Breathe Life Into Local Democracy

VOTING ’09

Out and about this last week in Chatham, the sudden changing colors of Autumn have been a feast for the eye; a bookmark to remind us of the declining length of days that will lead to Winter Solstice and the ultimate renewal of Spring. It’s an instinctive time of reflection and introspection; a good time to den up, mull some cider, watch birds at the feeder and consult the past with an eye to the future.

While such an idyllic reverie can still be carved out of our hectic, over-stimulated lives, practicality insists that we remain present minded and hard-headed. It almost seems vulgar to disturb ourselves with certain necessities, but alas, each moment is a reincarnation of opportunity to recreate the new from the old. Pretty lofty musings, these, when my subject for this missive is once again our regular chance to elect new representatives to our local town board in Pittsboro.

The word “government” in some quarters has mutated into a curse word. The mutagenic agents are cynicism, flippancy, carelessness and gutlessness. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor leadership and degraded public institutions deprived of fresh, passionate, patriotic blood that the tree of liberty needs to sustain it.

Let me reiterate the indisputable laws of self-governance. The world is run by those who show up and government is the creature of the people. That creature may be the ugly baby of our neglect or the pride of we who stood up to be counted.

Last year the excitement of the presidential election was fueled by a groundswell of participation. That robust mobilization of citizens has since waned, but the urgency of the future’s demands have not. Here in Pittsboro we still have unhealthy drinking water from a polluted Haw River, processed by an outdated facility. Representatives of the white elephant, Pittsboro Place Mall, are still skulking around town hoping to pull the wool over the eyes of our town leaders again. Their corrosive meddling in the election two years ago revealed how little of our consideration they deserve. And development held in abeyance by the recession, is again ready to change the face our peaceful little town, yet numbers at the polls are light.

My dear neighbors, we have three able candidates ready to bear the burden of making decisions that will affect the most intimate details of our lives. Incumbent Pamela Baldwin, and hopefuls Michael Fiocco and Andrew Allden have offered to serve the town in these weighty considerations. Two of them will join Gene Brooks, Clinton Bryan and Hugh Harrington to guide Pittsboro through what will undoubtedly be transformative times.

This election will certainly see an evolution to a more progressive, modern board of commissioners. Mr. Brooks is serving what will probably be his final term, and Mr. Harrington may serve for a good while to come.

Messrs. Fiocco and Allden gave strong performances at the recent League of Women Voters forum. Allden has served on the recreation boards of both the town and county. Fiocco brings a green developers skill set to the job as well as a healthy suspicion of the big box corporate propensity to gobble up small town quality of life. As a proponent of waste water recycling for appropriate uses, he demonstrates an acute understanding of our regions precarious water supply. Ms. Baldwin hails from a prominent African American family with a distinguished history of civic contribution. Her record of achievement on the board deserves your review.

Early voting continues through October 31st. You can register and vote the same day until that date. November 3rd is general election day.

The blood and bodies of our ancestors were sacrificed so that we could live in a representative democratic society. Remaining on the sidelines is an insult to their courage and suffering. Voting is the least of our civic obligations, the mere minimum of participation. Again, the body politic will be animated by some force. Power deplores a vacuum. If you, with your hopes and dreams refuse to breathe life into our town’s republic, less savory influences are ready to inspire a future inimical to the good health of pretty little Pittsboro. So let us rise and be worthy of our citizenship.

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Buying Afghan Poppies

U.S. SHOULD BUY AFGHAN POPPIES

I’ve been thinking about this for sometime now, but I don’t claim it as an idea that originated with me. But since it’s gotten so little notice, I thought I’d float my strategy for ending the Afghanistan war once again.

The U.S. and or it’s allies should buy the entire Afghan poppy crop every season. We should pay them a premium price as well. The harvest could then be sold to pharmaceutical companies to process the heroin into the superior sedative and pain killer it is. This may sound like a wacky idea, but consider the possible outcomes.

1.It would deprive terrorists of the money they need to fund their crimes.
2.It would provide a stable living for farmers in the region.
3.It would help Afghanistan rebuild its economy.
4.It is a better strategy to fight drug abuse than the wasteful boondoggle known as the war on drugs.
5.I don’t have hard figures, but I bet it would be cheaper than the war on drugs and the endless occupation of Afghanistan that may never come to a positive conclusion.
6.It would go a long way to diffuse hatred of the West in the region.

