the author of books and producer of videos about the practice,

When they were asked by one of their yoga studio employees, who doubled as front desk man and janitor, if they would be interested in his take on their financial performance, it is to their credit “Mind your own business” wasn’t the first thing they said.

“I was the guy who took out the garbage,” says Matt Tashjian. “But, it was perfectly fine with me. I never thought about it.”

What he did think about was the yoga center’s bottom line.

“There’s some down time during classes when you sit behind the front desk. I started poking around the computer, looking at their numbers, and one day I sent Tim an e-mail suggesting there were a couple of things they could do to improve their numbers.”

Over tea at a local coffee shop he shared his thoughts with them. “We never thought about that, that could be of great value to us,” they said, and for the next year they met monthly, talking business. As they did Tim and Kino began to suspect Matt was someone who knew exactly what he was talking about.

For good reason.

After graduating with a degree in economics from Arizona State University Matt Tashjian worked at and then led a wealth management group at Citi in Hartford, CT, and since 2009 has been the chief advisor, and founder, of the Tashjian Group of Merrill Lynch.

But, before leaving Hartford and moving to Miami in 2008 two things happened: he ran out of steam and had a falling out with a close family member.

“My moving was a result of what can happen in the banking world, which is you get burned out,” he said.

“I was in my late 30s and very focused on professional success and money and got pulled into a cycle of achievement and striving.” As the liquidity crisis of 2007 became the global financial crisis of 2008 he withdrew from the economics world almost entirely. “I went from working 90% of the time to working 10% of the time.”

He found relief by doing more yoga, which he had been introduced to some years earlier, and sought advice at a Buddha Sangha.

“I was looking for a way out of the suffering. It opened my eyes,” he said.

“I reconciled with my sister and realized my life was more important than just work, and I needed to meet those needs. It so happened Miami could fill some of them and that was the impetus for me to start a different life.”

While shopping at lululemon for yoga shorts a sales clerk recommended Miami Life Center to him.

“I started taking classes and eventually asked if I could work there, behind the desk and mopping the floors. I went from being one of the top 500 financial advisors in the country to making sure the bathrooms had toilet paper.”

His personal practice started one day in the mid-1990s when he took a yoga class at a local gym instead of lifting weights.

“I didn’t have any predisposition to yoga or spirituality,” he said. “What piqued my interest was our instructor talking about the breath, patience, and being in the body. I got into it a little bit, started studying yoga, and then Buddhism.”

Sometimes one will go to a yoga class and get the exercise they need to get through the day. Other times they will start thinking about connecting to a higher energy.

“I would say my gym’s yoga class led to a transmutation of how I think about the world. Before yoga I experienced the world through the external, but now I experience it through the internal self. The primary takeaway to my practice is that ultimately all yoga leads to being more compassionate and empathetic to everything around us, and more sensitive to how we’re all connected.”

Compassion and empathy are not common benchmarks of stockbrokers and financial planners. Ambition and desire are the normative ideals, rather, as well as a dollop of greed.

In the modern world making money justifies any behavior. The incentives against financial crime are nominally zero. Almost no one, literally, has been arrested for the banking and market meltdown of the past seven years.

“Is it any wonder that we as a nation seem to be in search of spirit?” asked Kino MacGregor. “What else is left for America to invent than an authentic self in the midst of such rampant materialism?”

If yoga is mixed into the cauldron of capitalism the brew can begin to smell sweeter.

“When you’re deeply ingrained in the yogic path you relate to people differently. What I attempt to do with my clients is infuse the virtues of a balanced life,” said Matt Tashjian. “What’s the sense of having all the money in the world if you’re miserable?”

Sometimes a transformation of motivation can lead to healing and redemption.

“I now try to take a more holistic view with respect to how I interact and counsel clients.”

When Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor restructured their yoga center in 2013 they invited Matt Tashjian to join them as a partner.

“There are distinct pros and cons to running a yoga studio,” he said. “The pros are you are surrounded by thoughtful people who care not only about themselves, but other people, too.

“But, like any small business, there are many moving parts every day. Who’s going to change the air conditioning filter or update the holiday schedule on the web site? It’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” he laughed.

The Miami Life Center business model is to employ integrated tools, assimilating reiki, arurveda, as well as life coaching, reflecting Kino MacGregor’s approach to supporting people’s paths holistically. “There is a magic there that can’t be expressed in words,” said Claudia Borges about practicing at the studio.

At the heart of the practice is Ashtanga Yoga.

