Ten surefire gifts

Who are we trying to fool? Selecting the appropriate gift requires an uncanny understanding of the intended recipient, and even then and in the right hands, it’s highly risky.

The closest success in this field that I recall hearing involved a coworker who was at a unique point in his love life. He wound up buying three identical items at Victoria’s Secret. Need I explain? Things were quite different after Christmas.

And even then, not everyone would want to receive one of those wrapped intimacies.

So let’s think of ten factors to consider.

  1. Does the recipient already own this? Oops! How well do you know this person, anyway? Well enough to go through their shelves or closet?
  2. Or even want it? Not every woman likes getting flowers or chocolate. Not all that many guys do, either. As for kids?
  3. The dollar signs. Some people measure your affection by your willingness to shell out on a big gift. Others see it as trying to buy their love. Gift cards, by the way, often go unused. Retailers are not a charity. Don’t go overboard, OK?
  4. Is it a suitable surprise? One they might actually use? Your grandmother will likely be surprised by that box of golf balls but never set foot anywhere near a tee. Yard sales are full of these misfires, often still in their original wrappings.
  5. Does it say something about your relationship? Some of the best gifts are things you can enjoy together. Jigsaw puzzles, for example, can keep everyone going, especially during the holidays.
  6. Not everyone appreciates receiving a homemade present, but for others, it’s the ultimate. One friend’s woodworking skills are especially anticipated. Pie boxes, anyone?
  7. There’s something to be said for gifts that won’t take up space. Things you can eat or drink, for instance. Tickets to upcoming events. (In my part of the universe, few things would beat a pair of seats at a Red Sox-Yankees game.) Museum memberships or contributions to causes they support may also be welcome.
  8. Does it improve the quality of their life? My family has edged me upward in the digital world this way.
  9. Hobby gear. Think sports equipment, cooking gadgets, sewing supplies, arts and crafts, gardening, and so on.
  10. Dream fulfillment. Was there something they wanted as a child but never got?

What other considerations would you suggest?

 

Ten things I don’t like about December

  1. Too dark. It’s not just waking up and going to bed in the dark. Where I live, it also means going to work in the dark and coming home in the same. And that’s coming from someone who’s officially retired.
  2. Too cold. Where I live, we’re just not used to it yet.
  3. Too many shoppers. That means long lines at the cash register everywhere.
  4. And all that shopper traffic. Parking lots are full. Traffic lights are backed up.
  5. Everybody’s snarly. Can’t blame them. So am I.
  6. Santa Claus ditties. They’re coming out of ceilings everywhere. They have nothing to do with the birth of the Christ Child.
  7. Lying to innocent children. These presents don’t come from a fat man in a red suit, for starters. He doesn’t come down a chimney anywhere in the world. And telling them all this blarmy undermines their trust in anything else we tell them, especially about Jesus.
  8. Guilt, paralysis, and panic. For guys, especially, this hits hard about three days before the big event, when we still haven’t figured out what to get anyone.
  9. Everything else stops. Do I really need to explain this?
  10. It’s all about the Holiday Season. Or more accurately, holiday shopping. Let’s be honest and admit that what’s happening has very little to do with what should be happening.

Ten perspectives on yoga in America

My novel Yoga Bootcamp stirs up more curiosity. Here are ten facts.

  1. Number of yoga teachers in U.S.: 52,746 registered with Yoga Alliance in 2015.
  2. Number of centers: 18,000.
  3. Number of yoga practitioners in U.S.: 37 million.
  4. Number over age 40: 14 million.
  5. Percentage of women and men practicing yoga in U.S.: 72 percent versus 28 percent.
  6. Amount spent on yoga classes, clothing, and gear: $16.8 billion.
  7. Most popular reasons for practicing yoga: flexibility (61 percent); stress relief (56 percent); general fitness (49 percent); overall health (49 percent); physical fitness (44 percent).
  8. The highest percentages of yoga practitioners: Found on the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). The lowest percentages are in New England, the Upper Midwest and Plains states, and the East South.
  9. Circulation of Yoga Journal magazine: 375,000.
  10. Turnover: Only 25 percent have been doing yoga for more than five years.

Ten special diets

These days it seems everyone’s on a restricted diet.

Here are ten of them.

  1. Kosher. This means the historic Jewish restrictions. You know, no ham. But that’s just for starters. And even the plates must be blessed.
  2. Halal. The Muslim equivalent of dietary laws. By the way, Ramadan still sounds like cheating. I mean, what’s the hardship of refraining during the day if you can eat like a pig, uh, beast all night?
  3. Eastern Orthodox fasting.  Food’s allowed, but the options are highly limited. No olive oil, for instance, and no meat. It can be tricky.
  4. Caffeine-free. The Mormon church recently lifted this restriction from carbonated drinks, though it still holds for hot coffee or tea. Some other disciplines, including yogis, also ban it.
  5. Vegan. Or its less restrictive vegetarian alternatives.
  6. Gluten-free or lactose-free or peanut-free. Based on a medical diagnosis, OK?
  7. Healthy Heart. A little broader, largely to reduce cholesterol levels.
  8. Weight-loss. Oh, my, these are endless and ever so trendy.
  9. Alcohol-free. Sometimes as a religious tenet, sometimes as a consequence of addiction.
  10. Hindu. No beef. Those cows are sacred … and sources of milk.

Are you observing any dietary restrictions?