These are just a few reasons. Perhaps you could think of more.

It’s time for us to jettison our outdated, puritanical ideas about drugs and fashion a hard-headed blueprint for reducing violence and drug abuse simultaneously. Americans are dying in vain. War is a dull, archaic, ham-fisted approach to problems that take more thought than brute force. It is an admission that all other avenues have failed, perhaps even before they’ve been explored.

I’m not saying that we should never use force, but it isn’t always the best or most effective choice. So c’mon, let’s think our way out of this mess rather than dig the hole deeper everyday. Buying Afghan poppies is just part of the solution, and I think it’s time that we took a serious look at how it could be implemented.

Attack of the Squash Bugs

Attack of the Squash Bugs
July 3, 2009

As the worlds moribund systems of banking, energy, agriculture and “free market” (what a joke) economy continue to show signs of decay bordering on collapse, I’ve begun to think more and more about local food security. I’ve even wondered about my own food growing skills. Hitch our rickety dystopic house of cards to a still-surging population, its need for food and the dwindling water supply to grow said food, and precarious is not even close to describing the kind of future that’s right around the corner.

With that challenging world speeding at us like a magnetic levitating bullet train, I thought I’d combine shovel, seed, water and sweat to try my hand at a little home-style food production. I planted a small suburban garden of three crops: German Johnson Heirloom Tomatoes, Crowder (Black-Eye) Peas from Thomas Jefferson’s seed stock at Monticello and some Yellow Crook Neck Squash.

Looking at the peas and tomatoes, you’d think I was either lucky or an accomplished gardener. The peas have drawn no pests, we’ve had rain aplenty and I have been like a doting father over 32 strapping bean stalks. I’ve seen only one horn-worm on my tomatoes which I quickly dispatched, and the fruit on these six-foot vines is coming in fine. The squash plants have been another matter.

Two of my friends, one a professional organic farmer, have lost most if not all of their squash to armies of squash bugs (Anasa Tristis). The five-eights inch adults have piercing mouth parts that suck sap out of the leaves until the plant withers and dies. I’m still fighting to save my four remaining curcurbits as they continue to blossom and produce. How does one wage organic war against a pest threatening one’s food supply?

First of all, I refuse to spray non-biodegradable pesticides. Everything we put on the earth ends up in our water supply. I don’t fancy drinking poison. Because of the poisons used in conventional agriculture a dead zone the size of New Jersey now smothers all life in this range in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the cool of the morning I go squash bug hunting like I was stalking big game. Squatting low enough to examine the tops and bottoms of all the leaves, I scan not just for the bugs themselves, but for clutches of their tiny amber eggs. I mash the eggs with my fingers and do the same to the bugs. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to catch a male and female en flagrante so that I can stop a new generation along with my double kill. Forgive me if I sound too gleeful about wasting the little buggers, but I take it personally when my food supply is threatened. I’m trying to master a skill that could keep me and my family alive someday.

After weeks of these tactics with good results, I realized that as I was diligently executing my foes, I had also created a habitat in which they had been thriving. To decorate my garden and to keep the Pugs from pooping on my food, I’d used big rocks and logs to erect a barrier around the squash plants. Under the moist rock and wood bred not only anasa tristis, but slugs, those little potato bugs and termites. UGH!! I dismantled my pest paradise, slaughtered its inhabitants and hopefully increased the yield of my beleaguered cultivars.

As a neophyte agronomist I know I’ve a lot to learn about growing enough food to live on. I also know that challenges to successful farming never end. The way we humans are persistently shooting ourselves in the collective foot (if not the head) we aren’t making it any easier.

The era of petro-fertilized, pesticide, and herbicide dependent mono culture food production and gargantuan livestock farms is coming to an end one way or the other. Either we’ll consciously stop this practice that is polluting us out of existence, or we’ll foul our nest so thoroughly that we’ll kill the planet’s ability to feed us. Somber possibilities, both.

We can dispel apocalyptic hunger by planting seeds, nurturing their growth and living with the conservatism that is imposed by the earth who bore us…and we’ll have a tasty time doing it!

