Why Guys Yoga

I’ve been doing yoga since 2006, and find myself enjoying it more every year.  I’m also amazed at how it’s changing as a product, with so many variations emerging.  There’s hot, there’s not, there’s dancing, there’s cross-fit, there’s musical and meditative, oh, you name it.

One big thing that still intrigues me is that it’s very much a feminine oriented discipline.  The magazines, the classes, all the marketing is targeting women.  It’s a safe assumption to thing that most of the practicing market is women.  So, here’s my attempt to show you guys (MEN guys!) why yoga could be fun for you.  The reasons are…

10: Builds strength.  Heck, you’ll find muscles you never knew you had.  What other discipline has you developing your groin, for instance?

9: Increases your flexibility.  Good news for any athlete.

8: Embraces isometrics.  A fancy name for you against you!  Look cool while you fight yourself.  Good luck!

7: Improves your balance.  Not important?  Remember grandpa and that broken hip?

6: Develops your coordination and poise.  Makes chewing gum and walking look like baby steps.  Try transitioning from a half-bound half-moon to a warrior two without looking like a brick!

5: Because it can hurt you!  Just because it looks girly and wimpy doesn’t mean it can’t whoop your butt.  I’ve seen guys pull things they didn’t know where there, and were out for six months.  Listen to your yoga instructor!

4: Stamina, especially when you need it.  (wink wink, nudge nudge!)

3: Meditation.  One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to breath, and using breath as a tool to relax.  And who can’t learn how to relax better.  Which brings us to…

2: Savasana.  Pronounced shah-vas-a-nah, what it really means is nap time!  Remember nap times from when you were a kid?  Now you can relive your childhood, and it’s considered cool!

And finally, the number one reason why guys are gonna love taking yoga class?

1: Yoga pants!

 

 

Chinese Ramen, Japanese Okonomyaki, and Human Hate. What’s the connex?

Yes, you read it right.  Chinese ramen, as served up in Japan.  Japanese okonomyaki, a crepe cabbage noodle pancake as down-home as American hamburger, and so TAY-STEE!  And finally, hate among us.  Stay with me, it’s a lot more promising than you think.  But first I have to take you back to where this all started, to a few months ago.

I love to draw lines between what we think we know, and the behaviors we see.  A lot of our current conceptions about behavior don’t make sense, and I enjoy pointing those out.  But they are exactly that – lines – observations – musings – and though many people find them interesting, nothing else really happens.

I do enjoy this writing business, and I guess you do, too, because you’re probably a writer as well.  I’m looking forward to seeing yours, since I’m showing you mine!  But there also has to be progress, some kind of improvement, a direction of getting better.  I, you, all of us work hard to get our words out there, into the wilds of the internet.  I want to think that all our hard work, all our hopes and well wishes amount to something.  They have to!

PART ONE

It was with this state of mind when I left the country.  It was business, but writing is always on my mind.  China was first.  And before you jump to thinking that Chinese ramen is from China, not so fast!  But to whet your appetite, here’s a picture.

Tender smoked ham, beef, super broth, and FRESH noodles!

Chinese style ramen in Tokyo, a hole-in-the-wall shop a few steps from Daimon station’s exit A3.

 

Bejing was great.  The Forbidden City, Tianamen square, some of the markets, wonderful.  We only had a few days so our visit was limited.  The atmosphere was a bit hard to take, what with pollution and a heavy-handed political presence everywhere.  Now Shanghai, that’s a city.  A bit bigger than Beijing, with way more lights, happy citizens, a better subway system and fun places to eat.  Oh, and for those who plan to visit, check out the BIG Buddha in Fenghua.  Take your walking shoes and prepare to be amazed!

