Category Archives: life

Its Sad, But True

So, I’m ashamed to say as a fan of the music of Alice in Chains, I didn’t know a lot of the history of the band. The reason for my renewed interest was a group that has popped up in my Spotify feed now and then. It is the band Mad Season. I was thinking, “that singer sounds just like Layne Staley of Alice in Chains”. Well yeah, one in the same.

So as I read about Layne, its sad but its true. He fell along a predictable path of some of the grunge rockers of the Pacific Northwest. One of my favorite rock icons was Jimi Hendrix who probably paved the way for the success and untimely death of rockers from the Seattle area. I once visited his grave and memorial site a few years back. Layne died on the anniversary of the suicide of Chris Cornell. I think Chad Bennington left us a year after Chris too.

Layne was raised as a Christian Scientist. And before you pigeon hole me as a radical, Bible thumping kind of person (which I am), hear me out. I understand the heartache many people feel when they feel disenfranchised from organized religion. If you never understand the true principles of those beliefs, then it always seems fringe. But of the mainstream religions with deep rich histories, Christian Science is a more modern idea without a lot of roots. But it doesn’t really matter. I know people who were raised in Christianity and have now pushed it away. They are the most vocal anti-Christians in the world. I feel for them sometimes because there are some people in this world who are not to be followed or believed. But that’s the point. Don’t make your beliefs about people. People often fail us. You have to seek answers for yourself.

There are some traditional denominations that discouraged people in the past of reading scriptures. In olden times, scriptures were not readily available. Only the priests read them and shared them orally with others. With the advent of the modern printing press, the scriptures became known to more people. People like Martin Luther started reading for himself and started to question what the Church was doing at the time. So then you are guided by the opinions of Man (and Woman) and not by your own self study, systems of beliefs often fail us. People are not perfect. And when you put all your eggs in the People Basket, you can always be let down.

I feel the same as a yoga teacher. I really honored my yoga teachers when I first started; I still do. I saw them as untouchable, other worldly, and wise beyond reproach. I never considered them as gurus, but as someone who deserves respect. We have a teacher’s room at our studio. Its a place where teachers can place their mats, receive materials from the studio owner, and some will even prepare for classes in there. It kind of sets us apart from our students. But the minute we start to place people on a pedestal, its when bad things start to happen. People start to believe in the hype and start to wear their crowns and tiaras with lots of pride. They want their feet kissed and much more. Its sad but true; people let us down. Never lift anyone so high that they can’t see below the clouds.

Back to music. I really love music. When I listen to music, I’m in total bliss. I’m such an audiophile that I can get lost in the syncopation. I have a childlike curiosity about music. It is always innocent in the beginning. But sometimes, I get curious about a lyric that I just heard. Sometimes its blatant enough that I have to remove it from all my playlists. If it is just vulgar or unjustifiably abrasive, then I remove it from my playlists. And if it turns out that a song goes against my beliefs, then that gets removed as well. I usually try not to think about it. But sometimes its right in your face and you can’t do anything but turn from it.

Personally, I find my foundation in my beliefs. Its what keeps me living and in complete hope for the future. It keeps me from getting too down when I see a world in peril. Its because of my faith that I can live. But when I read about Layne Staley, I realized he would have been just two years younger than me today if he would have lived. He was very outspoken against religion. Many of the rockers of old were the same. Yet their depression and addiction showed they had no hope for the future. They could have had anything they wanted. They could have managed their finances to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. The American Dream could have come true for them. But their disbelief in something higher than themselves puts all their problems on their own shoulders. They can have all the money and friends and accolades the world can give them, but its not enough.

I feel bad for people who end up making the decision to end their lives. Some of it is made slightly easier by being blinded in addiction. Layne of Alice in Chains at over 6 feet tall was estimated to be 85 pounds when he died two weeks prior to being found. He was alone at 34 years old. Very alone. He said in one of his lyrics “Deny your maker”. And that’s what he did. Addiction is such a terrible thing. But its preventable. If you were raised in a loving home by a mother and father who loves you. If you have hope for the future and hold firmly to that belief. If you have friends who don’t try to take you off your path, but instead support you and hold your hand as you walk, then you can’t fail.

