Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shootin' Guns with Yoga Cop

Yes, it's true, Chuck Garbanzo has volunteered to take me to the shootin' range. I figure since he did something he wasn't apt to do, I should spend a little time in his world. So, until my trigger finger scratches that itch......

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Clips for you

Sent to me by a fellow yogi, this clip of Ogden the innappropriate yoga guy is spot on.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Mice and Pants

So I'm in an odd situation, running back and forth between coasts. I'm relying on reruns to keep the blog rolling, and so, here goes an old standard, a tale of rodents and death and pants...

I fell in love with brushed-cotton pants in college. Let me say right off the bat, I am not a ‘clothes’ person. Those who know me will attest to this fact. I am happy to wear the same T-shirt for days, even weeks in a row, providing no telling stains occur (wasn’t that spaghetti sauce there last Thursday?). I also feel the need, being as I’m bearing my wardrobe soul, that I am not a disgusting slob. I bathe two, sometimes three times a day. I even wash behind my ears occasionally. It’s just that I’ve worked out this system of organization that requires a knowledge of :
A) Where my pants are, and
B) What they contain AT ALL TIMES(i.e. keys, wallet, breath freshener, pencil eraser, quarters for laundry, pennies for fountains, get-out-of-jail-free card, etc., etc.)
This is a serious commitment. I know few people that have the kind of bond that I do with my pants. I have even bought equipment to accentuate my pant habit. I have a pant key-ring, a pant belt, even a specific pant hook, where I hang my pants everyday. I can’t go to sleep at night unless I know that my pants for the ‘morrow are prepared for what the good lord sees fit to send my way. I keep my lunch in my pants, a wilderness survival kit in my pants, and an extra pair of pants in my pants.
I was not always this concerned about my trousers. I used to have less responsibilities, less commitments, less keys, and, in general, less experience in life, not knowing that is always prudent to be prepared, and that, to be prepared for life, you must have all your necessary accessories and accoutrements firmly secured to your pants. I had procured the brushed cotton pants I was wearing the day of the Incident at my catering job in college. We often left out clothes at work, and just changed when we got there. Eventually, because of rampant pant-theft, we moved over to a systematic-pant placement system. One guy, about 6 inches taller and 10 inches wider than me had left his pants there some weeks ago, and then decided the food service industry wasn’t doing it for him. These were the pre-pants system days, and so I was always on the lookout for a good pair. Granted, I had to roll up the cuffs several times and wear a belt, and I always felt slightly naked as the pants in question floated around my chicken legs in roughly the same proportions as the walls of the Carlsbad caverns around float around a spelunking cable, but they were quality trousers nonetheless, and, being a broke college student, who was I to say no to a posh pair of free pants? I kept them and wore them often. The fact that I wore them often is central to this story; however my affinity for pants is not. In essence, I told you that story so that I could tell you this one.
I was wearing these very pants on the Day, a late afternoon in early April. I had an early schedule. Teachers are expected to do five classes a day, with three off-periods, one for planning, one for conferences, and one for lunch, although no one I know adheres to these guidelines. We have nine periods in the day, and I finished my last class seventh period. Meredith, another biology teacher, had the room for eighth period, so I usually left her to her devices and Xeroxed the materials I needed for the following day.
The copying room is one floor below me, on the mezzanine level. It’s called the mezzanine level because it is technically illegal to conduct class in the basement of a public school building. See, semantics are your friends! The science copy room is right next to Bruscato’s Grotto. Bruscotto is the AP English teacher and probably one of the most sarcastic people I’ve ever met. Her door is the last on the hallway, and she loves to make fun of me whenever I try and borrow a pencil or use the English department’s scantron machine. Considering the abuse she hurls at me, I’ve learned that it’s easier to just go back upstairs and borrow an eraser from someone who doesn’t delight in humiliating me. I’ll grant you, it is kind of funny, albeit mostly for her, and I usually just roll with it, but some days I just don’t want to deal, and this was one of them.
I unlocked the door to the copy room, let myself in, and let the door slam shut behind me. I wasn’t in there more than 10 seconds before I heard a frantic ‘blam blam blam!” on the window. It’s art deco glass, difficult to see through, but I could still identify Bruscotto’s silhouette. I figured she was bored and looking to antagonize me, so I ignored her.


“Shumit! Come on, you have to help me!”

She was panicked and something was amiss. I opened the door.

“ There’s a mouse in my room.”

She pronounced the word mouse with clenched teeth, sort of like a ventriloquist, but without any masking of lip motion.

“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked.

“Well, you’re the biology teacher.”

Notice how ‘biology teacher’ is used as a thin cover-up for ‘exterminator’. I guess the logic is, you work with animals, you must actually like them, right? Therefore I can ask you to pull some pied-piper maneuver and dance your fellow ‘people’ right out of my classroom. I think people assume that because you study the mechanics of existence that you have a ‘respect for all life’ and are willing to put ‘greasy little vermin’ in a cage and make some sort of ‘leaning situation’ out of it. I understand that some scientists choose a particular species and make a career out of studying them in minute detail, but we’re high school teachers. That’s like breeding mosquitoes; no fun and a dumb idea.
I went into her room and she pointed out the hole from whence the mouse had come, and its trajectory along the floor. The hole was cartoon-perfect: it was bored out through the baseboard, a Tom-and-Jerry half-circle, with gnaw-marks around the edge.

“Well, aren’t you gonna go get it?”, she said.

I think she expected me to pull out my “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” machine, the pocket version that all good biology teachers carry, grab a sharpened toothpick, now the size of a spear in my shrunken hands, and get in there and slay the evil dragon-mouse in it’s lair. I looked at her blankly. She blinked a few times. During this silent negotiation, the mouse chose to stick its furry little whiskers out of the hole, and Bruscotto saw it. She screamed and bolted out of the room, just like a 50’s sitcom.

Exit English teacher #1.

Lacking any better ideas, I grabbed a roll of masking tape from her desk and taped up the hole. I fished her out of the hallway and assured her that the mouse no longer had access to her room, or method of recourse. She begrudgingly accepted this, and I finished my copies and headed back up to my room, just as the kids were leaving for the day.
We liked to bitch and complain, Meredith and I, as we were new teachers feeling our way around the system. As we were in the same place at the same time, just after her last class, and as the room was void of children, we unofficially reserved this slot to do just that. She cleaned up detritus from her lab, and I organized my labs for the next day, all the while blowing off steam. It was a ritual, one that I had become accustomed to and fond of. We also parlayed with other teachers, and this day Faraj, another English teacher, came by. She wanted to borrow a video from me, an ocean documentary with Marlins in it, as she was teaching ‘the old man and the sea.”
Now at the time, I kept all my files and videos on the floor so that we had more counter space to do labs. I don’t do this anymore for reasons that will become painfully clear, but at this point in my career, there they were, so I hunkered down to my milk crate to try and find the item she was asking for. I was in the corner of the room, and my brushed cotton pants had relaxed the rolled up cuff that I had put in it at the beginning of the day, hitting the ground and just barely tucking itself under the sole of my shoe. While flipping through my files, I felt a disturbance in the force around my ankle, one with slightly furry undertones. It was a peculiar sensation, one of trespassing coupled with fuzzy cuteness. I probingly touched my ankle, over the top of my pants and I swear I felt the odd and singular sensation of a life form just underneath brushed cotton, yet pressed up against my stylish tube-socks. Despite the uniqueness of this sensation, I was unconvinced that the evidence could support an event so ludicrous. But given the data, I had to consider this as a possibility.

“Hey Guys?” I said. “I think I might have a mouse in my pants.”

It’s worrisome to watch people’s eyes bulge in disbelief, especially when you are the subject. I grabbed my pants just under the pleats, as if I was just about to curtsy to the queen, and started shaking them vigorously, while jumping and dancing around in circles, trying desperately to dislodge the potential mouse. Like quantum physics, it was still potential at this point- I didn’t have enough solid evidence to claim that the existence of the mouse was a plausible theorem, rather than merely hypothetical at this point. At any rate, it must have looked ridiculous, and the soundtrack was of me screaming “OK! OK! OK!” in a desperate attempt to placate my self, to convince myself that everything was OK, that I didn’t really have a rodent in my trousers, and that the image of my colleagues staring at me in wide-eyed incredulousness was only a bad dream that I would laugh about in the morning. The mouse didn’t fall out, I was still confused as to whether this was really happening, and then…
Everybody has had a visit from the plumber, the cable guy, any mechanical specialist that actually makes more money than an educator. Being self-employed, I guess you can wear what you want, but I guess the old stereotype is true. We’ve all spent some time in the kitchen with the fix-it man, and wondered why, given all the options, they would choose pants that exposed parts of their flesh that is considered taboo. I want you to do something for me. Take your hand right now, reach around to your backside, and gently place it at the top of this unnamed anatomical feature.

Now guess where I found the mouse.
As I can’t show my derriere at work, and you are familiar with my penchant for belts, gizmos, and securely fitted pants, the mouse was still below the boundaries of my waist, unreachable by conventional means. Now I had proof though, It was on, I surely was rodent-infected and my worst suspicions were confirmed, I think it was evident on my face, as both Meredith and Faraj’s eyelids peeled even further back into their skulls.
“OKOKOKOK!” I shouted. “I think I have to take off my pants!”

