Monday, May 28, 2012

Do you practice when you are feeling under the weather/feeling unwell?

This morning, I did my usual practice (full primary plus second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana) even though I was feeling under the weather. For the last couple of days, I had been having this flu (runny nose, sore throat, feverish/clammy feeling, intermittent coughing). Yesterday (Sunday) was my designated rest day (I rest on Sundays rather than on Saturdays), so it was a good time to give my body a break from the practice. But this morning, I decided to practice anyway, because I figured that getting the prana flowing would be good for me.

I was right. I am feeling a lot better now. My throat isn't half as sore as it was yesterday, and that clammy/feverish feeling is pretty much gone. I still have a bit of a runny nose, but I think I'll live :-) But because of my less-than-physically-perfect condition, there were some interesting and possibly even comic episodes during practice this morning:

(i) Somewhere in the third Surya B, I started feeling a little winded, probably because I was taking in less oxygen through my partially blocked-up nasal passages. As a result, I had to slow down a little, and try to take longer/deeper breaths.

(ii) A couple of times during primary, I had to get up and blow my nose, as the nasal blockage was making it impossible to breathe.

(iii) In Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana on the first side, bringing the right knee into the left hip crease induced a big coughing fit. I'm not sure why this happened: Maybe whatever caused the cough had something to do with whatever internal organs that are located in the left side of the stomach. In any case, the coughing caused the knee to bounce up and down in half-lotus. Which would probably have looked quite ridiculous, even hilarious if somebody had captured this moment on video. On the other hand, it could also have been dangerous if one were suffering from some kind of knee issue. Fortunately, this was my stronger knee.  

(iv) Despite feeling under the weather, I actually managed to grab both my ankles when I went into Chakrabandhasana/Tiriang Mukhottanasana after the third drop-back. Over the last week or so, I had been making steady progress towards being able to steady my breath in this very challenging backbend, so that I no longer pop back up like a jack-in-the-box. This morning, for instance, I actually succeeded in holding the ankle-grab on both ankles for five breaths before coming back up to standing. However, when I came back up, my nose was so blocked up that I had to stumble across the room to get some tissue paper to clear my nose before going into Paschimottanasana. Trying to walk (even for just a few feet) immediately after coming up from Chakrabandhasana is definitely not fun. 

Other than the above incidents, the rest of the practice went well. Talking about practicing while feeling unwell also brings to mind a few things about this topic that I have learned from my teachers over the years.  Over the last few years, a couple of teachers I have studied with have recommended that one should practice to the best of one's ability even if one is not feeling well/feeling under the weather. This is what these teachers have to say about practicing while not feeling well/feeling under the weather:

(1) David Williams: At a workshop I attended in Gainesville, Florida, a few years ago, Williams recommended that if one is able to get out of bed, one should try to do a few Surya Namaskars (or as many as one's physical condition allows), and then quickly bundle oneself under thick blankets and go into Savasana. The prana flow stimulated by doing however many Suryas one is able to do functions to enable the body to heal faster from illness.

(2) P.J. Heffernan: I studied with P.J. for a year when I lived in Milwaukee. I once asked him about practicing while not feeling well/feeling under the weather. His response was pretty much the same as Williams': Do whatever practice your body allows you to do on that day, and then rest. He also added that the only condition (other than being deathly ill, in which case you would probably have bigger things to worry about anyway) in which he would recommend taking a break from practice is when one is suffering from diarrhea and/or nausea. He did not explain further, but I'm guessing it's because it would be too much of a hassle to have to race to the bathroom every two minutes (not to mention the messy/stinky consequences if one were to, ahem, lose control of mula bandha on the mat...).   

Well, I hope you find these recommendations by Williams and P.J. useful. Actually, come to think of it, this may be a good time to do something I haven't done in a while: Conduct a poll! On the top-right-hand corner of this blog, you will find a poll on this topic. Please take a moment to answer it. And if you have any personal experiences/views to share on this topic, I'll also love to hear from you. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yoga is the martial art of the soul

[Image taken from here]

I just found the above poster when I was trolling the internet. It's so true: In yoga, there is no external opponent to overcome, because all our energies and efforts are channeled toward that one most powerful opponent within ourselves. And you thought that yoga was gentle? :-) 

On a related note, I feel this also explains why so many Ashtangis (including yours truly) are former martial artists. Although we may not be able to articulate it so precisely, I think many martial artists are drawn to Ashtanga yoga because of the intense presence of mind that the practice requires. Of course, if this is true, then maybe the reverse is true as well: Maybe some Ashtangis out there may also be drawn towards the martial arts for the same exact reason. Actually, some of them may even be ninjas! After all, as you can see in the video below, being able to really, really activate uddiyana bandha translates into a very useful skill in the ninja world. Hmm... becoming a ninja is beginning to seem more and more plausible as an alternative yoga dream, if I don't succeed in becoming a yoga bum :-) But first, I really have to put in more work on that uddiyana bandha...

Do try this at home (minus the nails, of course!) Happy Memorial Day weekend! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Mysore Rug, and some assorted existential musings

My new Mysore rug arrived in the mail yesterday; just in time for Mysore (and Singapore, may I add...). This morning, I did full primary with it. I love the feel of new, tightly-knit cotton under my feet (and hands). In my opinion, Mysore rugs offer a certain reassuring, gentle stability that no generic sticky mat or Manduka mat can replicate (no offense to all of you Manduka lovers out there; if you care to read my more detailed musings on the comparative merits of Mysore rugs vs. Manduka mats vs. generic sticky mats, see this post.) This is how my new rug looks like:

[Image taken from here]

Pretty neat, don't you think? I also think that Mysore rugs are simply aesthetically more appealing than generic sticky mats or Mandukas (again, no offense to Manduka lovers); there's this understated elegance in the way the embroidered stripes are positioned at the two ends of the rug. 

But enough of my Mysore rug raptures. As I was practicing this morning, it also occurred to me that my upcoming trip to Singapore will represent the first time I actually practice yoga in Singapore: The last time I was there, I hadn't found yoga yet. I think there is something very significant about this simple fact, even if I can't quite articulate what it is; it feels like it has something to do with coming full circle in some way, even if I'm not sure exactly how it is the case. Well, maybe this will take the edge off some of the quivering anger that I anticipate will most likely surface in my life when I'm there... But we'll see. 
But anyway, reflecting upon this simple fact fills me with a profound sense of gratitude. I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that if I never came to live in this country, I would probably never have started practicing yoga. Maybe I would have encountered it as just another new-agey fitness fad, and perhaps dabbled in it; but there certainly would never have been the sort of major existential displacement that caused me to search for something to help me bring equilibrium to my daily existence. 
I suppose I can tell you more about what that major existential displacement involved. But I guess I'll have to leave this story for another day and post; this is a beautiful Saturday morning, and beautiful Saturday mornings are not the right sort of time and place for existential musings. :-) 
Before I sign off here, I will leave you with a suggestion: If you are not using a Mysore rug for practice now (and do not have any skin allergies to cotton), you might want to think about experimenting with practicing on one sometime in the near future. They really rock! You can purchase one at Barefoot Yoga 
Seriously, Barefoot Yoga should start thinking about paying me to advertise their products... :-) 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mysore, procrastinating about buying airline tickets, going to Singapore angst

On Monday, my India visa arrived in the mail along with my passport. For those of you who have never applied for a visa before, you have to send your passport along with your visa application over to the consulate of the country from which you are applying for a visa (in this case, India). And then the people at the consulate look over your application and passport. And if they decide you are not somebody who is likely to be dangerous to their country, they approve your application, and stick your visa into a page in your passport. And you're good to go.

So I'm pretty much good to go, as far as India is concerned. The only thing I need to do is to purchase the airline tickets to Singapore and India, pack, get my ass on the plane, and I'll be in Mysore in no time, right? So what am I waiting for? you may be wondering. Why am I procrastinating about purchasing the airline tickets?

Well... here's why. Due to my current immigration status in this country, I actually have to go to Singapore (where I'm from) first before I go to India: Unless I go through an interview with the U.S. Consulate in Singapore and have the guys there process the relevant immigration paperwork, I won't be able to re-enter this country after I am done with Mysore. Which means that I have to physically be in Singapore. Which means that going to Singapore is a necessary evil that has to be endured, a Dragon Gate that the carp (i.e. me) has to pass through in order to become a dragon, if you will pardon the rather self-aggrandizing metaphor here...

Oh wait! If you are not Chinese, this whole carp/dragon metaphor will most likely be lost on you, and you will probably be reading this and scratching your head right about now. My apologies. Well, let me briefly explain. In Chinese mythology, there is this magical waterfall somewhere in which many carps live. At the top of the waterfall is a magical gate named the Dragon Gate; it is so named because if a carp succeeds in swimming against the current to the top of the waterfall and going through the gate, it turns into a dragon. And a dragon is a symbol of power and good fortune in Chinese mythology. So all carps want to become dragons. But only a very small number succeed in actually reaching the top of the waterfall and passing through the Dragon Gate.

An artist's depiction of the carp reaching the Dragon Gate
[Image taken from here]
So yeah, as I was saying, going to Singapore is a necessary evil that has to be endured if I am to cross the "Dragon Gate" and make it to Mysore. At this point, I'll imagine that you are probably both scratching your head and smirking in disdain at this metaphor. First, you are probably wondering: Why would returning to Singapore, the place where you were born and grew up, be a necessary evil? And then you are probably also smirking and shaking your head in disdain/disbelief, and thinking, "I can't believe he thinks he's going to become a Dragon in Mysore! I mean, gosh, this is only his first trip to Mysore... what does he think he's gonna do, bowl Sharath over with his super-powerful and super-beautiful practice, and what, get authorized on the spot? What a big ego the man has!"

Well, I don't deny I have a big ego. Guilty as charged. Totally. I won't even bother to defend myself. But even I know better than to have unrealistic expectations of my first trip to Mysore. If all the Mysore experiences I have read so far are any indication, I'll probably spend the first two weeks in Mysore just barely making it through primary (if Sharath even lets me get that far), and I'll probably spend my non-practicing hours wondering the streets of Mysore as a super-jet-lagged zombie-fied shell of my former, ahem, glorious self. And then, before I know it, it'll be time to pack up and leave. So yeah, even though I have a big ego, I think I still know a little better than to have unrealistic expectations.

Okay, but what about the Singapore part? Why is going to the place where you were born and grew up a necessary evil? I suspect that a proper answer to this question will take a few blog posts, which I am not in the mood to write right now. Suffice it to say that, given that I haven't been back there in years (I'm not going to tell you how many), I'm going to be encountering family and friends whom I haven't seen in as many years (and with whom I haven't done a very good job of staying in touch with), and who will now probably be pointing their mental (and maybe even physical) fingers at this ungrateful asshole who is now finally, after all these years, returning for a couple of weeks just so he can go on to this wonderful yoga vacation in India.

Again, guilty as charged. Again, I won't even bother to defend myself. But let me just make this little observation: Why do so many people in this world assume that there is some special significance in the geographical location in which you happen to have been born and grew up? Okay, perhaps there are many people in this world who were born and grew up in one place, and then go on to live quite happy lives in that same place till the day they die. I have no quarrel with that. If this rocks their boat, more power to them. But sometimes I think that these people assume that just because this experience applies to them, it must apply to everybody else, and that there is therefore something "wrong" with somebody who has chosen to live his life in a place that is not the place where he was born and grew up. I honestly do not understand this mentality at all. And since I don't understand it, I guess I won't bother to critique it either: Why criticize something you don't understand?

But anyway, to cut a very long story short, this is why I have been procrastinating the past few days about purchasing my airline tickets to Singapore and India: I seriously, seriously dread going to Singapore. There, I said it. Going to Singapore is, for me, the spiritual and emotional equivalent of having my wisdom teeth pulled (except I probably won't derive any wisdom here, only a lot of unnecessary anger and mental and possibly physical finger pointing, which is all very very bad for my drishti... have you ever wondered why there is no yoga pose which involves pointing your index finger and looking at it?).

Of course, if I were more spiritually evolved than I am right now, all of this would be a piece of cake. Just go to Singapore, breathe deeply the whole freaking time, and smile or be totally indifferent to any unappealing/insulting things directed at me... after all, doesn't Yoga Sutra 1.33 talk about being indifferent towards the wicked? Okay, I wouldn't go so far as to call my well-meaning friends and family "wicked", but I think you get the idea...

