Technology and Community

At the forefront of getting older in a major metropolitan area is the continued emphasis that should be put on community. People treat each other differently when there’s connection, understanding, empathy. Often this connection is strongest when you’re a few feet away from someone—the bandwidth with which you can experience those emotions is extremely high. But when that opportunity is not available, meaningful connection is not a lost cause. There are ways to link people to other people, and then there are ways to study, organize, and improve that connection with a now-familiar method: technology.

I’ve worked on products that have reached millions—even tens of millions—of people. [Quick ego check: I still find this mind-boggling and am humbled at what can occur through sustained team-effort.] Getting feedback was sometimes solicited at the company-level, for business reasons; sometimes at the journalistic level, for publicity, review & quality reasons; and other times it was incidental: people knew—and sometimes knew intimately—the product in question, and would not hesitate to give their opinion, feedback, and critiques. Luckily for me, it was often good, and an intriguing joy to listen to.

Having strangers, acquaintances, or friends know about—or be users of—something you created isn’t community per se. But the conversation that arises can be considered fringe aspects of community. For instance, with video games, like a lot of other hobbies/diversions, there is common language (argot, even), shared experience, organized gathering, criticism, critique, and influence taken and given to other forms of media. I choose that example because I used to work in that industry, albeit from one (very large) corner; my experience was thus limited by time and insulated by other factors, namely, working for only one company on one franchise. I also choose that topic because of the strife and crisis that it as an industry, a medium, an art-form is facing.

Not long ago I was introduced to a new type of community concept that has been around for centuries if not millennia: that of yoga kula. “Kula” is a Sanskrit word meaning “community” and I was exposed to it, in theory and in practice, when I completed a certified 200 hour yoga teacher training last October. That committed study has impacted my life in a profoundly positive way. But the relationships built and explored with my other classmates and the instructors were not confined to our daily study within the venue of study—we are in touch and connected, even when we haven’t spoken in many weeks or months. There will always be more ideas, more practice to explore; it is an unending community, and one that deserves to grow.

I want more—and new—impactful experiences like the one mentioned above. Who wouldn’t?

Currently I’m, with careful deliberation, seeking my next professional move. I look forward to discovering roles that not only align with my technical skills, but roles that offer causes I can get behind. Namely: creating understanding, building relationships, empowering individuals but also fostering lasting, harmonious relationships between people.

[Note: I wrote a specific cover-letter to a company recently that explored a lot of these ideas, some verbatim. I decided to spin it off—and expand upon it—as a post here.]

Embroiled in a Body Narcissism

I’m slowly revisiting all my texts and notes from the Yoga teacher training I took at the end of last year. I have been wanting to do this for a while.

In The Path of Yoga, Feuerstein ends the chapter “Happiness and Moral Foundations” with this paragraph:

“The importance of Yoga’s moral foundations cannot be over-emphasized. […] the traditional yamas and niyamas are critical to harmonious inner growth. All too often, Western practitioners of Yoga ignore the moral disciplines, because they are rather inconvenient and because the postures (asana) are far more alluring. Little surprise that contemporary Western Yoga practice remains embroiled in a body narcissism, which makes the traditional value of spiritual freedom a distant and unappealing goal.”

It has been fascinating, and fascinatingly difficult, to talk to people about my training experience. It’s also been difficult to talk about my experience over the past five years, ever since being “bitten”—that, the softest of bites, that was received during—but only truly noticed just after—the first class I took.

I feel so far from knowing how to respond when it’s my physique—which has, indeed, noticeably changed—that people notice and comment on first. Part of it is the immediate and observable nature of my person, and that recognition is harmless and/or well-meaning. But my body is a surface through and through. I have gained much solace and confidence in how to cope with physical pain and mental unease through physical practice, but to be “embroiled in a body narcissism” is not something I want for anyone. More so, it’s something I’d like to dispel.

Understanding one’s place, in relation to themself, to others, or to Nature is infinitely more interesting to me than muscle definition or a fashionable article of clothing worn for practice. Ideally I’d like to deftly steer any conversation about the superficial into the meaningful. It’s funny to me that during the philosophy and history lectures we students had, I’d internally be trying to relate the moral and spiritual concepts of various yogic traditions to modern or ancient Western thought, in a comparative fashion, summoning Plato, Marx, Nietzsche, whomever. All this despite my cursory-at-best understandings of those stalwarts and their ideas. I did this to help understand esoteric aspects or simply to absorb and orient myself and my beliefs to the new material. I find it funny not because this approach was irrational, but because I was using existing beliefs as a defensive mechanism, against change, against vulnerability to my intellect. Part of how I hope I’ve grown is to use less sophistry, to use ideas less as weapons, but instead as nourishment. I think provocative ideas have their place, especially to change minds with force and energy, but I do not like to be the provocateur.

