Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and MenOf Gods and Men
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois, 2011

I had written down the title Of Gods and Men as it was recommended to me, though I can’t recall who did or the context.  They were right however; this movie has lingered with me since I watched it.  It drew me in with the passages they quote1 and the silence.

It is the story of Christian Monks in Algeria.  They live in harmony with the Muslim community they serve until Civil War breaks out.  Even as their peaceful life is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists, their leader declines protection from the government.

In the process the Monks are divided as to flee or remain in Algeria.  They eventually choose to remain despite the unlikelihood of peace and certainty of more violence.  It is not a happy ending. Continue reading

Men’s Yoga – January Update

Happy New Year!

We’ve missed a few classes the last few weeks due to appointments, snow and the way holidays fell this year, but we’ll be back to the regular schedule this week: Men’s Yoga, Mondays at 5:30pm and Senior Men’s Yoga, Wednesdays at 2:30pm. Both at the Willamette Wellness Center.  Looking forward to welcoming in the New Year.

The Living MatrixThe Living Matrix

You may have heard me mention The Living Matrix in class in the past. One of my favorite quotes (usually when I’m asking you to smile) is “When we make an emotional shift… from frustration to joy… 1,400 biochemical changes instantly go off in the body.” I’ve reviewed it on the blog. The quick description; scientists are examining different healing modalities and attempting to explain how they work. What the movie doesn’t address are the criticisms of the methods. Many consider this “fringe” science. John Block and I met for coffee after he had watched it and we had a knock down, drag out fight. Not really, it was an enjoyable discussion. If you’re interested in watching it, I’m happy to loan my copy. Coffee is optional.

chase_bossartHow do you know Yoga is working?

In our yoga classes we practice asana, physical postures. The posture practice, though, is just the beginning of Yoga. Yoga is a rich and deep philosophy, distilled into 196 verses in a book called The Yoga Sutras. I have studied the Yoga Sutras with Chase Bossart, in the tradition of Krishnamacharya one of the more influential and well-respected “fathers” of modern Yoga.

Yoga is a linage system. Chase was one of TKV Desikachar’s last private students. Desikachar, is Krishnamacharya’s son. We are fortunate to be close to the source. In this article, Chase relates how Desikachar responded to the following question “How do you know your Yoga is working?” Desikachar responded quite simply. Chase fleshes it out a bit more. You might find it interesting.

See you in class!

Simply Walking, Good for the Mind

mobilaserA recent article in the Orlando Sentinel focused on Dr. Jay Van Gerpen, a neurologist who specializes in gait.  He’s working with Parkinson’s patients on a study to help them stay on their feet and retain brain health.  Van Gerpen uses a simple tool, a laser device attached to walkers or canes that shoots a red laser beam in front of the person walking.

The theory is that visual cues can help Parkinson’s patients walk without freezing.  A telling sign of Parkinson’s is when gait and movement become imbalanced or halting. When patients focus on stepping over the line, they access the visual part of the brain, which bypasses the motor output area that isn’t working.

The old saying “there are many ways to skin a cat, ” proves true.  The laser provides a work-around.  The end result, a higher level of functionality.  One user stated; “When I wasn’t able to move as much, I noticed my brain was much worse,” Puckett said. “With the laser I can move, get around, and am definitely able to concentrate better.”

Now, regular readers will know I invariably tie these kind of news articles into the practice of Yoga.  Yep, here it is: when we practice moving from one posture into another, we are challenging the neural pathways, as well as stretching our tendons and joints, and maintaining muscle strength and tone.  We work with balance and we move with both symmetry and asymmetry.  As Jason Wallis, owner of Fitness Over Fifty says, “It’s good to keep the body guessing.”

