Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Language as Software for the Brain

Ok, random thought of the day.  A few weeks ago, I had a chat with a mathematics guy. He thought math is a science. My retort was that math isn't a science, mathematics is the language of science.  He appreciated my point. The rules that mathematics sets govern the possible relationships that can be defined, physically, and how they can inter-relate with each other.

Perhaps there are simply axioms of mathematics that we haven't been able to conceive of that limit physicists in their ability to understand things like the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics, or dark matter and dark energy? And how does this tie into the language we use in our everyday lives, for conversing with other people but also for pouring over scenarios in our heads?

I'm sort-of-not-really trying to learn French right now, and noticing differences in how English and French are structured, and how that also seems to manifest in the culture of France versus the English-speaking world is interesting. For example, there's a whole lot more anxiety around sex in English culture compared to French.  Let's take a superficial look at this, shall we?

In English:
  1. I like you
  2. I love you
En Francais
  1. Je vous aime
  2. Je t'aime
In English the verb is the difference.  En Francais, the pronoun est la difference. Vous is the formal form of you; tu is the informal, intimate form. But you would also use tu with many people you aren't in love with, platonically or romantically. The confusion is a feature, not a bug, as it creates a lot of plausible deniability! There is no difference between, "to have sex," or "to make love," in French either. There's also no word for date in French, there's just sortir, to go out. More plausible deniability.

For example, if you type
I date a girl
into Google Translate, you get the snicker-worthy result
J'ai une fille de jour
Literally, "I have a girl of the day."  Not quite what I meant. On the other hand, the French have a bunch of phrases for a booty call that are slightly more refined and do not come with a lower class connotation. One can construct similar arguments about the structural rigidity of German, and how it enforces rigid thinking.

I think the first time I saw language portrayed as the software of the brain was in Neil Stepheson's book Snow Crash.  It was probably presented first in science fiction by Samuel Delany in Babel-17, which I've also read. The problem is that separating the hardware of the human brain from the software isn't really possible in the first place.The human brain, the interconnections of neurons, is quite plastic. The power of positive thinking, the placebo effect, is a very real thing.  So how much of the human brain is affected by the language we talk in, and usually think in? 

I'm not aware of a body of scientific research that backs this up, but then again the ethics of separating identical twins and raising them in separate languages/cultures is a bit dicey. Similarly, we don't have the ability to dissect human brains and locate the terminus of every single dendrite (yet).  In the literature the idea that language influences thought is known as Linguistic Relativity or the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. There's arguments for and against, but it is a hard thing to prove.

This curiosity that will erode your productivity at work while you Google around is a proud production of Mr. Nervous Toes, 2012.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Core Masculine and Feminine Traits

Humans, like most mammals, exhibit a significant degree of sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is an evolutionary adaption that allows each sex of the same species to play complementary roles within the greater context of the ecosystem and the conflict with other species for dominance. To deny that sexual  dimorphism exists requires a major dose of chutzpah and self-delusion. I consider myself a benevolent sexist, as opposed to a misogynist (patriarchal man) or misandrist (gender Feminism) sexist.  That is, gender equivalency but not equality: for each trait of a woman, there is a corresponding trait in a man, but they are not the same thing.

Men and women naturally form very different social networks.  The natural male organization is the hierarchy, whereas women form more amorphous networks best described as 'big-A' Anarchy. The male social construct is the dominate one in our society, largely because Anarchy fails due to the inability to counter violence and malevolence (i.e. tragedy of the commons). With the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic age, society developed organized religion and the associated dogma that created the social structure of patriarchal hierarchy, known by the shorthand patriarchy. What happened before the advent of patriarchy is disputed, e.g. Sex at Dawn rosy picture of female promiscuity reward-enforced Anarchy versus nasty and brutish barbarism. There have been some efforts to develop a middle way between the male-centric and female-centric social constructs (i.e. matrix management), but thus far they are largely in the nascent experimental phase.

The problem with patriarchy was rather than leave women outside it and let them form their own social Anarchy, they were incorporated into it as chattel and put at the bottom of the pile. First-wave Feminism was an appropriate response to the patriarchal hierarchy that arose when egalitarianism and technology gave some women the means to object. The problem was and is that the leaders of feminism were very masculine women. Rather than develop a female model of strength based on feminine strength, they sneered at femininity and have tried to force women to become more masculine. That is, rather than make the human social environment more feminine, Feminists have tried to make women adapt better to the male social construct of hierarchy. Feminism does not claim to shame women into adapting to the hierarchy, quite the opposite actually, but this is the realization of gender Feminism versus the abstraction of equality Feminism.

At the same time, Feminists have tried to weaken men by emasculating them and making them more feminine. The combination has made everyone weaker. Feminism jumped the shark with the second and subsequent waves. Women are not temperamentally suited to being masculine. They do not have the testosterone that makes that degree of drive and determination possible without mental illness. As such, too many women transform themselves into neurotic perfectionists who loathe themselves for their inability to live up to the gross expectations of society. I know, I've dated them. It was a mistake in the effort to become egalitarian, and we are all reaping the consequences now. Any future philosophy must explicitly acknowledge the sexual dimorphism of the human psyche.

If we want to return to a past where men were men and women were women, but replace the paternal hierarchy with a more balanced system, we need a common vocabulary of what is a masculine trait and what is a feminine trait. Traits are categorized based on whether they are core traits, that are fundamental parts of the male or female psyche, or whether they are more nebulous peripheral traits that trend to one sex but can be expressed by both. Our modern culture is weird, so if you want a good description of what traits are masculine and feminine, look to the classics.
Do not yield to unmanliness, O son of Prithâ. It does not become you. Shake off this base faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher of enemies!
The above is a quote from the yoga bible, the Bhagavad Gita, one of the earliest metaphysical texts not lost to the ravages of history. Least you be fooled into thinking that yoga is a hippy female pursuit, it was historically a tool to enforce violent patriarchy. The Bhagavad Gita is an allegory where the mentor Krishna convinces the protagonist Arjuna to fight in a just war when Arjuna wants to be a pacificist rather then kill his friends and relatives. Plato, Shakespeare, etc. all contain messages that are not politically correct in the slightest: Taming of the Shrew anyone?