Being provocative with ideas is not something one should do wantonly, hence my hesitation to be the driver steering towards the deeper elements of Yoga in casual conversation. And not everyone has the same interest in discussing the esoteric ideas of men who have been dead for centuries, if not millennia. This is where it makes sense to defer: when confronted with someone whom I knew I wouldn’t be able to immediately convey a palpable depth to, I’d be excited to describe a certain teacher, class, style, or sequence. Yet this approach wants of immediate experience; it’s mostly a “I guess you had to be there…” sentiment projected into the future; a “take my word for it, go to this class at this time in your busy, busy life,” appended with a quick, if implied, “And oh, I probably won’t be able to make it, I have a thing. that night.”

But perhaps the physicality aspect is what many people need as an introduction, and it has been a proven method of acceptance for widening the path to those harder to reach realms of the mind, society, and the larger workings. While thinking of my own physique as a reflection of my Yogic “skill” isn’t something I subscribe to, feeling okay about one’s body while practicing can be important, at least in the beginning. But this has less to do with actual the actual form of one’s body, and more to do with society and distorted, stereotyped images of what is healthy, attractive, or, *shudder* marketable. One of my teachers, Marissa, recently shared a post, “10 Photos That Smash Every ‘Yoga Body’ Stereotype” that discusses some of the entrenched issues in the studio. The following depressing statistic stood out:

A U.K. study released last year by the grassroots exercise organization Sport England found that 75 percent of British women say they want to exercise more, but a fear of being judged because of their body size is one of the key reasons they don’t go to the gym or to exercise classes.

So body image not only rears its head through consumerism and commodification, but from altogether keeping people at a distance in the first place. This is not a welcoming environment for turning people on to methods for finding their potential.

I began this post because the quoted paragraph hit a nerve, in a good way, with what I believe to be a candid & accurate assessment of the current state of how this system of knowledge gets portrayed and used. I’ve maybe posted only a handful of photos of myself in asanas, but if I ever seem like I’m doing it in a misrepresentative fashion, please, tell me. I want to strive to represent Yoga and what it’s done—and is doing—for me in an honest way, and I’ll continue trying to do that by: practicing, mispronouncing Sanskrit, asking you to attend classes with me, reading reading reading, breathing “funny,” falling over by doing a hokey pseudo-pose, and by writing long, long posts from time to time.


Note: I’ve begun to capitalize the word Yoga, as reasoned by Donna Farhi in this interview, “Donna Farhi on Why Your Yoga Teacher is Not Your Friend”, shared by another teacher of mine, Gabbriella. The title of the article is a bit misleading, in my opinion, though the student-teacher relationship is discussed from multiple angles, and is worth the read.

Yogic direction

Excited to announce that I’ve entered into a 200-hour immersive yoga teacher training program at Yoga Garden San Francisco that takes place mostly throughout October!

While my immediate goal is not to teach, this will help set me on that path if/when I’m ready. The primary goal for me, then, is to deepen the physical practice while learning yogic philosophy, anatomy, meditation and breath work.

Yoga, in the small and sometimes medium doses I’ve experienced it, has, in my opinion, made me a better person; I’m curious to see who comes out the other side of immersion.

I need to practice practicing

I find I’m lacking practice in my life. Yoga practice, guitar practice, programming practice, practicing material I’ve recently learned (for retention), practicing a 2nd language, practicing random acts of kindness; all sorts of practice. I think a lecture on Marxism as “a Philosophy of Praxis” that I watched recently, along with a couple of talks given by Jordan Peterson (here and here), have really thrust the notion of practice to the front of my purview.

Practice can be fun, and even when it’s not, knowing that it’s crucial to improvement should be enough to motivate me to do it.

Yoga Has Taken My Rudimentary Skateboarding Ability to a Whole New Level

That part of your practice when you’re learning balance, and you’re maintaining longer than you’ve ever maintained, by a strong margin, and you notice this personal record and become overly-aware of yourself, and you begin to falter as a result of such; broken concentration by something unexpected. And you stumble, but this time you catch yourself at the brink, where you would’ve given in and fallen before, and you don’t fall, instead pulling yourself back up, utilizing strengths you didn’t know you had.