Too Many Straws

Too Many Straws in the Drink
9-24

Drinking games are a lot of fun; a few friends sharing a drink, each with their own straw. The race to the bottom of the glass may be momentarily amusing, but massive slurps don’t satisfy a long-term thirst. That’s the plight of the Rocky River, Chatham Counties dying jewel. Abuse and overuse will lead to the collapse of this ecosystem in the not too distant future if an innovative solution doesn’t soon replace intransigent criminal neglect.

Before I continue, let me first say that Siler City cannot serve as a convenient whipping boy for the river’s precarious state. It is a town as beleaguered as the river that serves it. Burdened by debt, hit hard by the Recession, Siler City is barely treading water as it is circled by its sharp-toothed troubles. The town and the Rocky River are inextricably intertwined. One will not survive without the health of the other.

Furthermore, the town has jumped through considerable hoops to win approval for its ill conceived new dam. Siler City now boasts some of the widest stream buffers to protect the Rocky and its tributaries. They have gone to no small effort to mitigate wetlands lost to the new reservoir. They have instituted stronger sediment and storm water regulations as well. Town Manager Joel Brower has led the town throughout the process with a mastery of detail that speaks to his intelligence and leadership.

The new Charles Turner Reservoir on the Rocky River above Hwy. 64 will soon be filled to provide an additional 2 million gallons per day (mg/d) for Siler City by 2025; not so very far off. A total of 6 mg/d of water will be taken from the river.

As rivers go, the Rocky is a diminutive rill, 88% of which is in Chatham County. It is Chatham’s river. As a “flash” river, it needs periodic high flows to wash it out to maintain its delicate ecosystem. After heavy rains, water levels drop; so the river is a series of pools connected by shallow riffles. It can barely provide what Siler City demands now let alone another 2 million gallons a day. The web of life in the Rocky River is slowly disintegrating. Critical indicator species are disappearing.

The Cape Fear Shiner, just an insignificant minnow to many, once thrived throughout the Upper Cape Fear River Basin (UCFRB) of which the Rocky is a tributary. Biologist John Alderman, who has spent his life hip deep in Piedmont rivers, says the Shiner should still be present in much of the UCFRB. The one-two punch of pollution and not enough water to reproduce properly has left the minnow at the edge of extinction. Part of the state’s rationale for approving the project was because the Shiner was not found around the dam site. That’s because most of the river will no longer support a small, unobtrusive species like the Shiner. Mussels, the guardians of clean waters, were once found in abundance. A single Carolina Creekshell Mussel was found nearby when the NC Wildlife Commission surveyed the river in 2004. Imagine, being the sole survivor of your kind in a neighborhood once filled with your relatives and friends.

According to the agencies who approved the project, the reservoir will actually increase downstream flows; but not enough to make the Rocky a thriving river again. And among all the reports generated by the regulatory approval process not one word was written about how climate change will affect the river.

The criminal mismanagement of the Rocky River by state and federal authorities is bleeding and starving the river to a terminal stage of disease.

A solution is available. Chatham County must begin providing Siler City with water from Jordan Lake to wean them out of the Rocky. Siler City must embark on a comprehensive water reuse program. This could reduce the town’s water use by enough to allow them to destroy the dams on the Rocky and deliver it from certain death.

Bridging the Chasm

Like a grain of sand that irritates an oyster, I’ve felt something rubbing and scratching away at my psyche for some years now. We humans, unlike oysters, aren’t genetically programmed to produce priceless pearls by such vexation. As a higher species, and I say that with some skepticism, homosapiens will just as likely become angry, even violent when the comfort of our purpose is contravened. For us it’s a matter of free will rather than genetics; and that’s our problem.

As our numbers soar beyond 6 billion hungry, demanding souls, our will to cooperate diminishes in proportion to our numbers, I believe. You don’t have to look too far for a preponderance of evidence. Just look at the degraded American social discourse for the last half century or so. Like our country, Chatham County itself is riven with division along multiple fronts. Political, religious, social and moral distress have reached a degree of tension that many of us can feel a palpable sense of its power to drive wedges between us.

If you’ve read my writing before, you’ve often seen my encouragement of community action to solve the problems that beset our poorly managed water resources. Only plurality and consensus through attentive engagement by a significant number of citizens will be provide the requisite attention for our common watershed. Our republican is falling further and further behind in its ability to address our desecrated waters as well as every other crisis that we’ve imposed upon ourselves.

