Category Archives: Paperback Yoga

Ditch the Back Seat Driver

By Ed Staskus

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

   Saints get taken for granted.

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

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

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

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

   God save us from the crap that is Craigslist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio 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.”

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Hitting the Bricks

By Ed Staskus

”There once was a union maid, she never was afraid, of goons and ginks and company finks, she went to the union hall when a meeting it was called, and when the Legion boys come ’round, she always stood her ground.”  Woody Guthrie

By mid-October last year, five weeks into the labor union strike against the car maker, General Motors was losing about $90 million a day and thousands of auto workers were losing their savings. Yet there was no end in sight for the longest bucket of bolts strife in many years. Nearly 50,000 workers were idled, picketing outside GM factories from coast to coast, squabbling about wages, retirement benefits, and the fate of a shuttered Chevrolet plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

At about the same time, teachers at New York City’s YogaWorks studios, a nationwide chain that advertises itself as “America’s #1 Yoga Studio,” asked the company to recognize a union. “It would appear to be the first in the United States to include yoga instructors,” according to The New York Times.

“Yoga teachers are poor,” said Abi Miller, feeling like the low man on the totem pole. He recently posted his feelings on the “Yoga” group Facebook page.

“This is a vibration that I lived for the first years of teaching yoga,” he said. “I did lots of free community events. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing those things, it prevented me from jumping towards my dream. It held me back because I was afraid to ask for the money that I was worth. It delayed my process of stepping into the teacher that I am meant to be. This industry is in full boom and makes a ton of money every year. If you are a teacher, why wouldn’t you be deserving of having a little piece of that pie?”

Although yoga is for everybody, everybody can’t always get to the front of the table for their bigger slice of the pie, but like Joe Hill, the songwriter and union organizer, pointed out, “Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

“We believe yoga is for every body,” is the mantra of YogaWorks, fiddling with spelling and meaning.

“No matter your age or fitness level, we offer yoga that will work for you. Our programs remain authentic to ancient yoga tradition while seamlessly integrating today’s popular styles. Join us on the mat, we’re here to honor and empower your journey toward personal growth and well-being.”

Even though the request by their employees, who honor and empower the journeys of everybody who come to the studio, was polite, if firm, the response by the company was equally firm, if not exactly polite. It was stern, if not rabid, in the tradition of labor-management relations, which are almost always adversarial.

Unions and bosses have never exactly been baby blue meeting of the minds. They have spent most of their time since the Industrial Revolution poking one another in the peepers. When it’s gotten out of hand, which it often has, it’s ended up an eye-for-an-eye. Sometimes it gets ramped up to two eyes for an eye. It never gets damped down to turning the other cheek.

No one is that Christian Buddhist Muslim Jewish or God-fearing.

In the 1890s the Carnegie Steel Company went toe-to-toe against the nation’s strongest trade union, the Iron and Steel Workers. An 1889 strike had won them a three-year contract, but three years later Andrew Carnegie was determined to break them. The company locked the workers out of the plant and all of them were fired.

They stormed the factory and took over the company town. Three hundred Pinkerton guards, locked and loaded, were called in, but when they got there they were met by thousands of strikers, many of them locked and loaded, too. After a gun battle, the Pinkertons gave up and ran for it. In all, nine strikers and seven Pinkertons were killed. Eight thousand Pennsylvania National Guardsmen were called in and the strike was broken.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, near Welch, West Virginia, in 1921, was a spontaneous uprising of ten thousand coal miners who fought the company’s hired guns and their allies, the state police, for three days before federal troops intervened.

In 1987, while union members staged a fight as a distraction, others set fire to the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. The union was in a dispute with management about pay and health care. Ninety-seven people were killed, many of them burned beyond recognition.

In New York City, the battle between YogaWorks and their working people was more in the way of a war of words. It was about hitting the bricks, not throwing bricks. Non-violence stayed the course.

A YogaWorks official sent an e-mail addressed to their NYC teachers and trainers, painting the union as an untrustworthy group simply looking to collect dues from them, and on the look-out only for their own welfare.

The e-mail, from Heather Eary, a regional vice president, ended in all capital letters: “DON’T SIGN A CARD.” The capital letters referred to cards being circulated by teachers and by the union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, stating the signatory wanted the group to represent them.

“YogaWorks does not believe that employees joining, and paying dues to, a union is in the best interest of YogaWorks, our employees or our students,” the message said. “We are surprised that the machinist union would ask us to help them possibly take away your right to decide whether you want to go running to join them.”

There was something queer about the message, as though it needed to get into down dog on both feet and both hands, to get itself grounded in the gap between the company’s principles and appetite.

“Our offer to work in collaboration with the company still stands,” said David DiMaria, an organizer with the union. “Hopefully they will see past their original reaction.”

Carla Gatza, the head of human resources for YogaWorks, said, “we believe that our company, our employees, and our students are best served when YogaWorks and its employees work together without the interference of a third-party union.”

“They often say the yoga teachers are the center of this business,” Tamar Samir, embroiled in the unionization bid, said of the company’s leaders. “But then somehow the way that teachers are supported in terms of pay and benefits and job security doesn’t match that.”

That being said, YogaWorks promptly closed its SoHo center, throwing its employees out of work and students out on the chilly sidewalk.

A union is an association of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their interests and rights. They began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution. National unions bubbled up in the post-Civil War era as the coasts and sections were brought together by commerce and railroads.

Labor unions benefited greatly from the New Deal in the 1930s, especially after the Wagner Act passed to legally protect their right to organize. The number of workers belonging to unions peaked in the mid-50s at about 35% of the workforce and the total number of members peaked in the 70s at about 21 million. Membership has declined ever since. In 2013 there were 14 million members compared with 18 million in 1983. In 2013, the percentage of workers belonging to a union was 11%, compared to 20% in 1983.

There are more than 50 thousand yoga teachers in the United States, and according to the Yoga Alliance there are two people interested in becoming a teacher for every current teacher on the classroom floor. At that rate, should they succeed in signing up the proletariat of yogis, the Machinists and Aerospace Workers will soon be the biggest union in the country.

Or maybe not

Do I think that yoga teachers deserve more job security and better pay? Yes,” says J. Brown of J. Brown Yoga. “Are there a lot of yoga center owners who are participating in a business model that exploits teachers? Yes. Does the Yoga Alliance 200-hour teacher training standard bear a lot of responsibility for creating this model and fueling more people to follow it? Yes.”

He didn’t stop there.

“Do I think that 100 teachers in NYC becoming part of the union, so they can attempt to negotiate the terms of their employment with Yogaworks, will do anything to change the model across the industry and give teachers more job security and better pay? No.”

There are about six thousand yoga centers nationwide. Twenty years ago, all of them were mom and pop places, independents, riding the wellness gravy train. In the past ten years venture capital has gotten its tentacles into the practice, for good reason.

There are 36 million pairs of active feet on mats nowadays, according to Yoga Journal. The number of people doing yoga grew by 50% in the past five years. Sun salutations are now as popular as swinging a golf club, without even having to go outside and get a sunburn. Popularity polls show that 15% of everybody has done yoga in the past year.

J. Brown sees “bottom line economics infecting the entire landscape of yoga centers. That is why yoga teachers have come to be paid so little and treated so poorly by both the corporate and independent operators.”

The median income in the United States is about $32,000. Median pay at GM is about $40,000. Roughly speaking, the average hourly pay for a member of the United Auto Workers ranges from $28 to $38 for those hired before September 2007, and between $16 and $20 for workers hired afterward. In 2015 yoga teaching was rated as one of the top one hundred jobs in the country, according to CNN, with a median annual paycheck clocking in at more than $60 big ones.

The compensation at YogaWorks ranges from about $35 to $100-or-more to teach classes of an hour’s length, occasionally an hour-and-a-half. The average teacher, teaching an average of 25 classes a week, working about 30 hours a week, at an average rate of pay of $50.00 a class, will make their $60 thousand-or-more a year without breaking a sweat, unless it’s a hot flow class.

One of the complaints made by yoga teachers about their jobs is the extracurricular time they have to spend cleaning the yoga rooms after class, even though the rooms are simply empty spaces with wood floors that usually just require mopping up some sweat and sweeping up some dust balls.

The pay for hotel maids ranges between $9.00 to $13.00 an hour across the country. The pay range hardly varies, suggesting there aren’t many opportunities for increased pay or advancement, even with several years of experience. The average cleaner, working 40 hours a week, vacuuming making beds disinfecting hotel rooms, makes approximately $21,000 a year, a third of what the average yoga teacher makes.

But it’s not just cleaning up after class. There’s more to it than that in the teaching racket. Hotel maids may have to mess with some messy stuff in the rooms they clean, but they don’t have to fiddle with their iPods. Yoga teachers do.

“We’re constantly having to change our playlist, constantly having to sequence, testing it out,” Melissa Brennan of CorePower Yoga said. “The expectation is go out and do all of this work and then come back and bring it back to the studio.”

The work on their digital record players is not compensated and has led to resentment, notwithstanding that teachers make about twice what the average Joe and Jane do. On the other hand, resentment is not morally superior to making money, so you might as well make as much of it as you can when you can.

Melissa and Effie Morgenstern are suing CorePower. They claim the company has failed “to pay its instructors for certain hours worked, causing their average weekly compensation to drop below the minimum wages they are entitled.”

“They hide behind the fact that you have all this gratitude and love and appreciation for yoga and your peers,” said Effie.

“In a lot of ways, they weaponize relationships,” Melissa said. “I know there is a part of me that feels really foolish for buying into that and thinking that these people did care about me.”

