Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I've moved...

... and moved on, and changed, and got all growned up!

Well, not really. But I tend to be a lot more respectful of people I disagree with and more skillful in the way I say things. And brief. (Gord, did I ever prattle on and on...)

And now I have a new blog about a yoga and ahimsa-inspired life of permaculture, restoration, breathing and--occasionally--yoga!


If you're one of the several people per month that came here through one of my posts on the yoga lifestyle, especially natural medicine and energy, then you should check out my new blog, because there will be more of that on its way!

But it's more likely you're one of the dozens of people per day who discovered this blog through a search for something like "Hitler's earlobe" or "monkey sex" or some other ridiculous thing I put on the internet over 10 years ago.

So, first off, who are you and why are you searching for monkey sex and Hitler's earlobe? Why do you care so much about the Alpha Male and "well-cheesed buttcheeks?"

Anyway, I know you're here for those things, because all the (IMO) informative and labor-intensive posts I wrote on yoga still get occasional traffic, but it's the long, horribly written diatribes about all the stuff I used to hate and how I'd never be anything I hate, and something about bonobos and something else about being dead that get TONS of traffic from all over the world!

Apparently there's a real market out there for writing about those things.

So, if my writings on those topics brought you here, you're probably thinking "how is this person still at-large and not locked up safely in a padded room?"

Well, here's your lucky day, you might discover the answer to that question by clicking on the above link.

Monday, May 12, 2008

By the way, yes, I've seen the light.

My eyes are better now. I'm no longer a vampire.

Interesting article:

from Psychology Today on the Psychology of Meditation is an oldie but a goodie. It should be pointed out that, yes as the article says, you should do what makes you feel better in the end, but not all meditation is equal in terms of the benefits affirmed by scientific review. From my reading, it seems that most research shows that fantasy-based meditation methods that utilize wrote rehearsal, memory or most imagination techniques enhance relaxation (or performance in the case of imagined rehearsal) and can lead some people to feel they've imagined a "spiritual" experience. The many benefits cited in the article involve types of meditation that seek to do the exact opposite, in a sense, clearing out the fantasies and experiencing reality without them.

The article begins with a description of Tibetan life: "...When villagers cook, sew or plow the fields, they do so in a tranquil state. As an approach to life, weaving meditation seamlessly into almost every action throughout the day seems unfamiliar to Western cultures."

So, great, all I have to do is give up all my possessions and move to Tibet, right? Well... "You don't need to quit your job, give up your possessions and spend 30 years chanting. Recent research indicates that meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as a 10-minute session."

The article goes on to cite a vast swath of benefits from healing heart problems, digestive disorders, infertility, blood pressure and chronic pain, and it enhances the immune system, reverses thickening of the arteries, reduces stress and leads to better acceptance of conditions like cancer. To explain these benefits, the article points out that "(researchers) found that (meditation) activates the sections of the brain in charge of the autonomic nervous system, which governs the functions in our bodies that we can't control, such as digestion and blood pressure. These are also the functions that are often compromised by stress...."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Be back shortly

I have painful eyes and light sensitivity from a sun-burn over the weekend.

There ain't no yoga or Ayurveda I know of for that. Just dark rooms. And schmaltzy singin'. But that's a kind of yoga I think.

I'll be back when I can look at a computer screen!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lemon Honey Ginger Green Tea for Cold Relief

Another good tea that I like whether or not I'm sick.

~Boil 1 quarter inch slice of fresh ginger in 1 drinking cup of filtered water for about 5 minutes (to preferred strength.)
~Pour over a good strong green tea and steep for 4 minutes.
~Add a teaspoon of lemon
~Flavor with honey until just pleasantly sweet.

The result is an excellently flavored tea that is soothing, helps clear sinuses and reduces throat irritation and dryness. Ginger has been found in studies to aid digestion, sore throat, arthritis, nausea and diarrhea and to help congestion. Studies on animals have found that ginger acts as a antibacterial, fever-reducer, pain reliever and sedative.

Optionally, if you have heavy sinus congestion, you could try adding just a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cayenne is also valued in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for stimulating digestion.

Notes: Not surprisingly, wikipedia provides a fairly trustworthy group-reviewed resource on ginger but the page on Cayenne includes medical claims but no citations.


As always, resources on medical, dietary and health studies, which are frequently conducted by vested interests are notoriously biased and difficult to assess. The studies I found on Cayenne, which were mostly more recent, did not seem as trustworthy to me as those sited on Ginger, which had a longer legacy of medical study preceding the modern trend toward close "academia-for-sale" relationships between profiteers and "science."