Its a choice to take a drug. People say that our vices, no matter how mundane and seemingly harmless, lets us to open up to more illicit vices. When you’re high on weed or alcohol, who knows what next step you will take. When all your friends push you to take the next step and you’re having a good time, then why not? Its always a choice.

My grandpa was a smoker. He was the only smoker in my life. So sometimes we would “play” smoking. We would buy those candy cigarettes and act like we were smoking. There was this funny tree in Oklahoma that would give off flowers that looked like a cigarella. So we would even try to light them and act like we were smoking. I believe the more you are around something that’s not good for you, the more you justify what it is. When everyone does something for the first time, its to fit in. Its peer pressure. Its an intense curiosity about something. And for most of us, its weakness. We are weakened by peer pressure, by escapism, by pain and depression, and by more moderate highs. When I had my first beer, I could barely keep it in my mouth. But I didn’t want to look like a nerd in front of the two people with me. I was like, how do people do this? I couldn’t even drink a whole bottle. Now its an acquired taste that I enjoy now and then. But that’s my vice that I control. Its because I’m a responsible husband, mentor, teacher, and member of my community. I would never want to let anyone down by abusing something that can make you do something stupid. But you see it all the time.

Its Sad, But True. Some people don’t have guard rails in life. Anything goes. They don’t have something that is bigger than themselves. Life occurs randomly for them—there is no creator. Just “bang” and we’re here. We are all “accidents” in the womb that can be discarded at will. Instead of treating like the miracle that it is, we are all products of random chance. That’s what’s sad about some people’s lives. There is no hope. There is no future. Life is optional. Its sad, but true.

I hope you find hope in this New Year. For some people I know, its yoga. It can change your life. It connects mind and body in a different way that’s tangible and you can see progress. But mostly, you feel progress. You can feel yourself grow. And you start to ask questions about your being. Not just your well being in your body, but in what you believe in your mind. It is not religious, but it IS spiritual. It will connect you with whatever you believe is true. It is a gateway drug that has helped so many people. Maybe its not yoga. Maybe its running or hiking or reading books. But find hope for the future. Find something that is bigger than yourself. Don’t be afraid to lean on people, but lean more on your own understanding of a bigger life. The bigness is the hope. If you’ve ever been on the ocean or on top of a mountain, you can feel this. You feel how small you are and how life is fleeting. That’s when you start to know that you need help. Its so huge and wonderful. Believe in something. Now that part is not sad at all. And it is all very True.

Top 5 Elements of a Yoga Class

There is a trend I’m seeing in yoga that I don’t like. It largely comes from a Westernizing of yoga and making it a “Creative Exercise”. Yoga is drifting away from its meaning by moving away from its roots. So here are my top 5 aspects of Yoga that are being overlooked.

1. Long, “quiet”, restful Savasana

Let’s start with the purpose of yoga. Patanjali’s 2nd Sutra states “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah“. This translates as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Imagine getting a restless child to take a nap. Or maybe getting a puppy to settle down. What I would do is take them for a walk, play with them outside, and really get them to release their pent up energy. Then, make a conducive place that is warm and quiet for them to rest. Its the perfect recipe. When yoga began 5,000+ years ago, it was a seated meditation. What they found is exerting energy, moving the body, stretching the muscles, and using the breath was the way to find peace, or Samadhi (the 8th and highest limb of Ashtanga Yoga). In my yoga teacher training, a general guideline was 1 minute of savasana for every 15 minutes of class. What I’ve seen in fitness studios where the “Mind-Body” connection isn’t highlighted, they often skip savasana. When I would teach savasana, several people would get up and leave. They weren’t embracing the REAL purpose of yoga. Instead, it was just exercise. Yoga isn’t exercise. It is a spiritual practice (sadhana). In fact, it is more about the mind than the body. But people in the West want to make it all body. They are perverting the practice of yoga. No, yoga isn’t what you make of it or your own personal thang. It has meaning. Savasana is the central focus of a class; the longer the better. It should be quiet and calming, not loud and energetic.

Savasana is “corpse pose”. I heard an exhaustive commentary on this by one of the original Ashtangi’s who studied in Mysore under Pattabhi Jois. She alluded to corpse pose as really being death.

