F#%’ You, Alexa

A beloved employee of 26 years, probably the most creative gift giver I’ve ever known, gave me an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas.  The echo dot is the new version of the echo, and it utilizes Amazons “Alexa” voice recognition service.  For those who are unfamiliar with this product, I’ve included a link at the end of this paragraph, but think a blue tooth enabled hockey puck size speaker, connected to the internet, that when spoken to, can give you the weather, sports scores,   New or anythingyou could look up on google.  

The 26 year length of service of my beloved employee give some hint of my age; I don’t consider myself an “early adopter of tech”, but I keep up and do love it, so I admit to being pretty smitten with this gift three days ago.  In fact, that evening I took it out of the box.  Set up was pretty easy   Plug it in; download the Alexa app on your phone; follow the instructions on set up.  It connects to your wi fi, and you can set some parameters as to what news you would like when you ask for news.  You don’t have unlimited choices in this area, but they cover the range of “so liberal that socialists in Sweden would be shocked” to so conservative even Putin’s compassion causes a little tear in the corner of his eye.  Set up took maybe 10 minutes – I’m pretty pleased.

“Alexa”, (she ‘wakes’ up when you say her name) I said.  “What’s the weather?”   In a “I’m your hot high school teacher who still is professional” kind of voice, Alexa says, “In Mayberry today, the current temperature is 52 degrees.  Later in the day the high will be 71 degrees, with a low of 49.”    My “thank you” gets no reply so I gather manners weren’t something programmed in by the millennial aged coders.   Shocker.  Like a “you’re welcome” would be a lot to ask.  Anyway, I noted that Alexa will pair with any Bluetooth enabled audio speaker so I paired Alexa with my Bose Mini Sound link.  It appeared in the app that Alexa could “wake up” or turn the speaker on, but a “Alexa, wake up (speaker)(Bose)(audio)(music)” instructins All failed so I immediately assumed I either read it wrong or it didn’t work, which all had the same result to me.  So, I walked the 26 inches to the speaker and ….turned in on.  “Alexa, play ‘you don’t own me’ by Leslie Gore (mostly because I love that commercial?   Have you seen it?  This is not the nest part of the commercial but you get the idea.  https://youtu.be/aqAFGPmECBwhttps://youtu.be/aqAFGPmECBw). 

So, over the next couple of days, I’m starting to dig Alexa.  Ok, so she can only read connect to a limited number of apps, and she can only access a google calendar and there some glitch where you can sync your google calendar with your other calendars but it doesn’t sync with the google site just the app so Alaexa seems to think I’m retired with nothing to do.  Ok, Alexa is definitely not the AI computer on star track where Scotty would say, “computer, get me some haggis, a Guinness, the computations to fly cross the galaxy in the shortest distance possible and a date with the hot polish chick in communications, but, I’m seeing promise. 

So, two days later I have company for Christmas Eve and I wanna show off my new toy so, I know my friend likes the funk musician, Bootsy Collins, so I say “Alex, play Bootsy Collins”.  Much to my surprise, there is a country singer by the name of Bootsy Collins.  “Alexa, play the OTHER Bootsy Collins”. A different artist comes on but still not the right Bootsy.  I know the acting world does a better job of making sure there’s only one Brad Pitt, but apparently musicians are substantially more laid back about it. So, knowing Alexa can only play Amazon Prime music, I find the Bootsy Collins channel on Amazon Prime but it will only play on my phone, not through the Bose Speaker.  DAMMIT.  I ask Alexa to play the Bootsy Collins streaming channel, but NOW she says “I dont understand the question”.  “NOW, you’re gonna get pissy?” I ask her.  Like simon says, if you don’t say “Alexa” first, you get the same reaction as lecturing a teenager.   silence. Except she couldn’t go to her room.

Not to be defeated, I go back to my music app on my iPhone, find the Bootsy collins streaming channel and hit play.  Nothing from the Bose.  I realize the pairing of the Alexa with the speaker must have knocked off the pairing of my phone. I try to change it in utilities, but Alexa keeps snagging it back.  I’m seriously “ex wife” pissed and frustrated by now.  “F#%! YOU! ALEXA”.   Silence.  So I unplug her.  Still, no music.  I realize I have to turn her back on, disconnect the speaker from her Bluetooth and I do.  Still no music.  F#%! YOU, Alexa.   Silence. I’m really not understanding why these programmers don’t code her to respond to her name and a curse with with, “It’s not my fault, you idiot” or better yet,  “NO, F#%! YOU!!!! At least I’d feel like I had some closure.   “Let’s try vinyl, my friend said”,obviously wanting to de escalate the rising tension between me and Alexa.  I’m not even going to try to tell you what happened when we tried to stream a movie

This morning, I tried my phone and the Bose- music first try.   WOW.  “Alexa, what’s the temperature”, so I could dress for my walk. Alexa says  “The Phok Koo Chinese restaurant is open from 9-3 on Christmas Day”.    Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh

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Uber for Dogs?