That said, here is an article on the reported health benefits of cayenne: http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/cayenne.htm

I scoured Google Scholar for a more academic and experimentally verified perspective but found few that I found very trustworthy. Here is a link on "The Health Benefits fo
Cayenne:" http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=QcmzL4KTCQ0C&oi=fnd&pg=PA7&dq=diet+cayenne&ots=aey2VTpMuJ&sig=bMKMqv1O6szb7OTz9SNs8PjLeqw#PPA16,M1

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Earth Day (a little late)

So this is my first real experiement with podcasting and it took me a while to make it work. It's a learning process for me, so I'm just trying to figure out how to communicate well in this intimate audio format. I tried adding music and images but ended up just going with the raw recording for now.

Also, I hope you'll forgive me for a getting on the soapbox, I'll try not to make it a habit, but since it's my (B)Earth Day (yes, it's my birthday too)....

Anyway, thanks for listening.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Cavemen with Spears on the Phone.

Or perhaps with Spear-phones, a new service from Verizon, no doubt.

A few days ago I wrote about folks taking their work as a life or death, fight or flight sort of matter.

Perhaps those folks should read more yoga blogs: HERE!

Life and Music

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yoga when you're sick.

Is it a good idea to do yoga when you're sick?

Sometimes when you're looking for an answer it helps to have another opinion on the information available. Personally, I find it difficult to accept answers I get from vested interests and I just want an objective opinion on the info that's out there.

So, for what it's worth, I researched the question, and here's what I found:

The enduring "conventional wisdom" about exercising when sick is the "neck rule:"

If the symptoms are above the neck, it's ok to exercise, but take it easy.

If the symptoms are below the neck, rest is a better option.

And the main idea: listen to your body, take it easy.

So while I think that's great advice, when it comes to practicing yoga, we might consider some other factors. Personally, I believe there are mental and willpower benefits to keeping a regular daily practice. But that doesn't mean I do two hours of strenuous asana practice every day. That wouldn't be yoga. Yoga is all about listening to the body and practicing accordingly:

Breathing. So long as you can breathe mindfully, you can do yoga. Remember: use effects function. I often find when I'm suffering from a cough, that my ribcage is sore and locked and my breathing is very shallow. A few minutes of mindful breathing tends to help make me feel a little better. In addition, some research, such as this study on motion sickness suggest that breathing exercises can help control nausea.

Restful stretching
. A wide variety of research available on the google concurs that mild stretching leads to relaxation which in turn strengthens immune response. Other resources suggested that stretching can give some relief from body aches associated with being sick. When I'm sick, I take a very mild and restful "yin" approach to yoga, such as the asanas described at www.Yinyoga.com

Some other resources include: A discussion at yoga forum.

Mysore Musings. Another yoga blog tackles the issue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I hurt people with the phone.

I've been calling to ask property owners about short term leasing.

They get very upset, very impatient with me. Some have all but attacked me on the phone. I can hear the blood beating at their temples. I can hear their eyes twitch.

Because I ask a question?

I just have a problem and I want to find a solution to it.

But he feels an attack--his autonomic nervous system raising his blood pressure, flooding his body with platelets, adrenaline, in case I try to jab him with the sharp end of a lease agreement or something.

Ready to fight! ready to fly! In case that phone call turns deadly.

Always cavemen everywhere, at work, at home, on tv, banging at our doors with spears.

Feeling better.

Well, I seem to be on the mend.

Just FYI (and because I noticed a conversation about this elsewhere,) yes, I find time to practice asanas every day, even when I'm sick. Usually it makes me feel much better.

But I also try to relax and not over-do it. For example, I usually substitute a larger number of low intensity isometric weight-baring poses, such as cat/cow (link gives a basic explanation) or simple lunges for isotonic movements and high-intensity weight baring such as arm-balances.

That way I end my practice feeling strengthened but not depleted.

My personal feeling is that it's bad to over-do it when you're sick, as I think it's counter productive.

I have some personal theories (based on self-experimentation) about glucose and immune response, which I'll research and post about later.

My hypothesis is that the body switches to a different system of metabolism during sickness, which is why I (for one) don't tend to feel hungry when sick....

Of course, animals go into a cycle of low appetite and low activity as well. There's probably a pretty good evolutionary basis for this--if you are sick, it's probably a good idea to stay hidden in a bush someplace rather than searching around for a bite to eat. But there might also be some immune-related causes for this behavior as well. My personal hypothesis is (in part) that high blood glucose (perhaps by triggering insulin response) can impair healing. So body tries to keep blood glucose down (giving us that sick "daze".)

Anyway, I'll research my theory and see what I find.

Also, I'll be rounding out my writings on Virabhadrasana this week by posting an interactive summary of my writings and a list of web resources on the subject.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Healing Music Link

The "collective consciousness" at work in the yogic blogosphere, perhaps.

The Accidental Yogist wrote personally and far more eloquently than I, on the healing power of music.

This is interesting to me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Vibrant Breath

Today, I'm sick as a dog.

And remembering as I try to breathe, that use effects function.

Which is just one reason I love singing. Singing is cross-cultural yoga.

Taking time to use the breath mindfully, and produce a nice confident sound (no matter what it sounds like) seems to make much of the problem of congestion and sore throat go away, and at the same time, the connection with breath reminds us that, most of the time, being sick is totally unrelated to being happy.

Here's my favorite yogic mantra from Western culture: Euripides Epitaph from the 5th century BC.

It's one of the oldest, known pieces of written music in the world that we can actually read.

Here's my sick voice singing it this morning in an English translation:

As long as you live, live in love
Let nothing trouble you.

Life is too short.
And time takes its toll.

Just sing like this: exhale out all your air and wait. At some point before you turn blue, your natural inhalation cycle will kick in. Just watch that breath in. When it reaches the top, you'll feel a natural suspension of your breath, that's when you sing. Don't squeeze the sound out like toothpaste, let it ride that smooth exhale. When your muscles start to clench, stop, exhale all the way and let the natural inhale start again. Just sing! Enjoy that natural breath cycle that happens when we sing. Just relax and sing, damn it! The sound of your voice is a reflection of who you are at this moment. That can never be ugly.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Always just before the pen touches

thank you.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Yoga and "Willpower"


"Ego depletion" and "effort."

Anyone who's tried to keep a yoga practice knows that sometimes it takes "willpower." Interestingly, recent studies are validating the yogic perspective that "willpower" is more complicated than just "making yourself do it" and secondly, that it's a muscle that we can strengthen.

"Will power" or "active ego," as psychologists call it, is a limited physical resource that draws on blood sugar or glucose. When you perform a task that requires "will power," it can use up your reserves and leave them empty when the desert menu arrives at the table.

One of the foremost researchers on willpower has been Dr. Roy Baumeister at Case Western University. According to one of his studies, (link to .pdf) participants who used will power to not laugh at a funny video had lower blood glucose levels and had less ability to exert willpower (subjects in a test group were allowed to laugh and their glucose level was unaffected.) When they ate a simple carbohydrate that returned their glucose levels to normal their willpower returned as well.

But at the same time, research by Baumeister and others has found that successful small efforts, such as removing "um" and "like" from your speech, can strengthen your um, ability to exert willpower in, like, other areas, such as diet.

So staying that extra breath in Warrior 2 might help you fend off that delicious, mouth-watering chocolate cake. And keeping a simple daily yoga practice could help you accomplish other goals.

Interestingly, this research seems to validate a yogic, holistic approach to effort such as that found in pantanjali's yoga sutras, the Buddha's "right effort" or Daoisms teachings on "wu wei."

Firstly, in the context of this research, it's not surprising that Pantanjali and the Buddha make a connection between effort and diet. I remembered that this after noon after I ate white bread and jam and tea with honey, making me feel really sluggish. Those simple carbohydrates convert to glucose rapidly (in around 30 minutes--maybe less with our modern ultra-refined sugars.) Too much sugar can cause an insulin spike, keeping your body from using the glucose, willpower food (not to mention brain and muscle food.)

Secondly, the research backs the philosophy of regular, daily small steps. Not only is it a good way to accomplish a goal but it builds willpower in the process.

Finally, this research might suggest a back-door approach to willpower. Research subjects experienced a willpower drain when they needed to exert "active ego" over habitual, automatic activities. That suggests this:

Why not work to make desirable activities habitual and automatic?

Indeed, that's the approach favored by the Daoist classics as well as Buddhist traditions like zen. Again, that takes a daily, small steps and an attitude of working with your intrinsic nature, not exerting willpower over it.

Additional articles:


Glycemic Index Diets:


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Clove Tea--delicious tea for mouth pain relief.

When I was a kid, I had a pretty bad problem with oral cankers. I can't tell you how many doctors my mom took me to about it. The advice was always the same: they're a virus, there's nothing you can do. The only relief was an expensive antiseptic spray or cough drops that taste bad and make your whole mouth uncomfortable.

But these days I go to the kitchen cupboard instead of the medicine cabinet:

Clove tea.

5-6 cloves, non-irradiated strongly preferred.
1 drinking cup of water.

Boil cloves for 5-10 minutes to desired strength. Steeping is not sufficient, cloves need to be boiled. Note: more cloves can be added for strength.

Flavor with honey or possibly lemon for a very pleasant tasting tea. Adding a little milk is nice but seems to slightly reduce the effectiveness, which can be good if you only need a mild tea.

You can make it strong enough to make your whole mouth numb but I find that a mild tea works perfectly to take the edge off any mouth pain or discomfort.

I notice the relief immediately after a few sips and by the time I slowly finish the cup, I've forgotten about the pain.

Additionally, I've read from many sources that cloves may help support a probiotic diet by killing digestive parasites. Many sources also recommend a probiotic rich diet for helping to prevent cankers. In my experience, starting to eat probiotics after the break-out does not noticeably help, but adding yogurt or kefir to my daily diet reduced the severity of outbreaks and greatly reduced recovery time.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Effort, "wu wei" and nature's problem solving method.

