Once upon a time, in a zip code not too far away, in a bizarro alternate reality, there was a version of the Ümabomber who dropped badass spiritual wisdom on people for work. Part social psychology studier, part boot camp ass kicker, and part stand-up comedy act, I donned my wizard robes (actually, brightly colored stretchy pants) and gave inspiring and humorous lectures and lessons full of insights gleaned from many trips around the solar system. I also kicked major butt in the workout department.
I attracted kindred spirits: graduates from the School of Hard Knocks. Underdogs. And really, really smart people who wanted nothing to do with wispy feel-good new ageisms. As a yoga teacher, I was nurturing in a tough love way, grounded, serious, but playful as well. I held people’s feet to the fire. Yoga—at least the way I understood it—and had learned it from master teachers was a tool for self-knowledge. Sure, there were the physical benefits—strong core, flexible limbs—but the real benefit for me was more psychological than anything else. On the whole it is a practice of self-mastery.
As soon as yoga became mainstream, it jumped the shark. It was no longer a discipline, now it was A LIFESTYLE, complete with overpriced, proper apparel, extreme dietary restrictions, and smug, self-righteous pop culture vocabulary. And Lord Shiva help you if you didn’t selfie your handstands all over Instagram.
The shark jumping just happened to occur right around that time that a movie called “The Secret” came out. Coincidence? Methinks not.
As soon as The Secret started circulating, there was a massive shift in the entire culture of yoga. For years I had been teaching at a very high level—I don’t mean trick poses. I mean life-changing, mind-blowing paradigm shift shit. I was renowned for my direct, no-nonsense, assertive style. It wasn’t for everyone. It was physically and mentally challenging. If you wanted someone to stroke your hair and hold your hand and tell you fluffy feel-good affirmations, I wasn’t the teacher for you. But if you wanted someone who would hold the space for you to get really real with yourself in a grounded, supportive way, and get some great physical therapy at the same time, The Ümabomber was your girl.
Once the shark was jumped I was expected to speak in weird, passive language using soft, feathery words. Words like juicy, blossom, shine. These words were to be delivered in hushed tones, breathy whispers with extremely dramatic sibilance. I was to be more “suggestive” instead of directive. And rather than educating people by dropping knowledge bombs them I was now supposed to just make them feel good. I was—in fact—not just supposed to TASTE the rainbow, I was supposed to BE the rainbow.
The next yoga teacher I hear say something idiotic like “we store anger in our thighs” is going to get slapped upside her head. And then I’ll just shrug and say “you must have manifested my anger…namaste!” via Buzzfeed.
What I mean is, it was now required to BE POSITIVE at all times and in all ways.
Dog just died? BE POSITIVE! Boyfriend dumped you? BE positive! Cancer diagnosis? BE POSITIVE! Filing bankruptcy? Be POSITIVE! Lost your job? Be positive! Cancer diagnosis, job loss, bankruptcy, and dead dog all in the same week? Be SUPER posi! And my what crappy karma you have! You should chant OM to your chakras to realign them, try this juice fast I’m starving myself with and for fuck sake SMILE.
This surge in positive thinking using the Law of Attraction looks very bright on the outside, but there’s a dark underbelly to it all. Denying others—or even ourselves— the right to feel sad, lonely, unhappy or scared isn’t enlightened, or generous, or kind—all qualities the practice of yoga is supposed to engender. In fact, denying others’ feelings and insisting on bright, positive energy all the time is one of the worst kinds of self-righteousness, steeped in delusion and arrogance.
Manson cites multiple studies that debunk the whole “Law of Attraction” theory and explain why it seems to work.
“This is kind of my theory for why this strain of thought has persisted across generations; it’s a psychological pyramid scheme of sorts. You take one person who decides to ignore reality in favor of feeling good all the time. This sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. This person, delusionally positive to the brim, then ironically attracts and surrounds themselves with other delusionally positive followers. Years later, one of these delusionally positive followers then decides to “manifest” their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further to other desperate well-wishers. The chain of positivity carries on this way through the generations, where each author, blogger or seminar leader who speaks ardently of manifesting one’s purpose, or believing oneself to happiness and bliss, or listening to The Universe, generates a new population of delusionally positive followers who then go on and do the same thing all over again.”