China and Chinese food aren’t the point of this story.  I’ll have to tell you about the Beijing pancake (tasty) and the fried scorpions on a stick (invigorating, they say) and the wine that’s fermented with a huge snake and huge centipede (no, did NOT try it).  Japan is where our story really starts.  China was an important part of the background, but aside from a few foods, the real fun is in Japan.  [1]

If you’ve not been to Japan, I’ll do my best to describe it for you.  If you have, skip ahead, because you know I won’t be able to do it justice.  Japan is a country where public courtesy, cleanliness, and classiness are valued very highly.  Unlike the US, you won’t find their attention focused on greed and celebrity.  That’s not to say bad things don’t exist, they do, but at levels far lower than in the US or Europe.  The Japanese like things to be precise, pretty, and at the same time functional and respectful of the environment.  Japan is the only country I know where a teeny-tiny restaurant may have a rock garden or koi pond buried within, taking up the space of a table or two.  That island of peace and beauty is important to them.  In the US we’d rip it out and try to make more money.  In Japan, it’s not about the money.  And this attitude extends to their foods as well.

There are so many wonderful foods to enjoy in Japan it’s hard to know where to start.  It’s much harder when you’re in the middle of Tokyo, you’re hungry, and you don’t know where anything is!  Do I want Japanese curry (not related to India, sorry), or sushi, or sashimi, or eel (fresh or salt water?), or oysters, or something fried, or a great bowl of soup?

We passed many great restaurants one day in the vicinity of the Tokyo Prince hotel, in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, ignoring the repeated calls of many restaurant hawkers handing out their menus and trying to entice us into their high-story restaurant.

We came to this hole in the wall, only a few meters wide.  Inside were bar stools for eight and two tables for two.  That was it.  Outside there was a line.  We liked the smell and I got in line.  My wife went to the cashier machine and punched the tickets for our choices, I had the roasted garlic ramen.

We moved up to where we could sit on two stools and  handed our tickets over.  And we watched the magic.  As a pasta fiend I’m passionate about my noodles, and these were freshly made.  They may have even been handmade because they were so roughly cut.  And deep yellow, meaning fresh wholesome eggs.  Two bundles were put into baskets and plunged into roiling hot water.  The broth was spooned from a huge cauldron into our bowls.  I’d seen him hammering away with a huge pestle inside the cauldron earlier, and when I saw the broth I knew why.  In that vessel they were cooking more meat and everything that goes with it so that we had a fresh, extremely tasty base to our soup.  Any soup connoisseur will tell you the true secret to great soup is the stock, and this was good looking stock.  Then came the sliced meat, the egg, and all the other spices and vegetables, and viola! there was our meal in front of us.  Incredible.  Wholesome, inexpensive (about ten US dollars each, not bad for downtown Tokyo!), fast, and totally devoured by yours truly in about 5 minutes.  Then I had some of my wife’s as well.  (Mine was better.)

PART TWO

A few days later we were in Hiroshima.  We always take the bullet train because it’s so much fun to speed along almost 300 kilometers an hour (over 150 miles per hour!) in something that’s so big and smooth.  Hiroshima is wonderful because of the Peace Park (site of the first atomic bomb used in Japan in 1945) but also the wonderful floating gate and temple on the island of Miyajima.  There is also many incredible foods to eat, but they are most famous for their oyster beds.  If you like oysters, you’ll LOVE Hiroshima.

Tucked away in the train station there are a few restaurants, and we luckily found one that was perfect for our needs.  We were even luckier in that we found it when we arrived, and liked it so much we ate there again when we were leaving!

Pictured here is where we sat, right at the griddle!  And it was huge, about 1 x 3 meters in size.  There’s the back of our cook, she was a fun lady and didn’t mind me making ooohing and aaahing sounds the whole time.  That’s a freshly made okonomyaki sitting there in front of me.  You can almost see the layers, so many layers, within each one.

First she starts with a kind of sourdough crepe on the griddle.  As it cooks she dumps on about two handfuls of freshly cut cabbage.  No bulk supplies here!  As that cooks down a bit she puts on some dried and friend shrimp bits, for saltiness and flavor. Then comes a little bit of shredded cheese, and on top of that are three thinly cut strips of pork.  They look like bacon, but they aren’t smoked.  At which point she presses the pork into the griddle, then slides her spatula under the crepe and flips the whole thing over!  This exposes the beautifully toasty crepe on top and starts cooking the pork directly.  At the same time she’s been cooking some ramen on the griddle as well.  Or you could have asked of udon (a thicker noodle) or some soba (a buckwheat noodle).

She then begins phase two!  She takes an egg and cracks it on the griddle.  She spreads the yolk around so that it’s broken and all cooking evenly.  On this she places spices and some veggies.  She will also start cooking whatever else you wanted on your masterpiece: ground beef, squid, more veggies, and of course, oysters!

Phase three. Once those have cooked a bit and the egg is ready, she flips over the main portion of the okonomyaki again, puts on the noodles, places the egg and all your extra goodies on top of that, and then another cook puts on the special sauce (like dark ketchup) and puts it on a plate.  Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a stool next to the griddle, slides it over to you right there!

So hot, so tasty, and so wonderful to watch and then eat.  Absolutely a great time.  For those who might be traveling to Japan, this is Hiroshima okonomyaki.  The same dish in Osaka, or Kyoto is very different.  And this dish in Tokyo, well, let’s say that you’ll be more impressed by the Chinese-style ramen.

 

Hot off the griddle in the train station!

Okonomyaki, Hiroshima style

 

PART THREE

Hungry and ready for more?  To be fair, that’s all for the food portion of today’s program.  Instead, we’ve arrived at talking about hate.  Now, how can one really ponder something as distasteful and slippery as hate, especially after indulging in such wonderful foods like these?

I have to.  I’m doing what I can to try and fight hate so that it doesn’t hurt so many people as it does today.  It’s almost always on my mind, and I have some really good ideas about how we can fight it.  But here’s the rub, no one seems interested.

I figure it’s my fault.  Like any restaurant, you create a dish and hope people like it.  The two restaurants above have crafted these foods to where they are extremely effective, even perfect.  But there’s a good chance they didn’t start that way.  Many hours and customers had to pass through those doors before they found the right combination that makes perfection.

Here’s where you can help.  What can I do to serve up a tasty meal that’s good for us to think about, but may be terrible to consider?  After all, there are many people who cringe about eating oysters, or raw fish.  But these things are delicious, and the Japanese have perfected many dishes.  How can I do the same?  Let me know your thoughts.

Sincerely yours – Steve

 

Notes and Disclaimers:

[1]  For my Chinese friends, don’t get upset!  The China portion of my trip included more business entertainment, and when I’m with vendors and colleagues it’s important to let them lead the culinary crusade.  There was Peking Duck and Shangai Dumplings and several of those delicious Beijing Pancakes, but overall most of the meals were standard business settings.  You know the kind, where a huge table with a huge turntable gets filled with a hundred different dishes NONE of which I know the name of.  Several staff are always hovering about your private room and they keep filling your tea or drink (no, no NO snake wine please!) and the dishes don’t stop coming until you can’t eat any more.  There were TOOOOO many of those meals!  But we had such gracious hosts.

 

 

Boo. You.

Boo!

Not scared?  You will be, by the end of this story.

YOU should be scared because this is all about you.  It’s all about WHO YOU ARE.

You see, once you know who you are, you will also know who you aren’t.

Let’s start off easy.  And since this is Halloween, let’s start off imagining that you are chained to a classic rack of the Inquisition.  Scared yet?

First off, as your Inquisitor, I will clip your long fingernails.  Now I’ll give you a nice manicure.  Look at those fingernail clippings.  Are they you?  Are you they?

Of course not!  You are not your fingernail clippings!  You don’t care if they go or come, do you?  And look at how nice your fingernails look!

Is the nail polish dry?  Good.  Let’s go to step two.  I’m now pulling out all your fingernails.  The whole thing.  Don’t worry.  It won’t hurt.  Much.  I’ll wait for the crying to stop before we continue.

Now, here are your fingernails in a box.  Here are your fingers, without any nails.  A bit bloody, but that will heal.  Are YOU still YOU?  Probably.  People will recognize you.  You can sign your name on checks and play with your smart phone.