"Wu Wei" is a Daoist term and the translation I like best is: "effortless action." Simply put, if your work feels too hard you probably won't sustain it. A better approach is where your work feels effortless and balanced. I'd like to share some thoughts about "wu wei," because it's an idea that has helped me bring beauty and ease to so many areas of my life, almost wherever I remember to apply it.

The typical metaphor is that of water, which doesn't have to do anything to find it's way to where it's going. It just is. Or you might say wood doesn't have to work to be useful, its inherent properties make it so.

Another metaphor might be evolution: nature doesn't toil to solve it's problems. So those are the two basic metaphors we're going to juggle: water and "nature's problem solving method."

It's no coincidence that water's effort and nature's problem solving method, (evolution) look very much alike and it's no coincidence that the best of human problem solving methods, such as the scientific method look a lot like evolution.

And sages from so many traditions have taught us about this pattern. It may very well be wise to apply it to most of our problems. Here's the attitude as I see it:

1. Go with your natural inclination.
Be useful like water, like wood. Follow your curiosity. Our brains are amazing computers: if you're curious about something, there might be a good reason why! Many of us have stopped being curious because we stopped "wasting time" listening to it. So many of our human activities feel like they drain us of our energy. But when you follow your curiosity, it can give you energy Back. Find those things that you jump out of bed in the morning to do. In Buddhism they call that "wind horse." The metaphor is the sun--which, in its burning, creates its own fuel.

2. Reclaim the spirit of playful experimentation and notice how much easier things seem. How?

--Try many solutions. Evolution and water go outward in (seemingly) random directions. That's how they find the best solution. In work, in yoga practice, try new things. Experimentation keeps us from feeling in a rut and you never know when you'll find something new that's a perfect solution.

--Try to make mistakes. Natural evolution explores randomly without labeling its mutations as "good" or "bad." Water fills the low places, not the "good" ones. That natural diversity enriches the whole. One year I set a goal for freelance work to increase the number of rejections I received. Somehow, it removed the stress of the rejection letters and kept me from burning out. I also took more risks in applying for jobs I normally didn't think I could get. And of course, I got more acceptance letters that year too. In Yoga practice, that attitude often gives us the chance to learn new things and remove the critical thoughts that keep us from fully experiencing asana.

3. Permission to be unfocused.

Evolution isn't afraid to pursue multiple solutions to a problem simultaneously.
There's a myth in our culture that a focussed drive in one direction is the best way to be successful.
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
Archilochus (7th-century b.c.e.)

But when I examine all of the people I really admire, they followed their curiosity wherever it lead them. People forget that Einstein, for example, was a great musician, organizer and social activist!

4. Let weak branches wither.

There are, however constraints to following whatever whim you may: time and recourses. Allow yourself to relax and trust that these things will work themselves out if you free yourself to follow your genius. When nature finds some branch of life is no longer successful it doesn't persist in a dead-end direction. It lets that branch wither without attachment. We humans, on the other hand, can build irrational attachments to to an empty mine. We build ourselves a comfortable rut that's so deep we can't see outside it. Rather than abandon it, we would follow that path to disaster.

Don't be afraid to jump the rut. Fear the rut instead.

5. Build good habits slowly, not in some Herculean effort.
The metaphor is the grand canyon, right?

Or in nature, we have the saying "life makes good for life." Nature builds up a food chain slowly, first establishing organisms that convert the basic resources available in the ecosystem--it's minerals, it's heat, it's sun-energy. And as it establishes those, it builds complexity on top of them. Soon, there's a complex ecosystem including microorganisms and bugs and plants that can support, for example, elephants. That is a sustainable effort. But too often, we try to start with the elephants!

But if we can take time out of the equation and do what we love--we can take advantage of conditioning (yeah, like Pavlov's dogs) we can cultivate a love for what we do.

If we do work we enjoy, we learn to associate work with joy. If we start with a yoga practice or exercise plan we enjoy (even if it doesn't seem as effective as we'd like) we learn to associate that effort with joy. That's a foundation we can build on and after a while, we've got the elephants.

(Note: though intended to stand alone, this was part 3 of a series on "effort." You can read the others by clicking the effort label bellow.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Speaking of "Right Effort..."

This seems about right to me:

Align yourself with the Universe

It's a blog about doing what you love. That seems like a big step toward the right kind of effort.

Breaking: Earth Hour!

I'm taking a break from herculean task of exploring "effort" to bring you this breaking news on "Earth Hour," which has organized cities around the world to take a symbolic stand in defense of the earth by shutting down all our lights for an hour.

Ok, so I'm a little late on this one. Earth hour was March 31st at 8:00. Anyway, consider this detour a little interlude on "effort."

Earth Hour. I dig.