“Ashtanga is definitely very physical in nature,” said Matt Tashjian, “but it really speaks to more of a spiritual practice. Ashtanga studios like ours, by their nature, put their emphasis not only on asana, but on the other limbs of yoga, too.”

But, at most yoga studios it is exercise, not introversion or meditation, that is the de facto breadwinner.

“We’ve Americanized yoga, made it into an exercise,” said Matt Tashjian. “Asana is certainly a component of it, but asana is really to keep the body healthy so we can comfortably sit in a meditative state.”

Sitting and meditating don’t pay the bills, however.

“Studios that are more spiritually oriented face economic dilemmas that exercise-centric studios do not.”

To further their aims he has incorporated economic compromises into Miami Life Center’s mission statement.

“We’re committed to the Ashtanga lineage and we’re committed to the idea of bringing forth something that is more than just vinyasa,” said Matt Tashjian.

“It may not be for everyone, and it’s conceivable that we will make less money, but we want to be the kind of business in the business world that not only does good economically, but more importantly does good, all rolled into one.”

It is the financial advisor in Matt Tashjian that makes him understand it is spiritual snobbery to believe we can be happy without money. It is the yogi in him that reminds him to make sure there is money in his wallet, not in his heart.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

From Stumbling Stones to Stepping Stones

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By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

A weight lifter and swimmer, she was undeterred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was an eye-opener,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of past beginnings had come a new beginning.

Postscript:

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

A version of this story appeared in Rebelle Society.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

Ask the Yogi

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By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Yogi Barron:

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

Signed, Dismayed in Fort Hood

Dear Dismayed:

Not to worry.

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

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Yogi Barron:

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

Signed, Troubled in Minneapolis

Dear Troubled:

Have you lost your mind?

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

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which is it, council or advice?”

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

Dear Yogi Barron:

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

Signed, Baffled in Boston

Dear Baffled:

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

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

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

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t look so shocked,” he said.

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

“Who is she?”

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

Dear Yogi Barron:

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

Signed, Confused in San Francisco

Dear Confused:

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

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

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

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

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

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

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

He leaned back in his chair, studying the sky.

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

Barron could never resist being pedantic.

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”

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Lighting Up the Lotus

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By Ed Staskus

It is a long way from missing your husband building boats in faraway Maine to mid-morning epiphanies in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood. It is even farther from the subarctic snow banks of Fairbanks to transforming an empty Lakewood, Ohio, storefront into a new yoga studio, but that is the path Marcia Camino took in creating Pink Lotus.

A Chicago native, the erstwhile on-the-road studio owner grew up in Texas, Indiana, New York, and finally Toledo, Ohio, where her steel-working family settled down. While attending Bowling Green University near her new hometown, she declared a major in English and the next year transferred to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts.

She told her parents she wanted to be a writer, a poet.

“But, honey,” she remembers her mother saying. “Poets don’t make any money.” They work at naming the unnameable. Even when they get it exactly right it’s not exactly a high paying profession.

After graduation she stayed in Alaska, writing, waiting tables, writing some more, and backpacking the state’s national parks.

“It was very beautiful up there,” she said.

But, despite the majestic geography and lofty scale she was far from home. She went back to the Lower 48.

Back in Bowling Green she worked in modern dance and theater, met her future husband in 1992, and four years later moved to Cleveland. Planning their wedding in 1999 Mrs. Camino surveyed herself in her dress in the mirror.

“Like every young lady I needed to fit into my dress,” she said. “I heard yoga was good for that, so I bought a mat and a video tape.”

She practiced every day for six weeks and on the morning of her wedding successfully squeezed into her dress. Afterwards she rolled up her mat and put it away in a back closet.

“I was happily married, writing, taking art classes, working full-time at Case Western University, everything was fine, no yoga,” Marcia said. “And then my husband went away to Kennebunkport to get certified in wooden boat building. He was gone for a year. I was left to my own means. Not a good idea.”

She resorted to dreaming about her husband, working long hours at work, enrolling in photography and film classes at night, ballet on weekends, shooting a 16 mm black-and-white movie in her spare time, and soon enough began to burn out.

“I was eating Pringles for breakfast and lunch,” she said. “I got really super thin and sick. I was a madwoman.”

One May morning in front of her TV in their apartment in historic Little Italy she dusted off her yoga mat, unrolling it and starting to practice again.

As she practiced what she still thought of as “all that yoga stuff’” in her living room she one day experienced a shift in perspective, physically and spiritually.