In terms of personal growth, it is helpful to view every personal trait as a skill that can be improved with practice. For example, strength is a skill one develops by practicing the art of lifting heavy things. So says Pavel Tsatsouline. All the body's organs respond and adapt to stimulus they face, including the brain. If you practice drinking alcohol, your liver will get better at processing it quickly.  I don't recommend you work hard at improving your liver.

Masculine Core Triad


Many people would emphasize strength as a manly trait, but humans are tool users, and that means weapons. The reality is that a small chimpanzee is much stronger than almost all men yet men are the apex predators of the animal kingdom.  This was accomplished through the melding of military organization (hierarchy) and primal technology. Being an athlete will get you more chicks then lifting weights. The guiding principle of body-building, muscle isolation, hurts athleticism by negatively affecting coordination. Athletes must have excellent muscle irradiation, such that the entire body supports both proximate and distal actions.

If you look at American football, the quarterbacks have the most prestigious position and the hottest wives.  The most athletic guys, the wide-receivers, also do very well with the ladies. The biggest and strongest guys on the field, the linemen, are not nearly as attractive. Being big and tall is a proxy for athleticism, but if you've ever had the opportunity to demonstrate athletic dominance, let me tell you that concerns over stature evaporate as soon as someone points out they've only ever seen that on Youtube before.

Erwin Le Corre demonstrating simple yet fluid athletic movements. Compare this to a spastic extreme sports video of your choice.

As a man, you signal athleticism through physical size, muscle tone, good posture, and fluid unencumbered movement. Diet, exercise, and rest are all important in developing an athletic body and mind, with diet being by far the most important of the three. The most successful method to improve male athleticism has to be the paleolithic movement, of which I would suggest reading Mark's Daily Apple and Perfect Health Diet for an introduction and beware the garbage blogs that are stained with modern philosophies like Libertarianism. It's all about reconnecting to what you are: a cunning, stalking killing machine that was evolutionarily so dangerous that even large carnivores were artificially selected to instinctively run away. Go barefoot once and awhile; the human foot is the most complicated appendage in the animal kingdom by far, having about twice as many parts as the human hand. And please don't shave your chest.


Confidence is the metric for a man's degree of social dominance in the hierarchy. We all understand it fairly implicitely, in terms of how men naturally order themselves based on confidence. A man with high confidence has no problem maintaining eye contact without coming across as hostile. He's a natural leader and effectively manages people without bruising egos, because others simply expect him to give orders. Its the expectation and welding of personal power in relationships.

Confidence is often regime specific.  A musician might draw women to him like moths to a flame at a jam session, but if you put him in a game of co-ed soccer he'll completely flame-out because he's a crappy soccer player. A key lesson for men then, is try to meet women in activities you are good at.  You confidence will shine through and you'll do much better with the ladies as a result. If you suck at yoga or ballroom dancing, it will not be a good medium to meet ladies despite the favourable gender ratios unless you put in the effort to become good at it.


Courage can be best described as a lack of hesitation and a willingness to accept personal risk. I choose the word courage over bravery as courage implies a moral aspect whereas bravery is generally just a lack of physical fear and may indicate simple bravado. It's implied that a courageous man would shield his women and children from physical and moral assaults.

The easiest way to display courage to a woman is to approach her without hesitation. Approaching a woman in a social situation where flirtation is not socially appropriate (i.e. the day compared to the singles bar) signals a lot of courage. It's not the same thing as confidence, although people often confuse the two. Courage reflects a man's willingness to overcome his fear, uncertainty, and doubt and act in spite of them. Confidence reflects a man's past success leading to an expectation of future success. Generally speaking, consistent application of courage leads to greater confidence for men.  A man with courage can adapt himself to changing circumstances, whereas a man might be born with high confidence just because his parents were noveau aristocrats and he has money and power as a result.

Feminine Core Triad


Female beauty at its core signals reproductive health. While good genes do increase a woman's attractiveness, e.g. a pretty symmetrical face, a 0.7 waist-to-hip/bosom ratio, men are really after healthy women. It's women who select for good genes (hypergamy), men are more interested in spreading their seed as wide and far as they can (polygamy). Our culture is incredibly soft, pampered, and ill so very, very few women are in the ideal 21-25 % body fat range (fashion models are typically 17-19 %), have a nice degree of muscle tone, or have healthy radiant skin, teeth, and hair. It's easy to stand out in a crowd.

Unfortunately, we have a culture of shame that makes body image a very touchy issue for women. My comment to that is, most of the popular culture surrounding nutrition is flat out wrong, so it is not a surprise that so many women struggle to be healthy since all the assumptions they make about food and exercise are wrong. Industrial food culture has ravaged our health, so if you want to become the most beautiful woman you can, I advise reading Perfect Health Diet and Paleo for Women. Paleo dietary principles do not work as well for women as for men, I would advise women to lean more towards being a vegetarian who eats meat, but it is still a source of rationality in the field of nutrition that is typically devoid of rationality. Beware of vegetarian protein sources such as wheat and soy, because many plant proteins contain peptides that can act as fake hormones in your blood.

Exercise hard: women think sweat is unwomenly but it carriers a lot of the same attractiveness-boosting pheromones that male sweat does. Most women have trouble losing weight because they have no muscle, are insulin resistant as a result, and therefore excess calories never go into protein synthesis. Get away from the canard that muscular women are bulky: if a woman is bulky its because she has a lot of interstitial muscular fat, i.e. her muscles are actually like a finely marbled beefsteak.

Aging well means your body regularly turns over all the structural and catalytic proteins that make up your body. My guideline is that if you stop menstrating your body fat is too low, and the heavier a women has ever been the higher the body fat limit is before leptin kicks in amenorrhea. Do not abuse your body with obsessions and addictions. Binging is particularly harmful.

Meghan Currie showing off her attractiveness by practicing yoga. If you met her you would not call her pretty but you would call her beautiful. She is an excellent example of a woman who has aged very, very well.  

Women can also enhance their beauty by dressing well. Dressing with class helps signal that a women will age well and not let herself go. Aim to be pretty and classy, not hot and sexy, if you're looking for a long-term relationship. A women in a halter-top and yoga pants relies too much on her youth to show her beauty, and thus presents herself as more suitable for a short-term fling.


Feminine grace is the counterpart to masculine confidence, and it reflects the ability of a women to effortless flit from social network to social network. Grace manifests itself in terms of a pleasant demeanor, mastery of non-verbal communication, and diplomatic actions to smooth over ruffled feathers.

A woman with high grace can typically flirt with any man without anxiety because she can easily disengage without offending any feelings. If she's attached, she can flirt for fun and deftly insert the existence of her boyfriend into the conversation to avoid miscommunication. For women, it's a big deal to flirt with a guy or throw out an indication of interest, and it shouldn't be. You have to practice to get good at grace, like every other skill. A woman with a bitch-shield up lacks grace because she cannot effortlessly handle unwanted male approaches. How effectively and politely a woman manages and rejects advances by men is a very good measure of her grace. If a man respects a woman more after she rejects him than he did before then she has good grace.

The reason why Meghan Currie can post yoga videos of her in her panties (or less) and get away with it, while a more masculinized yogini like Sadie Nardini would, and is, pilliored for it is because Currie has grace. She role-plays a mischevious pixie, and women love her for her unabashed feminity, sexual inneudo and all.

Unfortunately for women, while grace works in the social scene it is not quite as helpful in a career situation since most corporations organized along a parternal hierarchy model.  The expectations of Feminism is that women should either: 1.) do both well, or 2.) be careerists who don't form long-term attachments to men.


The dichotomy between the autistic, rational male brain and the empathic, rationalizing female brain is the largest psychological difference between the sexes. Naturally speaking, the male is the tool-maker and the female is the tribe-builder.  The combination of technology and tribe are humanity's massive evolutionary advantage over other animals.

Men use rationality to understand the nature of the world, to build physical things, to understand abstract concepts, all requiring rational thought. Empathy explicitly uses rationalizations to create common ground between two people or peoples where none exists. So a woman can hear about about a natural disaster in far away Africa and be moved by empathy to donate money, even though rationally her money will probably not be effectively used to ease the suffering of anyone, let alone the actual victims. A man wants to be altruistic, to provide, only to people to whom he has an emotional connection. Empathy is the cornerstone of female social structure and how order is enforced without the threat of violence.

For a women, her degree of emotional openness, or vulnerability, governs her ability to express empathy in a positive way. Maintaining vulnerability is risk-taking behavior for a female because she risks investing emotionally in a man who might not reciprocate. We all understand beauty well, we mostly understand grace even if we don't observe it because good grace is invisible, but our culture has seriously messed up our view of vulnerability. Please watch Brene Brown's discussion of the topic of vulnerability and shame here:

Feminism has sought to destroy female vulnerability under the misguided notion that it makes women weak, and to bring forth culture of shame instead.  For example, read how Amada Marcotte shames men for being 'too needy'. Vulnerability is a woman's most powerful tool to invest in a man but it's going unused. Instead we have a debased empathy, where some groups are demonized (i.e. all men are potential rapists) and others inappropriately lionized (i.e. all women are victims of patriarchy). Men's rights activists often call Feminist-debased empathy '(female) solipsism' although personally I think the choice of nomenclature is poor and obscures the issue.  The issue is there's been a war against women showing men empathy in relationships, and surprise, it's resulting in poorer quality relationships.  Basically feminism is trying to say, women aren't responsible for the well-being of the tribe, and they're trying to force men outside of the emotional connectivity of the tribe. This is a terrible long-term strategy because ostricization will eventually result in men resorting to violence to restore dominance.

That said, Feminism's lancing of vulnerability has probably hurt men more than women. It is men who desperately desire an emotional refuge from the rigors of incessant inter-male competition. Women, by in large, have been denying this to men over the last sixty years. Men are right to loathe Feminism in this regard because Feminism does nothing for men. With that said, Feminism's war on vulnerability only work if women show solidarity.  If some women seek the competitive advantage vulnerability provides in the long-term relationship marketplace, those women that continue to deny vulnerability make it starkly obvious they are suitable for short-term relationships only.

From the female triad we can see that the popular notion that men are better able to improve their sexual attractiveness than women is bullshit. Women can radically improve their value as a mate if they put a lot of effort into self-improvement. Just adding vulnerability back into the mix is a huge competitive advantage.  A man will not realize a woman's vulnerability in his conscious mind, but when she provides him with a source of positive empathy he will reciprocate by becoming emotionally invested in her. A woman who is not vulnerable is just a receptacle for the man's cock.

Peripheral Traits

Discussion of what these traits are truly composed of would probably take another blog, so in the interests of brevity I'll just list them.  Masculine peripheral traits are: creativity, passion, rationality/autism, altruism, determination, and discipline\austerity. Feminine peripheral traits are: patience, intelligence, memory, charisma, sensuality, and fidelity.  

Ideally, men should spend about 75-80 % of their personal development time on masculine traits, with a focus on the big three, and 20-25 % of their time on feminine traits. A man will probably see the best results if he focuses on the peripheral feminine traits rather than core ones, as these enhance the man without excessively subtracting from his masculinity.

Anti-traits and Contrary Traits

Men and women will often accept displays of anti-feminine and anti-masculine traits as an example of reproductive fitness but poor long-term suitability. They are the 'dark-side' of masculinity and femininity.  This is because there is a time and place for the anti-traits: in times of extreme stress, such as war and famine, when the social fabric breaks down they become critical for individual survival as the tribe perishes.

The core anti-traits for men are belligerence, a ready willingness and ability to employ violence; arrogance, a facade generated to hide fear, anxiety, and doubt; and Machiavellianism, a willingness to generate negative externalities that place risk on others. A murderer is belligerent, a player is arrogant, while a banker who manipulates the stock-market to enrich himself at the expense of pensioners is Machiavellian, all of which can be attractive to women.

