Category Archives: Paperback Yoga

Duck Soup

By Ed Staskus

   When I was taking yoga classes at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio I learned a lot about the practice, from the thinking side of it to the action side of it. It learned it wasn’t any one thing but several things mixing it up in the melting pot. The core of it was simple enough, but the branches bore investigation, from headstand to meditation, no matter how exasperating they might be.

    I wasn’t able to do headstand except against a wall for a long time until one day I was doing it, no problem. After that I popped up wrong side up at home, too. When a guy toppled out of the pose and crashed into me in class, I thought, man, what an amateur. I changed my tune when I almost killed myself trying to get a grip on handstand.

   I never did get the hang of it.

   The teachers were all different, all sincere, all good. They demonstrated the nuts and bolts of poses. The explained the idea behind them. They helped with adjustments.

   They encouraged us, which was a good thing, if encouragement was what you needed. Encouragement and hope are two of the best things you can give another person. For my part, lack of encouragement has never been a deterrent. I am irascible enough to not be put down, even if I have to bide my time.

   One element of studio classes always bothered me, however, which was the catch phrases the teachers used. Not all of them, of course. Lingo like drishti, bandhi, and chaturanga were helpful to know. Everything seemed to revolve around tadasana and down dog, making it essential to jump to attention when hearing those words. Lift your leg, open your chest, and bring your feet together were sensible and understandable. Some of them, though, got under my skin.

   “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

   For one thing, breathing is breathing. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a fact of life. Breathing consciously or unconsciously, awake or asleep, running a 10K or doing Chair Yoga, is staying alive. Not breathing for a couple of minutes is losing your good luck charm at the crossroads.

   For another thing, exhaling the past would mean puffing away everything you have learned and know. The past informs the present. It’s all gone, sure, but it isn’t going anywhere. As for inhaling the future, who can wait that long? When I was on the mat scuffling to keep up, I had to gulp air right now.

   Besides, teachers were always saying, “Be in the present.” Today was tomorrow yesterday. Every pose was right now.

   “Letting go is the hardest asana.”

   Nobody who has ever taken an Ashtanga Yoga or Bikram Yoga class can possibly believe this. Bikram classes are a torture chamber and Ashtanga classes are simply torture. After finishing a pose, letting go isn’t hard. It is the easiest most wonderful thing in the world. I have seen folks letting go at Bikram Yoga studios and never coming back.

   What is so hard about letting go and kicking back on the sofa?

   “Release the toxins.”

   Hearing it always reminded me of “Release the hounds.” What if I released my toxins and they started attacking others in class, for God’s sake? The teachers never explained the mechanics of it, except for saying nonsense like it came out in perspiration. There is no such thing as toxins that come out in sweat. Anyway, if I knew how to release them, assuming I was keeping toxins prisoner in my body, I would do so without anybody having to cajole me. Who needs toxins messing around their internal organs and circulatory system?

   The phrase that dazzled and perplexed the most was “It’s all yoga.” It was like saying “It is what it is.” When I asked what it meant all I got was mush that implied yoga was woven into the fabric of life.

   The life of the Mafia and Taliban? The life of Nazis and Commies? The zany cesspool of the NRA and the Grand Old Party? There are many monsters running loose and yoga is not in their DNA. The nut cases who shoot up schools and shopping centers don’t have a drop of blood of yoga in them. They could use it but eschew it for the darkness.

   Even yoga isn’t all yoga. Much of it in the New World is a hodgepodge of calisthenics, jazzercize, and core work. Many don’t even bother paying lip service to the ethical and spiritual side of it anymore. The Old World is catching on to the economic repercussions and following suit.

   There are practices Like Beer Yoga and We’re Stoned Yoga that have as much to do with yoga as the Three Stooges had to do with Schrodinger’s cat. Now you see it and now you don’t. Better to sleep it off than try to figure it out.

   “A child of five would understand this,” Groucho Marx said. “Send someone to fetch a child of five.”

   Some big-time teachers oozing sincerity have been the most insincere yogis ever, opting out for sex and greenbacks and adulation. They are always banging on Heaven’s door with news of the next Ponzi scheme. It was all a scam until the breadcrumbs led back to what they were really all about. 

   Don’t follow what leaders say, watch the parking meters.

   When I looked around Rocky River it was the haves who were enjoying “It’s all yoga” the most. They had the time and energy levels. Next door in Lakewood folks enjoyed some of “It’s all yoga.” The problem is their income levels don’t match up, so they don’t have the same time or energy. The west side of Cleveland, where yoga isn’t a virtue except for the scattered islands of the gentry, it wasn’t all yoga, at all. The streets are meaner there and there isn’t the time or money to make classes essential, or even possible.

   I don’t take classes anymore, saving myself several thousands of dollars a year. I practice at home almost every day. There’s nothing complicated about yoga once a few basics have been mastered. It’s easier than grafting plants or installing a garbage disposal. It has lots of benefits to it, like staying in shape and finding some peace of mind. When I get on the mat at home, I get to be me, not what somebody else is telling me I should be, using buzz words that conflate fantasy with reality.

   That’s the best thing about the practice, the freedom of it.

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.”

Rhythm of the Saints

By Ed Staskus

The word yoga is first mentioned in the Rig Veda. Assuming the practice to be five millennia in the making, it got rolling in northern India during Harappan times. By then the folks in the valley were the largest civilization in the ancient world, stretching across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges. Its estimated population of five million made it bigger than Egypt.

   They didn’t waste their time building pyramids for the top dog, either. Even though their burial sites reflect social structure and hierarchy, the burials are all in brick or stone lined rectangular or oval pits. Bones are bones in the long run, no matter how big the pine box.

   Brahmans developed and refined the practice and wrote up what they were doing in volumes, more than two hundred scriptures. They taught sacrifice of the ego through action wisdom and self-knowledge. One of the most famous scriptures still read far and wide today is the Bhagavad Gita, an unfortunate recruiting poster for Uncle Krishna. If it wasn’t so plausible and beautifully written, it would be laughable. As it is, it’s more quicksand than bedrock.

   Everybody knows yoga started in India, and that anybody who wants to be somebody has to dive into the ocean of the practice across the ocean. India is where it’s at. It’s like baseball, there’s first place and no place. Especially if you are training to be a teacher. The overseas rates for spring training are very good. Courses usually include the instructor and all the yoga you can do, accommodation, meals, props, and outdoor activities. 

   One caveat is that in India they tell you don’t eat too much food. The other caveat is they say don’t take group classes and make yoga your life. In the West everybody eats as much as they please, they take all the group classes they want, and they aren’t making yoga their life. Westerners are crazy in many ways, but they aren’t that crazy.

   A non-caveat is that a month-long 200-hour yoga teacher training program averages between $1200.00 and $1500.00, which is a bargain in any language.

   Amish Tripathi, who writes best-selling novels set thousands of years ago, said his heroes all practice yoga. “In ancient India it was part of daily life, both the physical and the mental aspects. Every culture has gifted something to the world, and this is our gift,” he said.

   At least it used to be.

   It has been estimated that 300 million people practice yoga worldwide, at least sometimes. More than 55 million are in the United States, 16% of the population, and 100 million-some are in India, 8% of the population. Far more people statistic-wise do it in the Land of Mammon than in the Homeland.

   It’s like the Spanish Steps got shipped from Rome to San Diego, and the natives are clanking up and down the steps, lighting up legal weed, laughing up a storm, splashing soft drinks littering crunchy chips and leaving wads of old chewing gum behind.

   It would seem to make sense that the Birthplace of Yoga would be the Land of Yoga. It would seem to make sense that the natives are all in. It would seem so, but is not the case, by all accounts. 

   “Most Indians I know don’t do yoga,” said Sandip Roy, a writer based in California. “My friend Rajasvini Bhansali is an exception. And she’s often the only Indian in class. She recalled one class in particular.”

