Paint It Black

By Ed Staskus

   “Everybody needs a helping out, if that ain’t what it’s all about, tell me what.” Amy Grant

   Going 9000 miles anywhere is a taxing no picnic undertaking. All roads may lead to the same end, but if you are an Iowa farmgirl since transplanted to Cleveland, Ohio, going to India is not the same as going to Seattle or Boston or someplace in between. It’s going halfway around the world to another continent culture world view.

   Despite economic progress, India remains a poor country. Someone is always begging you for a hand-out. Pushing and shoving is a way of life. Personal space isn’t personal, it’s public. There are a billion Indians. Pick pocketing is common. Grab and go is even more common. Getting anything back after the fact is uncommon. Sanitation and hygiene are lacking. Among other things, Delhi Belly is a pain in the butt.

   If you are a Western woman, staring and unwanted attention are par for the course anyplace anytime day or night.

   When Deanna Black went to India last month, she made the trip look easy. She didn’t stand still for anything. She kept her eye on the prize.

   “I’m not surprised,” said Frank Glass.

   “The first class I ever took taught by Deanna was by accident, it was the hardest yoga class I ever took, and I had to sit out going to Inner Bliss the rest of the week.”

   This from a man who three times a week for three years went to Bikram Yoga classes until he had no more sweat to give.

   Deanna Black is a yoga teacher and holistic fitness trainer. Her point of view is far and wide. She studies engages practices aerobics, Prana Flow, Ashtanga, strength training, TRX, kettle ball, Insanity, Zumba, spinning, West African Dance, hoop dance, slacklining, stand up paddle board yoga, and “any other movement and activity that connects you with your body, your mind, your soul, and the nature around you.” She also assays positive psychology, which comes in handy when you are at the front of the room.

   “Deanna was subbing that class. No one expected what we got,” said Frank. “She wasn’t bossy or demanding. She was actually encouraging, but she kept at it. She’s nothing if not relentless. I remember wondering if I was going to make it.”

   She has studied with Shiva Rea and her Prana Vinyasa teacher training program since 2004. “The classes I create are designed to empower you to do more than you thought possible,” she says. “The benefits are more than meet the eye.”

   She is an old-fashioned modern kind of gal, “balancing and aiming for what I want while leaning on the history of what worked and did not work from the past.”

   The class was a mix of sheer effort vinyasa, endurance strength work, and baling hay, even though Deanna Black has done undergrad and grad coursework in advanced exercise physiology and psychology at Iowa State University. Making your way in the class, however, wasn’t about classwork and observation reading study reflection.

   “It was about peeing on the electric fence for yourself,” said Frank Glass.

   She can back off the pedal to the metal if she has to, as when she volunteers for teaching dance fitness to seniors at the Westside Community House.

   Born and bred in a small town in Iowa, living in the big city of Cleveland since 1995, Deanna describes herself as a “farm girl whose DNA is filled with farmers, teachers, trailblazers, and travelers, and an adventure yogini, thrive activist and bucket list catalyst.”

   It’s a lot to be. It’s a lot like mixed farming.

   Mixed farming is a blend of multiple crops and livestock, maximizing light, moisture, and nutrients, complementing land and labor demands across the year. Erosion is minimized, biodiversity is maintained, water is conserved, and habitats preserved. Monocultural farming may better increase production levels, but capitalism isn’t always the bottom line.

   She goes back to Iowa often, especially during harvest time. Although she isn’t Old McDonald Had a Farm, she helps out in her own way.

   “I can’t even call it a job, it’s so much fun,” she said. “I am taking care of the farm animals, which includes emceeing pig races and goat yoga. I am recess patrolling jumping pillows pedal karts apple slingshots and mazes. I am lifeguarding the corn pool, which includes acro yoga sessions. I am making delicious apple cider donuts and taste testing from our scratch bakery. And I have a team of farmtastic people to help.”

   When she went to the subcontinent she went on behalf of the 88Bikes Foundation.

   “They continue to be instrumental in my trips to India,” said Deanna. “For all the work they do with girls who are survivors or at risk for human trafficking. It is the timing of me doing this work with them on International Women’s Day, to empower, to educate, to let the world know that the female spirit is not to be suppressed. It is to be respected and honored.”

