Saturday, November 30, 2013

7 Reasons I Still Go To Bikram

I’ve sampled a lot of yoga in my day.  I’ve practiced in gyms & cabins, done Flow & Yin, tried classical & tantra, and seen the best and worst of Ashtanga & Iyengar.  After a decade or more of searching I’ve found a yoga style that I enjoy practicing and teaching in Embodyoga.  But I have a secret- sometimes I sneak out to a Bikram class.

If there is a spectrum of yoga practices, the tantra “yoga from the inside out” nature of Embodyoga is about as far as you can get from the “classical yoga-meets-MTV” style of Bikram.  In my regular practice every movement starts with the breath and pranayama is just a regular part of life; in Bikram, you get breath in the first two minutes, the last two minutes, and for the 86 minutes in between you are on your own.  When I practice each posture is a learning opportunity and chance to explore; in Bikram you pretty much just follow the rote commands of the scantily clad person on the podium at the front of the room.  Embodyoga always asks you to soften your knees; Birkam commands you to lock your knees, lock your knees, lock your knees.

None the less, I still find myself in a Bikram class from time to time.  Here’s why:

Mental Disengagement: When I explained my yoga background to my first bikram teacher, she said “you can forget all that, this is basically ‘Simon Says’ for 90 minutes.”  Frankly it’s too hot to think about much.  Spending that much time not worrying about the past or the future, just being in the moment?  Score.

Calories: At my size I burn around 1000 calories in one class.  That can make up for a lot of dietary sins.

Meditation: I get to class early so I claim a favorite spot in the back.  That 15 minute wait in a hot room with subdued lighting and gentle murmuring of students is my most reliable meditation time.

Orgy Atmosphere: Spending 90 minutes in a room full of half-naked, writhing, sweaty people is nice break from the mundane.  It’s a close as I’m likely to get to a Roman orgy.

Hydration: I drink about a liter of water before class, a liter during class, a liter right after class, and a liter within an hour of leaving class.  So long, toxins!  It also helps with…

Keeping it Regular: Right in the middle of the practice when it’s getting hard to focus I always hear the instructor say “this posture massages your colon”.  They are right.  You are guaranteed to have a skip in your step the next day, after a few bathroom breaks, of course.

Warmth: I live in New England; in the winter it gets dark at 4:00 and it is cold all the time.  My Bikram class card goes untouched between April and October, but when the cold sets in I’m ready to head back to my 105 degree class.

Now if someone can just explain a Japanese Ham Sandwich I'll be set.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Physical Therapy, Chronic Pain, Yoga

I started doing physical therapy for chronic post-surgical pain right around the same time that I stopped practicing mediation and asana at home.  I was hesitant to enter into a year-long teach training because I was already spending too much time thinking about broken parts of my body.  Yoga, however, is not about the broken parts of your body, but about the awesome parts of having a body (especially if you breathe) and now that the swollen muscle / damaged nerve cluster in my chest is better and I have full feeling in my hands again I think PT is done. That way, I can get back to the parts of yoga I really like: breath, calm, soothing and toning nervous system, & yoga party tricks.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Next Pacifist Gaming Challenge- New Vegas

I’m really getting into this pacifist gaming idea, and am looking for the next challenge.  Fallout: New Vegas seems to the next one on the list.  Just ordered it from Amazon.

Fallout is a long running, post-apocalyptic series that has a bizarre publication history.  It started close to 20 years ago as a remake of a game called Wasteland, produced by a company called Interplay.  The studio in Interplay that built the game, Black Isle, was eventually dissolved, and the developers split up and eventually formed a new company called Obsidian.  Obsidian found a niche in making intellectually superior sequels to games other companies put out, and occasionally generating their own intellectual property (like Alpha Protocol).  Fallout: New Vegas is an odd merging of these two.  Technically it is a sequel to Fallout 3, by Bethesda Games Studio, which acquired the license to Fallout.  However, all of the original producers and writers of Fallout 1 & 2 now work Obsidian, and they simply picked up their notes from their own cancelled Fallout 3 and merged them to Bethesda’s game engine.

Okay, enough gamer politics.  The cool thing is that one the best game developers/writers, Chris Avellone, worked on the game.  Avellone’s list of projects is a roll call of all of the cool, quirky role playing games of the last few decades; games like Fallout 1 & 2, Alpha Protocol, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Plansescape: Torment.  Avellone also writes game that let you look for alternatives to violence.  Take for example this screenshot of a pacifist run through New Vegas.

(More of that story in Gandhi is Not Dead, Seen in New Vegas)
So my next game is chosen, and my stack of shooters languish on a dusty shelf.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

I’ve joked with a number of people lately that my ultimate plan to fade away quietly into the shadows is not working too well.  Of late, I have been the star of a Youtube campaign that has 50,000+ views and written an article for the Elephant Journal that has had 3,500+ views in the first two days that it was published.  Shadows, indeed.