   “The instructor pointed to me, saying Indians are better oriented towards squats,” she said. “And I realized he was holding me up as an example of how we primitive people are better squatters and have looser hips.”

   He had the same experience. “I show up at my first yoga class in San Francisco. It’s steamy hot. There are more than one hundred people, and sure enough, my friends and I are the only four Indians.”

   “It’s easy to count the number of Indians in a yoga class in America,” says Nikita Taniparti. “Often, I’m the only one. I’ve taken to counting the number of Sanskrit tattoos. In a class of around 25, I typically spot around ten. Only one of them is my own. Combing the magazine covers of Yoga Journal, the most recent evidence of an Indian on the front cover seems to be 2009.”

   It’s not just Indians living in the West. “There are hordes of them who are ignorant about the history of yoga,” she added.  Even though it is their own backyard, they don’t necessarily have ownership of the practice.

   Kate Churchill, director of the 2008 documentary “Enlighten Up,” interviewed yoga pioneer Pattabhi Jois at his school in southern India. “We might as well have been in the Puck building in New York,” she said. “There were over one hundred Westerners and not a single Indian. I was looking around and saying, ‘Well, where are the Indians?’”

   “With the exception of Rishikesh in Uttarahkand, there won’t be yoga classes everywhere. Regular, everyday Indians do not practice yoga at a studio,” said Sandy Kingsley of Inspired Exploration.

   Maybe they are finding inspiration at home. Maybe not. Maybe they’ve got something else at home that needs doing.

   “India is the birthplace of yoga,” said New Delhi native Raju Kumar. “I think lots of people do yoga in India, but most people cannot give time for it due to the survival of their family. They sleep late and arise early to catch the bus or train for their job. They have no more time to spend on yoga so cannot take the advantage of natural fitness. But all the people should do yoga for internal and external benefit.”

   When this came to the attention of Narendra Modi, the newish Hindu nationalist strongman savior of the sub-continent, his head almost exploded, and he was ready to order riots. He knew from past experience with his archenemies, who are the Muslims, that they always work. His circle of advisors finally got his head turned around, the riots were called off, and he went soapbox, instead.

   Even though yoga helps most people fall asleep more quickly and wake up rested, Narendra Modi is not most people. He practices it to be able to stay up most of the night, and after a pre-dawn nap, wake up raring to go ready to solve his country’s problems. Nobody gets in front of him. 

   The first thing he did was establish International Yoga Day, set to be June 21st every year. The second thing he did was lay out plans for yoga to be taught in schools. The third thing he did was emphatically suggest compulsory yoga for India’s notoriously out-of-shape police. Maybe they could finally start chasing down some of the serial rapists in the country. 

   He also said yoga lessons would be offered free to civil servants and their families. He didn’t say, if you were a householder, your taxes were going to foot the bill for the lessons. There is never any need to upset the voting public.

   “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfilment, harmony between man and nature, a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but discovering the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature,” he said.

   Suneel Singh, a guru in south Delhi, agreed, saying, “It is a complete package for everybody’s body and a cheap way for keeping you hale and hearty.”

   The Muslims didn’t necessarily agree that making yoga a national priority was the way to go. Many of them felt like they were stuck in a closet full of wire hangers. One false move could be their last move. They could end up being hung out to dry.

   “Many Muslim scholars say that yoga is against the fundamental tenets of Islam, to pray to the sun, for example,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim member of Parliament. “Why make this a nationalist issue? Just because I do not want to do yoga does not mean I am not a patriot.”

   Mark Twain once said that a patriot is “a person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” Nobody talks to Narendra like that in India, not if they know what’s good for them. They hunker down in cow pose and keep their thoughts to themselves. The two-time current Prime Minister has centralized power and takes no guff.

   “As a seasoned yoga practitioner, our great leader Modi is able to embody unity of his mind and body, take thought action, restrain himself and achieve fulfilment, create harmony between man and nature and provide a holistic approach to health and wellbeing,” explained Kaballi. 

   Many Indians don’t have a surname and are known by only one name.

   “If he wasn’t practicing yoga and being trained to restrain himself from all forms of passion, we would have seen a real blood bath in Gujarath in 2002,” he added. The top dog is a saint, although saintly on his own terms, at his own rhythm. It was just a minor bloodbath in Gujarath. Most of the blood was the blood of Muslims. It was their own fault, though. If they had practiced more yoga maybe they would have bled less.

   “The important point is that India is proving it’s a country of undiluted democracy with an ancient old civilization. The minorities are a pain on the spine, all crybabies. It is high time the West stops its underhand dealings with them hoping to make India kneel. I too am now organizing yoga for everyone!”

   Is yoga an important part of life for everyone in India? It is and it isn’t. Everybody thinks they know all about it, the same as everybody in the United States thinks they know everything about the 2nd Amendment. Since so much of India is poorer than not, and since much of it is outside the mainstream of growth and development, development is the front of the line issue. Finding a good job is important. Putting food on the table is important. Tossing and turning at night with no air conditioning in one hundred-degree temperatures is an issue. The air and water are foul. Sanitation is atrocious. Governance and corruption are big problems. 

   Narendra Modi ran for the throne in 2014 on slogans of better sanitation and better governance. Everybody already knew what he thought about Muslims, so he didn’t have to say much on that thorny issue. Yoga was an after-thought after the election was signed sealed and delivered.

   When he sponsored a proposal to make the first day of summer International Yoga Day the resolution was supported by 177 nations at the United Nations General Assembly. It was an easy yes vote. There is a halo of virtue that surrounds the practice, no matter how many people like Modi Bikram Osho and all the other self-serving saints wrap themselves up in it.

   “Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over,” Elvis Presley said.

   Yoga is like that too. When you have it you have it all over. The way to get it is to go find it for yourself and make it your own. If your mom and dad and the president and prime minister have to tell you to go to your room and do yoga, it is possible it will get ingrained in you, but it goes against the grain of the practice.

   When Narendra Modi and his right-wing BJP state politicos try to impose it from the top down, they will hopefully be as successful as the commies were when they tried to impose all the rules from headquarters. Unless you’ve turned your gaze to turning a profit on yoga, the top-down approach is not any good.

   In business it is about the hierarchy of high versus low employees. The high-ranking people make decisions relating to goals and plans while the low-ranking people perform tasks and achieve the goals set for them. It creates clear lines of authority, standardizes products and services, and facilitates quality control.

   There aren’t many things in this manmade bossman world that are personal anymore. From state control to corporate control to message control it’s gone under my thumb, from overt to invisible. Yoga is one of the personal things, since its premise is, it’s all in your head. Get your head right and all will be right as rain.

   “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights,” sang Peter Tosh, one of the original Wailers.

   Yoga is a bottom-up personal business undertaking. Somebody telling you to get on your mat has got the business end of it all wrong. Listening to those kinds of top-down orders is wasting your time and the time of the last five thousand years.

   Better to put the earbuds on, tune out the Narendra Modi’s of the world, and listen to the vintage rhythm of the saints.

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.”

Meditation on the Make

By Ed Staskus

When did the ancient practice of meditation become the hot topic tool in the toolbox of stress reduction and weight loss, a push-up for the brain, and the credit card of getting ahead in the world?

When did it morph from keeping the mind fixed on the self in order to unite with the divine to a way of improving scores in schools, as was recently reported by the journal Health Psychology?

When did meditation veer from a practice meant to quiet the mind of the world’s noise in order to attain enlightenment to a means of mitigating the common cold, so demonstrated in a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

It probably happened the minute Vivekenanda began his speech “Sisters and brothers of America…” on the main stage of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. A key figure in bringing yoga to America, and the man who helped catapult Hinduism to the status of a major world religion, Vivekenanda assumed Americans were intensely religious.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even though more than 80% of Americans, even today, describe themselves as being religious or very religious, spiritual or very spiritual, the American soul is not found in any church. It is found in the American workplace because the American character is bound up with materiality and wealth.

