On the last night of this leg of the tour, the 18 people in the group I'm traveling with had a dinner arranged by the tour company at a local pub. Local, I guess, as in the same city. It was at least a half hour walk from the hotel. But shockingly it wasn't raining, and the city is incredibly beautiful, so walk we did, through the bustling city streets of amazing architecture, to the Scottish pub, Ghillie Dhu. The building is a very interesting mix of stone, spiral staircases, and modern details. We all sat in several booths, ordered drinks, and soon got served some potato leek soup. We had only heard rumors about the food, that it would be fish. I and the other vegetarian on this leg were assured that they knew to give us something else. However several others were heard complaining to the waitstaff that they didn't eat fish, or were allergic to the shellfish stuffing. I overheard one waiter tell one of the complainers that they couldn't possibly make any more vegetarian dishes since only two had been ordered by the tour company. I felt bad that not eating animals can be such a hassle. But in the end everyone got what they wanted.
My entree was a delicious pastry stuffed with broccoli, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, artichokes, and just the right amount of tomato sauce. Over the top was what I believe to be what the other restaurant turned into glue - a delicious white sauce. On the side was a pile of, what else, potatoes. I was very happy, especially considering the complaints I heard about the fish.
Dessert was a fantastic cup of cream and tart raspberries. I left thinking that the bulk of the people would have been happier with any restaurant closer to the hotel. On the walk back we took the low road through the beautiful gardens at the foot of the castle.
I will definitely be back to this spectacular city, but probably not to this restaurant.
The Ghillie Dhu is at 2 Rutland St, Edinburgh
Sometimes it just happens. Every once in a great while there is a rare combination of chance, good luck, surprise, and delight. Tonight was one of those nights. We got to Edinburgh at dinner hour with the evening free. The same four of us from the Dublin adventure set out from the oddly fun Ibis Hotel in the heart of the old city, rounded a corner, and headed down a street lined with stunning old ornate buildings. Not a block from the hotel we found The Outsider. The three-story restaurant is a combination of old and new, wood and glass, formal and very informal. A handsome young man showed us to a table right in the center of the airy restaurant, with a view out huge windows onto the rooftops of Edinburgh, somewhat reminiscent of a scene from Mary Poppins.
Not long after we sat down our waiter, Reuben, gallivanted to our table asking for drink orders. Reuben is a cute young Scot in black jeans and a shaggy shirt, sporting a slight scruff of beard. He brought us a Montepulciano just in time for us to order food. The four of us shared skewers of sesame-crusted aubergine (eggplant), courgette fritters (zucchini), peppers, haloumi (high melting point cheese), za'atar(spice), and an orange yogurt sauce. It didn't last long. It was very tasty.
We had just finished the appetizer when I noticed Reuben sitting up against a woman customer on a bench seat, helping her and her dining companion with the menu. Too bad I was sitting in a chair, I thought. After I had had just a few more sips of wine, Reuben and two other wait staff brought our diners.
I had reluctantly ordered gnocchi. At our last dinner in Dublin at the hotel the only vegetarian entree was gnocchi. Unfortunately, not only was the gnocchi just passable, it was in a cream sauce. The color was bright white, and the texture was of semi-dried Elmer's Glue. It made swallowing difficult. So when I looked down at my plate at the Outsider, I was not only pleased, but also surprised and intrigued. The gnocchi were pan fried with pesto, spinach, and rosemary. But most interesting was the shape. They were long and thick rectangular sticks, fried to a dark brown. At first I thought they were French fries. The extra thick kind. Now that would have been different. When I cut into one and tasted it, they were indeed gnocchi, just formed into the long shapes and fried perfectly. The texture was splendid. The sauce was very tasty with a shaving of Romano cheese on top and several sprigs of watercress. It was one of those unexpected exciting dining moments that don't come often enough.
After dinner it was time for dessert. We were in Scotland, so I decided to have a Scotch. I beckoned Reuben over to my side and coyly told him, "I'm all for new experiences." He squatted down, nuzzled his knee into my leg, leaned onto the table with his arm pressing against mine, and scanned the menu. I showed him three or four single malts on the menu that I liked, but asked him if there was something there I hadn't had that he would recommend. He selected the Springbank 15, and winked at me as he assured me that I'd like it. I did. It was a satisfying end to an exciting meal.
The Outsider Restaurant is at 15 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland.
I get enough to eat. Really, I do. I’m not one to starve. Right now I'm in Dublin traveling with a group of 75 Americans. There just happen to be two other vegetarians in the group. It’s great. I don't feel so alone. Last night the whole group went out to a large facility for a traditional Irish meal and entertainment. There were four options for entrees on the menu: roast beef and lots of potatoes and vegetables, cod and lots of vegetables, salmon with a mound of vegetables, and an Asian stir fry. With all of the traditions of the Irish for cooking vegetables this place came up with a stir fry with soy and oyster sauce. I found that very interesting. The worst part was watching all my dining companions chowing down on a big hunk of animal flesh, a mound of roasted potatoes, carrots, and broccoli. I got a small dish with a few noodles, a couple of onion squares, and one or two pieces of pepper. That's it. Good thing I had the soup and two or three glasses of Jameson.
So today we had the afternoon free. I checked online and found a Mediterranean restaurant listed near the hotel. Four of us ventured out for a late lunch. To my delight we came upon Keshk Café Restaurant just down the street, along a lovely canal. While I sipped black tea with milk, we sampled two appetizers: the moistest dolmadas I've ever had:
"Stuffed vine leaves, topped with fragrant basmati rice, fresh parsley, onion, mixed spice, lemon juice and olive oil. Cooked in tomato sauce with yoghourt on the side," and very tasty falafel - "...with secret spices." Perfect.
My entree was Okra (or gumbo): "Okra and fresh coriander cooked in a tomato and garlic sauce."
Small pods of okra were lovingly bathed in a spicy, smooth tomato sauce. I was thrilled. Instead of yet another bowl of white rice on the side I opted for potatoes. Hey, I'm in Ireland. Why not? They know potatoes, right? The waitress asked if I wanted them plain or spicy. You know what I said. Spice and Ireland weren't two things I would have put together, but then again, neither were Ireland and palm trees. But they are everywhere here. What came was a bowl of potato chunks with garlic, pepper flakes, and parsley. I dipped them in the chili sauce served with the meat dishes. Good choice.
The owner came to our table to thank us. He's Egyptian, and cooks a combination of Greek, Turkish, and North African styles. He was genuinely sad to hear that we are leaving for Scotland tomorrow morning.
After dinner we had a fun conversation with the waitress. She shyly asked us where we were from. She no longer assumed we were American after an embarrassing encounter with some Canadians. She also asked us if we had seen the Scots in kilts. Apparently we were very near some rugby fields. Recently Ireland had played Scotland. The visitors had worn kilts. I asked if the players wore them to play Rugby. She replied that she wished they had, and that it had been a very windy day.
Keshk Café Restaurant is at 71 Mespil Road, Dublin.
I'm traveling with a group through Ireland. I worried before we left that there would be little choice for a vegetarian. I imagined eating potatoes for twelve days. I could always drown my sorrows in Guinness, right? Well, I've been here for five days. I have had some rather interesting potato dishes and a bit of Guinness. Most hotel dinners so far have had one vegetarian option, never on the menu, and always pasta. Even at lunch the options in local pubs have been pasta, potatoes, sometimes in the same meal, soup, often potato based, and salad. At one pub I was able to get a toasted cheese sandwich. They do have really good whole-grain bread here.
Today we are in Kilkenny, Ireland. We have the afternoon free, so Joe and I started walking around the downtown area of this pretty, medieval city looking for a place for lunch. Something drew me down High Street, just across a beautiful river bridge near our hotel. After passing several cafes, pubs, and Kilkenny’s only yoga studio, I happened to notice a little green restaurant with a menu out front. The word "vegetarian" popped out at me. I think I had found Kilkenny's only vegetarian-friendly restaurant.
