Slave to a USB cable

Over the course of our Euro­pean trip, we relied on our iPad, Kin­dle Fire, Galaxy smart­phones, cam­era bat­ter­ies, elec­tric shaver, and backup bat­ter­ies to carry out basic func­tions that kept us plugged into our infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Because T-​​Mobile is our wire­less provider, we had rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive phone cov­er­age in port in Europe (we have not got­ten a bill yet so I may with­hold judg­ment on that sales pitch).  We had a voice line and mes­sag­ing, maybe e-​​mail as well, but qual­ity var­ied from coun­try to coun­try If we were sail­ing close shore, we might pick up the avail­able wire­less carriers.

On board, the options were less than opti­mal. Ships use a satellite-​​based com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice (Imarsat). For pas­sen­gers it is a throw­back to the days of Amer­ica On Line and Compuserv: NCL charges by the minute for use of Wi-​​Fi, Inter­net access and phone. They did have WiFi from stem to stern, but you paid for the Inter­net access. At Kasadasi, we skipped the excu­sion so that we could spend the after­noon in Inter­net cafes and Star­bucks using the free or inex­pen­sive WiFi and Inter­net access. We had sev­eral loose ends in our travel plans that had to be locked down ASAP to allow us to enjoy the vacation.

Some of the plugs, adapters, cables and batteries that I needed to keep powered up and operational
Some of the plugs, adapters, cables and bat­ter­ies that I needed to keep pow­ered up and operational

But the real prob­lem was recharg­ing all our devices. While on the cruise, it was easy to go ashore for sight-​​seeing and return to recharge our bat­ter­ies, using both Euro­pean and US elec­tri­cal out­lets in the cabin.  Before the trip, I had pur­chased one travel uni­ver­sal adapter and surge pro­tec­tor, but that was not enough. In Spain, I bought a phone charger with Euro­pean plug., which helped. When we struck out on our own and did not have the con­ve­nience of Euro­pean and US out­lets, it was more com­pli­cated. All US-​​style plugs were use­less. In France, I bought another adapter/​surge pro­tec­tor, which  also came with a USB out­let, the equiv­a­lent of hav­ing another Euro­pean plug. When we were able to stream elec­tri­cal cur­rent to four devices, the rou­tine became manageable.

But an addi­tional prob­lem turned out to be get­ting reli­able USB cables. I’d find out that a phone or device did not charge at all overnight so I had to trou­bleshoot the problem. Two cables wore out quickly from rough treat­ment while trav­el­ing. I had left a zipped pack­ing bag that had extra USB cables at home so I was already under-equipped. In Barcelona, I bought two USB cables that did not func­tion (what do you sell a cus­tomer you know will never come back?).

I found myself get­ting up in the mid­dle of the night to check on charg­ing and switch out devices. At each port, I looked for a con­ve­nient elec­tron­ics store or wire­less ser­vice cen­ter. Some­times, it was just a ques­tion of not hav­ing enough time to stop at a store with­out being left behind by the guide group. Other times, I could not bring myself to buy at jacked-​​up prices for tourists. Finally in Paris, I got a new USB cable, plus the adapter/​surge protector.

Now I under­stand the TV com­mer­cial show­ing trav­el­ers hud­dle around power out­lets in air­port ter­mi­nals, try­ing to recharge their phones, tablets and lap­tops. It’s sim­i­lar to being a smoker, hav­ing to plan your life around when and where you can find an appro­pri­ate place to light up and feed your habit. Our addic­tion to con­nec­tion and infor­ma­tion is what shaped a lot of our plan­ning in Europe.

Yoga helps war veterans deal with trauma

More evi­dence that yoga and related dis­ci­plines can help heal the body and mind of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from post-​​traumatic stress dis­or­der or PSTD:

Wash­ing­ton PostYoga helps war vet­er­ans get a han­dle on their PTSD.But the new study is the first of its kind to pro­vide sci­en­tific sup­port for the ben­e­fits of yoga’s breath­ing tech­niques for PTSD patients in a ran­dom­ized and con­trolled (though small) long-​​term study which mon­i­tored effects of yoga over the course of the year.

The study cited in this arti­cle actu­ally deals with the prac­tice of sudar­shan kriya, a sequence of breath­ing exer­cises cre­ated and pro­moted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But he does not have a monop­oly on the ben­e­fits of yoga practice.

Please note that the arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in The Con­ver­sa­tion, Sep­tem­ber 14.

