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blog pranayama self-help critique

LOL ridiculous…about last

time. This just popped into my radar:

So how about a TV show where you can sit back and egg on celebrities as Wim Hof runs them through an ice-cold gauntlet?

Enter Wim Hof’s Superstar Survival. In this brand new BBC series, Wim guides a slew of celebs as they face “wild and death-defying challenges in Europe’s harshest conditions”. Yeah, we’re hyped too. However you will have to temper your excitement just a bit, as the show won’t air until 2022. Check out the details on the BBC website…

Will this encourage people to do the method? Or will it result in couch potatoes living vicariously through mini-god celebs? Methods require discipline, which I’m not sure that TV can inspire, but let’s see.

We also see a, if not the, dominant theme of the WFM on display in a new pod: “Power of Masculine Energy” brought to us by a smiling blond who, of course, saves women from trafficking and domestic violence. Moral entrepreneurship at its finest.

The first is with actress & activist AnnaLynne McCord. AnnaLynne does a tremendous amount of work combating human trafficking and helping victims of domestic abuse, and she found the Wim Hof Method to be exceptionally effective in tackling her own personal trauma.

In this episode, Wim and AnnaLynne delve into the negative consequences of sub-normal breathing; physical vs mental imprisonment; and how the masculine/feminine dichotomy is holding us back.

Oh, wait a second. It’s about “how the masculine/feminine dichotomy is holding us back” and not the “Power of Masculine Energy”? These are quite different themes. No, I haven’t listened yet, but already I have to roll my eyes at the branding. Would no one click otherwise? (Maybe not?)

If masculinity is so “natural” why must you all go on and on about it ad nauseam? If you don’t feel all that masculine–as it’s absurdly defined in the here and now–why not step back and enjoy how you do feel? What you do enjoy? Assuming that you have interests outside of video games and porn, enjoying who you actually are is quite hot.

Some Thoughts on the Relaxation of Human Bodies; and on the Misapplication of the Bark in That and Some Other Cases. London: printed for W. Nicoll, No. 51, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1783.

As I mentioned in the Circle Jerk post, the women who get the most play on youtube are cheerleader types like Gabrielle Reece and the Red Scare devushki who joyfully (lucratively) prop up masculinity tropes and sell their allegedly submissive sexuality. McCord is the only woman on Wim’s pod thus far.

But I will listen and possibly report back. As with his method, maybe there’s something more there.

Ir, spėk kas? Wim dabar yra lietuvių kalba.


If you’d like to support my work, buy stuff that you need from links on the site. Some of them send us kickbacks at no cost to you, but a wee cost to the empire.

bamboo squatty pottyWhen traveling abroad way back in the 90s, my then-partner and I talked about how one day we’d have squat toilets in our homes because they are vastly superior to the porcelain gods. But of course, in our post-modern 21st Century, instead we buy some wood so that we can squat in our chairs. This model is bamboo and comes with a fabulous foot massager, though this one is a bit better made. They also come in white plastic, which does blend better with most decors. I have and love the foot massager model, you might guess.

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blog favorites pranayama self-help critique yoga habits

youtube is a circle jerk

Last time, I mentioned turning to youtube for inspiration for teaching breathwork on zoom last winter. First, James Nestor’s Breath: The Science of a New Lost Art popped up, which I listened to on audiobook. (I have too much research reading on my plate now for leisure reads). It’s quite interesting, though like most journalistic endeavors, has its share of historical inaccuracies (e.g. ancient westerners did, in fact, place value on breathing). I nitpick though.

As eye-opening as the book itself was the long line of podcast interviews James Nestor appeared on: Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, Joe Rogan, Lewis Howes, and so on. These pods brought me to Patrick McKeown and the Buteyko Method (mentioned in Nestor’s book), who’s also done the podcast circuit of which I was so blissfully unaware. While Joe Rogan I knew as a generalist talk show host, the others were new to me. They traverse that great American tradition of straight-up self-help (though not all are American).

lewis howes
the titles tend to shout at you

You will not get far in the youtube breathwork world without coming across Wim Hof. Of course I’d heard of Wim Hof, but I’d written him off as the kind of guy who appears on the sidewalk signs of Bushwick coffee houses and attracts masculinity movement followers. But again and again his name came up on the podcasts mentioned above, as well as those of Russell Brand, Andrew Huberman, Dr. Steven Gundry, Tom Bilyeu, and Jordan Peterson.

If you spend any time listening to these, you might be struck by the sheer maleness and, with the exception of Chatterjee, whiteness of the crew. While their credentials range from M.D. to comedian to former pro athlete, they again and again circle back to one another, even hosting each other on their respective pods. While some, like Rogan and Peterson, are known for their 1950s take on gender, Chatterjee, Huberman, Hof, and Brand also serve up a traditional bi-gendered framework of the world–if not offered themselves, like Brand’s announcement that “wellness is for women” (“wellness” ascended in the mid-1970s US, when corporations sought relief from the vertical spike in health care costs, and its first subjects, as with most medical experimentation, were white men), than by their guests. There is little interrogation of guests’ sometimes fantastic statements, though such questioning would make the pods infinitely more informative and interesting, not to mention “authentic” and “deep,” as generally branded.

fix yourself! change yourself! DO THIS NOW!