Ten major yoga brands today

In the decades since I took up yoga in the early 1970s, the movement has had its ups and downs. For a while, it looked like it was about to peter out altogether, especially as scandals hit many of the teachers or their organizations.

And then came the boom in popularity, far outrunning the earlier flowering.

Today, it’s hard to keep up with many of the trends, especially as they take on commercially branded identities. Back in the day, we knew it essentially as hatha, raja, karma, and so on … but not anymore. When you’re looking for a class, it can be rather confusing.

  1. Here are ten on my radar. Many of the details come from Kristin McGee’s fine overview at the MBGmovement website.
  2. Iyengar: Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar after his arrival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1973, this system relies heavily on props to help students to perfect their form. The positions are held for longer periods while focusing on details of the pose. Photos of the props still disturb me. Guess I’m just old school.
  3. Restorative yoga: Focused on winding down and relaxing after a long day. As an outgrowth of Iyengar yoga, includes props like bolsters and blankets.
  4. Astanga: (Also spelled ashtanga.) Popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois in the ’70s. Very physically demanding sequence of postures with an emphasis on continuous movement. No props, no music – I wholeheartedly approve, but I am from a line that had long rests in the corpse pose between asanas. Aah. Our goal was meditation, more than physical fitness.
  5. Vinyasa flow:  Adapted from astanga in the 1980s, it is more varied, depending on the teacher and students and the intent of the day. It may include props and music. Vinyasa is considered the most athletic of the popular styles, more suitable for students with previous yoga experience.
  6. Jivamukti: Founded in 1984 by Sharon Gannon and David Life as an outgrowth of vinyasa flow, this includes teachings from Hindu philosophy with an Earth-conscious connection. Many of its followers are also vegetarian.
  7. Hot: Supposedly intended to simulate the steamy jungles of India where yoga was practiced, this covers a range of styles as long as the room’s hot and humid. It’s intended to produce a lot of sweating. I’ll assume that’s to sweat out impurities in the body. One of its earliest strands is Forrest yoga, developed by Ana T. Forrest.
  8. Bikram: Founded by Bikram Choudhury in the late 20th century, it’s the best-known form of hot yoga. Its 90-minute class format has postures each performed twice in a 105-degree room with 40 percent humidity, great for producing sweat. The certified teachers have a standard patter to accompany the workout. He seems to be very proprietary.
  9. Yin: Slow paced and meditative. This system dates from the late ’70s with the work of Paulie Zink, a Taoist and martial arts expert, and developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.
  10. Anusara: A more traditional hatha yoga with a focus on heart-opening and spirals to align each part of the body. John Friend in 1997 and now continued by a nonprofit school that certifies its teachers.
  11. Acroyoga: The most gymnastic of the systems, this features partners exercising in acrobatic poses. It requires three people – a base, a flyer who will be elevated off the ground, and a spotter to break the fall, if needed. The couple on the cover of my upcoming novel Nearly Canaan are shown in one of its poses.

Note that they’re all focused on physical fitness of one sort or another, rather than the meditative or ethical dimensions of the underlying religious foundation. Where are the swamis nowadays, anyway?

Ten ways the Eastern Orthodox differ from other Christians

The world’s second-largest Christian body, with 250 million members, is officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church. It shared communion with Roman Catholics until the schism of 1054.

Here are ten ways it varies from its Western counterparts.

  1. Unlike the Roman Catholic denomination, the Orthodox operate as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by a bishop (often known as a metropolitan). In practice, these often have a national or regional identity, such as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox.
  2. Metropolitans, rather than the pope, are the head of each of the self-governing churches, and together they form the Holy Synod. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized as the first among equals.
  3. Advent and Christmas. Advent is longer and Christmas isn’t celebrated until January 7.
  4. Lent and Pascha. The liturgical calendar differs from those used in Western Christianity, with Easter (Pascha, the Greek preferred term) typically being aligned to Passover. Great Lent is longer, too. The Feast of the Assumption and Pentecost are holy days nearly equal to Pascha.
  5. The Theotokos. The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is venerated and central in the liturgical worship. More nuanced, too, than in Roman Catholicism.
  6. Greek, rather than Latin, as the basis of its Scriptures and theological discourse. It’s a language more suited to nuance and philosophy, so I’m told.
  7. The priests may marry (unlike Roman Catholicism) but the bishops cannot (unlike Protestants).
  8. Sensuous richness. Incense, bells, chanting appeal to the nose and ears. An abundance of iconography, especially, surrounds the eyes.
  9. The iconostasis. An elaborately decorated wall stands between the altar and the congregation. It has three doors – the angel doors, to either side, and the blessed door in the center. The priest passes repeatedly through the central door, which is left open during the service, while the deacon or others may use the side doors, as required.
  10. You show up for the Sunday service – the Divine Liturgy – you’re likely to think you’re late. The priest, deacon, and psalmists have already been celebrating the Orthos for an hour, sometimes alone, in preparation.

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AS AN ASIDE: In 978, Vladimir the Great sent emissaries to study four religions in neighboring regions – Judaism, Islam, Latin Rite (Catholic), and Eastern Rite (Orthodox). Reputedly, he rejected Judaism as lacking power, since it had lost Jerusalem. Islam, because it banned alcohol. Latin Rite because of the political power of its pope. But Eastern Rite, with the sumptuousness of its liturgy in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, won him over. As they wrote, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” And thus, the Russian Orthodox church was born.

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Admittedly, this is a superficial overview. I’m hoping for a lot of clarification from more knowledgeable readers.