Alexis de Tocqueville had it right when he wrote in Democracy in America that Americans were more practical than theoretical.

“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”

The last of America’s three Great Awakenings, religious revivals characterized by sharp increases of interest in religion, was over by the time Vivekenanda arrived in the United States. There was no fourth awakening after he returned to India in 1899, nor have there been any more to the present day.

Vivekenanda was considered an expert in meditation, what is called a dhyana-siddha. Introducing meditation to the West he defined it as a bridge connecting the soul to God.

“When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point.”

Both of his approaches to meditation, whether the practical approach through yoga or the philosophic approach through Vedanta, had the same objective, which was illumination through the realization of what he called the Supreme, more commonly known as God.

One hundred years later God has been marginalized, if not swept into the dustbin of history, by the emerging culture of the United States and meditation has been re-defined as mindfulness meditation. The difference is that in the 21st century, unlike all other centuries, no one has to sit quietly in lotus position for hours.

All they have to do is train the brain to be mindful and mindfulness then becomes a state of mind.

In the past mindfulness was known as awareness. Today it’s called focus, as in sharpening your focus. It used to be if you were paying attention to what you were doing you were being mindful. Now you need to meditate in order to learn how to be engrossed in what’s going on.

Or, in modern parlance, it teaches you to live fully in the moment.

A new set of meditation benefits have been formulated, implicitly guaranteed to make everyone happier and healthier. The benefits include: better memory; performing at a high level; losing weight; lowering stress; boosting immunity; improving decision-making; and coping with anxiety and depression, among others.

Some studies claim it speeds recovery from heart disease and psoriasis.

Vivekenanda would probably be astonished at how widely meditation has spread in the past one hundred and twenty years since his groundbreaking appearance in Chicago. It is no longer just the pursuit of quiet yogis seeking a spiritual breakthrough.

Dan Harris, ABC newsman and co-anchor of Nightline, who after self-medicating with cocaine and Ecstasy and crash landing on Good Morning America, turned to meditation as an alternative.

“When I say meditation, I’m talking about mindfulness meditation. It’s completely secular,” he explained.

“It’s like doing neurosurgery on yourself,” he added.

The Marine Corps has begun teaching its troops how to be even tougher on the battlefield by teaching them mindfulness meditation. The military’s pilot program began at Camp Pendleton in 2013 and is being duplicated at other bases.

“It’s like doing pushups for the brain,” said one enthusiastic general.

“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” said Jay Michaelson, author of Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.

“But, samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he pointed out.

On Wall Street stock market traders and bond managers have taken up the mantle. Hedge-fund manager David Ford credits his newfound serenity and recently bulging wallet to the twenty minutes he spends every morning meditating.

“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” he said. “I have more patience.”

Another hedge-fund manager, Paul Dalio of Bridewater Associates, who is worth $14 billion according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, claims meditation has been the biggest factor in his success.

Even congressmen have gotten on the meditation bandwagon.

Congressional job approval in December 2014 stood at 15%, close to that year’s record-low of 14%, according to the Gallup Poll. The 86% disapproval rate in 2014 was the worst ever measured in more than 30 years of tracking the rating. And that was a century after Mark Twain said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But, I repeat myself.”

Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, once pointed out that 90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad name. He did not say who the 10% were.

Nevertheless, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan recently published A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. In it he touted the perks of mindfulness, pointing out improved school test scores and workplace job output.

As far and near as meditation has spread, it’s newfound fame is not limited to U. S. Marines and the wolves of Wall Street. Even Mob assassins, at least the noir crime novel kind, are taking advantage of mindfulness meditation, although not in the sense of overcoming delusion in pursuit of enlightenment, but more in the sense of overcoming delusion to make sure their aim is true.

In Walter Mosley’s The Long Fall the implacable hit man aptly known as Hush has a reputation of always getting his man, to the point that when you know he’s after you the only thing left for you to do is get your affairs in order. He practices zazen, a form of meditation at the heart of Zen, in order to stay at the top of his game.

Commanding a five-figure fee the assassin meditates to make a killing.

The rub about meditation is that there are moral principles embedded in it. Some teachers are concerned that those moral principles are being ignored.

“You can train people with meditation to be sharpshooters,” said Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center in Santé Fe, New Mexico. “Are they trying to get smarter so they can exploit more people?”

Meditation is elastic in the sense that it has been practiced for millennia and there are many forms of it. The classic sense of it is the Buddhist notion that everything is impermanent and all anyone has is the here and now.

The modern brain hacking or on the make sense of it is that it imparts an edge to the practitioner. As Paul Dalio, the $14 billion dollar man, explained in a February 2014 panel discussion on meditation: “It makes me feel like a ninja in a fight.”

Vivekenanda may have thought he knew what he was doing in 1893, but he might have been better served reading Tocqueville first, getting ready for the U. S. Marines and Paul Dalio’s of the New World.

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.”

Exercise for the Elite

By Ed Staskus

All women carry a purse on their persons, with their money, car keys, cell phones, and paraphernalia close at hand. They buy their bags at big box marts or department stores or on hundreds of web sites. Their handbags range from seventy-nine cent beaded totes ordered on e-bay to luxury-crafted Louis Vuitton’s found in quiet malls in select cities.

One late afternoon after work I unrolled my yoga mat at a nearby yoga studio, early for class, and settled into child’s pose to loosen up my back. Laying my hands palms up on the floor beside me and letting the business day drain away, I idly listened to two ladies next to me talking. As I rolled up and reached for my toes in a seated forward bend, one of the young women asked the other one about the purse she had secured behind her mat.

The lady with the purse, sitting cross-legged, explained that she didn’t want to leave it in the lobby at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio, but preferred to have it near her, where she could keep an eye on it. She looked back at it.

It was still there.

“It’s a really nice purse,” said the other one, both of them now looking at the leather bag.

“Thanks, it’s Italian.”

“Oh, where did you get it?’

“In Italy, when I was in Florence. I just had to have it when I saw it.”

I straightened up, sat back on my heels, and snuck a peek at the purse. I can’t really tell one purse from another, but I can tell cheap from expensive.

The purse from Florence oozed expensive.

Inner Bliss, just west of Cleveland, draws its customers from Rocky River and Bay Village, two suburbs on the south shore of Lake Erie. The median household income of Rocky River is $61,000 and the median household income of Bay Village is $83,000. The median income of Cleveland households, just one suburb away to the east, is $27,000.

Almost no one practicing yoga at Inner Bliss is from Cleveland.

In fact, very few Clevelanders practice yoga at all. There are only a handful of yoga studios in the city itself, and those are downtown or near the big universities, catering to the hip and privileged. Yoga in Cleveland is not in Cleveland, but rather in the suburbs, in up-scale neighborhoods like Westlake, Beachwood, and Hudson.

On the other hand Cleveland’s most populous suburb, Parma, a working-class community of auto and steel workers three times bigger than Rocky River and Bay Village put together, does not have a single yoga studio inside its borders.

Inner Bliss, meanwhile, has more than forty classes on its weekly calendar.

Yoga studios in cities nationwide, from San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, and New York reveal the same demographics.  “In general, yoga is a work-out pursued by the well-off,” says Amy Beth Treciokas of Yoga Now in Chicago. Yoga is practiced by the upper classes, not the middle class, and even less so among minorities like blacks and Hispanics and the poor.

“Yoga has become almost a household word now in the United States,” says Aaron Vega of VegaYoga, a struggling studio in a sizable Hispanic neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts. “But it’s an exclusive club.” When Michelle Buteau, the stand-up comedienne, wrote on her blog Who Said It, “Yes, I said it, I’m going to yoga. A black woman, who is not Oprah or Gayle is going to yoga, say what?” it was funny in a way the funniest things are: it was true.

