Saturday, June 29, 2013

Heat, Battlestar Galactica, Gayatri Mantra

Summer is definitely in full swing here in Southeastern Idaho. Daytime temperatures have been in the 90s yesterday and today; right now, it's 99 degrees fahrenheit (37 degrees celsius). I'm trying to see how long I can survive in my apartment without turning the AC on. As warm as it is, I still much prefer practicing in heat to practicing in AC; there's just something about practicing in an artificially-cooled room that takes energy away. Earlier today, for instance, I practiced led primary to Sharath's count. The heat lent a certain lightness to the practice; I like to think this brings me a bit closer to what it must be like to practice in the heat in Mysore (as in Mysore, India).


I've been watching a lot of sci-fi lately. Yesterday, I went with a couple of friends to see World War Z. It's actually a pretty good movie, if you try to let go of any expectations you may have gathered from having read the novel; this may be one of those instances in which it could be better to watch the movie without having read the novel. In any case, both Brad Pitt and Marc Foster (the director) make no pretense about the fact that their story departs greatly from the novel. The story is actually quite tight and convincing in its own right. I don't think this is going to go down as one of the great classic zombie movies (although I may be wrong), but it's still worth watching.

At the recommendation of a friend, I've also started watching Battlestar Galactica (the 2003 remake, not the 1978 original) on Netflix. It's actually a very compelling re-imagining of the original, with more contemporary political tropes ("We don't negotiate with terrorists") thrown in for good measure. Another thing about this remake that should immediately jump out at longtime yoga practitioners (or anybody who is familiar with Sanskrit chants, for that matter) is the use of Indian devotional chants in the series. For instance, the series's opening theme has the Gayatri Mantra in it. Check this out:

Which strikes me as being very apt for a story which is basically an interstellar retelling of Noah's Ark. I loved the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica theme (remember that?), but there is something powerfully haunting and moving about hearing the Gayatri against the backdrop of deep space, set to a story about a bunch of humans on a space odyssey to find this mythical place called Earth while being pursued relentlessly by a bunch of cybernetic beings that they had created themselves. Does anybody know who came up with the idea of putting the Gayatri mantra in Battlestar Galactica? I'm really curious to know, but couldn't find any information on Google about this.        

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Western yoga, utopia, and smart people (and stupid people)

I mentioned in my update/addendum to my previous post that I found Patrick's recent post on the ambiguous relationship between yoga and mainstream contemporary American culture (and maybe even mainstream western culture at large, although I cannot say for sure, since I have never lived in Europe...) to be most insightful and brilliant. I have been meaning to say a few things about this wonderful post for the last couple of days, so I'll do it now.

First, if you'll bear with me, I'm going to start by quoting Patrick at some length. He writes:

"You will see a double tendency [in the western yoga scene].

One branch of it is that the yoga is political, or feminist, or engaged with culture. The yoga can DO THINGS, man!

The other branch of it, which oddly comes as sort of a package deal with the first one, is that the yoga is separate from culture. Is above culture, more noble than culture, and in particular, CLEANER than culture. And in this branch of thinking, people get so, so very upset when yoga "proves itself to be dirty" and sure, that's my language, but that was very much a thing in the recent yoga scandals. Look around the rhetoric surrounding the John Friend scandal or the Bikram Choudury scandal. There is a clear flavor of "these men have corrupted yoga" in there and it's not at all hard to see.

So then.
If we wanted to see these two tendencies as one unified thing, we'd do it this way:

The yoga comes from far away and/or long ago (you know, like Star Wars), and it can HELP US, man. It can redeem us from our corrupt Western culture, and we so badly need enlightenment, we MUST HAVE THE YOGA. But (and here's the surface-break of the other half of it) we have to make sure that the West/false gurus/the NSA/unclean people/bad teachers/some other threat-du-jour doesn't CORRUPT OUR YOGA so that it does us harm instead of good."

