Please, No Sensitive People

By Ed Staskus

There’s an old saw that says if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. That’s exactly what most people do, assuming they’ve stepped foot into the kitchen in the first place. Restaurants have one the highest employee turnover rates of any kind of business. Voluntary turnover across all businesses, according to the Department of Labor, is about one of every five every year. In the food service business, the voluntary turnover rate is more than one of two every year, never mind the involuntary rate.

   But before there can be turnover there has to be staff. Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009 both hoagie shop and fancy restaurant owners have seen more and more vacancies for positions from part-time hostess to experienced sous chef. From San Francisco to New York City there are not enough restaurant staffers.

   “It’s become a much tighter and more competitive work environment,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, in 2013. “The economy is on the road to recovery and the talent pool is thinner.”

   “If he’s a dog we’ll figure it out and we’ll get rid of him in the first week,” said Jeff Black of the upscale Black Restaurant Group in Washington, DC. “But we need bodies. We need people that want to wait on tables.”

   The recruitment problems big restaurants in big cities suffer from are not much different than the problems small restaurants in small towns do.

    Still looking for experienced staff for front and back of the house. This will probably be your best job ever. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   Liquids and Solids, a small, edgy new wave gastropub in the Adirondacks, in Lake Placid, New York, opened in June 2010. “When we opened it was just us,” said Keegan Konkoski, co-owner with Tim Loomis. “Tim would be in the kitchen all day and I’d be at the bar all day and we had two servers.” One of the servers was Keegan’s sister, Jamie.

   “Before we opened, we thought Tim would have no problem staffing his kitchen. He’s a culinary graduate of Paul Smith’s, a lot of their students will want to be here and work with him, do a little internship.”

   An alumnus of Paul Smith’s College in nearby Paul Smith, New York, Tim Loomis interned in France and has worked at, among others, the Wawbeek Lodge, Lake Placid Lodge, and the Freestyle in Lake Placid.

   “We thought finding him help would be so easy, but we are picking bones.”

   Looking in from the outside work done by other people can sound easy. How hard is it to cut carrots and wash dishes? But, working in a restaurant, being on your feet all the time, is physically demanding. “The business, it sucks. It’s hard,” said Bryan Dayton of OAK at Fourteenth in Denver, Colorado.

   “It can be back-breaking work,” Keegan agreed.

  Dishwashers are unsung and underpaid and it’s easy to overlook how important they are, hunched over and hidden away in a steamy back corner, until you don’t have one. Then it’s a mess.

   We are looking for a special guest sanitation engineer for Thursday night. All you can eat and drink! Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   “The worst days of service that I have had, both as hourly employee and as manager, have been when there was no dishwasher,” said Matthew Stinton, beverage director at several New York City restaurants and wine bars. “Not having a dishwasher will fuck your world up and make you rethink the way you do things.”

   One of the predicaments Liquids and Solids faces every year is that it is a seasonal eatery. It is open year-round, but has to deal with summertime spikes, which complicates staffing and inventory levels.

   Need summer help, both departments, liquids and solids. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   “We definitely have our downtime,” said Keegan, “so we try to make as much as we can when we’re busy because it slowly depletes after that.”

   “We try to bang it,” said Tim.

   After Columbus Day Liquids and Solids cuts its hours, closing Sundays and Mondays, refreshes itself for several weeks during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and then sits back on its haunches waiting for spring. When spring comes the snow melts, birds sing, and the heavy lifting starts.

   L & S needs some strong bodies tomorrow to help move some equipment. Volunteers will be rewarded! Contact Tim if you want to help. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   A challenge all hands-on restaurant owners face is the amount of time their restaurants demand of them. “If you are not prepared to never see your family, never have a holiday, then you are not prepared to be in the restaurant business,” observed Cory Bahr of Nonna in Monroe, Louisiana.

   Tim Loomis’s day starts at 8 o’clock in the morning. It ends 14 or 15 hours later.

   “One of the main guys I’ve worked with over the years, as soon as service was done, he was out,” said Tim. “I don’t like doing that. I try to be there and help clean, but if it’s not clean by 11 o’clock, I’ve got to go.”

   No one can do everything. While Tim is in the kitchen with his crew, and Keegan is behind the bar, and the hostess and servers are at their stations, the bathrooms at Liquids and Solids are left unattended. Largely a relic of the past, bathroom attendants who clean the facilities and dispense mints, mouthwash, chewing gum and cigarettes, are today usually only found in big-time night clubs and restaurants. In Japan they are being replaced with ladybug robots. 

