Does a family that meditates together glow together?

The first decade of her father’s presence in the family was one of great growth and deepening personal awareness for every member – especially before all of the children, including Cassia, come along.

For one thing, her parents’ generation is still working on its Buddhist studies together. As I noted in an earlier draft of my novel What’s Left:

You know, Baba will say one night after our family meditation, most of these enterprises wouldn’t stand a chance if it weren’t for one thing.

What’s that?

Rinpoche, the Tibetan master.

Then the room will fall into a profound reverie.

Well, it was all no doubt pretty exotic to all of them.

And then the vision got even heavier:

It’s the concept of living as a people of the Holy One, however we phrase it. A peaceable people. A peaceable kingdom. The great wisdom or enlightenment.

There was even a question of how much diversity they could manage:

Religions? Say the way a piano is a world apart from a trombone or a double bass or a clarinet, even if they rely on the same kind of musical notation? And that was before your Manoula weighed in on some wildly divergent ethnic musics based on entirely conflicting theoretical foundations.

Well, that got too esoteric, even for me! Play it as you will.

Still, not everybody in the family was so high on the Buddhist excitement:

The Temple Room relocates to the first-floor parlor next to Yiayia Athina before moving altogether to a more public location, one having chambers for our anticipated Rinpoche’s full-time residency. Yiayia Athina makes no secret of being glad to see them go. The chanting was getting on her nerves.

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Cassia’s family obviously takes all this seriously.

What spiritual practice or source of inspiration is meaningful to you?

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.

Looking for a natural high

Just what so intensely motivated her father-to-be to quit everything so he could retreat into monastic Buddhist practice for three years? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer fully. (My parallel experience of living on a yoga farm is the basis of my newest novel, Yoga Bootcamp.)

Still, I’m required to try. In a passage from an earlier draft of my novel What’s Left, the explanation went this way:

Thea Nita suggested another take. Your Baba yearned for the highs, she says.

What about drugs?

You don’t think that was a problem, she counters. Don’t you think I wasn’t worried, at least until Rinpoche came into the picture?

Well, I’d wondered about that with my uncles, too – that whole hippie thing?

Oh, that? Nita chuckles and admits it posed a danger, especially before she returned to town. Barney, especially, enjoyed being stoned when he could. As she says, that could present problems in a commercial kitchen.

And then? They learned they could get a natural high through meditation – if they steered clear of drugs, as they did when Baba, by then a militant practicing Buddhist, entered the scene. Besides, there was no escaping the reality we all had work to do – and it better be done right.

~*~

As Rinpoche told Cassia about her father:

He needed the lightness and even playfulness he encountered in the Tibetan Buddhism – the high, in fact – that he hadn’t found in his Christian past. To be fair, I am finding indications he was discovering that in the Judeo-Christian side, too, during his final years. What a loss, then.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

And then there was her mother’s presence, as Rinpoche explained:

Your Baba found his missing half in Manoula and through her, his place in this world. But he always sensed there was more to life. The rabbi here tells me that when Moses came down from the mountain, he carried two tablets. The first one was about man’s relationship to God, and the second one was about relating to each other. So your Baba was working on something like that. He sometimes referred to it as finding the right balance.

And that mountain?

It was about all that would hold him down. For now. Maybe they were well matched.

~*~

Here we are talking about religion, and I see the question turning to something unexpectedly related:

What makes you smile?

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?

Blessed bliss

My novel YOGA BOOTCAMP describes group meditation as a central discipline in the daily life at Big Pumpkin’s ashram. As a real-life example, here’s a photo taken at the Poconos Ashram in mid-1972. I’m struck by how young we all look and the fact that most of us could sit in a full lotus position. Makes my knees hurt just thinking of it now!

Yes, I really lived this.

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.

~*~

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.

~*~

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