As Patrick goes on to observe in the rest of his post, many people in the western yoga scene are either unconscious of this double tendency, or are conscious of it, and have wholeheartedly embraced it as a good thing. And why, indeed, wouldn't they? After all, if yoga is really this wonderful spiritual panacea that has come to us from long, long ago, from a galaxy far, far away (a.k.a. India), and it has helped us find relief from such physical ailments as back pain and insomnia, as well as attain a measure of spiritual contentment on an individual level, it must surely stand to reason that if more people in society were to practice yoga, we should expect to see nothing less than a drastic transformation of our presently corrupt western society into a yogic heaven populated by yogic beings for whom the observances of the yamas and the niyamas come as naturally as breathing air or drinking water. Such a yogic heaven must surely be a Utopian paradise. And who in their right mind wouldn't want to live in such a world?

Sounds good so far, right? So what has gone wrong? Well, for starters, people of such a Utopian bent of mind will quickly discover that although the yoga can do things, it cannot do things on its own; people must go out there and spread the good word. And the good word we are spreading isn't merely relief from back pain or being able to get a good night's sleep, or even the sort of temporary yogic sugar-high one gets from a brief experience of Samadhi in one's deepest meditative practices. All these things are cool things to experience, of course, but they are merely small change compared to the truly society-transforming potential that truly empowered feminist/social-justice-conscious/"smart" yoga can accomplish in this world.

And of course, if you are somebody who is enlightened to this Utopian potential of yoga (an "enlightened one", if you will), it would be totally naive and irresponsible of you to just assume that others are just as enlightened as you are. So, being the un-naive and totally responsible enlightened one that you are, it falls upon you to educate the benighted masses of gym- or shala-going yogis who have tragically yet to awaken to yoga's truly Utopian potential. So you would, among other things, take it upon yourself to write smart-sounding articles on websites like Yoga for Smart People, in the hopes that at least some of these benighted folks out there will awaken to the stupidity of their uncomprehending ways, read what you have to say, absorb it like amrita, and, well, get with the program.

But what's wrong with any of this, one may ask? After all, again, if yoga really has such Utopian potential, and all that is needed is for a bunch of resourceful, enlightened and indefatigable cadres to get the word out and educate the masses (and, maybe, in the process, send a few really recalcitrant stupid people to re-education camps located somewhere in the New Mexico desert), why not get with the program and do it?

Well, being rather tragically benighted myself, I can't really answer these questions properly. But I'll just go ahead and say a couple of rather confused things here anyway, and you decide if you can get anything out of what I have to say. First, if yoga really did have such Utopian potential, why didn't the ancients (you know, the Sadhus practicing in their Himalayan caves or the Brahmin householders) recognize it? I'm no yoga scholar, but I really have never heard or read of any such ancients forming cadres of enlightened activists to change the world in the name of feminism/social-justice/smartness (or whatever the ancient Sanskrit names for these progressive terms may be... perhaps herein lies the problem: My Sanskrit isn't up to snuff either, so if these ancient activists existed, I would have no way of knowing about them. Note to self: Need to go take some classes to brush up on Sanskrit.). In any case, if yoga really has such Utopian potential, and the ancients either did not know about this or did nothing about it, wouldn't this mean that our contemporary western enlightened cadres are way more enlightened than those benighted ancients, that they have single-handedly taken yoga to heights that our benighted ancestors cannot even dream about? Damn, yoga really is evolving, isn't it?

If it is indeed true that contemporary yoga activism has brought yoga to heights unprecedented in its five-thousand (or however many thousand) year-old history, then this would be cause for nothing else but celebration and rejoicing (yay! Smart Yoga...), and I should just sign off here (indeed, I probably shouldn't even have written such a reactionary article in the first place; I'll probably get sent off to New Mexico tomorrow...). But there is another possibility: What if yoga was never meant to be a tool of mass social change or revolution? Could the ancients have known something we don't? What if trying to use yoga as a tool for Utopia-engineering--indeed, as a tool for anything at all--is like trying to eat dinner with a hammer (or trying to cut vegetables with a chainsaw--pick your favorite non-metaphor)? What if being benighted and stupid (or whatever) is simply part of the human condition, and what yoga can do (if it can do anything) is simply to offer us a way to look at this condition with some measure of equanimity and perhaps live with it in a more-or-less productive manner? What if trying to get yoga to do things it's not built to do is like that story of the innkeeper who tried to make all guests fit into his beds by sawing off their limbs or forcibly extending them (ouch!)?