Exit English teacher #2.

Meredith stood by me, though. Well, near me. She stayed in the room, at any rate. I undid my belt, stripped off the pants, held them by the waist and shook. A little brown mouse tumbled out, rolling end over end on the tiled floor of the classroom. I think that when I reached back towards my backside, I must have, in my panic, hit the mouse pretty hard, because it was clearly wrecked; it’s ribcage smashed, only able to breathe in thin, painful sheets. It’s legs were clearly useless- after the momentum of the tumble, after gravity had settled it, it wasn’t going to skitter off anywhere. I would imagine that if my students were in the room that they would gingerly pick up the mouse with a spatula, gently place it in an aquarium lined with soft bedding, and place a nourishing carrot next to it, in the hopes that their effort would somehow inspire the little guy to find the strength to heal itself. Meredith and I both knew the truth, though. This mouse was going to die. It was unexpected, this kinship I suddenly felt for the mouse. We had shared a pair of pants, after all. This is considered grounds for marriage amongst your own species. We shared trauma, me and this creature, probably the most bonding event between two organisms. And, thinking about this, and my role as a professional biology guy, and the look that Meredith gave me, I knew what had to be done. I grabbed the thickest textbook I could find, held it parallel and aloft over the wheezing mouse, and released. I don’t know if it makes me a better, more sensitive human being, but I did at least flinch at the sound of the thump. I left my room, punched out in the main office, and let the maintenance staff know that there was a dead mouse underneath the textbook on the floor of the room, and went home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jogging With Rod

This, admittedly, has nothing to do with Yoga, but it's so timely that I had to put it up. It was from my old teacher blog, about the day I inadvertently went jogging with Mr. Blagojevich...

I bike to work in the mornings, and I’m fond of stopping at different places to get breakfast. At the bakery the other morning, the woman in front of me asked me if I wanted to go ahead of me, as she was getting a slew of food, and I merely wanted the three-cheese bacon soufflé and a cup of earl grey, as I am wont to do. I recognized her, she was a parent of one of my students. I remembered her face, I think she may even be the parent of a student I have currently. I could picture her in my classroom, talking animatedly at parent/teacher conferences, but I couldn’t connect her with her kid, and, even stranger, I couldn’t recall the emotional direction of the conversation, only the timber. It was intense, but was it bad intense or good intense? Did she think I was a great teacher, or was she distraught at her kid’s performance? Even worse, did she blame me? I didn’t say anything.

This happens a lot. The first year I taught, on the south side, there wasn’t any real danger of running into any of my students, as it was a neighborhood school and I didn’t live there. I was a first-year teacher as well, so I just hadn’t accumulated a lot of former students. Things are different now, though. At the school I’m at, kids come from all quarters of the city, so really, nowhere is safe. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, too, which compounds things. Parents are even tougher, as, if you even meet them ever, it’s only once or twice a year.

Last summer, near the end when my mind was as far away from school as possible, I was dawdling in the Public Library near my house. A friend of mine had mentioned that he had never read The Phantom Tollbooth, and so I decided to get it for him. I headed over to the Young Adult section, and started perusing from the titles. From the librarians desk I hear, clearly directed at me,

“Wow, so are you looking for a good teen read?”

OK, it’s one thing for some chowder heads in pick-up truck to yell at me as I ride around town on my bike. It’s expected, no surprise. I wondered, though if I must’ve emblazoned a big fat “L” for loser on my forehead for the Children’s Librarian to feel compelled to take potshots at me. Of course, it was a parent, but it’s always momentarily surprising to be taken to task when my mind is elsewhere.

So today I went running. I have to say, I hate running, but I have recently been persuaded to run a duatholon, basically run/bike/run. I went with Roy, my housemate. He’s got a bum knee, so he only made it a mile or so before he had to stop and walk. I went ahead, hit the turn around point, and started back. I switched over to the asphalt, as I’m told it’s better for your legs. Another guy was jogging down the sidewalk, dressed in a black tracksuit. He was bobbing and weaving, but without the grace of a prizefighter. He was gesticulating wildly, like someone in the last leg of a marathon who concurrently has a swarm of bees flying around his head. He was being followed by an older man who looked perturbed, and clearly was following him. I decided that the Tracksuit must be retarded, or perhaps had some condition, which made him loose motor skills, and that the old man was following him to make sure he didn’t run into a tree or something. This, however, was not the case.

About a minute later, Roy was coming toward me waving his arms and yelling something.

“DID YOU SEE RON?”, he yelled.




It turns out that that Mr. Gesticulation was none other than our infamous governor, Rod “the Bod” Blagojevich, out maintaining his chiseled physique. As for the old guy, well, apparently Roy was strolling down the street, when he caught sight of the Bod, and this old guy runs up out of nowhere and starts screaming


The Bod’s reply was

“Hey, It’s all right, everything will work out”, and kept on running.

I don’t know if this was the same guy who was following him when I saw him, but Roy really wasn’t too far away. I also don’t know if this flustered the Bod enough to adopt the jogging style he was flaunting when he got up to me, but If I get to pick, I’m surely going to believe that it’s true.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Guest Blogger: The Yoga Cop Incident

Incident Number - 08-38417
Location - 200 S. Main Street
Date & Time - 12/01/2008 1000 hours
Crime - Embarrassment of Law Enforcement Official

Suspect - Actual name unknown. Goes by the street name of "Mimi". Female, White. Age approx 75 years old. 5'02'' 130 lbs. Grey hair, blue eyes.

Setting - Northville Michigan, otherwise known as "Yuppieville, USA". Upper-middle class town (think entry level executive management in what used to be a Big 3 company type dads with career minded moms) with a slightly pretentious twist (ie the Historical District with huge, modernly renovated Victorian style homes).

Witnesses - Approximately 4 Mom-looking women in their 30's, about 4 women who appeared to be from their mid 40's to their early 50's (very serious yoga type ladies, for sure) and an elderly couple in their 80's (which I was glad for, there was one other dude in the class).

Details - Upon entry, the victim (herewith referenced to as "I") was greeted by "Mimi". She appeared to be a nice lady, but I wasn't fooled. I could see that little gleam of amusement in her eye as she sized me up. When I told her I had done some jogging recently to try to get in shape she could hardly stifle a laugh. It was clear to me that this Mimi was going to be trouble.
I knew I would be getting all physical and stuff, so I asked her where I could safely store my super-tactical .45 autoloader, my backup snubbie .38, my folding pocket blade and my Taser. All I got in return was a blank stare (What was up with that? I left my 5.56mm Colt M-4 carbine in the car, it's not like I am a gun nut or anything). I took that to mean I should probably go back out to my car and leave them there, so I did. Mostly. I held on to one the Taser, you know, just in case things got too out of hand.

Class began and Mimi turned down the lights, and wait... She is LOCKING US IN!!! I think I shoulda worn my special thunder-wear holster and kept the .38 on me.

Okay we are sitting cross legged on the floor and I am having a hard time doing this properly. I am a sloucher. The tops of my legs hurt from just sitting down. This is going to be a long class.
Now we are into the table pose, not too bad, my arms are only slightly shaking. Now comes cat-stretching thing and a dog-stretching thing, moving our hips forward and backward while in the table pose. Did Mimi just say "anus"? The one arm, one leg table got me all fatigued, right quick. This would be a highly effective form of torture on suspects. Now the downward dog pose. My goodness, my academy days of doing 50 pushups at a time have certainly left me. Not 10 minutes into it, I am now sweating, and this isn't even Bikram yoga.

The child pose. We are supposed to rest here? I can't get my heels within 10 inches of my butt. I have had surgeries on both my knees, so this is more like me having half my weight on my forehead, like some sort of weird butt-in-the-air tripod. This can't be right.

On to a standing pose (this is a pose?) Mimi just defined what our perineum is. I happen to know that one, being a father and the most attentive dad in the pre-childbirth classes. It sounds weird to hear Mimi tell me that I need to tighten up my "taint" ('taint the ass nor balls), or what some dudes call the "ABC" (ass ball connector). Some good stretching from this pose, nothing too terribly twisty, I am starting to think I will survive with most of my dignity intact, even though Mimi had said the word "anus" far too many times for my comfort.

Lunge-type poses. Here is where my first laughing fit started. I was able to contain it, but I seem to think this part would be much more enjoyable if I could have done this with a bunch of the dudes I work with. The imaginative cursing and farting would have been hugely appropriate and hilarious at this point. I almost fell over when instructed to wrap my arm all the way around my leg. Pressing my knee into my shoulder was laughable as well. I did hear a few chuckles from the old guy across the room when we were instructed to bend certain ways. This guy was a trooper though. That was about all I heard out of him. I was afraid to look at him though, looking at a person less flexible than me would have been too much funny for me to handle. If this place had mirrors, I woulda been a goner.

Now we do a lotus pose? Anyways, we are flat on our bellies and start lifting arms and legs again. I like how we rest between doing each side, it makes me feel more balanced. Wait a minute, that sounds a little weird, maybe even fancy. Taser still in place? Check. Plan on how to knock the locked door down as an emergency exit? Check. There, I feel better.