I ordered green tea and the Potato-lentil cakes. It came with a delicious salad with chopped up peppers and a tasty dressing. The cakes were thick and hot. They had a tender texture because of the potatoes, but held together until I could dip each bite into a vinegary caponata sauce. They also had a nice caraway flavor to them. I was in veggie heaven. It was just nice to eat something not pasta or zucchini based. If you don't know me by now, I hate zucchini.
We were sitting next to a couple with a toddler. The mother turned to us and said in a non-Irish accent,"That's not a local accent. Where are you guys from?" She was from British Columbia, Canada. Her husband was local. We had a delightful chat along with our delightful lunch.
The Fig Tree Brunch Restaurant is at 20 High Street, Kilkenny, Ireland.
Time for a change of pace.
I know what you must be thinking after you read the title of this post. Two muscled bodies glistening with sweat, in an animated, intimate dance, each one out doing the other in feats of flexibility and agility. So let that thought pass for a moment. It’s a common thought, but one that may prove only to be a momentary distraction from the real subject at hand.
There is a teaching in yoga called brahmacharya, often translated as continence. Some see it as celibacy. Others see it as restraint. In all of my studies in yoga, I have not come across anyone seriously engrossed in what we call yoga to relate brahmacharya in any way to a moral condemnation of sex. It is said that the teaching relates more to wisdom than to morality. If one’s attention is given over often to the release of sexual energy, and let’s admit that one’s attention can be drawn to that subject often, what time or energy would one have for much else? So this principle of restraint is more about retaining energy and spending it wisely. Often that wisdom draws our attention to many productive things that would be lost during a fixation on sex. In fact, a prohibition against sex could fuel that fixation more than fire a productive burst of wisely spent energy.
Because of the reputation of this principle, many people might dismiss ancient yoga teachings as antiquated, preferring a more permissive attitude toward sex. Others may dismiss the mere mention of sex out of fear and embarrassment, preferring not to discuss or even ponder the subject at all. However, the principle seeks neither to promote nor prohibit the topic, merely to instill in the yogi wisdom about its expression.
Yoga and sex naturally go together. Picture a room full of sweaty, mostly naked bodies, twisting and stretching. Picture a young, inexperienced yogi nestled close to an older, wiser teacher, as the master presses against his faltering body, both forms easing deeply into a pose. Let’s be honest for a moment. How about a proposal? An overture from a student. A suggestion that an experienced yogi would make a good lover. Truth? In my mind I see one fairly passive body and one very active. I see one partner getting very tired in the pursuit of the other’s pleasure. It doesn’t sound romantic or enticing to me. Let’s be realistic for a lot longer. Can yoga make sex better? Not if it isn’t good to begin with. What yoga can do is open up the possibility for better health, and better acceptance of where one is with the body as it is. What an understanding of brahmacharya might bring is the wisdom to know when sexual expression might prove to be beneficial and when it might cause more harm than good.
In the words of a very respected writer on yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar, in Light on Yoga, “When one is established in brahmacharya, one develops a fund of vitatlity and energy, a courageous mind and a powerful intellect so that one can fight any type of injustice. The brahmachri will use the forces he generates wisely… Brahmacharya is the battery that sparks the torch of wisdom.”
Back over the summer I took a look at my goatee and decided it was time to let it get a bit of length. The problem with that area of my beard is that most of the white is there. But I thought it was time to accept it as a normal part of my aging and go with it. By September it was the longest my beard had been in several years. It was a sizeable puff of white billowing out of my chin. Just after Thanksgiving I started letting the full beard grow. I don’t know if that was for aesthetic reasons, or because I’m lazy and prefer to shave as little as possible. It was around then that I came up with the idea of using my beard for a cause. I had recently attended the Ocular Melanoma Foundation Patient Retreat at the Cleveland Clinic. It was a wonderful time meeting other people with this rare disease. As a matter of fact, it was the largest gathering of people with ocular melanoma ever. We met doctors and researchers and found out about the latest treatments and protocols. There’s not a lot of attention given to this orphan disease because so few people are affected by it, but it was great to see that someone was doing something.
I worked with the Foundation and my web designer, Bonnie, to set up a campaign to raise money for the Foundation and awareness of the disease. If you go to http://becomingsoundyoga.com/LIG/, you can donate any amount of money in one of two places. One for “Let it Grow,” and one for “Let it Go.” On March 3, 2015 at noon, if more money has been donated to OMF through "Let It Grow," I will commit to let my already rather lengthy beard grow until at least Jan. 1, 2016. If more money has been donated to OMF "Let It Go," I will shave it off and buzz my moustache and head down to #0. I will post a video of this on my YouTube channel. I was diagnosed at noon on March 3rd, 2008. This will be an interesting way of celebrating that milestone.
I don’t know how well I will be able to function if my beard grows until January. I get enough grief now as it is from people. But now, every time someone complains or asks me how long I’m going to let it grow, I can direct them to my website and say, “Put your money where your mouth is.” If I have to shave it off, I might be a bit sad, too. I’ve gotten kind of used to it. It does get a lot of attention. It’s surprising that some people, who usually don’t say anything to me at all, will say a lot to me about my beard. It’s also surprising to hear some of the things they say.
Beards can be fun. They can also get in the way. They make eating and drinking a bit more of a challenge. If I have to get rid of it I can always grow it back, but I think I’m going to miss it. Yup, I’m going to miss it.
I've never had anyone hold a gun to my head. I don't profess to know exactly what that feeling is like. I can only imagine that moment of terror when you realize that someone, in a split second, could pull the trigger and end your life. You probably wouldn't have much time to even notice the event. It would just happen and your awareness would end, or so I imagine.
But what if that same threat of death were to unfold much more slowly? What if it were as if there were a gun to your head but you didn't know it was a gun? What if you saw someone standing over you and you saw they had something in their hand, but you couldn't make out what it was or exactly what danger it held for you, if any?
I'm sitting in the waiting room in the Oncology Service, the whole fourteenth floor of Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. The sign on the outside of the building said, "America's First. World's Best." I guess it’s comforting that the figure standing over you is the best in the world at whatever it is that they are going to do to you.
It's always a harrowing ride into Philly. The trek from 95 to the Ben Franklin Bridge spits in the face of the sleek sixteen lanes of the newly opened truck and car lanes on the Jersey Turnpike. To go from that free-flowing, open road(well except for the idiot from New York who had to cut in front of me in the left lane then tap his brakes because I was too close to him, which took all of my effort to disregard his wickedness) to the spaghetti of road changes and lane shifts, left exits and right exits, on strip-mall-clogged local roads just for the distinct pleasure of crossing the Ben Franklin bridge only to then attempt to navigate the cluster that's called the entrance to the City of Brotherly Love is stressful, to say the least.
I first came here in March of 2008. That was a Jersey Turnpike time of life. In 2007 I got a Civil Union with my husband, Joe, on a boat circling NYC. A few months before that I had been seeing random flashes of light in my lower right eye. I thought little of that, probably because in September of 2006 I had jabbed the arm of sunglasses into that eye, bruising the iris. I thought it was just residual effects from that. February of 2008 saw several concerts, a wonderful convention with friends in Hartford, and an extremely fun cabaret of songs written for women sung by men. Yeah, we did "Cell Block Tango." I even sang "Special" from Avenue Q. It was a free-flowing, fast-paced time. The flashes continued.
On Monday, February 25th, I went to a regular check up with my optometrist, Gina. Everything looked good. I almost didn't remember the flashes. But at the end of the visit I told her about them. She said, "Oh," in a way that's like making a U-Turn on the Turnpike going 85 and heading up the truck lanes going the wrong way. She looked and looked in my eye until I was blind from the lights. She said, "I don't see anything, but I'm going to have a retina specialist take a look just to make sure." She made the appointment for me. It was for the next day.