As always, I don't have answers to any of these questions. But being the rather tragically benighted being that I am, I nevertheless am unwilling to look stupid. So I'm going to try to sound a little bit more smart by quoting the following words of some smart person whose works I've been reading lately:

"If we are told that these contradictions will be solved in some perfect world in which all good things can be harmonised in principle, then we must answer, to those who say this, that the meanings they attach to the names which for us denote the conflicting values are not ours... that principles which are harmonised in this other world are not the principles with which, in our daily lives, we are acquainted; if they are transformed, it is into conceptions not known to us on earth. But it is on this earth that we live, and it is here that we must believe and act...

Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakeable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possible doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of forms of self-induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human." 

Isaiah Berlin, "The Pursuit of the Ideal"

Whew, that was quite a (benighted) rant. Thank you for reading, if you made it this far. I'm going to get some something to eat now. More later--if "later" is not a time where I find myself somewhere in New Mexico, that is.    

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor House Recommendations, World War Z, blog post recommendation

A few days ago, I said I was going to repost sections of the Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor House Recommendations on this blog, and maybe write a review about it. Well, I'm going to do it now. But it's been a long day, so I might be a little less-than-coherent. Please bear with me.

Before I start, there are a few important details you need to know. This wonderful resource, which has been crowd-sourced and curated by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor, has recently been published into a pamphlet by Laura Shaw of Small Blue Pearls and Laura Shaw Design. The pdf version is downloadable here for free (you just need to sign up for a MagCloud account); in addition, a print copy can be obtained in exchange for parting with USD 3.84 of your precious monies.

As I have already intimated, this thing is good stuff. Whether you practice at a shala or by yourself at home, this resource provides a wealth of insight that will help you to develop a most efficient and effective practice for your personal--and, by extension, the world's--self-transformation. There is, frankly, not much else I can say here that wouldn't be redundant and add to your discursive mind (if you don't know what this is, read the pamphlet). But since this is a blog post (and what are blogs, really, if not discursive extensions of our already very discursive everyday being-in-the-world selves?), I should probably say a few things anyway.

To begin, there are a few things that Angela says about mental hygiene that really resonates with me. One of the things that will inevitably arise in the practice when you do it regularly is difficult emotions. There is just something about the nature of the practice and the mind-body atmosphere it generates that brings difficult emotions to the surface. Some of these may be repressed feelings or memories from long ago, others may consist in rather mundane stuff (something somebody said to you or about you the other day, etc.) that it didn't occur to you to be bothered by until you stepped onto the mat. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that they are difficult to have to confront and be with. Mental hygiene, briefly, is the art of managing and holding the space for these emotions to be as they are, without letting them bend you out of shape (because you already are bent out of shape on a physical level :-)). Angela has this to say about this easy yet difficult art: "Let difficult emotions and thoughts arise and move on... Do not repress your experience. This deepens emotional blocks and increases unconsciousness." At the same time, however, one should also "Be cautious about repeating negative thoughts or verbal talk... It is possible to cultivate positive emotions and thoughts while accepting and studying any negativity that arises."

Angela also has some valuable things to say to folks like me who practice mostly at home without the benefit of a regular shala to attend. In the "Relationship" section of the pamphlet, she writes:

"If you are doing mostly self-practicing and are wishing for support, you are not alone. Many people practice mostly at home... The most nourishing way to receive this sort of inspiration [from a true master teacher of this method] is to keep your eyes open for a teacher who excites you and who knows something you don't. Go to them at their home base, not a workshop. Spend time practicing in, and being in, that setting. Just be yourself there. Deliver your whole mind-body to the experience. Do honest practice. Pay attention. Hang out with the teacher's other students. Prioritize listening over performing, and over trying to get approval or quick answers. Then the following year, do it again." 