Mindfulness in museums and sensuous overflow

The Phillips Col­lec­tion is intro­duc­ing a mind­ful approach to access­ing the art work on dis­play there:

Wash­ing­ton PostAt the Phillips Col­lec­tion, view­ing art through mind­ful med­i­ta­tion:
As with tra­di­tional yoga prac­tice, the mind­ful view­ing pro­gram focuses on breath­ing and its restora­tive power, says Kan­ter, who teaches at Yoga Dis­trict in D.C. and Wil­low Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slow­ing down the breath, notic­ing and deep­en­ing the breath,” she says, can trig­ger “your relax-​​and-​​renew response. When you can mind­fully attune to your breath and start to influ­ence it, you trig­ger deep changes in your body. So that imme­di­ately has an impact on how you feel.”

The new approach ben­e­fited from yoga ther­a­pist Eliz­a­beth Lak­shmi Kan­ter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the pro­gram avail­able via a smart phone app. Many Euro­pean muse­ums already hand out head­sets that pro­vide infor­ma­tion and com­men­tary in the lan­guage of the vis­i­tor, but I did not notice any mind­ful tones in the nar­ra­tion of the head­sets that I used.

Pro­po­nents of mind­ful­ness have long empha­sized the power of breath in man­ag­ing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breath­ing more slowly,” says Klia Bass­ing, a mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion instruc­tor and founder of Visit Your­self at Work, a stress-​​reduction pro­gram based in the Dis­trict. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the imme­di­ate expe­ri­ence, such as con­tem­plat­ing a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bass­ing. “A body at ner­vous­ness will stay at ner­vous­ness.” (Does using a cell­phone as a medium for mind­ful­ness dis­rupt the mind­ful moment? Not nec­es­sar­ily, says Bass­ing: “It’s still effec­tive in bring­ing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)

Photo: tourist crowd in from on Michelangelo's Pietà
The crush of tourists at major muse­ums makes it hard to appre­ci­ate the art work.

I could have used more than a mind­ful­ness app when Teresa and I were trot­ting through muse­ums dur­ing our recent trip to Europe. We were there in Sep­tem­ber and early Octo­ber when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thou­sands of multi­na­tional tourists are being herded through the Vat­i­can museum and St. Peter’s Basil­ica. You almost feel bad when lin­ger­ing in front of a par­tic­u­lar art piece because you’re hold­ing up others.

Of course, you can develop plenty of mind­ful­ness while wait­ing in long queues to buy tick­ets, get in the front door or get passed security.

You can only take in so much visual input and stim­u­lus, espe­cially at the major Euro­pean muse­ums that flaunt their riches with national pride. Dur­ing our trip, there were sev­eral moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feast­ing on Impres­sion­ist artists all morn­ing, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the over­pow­er­ing bril­liance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emo­tional over­flow spill into the river.

Photo: vaulted, glass roof of Orsay Museum, Paris
The inte­rior of Paris’s Orsay Museum

Venting about yoga cliques and Sanskrit names

Irasna Ris­ing in ele­phant jour­nal makes some cogent argu­ments that I’ve been think­ing for a while, but have not had the time or energy to put into a coher­ent package:

Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Hel­luva Lot Of Peo­ple Are Being Duped)
San­skrit, like Latin, is a dead lan­guage. Let it go already. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vat­i­can II back in the early 1960′s. Chant­ing in san­skrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an auto­matic Hindu. Or, an author­ity on yoga, Vedic stud­ies or Indol­ogy (yes, that is a real aca­d­e­mic subject.) Nor does hav­ing a made up Sanskit-​​derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blis­sananda, Gane­shananda, Seren­ityananda etc.

This com­pacted extract is just one of seven points that she makes about how yoga is unfold­ing in the States. Irasna (her byline is Earth Energy Reader) is an eth­nic Sikh so her com­ments carry some weight.

Photo: a foot on a yoga mat
Get­ting off on the wrong foot: our grasp of yoga is unbalanced.

On the other hand, we should note that there is no one “yoga” grafted on soc­cer moms, super mod­els and gurus-​​in-​​training that obsess about hav­ing flat abs, round but­tocks and enlight­en­ment. Although there are plenty of aspir­ing peo­ple who would love to play “yoga cop” to enforce authen­tic­ity and the Yoga Sutras, there is no ortho­doxy, no doc­trine, no dogma, no priest­hood for North Amer­i­can yoga. That option started fad­ing away about the same time my gen­er­a­tion got over their Wood­stock high and ashrams were tainted by sex­ual scan­dals. In a more con­tem­po­rary vein, there is no “Amer­i­can yoga indus­try” just because Under Armour wants to steal mar­ket share from Lul­ule­mon, and every yoga stu­dio has to turned into a bou­tique and a teacher train­ing acad­emy. That is a cash flow problem.

What we have are three dis­tin­guish­ing traits of the North Amer­i­can yoga scene: (1) a cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket­place that wants to dress every­thing up as a brand, (2) an enor­mous spir­i­tual hole in our col­lec­tive psy­che stem­ming from our Judeo-​​Christian roots, and (3) a groundswell of psycho-​​somatic suf­fer­ing (trauma) that West­ern med­i­cine and psy­chi­a­try are unable to soothe, much less heal.