If I want to fade into the shadows and not draw attention, why do I do things that draw attention?  Blame these guys.
I grew up with these people as my role models.  People who went out to do what’s right because it’s right, not because they expected reward.  In many cases knew from the day they donned their mask that they were going out to defend a world that hated and feared them. 

With great power comes great responsibility.  Heck, with little power comes great responsibility.  Help where you can.  Spread some knowledge.  Make the world a better place.  Then retreat back to your mild mannered secret identity as soon as possible.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pacifist Run- Alpha Protocol

Recently I’ve had an urge to go into my video gaming with an eye towards ahimsa, finding ways through games without leaving a trail of bodies behind me.  It’s one thing to play a game like Arkham Asylum without killing anyone- technically the game doesn’t let you kill opponents, and even when you knock a thug off of a cliff or tower Batman is able to tie them up so they swing helplessly rather than drop to their death.  Playing games where killing is not only possible but in many cases expected presents a whole different challenge.  This is certainly not possible in many games, but a few role-playing and action games / series do make this a possibility- for example Deus Ex, Dishonored, Fallout, and one of my favorites, the “espionage role-playing game” Alpha Protocol.

I ran through Alpha Protocol as a “technical pacifist”- certainly ready to crack a few heads, but trying at all times to avoid killing my opponents.  This is actually quite fun in Alpha Protocol.  The game gives you lots of ways to avoid needless bloodshed, from talking your way through or out of fights, to a wide range of non-lethal combat options.  There are a large number of end-mission “bosses” to be fought, and after questioning them you are always given the option of execute or (as I chose) spare.  The clever game design rewards you for consistent game play, and by consistently sneaking around, bypassing foes, and doing non-lethal takedowns you are given a number of perks that make your character even stronger.
Sometimes a headbutt is a useful negotiating tool.

My original plan was to play with a style that was very close to Emile Antoon Khadahji, aka The Man Who Never Missed from the Matador series, relying primarily on tranq darts to subdue opponents with occasional use of hand to hand combat.  By bumping up my pistol skill I could potentially slow time to take careful aim and merrily leave a slew of slumbering foes in my wake. 

The plan didn’t last particularly long, as there are by my count there are less than 200 tranq darts available in the game.  I found myself conserving my darts, and instead went for sneaking up behind my enemies and putting them in choke holds until they passed out.  Alpha Protocol lets you build an impressive ninja-style character, eventually allowing you to become invisible for 20 seconds (or more depending on perks) at a time.  One of the most fun parts of the game was opportunities to turn invisible right before entering a room full of enemies, then silently putting the Vulcan nerve pinch on a half dozen before you became visible again.  Unfortunately because the duration does occasionally run out, and there are long cooldown times for powers, I did get stuck in situations pretty regularly where I had to just start laying out punches, kicks, and headbutts.  Tactically not the best, but it was lots of fun and the animations on hand-to-hand combat were great.  Coming out of invisibility at unfortunate times also got me in the habit of tossing around flashbang grenades and “shock traps” (think area-of-effect tasers) as a backup strategy.

Skilled in the arts of Tai Kwan Leap.

I did carry an assault rifle with me, and used it primarily for taking out automated machine guns that are in some sections of the game.  I had to use it on human targets a couple times.  The first was against a particularly annoying foe (Sean Darcy) who isolates himself in a tower without doors, using a sniper rifle and an unlimited supply of grenades (which he tosses three at a time) to make life miserable.  Look up any in-depth reviews of Alpha Protocol and you’ll see this is the most hated part of the game.  I had to use my assault rifle and blast past all of the body armor my foe wore using armor piercing bullets, but eventually got to a place where some solid shots with tranq darts took him out.  I regretted using up all of those armor piercing bullets moments later when a Blackhawk helicopter with a rocket launcher showed up, and once again I had to resort to the assault rifle (and a few conveniently placed rocket launchers) to take it down- apparently with the pilot surviving the crash.  Both of these happened in the last 30 minutes of the game, an odd choice in a game that until then rewarded subtlety and stealth. 

So how did my pacifist run work?  Alpha Protocol keeps track in exacting detail the number of enemies defeated, weapons used, and impact of defeating these foes on the world around you.  I did have one foe killed during an early mission.  I was sneaking into an airfield and came under fire from a machine gunner in a guard tower.  More guards came running as I took cover behind a truck and threw shock traps at anyone in range.  The truck caught on fire, and as I jumped away it blew up, taking out one of the guards as collateral damage in the explosion.  Fatality total- 1 killed by collateral damage, leaving behind three orphans.  And the non-lethal style?  34 enemies knocked unconscious by stun traps, 36 by tranq darts, and 462 knocked out in hand-to-hand, racking up over $1 million in medical bills! 

However as the credits rolled to the sounds of newscasters describing the world my actions built I also learned that by sparing the life of a terrorist leader earlier in the game he later killed hundreds in a series of West Bank bombings.  Here Alpha Protocol throws in your face the conundrum of global politics.  Do you spare the lives of terrorists and show them mercy?  What happens if they turn around and go back to the warpath?  Ahimsa, you are a tricky fellow.