Imagine my surprise the other day when the following e mail hit my smartphone. 

WOW!   Uber rides for dogs?!?!   AMAZING!  I don’t currently have a dog, but there’s a large number of them in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d ask around.

The first local I saw was a pleasant older Golden Retriever so I stopped and asked her what was up with the Uber for dogs. “Yeah, I’ve heard of it”, she said non chalantly.   “We’ve been flying on our own for years but this?……   We’re actually pretty excited about it. A bunch of us dogs were talking about it around the doggie station after some pretty vigorous sniffing.”

“Really?, I asked.  “What’s the concensus?”   “Well,” she drawled, “the poodles and the bichon frise were excited about more regular trips to the groomer but wanted to know if Uber served wine.”   “No, I don’t think so”, I said.  “At least they never have me”.    “They were particularly excited about finding some nicer salons, though”, she said.

“The terriers were a little miffed about some of Ubers new rider rules, especially no sex in the car and no unwanted contact with drivers. The Weimeraners were concerned about small cars but thought Uber Plus and Premium would work”.

“How do you pay, can ya’ll get credit cards?”   She laughed.  “Most of us don’t, but all of us are much more spoiled than kids.  We have an easier time getting ahold of our owners credit cards than an honors student from college on spring break in Cancun.  In fact, I flew there once for some frisbee beach thing and even as a dog, my card had a higher limit than most of those kids. I did hear a rumor about a Tibetan Mastiff who cost $1.6 million dollars who had their  own Visa Black card, but you know you can’t trust dog gossip.”  

“What do your owners think”, I asked.   “OMG, they are so excited about it.  She got really animated. ” It’s like getting out of chaffeuring your kids but without the cost of insurance and worrying about us killing ourselves driving when texting.  We can now Uber to the dog walking park, to dog friendly restaurants to have brunch with our dog buddies, to the vet, to the groomer, and to doggie day care. (God, I hate that term. What am I, 3 months old?) Mine is hoping for Lyft soon because you can tip on the Lyft app and my owner is kinda pissy about my carrying cash. I kinda understand though cause she thinks I lost $300 once because I didn’t want to admit on my first Uber ride, I ditched the park, went to a casino, lost  $200 on blackjack and got wasted on Mai Tai’s. I was really late getting back cause I had to sober up before she saw me.  The other hundred bucks was to get the driver to overlook a little urination thing in the backseat, but Mai Tais do that to me.  He said it was ok, most of his college kids were worse and three of the college kids bit him.  That’s why he now likes driving dogs better”

“Have any of ya’ll used there service yet?, I wondered out loud.  “What’s the experience been?

“Kinda all over the map”. she said.  A pit bull said he was leaving a doggie stripper park in the North Area, and that UBER App claimed  the closest vehicle was 30 minutes away but he was pretty drunk and you know how people judge pit bulls.  He swears some drivers won’t come get him.  Shame, even though he has a drinking s stripper problem, he’s a teddy bear.  One of my best friends said he put in a ride request, then sent a text to the driver asking where he was, then a second text asking if he was here yet, then a third asking what was taking to long, then a fourth asking what kind of service this was and then said he was banned the next day.  He though they were biased against dachshunds.  I did mention they were kinda ‘yappy’ , but he’s so sensitive about that.  I did hear later he bit the driver”.  

Just then she looked behind me and darted off. I turned around to see a dozen cats with “Cat Rides Matter” posters headed in our direction. I took off too.

Pre-Intoxication Guidelines for Zumba Fitness

Dear Zumba Fitness International, (and fellow Zumbaranians)

Having regularly attended a 9 am, Saturday morning, Zumba Fitness class, I have, unintentionally, acted as a lab rat for the hypothesis. “Just how many hours before a Zumba class do you need to stop drinking without experiencing a long list of side effects that would rival the average prescription drug disclaimer on a TV Commercial. You know, like (insert deep baritone announcers voice here) “common side effects include: (announcer speaking a 250 words a minute now) nausea, projectile vomiting, loss of bowel and/ bladder control, hives, rash, anxiety, numbness in hands, feet and nose, sinusitis, rhinitis, OMGitis, hair and fingernail pain, sensitivity to light and noise, dehydration, flatulence, lack of coordination, walking into walls, mirrors or windows, intense perspiration of alcohol, loss of memory,  desire to lose some memories, and pleading with a divine creator for assistance with promises of not repeating the behavior”.

