Category Archives: update

News about this site, my life and other non-yoga matters

The Dalai Lama and lululemon strike a deal

Photo: Dalai Lama and lululemon althelica CEO wave hands at camera
The Dalai Lama and lululemon althelica CEO are all smiles – Courtesy: lululemon atheletics

We have another kerfuffle about the intersection between “yoga business” and high-minded, spiritual pursuits, in this case the yoga gear maker lululemon athletica (branding wants lower case) and the Dalai Lama’s Center for Peace + Education agreeing on three years of funding for the Center’s activities:

The Globe and MailLulu-Lama? Partnership between yoga wear maker, Dalai Lama sparks outcry
They cited the disconnect between a luxury retailer that sells pricey fashions such as $100 yoga pants and the Dalai Lama who preaches a modest life and advocates for the poor. Others said they were offended that “politics” play a part in Lululemon’s marketing, and several said they would stop shopping at the chain.

The original announcement from lululeon, plus the Dalai Lama Center and its press release.  A take on the reaction of the “yoga scene” is in YogaDork. Both lululemon and the Center for Peace + Education are based in Vancouver.

Here are a few of my own knee-jerk  questions:

  1. Given that many yoga hardliners distrust lululemon, is this move nothing more than PR gesture to acquire a spiritual smokescreen for its corporate greed?
  2. Given the poor rep that lululemon has acquired over the past few years, what does the Dalai Lama get out of  this arrangement? Just money?
  3. Should we ask the Dalai Lama to show us his entire list of donors to find more contradictions?
  4. For that matter, who else is lululemon backing financially? After all, it’s tax deductible.
  5. Why do a sizeable part of the reaction see the move as mixing business with political causes? Oh yeah, the Dalai Lama was the head of the Tibetan government in exile before stepping aside recently.
  6. Does this alliance mean that lululemon will change its marketing target to become more encompassing of lower-income yogis and yoginis? Is lululemon going to open more outlets to avoid the criticism that they sell $100 yoga pants? Why do we have to fly to Orlando or upstate New York (Woodbury)?

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.

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 Home again, after three weeks in Europe

Small victories, distant defeats

Today—I mean, yesterday—I made myself go to the fitness center on the first floor of my workplace and put in an hour on the stationary bike and the elliptical trainer. I had already put in a full day of work, plus an hour of online training, so I told myself I could not let myself slide another day without getting some exercise.

Or I could keep going down to the basement garage  and drive off to restorative yoga class and chill out. But I would probably talk myself out of restorative because I should really get my prana flowing.

So getting out of the elevator, I turned left, walked down a long corridor and ended up in the fitness room., watching the depressing news on CNN about Isreal/Palestina and Ukraine and…  I worked up a sweat and did not attempt to read or listen to music.

Then, I got home, had dinner and found myself sitting in front of the TV, sucked into watching Frontline: Endgame about our wrongheaded adventures in Iraq over the past decade. I wanted to go upstairs to do something productive, or meditate, or do some restorative yoga, or my pranayama, or my bedtime sequence of tension releasing stretches.

But I sat there paralyzed by the sheer gravity of America’s involvement in Iraq and the scars that it’s left on our men, this country and the Middle East. And in my small way, I had survived that tragedy.

I finally climbed the stairs, sat in my study, and started office busy-work. Midnight and I started writing this blog. What can I write about?

I did not go to my yoga class today. I did put in an hour of aerobic training. I made appointments to get new glasses and check my teeth. I did put in a productive day at the office, turning another professional’s tortured technical prose into something that made sense. I did not discover any shining truth in my journey. I did not fuck up the world in any traumatic way. For most humans, that daily entry in life’s ledger would yield a profit.

Amen. Shalom. As-salamu alaykum. Namaste. Hallelujah!

Too many distractions for my own good

This past month I’ve been absorbed in work mode, with a couple of writing assignments that  exceeded my initial estimates and required overtime and weekends. But that status has been complicated by the World Cup soccer (football) games that are available in my employer’s break room. I’ve had several topics to write about for this blog, but I never had time to develop them, and it was more important to do yoga than write about it. So I’ve had to prioritize my activities and available time.