So what’ happening here? How has the chasm gaped so wide between us? We don’t understand each other anymore. We don’t sit down and talk to each other enough. Suspicion breeds among us. Ill will festers like pus around a splinter. Malignant emotion, name calling and blanket condemnation have replaced human succor and understanding.

But—a recent serendipitous answer to one of my columns has opened a crack of daylight in the darkness—at least for me. A self-proclaimed “red-neck” with a mutual sense of apprehension for our social dis-ease wrote me a personal email and suggested a meeting between us. I took him up on the invitation. At our first meeting it was easy to see that we didn’t agree on several issues, but we also shared many common life experiences. Most importantly, we share a concern about our country, community and humanity. I like this man because of his courage and I like him for his honesty, to say nothing of his talent and innate skills as a musician and self-taught engineer. His guts and basic human kindness have overcome the fear of sitting down with the “other”. I rejoice at what I hope will become a friendship.

If we think we’re going to get through this century without collective participation in this kind of dialogue, we’re mistaken. If we allow our leaders to act as our surrogates, it will prove a grave error. Especially beware of any leader who is eager to tell you who your enemies are. They should draw your jaundiced gaze and firm correction. Humans such as these are simply trying to accrue power to themselves.

Identify someone to whom you know you are opposed, and sit down with them and learn to understand each other. It’s all coming down to you and me. We’ve lazily abdicated too much power to forms of government and commerce that are failing. We must exert direct democratic power over our most intractable challenges before it’s too late.

Ironically, the larger our population grows the greater our need to cultivate strong local community through engaging those different from ourselves. This is the surest survival strategy for our coming trials. We must moderate ourselves now or be devoured by our extremes. Crunch time has arrived. This is why we’re here. This is the culminating goal of the human experiment, to derive one from many. Let’s forsake all we have for the pearl of great price that emerges out of our irritation and shines with the luster of our potential fulfilled.

Yoga Injuries, Yoga Recoveries

YOGA AND INJURIES
T. D. KEIM
March 2009

No matter what physical sport, diversion, pastime, game or activity you enjoy, sooner or later you’re likely to be injured. I’m not being a pessimist mind you, but a realist. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve hurt myself in just about every activity in which I’ve ever participated. Maybe it’s just me. I’m a Leo.

So when it happens, maybe my little story will help.

Let us begin with these premises: Unconscious actions can produce injuries, especially when ego pushes us beyond sensible limits. Injury causes pain. Pain causes suffering. Suffering helps us to become more conscious.

Besides the minor neck discomfort from learning halasana/plow pose , I’d not blundered into a serious injury until I tore one of my hamstrings in March 1996. In a gym one afternoon, in my second year of yoga practice, I was attempting hanumanasana or the splits, to impress a couple of young girls admiring my postures. I was better than half way there when I heard and felt a strong pop deep in my left thigh near the head of the femur. The initial pain wasn’t severe, so I thought I was okay—until the next day.

The pain, stiffness and immobility of my left hamstring complex was a show stopper. I had to lay off practice for a while. It took a bout a year to mend, but easing gently back into asana on San Diego’s beaches helped. After I moved to Las Vegas the long journey to recovery continued. My range of motion is now greater in the injured leg. Hmmm? But no sooner was I healing from one severe injury, when I was apparently ready to dumbly court another.

I used to practice in the park across from my apartment in the Vegas township of Paradise. It was a cool winter morning in the Mojave Desert and I’d just begun practice with some Surya Namaskar. Somewhere in my flow I lost concentration, I got careless, the earth shifted,–something happened!? I pushed up into down dog and I felt as if I’d jammed my left shoulder. Nothing I couldn’t ignore if I tried. Somebody wasn’t listening! It was me Guruji., it was me.

What I’d done was fail to extend the humerus bone completely out from the socket. The combination of the pressure of the posture and the misalignment of the ball and socket caused trauma to the joint. I was not concentrating in the moment, thus unconscious motion equaled injury. Now, I focus on the full extension of the humerus, like flaps extending out from the wing of an airplane at takeoff.

Coincidental to my shoulder injury I attended a yoga class soon after. As I hung away from the wall grasping straps to open up the front of the shoulders, chest, lungs and compress the lower back, an overly-aggressive yoga teacher placed her foot in the small of my back and actually kicked me; ostensibly to push me further into the posture. Like the hamstring injury, the severity didn’t show itself until days later when excruciating sciatica shot down my left leg every time I rose from a chair or got out of my car. It would take 30 seconds to a minute to release the protective bent posture I used to shield myself from the pain. I had to concentrate on walking upright. It would have been easy to give into the the pain and hide in the crippled pose, but I knew I didn’t dare.