The core anti-traits for women are slutiness, a willingness to be sexually promiscuous with high-status men; bitchiness, a nasty and unpleasant demeanor, and shamefulness, a willingness to exploit passive-aggressive emotional weapons to prevent others from being successful. Note that negative female traits are well-defined words, I don't even have to provide examples, as are positive male traits. Also expression of male anti-traits is often illegal, whereas expression of female anti-traits can only result in social repercussions.

In contrast to anti-traits, contrary traits indicate a lack of a of a positive or negative trait.  So, for example, supplication contra-indicates confidence as a man will automatically place himself lower on the social hierarchy then he rightfully belongs. However, contra-indicating negative traits also signals weakness! A man who is a pacificist is also indicating his lack of fitness because he won't employ violence even when it is justified.


Gender feminism is bad, mkay?  So is patriarchal misogyny.  We need a middle solution, one that compromises between hierarchy and Anarchy.

Unfortunately, while patriarchy has been almost completely discredited, the failure of equality Feminism to win over the hearts and mind of women has gone largely unacknowledged except in some corners of the internet. Instead, we have gender Feminism embodied by websites like Jezebel which create a culture of gynocentralism and misandry, and it is making women progressively less happy with themselves. Again, to stress, if you want to see unhappy, unfulfilled, hateful women, go read the articles and comments at Jezebel.

We must acknowledge that women derive their strength from feminity.  There has been a sustained effort to kill off grace and vulnerability to force women to fit into the hierarchy of society and that was a mistake. Women want to be empathic and vulnerable towards men, its how they temper the violence out of men. There are two paths that every one of us can follow:

The current path
The alternative path

Pick one.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

How (Not) to Argue with a Woman

Ok, this is a public service announcement to all you angry, bitter, jaded-sounding men in the so called 'manosphere' of men's rights, pick-up artists, and other sundry issues:

You are doing it wrong.  You are attempting to talk to women as if they are men, but they're not, so you don't understand why when you try to explain something to them it doesn't seem to register.  This comes down to how the human brain works, and the differences between men and women.  The 'manosphere' is all about the dichotomy between the sexes, ans so strongly apposed to Feminism's desire to make us all androgynous hipsters, so please perk up your ears and listen.

Evolutionary speaking, the mind can be roughly segmented into three parts: the instinctual (or reptilian) mind, the emotional (or mammalian) mind, and the rational (or human) mind. The thing is, the earlier the segment of the mind evolved, the more dominate it is over the other pieces. So the emotional mind can't stop instinctive actions from occurring, and just as critically the rational brain gets pushed into the background whenever we experience strong emotions.

The problem men have is that we naturally argue in quite a vigorous fashion.  Women, on the other hand, are naturally more predisposed to avoid confrontation which is to say they are more fearful and anxious then men are. When a man tries to argue with a women as if she's a man, she perceives him as being angry and, surprise!, she becomes afraid.  Even in our soft culture, most men are far stronger then women and so men easily physically intimidate women. This is an emotional response is women, to avoid angry and upset men because that's where the risk of physical violence or rape comes from. We have laws that discourage violence, and anonymity on the internet that shields identity, but the emotional response is there, programmed in by eons of evolution back when homo sapiens was homo erectus.

The key thing to realize is that anxiety is an emotion, and as such it's governed by the emotional brain.  It's not rational for a woman to be upset about what some bitter and jaded Men's Rights Activist is screaming about on the internet. Whenever a woman's emotional brain becomes engaged, her rational brain retreats.  The moment you make a women anxious, you've lost the debate. The only way to return to a rational discourse is to give her 45 minutes for her amygdala to calm down, which means removing the stimulus that made her anxious in the first place and providing comfort.  This isn't something that's under your control on the internet, needless to say (but it is good advice for real-life).

To reiterate,
You cannot have a rational argument with a woman's emotional mind.
You cannot have a rational argument with a woman's emotional mind.
You cannot have a rational argument with a woman's emotional mind.  
Now, if you choke down an even bigger slice of self-reflection pie, try to recognize that if you are angry, your emotional brain is engaged. Which means you aren't rational.  You might think you're rational, but you're not.  Sorry, you're just not. Guess what?  The anxious women think they are being rational too, but neither of you are, so you keep talking past each other and no progress is made. So if you find you anger levels rising, the only solution is to step away from the computer for an hour and do something productive. You cannot control her behavior, but you can control yours.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Why are there so few men in yoga?

The reason why yoga is dominated by women in the Western world, from the mind's eye of my own experience is pretty simple: it can be an uncomfortable place for men to be.  Here is my opinion why.

Mixed Messages on Sex 

Navigating the dating mileau in yoga is tricky, because there is no real agreement over what is socially acceptable and what is not in the studio environment. My rule on women in yoga is if I say hello to someone and they don't reply, leave them alone. Some people are going to yoga because they strive to be better people, some because they are perfectionists. Some people go to yoga and are comfortable in their sexualilty, and some are trying to heal from some past trauma. Since most people couldn't tell you which they are even if you directly asked them, there is no other option but to assume that people are quite likely to be unfriendly in the studio, and to be okay with that.

There's quite a few yoginis out there with the conception in their head that the hot yogi guy is the ideal mate (::cough:: sort of like the yogi with the conception in his head that the hot yogini is the ideal mate ::cough::). Peacocking in yoga reaches whole new levels of ridiculousness, "Hello Mayurasana!" I get lots of smiles (welcome and appropriate), or more rarely conversation starters (welcome and appropriate), but sometimes women can get way too yogasmic and cross all sorts of lines they wouldn't cross after five drinks at the bar.

Women don't hit on men very often so they aren't very good at it and have a weak understanding of what the appropriate boundaries are (although the same could be said of many men).  They might be attached and just want to flirt with you as an ego-boost (very common). They may be very inappropriate, because sometimes ladies think owning their sexuality means broadcasting it on every radio frequency known to man. Yes, I'm talking to you lady who wears a black thong and translucent see-through white leggings. They may be very surprised if you don't reciprocate immediately and start trying harder and harder instead of treating you with respect. They may hit on you in front of their mother (yet another awkward, awkward moment). I've even had a woman shove their pubic bone into my crotch during partner inversion practice under the guise of providing support. Thanks honey, but I don't think that my flacid penis pressing against your belly will help my handstand technique. Similarly to Ms. Yoga Teacher who decided that pushing her bosom into my back would be a good way to 'enhance' my trikonasana, really your hands are sufficient, thank you.