“I realized I had been living externally, trying to capture out there, and I was missing in here,” she said, pointing to the middle of herself,  “I missed my husband, and I missed my own soul. I just lost it. I remember lying on my mat in child’s pose. It was saturated, not with sweat, but with tears.”

Tears are messengers and sweat leads to change. Salt water can be the cure for everything. The first change Marcia made was to keep her mat in the open, out of the closet.

“Unburden yourself so much that you can pass from moment, to moment, to moment,” says Amrit Desai, who designed the style of yoga Marcia Camino was practicing, a style described as more than a physical discipline, but a process of consciousness liberation, as well.

One day on her mat led to every day on her mat, and eventually in 2004 to training at the Amrit Yoga Institute in Florida. She earned her 200-hour certification, going on to study with such nationally recognized master teachers as Paul Grilley, Rodney Yee, and Shakta Kaua Khalsa.

The practice of Amrit Yoga, Marcia Camino’s home base as a teacher and student, is sometimes referred to as the posture of awareness. It consists of several breathing exercises, twenty-six classic yoga postures, meditation between poses, and deep relaxation.

In 2005 she re-located to the west side of Cleveland, buying a house in suburban Lakewood with her husband Joe, who was back working on Lake Erie water craft, and began teaching yoga part-time at studios, colleges, and fitness centers.

After five years of free-lance Have Mat Will Travel, eventually earning Yoga Alliance EYRT status as a teacher, she began to scour Lakewood for a studio of her own.

“Deep down I was always spying for places, to create a space reflective of my personality, esthetics, and yoga philosophy,” said Marcia.

When she found the space she wanted she made the leap and gave up the security of her 9-to-5 job at the university and signed a lease in the West End neighborhood of Lakewood.

“Communicate to the world what you love most,” says Amrit Desai. “ Let go of your fear.”

“It’s a lovely part of town,” said Marcia. “There are churches on either side of the street, and we’re in a 1911 Tudor-style building. It’s only a mile-and-a-half from my house, rather than the thirty miles I used to have to drive.”

While many cities lack even one yoga studio, Lakewood sports two, with a third just across the bridge in Rocky River, as well as on-going classes at the YMCA and Harding Middle School. Marcia Camino’s new Pink Lotus was the fourth full-time studio in the area.

“Yoga has always been very hot on the coasts, since the 1960s,” she said. “It’s growing in the Midwest, and it makes sense in a community as diverse as Lakewood.”

Unlike studios that specialize in Vinyasa, a generally faster-paced workout, Pink Lotus tenders a wide range of the contemporary and traditional, including seldom-seen styles like Sivananda, which is what one of Pink Lotus’s students describes as yoga’s greatest hits.

“My studio offers styles geared towards fitness,” said Marcia. “But, we offer more, because faster-paced workouts are not available to everybody, like yoga that is breath-based, therapeutic, reflective, and, in the case of Chinese Yoga, something new to the Cleveland area.”

She cites a special love for Yin Yoga, created to benefit the body’s connective tissue and restore the range of movement lost to the conveniences and longer life of modern life.

Live on the floor, she laughs about Yin Yoga’s poses.

“We will be trying to bring to all we teach a sense of balance, happiness, and soul,” she said.

After months of planning, permits, and renovation, Pink Lotus opened in early December 2011. Like many another first-time business owner, Mrs. Camino had to overcome a series of obstacles, from raising necessary capital to finding the right plumber, babying her project day and night.

The solution to burning the midnight oil turned up right next-door at the European-style artisan bakery on the corner.

“Breadsmith is always in eyeshot,” she said. “I look out my windows and I’m thinking of hearth-baked crust when I should be thinking of my yoga.”

Man does not live by yoga alone. Bread is the staff of life. Sir Yeast a Lot to the rescue, because she must have bread!

Blending the personal and professional, Marcia Camino’s Pink Lotus is both a calling and a business, feeding the body, mind, and spirit. It’s bread and butter, simple, nutritious.

“I see many people who need yoga,” she said over a thick slice of Mediterranean Herb, sun-dried tomatoes and oil. “The practice saved my life. If it helped me, I think it can help anybody.”

Postscript:

After opening her yoga studio Marcia Camino commissioned a set of bike racks named Pink Yoga Dude and Yoga Dude Junior from local sculptor David Smith, one of her first students, who also says yoga practice “saved my life.”

Cyclists with yoga mats slung over their shoulders park at the racks in front of the studio. The public art form bike racks were installed as part of Lakewood’s Bike Master Plan. The city’s mayor and West End councilman attended the unveiling.

A version of this story appeared in the Lakewood Observer.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”