All that baggage of the past is gone.

Then you arise renewed and with a clean slate. It is almost Biblical in a sense. It is a reawakening. Its a spiritual renewal.

2. Two-thirds standing poses/ One-third seated/supine

This is the biggest problem I see today in general vinyasa and hot yoga classes. The classes end up being all standing with maybe one or two poses on the ground before savasana. That is NOT a complete yoga class. They are missing so much of those wonderful poses. Granted, my primary instructor in teacher training was an Ashtangi. So we were rooted in the Ashtanga practice. So the 2/3 to 1/3 rule basically follows Ashtanga. You can’t overlook the importance of seated, supine, and prone poses in a yoga class. Its where we find the benefit of stretching without being under the bodyweight load of standing. Standing is good for warming and general opening, but the seated portion is where you find the greatest depth. The standing poses are the warmup for the deepest part of the practice on the ground.

3. Inversions and maybe Arm Balances

I say arm balances as only an option. It is not necessary for a general yoga class and is often more advanced than what beginners can accomplish. But I teach the basics of arm balances even in beginner classes. What people want is a challenge. There are ways to introduce arm balances without making people feel defeated. It is not always something accessible in very hot classes since it gets slippery. But done early in a class before the sweat pours, or with people who have leggings on that are not as slippery, or even using a towel on slippery spots is helpful for success. While I love arm balances, they are certainly optional but highly recommended by me!!

What can’t be avoided are INVERSIONS. I’ve gone to so many vinyasa classes where inversions just didn’t happen. Teachers are often worried about a crowded room or not being able to safely spot and care for every student. But even in beginner classes, I teach inversions. I teach a supported headstand where the feet don’t ever come off the floor. But they are getting their body mostly over their heart and the heart above their head. So they are getting the reverse circulation that is so useful in yoga. However, you don’t even need to do that. You can do a bridge pose or restorative bridge on blocks. It still classifies as an inversion. This can transition into a half shoulder stand with legs either bend or straight above the hips. The best and easiest inversion of all is legs up the wall. It is the supreme pose for feeling an inversion since you can stay in it a long time. Don’t skip out on inversions in any class.

4. Variety

Some of the ancient writings say there are 80,000 poses and others 80 million. Yet with all the poses available, teachers feel the need to repeat poses. I think in the day of “creative sequencing”, we lose sight on what is important. I really wish we wouldn’t teach creative sequencing at all. What kids like to do is have a signature. They want long sequences where the student gets lost in what’s next but the teacher gets to pride themselves on something complicated. That is largely ego driven. So they sequence poses, do the sequence on the other side, and then they do the whole sequence again in a different way. When they begin to repeat a long sequence, my balloon totally deflates. In fact, I may not have enjoyed the original sequence; now we have to do it again. Talk about me getting out of Yogic Character. I feel like walking out. I know, advanced teachers try to convince young pupils to create “themes”. And this leads to repeated poses and drawn out sequences. You can do a theme without repeating poses. There are plenty to choose from. If you do a certain pose or group of poses that are similar, there are so many others you leave out. Instead of removing the vritti, or chaos, from our bodies, you create more. A body becomes one sided with forward folds and standing poses when there is so much more you can do. I feel some of this is a lack of confidence in a teacher’s abilities. If they only have to do 10 poses instead of 20, that gives them a lot less to think about. And if they develop a sequence they can repeat over and over, then they don’t have to think as much. This doesn’t serve the student one bit. In fact, it creates both vritti and imbalance.

5. Backbends

I will be the first to admit that the Ashtanga primary series has a majority of forward folding poses. It is why I recommend that Ashtangis practice the Second series too since it has more backbends to balance out the body. We do this in Rocket as well. Yoga standing poses in general are very forward folding dominant. There are rarely backbends at all. Yet you have classes that are all standing and don’t add backbends at the end. We are hurting students instead of helping them by doing that. I’m not sure the reasons why teachers avoid backbends. Maybe they don’t feel good in their own bodies because they teach what they practice. Or maybe they don’t want to demonstrate them in class. But there are options that are less taxing than say a full kapotasana or upward bow (urdhva dhanurasana). Maybe camel pose is accessible or half camel? A wild thing is such a fun option. All locust variations are good. Even focusing on cobra pose, which I see as a very advanced backbend if you teach it corrrectly.