The main thing that I have learned from being hit on in yoga is the world would probably be a better place if the whole balance between who does the approaching was more even between women and men. Women would realize how much being loudly rejected sucks and men would find out first-hand what being creeped-out (or flat-out molested) feels like. Maybe then we would have less of the 'slut' and 'creep' shaming too.

Social Nonacceptance

Yoga in the Western world is radically different from its origins in India in that it has become a "Girls Only" club and a bastion for Shakti-power. Girls, in my experience, are very good at convincing themselves that they are inferior to men and so there's this theme that runs through yoga that it is something women are good at and hence should be cherished.  Hence some women simply do not want a man in the room.

Not all women mind you, not even the majority, but there's definitely an undercurrent of hostility. Sometimes if I walk into a yoga class, particularly if I'm the only man in the class, it has an immediate chilling effect. I get glared at often, for no reason whatsoever. The 15-minutes of yogic hate tends to come especially from the back-row practioners. It is something I try to ignore but as much as any other man I resent being made to feel a creeper when I've done absolutely nothing.

Men in our Western culture are forced to live a pretty solitary existence.  We aren't allowed to show weakness. We are blamed for all the evils of the world. We are allowed to have 'buddies' but not real friends with whom we can share both good and bad experiences. So when I see the sisterhood that exists in yoga it makes me a little jealous and sad.  Now I'm quite sure there are more women on the outside looking in of the trendy yogini clique but at least for them it's a possibility to gain acceptance.

My current attempt has been to try and build my very own clique of guys which is at least half female in one of two intermediate classes in my city.  Results have been a little mixed, although the reaction of substitute teachers to the little concentration of men has been amusing.

Bias in Teaching

Men are, as best I can tell, the largest minority group in yoga. As such, I would expect more emphasis on training on how to compensate for the weaknesses of men or promote their strengths, but there is often a fundamental lack of knowledge about male anatomy and how it relates to poses. For example, men are almost always far tighter in their shoulders than women, but I have never ever heard a suggestion that men should widen their arm stance to compensate. This is perhaps indicative of how inadequate the 200-hour teacher training model is.

Other poses are simply plain uncomfortable for men.  In particular, men have testicles (no, really!), and poses that crush them are unpopular with us. Quelle surprise! All of the female yoga teachers I have encountered seem completely oblivious to this while at the same time I feel like having to speak up in front of the class and explain why I'm not doing gomukhasana (cow-face pose) isn't something I should have to do because I have open hips and I can do agnistambhasana (double pigeon, and yes I had to look up the sanskrit for that one) instead and start pounding my head on the floor in frustration. Similarly garudasana (eagle) takes me longer to get into safely than it does a women, and there's a reason for this. It's sort of like a woman having to say in front of the class, "I'm on my period today so I'm not doing inversions."  It should be known, because I guarantee you any new guy that comes to a class and gets forced into gomukhasana probably isn't coming back.  Chris Courtney has some additional thoughts on the subject.

Another is the that much of the language in things like guided meditation is predisposed towards the common insecurities of women. Very little attention is given to the psychological burden that men face, even by male instructors who feel more gender neutral to my ears. Again, this probably comes down to the fact that our culture doesn't like to discuss men or male problems, because that would imply that men are weak, and men aren't allowed to be weak. That and about 80 % of the client base is female.

I'm aware that about 80 % of the client base in yoga is female, but the market seems saturated at the moment, so if there's a sincere desire to make yoga universal, there should probably be an effort in that direction.

My response to this lack of know-how as been mostly to try and go to classes by the grand matrons of the yoga community and avoid classes from women in my dating age range just due to general awkwardness (whether they are married or not seems not to matter). The older ladies seem to be a little more mature about managing men in the class and way less prone to blathering on about all the secrets of the universe that they've just discovered yesterday.


I love yoga, but it would be nice if there were more bros and more education for instructors in all aspects.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Yoga Talks Interviews Lawrence Jacob Milman

Yesterday I listened to an interview of Lawrence Jacob Milman (or LJ) on The Yoga Voice podcast which turned out to be a fascinating look into the manipulative-guru model of yoga instruction. The talk, which is about seventy-five minutes long, is available here:

Lawrence Milman is part of an interesting clique of yoga teachers who came out of Vancouver, BC about five years ago who are all peripherally associated with Anusara but never drank the Kool-aid (or Emergen-C) to the degree that many other did. As such, he can be considered a bit of a rising star and I feel the man should receive props for being honest even as I'm going to try and tear apart what he said in May, here and now.

The over-riding theme of this talk is that LJ is an actor impersonating a yoga teacher. Early in his life he was an actor-in-training and not entirely successful in that endeavor which eventually resulted in him finding more success in applying his acting skills to yoga instruction. My impression is that LJ basically entered the world of yoga instruction too early in life. In that I mean how he discusses his method of taking what he learned from this teacher and that teacher and tries to make it his own, but what he's doing is basically paraphrasing the experiences of others. At no point can I remember an anecdote from the interview on how his teachings were formed by the crucible of his own life experience.

A large portion of the interview is about how Lawrence studies other teachers as well as the prior art of scientific research for the methods they use to manipulate classes to affect a positive, 'blissful' environment. I find this a wee bit disconcerting.

There is also a discussion of the John Friend episode which is also deeply cynical: LJ makes it crystal clear that the surprise wasn't what JF was doing, but that it became public. The reason why the John Friend scandal was a big deal is because it says, yoga is a lie. The practice of yoga doesn't have any inherent power to make you a better person. Mouthing platitudes about transparency does nothing to make you inherently more honest. Only if a person truly wants to be better can yoga be a vehicle to achieve that but it is only one of many potential vehicles.

Hence that someone as peripherally associated with Anusara as LJ was well aware of the cockroaches crawling about in the core of Anusara paints the picture that the problems with Anusara extend well beyond the dear leader. LJ's response to the John Friend scandal is that, paraphrasing, "it's okay that JF is an asshole because his charisma is what matters and I want to learn from him how to be more charismatic." My reaction to that is that charisma and charlatan are spelled awfully similarly.