Can you guess what step three is?  Step four?  Do I need to elaborate?  I hope not.  If I remove your hands, your feet, your arms, your legs, and so on, when do you stop being you?  If you were to be deprived of everything except your brain, and if we knew how to keep your brain alive and even still be able to communicate with you, would that be you?

A story was written a long time ago about this very sort of thought experiment, called “Johnny got his gun.”  It was meant to be a statement against war, but it serves equally well as a question about where YOU end, and the rest of your body begins.

The next time you’re clipping your fingernails, think about what would happen if the nail clippers suddenly became possessed and began clipping away at your body, out of control.  At what point would they have stopped clipping body, and started clipping you?

Boo!

 

Humility Helps

“Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

So begins Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem.  It’s all about mortality, and poetically reminds us that our time on this Earth is short.  Many act as if they are immortal, yet all of them eventually return to dust.

Why was it that Abe had to remind himself of this fact?  Certainly he already knew this.  Being surrounded by the Civil War must also have been a constant reminder as to everyone’s eventual end.  And he was the first President to start receiving actual death threats (as far as I know).  So what’s with the poem?

Another way to ask this same question is why don’t modern politicians and leaders remind themselves of the same thing?  How many actually acknowledge their mortality, not only in words, but in deeds?  The newest pope comes close, by the way.  Why does admitting their own mortality matter for leadership?

Because the sin of pride distorts your world in your favor, and increases the distance between your view of reality and the rest of us.

If you are proud enough you expect to have a 747 at your beck and call.  You expect to live in a palace with a staff of 100.  You expect a legion of photographers to follow your every move.  And the more you come to expect these things as normal, the more likely you are to make decisions that reinforce your reality.

Do small airplanes get in the way of your 747?  Tell them all to stop flying wherever you fly.  Are the parks around your palace looking dingy?  Ask the government for a few million to tidy them up.  Are the paparazzi getting a bit too close?  Ask for laws to keep them at bay, or decide you’re above the law and do whatever you want to mislead them – like speeding.

But if you’re serious about making great decisions and seeing the world as the rest of us, then mortal, be not proud.

Don’t be afraid of your public, take a regular flight from Washington to Chicago in the economy seats.  Palace park has litter?  Go pick it up yourself!  Paparazzi want your pictures?  Give it to them, and stand there till they get bored.  Heck, hire some yourself and make some money yourself.  Better yet, lead a modest, quiet regular life and bore them to exhaustion.  If you really want them to go away, that is.

Abe was humble because he wanted to be the best leader possible.  He knew he was smart and powerful, he didn’t need sycophants for that.  But he also knew he had to understand, to the best of his ability, what the world looked like for ordinary Americans.

He may have been afraid that fateful night when he went to the theater.  He certainly knew he had enemies and crazy people threatening him.  But he also knew that he could not live in fear, not if he wanted to be a great leader.  Especially when his country needed a great leader the most.

I like to think that Abe would still go to the theater that night, even if he knew what was going to happen.  And to me, that is the greatest attribute of leadership – humility and the loss of fear.

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.

 

Dancing?

I think I’ve finally figured this one out. Why do humans dance?

I’m pretty sure that it’s only humans. At least, after all the hours I’ve seen of wild animals doing their thing, none of them have ever gotten up and boogied. Of course, who knows what happens late on Saturday nights when all the cameras are gone, right? Maybe there are rabbit raves? After all, where do all those rabbits come from?

I’ve never been a good dancer, and I’ve never understood why people dance. As a nerd I can blame my computerish tendencies. I can also blame my lack of skill, balance, and coordination. As you can tell, I’m pretty good at rationalization. I can also blame the fact that I learned to dance in the 80s, when disco was big. That alone may have traumatized me.

But why do others like to dance? I could never figure this one out. Every now and then I’d ask someone, usually a dancing partner. At which point they would promptly dump me. I never did get a good answer.

Anyway, after all these years, I think I got it.