What Manson describes is exactly what I observed in the field of yoga. It began to feel like some kind of weird, feel-good self-help cult, than the disciplined, reality-based practice I had learned many years ago. The insistence on pathological positive thinking began to make me feel like I was part of some fundamentalist religion than a tool for self-discovery.
Sure, sure…there are many great teachers of yoga who are true the original intent, purpose, and practice of yoga. I’ve trained with some of the best. But for myself, yoga—the thing I once credited with saving my life—was now a straightjacket of conformity, neurosis and ruin. And yeah, I was angry…I had practiced my own version of this delusional thinking; I spent my life savings filling in the meager income I received as a yoga teacher so I could keep doing what I loved. I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to what I needed, I was focusing on what felt good. Guess what? It didn’t work.
After teaching for 15 years, setting down the torch I’d carried was akin to a divorce or worse. It was an excruciating process that took years to complete. Ironically, one of yoga’s central teachings is about not identifying with concepts and ideas, but I’ll admit it—I was deeply attached to my identity to being a yoga teacher, a guide, and a healer. Over the years I’d taught thousands of students, helped them become kinder, more loving, stronger versions of themselves, while I became the most stressed-out, broke, neurotic person in the yoga studio.
I felt as though I was attending my own funeral in some ways, day after day—a sort of morbid Groundhog Day. Worst of all were the feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness that came when my former peers sat in judgment of me. Granted most of my critics were exactly the uber posi-tribe Manson points out, above. They insisted I just needed to change my attitude, ask the universe, BE POSITIVE, and The Universe would provide…namaste.
Instead, I quit.
It was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. It forced me to get serious about my writing work, which I had a great deal of insecurity and fear around. It forced me to take chances, to risk real growth and change. And it forced me to reclaim yoga as the word I use to describe my own relationship with life.
Many of my former peers and probably not a few students would read this and label me a hater, and they’d be right. I hate ignorance and willful disregard of common sense. But I have never advocated building an altar to pain and suffering (unlike certain schools of yoga). Still, I would rather have the richness of experience that comes with allowing myself my pain—as well as my pleasure—than to reject anything but a sort of false happiness.
“My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail. My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning? If you want to know me, look inside your heart.”
—LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING
From the ashes, the Phoenix. The Ümabomber is nothing if not scrappy and resilient. I am still purpose driven. Still realism based. And still passionate that survival is not enough. Existence is not enough. We are here to live meaningful, happy lives. Those lives must contain sorrow, nervousness, pain and other “dark” emotions. Without them life has no depth, no resilience, and no growth. Even the most esoteric spiritual traditions nod toward the “wisdom” of the natural world; contrasting energies are the pulse of reality. That’s not woowoo magic. That’s science, baby.
I am still a “believer” in yoga. Or—it would be more accurate to say I’m a fan of yoga. I don’t really believe anything I can’t experience directly. But real yoga doesn’t require belief. It requires doing. It requires honesty. And it requires broad-mindedness not empty-headedness.
People constantly ask me if I still “do yoga” now that I don’t teach much. I tell them I do, but it’s not what you think of as yoga.
The open road and singletrack trail are my yoga. Learning to dirt jump at the pump track—this is my yoga. Writing every damn day in a variety of mediums and forms—both for money and for love—is my yoga. I still teach yoga, but the medium is different. This blog is my teaching platform. I’ll come out of retirement now and then to show bikers how to fix their janky hips and strengthen their core. I’ve even got another BikeYoga book coming out soon. And like Lao Tzu, my teaching is easy to understand and easy to put into practice…
Life is short. Don’t count the moments, make the moments count.