Lastly, at the close of the interview there is an interesting reversal where he's asked the question, "Are you an athletic yogi, a scientific yogi, or a mystical yogi?" There is a long pause...



See, this is a question (via Christina Sell) that LJ likes to ask other people. He had previously posted interviews with Ally Bogard and Meghan Currie where both answered pretty much without hesitation that they are mystics. I would link to them, but they have vanished from YouTube along with the rest of his presence there (the Meghan Currie video was here, you can see a screenshot on his Facebook page). It basically poses the question whether one follows the path of Raja (athlete), Jnana (science), or Bhakti (mystic) but coaching the question in modern English and leaving out the notion of the karmic path.

Leaving aside the apparent blind-spot of not making Karma an option, I thought it showed a lack a lack of introspection that he cannot answer his own question instantly. How could someone not ask this question of themselves before asking it of others? After some hesitation, he says that yoga was his entry point into yoga and after some prodding sort-of-not-really agrees that he is a scientist yogi but at the same time that is not the answer he wants to give. He says the goal for everyone is to be a mystic (and hence follow the Bhakti path). Piece of advice: if you are a Jnani-Raji hybrid, accept that.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

John Friend Blogovates

John Friend posted a very long-winded explanation of his perspective on his Anusara-gate scandal:

I'd post comments on Elephant Journal, but they'd get deleted in a microsecond.  My quick thoughts:

  1. Editing is not an art, in fact it's pretty damn easy but this article is an editing fail.  Headings are good, figuring out what topics to let lie fallow is better, however.  
  2. The most interesting part is the discussion of the ongoing negotiations with the Anusara leadership council on transfer of trademarks and such.  To say that this is only about the 'trademarks' is somewhat duplicitous since it's really about control of the Anusara brand. He does manage make the leadership committee to look like douche-bags too, in how they attempted to dictate to him outside the reasonable boundaries of the intellectual property issues.  
  3. I note the one thing he didn't talk about was the attempted sale to the Israeli woman.
  4. I'd say that he's been humbled.  He is, after all, human.  
Hopefully YogaDork will repost the letter so that there can be an open forum discussion (since Elephant Journal censors so aggressively and inappropriately).  

Friday, 8 June 2012

World of Lulu

The Hindu epic Bhagavad Gita is a long story that provides much of the basis for yogic philosophy.  It is like a parable, only really, really long and hence not a parable.  The Bee-Gita, as all the cool kids call it, lays down the four primary paths to achieving enlightenment:
  1. Raja, betterment of the self.
  2. Karma, giving the self to others.
  3. Jnana, the quest to comprehend nature.
  4. Bhakti, devotion to god.
These are not the only paths to enlightenment, simply the four most common paths. Now with a lot of yoga being oral tradition, not everything of importance is written down. If it were, yoga gurus could be held at their word, and we wouldn't want that. As such, there are many other sub-forms of yoga that one can exploit in their haste to achieve Samadhi.

It's recently come to my attention that there's a lost teaching derived from the Bee-Gita, where they discuss the role of yogic clothing. This is a big thing folks, and probably the most paramount form of yoga out there! This form of yoga has been given the title, the World of Lulu. "Lulu" is Sanskrit for enlightened garments, or so I'l told (in that they enlighten your wallet).

In Lulu Yoga, one's yogic power is derived by the summation of the power of each individual garment.  Depending on the design, fabric, color, and of course price of each garment the attributes they improve (or worsen) will vary, as does the overall power of the bonuses (or maluses). In addition, special rare garments also imbue the wearer with mystical powers, for example, to aid in attracting that special hot yoga teacher.

Each garment occupies a given slot on the Lulu yogi's body. Thus one wears a legs-piece, a chest-piece, and so one with the legs slot being the most powerful yogic garment and others trending down from there. Stacking of multiple garments in the same slot is forbidden by the rules of Lulu Yoga.

Some garments work together in synergistic-yogasmic harmony, forming garment sets that provide additional bonuses. An example would be pairing a thong with a pair of translucent leggings, or wearing a onesy with no pants. Only by having a complete ensemble of yogic garments can the Lulu yogini achieve the maximum achievable attribute scores needed to achieve yogasm via the path of Lulu Yoga.  This is referred to as min-maxing or twinking of the Lulu yogini.

The rarest (and hence most powerful) garment drops are only found in advanced yoga dungeons festivals such as Wanderlust or Tadasana.  Such progressive garments can be imbued with additional powers by attending the practices of Lulu ambassadors, yoga teachers possessed of particularly strong Lulu Yoga derivative powers.

Once one has assembled a sufficiently powerful assemble of Lulu garments, one can begin to
Groups of Lulu Yogis often form cliques to take on the ultimate test of the Lulu Yogi, the Landmark Forum. This is known as, "raiding the Landmark Forum," for indecipherable reasons. Most cliques will institute gear score requirements before allowing members to take part in higher tier practices and workshops. The ultimate goal then is to spend gobs of time at practices, festivals, and forums to acquire the bestest set of yogic gear, thereby entering into the state of Luluadhi, or a state of constant yogasm.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The ultimate environment for meditation?

The practice of shavasana at the end of an asana practice is a part of the practice of pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses.  In our modern world we are generally bombarded with sensory stimulas, in the form of a sea of people each with their own facial expressions and body language to process, advertisements pasted on every inch of available eye-level real-estate, ear-buds in our ears blaring the newest dub-step, and constant movement of our bodies though an artificially constructed environment.
This over-stimulus over-stresses

This leads to an imbalance in the sympathetic nervous system (or tension or concentric movement) relative to the parasympathetic (or relaxation or eccentric movement) and makes us, in colloquial terms, 'stressed-out.'  This is why we often want to slow down our movements in yoga, for things like kick-backs, so that we can engage the parasympathetic nervous system through controlled relaxation of our muscles.  This is the 'flow' part of vinyasa, utilizing the eccentric part of the movement to slow the movement down and keep the vinyasa under control at all times.

