An Absolute Doorway to the Soul

“The cold is an absolute doorway to the soul.” – Wim Hof, The Ice Man

I’ve run four Tough Mudders and five other obstacle course races.  Why do people do this?  Everyone has their reasons, but for me, when I’m in the freezing ice-water, crawling through claustrophobic pipes half filled with water, jumping off platforms into more cold water, crawling through mud, getting electrocuted, and pushing my brain and body through 12 miles of that shit, it’s a vacation!  A vacation from the mundane and the rigmarole of distraction throughout our daily lives.  The chatter, the multi-tasking, the dishes, dinner, laundry, phone, news, work, the lawn, traffic, and wait … what’s for lunch?  All that goes away and you’re there, completely engaged with the universe.

I’ve trained and worked with MMA fighters and many will say this about being in the octagon: When you’re in there, everything else goes away. It’s not office politics or life drama.  For that short period of time, you’re there; completely.  All that outside noise is gone.  It’s liberating and refreshing.

As for training with Wim Hof, it’s not something I’ve done.  Not yet.  Maybe not at all; I haven’t made up my mind.  I’ve read his books and follow the method on his website.  I love the breathing and concentration part.  I hate the freezing cold water part.  So, we’ll see.  But as he says, when you’re in that cold water, all you can focus on is survival.  Your mind, body, and soul are all engaged in the same place and it’s an amazing thing to experience.

So, if we don’t want to get our face kicked in, get hypothermia in a lake near the north pole, or use our body as the bottom of a twenty-foot tall human ladder, while eating someone’s muddy Adidas, what can we do to get this same feeling?

Binge watch Game of Thrones?  Stranger Things?  Billions?  No, that’s not it.  But yes, watch these shows.  It’s not yoga, but not everything needs to be.  Sometimes it just feels good to see what The North is going to do next.

Run a 5k?  A half-marathon?  A whole marathon?  An ultra- … wait; no, just stop.  I’m not running that far.  Ever.  After two miles, my brain strobe-lights content due to the boredom.  I’m everywhere, but “there”.  Ugh, running sucks!  But, for those people who immerse into the run, it’s their yoga.  The breath, the rhythm, the trance.

The gym?  Yeah, because wearing earbuds with our face in a cell phone between sets, sitting on a machine, surrounded by TVs is total focus, right?  No.  But, there are some people who lose the world around them, during that squat and for them, that is their yoga.  The focus, the technique, the effort.

Yoga means union.  Union with the universe, where our brain, body, spirit and focus all come together as one with our environment.  Whatever our yoga is, it should be an absolute doorway to the soul.  For me, it’s yoga.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

 

World Peace?

Can we save the planet?  No.  It’s a damn planet!  If the sun eventually wants to engulf the earth, there’s nothing we can do about it.  It was here before us and it will be here after us.  So, when we talk about saving the planet, we’re really talking about saving ourselves.  It’s about optimizing our living conditions on this rock and improving that quality far into the future.

But if you watch any movie ever made about the future, it’s a grim setting.  Post-apocalyptic landscapes, famine, poisoned waters, poisoned air, death and destruction.  Maybe zombies or Skynet takes over.  You never see a movie where the future is bliss and beautiful for us humans.  No, we don’t like stories like that, do we.

Save this country?  From what?  That other country?  Those other 194 countries?  That’s a lot of countries, each with its own politics, religions, and philosophies, and beliefs. Territory, power, control, and … money.  It always comes down to money.

Save ourselves?  From what?  Well … ourselves for starters.  We can be our own worst enemy, personally and communally.  We have turmoil and drama within our own selves, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and psychologically.  How can we trust others, when we don’t trust ourselves?

Besides, we humans get bored easily and our first go-to is conflict.  It’s in our DNA.  As the T-800 said to John Connor in Terminator 2, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.”  So, how the hell can we even entertain the idea of world peace?

We never hear about the FBI taking down a notorious peace dealer.  You know? The bust happens on a shipping dock at 2:00am.  Two black vehicles.  A duffle bag full of bliss and self-acceptance is exchanged for cold hard cash when the feds burst from the shadows to arrest these illegal peace dealers.  No.  This is not a thing.  But, weapons of war?  There’s money in that.

When we say “World Peace”, we’re really talking about the collective peaceful interaction of almost eight-billion people, throughout 195 countries, and according to some estimates, over 4,200 religions.  Even those religions and religious leaders fight among themselves, in terms of their beliefs, rules, philosophies, and approach.

So … is world peace even possible?  Yes, but not probable.  The math is against us and so are we.