The suit is the fourth action with similar complaints filed against CorePower. Almost two thousand other yoga instructors have joined a class action lawsuit, claiming they are “overstretched and not being paid the minimum wages they are entitled to.”

In a statement, CorePower Yoga said the lawsuit brought by Brennan and Morgenstern is without merit and maintains there was no wrongdoing. “CorePower is proud of its practices, believes they are fair, and will continue to stand by and defend them.”

When yoga went commercial it went capitalist. Yoga is cool beans, but cool capitalism is still capitalism, no matter how many times headquarters quotes BKS Iyengar Seane Corn Leslie Kaminoff or anybody else. They might as well cut to the chase and get right to Sadie Nardini, the bright shining guiding light of yoga commercialism.

The debate about traditional vs. modern in the world of yoga is over. It’s been bushwhacked. The answer is free market capitalism. It’s about selling and winning and making money. It’s not for the faint of heart. After all, you can go broke in the yoga game, like anywhere else.

“Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell,” says Frank Borman, businessman and ex-NASA astronaut.

Yoga is progressive open-minded socially conscious, except when it isn’t, when it comes to collective bargaining. Then it’s status quo push back time. “The dynamic of unions doesn’t reflect who we are, how we interact, how we make decisions or where we need to go,” is what automaker corporations and venture capital yogis all say when push comes to shove. It’s my way or the highway.

There are only so many pieces of the pie.

Yoga literally means union. Yoga yoke union. It can be understood on different levels, philosophically, religiously, and psychologically, no longer living at cross-purposes with yourself. It can simply mean going to yoga class, getting in step with like-minded folks. It might soon mean a first sighting thunderbolt, yoga teachers walking the picket line, fending off glib-talking union-busting ginks and finks.

Meanwhile, Andrew Carnegie is laughing hysterically, wherever he is, while new-age union bosses are getting with the new dynamic, and Krishnamacharya and his antecedents are rolling up out of corpse pose with surprised looks, all shook up at the ruckus.

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.”

Making the Scene

By Ed Staskus

“Now it’s time for change, nothing stays the same.”  Motley Crue

Yoga has never been what it has been or what it is. It’s not one thing, even though it doesn’t say one thing and mean another. Not everyone brings the same curiosity interest hunger to it, nor does everyone get the same thing out of it. There are a lot of drops in the ocean of it, which is apropos, given hatha yoga’s beginnings.

Matsyendranath, the founder of hatha yoga, was tossed into the ocean about a thousand years ago by his parents when they determined he had been born under a bad sign. He was swallowed by a big fish, stayed swallowed but survived, and grew up. One day when the fish dove to the bottom of the ocean, he overheard Siva and Parvati, who happened to be nearby, talking about yoga. He made notes, practiced what they preached for twelve years while inside the belly of the whale, and when he finally made it back to dry land became a yoga teacher.

Everyone called him ‘Jonah, Jr.’ behind his back, but his students called him ‘Lord of the Fishes’ face forward.

The Yoga Alliance has nothing on Matsyendranath’s credentials, since he put in more than one hundred thousand hours of groundwork compared to YA’s 200 and 500-hour teacher training certificates.

For about five thousand years yoga was largely a mind game, focusing on energy and awareness. The right stuff was life force, the vital principle, discernment and consciousness. Yoga exercise wasn’t a big part of the package. It was hardly part of the package, at all. When almost everybody was working dawn to dusk to just get by, there wasn’t a big demand for vinyasa classes.

In the Industrial Age, when machines make our machines, and we sit in cars, sit in the glow of our flat screens, and sit around telling Alexa what to do, a little get up and go has become a priority. Yoga has become primarily a physical practice, for good reason. “Birds born in a cage think flying is a sickness,” said Alejandro Jodorowsky. But, many people still crave strength and movement skills. Coupled with the mental fortitude the practice brings to bear, yoga has become a go-to for tens of millions.

In the last one hundred-or-so years yoga has become whatever anybody says it is, from Yogananda to BKS Iyengar, from Pierre Bernard to Bikram Choudhury, from Lilian Folan to Tara Stiles. In the 1970s it was Ashtanga Yoga, in the 1990s it was Power Yoga, and in the 2000s it was Anusara Yoga.

Back in the day it was build your own internal fire. Today it’s the warm and hot and very hot room. Tomorrow is up for grabs, given the implications of climate change.

In the last twenty-or-so years it has become a cornucopia, yoked to acrobatics and paddleboards, booze and barnyards, therapy and retreats. There are conferences and festivals. It’s the ever-changing life-changing magic of the practice. If yoga is about transformation, it is living up to its mission in the new millennium.

In the same way that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, the age-old practice is going through some changes.

AntiGravity Yoga and Fitness, developed by Christopher Harrison, a former gymnast and dancer, in 2007, is about getting hitched to a fabric swing hung from a ceiling and stretching and working out on it. The device is called the AntiGravity Hammock.

“Suspend your disbelief, and I can bring you to better health, less pain, and allow you to feel the joy of flying,” he says.

The yoga has its roots in his AntiGravity, an entertainment brand established in 1991, which has conceived and collaborated in over 400 productions since that time, from Broadway shows to the Olympics to the Academy Awards. Chris Harrison designed bungee dance technology and developed hanging silk as a performance apparatus. His AntiGravity Theater and National Aerial Performance Training Center is based in Florida.

AntiGravity Yoga has spread to gyms and studios in more than 30 countries, including Madonna’s Hard Candy Fitness. “It’s not as hard as it looks, and it’s actually not as terrifying as it seems,” observed Jessica Booth after taking a class at Studio Anya in NYC. “Once you’re in the hammock correctly, you’re so much more secure than you’d think. If you do exactly what you’re told, you’ll find yourself doing front and back flips, handstands galore, and even hanging upside down.”

Some people hang on for dear life, while others get a great workout in. You can even fly back and forth like it’s a playground swing set. Since a good part of the exercise is done upside down, everyone feels taller when they’re finished.

“It makes you feel like a total badass,” Jessica added.

AcroYoga is yoga melded with acrobatics and healing arts. It got off the ground in the early part of the 21st century, although Krishnamacharya used to do it in the 1930s, playing the role of the base, while a child played the flyer, doing asanas above him. It’s a vigorous workout usually involving three people, base, flyer, and spotter.

The base is on the ground, on his or her back, while the flyer is the person elevated off the ground, moving through a series of dynamic postures. The spotter is there to make sure things don’t go haywire, and save the day, if need be. The circle ceremony, promoting openness and communication within the group, is what everyone does before class.

Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein founded AcroYoga International in 2003. It blended gymnastics with playfulness with yoga. They systematized the terms and training and execution of the practice. They made common poses a matter of teamwork.

It’s the yoga of trust, because you’ve got to trust the person whose hands and feet you are balanced on. You are moving up there, but are being moved from below, as well. It is move play connect. It is leaning on each other, believing your partner will always be there to lend a hand.

It isn’t easy, requiring muscles, core strength, and kinesthetic awareness. It takes long-established practice to new heights. It’s more fun than sweating your ass off at a Bikram Yoga studio, too.

SUP Yoga is doing yoga on a paddleboard, and it’s also more fun than sweating your ass off at a Bikram studio. For one thing, you’re outside, on the open water, in the fresh air, not in a steam bath of a mirrored torture chamber. For another thing, if you fall, you fall into clean water, not face first onto a Bikram-mandated moldy carpet.

Standing up on canoes and rafts and propelling yourself with the help of a pole or paddle is thousands of years old. The Waikiki Beach Boys of Oahu pioneered the modern style of stand up paddle boarding in the 1960s. Although nobody knows who actually premiered SUP Yoga, Rachel Brathen is one of the pioneers.

“My fiancée was always surfing on a longboard with big dogs, and I thought, if he can surf with a dog on a board, I should be able to do a down dog on a board,” she said.

On shore, people asked her, “Do you teach classes in this?”

“Sure!” she said, channeling her inner and outer teacher, which she is, as well as the author of the New York Times bestseller “Yoga Girl”.

A week later she started giving her first classes.

SUP Yoga is a little more complex than posture yoga, which barely requires a mat, if that. It calls for essential gear, including a paddleboard, paddle, leash, personal flotation device, and an emergency whistle. It takes some getting used to. Just about anything that is done on a mat can be done on a board, but the board is wobbly all the time, which engages on-land muscles in a different way. It demands you be intentional with all your movements, and stay in the present, every split second.

Otherwise, it’s over the side.

On the far side, from kooky to cute, is doing yoga while under the influence, and practicing with pets.

Boozy yoga got its start when studios started pairing their classes with cheese and wine tasting afterwards, cocktails at the local saloon after Friday night classes, and mimosas after Sunday morning flow classes. There’s nothing like a pick-me-up after the pick-me-up of a good yoga class, although it can get to be too much of a good thing.

One in eight American adults meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder.

Beer Yoga is happy hour on the mat. Pop-up classes get sponsored by a local bar or brewery. There are 24 hours in a day. There are 24 beers in a case. It can’t be a coincidence. It’s got to be destiny, karma. It’s also got to be a new revenue stream for beer makers. Who knew yogis would be getting into suds?

There is even Drunk Yoga, created by Eli Walker, a yoga teacher in Brooklyn, NYC, for those unconcerned about hitting the bottle hard. A plastic tumbler of wine is near to hand at every mat, although everyone is limited to one glass just before class and one glass during class. All bets are off after class.

“With Drunk Yoga, I wanted to create a safe and silly space for yogis and non-yogis alike to just have fun and move their bodies,” says Eli Walker.

“I’ll drink to that,” say her students.