She arrived in Allahabad in early March. It was the day after the Kumbh Mela wrapped up. It had been going on since January 15th, although it’s been going on for centuries. The Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage. In 2013, the last time it was staged in Allahabad, an estimated 120 million people came to it over a 2-month period.

   “Flags were still flying from each country represented,” she said. “Even with many tents and porta potties still up, the area felt abandoned. Still, a feeling of peace washed over me, particularly after I stepped into the Ganga with prayers and gratitude. Afterwards, I visited the birthplace of Indira Gandhi and learned not only how remarkable she was, but how the women of India stood strong all together and made a significant difference. It was an inspiration for leading into International Women’s Day.”

   Indira Gandhi was the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Even though a politician, she had once been a child revolutionary, leading the Monkey Brigade at the age of 12 as part of India’s struggle against the British Empire for self-determination. Despite often criticized as a “goongi goodiya” – dumb doll – she was twice prime minister and was named “Woman of the Millennium” by the BBC.

    She was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

   The brainchild of Dan Austin, a writer, filmmaker, and one-time bicycle deliveryman, the non-profit 88Bikes was born in 2007. In return for a sponsorship of $88.00, a bike is delivered to someone somewhere in the developing world. The child gets a photo of the person who donated the bike, and the donor gets a photo of the child who received it.

   “We feel strongly that you can connect people across the world like this,” he has said. “I think that’s the root of what 88Bikes is about, this one-to-one connection.”

   It’s many thousands of bikes going to Peru, Cambodia, Mongolia, Ghana, India, two wheels at a time.

   Deanna is aware of how much awareness it takes to get a bicycle into the hands of a kid with little chance of scoring one for him or herself. That’s why she goes halfway around the world. “It’s joy-based philanthropy,” she said. “What brings us joy? Connection!”

   “The happiness they deserve is now within reach,” says Dan Austin.

   Before she could get 88Bikes on the road, however, she found herself speaking in front of a large group in Allahabad gathered for the Run4Niine.

   “The race is in recognition that thoughts and views on menstruation in India need to change,” said Deanna. “To say that this conversation is taboo is to say a conversation about women is taboo. To say menstruation is dirty is to say a girl or woman is dirty. It is beyond time to change this thinking.”

   Even though menstruation is a natural phenomenon, like blinking heartbeats hairiness and breasts filled with milk, it is problematic in many parts of India. “Close to 70% of Indian women risk getting severe infection, at times causing death, due to poverty, ignorance, and shame attached to their menstruation cycle,” said Swapna Majumdar, a New Delhi journalist who writes on gender and development.

   When they are menstruating, Indian women are not supposed to touch a holy book, handle kitchen utensils, or look at pickles. Demystifying what is supposedly taboo about periods and creating awareness about hygiene has been an uphill struggle in the country. More than 30% of girls in northern India drop out of school after they start menstruating.

   “It is connection with birth and the cycle of life,” said Deanna. “It’s not something to be left unsaid. It’s part of the sacred flow of womanhood.”

   The next day was the day to get into the flow of pedal power.

   “I’m super excited,” she said. “Tomorrow one hundred girls are getting their own bicycle.” She and her companions, Ruby and Ramon of the Blossomy Project, were outside Kolkotta. About 500 miles east of Allahabad, on the Bay of Bengal, it used to be Calcutta, once an East India trading post, now the capital of West Bengal state, India’s third-largest city with nearly 5 million inhabitants.  It is regarded as the artistic, cultural, and intellectual center of the country.

   It’s also the home of Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who is buried there.

   The Blossomy Project is a non-profit organization that works to empower survivors of human trafficking through art-based programs. Since riding a bike is as much an art as a skill, they were partnering with 88Bikes.

   Deanna had a big envelope full of donor cards.

   “Each card is one of who donated to 88Bikes. I am taking a road trip to meet these girls and give them their cards with their bikes.”

   It was bright day in the 90s. March is the sunniest month of the year on the northern east coast of India, although it is also one of the wettest. A heavy rain and hailstorm had passed by a few days earlier.

   “Watch out boys,” said Deanna, giving a donor card and bike to the first young girl. “This girl has got a bike with things to do and places to go.”