In the retina specialist's office they poked, pried, flashed, and put such bright lights in my eye that I felt my whole head get hot. After what seemed like hours, the doctor said that I had a freckle in my eye. He said that it was small and probably nothing. He suggested that I go to Wills Eye Hospital so that they could take more detailed pictures and watch it for changes. He said that sometimes, but very rarely, they could develop into melanoma, but that was unlikely. They made the appointment for me for Monday, March 3rd.
My husband couldn't get off of work that day since it was such short notice. I got my friend Brian to take me. I had never heard of Wills, let alone known that it was such a world-renowned eye hospital. Little did I know that the top floor was run by two of the world’s best ocular oncologists. I encountered people there who had flown in from around the world to see these doctors. If I thought I had seen bright lights before, I was mistaken. They poked more, held my eye open, put goop on it and took a sonogram, took pictures with flashes of light that were so bright my whole body instantly started to sweat. They numbed my eye and took a wide-angle scan where the lens actually sits on the surface of the eye. What a wild light show that was. I saw more doctors, each of whom had to look in my eye more deeply and for longer than the previous one had. Wills is a teaching hospital, so there we doctors and assistant doctors, each of whom had a train of interns who had to look, too.
I was waiting in a fairly dark room for quite a while. I heard a flurry of activity in the hall and then a lot of whispering. It was Dr. Carol Shields, the director, and unknown to me, one of the, if not the, leading experts in ocular melanoma. She floats down the hall on a puff of wind made by the interns who study to gain a bit of her expertise. To me she seemed like a tennis player. Muscular. Athletic. Blunt. Direct. The door opened. She looked at me, well, as much as I could tell in the dark, and said, "We think you're going to be alright."
Was that the gun in her hand? Did she pull the trigger to let out a slow-motion bullet that might hit me in a month, a year? Would I die a normal death before the bullet shattered my skull?
That moment was like you're standing in Times Square. Everything goes silent. Then the lights and buildings start to shift and move around you. Then you're facing the total opposite side of the square. Or are you?
What? That's all I remember. What. Melanoma? She was pretty sure that the tumor(tumor? What happened to freckle?) in my eye was melanoma. What was I doing Thursday?
As I look back, that moment was like coming off the subway uptown, getting up the stairwell, getting turned around until you can't tell if you're walking on a sidewalk uptown, downtown, or on a street heading west. Or maybe it's east.
I went into the hospital Thursday, March 6 to be treated with brachytherapy, where a radioactive plaque was sewn to my eye, left in for five days, then removed. I couldn't leave the hospital room. Fortunately I was an hour from home. I had many visitors, well over the limit of two at a time! I felt bad for the patients in the rooms next to mine who flew in and had no visitors. I couldn't even visit them myself.
So far the bullet is still in the air. I have what's called Choroidal melanoma. Cancer of the eye is very rare. Six per million get it every year. Half of those diagnosed die from it. There aren't a lot of statistics since it's so rare, but I estimate that when I was diagnosed I had a seventy percent chance of being dead in a couple of years. Once it metastasizes, people usually live about seven months. I'm almost seven years out and still here. Today's visit is once a year to see how the tumor is shrinking and to take more pictures. The lights will be bright, but maybe today I'll get the cute tech with the beard. The really scary visit will be in February with the melanoma specialist. That will involve the scans to see my lungs and liver. The time leading up to that will be a couple anxious months, then the scans, then then the results. We call that "scanziety." Sounds like another post about that.
What helps? Breathing. I don't know how I'd get through all of it without yoga. Maybe the world would have spun more. Maybe I'd be like the New York driver. Maybe I'd be so shaken I'd have just stayed home, but for now at least, I'm still on the highway.
Is it death we fear? Is it the unknown? I won't profess to know what happens when we die. I can’t say for sure whether our consciousness lives on, or whether the body lives on as well. I don’t know if death is the end. I do know that there's a connection between living beings. Whether our minds make the connection, or whether our consciousness is connected to others in ways we can't see or understand, I delight in pondering the things that connect me to others.Call it coincidence. Call in synchronicity. Call it ESP. Call it intuition. Call it whatever force you want to call it. I believe we fear the loss of connection more than we fear death.
I believe that for everyone there is one person, usually a relative, that we are connected to more deeply than all others. Perhaps this just happens at birth. Maybe they are assigned to us. Maybe we pick them in some subconscious way. Mine is my grandmother, Ruth. As far back as I can remember my connection to her has been deep. She lived in Florida, and I usually saw her only once a year. But that didn't matter. She always called me Steven instead of Steve. Maybe she knew I would prefer it when I grew up. Maybe she's the reason I do prefer it. She's the one who made a big deal of my 7/11 birthday that I carry with me to this day. Between us there was always an understanding that we never had to speak about.
She died in 1986. But the loss had happened earlier. She never seemed to recover from the loss of my grandfather. After he died she just wasn't able to communicate in the same way. But I still felt the connection. After she died I would see the number 711 and feel her presence all the more. It was after her death that I started asking people to call me Steven. Not only do I prefer it, but every time I hear someone call my name I think of her. I will always feel her presence. It is because of it that I can fear less. It is because of her connection that I know I will maintain one with others no matter what.
On the second day of the cruise, my suite mate Brian and I went to the Friends of Dorothy meeting in the Champagne Bar. This is a way that gay men used to advertise meetings on cruises in the days when we didn't want the straight people to know we were gay and wanted to meet each other, as if they wouldn't have figured it out had they happened upon the location. Or in the case of a recent incident, I heard about a woman who came to the meeting as advertised on her ship because she thought it was a Wizard of Oz trivia game. She was, shall we say, vocally not happy with all of the gay men there. Anyway, at this first meeting, we met a couple from Utah. One of them is a massage therapist. They were traveling with friends. One of these friends was also a massage therapist. I was telling them about the yoga class on the helipad and that it would be the next morning as well. They both agreed to go since they had each done yoga before.
This morning at 7:45 they met me in the gym. The class of about 20 went out onto the helipad with Matja, the teacher from Monday. The class was almost exactly the same as Monday's. That was okay. It was especially enjoyable to practice next to new friends.
After class, while people were leaving the helipad, I asked the teacher if I could have a picture taken on the big H in the center of the pad. He said it would be fine. So the male therapist took my phone and I did a few forearm stands. Yes, it was a bit egotistical of me, yet again, but as I said before, perhaps it will be inspiration to someone. And it will look nice here in this post.
The truth is, you can do yoga anywhere. Sometimes the location is inspiring. Sometimes the location just fades into the background and you focus inside your own body so much you forget where you are. You don't need a mat, special clothes, experience, or even a teacher. So get practicing.
Today we took a very interesting taxi ride to Magans Bay Beach. It's a very beautiful beach, but it seemed like every ship passenger from the four cruise ships in port today were crammed on a narrow segment of beach. Screaming kids. Fighting husbands and wives. I decided to take a walk with my husband to a rather deserted end near some rocks where the overriding sound was gentle waves and pelicans diving into the water. We took a few pictures of each other. Other couples were posing for each other in and out of the water.
I love posting yoga pictures of myself. I know there's an element of ego in the yoga selfie and I fight with that. But I also know that disseminating pictures of an aging man doing yoga could inspire other aging men to give this journey we call yoga a try. So I couldn't resist. I asked my husband to take a few pictures of me doing inversions in the sand. It was fun. Little did I know that coming up the beach were two brothers from Toronto. The older one, about 60, came up to me and said, "My brother says that anything you can do, you can do better, eh?" Up walks his brother, a very fit looking man in his fifties, who proceeds to hoist himself up into a handstand, an held it there for about a minute while his brother took a video. I told him how impressed I was, since I can do a handstand, but I can't hold it for more than a few seconds.
I was glad I did the pics, otherwise I doubt the four of us would have had the interesting conversation about yoga, and aging, and other things. Tomorrow is the airport beach. Now, if I can just get a pic of me in Half Moon with a jet flying a few feet over my head...
I hate sports. I've always hated sports. I hated gym class. I hated gym class because I hate sports. I hate sports because I never learned to play them well. But there’s more on that in another post.
