Besides left-wing politics, writing, reading, and the two original subjects of this blog: scooters and Sacramento area hamburgers, this blog has sometimes seemed more like a blog on yoga than anything else. My interest in yoga lasted about seven and a half years. This blog has featured about 80 posts about yoga or something my practice inspired me to investigate (meditation, Buddism, minimalism, etc.). Seven of the posts made up a series called “Observations From the Mat.”
The eighth “observation” is a draft titled “Why I Hate Vinyasa Yoga,” but I never finished it and probably never will. After the Pandemic, when my health club reopened, we had a new group exercise director, and all the yoga classes (save for a once-a-month Restorative Yoga class) were Vinyasa style. I hung in there for a while, taking two-morning Yinyasa classes taught by the group exercise director, but I started to check out Pilates. Finally, I paid the cash to take the three required private Quick Start Pilates classes the club insists members take to get acclimated to the Reformer before beginning Level 1 Pilates classes. (I was going to bore the reader to death with explanations on what exactly Pilates is and what kind of a widget is a Reformer, but I added links above for anyone who needs answers.)
Pilates is unique and separate from all other group exercises in my fitness club. Even the club’s Group Exercise Schedule does not include Pilates—Pilates has its own schedule, webpage on the club’s website, and director. The short time I practiced Pilates was on a Reformer (see the image below if the reader didn’t check out the link above). Before the Pandemic and the club closing, there used to be a Mat Pilates class available. I have never tried that form of Pilates though I hear it is more physically challenging than practicing on a Reformer. Still, I might be practicing Pilates if I practiced the mat version instead of the Reformer one.
One of the things I noticed from the first Quick Start session is Pilates is similar to Vinyasa Yoga: the practitioner does not stay in a position for very long—a few seconds at best and then moves on to the next posture. The constant movement (or “flow” as it is called in Vinyasa) was a disappointing discovery, but I got over it—it was a new kind of exercise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The main reason I remained excited about the new training was the trainer. Sabin was an excellent trainer and highly knowledgeable at Pilates and the Reformer. I felt in good hands.
Some challenges worried me about my new Pilates practice. For the same reason, I could never achieve balance postures in yoga (Warrior 3, Eagle, Tree, etc.); there were positions on the Reformer that required balance. In the seven and a half years of practicing yoga, I could never stick any pose that required less than my two Fred Flintstones on the mat simultaneously. (This is due to being heavily medicated.) Just a side note on me and yoga: I haven’t completely given up on it. I still try to attend my once-a-month Restorative Yoga class, and maybe someday, when my gym ends its blind love for Vinyasa Yoga and starts holding classes on traditional Hatha or maybe even Yin Yoga, I’ll sign up for a class or two.
So, after completing my mandatory one-on-one Quick Start sessions, I began taking Level 1 (group) classes. And they were enjoyable and challenging. I made it a point to sign up for the classes led by Sabin, the Pilates Director. I had it on good authority she was the best trainer. I got to know one of my fellow Pilate students, Nancy. She and I talked a few times before class while the previous course was winded down. She told me she got extra help from a Pilates expert who lived in Greenhaven—a bicycle ride from my house. I asked if it would be okay if she gave me this person’s contact information. She said sure.
I had practiced twice a week for about four weeks when Nancy gave me the trainer’s name, phone number, and hourly rate. I was excited and planned to call the private trainer for a chat and a possible session. It was that same day, minutes before our class was about to begin, when I looked through the window of the Pilates studio door and noticed everyone was standing on the Reformers (as in the image at the top of this post). Knowing the carriages their feet were on were spring-loaded and slid back and forth, all I saw was me losing my balance and landing teeth-first on the adjustable footbar and knocking out my grill. (See the above image for the footbar sans my blood and teeth fragments.) When we finally got into the room and were about to start, I asked Sabin what was with everyone standing on the Reformers. She told me that it was a Level 2 class, and we would not be performing any standing exercises in Level 1. That made me feel both relieved and depressed: relieved because I wouldn’t have to attempt to stand on a moving carriage and depressed because I once again picked an exercise that requires balancing, if not in Level 1, then definitely on Level 2 and Level 3.
It is a bitter coincidence that on that day–the day I got the contact information of the private Pilates instructor and found out I wouldn’t advance beyond Level 1–I lost my balance while executing a pose and fell off the Reformer. Remarkably, I did a tuck and roll on my way down to the indoor-outdoor carpet. (I have a knack for falling on my chest when I had plenty of time to have an arm break my fall.) Sabin saw the fall and complimented me on how graceful I looked. Not agile enough, unfortunately, it turned out I had skinned my ankle. I noticed I was bleeding when I stood up.