I am sure that I could think up other fac­tors in the yoga enigma, but this vent­ing will allow me to get back to my own per­sonal con­tra­dic­tions and inad­e­qua­cies. And I’m not leav­ing yoga. Yoga is not a place; it’s a state of mind-​​body.

On cruise control in the Mediterranean

Photo: a couple stand on a bridge in Florence, Italy
Teresa and I pose on the iconic cov­ered bridge over the Arno River. The shot does not do jus­tice to the other-​​worldly beauty of Florence.

When the idea of tak­ing a Mediter­ranean cruise came up, I thought it was a good, leisurely option for see­ing as many Euro­pean cities and coun­tries with­out being shut­tled between hotel and air­port, with reli­able liv­ing quar­ters and food, and a high degree of secu­rity. Twelve days, five coun­tries, and two days at sea to relax and recover. And you do need to recoup because the one-​​day vis­its (really just six to ten hours) to each city means that you keep a fran­tic pace. It is not imme­di­ately evi­dent that the places you want to see are not in the sea­port, but inland. Flo­rence, Rome, Naples and Athens all require a min­i­mum of 40 min­utes or more to get to the tourist sights.  We had great weather, sunny and barely a drop of rain, but that meant we were out­doors a lot, sweat­ing and panting.

My days of back­pack­ing through for­eign lands are long ended. I dread the thought of being thrown into a set­ting in which I don’t know the lan­guage or the cul­ture and stick out like a hap­less gringo wan­der­ing through a street mar­ket. Because most of my past trav­els have been in Latin Amer­ica or Spain, I’ve been used to speak­ing the native lan­guage and break­ing the stereo­type of the “ugly American.”

False expec­ta­tions

Photo: man writing at table
One of the rare moments when I could sit down and write what we were experiencing.

I thought I would have lots of time to write in my travel jour­nal, review my pho­tos and read through the back­log of my Kin­dle books. After all, I was a writer headed for a Paris café. Instead, as the res­i­dent cul­tural scout, I found myself read­ing Rick Steves’ Mediter­ranean Cruise Ports to research and plan what we would be doing in our next stop. Because urgency com­pressed our expo­sure to a few hours, I felt as if we were being spoon-​​fed each city, each coun­try, with­out hav­ing a chance to dig deeper, wider, more curi­ously. But I kept telling myself that just walk­ing through Rome or Istan­bul even the pre-​​packaged tourist cir­cuits, was a priv­i­lege,  a ban­quet on its own, so open my senses.

Because of the “all-​​you-​​can-​​eat” buf­fets for break­fast and din­ner on the Nor­we­gian Cruise Line’s  Spirit, I soon noticed that I needed to fit in some car­dio work at the fit­ness cen­ter to burn off all the car­bo­hy­drates. By the end of the trip, I lost about eight pounds, part from pound­ing the pave­ment and part from a cou­ple of bouts of dysen­tery. I should note that in both Rome and Venice we were encour­aged  (in Steves‘  book and by local res­i­dents) to drink the potable water from foun­tains and taps, a point of local pride.

Food was not the only thing that was fill­ing me up: cul­tural sat­u­ra­tion, at times, seemed over­whelm­ing. Beauty-​​laden muse­ums, Baroque churches, bustling mar­ket­places and throb­bing pub­lic trans­port fill the senses with ancient vibes and con­tem­po­rary thrills. There came a point when I could not absorb another Tin­toretto paint­ing of saints and angels shim­mer­ing under the arches of a cathe­dral. I just wanted to chill out. I had tapped into all my reserves of resilience and energy; all my spare mem­ory cells were over­flow­ing. I needed time, space and com­fort to process all the expe­ri­ences, and I was not going to find them while on the road.

I never got to write in my jour­nal as much as I had hoped, and even then, I was play­ing catch-​​up, describ­ing what had hap­pened a cou­ple of days before, never the gut reac­tion to turn­ing a cor­ner and being bowled over by the post­card set­ting of Venice canals and sun­light. But thanks to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, we have plenty of mem­o­ries, pho­tos taken by Nikon, Sam­sung smart phones and Apple iPads. I can go back to those shots to pick up the inter­nal narrative.

On our last days in Paris, I real­ized that I had not set aside ade­quate time for med­i­ta­tion or pranayama. No yoga classes; I did not pack a travel mat. I did do my restora­tive yoga in the evenings, but that was out of neces­sity because my mus­cles were quiv­er­ing from the exer­tion of the day and I needed to soothe down to get to sleep.   For the most part, how­ever, I was always lean­ing for­ward, senses on hyper-​​alert to all the sig­nals of life, mov­ing towards the final flight home.