“We make new friends over a glass of wine and just lighten the fuck up about yoga,” observed Jamey Powell. “And you know what? It worked for me. It is as fun as it sounds.”

Getting in the groove with pets and barnyard animals are surefire ways to lighten the mood of any yoga class. Yoga with your dog, or Doga, for short, is changing it up from a daily walk and into the yoga studio. They don’t actually do anything once they are there, except maybe keep you company and relax in corpse pose for an hour, but it keeps them from chasing squirrels.

“Dogs really benefit from Doga whether they participate, or not,” says Mahny Djahanguiri, who has been bonding with canines for about five years. “In my class the dogs are dogis and humans are yogis.” The idea is that animals lower anxiety levels and generate feel good hormones.

She has written “Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog”. The how-to book includes pictures of how to deploy large dogs as bolsters and small dogs as hand weights.

Yoga with animals has spread to horses, cats, and baby goats. Goat Yoga got started at Lainey Morse’s farm in Oregon in 2016 when a friend suggested she host yoga classes. “I said OK,” said Lainey, “but the goats have to join in.” She had eight goats. The goats joined in. Within a year there was a waiting list to get in on the classes.

“The most fun part for me is watching people’s faces when a little goat comes up to them while they’re doing a yoga pose,” she said. “It’s a distraction, but it’s a happy distraction. It’s hard to be sad and depressed when there’s baby goats jumping on you.”

In the past two years Caprine Vinyasa, better known as Baby Goat Yoga, has grown by leaps and bounds. The goat kids might distract you with their melt-your-insides cuteness, might climb on your back when you’re in plank pose, and might leave little pools of goat pee here and there, but they are ideal therapy partners.

Jut watch out when you’re in headstand, as goats tend to butt heads.

Rooftop Yoga, Silent Disco Yoga, Naked Yoga, TRX Yoga, Broga, MMA Yoga, and Soul Flow Yoga are among a myriad of other niche practices that have suddenly sprouted on the scene in recent years. It’s always great to take risks and try new things, but new roads sometime mean superhighways and other times just mean new ruts.

On the other side of redesigned ways of doing things at your local studio, festivals and conferences drawing national and international audiences have proliferated in the past twenty years. Some of the best festivals are Sat Nam Fest, OM Yoga Show, and Wanderlust. They are launching pads for the old school that endures and the cutting edge that works.

The OM Yoga Show is a yoga gathering in London. Studio owners from around the world come to participate and network at one of the biggest such expos in the world. “If you’re in the yoga industry bring business cards with you,” said Sarah Highfield, founder of Yogarise. “Come in your yoga clothes – there are lots of classes on offer. Finally, turn up hungry, because there are plenty of tasty food stands to try.”

Sat Nam Fest is five days of asana, mantras, and meditation, revolving around Kundalini Yoga. Wanderlust is yoga by day and concerts by night, celebrations of mindfull living, living it up, summer surfing with “great nature, great food, great people, and more!” It has grown to 8 festivals annually in the USA and Canada.

Even though there are many ways to sharpen skills nowadays, from blogs to podcasts to instructional videos, one of the best ways is still the live event, workshops and conferences.  They are about meeting influencers and experts face-to-face, learning new know-hows and relearning classic ways of doing things, and sharpening the saw. Almost everybody comes home from conferences, from investing in themselves, from being in rooms with the energy of like-minded individuals, with a greater focus.

The Omega Institute hosts an annual Yoga Service Conference. “The conference is a wonderful opportunity to connect with folks whose yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are primarily focused on service to the world,” said Sue Julian of the Yoga Prison Project. The Toronto Yoga Conference has grown to 300 exhibitors and 700 hours of seminars and training sessions. The Yoga Journal Conferences have long been venues to experience the diversity of the practice, get inspired, work on your skills, and experiment with new ones.

The modern world is about change. Yoga is a practice of moxie and awareness. The first step in riding the wave of change is awareness.

In its own domain, yoga in the modern world has been experimenting, experiencing growing pains, shooting off in all directions. It gets hare-brained at times, shooting itself in the foot, electrifying at other times, shooting for the stars. It can do whatever it wants, even though it can’t do whatever it wants. It can only do what works, which is why it is still in business, still breathtaking.

Although new isn’t always progress, all yoga was once new.

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.”

Monkey On My Back

By Ed Staskus

On the northeastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of North Truro is on the Outer Cape, on the other side of Route 6, on the other side of the ocean by about a mile, and looks across Cape Cod Bay. It is 20 minutes past Wellfleet, and 10 minutes to Provincetown, which is the last town at the end of the line.

US Route 6, once known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, runs from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Before Dwight Eisenhower got the federal interstates built, it was the longest highway in the country.

Going into town for scallops and an IPA is as easy as pie. The road from North Truro to Wellfleet rolls past scrubby trees, while the road to Provincetown narrows, tucked into sand dunes. The National Seashore, from Race Point to Marconi Beach, ranges for many miles.

When President John Kennedy created the new National Seashore in the early 1960s, he created something old by leaving it alone. From the overlook at Marconi there is a broad view of the Atlantic Ocean. Down the steep sand dunes is a long wide flat stretch of beach. Hotel and resort developers and real estate interests haven’t been able to turn the seashore from Orleans to Provincetown into their version of hellish happiness.

Although Provincetown gets jammed to the gills in July and August, the summer before summer and the summer after summer are laid back on the Outer Cape. It’s laid back, but there is plenty to do.

There is plenty of green space on the Outer Cape.

There is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, almost 8,000 acres of dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, and an old lighthouse. There is a nine-mile long sandbar accessible by kayak. Nickerson State Park is several thousand acres of woods, home to fox and deer, and hiking trails. Walk or jog or ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Explore Provincetown’s Commercial Street, chock full of restaurants, funky shops, and art galleries. There are street performers, although not all of them are official street performers. Some are in the flesh performance artists. There are comedy clubs and night clubs.

At the Wellfleet Drive-in, starting in September, old school movies like “Jaws” and “Grease” and “Back to the Future” are shown on the big screen. Families back their pick-up trucks in, flip the tail gates down, and spread sleeping bags out on the bed of the truck. Teenagers bring gigantic flamingo lounge pool floats and flop on them between the cars.

Or, don’t do much. Grab a book, a folding chair, a tube of sunscreen, and head to the beach. There’s plenty of sunshine. It’s always chill on the sand. There are always clams, mussels, and oysters afterwards.

There is some yoga on the Outer Cape, a very nice studio in Wellfleet, and several in Provincetown. They are smallish and on the small side spaces. Yoga East on Race Point Road might fit a dozen people on their polished sunlit floor. In the summer, unless it rains, they are half empty.

There is plenty of air and space to do yoga outside, on the shady grass behind the North Truro Library, at spots all over in the parks, and on the seashore. Not many do, however, an opportunity lost. Unless it is a class that has moved outside, spotting a yoga mat on the Outer Cape is like spotting Moby Dick.

Thar she blows!

Not that you need a mat to get it done. If you want to practice poses on the beach, it’s best to ditch the mat, anyway, and go natural. The hard sand closer to the water is great for standing poses and the soft sand farther back is great for floor work.

If yoga is a personal practice, meant to get you to go inwards, the ocean shore and many of the beaches on the bay side are great places to go solo. They are easy to find, all of them have parking lots, and either stairs or tracks down to the beaches. Almost everyone is usually tucked in within a few hundred yards of one another. Go in either direction, go a few hundred yards, and you will suddenly find yourself alone.

It’s where to go to get the monkey off your back.

You may be able to see Head of the Meadow Beach over one shoulder, and Coast Guard Beach over the other shoulder, but it will be just you and low tide and the seagulls and gray seals somewhere in between the two. The gray seals ply the shoreline, their way of steering clear of sharks, who stay away, aware of the shallow water and the dangers of getting stranded in the sand.

Although most yoga is practiced in group settings at studios, gyms, and community centers, back in the day yogic fundamentals recommended practicing alone. The idea was to connect with your breath and body without anybody else breathing on you or sweating up a storm in headstand on their mat inches away from you. Practicing yoga in a group setting, with somebody at the head of the class, is a structured ready-to-wear way to get your yoga in, but it’s somebody else’s structure.

Going it alone, there’s no need to keep an eye out for anybody tilting swaying and falling over on top of you. There isn’t any shake and bake, keeping up with the vinyasa, staying in step with the playlist. There’s no list of any kind.

Practicing alone means there aren’t any teachers telling you what to think, making sure you don’t have to think for yourself, since that is what you are paying them for, anyway. Practicing alone means you are free, on the loose to think for yourself, instead of ingesting received wisdom. Practicing alone means you can make yourself up, steering clear of holiness and hipster cant.

On the bay side of Cape Cod, from North Truro, where there are always front row seats to sunsets over Provincetown, it is about four miles south down the beach, past Pilgrim Beach Village, Cold Storage Beach  and Corn Hill Beach to Pamet Harbor in Truro, where the sand abruptly ends at the mouth of the harbor. For much of the walk, as far as Cold Storage Beach, houses are perched high on the sea cliff, out of sight, squatting quietly at the top of long steep weather-beaten stairs.

At the base of the escarpment, all along the narrow beach, the Atlantic Ocean stretching three thousand miles on the backside and Cape Cod Bay seventy-some miles into the distance, is a good place to practice yoga alone, walking the line, except when it isn’t.

“Are you all right?”

They were an older couple, out for a walk. He was wearing a snap brim straw hat and she was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. There was a concerned expression on her face.

“Yes, it’s just a yoga pose. It’s called Twisted Monkey. I do it for my hip flexors and for my lower back.”

“Oh, we thought maybe you had hurt yourself.”

“I did hurt myself, but that was an accident, and now I do this to get better.”

“Does it help?”

“It does help, in more ways than one, even though it’s not the be all and end all. It helps my backside, and it helps keep my head on straight, too, which is a good thing.”

“Did you hurt your head, too?”

“No, but I get headaches sometimes in this crazy world.”

“I’m with you about the craziness,” the man in the old summer hat laughed. “Maybe I should try some of that yoga.”

“Take some classes, learn the fundamentals, what have you got to lose?”

Take a step to the side, around the billboard, and there’s a different way of looking at things on the other side.

Yoga classes, under the direction of an accredited teacher, are the way to learn the practice. They are also a way to be in a community. They engender and reinforce a sense of purpose and place.

At the end of the day, at the end of the line, everyone practices on their own, even when they practice cheek to jowl in a crowded yoga studio. Unless they don’t like being alone, and the class is a way of pretending everyone in a crowd is on your side. They are, of course, as long as you stay in the crosswalk.

Practicing on your own internalizes what you’ve learned. Yoga isn’t rocket science. There is a bucketful of learning to it, but it’s as much horse sense as it is wisdom. Going it alone, without anyone bending your ear, listening to your own breath, shucking shellfish, walking on sunshine, can be the best way to get to whatever fresh clear air thinking is out there.

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.”

Busting Out the Yoga Pants

By Ed Staskus

Slightly less than 20% of everyone in yoga classes are men. That is sharply down from the 100% it was one hundred years ago. Since then the practice has been annexed by gals bending like pretzels. Even when they aren’t lithe and limber, they’ve fine-tuned in to the mental and physical health benefits of yoga.

The twist is that for thousands of years it was a men’s club. No women need apply. The idea of Daisy Dukes doing yoga was anathema. The prohibition was laughed out of the closet about fifty years ago. Now it’s a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

“I’ve been teaching yoga for over 25 years and I can’t believe how the number of men participating in yoga has not really increased,” says Yogi Aaron, director and master teacher at Blue Osa in Costa Rica.

When it comes to the practice nowadays, many men are like honey badgers. They just don’t care. Some of them have thought about it but never taken the first step. They don’t think it is intense hardcore challenging enough. The “no pain no gain” school of thought is still going strong. A few strong men, like Chuck Norris, do some yoga for flexibility and balance, even though they don’t need to, being Chuck Norris.

They don’t worry about anybody’s pantywaist deconstruction of the practice. They roll up their sleeves. They bust out the action pants.

The action movie star and martial artist never loses his balance in any posture. Balance loses to Chuck Norris. When he does inversions, he doesn’t go upside down. He tips the universe over. In honor of this feat the new 7th series in Ashtanga Yoga is called “Chuckitsa.” It cleanses every drop of lily liver from your body and soul.

“Many men have misconceptions about it,” says Gwen Saint Romain, a wellness instructor and registered yoga teacher at the Rex Wellness Center in Raleigh, N. Carolina.

“I think that one of the misconceptions is that it is always very gentle, meditative and mindful, that there aren’t physical benefits,” she says. “But it’s definitely not just meditating. Some yoga classes, like power yoga, are extremely rigorous, sweaty workouts. A lot of guys come to a yoga class for the first time because they are invited by a friend, a spouse or girlfriend. They find out quickly that yoga can be a very intense workout.”

Chuck Norris finds intense yoga classes right up his sleeve, although he doesn’t break out into a sweat about them, cool as a cucumber. “How many push-ups can you do in chaturanga?” he was asked. “All of them,” he said. He pulls his Action Pants on both legs at a time. The secret ingredient in Red Bull is Chuck Norris’s piss and vinegar.

The yoga entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury challenged him to 90 minutes of super-hot yoga in his LA-based “torture chamber.” He said it would make a man of him.

“I’ve got to tell you, partner, I once bet NASA a cold beer I could survive re-entry without a spacesuit,” Chuck told the Speedo-clad taskmaster.

“Nothing is impossible, believe me I know” said Bikram. “Girls hang all over me and thousands of people pay me thousands of dollars to tell them how to lock their knees, but that’s impossible.”

In respect for the ancient practice of yoga, an esteem he didn’t necessarily feel for the fitness guru, he let the comment slide.

When he pulled the space stunt a stark-naked Chuck Norris re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, streaking over 14 states, and reaching a temperature of 3000 degrees. He landed on his feet and ran two hundred miles to the nearest airport for a flight home. An embarrassed NASA was compelled to deliver a growler of ale to his front door.

When Bikram demanded he lock his knee in class, Chuck Norris stormed the big wig’s throne and put him in a headlock. He didn’t release Bikram until he had counted to infinity. The groupies in class got impatient, although Mrs. Bikram wasn’t even aware her husband hadn’t been home in a long time.

“From physique to mental health, yoga is one of the most beneficial practices in the world. Most Western yoga classes are dominated by women, but more and more men are starting to become interested in getting on the mat,” says Lanai Moliterno, a yoga instructor in Encinitas, California.

“A lot of men have jumped on board, have discovered the numerous benefits yoga can bring, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Enhanced strength? Injury prevention? Better sexual performance? Increased calm and focus? Who knew stretching and breathing could do all this?”

Chuck Norris agrees yoga is a steady hand to helping stay calm and focused, even though he has never not been calm and focused. When he goes target shooting, he always hits 11 out of 10 targets. With nine bullets. He always wins games of Connect Four in three moves. He wins every game of chess in only one move, a roundhouse kick to the face.

Although there was little confusion a hundred years ago about what and who yoga was for, the case for the practice today is a little more complex, especially in the mano a mano world.

“Years ago, just as Jay Cutler was ascending to the top of the bodybuilding world, he told me about a secret he’d recently begun to incorporate into his training,” says Steven Stiefel, an LA-based writer for health and fitness magazines.

“It was yoga! He credited his improved flexibility with his ability to train more efficiently and avoid injury. And then he won the Mr. Olympia title.

“Today, there are more yoga classes than ever, but a lot of people, men in particular, remain confused about what happens inside those classes and how they should feel about it. Is it stretching, meditation, some combination, or something else entirely? Could it be the secret to unlocking your tight hips and superhuman athletic potential, or will it just make you sprout a man bun and go all new age?”

You don’t want to get it wrong, unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, in which case you’ll hit the nail on the head.

The only time Chuck Norris was ever wrong was when he thought he had made a mistake. His computer has no backspace button. He doesn’t make mistakes. Chuck Norris has done yoga and not gone new age or sprouted anything under his cowboy hat. He has cows in the back forty grilling his steaks for him.

Many weightlifters have added yoga to their fitness routine. There are several ways it can improve lifting, including increasing range of motion, reducing soreness, minimizing risk of injury, and fomenting correct posture.

Holding and releasing poses in yoga class relaxes tight muscles and encourages flexibility. Yoga draws oxygen into muscles. It flushes lactic acid. The practice enlivens balance and strengthens joints and smaller stabilizing muscles, helping prevent injury. Big men tend to be top-heavy. Core strengthening work, emphasis on the back, and chest and shoulder opener poses are instrumental at improving bearing and carriage.

There are many reasons why yoga might not be a good fit for many men, however. While it’s true their postures would probably improve, most men never have any trouble with back pain. What would they do with all the balance and flexibility they gained? Yoga sharpens focus, but men are fee-fi-fo focus fighters, anyway. Their heartrates and blood pressure are fine exactly where they are. It’s square enough yoga is a stress buster, but stress makes life more interesting. Busting out a mat is getting on the road to dullsville.

Nothing Chuck Norris does is ever dull. He can roundhouse kick his enemies yesterday. He sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of him. He can drive in Braille, and when he misspells a word, the Oxford English Dictionary changes the actual spelling of it.

Despite the best efforts of yoga promotors vendors marketers and merchandisers, there are still more gals than there are guys in classes. Studio owners and teachers say that the number of women to men is usually 80 to 20. Surveys by Yoga Journal have consistently found that the practice attracts far more womenfolk than menfolk.

Why don’t more men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” says Praneetha Akula, a Silver Spring, Maryland, resident who dragged her man to the studio.

Chuck Norris never gets bored, inside or outside a yoga studio. Getting bored is an insult to yourself. Chuck Norris’s head would explode if he ever insulted himself. Anybody else’s head, if they insulted him, would instantly explode just from the thought of it.

Maybe men shouldn’t bother doing yoga, unless they are like Chuck Norris, which is impossible. When he meditates, going inward, he finds a smaller tougher Chuck Norris inside himself.

“In a society that places people in convenient ticky-tacky boxes, it seems today’s yoga is clearly for women,” says Dr. Phil Maffetone, an endurance athlete, sports medicine clinician, and author of the “Big Book of Health and Fitness.”

Do real men do yoga?

“Knowing its potential value in health and fitness, various forms of yoga are something I have recommended over my career, to both men and women. But I don’t do it. Having tried various styles, there are more than 100 different types of yoga, I never enjoyed any of them,” he says.

“I get the same benefits of yoga, its scientific and perceived values, from other approaches, without the formality, the special clothes, or going anywhere. I wonder if men are turned off to things like chanting, Sanskrit terms for poses, cliché yoga music, and pretzel poses. Or, maybe men are too aggressive in their workout ethics to even try yoga, which might be the reason they are more often injured than women.”

On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the reason more real men should get their get up and go butts down on the mat. Take a breath. Slow it down. Forget the finish line.

On top of that, it’s more manly than most men think. It was originally created designed practiced by men, taught by men, for men. It stayed that way for thousands of years. It was physically demanding enough in an age when everything was physically demanding. In the last half century women have crashed the party, which is all to the good.