There is a whole lot more in the pamphlet (yes, go read it!), and I hope this has been enough of a teaser-trailer to get you motivated on getting started. I could probably ramble on a lot more if I want to, but why ramble more than you have to? So I'll leave things here. Have fun reading and exploring!


Speaking of teaser-trailers and movies, I think I'm going to go see the recently-released World War Z, after all. I had originally decided not to go see it, because the screenplay differs so much from the novel that it may as well be an entirely different story. That, plus the fact that the preview trailer gave me the impression that it's basically a Brad Pitt vehicle, featuring Mr. Pitt running around and looking like, well, Brad Pitt.

All of which is true. But the reviews I have read thus far have been quite positive. It seems that many critics have concluded that although the movie departs greatly from the novel (which is a necessity, because the original novel did not have a linear narrative, but was, rather, a collection of oral history accounts of people who survived the zombie apocalypse; hardly the sort of narrative structure you can easily translate into a Hollywood blockbuster), the director (Marc Foster) has done a good job of crafting an original story with its own character. So I'll think I'll give the movie a chance, and go see it. If any of you out there have already seen it, feel free to let me know what you think (I already know the ending from reading the synopsis on Wikipedia, so you can't spoil anything for me).  


Update/Addendum: There is something else I want to say here that I forgot to talk about in the earlier (as in, twenty minutes ago) version of this post. I just read this very brilliant and insightful post by Patrick over at Ashtanga Yoga and Stuff about the ambiguous relationship between yoga and mainstream American culture. As with all of Patrick's posts, Patrick writes in a ranting, insightful and no-bullshit incisive way that I can never hope to imitate (although I think some wise guy once said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...). Anyway, I thought I'll mention this post, as it's really worth a read. Check it out.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Solistice, sleep deprivation, practice, eating oranges, broken tongue

So I hear that today's the summer solistice, and that some folks out there are doing 108 sun salutations. Good for all of you who are doing or did that already (what's the significance of this practice, anyway? Anybody know?). Not for me. This morning, I woke up at more or less my usual time after having slept only about 4 hours, the sleep deprivation owing wholly to my recently-acquired online chess addiction. I've noticed that I play worse online than in real-life (there's something about staring at a screen that makes me not see certain things I would have spotted in a heartbeat on a three-dimensional physical chessboard), but that doesn't seem to stop me from playing anyway.

The price of all this chess indulgence is, of course, sleep deprivation. This morning, I moved through practice at what I thought was a slower pace, but still managed to finish full primary and one-third of second (up to Supta Vajarasana) in an hour and twenty-eight minutes. Something is definitely happening to my body and practice: It moves fast even when it doesn't intend to.

After practice (as in, a few minutes ago), I sat down to eat a couple of navel oranges; this is a habit I've picked up this summer. For some reason, oranges taste really good after Ashtanga; anybody ever noticed that? I was chomping through the oranges and savoring them, when I chomped down on my tongue, and a sharp bolt of pain, the kind that makes you feel that you just might want to punch somebody or something, because that just might dissipate the pain (but of course it wouldn't). It took a whole two minutes for the pain to subside. And now I am sitting here writing this with a broken tongue. Will I be able to eat anything today? We'll see.