More than a third of the people who frequent yoga studios in the United States have household incomes of $75,000-or-more, while one out of six have an income of more than $100,000. Their levels of education are equally high: 72% of them college-educated, and 27% of them holding post-graduate degrees. Rich people are more likely to exercise than their poorer neighbors, according to a 2009 Gallup poll, partly explaining why yoga studio parking lots overflow with BMW’s and hybrid SUV’s, rather than Fords and Kias.

American yogis spend upwards of 6 billion dollars a year on classes and clothes and designer mats. “Something that has bugged me about yoga for a long time,” writes Yogi Sip on her blog Confessions of a Wayward Yogi, “is that it is unashamedly aimed at the upper classes.”

They take workshops taught by celebrity teachers who command a high fee, spend four-day weekends at regional gatherings and yoga conferences, and vacation at yoga retreats in the mountains or on seashores around the world. Some yogis even jet set coast-to-coast to practice at select studios.

Practicing asanas at yoga studios in America is, if nothing else, an expensive form of exercise that only some can afford, in more ways than one. “I think it’s right to say that the people who typically take yoga are white, with disposable income, and more importantly with disposable time,” says Courtney Bender, a professor in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. “They’re in jobs and professions that allow them enough time to take classes. So there aren’t a lot of working class people, for example.”

Many yoga teachers and studio owners agree that it is the rich who practice yoga. “For the most part, yes, it’s an expensive pursuit, and seen as something for the elite,” says Janet Stone of Janet Stone Yoga in San Francisco. Where studios are located supports her contention. They are in the better neighborhoods of Boston and Los Angeles and all the places in-between where the upper middle class and rich live.

“No one can argue that the Americanization of yoga has taken place and that people with disposable income make up a large percentage of the base that supports the yoga industry in this country. It is true yoga appeals to a predominately white, upwardly mobile segment,” says Gabriel Halpern, founder and director of the Yoga Circle in Chicago.

Some teachers disagree that it is only the rich who can afford to practice at studios. “In my own personal experience of teaching yoga and Yoga Therapy in rural middle America,” says Mary Hilliker of River Flow Yoga in Wausau, Wisconsin, “I have found that my students are rarely elite in income, but that they are certainly rich in heart.”

Even at big studios in big cities there is the sense that a wide stratum of society participates in the practice. “While many of our students are financially well-off, I would guess the majority are middle class and some even lower class,” says Annie Freedom of the Samadhi Center for Yoga and Meditation in Denver. “I see a lot of regular folks in lower tax brackets practicing yoga for greater peace and spiritual awakening.”

But, it may be that the average American cannot afford to exercise at yoga studios. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the overall median personal income for all Americans over the age of 18 is approximately $26,000. Going to asana classes at a yoga studio three times a week at $12.00 a class would cost $1872.00 a year, or a projected 7% of the average American’s gross income.

“If I wasn’t a teacher,” Deanna Black, an iconoclastic instructor at Fitness One in University Circle, Ohio, told me, “I’m not sure I could afford to practice at a studio.” The average American can join Fitness 19 or Anytime Fitness and work out every day for $29.95 a month. Michael Hellebrekers, a financial consultant for Wells Fargo Bank, estimates that at best monthly and yearly rates for practicing at a local yoga studio are 4 to 5 times more expensive than lifting weights at a franchise gym.

Yoga studios, no matter what else they are, are businesses that need to pay the bills. They may be labors of inspiration and compassion, but they are sole proprietorships and limited-liability corporations, too, and must make sense in terms of profit and loss.  “Creating a studio setting, where the overhead is extensive beyond a student’s comprehension,” says Tammy Lyons of Inner Bliss, “and hiring the staff it takes to even open the doors, isn’t possible without charging what may be outside some people’s ability.”

The economic challenges studios must meet are the same that confront all businesses. “Let’s face it,” says Knekoh Fruge of Yoga Circle Downtown in Los Angeles, “you need a large space and you need to fill it, the rent is high, and teachers have to get paid. That’s why in large part the poor can’t afford it.”

Not everyone believes practicing at yoga studios has anything necessarily to do with yoga. “You’ve got to be kidding,” Ginny Walters, a Cleveland-area Ashtanga teacher said. “Maybe the studios are for the elite, but the practice is for everyone, money or no money.” Putting her pocketbook where her mouth is, Walters teaches many summer evening classes at a Rocky River city park overlooking Lake Erie, charging only a nominal fee.

Tammy Lyons of Inner Bliss, who taught herself yoga from a book checked out of the library, says:  “The practice itself can be done without anything, or at the very least a mat. When I started I went to class maybe once every couple of weeks, and spent less than $12.00 a month.” Yoga asanas, once learned from books, classes, or DVD’s, can be practiced almost anywhere. You don’t even need a roof over your head. Unrolling a mat in the backyard and doing 108-or-less sun salutations is as free as free gets.

Many teachers concede the costs of practicing yoga in a studio setting, but insist it is not a roadblock. “I have always reached out to students who are sincere and need financial assistance to take classes,” says Craig Kurtz of the Iyengar Yoga Center in Denver. “I strive to not let money be the issue that holds students back.”

Many teachers do pro bono work in their communities, at schools and shelters, and even in prisons, because they believe in the good yoga can do. “I would never turn anyone away,” Knekoh Fruge says, “and I guarantee you 90% of the yoga studios would never refuse someone who genuinely needed to practice but didn’t have any money. I offer work exchange, and I teach classes for free to people recently unemployed.”

There is, however, a wide divide between schoolchildren and prisoners, and the rich, and straddling that divide are the working and middle classes. Budgets and necessary economies are everyday issues in their lives. Not disadvantaged enough for charity and not rich enough in time or money to easily take three or four yoga classes a week, they are squeezed from both ends, pressured by desire and conformity. The rich among us may have the means to practice all the asanas we want, but the mass in the middle has harder choices to make.

When I asked Kristen Zarzycki of Inner Bliss whether or not yoga was an elitist activity, she reluctantly agreed it was. But then she added: “Everyone can be elite. Seriously, stop buying junk at Target and take a yoga class instead. Anyone can do it if they want to. I have coffee at Starbucks with my father two or three mornings a week. I could have bought a new sofa by now, with all the drinks we had last year, but I think it’s important to spend time with my dad. It’s the same with yoga.”

What we do with our time and money is what defines us, not what we have or don’t have. What we do, how we act in this life, determines who and what we are. No one practices yoga because they are yogis. They are yogis because they practice yoga. Everyone is a melding of his or her own choices. They are what their priorities have made them. Otherwise they are not themselves; they are someone else’s priorities.

Jean-Paul Sartre said we are all condemned to be free, to choose and to act, adding that we are responsible for everything we do. Not choosing is itself a choice. It is the accepting of conditions as they are. It is choosing the option of letting someone else shape you into a consumer or spectator.

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming,” said Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher. What he meant is that the ontological problem we all face is to find out who we are and what to do with ourselves. It is only in our decisions that we are important. In other words, the choices we make are ultimately what we are made of.

Practicing yoga is not predetermined. We can stay at home watching The Biggest Loser on HD instead of going to a yoga class and doing warrior poses. Americans watch 250 billion hours of TV a year, mesmerized by sports, car chases, and endless commercials for fast food, pharmaceuticals, and the next fad. We can cheer on our favorite celebrities and athletes, buying tickets to their movies and spectacles. Or we can decide to go to a yoga studio and pay $12.00 for a one-hour lesson in how to live our lives as an experience rather than a dog and pony show.

Maybe going to a yoga studio doesn’t have as much to do with money, or the lack of it, as it seems. Maybe it is just a matter of priorities, of deciding what to spend one’s money on. The most recent estimate by Street and Smith Sports Business Journal is that Americans spend upwards of $213 billion annually on sports events, or more than $700 for every man, woman, child, and baby in the country, watching men in bright uniforms throw, bounce, kick, or hit balls with a stick.