Next we are asked to lay on our backs, and start pulling our knees into our chests. We are also instructed to put our knees and ankles together (?!?), and let them fall to the floor on one side while keeping our opposite shoulder on the floor. I called this the twister pose. Can a person who happens to have testicles even do this? I suppose so, there are some dudes who can sit and cross their legs like women can, but I am not one of them. I am an ankle-on-knee leg crosser. I almost compressed my little buddies into flat discs attempting this madness. Mimi saw me struggling, so she put a blanket between my knees, which made me certain that this was the pose I would now call the FAIL pose.

Now I think we are doing what I have heard referred to as "repose". This is nice. My body feels aligned, and although I am on a thin mat on a hard floor, I am strangely comfortable. Then Mimi comes around and places a blanket on me, and some kind of sandbags on my ankles and wrists. She is also using a fan to waft some pleasantly smelling breezes my way. This part I like.
But then I start thinking, and almost break out into laughter again. Damn that Bananasana and his funny yoga blog with his funky door cartoon porn stories. Try to not think about that while in repose the next time you do yoga, I dare you.

When Mimi speaks again, although she is speaking in low tones, I hear her clearly and strongly. Heightened senses I suppose.

Aftermath - It is about two hours post-yoga as I write this. I feel better than I thought I would, the serious muscle pain probably won't arrive until tomorrow. Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I plan on going back, some of what went on was too much to absorb in the first class.
Case Status - I will obtain a warrant for Mimi, she seems dangerous, but I will hold off on serving it until after I give this a few more tries.
Officer Chuck Garbanzo

Saturday, November 29, 2008

In Through the Funky Door #3: Out the other side.

Class begins.

Class begins, I should point out, with the FunkySexual asking who was new. I raise my hand, and he asks me my name. When introducing himself, he made a point of adding a very latin trill to the ‘r’ in his name, even though his natural cadence is white-guy, and so I feel compelled to do the same. I pronounce my name properly, and to my surprise, he bounces it back fairly well.

“OK, Shumit, your job is to just stay in the room today, do the best you can, got it? Good, let’s pick up and gogogo, people!” *clap clap!*

Frankly, I’m a little put off by all this, as well as the fact that the guy from the last class left a patch- no, a puddle- of soaking wet carpet in his wake. ‘If every one sweats like this all over the carpet’ I think, ‘several times a day, then-

Some primitive form of denial abruptly cuts off this line of thought, perhaps my brain recognizing that if I consider this too closely, I’ll run howling from the room and take a Lysol shower. I’m not prone to germaphobia, at all really, but well….best not to think about it.

There is no mystic chanting, but it is the same “V” reptilian breathing as the other Bikram studio. In fact- as per Bikram’s precise orders and subsequent litigation, the whole series is exactly the same, the difference being now there is a little brown man yelling at me through a loudspeaker. Probably even closer to Bikram’s original vision.

He even looks a little like Bikram in his younger days, as he’s tan and wears his hair in the 1970’s Action Hero Part to the left. He even- I’m not making this up- slips into a faux Indian accent from time to time.

Does he get to do that? Frankly, I’m offended. FunkySexual can mock his own heritage all he wants, but that shit is crossing the line. But then again, Funky Door crossed the line a long time ago, and the fact that I didn’t turn my ass directly around when I walked in the door might be on me.

I’m not really sure what to say about the specifics of the rest of the class, but I’m definitely thinking about the whole enterprise. At one moment, in a brief repose in shivasana, I’m just glancing around the room, noting how much energy- the ‘pay the bills’ sort of energy- gets used here. The heat is on throughout the whole class, and a couple dozen fans are rotating above us. The speakers are bumping, both with FunkySexuals voice and some corny aerobics soundtrack. The on-site Laundromat is humming along, washing the towels from the previous class, getting them ready for the next. Fluorescent tubes illuminate the studio, giant metal ducts carry heated furnace air. There is a massive amount of fossil fuel being expended, and I’m here to tell you, it is almost all for naught.

This is the one moment where I get to speak with absolute authority, more than American yogis, more than full-blooded desis, more than Bikram himself, and this is not only despite the fact that I am a half breed, but because of it.

The story goes, Bikram was noticing how quickly Indians can get into poses as opposed to Americans. His solution was the heat- in theory, all this excessive sweating is to make the Americans more flexible, loosen tendons, etc etc. Anyone who has seen pictures of Indians in contorted positions will realize that those of Dravidian descent are built along different lines. I first realized to what measure they are by watching my 80+ year old grandmother doing the laundry in the pond by our house in Calcutta. She was squatting, knees next to her ears like a bullfrog while simultaneously slapping wet laundry on a rock. She would remain in this position for hours at a time, performing fairly arduous physical labor, and it did not bother her in the least.

This odd squatting position, so common among Bengalis at least (and Bikram is a Bengali) is a contortion that Americans find awkward, and frankly aren’t built for. Try it your self- squat down, with your heels still on the floor and your knees spread wide enough so that your arms are between them. Have something to do, maybe a sudoku puzzle or something. See how far you get. I’m not even willing to try, myself. I’d give myself 3 minutes. I got the English knees.

The question is, how much can the 105 degree heat help? It, along with the series of postures ( and while I will concede that it seems a fine series, so are plenty of other series) does it really make it easier for the American body to slip into Indian poses?

Not so much.

The problem is, the gulf between body type is too large to bridge with just heat, and I know- I’m one of few that can tell exactly how wide it is. I have a measure of both- in some ways I’m as flexible as any desi, in others I’m worse off, due to the odd mix of continents and genetics (then again, I’m a touch bulkier than your average Bengali, and I love visiting Calcutta, if only for the fact that, by a measure of an inch or so, I am actually tall). I have European arm sockets and Indian ball-joints and can dislocate my shoulders like other people crack their knuckles. If a punjabi – an Indian shirt- is fitted to my height and stature, I will rip out the arpmits the first time I lift my hands higher than my neck. Yes, I’m somewhere here nor there, sure, but at the same time I’m touching both shores, and there is quite a bit of water here.

I’m not trying to imply that the worlds are too far, the gap can’t be bridged, there will never truly be a yogic understanding amongst Americans- that’s just stupid. There are plenty who get it already. All I’m saying is, all that heat you are paying for? It ain’t doing much except contributing to global warming and making you feel as if you got a “real workout” because you “really sweated.” Perhaps a cleansing of toxins was mentioned as well. You can also get a ‘real workout’ and ‘cleanse those toxins’ by reading the paper in the sauna at the YMCA.

It is, I must admit, a wonderful cloak that has been pulled over our eyes. Bikram saw something in Americans and catered to us, and it is the notion of excess and control that was the button. Think about it. Drive a car? HELL no, an SU fucking V!! Cheeseburger? If you finish our 5 LB Monster Burger in one sitting YOU GET IT FOR FREE! We are the same nation that invented ‘wave pools’ instead of going to the beach, we walk on treadmills instead of actually walking places, and now we’ve applied our simulacrum technology to mimic the heat of India in the hopes that it will make our yoga a little more like the real thing, At least as far as the weather is concerned.

And the specificity and talent for waste deserve mention as well. What better way to get men ( and there is a much higher proportion of men at Bikram classes) interested in Yoga than to add a bit of engineering (105 degrees precisely) and conspicuous energy consumption into the equation?

In this all, I have to make the concession. Bikram saw us for who we are. For all my bleating about it, perhaps he gave Americans the very yoga that they wanted, and perhaps, could handle. I’m still not quite ready to say that his sequence has no merit, but it really is yoga tailored for Americans. Even in his 60 minutes interview, when his yoga was compared to McDonalds, and he was asked if this bothered him, he basically said ‘not at all.’

Truly something to consider.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Yoga Costume on the floor

It is coming with me to the Enchanted Mitten. I'm going to see my mom, and catching up with myself. So be it. I'm packing my bags, bringing my uniform, hoping that I'll have more to dispatch about from the chilly Midwest. I hope all y'all are having a grand turkey day, tofurky for the Bay folks, or whatever you do wherever you are. It's the Great Lakes for me, for the next month or more. See you soon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Through the Funky Door #2: The studio

The Funky Door stands in front of me, flames inclusive, and the notable detail is that the windows are fogged, and dripping, as if there was a murky, cloud covered and chilly grey day- the sort that makes you reach for a good book and a cup of tea- happening on the inside of the building. I know the truth, though, it’s water that has passed through the pores of at least 100 students. And this is just the lobby. I’m exponentially beyond second thoughts at this point, but I said I’d do it, and so cross over to the other side.

Now, I knew there would be cartoons on the walls. I’d pictured Pluto in Downward Dog or something, maybe an occasional Warrior Pose Barbie , but almost EVERY INCH of the studio is covered in exaggerated depictions of the asanas, as well as a host of other various yoganachronisms. I can best describe them with a laundry list:

There hundreds of little cartoon people that evoke memories of the 1970’s illustrated puberty primer “What’s Happening to Me?”

There are monkeys in bikinis.

There are animals of all phyla, really, all striking poses.

There is Richard Nixon.

There is a Frankenstein wearing a T-shirt with a rainbow.

There is even a little cartoon of Bikram himself.

And those are just the cartoons.

There is also a man behind the counter wearing only daisy duke/roller derby cut shorts, and I have to assume he embodies the expanded definition of a eunuch, as I cannot imagine his package wouldn’t make a desperate bid for freedom by tunneling out the bottom , like the worms in Dune. Without the girth, of course, given the lack of breathing room in his shorts. I know, I know, you might be tempted to speculate on my sexuality for me to notice such a thing, but understand I HAD NO CHOICE. His shorts command an attention married to compulsive gawking, like an airplane crash on the news. He, while not actually flaunting his pelvis, was certainly cognizant of what he must of have looked like when he put them on, and there was clearly no shame involved. If fact, I believe he took some pride in his 0.33 square feet of cloth. How can a pair of shorts somehow be smaller than a thong?

There are also fake palm trees EVERYWHERE, small ones lining the top of the studio and larger ones in the hallway.

There are brightly colored plastic chairs in the shape of hands, palmed cupped as if begging for alms, the alms being your ass, I suppose.

There is a giant plaster sculpture of a blond nurse with a low cut blouse and miniskirt, a Red Cross emblem across her giant bazongas, and an enormously disproportionate head.

To top it all off, the windows are tinted to give an orange Southern California hue across the lobby, and I feel that I have come to do yoga in not so much a studio as on the set of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?!

But that’s not quite all. There is one more cartoon, and it encapsulates the ethic and ambiance of the studio at large.

It is of Bill Clinton standing on the Washington Monument in a standing split pose, wearing only a pair of heart-speckled boxers and an American flag tie, smoking a cigar and holding a cup of McDonald’s French fries in his outstretched hand, and……….wait for it……….Monica Lewinski on her knees preparing to fellate his big toe.

I’m not making this up.

It is this perverse Disneypomorphism that sets the tone for the studio. I feel that, shorn of the shackles of cultural mores, Americanism has run rampant over the Funky Door, a vapid, Hollywood-inspired rainbow of shopping-mall fungal strains let loose on an empty Petri dish.

It is further bolstered when the teacher walks in the room. I don’t see him come in, but rather hear him. He is outfitted with a headset microphone, wired to hidden speakers, and the effect is of an omnipresent Voice of God.

“Are you all feeling OK?” booms the ethereal voice.

“You know, you girls could move toward the front if you want. I’ll be standing here a lot of the time, girls, and you may want to scoot up a bit, don’t be shy, let’s get closer!”

I’m confused as to where the front is, but at least God has given me a clue- he must be somewhere along the perimeter of the room, and I’m whip-lashing wildly trying to locate him, amongst the presidential cartoons reflected in carnival mirrors. When I do find him, I’m perturbed to discover that it’s the Metrosexual Eunuch who controls our destiny for the next 90 minutes. He’s saucy, here and queer, and immediately employs a method of CONSTANT TALKING, the cadence and rhythm being a conflation of Richard Simmons without the sympathy and a Midwest County Fair pig auction.

“Ok, OK! *Clap Clap* Let’s get right on to this!”

The actual yoga, at this moment, does not look promising.

NEXT UP: The actual class.

Friday, November 21, 2008

In Through the Funky Door: A Tale in Three Acts.

Act I: Gathering the Where-with-all

2:30 is the time of reckoning for me. It is currently noon.

I’m being rather dramatic, sure, but I’ve been putting this off for so long that the notion of just going in the building has become saddled with artificial gravitas. I’ve heard SO MUCH about this place, from both directions, that it has grown beyond its britches in my own imagination, at least.

Before we enter the studio, I need to make one last editorial aside: A last note on Mr. Bikram Choudury, and I’ll be done. I paint him as an asshat, but I don’t know the man, and it is probably unfair. I’ve heard stories from people who have, and while many say he is boastful, noting how many swimming pools he owns in public presentations, others have said he is compassionate, in ways that I won’t divulge on a public blog, even if this ain’t the Huffington Post. And there is some notion that his ‘suing’ debacle may be concern for his sequence being executed correctly, rather than for the money. God knows he has enough. It’s hard to know what is true: It is all hearsay, and the most likely truth is that he is a measure of both, which just makes him a little more gauche, and touch more human, just like the rest of us, I suppose.

So, let us focus on the studio. I’ve heard rumors of boot-camp instruction, pictures of cartoon yoga on the wall, egos-a-plenty. I know I’ll only last at this studio this one time, so it is first impressions only for the Funky Door. Perhaps unfair, maybe, perhaps not. Who can say?

OK, I can. It will be unfair, and I clearly haven’t learned my ‘hearsay’ lesson, because I am predisposed to be critical, but then again, they’re the ones who painted flames on their windows and chose to name the studio after B.O., so they sorta have it coming. At least I’m as forthright with my prejudice as they are with the smell.

And so, FINALLY, off I go.

*Crossing my fingers and plugging my nose*

Time to do this.


Been a few days for certain, but things are churning along. I even got the wherewithal to head over to the Funky Door, but Mom called on my way up and I didn't want to explain to the Funky Sargent/Instructor that I was late because I was talking to Mom. That could only end badly.

As we wait on Yoga Cop, I'm pleased to say Seattle blogger Snotty McSnotterson has volunteered to blog a bit on Yoga, as her friend Whoreleen works at a studio. I feel like Whoreleen should meet my friend Bitchy. Sparks would fly, I'm sure. Anyway, people actually READ her blog, and you should to.

As I been lax as of late- looking for an actual job, dealing with real life, and whatnot- I'll dust off a few thoughts soon, but until then this be all you git.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guest Blogger: Profile of a Yoga Cop

"Dear Bananasana, my old friend... It's your favorite Yoga Cop.

I haven't made it to the Yoga place yet, but I now have solid plans to do so later this week. I am going to go the place where my younger sister Chuckette goes, she promises that they will be gentle with me. I thought I would give you a little pre-post here, to give your gentle readers some background so they will thoroughly appreciate my pain."

(Author's note, if you place editor's notes after each of my paragraphs like you so rudely did with your first guest writer, I will fully enlighten you in the experience of receiving a full nelson the next time you venture back home to the Enchanted Mitten).

(Ed Note: By "Enchanted Mitten", he means Michigan.)

(Author's note, there was no way I could make up a post without threatening you with physical harm, I thought I would get it out of the way early).

(Ed. Note: This is the type of relationship Chuck and I have enjoyed for decades.)

"So, although you painted a very flattering picture of me after I agreed to take on this challenge, I thought I would give a little more background info. By the way, thanks for the 200+ comment, you could have said 250+ and been more accurate."

"I consider myself to be a somewhat athletic person. In my younger days, I was the terror of my high school JV tennis and wrestling teams. I clearly remember that I wrestled in the 112 lb weight class, which isn't so bad, until I add the part where I was darn near six feet tall at the time. The next seven years saw me add on about 20 lbs per year, and I have spent my time since somewhere between 220 and 260. So the last time I had yoga-type physique, the Bananasana was just starting to get interested in girls."

"I manage to play in a few old person indoor soccer games from time to time and chase my four kids around. I am a firearms and subject control instructor at work which forces me to be at least slightly active. I recently started to try to get back into some kind of jogging shape. Two months ago I was in the worst shape of my life, due mainly to my own laziness with the kicker of having knee surgery as an excuse. Since then, I have been doing some walking/running workouts which have managed to move my gunbelt in a notch, which is good. Still have a long way to go though, and Yoga seems like it would be a good way to help me to my goal of (truthfully) saying that I weigh a little over 200 lbs."

"I am looking forward to the physical part more so than the spiritual. I am wondering how the hippie peace and love vibe will interact with my warrior have-a-plan-to-kill-everyone-you-meet type training. I am looking forward to having my chakras all loosened up and my chi centered, or whatever good stuff is supposed to happen after the class. I am hoping that it doesn't include an ambulance ride at any point.

Till next week, my little smart-mouthed friend,

Chuck Garbonzo"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bikram Class #1

I’m still going to go to the Funky Door. Just not yet.

I elected to head off to Bikram in El Cerrito rather than the Funky Door for the first time on the advice of my friends Garrick and Holly.

Garrick and Holly are proper west coast hippies, born and bred. They have been to the Funky Door and found it wanting, as it seems many people have. Holly, in fact, worked the front desk for a awhile, at least until she was fired for wanting to take a fifteen minute break to eat a sandwich, which squares with the boot-camp vibe I hear about the place. I’m a touch intimidated, and so I go with Garrick’s suggestion to try on the gentler vibrations of this alternative studio.

Nonetheless, we are still going to Bikram, it is still hot yoga, and I am still a little nervous. I’m chatting with Garrick on the way up, telling him that I hear the first few times are a little rough.

“Yea, it’s pretty excruciating” he confirms.

“You’ll be lucky if you can just stay in the room.” he says, not at all assuaging my fears. Isn’t he supposed my reassuring west-coast-permaculture-groovy guru?

We arrive. There is one older Indian man there, a sikh, head wrap and everything, and he ends up to the left of me. I am in the exact center of the room, directly in front of the teacher.

I wouldn’t mind being in the center so much if it weren’t for the set-up. I’m not sure if all Bikram studios are designed like this, but 3 of the 4 walls are covered in mirrors, and the back wall is outfitted with a handrail not unlike a ballet studio. The floors, however, are carpeted, which I can’t figure out. I sweat like a hog during normal yoga (although, biologically, this is a malapropism- humans are the only species with sweat glands covering their entire body, so it might be more accurate to say I sweat like a homo sapien, which is just redundant.) If we are going to all sweat like homo sapiens, won’t the carpet get kind of ……..musky?

It is warm in the studio, sure, but it isn’t excruciating at first, and I figure I can handle it. We start with simple breathing exercises.

Bikram is a specific, patented sequence, the same every time. We start of with a peculiar breathing technique in where we intertwine our fingers underneath our chins. The teacher- demonstrating for my benefit- exhales in a raspy hiss-like method.

There was a mini-series in the 1980’s called “V” which stood for “visitors”. The premise was that this alien race, looking much like ourselves except wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and orange jumpsuits, came to visit, on the pretense of peace and harmony. As it turns out, the human appearance was but a literal shell- the Ray Bans were to hide their reptilian pupils- and often enough they would grab their faces just under the chin and tear of the visage, a scaly, mucus-covered bipedal Komodo dragon underneath, which would then promptly devour the hapless human witness.

The teacher is hissing and giving directions in a rather stentorian tones, and I am already needing to suppress the urge to flee. I’m aware that I’m being irrational, but still,I am directly in front of her after all, so I’m the first to go if she rips off her face. What with my Sikh compadre directly to my left, I’m just hoping she can’t palette Indian food. I think the heat does something to your brain.

We carry on with class. We are asked to check our alignment in the mirror, and I admit, it is a useful tool, on one level. I never get to see myself do the yoga, and I can pick out places where my poses are wanting. The problem is, I can also see everyone in class, from every angle, and I do need to point out that Yoga classes are typically filled with rather shapely young women, in about an 8:1 ration to males, which makes it difficult to concentrate, at least in the beginning. It doesn’t help that should you try and avoid the distraction by looking the other way, you just get an eyeful in the mirror of the back row of shapely young women and a guy whose name might be Gus. This problem, however, is soon rectified.

The space heater is on the whole time, and the room is becoming appreciably warmer. We are also generating quite a bit ourselves, and so it really is becoming unbearably hot and stuffy. Those of us who perhaps didn’t consider our wardrobes carefully before class and chose to wear lighter colored garments are beginning to sweat.


Everywhere including our crotches is what I’m trying to say.

The effect is to make it seem as if we are all collectively incontinent, such are the spreading puddles from our pelvises, and this- even though I know it’s just sweat- is evoking feelings of kindergarten playground shame. I had the unfortunate experience of wetting my pants on top of the jungle gym in preschool, in front of most of the people I would be spending the next 12 years with, and as you can imagine, reputations stick at that age. I’m desperately examining myself in the mirror, trying to discern whether my sweat puddles are visible. It is only a measure of facial hair that is tethering me to the fact that I am a grown-up, or at least the age of a grown-up.

The latter half of class is mostly composed of floor poses, a poor choice as far as I’m concerned. It is getting REALLY difficult to breathe, and I attribute at least some of this to our proximity to the floor. Carbon Dioxide- which we are rapidly producing as we deplete all the available oxygen, is the heaviest component of all the gases in the atmosphere, at least the ones present in substantial amounts. In an open air situation, no big deal, but the room is nearly hermetically sealed, and the carbon dioxide will, in such situations, collect on the bottom of the room. I find myself gasping a bit as we get through the more difficult poses. I am also suspiciously eyeballing the mechanical contraption in the back. It looks to be a humidifier, and I can’t fathom it being physically possible to saturate the air with any more water vapor.

Bikram Yoga, even though it originated with a gentleman from deepest darkest India, seems to me the most Americanized version I’ve tried as of yet. It seems incongruous to rely on artificially altering the internal atmosphere with machines, ones that weren’t available a century ago.

Still, all said and done, I feel pretty good. I am forced to concede that Mr. Bikram Choudury- even with the asshat reputation he has- may be onto something. I make it through class intact, and even feel pretty good afterwards. I feel ready to test my mettle against the Funky Door.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A false dichotomy

It is a slightly different post today, folks. I suppose it could be said that I’m guest blogging for myself. As well as all the nifty reviews and yoga diaries, I’d like to get a little deeper into all the elements that surround Yoga, and being as I’ve been trained as a scientist, that’s probably why I chose to write this little piece.

On medicine, western and eastern

We argue. We argue a lot.

We argue about a great many subjects- the morality of abortion and stem cell research, the existence of God, the role of science in spiritual systems.

We do, often enough, harm ourselves when we argue, blocking communication channels when we needn’t and-most importantly- shouldn’t. Take Eastern vs. Western medicine.

Much like the two-party political system in America, the concepts of strictly Eastern and strictly Western medicine is a false dichotomy. There are platforms common to both, and both retain the same goal. In politics, the goal is to govern the people. In medicine, it is to treat the disease. Let us deconstruct these notions, with the intention of recognizing that both have their merits, and-most importantly- could both benefit by removing the blockage and coupling their respective strengths to each other.

As this is a treatise on Yoga, it well serves our purpose to focus on Ayurvedic practice as our resident Eastern medicine.

The word “Ayurveda” retains a holy-grail-type mysticism among health-food shoppers and Californian über-spiritual fitness experts alike. It is a measure of how much an alternative medicinal system was accepted here in the west, that the practice- and subsequently the word -is unquestionably accepted as ‘good’, and has been exploited by current manufacturers of holistic health products. It may help to debunk the notion of inherent ‘goodness’ if we take a look at how these labels are marketed on their native soil: Both toothpaste- a product you don’t actually consume, is purported to be ayurvedic. A popular brand of ayurvedic soap, Chandrika, purports to “ ensure your personal charm”. The Indian version of cornflakes have “Added Shakti!” much in the same way that we fortify our breakfast cereals, albeit with the mystic power of the Tri-devi feminine force. How that force is distilled and added to cornmeal remains undocumented.

Let’s start this dissection simply. Ayurveda could loosely be paralleled to another holistic favorite ‘Chinese Medicine” – it was more or less the governing medical practice for centuries in India. Like the oft lauded ‘Chinese Medicine’, it is a holistic view that relies upon what it available- both in terms of diagnosis and of available treatments. Herein lies the false “east/west” dichotomy- it isn’t necessarily a difference of philosophy- both treat ailments- that lead to the different approaches, but rather a difference of tools.

We need a metaphor for disease, and what better than a pastime everyone is familiar with?

Imagine a pool table.

Imagine three cue balls at one end, an eight ball at the other. In between these, imagine and array of pool balls, configured to a specific shape. And now, cover the table with a tarp- not completely mind you- the cue balls and the eight ball can still be seen , but all the others are obscured by the tarp.

Let us label our metaphor- the eight ball represents the manifest symptoms of the disease. The #1-15 balls represent the internal mechanics- the specific biological molecules and pathway of the disease, and the cue balls represent the tools available to the physician. The specific configuration of the remaining pool balls represent the biological pathway of the disease- it is the same every time, in every person.

The physician’s job is to sink the eight ball- to treat the disease- and in early medicinal tradition, there was really no way to gain an obvious, molecular insight as to how the disease occurred. We simply didn’t have the tools to visualize these molecules. This didn’t mean the disease was untreatable- in fact, through trial and error, a good practioner- this might be a better term than ‘physician’ even though both served the same purpose- could devise a system that at least stood a good chance of sinking the eight ball, at least more reliably than chance. If the practioner fires a cue ball at the right angle, the eight ball can still be sunk- fairly reliably- whether or not you can see what is happening under the tarp.

Geometry is geometry and treatments are treatments- the practioner didn’t need to know what was happening under the tarp to know that it worked. That is not to say that they weren’t curious or didn’t learn anything- our analogy still serves, as you can certainly hear the impact of the billiard balls, and probably locate points of trajectory and intersection. It is speculation, certainly, but it seems natural to assume that this where the concepts of Chakras and acupuncture points came from- they simply are locations where internal energies and anatomical systems coalesce. They only aspect we need to keep in mind, however, is that all these observations were external. Certainly, dissection gave us an idea of internal anatomy, but if the early practioners wanted to see this happening ‘in the flesh’ as it were, they needed live subjects, and live subjects often resist being carved into, at least while they are still conscious.

Enter tools, technology, and the western physician. In reality, there came microscopes, anaethesia, germ theory and biochemistry. In our analogy, we shall summarize the development of medical technology and finely calibrated scientific as a pair of scissors.

With the scissors, physicians- and I think it is fair to introduce the term, although we may need to include a large contingent of research scientists, lab rats, and a host of other medical professionals who don’t and never will work directly with patients- could start to see what was happening with that particular array of billiard balls, the disease. The problem being it was a painstakingly long and tedious process. For the purposes of our analogy, we shall say that they could cut away a 3”x3” window at one time, each window being a culmination of decades of work. You can imagine that many of these windows would be useless- the only thing to report would be that this was a bad place to look.

Careers in science are based upon this ‘non-knowledge’- much of scientific literature could be summed up as “ we looked here, found nothing, don’t bother”. Once in a great while, a window might be cut above a useful location- perhaps here the 2 ball hits the 5 ball, sending it towards the NW corner- but that’s all. And we might even be reasonable in saying that each window cut represents thousands of patients, patients that we can learn from, but not necessarily treat.

This is where the ‘western’ physician gets a bad reputation. In seems cruel to us that this person, our doctor- purported to have taken the medical vow- could be so callous and uncaring as to see patients as data sets- but really it is a failure perception, coupled with the fear of being diagnosed with a chronic or fatal disease. It takes tremendous vision and patience to acknowledge and pursue a higher goal- to eradicate the disease in its entirety, to systematically elucidate every aspect so that nothing is left to chance- so that eventually no one will need suffer. The only problem being, it relies on those suffering NOW to acknowledge that nothing can currently be done- within this system at least. It asks the sufferers to acknowledge that they may well die, and nothing can be done for them, and to STILL volunteer themselves for the betterment of strangers, even hypothetical future strangers. A tough sell, to say the least.

This may be why we perceive traditional practices as more humane- the aim being to treat the patient rather than the abstract concept of the disease. It might be good to note, while we have the pool table in front of us, that these aren’t diametrically opposed methods of practice- this is the same pool table after all- just different points of focus. It may well be that if the early medicinal practitioners had access to the same sorts of tools, they may have done the same- they were also looking systematically after all, hence all the chakra charts and acupressure point maps.

It is also for lack of ‘official’ and ‘scientific’ sounding treatments that ayurvedic practices seem nebulous- diagnosis and treatments relied on what was available, and often seemed steeped in esoteric mysticism. It is again, however, a failure of imagination that led us to make distrust traditional medicine and make critical mistakes. Take Malaria, for example.

The indigenous people - in Chris Columbus parlance, ‘Indians’- of the Amazon flood basin figured out a cure well before western medicine did. In fact, western medicine never did- in merely refined the active compound in the herbal treatments of the Indians, and eventually came up with a synthetic analog. This turned out to be a critical oversight.

While the Indians had little or no conception of the molecular mechanics of the disease- they simply knew if they hit the cue ball in a certain direction, the disease went away.

Enter the synthetic analog. Western medicine, as we all know too well, is subject to marketplace forces, and American pharmaceutical companies generally aren’t willing to pay for imported compounds if they can make serviceable replacements in the lab, as hundreds of thousands of Organic Chemistry students know. They figured it would work just fine.

They were right- to a point. The quinine analog certainly did halt the progress of malaria, but the analog had a problem- for whatever reason, it allowed the parasite to become resistant very quickly- a matter of decades, while natural quinine had worked for thousands of years. In many regions, the local strains of malaria are completely resistant to the quinine analog, and travelers must take harsher psychoactive drugs like chloroquine and laramine*. What western physicians did, essentially, was to take an effective ‘primitive’ treatment for malaria and render it useless through its own arrogance and false confidence in molecular medicine.

Let us not indict western medicine entirely- the proliference of snake oil and charlatanism in ‘holistic’ medicine runs rampant, and are too numerous to bother documenting- it’s certainly been done before, to the point where ‘homeopathic’ has become a blanket term meaning ‘found at Whole Foods, in the Health and Beauty section’ rather than it’s original latin derivation, that of ‘same disease agent.’ **

All this to say- we, as a culture, would do well to bridge the gap between these methods. In a system where upwards of 50% of pharmaceuticals are derived directly from plant compounds, and the vast majority of the rest are simply synthetic doppelgangers of chemicals that were originally derived from plants, it may be time to acknowledge that the vast majority of our medicinal arsenal has its roots in , well, roots. On the same token, we might need to acknowledge that a steady diet of cayenne pepper, honey, and lemon juice condensed into pill form, labeled ayurvedic and marked up 400% may not cure cancer. We need to allow- and encourage- practitioners of both systems to work together, to bridge the perceived gap between the disciplines, for the betterment of the profession and the world.

*Laramine is said to make the traveler paranoid. If personal experience is any measure, laramine can make you believe that the shoeshine boys, eager to make a few pennies from you, are stalking the café, waiting to punch you in the kidneys, steal your wallet, and leave you in the gutter. The average shoeshine boy in Iquitos, Peru is about 8 years old.
**Homeopathy uses, as its lynchpin, the idea that minute quantities of a pathogen or allergen introduced to the body will lead the immune system to recognize it. For example, microscopic amounts of the allergen in poison ivy taken internally, may help the body to become ‘accustomed’ to it, and subsequently circumvent an allergic reaction then next time it is encountered en masse, so to speak, during a hike in the woods or otherwise. It is not, as many holistic commercial endeavors would lead you to believe, anything that doesn’t come directly from the pharmacy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Guest Blogger #1: Darlee on Savasana

It's been a struggle, getting back on the Yoga Horse. I've been a bit laid up as of late, what with postherpetic neuralgia, which is a BIZITCH. but at least i ain't gots it SO bad. It was Anusara for me today, which feels like Diet Yoga after the Power Vinyasa/Ab crunch/Enlightened Boot Camp routine. Still, not much to say about it, and so I'm happy to pass the podium to another Yoga enthusiast. I like to see initiative, and so am handing over the mic to one Darlee- the first respondent to the call for guest bloggers- from..........hell, I don't know, where the fuck you from, Darlee? Anyway, she voices concerns about Shivasana, and as I likes me some shivasana- the repose at the end of class- I'm inclined to agree with her.....

“Hey yoga teacher! shhhh!

What's the deal with shavasana? Why, after 60 or 90 minutes filled with (mostly missed) opportunities to say something meaningful or helpful during the asana part of class, do yoga teachers use this precious "quiet-time" to talk? Or read out loud? Or even to SING? I don't know.

Shavasana (savasana) is THE time for rest in yoga. Not just rest for the body or mind- but for the spirit. For some yogis it's the best rest in the entire work/sleep cycle. The benefits of silence are tremendous, especially after yoga practice. Unfortunately, yoga teachers often use savasana as an opportunity to show how "spiritual" or "woo-woo" or "yogic" they are.

Ed. Note: I'm not entirely sure what "woo-woo" means, but I'm feeling it's an onomatopœia for fru-fru "steeped in the ancient traditions of Deepest Darkest India" spirituality....

I already can hear some yoga teachers saying, "If I don’t talk to them they'll jump right off their mats after class and run." Well, I’m here to tell you- the minute you ask me to close my eyes and imagine myself at some exotic locale, or ask me to direct an imaginary white light through my chakras- I am ready to go AT THAT VERY MOMENT!

Ed. Note for the Yoga layperson- I believe, if my facts are together correctly, it is white for the head chakra, blue for the heart chakra, and red for the, uhhh, anus chakra. Conveniently patriotic!

These scenes, speeches and songs are NOT relaxing. They feed the yoga teacher's ego rather than leaving the students in silence to be with their own inner voice. If you must, play a nice drone music CD with some tamboura, perhaps, or a sweet soft chanting CD, BUT PLEASE: no incense in the yoga room! Don’t get me started…that's an entirely different post!

Ed Note: I love incense, but I take her point- even as a fan, I find it a little alarming to add sensory stimulation when you are supposed to withdrawl from your senses- it's called 'corpse' pose for a reason...

So PLEASE, teachers think about this: swami chidvilasananda said "when there is senseless talking, you can not hear the voice of your own self." Shhhhh! there is so much for your yogis and for YOU to hear from your silence! God speaks in silence.”

And there we have it. Teachers, did you get that- LET US CHILL. Of course, given my track record, you can certainly give me a kick in the ribs if I start to snore, as I am wont to do.

COMING SOON: The Yoga Cop and (I swear) Bikram Yoga.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coming Soon: Guest Bloggers

Yep. That's it. That's the challenge.

Go to a yoga class. Just one. Write it up and we'll slap it up on the site.

Our first(but not our only) guest blogger will be one Chuck Garbonzo (not his real name). He is a 200+ lb republican Dee-troit rock city COP, single dad of 4 kiddos and can put down whiskey like....well, like a cop. Known him all my life, and we've been at opposite political poles for the whole time.

I know I'M a little critical of the hippie vibe- I can't wait to see what he's got to say. For a little more insight, I suggest you check out the video bar- he's the one who clued me to the existence of "Yoga 4 Dudes."

Feel like giving it a whirl? Just let me know.....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A milestone, of sorts.

It is an odd thing, this yoga project. It is an odd thing to be a stranger at yoga classes, to actually COMMIT to being a stranger- I see interactions between regulars, and I want that for myself. I want friends, regularity, a routine.....but that's not what I set out to do. Fortunately, I do have help, one source being Em, who communicates with me regularly via email. She asked a question, a pertinent one:

"i'm curious" says she via email, "about how many yoga classes are you going to every week, and are you beginning to feel any kind of shift, either in your body or your mind?"

And so I answer:

I’ve been at this for a month now, and I’m averaging about three classes a week. Have I seen a shift? Kinda sorta.