I was on a bowling league about thirteen years ago. I started out pretty bad. I got much better. I think my average was up around 120 or 130. I often bowled games around 150 to 160. My highest game was 218. It was always a mind game though. I'd bowl a really good game then I'd start overthinking everything I was doing, or start worrying that I'd once again bowl embarrassingly as I had at the start, then bowl a 90. I started up again with a bowling league over the summer. I did pretty well, but still it was the same up and down. The league was going to continue in the fall. I started to bowl worse and worse. I decided not to join the fall league, but I got talked into it. I continued my downward spiral. I wasn't having fun. Each game got worse and worse. During a conversation about it with a friend he said, "But aren't you doing it to have fun?"
That Friday I started to bowl. I kept saying to myself, "Fun. This is fun." I also talked more to my fellow bowlers. Especially the ones I didn't know. I bowled a pretty good first game. I tried not to overthink it. During the second game I got two doubles. The third game was even better. I talked the whole night (yes, rather than taking out my phone). I focused on the skills I had learned early on in that first league. I decided not to pre-bowl for the two Fridays I would miss for vacation. The points I would have gained by pre-bowling didn't matter. I was there to have fun. Besides, I had gotten a trophy after the summer league for high scratch game. The thought of me winning a trophy in a sport involving a ball is beyond my imagination. I'm still on the league. I can't say I'm bowling well, but I am having fun. I got a new ball. We will see what happens.
Back at sea, somewhere off the coast of Cuba. I got up early for the second yoga class. This one was taught by a young Scottish man named James. He was delighted to inform us that we had the captain's permission to go out onto the helipad. The helipad sits at the very point of the front of the ship on deck 7. It's a restricted area. We grabbed a mat and followed James through the secret door and into the sun. No towels. They could blow into the ocean.
I was again pleasantly surprised at how well the class was taught. It was not what I expected from a gym trainer. The emphasis was again on breathing and focus, not physical movement or fitness. There were about 35 men and women of a variety of ages. The class was not at all easy, though, and not just because of the listing of the ship from side to side. Several of the stretches were intense and difficult to balance. Many of the poses were held for a long time. It was good.
I practiced next to a young woman who remarked that she felt the class was not "vacation yoga" as James had described the class beforehand. I said to her that I thought it was hard. She said she was happy to hear someone else say that. She was tickled to point out to me her husband, several decks above us on a large balcony sun deck, vigorously waving to her. She explained that it was their fifth anniversary cruise, and that he was watching her and waiting for her for breakfast. "Newlyweds," I said. I wanted to ask why he wasn't taking the class, but I held back.
So I learned not to be so judgmental of yoga on a ship offered by fitness instructors. I would have spoken to James about his yoga training, but that would have been even more egotistical of me. Besides, I was in a hurry to meet my own husband for breakfast. I'm not sure even at five rather than eighteen years he would have been playing a balcony scene for me. But there's always tomorrow.
It was a day at sea, somewhere between Nassau, Bahamas, and St. Thomas USVI. I got up at 7:00 and headed down to the gym at 7:45 as I was instructed to do when I signed up for yoga. I signed up with Matja, one of the fitness instructors, when I first boarded. He told me that either he or another fitness instructor would be teaching the class at 8. We would go together out to the helipad. I have to say that my expectations for the class weren't high. I figured it would be a very fitness oriented class with just a few elements of yoga, but the idea of going out to the helipad sounded exciting. I kept telling myself to keep an open mind, to just do the class, and be receptive to whatever it was that the experience would bring me. When I got to the gym there was a large group of people sitting on mats in the middle where we were to meet. I didn't know if they were waiting for the class or not. If they were, then there wouldn't be much room for me and I started to get annoyed. It turned out that they were in the middle of a stretch class. Soon Matja came in, the class ended, and he said he would be leading the yoga class soon. It was indoors where the stretch class had been since it was too windy to go outside. I got a mat and sat in front. He said it would be a beginner to intermediate class, and asked who had yoga experience. I raised my hand, but didn't want to let on that I had any teacher training, since I wanted to experience the class as anyone else would. The class was what I would call very traditional, with many elements of yoga, deep breathing, slow stretching, yoga poses, and the like. It wasn't easy. There were quite a few challenging poses and I was pleasantly surprised.
The ship is traveling fast to our next port with no stabilizers on. All night and all day the ship has been rocking aggressively. At one point, the ship swayed suddenly and the whole class fell out of triangle. It was pretty funny. It reminded me of a scene from the original Star Trek series where the ship gets hit and everyone in the hallway falls in the same direction. The whole class was kind of like surfing, although I've never done that other than on a subway. I think I'll go to the next class on Thursday. I hope we get to go outside!
I'm on a really, really big ship named The Oasis of the Seas with over 6,000 passengers. We are somewhere between Nassau and St. Thomas. I decided to waste away the afternoon at sea in the gym instead of napping like my three other cabin mates were doing. The gym is huge by gym standards; unbelievably big by cruise ship standards. I did my usual chest workout and noticed that there were mats in a big common area. I put one down and started stretching. I wanted to do yoga but I also didn't want to look strange. Ok, maybe that should be in my "Overcome by Fear" blog.There was this ballet-type guy pirouetting around the machines, hanging off one upside down and arabesquing off another one there. The attention would be clearly not on me. While I was doing some stretches that would be gym worthy anywhere, a young guy set out a mat next to me, propped up a laptop, put on a yoga DVD and started doing a vinyasa class, complete with music and more than an occasional "You look great, dude," from the tiny speakers. So off I went on my own class. Headstand wasn't easy on a moving ship, but it felt good to work up a yoga sweat. Yeah, it's different than a cardio sweat. I think the sweat evaporates just a little bit slower than you produce it. I left before the guy got to sivasana. Not that I was expecting this DVD to encourage sivasana. Maybe a, "High five, bro," at the end. Tomorrow morning I'm signed up for a yoga class at 8 on the helipad. Wish me luck.
I did it. We are in Sint Maarten. Joe and I departed from our traveling companions who went to Orient Beach and got in a Taxi for Maho Beach which is the one at the end of the runway(see my earlier post Paralyzed By Fear-Yoga On an Airplane). The taxi at the stand had room for one more(we were in a hurry to get to the beach at the time the planes start to land and to get back to the boat before it left) but the driver said that I could sit on the jump seat. It was a very small square in between the driver and the front seat passenger, sitting facing the back of the van. I was knee to knee with three women. Behind them, next to Joe, was a young man from Hazlet, NJ, about a mile from where we live. It was a long, bumpy ride.
I had seen YouTube videos of planes landing and taking off from Maho Beach. I had heard stories of people clinging to the fence while 747s started their engines and being blown across the sand into the water. There are two cement dividers that you could tumble into. There were thousands of people on a very small strip of beach at the end of the runway. The water was warm and rough and the beach was steep. I took videos of several planes flying over at frighteningly close distances from the people standing on the beach. A large plane was about to take off just feet from the beach. Joe decided to run to the very end of the runway. I don't think he understood quite the reality of jet engines. The engines revved and sand flew. People tumbled toward the water. He came running back. He was thrilled and I got the whole thing on video.
Later on I saw an American Airlines jet taxiing toward us. I decided to go to the danger zone. One of the Canadian brothers(they just happened to be sitting next to us on the beach) came with me. He advised we not cling to the fence. I didn't need to be convinced. I started to worry about my ears and eyes, but I had on sunglasses. I could always hold on to them and cover my ears at the same time. While we were waiting for the plane to take off, a large, four-engine Air France jet landed right over us. It was frighteningly thrilling. Then, the AA jet got into place and the sand flew. The air and sand were hot. It pelted me. I covered my ears and faced away. I yelled and whooped.