I’ve became increasingly aware of how over-committed I ‘ve become: just to cite all the training activities that I have theoretically lined up: (1) studying for the the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundations certification (part of my technology refresh 10 years after getting my masters), (2) taking some online courses from Lynda.com to catch up with MS Office productivity tools (my old job was still on version 2003, now I’m using 2011), (3) learning to take advantage of Adobe Creative Suite, especially for online and e-publishing, (4) watching some videos about some of the other software packages I’ve invested in (the delusion that a few apps will make me more efficient), (5) taking some online courses to revive my writing and editing skills (that’s what they pay me for), and (6) stopping the count there… because it’s become ridiculous. Even when I had idle time after leaving the OAS, I could not fit in that much time for skill development and self-improvement.

I’ve been able to tackle these tasks in fits and starts, in evening hours when I don’t have the energy or focus to get the most out of the courses. Regular visits to yoga class and the fitness center have been my way to increase my capacity to extend my functional time and ward off the lethargy of brain work in front of a keyboard. What’s clear is that I have to eliminate my evening TV time, just as soon as the United States team is eliminated from the World Cup.

Another bout of bronchitis confines me to home

On Thursday, my boss ordered me it of the office and back home because my cold threatened his health (we share a small office space). On the way, I stopped at an urgent care center to have a doctor look at my congested chest and sinuses, plus my swollen neck glands and fatigue. I was prescribed another round of antibiotics and rest.

This winter seems to have been one long convalescence from bronchitis, sinusitis and the whole immune system. I and my first round of antibiotics in September, a second in December, and then weakened constitution. No wonder I’ve lost my discipline for yoga practice. I am always trying to pick myself off the figurative floor.

Slipping into the American life style

It’s the last day of February. I’ve made four entries into this blog and probably gone to four yoga classes too. I’ve gained five pounds, setting off personal health alarms, which contributes to not getting to the yoga studio or the gym. The weather has been chilly, if not frigid for most of this month, with a few balmy breaks, so I have not been lured outside. My wife is away visiting her family in Peru, and I am home taking care of the dogs.

And of course, there’s the job. Things have been going great  at DMI. I feel privileged to be clearing a new career path at this stage of my life. My work as a technical proposal writer strikes the tricky balance between exploiting my skill set and experience and making me stretch to complete the assignment with the quality needed. If I run into difficult, I don’t get down on myself because I know I have a team backing me up. I’ve also noticed that I am more resilient — when I run into a problem, I usually  bounce back with a solution the next day, after sleeping on it.

Writing responses to Federal requests for proposals (RFPs) and similar documents is not going to win me a Pulitzer Prize, but it is disciplined writing. Lessons can be applied in other formats. The assignments require sprints of one or two weeks to finish. I am being given more independence, not having to check in with my boss. I’ve even been asked to teach a young copy editor how to write, mentoring him for the day when he can take on proposals himself. It’s harder to find solutions architects (the professional who pulls together the parts of a proposal) that can write than it is to find writers who can handle IT subject matter, according to one of my supervisors.

Now the bad news

Becoming so absorbed into my work has meant that it is hard to get myself to a yoga class or to the fitness club. I put in longer hours to meet deadlines. I even work on weekends. I find it hard to go to the fitness room on the first floor of my work place. At the end of the day, I am emotionally and physically squeezed dry. If I go home after work, I can’t get myself out again.  The convenient location of my job, only a 15-minute drive from home, means I don’t have a long commute, but I don’t get the benefit of walks to and from the Metro. The more out of shape I become, the harder it gets to get back in shape, the slower the recovery.

The personal habits and patterns that served me well over the past 10 years or so are broken, and the end result is good, but I’ve got to find a way of readjusting my life so that it’s physically and emotionally sustainable. Otherwise, I will fall into the mold of the American office worker — drives to work, sits in front of a keyboard, eats more than his body needs, develops a paunch and fails to get enough exercises. After three months on my new job, I realize that I could end up that way.