I know that those who worship in Church of Bike don’t need preachin’. We need more saddle time. More time spinning circles outside. More getting up to go down. More brappin’ and less yappin’.
In other words if riding your bike is the place you feel most alive, RIDE MORE.
Need some knowledge dropped on you? Email The Ümabomber your burning questions about bikes, business, boys, girls, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them give up their secrets.
Here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters we are so busy making awesome happen that we sometimes miss other awesome things that others are making happen. And sometimes, we become deeply saddened when we hear or see bad, unawesome things happening in the world.
Cancer is not awesome. “End stage” is most definitely not awesome. These words were delivered to a loved just a few weeks ago. I cannot imagine what hearing those words must be like. But I know the meaning of our lives cannot be measured or dictated by others. Medicines and therapies can affect the quality of our lives, but they cannot enliven us. We do that for ourselves. If we are too ill, or too depressed, or too lost, then we let ourselves be carried by others for a time. Being cared for by others? Pretty awesome.
While we are able to, to the extent we are able to, we owe it not just to ourselves to do make awesome happen, we owe it to the world. Because when we get to the end of our days, how we have lived will have made an impact on others.
In other words, it is not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.
If you’re reading this you’re probably a rider. Or maybe a paddler. Or a climber. Or something along those lines. Awesome—for you—involves sun and wind, sky and earth, movement and breath.
So as we head into a weekend, this little bit of awesome is for you. Yeah… you.
Oh hey… the Olympics are on, and the only reason I’m not there is because fat bike racing is not an Olympic event. Yet. There’s also the small but annoying other little fact that my bronchitis turns out to be a spot of walking pneumonia. Darn lungs… Always a vulnerability with me. I’m halfway through treatment and starting to feel a teensy bit better. I think.
I like to take names first, and then kick ass to avoid any excess and random ass kickery.
While I’m not quite ready to get back on the bike and start rebuilding my base fitness yet, I am doing a Super Top Secret Kickass Bike Ninja training program so as to not completely waste away. I’d be at the gym rowing and lifting weights, but the last time I checked the flu statistics at the CDC website, 29% of Oregon had the H1N1 flu. Which is why it’s a really, really bad idea to go to yoga class when you’re sick, kiddos. Hanging out in enclosed spaces where people are sweating and breathing hard is like jumping into a swimming pool of virus-filled mucus, head first. No thanks. Outside is free and germ-free.
Until I can run and ride again safely, I’m sticking with the Super Top Secret Kickass Bike Ninja (STSKBN) training. I can’t tell you about it because then I would have to destroy you, but I can share this much with you…because this is on youtube, making it decidedly not-so-secret.
There’s 3 reasons I love the Ninja sequence: glutes, quads, and adducters. Essentially, all the things I’m going to need more of in order to do well in the Oregon Enduro Series this year. For SSWC2014 I’m focusing on training by… oops. That’s the top part of “top secret”.
Training With Bourbon
The other not-so-secret part of my STSKBN involves training with bourbon. I’m referring to enlisting the healing properties of a hot toddy while recovering from illness. More than just a sensationalized sedative, a well-executed toddy is fine folk medicine. Yes, the bourbon has a sedating quality, but the other ingredients—even in the basic recipe—are great immune boosters. Some may argue the alcohol in a toddy cancels out any health benefits one might receive, but I’d rather make a warm, soothing drink made from ingredients I would normally eat (and can pronounce) than guzzle shots of synthetic blue-green chemical crap, any day.
In fact, over-the-counter medicines such as Nyquil do exactly what a hot toddy does to help one sleep better. If anything, hitting the Nyquil (or Dayquil or similar OTC “medicines”) means you’re taking in artificial dyes, sodium saccharine which is a nice name for 1,2-benzisothiazol-3(2H)-one,1,1-dioxide, and as much high fructose corn syrup as a Big Gulp. Sounds like a bucket full of cancer to me. The only thing a benefit Nyquil offers that a toddy doesn’t is antihistamine relief.
