Yoga teachers and lifestyle counselors

I took ten Yoga classes under five teachers in two weeks before signing up with Jay, the husband of a nurse with whom Peggy works. His big muscles and shaved head seem more appropriate for a skinhead than a Yoga teacher, but he is a good teacher and—I believe—a good man.

I still have my membership at Bikram, but was unable to convince myself that working in 105° heat was a good idea. I joined because of the recommendation of one doctor (Bob Arnot of television fame), but was unable to find other laudatory sources. My orthopedist said that the heat would strain a person’s heart. I don’t know what the truth is, but I do know that I would have to be utterly convinced of its wholesomeness before I could force myself to stick with a program that I find so distasteful.

I also went to a free session with someone who calls herself a healthful lifestyle counselor. We spoke for an hour about my arthritis, sleep apnea, spirituality, family history, and other things. She charges $195 a month (with a six month minimum) for two sessions per month but offered to knock the price down to $145 if I signed up on the spot. I would not have enrolled anyway because she was so obese that she had trouble getting out of her chair and because she had little to offer, so the sales pressure was like running over a dead snake except that it demoted her ethically.

She is the second such person I have consulted. Ten years ago, I went to another woman, one who had shelves of dietary supplements that she seemed eager to sell. Her ad boasted of the dozen books she had written but failed to mention that they were in the form of eighty page Xeroxes.

Today’s consultant even threw the title Reverend into her mixture of revenue options. Her ordination was by the Non-Church Church, which she described as a religion that encompasses all other religions. I thought this must be pretty hard to pull off with sects that are violently opposed to being encompassed, but I didn’t say anything. Neither did I mention the seeming irony of the fact that, if her religion encompasses all other religions, that

Button day

I rode with Peggy and another button-collector, Carmen, to Portland yesterday to the home of Jocelyn for a button sale and book signing. As president, Peggy knew everyone, yet upon her arrival, friendship was ignored in favor of shopping. As I watched the hobbyists standing elbow to elbow around a table with their eyes cast downward, I imagined a band of surgeons forced to postpone socializing until the patient was saved. Afterwards, Jocelyn said that endorphins race through her body when she is looking at buttons, to which I replied that the affliction is even worse than I feared.

It is not uncommon among button collectors to lie to their spouses about how much they spend. I was shocked to learn that this is even true of people who have been married sixty years. I trust Peggy on this as on all scores. When, years ago, I began to grow resentful of her growing expenditures, we agreed that she can spend as she pleases as long as I get an equal portion to spend as I please. I save my portion. Someday, I will be rich and can see the world, whereas Peggy will have to stay home and panhandle. Because I have little interest in seeing the world, I will probably share my wealth with her, and she will probably spend it on buttons, leaving us both to starve.

While Peggy shopped, I visited for an hour with Jocelyn’s mother who is 88 yet one of the most intensely intelligent and erudite people I know. She reminded me of Queen Elizabeth II in her hat and elegant clothes, and she threw out words like parse and eleemosynary that I hear so seldom that I had to think what they meant. I listened to her discourse with others for quite awhile before she and I hit upon the subject of local geology. She confessed to knowing little about it, yet she spoke knowledgeably of recently discovered faults and volcanic protuberances, and referred to books by every prominent geologist in Oregon. As with the words in her vocabulary, I had to make an effort to recollect their identities. She eventually moved on to other subjects (horses, ranching, farming, and her collection of antique lace), subjects about which I truly am ignorant. When she had picked my brain of all content that interested her, she abruptly excused herself and moved on to other people.

She stood in stark contrast to Carmen who is two years her junior yet had to be reminded repeatedly as we drove, just where it was we were going. Still, for kindness, integrity, and even perceptiveness, I would never think to doubt Carmen, whereas the woman in the hat seemed a little too pleased with her brilliance for me to know what to think of her.

Jocelyn suggested that Peggy might someday succeed her as the state’s preeminent authority on buttons. I later asked Peggy if this was conceivable, and she said that Jocelyn was just being kind, that there is another collector in Oregon—a quiet woman who keeps to herself—“who knows forty times more than I do.”

The thermometer hit 105 yesterday. I ran errands on my bike during the worst of it and noted that the streets were as empty as Dodge City before a shootout.

My neighbor is dying, and I never knew him

Peggy spoke to our neighbor, Deborah, today while both were walking their dogs. Deborah said that her husband, John, is dying of prostate cancer. When Peggy told me the news, I got on my bike and went looking for Deborah—who was still walking her dog. I gave her our phone number and said we would be honored to be called upon day or night.