It occurred to me this morning, after a lengthy birthday celebration which started early and ended late at a Waffle House, that maybe you had already covered this and I should check your website.  Seeing you have not, and assuming this was an oversight, I am happy to share my research with you (my non scientific, non controlled, not stistically valid sample of ‘one’, research)    BTW, I think law enforcement should drop the BA level testing and consider the “Waffle House” (or IHOP or Denny’s) Test. As in, you are pulled over late at night on the weekend and the officer asks “have you been drinking?”   You: (I’ve had a couple”.  Him:  are you on your way to or coming from a diner for breakfast at 1 am. You: (sheepishly) yes, am on the way there now to meet some friends. Him: “you are under arrest for driving under the influence, get out of the car”. (Disclaimer:  at all times mentioned herein, Uber or Lyft was used, do not drink and drive).  Anyhow, here’s my Zumba fitness class pre intoxication guidelines.

1. It should not need to be said that you should not have a cocktail DURING CLASS.  Most instructors frown on that because….-their insurance doesn’t cover them or you and, they want to be drinking to and are not allowed and you’re just going to make your class mates envious. (If anyone DOES know of an insurance policy that covers drinking while exercising , please let me know- I’m going to that class, at least once). And then everyone is going to have mimosas and what would THAT look like?

2. Drinking ends 24 or more hours before class. Again, you would think this doesn’t need comment, but if you’re experiencing “symptoms” 24 hours after your last drink and you’re blaming alcohol, you’re in denial about just how out of shape you are and you need more exercise. And less excuses. Or therapy.

3. 24- 12 hours before class. This what I have come to term the “reasonable zone”. The probability of avoiding symptoms within this time frame involves a number of variables like whether it’s closer to 24 hours or 12, whether you’re measuring your consumption by number of drinks,  or liters, or some either percentages or multiple of liters thereof and whether the circumstances of your consumption has video which either you or your companions think is “the Hangover” , the movie, worthy.  E.g, if there is a live tiger in your house, or you are missing a tooth, Do Not Attend Zumba class, regardless of the time period between your last drink and class.  Call your attorney.

4. 12-7.5 hours before class.  I confess this is the time period with which I have most consistently experimented. I will also say that in this time frame, class attendance requires a very dark pair of shades, and at least a Grande sized, extra shot espresso.  Don’t worry, with practice, you can Zumba with a Starbucks in one hand without spilling it.  My experience is that depending on consumption and whether you’re closer to 12 hours or 7.5, this time frame will involve some of the side effects mentioned above.  Most frequent:  the conversation between you and your Divine  creator. Second most frequent?  Let’s just say I measure those classes by whether they are a “no trip, or 1,2 or three bathroom trips during class”  (and severity of side effects) experience.

5. 7.5 to minutes before class.  Again, I confess that today is the first, and last time I try the 7.5 hour zone.  You do NOT want to be leaving a Waffle House at 1:30 am in a Uber and be in Zumba class, 7.5 hours later.  Do not try this at home.

However, science is a community affair where the many build on the research of pioneers. I pass the baton to my millennial Zumba friend who by virtue of age and or fitness, like our astronauts, are prepared to boldly go,where no one has gone before”. (If however, you drink consistently from 7.5 to minutes before class, please attach video.  Thank you).

Katie “Barre” The Door

“I’m not here to torture you”, said the instructor at the minute class started. Knowing people usually say the opposite of what they’re thinking, I thought “oh shit, here we go”.  

I’ve wanted to try Barre for a long time, but I needed to find a female friend to take me, because I can tell you from experience, when a guy shows up to take a class with a room full of women, they look at you like… Well:

1.   A group of pediatric nurses watching a newborn boy get circumcised 

2.  Like they want to search you for roofies

3.  Like “creepy” just walked out of the dictionary and came to class.  

Trust me, you would never go to another country without a passport, do not go to a women’s exercise class without a female to escort you.   

For the uninitiated, barre, according to the barre evolution website may be defined as “Barre (bar) n.: Exercise modality that uses a ballet barre for balance, your own bodyweight for resistance, and a series of small, low impact movements to rapidly yield a tight, toned and transformed physique.”   These “small, low impact, isometric movements create what is called “barre burn”. While “burn” is a good term, it’s a little misleading and here’s why.  Anyone who’s ever built a fire, or seen a fire built will identify.  In building a good fire, you need tinder (something to start the fire that burns easily, like paper) and then kindling (small sticks of wood or little branches that will,catch first easily from the tinder, and then pieces of wood which gradually increase in size.   Think of this muscle “burn” as the smoke that rises after the match is first put to paper, followed by the glint of flame as the paper flares I fire and starts to heat the kindling, followed by the hotter flame as the kindling is consumed, followed by the raging fire as the larger pieces of wood are consumed in flames.  Or if you e ever seen a building burn, you know that first there is a little smoke and then in a moment, the entire building is consumed in flames.  This is your muscles in Barre 

This might be just one of the thoughts that enter your mind as you stand, feet wide apart squat, your toes turned out to opposite walls, standing on your toes, doing infinitesimally small bends.  Or, you might think of that one time when you thought, “why can’t I climb a barbed wire fence, I’ll be careful” , or as a guy, “how hard can a split really be?”  Ever woke up in the middle of the night, with a charlie horse so bad, you literally levitate straight up out of the bed, to land on the floor, on your feet, massaging your cramped muscle?  This is barre. 