   It isn’t a bathroom attendant who’s needed sometimes so much as a bathroom bouncer.

   L & S is seeking a full-time bathroom attendant due to recent acts of vandalism on the bathrooms. Three air fresheners have gone missing, pennies are dropped in the toilet daily, and stickers from the paper towel dispenser have been removed. A picture was ripped off the wall and thrown into the garbage can! Two screws were holding it up. It had beautiful boobs on it. Who does not like boobs? Please apply in person. Protect against prudes. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   Recruiting, training, and retaining staff is one of the toughest jobs most restaurant owners have. They are always, especially if they are small businesses, at the mercy of unforeseen absences, such as sick leave or a family emergency. They don’t have the back-up staff to provide coverage.

   “Food may rot and burn, but at least it doesn’t run off to Alaska with an oil-pipeline worker before lunch. Help will do that, and much, much more, creating an anarchy that acts upon the kitchen’s atmosphere like a handful of sand thrown into a spinach salad,” wrote Kimberly Snow in ‘Why You Don’t Want to Run a Restaurant’. 

   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics almost 370,000 people are employed as dishwashers nationwide. And they aren’t just the dish crew. They clean and mop, take out the garbage, and unclog toilets. They are sanitation engineers.

   L & S is looking for a guest sanitation engineer for Saturday night, no experience needed. A good grasp of 80s movies is helpful. $60.00 plus food and beverages. Must be 21. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   The position has been filled by Ryan MacDonald, who will be making the trek from East Burke, Vermont, just to make a guest appearance in the pit. Liquids and Solids a few hours later.

   “We generally don’t have any problems early in the morning,” said Keegan. “We have our meeting between 9 and 10 and everything is usually copasetic.” After their morning meeting Keegan does the books, goes mountain biking or cross- country skiing, and then returns to work in the early afternoon, where she remains until the end of the night.

   “Hopefully I don’t get a text from Tim about a catastrophe,” she said. “But there’s always something, the air conditioning broke, someone’s dog died, and they can’t come to work, it could be anything. Every week there’s something.”

   Sometimes that something is a chore most restaurants don’t have to contend with anymore in the 21stcentury.

   Well, here we are lookin’ for help again. Winter wood is being delivered tomorrow and we need help moving it. Start time around 11. Dinner to all volunteers. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   “We do our own town dump runs, too,” said Keegan.

   While hostesses and servers are charming, and bartenders are patient and accommodating, working in a hot kitchen, a very hot kitchen, where you are not supposed to drop anything no matter how hot the thing is, dead-lifting heavy boxes on a floor that is slippery and slightly pitched for drainage reasons, on your feet for 10 hours straight, where it’s not OK to not have whatever you’re cooking ready when the chef says it has to be ready, in a tight space where there is no personal space, is another matter.

   “When it’s busy, in the heat of service, Tim is awesome, but he can get ornery,” said Keegan. “We don’t need to sugarcoat that.” 

   Kitchen staffs can be thick as thieves and at each other’s throats at the same time. That’s why so many off-color jokes are bantered in restaurant kitchens. “They would make every inappropriate joke in the book,” said Marla Gilman, who worked the line at Liquids and Solids for a year, about her colleagues. “But it wasn’t real. There were never any hard feelings.”

   Team Kitchen is now seeking a sanitation engineer for 2 – 3 nights a week. Must have a strong background in 80s and 90s pop culture and appreciate both punk rock and classic country. If this sounds like you, walk right into the kitchen and talk to Tim. Please, no sensitive people. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   The mom-and-pop eatery at a bend in the road is a laid-back gastropub in a small town on a quiet street across the street from a lumberyard. Like all businesses they have their own standards. Unlike many businesses, especially those that are seemingly laid-back, those standards are first-class.

   “The farm-to-table cuisine at Liquids and Solids wins rave reviews,” wrote Diane Bair and Pamela Wright in 2013 in the Boston Globe. “Creative plates like beef heart ragout with gnocchi. Among the liquids, the sinus-clearing ‘maple and spice’ bourbon cocktail gets its kick from cayenne pepper.”

   Although being the best may be a false goal, measuring success by doing your best is certainly a true goal. Servers and wait staff are said to be the front of the house and cooks and chefs the back of the house. Some restaurants, especially those with a reputation for great food, employ expediters, the middle of the house, who make sure that orders are cooked and plated in a timely fashion. 

   Looking for an exciting Friday and Saturday night from 8:30 – 10 PM? We need an expediter! Pays money, food, drink, and time with Tim. If you don’t know what an expediter is, don’t volunteer. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   “We try to create a fun atmosphere because we know it’s hard work,” said Keegan. “But it has to be professional. We have to make sure everything gets done correctly.”

   “At the end of the day that needs to go there and that needs to be cleaned,” said Tim.

   All of which is easier said than done unless you stick to it all day long. “This job will consume you,” said Bryan Dayton of OAK. “We work long hours. Yesterday I worked an 18-hour day. On a Wednesday.”

   Attention to detail means restaurant owners often have little in the way of a social life. Their husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends have to be saints because their loved one is the one who unlocks and locks the doors every day and night. Not only that, your loved one is always on call. Personal time for holidays becomes a thing of the past.

   Need someone to spend Valentine’s evening with? We need a dishwasher that evening. In fact, we are looking for a full time or part time person. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   “Restaurant work is a hard life,” said Keegan. “One of the things that burns us a lot is when someone working at a restaurant says, oh, that’s not my real job. I say, say it’s not your real job one more time…” 

   Busy restaurant kitchens are not just barely tolerable hot rooms full of people in fire resistant white jackets. They are fast-paced pressure cooker rooms in which you don’t want to be wearing glasses because they soon will be clouded by oily steam, keeping you from keeping track of your fellow cooks and chefs who might or might not be in a bad mood that day, but who are certainly armed with sharp knives and cleavers.

   “I attacked the last croissant with a cleaver, not stopping until I’d mashed every little flake of pastry into a greasy mass,” wrote Kimberly Snow, describing how “something just naps in you.”

   “It’s tough,” said Tim. “Our guys work hard, so it’s hard to walk away, to not be here.”

   hiring IN KITCHN. don’t NEED TO BE SMRT. JUST HARDWERKIN. Liquids and Solids on Facebook.

   Commercial restaurant work is not for everyone because it is hard work. It is the kind of hard work that needs to be done even though you are dog-tired from already working hard all day. There is the laundry issue, too. When kitchen staff does their wash, it is always smelly laundry.

   Restaurants don’t pool tips for the back-of-the house dishwashers, cooks, and chefs like they do for wait staff. But, at Liquids and Solids, just like you can add an egg to a menu item for a buck, you can add a buck to your bill at the end of the night for the kitchen’s beer fund.

   “One thing we had no idea about when we opened was how much employees cost,” said Tim. 

   “When it’s all said and done, though, when they’re worth it they’re worth it,” said Keegan. “Besides, you can’t show up and not have them be here. Everything here is truly made from scratch.”

   It is shortly after Columbus Day, when their summer season has drawn to a close, that the beer fund at Liquids and Solids comes into play. That’s when the hardwerkin’ staff takes some time off and leaves the country.

   Bye, bye blackbird for a long, long weekend.

   For all of you that bought a beer for the kitchen this summer, they totaled $887.00 in earnings and will be in Montreal celebrating soon thinking of you all that made it possible knowing they be appreciated for the daily grind. Thanks!

   It was what Tim and Keegan the damp dishwasher the gassed kitchen staff all posted on Facebook before turning off the lights.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”


Slam Dunk

By Ed Staskus

A commonplace of most yoga advice is the advice to let go of expectation, judgment, and competition when stepping on the mat. The importance placed on themes of tolerance, cceptance, and non-competition is round-the-clock, streamed from beginner classes to advanced asana practice.

On the web sites of many studios, under headings like Yoga Etiquette, is the injunction: “Leave your ego at the door. The yoga mat has no space for your ego, competitiveness, or judgment.” The community class teacher at our local big box studio is fond of saying, “It’s your practice, not anyone else’s.” It’s likely every yoga teacher in America reworks this refrain day in and day out.

Whether the no competition no judgment message is a viable message in our world, driven as it is by ego and judgment, and an everyday workaday world of going for the dollar peso euro yen gold, is between sixes and sevens.

Themes such as moving forward, continual progress, and goals are the modern mantra, not non-competition and non-judgment. The way we live today is nothing if not teleological, so that we are always looking for the cause and purpose of all we make happen, of all we do.

It seems naïve to posit the physical exercise yoga has become as a special case non-competitive activity in the western world, the font of the rat race. Western culture is defined by strife and competition, from our classical past to the way we live now. Everybody gets nervous before a competition, whether it’s a Spelling Bee or the Olympics. They get competitive, too.