I left the studio with Sabin. First, she gave me a couple of alcohol wipes and bandages. Then, she filled out an incident report. She could have returned to the class, but I couldn’t read the type on the form (I left my glasses in my locker). The final embarrassment was returning to the studio to pick up some of my items. Since Sabin had to fill out the form, it cut into their class time. Nobody said a word. They were just sitting around waiting for the class to restart. It reminded me of when I had a seizure in front of my friends when I was twelve—I never got treated the same way. Then and probably now, I felt like I was treated as fragile or not whole. Sabin was very supportive and emailed more than once, wanting to know how I was and that I was welcome back, and she had some modifications for me. She is a terrific trainer, but I didn’t want to show my face again in that class.
One thing I like about Pilates and yoga (and theoretically HIIT, Step Aerobics, and all other group exercises) is that you have a specific day and time to attend and participate with others. Therefore, I feel compelled to show up. Kind of like when I was going to Weight Watchers: every week, you were expected to show up at the meeting once a week, get in a line then, stand on the scale where your weight was noted, and then, hopefully, get inspired by your leader’s speech to do better. Currently, I don’t have that structure. Post-Pilates, I’m working with a TRX system and an indoor rowing machine. Both of these systems do not require much in the way of balancing. However, the nylon straps and handles of the TRX are indifferent to whether I use them or not. Also, the pulley, flywheel, sliders, and saddle of the rowing machine don’t give a shit whether or not I employ them.
As a result, I find lame excuses for not showing up at the club and using them. At least I can’t fall off the couch and bump my head on the coffee table while sitting on my ass reading or watching whatever is on one of my streaming services. Boy, that sounds more depressing than falling off a Reformer in a Pilates class!
I met Robert Hallworth in a Power Yoga class at the Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento about seven years ago. I was both impressed and intimidated by his level of practice. I was new to yoga and only took “gentle” yoga classes. After that initial exposure, I never attended that particular class again. Still, many of the students and teachers I practiced with spoke of Robert in a very respectful, almost reverent tone.
When COVID-19 hit, and my club, along with all the other gyms in Sacramento, closed, the yoga teachers who had day jobs–attorneys, teachers, and State of California employees (in Sacramento, we are legion!) may not have felt the financial hit. Still, people whose primary or sole means of income was teaching yoga, like Robert, had to become creative and turn to social media to keep the lights on. In Robert’s case: the online Yogi Bob persona was born.
When my club re-opened, the group exercise pickings were slim: the yoga classes were few, and I could only attend two that were led by Robert. While I was in the worst shape of my life, Robert was very accommodating. Mercifully, neither of his current classes are Power Vinyasa classes. However, when more people re-join the club, one of these classes could become a Power Vinyasa class. Hopefully, the club will have more classes to offer someone at my level.
In the meantime, I enjoy and learn from Robert’s practice and from his brief talks before we practice. And even if he leads the classes through many balance postures, I am doomed never to stick (thanks to being heavily medicated); I appreciate his practice. So here’s a short interview with the yogi.
BurgerScoot: I’ve always known you as Robert. How did you come up with Yogi Bob? Was it for social media?
Robert Hallworth: Yes for social media and easy to remember, but also as kind of a joke 10 years ago, of two diametrically opposite sort of personality types, one mindful, compassionate, content, low key, and the other ignorant, brash, in your face, reactionary, not cosmopolitan. In other words, a yogi redneck.
BS: When were you introduced to yoga?
RH: I was introduced to yoga at Sac City college around 1999 by Trinidad Stassi, who happens to teach Spin [cycling] at Capital Athletic Club, wonderful teacher and motivator.
BS: I know you teach some Vinyasa yoga, but do you practice any other kinds of yoga in and outside a Hatha?
RH: Well yes and as you know all physical Indian style yoga is Hatha (sun/moon) yoga, but it includes breathwork, concentration, meditation, sense withdrawal, personal and external ethics, that culminates in samadhi/ self realization. I bring all of these aspects into my classes subtly or not so subtly; but I also practice Tibetan tantric yogas and meditations, and kriyas.
BS: Do you meditate regularly? If yes, do you practice mindfulness meditation or something else like Transcendental Meditation?
RH: Yes, I meditate very regularly Shamata (tranquil abiding), mindfulness, tonglen (giving love and taking negativity), and Tibetan tantra.
BS: You teach chi Kung or Qigong and Tai chi, isn’t that correct? What are those arts? I have seen people practice Tai chi, but have never looked into it. Qigong is new to me.
RH: Yes I teach primarily Qigong which is a Chinese cultural flow modality of slow mindful/meditative movements for restoring vitality/subtle stretching. It is a very easy set of 21 movements that address all the major muscle, joint, ligament areas, as well as refining breathing and meditative awareness. On my own I’ve been practicing qigong & Tai Chi for about nine or ten years under Stan Yen, a very great practitioner-teacher here in Sacramento, who authorized me to teach his style.
BS: Do you have a guru?
RH: Well I have more than one guru (remover of ignorance) but my main or root Guru is Garchen Rinpoche and also Barbara Du Bois, both teach from the drikung kagyu Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and both live in Arizona. They both teach Mahamudra and Vajrayana which are meditative practice traditions over 1000 years old.
Robert rock climbing at Putah Creek, California.
