Tag Archives: Paperback Yoga

Fixing Frankenstein

By Ed Staskus

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

   “You look like hell,” Barron said. 

   “I feel like hell,” Frankenstein said.

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

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

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

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

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

   “How did you get here?” Barron asked.

   “I walked.”

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

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

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

   “Was his name Oliver?”

   “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

   “I can see that,” Barron said.

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

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

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

   “I’ll do my best.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathless (All’s Well That Ends Well)

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By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

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

 

 

 

Breathless (Brew Crew)

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By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

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

 

 

 

Loose as a Goose

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Godzilla had never heard of yoga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathless (Wonder Wheel)

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By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this story appeared in Yoga Chicago Magazine.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Shock and Awe

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By Ed Staskus

“You’re early,” said Barron Cannon.

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

She was wearing cherry pop yoga pants.

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

“What do you mean?”

“The color, you can’t beat that red.”

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

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

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

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

“Are you pulling my leg?” Barron asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Great!”

“You said navigate. What does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were named Nadi X for a reason.

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

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

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

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

“Hold your horses!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when the trouble started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re an ass,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone behind Zadie gave them a good close look.

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

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

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

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

Bad Day on Buzzard’s Bay

 

By Ed Staskus

“Release your bones,” said Vera Nyberg.

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

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

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

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

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

He made another mental note.

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

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

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

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

He made an effort to quiet his breathing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t Vera Nyberg, after all.

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

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

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

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

“Namaste.”

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

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

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

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

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

He flipped open a spiral notebook.

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

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

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

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

Sam Fowler’s scowl was audible over the phone.

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

“Somebody was there,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened in there?” asked Sam Fowler

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

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

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

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

Sam Fowler glanced at the Medical Examiner.

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

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

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

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

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

“So no one saw anything or heard anything?”

“I don’t know. That’s your job.”

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

He walked out to the uniformed policeman in the hallway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was closest to John Cerberus during the class?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ask somebody to get her down here.”

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

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

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

She looked sad and annoyed at the same time.

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

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

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

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

“What were you reading?” he asked her.

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

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

“I see,” said Sam Fowler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of yoga do you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”Did you know him?”

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

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

“Not anyone I know, no.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know who that might be?”

“No, not really.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like the Ten Commandments?” he asked.

“No, not exactly,” she answered.

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

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

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

“What was that?”

“You do!”

“I see.”

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

“Thank you Miss Nyberg,” said Sam Fowler.

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

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

The two police detectives watched her walk out.

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

“I didn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like the storm had so far skirted them.

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

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

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

“The massage therapist?”

“Yes.”

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

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

Lola Donning was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I took it.”

“How did you know what it meant?”

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

They stood quietly for a few minutes.

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

She pointed to the center of the labyrinth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She killed herself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When men make choices only God is blameless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goddamn it,” he said under his breath.

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

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

“All right,” snorted Sam Fowler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, what’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wheel in the Sky

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ditch the Back Seat Driver

By Ed Staskus

   Most people don’t care if you’ve taken a million yoga classes, or not. If you do something bad to them, they aren’t going to say, “That fella needs more yoga classes.” They are going to say something less kind and understanding. If you do something good, they’re not going to say, “It’s because of all the yoga classes he has taken.” 

   Saints get taken for granted.

   They aren’t going to say you are a saint because you’ve spent the nest egg at the local yoga studio. They will probably say something along the lines of, “That fella needs to put his halo away and start living in the real world.” It begs the question, but a $16 billion dollar business in the USA is about as real as it gets.

   When you apply for a job your prospective employer, unless it’s a yoga studio, isn’t going to ask if you’ve taken a bazillion yoga classes. If you can’t or won’t lift that bale and tote that barge you are not going to get your foot in the door, no matter what kind of a crackerjack you think you are.