But the primary reason we need backbends is LIFE. In LIFE, we sit in chairs, we drive cars, we work at computers, and we sleep in a fetal position. It is hugely crucial in LIFE to do backbends to counter LIFE. Its what releases emotions and hardness in our bellies and hip flexors. Backbends are critical for LIFE.

Final Statement:

I once left one of these modern classes with a colleague of mine. I didn’t bring up the issue, but she did. She said “does your body feel angry too?” After a hard day’s work, you need that physical and mental release. If you go to a gentle or restorative practice, it means you already have had the stress of a hard day. You are ready to balance the Yang with some Yin. But if you’ve sat in an office all day, or were driving in a car for a long time, you need the Yang. My fellow teacher mentioned that the practice wasn’t something that helped her release her tension. And in doing so, it created greater tension in her mind. Anger describes it well. I felt this too. Sometimes I leave a yoga class and end up having to do my own practice to counter what was missed. I miss the backbends, inversions, and arm balances. I miss the seated poses. It wasn’t a full yoga class. It was totally inadequate.

If you pay money to take a yoga class, you want it to be complete. You want to go to a yoga class where it focuses on YOUR needs, not the teacher’s. You want to feel special, like its the only class the teacher teaches all week, and it was made especially for you. You want it to cover all your needs and leave you feeling rejuvenated.

#yoga #yogateacher #yogateachertraining #yogatraining

Knocked Silly or Body Reset

 

2014 08 21 14 56 53
2014 08 21 14 56 53

My back has been finicky for going on 3 weeks. I have chronic back pain, but it is usually held off with yoga. Most times, I can go into a yoga class not feeling very well and leave feeling amazing. I was actually feeling better on Tuesday and thought a hot yoga class would take me to the 100% mark. But it didn’t take despite enjoying the class and the teacher. The next morning, I woke up with even worse pain. I took AcroYoga last Sunday thinking the same thing. When you lay on your back and you fly someone on your legs, its really therapeutic to my back. But I really felt terrible afterward this time.

So I taught a Rocket yoga class on Weds and wasn’t feeling good. I went into teaching Power Yoga last night and left feeling amazing! I mean, like almost 100% healthy. I had tons of fun. And while my back is still sore this morning, I’m amazed at how much better I felt.

I’ve read stories of Ashtangis who were practicing at the Shala in Mysore, India. They did their 6 day a week practice starting very early in the morning. Some days, they were sick, sore, or injured and asked Pattabhi Jois “Guriji” if they could take the day off. They would ask to do the Primary Series instead of a higher series. Or they’d ask to sit out on part of the practice. Guruji would smile and say “You Do”. Yoga Chikitsa, the primary series, is called the healing series. It really has that effect on people.

Sometimes, I would go into lifting heavy squats or deadlifts against my better judgement. But quite often, my sore back or sore whatever would feel fine. Firing all those muscle fibers to a hard effort is kind of like greasing an old, rusty gear box. You often have to force it into working properly. I know that sounds Neanderthal, but it really works. Like last night: I was doing locust pose and bow pose with the class knowing my back hasn’t been in good shape. But it actually felt better totally engaging into those muscles. I forced my muscles into submission and, in the end, it was therapeutically healing.

There are times for rest. There are times for healing. But sometimes, there are times to push through and move your body. I think most times deserve the latter. Even when you’re sick, increasing your circulation and moving your lymphatic fluid around can only be a good thing. Listen to your body; but also don’t listen to your body. Sometimes if it tells you to stop, thoughtfully and carefully do what you’re gonna do anyway. You may be surprised by the results.

The Army runs on Diesel

immersion heater germany

I stumbled on this pic from my old unit in Germany. When you pulled KP (kitchen patrol) out in the field, it was an all day gig. They’d wake you up at like oh-dark-thirty (~3am) to start getting chow ready for the field site. We often worked to about 2100 since a lot of the field doggies would come in late. We would fill these huge trash barrels with water, usually by dragging two 5 gallon jugs to and from the water buffalo. That got old fast in the snow. You’d need at least one can for washing and another for the rinse. Sometimes, we’d make an extra can for a nice hot tub bath later. We usually worked through chow so we didn’t get to eat until after everyone else did. And leftovers were kinda gross.