BS: One thing you like to mention in our yoga classes is your love for rock climbing or bouldering. How did you get into that?
RH: I came to rock climbing at the same time as yoga bout 1999, as a departure from some older habits to definitely healthier and smarter habits primarily and they have helped guide me along with Buddhism since then.
BS: Do you use the same mental disciplines you have developed from yoga and meditation when climbing a rock?
RH: Yes there is such a crossover in all three disciplines as they all require mindfulness focus, strength, flexibility, and the ability to relax under duress.
BS: You combine yoga, meditation, and rock climbing on special retreats. Is this done independently or through a company?
RH: I do these retreats independently through my creation of Sadhanadventures as a way to combine these disciplines I love to share and teach on weekend camping trip excursions to special places.
BS: Thanks for doing this interview, Robert.
Yogi Bob, can be found on his YouTube channel and his Patreon page. And as mentioned above, he also leads groups in yoga, meditation, and rock climbing retreats.
This post is the source for a Six Sentence Stories creative writing challenge. The following, however, is all the painful truth.
A little over a year ago, before COVID-19 shut down my gym, I bought a folding mat. I needed a mat that could fit in my cramped locker. The idea was genius: a mat that folded up into a fraction of its full dimensions–both width as well as length. I wouldn’t have to carry my rolled-up mat to my yoga classes.
This whole portability thing needs a little explaining because yoga mats are by design portable. So, what is the problem with bringing my mat to class, you might ask. Usually, I ride to work on my bicycle. If I don’t ride my bike, I either ride my scooter or on very rare occasions I take a city bus–I don’t drive a car. From my work, I ride to my gym, where I attend evening yoga classes. Carrying my mat is a hassle. It’s also a nuisance storing the mat in my cubicle at work only to lug the mat to my class then haul it back home in the evening after class.
Since I started yoga back in 2014, I always used the mats the gym provides. As a neophyte to yoga, the mats the gym supplied didn’t bother me, but over time, I noticed how worn the mats were and saw how my fellow, more experienced students brought their mats. Those mats always looked much better and cleaner. (I also noticed how most yoga students were also younger and in better shape so I guess there was some symmetry going on there.) I put up with the worn, gross mats until one day I found a solution to my problem: a yoga mat that folds up.
So when I saw that Gaiam made a folding “travel” mat, I was all in. Gaiam even proudly displayed that the mat was two millimeters thick, I mean in large font: 2mm. (The only thing missing was an exclamation point.) As if they were saying, “Beat that, Manduka!” Now, mind you, fellow yogis and yoginis, I’m an idiot when it comes to the metric system, so I ignored the telltale sign of the pain to come. I mean, how thick is “2mm” if it can fold up?
So imagine how surprised my 62-year-old knees felt when I executed my first kneeling pose, and my knees felt like they were balancing on golf balls. It was at this moment I understood just how thin two millimeters of PVC is. I felt like I could have settled for a roll of my wife’s culinary parchment paper, and my knees wouldn’t have felt the difference. The parchment paper roll would have stored even easier–leaving room for a big tub of BENGAY cream. The pain in my knees immediately negated the Zen I felt just 15 minutes earlier when I verified my brand new mat did indeed fit in my tiny locker when it was folded up.
I had practiced on Marquee Sade’s yoga mat a few times before the gym closed, but I had forgotten the number it did on my knees. When the gym opened for a brief time, management had moved blocks, straps, and the old worn mats out to the make-shift yoga studio. With the gear and extra mats available, I could make my cruel mat tolerable by placing an old cushy mat under and across the center of my mat, so my knees got the additional support, and my feet did not—which is how I preferred it. Of course, I could double up the 2mm mat whenever executing kneeling postures, but that set me behind the teacher’s tempo.
With the club reopened and the yoga classes still in the basketball quart, the gear was nowhere to be found, including the old gross, but cushy mats. Me and my knees were on our own. During the year that I was sheltering in place, I rarely practiced yoga despite having thousands of hours of free and reasonably priced yoga classes online. I had forgotten entirely about the foldup mat in the months I was away from the gym and yoga classes. I had forgotten the pain, I had forgotten how to execute some asanas, but I hadn’t forgotten how to eat and my daily walks included a pit stop at Barrio’s, a bakery. So, I gained weight and lost a lot of the flexibility I gained when I was practicing yoga three days a week.
When I made my less-than-triumphant return to the reopened gym, the yoga classes were, once again, being held in the basketball quart to ensure social distancing, but it was not the same experience for me. Now, at least fifteen pounds heavier than I usually am, I am out of practice, and the extra weight makes the asanas (yoga postures) even harder to achieve and hold. Also, long gone was Heather, the closest thing I ever had to a yoga guru. Robert teaches the two classes I now attend. Robert is considered one of Sacramento’s best teachers. And while his teachings are sound, it is not the same. This fat older man wants his old teacher back! It doesn’t help me that Robert does not teach a gentler version of Hatha Yoga but has to offer me modifications and does so often and to my frustration and embarrassment.