   If yoga studios had their druthers, they would be full to the gills seven days a week, except for the birthday of B. K. S. Iyengar who got the ball rolling. That day is a holy day. Studios would like to be so full of folks 24/7 that even their most loyal customers would have to display VIP passes to get in the door. That’s why more than less classes are barn burners with a rocking soundtrack and the hands of a nubile assistant adjusting your pose. When the playlist is blasting with the hammer down, and the adjustments are flowing, speed traps are for suckers.

   Yoga is a business. Anybody who thinks otherwise need only spend a few minutes checking out Facebook group pages. “Welcome to the universal family of yoga jobs and yoga retreats,” says Yogi Sach on Global Yoga Community. The Yoga Teacher Resource Community describes itself as “helping yoga instructors in their yoga business. Member and administrator post topics include how to select liability insurance and navigating social media.” Yoga Jobs All Over the World proclaims they are “kind of like a global yogi Craigslist.”

   God save us from the crap that is Craigslist.

   In between, from the West to the East, from Hoboken to Madras, yesterday today tomorrow, somebody is peddling something every minute of the day on the back of the practice. Yoga teachers often say, “It’s all yoga.” If they are right, it explains everything about the one-time spiritual path. The path today isn’t so much thought provoking as it is “Turn Here for Your Friendly Walmart Superstore.”

   Everybody is your friend, and all your friends are peddling videos and books There is the “7 Day Yoga Crash Course.” They don’t say what is going to happen on the 8th day. Probably crash and burn, but that is beside the point.

   There are many people who take yoga classes month after month, year after year. It’s hard to say if they are slow learners or simply devotees. If they are slow learners, they deserve a pat on the back. If they are devotees, they need a slap in the face. Somebody needs to remind them life is not lived inside a classroom. If they are yoga teachers, they get a pass. Paychecks are what keep the wolf away from the door.

   Life is lived out in the wide world. It’s one thing to listen to the steel belts humming on the asphalt from the cocoon of a studio. It’s another thing to stand on the side of the highway, 18-wheelers loaded up and rolling, rubber smoking and shredding and diesel fumes acrid, drivers gulping down little white pills keeping themselves awake in the glow of all-night diners, the radio tuned to crazy talk show radio stations.

   What’s the point of taking endless yoga classes? It’s not rocket science. Learn a few asanas, a few flows linking them, how to breathe, how to meditate, the yamas and niyamas, and you’re all set to go back down the beanstalk. The giant claims of wellness will only miss you so much.

   It’s easy to fetishize teachers. It’s easy to idealize exalt glamorize idols of all kinds. Who doesn’t want to shrug off responsibility and stay on the yellow brick road with the hand of a guru at their elbow? If you’re young and naive, or a seeker seeking a better way, it’s the way to go. But at some point, it becomes time to ditch the teacher and stand on your own two feet.

   Yoga teachers are full of aphorisms like “Reach higher. It will steady you.” Why it would steady anybody is unclear, but if you are afraid of heights, don’t. The air is thinner up there. Down in Easy Pose they say “Open up your palms if you want answers from the universe. Put your palms face down if you want answers from within yourself.” It got so I started shaking my fist at them.

   An eager beaver instructor with a taste for tall tales liked to tell us, “Take the Hanuman Leap.” I always let that one lay. I wasn’t about to monkey see monkey do.

   “If something in your life isn’t serving you, quietly thank it for the lesson, and let it go,” was something I heard a million times in the ten-or-so years I took yoga classes. On behalf of everybody who ever worked at Efficient Lighting, a big commercial lighting outfit in Brook Park, Ohio, where I worked for twenty-five years, I say let the cliches go their own way. Nobody I ever knew ever quit because the job wasn’t serving them. That was a given. They either made the best of it or screwed up to the extent they needed firing. Anybody who quit did so because they could go somewhere else where they could make more money and sooner rather than later let it go, once and for all.

   One day a teacher said, “Let that shit go.” Everybody in the class laughed. She was talking about friendships relationships what somebody did or didn’t say and how we hope things will get better. I scowled and did a down dog, letting the shit and platitudes slide down my back.