And then you dig deeper into yoga, towards application and conversion of the physical activity into a mental approach—where realization starts to crack at the habitual negative that no one is entirely without—that presents itself for you to utilize, and to start applying at will in virtually every situation.

Reality’s parts include variables, effects, and thresholds. Knowing that those thresholds can be set, for example, inches higher, seconds shorter—simple dimensions increased or decreased by even small magnitudes—and that you yourself can set those thresholds and bring your ideals into parity with your actions is… tremendously empowering.

Yoga and the Workplace

Reproduced below is a post written by Chad Balch, an instructor at Yoga Garden SF. It specifically involves a recent incident at Facebook’s offices related to a yoga class, but more generally deals with yoga in the workplace and in one’s own life. Please read on…

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Dear Yoga Friends,

Perhaps you are aware of the recent incident involving a yoga instructor who was teaching a class at Facebook’s Menlo Park office and was later fired for expressing disapproval of cell phone use in class. The July 10th San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The class at Facebook was just beginning when the instructor noticed a student in the front row using a cell phone. The instructor asked the entire class to shut the devices off. Halfway into their routine, just as they began the pose known as Ardha Chandrasana, the same student picked up her phone again. The instructor said nothing, but shot the student a look.” The student complained to the managers of the fitness center, and the instructor was later fired by the fitness contractor on the grounds that they are “in the business of providing great customer service … and prefer to say yes whenever possible.”

If this weren’t something that really happened, you might think that this was some scene written by a Hollywood screeenwriter for a bad sitcom. This anecdote reveals quite a bit about the culture evolving around us. First, we can see that yoga is terribly misunderstood, that there are people out there who think that yoga can be picked up and put down like some kind of device. Second, we can see the strength of our addiction to phones and informational devices.

I applaud this teacher for standing up for her principles as a yoga practitioner and teacher. She later said “I understand the world still happens and there might be emergencies, but it’s like, can we have some sort of boundary, a line of what we’re not going to accept bringing into this class?” She is talking about a class here, but what she is really talking about is a practice. Can we have boundaries that help us achieve separation from our interrupt-driven lives, for periods of time that are long enough to let us get back in touch with who we really are? Or do we prefer to define ourselves as entities that respond as quickly as possible to any request for information and seek to answer questions as fast as possible by searching outward as opposed to inward?

My first experience teaching yoga was in the workplace. I worked for a company where there was interest in doing yoga during lunchtime as a way of relieving stress and giving a break to the mind and body, and I was asked to lead these sessions. One time there were about eight of us doing Prasarita Padottanasana in a large undeveloped space in our offices. The COO walked by to show someone the space, and their first sight was a line of rear-ends. He laughed nervously, made a comment about not taking it personally, and moved on. This situation is admittedly pretty funny, but still underscores the gulf that can exist between our subjective experience of yoga and how it is perceived by those who are not personally engaged with it.

I believe that if we can succeed in integrating yogic practice into the workplace, we will be immensely more productive as a culture. Productivity hinges on the ability to focus, not the ability to respond instantaneously to every slight disturbance or request. Productivity also hinges on physical and mental health, the ability to sit, stand, and move comfortably without pain, the ability to breath without restriction throughout the day, and the health of the organs of the body. Younger bodies have better endurance for long periods of sitting poorly with shallow breathing and repetitive motion combined with continual interruptions, euphemistically termed “multi-tasking”, but this ineffective style of work inevitably catches up with everyone.

We can find guidance here from Sutra II.16, heyam duhkham anagatam, which can be translated “the pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.”

Namaste,

Chad

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I decided to post this because I’m a programmer, an avid user of Facebook and the web in general, an aspiring practicer of yoga (specifically Iyengar), a person who constantly thinks about how I live my life, and a person who has recently been dealing with a lot of stress-related physical problems. When I started taking yoga shortly after moving to San Francisco in late 2009, I took to it immediately—suddenly I became much more aware of the habits that had hurt, and were still hurting, my body and mind, and how good it felt to correct them naturally and in a healthy manner. I do not want to get too preachy, only to help spread Chad’s words, my relation to those words, and what I have experienced. I hope to continue my practice of yoga, study it more deeply, and be aware of the boundaries and focus needed to accomplish what I want to accomplish.

[Link to Chad’s original post]