Who wants to do yoga in a room full of dads, dudes, and varmints? Rooster Cogburn in tree pose would be a sight for sore eyes, but it would also be a sore sight.

Yoga makes everyone, women and men, better at what they do. If you’re flexible, it will help you build strength. If you’re strong as hell, it helps you find balance. Ethically, it grounds you in the Golden Rule. Mentally, it gives you a way to handle pressure and stress.

We can’t all be Chuck Norris. In fact, no one can be Chuck Norris. He once inhaled for 108 seconds – 108 million seconds. He has never read the Yoga Sutras. He stared them down until the Sutras squealed and told him everything he wanted to know. He would be the crazy best yoga teacher of all time. His classroom adjustments would never be forgotten by anyone, ever.

Since he could sail around the world in boat pose, if he ever wanted to, it wouldn’t hurt men to jump the Ship of Fools and join him on the USS Chuck Norris. But Chuck don’t care if you do, or not. Why should he? After all, when Chuck Norris does yoga, starting with sun salutations, the sun salutes him.

At the end of the day, yoga is about the self. Gird your loins and find some sunshine on the forward deck. Do your own warrior poses. Don’t worry about Chuck Norris. He’s the only man dead or alive who can divide by zero. He can take care of himself. Zero in on yourself.

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.”

Odd Man Out

By Ed Staskus

It was on an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they ran into him picketing a vegan restaurant on the far west side of their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. Faces peered through the plate glass windows. Passersby stopped to see what was going on.

They had dropped by several times since, but once winter got cold and crusty had not paid him a call, not that Vera minded, or even gave it a thought.

The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it.

HYPOCRITES! In capital letters. In cold blood red crayon.

The two patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.

The exasperated cops drove away.

He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”

It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He didn’t have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.

Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Mr. Moto and Sky King, who slept with them most nights. She didn’t think of them as slaves and was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.

“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.

“I don’t think so,” said Barron.

A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid federal student debt, Barron was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested in seeking employment.

He didn’t vote, although he enjoyed Donald Trunp’s antics whenever he heard about them, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion. Vera thought of his pursuit as a dead end, but didn’t say so.

Barron had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs for cash only. But he only worked for them if they didn’t have cars and agreed never to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.

“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.

Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them. He is a queer duck who lives on Hogsback, Vera calculated to herself

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” she asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from their house.

Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had gone on-line, rapidly read about what he considered a simple chore, dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he put down and buried a concealed transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a true blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of loopy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.

Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. Barron gave Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”

Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a bright smile at Barron, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.

As they approached Hogsback Lane looking over the Rocky River valley, they saw a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.

Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.

“Vegans are as bad as my parents, the whole lot of them,” said Barron, a lone wolf.

“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their immersions in the Bahamas, and everywhere else around the globe for their holiday retreats, never mind the carbon footprint, and I’ll show you the real hypocrite who’s burning up the planet.”

Since Barron didn’t own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were glad to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.

“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.

“It’s a yurt,” he said.

It was round, orange, and circled by a necklace of large white stones, like what kids do at summer camps.

“Whatever,” Vera said under her breath.

Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.

“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.

“Here in the backyard, every day, and sometimes at the studio across the Detroit bridge in Rocky River. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”

“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.

“Maybe,” said Barron.

He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging her wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and loose soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a chattel to the supermarket. Freedom is the best idea.”

As they got ready to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed the bag to Frank. He was still unsure of Vera.

“You should take every chance to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge wasn’t the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge.” It was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents back then to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.

Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. Frank gave her a glance. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.

“Man, oh man, I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron would have a cow, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”

They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

Or maybe he was just his own incarnation of everybody’s cranky uncle.

They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of-mind.

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.”

One Now at a Time

By Ed Staskus

Now matters more than anything. It is alive immediate distinct. If it wasn’t for now everything might happen at once.

Living in the now has been around for a long time, back when now was in the past, from about the time mirrors and cast iron were invented, up to the techno time of today. Everybody knew about it back then. “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly,” said Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago.

Nowadays the concept gets a lot of play. It has become a power phrase, meaning be aware of the moment, get out of your stream of thoughts, and make your life happen in the present. All you have to do is remember to do it amid the distractions of the modern age.

It used to be easier living in the now than it is now. Back when it was archaeological, much of life was spent in the slow lane, unlike now, when everyone is in the passing lane. Thousands of years ago everyone wasn’t always thinking about something that had happened, or might happen, or what they needed to do right now.

There wasn’t a whole lot happening, in any event.

They didn’t multi-task in the Stone Age. There was no need to disconnect because no one was connected. It was more of a single-task time. They didn’t drive fast here and there and everywhere. Ox carts and horse-drawn wagons were generally one-speed. They didn’t have to appreciate nature because there was so much of it. It was in your line of sight day and night. There was no need to take time out from the office for a nature walk.

Nonetheless, way back when, even Roman emperors, who had a lot to do, beating back barbarians and planning the next conquest, recognized the savvy of living in the now. “Man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant,” said Marcus Aurelius. “All the rest of his life is either past and gone or not yet revealed.”

Even in our own age the wisdom of living in the now has been appreciated extolled recommended. “You must live in the present, find your eternity in each moment,” said Henry David Thoreau. “Fools look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.”

In TV time Oprah Winfrey has passed sentence on the past and the future. “Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future,” she said. “It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.”

When you’re killing time, time is quietly killing you. It’s time to get up stand up. It’s now or never.

The Now Generation is the Me Generation gone fast forward and spread far and wide. Before the 1960s gratification was often postponed in favor of the future. But in the blink of an eye self-sacrifice became self-fulfillment. In the 70s and 80s the immediacy of lived experience and self-gratification became the lifestyle choices of a generation.

When Nike unveiled its ‘Do It Now’ slogan in 1987 it hit a home run. Before the end of the century its business grew by more than 1000 percent. A stitch in time saves nine isn’t a rip in the space-time continuum. It’s getting 100 percent of it done now.

In the 21st century we spend about half our time thinking about something other than what we are doing, according to a study conducted by Harvard University. The only exception is sex, when almost everyone has his and her mind on the job at hand. Very few men or women whip out their iPhones when they’re in the moment, since they’re having a ringing good time, anyway.

The benefits of living in the now are many, notwithstanding better sex. Those benefits include less worry-warting and over-thinking, fewer distractions and improved concentration, putting your focus where it counts, getting things done, and having a richer experience from a direct-felt comprehension of reality. Staying foursquare in the present helps you be more creative, more decisive, and more happy, too, since you’re not lamenting the over and done nor fretting about the future.

Yoga has been associated with living in the now for most of its history.

“There is so much power in the experience of the present moment that whole spiritual disciplines have been created solely to bring us into the now,” according to Kino MacGregor, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher and writer about the discipline. Some of yoga’s eight limbs, or precepts, can only be practiced in the moment. You have to root your consciousness in them to get anywhere.

Much of yoga practice is predicated on practicing with no judgment and no expectation. In other words, just do it. In so doing, the past and the future have nothing to do with it. Getting on a yoga mat means getting off the merry-go-round of attachment and goals.

The first thing Patanjali, the godfather of yoga, says in the Yoga Sutras is, “Now begins instruction on the practice.” He doesn’t say, never mind, we did that yesterday, or, we’ll get to that tomorrow. He says there’s no time like the right time, which is now.

“When life seems crazy and fast and full of distractions, I just remember that yoga is now,” explained Hayleigh Zachary, a Los Angeles-based teacher trainer.

It is often said yoga takes you right into the present, the only place where life exists. Don’t become attached to anything, just flow with it. The past can be depressing and the future an anxious place. Being in the now is being both in time and stepping out of time.

Sometimes we are self-absorbed and other times we are absorbed in what we are doing. When we are in mid-stream landing a big trout, steering a car through a hairpin turn, or extracting a wisdom tooth, we are absorbed in the now. There’s no thinking about checking the latest tweet about something-or-other.

Yoga used to be about spiritual realization. It has become becoming one with your body. In any case, in line with a new emphasis on living in the now it has become the pursuit of self-realization.

Athletes often describe themselves as being at their best when they are in the zone, playing in the now. “I treat every day like it’s my last day with a basketball,” said LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player of his age. “See the ball, hit the ball,” said Pete Rose, arguably the best baseball player of his age. “I never looked down the road,” said Jerry Rice, arguably the best football player of his age. “It was always about playing each and every game 100 percent.”

Being in the flow of the here-and-now means bringing a focused concentration to your game, dissociating yourself from distractions, ignoring the irrelevant. Being in the zone is like tunnel vision. Everything extraneous falls away, everything happens in slow motion, and everything you accomplish in the zone is effortless and purposeful.

You forget yourself and you become yourself, no matter that the phrase, which dates from the 1970s, came from the TV show “The Twilight Zone” and means, more-or-less, “out of this world.”

Although living in the now, savoring the experience, has its benefits, ignoring the past can have its costs. Remembering the past is a way of learning from it. It’s long been said, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. When you’re engulfed by the now, it’s hard to remember anything except right now. A life without past or future is like a tree without roots, a tree without buds in the spring. It’s like jumping off a skyscraper and on the way down to the sidewalk looking around with a happy smile, so far, so good.

But the past is disappearing fast and there ain’t no future in the trip down to the bottom of the manhole.  You need eyes in the back of your head as well as the front. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize.

In 1876 the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ran for President of the United States against the Democrat “Centennial Sam” Tilden. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but when the votes were re-counted in Florida, the election was cast into the hands of an electoral commission, and one Republican Supreme Court justice decided the contest. “Centennial Sam” went home. “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes went to the White House.

