Yoga – The Art of Self-Torture

Yoga.  It sounds like a friendly word.  Sounds a little like yogurt.  Smooth and creamy.  Maybe a little like a low mobility shriveled old alien spouting words of wisdom in Star Wars.  Or Maybe it reminds you a little of Yogi Bear:  that lovable cartoon animal that really just wanted picnic baskets.  He didn’t want to ravage people, he was just hungry for a sandwich.  So what harm could come from doing yoga?  Plenty.  It’s a horrible practice that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.  The non-threatening name only exacerbates the horror and trauma it causes.  I shall now attempt to explain how this system of abuse works.

It begins by a suggestion from your wife that yoga will be beneficial to you and that it’s something you can do together.  While I don’t blame my wife for the suffering endured, she is responsible for tending to injuries afterwards.  Anyway, what husband wouldn’t agree with that suggestion – so off to yoga I go.  Keep in mind this suggestion has been made for a couple years before I  finally relented. This is a great way to spend a Saturday morning if you aren’t a fan of sleeping or taking it easy on the weekend.  I am not sure what every yoga studio looks like but the ones I have seen are similar to this.  A big open space and as you walk in you feel comforted by its openness.  It’s similar to one of those big empty warehouses the mob might ask you a few questions in with just a chair sitting at the center.  Except there are no chairs.  Off to the side the room is stocked with many implements of your future torture.  Unlike in typical torture situations where the torturer has to at least expend some effort to get the equipment, you have to get it yourself.  There is the razor thin mat, which gives you little protection from the floor, but prevents your feet and hands from sliding on the floor into a comfortable position which might save you from the pain you will have to experience. There are straps which you use to bind yourself with, there are blocks and pillows that you use to prop yourself up with (more will be explained later about how these will be used to weaken you psychologically).

The class is largely full of women.  If you are a single man interested in women, you might think this is the place for you, but you’d be mistaken.  The only way you can impress a woman here is through your ability to take pain.  Some women might be impressed by that, but probably only the kind that want a man they can inflict pain on.  Others might feel sorry for you and take pity.  I submit that nothing here is the basis for building a meaningful relationship.  My suggestion is that you hone other skills and impress women elsewhere.  And as I’ll soon explain, it’s unclear how many people here aren’t part of the grift that is yoga.

Your instructor is the true deceiver here and you will look at her and really think everything will be alright.  She is friendly and welcoming.  She doesn’t look overly imposing although a careful glance will see strong muscles safely tucked into her yoga pants.  Of course, she need not be too formidable in appearance as the method of torture comes from what she tells you to do to yourself, not what she does to you directly.  This is the brilliance of it all.

As the session begins the trap is sprung.  Why?  Because this is the beginning of the psychological manipulation to follow.  You start by sitting and breathing.  Her voice is calming as she tries to relax you so you become more pliable later.  Often there is some music in the background played at the exact right volume to make you more compliant and ensure complete submission to her orders.  So there I am sitting and breathing.  Pretty easy stuff.  I’m getting relaxed.  I look around the room…I feel a sense of unity as we are all sitting and breathing and I am on par with the rest of the class at this activity so I’m feeling good about myself.  But this peaceful feeling doesn’t last.  It’s not long before you have to start doing poses.  This by the way is also the beginning of many Hindi words that I’m pretty sure mean rather insidious things, but sound spiritual.

Related image
Yoga participants in worship of the instructor

I got to do a cow.  That was easy.  I pretended like I had a really heavy udder.  Then there was the cat.  That was also not bad, except cats are ready to pounce and flee at a moment’s notice.  This was only making me more stationary.  Then there was the cobra.  All I know is that if a mongoose found me it would be over quick.  Then I am doing something called “a child”, which is not like my child at all who is energetic and obstinate.  In this position you are more like a worshipper praising the teacher for the pleasure of being tortured.  Then I’m told to take the strap and put it around my foot to hold my leg straight up in the air.  I quickly notice how my leg doesn’t go straight up in the air.  It is roughly at a 20 degree angle above the floor in order to remain straight.  Everybody else in the room is like a fucking submarine and I begin to feel shame.  I begin to wonder is yoga really just part of the feminist agenda so we know what it feels like to constantly feel shame over our own bodies in a patriarchal system?  As a feminist I quickly agree that yoga is for the betterment of society and continue.  My hamstring already feels angry as the teacher calmly has me moving my leg to the left and right.  Her language becomes a maze of confusion.  “Turn to the right, but open your shoulders.  Pin your hips to the floor as if you are breathing through your thigh.”  I quickly notice that my thigh is completely without the requisite respiratory system and begin to worry.  That worry is quickly forgotten as I am told to lose the strap and do a cobra again.  Now it’s downward facing dog.  You will, in this moment, realize that no dog would ever pose like this.  My arms quiver under the weight of my body.  “No”, she says, “the weight is supposed to mostly on your legs.”  I quickly try to work out how this is humanly possible because hard as I try I can only make my hamstrings scream.  I collapse on to my knees and look around as everyone looks like statues and my complete incompetence becomes glaring.  I’m sweating as I glance up at the clock.  Only 15 minutes have passed.  Also why does my sweat smell worse in this environment?