So, as our society has become increasingly sedentary it’s important to remember; simple activity, like walking, is a great offense to maintain health and functional fitness.  Exercise improves or maintains circulation, ie: blood flow, which helps keep our tissues healthy, and keeps our systems active, challenged and in use.  In this example, we use an external tool (the laser) to maintain health when one part of system stops working properly.  Ingenious, really.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Marni Jameson has written several articles on Parkinson’s you can find a sub-category here.  The link to this article has many photos and a short video.  It’s informative and worth the time.

Men’s Yoga – November Update

Some Housekeeping and Good News!

First, I’ve mentioned this after some classes, but it bares repeating. This year marks the first summer where classes haven’t dropped off. There is now a large enough group of guys that even if the most regular can’t make it, we’ll still have 4-5 guys on Mondays. Senior Men has a smaller group, but is very committed. I appreciate all of you, those who’ve been with me since the beginning and those who have joined recently.

Second, we will have class Monday evening on Veterans Day, FOF is open. And, we will have class as usual the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. If you haven’t been for a while, we’d love to see you! Men’s Yoga – Mondays at 5:30pm and Senior Men’s Yoga – Wednesdays at 2:30pm.

The Gospel of the ToltecsToltec Traditions

As you know, I’ve been reading deeper into Totlec traditions. I enjoyed Don Miguel Ruiz’s popular book The Four Agreements and am familiar with the authors related to Carlos Castaneda. But I wanted more background on the origin of the Toltec concept of intent.

One of the books I tracked down and have been reading from in class is The Gospel of the Toltecs. I’ve reviewed it here.

I find that the Toltec philosophy of intent parallels the Yogic focus of concentration. One of my favorite passages from the book: “Do not allow the scattered ashes and the crossroads to give you orders.” In other words, do not allow a past failure or the simple presence of a new choice to distract you. We clear away the clutter to attain the correct perspective. It’s often easier to talk about these concepts than to effect change. But that is why we practice!

Paul Grilley

Paul Grilley with friend.

Paul Grilley on Anatomy

I first came across Paul Grilley at Kripalu, where I got my certification. They used a section from his video Anatomy for Yoga during our training. Grilley is committed to helping people understand how their body works and why forcing the body into an “ideal” of the pose can cause injury. His contention is that we don’t often allow for skeletal variation and misunderstand tension and compression as expressed in poses.

Grilley recently responded to an article written by William Broad who has been examining injuries from Yoga both to Men and Women for several years. Broad has been criticized for generalizations and inaccuracies. However, I like how Grilley drills down simply in his response.

As Yoga instructors, we often say “listen to your body” or “back off as needed.” But this explains why pushing will actually do more harm than good, if we’re working against what the body can do.

The Gospel of the Toltecs

bk_gospeltoltecThe Gospel of the Toltecs
The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl
by Frank Diaz, Bear & Company, 2002

Ce Acatl Toplatzin is the human incarnation of the Toltec deity Quetzalcoatl.  His story contains many familiar themes: he’s chosen for leadership at an early age; he trains for and fulfills his duties becoming the leader he is destined to be.  He becomes careless, leaving room for his adversaries to undermine his authority, eventually contributing to his downfall.

In his fall from grace he leaves the Toltec homeland, Tula and wanders.  Eventually he finds a new home, and a new people; disciples hear his words and practice his teachings, until the time where he makes the choice to leave his human form.  He descends first to the underworld before rising to the heavens.  After four years he returns in human form.   This is the story of Quetzalcoatl laid out in the “The Gospel of the Toltecs, The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl,” by Frank Diaz. Continue reading

A Year of Meditation

I started my meditation journal in April with the intention of blogging regularly. Here it is the middle of July, and I’ve yet to post again.  Status update: the meditation is going well and I’m journaling after each session with pen and paper.  And because I’m retentive and keep track of this sort of thing, I can report I’m meditating, on average, a little more than four days a week.

For comparison, in the past five years I’ve:

  • Meditated 45 days in row, during which time I absorbed the worst news of my life, and yet was amazingly stable.  However, it abruptly stopped.
  • Dabbled many times with the intention to meditate regularly, never lasting more than a week or two.
  • Meditated every day for a year straight.   But at the end I was exhausted.  And done.
  • Meditated daily for a month as part of a workplace challenge, and yep, it dropped off too.