Yoga Journal cleans up its link mess

Fol­low­ing up on a note I posted a month ago, I wanted to clar­ify that all links to Yoga Jour­nal arti­cles are work­ing cor­rectly. The web devel­op­ment team prob­a­bly put in a for­ward­ing pro­to­col that auto­mat­i­cally sends the vis­i­tor from my site to the linked YJ web page. Of course, that it should have imple­mented that mech­a­nism before switch­ing over from the old site because the new design had been avail­able as a beta for months. Luck­ily for me, the mix-​​up hap­pened just as I was about to head off for vaca­tion and did not have time to start cor­rect­ing all the bad links that were show­ing up. Now that I’m back, I see that all YJ links on this site seem to be working.

Now if they could only find the right bal­ance between being an adver­tis­ing vehi­cle and the most promi­nent yoga advo­cate for the United States.  If only there was an app for that.

Home again, after three weeks in Europe

Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey
Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sul­tan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istan­bul, Turkey

Although I’ve been back from my extended vaca­tion since Octo­ber 4, it’s taken me a while to get my legs under me. My trav­els, spotty avail­abil­ity of Inter­net access and short­age of idle time deter­mined that I could not post to my blog. I will giv­ing an account­ing of my awe­some jour­ney in install­ments because I am still pro­cess­ing all the events and experiences.

So what did my trip involve?

  • Four days in Barcelona, Spain because we never made it to Cataluña dur­ing our first trip to Spain in 2008
  • A 12-​​day Mediter­ranean cruise with port calls in Toulon, Livorno/​Florence, Civitavecchia/​Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istan­bul, Kusadasi, Piraeus/​Athens, and Venice
  • Extra two days in Venice and an overnight sleeper train to France, an adven­ture in and of itself
  • Four days in Paris because my wife demanded that if we had we made it all the way to Europe, she could not leave with­out see­ing Paris
  • A 28-​​hour return to the States on three sep­a­rate flights (Paris, Barcelona, Lon­don, Wash­ing­ton), includ­ing a forced march through Lon­don Heathrow Air­port secu­rity check­points, ter­mi­nal trains, esca­la­tors, ele­va­tors and duty-​​free shop­ping malls

This itin­er­ary is a really long time to be liv­ing out of a suit­case, no mat­ter how tightly packed to meet air­line bag­gage restric­tions. And you still have to drag the lug­gage around when you’re not in a plane or cruise ship. But since my wife was in charge of plan­ning the trip, she kept adding a day here, a week­end there, until it grew into 23 days. Con­tinue read­ing

Yoga Journal just screwed me royal

Cover art for Yoga Journal
Sep­tem­ber 2010

I’ve been a sub­scriber to Yoga Jour­nal since I started my prac­tice, about 10 years ago. I’ve read all their issues, cover to cover, except for the past year when things have got­ten a bit hec­tic. But I’ve kept stack­ing the issues on my desk for future read­ing. The back issues fill up a book­case shelf in my study.

More impor­tantly, I’ve cited the mag­a­zine hun­dreds of times, to their pose list­ing, fea­tures, cover sto­ries and other arti­cles. I’ve even defended the magazine’s reliance on adver­tis­ing to sur­vive in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place. I saw it as a nec­es­sary barom­e­ter of yoga’s influ­ence in Amer­i­can main­stream culture.

Today, the new edi­tors of Joga Your­nal released their “beta” edi­tion of their web­site, designed to be more graph­i­cally opti­mized and ad-friendly.  I found this mes­sage after try­ing to load a JY link:

File Not Found
The page you are look­ing for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is tem­porar­ily unavailable.

Please try the following:

  • Check your spelling
  • Return to the home page
  • Click the Back button

Talk about play­ing dumb. They know why I got a 404 error.

Con­tinue read­ing

Closure for Yoga: The Art of Transformation in Cleveland

Yoga: The Art of Trans­for­ma­tion will end its stay at the Cleve­land Museum of Art on Sep­tem­ber 7. It opened on June 22. It also had a term at the Asian Art Museum in San Fran­cisco, Feb­ru­ary 21-​​May 25.  Thus will end the ground-​​breaking exhibit of Indian art and yoga that the Smithsonian’s Freer-​​​​Sackler Gallery put together.  Debra Dia­mond, the exhibit cura­tor, and a long list of col­lab­o­ra­tors and sup­port­ers should be pleased with its recep­tion around the coun­try. The videos from the “Yoga and Visual Cul­ture: An Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Sym­po­sium” in Novem­ber last year are avail­able online.

Sonya Quin­tanilla, the Cura­tor of Indian and South­east Asian Art at the Cleve­land Museum of Art, nar­rated the exhibit, accom­pa­nied by some pic­tures of the displays.

Con­tinue read­ing