   The first girl hopped on her bike and raced away.

   “She took off immediately to school to take a Sanskrit exam. With her bike she can get to school much more easily. These girls also use their bikes to patrol the neighborhood and visit communities and bring awareness about how to stay safe.”

   Ruby and Ramon and Deanna exchanged high fives.

   “Each time I come to Kolkotta, these two have been instrumental in getting me and the bikes connected with girls,” said Deanna. “So happy to have the Blossomy Project. Shout out to Ruby acting as translator and all-out rock star making things happen.”

   “I can go anywhere,” said another girl, getting on her bike.

   Deanna showed her the back of the donor card that came with the bike.

   “You can go anywhere,” it said.

   “I love moments like this,” said Deanna.

   Sunday night was Funday night in Kolkotta. Everyone went out to a show by Tanmoy Bose, a percussionist and tabla player. A native of the city, he was one of the first Indian musicians to meld folk songs and tribal drumming into a large band setting. His own band, the Taal Tantra Experience, signifies worship through rhythm. The music is nothing if not spilling over with life.

   “I’m still amazed with that violin,” said Deanna. “If anyone in Cleveland knows of concerts like this, let me know, I wanna go.”

   After the bikes were distributed, it was time to go home. The return flight to the United States from India doesn’t take two three days, but it might as well, when you’re on the way back to your own digs. Once on native ground, she exclaimed, checking out the run-up to the NCAA tournament, “Yeeeaaasss!!! Nothing like coming back to the States during March Madness!”

A few days later she got a Facebook message from Amita Gour, one of the girls who had    gotten a bike.

   “Thanks for your visit to Allahabad, Deanna,” she wrote.

   “So happy to spend time with you and your family,” Deanna wrote back. “Thank you so very much for all the time you spent with me showing me around. And thrilled about your new bike.”

   The thrill is in lending a helping hand.

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

Throwing Down the Hammer

By Ed Staskus

“I’m all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily, I came here for their special offer, a guaranteed personality.”  The Clash

In the United States Congress is made up of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. They are both in Washington D. C. The chambers are filled by direct elections in the fifty states by the American voting public. Statutory law is proposed and created by Congress, with the White House stage-managing business as usual.

Many of those laws have been progressive, from the activism at the turn of the 20th century to the New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression to the Civil Rights bills of the 1960s.

Most of them have been regressive, such as the marriage and property laws of the 19th century, the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, among other protectionist laws, and just about everything the GOP has done in living memory, bad laws in lieu of good ideas. Many lawmakers live on the wrong side of fear.

Some of them have been bone-headed, from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to Prohibition to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the last based on glib lies eagerly believed by the eager beavers ready to make a buck on waving the flag.

There are laws Congress makes that are homeland lifestyle laws. They are about America, about our allegiance and attachment to its ideals, interests, and traditions. They are about embracing a way of life. When they address the way we live now, they are about what makes life liberty and the pursuit of happiness a real way of life, not just foggy notions from long ago.

They are stale toast when they try to recreate the past.

The most up-to-date attempts to fossilize American values are from the font of the Make America Great Again Wall of Shame Rantings of POTUS. The Big Man in the Oval Office is a race-baiting tax-dodging whore-loving atheist mouthing Christian platitudes, of all things, although it doesn’t seem to matter to his zany supporters. They rally around the ranting and red hats. It’s spooky Americanism in the Haunted White House.

Homeland legislation has often been the purview of the good old boys in love with the good old days. Their guiding principle is “In God We Trust” and God forbid anything change anytime soon. Even though change has accelerated by leaps and bounds in the past one hundred years, and even though Orange Julius can’t keep his mouth shut, the conservative order in the United States is not very much different today than it was one hundred years ago during the reign of Silent Cal.

Thank God Congress is coming back into session next month, the week of Labor Day. They may only work 138 days a year, but they have their work cut out for them. If the United States stands for anything, it stands for free enterprise. It stands for capitalism. It ultimately stands for consumerism. In the mid-1950s the President of the National Sales Executives was already blithely declaring, “Capitalism is dead, consumerism is king.”

