Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lifting and Stretching

In Europe and India at the end of the 19th and during the 20th centuries physical fitness became an expression of national pride and was promoted as method of improving moral character and national superiority. The movement, called Physical Culture, was pursued in Sweeden, Germany, France and especially Great Britain. In India, especially in Mysore, Calcutta and Pune, anti colonialists adopted Physical Culture and  gave it an Indian identity by combining weigh lifting and calisthenics with Hatha Yoga.  By the mid 1900s several Indian gyms practiced weigh lifting and yoga. 

BYCH Hot Yoga practitioner Dawn 
Interested in more detail about the real history of yoga? Information presented here comes from "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice" By Mark Singleton

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why is Yoga Special?

The best measure of psychological fitness is one's success in relationship. The calming effects and stress reduction from my yoga practice have increased my patience, tolerance and acceptance of others, strengthening all of my relationships.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yoga Psychology: How does yoga affect consciousness?

Consider this:  in the 1980s Bell Labs and IBM combined their brainiac departments and, with a fairly high degree of accuracy, ascertained a human being's average sensory input measured in bits per second. *

What the research folks at these institutions discovered is that our body is capable of receiving approximately ten million bits per second of information.  That includes everything we are able to sense, our hearing; our sensual perception; our taste buds; olfactory sense (smell) sight; memory; gastric experience; everything!

Our consciousness, what we are able to perceive and experience in any given moment, measured at about sixty bits per second.  That's right, six zero, sixty!  Let's round that up to 100.  That means that while our bodies can receive ten millions bits of information in any given second we are only capable of knowing about one hundred.  That's a pretty big fraction 100/10,000,000.  Or one one hundred thousandth of what we receive, we get. What happens to the rest?

In our series of twenty-six postures at BYCH Hot Yoga, we concentrate on the physical postures, Hatha Yoga. With regular practice we stimulate an expansion of our sensory experience enhancing our somatic awareness and how we are moving. We simply feel more.

Done regularly, the physical demands; the heat; the commanding encouragement and corrections from the instructor;  all combine to increase sensual awareness while reducing cognition. We stimulate the more ethereal processing of our right cerebral hemisphere.  The words become like a song in the background directing our physical patterns and establishing increased awareness of who we are physically. We connect with those around us moving in synchronicity, with less of an ego state, more connected to each other. Our sense of who we are intensifies as the chatter of our ego mind lessens. Paradoxically, we experience more of ourselves with less thinking.

*Information about measures of consciousness used here comes from the best work I have ever read on the elusive subject of human consciousness: "The User Illusion" by Tor Norretranders. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Traders in the Temple?

Bloomberg News story describes how a high pressure finance trader uses meditation to manage stress. Spiritualists quoted in the article cry heresy. The meditating stock trader reasons that Japanese Samurai and, later in history, Kamikaze used meditation prior to battle. So our intrepid trader, engaging in finance, is at ease with co-opting the stress reducing benefits of meditation for mere financial gain.

If one examines the claims of spiritual superiority exclusive to their systems combined with claims of scientific validity coming from scores of twentieth century self-styled gurus, and one digs only a little, you will find a pattern.
  • Assume a Hindu name or title
  • Claim a lineage from ancient times
  • Declare your system as the only valid approach
  • Treat western medicine as a misguided competitor
  • Invoke scientific support
  • Claim special secret knowledge or ownership
Gurus seeking Western audiences taught spiritual lessons, yoga postures or a combination of both. When successfully implemented, the pattern created great wealth for leaders of many yoga and meditation movements. This meme, this marketing pattern, included celebrity name dropping as well. If this describes the man you hold as a creator of a system you follow and think I am describing him, look deeper. This description fits nearly all of the late nineteenth and twentieth century Indian gurus who found success in the West.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Eleventh of September

This day recalls the lives of loved ones, friends and neighbors lost. We grieve still. Spared, I live with gratitude, humility and a soft voice today grateful for the gifted among us who reveal our better, loving nature.

"This triumph of the message of love over a barbaric and a backward act"  
Marc Knophler

Monday, September 1, 2014

Modern Yoga

Mission statement of Hot Yoga Alliance 

For nearly 200 years now, the US and other western countries have adopted myriad expressions of yoga, some in the Indian spiritual traditions, others as a physical expression known as Hatha Yoga. At first shunned in the West, then relegated to counter-culture status, in the last fifty years yoga has grown to become a global phenomena. Hatha yoga, the physical expression of postures are the dominant expression.
In recent times yoga systems have nearly exclusively been a guru led model of organization, adhering in varying degrees to a philosophical or spiritual foundation. That model is not obsolete, we respect and are grateful for its existence. Guru led models of spiritual or philosophical teaching will no doubt remain for those who seek that path.
Hot Yoga Alliance (HYA) sees a future with a less “top down” model in the organization of schools teaching yoga postures for health, fitness and peace of mind. We see a somatic, more modern, business philosophy. In cooperation with Singapore’s new policies of training Singaporeans for Singaporean jobs, HYA trains teachers to lead our classic series of Hot Yoga postures. But beyond good civic partnership, HYA sees an opportunity to set a new philosophical agenda for teaching yoga in a growing region. Precision, discipline and absolute adherence to good teaching and business ethics in schools led by responsible members of the community they are part of, not some far away charismatic figurehead.
Through our work and the work of our sister organization, BYCH Hot Yoga, we exist to sustain and support the field of yoga. We do so by providing the public with a registry of teachers whose training meets our standards and by supporting yoga teachers, schools and studios in their work as yoga professionals.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chinese Yoga?