I guess a note about allowing a yoga teacher to physically adjust your posture is in order. I would recommend that when visiting a new yoga class, directly ask the teacher about how they adjust a student’s posture during class. If the answer does not communicate gentleness, and respect for your body, either leave the class or tell the teacher that you prefer not to be touched during class. If the teacher seems defensive about your assertiveness—find another teacher. When I want to adjust a student’s posture, I first demonstrate the correct posture, and if more is necessary, I use only my finger tips to encourage movement in the desired direction. Never should a teacher use any degree of torque to enforce an adjustment of posture.

Over the next few days my shoulder also stiffened to the point that I couldn’t raise my arm even a few inches away from my body let alone try to look cool with my elbow hanging out the window of my old ’89 Beamer. I was off to the orthopedist.

The diagnosis was shoulder impingement and frozen shoulder. The bottom line: crippling pain, low mobility and simmering anger. The range of possible treatments began with physical therapy and ran to surgery. The doctor explained that these injuries usually sorted themselves out.

I remember standing at the sliding glass window of my apartment one morning watching the sun rise and wishing I was out walking and practicing asana in the park.

After weeks of intensive and sometimes painful physical therapy— with no success, I threw in the towel. My anger was compounded when my yoga teacher proved defensive about her culpability in my injury.

I’d never been so disabled in my life. The left side of my body was nearly incapacitated. I struggled for the better part of a year to heal. All the while, my frustration was building. I wasn’t able to make anticipated arrangements for my education. I felt cornered, out of favor, desolate. I finally worked myself into a serious health crisis when my guts erupted with a full blown flare of Crohn’s Disease. The CAT scan showed that all twenty-six feet of my intestines were pocked with bleeding ulcers. I was flat on my back in the hospital sucking up IV steroids. To top it all off, the negligence of a nurse’s assistant inflicted yet another insult to my beleaguered body by tying a rubber glove tightly around my arm so that my daily shower wouldn’t contaminate the mouth of the intravenous tube in my vein. This constricted and irritated the blood vessel causing phlebitis. My entire arm swelled up tight and hot while blood clots formed on the walls of the veins in my arm and chest; anyone of which could have broken free and caused a stroke. I was finally beaten into submission. The flames of my unconscious, untempered rage had ignited inflammation in my body and psyche. (During a Crohn’s flare bowel movements are replaced with a steady issue of runny, clotted blood. I was also anemic.)

This was my third hospital visit for Crohn’s. What can I say, I’m a slow learner.

Ironically, it was the IV steroids that began the healing. Steroids are anti-inflammatory, and they commenced to cool the fire not only in my gut, but my shoulder, and sciatic nerve as well. The blood clots in my arm, infused with anticoagulants, slowly dissolved. Strong medicines are necessary for the chronically ignorant; those of us who continue to bang our heads against the wall like spoiled children rather than accepting life as it is and cultivating the grace to deal with it.

Out of the hospital after a week of intensive treatment, it would be 42 days before I got back to work. With the deep loving kindness of my sweetie, Michele, and the recuperative indolence of the 2001 holiday season, I was on the rocky and uneven road to recovery.

During my convalescence Michele drove us back up to the Bay Area for an extended New Year. On January 1st, 2002 a bunch of us friends motored to Grace Cathedral Episcopal church in San Francisco to walk their labyrinth. We wanted to get the year off to an auspicious beginning. I was game though I’d never before done this kind of walking meditation.

A labyrinth, not to be confused with a maze, is an intricate convolution of connecting passages, a contemplative walkway that predates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years. The circuitous path delivers the meditator to the heart of the ancient structure.

I took it slow; one step for every exhalation. Hands folded to my heart in supplication. It took the better part of two hours, and was the single most powerful meditation experience of my life. The message to me was: life is not a race. Slow down. Take your time. Steady persistence, not haste, will deliver you to your goals.

This is where I began the long pilgrimage whose teaching to me was this: pain can be a ally, a great teacher.

As I finally began to get over my childish moping and self pity, I humbly crawled back to my practice. The initial motions were limited, and pain was a reliable governor to make sure I didn’t go too far too fast. In asana, as I approached the threshold of discomfort I would slow down, back away from the incipient twinge and breathe slowly and deeply.