Was it exciting? You bet. Scary? Only enough to make it more exciting. What felt the best was knowing there were thousands of others, giggling in anticipation. Running to the danger zone, whooping and waving to the pilots who often waved back. In the taxi ride on the way back to the ship, we rode with a young man from Toms River, NJ. Why did he come to Maho? He's an air traffic controller.
It was a good day.
Overcome By Fear - Yoga on an Airplane
I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I loved watching planes take off and land long before I ever rode in one. The whole concept of flying has always fascinated me. My parents used to take me and my sister to Tampa Airport soon after it was built to watch planes. She and I loved riding the 'People Movers' betweenthe terminal and the satellite terminals. That was when you didn't have to be a ticketed passenger to get right up to the gates. My dad also used to take us to Brookpark Road near the airport in Cleveland to sit at the end of the runway to watch the planes take off and land. I don't remember if we went because we liked it or he did, but I still like to watch. I'm on a flight right now from Atlantic City to Fort Lauderdale to go on a cruise. One of the stops is Sint Maarten, where Maho beach sits at the end of the runway and the jets land right over the beach. The landing gear is so close to the bathers that they could reach up and touch them. Do you think I'm going there?
Watch my video on Yoga On an Airplane:
I wish I could have been able to film it on an actual airplane. They announced today that you can't form a line at the bathroom. Let's see what I get away with.
I've been doing my yoga here in my seat. It's Spirit Air. There's not a lot of room at all at the seats. Perhaps I should do partner poses with the young woman next to me or with the guy across the aisle. I can easily touch them both. Wait, I am touching both of them. Think we could get into a serious twist together?
My love hate relationship involves loving everything about flying, taking off, banking,and rising up and down in the seat with the gravity play. It also involves my mind playing all of the worst case scenarios like all the possible ways the plane could lose power, glide into the water, flip over in a gust orexplode. They could close the bathrooms. My neighbor could be snapping gum. Or the guy in front of me farting. You get the idea. So during takeoff I did the slow breathing. It kept my heart from racing, and I actually enjoyed it for what I enjoy about it rather than being overtaken by my fears. And I put on my sound-canceling headphones and played William Billings. My neighbors are all chewing gum. Preemptive strike one and two. Now let me see if I can vinyasa my way back to the bathroom.
I think it’s our greatest fear. I think we fear being taken as a fool greater than we fear death. We all know what it feels like to be the fool, to sound like an idiot, to be embarrassed, and to feel the skin start to heat up and the back of your neck start to crawl. It causes us to stay home, keep our mouth shut, ask our friends’ opinions, spy on others, and worry. Worry and worry more.
Or is it such a large fear? If it’s such a fear, then why aren’t more people keeping their mouths shut when they say stupid things over and over? If we fear what others think of how we look, why are so many people so ridiculously dressed? Why do people spend so much money on things that are supposed to make them look better? Do we not know when we are fools or are we all secretly trying to be fools in desperate hope to be noticed?
I recently visited my father in Ohio. My sister and I went out into his garage and dug up boxes and boxes of family pictures and we found a treasure trove. As we looked back at older and older albums of photos, we laughed and laughed. What were we thinking? How could we go out of the house looking like that?
Exhibit Number One:
It was 1976. I was fifteen. What’s with those pants? Did our parents really buy them for us? Our hair. What was that about? I walked around high school looking like that.
Exhibit Number Two:
What? April 1973. I was twelve. Had I not learned anything from this tragedy that would have saved me from the horrors that I would commit in high school? How could my parents let me out of the house looking like that? Who in their right minds would manufacture pants like that? Did I not see that that shirt did not go with those pants? It makes me nauseous just to look at it. Also, the hair. You can see how my mother has to duck around it just to see the camera.
I’ve saved the best for last. July 1972. It was around my twelfth birthday. I can’t believe, for one, that my father took this picture. I can’t believe that someone didn’t destroy it before it came into the light of day and that my dad had it printed and placed it in a photo album. I also can’t believe that I scanned it and am going to put it online for who knows how many people to see. I’m overcoming fear and I really don’t care what people think. Not about my hair, my beard, or what I wear or don’t wear. I dare to be the fool.
Exhibit Number Three:
I hate dressing up. Those who get to know me know that the less I wear the better. It’s been that way as far back as I can remember. In this picture, I was five. The look on my face isn’t only from the sun in my eyes. Perhaps I hated wearing good clothes out of fear of getting them dirty or ripped. I don’t remember. They feel fake to me. I’m all for acting and wearing a costume if it’s all in fun or for a show. I can play a role when everyone understands it’s a role. But as far as putting on good clothes, it’s just not me. I’m not comfortable in them, I don’t like shopping for them, spending money on them, cleaning them, or bearing the weight of them. Perhaps it’s the body hair. It can be very uncomfortable with tight or heavy clothing. Maybe I just like letting my skin and hair breathe freely.
Putting on good clothing comes with the fake attitude that I care if people think I know what I’m doing, that I’m fashion conscious or that I care about spending money on clothing when I don’t. I don’t mind spending money on good, comfortable clothing, but in my experience, spending more money on clothing results in less comfort. I’d prefer that the truth be known, that people know who I am, what I care about, how much I don’t spend on clothing, and what my body really looks like.
There’s a yoga sutra, Book II Number 36, that says that living truthfully will bring truth. Is it also true that if I fake it by wearing high class clothing then fakeness will come to me? I fear that. I have nothing to hide. You’ll see it in my face.
I hate sports. I’ve always hated sports. Well, okay, I can downgrade that to I never developed an appreciation of sports. I don’t remember any time in my life when I enjoyed tossing a ball around. I never learned how to catch a ball or learned how to play baseball.
I remember gym class. All the guys who played the games well would play them while those of us who didn’t, watched, or when we did get to play, made fools of ourselves because we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. I learned to fear gym class. I didn’t grow up playing sports with my friends. My parents didn’t push me to. I had no interest in it.
Looking back, I don’t understand why gym class didn’t help me learn to appreciate physical activity, especially sports. After all, it was a class, not recess, so shouldn’t we have learned what to do rather than be allowed to remain embarrassed fools? I took swimming lessons and that was fun. I started swimming regularly when I was in grad school at the age of 28 and became rather good at it. But that’s not really a sport, or at least not like the ones we played in gym. I started lifting weights at the age of 40 and really enjoyed it, but again, is that really a sport? I started practicing yoga at 40 and found that I could get my body in pretty good shape, so I probably would have been pretty good at sports.
I have to think that those who grew up not developing an interest or talent in music probably felt the way I do about sports. It wasn’t something they grew up doing or something they felt they were good at. It was something that caused for embarrassment when they were asked to do it in school. I hope that as a musician, I have never caused another to feel embarrassed by being less involved in music than I am. I also hope that I’ve enabled people to come to yoga fully invested in their health and well-being, and not allowed them to feel inferior or embarrassed because they didn’t know what to do, or worse, to fear it. I will continue to encourage people to use their bodies wisely, train their minds to focus, and to breathe deeply. I’m not sure I will ever be a sports fan. If I can encourage anyone into better health, I’ll be happy. If I can encourage people to sing no matter what they think of their voices, all the better. Who knows, one of them might get me to catch a ball.
In a recent post I wrote about my early developing fears of performing at piano recitals when I was young. Soon after that post I performed in a concert with a friend. I decided to use the event to study my fear, and to attempt to overcome it, at least in some way.
I've known my friend Craig for seven years. He does much the same thing as I do, direct the music program at a church full time. We met at a summer workshop. Other than that workshop I really haven't interacted with him musically. We see each other every year at conventions, and chat often on Facebook. This concert was a way for us to finally perform together. We had met twice to rehearse together. The concert consisted of him playing the organ, which is his primary instrument, at which he is very good, me playing the organ, which is not my primary instrument, at which I am passably good, but nowhere near as good as Craig, me singing while he played, us playing a duet at the organ, which was a lot of fun, and us playing a duet at the piano. An oboist friend of his played as well.
