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.