Assuming you don’t need an antihistamine, here’s a much tastier and and healthier alternative to OTC cold remedies:
Basic Bourbon Toddy
Juice of 1/3 lemon
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 – 2 Shots bourbon
Place lemon, honey and cinnamon in mug and pour hot water over, dissolving honey thoroughly before adding bourbon. Variations that also offer some medicinal benefits include grated ginger or adding a cinnamon stick.
If toddy time is earlier in the afternoon, add an Earl Grey tea bag for a mild caffeine boost that’s gentler than coffee.
I don’t wish respiratory illness even anyone—not even my nemesis—but should you find yourself knocked on your butt because life’s handed you the lemon of bronchial infection skip the OTC medicine aisle at the grocery store and get thee to the distillery. Also, while I’ve given a basic bourbon toddy recipe, other alcohols work well too and recipes abound; I simply favor the warming effect of the vanilla overtones of bourbon.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Portland, I highly recommend local craft distiller Bull Run Distilling. Their Temperance Trader is a fine sipping whiskey, but don’t take my word for it; they have a cozy tasting room where you can see for yourself.
Got a favorite hot toddy recipe? Do tell! I’m always curious to try variations. You know… for medical science and because whiskey.
I love rituals. Just a little more than a week ago, I celebrated the solstice with a bike ride, a bourbon and some burning of things. The alchemy of fire is one of the most beautiful metaphors of hope, possibility and transformation to me. In ancient cultures where shamans and elders performed ceremonies and rituals involving fire, smoke was considered to be the vehicle which carried the intent and prayers of the community and the individuals to the world beyond our own. Plus it’s just damn fun to burn stuff. And fire is so deeply hypnotic. Who doesn’t like to stare into a camp fire, hypnotized for hours. I’ve been known to zone out on that terribly cheesy yule log video people play on their television at Christmas. But I’m no random pyromaniac; if I light something up it’s for good reason.
Who knew yoga, with its calm exterior and placid demeanor would be the gateway drug to competitive sports? That’s right, people… Yoga FTW!
In classical yoga tapas—literally, to burn—is regarded as necessary for transformation. It’s not about the temperature of the room; it’s more about intent. The intent to transform one thing into another. Sure, physically, through the movements and exercises of yoga, we transform our stiff, achy, tired bodies into more youthful, flexible, resilient ones. But that’s just the beginning.
Beyond the superficial physical practice, yoga is—at its heart—the practice of being present with whatever is arising without judgment or analysis. This doesn’t mean one should not be discerning; it’s more that one learns to refrain from knee-jerk, habitual reactivity toward the ever changing, unfolding reality that is right before our eyes.
Through yoga, if one is willing to look at oneself bravely and with curiosity, all those frozen places in the mind and heart become available for transmutation as well. Grudges, prejudices, small thinking, addictions of all manner become more clear as we learn to be present with ourselves. Being present is simple, but it is not easy. It takes real courage to be able to look at oneself clearly and remain present, rather than running away or distracting oneself. It is not for the faint of heart.
How many of us have wanted to bolt or escape in some way when faced with our own insecurities, anger or frustration? How many times do we reach, either unconsciously or with some awareness, for the junk food, TV remote, alcohol, drugs, sexual affairs, or fill-in-the-blank to numb out, distract, or otherwise satisfy ourselves on the most superficial level. We all do these things to some extent, in our own ways.
For myself, I’ll admit to a an unhealthy facebook habit, which I decided to give up when I realized how harmful it was. On a purely pragmatic level I was wasting tremendous time and energy. But the bigger issue was what had once been a source of connection had become a sort of modern self-flagellation of constantly comparing myself to others and seeking validation as well. It had become a source of pain, and that’s way too much power to give away to inanimate technology.
I began yoga as a New Year’s Resolution in 1994. I was stressed out, messed up, and done in. I had been living with terrible pain from repetitive stress injuries and serious physical trauma. Yoga taught me that in order to heal my pain I needed to feel my pain. In other words, I had to be present.