   “The only moment that really matters is right now,” is an all-time favorite of yoga teachers. It made sense now and then. Most of the time it didn’t. If it was true yoga would be one of the unhealthiest healthy practices of all time. Standing on your head right now before you are ready can be more than a pain in the neck. There is no saving your neck if it goes wrong because you don’t know what you are doing, Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes isn’t what yoga is all about. Planning in advance is what really matters, making sure what has a lasting impact on you isn’t the wrong end of a baseball bat. Nothing would ever get done, including breakfast lunch and dinner, if right now was all there was.

   “Be your authentic self” was a command that made me gnash my teeth. Nobody is their authentic self in a classroom. A warm and fuzzy refuge is all well and good but there comes a time in every man and woman’s life when it’s best to become their own man or woman. Otherwise, we become Pee-wee Herman. Becoming your own true self isn’t possible if you are baloney in somebody else’s slice of life. We are not all in the same boat. We are all in different boats in the same ocean. You become what the teacher is, what the teacher is saying, what you hope will get you somewhere. You become like the yogis in class who you admire. You buy into the ethos and the ethic becomes you. You buy into the chalk talk and that’s that.

   After a while whoever you were is beside the point. It’s a brave new world, but it’s not a world you had a hand in making. Your thinking becomes whatever yoga is thinking, like how people become what they learned in school, what they do at work, and what they see on TV. You go into people-pleasing mode, otherwise people might not like who you are.

   Making an authentic self can be a slog through hell or a dance in the rain. Not everybody is good with it happening to their spouse, siblings, and friends. They wonder how it will impact them. But when you are being authentic you are being all parts of yourself, the good the bad the super-duper awesome and the ugly. It’s the only way to find true acceptance rather than a phantom hug from a make-believe somebody. It’s better to be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of anybody else.

   Everybody gets a temporary driver’s license first. Then they get their permanent license. Getting behind the wheel by yourself, ditching the back seat driver, is the way to go.

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

Summertime Blues

By Ed Staskus

“Well, I called my congressman, and he said I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”  Eddie Cochran

“Mom said you’re not leaving and you’re coming to my birthday party this year,” Maggie said, putting down her ear of corn, her lips peppered with flecks of salt and smeary with   butter.

“That’s right,” said Frank Glass.

Vera Glass’s brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, Frank’s sister and her new boyfriend, a policeman who lived nearby, were visiting on the Fourth of July, in the backyard, a breezy sunny day in the shade, crowded around a folding table-clothed table doing double duty, food and drink and board games.

Independence Day has been a federal holiday since 1941, but the tradition goes back to the American Revolution. Since then it’s been celebrated with festivities like fireworks parades concerts big and small and family barbecues. This year the fireworks parades concerts were scratched.

Maggie was born seven almost eight years earlier. She was due to officially come to life the third week of September, four five days after Frank and Vera expected to be back from Atlantic Canada but was born on the first day of the month.

She was a once in a blue moon baby. To do something once in a blue moon means to do it rarely. It is the appearance of a second full moon within a calendar month, which happens about once every three years.

“Where do you go in the summer?” Maggie asked.

“We go to Prince Edward Island, a small town called North Rustico, but we stay in a cottage in the National Park, a family owns the land, they’ve been there for almost two hundred years. We leave in mid-August and stay through the first couple of weeks of September, which is why we miss your birthday party.”

“You always send me a present. I like that. But last year you sent me a sweatshirt with a red leaf on it that was ten times too big.” “You’ll grow into it,” said Frank.

“Maybe I will, but maybe I won’t,” said Maggie. She was a genial child but could be a testy cuss. She thought knew her own mind rounding out her seventh year, although it could go both ways.

“Do you like it there?”

“Yes, we like it a lot.”

“Why aren’t you going? Is it the virus?”

The 20th century was the American Century. The United States led the way socially economically brain-wise learning-wise and in every other wise way. In 2020 it led the way in virus infections, far outpacing the next two contenders, Brazil and India. The flat tires in charge nowadays can’t get anything right, from building their useless wall, all three miles of new wall, to securing a useful virus test.