Typical yoga “plant” used to grift people into thinking that yoga can be accomplished by anybody, but only enhances your shame.

As I alluded to earlier the extreme shame you experience is what makes you go along with the instructor.  Every move you try to follow her on reminds you that you aren’t worthy.  All the while she will say things like, “Lift your arm up straight so that it brushes your ear.  Now drop your shoulder.”  What?  How do I drop my shoulder while lifting up my arm? And on and on it goes, “Open your shoulders, stretch your spine, drop your tailbone, turn your pinkies inward to work your triceps, reach out with your ring finger to feel it in your armpit, bend down to left while lowering your right hip.”  Basically the rule of thumb is that whatever direction they want you to move, you are supposed to, somehow, at the same time also move in the other direction.  And I begin to realize that yoga is simply the art of tearing your own body apart as slowly and painfully as possible.

I am on the ground, left leg over right and told “turn to the left, but not to move my neck, and to keep my buttocks on the ground, and to reach behind me, turn my hand, open my shoulders, but now look back in the other direction, without using my neck, only my shoulders, also open up the sides of your body, push your ribs against your tailbone.”   Somehow no time has passed since my last excruciating look at the clock.  As I look around, illegally, using my neck, I am reminded once again that I am surround by flexible supple women who look like dancers and begin to realize that they are all part of the plan to torture you.  The teacher beforehand selected them to make you look as pathetic as possible.  And as you look over at the teacher, you can’t even feel aggression, which would be the normal way to get out of this situation, but shame weakens you.   You are ready to tell her where the bomb is located, what the encryption code is, turn over your family to the authorities, but your tormentor doesn’t want any information and only wants you to experience pain.  A 5’1″ sadist who somehow manages to say “namaste” with a smile on her face from the well of darkness that must be her soul.  You want to run out of the room, but this would only add to the humiliation.  Peppered throughout her tormenting instruction is “Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”  Even though, minus the sitting and breathing, everything she’s asked you to do since makes you uncomfortable.  If my comfort was her concern she would ask me to leave.

The final mockery comes with the warrior poses.  As a man my instinct is to think that this is finally something I can sink my teeth in, but again she exposes the patriarchy for what it is.  I look around and I see women who could very well be Amazonian soldiers ready to strike me with a deadly blow.  I on the other hand feel like a Chihuahua who has less that confidently stood in front of Doberman Pincher, only to realize that not only do I have a sprained ankle, but I’ve also got spinach between my teeth when I try to growl.  I listen to Yanni playing now.  I hate Yanni.  That bastard plays a note for 30 seconds while sipping a coffee, making millions and leads a pleasurable life, while his new age feeble “compositions” are now a soundtrack for my pain.

The best part of it all is that this was called “gentle yoga”.  Imagine lying on the ground while a crane slowly in small increments lowers a 1 ton weight on to you.  At first you are like it’s just touching me, now it’s a bit of a massage, and then “Oh my bones are being crushed and I will soon be flat as a pancake”.  This is really the only way I can me sense of the use of the word “gentle”.  Gentle and continuous pressure will still ruin your day.

Man being tortured by gentle turns on the rack. AKA early yogic practices.

After a length of time which can only be measured on the geologic time scale, the barefoot punisher allows you to relax and asks for you to reflect on what you did today.  Afraid to relive the trauma I decide to think of the bagels I have at home and which flavor cream cheese I want.  I do some more very competent breathing. She wishes us all happiness, and that we cause no harm, remorseless for the harm she caused me.  I get up and put my torture implements away obediently, wipe down my mat, smelling the residue of my fear.  As I leave, hips wobbling, the teacher smiles at me and I say “See you next week!”

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A Re-framing of Faith

After my previous post about faith, which led to a fruitful discussion, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of faith to humans and how it might be framed in a more useful way.  A couple summers ago I presented a series of posts about 8 virtues or qualities that make a good human, and faith was the last one I discussed.  I think that if I were to do that series again today I might change the word faith to “prediction”.

In the discussion we had on my most recent post about faith, we talked about the difference between religious faith, and the sort of everyday way we might use the word faith.  One of the things that I talked about as a difference between how a scientist might use faith, and what a religious person might call faith are two different things.  The most important difference being that a scientist would be willing to change what he has faith in, based on evidence.  I have always argue that while faith is important we should be willing to change what we have faith as we learn.  The other thing that I argued was that faith is built on evidence and there is a very big difference in having faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and faith that there is a supernatural divine being.  The difference there being the weight of evidence, and the quality of evidence used in building those two types of“faith”.