We drink $74 billion dollars of beer a year, more than 12 times the amount of money spent on this one alcoholic beverage than all the money spent practicing asanas at a yoga studio. According to the New York Times Magazine, even pornography is more popular than yoga. Americans spend an estimated $12-14 billion dollars a year looking at pictures of naked people.

“Many people avoid yoga because they perceive it as elitist,” said Frank Barnett, a former Cleveland, Ohio-based kirtan teacher.

But, anyone can practice yoga if they want to, not just the elite. Even tight-fisted budgets are only about what we can’t afford. They are not about keeping us from buying what we really need. One way of looking at choices is that they are ways of turning stumbling blocks into stepping-stones. Almost everyone’s resources are limited to the extent that priorities have to be set.  Going to a yoga class is not so much a line item in a budget as it is getting in line at the check-out counter of the mind, body, and spirit store.

“Anybody can afford to take a yoga class if they want to,” says Kristen Zarzycki. “It’s a matter of making it a priority.”

When McDonalds uses yoga and meditation in its advertisements to sell Happy Meals, it does so as grist for the mill to achieve its only goal, which is to generate profits for its shareholders. Yoga is different. “It’s not about getting rich,” says Melissa Johnson of Yoga Ananda in Avondale, Florida. “This is a labor of love for the community. No one is turned away for inability to pay.”

Yoga teachers take empowerment, spiritual, physical, and even economic, out of Sherwood Forest and make life better, not poorer. They even make the rich richer. “I agree it is exercise for the elite, but with certain qualifications,” says Graham Fowler of the Peachtree Yoga Center in Atlanta. “We help everyone become more well-off, more self-aware, confident and balanced, with qualities of heart.”

In the long run we shape our lives and ourselves by what we do. At the Yoga Hive in Atlanta, Renard Mills, a personal chef, started his own yoga practice just as the recession began to impact his business. Bad business or not, he continues to take two classes a week. “I used to be a worrier,” he says, “but I don’t do that anymore. I just breathe. I walk this earth differently now. In my family budget, yoga is the second line item, after food.”

Yoga changes people’s lives for the better, not for the worse. “It’s wonderful to see people get stronger, healthier, more vibrant and happy,” says Tara Rawson of Adashakti Yoga in Riverside, Florida.

Yoga is not about taking from the poor and giving to the rich. It is about making everyone rich. Having disposable money and time is one thing. What we do with the money and time we have is another. It may be true yoga is largely taught in the better neighborhoods of America, but the real goal of American yoga teachers is to make everyone’s neighborhood better.

“Yoga is not elitist!” says Dr. Rajvi Mehta of India’s Yoga Rahasya. “It actually breaks all barriers of economics, religion, class, geography, and politics. Once in a yoga class, we have a driver adjacent to the CEO of a company.” If the practice of yoga were really a matter of money, then the practice wouldn’t really matter. It would just be another commodity. But it isn’t, no matter what the thousand billion dollar advertising engine of the world believes. Choosing yoga is to stop resolving life as a problem and living it as a journey.

Yoga is a practice, not a product. Stepping into a studio is not about buying something – it is about becoming someone. Yoga is many things to many people, but fundamentally it is a pilgrimage. In Mark Twain’s book Innocents Abroad, when the American religion tourists on their luxury steam ship finally reach the Holy Land, and get to the Sea of Galilee, they protest against the cost of the two gold Napoleons for renting a ride on one of the local boats. The boatman, instead of haggling with them, sails away and the pilgrims are left stranded.

Practicing asanas at a yoga studio doesn’t have anything to do with walking on water, but at the end of many hot vinyasa classes one or two yogis will look like they’ve done exactly that, if only because they are totally exhausted or totally refreshed. Yoga does have everything to do with believing in what you do, and being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become what you believe in, even if it costs one or two gold pieces.

“Nothing in life is really free. If you are serious about something, you are willing to pay for it, “ says Paul Jerard, the director of teacher training at the Aura Wellness Center in North Providence, Rhode Island. “If you truly love yoga, and want to learn more, support your local yoga teacher, or your local studio.”

Teachers keep yoga alive, bringing it to life for their students. Their studios are way stations on the pilgrimage that the practice is.  “One of the things necessary for yoga,” said Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life Society, “is continuous study under a guide.” Giving ourselves to a yoga teacher is to choose to be elite, because that is what yoga does. It privileges everyone who chooses to make it even a small part of his or her life. It makes anyone who unrolls a mat at their yoga studio as elite as it gets, which has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with awareness and consciousness of self and others.

Even though yoga is not just exercise, asanas are the best known and most accessible of the eight-part path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body,” says B. K. S. Iyengar. “The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he knows God is within.”

Practicing at a yoga studio is never easy physically or financially. It means choosing to be in the company of people who think yoga matters, and not in the company of people who don’t.  It means standing up and making a commitment of time and money. Where we spend our money, rich and poor alike, is where our priorities lie. Ultimately it is not what is in your wallet that is important. It is what you do with what’s in your wallet that really matters.

A version of this story appeared in Elephant Journal.

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.”

Wear and Tear

By Ed Staskus

“When I get older losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?”  The Beatles

Every so often a yoga magazine website feature article speaker at a seminar blog FB Instagram Huffington Post will trot out the oldest yoga teachers in the world as examples of what can be accomplished when the body mind and spirit are all set firmly on the practice. They extol their example. They direct our attention to them, pillars of light.

The old-timers are shopworn though not the worse for wear, faded, but still lit up, the sparkle of the light of yoga still in their eyes.

There are the Big Three, gone but not forgotten. K. Pattabhi Jois kept at it to the age of 93, B. K. S. Iyengar, 95, and Indra Devi, an astonishing 102. There are many people in their 50s who say they just hope to make it to retirement age. Indra Devi not only never retired, she died still in the saddle.

The yoga teacher and scholar Krishnamacharya, known as the “father of modern yoga,” started in the mid-1920s and inspired a new interest in the practice. He taught and worked at it until the day he fell into a coma and died in 1989. He was 100 years old. It’s too bad he never knew he made the century mark.

Only .01% of anybody lives to be one hundred or beyond. Those that do often credit diet, exercise, and environment. Not always, however. Edith Atkinson Wylie, a 106-year-old living in Montana, who has never done a minute of yoga in her life, credits her longevity to “bourbon and Cheetos while watching the 5 o’clock news. And good genes, too.”

Edith played the gene card. She had to, otherwise forget shouting “Bingo!” The pay-off was another glass of bourbon and somebody else’s bad news on the TV.

“Do be do be do,” Frank Sinatra sang. He didn’t make it. Not that he didn’t try, wig and all.

There’s one in every crowd, especially the 100-year crowd, who have earned whatever eccentricity they want to play up to. Edith probably wears white gloves out in public, but the liver spots still show through. Don’t argue with the 100-year crowd though. They’ll see you in the grave first.

Besides the Big Three, there are the second stringers who accomplished the same longevity.

Nanammal, born in 1919, was the oldest yoga teacher in India. Her father taught it to her when she was 8 years old. She went on to teach more than a million students over 45 years. She died late last year. Tao Porchon-Lynch, born on a ship in the English Channel in 1918, also discovered yoga when she was 8 years old. She studied with Jois and Iyengar. She was a model and actress in the 40s and 50s but in the 1960s went into yoga full-time, teaching right up to her death early this year. She was 102.

Ida Herbert, born in 1916, hit it big as the oldest yoga teacher in the world in the Guinness Book of World Records. She was 96 years old at the time. When she turned the corner on the century mark, she was still teaching a group of older women she called “Ida’s Girls.” She didn’t get into yoga until she was in her 50s, taking private lessons, reading books, and practicing on her own. She started teaching yoga at the local YMCA. Everyone was drawn to her feisty energy and repeated message to “keep moving.”