North Korea and Iran keep making atom bombs, there’s no China trade deal, the deficit has skyrocketed, and race relations have gotten worse. All that’s left is for the other shoe to drop. On top of that, Hilary Clinton still isn’t in jail.

“Yes, the bug,” said Frank. “The Canadian border is closed, and even if we could get into Canada somehow, the bridge to the island is closed except for business.”

In May President Trump said, “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere, cases are coming way down.” In June he said the pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.” On July 2nd he said, “99% of cases are totally harmless.” Four days later, on July 6th, he said, “We now have the lowest Fatality Rate in the World.”

John Hopkins University subsequently reported that the United Sates has the world’s ninth-worst mortality rate, with 41.33 deaths per 100,000 people. It was a bald-face report. They didn’t capitalize the numbers.

“Are you sad that you can’t go?”

“Yes.” “They built a new bridge to our house. I know all about it, we drove over it two weeks ago. Mom was so happy. It’s a big bridge, too, the other one was small and always breaking.”

“You know the bridge you go across from downtown, when you go up the rise past the baseball stadium where the Indians play ball, on your way to Lakewood?”

“That’s a long bridge.”

“It’s called the Main Avenue Bridge and it’s two miles long. The bridge that goes from Canada to Prince Edward Island is almost 5 times longer than that. It’s as long as the distance from downtown to our house.”

“That’s far!”

“That can’t be,” Frank’s nephew Ethan blurted out. “That bridge is too long!”

“How do you know, Bud, you can hardly count,” said Maggie. She called Ethan Bud. They were buddies, although they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

“I can so count, I know all the dinosaurs, there are a million of them,” said Ethan.

“I’m going into third grade and we’re going to learn division. You’ve been learning to finger paint.”

“What’s a million plus a million?”

“2 million.”

“OK, what’s the biggest dinosaur ever?”

“The Brontosaurus.”

“No! It’s the Argentinosaurus, and he weighed a million pounds.”

“That can’t be,” said Maggie.

“My math is my math,” Ethan simply said.

“If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough,” said Albert Einstein.

As of July, there were more than 300,000 cases of the virus reported in children since the start of the pandemic. The Executive Office of the Federal Government has repeatedly maintained it poses almost no threat to them. “The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem,” President Trump said.

“How do you know about the virus?” Frank asked.

“Everybody knows about it. The whole world knows.”

“They even know in Antarctica,” said Ethan.

“Do you know anybody who got it?”

“A girl in school got it from her mom,” Maggie said. “I took piano lessons with her.”

“That’s too bad,” Frank said.

“Are there going to be fireworks tonight?” Maggie asked.

“No, the city cancelled them.”

“Where we live, too.”

“Here there were fireworks last night, we sat on the front porch, until after midnight, but it was just people in the street or their yards. There were some big pops over there by Madison Avenue. I think they were shooting them off from the empty lot. We could see bottle rockets over the trees.”

“Wow!”

“You said you knew about the virus, but how do you know?” asked Frank.

“The news about it is on every day on TV,” said Maggie.

“That’s right,” said Ethan.

“We have a TV, but we don’t have TV,” said Frank. “We only have a couple of streaming services for movies.”

“We have real TV,” said Maggie, “and it’s on all the time. The news is on every single hour every single day and all the news is about the virus.”

“Do you watch TV all the time?”

“We don’t watch TV, but we watch it all day,” said Ethan.

“We don’t really watch it, but it’s always there,” said Maggie.

Parents are urged to pay attention to what their children see and hear on radio online television. They are cautioned to reduce screen time focused on the virus since too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety in kids. Talk to them about how stories on the web might be rumors and wildly inaccurate.

“That’s OK, it’s all in your head, anyway,” said Maggie.

“All in your head?”

“That’s what dad says.”

“Well,” Frank said, “your father knows best.” He wasn’t going to get into a no-win argument with his brother-in-law. His sister’s boyfriend was a policeman at Metro Hospitals. Frank didn’t want his ears pricking up. He wouldn’t understand it’s all in your head.

“Are you worried about the virus?” Frank asked.