One hundred and twenty-four years later another Democrat won the popular vote, the election was thrown into doubt by hanging chads in Florida, and the ultimate decision of who would sleep in the East Wing came down to one Republican Supreme Court justice.

If the consciousness-raising Al Gore hadn’t been so absorbed in the now of the campaign, and had heeded his history lessons, he wouldn’t today be known as the man who for a few short weeks was the next President of the United States.

Politicians of all stripes believe in the tyranny of now. Rah, rah, rah, vote for me, take it or leave it, never mind what I said ten minutes ago. The bad old days are in the past. The future isn’t promised to anyone unless we make it happen today. That’s how they get elected. However, Donald Trump’s cynical 2016 campaign demonstrated the power of applying lessons from the dark past, even though those lessons were miserable and mercenary.

The only consolation is that he will almost surely twitter his mind away and his time will pass.

The problem with living in the now is that in nothing flat it’s gone. It’s always in motion. It barely exists. One now always leads to another. If yoga is a practice of consciousness, the issue with now is that you can never be fully conscious of it. You can’t concentrate on it, be conscious of it, because it is so fleeting. The stream of consciousness on a yoga mat is one thing but following the bouncing ball of now to nowhere is another thing.

In the 19th century American cities suffered high rates of typhoid, cholera, and yellow fever. The epidemics were especially deadly to children. Many infectious diseases were the result of unmanaged waste and dirty water. In time people got tired of living in the now. They brought the future into the present so something could be done about the past.

Nowadays Americans rarely suffer from typhoid or cholera, and never think about what now was like a hundred years ago. We don’t have to worry about anyone on the mat next to us who might have yellow fever, because someone a hundred years ago was committed to making things better for us. They weren’t satisfied with now.

Another problem with living in the now is that when we make choices in the moment without considering how they will be remembered in the future we are playing with fire.

There is a reason Jerry Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, why LeBron James will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and why Pete Rose will never be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All team sports are bound by rules and regulations. They are the accretion of years and decades. The rules are not just the officiating on the playing field. Some of them make reference to the other side of the sidelines. When Pete Rose gambled on baseball during his playing days, he gambled on the pleasures of now over the set-in-stone proscriptions against gambling.

He came up snake eyes.

Jerry Rice and LeBron James have both described themselves as students of the game. They learned their lessons from the past so that they wouldn’t have any regrets. Pete Rose, on the other hand, flaunting the past, made sure he got nothing for something, forever tarnishing his legacy.

A confounding problem with living in the now is that now goes hand in hand with the past and the future. They are not three separate entities. The nature of time doesn’t work that way. When Alice asked the White Rabbit how long forever was, he said, “Sometimes, just one second.” When someone practices yoga in the now, they are practicing a five- thousand-year-old discipline. It’s not a pop-up. It’s not going to disappear when you roll up your mat, even if you disappear. It is likely yoga will be fashioning split seconds into forever five thousand years from now.

Anybody getting into a self-driving car twenty years from now, kicking back on the way to their yoga studio, on the bridge over the river of time, will be kicking back because somebody planted the seed of the self-driving car twenty years ago.

Time has long been thought of as a river, time passing by, never recovered. It might be better, however, to think of it as spacetime, in which the past, present, and future are materially identical. They all exist on a par with each other. We are spread out in the fabric of time. The past and the future are inaccessible because now, where you are now, is in a different part of spacetime.

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow,” said Buddha a long time ago. That’s one way of putting it. “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” said Albert Einstein not so long ago. That’s another way of putting the same thing.

Forever is made up of everybody living in the now, even though now isn’t what it used to be. There’s a lot more of it. Don’t miss out on forever. Tomorrow’s yesterday is always today. Don’t run out of time. Be here now the Big Bang the whole ball of wax in the blink of an eye.

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.”

Shouting Out the Om

By Ed Staskus

Om can be whatever you want it to be, since it represents the past, present, and future. It is both a symbol and a sound. It is omega, omniscient, and omnipresent, all words that start with Om. It’s the same as omelet, all your eggs and veggies on one plate.

Nobody knows exactly how old Om is, although everyone agrees it is along in years. It’s the sound that was never new and never gets old. It is sustainable energy that thrives and survives.

It’s the sign next to the door that says “Inquire Within”.

“In the beginning was the Word.”

Except in the beginning was the vibration.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration,” said Nikola Tesla, best known for spearheading the design of today’s electrical supply systems.

String Theory, a kind of theory of everything, says matter is made of small wriggling bits of energy that look like strings. It’s the vibration of life. It’s what ties it all together.

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together,” said Max Planck, who discovered energy quanta and won the Nobel Prize for it in 1918.

We are all electromagnetic fields, our own little solar systems. Just like the Big Bang. The big paradox about the Big Bang has always been the chicken or the egg question. It’s the same with Om. Do we make vibrations when we chant, or do the vibrations of our chanting make us, or does it matter?

Someone once asked their yoga teacher how long it would take to gain enlightenment if they practiced Om faithfully.

“Ten years,” said the teacher.

“How about if I really work at it and double my efforts?”

“Twenty years.”

It might take ten minutes to chant Om 108 times. At that rate you’ve got the rest of your life. Or, at least, you’ve got right now.

Why chant Om 108 times? Because 1 represents one thing, zero represents nothing, and 8 represents infinity. It’s the whole ball of wax wrapped up in one package, bound up by a red string.

Om is like getting a big bright box with a bow on it for your birthday. You open the box and find out it is empty inside.

“Aha!” you say. “Just what I wanted.”

It’s got that old time religion, the hand on the plow. It’s got the flow, the vibe. There’s no lip-synching it. It doesn’t even have to do anything, just be in the room. When you’re chanting there’s suddenly more air in the air, like you’re at the seashore, back before the Machine Age, back before the air got sucked out of everything.

“We know that all things in the world are electric forces at their root,” said Swami Krishnananda.  “Every object is an electromagnetic field. Om is a vibration. The whole world is made of subtle vibrations. Everything in the world is made of energy. When we chant Om we are generating energy.”

Om is energy breath life. The basic building blocks of everything are strings particles atoms molecules. Prana is life sustaining life-force lifetrons. Om gets your lifetrons moving up and down your spine. When the energy gets to the top of your head, you get perception discernment awareness.

It puts you in the groove. It’s the sound that puts you in tune with the old, but that keeps you young. It’s the virgin spring and the end of time. When you chant Om 108 times you’re on the road back to the Big Bang and looking ahead to the Big Kablooey.

The distance between the earth and the sun is about 108 times the sun’s diameter. The diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth’s diameter The distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon’s diameter.

There are no coincidences, unless you believe every single moment is a coincidence. It is no coincidence Om is the Tibetan Hum, the Muslim Amin, and the Jewish Protestant Catholic Amen. Om is the seed mantra, long before there were forks in the road.

Om is a one-syllable word made up of three syllables. It’s the three-in-one lunchbox. It’s like the Holy Trinity, except you don’t have to worship it, just do it.

A-U-M. Aweooommm.

Awe, when it vibrates in your belly. Ooo, when it vibrates in your chest. Mmm when it vibrates in your mind. Say it loud and say it proud. There’s a fourth syllable, the sound of silence at the end, but that’s just merging into nothingness. It’s the sound of the universe.

The Om frequency has been likened to the sound of the sun as recorded by NASA several years ago. It took NASA 40 days and 40 nights to do it. 432 Hz is the sound of nature, of the earth, of everything. Let the sunshine in. It’s better than being lost in the dark, lost in space.

The rhythmic pronunciation of Om slows down the nervous system and focuses the mind on one thing, slowing down, getting meditative, concentrating energy in one place. Chanting Om means being fully present. Be here now is one of the eight limbs of yoga.

Meditation is not concentration, but concentration is meditation.

Om may have only one lyric, but it’s the chart-busting song of all time, the ‘Rock of Ages’ without the blood and judgment.

“If you give it good concentration, good energy, good heart and good performance, the song will play you,” said the Band’s Levon Helm.

Om gets best when the sound goes down, from out loud to an undertone to stillness to the void, as silent as a sunbeam.

You are what you think. That is the basic principle of existentialism. When you chant Om you find out who you are. Om is home sweet home. It’s getting back to where you came from. It’s the sign in the front yard that says you’re on the right track.

“If you lived here you’d be Om now,” is what the sign says.

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.”

Hand on the Plow

By Ed Staskus

“Keep your hand on the plow, hold on, hold on.” Mahalia Jackson

Yoga is one of those things in this world that’s between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is, except that somebody is always trying to make it into something. Although it’s true God made everything out of nothing, it’s also true the Big Bang will one day become the Big Crunch, when everything will collapse into a final singularity of nothing.

Hold on, it’s going to be a wild ride.

There’s a lot to like about the practice. There always has been. There will probably be a lot to like about it for a long time to come. It’s a practice with a get it done now point-of-view and a going going gone view of things, too. It is practical and spiritual, hands on about what is right in front of you, and tuned in to the bigger picture at the same time. It is getting physical and metaphysical, all on one plate, without blinking an eye.

There’s a boatload of tradition to it, but it isn’t necessary to know everything about it to practice it. Teachings and teachers are a big help, but past the point of breathing and meditation and concentration and staying on the good side of the Golden Rule, it is a practice accessible to everyone because it is within everyone.

Everybody knows it’s better to be considerate rather than merciless, generous rather than greedy, rock steady rather than raging. It’s only the wise guys, our politicos machine gunners bankers power brokers movers and shakers and parade makers, who don’t have the wisdom to see past their noses.