The pieces where I sang and Craig and the oboist played were delightful to do. I spend so much of my time teaching and leading other performers that it was nice to perform with other people who do mostly music for a living. I have to say I had no anxiety doing those. I will admit that I worried constantly that ragweed would get the best of me, and that the day before I'd have to tell Craig that we'd have to cut my singing out of the program. But at the performance I did nothing but enjoy performing, and revel in the high level of art we were creating.
The organ duet was another issue. My wrists and finger action have been in a slow decline over the last eight years. I cannot play things at the difficulty level I once could. My wrists cramp. My fingers start to numb. My hands get cold. This was happening during our practice right before the concert. I turned to Craig and said what was happening. It happened to be at a place where I was using only my right hand, and had to crook my wrist in an uncomfortable way. He said, "Can't you switch between left and right hand?" It was one of those moments where you feel like an idiot, but the idea is too good to let it pass. What a sensible solution. Right before my right hand started to cramp I just switched and played with my left for a while. I got through that piece rather well. I was nervous right before the concert started. That piece was right near the beginning. I thought people would certainly know my weaknesses right out of the gate. But as the piece concluded and I hadn't made much of a mess of it, I launched into my most difficult solo piece. My heart was still pounding, but it was the best I had ever played it.
After that, as I sat listening to Craig play beautifully, effortlessly, I looked around the audience. People smiling. Enjoying an afternoon of music. I decided to make them my friends too. They weren't there to judge me. No more than Craig did at my moment of weakness earlier on. The rest of the concert was fun. My singing seemed more expressive. My playing light. Effortless in general.
At the reception two women came up to me and told me that I made them cry. Out of reflex I said, "Was I that bad?" They said, "No your singing." They were moved by my singing and my artistry.
Ah to only go back to Mrs. Benish's living room piano recital and be able to undo the knots in my stomach and overcome the feelings of dread.
Paralyzed by Fear – Part Two
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t play the piano. My parents told me that when I was six, and sister would come home from piano lessons to play what she learned, I would follow after her and play what she played. I don’t remember that, but I do remember that I’ve always thought playing was fun. Here I am, fourty-eight years later, trying to go back to a time when I just played the piano for enjoyment. Playing now is fun but whenever I play, it seems to be for a job, not just to play. When I have free time, I find things to do that don’t involve playing. For one thing, my hands have to rest.
I wish I had been able to capitalize on that element of fun much more than I ever did. I’ve always had a level of fear associated with playing in public. It’s a fear that turns what should be a fun event into a mind game of what-ifs. What if I make a mistake? What will people think if they find out that I’m not as good as they thought I was? There must be hundreds of people listening to me play who are so much better than I am. I haven’t made a mistake yet and I wonder what the first wrong note I play will be.
With all of that going on in my head, how could I have played anything, let alone enjoy myself? So after fourty-eight years of that war going on in my head, can I stop it? Let’s go back to the beginning and see where it might have started. I remember taking piano lessons and I think I played pretty well. I seemed to do well, but. then at the end of the year, there was a recital. All of the students would go over to the teacher’s house with our parents and we would each go up to the grand piano and play one or two pieces. I remember the horror I felt the month or two beforehand. What if I forgot how to play? What if I made mistakes? What if the other students laughed at me? There was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and then a trembling taking over my body on the day of the recital, and I can feel it now as if I were there. Could I have stopped it then? What could my teacher have done to help me to overcome that?
I don’t remember getting any help, I just had to get up there and do it. I can’t imagine how I did it with all of that going on in my head. I think that after playing in public as many times as I have between now and then, I’ve managed somehow. It would have been so much easier and more fun if I could have focused on the playing and the fun rather than the what-ifs. What does yoga tell me about that whole process?
Breathe, yeah, breathe. That would have been the beginning. If I were eight, which is when I’m guessing was my first public performance, I would love to have learned a few breathing techniques that could have calmed my body and my mind, and just focused on having fun in public that I have had so many times in private. Think of the hours and hours, no, by now they are probably years, of wasted time that could have been spent playing well and having fun instead of muddling my way through endless series of blundered notes, minimally impressing the uninformed, and evoking a minimum of pity from the enlightened.
On top of the breathing and getting my mind and body to function together on my musical tasks, I bet I could have played more. I bet I could have looked like I was having fun and probably could have inspired others to find out how they might have enjoyed themselves, too. Perhaps I did, even through the shaky hands and sweating palms. Perhaps I have in me a few more years to rediscover the fun.
- To affect with paralysis; cause to be paralytic.
- To make unable to move or act: paralyzed by fear.
- To impair the progress or functioning of; make inoperative or powerless: strict regulations that paralyze economic activity.
Fear does indeed paralyze me. I will admit that some fears do inspire me to act, and act quite well. But for the most part I think deep fears cause in all of us, at least for a time, the inability to function. That time that may last just a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death if a truck is heading at you. It can mean the difference between being a hero and allowing a disaster to happen if you need to think fast and say or do the right thing before a situation gets out of hand. In the long run, a fear can cause us to stay home, to choose not to do something, or to avoid talking to someone.
It could be that what we all fear the most, and what causes all other fears to manifest themselves in us, is the fear of death. All other terrors can find their root in this one ultimate paralyzer. Whatever their cause, if fears make us unable to move or act, to overcome them all we need to do is move. What yoga teaches me is that movement begins with breath. It is the body’s constant, ever-present movement. It is how a body can safely begin any type of movement. A movement based on and initiated by breath is seen as healthy, powerful, authentic, even beautiful. Words spoken upon a good, deep breath are believed. Long, deep breaths bring the mind into a place where contemplation can unravel the mysteries within us.
To overcome fears, we have no need to eliminate them, but we do need to be able to move in spite of them. All we need to do is breathe. In the coming Parts I’ll explore more specific instances of paralyzing fears. But for now, be ready for the next one by taking a deep, long breath.
No one is too anything for yoga. Practicing yoga wisely is good at any age. An exploration of deepening and linking breath with movement to just the right depth is great for people as they age. How do you know how deep to go? You take a movement as far as it feels safe, even if it’s an inch. Then, the next time, you take that movement just a bit farther into a mild stretch, but not into pain. In yoga, we move in a direction, not to a predetermined place. For each body, the movements go to a different place; the right place. Only the person who is doing the movement will know how far right is. We can hurt ourselves, but if we move wisely, we know when to stop before that happens.
In our youth, we move with vigor, increase flexibility quickly, and mend easily. As we age, we learn or move much more wisely, and spend more time working on our inner selves and our relationships with others. As we grow into our later years, less time should be spent on vigorous movement, but more on sitting and keeping attention while concentrating on breathing and maintaining a wise amount of flexibility. Yoga is different for everyone, and we do what is best for our body and mind with great consideration for our age.
I recently traveled to Ohio to visit my dad. He just turned ninety. My sister now lives with him in senior housing and arranged for me to teach a yoga class. Over twenty people showed up for it, including my dad. It was his first yoga class. Ninety is not too old to begin yoga.
We sat in chairs in a semi-circle. We slowed and deepened our breath and linked breath with movement of the arms. We twisted in our chairs, gently, moving to a depth where we felt safe. For some of the movements, I gave them the option of staying in the chair or standing behind it with hands on the back of the chair. At the end of the hour we sat in the chairs with eyes closed, calmly focusing our attention on our breathing.
Most of the participants thanked me and told me how much they enjoyed it. A few had taken yoga before and were all in their eighties and nineties. One woman said that she takes yoga every week at a local health club. She said, “I even get on my mat and do many of the more advanced poses.”
I had a great time. It felt good to introduce my dad to something that’s been a very important part of my life. The group was very receptive to the things I asked them to do and seemed disappointed that I wouldn’t be back the next week.
You’re never too old for yoga.
I recently made a trip to visit family in Ohio. I knew there was a men’s yoga class that met on the near west side of Cleveland. I called the owner, Buck Harris, just to make sure of the time of the class and I decided to go. I didn’t bring a mat or anything, so I went in as if I were a newbie. I wanted to take a class as anyone would.