Dao Yin: 道銀

Archaeologists in Changsha, China recently excavated the tomb of Han Mawangdui, the first Han Emperor in 206 BCE. Among the artifacts were drawings on silk depicting physical postures held to promote "physical strength and a calm mind". The archaeologists also unearthed a "Book of Stretching". The postures were called Dao Yin.

The silk drawings are depicted at 3:01min.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Lance Brannigan (L) with me (C) and a colleague from British
Columbia came to assist post 911 in front of Engine 5 in 2001. 

I recently watched a Discovery Channel documentary about the attacks on the World Trade Center. There is nothing new for me to learn about the facts of that event. I watched the video because my old friend Jay Jonas was included.

I worked with Jay for many years. Jay was a Lieutenant in Ladder Company 11 when I was in Engine Company 5 in the East Village of Manhattan. We responded to many fires together. Jay was a top officer, highly competent, as was his company. We held each other with mutual respect. We knew we could rely on each other's respective companies to  be doing what they were supposed to do. We would ignore life threatening circumstances, events that, if not controlled, would surely kill us. We knew if Ladder 11 was handling it, we could trust our lives to their competence. It was a mutual affair and worked both ways. I was especially confident when Jay was in charge.

Jay became a Captain and was leading his new company, Ladder 6, on September 11, 2001.  Jay and his men became media heroes when they survived the collapse of the North Tower. They survived inside the building as they were carrying an injured woman down the stairs. Had they been higher or lower in the stairway they would have perished like nearly 3000 others that day. They survived because Jay made very difficult decisions. Jay and his men were aware that the South Tower had collapsed and their survival seemed dependant on running like hell to get out of the building quickly.

Jay ignored his survival instinct and made difficult decisions based on what the right thing to do was. They remained together assisting an injured woman, Josephine.

Watching the Discovery Channel Video what struck me was not Jay's incredibly courageous ethic. I worked with Jay and already knew his character. What impressed me how his men followed his lead without hesitation.

On arriving at the Trade Center when Ladder 6 got their orders to ascend into the building, Jay had a brief discussion with men from another company, Rescue Company 1. They acknowledged the possibility of getting killed, shook hands and went about their work. When Jay told his men their assignment he also said "guys, they are trying to kill us today".

The men of Ladder 6 simply said; "we're with you Captain".

Jay was well known in the Lower Manhattan Fire Service as a good fire officer. But beyond that, what is it that inspires men to follow a leader like Jay to nearly certain death?

It is solid ethical character that makes a leader. He will do what is right to the best of his judgement. Jay's values were based on the traditional, brave and altruistic values of FDNY. His tactics came from years of study and experience. His men, like me, trusted him with their lives even if it meant their lives were in danger. And their lives were in obvious mortal danger. All the men of Rescue 1 perished. But we will submit ourselves to the risk within the leadership values because it is the right thing to do. Period!

Jay modeled the right thing.

Jay in 2009, a senior Chief (Deputy Chief) FDNY

Am I still living from these kinds of values?

I do not live in the dangerous, high adrenaline world of New York City firefighting anymore, and I am thinking about values. I am a decent person. But am I living from the kind of values that were once a part of my every day life in the Fire Department?

Can those values be applied to my every day life today?

Can I, should I, seek to do the right thing always, even in the absence of life threatening circumstances?

In my placid everyday world are those values still relevant?

I guess they are if I say so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bacolod City, The City of Smiles

It ain't Kansas

My most meaningful experience from the last four years of world travel occurred over three days in Negros Occidental, The Philippines, where I became a part of a different way of life, a different way of being. It was quite moving.

I have been living in Singapore for a total twenty-six months since December of 2010. For much of my stay I lived very near the busy downtown section near Orchard and Scotts Road.  My apartment was in a quiet alcove of older buildings behind the fancy hotels, condos and Lucky Plaza, a not-so-high end, older mall where Filipino ex-pats gather on Sundays. The gathering of Filipinos, mostly women, set up elaborate picnics on the grassy hill behind Lucky Plaza that begin early and last until past dark. It's a colourful happy crowd.