Doing warrior pose in the middle of your brain in the middle of the yoga room in the middle of the after work A-Team crowd ain’t any different. Nobody wants to be slam-dunked on.

We are judged and graded from the time we step into school, from tykes in kindergarten through college. The better we do in school the higher the status we carve out for ourselves, until finally carving out a better job when we go out into the working world.

Our marketplace economy is predicated on struggle and competition. We are either making more money than the next man, and so are successful, or we are making less, and so unsuccessful. How much money we make determines how and where we live, our luxury brands, to the better schools we send our children to.

Materialism and its many benefits is a deeply ingrained point-of-view in the western world.

Today’s cultural icons and heroes are businessmen, politicians, and athletes. Follow the money, follow the front page, follow the parade.

“The business of America is business,” said Calvin Coolidge almost 100 years ago. The New Gilded Age has brought President Coolidge’s maxim to life. The ethics involved in the business of making money are subservient to the making of money itself, because losing money is a failure that puts right and wrong to shame.

Politics is only occasionally about doing the right thing. It is necessarily about winning and losing, from debating and campaigning to making your ideology the ideology that matters. The upper hand trumps conscience and scruples among thousand dollar suits without a drop of human kindness in them.

Sports are arguably the passion of our times, from children’s CYO leagues to pro teams playing in stadiums seating tens of thousands. Up to 16 million people may practice yoga in America, but Division 1 college basketball and football attract 70 million paying fans between them, while the four major pro sports draw more than 140 million through the turnstiles every year.

Sports on TV are ubiquitous. More than 127,000 hours of sports programming were available on broadcast and cable TV in 2015. Americans spent more than 31 billion hours watching balls bounce in all directions, sometimes through the net or over the goal, more often not if their home team was hapless.

The average American watches a total of 5 hours of TV a day. The average American never sets foot on a yoga mat. They pay an arm and a leg to watch other people pretend to be super heroes. The mainstream culture isn’t interested in his or her own unified state of mind.

“What the hell does that mean? What does it cost? What’s in it for me?” they ask.

It has been estimated that yoga is a 6 billion dollar business, but that pales in comparison to the college and professional sports team industry, comprising more than 800 organizations with a combined net worth and annual revenues in the hundreds of billions.

Many Americans are intimately bound up in the winning and losing of their home teams. Late in the 2007 season, when the luckless Cleveland Browns were having some success and threatening to go to the NFL playoffs, a large local studio full of men and women at the end of a weekend yoga class unabashedly chanted OM three times for the team, hoping for God’s sake some psychic energy would rub off on the players for that night’s big game.

“The person who said winning isn’t everything, never won anything,” says Mia Hamm, two-time Olympic gold champion.

In the event, the yoga gods played their own little private joke on the fans. Even though the Cleveland Browns won the game, they lost in a statistical tie-breaker to another team and failed to make the playoffs.

How did yoga become a supposed  non-competitive activity in our world, a world defined and bound by competition, especially since in its birthplace many define it as a sport? In the sub-continent where it all got started yoga has had a competitive aspect to it for more than millennia.

“Yoga sport has been a traditional sport in India since more than 1,200 years,” said Yogasiromani Gopali, executive director of the World Yoga Council.

“Yoga sport is holy sport in our holy land with our holy yoga. All the yoga ashrams have yoga competition,” said Swami Shankarananda, a supporter of the World Yoga Foundation.

“Yoga competition is an old Indian tradition,” said Bikram Choudbury. “It’s a tremendous discipline – a hundred times harder than any other competition.”

Three for three is the trifecta, the original recipe, extra crispy, and Colonel Choudhury’s special.

The European Yoga Alliance organizes an annual European Yoga Championship and the International Yoga Sports Federation hosts an Annual World Yoga Championship. In the United States yoga tournaments have sprung up nationwide, from the Annual Texas Yoga Asana Championships to the New York Regional Yoga Championships.

Writing in Vanity Fair about the New York event, Anna Kavaliunas observed. “I learned you can win at yoga, a practice that is traditionally considered to be more spiritual than competitive.”

Some variations of yoga seem competitive by nature of the practice itself.

“Since its inception in the mid-twentieth century some of Ashtanga’s great masters pitted the most gifted students against one another to see who would perform the absolutely most difficult poses,” said Marcia Camino, a teacher of Amrit Yoga and a studio owner in Lakewood, Ohio.