When life gets really busy, if I'm not careful, I can gradually slip into a bed-time pattern that's about as productive as beating myself to sleep with a hammer.

Because I keep busy, I tend to use my last few hours, minutes, seconds of every day either trying to "be productive" or completely crashing and vegging out on the internet (we don't have TV.)

While forcing myself to "be productive" can give me a strange masochistic satisfaction, there usually isn't anything productive about it. Usually it just means I spend some time worrying about some stuff that I can't really do anything about and end up going to bed with a mind as jumbled as the cartoon network. Then I don't get as much done the next day because I'm still tired from the day before.

Eventually, all that tiredness builds up and I just shut down. Usually, I try to "relax" by doing something entertaining. The problem is this: playing video games, watching TV or movies or surfing the nets doesn't actually help me relax. Not physically or mentally. It doesn't alleviate the nagging feeling (or rather, autonomic nervous response) that there are vicious cavemen chasing me with spears. It only distracts me from them. When I wake up the next day, the cavemen are still there.

So either way, every night, I end up collapsing into bed, exhausted, like a brief period of black-out before those pesky cavemen pick up their spears again. With no feeling that I've even lived between the rounds.

After a while, it gets easy to accept that feeling as "normal" and we're self-hypnotized into a mindset of getting through the week. From that point, the best thing we can hope for out of life is merely to tolerate it.

Earth Hour wake up call.

Earth hour was so powerful for me precisely because it broke this hypnotic trance. Shutting down the toys and lighting the candles broke me out of the pattern of living that had come to feel so natural, just as our oil dependent lifestyles seem so deeply entrenched.

What was I so worried about? the cavemen didn't catch me. And I woke up the next morning with my mind, body and EYES more relaxed than they had been in a while. Earth hour helped break me out of a pattern and reclaim my life back from the objects (work, "meaning," entertainment) that had come to control it.

When I do get back to writing about "effort," I know that this will be part of it: a balanced approach. Studies show that breaks and naps increase productivity.

And I plan to make shutting down the lights and unplugging at night a new habit for me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Warrior: Right Effort 2

(Although this entry on effort can stand alone, you can read part 1 here)

Anytime you settle into a good, deep "warrior 2" pose, something that becomes pretty apparent is this: staying there for long is going to take effort. Staying with those little moments of effort in our practice provide an opportunity to explore the various textures of effort that we can apply to our yoga and to our daily "to do" lists. The question then, is how to exert that effort.

In the Sona Sutta, the Buddha likened the "right effort" to a stringed instrument that doesn't necessarily play better just because the strings are very tight. Instead, the tension on the strings must be right for the specific needs of the song to be played. This sets up a basic approach to effort as a continuum that puts (what I think of as) a military sort of discipline on one end and my college room-mate's dooby-fueled, couch and hoho binges on the other end.

While it seems obvious that some sort of effort is necessary, to me, a "tight strings" approach to effort, or forcing ourselves to do something is not compatible with yoga's values of non-violence, compassion (for yourself!) or to experiencing yoga's most profound benefits.

The basic problem with a heavy handed self discipline is that, for me, it becomes self-defeating. When you start viewing every asana, (or writing or studying...) as an exercise in "strength" or "mind over matter," you're trying to exert your will over your natural inclination. First of all, this kind of approach has the tendency to kill the chance for any spontaneity or joy. And I guarantee you, your "natural inclination" is going to kick your "will's" ass in the end. From my experience, people who rely on that kind of "effort" rarely succeed in their persistence. The problem is, at least for us Yanks, that's the kind of effort we're taught...

The "American Work Ethic:"

Although my mother is in many ways a very enlightened individual, I can still hear her admonishing me not to be "lazy" and saying: "sometimes you just have to make yourself do it."

And that's the American ethic, right? Industry! Enterprise!




But perhaps this sort of approach of "making yourself do it" is really taking the easy way out.

Maybe, "just make yourself do it"


being lazy.

Perhaps if we weren't so lazy, we'd instead commit to the disciplined, relaxed and compassionate approach of working diligently to create conditions where our work feels more effortless.

In other words, rather than try to kick our "natural inclination" in the ass, we can find some ways to work with it. The basic approach there is cultivating joy in what we do. Now, that's the RIGHT EFFORT.

In part 3, I'll write about some specific approaches that have been helpful to me.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Warrior: Right Effort, part 1

Related to the idea of "being grounded" and to "fierceness" is this idea of effort.

There are plenty of stiff days when I'm forced to think of this idea of effort on my first forward bend. Heck, there are days when just getting out of bed takes effort, right?

And the warrior poses, because of their relative simplicity, give us a chance to explore the various textures of effort we can bring to our practice, our everyday lives and even getting out of bed.