I didn’t even know John had been sick despite having been his neighbor for sixteen years. I last spoke to him last August. On that day, he had driven 250 miles (round trip), and climbed the 10,358’ South Sister. Our conversation lasted maybe three minutes, yet it was the most we ever talked.

Of our nearby neighbors, John and Deborah are the ones we know least and, despite his being my age and most of the others being much older, he will most likely be the first to die. As I sit here picturing him in his bed no more than eighty feet away, I must confess that my main worry is whether Deborah will move, and the house become a rental…. I consider it very strange to pass nearly two decades of my life next door to someone whose face I can only vaguely recall. His hair is light-colored, but whether blond, or sandy-brown, or prematurely gray, I can’t say. And his eyes—green? blue? hazel?—I have no idea. I didn’t even know he had a daughter until Deborah mentioned it. Nor did I know that she and John have been together six years. I would have guessed two, three at most.

Today was hot, and the heat has made me sleepy, and I have no more to say.

What to do about Bikram

I visited a non-Bikram Yoga class today. The teacher spoke in soft tones while chants flowed from a CD and water gurgled from a fountain. A blue banner proclaiming Peace hung near a palm-shaped Japanese fan. The floor was imitation bamboo. We moved slowly from one posture (asana) to the next in the comfortably cool room. The teacher gave alternate asanas to a man whose arm was in a brace, and she inquired frequently about my knee. At the end, she led us in a five-minute meditation during which I giggled as I thought about the Bikram class that was being held a few blocks away.

There, the temperature was 105°, and the walls were blank except for floor to ceiling mirrors. The industrial carpet was striped so students could place their mats in even rows. The teacher stood on a platform as she unceremoniously led her students through 90 minutes of memorized instructions. She told them not to leave the room—not for water, not to use the bathroom, and certainly not to escape the brutal heat. She told them that misery was good. If they were like me, they constantly asked themselves whether they were sufficiently dizzy to justify lying quietly on their mats for the next asana. They hoped to god they would be able to survive the session without passing out and, when it was finally over, they had pounding headaches. With difficulty, they made their way to their cars and wondered if they could drive safely.

I missed my Bikram class today. I missed the clarity of memorized instructions as today’s teacher struggled to tell her right from her class’s right. I missed its pace and austerity, and I knew that if the room weren’t so damned hot that it would have my loyalty. I continually struggle over whether to ever set foot inside a Bikram studio again. It is easy to say, “Listen to your body,” but bodies prefer the status quo. I could do things today that I knew I couldn’t have done had I not put in a week in the Bikram heat. What is best for my body? I really don’t know. I do know that I would like for Yoga to be something to enjoy rather than to simply survive.

A certain disillusionment creeps in

The Bikram who started Bikram Yoga put together 26 Hatha yoga postures, taught them in a hot room, wrote a book about it, and had his lawyers send cease and desist orders to anyone who used similar methods without paying him a $5,500 licensing fee plus a franchise fee. A group of California Yoga teachers formed a group called Open Yoga Source Unity and sued Bikram. In 2005, the Open Source teachers secretly cut a deal that benefited them but didn’t help other instructors. Now, other Yoga teachers are copyrighting their methods.

During my web surfing, I also learned that Yoga Journal runs feature articles on celebrities along with plush Yoga vacation options. It formerly refused to accept ads for events other than the ones it sponsored. I was naïve in thinking that millennia old Yoga, a practice that owes it existence to shared teachings and cooperation, was at least one area of human endeavor that had escaped cutthroat competition.

None of this means that Yoga does not offer significant benefits, but I was immensely saddened to be reminded that there is absolutely no pathway to goodness. It is entirely conceivable that a person who has never read a book on philosophy or embraced a spiritual practice can still be a thousand times wiser and more compassionate than the most respected philosopher or devotee.

I have already offended one of the leaders in my Wiccan class, and he refuses to acknowledge my apology. What does this tell me about Wicca? What do Islamic terrorists tell me about Islam? I suppose there are many good and wise Wiccans just as there are many good and wise Moslems, but sometimes it seems that the worst people are the very ones who embrace a given practice with their whole hearts.

Open house

Peggy and I went to an open house today at Phil Conner’s. Most of his guests were from the Eagles or VFW, and they appeared poor both in money and education. Such people lack pretense, and I sympathize with how little power they have in our supposed democracy.

I focused most of my attention on a man named Ray who said he first trained with the ski corps during World War II but was then sent to jungle school. Both schools were in Colorado, and he never fought on skis or in a jungle. Instead, he was part of the Normandy invasion, fought his way across Europe, and then served in postwar Japan. As soon as I heard the word Normandy, I began to cry. Conscious of the fact that I was at a party, and grateful for my sunglasses, I hid my sorrow as best I could. Ray was hit in the face by shrapnel, and came away with fewer teeth, bad hearing, and a Purple Heart. He gave his Purple Heart to his daughter, so his son bought him a replacement off Ebay for two dollars.