The trouble, of course, is that I am not half as spiritually evolved as I sometimes pretend to be on this blog (like you didn't already know this, anyway...). I get super-mad and worked up over things that totally are not worth getting super-mad and worked up about; if you knew about the things that I get super-mad and worked-up over in my everyday life, you'll laugh your ass off ("What?! This guy actually does yoga a couple of hours every morning and writes a yoga blog? Impossible!"). So knowing myself (and unless I happen to be dead wrong about my "wicked" family and friends), I will probably be a quivering mess of super-mad energy during the two weeks I am in Singapore. And then when I arrive in Mysore, my hips will be all tight from all this super-madness. And then Sharath and his assistants will have a field day adjusting me all over the place.

Oh well. But I guess I'll get over this procrastination soon, and get those airline tickets already. After all, what are my options? Not go to Mysore? After all the crazy shit that I went through over the last couple of months on account of this? No way, no way. But it feels good to bitch about things now and again. After all, what good is a blog if you can't throw a little pity party on it every now and again, right? But hey, thanks for reading this and putting up with this pity party. At least you know I don't do this too often. Yoga in the Dragon's Den will (hopefully) presently resume its usual friendly, non-threatening, non-pity-partying tone of voice. Thanks for reading, as always.    

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Acupuncture, healing the knee, raising the ocean level of chi

Earlier today, I went to my now-monthly acupuncture session. I had originally started going to acupuncture sometime last November/December, after I injured my left knee (see this post for the gory details). Over the last few months, my knee has been slowly but steadily getting better. On most days, I can now get into lotus with little or no discomfort, if I move into it slowly when I bring the left foot into the right hip crease. I am no medical doctor or body worker (this is by way of a disclaimer, so you know I am not trying to proffer medical advice here. I'm just sharing my own very personal experience), but over the path of healing over the last few months, I have found doing the following things to be useful:

(i) Doing hip openers such as baddha konasana (modified to whatever degree you need to modify to avoid the knee pain), double pigeon and (very, very slowly and carefully) siddhasana outside of the practice. For the last few months, I have been doing these postures for between 20 to 50 breaths each before I begin the Surya Namaskars in the morning. Which usually adds about 20 minutes to my total practice time. But I have found it well-worth the effort: Doing these postures mindfully help to open the external hip rotators and lengthen the quadriceps and adductors, taking the pressure off the knee joint.

(ii) In the first few weeks (for me, it was around 6 to 8 weeks) of the injury, when the knee joint is still very inflamed, it is a good idea to modify anything involving lotus or half-lotus postures. Acupuncture really helps to reduce the inflammation, speeding up the healing process. More on acupuncture in a little bit.  

(iii) When the inflammation began to subside after a few weeks, I started slowly reintroducing the lotus and half-lotus postures. I have found it very useful  to move into these postures by engaging the external rotators and lengthening the adductors and quadriceps rather than simply pulling the foot or ankle into the hip crease. Respect the body's limits; resist the temptation to pull the foot or ankle further into lotus when the hip rotators can bring you no further into the posture.

(iv) If there is pain, you basically have two options: (i) Go no further, (ii) try to see if you can move around the pain rather than through the pain: Depending on the extent and location of your knee injury, it may be possible to bend your knee and move the foot at a particular angle such that you are able to move into lotus or half-lotus without pain (hence "moving around" the painful area). For instance, during a certain phase of the healing process, I discovered that if I close my knee joint first (as if I am going into Mari A) and then slowly move the foot towards the hip crease, I can get into lotus without pain.

Well, it is very difficult to describe things properly on a blog: Maybe I shouldn't even have brought up this idea of moving around pain in the first place, as it can be quite difficult to distinguish between moving around pain and moving through pain sometimes when one is in the heat of practice on the mat. But take this for what it is worth. Remember: I am not proffering medical advice here. So don't come and sue me if you break your knee! And remember: This approach may not work with all knee injuries. It seems to work with mine, so I thought I'll share. If in doubt, simply go no further. Remember, it's your body, when all is said and done. Take good care of it.  

Well... I originally started this post intending to talk about acupuncture, but went into this giant segue about practicing with knee injuries. Oh well. You must already know that I am famous for such digressions, if you read this blog regularly; so what's new? Anyway, I guess I should also say a couple of things about acupuncture now, while we're at it. So, as I was saying at the beginning of this post, I started acupuncture to help treat my knee injury. I have found that acupuncture is not a quick fix, at least not for me: When I first started acupuncture, my knee did not get better instantly. But what I have discovered is that acupuncture works on your body the way the tides slowly rise on the ocean. You may not notice anything in any particular body part immediately. But by increasing the level of chi or life energy in your body, acupuncture treatment raises the overall "ocean level" of your body chi over time, so that over time, inflammation is reduced, and your body can undertake the natural process of healing itself without any obstructions. I suppose you can say that acupuncture helps your body to get out of its own way, so that healing can proceed more smoothly.  At least that's how I feel it has worked for my body. Again, remember: I am neither a medical doctor nor a bodyworker nor an acupuncturist. All this is just me reporting my own experience.

These days, I go to acupuncture ostensibly to continue treating my knee. But I'm starting to think that the real reason is a bit bigger than that: I have come to see acupuncture as savasana with needles: You basically lie there for half an hour with needles in you, and just "be with the universe", as my acupuncturist would say. In many ways, I see it as the restorative yoga practice I never had :-) So yeah, acupuncture rocks!   

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How does one eat Mysore Masala Dosa everyday in Mysore without getting fat?

I'm going to write this post as quickly as I can before I lose consciousness. Lose Consciousness?!! No, don't worry, I'm not in grave or mortal danger or anything... if I were, I would be calling 911, not writing this post...

Let me explain. Earlier today, a friend told me about this new Indian restaurant, Karma Indian Cuisine, that just opened in town; definitely not a common occurrence here in the upper midwest. Being lovers of Indian cuisine, we (me, my fiancee, and said friend) lost no time in going there to try out their offerings. The restaurant is situated in what is probably the least likely place you would expect to find an Indian restaurant on this planet; in a little motel off the I-94 freeway in Fargo, North Dakota. And having just opened a month ago, there are no signs to advertise its presence. So you wouldn't know it's there unless you knew it's there :-) But now you know. So if you like Indian food, and should one day find yourself marooned in North Dakota, you know where to go :-)

Anyway, once we got there and looked at the menu, I quickly saw that they specialize in South Indian cuisine, and they had Mysore Masala Dosa on the menu. I decided that I should order that in order to practice my tastebuds for my upcoming Mysore trip. If you are not familiar, a Mysore Masala Dosa is a very big crepe brushed with spicy chutney and stuffed with sauteed onions, potatoes and assorted spices, served with a side of sambar. Definitely a feast for the senses (and the stomach, of course ;-)). It looks like this:

[Image taken from here]

I ate this whole freaking monster of a South Indian crepe in, like, twenty minutes. And now I'm paying the price for my indulgence: Even as I am typing this, I can feel the food coma--or, more precisely, the dosa coma--slowly creeping over my senses, causing my consciousness to slowly, slowly slip away into food-coma-slumber-land... zzzz...