I miss Heather. But don’t mistake those tears on my 2mm Gaiam travel yoga mat for longing. I’m crying for my poor tortured knees!
There are several unique styles of yoga that exist and they can be quite different from each other. While starting out, it might seem like “yoga” is one practice or style, but students quickly discover that there are numerous forms of this practice to explore. While each style has similarities in the essence and philosophy…
After a year of being closed, my gym has re-opened, and soon I will be attending my first guided yoga class in nearly that amount of time. I have gained weight in the interim, and though I began a modest home exercise regime a few months ago, I need to return to the mat.
It breaks my heart to see on my gym’s now-limited yoga schedule, the teacher who was damn near a guru to me is not returning. But I need to get back on the mat regardless of who leads the classes.
Above is a post from one of the yoga blogs I follow on WordPress.com. In the spirit of this blogger returning to the mat this Monday night, I would like to share this post.
Namaste. (Wow, I haven’t said that in quite a while!)
I eagerly anticipate this time of the year when the year’s best reads are published. I don’t compare the books I read with the writers/editors choices since most of the books I read (or listen to) in a calendar year are published in other years, I use these lists as books to consider reading next year or later.
With that said, here are my favorite reads of 2019, with only four of the titles published in the last twelve months (and one of them originally released about 1000 years ago). The list is in no specific order except for separating nonfiction from fiction; however, the first three or four titles in Nonfiction are my top reads of the year.
Most books I read/listen to in a given year are nonfiction and of these titles, my favorite are political. It is a hangup of mine that I wish I could shake, but to repeat a popular term, I am a political junkie.
We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End ofBig Money and the Rise of a Movement by Ryan Grim, 2019
This should be essential reading for all progressives. The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim tells the 30-year story of a popular movement that started with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Collision and has culminated in the rise of Bernie Sanders into the national conscience and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise into American politics (who may have coined the name of the book: “We’ve got people. They’ve got money”). Grim expertly shows how Ocasio-Cortez did not grow out of a vacuum but is part of a movement that’s time may have come. If I had to pick my favorite read of the year (regardless of when it was published), it would be this one! Note to audio book listeners: Chapter 16 is a mess, but after I contacted the author via Twitter, he sent me a clean recording of the problem chapter. For audio book enthusiasts, note that reader, Sean W. Stewart must have recorded the book on his back porch—you can hear birds tweeting in the background!
Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World by Rutger Bregman, 2017
If Grim’s book is my favorite read of 2019, “Utopia for Realists” comes in a close second. The same goes for the authors: Grim is as gracious as he is knowledgeable. Equally, Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, journalist, and author is a brilliant thinker who is not afraid to tell it like it is, even when surrounded by multimillionaires and billionaires. If you haven’t seen him dressing down of the elite during the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, click here. It is a thing to behold! He has become one of the champions of universal basic income or UBI. Check out his 2017 Ted Talk. His book–that came out the same year–tackles that idea in detail as well as the 15-hour workweek, and open borders. He wasn’t convincing about the 15-hour workweek. I vaguely remember him writing about how John Maynard Keynes brought it up in the depths of the Great Depression, but reducing the workweek (without reducing pay) in America is an idea which time has come.
On Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein, 2019
Naomi Klein is quite possibly the most significant thinker of our times. I once read someone saying Klein is the next Noam Chomsky. An absurd statement. Chomsky is Chomsky, and Klein is Klein. Still, the idea that the Canadian author, journalist, and activist has risen to the heights of a Chomsky is an achievement. She is absolutely essential.
“On Fire” is a continuation of one of her masterpieces, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.” It reports from the front lines of the people and ideas that are looking for solutions like The Green New Deal. It is not as thorough and as in-depth as “This Changes Everything,” but I think it is meant to be a companion piece to it. Worth a read!
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by William Pollan, 2008
Pollan’s manifesto is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Of course, when he says “food,” he is not referring to Twinkies, Snickers, all processed foods. There are 64 Food Rules in the book. Each rule is simple, and its explanation is only about a page long. For being a tiny book, it is deceptively dense in wisdom. I’ve been trying to lose weight, and this book has helped, though “Food Rules” is not, by definition a diet book, but rather a guide on how to eat right.
What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States by Dave Zirin, 2005
For some time now, my son has been trying to get my wife and me to read “Welcome to the Terrordome,” written by someone named “Check D,” a wrapper my son apparently likes. He hasn’t been successful, but on a long car trip, he had me cornered. I finally looked up the title and found out the book is actually written by The Nation Magazine‘s sports editor Dave Zirin. (Chuck D, turned out to write the Forward.) As a long-time reader of The Nation and a one-time listener to Zirin’s podcast, “The Edge of Sports,” I knew and appreciated Zirin. So I ended up ordering the book, and in the meantime, Zirin’s previous book, “What’s My Name, Fool?” was available in audio, so I started listening to that. I was not disappointed.