With the exception of Peterson, whose status as an intellectual or great thinker strikes me as depressing evidence of just how little North Americans like to think (though censoring him is even more absurd. Any honors high school student could critique his sloppy interpretations of Dostoyevsky and Jung, much less his muddled understanding of postmodernism), I actually quite enjoy these pods. I’m just shocked by how male they are. Women seem to be relegated to the candles, makeup and mommy corners of the interwebs, where playing a little dumb is highly rewarded. If that’s your thing, fantastic. If you want a, or want to be a, stay-at-home wife, that’s great. Just don’t ask me to do it.

And I suppose that’s the crux of it. Born in the early 70s, when the promise of equality for all had not quite yet met the backlash of neoliberalism, (no, not just conservatism, neoliberalism), I am always just a little bit shocked that people in the US aren’t allowed to just be, and be with, who they want. Why is that so threatening? If youtube and podcasting are the channels for startup info-tainment self-expression, why are they still dominated by white men? Are my interests–in this case, breathing–more masculine than feminine? More manly?

They are not. In fact, my research and interests tend to fall into what Americans like to deem “female” interests. My request that we sometimes be, rather than incessantly do, could be seen as a “feminine” endeavor.

When I heard about the studies done on Wim Hof’s method, I looked further. It turns out to be tummo breathing (Tibetan kundalini), cold showers or baths, and yoga, all of which I already do anyway, though my cold showers were previously isolated to sauna/banya. As I desperately miss my hot-cold bathing routine under Covid19 and I’ve long sought out others as passionate about it as I am, I got Wim’s book, The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential.

I read the book before watching him on  video, and I recommend that for those who aren’t into the we’re-so-manly, high performance, HACK YOURSELF schtick. The book, which I’ve now given to a few people, comes across as very human and very practical. I have not taken a warm shower since I read it. Of northern European stock, this is not so difficult for me. In fact, I enjoy it.

What I find most impressive about Wim Hof’s method is that he came to it through exploring himself, his body, and perhaps his trauma. He talks about the ecstasy of extreme temperatures (well, cold) that I know and adore from swimming in the winter ocean but also melting in the banya. (In fact, I was recently thinking about organizing a public banya in Brighton so that we can swim and easily warm up after in the not-summer seasons.) While he somewhat annoyingly and inaccurately waxes on about its scientific validity, it is clear that he came to this through his own personal and intense exploration and then systematized it for others. Experiencing my body and learning from it rather than applying “protocols” because science told me so is precisely what I find most valuable, and it is impressively on display in his book. I’m not sure I’ve come across anything or anyone like it.

After reading, watch him in the above videos if you like, but prepare for some yelling and repetition. His method does attract mostly men, from what I can see from the documentaries and teachers, but his method is awesome and I see no reason it’s better for men than women or non-binary people. He even has an app–that used to be free but is no longer–to help you learn the breathing or simply to hold you consistent and accountable.


If you’d like to support my work, buy stuff that you need from the links on the site. Some of them send us kickbacks at no cost to you, but a wee cost to the empire.

bamboo squatty pottyWhen traveling abroad way back in the 90s, my then-partner and I talked about how one day we’d have squat toilets in our homes because they are vastly superior to the porcelain gods. But of course, in our post-modern 21st Century, instead we buy some wood so that we can squat in our chairs. This model is bamboo and comes with a fabulous foot massager, though this one is a bit better made. They also come in white plastic, which does blend better with most decors. I have and love the foot massager model, you might guess.

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blog self-help critique the yoga consumer what is yoga yoga habits

tell me what you’re running from

About thirty years into yoga & meditation, I look back at the questions and desires I had for it in the beginning. The one that loomed largest was that I wanted some kind of coherent system that brought it all together and made sense in scale. A philosophical and practical system that included both yoga and meditation that would bring shifts that weren’t so gradual I couldn’t sense them, that had teachers who weren’t more fucked up than I was. I wanted both yoga and meditation integrated, not one or the other, or separate.

That didn’t exist though, largely because of how modern postural yoga has developed in the last century. Yoga schools are mostly postural, and meditation schools are mostly sitting. The meditation done at yoga schools is generally short and visualization based, which is pleasant and valuable but not terribly revealing.

Ducklings
baby ducks lurching over a construction float on the hudson river

On two occasions, I realized that my problem was essentially relational and that sitting silently on a cushion or doing backbends was not going to help my general distrust of people. To be honest, yoga and meditation teachers couldn’t answer many of my basic questions about the psychological patterns the practices can revealor show a way out of them, or even simply support my exploration of them. Whether or not that’s their place is a discussion for some other chat room.