I have also been meaning to repost the Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor House Recommendations on this blog. It has been recently published into a small booklet by Laura Feit over at Small Blue Pearls and Laura Shaw Design. There's actually a very nice section addressing home practitioners and people (like yours truly) who do not have regular access to a teacher; I was (and still am going to) repost that here and say a few wise (or not-so-wise) things. But I've been busy writing and teaching, procrastinating, and... playing chess, so this has fallen by the backburner. But it's coming. Just you wait. In the meantime, I'm going to go nurse my broken tongue... damn! Who knew you can also injure your tongue while eating during the full moon?  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Freedom, self-direction, truth, and blindness

"I am free if, and only if, I plan my life in accordance with my own will; plans entail rules; a rule does not oppress me or enslave me if I impose it on myself consciously, or accept it freely, having understood it, whether it was invented by me or by others, provided that it is rational, that is to say, conforms to the necessities of things. To understand why things must be as they must be is to will them to be so. Knowledge liberates not by offering us more open possibilities amongst which we can make our choice, but by preserving us from the frustration of attempting the impossible. To want necessary laws to be other than they are is to be prey to an irrational desire--a desire that what must be X should also not be X. To go further, and believe these laws to be other than what they necessarily are, is to be insane." 

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

Over the last few days, I have been reading Berlin, and this passage in which Berlin describes positive freedom--the freedom that comes from my imposing a law on myself and choosing to direct my life in accordance with this law out of my own autonomous self-direction--jumps out at me. Berlin himself is ambivalent about this notion of positive liberty. On the one hand, this notion of freedom as rational self-direction can be found in the works of a long line of liberal-minded thinkers (Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, to name a few), and expresses the lofty ideal that being free is not just about not being restricted in one's actions, but is ultimately about being able to direct one's life in accordance with an ideal of one's own choosing.

On the other hand, however, positive freedom becomes morally problematic when one tries to translate it into a systematic political arrangement. First, if people are truly free only if they are able to live their lives in accordance with an ideal of their own choosing, then, assuming that freedom is the most important thing for people to have, having this ability to live self-directed lives must be what people really want, even if some people are too benighted/ignorant/stupid to know this on a conscious level. And it is not enough for the state to leave these benighted/ignorant/stupid people alone to their own devices; left to their own devices, these people will probably do things that are not only harmful to themselves, but might also threaten the freedom and lives of more enlightened folks. So, for the good of all, these benighted/ignorant/stupid people who do not know what is best for themselves must be educated and, if necessary, coerced into becoming truly free (Fichte: "Only the truth liberates, and the only way in which I can learn the truth is by doing blindly today, what you, who know it, order me, or coerce me, to do, in the certain knowledge that only thus will I arrive at your clear vision, and be free like you."). And we all know how the story goes from here. Much of the excesses committed in the names of the many "isms" (communism, fascism, even liberalism) of the twentieth century can be traced at least in part to what are arguably at least initially well-intentioned efforts by a group of intellectual elites to "educate" the ignorant and bring them up to shape for the new world order of absolute freedom that is soon to come.

Scary and depressing stuff, if you think about it. How can something that is so noble and lofty on the individual level become so monstrous when applied on a large scale? I don't have any easy (or difficult) answers to this question, and I don't want to gloss this issue over by spouting platitudes, so I'll leave it at this. But here's something else to think about: Aren't we subjecting ourselves to a similar process in our Ashtanga practice? Assuming that the goal of the practice is moksha or liberation, and that only the truth liberates, and the truth is presently not within our field of vision, wouldn't this mean that in doing our daily practice, we are, in a sense, blindly putting ourselves through a process of coercion--to be sure, we are talking about self-directed, freely imposed coercion, but it's still coercion, nonetheless--in the certainty (?) that only thus will we one day arrive at a clear vision, and be free like... Sri K Pattabhi Jois?

On a further note, I sometimes also wonder if this blind trust in a guru/teacher that will lead us towards moksha might be related to all those guru scandals that have been gracing the yoga world of late. Again, one can respond to all this with all manner of platitudes about how trust should not be blind, yadayadayada, that one should choose and question one's guru/teacher carefully, yadayadayada. But if the whole point of having a guru/teacher is to follow somebody who supposedly sees the light in a way that one doesn't, wouldn't this mean that a certain relative blindness on the part of the student is built into the very fabric of the guru-student relationship?   