"Effort" traditions:

In Ashtanga Yoga, the idea of effort is embodied in the first two limbs of Patanjali's 8 fold path--Yama and Niyama can be roughly understood as: effort and relaxation. This also corresponds to the 6th step in the Buddhist "Noble Eight Fold Path," "right effort." While Pantanjali takes a more restrictive and arguably more ascetic approach than the Buddha's "Noble 8 fold path," the basic idea is the same: do things that create a life conducive to a experiencing fulfillment: a peaceful, non-violent, healthy mind and body.

Or as the great Dorje Dradul of Mukpo described it:

"The sudden flash is a key to all Buddhist meditation, from the level of basic mindfulness to the highest levels of tantra. But it is not enough just to hope that a flash will come to us; there must be a background of discipline."

In other words, you won't find instant enlightenment for sale at the bookstore or at those expensive spiritual retreats. If you want to experience the peace, health, stillness, and special insight of the present moment, available through yoga, you have to make the effort to create the right conditions for it.

But while these paths usually deal with WHAT we should be directing our effort to, in order to create those conditions, I'm interested in HOW we exert that effort. As it turns out, it seems that the "WHAT": and the "HOW" might be the same thing....

I'll explore more on effort in part 2....

Ahimsa Shoes

Ahimsa Shoes.

Nope, not yoga shoes, just old friends made new again.

In our modern disposable economy, when things go bad we're supposed to "GO SHOPPING!"

But hiring a professional from my community to repair a well-made pair of old shoes gave me an opportunity to make a mindful choice toward non-violent foot-wear.

These particular old friends were a conscious buy from the start. They were well-made shoes in a classic style that never gets old. But more importantly, they're the flat, hard, thin-soled shoes that Alexander teachers and yoga teachers alike, both recommend. Yes, I paid a little extree for them at the time, but it was worth it to know they weren't made by child-laborers in Thailand. And that all that is difficult to find in today's current fashion market.

By choosing to repair old shoes instead of buying new, I:
--opted out of an industry that depletes our resources and puts children to work in sweatshops over-seas.
--strengthened my community by giving my money to a local professional who takes pride in his work.
--helped my feet by stepping into a comfortable pair of shoes that are already broken-in, and perfect for my feet.
--made 1 happy cow.

And all for the low price of $45! That's a huge savings! And now they look more beautiful than ever for the careful, hand-care they received--it's quality that shoes, I mean shows.

A new pair of shoes has never made me so happy, not to mention my community, my planet and my feet.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Connecting to grounding energy in Warrior Part 2

Because it's relatively simple, the warrior poses are excellent poses for experiencing this connection to that grounding energy.

So it's no wonder to me that the "Warior" asanas are named after the demon Virabhadra, as this grounding energy, not to mention that well-developed lower body strength has long been prized by martial artists, bar-room brawlers and competitive athletes.

That "energy" is how we experience the "structure" and the "power triangle" defense teacher Mark "Amimal" MacYoung talks about in his books on violence:

Let us categorically state: Martial arts poses were developed to create structure. If these poses are correctly taken, the body's own skeleton, tendons, joints and muscles will "lock into place." When this occurs your momentum will be delivered into your opponent.

As an aside, while MacYoung seems to be an expert on hurting people, his approach is about as "non-violent" a fighting method as you'll find--deglorifying violence and the "hero" mentality and emphasizing avoiding it instead.

And while we're on the subject of expert people hurting, I have to mention competitive fighter Benny "the Jet" Urquidez (why is it that hurting people earns you a cool nick name?) While I now have trouble with any sport that glorifies violence, Benny's body intelligence is masterful, and images of him in action have deepened my understanding of this grounding energy. If you don't mind the violence (after all, Virabhadra wasn't exactly all bubble gum and roses)here's one of the less violent clips of Benny available on youtube. Check out this "structure" he always comes back to--that's our "warrior" pose, no?

Feeling it:

Here are some tips that have helped me get in touch with this grounding energy:

The wall.

1. Breath. Take a high warrior position (like Benny in the video) with the front foot about an inch from a wall.
2. Allow your back leg to bend a little (which helps to feel the flow of energy) and let your upper body feel relaxed.
3. Breath. Relax.
4. Place your hand against the wall like an open handed "punch." Push. As you push against the wall, you may first feel your core tighten into a relaxed toned condition and your posture adjust appropriately to convey the force from your body into the wall. This will be your ideal posture for virabhadrasana.
5. Once your core is engaged and your body stops shifting, you will start to notice that same energy transmitting directly from your feet, (probably especially the back foot) into the wall.

Yes, this may all seem very mundane at first: "I'm pushing the wall and I feel the force in my body, so?" Well, yes, it's very mundane, but this experience is putting you in touch with you innate kinesthetic intelligence and focusing on this transference of energy has brought great mindfulness to my yoga practice.

In Virabhadrasana.