Ever gotten a foot cramp so bad when driving, you literally had to pull over to get out of the car to stand on the cramped foot to get the cramp out?   This is barre

But in fairness it’s a cross between the excruciating burn of isolating a muscle to exhaustion with the shaking and quivering which comes from actually having exhausted the muscle.  

They have accoutrements of torture including straps (yay bondage), hand weights, little green balls (I never did find out what the balls were for) , mats and some wooden thing on the wall about four feet wide and going up about 8 feet with little round rungs. My escort said it was for you to hang by, but she forgot its name.  The rack I said, it’s “the rack”. 

If there was a warm up I missed it. The class progresses from push ups and planks, to arm and shoulder exercises (if you want an idea what this feels like hold your arms straight up with your palms outstretched.  Now watch Gone with the the Wind.  Drop your arms). Then gluteus and thighs. Then abdominal.   Thankfully the difficulty of coping with the searing pain in so many parts of your body is slightly distracting.  

There was a clearly announced “cool down” period which involved a series of more exercises in which the instructor was not clamoring for more pain.   The lack of clamoring did not reduce the pain.  

If, like me, you’re happily wandering through the sadomasochism of various modalities of exercise, barre is clearly a torture session you don’t want to miss. I can’t wait to go back. 

Relationship Lessons Gleaned from Lead/Follow Dances

Dancing Argentine Tango for seven years, many of my classes and workshops are on perfecting the skills of being a good leader and follower. I’ve noticed many of those lessons are good for relationships in general. While men are often leaders and women followers, anyone can lead or follow, so to be as all encompassing as possible, my references will be to leader and followers only, as opposed to gender. After all, I’m not North Carolina.

1. Both parties should stay on their own axis (balance). If you are leaning on your partner to the point they are having to hold you up, the dance will never work. Have we not all dated someone like that?

2. Leaders should not pull, push, shove, or otherwise forcibly try to get the follower to “get it”. I mention this since SC is quite high on the national list for Domestic Violence, and because reading followers posts, it seems to be epidemic. Maybe you really want to be in mixed martial arts or wrestling instead.

3. Stated differently in different languages, “the leader proposes, the follower disposes”. A lead is not a command, but an invitation, to which the follower accepts or rejects. (or maybe interprets differently then you intended in an even more lovely way) Followers, like people in bars, appreciate your picking up on this after your third invitation is rejected (or first). Know the difference between persistence and harassment.

4. If your lead doesn’t obtain the intended response, my advice is to consider this to be something you miscommunicated rather than an error on the followers part. Here’s why, there’s nothing you can do about an error on the followers part (during a social dance) , but there’s a lot you can do to make your non verbal communication skills better. In fact, one of the greatest benefit of lead follow dances is that you ACQUIRE non verbal communication skills. What married person wouldn’t like THOSE to be better? For themselves and their significant other (SO). For workshops, consider that most issues between couples are a combination of both parties. Take a “how can we make this better approach”, as opposed to a “you need to do or not do X,Y,and Z.” Even if it is one person’s issue, it’s easier to accept if determined in a cooperative format.

5. Likewise, as a follower, if you are confused by your partners lead, you can’t do anything about that in the moment. What you can do, is focus on what YOU’RE doing and go through your mental checklist: posture, balance, arm position, looking at partners chest, etc. Wouldn’t most relationships be better if we worked hardest at “fixing” ourselves, rather than taking our SO’s inventory.

6. Follow etiquette. “Etiquette is a code of polite conduct. If you practice proper etiquette, you are less likely to offend or annoy people — and you may even charm them.” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/etiquette Rules regarding the dance moves in a counter clockwise circle, that one does not instruct during a social dance, that one doesn’t talk DURING the dance (before or after is fine) are all designed to avoid injury, and create an opportunity for everyone to have a pleasant social experience while dancing. While some neglect etiquette in relationships, one might argue that relationships need just as much etiquette as public situations. Like not talking during a dance. Who hasn’t been in relationship and far too often thought, “will they just not shut up”.

7. You will not have chemistry with everyone. This is not a surprise. You may even find that someone you had chemistry with at one time, you no longer do. Or you may find that they no longer have chemistry with you. Usually some distance is all that’s required. Stabbing, poisoning, shooting them is not recommended, nor is defaming them, trying to cause them financial ruin or slashing there tires. While intentionally hyperbole, anyone who’s been to divorce court knows exactly where I’m coming from.

8. Personal Hygiene. Who hasn’t wished this was a more popular endeavor in ALL facets of life. Whether dancing or in a relationship, applying the Golden Rule to yourself for any situation in which you will spend significant time cheek to cheek is not rocket science.