Well... before I completely lose consciousness, I have a question for you people out there who have been to Mysore: How do you eat something like this everyday in Mysore without getting fat? Is the practice that Sharath (or Saraswasti) puts us through over there really so vigorous as to be able to burn off even the millions of calories that must accrue from eating this everyday? Of course, some of you enlightened folks out there must be turning up your noses at this rather vulgar question from such an unenlightened person; maybe the truth is that Mysore is really such a magical place that all the calories consumed from all the Mysore Masala Dosas eaten there simply magically disappear into thin air. If so, please forgive my vulgar ignorance in this area.

But seriously: How does one consume a monster like this everyday in Mysore without becoming fat? While you ponder (and hopefully answer) this question, I'm going to go take a trip to dosa-induced-coma-land. Zzzz...   

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Laghu Vajrasana: Strength, commitment and non-attachment

This post is inspired by Claudia's recent post about her adventures over the past year with Laghu Vajrasana. In the video above, Kino and her model Julia Lofstrand goes into great detail about how to build up the strength needed to eventually perform the full expression of this powerful posture, whose name can be translated from the Sanskrit as either "Little Thunderbolt Pose" or "Lovely Thunderbolt Pose". Very interesting names, considering that there is definitely nothing little about this pose, considering the great front body strength and openness needed to perform it properly. As for lovely... well, you do get a lovely, strong body from working on this pose regularly :-)

Here are a few thoughts I have about this posture:

(1) In the video, Kino suggests that a good way to build up the strength to eventually do the full expression of the posture is by lowering one's head down only to the point where one still has the strength to come back up. The idea is to gradually and progressively build up the strength to bring the head all the way to the ground and then come back up. Gregor Maehle suggests the same thing in his book on the intermediate series as well.

(2) Kino's and Maehle's way of building up to the full posture is the smart way to get to the full posture. But if you are a little bit more stubborn (and maybe not so smart), you can also try the not-so-smart way of getting to the full posture: Basically, you just keep going all the way down to the ground until one day, you suddenly "find" the right muscles in your quads to bring you back up. This is pretty much how I learnt the posture; using this not-so-smart method, it took me about a month to be able to come back up from having my head on the ground.

A word of warning: It may be argued by some that this not-so-smart method of learning Laghu is a little bit more dangerous: You may bump your head on the mat, which is not fun. Fortunately, this didn't happen to me too much. And I also did not sustain any concussions or permanent head damage as a result of these head bumps... well, at least not that I am presently aware of: It is always possible that I may wake up tomorrow morning with no recollection of who I am... and then you will see the following headlines in the NYT: (A) World-famous Ashtangi Nobel sustains permanent brain damage as a result of concussions sustained from practicing Lovely Thunderbolt Posture; (B) US Government orders moratorium on the practice of yoga after recent brain injuries sustained by World-famous Ashtangi Nobel (C) Yoga-wrecks-your-body-expert William Broad to release new book linking the practice of yoga to concussions and permanent brain damage.

(3) Wow, I'm being rather self-important, aren't I? Maybe I do have brain damage, after all... Well, let's change the subject a little. As with many other postures in Ashtanga, even after you attain the full expression of Laghu, there is a distinction that can be made between the "correct expression" and the "incorrect expression" of the posture. I use quotation marks here, because it's really not so much a matter of being correct or incorrect as it is a matter of which parts of the body you are opening with the particular expression of the posture you are doing. What do I mean? Well, to begin with, there are two places the hands can grab in Laghu (i) the ankles/lower calves (which is what Kino's model Julia is doing), or (ii) the middle or upper calves.

If I remember correctly, Gregor Maehle recommends (ii) as a variation of Laghu, because grabbing the middle or upper calves allows the posture to get more into opening the chest, enabling one to achieve a deeper backbend in Laghu. For the longest time, this is what I did, because I was trying to open the chest as much as possible, in preparation for the powerful posture that comes immediately after Laghu (the famous and often dreaded Kapotasana).

But last July, at his Minneapolis workshop, Matthew Sweeney saw me doing (ii), and promptly corrected me. He told me that Maehle is simply wrong. The basic purpose of Laghu, Sweeney says, is not a backbend, but to strengthen the quads and the front body in general. Grabbing the middle/upper calves actually makes it easier to come up, which also undermines the quad-strengthening function of this posture. He also remarked that it is possible to turn Laghu into a chest-opening backbend by grabbing the knees instead of the ankles; but doing so turns the posture into a backbend, making it no longer a quad-strengthening posture. Seen in this light, he continues, grabbing the middle/upper calves is the worst deal of all: One gets only 50% of the chest-opening afforded by grabbing the knees, and only 50% of the quad-strengthening afforded by grabbing the ankles, making it a neither-here-nor-there posture. Something to think about, no? :-)

(4) I also can't help feeling that practicing Laghu Vajrasana offers a valuable lesson which we can apply to life off the mat. Just as it requires deep and powerful strength to be able to bring our heads all the way to the mat without releasing so much into the mat that the head becomes "attached" to it and is unable to come back up, it also requires great inner strength to be able to approach the many obligations and roles that we play in our daily lives with a spirit of full and total commitment, and yet be able to do so in such a way that we do not become so attached to these obligations and roles that we are unable to remove ourselves from them and move on when our obligations and roles have been fully discharged.       

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Govinda Kai talks about Ashtanga Yoga

I just watched the above interview with Govinda Kai at Laruga's. I am really fascinated by the way Kai talks about the practice in such a natural and authentic way. Here are a couple of things he says that really speak to me: 

(1) From around 3:18--4:14, Kai says (I am paraphrasing), "Anything in life that is very powerful is also a source of misunderstanding and conflict. This is true of religion, sex, money or politics. It is also true of Ashtanga Yoga. If you only have a superficial understanding of it, it looks confusing at the very best, and destructive at the very worst."