Physically, the answer is yes, certainly. It isn’t HUGE, but my bearing is different, although I have to admit, it sort of depends on the studio and the teacher. From a purely cosmetic viewpoint, my trousers are a bit looser around the waist and my Man-Titties- an unfortunate reality for those of us who’ve crossed the 30-threshold- are less breast-like and more Men’s Health Pectorals, which is cool, I suppose.

To boot, a rather intoxicated young woman was soliciting hugs on the sidewalk the other night, and so I gave her one- I surprised us both, I think, with my strength. A good strong hug is a cool thing to give. Who knew I had it in me?

And the spiritual side? Dunno, exactly. It might be a false dichotomy to separate this from the physical side, but might as well, at least for thinking purposes. I see it as analogous to gardening- if I’m trying to cultivate a spiritual garden, so to speak, I’ve basically just tilled the soil. I can feel myself becoming more receptive, but to what end? The chanting and all the little parables that the teachers mention don’t do much for me on their own. I feel like they are referencing concepts of the Indian brand of spirituality that you might not get if you were just in class for the asanas, which I think most people are. Plus, as you mentioned, some of the parables are kind of trite- the pontification of the Nature of Ugly Facial Hairs and One’s Spiritual Acceptance of Them? Just pluck the fuckers. Problem solved.

Still, I’m liking some of the reading I’m doing. I don’t think there is much room for an exploration of this side of yoga directly in the classroom, at least during the asana/prana sessions. I think most people want the shapely booty. I doubt I’ll go to any chanting sessions, but maybe I’ll hit up some of the philosophical ones. All said and done, though, I feel like this searching has more to do with what you figure out for yourself, rather than what the teacher can tell you. And I think the teachers know that……

And I like the fact that you asked that question. You mind if I put it up as a post on the old blog?

Cheers ma’am


And so it is. I also considered dropping the blog- I've been feeling a little tired of this open dialogue as of late, and this is a blog afer all, not CNN. Still, she swayed me, told me she'd be sad if I dropped it, and the small readership that the blog has garnered is a regular one. I thank all 3 of you ( it's more than that but still, one must joke). And I still have a job to do. But i have an idea.........start researching your local yoga classes, folks. I will soon issue a challenge.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Public Service

So I joined Yelp. This make me a "Yelper". I'm not pleased about this, but what can you do?

I figure, as long as I'm doing the blog, might as well run some more condensed versions, one per studio, kind of get a few reviews out to the public and everything.

So there you go. If you are at all curious, I put a little gadget on the side bar that links to the reviews. The "5 star" system has never seemed quite complete to me, so I will use the Bananasana(copyright 2009) method of:


The first 3 categories will give a level ( low, moderate, high), the 4th will tell you what the introductory deal is, and the last is, well, just something you may want to know before you get to the studio.

And so there you have it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Harbin Hot Springs Retreat

Bikram will come later. I decided to Rent-a-Relic, skip town and hit the hot springs. They have, uh, hot springs of course, but Yoga as well.

Harbin is close, has Yoga twice a day, and a bit of a reputation. It’s a ‘clothes-optional’ resort, and often hosts polygamous conferences and sensuality workshops. My friend Jay describes it rather diplomatically.

“You may want to check the schedule. They sometimes have theme weekends where people aren’t always conscious of……….boundaries.”

I’m puzzled by this ambiguous statement, so I check, and it isn’t the Tantric Intimacy Workshop or Group Sex Weekend or anything, so I figure I should be safe.

I arrive in the late afternoon. I’m a little later than expected, and so I ask the check-in guy, a grey-ponytailed hippie about when the Yoga class is.

“5 o’clock. Now just sign here.”

I sign there.

He briefs me on the camping rules, and sends me off with a hearty

“Now go have fun!”, with a sly wink.

I’m a little creeped-out, speculating on what kind of ‘fun’ he means, when he calls me back, and I realized I have forgotten to pay the man.

“You probably need the actual money, huh?”, I joke.

“Ah well, it’s not as if you just ran off, I sent you off, you know?”

I smile and nod, wanting to acknowledge that he realizes that I wasn’t just trying to skip out. I present my debit card, square up, and make gestures to depart.

“I mean, it’s not like you just ran off you know. I did send you off, yea?”, he says.

“Uh, yea. I, uh, know what you mean.” I reply.

“I mean, I did tell you to go have fun you know. When you left. I mean, it’s not like you just went away, yea?”, says he.

“Yes……..uh, you sure did.”, reply I.

I don’t really understand if he is aware that he is repeating himself. He’s of the old school, a real 60’s hippie, and not the first time during this weekend that I become perplexed listening to someone.

Yoga Class 1.

It must be noted that I was later than I anticipated. One reason being that I had stopped to eat a Philly-cheese steak on the way up. It was always an odd point of contention, this notion of the Sacred Cow. At age eight, visiting Calcutta, I was astounded to see the seemingly enormous Brahmin Bulls roaming freely throughout the city. For one thing, they didn’t jive with my notion of what a cow was, being familiar only with the chubby, rather benign looking dairy cows of the Midwest. These things looked hump-backed and dangerous. Another issue arose when my English mother- my only source of the cultural heritage of India, as dad was typical of Indian fathers insomuch as he left all that sort of thing to The Wife- explained that cows were holy. This also did not square with the fact that we- as a family- relished a fine cut of prime rib more than your average American nuclear unit. I still eat beef, but I try and mentally acknowledge that the cow has died for Our Sins. I like to conflate my religions.

So I’m running late, and I scramble to set up my tent and get to the Temple on time.

It is a beautiful building, structured like a yurt on the steppes of Mongolia, but all wood and stucco plaster, symmetrical yet askew in some indefinable sense. It is circular, Feng Shui running clockwise, and it seems a most comfortable place for reflection.

Class starts.

It is heavy on the chanting. As previously stated, I don’t like chanting, but I’ll usually murmur along, just audible enough to fill the letter of the law. Here, though, we are seated in a more egalitarian circle, rather than the typical loose checkerboard with the teacher at the head of the class. She is, in fact, sitting right next to me. She busts out some instrument that looks to combine the less desirable aspects of a sitar and a banjo. It’s kind of janky looking, only two strings, but passably ethnic looking. It sounds, however, like a banjo. With two strings. And no frets. The brown plastic recorder pressed into your hands in third grade music class was a more versatile instrument. She begins plucking the only two notes available to her, the interval a Twinkle Twinkle non-committal fifth, over and over and over again.

We begin the chanting.

Much to my horror, she begins to sing Hare Krishna. If you have forgotten the lyrics, perhaps blocked out the musical Hair from your memory out of a sort of collective cultural shame, they are as such:

Hare Krishna
Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna
Hare Krishna

Hare Rama
Hare Rama
Rama Rama
Hare Rama.

The next two verses, as they are sung with a slightly different melodic structure, are thus:

Hare Krishna
Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna
Hare Krishna

Hare Rama
Hare Rama
Rama Rama
Hare Rama.

There are two problems for me in this situation.

The first is that my opinions of Hare Krishnas- the dudes with the pastel orange robes and the braided…….rat-tail….. miniature Mohawk?- are molded only through mass media. I was first exposed to them at my uncle’s house, as he had a VCR and the movie Airplane! recorded from cable television. I watched the movie seven times the weekend we were visiting, scoring the dialogue forever on my brain. I am also reminded of the early Bloom County comic strips, where a Hare Krishna is trying to explain who he is- Opus confuses “Hare Krishna” with “Hairy Fishnuts”, and the devotee becomes aggravated, freaking out and finally demanding Opus to “just cough up some dough.” In short, I view them as hapless clowns. Unfair, to be sure, but probably typically American, such is our reliance on the Tee-Vee and comic books to propagate our prejudices.

The second problem is that I am sitting next to the teacher, which means that everyone looking at her is, by default, looking at me. This is a shy group, as no one knows anyone else- we are all on vacation after all- and I feel compelled to make a good showing, to support the teacher as she plucks away on her janky ethnic banjo. I AM MORTIFIED, but I plug on nonetheless. We sing the whole sequence- all four verses- a total of five times. I know for a fact it is five times. I am counting, waiting, and finally actually PRAYING that it ends soon. It is a sensation akin to counting how many times the teacher says “uh” during a lecture, but...really……………………..slowly.

We don’t begin the asanas. We lay on the mat for a good long time and actualize our prana, which essentially means we are borderline napping. When we do start, we cycle through all the poses, and things move at a fair clip, at least until we get to pigeon pose.

Pigeon pose involves a mid torso twist. They say you shouldn’t eat before class, and I suppose you certainly shouldn’t eat a Holy Cow, particularly if you are in such a hurry that you forget to acknowledge the cow’s Christ-like sacrifice. We hit the pose, and I twist the cookie tube the wrong way. The cow has the last laugh- his remains get squeezed in the wrong direction, and suddenly, almost violently, I become ill. I have to get up and leave the class, to go deal with this bovine Montezuma’s Revenge.

There is a notion in Hindi scriptures- and I certainly can’t substantiate this, or reference it ( I looked)- that a soul will spend a million years in purgatory (or the Hindu equivalent) for every hair on a cows hide that you ate. An FDA study came out shortly after I read this, stating that each McDonald’s hamburger was composed of an average of 200 different cows, due to the processing procedures. We learned of this in high school, at about the same time we learned how to properly use scientific notation, a method that lets you quantify enormous sums. We spent much of our after-school hours at fast food establishments, calculating precisely how long I’d spend in Hell, given I was raised almost exclusively on McDonalds from the ages of 6 to 17. This cow, though, this singular cheese-steak entity- takes his toll in a way that numbers cannot describe. It is severe enough to keep me out of the rest of class. I’m quite sure you really don’t want me to share the details.