9. Your current lack of ability at “whatever” is not an excuse for not learning, participating or getting better. This is one of my favorites. When I tell people I take yoga classes, a typical response is “I can’t do that, I’m not flexible.” “Neither was I when I started, but I can now stick my head up my ass, and you’re apparently flexible enough for that”. Or, “I can’t dance, I have no rhythm”. Uhhh, that’s why you take lessons. Just say I’m not interested in that rather then suggesting a lack of knowledge is a good excuse. We could have all gotten out of public school if saying, “Wow, I can’t go, I don’t know math”. Over seven years, I’ve been told I have no rhythm, can’t move to a beat, act like I’m always at a funeral, lack musicality, have no creativity or imagination. And those comments were just from my former marriage.

Left Brain-Right Brain: The “Filter” vs “Smart Assery”

You may be familiar with various theories of the effects that the two hemispheres of our brain have on a variety of things from behavior, to psychology to biology, including the most popular that our left brain is where rational, logical processes reside and the right, creativity.  This is all, of course probably not true. If you’re remotely interested in any of this, here is a Wikipedia article with 80 citations to current professional journal articles in neurology, physchology, and other medical, scientific and Behavorial science publications.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateralization_of_brain_function
 Let me save you some time, however, and suggest that our knowledge of the brain is not much more advanced than our medieval theories that the Black Plague was caused by an imbalance in the four humours (not comedy humours but blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile)

This allows me to pretty freely postulate that the left brain is where our “filter” resides, as a constant balance to the “smart Assery” right side of our brain.  By “filter”, I mean that part of our brains that stops us from offering the police office, who just stopped us, the box of donuts from the passenger seat, or when our significant other asks, “do these jeans make my ass look fat”; scrolling through the responses of “everything makes your ass look fat” or “your ass IS FAT”, or “do you mean ‘semi trailer fat’, or ‘Beyoncé booty fat’, or ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue fat” and instead opt for “of course not- your ass is perfection defined”. 

I find it difficult to predict when my filter will or won’t work, or when the switch is on or off.  I first noticed this as a 17 year old in AP calculus class.  The teacher said, “and what should I do with this Parabola”, and before I knew it I said “you don’t REALLY want us to tell you what to do with that Parabola, do you”, whereupon with equal speed an eraser was whizzing by my left ear.  I immediately began to put as much value on my filter as her bad aim. As the things which then began to get thrown at my head increased in both frequency and weight, I began to think maybe my filter could be exercised to be made more effective. I’m not sure at my age if it’s better or worse.  Here’s just a few examples.

At a function this week hosted by a female friend, I met her husband for the first time. Part of the conversation went like this.  “…-and he does Argentine tango, she said”.   “Wow,” he said, what a beautiful dance.  We so enjoyed watching tango on our trip to Buenos Aires.  But you don’t seem to have the body type of a tango dancer?”.   Possible replies submitted to my filter:  “Yes, well I got a 6 week scholarship to the Sumo Wrestlers School of Argentine Tango in Kyoto in 2009”. “Yes, but I applied for and was granted a weight waiver from the International Tango Police in Buenos Aires”.  “Yes, but I’m also short and I get to dance with REALLY tall women”.

image

 Yes, but I’m not allowed to dance with women over (or under) a certain weight”. “Yes, I have to weigh in monthly and if I go over 240, I’m suspended”. “Yes, but we have weight classes in Tango, like boxing” to what actually passed my filter which was “hahahahahaha, Yes!”  (Yay filter!!!)

My filter seems particularly challenged by stupidity.  At a tango class years ago, a conversation with a medical school professor somehow turned to my struggles to lose weight despite a ridiculous amount of exercise, clean eating and food deprivation.    “It’s easy he said, don’t eat anything white”.   Uh oh, here we go with a furious assault on my filter.   “This is going to be shocking news to my black and Asian friends”.  “OMG- in 48 years of dieting, I’ve never seen or read this theory or been told this by any of the 36 physicians I’ve seen in all these years”.  While my filter is processing some other options which are not printable, he adds “you know like white rice, white bread, or white flour”.  Immediately after my filter rejects “so the outside of Oreo’s is ok, but not the middle” and “You’re a fucking idiot”, and it allows, “yes, I should work harder on this, thank you”.  

I was encouraging a fellow zumberanian this morning by remarking she looks like she lost a significant amount of weight lately and is more tone.  Anytime I see someone I know, who looks like they’ve lost weight lately, I tell them. Who doesn’t want to hear they’ve lost weight lately, even if they haven’t (Nigerian marathon runners and eating disorder patients excluded). We had the usual banter of “yes, I really want to get rid of this belly” (whereupon I put my arm around her and showed her it’s still smaller than mine), how long it takes to make progress, etc. etc. whereupon the other person in this conversation said, “your genes have a lot to do with it”.   Apparently my filter was recovering from my Friday night because I blurted out, “so, I should stop wearing wranglers and get designer jeans instead?”, all the while thinking I should warn my former beauty pageant friend to immediately burn those baby phat jeans I bought her years ago.  After all, she might ask me, “Baby, do these baby phat’s make my ass look fat?”.

“Squeeze Your Anus” Ashtanga Workshop Weekend

You’re about to learn more about your “pelvic floor” than you thought was possible or maybe even what a “pelvic floor” is and how squeezing your anus can change your life. Or at least, your pelvic floor. Irresistible title, I know.  

Not long ago, In October of 2015, I wrote “Ashtanga Yoga – A primer” passing on my introductory knowledge of Ashtanga derived from two classes which consisted of the advice of “skip class and have a friend hit you in the stomach with a shovel.”  Ashtanga a primer  Imbued with this new found knowledge my logical thought was, “I should go to a class every week after the holly days.”  (Not very smart, I know)

A slightly more elucidating description of Ashtanga is “This form of yoga is intensely physical and athletic. Ashtanga yogis practice a prescribed set of asanas, channel energy through the body using bandhas (locks), and concentrate on singular points using drishti (gaze) in asanas.”  (An asana is a pose or movement running from the easiest of, “bend over and touch your toes” (or the floor or put your palms on the floor and bend your elbows out) to a more complicated form of twister where you fashion yourself into a pretzel and look at parts of your body you’ve never seen before.    Like this. 

 You don’t even want to know how to get into this. In one class, a girl said someone should clone a life alert bracelet into a yoga alert bracelet – “help, I fell  into this pose and I can’t get out    Just for the record, I can not do this now, nor ever imagine it happening. 

After happily surviving NOT passing out the first two classes in January I follow my plan of regular weekly attendance when I see that internationally know Ashtanga Yoga teacher, is coming to the studio to do 10 1/ hours of instruction on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in April, and I look at the individual classes with a la Carte pricing, and one fixed fee for the whole shebang, including waterboarding and I think, “YEAH, that’s me”!!! (Again, not smart.  If you’re a regular reader you know good judgement is not my hallmark.  Although, Senator Bob Packwood did say, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment ) 

Today is Sunday and I have survived,  however, I am using my last functional appendage, one hand, to type this message.  By Friday morning, two days ago, I am anticipating the start of the first class Friday night with a mixture of fear and excitement.  Or terror.  Or dread.  However, Friday was pretty much a 2 1/2 hour lecture practice on paranyama (breathing) and bandhas, (locks)  (Hold on, we’re almost to the squeeze your anus part) 

First breathing. Ashtanga uses a from of breathing called Ujayi (pronounced “ooo jay) in which “…Ujjayi (translated as “victorious”) breathing should be both energizing and relaxing. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali suggests that the breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth). The sound of Ujjayi is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound—something like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out.”  Ujjayi Breath.  More simply, open your mouth an exhale as if you were fogging a mirror.  Now,  close your mouth and exhale, keeping the same restriction in your throat. MOST simply, I call this Darth Vader breath.  Breathing through your nose with Mouth closed, do your best impression of Darth Vader breathing,  this is Ujjayi breath.  (Now, try to breath this way for an hour- Bahahahahahaha)

Ah, finally bandhas.  Mula Bandha.   “Squeeze your anus”, he says.  “Huh?”  This is probably not an exact transcription of what  what he said but here goes at the very bottom of the bowl of your pelvis, you have a network of muscles attaching front to back and side to side like a warm apple pie’s top lattice Crust, nicely browned and perfectly weaved.  (Ok, he didn’t say the pie part, but I was hungry ). The muscle part was true though (kinda)  

 and by contacting these muscles, you help to lift your internal organs from crushing each other and eventually, bring peace to the Middle East. Or maybe kill your craving for Cocoa Puffs.  To do this, squeeze your anus.  Then while doing that, contract the muscles you need to stop. Urinating mid stream.  Now, you may be laughing, and you may be trying to squeeze your anus right now but if you’re trying to do both, when I tell you to hold this for the next hour, you’ll stop laughing.  However, when he said this eventually reverses something of the natural incontinent type symptoms which advancing age brings, I though, “hell yeah, I’m in!!!). However, he did point out that your supposed to keep these muscles permanently locked (meaning squeeze your anus 24 hours a day) unless, you’re using the bathroom, giving birth, menstruating, or drinking tequila with a stripped named Mercedes in Guadalajara.  I’m pretty sure  I squeezed my anus once for 24 hours in college and it made me want to vote republican.  

Clearly, I’ve summarized the 2 hours and thirty minutes but suffice it to say that by the end, I was thinking the last time I put so much focus on Darth Vader breathing and squeezing my anus was when my freshman dorm mate Pat and I double dated the two sorority girls to USC homecoming in 1975.  Lesson learned, “remember where you park your car anytime your”re parking with 40,000 other cars- it’s a loong wait till the parking lot is empty  and you can see it.  Which equally applies to squeezing your anus for an hour)

My greatest fear the last seven years of yoga was being in a completely packed yoga room, mats only inches apart, 7-8 yogis in a row and I lose my balance falling over into the hot chick next to me creating a human yogis dominoes effect.  I escaped that fear for 7 years. Until today.  While the entire row didn’t fall over, I took her out like a linebacker sacking the quarterback in the playoffs.  

 
On the positive side, she we very gracious about it, the class got some much needed comic relief (who doesn’t like being laughed at by 50 people?) and I lived.  Reminder lesson, even when our greatest fear comes true, it’s not as bad as we have catastrophized.  

My best moment?  Yesterday morning, we’re over an hour in where we’re trying to do several of the harder poses in the middle of the sequence and I’m not even close to doing it right and looking around the room, literally dripping sweat all over my mat, and thinking, just as a matter of observation, that I have clearly the absolute WORST form of anyone in the class, and he comes over, taps my foot and says “good job).  I only made it 6 1/2 hours of the 10.5 for the weekend, but hooray for me.  

As I was leaving today,  the studio owner goddess guru sweetheart asked if I was coming back for the last two hours, called “Do WHAT with my leg”, in which hip openers are offered to allow you to put your feet behind your head while sitting up.  “No,” I said, “I have Chik Fil A hips, they’re closed on Sunday’s.”  

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Translator Needed Teaching My First College Course

Rosetta Stone does NOT have an offering of “Educationese”.  When you do work on a college campus in the US, you have entered another country as far as language goes, and you’re on your own for figuring it out.  Sorry, I should have said  “you’re in charge of your own self-development for this particular cohort.” (I’ve been meaning to look up ‘cohort’ all week so know I have no idea what it means.  In an education context.)

Look, I get it.  I’m a lawyer and God knows we don’t speak English. Well, we do sometimes. And I know that every professional  from plumbers to podiatrists; physicians to philatelists; paratroopers to ponzi schemers all have their own jargon.  Being accepted in any endeavor means learning the language. But, most if not all can still speak English and do some of the time. I guess because the environment is made up of sociologists and psychologists and accountants and biologists who are all speaking their own language, Educationese is a common language so they can (mis)understand each other. 

I was, honestly flattered to be asked to be an adjunct faculty at a local college of good standing and reputation to teach their first health law class. The faculty is dedicated and the students earnest.  But in the short time I’ve been an Adjunct, I’ve just had too many experiences which reminds me of Monty Pythons Ministry of Silly Walks. 

It started on my full day of New Faculty Orientation. Here’s who spoke: the Provost, the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, the Dean of Students, the Associate Provost for Curriculum and Institutional Resources; the Director of Disability Services; somebody who wasn’t on the agenda but was in charge of Diversity stuff and hurt feelings (we had several role-playing exercises on how not to hurt people’s feelings: apparently a small minority of people with PhD’s are assholes- say it’s not so!!) and the Librarian.  I thought I knew what he did, until he explained it. 

The Dean invited me to take a course in Distance Education. Know what that is?  Teaching online courses. Why couldn’t they call it that?  Online courses is a common term. The acronym for Distance Education is DE.  At least my idea would be TOC.  They could pair it with Teaching Inspirational Content and call it Tic.  Tic Toc.  Big seller I think.

Anyway, a couple of weeks into this online course teaching me how to distance educate, the DE Goddess, (sorry, I’m too tired to look up her title- it was something like an instructional technologist or an instructorologist) e-mailed me about driving downtown to sign the form she needed to submit so I could get my stipend for this course. I emailed her back and said, “ummm, can you scan it and e-mail it to me, or should I just appreciate the irony of on online course that needs a paper original to get paid?” She wrote back laughing, well, lolling and said when she started the how to teach on online course was completely offline – in a classroom. She then asked if I was regular faculty or an adjunct be use there were two forms and only one could be used by the adjuncts.  Guess what that form said in bright red all caps at the top: NOT FOR ADJUNCTS. Me- email “Is this the right form?It says  says NOT FOR ADJUNCTS?”   Her- lol-ing some more- “Yes, ha ha, don’t go there”. (Can I get a federal grant to work on MY silly walk?)

My first faculty meeting was today.  I did tell the Dean after class that I have called distance relatives an put a contract on whoever designed the colleges online platform for faculty student interaction – I’m convinced they contracted this software development to a computer science drop out sociopath who was the model for the first episode of Criminal Minds)  the Dean offered to chip in on the contract price.  

One item on the agenda was the college’s upcoming accreditation with the regional accrediting authority (I actually run out of breath writing about this stuff). (Translation- no accreditation- no federal funds).  The discussion was about some stuff we had to do.  I could have said it they way they did, but I figured you didn’t want to read another 500 words) Then he said they appointed someone to be in charge of this effort. They’re the VP of Institutional Effectiveness. 

ROSETTA STONE!!!!!! 

Yoga Dragon Sequence or as I’ve Renamed It- My Ex Sequence

One of my yoga instructors is enamored with “dragon sequence” which I have, just this evening renamed “my ex sequence”.  Allow me to explain .  Since describing the dragon wil take more words than I’m wiling to write and certainly you to read, here is an instructional video. 

Just a few points not to mislead, before I proceed. I cannot do everything in is video.  Like, that twisting upside down thing ain’t happening.  I could go on about all the other things I can’t do, but let me offer this analogy as to what I think I look like when we do this. Ever seen an enormous male dog, like a lab or a golden retriever try to copulate with a small female like a daschund or a toy poodle in heat?  If you’ve ever watched those enthusiastic but misguided attempts to contort their bodies so the act will still not work, that’s me doing dragon.  If you’re wondering if I’m the large dog or the small do, take your pick. Also, there’s timing.  While this video is 7 min long, keep in mind we’re doing this for 35 minutes. 

Yoga goddess says this is to “open our heart and lung meridians of energy”. This is yoga speak for we’re going. To do a series of difficult and strenuous movements so fast you’re going to seriously contemplate your heart exploding while you’re asphyxiating from gasping for air, while you trying to control your breathing and not sound like a freshmen in high school in PE class having to run 5 miles in an hour st 9:30 am. You’ll also notice that the video instructor explains ways to “modify” the pose in a variety of ways.   Encouragement to modify your pose is yoga speak for, “please God  do not push yourself to the point of actually passing out, because our liability carrier requires us to call and ambulance for any loss of consciousness and that will screw up the rest of class.”  

So, the first time I was exposed to this “dragon” was a couple of months ago.  I really don’t remember much about that first time, other than spending the entire 35 minutes contemplating my mortality.  My thoughts went from an “OMG, I’m gonna die” to a welcoming acceptance and looking forward to it in a Jesus on the cross, “into your hands I commend my spirit”, kind of way.

Then we did it in a couple of more classes where I was just miserable, but not calling for death like it was a long lost friend who needed to visit soon.  

She announced last week we were going to do dragon this week, particularly because I had grumbled about it. Now I love this yoga instructor  because she gets so filled with joy she giggles. During class. A lot. Although I’ve become a little suspicious that she’s really watching me move through asanas and vinyasas and wondering whether I’m the big or small dog.  I had a choice tonight between the county bar’s annual holiday party in a spectacular setting, with yummy catered food and an open bar…. Or yoga class.  I marveled at my choice of masochism instead of a party all the way there. Hold this thought a moment

She also recommended that during class we might want to employ Thicht Nach Hahn, the extraordinary Vietnamese Buddhist Monks famous mantra, “as I breathe in I relax, as I breathe out I smile”.  Hold this thought too.  

  (BTW, my favorite quote of his is: ” “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you  understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change”.

So I’m rotating and gasping and doing my miserable thing, and I’m marveling at my masochistic choice.  Then I realize I’m kinda getting used to it, and I have the epiphany, “hey, this is like my ex marriage”. Then I notice the “I breath in I relax, I breathe out I smile is not having the desired meditative effect and I think, “when I breathe in, I get divorced, when I breathe out, I’m giddy with joy” and all of a sudden, I’m in my happy place. Hence, my renaming the dragon, “my ex”. Hopefully I’ll learn from the dragon, oops my ex some of the same things like non judgment, non attachment, personal responsibility, self awareness, boundaries and compassion.  Or maybe my heart will just explode. 

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Ashtanga Yoga- A Primer

We had a sub teacher in yoga class today. She practices Ashtanga yoga. As I frequently talk to people who either ask me or want a recommendation for what “style” of yoga to take as a beginner, this is not it. But some explication might be helpful.

This was my second Ashtanga class. I don’t have much memory from the first, but like with many traumatic events, I have PTSD, but cloudy memories.  Since this was my second class and I maintained consciousness (mostly) I think I’m better able to guide you. 

Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word combining our words of “pain” and “agony”.  There are 5 series of Ashtanga, maybe 6, but I was starting to lose consciousness when this was mentioned. You do the same poses in the same order for each series. i The first five are pain and agony, more pain and agony, most pain and agony, excruciating pain and agony and unbearable pain and agony. 

You do a vinyasa between every pose.  Vinyasa means movement to and while focusing on your breath while ignoring that your heart just exploded in the center of your chest for exceeding your maximum heart rate.  

The first half is designed to build heat in your body.  This means, simply, that even in an 80 degree room, you will sweat like Miley Cyrus on the front pew of a southern baptist church.  The second half is meant to wring whatever remaining sweat that did not except your pores from the first half.  

This was my first yoga class in a week, as I had business out of town last week and a couple of social engagements. When I miss a week of yoga, it often feels like starting over and I marvel at how much fitness I can lose in a week.  This intensified that feeling, much like going on a run straight from a recovery room after surgery.  Un anesthetized.  

If you’ve never tried yoga before, don’t do this. Or, just have a friend hit you in the stomach with a shovel.