Pain—whether psychological or physical—is something most of us would rather avoid, unless you’re a singlespeed mountain biker, in which case you love it in a twisted, transcendent sort of way, but that’s another story for another time… Yoga healed my physical pain, restored my love of life, and showed me how to take care of myself—physically, psychologically and emotionally.
Yoga was the gateway drug that got me into competitive and extreme sports such as bike racing and rock climbing. Hurtling down a mountain at top speed or defying gravity while hanging from a rope requires the utmost presence. One false move and you’ll pay, sometimes dearly. But this presence isn’t just available when you’re on the rivet. It can be found in even the most ordinary, everyday things. Cooking breakfast, having sex, writing a letter, or having a conversation, doing your work… these can all be meaningful moments of connection, if we are present, aware, and sort of curious.
Nothing happens outside of the here and now. Life happens in THIS moment. Be present. Pay attention. This is it.
For 20 years I have devoted a significant part of my life to the study and transmission of yoga. I’ve taught thousands of classes, probably tens of thousands of people, all over the U.S. I knew as soon as I felt the benefits of yoga that I wanted—no, I NEEDED—to share them with others. None of this would have happened had I not followed through on that New Year’s Resolution.
I’m not an expert in presence. It comes and goes for me, just as it does with most. I forget how to be present, moment by moment. That is why we call yoga a ‘practice’. It’s not that practice makes perfect; it’s more like “practice makes presence”.
The ritual lover in me is clamoring for a new New Year’s Resolution for 2014. But I’ve come to believe it’s these everyday moment-by-moment intentions, and our commitment to them, which are much more powerful than one grand future ideal to strive for. Having future goals is great—by all means—set your aim high and go for it! But don’t wait to become the change you wish to see. Do it now. RIGHT now. This moment. Do what you can with what you’ve got to become the best YOU you want to be.
Happy New Year, world. May you feel the fullness of your greatest presence in all your moments—large and small. And don’t be afraid to burn, baby. Burn.
From the very first opening statement, the FOX newscasters start throwing barbs, saying “Apparently we have a lot of time on our hands as 20 million Americans are practicing yoga.” They go on to add that yoga is now being taught in some schools and then proceed to denigrate and generalize yoga as “wussifying America’s children” who need to learn real sports, which involve winning, losing, and a ball of some sort.
The announcers talk to an author and professional speaker named Larry Wingett who wrote a book called Your Kids Are Your Fault. Larry says kids shouldn’t be taught yoga in school because “Life is about winning and losing. It’s competitive. And we need to teach those things at a very young age.”
Larry goes on to say he doesn’t argue the value of mind-body connection yoga provides but he doesn’t think yoga should replace a “real sport”. Throughout the entire broadcast the announcers use the word “zen” to refer to calm/poise, though I am pretty sure none of them actually know what the word means or that it refers to a aspect of Buddhism, not yoga.
Yoga. Zen. Hippie spiritual stuff. You know.
I take issue with FOX’s dismissal of yoga for kids in that they are reducing the practice to physical accomplishment or stress reduction, yet at no time do they mention the discipline required to excel at yoga. It’s implied that only team/ball sports will teach young people how to pick themselves up after a defeat and carry on in the face of that defeat. Because, you know, no one has ever failed to execute a yoga pose perfectly.
Yoga may not be competitive—there are no ribbons or medals handed out—but the motivation for excellence is more intrinsic in yoga, whereas for many team sports the motivation is extrinsic. I’m not going to argue that one is better than the other. Both have their place. Team sports foster good sportsmanship (though you wouldn’t know it from so many adult pro football players throwing tantrums on field on camera), camaraderie, and of course, team work. Because it’s an individual endeavor yoga focuses more on self-reliance, but also instills life lessons like how to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and persevering.