I left Phil’s in time for my second Yoga class. I thought I might be better able to pace myself, but I was too tired going into it to last over an hour, although I did avoid the cardinal sin of leaving the room. My repose allowed me to observe that not even the experienced students did every exercise.

I left too spacey to drive, and sat on a bench until I cooled off. When I finally cranked the van, I forgot that it will only go into gear when my foot is on the brake. After much frustration, my head cleared enough to leave.

I get my third shot of Synvisc tomorrow at 1:00, which means that I will have to attend the 9:00 Yoga class. Thirteen hours between classes doesn’t seem like enough, but I don’t want to miss a day. I hesitate to say that my knee feels better after only two sessions, but it is definitely not worse. Only my back feels overtaxed despite my efforts to protect it.


I signed up for a month of Bikram Yoga yesterday (at $15 for one class or $30 for thirty classes, I couldn’t resist). An unbelievably energetic teacher named Meadow led us through ninety minutes of vigorous exercises in a 105° room. Sweat did not run in rivulets from the twenty students; it descended in sheets that formed puddles and spilled over the sides of their mats. Three of us were first-timers, the other two seemingly young and fit, yet one of them left after thirty minutes, and the other took frequent breaks. I was hell-bent on sticking it out, but I became so dizzy near the end that I had to rest for short periods. The teacher complimented me on not leaving the room.

No one spoke either before or after class. I assumed they were either anticipating the misery or recovering from it. I looked at how young and beautiful they were, and I knew that, in the absence of desperation, I would not be there. As I biked home, I had trouble staying oriented, and I thought I must be ill. Then I realized that I was just sleepy.

The older I get, the more I find that young people are my doctors and, in this case, my teachers. I am tenacious in my belief that authority figures should be older than I, but, alas, the only way to avoid taking orders from my juniors is to never try anything new—and certainly to never get sick. Yet, there is a positive aspect to how I think about authority figures as I age. Namely, I sometimes refuse to follow their instructions. Yesterday, Meadow kept yelling things like, “Bend your back toward the wall; bend it farther, farther, farther than you ever thought possible,” and I reflected that she wouldn’t be the one with the crushed disk.

I took a class at a regular Yoga studio the day before. The group was small, intimate, and philosophical. I would have signed up for a month, but most of their classes happen before I get out of bed. By contrast, Bikram is factory Yoga. They have classes all day long, all around the globe, and they never talk philosophy. Yet, I am convinced they can help me unless I push myself too far. The extreme heat is supposed to prevent this. It is also said to relieve the body of toxins. If this is true, their carpet must contain hundreds of pounds of noxious bouillon crystals.

It is 1:00 a.m., and I am still drained, yet I look forward to going back this afternoon, maybe because I think it will be easier, or maybe because I can’t believe it was really that hard. I was the only one who laughed during class. I kept looking at the misery around me, and thinking about how we were all paying good money for it. The absurdity tickled me, and I giggled repeatedly.

As I left the building, a man on the sidewalk was screaming obscenities at a woman, and she at him. Another man and another woman had been doing the same thing when I entered. Continuing on, I passed a bike tire locked to a post, the rest of the bike stolen. I usaully avoid downtown and its desperate people.

Eugene was very different when I moved here twenty years ago. I never felt fear then. I saw it the way the Oregon Trail settlers saw it—as the Promised Land. The town and I have both changed. It is growing from a big town into a bonafide city that doesn’t spend nearly enough on law enforcement, and I am growing into something that I am not sure about, but something ever better.

Yesterday, as I walked the sidewalk to a hopefully safer place where I had locked my own bike, I looked at the many desperate people, and I knew that none of them would bother me. Sweat was pouring from me in such abundance in the cool air that I looked as if I was dying from something that could be contagious.

A year and a day

I have waited since last summer for admission to a Wicca internet class, and was finally accepted. I signed a contract on June 30 to be a student “for a year and a day,” to complete assignments on time, and to send $20 to my teacher (Wiccans—at least these Wiccans—don’t accept payment, but a token gift is required). There are five students, four mentors, and the teacher. We have weekly assignments, a newsgroup, meetings on mIRC, and a great deal of personal attention. Much is given and much is expected. So much that I am quite overwhelmed, but also quite delighted. It is a new and strange world, and I look forward to learning more about it. Here is a part of my application form.

1) How do you define your religion/spirituality?