I got to the studio, There’s No Place Like Om, about twenty minutes before the class was supposed to start. I went in and found Buck, the owner, and Andy, another one of the teachers, standing in the middle of the large room. Buck said to me, “Welcome! You’re overdressed!” He welcomed me into the room, asked me to take off my shoes, and showed me a room in the back with cubbys and lockers. He said I was welcome to use either of them for my clothes, showed me where to get a mat, blocks, and straps. I put my clothes in an open cubby since I’m a pretty trusting guy, and while I was getting a mat another student had come into the studio and back to the dressing space. He introduced himself and we chatted briefly. I soon went back into the studio where Andy and the other man had set out their mats in front of Buck, who had taken up the teacher’s mat in the front. I asked where would be a good place to set my mat, and Buck said, “Right here, front and center.” So there I went, right in front of the teacher. I usually avoid that place since I often see eager students position themselves as close to the teacher as they can get. But since I was invited, I took it. I like to be up front where I can see and hear.
I engaged the other student in conversation rather easily, and found out that he was a massage therapist who was in town to work on athletes and the Gay Games 9 that was happening at the same time. Three other students came in for the class; one after it had already started. They all seemed to be regulars based on their interaction with the teacher. I was engaged in those conversations by the teacher and the others quite often, which helped me to feel very welcome, and very comfortable. During the class Buck called out our names and made verbal adjustments rather often. He also had a really inviting sense of humor. The class was fairly challenging, not in speed, but in the level of twists and stretches that we did. We did several partner poses. I was assigned to Andy, the other teacher, who was very good at helping me in the poses with my tight hamstrings and hips. He was much more limber than I am.
After class we all dressed together in the back room. Everyone was very friendly. We talked quite a bit. I was sorry to leave, but I was meeting friends for dinner nearby.
If you ever find yourself in Cleveland, you can find this welcoming place at:
There’s No Place Like Om
5409 Detroit Avenue
I’m finished! Seven days of therapy. I’m sure that I will need to take some time to let my body properly respond to everything. I think today was the longest I was there, though. The oil therapy seemed to go on for a long time. Then while I was in the sweat box I engaged the therapist in conversation. We talked about a lot of things. Some things we had spoken about before. Then he wanted to show me more music on YouTube, I think to inspire me to make more of my own videos and to promote them. So I think I was in the sweatbox longer than he intended me to be. But I didn’t come out as Olive Oyl.
I met with the woman who did the original consultation. She took my pulse and said, “Perfection.” She advised me to keep with the no milk regimen for a few more days. And to go easy on the other foods that I haven’t been eating for the past week. She gave me some liquid to take in the mornings for my sinuses and a pill to take in the evening. Just for two weeks. She said, “And then you don’t need me.”
I’ve really enjoyed spending time with the therapist. Not that I expected the time to be tedious. But spending time alone with one person for over ten hours could have been either very relaxing, as in a massage where you fall asleep, or very tedious, with awkward silence, uncomfortable communication, and the like. This man was often very friendly, but also allowed me to zone out at times. He and I had some very lively discussions about a variety of things, both related to the therapy I was undergoing, and not. He also provided not a small amount of insight into things going on in my life in general. I’m going to miss him.
Friday I went at my normal time, did all the same therapies, and got home in 15 minutes, as usual. I was a bit worried when, on the way to the center, I passed the Parkway Southbound which was crowded and creeping along. Fridays in the summer are not a pleasant driving experience when headed toward the Shore. I got home and I lasted only 30 minutes. This was good, in a way, because I had an event to go to that started with dinner at a Mexican restaurant a half hour away. Since the recommendation in my treatment was to avoid alcohol, all milk products, and white flour, and since I’m vegetarian, a Mexican restaurant would present a bit of a dining challenge. I ordered a guacamole appetizer all to myself, with a few chips, but mostly eaten with a fork, and a bowl of vegetarian black bean soup. The waitress said, “That’s it?” I said, “Yup, that’s it. Oh, and a glass of water with no ice.” I’m not supposed to drink anything cold. I had to ask her three times before she brought me the water. But it was a nice big glass. I ate about 2/3 of the guacamole and most of the soup. It wasn’t a big bowl. I started feeling very full. Then too full. I stopped eating. Usually I could put away much more than that. We got to the event and it was over an hour before I started feeling more normal. They said that this therapy would regulate my appetite. So now I know.
Today (Saturday) I went in at 12:30 because I have to play at the 5:00 mass tonight. I wear gym shorts and a tee shirt to the therapy because I’m covered head to toe in a lot of smelly oil that I’m supposed to leave on for at least an hour. I can’t imagine getting dressed for mass without showering. More good news today! No enema. And hopefully none of the residuals for the rest of the evening. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. Afterward you really do feel detoxed. Even a bit rung out. That’s what it’s all about, right?
I intentionally engaged the therapist in conversation almost the entire time. We talked about language, learning English, moving to the US, living in an area with a lot of Indians, food, pronunciation, vowels, regional dialects, and what I could expect with treatment recommendations after I finish this therapy, among other things. After we finished, he took my iPhone and played several Hindi and Tamil Bollywood songs on my YouTube app so that I would have lots to pick from for when I make my video of me singing them. We shall see. We shall see.
Today seemed to go very fast. We still took 90 minutes, it just flew by. I told the therapist that I woke up at 4 AM with my throat burning. I have had a sore throat off and on over the last month, and that was not unusual. He told me that after the treatment that shouldn’t happen. I certainly hope so. He asked how long, well, you know, the 45 minute thing. I told him I made it to 40 minutes. His eyebrows went up. Now, I know that part of this balancing therapy is supposed to help me as an aging man with prostate issues. The kind that get you up in the middle of the night and make you do things that you just did and you thought you were through with. Enough said? I started to wonder if this particular therapy was just for me to exercise muscle control and has nothing to do with herbal treatment. Did he tell me 45 minutes just to make me try really hard, not thinking I would make it past 20? Do I ask him?
He asked me if it were ok to use a lot of oil on my skin. I said, “Sure.” I figure I should get my money’s worth, right? Then he said that because of my abundance of body hair he had to use more. Oh, sure, now I’m going to get the Hirsute Oil Surcharge. Would that be discrimination?
The bags were really hot today. And the oil on my lower back was much hotter than yesterday. Not where I cringed, but I did worry that it was going to burn the hair off. My husband would not be happy. You should have seen him the once, once, mind you, that I let them shave holes in my chest hair for an EKG. It took six months for it to grow back. It looked hideous. Anyway, the hair is still there after day four. At least as much as I could check in a mirror.
I asked him about the strength of the oil, whether it increased with each day. He said that there were standard strength products used and that if he determined it needed to be changed based my answers to his questions about how I felt, then he would. While I was in the hot box he cleaned the massive amounts of oil off the table then sat in a chair and took out his iPhone. I began to think that he should be distracting me with conversation while I sweated profusely, and I tried to engage him by asking a few questions, but he immediately went back to his phone. I then heard his phone playing some music. I couldn’t really see his face without my glasses, so I let the song finish. Then I asked him more about his experience and training in Ayurveda. After he let me out of the box he continued and earlier conversation we had had about me putting music videos on YouTube and Facebook. He played me the song he was playing before on his phone and told me that if I made videos like that and put them on Facebook I could get a lot of people to my business. Then he smiled and told me he would help me find a Hindi song to record.I will have to consider that.
I’m really enjoying this. I talked briefly with my therapist about my experience yesterday, then I asked him his name. He told me and tried to get me to pronounce it correctly. I think I did pretty well. There’s a vowel where you have to curl your tongue just the right way. We also talked a bit about where he is from in India and when he came here to the US. I asked him about the six therapies that I am getting:
Elakizhi: Medicated leaves used to treat all sorts of degenerative ailments and arthritis. A kind of sudation therapy using medicated leaves. The proportion of ingredients varies according to the symptoms of the diseases.
