Adventures with Yoga, a Tax Assessor-Cursed Library, Islamic Science Rediscovered

Creek near yoga studio

I don’t know what to think of yoga, objectively, anymore. I thought about the first sentence of this post for a while, trying to figure out the transition of “yoga”, from it being some kind of mystical, magical thing practiced by sadhus in caves all over India, to the sort of exercise that metropolitan career professionals can spend hundreds of dollars a month on (have you seen some of these yoga outfits? Who in hell pays a hundred bucks for pants?) A part of me cringes at the fact that I’m Indian and all I know about yoga can fit into a postage stamp, but another part of me is a bit indignant at the assumption that any one culture should own something that could benefit anyone.

As expected, I was the only desi in the first yoga class I signed up for — gentle Hatha yoga, which later turned out to be a misnomer of epic proportions — and the incredibly toned lady leading the session pronounced nothing the way I’d have expected it to be pronounced. But I couldn’t find any derision in myself; her sincerity, and everyone else’s focus, made phrases like “feel your heart and push it out, out into the sky, while you root yourself through your backside” sound calm and energized, earnest instead of ridiculous. In Vinyasa, apparently, the exercises get progressively harder, with the stretches turning into lunges that morph into feats of muscle strength. Halfway through the Goddess Pose I could feel sweat dripping off me, muscles trembling, the whole shebang. The “gentle” was some kind of euphemism, apparently. Excellent workout, regardless, and the yoga instructor seemed to think I was so into the exercise that I didn’t really need any guidance. I’m looking forward to buying a whole package and going at least once a week.

Hatha yoga is a whole different kettle of fish altogether, far as I can tell. I trekked to the JFK hall (a good thirty minute walk, plenty of exercise in itself), arrived sweatily late and then tried to get into the swing of things. Precision is everything here; a sprightly little Japanese lady walked around correcting our poses and making sure we were placing exactly the right sort of weight on every muscle and bone. I felt like I’d gone to an orthopedic by the end of it, nicely stretched out and limbered up. Perhaps it’s an idea — walk there, stretch, run back?

The story of the tax assessor-cursed library is as pathetic as is it infuriating. After about two months of living in this rather fantastic city, I finally made the trip to Campbell library, hoping to pick up some of those non-fiction books I’d been intending to read. As unimpressive as the collection was, I found a book on the physics of human motion (or something of the sort), an overview of religion, and a China Mieville book, and had to stop there because I couldn’t possibly carry anything more than that. So I make my way to the front desk, fill out an application form, and stand in the line bouncing eagerly. The librarian takes one look at the street I live in and says, “Oh I’m sorry, that’s always been a contentious spot, I think you belong to San Jose and not Campbell, which means an $80 yearly subscription fee.” I mean, what?! Apparently the post office and the tax assessors’ office have some sort of grudge going on, in which they each fight for dominance of the naming of the burbs, or something, the upshot of which is that even though I live in what is called Campbell, according to the tax people I live in San Jose. I refused to pay the $80 fee, because it was ridiculous and there are about fifteen other libraries — well if not nearby, then at least less than an hour away by public transport. As the weeks pass, however, my resolve weakens. It’s either this or the main San Jose public library, and I’ve gotten far too used to being ten minutes’ walk to my books. Austin’s spoiled me.

Last week I did one of the most interesting things I’ve done in a while — I went to an exhibit at the Tech Musem called Islamic Science Rediscovered, and though the whole thing had a couple political overtones I’m not a huge fan of, I figured it would be interesting to at least take a look. Turns out the $21 fee was entirely worth it; I had a great time, took notes and played with all the playable exhibits. I’m intending to write another separate blog entry about this in my other blog, which still needs a bit of work before it can be public. But I have to say just one thing here: the role of the Middle East in developing science as we know it today is vastly underestimated, as far as I can tell from the (necessarily) limited information available at the exhibit. Which makes the current state of the Middle East even more deplorable, if I think about the scientific heritage they’ve lost.

This weekend will be about as techy: Cloud Computing meetup tomorrow afternoon, which will probably confound me, but hopefully inspire me to look things up as well. Then on Sunday, it’s back to the Tech museum for orientation! Hopefully I shall be a volunteer there soon, helping to mold young minds.

Now that’s a terrifying thought.

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