I feel spiritual mostly when I am in the woods or some other purely natural setting. I do not believe in supernatural entities, yet I am often drawn to particular objects (rocks, trees, colors, smells, locations) with trust and affection. I would like to think that the affection of which I speak is returned, but I doubt that it is. I also feel myself to be immortal, but again my feeling is in conflict with my intellect. Likewise, I suspect that awareness pervades the universe, but I see no evidence for this either. If something does not make intellectual sense to me, I cannot embrace it consistently.

2) What led you to your religion?

The desire to believe that the universe is not indifferent. I want to feel permanently and deeply connected to what is as opposed to feeling like an ephemeral being that doesn’t matter. Do I then get these things from my religion? No. What I do get is a sense of overwhelming, and, at times, excruciating, wonder. These are not feelings that I seek out but feelings that come to me naturally. As to the other things (like believing in connectedness or purpose), I don’t really know what these things mean much less whether they are true.

3) What are your strengths?

I am a good writer and handyman, and possess a fair amount of knowledge about a variety of things. I am also good with dogs, resourceful, sentimental, gentle, frugal, orderly, humorous, personally and domestically clean, consistent in my affections, thoughtful in small ways, and willing to do what must be done.

4) What are your weak points?

I am prone to loneliness, depression, feelings of futility, and obsessing about things that scare or anger me.

5) Does your immediate family share your religious beliefs? If not, what are their beliefs?

My wife has no religious beliefs. She gives religion too little thought to even qualify as a theist, atheist, or agnostic. I have never known her to be different, although she was brought up a strict Southern Baptist.

6) How do they feel about your being a witch?

I have belonged to four churches, was a non-resident editor for American Atheist, and briefly attended the local Self-Realization Fellowship, so she would neither be surprised, nor would she expect me to stay with it. She would consider it one of my weirder attempts at what might be called a religious affiliation, but she would not give me a hard time about it.

7) Are you ‘in’ or 'out' regarding your religious beliefs? To what degree?

I would talk about my religion if asked, but no one asks. My experience is that the older people become, the less likely they are to discuss religion. I am an active Freemason and an Odd Fellow, and most of the people I spend time with are in those fraternities. A belief in God is required, but the term is undefined, and not considered a proper topic for discussion at lodge events.

8) Is there anything else you think we should know about you?

I consider all forms of divination as things that might be interesting to study, but not as things to be taken seriously. I do not believe that spirits can be called into a circle because I do not believe that spirits exist. I would interpret such things as meaningful contemplatively, psychologically, and socially. By way of comparison, I would offer that I feel very positively about the religious aspects of my lodge memberships, although I am aware that my actual beliefs differ greatly from those of my fellows.

My lodges give me permission to define my beliefs for myself, and this makes it possible for me to worship with a completeness that I could not feel within the context of a group in which well-defined beliefs were required. I can feel connected to both my lodge brothers and sisters and to WHATEVER IS without having to worry about whether my beliefs are so different that I don’t belong. If I can do as much within this class, I am likely to prosper.

My conclusion about god is simply that he does not exist, at least not as a conscious, purposeful, caring entity. Despite this, I believe in something that might be called a higher power. Call it energy, beauty, love, or whatever; I cannot completely let go of the notion that there is something greater than we of which we are a part. I mean by this that we are of it rather than it being of us. It is the ocean, and we are the droplets, and I take some little comfort in that.


I had my second injection of Synvisc today, a lubricating fluid that is injected into the middle of theknee from just below and a little to the outside of the kneecap. I get three shots, seven days apart, and they are supposed to relieve the pain for six months. I’ve never had a doctor do anything that hurt half so much as to stick that long needle into my knee. I don’t flinch or even stop asking questions during the injection (she’s in and out of the room in the time it takes to stick me, so I have to take advantage of every second), but if the pain were any greater, I would have cried.

Peggy has a new bike, a hybrid between a street bike and a mountain bike. We took it and my bike to the mountains Wednesday, and rode nine miles on a gravel road while the dogs ran alongside. My hands tingled for the next three days. Yesterday I was unable to hold a glass of water.

I feel like I’ve aged twenty years since my surgery in February. I always thought I would hold up at least as well as my father—who could put in a hard day’s work in his mid-seventies. Maybe I got some bad genes from my mother.

Sleeping with magnets

I slept with hardware store magnets wrapped around my knee for the past three nights. I read that magnets might alleviate the pain and swelling, but the relief is more marked than I could have hoped for. Since the swelling is as grotesque as ever, I suspect a placebo effect, yet I should think that a placebo effect would require that I be deluded, but how can I be deluded when I can see the swelling in my knee and fully expect it to hurt?