(2) As with anything with great power, Ashtanga Yoga is not for everybody. As I understand it, Kai does not mean this in any elitist sense: There is nothing special or superior about Ashtangis as compared to everybody else. I suppose we can think of Ashtanga Yoga as a very specialized tool for attaining greater self-awareness and, eventually, self-realization. But being the highly specialized tool that it is, it may only be suitable for people with certain inclinations, or with a particular disposition or bent of mind.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How important is it to chant the opening prayer at the beginning of practice?

Yesterday afternoon, I got together informally with a couple of friends who wanted me to teach them some Ashtanga yoga. We know one another from our local Buddhist group. This is not the first time we have gotten together to do yoga; we have gotten together a couple of times in the past, and I had taught them Suryas A and B and a couple of standing postures, so they are not complete strangers to the practice (for more details, see this post).

At the beginning of practice yesterday, I decided to try introducing a new element into our session: I suggested to my friends that we try chanting the opening invocation. The last couple of times we got together to practice, we had just gone straight into the Suryas without doing the opening chant.

My suggestion immediately encountered resistance from my friends: They felt that there is no reason for a Buddhist to be chanting something that originates from a different philosophical tradition. Which is true, in a very significant sense: From the viewpoint of traditional Indian philosophy, Yoga is regarded as one of the orthodox schools (because it accepts the authority of the Vedas in spiritual matters), while Buddhism (along with Jainism and Carvaka) is regarded as a heterodox school because it does not accept Vedic authority. I tried explaining to my friends that this is just honoring tradition, and that chanting this invocation does not mean that you are becoming a Hindu or anything. But they still desisted: "Why don't we just do the yoga?" one of my friends said. Sensing that I wasn't gaining any traction, I decided not to push the issue, and so we just went ahead with the practice without doing the opening chant. The rest of the practice went very well, despite this initial hiccup.

I'm quite sure that this is not the first time in the history of Ashtanga in this country that people have had hangups with doing the opening (or closing) chant, to put it mildly. I'm pretty sure that those of you out there who teach Ashtanga in gyms or public recreational facilities probably face the same kind of resistance to chanting from your students. Am I right? In my experience, students in yoga studios tend to be more receptive to chanting, but again, this might be a generalization, I'm not sure.

To be honest, when I first started doing yoga, I was also rather uncomfortable with chanting: I think it is no exaggeration to say that for most people in this country, chanting is the form of physical expression that is most closely associated with religious devotion: For the average person, to do a chant in honor of something or somebody is almost certainly an expression of devotion to that thing or person.

Over the years, I have come to find a way to reconcile my personal religious beliefs (I'm a Buddhist) with doing the Ashtanga opening and closing chants. Personally, I see the opening chant as an expression of gratitude to Patanjali: If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be practicing this yoga. This being the case, it is only natural to begin my practice with a chant honoring and saluting him. And it doesn't bother me that it is in Sanskrit. I guess it also helps that I personally find Sanskrit to be a beautiful language... in any case, can you imagine how cheesy it would be to do the opening invocation in English, with all those references to a thousand white heads and the poison of samsara?

But perhaps more importantly for me, I really feel that doing the opening invocation sends an important message: It reminds us that the practice isn't just physical exercise. It reminds us that the practice is ultimately a practice in connecting to something bigger (and hopefully better) than our individual intellects and egos. Because of this, I can't help feeling that to do the practice without the opening chant is to remove something very important from it: Something which reminds us that we are more than our physical bodies and minds.

But maybe this is just me. Do you feel the same way? If you are a teacher, do you also encounter the same resistance to doing the opening and closing chants among your students? How do you handle such situations? Please share.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

More on backbending; Portly Professional and Punk Rock Girl

In my more grandiose moments (like right now), I can't help thinking that the universe is responding directly to my questions. Well, at least to my asana questions: As if in response to my post yesterday about Tiriang Mukhottanasana (or Chakrabandhasana, depending on your choice of nomenclature), Kino very recently posted the above Youtube video about this exact pose on her Facebook page, featuring as her model the ever-bendy Ana Guerra... damn, she doesn't even break a sweat getting in and out of the posture... (unlike me, who is huffing and puffing like a cow just trying to get into the posture)... well, I guess that's why she gets to model for Kino, right?

But back to the video. Kino/Ana demonstrates two ways of getting into the posture: (1) Grabbing the ankles directly from the air, and (2) Walking the hands to the ankles, and then grabbing them one by one. The main action here does not seem that different from grabbing the heels in Kapotasana, but I suppose the fact that one is on one's feet in this posture makes balancing a lot more tricky. Hmm... maybe I should email Kino and ask her how to avoid the jack-in-the-box effect.  


In other news: I finally sent off my India Visa application a couple of hours ago, in preparation for my upcoming Mysore trip in July. Wow, the whole process took quite a bit more paperwork than I was expecting... then again, it's been a while since I did any visa applications, so I don't have any frame of comparison here. But I feel this immense sense of relief right now. Over the last couple of weeks, with all the shit that's hitting the fan at work, I wasn't sure if I should still go to Mysore. But after reflecting and soul-searching about the whole thing for a few days, I decided that I should still go anyway, no matter what. And moreover--not to sound grandiose or anything--very often, when we are at critical junctures in our lives, the universe/Shiva/whatever's-calling-the-shots will throw shit at us to test our resolve. So all the more reason not to back down.

I also learned an important lesson while getting my visa application together at the local FedEx store earlier today: Never judge people by their appearances. Earlier this afternoon, I was at the FedEx store, printing and scanning stuff that I needed for the visa application. There were two staff in the store: One was a fairly well-dressed, proper-looking professional type in his twenties with glasses ( I would also have added "portly", except this seems a bit quaint and probably not-so-nice. But whatever...) who looks like he's got his shit together. The other was a younger woman who looked like she was in her early twenties. She had dyed hair, piercings, tattoos and was wearing pretty big earrings; if I had to describe her in a few words, it would be "Punk Rock Girl". She looks a little bit like this:

[Image taken from here]

Actually, come to think of it, it's pretty cool that FedEx seems to be quite embracing of diversity in their hiring decisions, if the presence of this woman is any indication. But I digress. Back to my story. Being the rather strait-laced Asian guy that I am, I sized the two of them up as I walked into the store, and quickly decided that (1) The portly professional-looking guy is the more senior employee, and (2) he's the guy who probably knows his shit, and is therefore the go-to guy if I have questions or queries. 