One of the reasons they are horse blinkered is because their noses have grown so long they can’t see around them anymore. It ain’t the yellow brick road anymore when it leads to Orange Julius in the Oval Office.

The practice of yoga doesn’t demand you sign on the dotted line. It doesn’t squeeze you into any forgone conclusions. It doesn’t ask for your loyalty. What you get out of it is what you put into it, not the other way around. There’s no Church of Yoga or Chamber of Commerce of Yoga or Supreme Court of Yoga. It’s a way of life anyone can practice in their backyard, at work, and out in the wide blue yonder.

It is lucid able-bodied eye-opening. It is living and breathing with your heart in the right place. What’s not to like?

The fly in the ointment is asana practice. If the other seven limbs of the eight limbs of yoga make all the sense in the world, why does what passes as yoga on the mat pass itself off as the by the book way to work out in order to sustain health and fitness so that our minds spirit energies stay strong and on track?

There’s always something sketchy about orthodoxy.

When did you start needing a fitness membership at a yoga studio in order to practice yoga?  Why are there so many yoga classes at Planet Fitness Gold’s Gym Anytime Fitness? Does anybody just make it up at home for themselves anymore, or not?

Where did the idea come from that performing an ordained sequence of physical postures will get you closer to equilibrium? It’s as though your doctor wrote you a prescription for the up dog side angle touch your toes pill as a catch-all remedy for what ails you.

Why does Yoga Journal spit out articles like ’38 Health Benefits of Yoga’ month after month?

If not a cure-all, yoga is often touted as the Swiss Army knife of fitness.

The idea behind today’s yoga exercise sequences seems to be that what makes “a true yogic practice unique is that its focus is on sustained feeling of freedom and wholeness,” according to Alanna Kaivalya, author of “Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition”.

In step with that definition, however, anybody with a million dollars in the bank is having a true yogic experience, because that much money in the bank is a no-brainer for feeling free and whole, no matter how you got the greenbacks or what you plan on doing with them.

The only problem with having a million dollars is that there are always a million guys trying to take it away from you. That’s where aparigraha comes in handy. It is one of the ten yamas and niyamas, the guidelines of the practice. It basically translates to non-greed, non-possessiveness, and invokes the frugal gene.

Since the rich are always complaining that being rich is harder than it looks, yoga might be a big help for them.

Yoga is like an old-time religion, even though it isn’t a religious practice. It is old-school. It’s got it’s hand on the gospel plow. But most of what is known as yoga today is largely about being led through a workout on a mat, with an emphasis on paying attention to your breath, and maybe a dollop of meditation to round things out. There’s no magic to it, but there is a healthy dose of hocus pocus involved.

For a long time, as yoga was booming in the modern world, the third limb of the practice was extolled for its timelessness. It was said the postures were thousands of years old. They had been burnished honed systematized to perfection. When Mark Singleton wrote “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice” several years ago the genie was out of the bottle. It turns out almost everything being done on yoga mats had been invented in the past one hundred years-or-so.

A hundred years ago what is today taught and practiced on yoga mats far and wide was something else. It was Danish calisthenics British Army exercises YMCA strength work and Indian wrestling. It was a little bit of everything.

The “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” – written about six hundred years ago – enumerates fifteen physical postures. That’s all of them. Fifteen. The legendary text “Yoga Korunta” that Krishnamacharya and K. Pattabhi Jois based the Ashtanga Series on remains to this day legendary. In other words, undiscovered, unhistorical, and unverifiable, largely because ants supposedly ate the text. It was written on banana leaves.

Practicing the series, which is hard in the doing and fulfilling in the accomplishment, may land you on cloud nine, but the origin of the series is pie in the sky.

One of the only yoga sutras mentioning anything about asana practice simply says one of the most important aspects of it is that it should entail “appropriate effort.” There isn’t anything in any traditional yogic text that says headstand or handstand or standing in tree pose for five minutes is what you need to do to get fit.

All you need to do is show some gumption.

“Yoga practice is supposed to make us structurally stable, enable us to move with grace and ease, free us from physical suffering and enable us to withstand changing circumstances,” wrote Olga Kabel in ‘Traditional Goals of Asana Practice’.

Yoga exercise is part of the package, not the whole package, as it has been    misconstrued while being repackaged as a fitness regimen, another get fit quick commodity in the long line from Nautilus to jazzercise to spinning. It isn’t even clear that yoga is best for stability, best for enabling us to move with grace and ease, and best for alleviating suffering.

It is beyond doubt best for helping us adapt and deal with change, but that isn’t because of the exercise, but because of the rest of it. Yoga is 90% mental and the other half is physical.

“Traditionally, the practice of asana was always considered as an integral part of a holistic practice, never as an isolated fitness system,” said Gary Kraftstow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute.

When it becomes a fitness system is when it starts selling monthly memberships.

“Many gyms that offer yoga emphasize the physical exercise without teaching the essential self-awareness that differentiates yoga from any exercise,” said David Surrenda, founding dean of the Graduate School of Holistic Studies at John F. Kennedy University.

“The result of an emphasis on exercise misinterprets what the real intention of yoga practice is. Yes, one can increase muscle mass and decrease waist size, but that’s not the real goal. Much of the yoga practiced today has actually become the antithesis of yoga as it is meant to be.”

Yoga might be whatever you want it to be in its post-modern guise. Whatever it was meant to be way back when is neither here nor now. Maybe that’s the beauty of the practice, shape-shifting to suit our intentions. You’ve got to stay on your toes to stay in the present, be in the moment, which is an integral part of the practice.

Nevertheless, even though lunges and twists and jump backs on the mat are good for you, so are riding a bike and lifting weights. In fact, yoga doesn’t even crack Harvard Medical School’s Top 5, which are walking, swimming, strength training, Tai chi, and kegel. The best fitness exercises are still basic hip and hamstring stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and presses, and burpees.

As part of an overall fitness regimen, yoga exercise is by all accounts a Top 10. Everyone does push-ups and sit-ups on the mat without even realizing it. The burpee is a foundation of all vinyasa sequences. When it comes to flexibility, yoga is certainly Number 1 on the Hit Parade. Sometimes people say they aren’t flexible enough to do yoga, but that’s like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.

Getting all the poses on the mat right is keeping your eye on the wrong prize.

Anyone who subscribes to the eight aspects of the practice is doing yoga, but no one who just does stuff on the mat is doing yoga. They are doing something, but it’s like soda pop to a scotch straight up. They are fooling themselves when they believe the bright shining proposition that they are achieving some greater good by doing what they’re told to do on the mat. Anyone will get fit if they spend enough time at a yoga studio, but they will get fit if they spend enough time walking around in circles, too.

Yoga is about mastering the modifications of your mind, not just the modifications of your body. When exercise is the be-all and end-all, it is a good thing in and of itself, but it’s not yoga. When exercise is linked to the breath, the breath to the mind, the mind to the spirit, in a kind of virtuous circle, it’s yoga whether you’re in a studio or walking the dog in the park.

Like K. Pattabhi Jois said, “Just do.”

Hatha yoga is what leads to physical health mental clarity and a cool as a cucumber spirit. When practiced alongside the yamas amd niyamas, the ten principles of daily life, it’s the second to none way of transforming yourself from the outside in and the inside out. There’s no monkey business to it.

The fitness aspect of yoga doesn’t have to be the dogma of what has come to be standardized in how-to books youtube videos and studios. It can be cobra and down dog and corpse pose. It can be power lifting. It can be archery. As long as your mind and spirit are one-pointed and your aim is true, whatever we do with gumption and purpose will gird us for where we want to go.

All anyone needs to do is keep their hand on the gospel plow.

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.”

Devil’s Right Hand

By Ed Staskus

   For half a century, from 1916 to 1966, until Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine, shot and killed 16 people, wounding 31 others, shooting from the top of an observation deck at the University of Texas at Austin, there were just 25 public mass shootings in the United States in which four-or-more people were killed. The young ex-soldier redefined homegrown massacres. He brought to bear a Remington 700, a .35-caliber Remington, a M1 carbine, a Sears semi-automatic shotgun, a .357 Magnum, a Luger, and a .25-caliber pistol.

   During the rampage a police sharpshooter in a small plane circling the 27-story building was repeatedly driven back by return fire. The first person killed was the eight-month-old not-yet-born baby of an 18-year-old pregnant student when she was shot in the abdomen leaving the Student Union.

   Finally, two policemen stormed the observation deck, one firing his revolver, but missing, and the other killing Charles Whitman instantly with two blasts from his shotgun. The policeman with the revolver emptied his gun into the body at point-blank range, making dead sure. He ran to the parapet yelling, “I got him, I got him.” He was almost shot himself by police on the ground, who didn’t at first realize he wasn’t the shooter.

   It remains to this day one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

My parents grew up in Lithuania. When they were still teenagers, they saw plenty of guns. Between 1940 and 1944 first the Russians invaded, then the Germans, then the Russians again. When they fled to Germany in 1944, they saw even more weapons during the furious last months of the collapse of the Third Reich. By the time they emigrated to Canada they had seen enough guns to last them a lifetime, more than most people ever see in a lifetime.

   During the Second World War the United States fabricated 2,679,840 machine guns and 11,750,000 infantry rifles. Twenty-nine other countries were a part of the deadliest war in history. Only God knows how many guns, and mortars and cannons and tanks, they manufactured, among other things, resulting in 70 to 85 million military and civilians done in for good.

   In the 1980s, the FBI defined mass shootings as four-or-more people, not including the mass murderer, being killed in a single incident, typically in a single location. Since 1966 there have been thousands of them. Before 1966 there was a mass shooting about once every 100 weeks, Today, there is a mass shooting about once every day.