(The problem stems from my father’s untimely death when I was a teen. I was encouraged to chin up and keep moving, and I did. But I shut down my grief and organized my reality to avoid experiencing such destabilizing loss ever again.)

So I found a good psychoanalyst who happens to think that meditation is largely about bypassing and dissociating. No, we don’t agree on everything. Thoughtful people generally don’t.

Yoga does create the body-container and body awareness to hold the psychological work of psychoanalysis and meditation, a concept I learned from the work of Marion Woodman. Decades in, I realized that the combination of my various endeavors, which include breath work, sauna, city walking, country hiking, and summer swimming, are all part of that pat system of yoga I once sought. The philosophy, once so central to Indian, Greek, and other ancient traditions of health, I’ve had to sort out on my own.

Ah yes, the individual.

Perhaps partially due to covid, I also realize that so many things I make part of my day simply because I enjoy them are just as healthy for me as yoga and meditation: getting up with the sun, walking outside (on the river or ocean, if possible), getting outdoors several times a day, swimming in the ocean, talking to friends and neighbors, taking photos, watching the animals of NYC, sauna/banya/pirtis (oh how I miss the smell of heated wood) and the obligatory cold dips or showers that follow, reading books, and so on.

The ocean swimming I knew was good, so to the sauna habit. And sure, the walking, the river, the small creatures. How? I felt it. I paid attention. Much of it, really, feels like yoga.

People find me a bit obsessive perhaps. But in the last year, youtube has informed me that my beloved pastimes are healing. Like, bonafide scientifically healing.

But we knew that? Well, we did know that, but it’s interesting to hear another take. To have intuition confirmed, particularly when you aren’t status quo.

Fifteen years ago, as part of my master’s degree research, I hunted for information in PubMed and various other sources on why sighing felt so good. The intellectuals smiled and said, “Oh, how cute, this yoga teacher,” with a look that suggested my question was trivial. Eventually, maybe five years later while reading about trauma, I found that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Okay then.

And now, fifteen years later, the mainstream scientists are studying it. That’s cool. Will more people do it? I hope so. Sauna studies have been going on for a while now, too, though mostly in Finland.

banya sauna pirtis

I turned to youtube over winter break when trying to find new ways of explaining breath work to students over zoom. Most of my students are more into the postural practice, and breath work can seem too esoteric. But I first learned yoga in the early 1990s at a 1960s-style school in the Village, where pranayama was a standard part of class. When I moved on to more vigorous styles of yoga, I noticed that the awesome effects weren’t as long lasting without the pranayama. So I include it in my personal practice, though sometimes my students resist it.

Youtube. I was aware that many of my young students plan on making it big on the small screen, but I had no idea of all the medicalized self-help on offer there. Every other doctor has a podcast on BEING YOUR BETTER SELF because HUMANS ARE PROGRESS THAT’S JUST WHAT WE DO. 

It’s entertaining, it’s maddening, and I love it. I’ve thought about and researched self-help culture for decades because it’s an essential part of the American psyche and storyline.

What strikes me hardest about the youtube strivers is their desperation for progress. It is very upsetting for students to hear that history is not a linear story of progress, and many simply refuse to take that in. And so it is with the youtube coaches. “What are your goals? If you aren’t progressing, you are a loser! Better, faster, stronger! Tune in for more! I will succeed in my goal of saving you with my science-based advice! Here! Buy some vitamins!” (No shade, but I’ll sell you chocolate.)

As I stroll along the river early in the morning, I watch the bodies and faces of people running, walking, and working out on the pier. I wonder if they’re enjoying themselves as they struggle along, forcing their bodies farther and faster. They don’t stop to admire the cormorants drying their wings on the old pier stumps, the baby ducks lurching over a construction float, or the common terns on their wild and erratic nosedives into the river for fish.

I have no idea, really, if the strivers are enjoying themselves. Sometimes I am tempted to ask.

If you don’t enjoy moving, why do it? How do you even make yourself, if it isn’t fun?

Does everything have to be quantified to be valuable?

I’m not suggesting we only do what we enjoy or that we never push past discomfort. I’m just wondering if that’s all there is. And if moving isn’t fun for you, then stick around, because I can help with that. (Yes, I too, am a self-help guru.)


theo chocolate w/o emulsifiersIf you’d like to support my work, buy stuff that you need from the links on the site. Some of them send us kickbacks at no cost to you, but a wee cost to the empire.

If you’d like to eat chocolate that does not wreck your belly with detergents (ok, emulsifiers), Theo and another kind with a blue package are the only bars I’ve found that are free of guy-destroyers and delicious. I stick with 85% chocolate because there’s as much fiber in it as sugar. (Really.)