Hmm... where is this going? I don't know. Again, I have no easy (or difficult) answers to these questions. But I guess I'll continue to do my practice tomorrow. And probably the day after tomorrow as well. Maybe the blindness will lift soon. And then what? Again, I don't know.     

Friday, June 14, 2013

Floating forward and hovering before touching down in Uttanasana, jumping through with straight legs (or not); upcoming interview with alt-rock musician Ife Sanchez Mora, and a call for technical assistance

Over the last few days, I have been playing and experimenting with some of the finer points of floating in the Surya Namaskaras. If you are not familiar with floating, here's a short video (complete with very powerful drumbeat) of David Robson demonstrating this technique:

Not to brag or anything, but I have actually been floating more or less successfully for the last year or so. What I've been working on over the last couple of weeks is to achieve that little movement where I hover with my legs more or less straight, with my feet hovering a couple of inches above the ground, just before I touch down in Uttanasana. If you need a visual of what I'm talking about, here's the Patron Saint of Home Ashtangis demonstrating this finer point of Surya Namaskara:    

Over the last week, I would say that I have been getting the hover about 7 or 8 times out of every 10 times I do the Surya Namaskaras. To be sure, there is something very aesthetically pleasing (not to mention ego-boosting) about being able to float and hover. The very first time I saw somebody float and hover was as a neophyte yoga teacher at the campus gym in Florida, where I went to grad school (for more details about my brief tenure as a yoga-teaching charlatan, see this post). One of my fellow yoga teachers at the time was this spindly guy who could float and hover effortlessly in Surya Namaskar "as if angels were lifting and moving his legs", as his girlfriend at the time would put it. And while I wasn't quite as devotionally awestruck by his floating abilities as his girlfriend was, I nevertheless couldn't help comparing it to my rather heavy-limbed movements in Surya Namaskar, and longing wistfully for the day when I myself would be able to float and hover so effortlessly, with or without angelic support. 

Well, I am happy to report that I am finally getting closer to that day, after all these years. But being able to float/hover isn't just about looking good or boosting one's ego. Being able to move so lightly demands refined control of the bandhas, breath and movement (in other words, the tristana, minus the drishti). Thus, I believe that the ability to float/hover is something that comes more or less naturally and organically as one attains more control and refinement in one's practice. So much so, that after a while, floating and hovering actually becomes easier than just flopping and throwing one's limbs around in the Suryas--or in the rest of the practice, for that matter. 

Besides floating and hovering, I've also been experimenting with the straight-legged jump-through (SLJT). As I've mentioned a couple of years ago, I've more or less settled into jumping through with cross-legs (CLJT) over the last couple of years. I think Sharath said somewhere that he always does CLJT, because that's the only way he's been taught. And I figured that if CLJT is good enough for Sharath, it's good enough for me. Case closed. 

But nevertheless, over the last few weeks, I've gotten curious about life on the SLJT side of the fence. What would it be like to be able to SLJT with perfect control? Well, here's Kino's model demonstrating this: 

As Kino points out at the beginning of the video, it is neither correct nor incorrect to jump through with straight legs or crossed legs: The important thing is to make it to the finish line, one way or the other. But I still can't help being curious about what life is like "on the other side". And besides, I was also thinking to myself: Now that I am finally getting close to being able to hover, surely some of that hovering ability would translate to being able to SLJT with better control (as opposed to the "sliding into base" kind of SLJT)? So during practice yesterday, I gave the SLJT a shot during the one of the first couple of postures in primary series. I bent my knees in downdog, took off... and landed on my feet! And then I had to awkwardly make myself sit down. It turns out that my body has been doing CLJT for so long, that the only way it knows how to jump forward with straight legs is to land in standing/Uttanasana! 

Oh well, maybe I'll have to find a way to "reprogram" my body/mind if I want to switch over to SLJT. Or maybe I'll just stick with CLJT. No harm done, one way or the other.