But our nation’s kids don’t need any silly lessons like that, acoording to Fox News. Those things don’t matter in the game of life. Winning and losing do. Because by golly, this is Amurka, and we will kick your *ss if you disagree with what we say.
Larry’s upcoming book is called “Grow a Pair”. He suggests that America has grown soft and needs to Harden The F*ck Up. No, he doesn’t actually say HTFU this on FOX news, but it’s a sentiment I hear all the time in the cycling, fitness, and especially the Crossfit community. Larry says yoga is “okay for stress reduction but it doesn’t replace sport.” The implication, throughout the interview and the attitude of the newscasters is yoga is easy—a touchy-feely feel-good thing—and doesn’t teach you anything valuable.
Given the recent shootings and mass murders across our country, I beg to differ. I believe yoga and martial arts, when practiced at early ages, teach VERY important life lessons like patience, self-mastery, fairness, and compassion for self and others. Perhaps most importantly it teaches something that is becoming increasingly rare in our country: discipline. Our country is full of self-hatred and self-loathing, narcissism and bullying and kids are largely a product of their environment. Emotionally disturbed kids who aren’t exposed to self-calming practices might grow up to be deranged psychopaths who—on a bad day—snap and lash out because they haven’t learned “life lessons”—or maybe learned the wrong ones.
In Portland, where BikeYoga is headquartered, the Living Yoga program is one of the nation’s largest and oldest volunteer prison yoga programs. The program serves not only state prison populations but also other high-risk populations such as drug and alcohol treatment centers, domestic and sexual abuse shelters, and homeless youth organizations. The impetus for the program came from the shocking discovery that meditation programs employed on a regular basis in a maximum security prison in India resulted in a significantly lower rate of recidivism. In other words, calm, peaceful, loving people are more thoughtful, responsible citizens. For many who are incarcerated today, had they learned better “life lessons” early on, perhaps they could have made better informed, positive choices for themselves in their lives.
Beyond any larger philosophical discussions about whether yoga in schools is harmful or helpful, I would like to personally throw down the gauntlet and invite Mr Winget and all the FOX newscasters to a 90-minute yoga class with me. Or heck, make it 10 minutes. It won’t take long, really. We’ll see who can hold plank pose the longest, execute a handstand, perform the deepest splits and backbends, and do a moderate number of sun salutations—say 20. In a row. Without pausing. In 90 degree heat. Maybe Mr Winget can give me a few pointers about my astavakrasana pose…
I know, I know. Yoga isn’t about competition (kind of like FOX News isn’t about news). Still… I say bring it. I have a few life lessons to share with anyone who thinks yoga is for wussies. Like what your transverse abdominus is, and how exercising your perineum might allow you to avoid adult diapers in your near future due to weak (i.e. wussie) pelvic floor muscles. Because it’s difficult to Harden the F*ck Up and feel like a winner while you’re wearing diapers. I’ll even throw a ball into it for you. And some medals. And in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my “zen-like” tolerance of the ignorance and hyperbole that is FOX News.
If yoga is “wussie” then I am the BOSS of WUSS. Anyone who’s done more than a simple relaxation class knows the physical aspects of yoga practice can be relaxed or intense, athletic or gentle. I like it a little yin and yang, myself. But if you want to see me go head-to-head with these folks in a last-woman-or-man-planking “wuss off”, please leave a comment below with your views, and share with friends and foes alike.
Stay wussie, yo.
NOTE: This post is taken directly from my Yoga for Cyclists website, www.bikeyoga.com, where you can buy my book, and look for soon-to-be-added videos to get in touch with your inner “wuss”. Also, yoga will kick your ass, but in a really, really awesome way.
Like riding bikes but hate feeling stiff, achy and in pain from it? BikeYoga was developed for people who ride bikes. It is a system of easy movements and stretches to help "tune-up" your body for greater comfort and ease—on and off the bike.
The Lumberyard is Oregon's only indoor bike park, offering year-round riding fun and skill building opportunities for adults (and kids, duh) of all ages. Just passing through? Check it out!