Big mistake. After I got done scanning and printing everything that needed to be scanned and printed, I went up to the counter, approached the Portly Professional, and asked him what I needed to do to overnight these documents to Chicago (where the nearest Indian consulate is). I also told him that the instructions on the visa application said that I was supposed to purchase a money order, and include the money order along with all the other documents that I was sending. 

"Is that money order supposed to cover the over-nighting costs from here to Chicago?" I asked him. Instead of giving me a direct answer, he looked over my documents (including, I might add, an auto-generated FedEx Air Bill), and said something to me in some technical FedEx-ese mumbo-jumbo that totally went over my head, leaving me more confused than before. At the end of his little spiel, I mumbled "Thanks (Actually, 'no thanks' would have been a more accurate description of my state of mind at that moment)", and decided that rather than try to deal further with this, ahem, blockhead, it would probably be a better idea to just go purchase the money order, and then come back to the FedEx store a little later, and try to see if I can somehow figure out what needs to be done. 

So I went to the nearby grocery store, purchased my money order, and was back at the FedEx store in a little while. This time, Portly Professional was attending to some other customer (God bless their souls), so I had to go see Punk Rock Girl. I asked Punk Rock Girl how much it would cost to overnight the items to Chicago. She gave me the answer in a matter-of-fact manner. And then it suddenly occurred to me to show her all my documents, including the money order and the auto-generated FedEx Air Bill. She glanced at them, a look of recognition came over her face, and she smiled. "Oh," she said, "This here (the FedEx Bill) means that the other party has already paid in advance for your over-nighting charges [translate: The money order serves as payment for their paying in advance for my over-nighting charges]. All you have to do is put all these documents in this FedEx envelope [at this point, she expertedly produced said FedEx envelope from under the counter], leave everything with us, and your stuff should get to Chicago by Tuesday." 

"Very nice. Thanks." I smiled and replied.  

"Oh, and by the way, a few other people came in earlier this morning to do their visa applications too. You seem to know better than them what's going on." She said. 

"Thanks." I replied. Look who's talking, I thought to myself as I left the store. 

Moral of the story: You simply can't judge how competent people are/how much they have their shit together by how old they look, or how they dress. Remember this the next time you go to a FedEx store near you :-)

Friday, May 11, 2012

How do you get into Tiriang Mukhottanasana without becoming a jack-in-the-box?

I just realized I haven't written about my practice in a while. Yes, I have read in some quarters of the blogosphere that blogging exclusively about practice is a big turnoff, and therefore a no-no. Honestly, I've never really understood this "unspoken convention" against blogging about one's own practice. Sure, asana is not all there is to yoga, but for many of us, it is the entryway to and is, in this sense, the foundation of our yoga practice. This is especially so in Ashtanga; what's an Ashtanga blog without at least an occasional post about the asana practice?

Wow, I can't believe I just spent an entire paragraph justifying what I blog about. Why do I do this? If this is my blog, I should be able to blog about anything I like, right? (There is, of course, the separate question of whether anybody will read what I blog about, but that, ideally, shouldn't be my concern...). So here goes. Actually, I'm not just blogging about practice for the sake of blogging about practice. I do have a real question for those of you accomplished backbenders out there.

Over the last two mornings, I have noticed that my backbends have become deeper. Well, maybe "deeper" is not the right expression here; my backbends have been pretty deep for a couple of years now (for instance, I have been able to grab my heels in Kapotasana for a couple of years now). I think it is more accurate to say that for the last couple of days, something in my middle or lower back (or wherever) has opened up in such a way that I am able to achieve the same depth with less effort. I don't know what's been causing this openness in my back, and whether it has anything to do with all the shit that's been hitting the fan in other areas of my life lately. Maybe it does; maybe when shit hits the fan, some of that shit goes to your back, and makes it more pliable. Possible, I think, although I have no solid theoretical basis for this. 

But anyway, there is one posture in which the effects of this openness have been most strongly manifested: Chakrabandha. Or maybe it's called Tiriang Mukhottanasana (TM). I don't know; I suck at nomenclature. Anyway, whatever it's called, here's what the "ideal" expression of the posture looks like:

 [Image taken from here]

In case you're wondering, this is NOT me in the posture (those of you out there who have read Light on Yoga will, of course, recognize this as Mr. Iyengar, circa somewhere in the 1960s).

If you practice in a mysore room, and are at the point in the practice where you have been doing dropbacks and standups for a while, you will know that whenever you get to dropbacks and standups (unless you happen to be, say, Kino MacGregor), the teacher will drop you back and stand you back up three times (or more). And then he or she will assist you into whatever expression of TM your body is capable of doing on that particular day. After the whole thing, you will come back up totally winded, and then surrender into Paschimottanasana heaven with the teacher "squishing" you.

Well, things are rather different with me, since I do not practice in a mysore room. Since I have been mostly practicing by myself at home for the last couple of years, whenever I am done with the three dropbacks and standups, I just walk my hands to my heels, touch them for five breaths, and then come back up. It seemed that whenever I tried to go further to grab the heels or ankles, my upper body would just pop back up into standing position like a jack-in-the-box:

This is my body on backbends. 
[Image taken from here]

But things have been feeling a bit different the last couple of days. As I said, something (I don't know what exactly it is) seems to have opened up somewhere in my back sufficiently to allow me to go deeper into this posture. This morning, for instance, as I was walking my hands to my heels, I felt this openness somewhere in my lower or mid-back, and I was able to touch my heels more effortlessly than usual. And then I thought: Well, why not try going for the ankle with one hand first? So, keeping my right hand on the ground, I walked my left hand further in and, voila!, I found myself wrapping the left hand around the front of the left ankle. And then I tried to slowly crawl my right hand in to achieve the same thing with my right ankle. And this is when my body became a jack-in-the-box again (except there was no box to be a jack in, but you get the idea...), and before I knew it, my body had involuntarily sprung up to standing. By this time, I was so winded that I decided to just call it a day and go into Paschimottanasana heaven, sans squishing teacher, of course.