“What’s My Name, Fool?” (a refrain Muhammad Ali asked his competitors who insisted on calling him by his “slave” name, Cassius Clay) is about the confluence of sports and politics. The book’s main topics are Ali and his fight for dignity against a white establishment, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ expression of Black Power and racism 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and how the two continued to fight after the blowback. Zirin also compassionately expressed the other side of when George Foreman waved a small U.S. flag after winning his gold medal in boxing during those same Olympic Games. Zirin covers Jackie Robinson and the racism he had to face every day when playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the long-term effect that had on the ballplayer’s life. Other topics include the plantation mentality of the multi-billion-dollar NCAA, the Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs match, and other issues. I’m glad my son, indirectly pointed me to this book. Perhaps n 2020, I’ll read “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which, if the critics are correct, is a sequel to “What’s My Name, Fool?”
Lightly: How to Live a Simple, Sceren, Stress-Free Life by Francine Jay, 2019
I don’t read very many self-help books, but I have read a couple of books on minimalism: the elegant “Goodbye Things” by Fumio Sasaki, and my first book on the subject, “Everything That Remains” by Joshua Fields Millburn, but “Lightly” is the first book that doubles as a field guide. That is, it is part theory, part “how-to” manual that someone like Marie Kondo might appreciate. It has been a while since reading the Sasaki and Millburn books, but I believe what I really love about Jay’s beautiful book is how she addresses global issues. While the other authors focus mostly on personal issues, Jay also talks about the importance of reducing your carbon footprint.
The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang, 2018
I like Yang, even if he is against minimum wage (a deal-breaker if he wants my vote). He has some good ideas: his “Freedom Dividend” (read: UBI. No better yet, read Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia for Realists,” mentioned above). His idea on how to pay for the $1k a month to every adult American is refreshing, but I prefer Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s better. Yang doesn’t seem to want to ruffle the elite’s feathers—he believes the Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming like a runaway train, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but take the $1k and deal with it. He does a great job here explaining how the Fourth Industrial Revolution (automation and artificial intelligence (AI)) is going to make a lot of blue-collar and even some white-collar jobs obsolete, but, as I recall, he offers few solutions besides a monthly check to remove some of the sting and the way he will pay for his “Freedom Dividend”—implementing a European-style Value Added Tax. (A tax that is placed on all products whenever value is added at each stage of the supply chain.)
Since I’m a socialist, I don’t think we should just roll over and let Big Tech and corporations steal all these jobs. AI and automation should be for the benefit of labor, not for the board of directors and shareholders. AI and automation should work to reduce the workweek, not the paycheck. Still, there are a lot of great ideas in this book. It’s worth a read.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean, 2017
Just when I thought how the radical right took control of America, my friend at work handed me this hardbound bomb. I was ignorant enough to think the attack on the liberal gains of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society started with the Powell Memorandum in 1972. The Powell Memo was indeed destructive, but that was only one volley and Powell played a minor roll in the rise of neoliberalism in America. There was a far bigger player in this successful dismantling of the social programs and institutions that even Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon accepted as established. His name was James McGill Buchanan Jr.
“Democracy in Chains” is an explosive expose of the radical right’s most successful attempt at destroying labor unions replacing them with Right to Work laws, privatizing public education, privatizing the prison systems, hobbling health care, replacing pensions with 401k plans, launching multiple attempts to privatize Social Security, keeping as many of us as possible out of the voting booth, and, in general, disenfranchising the middle class. MacLean does an excellent job of revealing the hidden political establishment behind far-right foundations thought to be started by billionaires like the Koch Brothers. Buchanan stands head and shoulders above highly visible thinkers like Milton Friedman, Richard Fink, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises.
The most fascinating thing I found about this book is Buchanan, and his like-minded thinkers attack “democracy” in favor of “freedom.” I’ve never heard of democracy referred to as a dirty word in America until reading this book. Too, the term “freedom” has the convenient definition as something that benefits wealthy white men–a greater opportunity for the rich to get richer and for everyone else (especially poor people of color) to remain disenfranchised. The Nation awarded “Democracy in Chains” Most Valuable Book of 2017. It deserves the accolade.
Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn, 2019
I should take it easy on the political books and podcasts. I didn’t know who to kill after reading “Democracy in Chains”–maybe start with me? I always feel better reading/listening to works like “Revolution of the Soul.” Seane Corn is a singular yoga teacher and this is an excellent read for being her first–part memoir, part the kind of instruction Corn’s followers have come to expect from her.
Her publisher, Sounds True writes, “Seane’s real purpose is to guide us into a deep, gut-level understanding of our highest Self through yoga philosophy and other tools for emotional healing – not just as abstract ideas but as embodied, fully felt wisdom. Why? To spark a ‘revolution of the soul’ in each of us so we can awaken to our purpose and become true agents of change. Seane writes, ‘When we heal the fractured parts of ourselves and learn to love who we are and the journey we’ve embarked upon we will see that same tender humanity in all souls. This is the revolution of the soul.'”
Each chapter of this memoir includes practical tools from the author: instructions on the chakra system, pranayamas, healing, forgiveness, the subtle body, and more. Not into yoga? Perhaps this book isn’t for you. What can I say? It’s my blog.
Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America by William Stolzenburg, 2016
The author traces the steps of an embattled mountain lion from the Black Hills of North Dakota, across the Great Plains, through the Midwest to Connecticut’s Gold Coast–a two-year odyssey. It’s a fascinating and, at least for me, tragic tale of how we are slowing killing off some of our most majestic mammals due to human encroachment and misunderstanding. Goodreads.com calls it “a testament to the resilience of nature, and a test of humanity’s willingness to live again beside the ultimate symbol of wildness.” I couldn’t have said it better.
The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher, James Manfill, 2013 andThe Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher, James Manfill, 2018
This was the first year I ever started reading about wild cats and dogs. First, I read “Heart of a Lion” then I read “The Hidden Life of Wolves” followed by the he beautiful pictorial “The Wisdom of Wolves.” I came away with a similar feeling had had when a read books on sharks after seeing the film “Jaws”: how misunderstood these predators are.
What was especially fascinating about the Dutcher books is how the couple and Manfill were able to become accepted in the Sawtooth Pack in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. (At one point Jamie Dutcher is allowed into a she-wolf’s den after after she has given birth to pups!) The products of this kind of acceptance is an excellent study on how wolves live and some absolutely stunning photography.
America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis, 2016
“Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wallis writes, “America’s problem with race has deep roots, with the country’s foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another. Racism is truly our nation’s original sin. It’s time we right this unacceptable wrong.” I have read Wallis’ books and editorials for years in his Sojourners Magazine–a Christian progressive monthly.
In “America’s Original Sin,” Wallis tells of how he was driven away from his faith by a church that didn’t want to address the problems of racism in the 1960’s. He turned to working with civil rights groups. He returned to the church when he found a faith that commands racial justice. “Yet as recent tragedies confirm” he writes, “we continue to suffer from the legacy of racism. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation.”
I probably read one book of fiction for every three nonfiction books, but afterreading each of these books I felt I was missing out.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth, 1987
Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this masterful work of loss and distrust recounted by a family friend during a high school reunion and spans about fifty years, starting in the early 20th century where Seymour “Swede” Levov’s father starts a profitable glove manufacturing business and continues through the idyllic 50’s when the son, All-American college star, Swede Levov, and his trophy wife, Dawn, watch their seemingly perfect life, with their daughter, slowly unravel through the tumultuous ’60s. For me, it is one of the most heartbreaking yet compelling books I have ever read, and the first book I have read by the lauded Philip Roth.
Ohio by Stephen Markley, 2018
Shortly after Philip Roth, one of the most significant figures in American letters died, Stephen Markley publishes his first novel. I’m not trying to claim Markley has taken Roth’s mantle, I’m only saying “Ohio” is worthy of a master’s offspring. “Ohio” is a brutally vivid story of a community in the rust belt where the American Dream is all but dead, and the opioid epidemic is in full swing. Told from the perspective of four former classmates who return home after the untimely death of a friend in Iraq. The four return on the same night, with different motives and none of their homecomings, go as planned. The novel ends with a terrifying act of violence, the culmination of a set of lives that have been destroyed by abuse, drug addiction, hatred, war and poverty.
Vox by Christina Dalcher, 2018
Something like a fundamental Christian theocracy takes over the U.S. government and begins to roll back liberties–especially for women and young girls. On the day, the government decrees that women are allowed to speak no more than 100 words a day. At first, Dr. Jean McClellan thinks this will pass, but it doesn’t. She, her daughter, and all females have a counter fascinated to their wrists to monitor and govern their speech. Soon, women lose their jobs, girls are no longer taught to read or write in school. A moment comes when McClellan can step up and do something about this injustice. This is no “Handmaiden’s Tale,” one reader commented, but “Vox” is clearly not trying to be that story. It is more subtle and, in a way, that makes “Vox” more terrifying.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, 2014
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.…”
Nope, that wasn’t a spoiler, that’s how the book starts, and it is because of this setup that everything that follows so tragic. Lydia is torn between the demands of her mother and the different expectations of her father while her own desires ans aspirations are ignored. Thus paving the way to the established climax.
The structure, while not completely novel, is executed expertly. “Everything I Never Told You” is a moving story of a Chinese American family living in a small town in 1970’s Ohio. It is a moving story about a family divided by cultures, gender, and generations.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen, 2015
Pip (Purity) Tyler, a young woman, straddled with college debt and a burning question: who is her father. Her eccentric mother knows but won’t tell her. She fled from him before Pip was born, changed her name, and retired to live in anonymity in the woods of Northern California. Pip begins an internship with the Sunlight Project, the organization founded by the famous and charismatic German leaker, Andreas Wolf (fashioned after Julian Assange). Pip moves to Bolivia, where the Sunlight Project is based, with the hope of being able to use hacker technology to discover her father’s identity.