The heaters are fueled by a big can of diesel on the side. It would drip fuel in at a slow rate to keep it burning. But you had to be super careful. So I started a drip, I lit some paper and dropped it in. You have to keep you head far from the opening or it could blow in your face. Well, I dropped in the lit paper. I waited a good 20 seconds and nothing seemed to happen. So I peek in to see and BOOM it blew up in my face. It blasted my head up and I just turned and fell face first into the snow. I wasn’t sure what I had just done to myself. I managed to burn all my eyebrows and eyelashes into crispy, burnt-end curls. My buddies got a big laugh at how it looked.

Other fun chores we got in the field was guard duty. I almost forgot my birthday one year. I was standing at the entrance to our site on top of a snowy mountain in Germany with my Mickey Mouse boots on and my parka hood cinched down to about a 2 inch opening. The snow was coming down hard. I was standing there wondering what day it was, so I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight, 16 Jan 1984; my birthday. Oh well. I did get some candlelight that night. A few hours later, I was startled by a bright light. I look over and one of the tents caught on fire. Each tent had a diesel burning stove. Its pretty safe unless it overheats, turns to cherry red, and then something close by or the stove pipe catches fabric on fire. That’s what happened. They were yelling, I was yelling, it was mass chaos. Fortunately, everybody made it out alive. But they lost a lot of their gear.

We also got to pull 60K generator duty. We had to keep it filled with diesel to make sure all the communication rigs were kept running. We also started all the backup 5K generators that were on trailers once a day. I drove for a lieutenant, so among all my other duties, I had to drive him/her around to different field sites and HQ to receive orders and missions. But I also had to set up their tent and attend to their needs. Then we sometimes went on foot patrol to check our perimeter. Sometimes we had a unit of Infantry guarding us. But most times we were on our own. They said if the balloon ever went up, we’d be alive for about 7 minutes since they’d target communication links first. So our outside perimeter was the least of our worries. Such good times.

Hypersensitivity

I was raised in a very conservative home. We were respectful of our elders. Some of it was due to our beliefs. But largely, it was due to the culture I was raised in. I was raised to think how my parents think as proud Native Americans. I see this today with children and young adults back in Oklahoma. I’d be sitting on the couch and my sister’s family would come in the door. The kids shake everyone’s hands. They start from the eldest person in the room and then work around to the entire room. If an elder needs a seat and a young person is sitting down, the kids get up and sit on the floor or somewhere else. ‚ÄčIts very different from what I see elsewhere. Somehow kids rule the roost nowadays and are allowed to do whatever they want. Parents bow to every beckoned call. And elders are left behind. Somehow we’ve turned the tables on what is right anymore.

My parents were raised during the civil rights era. As Native Americans, they were discriminated against. Every now and then I get a glimpse of what happened. But 99.9% of the time, I never hear about it. They don’t complain. I’ve never heard them being victims. The same was true with my maternal grandparents who were obviously discriminated against. My Grandpa was in a segregated platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division. He had his own Dirty Dozen of wild Indians who jumped in the day before D-Day. I know they were heavily discriminated against. But I never heard them complain. I never viewed them as victims who wanted reparations or kickbacks for all that happened in the past. Its because they were strong and proud.

I think back to many of the movies I loved as a kid, and still love today. The 1970’s were a time just past the civil rights era. So there were still painful memories in many minds. Yet, movies like Blazing Saddles parodied many of the issues of gender, race, and religion. It was so irreverent that it would never fly in a millennial society that is triggered by everything. They explored slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, stereotypes by race, gender issues, and even government oppression. None of that would be accepted today.

I think of other movies like Animal House. Yeah, same issues. They were able to laugh about it all. It could almost be viewed as mutually uniting. Mind you, all of this is spoken from a Native American point of view. I’m sensitive to certain issues. But I hold no ill feelings toward anyone today for the things that my friend’s forefathers had done. I mean, even Abraham Lincoln was an Indian killer and hunted down one of my tribes. But I’ve rubbed Lincoln’s nose in Springfield, IL. I honor what he did for civil rights for blacks even when he was still discriminating against Indians. I’m not telling everyone to take down his statues. I’d prefer to see the good in people and give grace to their misgivings. Well, unless there isn’t an evidence of good, I’d probably not look the other way. There wouldn’t be a statue of anyone anywhere if we expected everyone to be perfect. Nobody is perfect!