“Iyengar Yoga demands so much mental attention to the alignment of the body that built into these classes there seems to be a drive for perfection,” she said. “Some systems like Power Yoga are overtly muscle-focused and it makes sense that one could easily engage the spirit of competitive sports when practicing them.”

At Bikram Choudbury’s Yoga College of India in Los Angeles, classes often come to a dead stop as everyone breaks out into applause for a pose executed especially well. “Bikram Yoga is not only challenging, it’s also gratifying to the ego,” said Loraine Despres, who has written about the once-copyrighted practice.

Maybe Bikram Choudbury has his finger on the pulse of what yoga is really all about. The 2014 World Championship of Yoga Sports was held in London, attracting contestants from more than 25 countries. The 2016 event was staged in Italy.

The Choudbury’s, Bikram and Rajashree, his wife, themselves both former all-India yoga champions, believe yoga should qualify as an Olympic sport for the 2020 summer games in Tokyo.

“I strongly believe that yoga has what it takes to become an Olympic sport,” said Joseph Encida, a former international champion. “The skill required is strongly comparable to that of an elite gymnast.”

“There is so much strategy, mental power, physical precision, and control that goes into the sport that I don’t see it any different than curling, skiing, or diving,” said Gianna Purcell, who placed fourth internationally in 2012-13.

It is uncertain how far gung ho yoga will get with its hopes ambitions dreams.

“The Olympics are looking for events that play well on television. If you had combat yoga, maybe that would have a better chance of making it, ”said David Wallechinsky, an author and Olympic expert, in a BBC interview.

Not everyone agrees that competition is good for the practice.

“I don’t think it should be competitive,” said Tara Fraser, of London’s Yoga Junction. “Competing is not embedded in yoga’s philosophical framework and makes no sense if you want to achieve self-realization.”

Michael Alba, a teacher in Boston who also instructs at the Brookline Ballet School, said competition limits and stereotypes the practice. “It perpetuates the idea that yoga is for the lithe-bodied contortionists. One of the challenges of yoga is to be less competitive.”

Competition and its complications are apparently one of the reasons more women than men engage yoga on even a physical level. According to Yoga Journal women make up 72% and men only 28% of the people who practiced in 2016. The two most important reasons men cite for not taking up yoga are a lack of interest in the quiet, non-competitive aspects of the practice and a fear of embarrassment or failure.

Which begs the question, is yoga competitive, or not, and do men want to compete, or not?

Competition problematizes yoga at its most accessible level, which is what goes on on the mat. A goal-oriented approach contradicts what even tournament competitors like Luke Strandquist, a Bikram Yoga instructor in New York City, seem to believe. “As a teacher, it’s the opposite of what I’m always telling my students, that you’re here to practice your yoga, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.”

Setting one’s sights on doing what the man you see in the perfectly balanced headstand on the mat next to you is doing, or your sights on becoming the mediated image of the slim and strong young woman you’ve always wanted to be, turns the practice away from its focus on the values of self-acceptance and inner growth and turns it into monkey see monkey do.

“Competition exists in the yoga classroom when we see students trying to outdo each other,” said Marcia Camino.

“It’s also there when students struggle to best themselves, their latest efforts, on the road to yoga advancement. That said, there are many systems that balk at the notion of competition, because the focus of real yoga, claim these systems, is inward.”

Separating yoga exercise from the rest of yoga is like separating chaff from wheat and taking the chaff home.

“Unfortunately, yoga has been conflated with asana, which is a huge misapprehension,” says Richard Rosen, director of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California. As integral to yoga as exercises on the mat are, they are only part of the picture, in the same way that bridges are more than the sum of their piers, beams, and decks. Focusing on exercise and competition is mistaking the nuts and bolts of the craft for the art of the craft.

Competition is ultimately driven by the ego and is based on a zero-sum game of loss and gain. Competitors seek to satisfy their own personal ends. Applause and prizes animate the fear and desire of the ego in accomplishment. Winners and losers are inevitably segregated, so that winners are enthroned and losers forgotten. Who remembers last year’s second-place finisher?

Nobody does, because losers don’t get the headlines.

Contests are defined from without, not from within, since referees, audiences, and media analysts are what validate the competitors, not their own efforts. Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach who is a symbol of single-minded determination to win at all costs, once said, “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”

The answer might be because without a scoreboard the contest would be meaningless.

Prime time competitors often say they are their own competition, their own worst enemy. My biggest competition is myself. I’m always trying to top myself. I don’t worry about what other people are doing. I’m not in competition with them. I’m only in competition with me.