I enjoyed the odd sexual tension between Pip and Andreas, the dark secrets revealed in intimacy, and the betrail. Like Franzen’s previous book, “Freedom,” the pacing might be slow at first, but the story picks up momentum and is well worth sticking with it.
Beowulf by Unknown, between the 8th and the early 11th century (Okay, the version I read was transcribed by Francis Barton Gummere and translated by Seamus Heaney)
I try to read a piece of classic literature a year. I’ve been meaning to read Beowulf for years. In the meantime I have seen the The Lord of the Rings, based on J.R.R. I try to read a piece of classic literature a year. I’ve been meaning to read Beowulf for years. In the meantime, I have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading Beowulf, I see where he got his inspiration. It is one of the most essential works in old English literature and can take credit for a lot of European works from Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” operas to “Game of Thrones.”
The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, who has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel, and much gallantry is displayed. After reading the epic poem, I bought and enjoyed Santiago Garcia and David Rubin’s large-format graphic novel version of the seminal piece of Old English lit. It was a nice encore.
“Life will bring you to your knees and rip you open in ways that will allow you to love. It is your heartbreak that will teach you compassion.” ― Seane Corn
“Aaaaaaaah, my knee!” — Me
I was riding home from a yoga class when it happened. I didn’t want to obey the stop sign–as I otherwise almost always do–and turned right, waiting for an oil tanker to go by, then I was to hang a U-turn and then turn right–thus going through an intersection without having to stop. (A typical move for a bicyclist with toe clips or clipless cleats who doesn’t want to go through the hassle of unclipping, or someone with peddles who is just tired and doesn’t want to come to a complete stop. It turns out there was a sedan right behind me. So when I executed the U-turn, his bumper hit my left knee and down I went.
I was lucky; he wasn’t traveling very fast and was right behind me. In fact, when he hit me I actually tried to stay on top of my bike. I ultimately lost my balance extended my freshly-traumatized leg and down I went. Within a minute I was back up and testing the strength of my left leg. I could stand on it, so it wasn’t broken. But it hurt like hell.
I bitched to the very sorry driver but soon figured out this was all my fault. When the driver and I parted ways, I opted to walk my bike for a short while to get it out of the intersection and call my wife who did not pick up or reply to the text message that followed. My son also did not respond to my call and text. It’s kind of funny, we have these mobile phones to stay connected, and in times like these they sure do come in handy, but when these post-modern technological wonders are needed the most, it is often the case they are as helpful as a phone booth without any spare change.
After walking my bike up a hill in pain. I realized riding my bike was a better option–I wouldn’t be putting nearly as much weight on the knee. So I rode home with relative ease. When I walked in the door wife and my son were sitting at the kitchen table like nothing was the matter until I told them to look at their phones. “Oh my gosh, are you alright?” Delayed reaction comedy.
I took the next day off hobbling around the house doped up on ibuprofen. When Sunday afternoon rolled around, I had my wife drive me to yoga. One thing about yoga that you can’t say about most exercise regimes is that you always feel better after a practice than before it, even if you feel like shit when you started. Not this time, though. I got through the class alright, but walking to the locker room, I felt like I had been cracked across the knee with one of those pipe wrenches. Maybe that’s a little over-the-top. Let’s just say it hurt a lot more after the practice than before.
I limped through the week riding my bike to work and back, but hitting the ibuprofen and acetaminophen probably too often. I skipped the four yoga classes that week and felt depressed about that. Yoga does not work–for me at least–the way vigorous aerobic exercise or weight-training does for others–stimulating the release of endorphins in the bloodstream, but there is a definite psychological effect when a regular routine has halted. Seane Corn, world-famous Vinyasa Yoga teacher, life coach, and co-founder of the activist group Off the Mat, Into the World, once said, “Yoga is a necessary tool for the survival of myself and others. I need to get on the mat every day – it doesn’t matter how long – 15 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours…or else I’ll pull the head off of someone I love.” I don’t practice every day like I keep saying I am going to, but going from practicing four times a week to zero times has definitely put me in a funk.
When I had to skip the Thursday class, one week after the accident, I couldn’t stand it any longer and setup an appointment to see a doctor on the following Monday. After the doctor looked at my knee and examined the subsequent x-rays, it was determined there was “no evidence of acute fracture or malalignment…” Great news especially considering I got hit by a car!
The doctor’s Rx–besides ibuprofen– is applying a heating pad several times a day and wearing a compression sleeve. I still haven’t got the heating pad, but I wear the compression sleeve most of my waking hours, and I hate it. What’s worse, eating has replaced yoga. This doesn’t have to be the case, but it is currently filling a void.
Twelve days after the accident I showed up at my Tuesday Noon Ananda Yoga class–a low impact class where Brenda, a local teacher comes to our work where a small group of fellow employees practices with her. At first, it seemed the easier routine was going to work, but at the end of the class, I knew I still wasn’t ready. I signed up and paid for the next five weeks anyway and told Brenda I would donate my slot to whomever I could get to take my place if I didn’t feel up to it next week and maybe the week after that. I was touched by her encouraging words. She told me she would use some to some chair yoga postures from the Sunlight Chair Yogabook by Stacy Dooreck I had told her about a year ago. Karma!
I can relate to Seane Corn’s “need to get on the mat” even if it isn’t a need to practice every day. I admire Seane’s wisdom, skill, exuberance, and seemingly boundless positive energy. Anyway, I look at it, I need to get back on the mat!
I’m getting up there in age; things aren’t as tight down there as they used to be (Too much information? If so, the reader should go no further.). Too, while yoga has a way of working out the tight muscles it also has a way of working out other things–like gas. It happens to many practitioners. It’s all over YouTube.com. It happened to an attractive older lady who often practices behind me in the classes I take. It has also happened to the guy in shaded glasses who often rolls out his mat next to mine. Shit happens–er, well close enough.
So on the rare occasions when I hear toots, farts, poots, or whatever you call them, in class, it usually breaks my concentration, and I think, “Oh, that’s embarrassing.” It has happened to me before, but I was in some posture close to the mat so at the last second I was able to quickly sit on it like falling on a grenade. Did anyone else hear it? I guessed not.
Usually, I get a warning, and when I’d feel one coming, I’d go into DNF (Do Not Fart) mod tossing the Soham mantra out of my mind, tighten my ass cheeks, and concentrating on imploding the thing before it escapes to my utter embarrassment. I doubt this shift in concentration benefits my practice, but it is an emergency. When my lower GI somehow deals with the bubble, I go back to my mantra. Sometimes it never does, and I think to myself, can I let it go when everyone is saying “Namaste” at the end of the practice? No, I put away my mat, blocks, and blanket, waddle into the men’s locker room and dispatch the bad wind, but what if I can’t control one? What if one gets away from me during class?
Last Thursday night that is exactly what happened.
I didn’t feel it coming. There was no time to go into DNF mod. Worse, I was in Downward Facing Dog–probably the worst possible posture to be in when this happens. (You don’t know why that is a critical position to be in when DNF mod is not engaged? See the embedded image.)
I suppose I could have had this accident without ever stepping on a yoga mat. Flatulence increases with age. Digestion slows down, and food moves through the gut more slowly creating more gas. It probably does not help that I’m a walking CVS, with my anti-seizure meds, thyroid med, statin, and maybe even the supplements I take to combat the number some of the meds does to my bone density plays a part.
Finally, there’s my Hoover-like eating style: I’m probably taking in too much air as I rip through my meals. It is ironic that this blog started, in part, as a review of local hamburger joints, but I eat so fast I often would forget to really taste the thing I was supposed to be evaluating. Add to this cocktail the spinal twists and other asanas of yoga that probably work as a flatulence accelerant–like gas pouring on the smoldering fire, this is my fart factory GI system.
It was both a blessing and curse that it happened on this night, with this teacher, guiding us through Vinyasa-style yoga. The curse first: the flowing movements of this kind of yoga must have really pushed the evil bubble down my lower GI and out of my ass in such a quick way that my usual countermeasure could not be deployed in time. The styles of yoga practiced in my classes give me time to feel the foul thing coming. The blessing is the commands from the teacher come faster than in the other classes so maybe, maybe, maybe no one heard. Shit, that’s an empty wish. The fart shook my body, my cheeks vibrated! Everyone must have heard the proclamation–even if it was wedged between the teacher’s directions: “Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog [FART!], Lunge…
After the practice, I skulked away, took a shower and quietly left the club. As I exited the building that night, my yoga teacher was sitting near the bike rack as if waiting for me. We immediately struck up a conversation first about bicycle commuting and then yoga. I kept thinking that any minute he was going to give me some comforting words about farting during practice which would have been horrible–that he had somewhere else to be, but he wanted to wait for me and make sure I wasn’t going to quit yoga over a loud fart in practice. He didn’t, and I appreciated that, but I still wondered why he was ready to ride off on his bike but was sitting there. It appeared he was not waiting for someone else since he mounted up when I did and rode off a few minutes ahead of me.
Like most of the yoga practitioners at my gym, all those YouTube video yogis, and in the glossy pages of Yoga Journal, yoga appears to be a pastime for younger people–though I know that is not completely true. I still feel a little older after Thursday night’s event. I told my wife a couple of years ago that if I ever rip one loud in a class, I would immediately stop group practices and buy a Seane Corn or Rodney Yee DVD and start my home practice. It is turning out that I think I can show up Thursday nights without feeling too embarrassed. Also, I attempted a home practice a few times and found, if I don’t have somewhere to go I’ll find an excuse to watch TV or read. I’m not sure what I’ll do if I break wind during my Tuesday Noon class, though–that’s at my job and everyone knows me!
Over the years I have spoken to older men who will break wind in mid-sentence and without shame say, “Excuse me,” and go on with what they were saying as if they sneezed. That’s the future me, I guess. I hope I can pull those unfortunate events off with the same grace and composure. If so I may end up a master yogi, and also, I’m afraid, a great breaker of wind.