On a different note, I'm presently in the process of putting together a Skype interview with alt-rock musician and fellow Nichiren Buddhist Ife Sanchez Mora. You know, the kind of Skype interview where both our faces appear side-by-side on screen as you watch the interview? I don't usually do interviews on this blog (the only person I've interviewed so far is Kino), but Ife, who also practices Bikram yoga, is a person who is so full of life and passion for her art, that I think it can only be a good thing to share her work here on this blog. To give you a taste of her work, here's a music video from her recently released album: 

Pretty freaking awesome, wouldn't you say? 

But there's a slight problem here: I have never done a Skype interview, nor do I have any experience with posting it on my blog (obviously). I know, I'm a bit deficient technology-wise. But I also know that at least some of you out there have experience with doing and posting Skype interviews. If you do, and wouldn't mind giving me some technical assistance in this area, please get in touch with me; you can find my email in the "Greetings" section of this blog, in the top-right-hand corner. I won't have much to offer you in the way of material reward, but you will at least have my eternal, eternal gratitude and over-whelming respect. So yeah, do give this a thought, if you happen to possess the requisite expertise.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Aliens and (extra-long) yoga pants

Perhaps it's the summer and the lackadaisical mood it produces in many of this planet's inhabitants. I've found myself gathering quite a bit of information over the last week or so. But thus far, very little of this information-gathering activity has translated into much of a desire to blog. I've also been remiss in responding to comments on this blog, and feel quite bad about that, considering the fact that most of the people who comment here clearly put a lot of thought and effort into their comments.

But maybe the following piece of news might just get me out of my blogging malaise. One of the things I learned during the past few days of info gathering is that we now have strong anecdotal evidence that aliens (yes, as in beings from another planet) exist. In fact, according to the speech below given by former Canadian Defense Minister Paul Hellyer (along with a number of other former USAF servicemen) at the recent Citizen Hearing on Disclosure in Washington D.C. chaired by six former members of the U.S. Congress, at least two extra-terrestrials are presently on-planet and working with the U.S. government:

Of course, just because a former high-level government official says something doesn't necessarily make it true. But think about this: What motivation would a former top leader of a G8 nation have to say something as crazy as this, putting his credibility on the line? Unless, maybe, it happens to be the truth? And again, why else would all these former Congress members similarly put their credibility on the line by appearing at the hearing?

In any case, I am not altogether surprised at the presence of intelligent life beyond our solar system. Although I am no astronomer or cosmologist, I have always thought it to be simply impossible that there is no life anywhere else in this vast universe. Actually, a couple of years ago, I speculated in a half-tongue-in-cheek fashion that at least some of these aliens might also be practicing yoga

Anyway, now that we know that aliens are out there--and on-planet as well--I'm guessing that it won't be long before the yoga industry starts marketing yoga merchandise to them. After all, even if they hail from a super-advanced civilization, they are still flesh-and-blood embodied beings, and could therefore benefit from doing yoga. If nothing else, this might give Lululemon a reason to step up its yoga pants production. I hear that the species of aliens know as the Tall Whites (of whom two are supposedly presently on-planet) are, well, quite a bit taller than humans. Here's a video of nuclear physicist and ex-airforce serviceman Charles Hall giving an interview on Australian TV about his experiences working with the Tall Whites during his time in the air force: 

Isn't it funny how Hall had to go all the way to Australia just to appear on TV and tell his story? 

But anyway, coming back to yoga, wouldn't this present Lululemon with a brand-new market for extra-long yoga pants? Now of course, if aliens are really among us, I suppose we would all have much more important things to think about than yoga pants. But then again, this is only a yoga blog, and I don't feel qualified to overstep the limits of my already-limited expertise by expounding on anything else.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The evils of online chess and meat-eating

I haven't been able to motivate myself to blog for the last week or so. Why? Because I have re-discovered the evils of online chess! A little back story here: I used to play online chess on yahoo many years ago, but stopped doing so because frankly, yahoo's interface and the netiquette of the players suck. But just a few days ago, I discovered The rest, as they say, is history... damn, this online chess thing is truly addictive! I found myself playing every spare moment I got, compromising even my precious sleep.