For my sciatica and hamstring injuries, even though they were years apart—uttanasana or standing forward fold was the pose that finally brought not only immediate pain relief but total restoration. I would hang long and easy with my feet gently but firmly rooted in the pose and breathe deeply, feeling the breath massage healing into the wounded cells of nerve and torn muscle. Practicing many times daily, the cure came slowly but completely.

For my inflamed frozen shoulder, I took Erich Schiffman’s prescription, and deep breaths as a regular treatment. You’ll find Erich’s remedy on page 182 of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness. These postures are the very handbook for the care and feeding of this easily injured shallow ball and socket. I’m 90% of the way to total recovery. The more I practice, the more complete the healing.

Notice the common denominator in these practices: the breath! I learned the profound lesson that the breath is my own personal massage therapist, and that gentleness is the path to strength. How does simple deep breathing do this?

The breath delivers prana, the Sanskrit word for “life force”. The physical components of prana are oxygen and nitrogen; air. Unadulterated air, delivered by the breath is the magical elixir and universal remedy to soothe all life’s ailments. We live only seconds without it. Tuberculosis patients and inflamed arthritics were once sent to the Mojave Desert to be cured by the purity of the air! As we learn to master its use, nothing is beyond our grasp, even learning from pain.

Our experience of pain teaches us two principal tenets : less ego attachment to specific results, and that stubborn insistence on plowing heedlessly ahead forces open the door to injury. Injuries may not only be physical. If we approach life with the same thoughtlessness, we will damage relationships, lose valued social status and face the difficulty of making peace with a humble apology. If we persist further and fail to humble ourselves, personal and social decay may cripple our lives permanently just as physical injuries do.

Persistent injury is the torment of ignorant, unconscious thought, and impulsive word or movement. It is bitter to our very being, but its memory is a great servant. It prevails upon us to pay attention like the cosmic brick to the forehead. The third eye, sheltered behind the forehead, is actually the pineal gland which begins to open with the dawning of intuition. Intuition is the path to infinite Self-knowledge and the sight to perceive the Divine. You don’t have to be a religious believer to experience the Divine. Even an atheist can do it.

That’s my intuition, anyway; but I’m merely a novice on the path.

This is what I’ve learned from unconsciousness, injury, pain,suffering and the concomitant unfurling bud of intuition.

As I continue to practice with spurts of intensity and lazy lapses, I haltingly advance toward the fulfillment of the great mystery of yoga: total union with the creative consciousness that bore us all. It is our joyous birthright and destiny, the promised land that is metaphorically presaged in the great teachings of all true spiritual traditions.

Ashwini Mudra

Before I took my teacher training, personal study of some the more esoteric yoga techniques had taught me about mula, uddiyana and jalandara bundas; or the yogic locks. Further inquiry led me to a jewel of a practice called ashwini mudra. Mudra can be translated as seal and sometimes posture, and is usually associated with hand gestures. These movements can be seen in east Asian dances. But ashwini means mare, as in a female horse.

The ancient yogis were keen observers of animal behavior as is evidenced by the names given to so many yoga poses. Cobra, down and up dog, cat, cow, peacock et cetera. Though it may seem odd, the yogis noticed that a defecating mare strongly puckered its anus to help dispel the contents of its bowels. We humans unconsciously use the same muscular contractions when we regulate our elimination. Well, whoever started exploring these normal muscular contractions noticed the deep internal massage one receives when tensing this region of the body. This undoubtedly led to experimenting with using this mudra in different postures and noticing how the combination of position, gravity and the technique itself increased or decreased the intensity of the experience. As the practice was handed down from guru to student it was finally accepted into yoga tradition which precedes recorded history.

During my teacher training I became known as “agni sara man” because of my fervent interest in the bundas, fire dhauti, and nauli kriya, all of which deeply promote blood circulation in the organs in the abdomen. At our graduation three of my female classmates (I was the only male in a class of 30) sang me a song of the same title to the tune of the old Johnny Rivers ditty, “Secret Agent Man”. As a sufferer of Crohn’s Disease (an ulcerative bowel condition), I wondered if these methods could help me.