After I take care of my internal problems, I wash up and head to the mineral baths. It is night, everyone is naked, and lined around the perimeter of the pool, in various stages of repose. It is a small pool, budget-motel sized, and all the prime spots around the edge are taken. There are various couples, clearly engaged in, um, intimate relations. I expected this to some degree, figuring that as long as they weren’t OBVIOUSLY having intercourse, I would deal, but I am forced into the middle of the pool, along with a group in the middle in some sort of football huddle of …

There are gobs of white stuff floating in the water. Now, there is a reason for this- it’s a mineral hot springs, and we are in the moderately warm bath. As the water cools, the minerals precipitate out, and as it is largely calcium, the congealing crystals float around the tub, like amorphous globs of…well, you know. But I know they are just minerals. I read the sign before I got in.

It does not however- when you are in the middle of the pool, awkwardly averting your gaze from the sex mob, track lighting focused on your nether regions like they were the guest on The Tonight Show- make you feel any better. I decide to hit the sauna instead. On my way out, I step on some soft sticky something or other that sticks to my foot- my bare foot, as I am naked- and I calmly flick it off, the same type of ‘let’s get down to business’ calm that overcomes you during times of crisis, like having a mouse crawl into your trousers. Only after I flick it off do I even allow myself to think it may be a used condom. I start bending down to check, but I realize with a titanium certainty that I don’t want to know, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Rather than sleep in my tent that night, I sleep in the reclined passenger seat of the rental car, fearing that in the tent I’ll be subject to the sounds of the Tantric Sensuality Workshop after-party.

Class 2:

It is the intermediate class, requiring me to get up early, but this is not a problem. I haven’t really slept all that well, dreaming of rolled up yoga mats stacked upon each other in dark underground bunkers, like anonymous femurs in the catacombs of Paris. I crawl out of Ford Escort Fetal Position as soon as the sky is light grey, hoping to end the edgy half-slumber I have spent a half-rotation of the earth in. I get to the Temple early and warm up with a strap, trying to stretch out my hamstrings, which are now winched up as tightly as jib ropes on a sailboat.

Class begins.

We start with stretching out our hamstrings, employing the aid of a strap. I will refrain from commenting on where the teacher- whose 'Indian' name, coincidently, is the same as my brand of ayurvedic soap- got the idea, but I’m suspicious, to say the least. We do this for 45 MINUTES. Half the class is dedicated to this, shoving our femurs into our hip sockets, which sounds like a terrible idea.

It sounds- to me at least- like a terrible idea, because if I recall my “Yoga Anatomy” diagrams correctly, the sciatic nerve is couched in the hip joint. It runs directly through the ‘hole’ in the back of the pelvis, one for each leg, and if you compress it, it will affect your whole leg, as this is the nervous system’s sympathetic super highway.

Halfway through this exercise in repetition, the soles of my feet go numb. I relate this information to the teacher, but she just tosses the Asana version of a platitude my way.

“Oh, just do ShaNaNasana, it’s good for reawakening your vitreous humors.”

My feet feel all wrong. It is difficult to ‘ground yourself’ when your interface feels like you’ve been standing on a frozen cut of pork for upwards of an hour. I have to duck out of many poses, and I feel completely out of whack, like I’ve done damage rather than good.

I’m rolling up my mat after class, spying in on a conversation between a German tourist and the teacher.

“Oh yes,” says the German tourist “we have been to some classes in the San Francisco .”

“Oh you should go where I take classes, at blahblahblah studio”

Now, should I be worried? I had entertained the idea of faking the role of Teacher one day, taking the helm, but I don’t think I’d ever do that now- I feel like I could do too much damage, not knowing what I‘m doing. Shouldn’t she know what she is doing? I feel ALL WRONG, like I’ve induced a mild scoliosis by force, and I can’t help but note that she might not have the wherewithal to run a class correctly.

I elect, afterwards, to go for a soak, hoping that these healing waters will undo the scoliosis. The front pool, the moderately warm one, is calm enough, but the back pool- the really hot one, encased in a squat, open-air edifice- is Bumping. By Bumping I mean that the people in the building are either collectively moving giant granite slabs or are engaged in some extremely athletic sex, such are their violent exhortations. We- the mellow early morning ponderers, are trying our best to ignore this.




*smack of flesh on concrete*

“kuhkuhkuhKuh!Kuh!KUHKUH KUHHHHHhhhhhhhh……”

I find myself scanning the waters for incongruous-looking globs of white precipitate. I leave, SHOWER, and secure a picnic table on the outskirts of the retreat, hoping only to be out of the semen crossfire.

I’m quietly working on my Yoga mat for the rest of the morning, taking in sounds and, uh, naked people, and the general atmosphere. It is a pleasant morning, and a half-naked man is playing cello down the hill. I actually meet him a little later, in a little hovel off to the side of the Chapel, later in the day. He is the final straw that sends me packing.

“Hey man, I liked your playing” I tell him, when I see him later in the smoking hovel.

“Aw, great man.” says he.

We banter a bit, I tell him I play as well.

“What kind of stuff do you listen to?” I ask.

What comes next, I can’t explain or even transcribe without getting carpel tunnel, such was his need to talk copiously and unabashedly. He starts. I’m guessing about 20 minutes later, he wanes, a little, just for a moment, and I grab my chance.

“Well, dude, I gotta keep working on my mat, see you in a bit” I say, before I run, run, RUN.

What happened was this: He scrambled my brain.

I don’t know anyone here at the Hot Springs, but the place attracts a certain clientele. It is of the fully integrated organic divine light delivered by sacred oxygen to bring illumination to your beautiful, enlightened soul, and I’m all ears. I’m all ears because I’m trying to be more open minded about this shit, to perhaps listen without judging, and so I’m trying to follow the whole monologue. It is a plan of sorts that he has for Life, and as far as I can discern, it involves the following elements: an organic farm, a restaurant, a cello, a solar-powered generator bike trailer/rickshaw, outfitted to cross the whole of India and able to power one-man concerts on the street corners of New Delhi, a suit, a realization of all of corporate America that they must invest in this man’s organic-fueled restaurant/farm/collective/socialist and yet capitalist network of organic-cello-farm collectives, and someone who will give him money for all of this, because he’s a genius.

He’ll be wearing a suit in place of an actual resumé, I suppose. I should have shut him off at “Aw”, but I’m trying to be more open.

Allowing this- allowing myself to be cornered, to smile and nod, makes me feel as if he has psychologically pushed open a door in the front of my skull, found little resistance, and began to use me as a conduit to talk to everyone else in the smoking hovel. And this is the culture here at Harbin- you don’t say anything negative, because, man, everyone has something to say and that should be respected, and if you interrupt, that might not be cool.

It’s ethic of non-criticism, even the constructive sort, that is driving me a little loony. It is conflated with all the posi-speak, the repitition of “divinity” and “enlightened self” and the unavoidable “spirituality” that gets me. It’s the wanton overexposure of these concepts, the idea that putting a tin of your spare tobacco on the table counts as “universal giving without expectation” and that when said tobacco is subsequently stolen allows one to give a diatribe about one’s beautiful non-expectation of an act of open communal action, without suspicion that someone had ill intention or could be converted to better intention if we ALL gave without suspicion AGAIN- that makes me suspicious. Not of the stealer- that should have been predicted- but of the giveé, the person who uses a loss of a fairly available product to leverage an image of themselves as ‘giving’, and subsequently positions themselves as able to ask for shit later on, as they are so communal. Because everyone should be communal. Got a cigarette, Bro?

Listening to this man- a man who sports the very same Good Vibes For YOU sticker that I posted just a few days back on the bottom of his cello- makes me feel odd and ill-fitted to the groovy hippie vibes of Harbin. It doesn’t help that I’m critical of his playing- while he extols the virtue of Bach- and can play his passages passably well, as long as he is at least an hour away from his last joint- he suffers from a lack of proper intonation, coupled with a drug-addled set of synapses fused together long ago. 13 is too tender an age to start dropping acid, and I hate watching the fallout, years later. I have to wonder if my time is coming.

As I watched the sun decline over the mountains, I’m arguing with myself. To stay? To go? It’s over two hours’ drive back to Oakland, a mountain in-between, and I don’t do so well with the winding roads. Still, I find that my time here is through. I’m not a hippie, wasn’t raised to it. My friends here on the west coast were born to it- they make light of the Overly-Groovy as well, but afterwards, after they poke fun, they let it roll off their backs. Me, I’m too new here to have the proper filters. I take the situation seriously, compounded by the fact that I don’t have a lot of friends here yet, and I’m willing to listen to just about anybody. But I can’t listen to just anybody. These aren’t my people. I’m too couched in the blunt practicality of the Midwest, be it for better or for Palin/McCain. I pack up my unused tent, and retreat from the Retreat.