   Between 1999 and 2013 there were 31 mass murders per year on average. In 2015 there were 220 days of mass shootings and only 145 with none. In the first ten months of 2018 there were 307 mass shootings, almost as many as there were days.

   It doesn’t bode well for the 2020s with the Grand Old Party still chock full of crazy people, the National Rifle Association still rampant with crazy people, and millions of crazy people still armed to the teeth. The NRA, with reasoning crooked as a corkscrew, has re-interpreted the 2nd Amendment, disappearing some of its language and all of the intent, to suit their agenda. They and their supporters equate success with goodness. It doesn’t matter that rightness ends where ammo begins. They are all in with Mao, who said, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Wayne LaPierre, the Grand Dragon of the NRA, says “We need national carry.”

   It would be like giving AK-47’s to monkeys.

   There are more guns than people in the United States. There are almost 400 million guns in the country. There are 12 million guns in Canada. There are 3 million guns in England. There are fewer than half-a-million guns in Japan. US citizens own 40% of all the guns in the world, more than the next 25 countries combined.

   When I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, the only people who had guns were the police, hunters, and folks who lived on the outskirts. They kept shotguns near their back doors to fend off marauding bears. My parents didn’t have any guns. After the war my father never owned a gun.

“Guns kill people,” he said. He was a miner and saw things in black and white terms. If it looks like a volcano, blows its top like a volcano, it’s a volcano. He knew since he was a dynamite man a mile down, before he saw the light and started using his head instead of his hands.

   Yoga studios seem immune to gun violence. Whoever saw a security guard at the front door of a yoga studio? At least, not until two years ago, when a man walked into Hot Yoga in Tallahassee, Florida, and shot to death Nancy Van Versen, a faculty member at Florida State University, and Maura Binkley, a student at the same university.

   The young woman’s father said his daughter had planned on becoming a teacher. “She truly lived a life really devoted to peace, love, and caring for others,” said Jeff Binkley. She didn’t live long. She was 21 years old.

   It doesn’t take long to go packing in Florida. There is no waiting period to buy an assault rifle or anything else. In Iowa no one needs a license to sell guns online. If you plan on selling lemonade in Iowa, however, even if you’re a 7-year-old and your storefront is your front yard, you need a business permit. In Texas, if you want to sell guns, go right on ahead, partner. It is the most heavily armed state in the country.

   But, if you want to cut hair in Texas, you must, no if buts or maybes, log 1,500 hours at hairdressing school. Scissors don’t kill people, people do. It’s best to beware Texans bearing gifts.

   Buying a gun almost anywhere in the United States is easier than getting a license to drive, filling out your tax return, or talking to tech support. It’s harder to pay off student debt, which typically takes about 21 years, than it is to buy a gun, which typically takes about 10 minutes. Anyone can walk into a gun store, pass a background check in record time, and walk out with a persuader. In some states no one has to even do that. They can buy a gun from a private seller, no background check needed.

   In Lithuania there isn’t an arsenal in every basement. In order to own a gun an exam and license are required. They keep a lid on the bubbling stew, at least. The murder rate is 9 times higher in the United States than in Lithuania. You are 128 more times more likely to be involved in a gun related crime in the United States than Lithuania. The USA has gone gun crazy since the 1960s. It’s not just mass shootings, either. It’s one bullet at a time. In 2016, there were hardly any people murdered with a handgun in Japan, England, Canada. and Lithuania. All their coffins put together were a fraction of the 11,004 murdered in the USA.

   Mass shootings have happened at casinos, nightclubs, hotels, music festivals, libraries, factories, airports, shopping malls, courthouses, sorority houses, apartment buildings, Waffle Houses, backyard parties, Planned Parenthood clinics, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, the Empire State Building, nursing homes, baseball fields, grade schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities. In Dangerfield, Texas, a man walked into a church and killed 5 people and wounded 10 others after members of the congregation earlier declined to be character witnesses for him at a trial.

   Besides the mortally wounded at Hot Yoga, four others were shot and one of them, a young man who, among others, resisted the murderer, was pistol-whipped.

   “Several people inside fought back and tried to not only save themselves but other people,” said Police Chief Michael DeLeo. “It’s a testament to the courage of people who don’t just turn and run.” One of them who didn’t turn and run, even though unarmed, was shot nine times.

The killing spree broke out on a Friday night as the class was starting. Scott Beierle pretended to be a student, then pulled a semi-automatic handgun from his duffle bag and started blasting anybody female in sight without warning.

   When the gunfire momentarily stopped, Joshua Quick took action.

   “I don’t know if it jammed, or what,” he said. “So, I used that opportunity to hit him. I picked up the only thing nearby to hit him with, which was a vacuum cleaner, and I hit him on the head.” The shooter was staggered, but recovered his footing, pummeling Joshua on the forehead with his gun. The yoga student fell to the floor, bleeding bad, but got back up.

   “I jumped up as quickly as I could, ran back, and the next thing I know I’m grabbing a broom, you know, anything I can, and I hit him again.”

   “Thanks to him,” said Daniela Albalat, “I was able to rush out the door, slipping and bleeding.” She was shot in the upper legs. “I want to thank that guy from the bottom of my heart because he saved my life.”

   Joshua Quick did what the Dalai Lama would have done, except the Dali Lama would have gone heavy. He wouldn’t have used a broom. Arguably one of the most peaceable men on the planet, when asked by a child at the Educating Heart Summit in Oregon what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun, he replied without hesitation, “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

   Three minutes after the first 911 call, sirens were wailing, and police were showing up. The killer cleared the gun’s chamber, turned it on himself, and shot himself straight to hell.

   He lived in Deltona, Florida, about 250 miles from Tallahassee, and had no connection with the yoga studio or anyone he gunned down. He had been a substitute teacher at the Volusia County Schools, even though he had a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University. He was arrested several times for groping women on the FSU campus. He was fired for unprofessional conduct, feeling up teenage students not being in his job description.

   The gunslinger was an amateur musician who posted his songs online. On “American Massacre” he sang, “If I cannot find a decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. I find that if I cannot make a living, then I will turn, I will make a killing.”

   Mass murderers are all different, except most of them are men. It’s a man’s world. They have their reasons for doing what they do, although none of them are good reasons, and many, if not all, mass murderers suffer from psychological problems. Mental health is not compatible with murdering people.

   Although they and their reasons are variable, the one constant among them is the fast fire weapons they deploy. None of them carries a cap and ball Colt. It would knock them off their feet, anyway. They bring the blessing and imprimatur of the NRA, the gun champions who have successfully lobbied one Congress after another for decades to limit research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun-related violence.

   A few days after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in March 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan said his ruling Grand Old Party planned on keeping restrictions on gun research in place. “We don’t just knee-jerk before we have all the facts and the data,” said the longtime opponent of gun control laws.

   So long as his kneecaps weren’t getting popped he wasn’t going to knee-jerk it.

   “We are saddened and angered by the senseless shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee,” said Tasha Eichenseher, speaking for Yoga Journal. “Studios are sacred places where we go for self-care and to feel safe.”

   After Sandy Hook and Tree of Life Synagogue and First Baptist Church, it is doubtful there are any safe places left. It is undoubtedly true there are no sacred places left. If even Fort Hood, the biggest active-duty and most secure army base in the United States, couldn’t prevent Nidal Hasan, an Army major, from going postal and fatally shooting 13 soldiers, while wounding more than 30 others, there might not be safe and sacred and secure anywhere.

   “You have a whole generation with this being more and more normal,” said Jeff Binkley. “That cannot happen.”

   When I was a kid in Sudbury our mom never bought us toy guns. “No,” she said whenever we asked. We stayed busy dodging the trains hauling ore and wailing on all sides of town. It wasn’t until we moved to the United States that I found out all kids had toy guns. After that there was no going back.

   In any event, so long as the politicians we elect to rule our state and national legislatures, and the politicians we elect to our state and national capital houses, are the same vote-stuffing wallet-stuffing puff ’n’ stuffers allied hand-in-hand with gun manufacturers and Second Amendment agitprops, no-nonsense gun-reform legislation and public-health funding are not going to happen.

   The gunrunners don’t give it a first thought. They don’t give it a second thought, either. The devil’s right hand is all right with them.

   The silk stockings perform to the grass roots who believe they need guns to make it in this world. Their faith is in the ruling class’s Punch and Judy show even though the second estate’s grass roots are fertilized at a thousand country clubs where a thousand lobbyists dine and drink. Their security guards carry sidearms, since they no more believe in responsible gun owners than they believe in the Constitution and aren’t taking any chances. No 2nd Amendment-toting mob is getting through their country club doors.

   Two-and-a-half centuries later we don’t live in 1780s buildings anymore, we don’t travel in 1780s horse and buggies anymore, and we don’t turn on the lights with 1780s whale oil anymore. We don’t read one-page pamphlets and the penny press anymore. We don’t use 1780s medicine, like arsenic and leeches, anymore. There is no reason why a 1780s amendment to the Constitution, written to enable a militia in a time of crisis, should enable everybody to buy whatever guns whenever and wherever they want for whatever reason.

   But that’s the world we have made and the world we live in. Carrie Lightfoot and Yosemite Sam guns a-blazing aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Americans love their guns, guys gals and the movies. They don’t believe liberty gets handed to them unleaded. They believe it will get stripped away the wrong way around if they aren’t vigilant. It’s been said fences make for good neighbors. Locked and loaded makes for tried-and-true neighbors.

   It’s like the Lithuanian proverb says, “When you are in the devil’s wheel, you must learn how to spin.”

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.”