“Would that help?” Maggie asked, biting into a burger. “This is yummy good.”

“No, it would probably just make you crazy.”

“Dad said your name wasn’t always Frank Glass.”

“Yes and no,” said Frank. “My given name has always been Frank, which is short for Francis, like we call you Maggie even though your name is Margaret, but my family name, what they say is your surname, used to be Kazukauskas.”

“What happened to it?” asked Maggie. “Why is it different now.”

“When my father came here, to America after World War Two, the immigration people said he should change it to something other people could pronounce, that they could say without too much trouble, so he changed it to Glass.”

“Where did he come from?”

“Lithuania, a little country, north of Germany.”

“That’s a nice name,” Maggie said. “I like Glass.”

“At least he didn’t have to climb another brick in the wall once he got here.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older. Are you staying home more because of the virus?”

“Yes!” both of them exclaimed.

“Do you have to wear a mask when you go somewhere?”

“We cover up,” Maggie said. “My face gets hot, my head gets hot, and my hair get hot. It makes my glasses fog up.”

“I have a tube mask with rhino’s and bronto’s on it,” Ethan said. “But I can’t breathe, so I just rip it off until mom sees.”

There was a box of Charades for Kids on the table. “Three or More Players Ages Four and Up.” Frank pointed at it.

“Are you ready to play?”

Maggie rolled around on the lawn, flapped her arms, rolled her eyes, and hugged herself. Nobody had any idea what she was doing.

“Going to bed!” she yelped.

Ethan did a somersault.

“Somersault?”

“Yes!”

Maggie rolled on the ground holding her head and grimacing like a mad chipmunk. Everybody watched with blank faces, stumped.

“Headache!” she blared.

Ethan slashed the air with his hands.

“Karate?”

“Yes!”

Maggie jumped, waved her right arm in circles, flapped it back and forth, and licked her lips. As the one-minute hourglass dropped the last grain of sand to the bottom, she fell down on the grass. Everybody was stumped again.

“Frosting a cake! I can’t believe nobody got it.”

Ethan got on all fours like an anteater, pretended to be eating something with great chomping motions, and clomped to the driveway and back.

“Argentinosaurus?”

“Yes!”

Summer signals freedom for children. It’s a break from the structure of school days, a time for more days spent at the pool, a time for more play, for exploring the outdoors.

One day his mom asked Ethan if he wanted to go out on his scooter.

“So much,” he said. “I have got to get out of this house.”

“Every single day I see the Amazon truck and the FedEx and the white trucks go past me,” said Maggie. “They turn around at the cul-de-sac thing, they just rush back, driving crazy. I run to the backyard.”

“There’s a big field and woods past our backyard,” Ethan said.

“We’re stuck at home but it’s summer, it’s nice outside, the sun is shining, and we all go for walks,” Maggie said.

She hadn’t been to school since April, studying remotely. Ethan hadn’t been to pre-school for just as long.

“Are you going back to school in the fall?” asked Frank.

“I hope so,” said Maggie. “I miss it.”

“I’m supposed to start first grade,” said Ethan.

About two months away from hopes there will be a return to school, many parents were looking to new findings which suggest children are less likely to get and spread the virus. In late June the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for “having students physically present in school,” published reopening guidelines. They stated that children “may be less likely to become infected” with the coronavirus and to spread the infection.

Living and breathing in-person face-to-face time is what makes school a school. “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher,” is what a Japanese proverb says.

“I want to play something else,” Maggie said. “Can you teach us how to play Pictionary?”

“Sure,” Frank said.

They put the never-ending news of the pandemic away, cleared one end of the table, and unfolded the game board, setting out the pencils note pads special cards. “Quick Sketches, Hilarious Guesses” is what it said on the yellow box, and that is what they did the rest of Independence Day, the clear sky going twilight, lightning bugs flashing on off on off, and neighborhood kids shooting off Uncle Sam Phantom fire flowers in the alley behind them.

There wasn’t a dud in the caboodle, not that they saw. Uncle Sam got it right, rockets red glare.

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