But I started to think about it at a deeper level and it seems to me that at the heart of faith is really something else when I started to ask, “Why do we have faith at all?”  Faith is a representation of our desire to predict an uncertain future.  When I had my son, I wrote a post called Love and the Future, about how when we love we start painting pictures of the future in our mind.  It happens in romantic relationships too.  According to a friend of mine who is a counselor, one of the hardest parts of counseling someone after a difficult breakup is for them to let go of those “future plans”.  I have also written a post before about “expectations”.  In the post, I talked about the benefits of expectations in that we rise to meet them.  By having a future goal in mind, we make better progress than none at all.  Of course, there are many who would say you shouldn’t have expectations, because they will only lead to disappointment, but I am not sure it’s possible to live a life without any expectations.  It’s natural that we’d have some, but I think that it’s true we might have limits into how many failed expectations we can shoulder.  Either way it seems to me that expectations are also a type of “faith”.  A desire to place some certainty in the future based on our desires and wants.  It is something we expect to come true, even if it doesn’t.

For the past few months I have been practicing mindfulness meditation, and it has been an enjoyable experience.  I’ve been using an app called Headspace.  It avoids a lot of the new age type stuff and really focuses on the philosophy of meditation and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in getting into it.  The goal is to be more focused on the present, to be mindful of what we are doing in the moment.  A thought struck me yesterday when I was practicing it, as that one of the things they tell you in the guided meditation is that you want to think about “what are your goals with the meditation” and after it’s over they suggest you think about what is going to the very next thing you do.  So even in something that is supposed to be about the present, we cannot help but look forward at least a little bit in our thinking.

I have come to the conclusion that it is natural in humans to be forward thinkers.  I have had the thought before that one of the things that makes humans more intelligent is our ability to project further into the future than other species.  Now one could argue that we are also still pretty awful at it, but the fact that we try is actually impressive.  We look for patterns in the universe and we try to project those patterns into the future so that we can be less uncertain and fearful about it.  While Farmer’s almanacs would like us to believe that squirrels can predict months in advance about the severity of the winter, it is clear in an evolutionary sense life on average are poor forward thinkers.  If they were good at it, I’m not sure extinctions would happen as often as they do.  For instance, an animal can only assume a winter will lie between certain climatic norms.  Some portion of the population will develop mutations better equipped for let’s say surviving a larger range of conditions, but when change becomes to extreme large proportions of a population if not all, cannot adapt and die out.  Humans are better at it, unfortunately we are also deeply conceited and that leads to problems.  So given this human propensity to want to predict, the best thing we can do is to build value systems that allow us to be successful more often.

When we say we have faith in our partner, our ourselves, we are making a statement that there is an expectation that based on existing evidence that we will continue to handle some future situation in the same way we have before.  Making a statement like, “I have faith I will do well on my exams”.  Presumably you have taken enough exams to presume a similar outcome.  More than that, to make sure it isn’t blind faith, you have examined the patterns to your success through various study methods, getting a certain amount sleep, etc to make sure your faith is not misplaced.  Your faith is a type of prediction.  A value system that aids in this faith is your ability to be introspective and also perhaps learn from others as to how they study and learn what are good and bad practices.

So where does religious faith fit into all of this?  Hopefully by now it is pretty clear, but let’s look a little closer.  I have read several atheist and agnostic scholars speak about religion as a type of model.  This is how religion has always made the most sense to me. What is the purpose of models?  In science models are things that model scientific processes that give us more predictive capabilities.  The better we understand a process, on average, the more predictive we will be.  This is why a scientist’s ‘faith’ might be quite different than a religious person’s faith because the success of a scientific theory is its predictive capability.  The poorer it is at prediction the less certain we are about our understanding.  In my field of meteorology one of the main reasons we try to model atmospheric processes is to become better at prediction.  It is helpful to be more aware of what weather and climatic patterns are coming in the future.

Religious faith, at its root, is a kind model.  One constructed a long time ago, built largely on false patternicity errors, but given how little we understood about the universe its weak predictive capabilities (in line with empirical evidence) is hardly surprising.  Nevertheless it is an attempt to know the future.  It’s full of prophet predictions, it speaks of what happens to you when you die, how the world will end, what consequences your actions might have.  People pray or plead for diving intervention for their future endeavors.  ‘Please get me this job, please make it rain so our crops come in, please don’t let my mother die of cancer.’  These are all  attempts to give us certainty in an ever changing universe in which are predictive capabilities, especially at an individual level, are extremely limited.  The statement “God has a plan for you” is a prime example of how religion has the course of your life worked out already.  There is no need to worry about it.  Just have faith.  People find it soothing to pray, people find it peaceful to know the purpose of the universe, to know what will happen to them when they die.  In fact, on the whole, religion gives far more certainty than science, which is why I expect it is much more popular.  Science rarely claims 100% predictive capability, but religion does, and to this end religion can be easily used to exploit people.  It is a panacea to all the uncertainty in the world.  Religion pushes people to have more and more faith in times of doubt and confusion.  What they are really saying is “Be more and more certain that (religious claim x) is the truth.”  And if you’re successful, not surprisingly, you feel better.  With mental effort we can convince ourselves to be more certain of things whose outcome is uncertain.  Human history is rife with such examples.  There is no doubt in my mind that we have better models for how humans can live their lives now.  Nevertheless, we have maintained these old models, trying to ignore the worst bits of them, and developed an entire field of apologetics whose main purpose is to try to convince people that these old models still not only have value, but that they are actually superior to other models out there.