So my question for those of you accomplished backbenders out there is this: How do you get into TM without becoming a jack-in-the-box?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Geneen Roth and Eckhart Tolle on spirituality, crisis and life

I just watched this video of a conversation between Geneen Roth and Eckhart Tolle that Claudia posted in her most recent blog post. A couple of things really struck me about this brief video:

(1) Roth remarked at the beginning that she had for many years made a subtle separation between spirituality and making money in her life ("spirituality is fine, and then... there's money"). She had for many years believed that it is not possible for her to become fully awakened, to become "fully alive to the aliveness" in this lifetime.

This is really interesting. I think many of us (well, maybe I can't speak for others... but this is at least true for myself) have this tendency (at least I do) to erect a separation between whatever it is that we do in our spiritual practices and the "rest of our lives." We do whatever it is that we do in our spiritual practices (yoga, meditation, whatever), and then we go out there and revert to being the assholes that we usually are. After all, we might say to ourselves, "The world is very harsh, you know. All this yoga/meditation/whatever is fine, but how can I get ahead if I am not assertive/asshole-like?"

Actually, if you think about it, this is precisely why difficulties in life and practice are so important: They serve as valuable teachers that really force us to make our practices "real", to bring our practices closer to the grimy reality of life as it is. For Roth, it was Bernie Madoff that came into her life as such a teacher. For the rest of us, it may be a crisis at work, some difficulties in our relationships with people close to us, or even an injury that happened within or outside the yoga practice. Anyway, all of these things, as sucky as they may seem in the beginning, are valuable for us, because they force us to pause and ask ourselves: Who am I? Am I just my life savings/my job/my favorite asana that has now been taken away by injury?

(2) Watching the video, I am also deeply struck by Eckhart Tolle's humble yet dignified bearing and his posture of sincerely listening to everything Roth has to say. Frankly, I don't know much about Tolle; for many years, listening to so many people rave about Tolle and The Power of Now, I really couldn't understand what the big deal was with this guy. Honestly, before I watched the video, I half-expected to see this self-important new-age guru spouting all kinds of feel-good platitudes.

But seeing Tolle's earnest attitude of sincere listening really bowed me over. I personally believe that you can learn a lot about the kind of person somebody is simply by observing how he listens to others. As Confucius would say, "The gentleman is exalted and yet not proud. The petty person is proud and yet not exalted." Along the same lines, the thirteenth-century Japanese priest Nichiren also says, "The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being." Watching Tolle in this video, I really feel that Confucius' and Nichiren's words describe him perfectly.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Shit hits the fan, Yoga is for Peter Pans

"Things fall apart,
Shit hits the fan,
Yoga is for Peter Pans,
But what one gives up,
Eventually comes around."

Totally useless haiku by Nobel Ang
1:00 p.m. CDT
Monday May 7th 2012

Gosh... at work the last few days, shit has been hitting the fan so hard that I can barely see amidst all this slimy, gooey stickiness. I'm not going to go into the details here, but try to picture a shitload of excrement spewing from the A-hole of the universe, hitting a rapidly moving wind turbine, sending said excrement ricocheting in all possible directions in my corner of the universe. Get the picture?

Of course, if one wants to be yogic or Buddhist (or whatever) about it, one would say that there are times when there is so much shit pent up in a particular corner of the universe that if it doesn't come out, it will only fester and become toxic and really, really kill you later on. This is quite definitely one of those times. But while it's all very nice to be yogic or Buddhist (or whatever) about it, it still doesn't change the stinky, slimy ugliness of the shit in the all-too-present immediacy of its visceral hitting-the-fan glory. Ha! Talk about living in the moment...

This is definitely not the best of blogging times here at Yoga in the Dragon's Den, if you haven't already noticed, what with the low volume of posts being generated lately, and with the rather shitty nature of the few that do come out (pun totally intended). But perhaps there are still a couple of yogic insights that may yet be gleaned from such lean times. Yesterday, I was having a rather candid conversation with my close friend L. L and I have known each other for years, so much so that we are often quite comfortable saying things to each other in a brutally honest, pull-no-punches kind of way. In a way, I do appreciate this: L often serves as my reality check. Anyway, here's how yesterday's conversation went, roughly:

L: Sorry to hear about the hard times you are going through at work. Mind if I say something not so nice?

Nobel: Sure.

L: I know that this yoga thing is the love of your life and all that. And that's great. But you do spend a lot of time practicing yoga (not to mention blogging about it). And you also take time off to go to those workshops with Kino, etc. And your employers know about your yoga workshop trips. Sure, you can say that what you do in your own time is your own business, and none of your employer's... but I can't help thinking that your employers are thinking that you are less serious about your work or less committed to it because of all this time that you are spending pursuing your hobby. And now I hear you are going to India for a month during the summer. Don't you think that maybe if you don't spend so much time and energy pursuing your yoga dreams, you might well be further along in your career now?


L: I mean, do you think all this is working out to your favor?

Nobel: Yeah... why not?

L: Don't you think you need to grow up? Maybe you need to get real, and get your priorities straight. After all, you are just barely starting out in your career...

I honestly don't really remember exactly how the conversation proceeded after this point; I mean, it was civil and all, but I kind of blanked out around the time I heard the words "grow up." But maybe this is just as well: I don't think I need to bore you with the nitty-gritty details of the rest of the conversation...

Wow. Grow up, eh? Right now, I feel kind of like the Peter Pan of Ashtanga... or maybe Ashtanga yoga is really yoga for Peter Pans, anyway: I mean, think about all these senior teachers that look like they are in their thirties even though they are actually in their fifties... get the picture?

Man, doesn't this guy need to grow up...
[Image taken from here]

I could really launch into a super-long existential-angst filled rant about whether I need to grow up. But I have a long day ahead, and who needs to read an existential rant at the beginning of spring, anyway? So I'll spare us all this agony. In any case, did Patanjali ever say anything in the Yoga Sutra about growing up? Anybody know anything here?

But very often, in these lean times, hope and inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places. I'm starting to feel that perhaps what I need to do right now is to give up. Yes, give up. As in, give up thinking and angsting about whether to grow up, or whether to this, that, or whatever, and just try my best to see amidst all this shit and move forward somehow, even if just a small step forward. In particular, I find the following lines from James's recent post to be very inspiring and uplifting. Thanks, James! So perhaps, on this note, I'll leave you with these lines:

"I gave up.

I gave up trying to impress people so they would put me on TV.