Even President Trump, with his crazy fast thumb on social media, and incredibly busy with issues such as body-shaming Senator Elizabeth Warren, trying to remember his wife’s name, and the mental health menace of xBox, is cognizant of what really makes America great.

“The WTO is BROKEN. NO more!!! Today I directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!”

Make America Great Again!

“I built the greatest economy in the World, the best the U.S. has ever had. Best stock market, economy and unemployment numbers ever! Most people working within U.S. ever! Low interest rates, very low inflation! Country doing great!”

Make America Great Again!

“Did you hear the latest con job? President Obama is now trying to take credit for the Economic Boom taking place under the Trump Administration. He had the WEAKEST recovery since the Great Depression, despite Zero Fed Rate & MASSIVE quantitative easing. NOW, best jobs numbers.”

Make America Great Again!

President Trump has raced Air Force One to one trade junket after another over the past year, burning up the carbon, and sent proposals to Congress, and taken to Twitter, going hard after Europe South America China with tariffs tariffs tariffs to protect American jobs workers businesses, humping the notion that the business of America is business. He has gotten on top of the mountain of nationalism and shouted his message for all to hear, both prophet and salesman and head honcho of the lunatic fringe.

“I have the absolute right to PARDON myself!” he tweets again and again.

It is hard to believe incredible bewildering just about impeachable that he hasn’t focused his tweeting laser-like eye on yoga. It might not be long, though. When Dhvani, an athletic-wear company from Oregon that makes yoga clothes, put up a 30-foot billboard in Times Square criticizing the president, the response was swift and sure.

“You’re just full of shit,” said Donald Trump Jr.

There are many things that threaten the American economy, from unemployment to energy prices to fiscal crises to cyber-attacks to data fraud to extreme weather events to large-scale involuntary migration to illicit trade to asset bubbles. There’s always something. If there is one thing that is a clear and present danger to the well-being of Main Street and Wall Street, it is yoga.

Although yoga pumps tens of billions of dollars into the economy, it is only one of the arms of the practice, the arm that is the spigot, the physical aspect of it, from studios to mats ‘n’ stuff to groovy lulu outfits, as well as ancillary products and services like seminars supplements physical therapies alternative regimens and R & R.

The danger yoga poses to the American economy lies in the other seven arms of the practice, some of which are so antithetical to the American way of life as to be nearly treasonous. Even though the commodification of yoga is a done deal, even the body beautiful, the face on the myth of beauty health success, is on shaky ground, since one of the aspects of traditional yoga is acceptance of one’s body, to be at one with it, in all its imperfections.

The body can be improved upon, but it’s not a lump of clay in search of aesthetic perfection. At least, not if you exist outside the star-studded world of the stars and pro sports. They’ve got the dough to work on the clay they are. Its objectification only serves the merchandiser, not necessarily the consumer. It is buyer beware, just like it’s always been.

Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots, makes about $40 million a year. His football fans far and wide ultimately are the ones who fork over the dough. When it comes to being careful with the merchandise, Tom Brady pays all the attention in the world to his body. Practicing yoga is partly exercising the body, but the million-dollar part of the practice is exercising the brain.

Practicing yoga is having a fan base of one, you.

Old-school yoga is a stuck in the craw problem for the United States. If it ever gains a foothold it could be dangerous. If it got out of hand it could threaten the consumer society that makes America as great as it is. At the very least, Aparigraha – meaning non-covetousness – should be outlawed immediately. The consumer society is predicated on coveting a bigger house bigger car bigger clothes and the newest devices, never being satisfied. The new minimalism is the old maximalism. It’s a wild goose chase, but it’s what makes the world go around.

“There’s nothing I’d ever buy, but I love consumerism,” said Johnny Rotten of the punk band the Sex Pistols. “I like being there, in the shopping malls. It’s wacky.”

What is hare-brained, and what Orange Julius and Congress need to understand, is that buying into non-consumerism is the same as throwing the flag into the mud and trampling on it. The American government has often intervened interfered intruded into life in the United States in order to advance and preserve what it considers the aims and ambitions of its people. The country may be doing great now, business is booming, but if the growth of yoga is left unchecked, and its precepts go invasive on native soil, it could cast a spell, causing a downward spiral in the economy.

The virtuous cycle is all about disposable income demanding more stuff and manufacturers ramping it up to meet the demand. Business spending on technology, productivity, and capital goods is a significant factor in sustaining the economy and raising the standard of living, but the mainstay is consumer spending. It is 70% of gross domestic product. It is the most important driving force of the economy.

When consumer spending drops off growth slows, prices fall, and deflation creeps in. If it goes on too long, and the economy steadily contracts, the result is hard times, recession and depression. The White House, and all our houses, start looking ragged at the edges.

The ground rules of yoga are anathema to capitalism and consumerism. It’s not just Aparigraha, either. The eight-fold path is meant to lead to a purposeful and meaningful life, by way of truthfulness and continence, among other things. There is little in the way of truthfulness on Madison Avenue and almost no continence. Self-discipline and spiritual observances are a big part of yoga. They’re a big part of going shopping. Samtosa is defined as contentment. If that concept ever got adopted, there would be hell to pay at Amazon. They would have to resurrect Stonewall Jackson to fight that battle.

In the United States, society is structured in such a way that many people are regarded and regard themselves as profit-generators. Everyone else is either helping or hindering you on the yellow brick road to Fort Knox. It is a selfish way of life, but a way of life that has led to the good life.

No one wants to go back to the Great Recession, much less the Great Depression, or any bust of any kind. President Trump has got his quick thumb on that button. His arch-enemy Hillary Clinton practices yoga, which he has pointed to as unacceptable.

“She does a lot of yoga, right?” he said. He mocked her for justifying deleting e-mails as an ethical result of yoga practice. “I think that one of the great crimes committed is Hillary Clinton deleting 33,000 e-mails after Congress sent her a subpoena.”

Yoga has been integrated into the fabric of life in the United States, but only the get up stand up part of it. The other parts don’t fit well. They fit so badly, indeed, that alarm bells are clanging coast to coast. Parents and school boards in Georgia, Alabama, and California have gotten yoga expelled from programs in their states, for good reason. They understand the treat at ground level.

Orange Julius and Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP need to take a hard look at the Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk, where yoga in all its forms was banned in 2015, under the rubric of it being foreign and subversive. The owners of the city’s yoga studios received letters telling them to close up shop and “stop spreading new religious cults and movements.”  Classes at a stadium and public meeting hall were suspended. Schools and local physical culture centers were advised in no uncertain terms to cut out the asana and meditation practices of “an occult character.”

That’s the spirit, comrade!

President Trump has torn more than one page out of the Russki playbook. Ronald Reagan said “Tear down the wall” in the 1980s, referring to the Berlin Wall. President Trump has repurposed the phrase, saying “Build the wall” in our own times. It is time he includes the practice of yoga, and its foreign influences, to the same blacklist where all the other foreigners his wall is designed to keep out of the homeland are listed in black and white.

Bad ideas are as bad as bad people. The president knows that. The Trump Wall is meant to keep bad people out of the United States. The president needs to build it higher. It needs to be built higher to keep out bad ideas. The ideas and beliefs that make up the practice of yoga are a menace to the zeitgeist of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave in the 21st century.

The Trump Tower might fall like the Tower of Babel, for Christ’s sake!

The activist Alyssa Milano has called on removing the president from office with “the power of yoga.” She proposes chanting a reality-altering mantra every day for throwing him out. That’s going to backfire. President Trump knows a bugbear when he sees one.

Consumerism and affluence may be a corruption of the American Dream, but it’s all we’ve got. Yoga would have us believe it’s best to never buy anything you can’t carry in your tote, the tote your children are carrying. They think that’s the future, but there’s no future in that. Bigger is better and more is more, not the other way around. Loyalty and permanence are undermined by consumerism, but that’s the way it is. It’s every man for himself and God against all.

Get to work, Congress. Do the right thing by the homeland. Send a bill up the hill. Since the commander-in-chief is still the commander-in-chief, at his command yoga can go back to where it came from. With a tweet and a fountain pen President Trump can outlaw yoga and restore American values.

Build the blockade make the stonewall make the country great again make the mats go away throw down the hammer bust those yoga blocks to bits no more standing on your head and ban foreign ideas foreign ethos foreign beliefs, once and for all!

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