For my birthday in 2008 my beloved Michele presented me with a copy of the great classic, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is not uncommon for the ancient yogis to make what seem like extravagant claims that a particular action will prevent certain diseases if practiced intensely. This scripture hints that what we might call super humanity is available to the devoted yoga student. Usually the recommendation of practice frequency and diligence required is beyond the dedication of all but the most ardent practitioners, and therefore easily discounted. But I decided to take the Pradipika at its word.

Besides my own Crohn’s Disease, Americans suffer from many maladies of the abdominal organs. Colo rectal cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, constipation, incontinence and other urinary complaints, sexual dysfunction, and so on.

Before I moved from Las Vegas to the rural Piedmont of North Carolina in 2002, one of my dear friends was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. At 42 this vibrant, intelligent, beautiful woman succumbed after a valiant four year battle. I was but a helpless witness to her frequent rounds of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The grace with which she handled her suffering was amazing. Perhaps you know someone like her.

An elderly friend of mine now possesses only a cinder of a prostate after 40 days of radiation for prostate cancer. Ironically, one of the exercises recommended by his doctor: the kegel which is an adaptation of ashwini mudra.

As I practiced these methods, I could feel the heat of my core dramatically increasing. I was getting extraordinary blood flow throughout my entire abdomen from diaphragm to anus. That means greater oxygenation in all the organs effected. That’s what yoga is all about; increased prana or life force. For terrestrial mammals the physical components of prana are earth’s atmospheric gases: oxygen and nitrogen carried by the blood to nourish our cells.

I tell my students that decrepitude is a choice. We lose the deep venous circulation to our bodies because we neglect the proper exercise to reach the deep cells within our muscles, organs, glands, bones, tendons and ligaments. The three basic adult postures: standing, sitting and lying are not enough to promote the depth of circulation necessary for robust longevity. Watch children at play and you’ll see that they are repeatedly putting their bodies into many different relationships to gravity as they express the simple joy of being alive. As we get older, tied to conventional lifestyles, we become more sedentary and begin to seize up with the rust of inflammation a harbinger of a plethora of diseases.

Even if you go to aerobics, run, lift weights, practice martial arts et cetera, you’re probably not getting the profound circulation fostered by the abdominopelvic specialties of yoga.

I mentioned that these practices are sort of esoteric, rarely taught in the yoga studio let alone the gym. Few yoga students have even heard of them. The reason? In the past, the priesthood of yoga had decided that these practices should be revealed exclusively to only the most dedicated students. Also, modern day yoga in the U.S. is mostly taught and treated like a glorified calisthenic rather than the universal tool box for human health that it precisely is. I think it’s wrong to withhold life-saving knowledge from people just because they’re not in the clique. So I decided to teach the most accessible of these techniques, ashwini mudra, to my yoga classes. The reactions were, to put it mildly, varied.

The older folks understood the importance of these methods immediately. Some of the younger women, however, were apparently aghast that I would even speak of the unmentionable body parts. Several of them quit coming to my classes. Fortunately, a student who seldom missed one of my classes told me that some of the others were “uncomfortable” with ashwini mudra.

For those who might think these teachings inappropriate for some reason, I would respectfully ask that they check in with themselves and perform a self inquiry to see why they feel squeamish about addressing the health of these important organs.

At future classes I related the stories of my cancer stricken friends in hopes that students would better understand my motivation for giving detailed instruction in these ancient teachings. After one of those classes, an elderly male student of mine spoke with me privately about the wonderful and unexpected results he’d been achieving with ashwini mudra. The man is well into his seventies and had been plagued by incontinence. He reported that this condition was improving markedly. I was so pleased to hear this, but he saved his proudest announcement for last. Apparently he also suffered from the sexual dysfunction experienced by so many older men, and some younger: failing to reach orgasm. With a big smile he exclaimed with zest, “I’ve had three orgasms recently”! Happy that he felt so comfortable to take me into his confidence I congratulated him on his renewed vigor.

As the national debate over health care ebbs and flows to some congressional action this autumn, I’m grateful that I’ve learned how to take care of myself and others with the ancient wisdom of yoga. No amount of insurance coverage or money can confer health upon us like these teachings that have descended to us from the prehistoric observations of simple men and women. As a mere beginner on this path I can only give the advise that echoes in my heart every time I sit on the yoga mat: keep practicing. Mysteries are contained in these timeless teachings and await the probing, persistent practice of those who seek an ever greater fullness of the human experience.