I gave up trying to get people to think I was important enough so they would publish my books.

I gave up trying to start the perfect new business.

I gave up trying to be the best father in the world.

I gave up trying to be something I wasn’t to my friends and family.

I gave up everything. I was going to die.

And I looked around and saw that many people wanted to give up but I suspected were afraid to. Maybe, like me, they were afraid they would be less happy, that less people would like them, that they would be invited to have less opportunities, that they would make less money. That fear, by itself, was actually doing the opposite – it was keeping the boundaries of their existence tightly wrapped around their egos."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Samkhya, privileging of the subjective over the objective

Over the past week, I have been spending some time reading Samkhya philosophy. Along with Yoga, Samkhya is one of the six orthodox systems of traditional Indian philosophy, the other four being Vedanta, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and Purva Mimamsa. What follows is a rather informal exposition of what I have been reading and thinking about. As such, it is a sort of "note-taking" exercise. If you don't find it to be very readable, I understand. Just feel free to, well, not read it :-)

Why study Samkhya? Well, I started out by reading the Yoga Sutra. Chapter 1, verse 3 states: "(When the fluctuations of the mind have been restrained (nirodhah)), Then the seer stands in his own nature."

The first thought that came to mind when I read this verse was, "What the hell is 'seer'?" The Tattva-vaisaradi, a commentary on the Yoga Sutra, explains this verse thus, "...the objects of the purusa (self) are discriminative knowledge and the experience of the objective world. These two no longer exist in the state of inhibition (nirodhah)."

Hmm... very nice, I think to myself. So the seer is the purusa that is free from discriminative knowledge and experience of the objective world as a result of restraining the fluctuations of the mind...

Okay. But all this is useful only if we already know what "purusa" means. Yeah, the guy who translates the commentary translates purusa as "self", but "self" could mean a million possible things in philosophy. So unless we know what "purusa/self" refers to, we really won't know what this simple verse means.

Clearly, a little more background study is needed if my reading of the Yoga Sutra is going to be fruitful. So I decided to turn my attention to Samkhya. Samkhya provides the metaphysical and psychological foundations of Yoga. It is in Samkhya that the concepts of Purusa (self/spirit) and Prakriti (Nature) are explained and articulated. We can also think about it this way: If Yoga can be seen as a vehicle for attaining self-realization, then Samkhya is both the owner's manual and a road map: It explains the inner workings of the vehicle, and also maps out the terrain to be covered in getting to self-realization. Crude analogy, I know, but this is the closest one I can find :-)

What, then, is the difference between purusa and prakriti? The Samkhya-karika describes prakriti as being "with the three gunas [sattva, rajas, tamas]", "objective," "common", insentient" and "productive." (verse 11) By contrast, purusa is the reverse of all this. As such, purusa is '"witness", and has "isolation", "neutrality," and is the "seer" and "inactive." (verse 19)

Since only prakriti has the three gunas, and the three gunas are responsible for all activity and motion in the world (both mental and physical), what this means is that only prakriti is capable of moving and producing things in the world, since only prakriti has the three gunas. As such, minds and bodies, being imbued with the three gunas, are "objective" things in an "objective" world. By contrast, Purusa (spirit or self), being the "subjective" observer, is the inactive seer that is isolated from the objective worlds of the mental and physical.

Thus, there is this interesting distinction in Samkhya and Yoga between the subjective spirit (purusa) and the objective body and mind (prakriti). At the risk of oversimplifying things, all of this suggests that both Yoga and Samkhya privilege the subjective over the objective. Well, this is not, strictly speaking, true: Verse 52 in the Samkhya-karika states that 'Without the "subjective", there would be no "objective", and without the "objective" there would be no "subjective."' So perhaps it is more accurate to describe the relationship between the subjective and the objective as being a sort of interdependent relationship; one cannot exist without the other.

Nevertheless, the subjective spirit is privileged over the objective mind and body in the sense that bondage always occurs as a result of prakriti and the three gunas. Bondage occurs because the bonded self (jiva) is unaware of its true nature and is deluded into the belief that it thinks, feels and acts in an "objective" world. Jiva only attains freedom (kaivalya) when the fluctuations of mind are stilled (nirodha), and it is able, for the first time, to clearly see its true self (purusa), which is always free and isolated from the objective realm of thought and movement. This attainment of freedom through nirodha is, of course, the goal of yoga.  


One common theme that runs through the above exposition is the privileging of the subjective over the objective. On a rather more mundane level, this explains why no amount of objective, detached study of yoga--whether we are talking about study of its health or psychological effects, or about a detached, "scholarly" study of yogic texts without practice--can yield any truly fruitful insight as to the true nature of yoga if such study is divorced from first-hand, subjective experience. This brings to mind David Williams' famous words, "Before you practice, the theory is useless. After you practice, the theory is obvious." In a different context, I also once read somewhere that Guruji would never grant an interview to anybody who was not a practitioner of Ashtanga. I can't pretend to know what was in Guruji's mind when he made this decision, but it seems reasonable to think that he decided not to grant such interviews because any "objective" attempt to understand yoga that is divorced from subjective practice can only, at best, present to the listener a distorted view of the true nature of yoga.

On a broader level, this privileging of the subjective over the objective also runs counter to an important keystone of contemporary western thinking and practice: I think it is no exaggeration to say that much of western science and philosophy emphasizes the objective over the subjective. Controlled scientific studies are prized for being "objective". The same emphasis on objectivity--or, at the very least, purported objectivity--also runs through much of western journalism. The journalist prides herself on being a detached observer of things from many angles. Such an approach is not without its merits, but I can't help feeling that such "objectivity" often comes at the price of a more genuine understanding of the subject matter. This is especially true if the subject matter concerns some very particular human experiences. It is even more true when the subject matter concerns a spiritual or religious movement (for more details, see my recent post on the 2000 New Yorker article about Ashtanga Yoga). By not putting oneself into the position of the spiritual seeker and fully feeling the entire weight of the seeker's spiritual aspirations in all its intensity, the objective reporter tends to characterize the seeker as either some kind of flaky hippie/new-age type or some kind of misguidedly-devoted fanatic, and essentially misses the point of what is really going on.     

Well, not sure what else to say here. I'm quite blogged out now, and can't even think of a nice way to wrap up this post. So I guess I'll just leave you with these all-over-the-place thoughts :-)