People dance as a way to show that they are in touch with nature, deep nature. That’s it.

What is deep nature? It’s the rhythms permeating our lives; rhythms that are so old and so deeply entwined in our being that words are inadequate. Deep nature is life itself, and death; deep nature is breath itself, and the beating heart. Deep nature is hunger, sleep, love, and fear.

You probably already knew this, most people do. Some of us don’t, and we stand at the wall wondering what all the undulating is about.

Dancing occurs in all cultures, to many different beats, in many different forms. It changes slowly between generations, because the beat of nature for your generation is slightly different than it was for mine. Your dancing reflects that.

More women dance than men in our culture; not surprising because women are more closely tied to nature. Do we need music? No, but it certainly helps, as music reminds us of the beating of natural rhythms, like our heart, the tides, seasons, or the sun and moon. Do we need a partner? Again, not really, but if dancing is about communicating our ability to feel nature, then a partner is required, for who else are we talking to? The more people the more the need to dance. The greater the celebration, such as a wedding or even funeral, the more need to dance.

So the next time I see the group get up and sway, I’ll do my best to join in. I may not feel the forces that they do, but at least I can try undulating a bit. I just wish my relatives wouldn’t laugh so much!

Dancing the night away

Do you dance?

Sadly, I can’t.  Never could.  Even the most extreme embarrassing moves of the 1960s and 1980 weren’t weird enough to save me.  Most people I know dance wonderfully.  I even took some classes, and found them mentally exhausting!

So, as someone who can’t dance, I’ve applied the sour grapes rationale to my shortcoming.  That means I ask myself this question; what is dancing good for?

For me, nothing!  Therefore I don’t need to dance.

But those grapes are still hanging there, looking mighty delicious.  And I’m willing to bet that you can dance – certainly better than me.  That means YOU can reach those grapes and taste them.  So please, tell me,

Why do YOU dance?

 

Millionaire Magic

Want to make a million?

That question is relatively new, as society goes.  Back when we all scratched each other for ticks, we didn’t worry about accumulating cash.  We wanted babies and power.

Even a few hundred years ago the idea of individual ambition was far-fetched.  Only your lords and royalty were allowed to be ambitious.  The rest of the herd could only rise so far, success was measured by your belly.

Today’s society allows us to be ambitious, to take chances, and accumulate wealth without great fear of it being swept up by his highness.  Maybe our Uncle will sweep some up, but that’s in exchange for intangible goods.  Another story.

So, let’s make a million.  Here’s two recipes, tried and true many times since the invention of the Renaissance.  First, take an ordinary substance, like water.  Second, take a dash of technology, like sugar, food coloring, or a spice or other natural element.  Maybe a combination of all of these.  Then create a story about your new product and weave them together.  PRESTO CHANGO!  You have a product that can make you a million.

We are surrounded by such magical products that have made many millioinaires, and indeed, global mega-corporations whose reach extends deeply into all of our lives.  But what does it say about us, as a society, that we are willing to exchange some of our wealth for a bit of their magical product.  What does it say about comparing societies, perhaps some allow more magic than others?

The moral of today’s story is that we as individuals, and we as a society should question everything.  Value should be of a lasting and improving sort, not something that merely subtracts from our current existence.

And what’s that second recipe?  Let me know if you want to know – and I’ll tell you!  Here’s a hint – Ben Franklin is one of the first to put it to use!

 

Sex and Society: Who are You?

Sex is such a ‘hot’ area within our culture it’s difficult to know when to stop.  There are many other aspects we could touch upon: gender issues, cross-gender issues, our responsibilities to our society, parents, peers, children, mates.  The fundamentals underpinning many of these issues are the same fundamentals that drive many problems today, such as: What defines the successful life?  What does it mean to fulfil our individual roles as a man or woman, both to ourselves, and our society?

There are no easy answers to these questions.  That’s why most people turn to their religion or other mystic source.  Our religious leaders have been addressing these issues for thousands of years, some successfully.