When she died in April of this year, she was 103 years old. Her ashes were scattered at “Ida’s Rock” on the lakeshore where she lived. The wind blew them into the water.

The reason the 100-year crowd gets demonstrated is because there are more old older oldest people in the world now than ever before. The planet’s population is ageing faster than in the past. The number of people 60 years and older today outnumbers children younger than 5 years. Between now and 30 years from now, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%.

125 million people are aged 80 years or older today. By 2050, there will be almost this many in China alone, and 434 million people in this age group worldwide. It is why yoga has significantly expanded in the past ten years. 30 to 49-year-olds are still the group doing it the most, but the numbers show that it is growing exponentially in popularity with those over 50 60 70 and 80. Adults over 50 practicing yoga tripled from 2014 to 2018.

“Let go of excuses that you’re too old,” says Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., and co-author of “Relax into Yoga for Seniors.”

“You don’t have to be young or fit or flexible to try yoga. If you can breathe, you can practice it,” she said.

About a million-and-a-half people live in nursing homes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 10 million more, mostly 65-or-older, need long-term support to help them with daily activities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. They are all breathing, but it’s a moot point whether they can totter forward to a yoga mat and get going into one asana and another.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter,” said Mark Twain. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Mind over matter is a great concept, but sometimes, no matter how much you don’t mind, it does matter. When you can barely shuffle forward in a walker, and barely breathe doing it, it is more likely a matter of matter over mind. It matters getting started, but sometimes the starter motor has gone bad.

Yoga studios are a business, and most yoga teachers are free agents, and everybody has got to make a living, so it is being touted as the new remedy for whatever ails golden agers. We age as the result of the accumulation of molecular and cellular damage over time. What happens is a downgrade in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease, and ultimately, death.

Why it’s called golden is anybody’s guess.

Mental capacity and physical fitness are the bedrocks of yoga. It is what yoga teachers are best at doing, getting people fit and thinking straight. That’s why if senior citizens can get there, the mat is good for them.

Yoga has a lot to do with death, but nobody wants to hear about that, no matter what the Dalai Lama says, which is, “Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path. Until you have developed this awareness, all other practices are useless.”

That’s all well and good for him, given his beliefs. He is thought by Buddhists to be able to choose the body into which he is reincarnated. That person then becomes the next Dalai Lama. Most people in the United States either never give a thought to the afterlife, are on the fence about it, or don’t believe in it.

It’s now or never.

Yoga in the main is recommended for seniors, a tonic that reduces stress, improves sleep, lessens depression, takes the edge off aches and pains, and enhances balance, flexibility, and strength. It is also said to help prevent the onset of osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle. Most oldsters practice one or more of several popular versions, Restorative, Yin, Hatha, and Iyengar. If they can’t get up and go, they do Chair Yoga.

The AARP is on board with yoga for seniors. They say it protects your joints, which by your 60s aren’t as fluid as they used to be. “It’s important to start caring for your joints, to help maintain your independence and preserve your ability to perform daily activities as you get older, things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, getting dressed,” says Amy Wheeler, yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino.

It builds strength and better balance, helping prevent falls, which are the leading cause of injuries among oldsters. “About 80 percent of proprioception is in your ankles, so standing poses are important, particularly for people in their 70s,” says Larry Payne, yoga director at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “As you get more sedentary, your sense of balance atrophies. ‘Use it or lose it’ really does apply.”

It sharpens the mind. As we get older, our thought processes aren’t as keen anymore as they used to be. We get addled, disoriented, at sea. The Babadook in the closet is Alzheimer’s. Almost 6 million Americans age 65-and-older are living with it in 2020. Eighty percent are age 75-or-older. One in 10 people age 65-and-older has dementia.

A 2016 International Review of Psychiatry study reported that practicing yoga relaxation techniques for 30 minutes a day had immediate beneficial effects on brain function. “Focusing on the breath and synchronizing it with movement helps keep the mind clear and engaged,” says Melinda Atkins, a yoga teacher in Miami.

If worse comes to worse, there’s always Corpse Pose, which is good for any age. Lie on your back, eyes closed, splay your feet to the sides, arms alongside your body, palms facing up, surrender to the floor, and breathe deeply evenly consciously.

Seniors being old-timers, they’ve got to be careful, even doing something as bathed in the virtuous glow of yoga. “In general, older adults have less joint range of motion, less strength and poorer balance than younger men and women,” says Gale Greendale, a professor of medicine and gerontology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “They also have more limiting musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis and low back conditions, that may put them at higher risk of musculoskeletal side effects from yoga.”

In other words, they can get hurt.

“There were 29,590 yoga-related injuries seen in hospital emergency departments from 2001 to 2014,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. “The trunk was the most frequent region injured. The injury rate increased overall from 2001 to 2014, and it was greatest for those aged 65 years-and-older compared with those aged 18 to 44 years and 45 to 64 years in 2014.”

In the six years since, injuries among seniors have shot up as their participation in yoga has shot up.

As good as yoga is for everybody, including everybody war-horse age and up, it isn’t the whole pie, but rather a slice of the pie. Investing in it to the exclusion of other kinds of activity and movement is pie in the sky. There is more to move mind spirit than plank down dog and half-moon pose.

“Yoga goes a long way for the mind and spirit, but a little bit of it goes a long way for the body, especially as we get older,” said Frank Glass, a former sportswriter who covers the yoga scene in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area. “I get on my mat at home most days and sometimes I take a class at Quiet Mind, but I’ve adapted as I’ve gotten older.”

Quiet Mind on the east side of Lakewood, one of Cleveland’s inner ring western suburbs on the Lake Erie shoreline, is owned and operated by Barron Cannon, a yoga idealist and sometime anarchist who still manages to turn a profit at his studio.

“I don’t stand on my head anymore, and I’ve put wheel pose away in the garage,” said Frank. “What I do now is a blend of yoga, Pilates, and band work. I walk in the park, walk on my treadmill in the winter months, and work out on a Concept 2 rower.”

Like many people, Frank Glass started taking yoga classes in his early-50s. “I played too much racquetball and squash in my 30s and 40s,” he said. It took a toll. Playing got painful. Playing got impossible.

“The problem with relying on yoga was that the better I got at it the worse I got at real life. Not mentally or spiritually. I got better there. It was the physical part I got a little disenchanted with. Less is more, as far as I’m concerned. Walking, biking, rowing, lifting weights, or band work, is just as bottom-line as sun salutations”

There is wide agreement that along with yoga, activities like walking and cycling, aerobic classes, bodyweight training, and resistance band workouts are especially well-suited for mossbacks. Swimming is encouraged because it is often called the world’s perfect exercise.

“Getting in the pool is a great way to increase your cardiovascular fitness while also strengthening your muscles,” says Victoria Shin, a cardiologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California. Exercising in water puts minimal stress on your bones and joints, which is a plus for anyone who has arthritis or osteoporosis. It hydrates the moss. The Journal of Aging Research suggests that swimming keeps minds as sharp as it does bodies fit. It’s like doing yoga with your yellow rubber ducky.

Many studies of healthy older people indicate that strength, stamina, and flexibility drop significantly after age 55. These declines were once considered an inevitable consequence of aging. Not necessarily anymore.

But a study by Harvard and Tufts researchers showed that many functional losses could be reversed. “In the study, 100 nursing-home residents, ages 72 to 98, performed resistance exercises three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of that time, the exercise group could lift significantly more weight, climb more stairs, and walk faster and farther than their sedentary counterparts, who continued to lose strength and muscle mass.”

“I may not live to be a hundred, although my father was in his late 80s when he died, and my mother is still kicking around in her 90s, so I think my genes are on the better side, which gives me a chance,” said Frank Glass. “So, I’ll just keep doing what Mr. Natural does.”