 One Sunday morning three years ago while I was taking photographs of the picnickers, one of the groups gathered there invited me to join them.  I met Gwen and Angela, cousins who work in the nearby Marriott Hotel as cleaning staff. They were amongst a larger group of friends from Bacolod City in the Philippine province of Negros Occidental. Even though Gwen, Angela and I come and go from our home countries, we've remained friends. The ladies have been inviting me to visit them in The Philippines for three years now. Two weeks ago, I accepted the invitation and went.

It's a good idea to hire a car and driver when traveling in the Philippines. It's cheap, usually less than $35.00 USD a day. And with poor road markings, it is nice to have a local guide. While there are many different forms of ground transport, including licensed taxis, many provincial car owners are happy to be a driver and guide for a traveling Yank. The challenge is arranging for a trustworthy driver. Being the guest of Gwen and Angela, I had an inside advantage and arranged for Christian, Gwen's brother-in-law, to pick me up at the airport. As I exited the airport terminal, I got my introduction to how it's done in Bacolod.

Life with these nice folks is not a solitary experience. With Christian was his wife and son, a neighbor who drove, along with Gwen and Angela.  Turns out this was the smallest crowd I would be part of for three days. I attended two back yard parties and a wake for an aunt of Gwen's who had passed away a day prior to my arrival. I was welcomed by this community of people as if I were one of them. I was as comfortable with them as I am in my own family and communities. But then there were my eyes.

At first I simply thought I was a bit of a curiosity, being a Westerner and a little different looking. But people kept staring at me. When I would catch and hold their glances, they would defer and usually giggle. But the kids, and there were a lot of kids, just stared and held the stare as if perplexed.  I asked Gwen what was up.

"Your blue eyes" was the reply. My blue eyes killed them. Especially the children who had never left Bacolod City. Other than on TV, they don't see blue-eyed people. Once I understood that it became a charming experience for me. I would stare back at the kids and make a face. they would usually run away laughing.

Negros Occidental is an agricultural region growing mostly sugar cane. Bacolod City hosts two large call centres and hopes to promote more economic growth as the Philippines continues to grow and modernise.  The tourist trade is not significant. They hope to change that. I am glad I got to experience the place before that occurs.

Middle class Westerners would consider Bacolod City a poor place. But it isn't really. Economically, the people who live there do not have a lot. But they have what they need and have learned to take care of each other. Much of the region's financial support comes from folks like Gwen and Angela who find work abroad and send money home.  The World Bank estimates 10% of The Philippines Gross National Product is from remittances. Back in Lucky Plaza, the Filipino gathering place in Singapore, there are a dozen store front mini-banks that specialise in transferring money to The Philippines. On Sunday, the only day off for these mostly service workers, all the remittance counters have long waits for service. Now that I have been with these people, I understand what a sacrifice it is for them to be away from their extended network of love and support.

Gwen and Angela's best friend hosted a backyard birthday part for her four year old. There were about twenty kids and perhaps thirty adults. I was amazed at how well the children ranging in age from three to young teens got along. The women played games with the kids. The men stood aside drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. When food was served the entire yard came to a halt. It was the only time it was quiet. After the food, four of the guys dismantled the plastic tables that needed to be returned to a party rental place. They loaded the tables onto a motorcycle sidecar that the kids had been climbing all over during the party. It was a beat up bike, dented and rusted. I thought it was a derelict. The kids certainly had fun with it. These motorcycles with sidecars, called tricycles, are ubiquitous in The Philippines. I was truly amazed at how much they could load on to the contraption and still drive it.

Filipinos love, love, love Karaoke. They claim to have invented it and allege that the Japanese co-opted it. The Japanese name stuck. Many homes in the crowded sub-division we were in have big Karaoke boxes with giant speakers. As the sun set, the entire neighbourhood erupted with Karaoke.

I was, I am, moved by the calm and loving atmosphere present always. In my brief stay attending backyard gatherings, two parties and a wake I never witnessed any inter-personal stress between or amongst them. Quite the opposite, the love and support they show for each other is quite special.

The Philippines has problems. It is far from a perfect place. Its infrastructure sucks. While the government seems to be trying to reduce corruption, results are painfully slow. But if they get it right, watch out! The Filipino people are creative, adaptive, clever and hard working. And they are damn nice.

At the backyard birthday party, in addition to a yard full of kids and adults, there were two dogs, several chickens and four rabbits in a cage. I was watching some of the kids torment one of the dogs who really just wanted to nap. From under an overturned row boat hopped a rather ugly looking duck. It had grey, white and brown feathers with no particular pattern. It had orange circles around its eyes. It had only one leg.

The duck hopped determinedly on its lone webbed foot pecking at the ground competing with the chickens for scraps on the ground. Occasionally, the duck would fall down. Undeterred, it got right back up pecking at the ground and chasing chickens.

It was a perfect metaphor for the Philippines: a plucky, one-legged duck that would not quit. I suspect  if you put it in a pond it would swim determinedly, perhaps in circles, but it would not give up.