However, I think we can make the math work in our favor if each of us can get out of our own way.  I know; it’s a big ask, but we gotta start somewhere and that somewhere is inner peace.  Without that first, there’s no shot at outer peace and we can just forget about world peace.

Hey, I’m not a hold-hands-in-a-circle while chanting kind of guy.  It makes my “spidey-senses” tingle and I just want to run.  Still working on that.  No; yoga is a personal journey inward, where we reacquaint our soul with peace. From the time we were born, we’re inundated with social division, war, hatred, and negativity, because that’s what sells.  It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in it.  It’s sold to us and force-fed to us.  Eat it!  Now, pick a side!

World peace isn’t about a one-world religion or no religion at all.  It can’t be.  It’s not about one giant country.  It’s not about one set of beliefs, laws, or language.  It’s not about a single, all-encompassing culture.  That’s impossible, nor should be even try.  What a miserable existence it would be if eight billion of us where all the same.  Ugh.

But, with everything considered, if each of us could find inner peace; peace within ourselves, then our outward interaction would be so much more peaceful and positive.  We’d be more conscientious.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not delusional.  The sheer math and close proximity to each other, multiplied by circumstance, equals friction.  Things will naturally heat up, but the lubricant is inner peace.

The world has a fever and the only prescription is more Yoga.  Or … cowbell; whatever.

Peace, peeps.  And get on that mat.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Am I No Yogi?

“If your goal is to become a yoga teacher, five-and-a-half months are good enough. If your goal is to become a yogi, it may happen in five-and-a-half seconds, or it may not happen in five-and-a-half lifetimes, because it is not of the physical nature. It depends on how an individual being allows it to happen.” – Sadhguru

Just this past weekend, I graduated from Yoga teacher training and I’m now an RYT with Yoga Alliance.  It was an amazing experience with incredible people!  And Sadhguru is spot-on; it was five-and-a-half months.  But does that make me a Yogi?  Hmm …

What does it mean to be a Yogi?

Is it practicing and performing poses and breathing deeply?  Is this Yoga?  Well, if the effort and action (hatha and karma) of performing asana brings us closer to synchronization with the energy of the universe, then yes.  Because Yoga means union.  Union with the universe and all things that are, including all of us humans.

But to be a Yogi, it’s about living the way, not just knowing it.  No easy task, because our reality is dynamic with its infinite number of variables and circumstances, multiplied by about eight billion humans, all with our own baggage of shit and opinions.

But, we do our best to be Yoga, living the eight limbs: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, moderation, non-attachment.  It’s cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, and surrender to a higher power.  And yes; it is the postures and a lot of breathing.  It’s withdrawing from the external world through the senses.  It’s concentration, meditation, and … bliss.

Sadhguru goes on to say, “Even if you are not like that (Yogi-like) 24 hours of the day, at least a few moments in a day you should be a yogi. If you keep it alive, things that you do not understand, things that you have never experienced, will happen to you. That means you are allowing another dimension to function.”

I know, I know, it sounds quite mystical and if you know me, I’m not one for mysticism.  In all my years of training and teaching martial arts, my mission was to clear the fog of mysticism with down to earth language that everybody could easily understand (there’s a song in there somewhere).  So to be clear, being a registered yoga teacher does not necessarily make one a Yogi.

Knowing and teaching the knowledge is merely academic.  Being able to do a one-handed hand stand with our legs in a pretzel is quite impressive, but that’s not Yoga.  The practice of living and being Yoga is true yoginess, no matter our acrobatic prowess.

So … am I a Yogi?  All things considered, yes.  But don’t tell anyone.  I have a reputation to maintain.

Namaste.

Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

Kung Fu in 5 Easy Steps

“I know Kung Fu”, said Neo (The Matrix).  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just “jack-in” and upload knowledge directly into our brains?  Is it upload or download?  I don’t know.  But, a four-year degree is completed in an hour with no effort.  Martial Artist, Yogi, or pianist.  Just sit back and relax.  Hmm.

The technology for jacking-in like Neo doesn’t exist yet.  Or … does it?  I can’t keep the timeline right.  In the meantime, here are five easy steps to becoming a Kung Fu master:

Step 1: Don’t train in Kung Fu.  It takes way too long.  Lots of work too and you could get hurt.

Step 2: Watch Ip Man I and II.  Three sucked.  And, maybe some Kung Fu YouTube videos.  It’s pretty much the same as earning a black belt.

Step 3: Do some calisthenics and stretching at least once a week.  Not a requirement.  Just a suggestion.

Step 4: Subscribe to Kung Fu magazine to make sure you’re aware of the most up to date way to do a front kick.  It’s always changing.