Fred Natural, known as Mr. Natural, is a slightly overweight bald man with a long white beard wearing a sack making him look like a prophet. He is a comic book character created by the 1960s underground cartoon artist Robert Crumb. Fred was once kicked out of heaven for telling God it all “looks a little corny up here.”

His goal in life is to “Keep on Truckin’.”

Although he has much in common with the Big Three, there is no recorded instance of Mr. Natural ever doing yoga, even though he is approaching 150 years of age. Knowing him, he probably kept it a secret. Wherever he is today, on a remote island or mountaintop, he would certainly recommend doing some yoga and would absolutely recommend staying on the move. He has a nimble way of saying, “Use it or lose it, baby.”

It’s the only way to get in with the 100-year in-crowd. And since an apple a day keeps the doctor away, when you’re done with whatever you’ve done, on the mat or off, have a big slice of apple pie. And a glob of ice cream. It goes great with a slice of pie.

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.”

Breathless (All’s Well That Ends Well)

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 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.”

The Other End of the Leash

By Ed Staskus

Whenever Padma, a white and tan hound dog, hears her master’s namaste marking the end of class at Blue Lotus in Raleigh, NC, she stirs from her Mexican blanket pile, shakes, stretches in urdhva mukha svanasana, better known as upward-facing dog, and with her long nose in full gear makes the rounds of the yoga studio, sniffing out the sweaty yogis.

“It’s like clockwork,” says Jill Sockman. “She thinks namaste is her release command. If I am at the studio she is with me. On the rare occasion I am working and she’s not with me, people come in the front door, look to her empty bed, and the first thing they say isn’t ‘Hello’ or ‘I’m here for class’, but ‘Where is the dog?’ “

“She is my one true love and constant companion.”

The canine has been mankind’s best friend for a long time.

DNA research suggests gray wolves and dogs split into separate species around 100,000 years ago. Domestication began 30,000 years ago, based on archaeological evidence from caves in Europe, and our herding and hunting relationship with them dates back to the end of the Pleistocene Age. Initially tolerated as scavengers of bones and animal remains, over time dogs were co-opted as guardians and trained helpmates.

“It takes only a short journey to get from dogs guarding the village to a personal house dog,” writes Stanley Coren in The Intelligence of Dogs.

There are more than 400 million dogs in the world.  Approximately 78 million of them are in the United States. Almost forty percent of American households own at least one. Among them are many yoga households. Although it is difficult to determine with any accuracy, it often seems like every other-and-more yogi has a dog.

“Almost all the yoga teachers that come to my mind have dogs,” says Dawn Schroeder, a Kundalini Yoga teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. “I have two dogs, both of them rescued.”

For some people, such as the handicapped, dogs are lifesavers. Helen Keller, the deaf and blind social activist, introduced the Akita to the United States and described the dog as an “angel in fur.” For others, like police, farmers, and even corporations, dogs are working partners. The runways of airports like Southwest Florida International are kept clear of large birds by Border Collies. For most people they are better known as pets and companions.

Although more physically diverse than any other land animal, resulting from centuries of intentional breeding, dogs are generally loyal and gregarious by nature, running to the door at the sound of familiar footsteps, not caring whether their owners are young or old, fat or fit, rich or poor. Money can’t buy the wag of a dog’s tail.  They rarely run in packs anymore and nowadays consider people to be part of their posse.

With the rise of suburbanization in the 1950s dog populations boomed and they made the transition from the doghouse to the home, becoming increasingly integrated into the lives of their owners. The modern dog became part of the family. Today many people feel like their pets are their favorite people.

“Our dog Zoe, a Westie terrier, is the light of our lives,” says Regan Burnett, who teaches yoga at the Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, Georgia. “She does a perfect down-dog and up-dog every morning upon waking and practices Centering Prayer with me in the evenings.

“She is very special.”

“Increasingly,” says Jon Katz, the author of The New Work of Dogs, “we are treating them as family members and human surrogates.” Some single people and childless couples, among others, anthropomorphize their pets to the standing of an honorary child. They are called ‘fur babies’. Even families are challenged by children who know the best way to get a puppy is to ask for a baby brother.

“People are leaning on pets to fill the gap in social support mechanisms that earlier might have come from their families or tight-knit neighborhoods,” says Michael Schaffer, author of One Nation Under Dog.

Americans have fallen in love with their dogs. Since the mid-1990’s spending in the United States on pets has almost tripled, from $17 billion to $43 billion, which is nearly seven times as much as is spent on contemporary yoga and its related products. Yesterday’s Fido and Spot are today’s Jake and Bella, part of the family.

Tammy Lyons of Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio, believes yogis engage especially with dogs. “I’m not sure why,” she says. “My guess is our desire to connect with all living beings and to share the vibrational quality of love that is unconditional and undefined. My husband and I rescued an amazing dog eleven years ago. She just passed away late last year, and I still miss her with my whole entire being. I would look into her eyes and know she could see all of me, without words. And she loved me no matter my flaws, failures, or even my not so attractive qualities.”

Dogs hop, skip, and jump when their owners come home. The Odyssey, the second of the two epic poems ascribed to Homer, is the story of a man who returns home after being gone for more than twenty years and is recognized only by his dog, Argos. Once known for his speed and tracking, but now neglected and lying on top of a pile of trash, after waiting ninety-three dog years for Odysseus to come back he wags his tail once and dies.

They lay their heads in our laps and stare up into our eyes, a heartbeat at our feet. They invite our attention and affection.  Never mind that Fred Metzger of Pennsylvania State University, who studies the human-animal bond, believes dogs are highly skilled at parsing social behaviors, especially those having to do with hearth and the food bowl.

“Dogs make investments in human beings because it works for them,” he says.  According to Dr. Metzger they act according to what makes humans happy to get what they want and need. They are den animals just like us integrated into the hubbub of the household, adaptable and attuned to the moment.

“Dogs give to get back,” says Brenda Motsco of Town and Country Veterinary Hospital in Warren, Ohio, who when not rescuing dogs is a feisty Bikram Yoga aficionado.

Unlike most other animals whose lives are not necessarily dependent on people, and whose existences are in some sense solipsistic, the dog is a different breed. When hailed a cat may or may not get back to you that day, but a dog will bust its butt to heed its master’s beck and call.

“Your dog kind of lives for you,” says David Bessler, senior emergency clinician at NYC Veterinary Specialists in New York City. Other than adoption, acquiring a dog may be the only opportunity a person has to choose a relative.

Dogs are social animals, like people, and so need and rely on emotions to bond with other dogs and people. According to Marc Beckoff, a behavioral biologist at the University of Colorado, emotion is one of the foundations of social behavior and connects individuals, whether in society, family, or pack. Dogs have an evolutionary need for close emotional ties.

The dog world intersects that of people in many ways. They almost always feel like doing whatever you feel like doing, whether snoozing while you nap or walking in the woods with you and chasing sticks. The other side of a door is always the wrong side of the door to a dog. They rarely hang out a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

“My Chihuahua is always with me at the studio and is our mascot,” says Ellen Patrick of Yoga Sanctuary in Mamaroneck, NY. “She greets all my students and then sleeps next to me while I’m teaching. People tell me they come more for ‘Chi’ therapy than for the yoga because she has such a sweet spirit.”

Over the course of centuries, through the process of domestication, dogs have come to understand people the better than all other animals, and have most easily adapted to our social circumstances. The average dog may be a better person than the average person. Yogis find their dogs through adoption, rescue, and accidentally, like everyone else, but sometimes their dogs come to them in dreams, figuratively and literally.

