Buddha as crime fighter on one rough street corner

Here’s a great story to get you through your Tuesday. It’s out of Oakland — a pretty rough town as so many are — and via the San Francisco Chronicle:

The 11th Avenue resident in Oakland’s Eastlake neighborhood was simply feeling hopeful in 2009 when he went to an Ace hardware store, purchased a 2-foot-high stone Buddha and installed it on a median strip in a residential area at 11th Avenue and 19th Street.

He hoped that just maybe his small gesture would bring tranquillity to a neighborhood marred by crime: dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault and burglaries.

What happened next was nothing short of stunning. Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, candles. A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray.

And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away.

I asked police to check their crime statistics for the block radius around the statue, and here’s what they found: Since 2012, when worshipers began showing up for daily prayers, overall year-to-date crime has dropped by 82 percent. Robbery reports went from 14 to three, aggravated assaults from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, narcotics from three to none, and prostitution from three to none.

[snip]

To this day, every morning at 7, worshipers ring a chime, clang a bell and play soft music as they chant morning prayers. The original statue is now part of an elaborate shrine that includes a wooden structure standing 10 feet tall and holding religious statues, portraits, food and fruit offerings surrounded by incense-scented air.

On weekends, more than a dozen people show up to worship.

And yes, before you ask: Someone did at one point try to take the Buddha, but the statue had been installed with some serious epoxy. And, double yes: The government also tried to step in, but community backlash was so severe that the city ended up deciding to “study” the issue. So far, that’s meant nothing is happening. (Insert your own government joke here if you want.)

If you click over to the story and check out the photos, I’ll then tell you that the roadside shrine looks a lot like those in India (albeit not to a Hindu deity). But there is a similar, makeshift and informal feel to it all.

You can decide if there’s a corner near you that could use a similar infusion of calm.

Posted by Steve

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Harvest Moon Day

Today’s our full moon day, which happens to be the Harvest Moon. Time of. (I think folks in Australia are taking it tomorrow.) So maybe sit quietly, or try a pranayama practice or read a book or check out some art to get your creative brain brewing.

Or maybe you should just dance again…

… on this harvest moon.

Posted by Steve

Exercise and the healthy gut

Given we are just a few days away from our Yatra to India, you’ll forgive us if the bugs in our bellies are a little more on our minds than normal.

Among his many guidances, our trip leader, Robert Moses of Namarupa, has stressed smart eating habits during our trip (as has our Ashtanga teacher, Kate O’Donnell). In other words, no street food.

So a study finding exercise helps boost all the healthy and diverse organisms that live inside us — to our benefit, just to be clear — is super timely.

The New York Times — the same one I equally lambaste and praise — has the details:

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in the role that gut microbes play in whole-body health. A multitude of studies have shown that people with large and diverse germ populations in their digestive tracts tend to be less prone to obesity, immune problems and other health disorders than people with low microbial diversity, and that certain germs, in particular, may contribute to improved metabolic and immune health.

But little science had examined the interplay between physical activity and gut bugs in people. So, for a study published this month in Gut, researchers at University College Cork, part of the National University of Ireland, and other institutions, set out to learn more by turning to a group of people who exercise a lot: the national rugby team of Ireland.

[snip]

As it turned out, the internal world of the athletes was quite different from that of the men in either of the control groups. The rugby players had considerably more diversity in the make-up of their gut microbiomes, meaning that their intestinal tracts hosted a greater variety of germs than did those of the other men, especially the men in the group with the highest B.M.I.

The rugby players’ guts also harbored larger numbers of a particular bacterium, uneuphoniously named Akkermansiaceae, that has been linked in past studies with a decreased risk for obesity and systemic inflammation.

Interestingly, the rugby players’ blood showed low levels of markers for inflammation, even though the men were exercising intensely. Their muscles were being pummeled but, in physiological terms, recovering well.