It’s time for science to lend a hand.  That’s why I write, and why you read.  There is a way for us to look at these problems in a systematic fashion that forges understanding and progress.

It has to begin somewhere, and that beginning is yourself.

Who ARE you?

Do you see yourself as a sexual being, a political being, a biological entity, or something lesser, or greater?  Where do you see your lifeline going?  In that great tapestry of ALL LIFE, which thread is yours?

There are two young women out there who started this series, and I hope that they survive the tumult of today’s society to become happy, productive human beings.  I fear that their misunderstandings and our lack of general knowledge of behavior will instead create bitter and under-performing individuals.

These two women represent millions of other young women who have not had the courage or the opportunity to raise their voices.  I also write for them, and hope for them.  I certainly hope that you will find some time to help them, in your own way.

 

Sex and Society: Virgin Whore Dichotomy

Two web articles started this whole Sex and Society ball rolling for me. [1, 2].  Lauren and Liz bemoaned the fact that their behavior resulted in surprising social reactions.

Lauren decided to become a porn actor in order to pay for her schooling.  Liz advertised herself as a sexual object available to the highest bidder.  What could go wrong?

When Lauren’s peers found out what she did for a living, she was attacked in ways that let her know that she was no longer thought of as a “nice” girl.  Liz became the object of too much attention, her pornographic “selfies” became internet sensations, and her body attracted a Japanese millionaire offering 800,000 dollars for one night of sex.

The angst Lauren and Liz felt before was that society has already pigeonholed them into simple categories.  Both, before they were outed, were “virgins.”  An unacceptable category for many men, because they represent something to be attained and conquered.  Virgins are also unacceptable to most women, because peer pressure forces them to want other women to be just like themselves.  Many (not all!) women think “if you aren’t just like me, then you can’t be my friend.”

The whore is another world, at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Men appreciate whores for being available, but at the same time know they will make poor long-term mates.  Women can despise “whores” in the sense that they offer up sexual services competing with their own.  Therefore they not only demean themselves, they also lessen the value of all other women by association.

How does one negotiate being a “nice” girl?  You have to walk the invisible shifting line.  If our culture was well-defined, that line would be visible and solid.  In our nebulous dynamic culture, a young lady finds herself stumbling, running into trouble and obstacles at every turn.

The nice girl must play the game of being both a virgin and a whore.  She must be a whore to the extent that she can compete with the real whores.  She must also be a virgin to the extent that she can prove she is a valuable long-term mate.

In terms of behavior, there is only one way to play this game.

Don’t. [3]

[1] http://www.xojane.com/sex/duke-university-freshman-porn-star

[2] http://sexhealthandalittlepolitics.com/2014/02/

[3] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086567/quotes

Sex and Society: Pornography 2

The young lady mentioned in the last post wants the right and freedom to create pornographic films.  Speaking personally, individual freedom to choose one’s fate should be considered one of our greatest freedoms.

But any freedom must be combined with the responsibility to understand implications.  Her ‘freedom’ to create pornography ripples throughout our society in ways she may not appreciate, or understand.

First, the impact upon her life.  Today she finds herself ostracized by her peers, even villainized.  Whether or not you approve, what this means is that her circle of friends becomes defined by what she does, and how she appears.  Should she choose to start a family, that family’s chances for long-term success will be influenced by the man she chooses.  If he’s not a porn actor, will he be so forgiving to understand she shared her vagina with many others?

The impact upon society is more nebulous.  It’s likely that she has weakened the links she had with her own parents, her siblings.  It may be that those links were never there.  She has helped further the illusion that women are to be used, dominated, and desire nothing more than the physical act of sex.  No, she is not the first to do so, and will not be the last.  But each woman who elects to send this message is complicit in its continuance.  To try and stand up later and claim that such a message demeans women is the same as declaring alcohol to be satan’s drink, while holding a cocktail.

I do not say that pornography is bad, or good.  It simply is.  This young woman also, simply, is.  That she chooses to make pornography is her choice.  That society chooses to condemn her is its choice.

How do you, choose?