If some of these words (eccentric, parasympathetic) are not in your vocabulary then you should probably be doing more reading on physiology.

Another way to combat over-stimulation is to withdrawal from our senses, to disengage our mirror neurons, and focus inward onto our own body and mind.  This is pratyahara. For meditation, I often prefer to lay in shavasana a la yoga nidra rather than sit in lotus. I have some posture issues, namely upper back cross syndrome due to excessive computer usage ::cough:: which I am working on, that make relaxed seated pose not all that relaxed.  As such, I read with interest an article on the use of dark, quiet salt water tanks for floating to induce maximum sensory deprivation.

Essentially, the therapy entails floating in a shallow, warm salt-water tank in a darkened room with ear-plugs in.  The idea is to completely shut down all stimulus to the sensory system and thereby force you to focus inward onto yourself.  The text describes the author's somewhat mystical experiences, which understandably are not uniformly positive! This particular place is located in Portland, OR. Some quotations from practitioners,
“Normally my head is several different radio stations playing at once,” explains tattoo and comic artist Levi Greenacres. But in the tank, he found relief: “With the lack of sensory stimulation to intake and compute, I discovered an inert state of un-ness, the need to think, feel, and feed completely abolished. The quiet in there is total comfort.”
“After floating I feel very open and calm, and less prone to distractions,” says illustrator Natalie Phillips. “The better I feel emotionally or physically, the better I am able to focus.”
Sounds interesting, especially if paired with the practice of meditation. Meditation is part of my practice that is definitely a work in progress.  I struggle with sleeping and have my whole life. I often feel like my brain is 'fizzing' away like an alka-seltzer tablet fired through a meat-pie.

Oh, you haven't heard that metaphor before?  Here's the visual evidence:

As a sub-clinical introvert, I am just a tad overstimulated thanks to the combination of internet and high population density.  Being solitary in the woods is something that's been wonderful for me as an introvert.  This floating technique sounds promising as well.

Has anyone out there in cyberspace experienced this?  Any thoughts?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Extreme Extroverts Behaving Badly

So as yet another verse in the John Friend epic comes to the foreground, I remain shocked, shocked at the goings on in the Anusara community. I mean, who could possibly predict that an extremely charismatic leader surrounded by a bevy of glass-half full people might take advantage of their gullibility? The question we should be asking ourselves is, where is John Friend's moral compass anyway? How come people like him, the charismatic leader phenotype, don't seem to hold themselves to the same ethical rules as everyone else?

I happen to put a lot of stock into trying to explain human behavior through the prism of evolution.  This isn't to say that I'm a social Darwinist, far from it.  In fact, I would credit two aspects of the human animal to our primacy in the animal kingdom:
  1. Our formation of tribes as social units to act together in a co-operative and altruistic fashion.
  2. Our manufacture of tools that improves our fitness to survive and thrive.  
Traditionally we get our leaders and entertainers from those who are good at relating to people, while the scientists and artists relate to things. Thus you have 'tribe-builders' and 'tool-makers'. The human brain is fairly plastic, and it is generally optimized to comprehend one of those two enormously complicated systems. In terms of behavior, we see a fairly obvious phenotype separation and that is extrovert and introvert.

If we roughly centerfuge people into a spectrum with extreme, extroverted 'tribe-builders' on one end and extreme, introverted 'tool-makers' on the other, we come up with what I like to call the Crazy Spectrum:

At the extreme sociophile head we have extremely crazy, charismatic individuals like John Friend.  At the extreme sociophobe tail, we have such crazy, innovative individuals like the late, great Nikoli Tesla. If you prefer an artist as the Omega, let us go with the brilliant Vincent van Gogh. In-between we have boring people that do not have Wikipedia entries. Extremophiles tend to make history, but they are also tragic figures. This comic from The Oatmeal is brilliantly cutting as it outlines the difference between Thomas Edison (an extreme extrovert) and Nikoli Tesla (an extreme introvert). Personally, I am an sub-clinical introvert.

Extreme sociophiles are by nature prone to being narcissistic and/or histrionic. You see, in order to move freely within social circles without fear of rejection or worse, you must suffer little from shame, guilt or embarrassment. To put it another way, they lack a conscience. This isn't to say that extreme extroverts cannot learn ethics, but morals don't come naturally. If you don't know the difference between ethics and morals, you fail.

Extreme sociophobes on the other had tend to just reject people, acting in the vein of autistic or schizoid personality disorders. When I say, autistic I don't mean in the low-functioning, no functioning mirror-neurons sense of adults who can't care for themselves. I'm more going with the Asperger's phenotype with poor social skills that Hollywood likes to glamourize every once an awhile with a new take on Revenge of the Nerds. Introverts tend to be overly righteous and obsessed with fairness. There's a reason so much of the comic-book world features the little guy taking it back to the bully and righting wrongs.

The problem as I see it is that as our social groups have expanded, we cannot any longer be considered part of a 'tribe' in that we can all choose who we associate with in our daily lives. Sometimes introverts are left out in the cold as extroverts only socialize with extroverts and calamity results. See "Jersey Shore" for example. Introverts who don't associate with extroverts don't make for good TV.

I think most introverts understand the importance of befriending extroverts. The opposite is often not the case.  Introverts will tend to have a grounding influence, bringing a healthy dose of skepticism and reservation to any situation. Susan Cain makes a nice argument for the raison d'être, necessity, and importance of introverts in her TED talk here:

Traditional yoga is intentionally pushing you into the introverted side of the spectrum, because the extrovert supermajority of the population could use a little personal observation. This of course makes the celebriyogi a paradox: one cannot be both an extremely extroverted yogi leader and on the path to enlightenment.  So next time a celebriyogi makes headlines, let's not act so surprised, ok? The lack of a moral compass is what makes extreme extroverts so good at building tribes. It's also why hubris so often brings them crashing back out of stardom and into infamy. I'm late to this yoga game, but the Intertubes says some people found Friend a little 'auspicious' back in 2010. The bigger question is why do the Sheeple drink the Kool-aid?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

G.I. Bikram

You know, I played with G.I. Joe action figures as a kid with my ankle-biter friends.  We weren't exactly reverent in our treatment of them.  They generally got their arms twisted off, faces melted, or explodered with cherry bombs.  