The researchers are quick to note that these results are very preliminary and the size of the groups small. But still, it seems that exercise promotes a healthy gut.

So no skipping those morning Ashtanga practices while we travel.

Posted by Steve

France destroys tons of ivory as part of international effort to fight illegal trade

This isn’t going to be a happy post. And I suppose it isn’t directly yoga or Ashtanga related.

Still.

Sunday morning we heard a report on NPR about France destroying millions of dollars worth of ivory confiscated over the past few decades.

Link to the NPR report is right here. And the Telegraph has additional details:

More than three tons of ivory worth around €6 million (£5m) were on Thursday pulverised yards from the Eiffel Tower in a public display of France’s commitment to an international crackdown on the illegal trade ahead of a key London summit.

Huge elephant tusks, some sculpted, were passed along a chain of French customs agents who dropped them onto a conveyer belt before they were crushed to tiny pieces in the first such public exercise in Europe.

The destruction of the ivory, from a stockpile confiscated over two decades, was designed to send a strong message to poachers and traffickers that preservationists hope will help stem the illicit trade that is threatening the elephants’ survival. The French action followed similar recent moves in America, Gabon and China, ivory’s biggest market.

[snip]

In 2012, an estimated 22,000 African elephants were poached for their tusks, with the market price of ivory estimated to have doubled in the past five years to reach around £1,500 per kilogramme.

Elephant ivory and rhino horn can be worth more than illegal diamonds or gold, and the proceeds have used by rebel groups in African countries, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Lords resistance army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prices have been rising since 2009, driven by demand in China, where the profits have attracted attention from criminal syndicates. But in a sign it is finally cracking down on the illegal trade, China publicly destroyed six tons of ivory last month while Hong Kong also announced its intention to destroy 28 tons of confiscated ivory starting this Spring.

The story goes on to point out why some people oppose the destruction of this ivory: It lowers existing supplies and thus increases the price, they say. And that is just more reason for poachers to continue killing elephants for their tusks.

The answer? Make it so no one wants ivory any more. The problem: That isn’t easy.

Posted by Steve

Brim voyage: Coffee, expanded consciousness and some harm

Saw this the other day at the Daily Dish. How could we not share?

It’s from Dante Fontana on Vimeo.

And I guess to be fair we should mention having seen a new study from American University that found, for some, coffee is very addictive. Here is a little from PsychCentral on it:

A new study, however, suggests more people are dependent on caffeine to the point that they suffer withdrawal symptoms and are unable to reduce caffeine consumption even if they have another condition that may be impacted by caffeine–such as a pregnancy, a heart condition, or a bleeding disorder.

These symptoms combined are a condition called “Caffeine Use Disorder,” said coauthor Laura Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

Researchers found that although caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world–and is found in everything from coffee, tea, and soda, to over-the-counter pain relievers, overuse of caffeine can be dangerous.

All in all, we’d rather just watch the video.

Posted by Steve

Here is your definitive reason to drink coffee, get prana

Sure, some of you will be skeptical because this comes from the New York Times. But to that I say, pa-shaw!

For thousands of years, coffee has been one of the two or three most popular beverages on earth. But it’s only recently that scientists are figuring out that the drink has notable health benefits.

Let’s list those benefits, shall we? (And we’ve probably linked to many of these studies over the past 18 months or so. Links to them in the NYT piece.)

  • According to one big study of people ages 50 to 71, the men who drank two or three cups of coffee a day were 10% less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee. The women in the study drinking that same number of cups dropped their risk of dying by 13%
  • Additional studies show a reduction in Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of skin cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer recurrance and oral cancer
  • Studies on animals (yes, touchy subject) show that caffeine may help stave off dementia, and studies on people showed promise in slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s

But best of all, there’s this: “It is also unclear whether caffeine by itself provides the benefits associated with coffee drinking or if coffee contains other valuable ingredients.”

I’m going to say coffee has some magically additional properties. Perhaps one being prana.

Posted by Steve