“I was searching for a companion dog to my older Cathula Leopard Hound,” says Connie Murphy of Yoga Village in Arroyo Grande, California, “but whenever I found one and did my pendulum on getting them or not, I was always told no. Then I started dreaming about a black and white dog. A few days later a black and white stray, part terrier and part cattle dog came into our yard. Cold, wet, starving, filthy, and afraid. It took several days before he would allow us to touch him. We left the garage open for shelter, and fed him, and after we put out fliers and no one answered, he became part of our family. It’s amazing what food and a bath and love can accomplish.”

Although some people find themselves loving dogs more the more they get to know people, it isn’t always the best of all worlds for dogs in the modern world. In the past dogs hunted with men and were their guardians, but today they are acquired for many other reasons. Children pressure their parents to bring home the cute puppy they saw at the store; the lonely get them to relieve stress and anxiety; others buy intensively bred dogs because it is prestigious.

But, even though dogs may be so smart they can do anything short of calculus, they still rely on their human families for everything, including shelter, groceries, water, exercise, and veterinary care. “The way they think about their world is that people are super important and they can solve any problem if they rely on people,” says Brian Hare, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. Domestic dogs also need social interaction to the degree that without a master and family they grow unhappy and even lost.

Many dogs are abandoned by their owners because of management problems, the pet’s old age, or simply because it is more expedient than taking care of the dog over the course of its 12 or 14-year-life. More than 5 million dogs enter shelters every year, according to the Humane Society of the United States, and those same shelters euthanize several million more when the dogs aren’t rescued. Puppy mills overproduce pets, annually dumping millions of them on the market, according to the ASPCA, marketing their lovability to the ill prepared.

Many people who practice yoga, and live by its ethical guidelines, rescue rather than buy dogs. “As a person’s awareness expands they are more likely to acquire a dog from a shelter as opposed to buying a dog from a pet store or breeder,” says Cassandra Wallick of Gilbert Yoga in Gilbert, Arizona. “As we begin to see things more clearly we may realize that the breeding of animals for pets is somewhat inhumane when in fact there are thousands of animals being euthanized because of careless owners and over-breeding.”

Television shows like the ‘Dog Whisperer’ on the National Geographic Channel and ‘It’s Me or the Dog’ on Animal Planet have grappled with the biting, barking, and bad behavior of dogs made insecure, neurotic, and bullying by uncaring or uninformed breeding practices and by inappropriate human-to-dog interactions. Less than two generations ago neither Lassie nor Rin Tin Tin ever required a dog behaviorist. Today it seems like all our purebreds and even mutts need a couch.

“Ending or preventing suffering should be the main goal of a real animal lover,” says Val Porter, the author of Faithful Companions: Alliance of Man and Dog. Dogs are trusty and vigilant sidekicks to man. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin were always pulling families out of burning buildings and saving the cavalry from marauders. They deserve the reciprocal care and loyalty of committed human companions.

“To live in harmony with all beings, including dogs, is a truly yogic principle,” says Julie Lawrence of the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center in Portland, Oregon. Judging from the principles they live by, known as the yamas and niyamas, the man or woman who practices yoga may be a dog’s best friend.  Dogs probably don’t need yoga, better known as doga, but running with yogis may be good for their health. “Because dogs are pack animals, they are a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on union and connection with other beings,” writes Bethany Lytle in ‘Bonding With Their Downward-Facing Humans’ in The New York Times.

The intersection of dog and man can be fraught with misunderstanding and neglect. But, if there is a yogi at the crossroads, the dog is likely in good hands, since the goal of yoga practice is to be as good a person as your dog already thinks you are. ”In my lifetime I have had rabbits, turtles, a mallard duck, fish, parakeets, many cats, and a wonderful dog,” says Marcia Loffredo of Yoga 4 Health in East Hampton, Connecticut. “I believe we love, honor, and respect all of God’s creation based on what we learn and experience in our yoga practice.”

The way of the yogi encompasses animal rights as well as human rights, because that is the way of the whole human being. “My gut reaction is that yogis are good for dogs because through practice they learn to be more caring and compassionate,” says Brenda Motsco. Even though dogs exist for their own reasons, indifference and callousness results in suffering in dogs, and impoverishes the human spirit, as well.

Yogis seemingly gravitate towards dogs and dogs likewise towards yogis. “I have seen this,” says Mandy Grant of Juluka Yoga in Hillsdale NJ.  “I have a dog who comes to my studio and students love him. Yoga creates compassion and understanding, and the practice of ahimsa, and the knowledge that we are all linked, makes people like dogs more after practicing yoga.”

Dogs have an unrivaled sixth sense, as any dog will tell you. They can predict thunderstorms and earthquakes, epileptic and diabetic seizures, their owner’s imminent return, and whether or not your friend is really your friend. In 1975 Chinese officials, fearing a catastrophe based in part on observation of the alarming behavior of dogs, ordered the evacuation of Haicheng, a city of one million people, just days before a 7.3 magnitude quake, saving an estimated 150,000 lives. Japanese researchers, in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, have long studied the usefulness of dogs as prediction tools.

Seizure-alert dogs are trained to react to the smell, reminiscent of nail polish remover, of the metabolic changes before a seizure induced by low blood sugar. “They are masters of observation,” says Nicholas Dodman of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Their sense of smell is second to none and is beyond our comprehension.”

Sometimes it’s better to have a dog than a doctor in the house.

Dogs have more than 200 million smell sensors in their noses, compared to the 5 million of the average person. Smelling is a dog’s special sense. They discriminate their world through a predominant olfactory cortex and can sniff out fear and friendliness. If a dog snuffs you up and down but will not come to you, it may be time to examine your conscience.

“A dog can sense the softy in us,” says Ginny Walters, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher in Rocky River, Ohio. “They know when a good soul will do no harm”

At a bed and breakfast she and her husband built in Costa Rica, featuring a fifteen-mat deck overlooking the lowlands along the Pacific coast, Ginny Walters hosts yoga retreats every winter, and two years ago found her second home adopted by a dog.

“He appeared one morning with buggy eyes and famished. He had a sore on his ear that would heal for a day and then bleed all over again. I really didn’t know what the retreat participants would say. I figured if we didn’t feed him he would go away. But, he stayed. The retreat group would look out the window and he would immediately go into upward dog and as if on cue downward dog. He would never try to come into the house, just stay on the threshold and look at us. Two years later Rahm the dog is getting fat. He is our protector even though he doesn’t belong to anyone. When we leave the house he goes to his other place and stays until we return. He knows the sound of our car. We had an open heart to accept him. We didn’t give off the sweat of fear or anger. Ahimsa is all he asked for and with the yogis he found it.”

Most pet owners satisfy the fundamental requirements of hunger, thirst, and shelter for their dogs. Many of them tend to their social needs and sense of belonging, making them part of the family. Some address the needs that even dogs have for esteem, recognition, and status, fostering strength and self-confidence in their companion animals. A very few understand that dogs may be candidates for self-actualization.

“At one point in my spiritual growth I began to realize the soul of my dog was simply in a four-legged embodiment,” says Cassandra Wallick. “That soul was evolving just like mine. The attainment of oneness, unity, and self-realization is the ultimate path of the soul, and my dog was on his journey just the same as I was. After this epiphany I looked at my dog very differently. Not as a lesser creature, not even as a ‘dog’ anymore, but as a friend soul who was living out one of his incarnations in a dog’s body.”

Many people, even animal lovers, believe dogs have less potential for freedom than humans, so we are free to feel less compunction about denying it to them. But, since our standards for humane treatment of others is constantly expanding, it may be that every dog will have his day. If the dog’s companion is someone who practices yoga, a person whose core values are freedom and actualization, that dog will probably have its day sooner than later.

A version of this story appeared in Elephant Journal.

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.”

Breathless (Brew Crew)

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 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.”

Breathless (Wonder Wheel)

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

Chaturanga Chatter

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much talking should a teacher do during class?

There is a range of opinion mindset approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

Some wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some who might even not talk enough.

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

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

Then he walked away to the next mat.

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

Ed Staskus posts 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.”