Now that your on your mat, how to cultivate this feeling in the pose? This helps me:
1. Visualize doing your warrior in the ocean with a giant wave approaching you. Take your pose and then strongly visualize that wave pushing you, let your body prep for the wave and direct that energy into the ground. Again you should feel your core and your essential protecting musculature energizing and your non-necessary muscles relaxing. Now rise up from that rooting energy and make sure to keep your torso erect. That's how I find my ideal warrior.

2. If you want to get into the spirit of Virabhadra, you can also visualize enemies pushing you from all sides--don't let them push you around! Let your body prep for it. But hey! Most importantly, relax and remember to treat those imaginary peeps with compassion!

3. Take a Tai chi class, especially one that does "push hands" practice. Tai chi and yoga are very complementary, to me. And "push hands is all about feeling the flow of this energy (again, look for the "warrior" poses:)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Connecting to grounding energy in Warrior, part 1

Prana--life force.

In the Hindu philosophy of yoga, all living beings have a vital energy force called "prana."

As someone with a rationalist temperament, I was a long-time "prana" skeptic. I don't like to believe in things that can't be proven to me with scientific methods. To me, it's a dangerous road, choosing to believe something simply because you want to: once you start making those leaps of faith, where do you stop?

So as I studied "prana" or it's apparent taoist counterpart "chi," I was frustrated to find these systems of "energy" and their explanations frequently contradictory and unsatisfactory. For example, there doesn't seem to be much consistency between the different kinds of "prana," what they do and how they relate to the "elements."

But for me, this remains: the reported experience of so many sensitive yogis and sages, with highly cultivated body awareness. And I have my own experiments with their teachings and so I have my own direct experience with some small part of this "prana" or "chi."

When my practice is good and I'm really in my body and aware of the flow of energy, strange things happen. This is a silly example, but, I'll go to open a heavy door and before I even I touch it, I get an intuitive sense of the door's energy. I'll feel my own energy connect with and, through me, connect downward to the earth and like an electric shock, straight from my hips, when those energies connect the door seems to fly open without feeling like I even moved my hand. It feels like the energy pushed the door. As if there were no muscular effort involved. When I'm that aware, everything feels well-coordinated, smooth, effortless and even a little "magical:" getting in the car, eating, walking and yes, yoga. To the rationalist in me, that "energy" sense is my kinesthetic body-intelligence crunching a bunch of numbers on the mechanics of opening the door, and then conveying that info to my conscious mind in a way it understands: "energy." It's a very real phenomenon. And that physical/mechanical intelligence is just one kind "energy" I've learned to experience in such a real, tangible way.

So it's easy for me to see how these great yogis and sages could reason by analogy and translate their profound experience into the accepted "scientific" language of their day.

From my theosophic world-view, I've learned to accept their intuitive experience of "prana" as truth and appreciate that our human intuition and body intelligence does not speak to us in "ohms," "torque" or "normal force" but instead in this more mysterious kinesthetic language of "energy."

For me, giving up trying to understand this energy and put labels on it and just accepting it has added a real beauty and utility to my practice.

Feeling "prana" in warrior.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Virabhadra: call him "warrior."

...because “warrior” sounds nicer than “demon,” doesn’t it?

The warrior asanas, "Virabhadrasana" were named in honor of Virabhadra, the big ugly, googly eyed demon/warrior who wore severed human heads to Dahksa’s sacrifice party. He was conjured by a pissed off Shiva for one purpose alone:

To kick ass.

So to me, Warrior is an excellent representation of grounded earth energy at it’s fullest extreme: fierceness, stubbornness, getting things done, kicking ass and taking names all without breaking a sweat.

You don't get the "fierceness?" Just stay in warrior 2 for 5 minutes.

Still don't get it? Commit to a another 25.

In our western tradition, it could be represented by Taurus, the bull. It is grounded energy, sensual and earthy, body-centered in rest, possibly stubborn, but you know what happens when you piss off a bull?

The warrior poses are an excellent way to get in touch with that same physical-mechanical energy in a very direct physical way and learn a little about our human mechanical instincts and kinesthetic intelligence. And in turn, a deeper connection with that grounding energy can bring greater awareness into your warrior poses and the rest of your practice.

For more on the Siva-lore on Virabhadra:

1. A nice excerpt from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4:5:3-17 can be found here.
2. A nice overview including more excerpts can be found here

Warrior Week (the new reason for this blog)

This week I started a new element to my practice, to set goals toward deepening my understanding, awareness and refinement in specific poses. Toward that goal, I named this week "warrior week."

So I set out to seek refinement in my warriors and I started researching...

and I started taking notes.

And then I realized, I have been writing about my yoga practice for almost 15 years. occasionally when I look at those notes, I'm often surprised to find them interesting: sometimes as personal progress markers, other times because of how boldly wrong those notes seem, and sometimes the notes serve of excellent reminders of tips and lessons, and finally, occasionally I'm surprised by the wisdom I found in the the simple practice of yoga.

And then it occurred to me that these notes might be interesting to someone else too.