[That’s the one I thought was sandbags. It’s really hot bags with herbs in them.]
Abhyangam (Uzhichil): External Oleation Therapy with Medicated Oils. Abhyangam is a popular Ayurvedic therapy which is done with a combination of specially prepared Ayurvedic herbal oils & applied all over the body stimulating the vital points.
[All over. They really mean all over.]
Kadi Vasti: This is an ancient treatment for healing back pain. Warm medicinal oils are retained by a dough dam placed over the lumbar or thoracic region of the back. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as St. John's Wort and Nirgundi and nervine tonics such as Brahmi are used to heal and strengthen the tissue.
Swedana: An herbal steam treatment to release impurities from the skin and soothe aching muscles and joints. This treatment allows the body to perspire and release impurities from the skin.
[This time my feet were in a puddle of my own sweat. But I talked as a distraction. See below.]
Brahma Nasyam: This Panchakarma procedure helps in clearing the sinuses and alleviating the pain in face, head and neck. It also helps to reduce dark circles and puffy look around the eyes. This is an Ayurvedic Panchakarma therapy that involves an invigorating head massage followed by herbal steam inhalation and the application of hot towels. Herbal nasal drops are then administered to loosen, melt and release mucus from the sinus passages.
[I’m still releasing.]
Yoga Vasti: Vasti is the most important of all the therapies in Panchakarama. It is effective for degenerative ailments and digestive disorders. Vasti is an excellent treatment to mitigate all the doshas and helps to alleviate vata predominant diseases. It is also a rejuvenating therapy, helps to purify the body, maintain health and longevity. This is a treatment in which specially prepared medicated oil or herbal decoction is provided to the client for internal cleaning along with proper guidance for its use. This is provided at the end of relevant treatment.
[“Provided to the client…” I like that. It’s an enema. I think they meant, “In the end…”]
The above descriptions are from the facility’s website.
During the steam bath I asked the therapist about where he came from. He took out his iPhone and showed me three tourism videos. It looked like a most spectacularly beautiful place. I asked him if he was going back (as in, “why would you come here!”). He said that he would see how things went here.
Today was my second day of therapies. They were the same six therapies, just stronger. It was with the same therapist. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know his name. We have now spent three hours together with his hands pretty much everywhere imaginable and I don’t know his name. We will fix that tomorrow.
We spent less time with the hot sandbags. Ok, tomorrow I’m also going to find out the actual names of these therapies, and if these are actually sandbags. The hot oil in the clay dam on my lower back was hotter. The oil he rubbed all over me was stronger smelling. He asked me if I like the smell. I did like it. He said many people don’t like the smell. It was a kind of minty smell, but more like spice than mint. He told me it was very good for my skin. He was much more talkative today. I spent more time in the hot box. And it was really hot. I kept thinking of those Popeye cartoons where someone went into a hot box like Brutus and came out like Olive Oyl. Or maybe I’d have sweat so much that I’d look like a prune. The therapist talked to me a lot while I was in there. But good talk. I enjoyed it very much. It also helped take my mind off how hot it was and how much I was sweating. And I kept thinking that I should have had more to drink.
The oil he put in my nose was stronger. We talked about how much stuff was going to come out of my sinuses. And the enema was supposed to stay in for 45 minutes. I didn’t make it. But I tried. I really tried.
This will be very interesting doing this 6 days in a row. Now that I pretty much know what to expect I think I can relax more. And I feel comfortable enough to ask more questions. Plus, I feel lighter. Maybe I’m losing weight. Or maybe I just feel better and less hungry. I’ve been following my instructions not to drink alcohol and nothing cold. Just warm water. And I’m not supposed to eat white flour, any milk product, grapes, bananas, or cauliflower. I’ve been avoiding weighing myself. I think I’ll wait a few more days to do that. I feel lighter. And things that used to hurt don’t hurt as much.
Ayurveda is a system of Hindu traditional medicine. Its roots are said to be over 4000 years old. The practice of Ayurveda seeks to bring the body’s biological setup into balance, thus bringing health. It is the sister science of yoga. I thought it would be interesting to explore this system of health. Last Wednesday I went to a consultation at an Ayurvedic center in Central New Jersey. I met with a woman who took my pulse and talked about issues about my health, pain, illnesses, my diet, and my yoga practice. She recommended a few changes in my diet, and recommended that I follow a course of therapies for seven days. I started today with these therapies that will go on for six more days. This was my visit today:
I got to the center and was brought into a room with a massage type table. I met with a very nice man who would be my therapist. He briefly explained the six things I would be experiencing. He then handed me a little plastic bag and said something that I couldn’t understand. I asked him what he said, and told me, “Put this on. Hang your clothes there,” as he pointed to some hooks on the wall. He then left the room. I opened the little plastic bag. In it was a very thin black bikini. I took off my clothes and took out the bikini. I kept turning it around trying to find out which of the three little openings in the small amount of cloth was for my waist and which two were for my legs. I knew one of the openings had to be bigger than the other two. I’m used to getting massages naked, or at least under a blanket. I’m also used to therapists being somewhat overzealous in avoiding seeing or touching anything remotely private. While I was standing there trying to figure out the little bikini thing, the therapist opened the door, poked his head in, and asked me if I were ready. I kind of sheepishly said that I would be in a minute or so, and he closed the door. I finally figured out the little black thing and got it on. The therapist came back in and told me to lie face down on the table. It wasn’t padded as much as the massage tables I’m used to. When I put my face down on the padded opening for your face, my nose, which isn’t very small, was smashed down onto the somewhat hard table. The therapist tried to adjust it so that I could lie face down in the little crescent shaped pillow, but my nose was still smashed. If I squeezed the little pillow thing closer together to get some height, I couldn’t breathe. I mean, I’d be ok if my nose was a little wider than deeper, but I finally just turned my head to the side for the time being.
The therapist took what felt like little bags of sand that were fairly hot and slapped me with them gently, then spread around on my muscles something that smelled spicy and soothing, It felt really good. He then took something that felt like clay and made a little dam on my lower back and filled it several times with some hot liquid sand like stuff. That felt great too. While this hot stuff was sitting on my lower back, he somewhat aggressively spread warm oil all over my legs and feet, then my back and arms. I’m used to deep tissue massages, so I thought it was great. I’m not sure why I had the little pants on because he kept moving them to get at what was under them. I’m perfectly ok with that. Seemed like a waste of material though. I’m also used to many therapists who seem terrified to move their hands anywhere near where I would wear a bikini. This guy’s hands were either under them or running across them as if they weren’t there. And I’m ok with that, too. It did suddenly occur to me that he was most likely going to do this to the front of me. I think I might have worried about it for a second. But after I turned over, we proceeded to address my front in the same wonderful and fully legal way we addressed my backside. This whole process, while like a massage, was much more oily, slippery, and smelly. Good smelly. I was then very carefully guided off the table, fully oiled, and onto a chair in a wooden box with a hole for my head. I was told to sleep while steam filled the box and I worked up a good sweat.
After my sweat box time was up, I was told to lie face up on the table. He put drops of herbed oil into my nose while I breathed it in. He kept adding drops until I felt them come into my throat. He then applied an enema of some specially prepared herbal oil. He told me to keep it in for 30 minutes and asked how far I had to drive to get home. He said that it would be very difficult, but to keep it in. I’ve done coffee enemas for years so I told him I would be fine. I barely made 30 minutes. Barely. I made it home, too.
He told me to leave the oil on my skin for at least an hour. Then I could shower. He then asked me to get dressed. I’m used to therapists dashing out of the room, seemingly terrified of my naked body. This man stayed in the room. So, off came the little oily pants, and on came my clothes. Luckily they were clothes that I didn’t mind if they got herbed oil on them. I drove home, made it through my 30 minutes (of course with some intentional distractions, such as shaking my legs, stomping my feet on the floor, trying to squeeze my body in ways that I haven’t done in a yoga class and waited another 30 minutes before I showered.
I can’t wait for tomorrow!