Competing with yourself is a slippery game when the ego competes against the sub-conscious even though the ego rarely knows what the sub-conscious is up to. Not only that, they are not best friends. It’s not necessarily in our own best interest to compete with our past, in the belief that progress is the measure of all things, and the asana we do today must necessarily be better than yesterday’s pose.

One Sunday afternoon, at the end of a crowded community class, a tall lanky older man on the mat next to me said, “I shouldn’t have even come today. I couldn’t do anything right.” He hadn’t fallen out of any balancing poses on top of me, but when I pointed that out to him, he said, “I’ll do better next time.”

The next time I saw him at the yoga studio his practice was constrained by a bad wing. “I hurt it here,” he said. “I think I was trying too hard.”

Self-consciousness and arbitrary reference to past standards compromises the here and now of yoga. The immediacy of the practice becomes a mishmash of then, now, and whenever.

Competition and progress take the man and woman out of himself and herself and out of the moment, positing a judge as the ultimate arbiter of their efforts. Even Rajashree Choudbury admits, “If you think you are competing against others, you won’t win.” Winning is freighted in terms of dollars and cents so that it makes commercial sense when applied to sports, but ultimately makes no sense when applied to the fabric of yoga practice.

“In the course of time asana or yoga postures gained more popularity in the physically-minded West, and the Vedantic aspects of the teachings fell to the sidelines,” David Frawley wrote in ‘Vedantic Meditation’.

Vedanta, or the philosophy of self-realization, underpins the concept of yoga as a spiritual system with a physical component, not a physical system with a spiritual component. Competition turns yoga on its head so that physical practice and fitness are conflated with yoga success, while spiritual discipline and self-realization are shunted to the sideline.

The prevailing modern view of yoga is that the means and end are the same. Yoga means exercise and exercise means yoga. Fitness is the means and fitness success is the goal. Articulated like that competition and tournaments make sense.

Most physical activities, such as throwing a ball, kicking a ball, or hitting a ball with a stick, can and probably will end up as grist for the mill. Most contemporary yoga flies in the face of its past, in which yoga exercise becomes both a means to an end and an end in itself.

While it is true practicing asana is practicing asana, moment to moment sweating on the mat, there’s no reason one’s sweat should just go down the drain. At the same time that you’re sweating up a storm in warrior pose, for example, you can be expanding into other aspects of yoga life and death, such as breath control, symmetry, and stillness. In this more traditional way of practice, competition is beside the point. In modern terms competition posits the ‘Other’ as superior to the self. In pre-modern practice the ‘Self’ is the center, not some imaginary logos.

Hatha Yoga, which is the physical branch of Raja Yoga – itself the meditative school of yoga – is simply a system of bodily postures meant to teach stillness under duress, breath control, and ultimately the strength to sit in meditation without squirming. As such it is folded into the other three traditional schools, which have to do with karma, self-enquiry, and surrender to the divine.

“The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind, and energy. If hatha yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost,” says Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. Separating asana from the rest of yoga, and mixing it up with competition as though it were a circus act or a sport, is to confuse the part with the whole, or the steps on the path with the pilgrimage.

“Yoga is a mess in the west. And you can quote me on that,” said Georg Feuerstein, a yoga scholar and teacher. “People shortchange themselves when they strip yoga of its spiritual side.”

The stuff of body sense mind are the means to achieve union with knowledge, whether it is self-knowledge or knowledge of a universal spirit. Commingling asana and competition trivializes yoga practice. When the breath, mind, and spirit are separated from the body, the gaze of the man or woman on the mat is lowered to the near horizon.

Sometimes during especially difficult asana classes at her Inner Bliss studio Tammy Lyons reminds everyone, “It’s a practice, not a performance. Connect through the breath, and remember you are more than your accomplishments.”

Handstand may be athletic and acrobatic, but yoga is not athletics in search of handstand. Although yoga studios are being redefined as gyms in our performance-driven world, it is a problematic change. Rather than reducing yoga to Hobbesian metaphysics, it might be better to restructure it back into its traditional guise as a spiritual practice with a physical component.

Yoga postures are ultimately meant to lead to the breath, which hopefully leads to Kundalini, and maybe somewhere down the long bendy road to a last second slam dunk on the podium of Samadhi, where there are no cash prizes no first place last place no jazzed up trophies no trips to the Dream of Winner Takes All.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Ohio Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”