Step 5: Buy a black belt online. Now you’re official. And don’t forget to put that Kung Fu sticker on your car window, so everyone knows.

Congratulations!

Neo was right.  He did know Kung Fu.  But, knowing isn’t being.  Being takes more than just knowledge.

It takes hard work and time.  Actually, that’s the literal translation of Kung Fu. It takes heart and soul.  It’s passion, belief, diligence, perseverance, feel, discipline, practice, and immersion. We must embrace the philosophy and approach.  It has to be in us if we’re to effectively employ it outwardly.

‘Ever hear a really good blues guitarist do his thing?  Yeah, it’s like that.

The knowing of Kung Fu is not Kung Fu.  We must be it.

Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

That Time I Met My Childhood Self

One night, in Yoga Teacher Training, our instructor took us through meditation.  Nothing unusual, but this time, we were to go back and meet our childhood selves as we are right now.  I never thought of doing this before and I thought, “Oh, this will be a fun experiment.”  Maybe, I’d give him a high-five and ask him how school is going; that sort of thing.

But, then I saw him and it hit me in an unexpected way.

There I was; eh … me.  He.  We.  Whatever. When I came up to him, I immediately realized that the high-five thing was a dumb idea.  Neither one of us said anything, but he knew who I was and just looked at me with no judgement.  Just observing me, with a welcoming expression.

And this bothered me, because it was like I wanted him to judge me.  I expected it.  He should, dammit!  I felt unworthy of his acceptance and it made me uncomfortable.  Then it made me sad and I did my best to hold back the tears.  I was among my classmates and they can’t see me like that.  You know?

That kid was awesome.  He was naïve, innocent, and okay.  I felt like I fucked that up and that he should push me or punch me or something!  But nothing. He was cool.

I wanted to give him all the excuses about life, reality, circumstances, and survival.  I felt like I should vomit explanations: The first time I saw my parents have one of those fights where they throw shit; and then … the twentieth time.  All those fights I got into.  That time I saw my first dead body.  I was way too young to see a bullet-riddled bleeding corpse.  That time I got jumped and beaten in the projects.  Oh, and that other time and what I had to do to make it home.  That time my cousin died in his sleep.  That car accident.  That time I had to decide to put my mother in hospice and then have her cremated.  And then my father as well.  Or, that time I had two guns pressed into my skull by bank robbers?  Are you kidding me?!  Fucking bank robbers!

And … you know; a bunch of life, multiplied by decades.  I lost my hair.  His hair.  Sorry kid.

But, he just looked at me with that face.  Like … as if he liked me.

So then, I realized where I am now, which is a pretty damn good place.  It took a lot of work, sacrifice, loss, pain, setbacks, eating ramen noodles, self-responsibility, letting the bad shit go, striving for the good things, loving and being loved, and trying to be a better version of myself this day than I was yesterday, multiplied by decades.  I have a soul to protect.  I’m grateful for that, every day.

He saw me.  For real.  All of it.  And he’s proud of me; eh … himself. Us. Whatever.

Thanks buddy.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Can You Make My Daughter Taller?

Sometimes, the problem isn’t the problem and solving for X won’t get you to Y … or, why.

Finding the right solution takes care.  Care to question linear thinking, to step back, observe, process information, allow for imagination, trust your instincts, and try to connect dots.  Then you have to be so bold as to trust yourself for what you came up with and run with it and make adjustments in the field in real time.

About ten years ago, I got a call from a friend who was working with a client and said he gave the guy my cell phone number, because he was looking for someone to work with his daughter and after listening to him, he thought of me.  Of course, I started asking questions and he said he’d rather let the guy explain it directly to me.  Um … okay?

So the guy called and told me about his daughter.  She was fourteen years old and 5’,1”.  All of her friends at school were taller than her.  And then, he says this: “Can you make my daughter taller?”  Yeah, I know.  Before I responded with science, I stopped myself and asked if we could all meet.  Not sure why I did that.  We met at his home, which turned out to be a multi-million-dollar mansion.  Not too shabby.

He greeted me at the door and as we entered the living room, there was his lovely family.  Awesome people.  I sat on one sofa facing the other where his wife, daughter and her older brother sat, while he took the chair to the right.

It was abundantly clear that they loved their children very much and just wanted their daughter to be happy.  They told me they saw doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers, but now out of desperation and a chance phone conversation with my friend, here I am.  Reasoning with her and reassuring her wasn’t going to work.  We humans are emotional creatures.  Even though we process logic through the neo-cortex, what drives us, comes from the limbic system and that part of the brain doesn’t give a shit about your logic.  Sorry, Doc.