So without further ado, Warrior Week, notes on the "Warriors."

Yoga is this: Joining.

Yoga is this: Joining.

Some say it’s “controlling,” controlling the body with the mind or controlling suffering, pain or desire. It’s taking control of your life with discipline. To yoke suffering and ride it out of town, John Wayne style. Samurai style.

And yeah, the classic texts, the yoga sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are filled with that: abstentions, observations, controlling the breath controlling the mind, controlling the body: no stuff, no wanting, no senses, no sex (yikes!)

I’m sure somebody needs that, but I think I’ve already got enough coercion in my life.

Others say forget the yoke, forget the control, yoga is joy. It’s ananda, samadhi, bliss. So says Steve Ross, and he’s bad-ass. So says Pantanjali and well, he’s the “father of yoga.”

And, I kind of like that: “yoga” as this bubble of love and light where pain and suffering become meaningless. And I don’t doubt that it’s possible. I’ve known people who were there in one fashion or another. And hell, I’m sure yoga can get you there a lot safer than heroin or crack can.

But I’ve got rent to pay. And whether I’m strung out smack or a love and light trip I don’t think you want me driving. Anyway, I don't think that's what Steve Ross wants me to do either.

So that brings me here: Yoga is joining.

Here’s how I take it, whether it’s joining “earth and heaven,” “Ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon, gives you “hatha”) or yin and yang…

for me it’s about finding your balance.

Heaven energy, or sky, or mind can take you anywhere. It can take you on the love and light trip or to a union with god or exploring infinite internal metaphors of creation—and I don’t doubt that they’re every bit as real and meaningful as my thumb is. And there is infinite wisdom there, yes…

but it won’t wash my dishes.

Or feed me, (unless I’m a real scoundrel—there are plenty in the world today who think they can buy wisdom and just as many who are willing to sell it.)

Anyway, paying the rent takes body. It takes earth. It takes learning to recognize a grounded energy that means you’re right here right now. And to me, “yoga’ teaches us to bring that infinite mind into the grounded now, with just the right balance, anytime you need it.

Now that’s wisdom I can use to pay my rent, wash my dishes and feed myself.

Quick, think fast: you’re in warrior 2 pose. Your arms are killing you and your front leg is starting to tremble. Where do you go? Up into your head, into the love and light trip? Do you “deaden the senses” and swim of into a sea of never-ending bliss?

Quick think again: your family is in crisis, a loved one has died, a friend is in danger, you lost your job, your family needs you… Where do you go? Up into the heavens? Union with god? That sea of never ending bliss?

Or do you come back to the mat? Do you explore the infinite inside this moment? You feel the grounded prana (energy) connecting from foot to foot and up your spine, supporting your shoulders, and that red fiery energy of lactic acid buildup warming your muscles? Do you live in that breath, the basic pulse of life and explore that wisdom inherent in the now? Do you bring that creative mind together with the creating energy of body?

And yeah, what you learn from that moment and what you need to learn will be different for everyone, and every moment: sometimes it’s a shot of bliss, others need a pint of control, sometimes it’s a little abandon and others a little discipline but there’s a joining together that means balance and for me that’s “yoga.”

It’s an exotic sounding word for a simple thing: be in your body, right now. Learn.

At least that’s what I’m trying to do.

NOTE: the Perry Ferrel picture is a postcard for sale at gorey details. And yes, it's very cool.


This blog lives!

Here's what I've got planned:

For the time, I'd like to use this blog to post my thoughts on my own yoga practice. I'll be posting my current journal as well as some writings going back about 15 years come April 22nd.

Hopefully, what will follow will be a journal of my own personal theosophical experiments with different yoga traditions including asana practices, "meditiation," diet and other elements of "yoga" practice and related traditions.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ah, Mighty blog!

Ah, beautiful blog you, it is time for my monthly

Well, or actually, I think my finale.

When I started this blog, I believed in being honest, even if it meant being irresponsible. I've learned that's a sort of violence.

Or rather, I still think that one should be outrageously and irresponsibly honest, but one should be compassionate in doing so, and not violent, as I have often been. I've made fun of people's beliefs, trinkets, religions and their dreams of meaning. Shame on me.

I was not skillful.

Use effects function. What "use" have I practiced here?

So here let the Dude lie in peace. I'll let this blog stand as a tribute to things I thought, and how my society taught me to say them.

I often said them badly. I've disrespected my readers with hasty writing and careless speling.

So, Please be compassionate with me should you read something here that immaturity moved me to write. Especially if you happen to be reviewing me for employment at your fine fast food establishment, or the Nobel Peace Prize or some such thing.

I am in the process of creating a few other web pages (perhaps one will be a blog....) that I'll post the addresses to soon.

Over and out,


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Genius cubed: Gould Bernstein Bach

As they say, not all musicians believe in god, but they all believe in Bach.

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