I think people need to be rational in today’s world. I hear all this patriarchy nonsense and victimology to the nth degree. We need to stop being victims. Instead, be strong and proud and live as examples for what you represent. If you like to focus on darkness, then your heart will always be filled with darkness. It doesn’t hurt to live in bliss. Be happy and don’t let negativity get you down.

I think every year, people should be required to watch Blazing Saddles, the Breakfast Club, and Animal House. More recently, Undercover Brother and Austin Powers. Maybe it would reprogram our minds to be less sensitive. Seek laughter and positivity. And then spread that to others. Its totally contagious.

Spread Happiness

Have you ever smiled at someone who is not smiling and suddenly their face brightens to return your smile? It really happens. I saw a nice older lady at the grocery store yesterday and when I smiled at her, she just beamed from ear to ear back at me. Happiness is truly contagious.

We talked about the dynamics of a yoga class in teacher training. I had a day in Rocket Yoga not too long ago. I was very tired and sore from my workouts, but I tried to put on my best “teacher face”. But it wasn’t enough to overcome my lack of energy. I don’t know if it was me, the weather, the moon, or whatever, but everyone seemed to feel like I did. I offered a few challenging poses but nobody went for it. They all took a gentler version. We were all in an energy slump.

Then just a few days ago, I taught a Rocket class that was completely the other way. Even before class, I couldn’t get people to quiet down when I read the announcements. Everybody was talking together and giddy with excitement. And to top it off, one of our Ashtanga teachers who just glows with goodness came to class. I think everyone was feeling good, but especially my yoga teacher friend. Her energy and the effort she put into each pose brought everyone else’s levels up too. It got super hot in there with all the energy. It was one of the best classes ever. Again, happiness is contagious.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake happiness. There are people who are truly having hard times. There are people who’s demeanors are naturally depressed and tamasic. Biting words, sarcasm, dark thoughts, and frowing faces are the norm for them. Teacher training talked about these kinds of people. It only takes one person who can spread negativity to an entire class. While yoga teachers aren’t usually therapists, it is helpful to talk with them to make sure they are OK first. But you also have to set an expectation of living in the now. Forget your troubles of the past or agonizing about the future and live for now. Make it a happy now. You can always choose to be happy.

Recent generations have been burdened with feelings of unworthiness, self-loathing, and negativity in their view of the world. They are not comfortable with the color of their skin or the gender to which they were born. They’ve complicated all of life with lots of clutter and chaos. Most of it is completely unnecessary. Most of it is selfishness. When you think of someone truly in need, where water and warm clothes are lacking, they are only focused on what is real. The unecessary frivolities we worry about are obstacles to happiness. When we live in comfort and excess, we have the opportunity for burdensome worries.

My recommendation to them is this, come backpacking with me for a weekend. We’ll hike back a few miles into what is real. All you can have is what you can carry in your pack. You can’t burden it down with unncecessary things or it will drag you down, both physically and metaphorically. If you’ve ever carried a 100 pound pack, you know what I mean. You only take the essentials. You make your own fire to stay warm and cook food. You use a filter to clean your own water. You consider weather and wildlife when setting up your sleeping area. You don’t get cellphones, headphones, or anything that distracts you. All you get to think about are the leaves at your feet and the stars in the sky. You listen to the coyotes in the distance and squirrels rustling in the brush. All that clutter in your mind goes away when you are down to only a few ounces of water. When you are needy, you prioritize what is important to you. Believe me, all this social nonsense goes away. It really isn’t very important in the grand scheme of life.

Simplify life. Seek nature and the little things. Find love. Believe in something greater than you. You don’t always have to be in control. Find a beautiful animal that will always love you back. Go to the park and watch the kids run barefoot. You can choose to be happy. You don’t have to wallow in negativity and despair. And if you don’t know how, I’m always here to help you. Someone can help. Its not hard to do.