This time appears to be different.  There’s an ease to sitting down that hasn’t been there before.  I have no idea what drew me to meditate for 45 days straight, all I can say is that something propelled me to do it, knowing there was a reason I would need to be grounded.

When I set out to meditate this time, it was with the intention to make it a lifetime habit.  The goal?  To meditate four to five days a week.  As I examine the success, so far… some of the answers to why it’s working now appear to lie in the year of meditation.

A year in review.

February, 2011. I sort of fell into the goal of meditating every day for a year.  At first, I was attempting to hold space for another, when in reality I hoping they would return to me.  And that led to feeling sucker punched, again, by the brevity of relationship.  While the genesis of the intention began from confusion and even self-loathing for making the same mistakes, there were five crucial phases.

The vocalization.

At the beginning of my year of meditation, I saw my acupuncturist for a series of treatments.  Previously, he had recommended Emotional Freedom Technic (EFT), and I had prepared for this series by doing EFT daily for several weeks.  EFT borrows from Chinese medicine and combines tapping certain points along our energy meridians, rapid eye movement and vocal affirmations.  It’s really quite simple.  And ever so effective… if you can get over the hump and believe that it works.

Because I had been doing the vocalizations, at one point early in my year of meditation, when emotions came up, rather than repress them, I spoke aloud a version of the affirmation I had been working with, and began to sob.

Vocalization is an important part of practice and is often overlooked.  It does not have to be the “ohm.”  It can be a mantra, a phrase you repeat over and over.  You can chant a sacred text.  But in this instance, because I have chanted the Sutras and because I was working with vocal affirmations, I was comfortable with my voice, and the end result was an incredible cleansing.

After this initial experience, I simply completed my meditation as I normally would have, and from then on when a similar thought arose, I gave it voice.  The emotions I was working with were released without the drama of resistance.  And that led into a new phase.

I have faith.

At about two and half months, I began to identify as having faith.  This was, at first, an odd sensation.  It didn’t seem to have the same qualities that I associate with religious faith.  There was no doctrine involved, no need to be right and no need to be heard.  For the last five years or so, I have identified as an agnostic leaning towards Buddhism.  This sense of faith wasn’t an unrealistic one, derived from a desperate longing.  It was simply the feeling that things would work out, absent the need for any particular definition or outcome.

There was a true sense of calm and peace.

I forgot.

It was later, in that place of faith, at day 128, I forgot to meditate one day.  Besides work, my daughter and the classes I teach, this had been a largely solitary endeavor.   I had dinner with an old friend, the kind of friend who simply knows you.  I forgot completely about meditating.  When I awoke the next morning and realized I had missed a day, there was an instant flash of disappointment.  But it vanished as quickly as it arose.  I rested that night, I slept well for the first time in weeks.  I was social, so many of the things I had been processing found a receptive listener.

The next day, I simply meditated morning and night.  And I continued on, undefeated.

It lost its effectiveness.

In my solitude, I was reading many sources: Alberto Villoldo’s book on shamanistic traditions and chiropractor-turned-new-age-healer Eric Pearl’s book on the Reconnection.  Rather than strictly doing my usual seated meditation, One Thousand Hands Buddha in the qi gong tradition, I added from other traditions.  And, I also wasn’t rising early enough to meditate in the morning and ended up more and more often meditating in the evening.

Eric Pearl asks, what element are you calling in, when you ask for protection?  He proposes that you are introducing fear.  I am not sure I felt fear, but I did bring in extra elements and became distracted.  I was bored and I was frustrated and I was angry that I was slogging through my meditation, alone.

It became a chore.

It was becoming a chore and at day 300 or so, I didn’t meditate on purpose.  What a relief to give myself that permission.  The next day, I meditated morning and evening, and finished with a recommitment to practicing One Thousand Hands Buddha, unadorned of any excess.  And, I made more of an effort to practice in the morning.


February, 2012. I completed the year, and that was it.  Gave myself a few days off and tried to resume it with a goal of 3-4 times a week.  At best, it was infrequent.  I didn’t want to do the chore anymore.  And, I met a wonderful woman who became my girlfriend.  Things were good.

The Here and Now.

In April, 2013, my current relationship began to succumb to the stress of prolonged uncertainty.  Why is it always about relationship?  I began to meditate again as I have in the past; attempting to hold space while waiting for someone else.  But then I began doing it for me, not for anyone else.  And that’s when I began to see clearly.

Here it is, the middle of July.  Since April I have, in some manner, revisited each of those phases:

  • The vocalization, allowing the emotion to surface and be spoken out loud.
  • I’ve yet to sustain that feeling of faith, but being content with moments where I’ve been close to it.
  • Remaining true to the form.  Don’t complicate it or become distracted.
  • Not making it chore by giving myself permission to not be perfect.


One of my favorite Yoga instructors often says “It’s not Yoga perfect, it’s Yoga practice.”  And I think that’s the final key to sustaining this practice.  I don’t make it a chore, because I don’t have to do it every day.  In this reiteration of meditation, I’ve taken ownership over my behaviors and choices. I’m focusing on being social and well as solitary, and finding a better balance.  It’s leading rather slowly and sometimes painfully to acceptance.  The end result though, is action rather than reaction.  More grace, even in the face of uncertainty.

Finding our own expression in Yoga

Recently, I had trouble interpreting one of my student’s responses. “Jack” is the husband of a friend of mine. They had a private session with me at another studio a year ago, and that was that until I bumped into them a few months ago. We catch up. I find out that while she dropped out of Yoga, he had not, and has continued on. So I invited him to my Senior Men’s Yoga class.

men at gymJack checks out the class, enjoys it and signs up with a 15 card pass. This is great. He fits in well with the guys and this has been a hard class to establish. However, around this time I lose a couple of newer fellows for various health related reasons. Jack has had two hip replacements and he is still taking class from “Becky,” an experienced teacher I very much like and respect.

Well. This combination does nothing for my pervasive insecurity and leads me to wonder if Jack is getting anything out of my class. So I checked in with him briefly at the end of class and he indicated he was fine. Yet he must have sensed my angst, and gave the query more thought, because later that day he sent me an email. And that led to us chatting after class the following week. Continue reading

Everybody’s a Critic (of Yoga)

In the last month or so, I’ve run across three separate articles dressed up as criticism of western presentations of yoga.  The trouble is, they come across being more narcissistic and envious of the “culture” they are supposedly now boycotting, and end up sounding resentful of fame and success rather than offering true criticism.

So here, with a grain of salt, I’m criticizing the critics.

better bunsOne article focused on the sensationalistic, commenting on the launching of a Yoga porn site, and Yoga for Better Buns to make his point of capitalism infringing upon this spiritual practice.  But then this very same poster is blogging at the HuffingtonPost.com and he is also an author of two books on Mindfulness and Meditation, both with a handy link to the Amazon Store right after his article.  And, by the way, he’s written many other articles in such a style.  If you didn’t already know, bloggers at the Huffington Post don’t get paid for their articles.  They do it for exposure.  Can he be any more of a shill?

Continue reading

Yoga and Basketball

I recently finished reading Tiger in a Lion’s Den, by former LSU men’s basketball coach Dale Brown. It’s kind of what you’d expect in reading a book by a coach. It certainly isn’t a literary masterpiece. But, I’m a hoops junkie, and I’ll read most books on basketball by successful coaches just to see what’s there.

Brown was an emotional leader, one who played by the rules and was an outspoken critic of the NCAA. I enjoyed his stories regarding coaching against basketball luminaries such as Bob Knight of Indiana and Joe B. Hall of Kentucky. The story I relate here had to do with UCLA coach John Wooden. Continue reading