Thankfully, I didn't compromise my practice. But it definitely had a very direct effect on my practice. Yesterday morning, as I raised my arms above my head for the second Surya A, I felt this "pop" sensation (the bad kind) in my right trapezius. Oh shit, I thought. I had this before: The last time this happened (last summer), I had to lay off chaturanga and most weight-bearing postures for a month. But I decided to move slowly through the practice anyway, and see just how bad the damage was this time. I got through the entire practice alright without modifying any postures, but there was this persistent soreness in the right trapezius the rest of the day. After some reflection, I realized that playing too much online chess was probably the culprit here. You see, when I play chess online, my right hand is perched on the mouse the entire time, and my right elbow is bent and suspended at a right angle. For some reason, the power that is used to hold my right arm rigidly in this position comes all the way from the back of my shoulders (i.e. the trapezius). Which results in a lot of tightness.... huh, who knew you could get injured playing chess?

Anyway, I did my practice again this morning. I took slightly longer breaths in downward dog, playing close attention to externally rotating my upper arms while in the posture in order to release the trapezius. It seems to be working: I am feeling a lot less sore today.


D over at Savasana Addict has written a heartfelt and honest post about her feelings of guilt over being a "card-carrying Ashtangi" (I don't mean this in a stereotyping kind of way, but to my mind, anybody who has made the necessary adjustments and sacrifices to make the trip to Mysore qualifies as a card-carrying Ashtangi) while eating meat at the same time.

Her post resonates a lot with me, not least because of our similar cultural backgrounds: We are both ethnic Chinese who hail from this beautiful tropical island called Singapore. As you may or may not know, Chinese food (especially the Singaporean incarnation of it) is very, very omnivoric in nature. When I was growing up, I had this perception that the only people who don't eat meat are: (1) Buddhist monks and nuns, (2) people who have certain medical conditions, and (3) people who are simply "out of it." I mean, who else in their right mind would refuse, say, Hainanese chicken rice?

Well, me, I guess. I have been vegetarian for about three years now. It all started because of this Ashtanga thing. Well, more precisely, it started when I began studying with my teacher in Milwaukee (PJ Heffernan). Before that, many people have tried in their own gentle (or not-so-gentle) ways to get me to consider not eating meat. I basically listened to them politely, and then went on with my merry meat-eating ways. I'm still not sure what clicked in me to cause me to make the change when I was studying with PJ; I basically quit meat within a couple of months. If I have to pinpoint one particular cause of this change, I would say it was probably PJ's powerful personality (it's hard to describe his personality here; you have to meet him to know what I'm talking about...).

Anyway, it seems to me that, even outside of Ashtanga circles, eating (or not eating) meat is a topic that can lead to interesting discussions. At the coffeeshop here in Idaho that I hang out and do my work at, there are a bunch of Saudi students who are also regulars. A few of them have learned that I am vegetarian, and have asked me out of curiosity why I have chosen to forgo the delights of meat (I'm guessing that Saudi cuisine is probably also very meat-heavy). One of them, in particular, is a big, muscle-bound body-builder. When I honestly told him that I chose not to eat meat because not doing so allows me to feel lighter and more energy-efficient (I decided not to tell him about PJ), he looked at me in a funny kind of way (he might be thinking I have lost it), and tried, as gently as he could, to suggest that if cooked in certain ways and eaten in certain limited quantities, it is possible to eat meat and still maintain a certain lightness of being. I politely listened to what he had to say, replied with "interesting, I'll think about this", and then went on with my non-meat-eating ways.

But well, he might have a point there. I recently half-jokingly told a friend that the one occasion on which I might consider making an exception to not eating meat is if I ever find myself in a dim sum restaurant, because I honestly don't see how one can properly partake in dim sum without eating shrimp dumplings. But we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I see that this post is quickly going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I guess I probably should sign off here, so you won't have to endure too much more of this rambling. More later.