Hrmm... if John Friend was a practitioner of his own made-up brand of Wicca, maybe Bikram Choudhury is up with the teachings of Vodun, hence this doll?  Maybe I need to get me one of these! 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Besting the Mind Killer

The physical practice of yoga, asana, is at it's core about improving one's posture, or from another perspective, your physical fitness. As goes the condition of the body, so goes the physical health of the brain. Neurobiology research is now showing most mental disorders are a result of specific pathologies of brain cells and not old-school notions of ego, id, and super-ego.  Thus it's straight-forward to believe from a scientific perspective that the physical practice of yoga can improve one's mental and spiritual well-being.

At some point, however, it's hard to envision a circumstance where being able to put your foot behind your head improves your fitness to survive and excel. Bernadette Birney recently wrote a blog, where she talked about how being awesome at asana doesn't automatically make you a good person.  She poses the following questions:
How much is advanced asana worth to you? How much are you willing to invest? What are you unwilling to invest?
My perspective is it's not about how advanced your asana practice is, but the path you took to get there. What's hard for me, might be easy for someone else; what's easy for me, might be hard for most people. Take a look at the story of Arthur Boorman who couldn't walk until he started studying yoga with Diamond Dallas Page.

If you watch the inspirational video of Arthur's story on YouTube (below), you might get the impression that the story is about how Arthur was crippled and obese but his yoga practice saved him and now he's running Tabata sprints. That's not the real story, the real story is about fear, uncertainty, and doubt. For Arthur Boorman, bending over to touch his toes was scary. Now it's not.

For myself, and most others, we're not in any danger of falling flat on our faces trying to bend over to touch our toes. As a juxtaposition, take Tao Berman, who greatly enjoys running over waterfalls in a polyethylene tube and a Red Bull brain bucket:

Tao is not afraid, but he is probably at a much higher risk level despite his bravado, because once you get to a certain level, fear is protecting you from danger regardless of how talented you are. For a lot of people, Kapotasana is probably scary enough. However I do believe that for the vast majority of us pampered, soft, first-world types, we could benefit a lot from facing some fear and defeating the mind-killer. As Tao shows, humans are massively impressive animals who are capable of incredible feats. I encounter far too many people with a "can't do" attitude towards life. Is an extreme athlete's path of Raja Yoga any less valid than a practice based on stretching?

To get back to the question of why some advanced yogis are rock-stars and why some are humble nobodies, let's note that there is confidence and there is arrogance.  Confidence is the absence of fear, uncertainty and doubt whereas arrogance is facade one erects to hide fear, uncertainty, and doubt from others. So there are two paths to the 'advanced asana' as it were but how do you know which one the rock-star yogi has taken?  How do you know what the intention in their heart is?  Do they truly love themselves or are they just good at faking it? Does someone have to pretend to be less than they are to avoid the 'arrogant' tag? These are the questions I would ask.

From an evolutionary perspective, our brains have three partitions: the instinctive (reptilian) brain, the emotional (mammalian) brain, and the rational (sapient) brain. What truly separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to use our rational brain to overcome and act in spite of our emotions. All sports are 80 % mental, 20 % physical and yoga is no exception to that.  Any sport that is (wo)man-versus-nature is fundamentally a test of a person against themselves and their insecurities. In that fashion, yoga is a better self-improvement tool compared to competitive sports like hockey.  Eventually you might get so good at challenging yourself that you take your yoga asana practice off the mat.

Friday, 11 May 2012

For Sale: Yoga Blogging Merc

So... I'm a recent initiate into the world of studio yoga and I have to say, I was shocked, I mean shocked by what goes on behind closed doors. Yoga supposed to be staid and austere, the occasional ringing of a gong against the steady backdrop drone of "Omm...", a bunch of people sitting around in baggy clothing nodding serenely in silence with the stench of unwashed armpits and incense wafting through the air.

The reality is totally different. Yoga is wild and surreal, hypocrisy and angst, sex and deceit, all wrapped up in a shiny faux-mysticism candy wrapper. Yoga is a long series of juxtapositions that make me go, WTF! Yoga screams Too Much Information about modern movement feminism and how men fit (or don't) into that view of the world. It's an odd collection of people who find they don't quite fit into modern society, so they've co-opted an ancient form of spiritualism and shoe-horned their modern values structure into it, regardless of logic and rational thought, who vigorously argue with each other over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It's one-third gymnastics-based athleticism, one-third a melange of modern neurobiology science and pseudo-scientific clap-trap, and one-third raunchy mysticism. In short, yoga's a gong show, and that means it can be something that fascinates such that one can get a lot of enjoyment out of writing and thinking about it.

I love yoga both for itself and the circus it has created. I backed into yoga from other, more intense athletic pursuits as a means to develop both mental focus and strength at the edge of my flexibility; I have a deep background in science; I am a quiet atheist and a skeptic.

My previous blogging experience was in a much different context.  It wasn't very rewarding in the end, in that it wasn't fun and was a lot of drudgery. My real name was signed to everything, so anything I posted I felt had to reflect well on me and I became a bit of a perfectionist.  Well no more sir!  I want freedom to bloviate whatever inane crap that wells out of my subconscious, like shouting groceries after a particularly excessive bout of boat pose variations. Honestly, I would prefer not to own my very own blog, but rather be on a blogging team that I don't have to be the center of attention. In blogging, when the mood strikes, it strikes big but there's also long periods where there are no cool, novel ideas that make me want to make my opinion the loudest.  I also hate trying to keep up with the pace of the blog-o-sphere in trying to stay topical when it comes to the current circulating controversy. At the moment, however, no one that I want to work with wants to work with me, so here we are.  Well that, and none were willing to meet my selfish monetary demands.

The name of this blog comes from there being six progressively more insane asana series (or levels) in Jois' Ashtanga yoga: my home practice has a seventh series.

As to, 'Mr. Nervous Toes,' well, that is a secret. Let's see how this goes.


Your newest and bestest yogic overlord, Mr. Nervous Toes.