Weekly News Roundup 11/23/14
Move Your Body
It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite undergraduate courses was comparative vertebrate morphology. In particular I loved the fanciful (though also sometimes eerily accurate) idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The idea that we carry within us the fishy memory of gills, the lateral undulation of salamanders or the wisp of a monkey’s tail. And oh, that hyoid bone, what a fascinating floating remnant! Well, here Leslie Kaminoff explains the phrase and how it relates to the primary and secondary curves of the human spine.
Not all of you are Facebook fans. But if you are, and you like Wildopenheart’s page you’ll see videos like this more often. At least watch to the part where he almost drops back from handstand into a one-leg backbend but then comes back up without touching down. It’s lovely to watch in the same way that it is fun to know that Ellie Greenwood can run 100k in 7 ½ hours. It’s nice to celebrate our fellow humans who are able to so beautifully combine physical talent and effort.
If you have participated in my seasonal cleanses you know I am not a fan of vegetable oil. This article explains how refined vegetable are likely contributing to inflammation, heart disease and cancer.
Another one of my Seasonal Cleanse imperatives – don’t eat after sunset – get’s some affirmative press in this New York Times opinion article.
And finally, even if you haven’t done one of my cleanses you likely know how obsessed I am with the relationship between our inner and outer ecosystems – well this New York Times article makes an important point about human microbiomes – there is no one perfect ecosystem. Just like our global ecosystem, the health of the human population likely relies on diversity, adaptability and ultimately, evolution.
Read this commentary on the Ashtanga Picture Project and replace the words “pose” and “yoga” with the phrase “sitting in a chair” and you’ll understand how problematic this post is. Yoga poses are not divine commandments and they are not configurations immune to the limitations of the human form. That pain and suffering you feel when you externally rotate your hip and internally rotate your knee? That is not all in your head, nor is it caused by your flawed anatomy or lack of spiritual development.
The idea that your body is limited by your ego is not new, though one could equally argue that ego-attachment is a necessary condition of embodiment. The idea of mind-over-matter becomes problematic when it is embedded in the context of a striving, power-hungry yoga world and guided by a confused mashup of Karmic teleology, Blavatskian Theosophy, Jungian psychology and the body-ego detachment of the Yoga Sutras. If you agree that a torn meniscus is primarily an ego problem then you must to be willing to see that belief all the way through to its logical end: homeless, friendless, childless, posessionless and ultimately preferenceless. Which (thankfully) means you won’t care if you can do that pose or not.
Now here’s the thing, I totally understand where this author is coming from. I have gotten significant delight from pushing beyond my preconceived, ego-limited notions of what my body can do. But in all cases, where I felt this joy (or freedom) it was because I was feeling that way throughout. Yes, I might be suffering from extreme fatigue, or even pain, but there is no sense of masochism or worse, spiritual striving in that experience. I am not pushing through to attain a higher level of freedom from what I am feeling in that moment. I am not ignoring pain (knowingly) to achieve some kind of post-race bliss that includes an operating room. That’s the key – as householders that have chosen to live in society, to serve our families and communities and ultimately the world, it does not serve us to surrender to the disintegration of the physical body – as yogis, as athletes, as caregivers, we owe it to this egoic world to remain physically functional.
Also, it’s a sweet promise, but I assure you, whatever freedom you find on the other side of that “dark night of the soul” is fleeting. Last time I checked, most modern yogis, having worked through a dozen or more injuries over the same number of years, are not now floating around in a detached state of blissful samadhi. Of course if they are, they wouldn’t be here on the blogosphere to write about it.
We need to think long and hard about why we choose to push our bodies in any particular way – be it running faster or further, sitting for 10 hours a day, or putting a leg behind our head. These things in and of themselves are not virtuous, nor is the striving. So what are they?
If you are as curious about this as I am, you can help Matthew Remski continue this conversation by helping to fund his new book here.
Natural History Musings
When Jerome and I met I (half) joked that he would need to court me by bringing me blue things. Here’s why.
Picture of the week: