Maybe a law preventing yoga being used in Alabama schools will be overturned

When I first saw this article I had to do a double take. As someone who practices yoga in my home for over six years, its benefits are very helpful to these old bones and muscles. So, to see it categorized in such a negative light was troubling but not shocking. But, that is changing.

In 1993, Alabama legislators banned teaching yoga in public schools*. In an article called “Alabama might overturn its 28-year ban on yoga in schools. Just don’t say ‘namaste.’” by Meryl Kornfeld of The Washington Post, it reveals most of this law may be overturned. Here are a few paragraphs from the article. The whole article can be linked to below.

“Students will no longer need to bend over backward to (legally) practice yoga in Alabama.

In a 73-to-25 vote Thursday, the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill that will lift a quarter-century ban in public schools that some believe is unique to Alabama. Yoga was forbidden by the Alabama Board of Education in 1993 after opposition by conservative groups over its Hindu roots.

Amid reports of racism and violence against Asian Americans and other minorities, the measure is a positive step, said Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. He said practicing yoga, which many non-Hindus use for health benefits, is cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation.

‘Yes, it has roots in Hinduism, and it’s a Hindu practice, but it’s a gift Hindus have shared with the world,’ Trivedi said.

The reason I was not shocked is I have seen this kind of push back before. A minister gave license to a suggestion by a female church leader to start an exercise program mainly for women. It actually worked so well, church attendance increased, Then the minister saw that they were doing yoga and put an abrupt end to it. He saw it as practicing another religion.

Fortunately, this mindset has changed for the better. Not only are there many places to learn and practice yoga, there are at least fifty commercials that use women and men practicing yoga in groups or at home as background to the theme to sell product. Let me emphasize this – it is so normative it is used to sell product.

In my personal experience, yoga is taught as a breathing and exercise program. The breathing part is as important as the exercise part as it helps one focus on what they are doing. One of the news reports cited a proponent of the law saying yoga was bad for mental health. In my experience, this is total off base, as it actually helps people with their peace of mind as well as stretching those muscles.

The only caution with yoga is usually made during the classes. If you cannot do a stretch or if it causes you discomfort, then don’t do it or do it to a lesser stretching pose. My level of yoga is more basic than some one much younger and more agile, who does moves and poses “with which I am not familiar.” Or, I should say know, but cannot even fathom doing.

So, I encourage people in all fifty states to find a sustainable exercise and “just do it’ as the Nike ad says. It may be yoga, pilates, isometrics, calisthenics, taibo, spin class, light weightlifting, etc. It need not be an hour work out to be effective – I work out fifteen minutes every day after I shower (it loosens up my old bones), varying three sets of routines to keep it interesting. One day I focus on arms and torso more, the next day legs and torso more, and the final day light weightlifting more.

And, for those who feel they are cheating their religion by saying “Namaste,” feel free to replace it with “have a nice day” or “peace be with you” as it is said in greeting as a sign of respect more than anything else.

*Per NBC News, Alabama in a 1993 law barred yoga in public schools along with other practices such as “meditation” and “guided imagery,” under a general prohibition of the use of “hypnosis and dissociative mental states.” Gray, elected in 2018, said he only recently learned about the ban, which was favored by religious leaders at the time.

Alabama yoga ban may be lifted after House passes bill – The Washington Post

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Win or lose with class (a repeat)

This post is a repeat from three years ago, but applies still today. I wrote this originally on the anniversary of 9/11.

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

What are you going to do when life knocks you down?

This is a repeat of a post from three years ago. In light of the NCAA basketball tournament going on, I thought it might resonate.

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going. Winston Churchill famously said “When you are walking through Hell, you should keep walking.”

Thank the passer – the legacy of Dean Smith (a reminder that the one who gets the glory had help)

This was written following the death of Dean Smith a few years ago. With the NCAA Basketball Tournament back in action after a year off, I thought it would be good to honor him with a repeat of this story on a key legacy.

For those who follow basketball, the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend. Smith coached the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for many years to great basketball success. He also coached the US Olympics basketball team to the Gold medal when we still used amateur players. A great many things are being said about Smith by his former players, fans and the media. They are all deserved. Last fall, his wife accepted the US Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Smith did much to help young men grow into adults. He taught valuable lessons about basketball, but life as well. He also helped integrate the UNC team with its first African-American player, which is widely known. But, he also helped integrate the Town of Chapel Hill by eating in restaurants with African-Americans. He did not want fanfare over this, as he noted to author John Feinstein, who was told the story by someone else, “doing the right thing should not get publicity.”

Being a former basketball player, I also wanted to share a basketball and life lesson that Smith instilled in his players. This may sound trite at first, but please bear with me. Smith made his players who just scored a basket to acknowledge the person who passed him the ball as they ran back down the court. If you have played basketball, you know that the most fun thing to do is score. Yet, this is a team game, just like life. Someone else saw that you had a better chance to score and passed you the ball.

This sounds so simple, but at the end of the 1970s, the NBA had turned into a game of individual moves to score. This individualism promoted selfish play and the NBA was in trouble. In fact, TV ratings were so down, some of the Championship games were shown on tape delay at 11:30 pm. Think about that. It was not until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird joined the NBA in 1980, that the NBA started a come back. These two players were renowned for their passing ability and seeing a bigger court.

Smith knew this first hand, which is why he had his players acknowledge the passer. Just as in life, most success involves a team effort. Of course, there are stars, but Michael Jordan, who played for Smith, knew he needed a good team to win. So, as a former basketball player who took pride in passing, I admired this trait. It is a good one to take away from the court. I have made this point before about the best leaders – they tend to deflect credit to others. This is a great way to sum up Dean Smith, he deflected credit to others. But, they knew who passed them the ball and are pointing back at him.

Rest in peace Coach Smith.

Workouts need not be long to add value

Having spent more than fifty years working out in some fashion, I have learned that workouts need not be elongated affairs to add value to your body and mind. The key is to do something that is sustainable, something you can do with regularity. And, the amount of time needed can vary based on age, body style, health, etc.

I would also encourage you to start slow and build up to the routine that makes the most sense, listening to your body. Don’t do things that will cause harm – backs, knees and hips are very dear, eg. I am very careful with my back as I am tall.

For several years now, I have gravitated to a routine that makes sense for me. I workout for fifteen minutes AFTER I shower in the morning, so it is not too intense. The shower loosens the muscles and my back. I vary the daily routine between three workouts based on Yoga, Pilates, isometrics, calisthenics and light weigh-lifting using two 20 pound dumb bells as a maximum, but the weight can vary and be effective for you.

But, a key to each of these workouts is breathing. Since these exercises are not heavy duty, I breath in and out through my nose. If you feel the need for more oxygen, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. I used to do more of the latter, but have learned I snore less at night when breathing more naturally during exercise. On repetition exercises, breath in on the lesser portion of the exercise and out on when you exert.

The first set of exercises are standing stretches, a series of about a dozen exercises, but for those who cannot stand well, several can be done while seated. I will highlight two of the more productive exercises.

  • The Yoga warrior pose is one of the best exercises, which is a stretch and hold routine to twelve nice breaths. varying my arms three times for a total of 36 counted breaths. One leg is out front with foot pointed, the other leg being behind with foot slightly perpendicular to your body as you bend into the front leg. I start with my arms over each leg with palms down, then arms over my head and ending with arms out palms up. Then, I switch sides and do 36 more. It is one you can start with a count of three and build.
  • The other is a calisthenics exercise. Standing up put both arms over your head straight up from your shoulder. Then bring one leg up bending at the knee as you lower your arms. Then raise your arms again as you lower your leg. Then do the same with the other leg. You breath out when you raise your leg and in when you lower it. I do 24 of these.

The second set of exercises for the following day is a floor routine of about a dozen exercises, as well. These focus more on the legs and core areas. Let me focus on two exercises.

  • On your back, bend your legs so that your knees are are up and feet on the floor. Now, gradually swing both legs toward the right, not touching the ground with your knees and then swing them to the other side. Breath out when your knees approach the ground and breath in when you move them up. I do a count of 24 of these. Try to be smooth with your movements.
  • Again on your back, do stomach crunches which is an easier way to do sit-ups and not hurt your back. While bending your legs at the knee with your feet on the ground, put your hands behind your neck and lift your chin up and part of your upper torso off the ground. The key is to make your stomach muscles feel the exertion. Then, return your torso to the ground. Breath out when you exert and in when you let you head back down. I do 24 of these, but like the above start with a few and build up.

The third set for the next day is light-weight lifting exercises.

These are simple exercises, again about a dozen of them. I warm up with an 8 pound medicine ball, then move to one dumb bell then two, each weighing 20 pounds. But, use weight that is comfortable to you. The key is the technique and repetition more than the weight. Just picking two:

  • Take a small medicine ball and while standing hold it in front of your waist in both hands. Rotate the ball to each side with a small twist breathing out as you do. Swing it to the other side, breathing in, then breathing out. This works on your love handles. I do fifty of these, 25 on each side. If you don’t have a medicine ball, you can use a small dumb bell or just interlock your wrists and twist.
  • Using one of your dumb bells, kneel down with your left knee and place you left hand on the floor. Using your right hand, lift the dumb bell up like you are slowly pulling a lawn mower cord. Breath out when you pull up the weight, breathing down when you lower it – don’t drop the weight, lower it. Build up to fifteen of these. Then switch legs and arms and do fifteen more. Start slow and with a light weight. This is the best way to work your back lateral muscles without harming your back.

Remember to start slow with fewer reps and lesser weight. The key is to use smooth movements and get your breathing right. Also, please check with your doctor or a trainer if you need to get counsel. Even five minutes will help each day, but whatever you do keep it sustainable. I have had many routines in the past that would wane after a few months. I have been doing a variation of these for more than five years.

Smaller plates, less white food

Since we are doing more boredom eating and likely eating more comfort food, here are a couple of tips that help me keep my weight somewhat level. Use smaller plates and eat less white foods.

The latter is not a race connotation. It is a reference to those fattening carbs – potatoes, rice and breads. And, we sure love those three items. So, the key to their intake, short of abstinence from them, is portion control – use a smaller plate and don’t go back for seconds (or limit what seconds look like).

I have been able to slowly take off and keep off the pounds. This has been an extended journey over five years involving light exercises each morning, walking and hiking and shrinking portions. The key to the latter is eat less of the good tasting, bad foods.

So, what has worked for me are some of the following:
– use a smaller plate for meals
– share meals of take out food (order one steak, potato, salad for the two of you)
– eat fewer potatoes, less rice and only one piece of bread, if you must
– eat bread-less (or maybe one bun) hamburgers, hotdogs, sandwiches
– when snacking, do not take the bag to the couch, put what you want in a small bowl
– when snacking, filling items like dried fruits or mixed nuts will pacify that hunger pang
– eat more green, red, and yellow foods, especially the green ones

If you are pre-diabetic, watch any fruits because of the sugar intake, and definitely cut down on the carbs, because the body will convert them to sugar. Also, unsalted or lightly salted nuts are better than those laden with salt. If you indulge one night, just make-up for it the next few days. I have a target weight. When I pop over it a few pounds, then I will eat more salads for lunch.

But, please do not take my advice by itself and check with you doctor before you do anything drastic. One final note – know your numbers: weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. This will help you devise a long term plan.

He IS heavy and he’s my brother

Per an article by Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press called “CDC survey finds about 40% of US adults are obese,” Americans are indeed “heavy.” And, some of us are very heavy.

“About 4 in 10 Americans are obese, and nearly 1 in 10 is severely so, government researchers said Thursday.” This comes from a 2017-18 health survey by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The survey found that the obesity rate was 42%….The severe obesity rate was more than 9%…But, it’s clear that adult obesity rates are trending up, said the CDC’s Cynthia Ogden, one of the reports authors.”

This should not be news. The World Health Organization has determined the US as the most obese country in the world for at least decade. A former Global Wellness UK based colleague of mine would say to clients, “one of the US’ greatest exports is obesity.” We have exported the gift of high calorie fast food.

The next time you are in McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc., read the calorie content on the orders. An average adult man is supposed to intake 2,500 calories per day with an adult woman limited to 2,000 due to size differential. If a fast food meal tops out at 1,250 calories, that is 1/2 a day’s calories. And, don’t even think of super-sizing.

But, it gets worse as we have too many kids with Types I and II diabetes. And, pre-diabetic is the diagnosis du jour for kids and adults. The key culprit is carbs. Bread, potatoes, pasta, rice – think white foods – convert into sugar and lead to diabetes.

So, what should we do about it? Here are a few ideas that worked for me as I shed about fifty pounds over a several years. The key words to remember are “sustainable change.” Whatever path you choose to follow, make it more than a fad change – make it sustainable. Here are a few paths to consider:

– Portion control – put your meals and snacks in a plate or bowl with smaller portions. Make yourself get up if you want more, but resist that urge.
– Less fast food – no or fewer fries (share them) and less fried food
– Less white food – this one is hard, but cut back
– Snack with nuts, trail mixes, and fruits (ripe or dried)
– Read the calorie contents – I might break a breakfast bar in half if it is 200 calories
– Indulge earlier in the day, so you can burn it off
– Walking is your friend

It goes without saying to check with your doctor before you embark on major change. Other anaerobic, core and stretching exercises (yoga, pilates, jazzeercise, calisthenics, etc.) are excellent, but I recommend something you can keep up over the long haul.

Let me close with a comment another wellness colleague who is a doctor used to say. “We are train wrecks waiting to happen.” Being heavy now will haunt you even more later. So, think sustainable change and get off that track.

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

A Habitat for Humanity Legacy

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”