Now just because prediction is something humans do, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a virtue.  I guess I see it as a raw instinct that needs to be tamed, which is how I have approached all beneficial human qualities.  I think it’s clear that while much happiness can be found in getting lost in the moment, we need some sort of value system that gives us a direction.  We might get there and find we have to go somewhere else, but it seems beneficial to always have some sort of idea of where we might go next.  In my life it seems that the people I have admired most are the ones who can take pleasure in the moment, but also keep their eyes ahead of them as well.  It’s dangerous to get lost in times that have not occurred, just as it is unhealthy to dwell in the past.   So if I were to choose this 8th value that makes a good human, perhaps the word “prediction” doesn’t quite do it justice, but until I come up with a better word it will have to do.  There is, however, no question in my mind that a defining quality for our species is our ability think about the future.   It encapsulates our dreams for a better future and if there is any escape from the fate of extinction that most life on this planet has faced, it will be through our ability to predict, if we can remember to be humble enough to remember we aren’t perfect.

Additional reading:

Some Quick Thoughts About The NRA

The NRA is at it again with another one of their dark dystopian commercials that seem to advocate for civil war.  I am not going to do their work for them by posting it here (you can find it yourself if interested).  Several people claim that the NRAs real goal is to actually not try to scare the left and anybody on the right who doesn’t feel like they have enough guns to increase gun sales.  So I did a little digging into this possibility.  We all know that gun sales rose under Obama, with false claims about how he was going to take our guns, but I had know idea how much.  Below is FBI data on the number of background checks performed.  While this doesn’t translate directly into gun sales themselves, the number of checks certainly is correlated.


You might have to click on the image to get a better view.  What I thought was interesting was that despite violent crime per capita peaking in the early 90s and declining steadily since, the number of background checks (for as far as the data goes back) seems reasonably steady, in fact falling slightly until 2005.  What changed then?  This was during the Bush presidency, certainly nobody was suggesting G.W. Bush was going to take away guns, so I did a little more digging and found this article in Forbes.  From the article:

“Over 50 firearms-related companies have given at least $14.8 million to NRA according to its list for a donor program that began in 2005. That was the year NRA lobbyists helped get a federal law passed that limits liability claims against gun makers. Former NRA President Sandy Froman wrote that it “saved the American gun industry from bankruptcy,” according to Bloomberg.”

The NRA appears to have been riding a wave to more and more gun sales since.  By the end of the Obama Presidency, background checks had increased by 300% from pre-2005 values.  It was just kind of a “holy shit” moment for me, so I thought I’d share.  Since Trump has been elected, the number of background checks seems on pace for about 10%-20% reduction by the end of the year.  It seems all the rich gun manufacturers want to keep getting richer, and the best way to do that is for them to market fear.  And that is what they have done steadily in the US for well over a decade.  Whatever your stance on the second amendment this should frighten you more.  Unfortunately for many the fear they feel is an imagined one.

The Same and Not Quite the Same

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
The sun is out, that’s nice.
Brushing my teeth
Should I shave today?
Yes, no avoiding it.
A bite to eat
Go to the gym for a bit
The dew is gone, better mow that lawn
Lunch
Take my son for a walk
Nap time for him now
Fold some laundry with Maggie
He’s up, dinner.
Bed and bath for the little one
Some TV, some computer time
Off to bed

Repeat the next day

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
The clouds are pretty, that’s nice.
Brushing my teeth,
Don’t need to shave today
A bite to eat
Off to work, same route
Lunch
Driving home, same route
Hit the gym
Take my son for a walk
Empty the dishwasher
Cook some dinner
Bed and bath for the little one
Sneak in a bowl of ice cream
Read and fall asleep

Repeat the next day

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
Looks like rain today.
Brushing my teeth,
Shave again?
Yep, beard is pretty grey
A bite to eat
Off to work, same route
Lunch
Driving home, same route

Hit the gym
Lot’s of rain, staying in
Grass is going to grow faster
Wash some dishes
Start the grill for dinner
Skyping with family
Bed and bath for the little one
Read and fall asleep