So after about twenty minutes, her father looked at me and asked, “Can you help her?”  That was the question; “Can you help her?”  The word “taller” wasn’t in the question.  I paused, looked at his daughter, then back to him and his wife and said, “I think so.”  We scheduled our first session for that coming Saturday morning.

As I drove out through the guard gate, I thought, “What the hell did I just get myself into?  Why did I tell them I could help?”  On the way home, I just stared out the windshield.  When I got home I pulled out all my books and notes from my martial arts training, my textbooks on kinesiology, physiology, nutrition, and athletic training, as well as articles on puberty and how that affects hormones and growth.  I even had a book on yoga at that time, but I was no yogi.  Still not.

I sat there for hours on the floor, surrounded by books, science, and logic.  Then for no real reason, I picked up one of my martial arts books and as I skimmed through it, it hit me; “This girl isn’t short.  She just sees herself as short.”

I put together a routine that incorporated ancient martial arts exercises with whole body and mind functional training.  Lots of breathing and concentration.  I approached her as a human, not a project or a problem to solve.  It was more about her interconnectedness, mind, body, and soul.

Even though the training wasn’t easy, I kept the atmosphere light with wit and humor.  I’m a comedian at heart.  She began to open up more, engage in what we were doing, and ask questions.  She even smiled and began to joke around as she applied herself more and more.  Ah, there’s a person in there and she’s pretty cool.

We trained out back by their pool.  An amazing setting.  I would always park in the driveway and carry my mats and gear around the side yard to set up.  But one evening, as I was unloading my gear, her father came out to meet me.  This was unusual, as I normally just met everyone out back.  As he spoke, he got a bit glassy-eyed.  He thanked me, handed me a bonus check, and said that they’ve seen some incredible changes in their daughter; that she seemed happier and more confident.  Not taller.  And he hugged me.  Did I mention these people really love their kids?  Awesome.

I ended up training the whole family and they enjoyed having that time together in one space.  They were busy people.  And as far as her getting taller, time took care of that naturally.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t the problem and solving for X will not get us to why.

Cheers.

Photo by allef.viniciusa on Unsplash.

Am I Worthy of My Soul?

I was watching an episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman recently, and he was talking with a religion scholar about good and evil.  The scholar went on to say that we need the belief of the devil or hell as a deterrent to evil behavior.  As if we need a threat to be a good person.

I have a different philosophy. I don’t follow religion.  I don’t do church.  I do believe we have a soul and this body is just our human form for this experience in the grand scheme of all things.  I don’t know how it works or what happens before or after death.  I simply don’t know.  By the way, no one does.  Having said that, I do believe in the concept of a soul.

Our soul is ours to care for, respect, manage, and grow throughout this universal journey and if I do bad things, that is a dent to my soul.  This is the most valuable thing that is us.  Our soul is us.  If I treat it like a shit pick-up truck, driving it through mud, never cleaning it, broken windshield, not running on all cylinders, bent frame, and blowing out black exhaust, then it is what it is.  Shit.

Nothing wrong with a pick-up truck and it’s quite normal to drive through some mud once in a while.  It’s built for that and in this existence, mud is hard to avoid.  We can’t, nor should we avoid it all.  That would be exhausting, miserable, and quite boring.  But, we must take care of our truck, eh … soul, if it’s going to continue to perform well for, I don’t know; maybe … eternity.  Again, I don’t know.

Some souls are just broken or their connection with the human form was botched from the beginning.  Back in that same episode, Mr. Freeman met with a man, a life-sentence prisoner, who murdered and raped people.  This man said that he should never be freed from prison, because he knows he would do it again.  He said that he has no sense of remorse or empathy like most normal humans do and he knows that.  He knows he’s not right.  His truck is a lemon.

But, for the greater majority of us, our soul, mind, body connection is in proper working form.  However, there are some of us who do bad shit anyway.  I guess they either don’t believe or don’t care about things like heaven and hell.  Who knows?

For me, I don’t need a threat called hell.  I don’t respond well to threats.  Wrong approach with me.  I think this is true for most humans.  I also don’t need the excuse of a devil if I do something wrong.  As a responsible human, my thoughts and actions are mine; demons be dammed.

I don’t need the promise of heaven either; like a carrot hung out in front of me.  I don’t like carrots.  They make my stomach hurt and taste like dirt.

No, I simply respect and love my soul; Atman, as we refer to it in yoga.  I don’t know whomever/whatever created it, but it’s mine and I do my best to keep it clean and in good working order.  So, at least when I say “Namaste”, I feel good about my soul being worthy of greeting yours.

Namaste.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash