Air Force clinic fires technician accused of being a witch

Groucho got it right

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is representing a former Air Force contractor who says she was fired from a dental clinic at Fort Meade, Maryland, after complaining that her co-workers discriminated against her because she was Hindu. She claims they then accused her of being a witch.

Group founder and president Mikey Weinstein wrote in a letter to officials: “We have spoken with witnesses at the clinic under your command who have universally confirmed that, not only did this horrid harassment take place, but ever since the execution of her punishment for failing the religious test imposed by the leadership of Epes Dental Clinic, a particular offending party has effusively celebrated her replacement by a Catholic woman by saying publicly that ‘It’s good to see we got an angel, since last time we had the devil.’”

The alleged harassment violates a “vast sea” of Defense Department and Air Force directives as well as the U.S. Constitution, Weinstein writes.

“The No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution absolutely forbids the exact same type of practices which are so commonplace under your command in the brazen establishment of evangelical Christianity as the only approved solution for religious belief in the 579th D[ental] S[quadron] of the Epes Dental Clinic at Fort Meade…”

Reached by Air Force Times, Deborah Schoenfeld said that her co-workers at the Epes Dental Clinic harassed her over her Hindu faith, claiming she was satanic for wanting to practice yoga and meditating.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two of her former co-workers confirmed Schoenfeld’s account to Air Force Times and said that other employees at the dental clinic are devoutly Christian and deeply suspicious of Hinduism. One of them confirmed that she was referred to as a “Hindu witch.”

One co-worker, who Schoenfeld said prayed for her to find Jesus, told her that meditation summons demons, adding that “all the soldiers who are doing meditation and yoga to help their PTSD, they are getting infected also,” Schoenfeld said.

When her requests for help through the chain of command went nowhere, she filed a formal complaint on Sept. 2, Schoenfeld said. That day, she was fired for allegedly using profanity against a co-worker, although she was not allowed to know who had accused her of doing so…

As it is so often in the United States, “defending religious liberty” means supporting only the advocacy of Christianity, evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity to the exclusion of all other belief systems religious or secular.

Hypocrisy and bigotry come along for the ride.

Shameless plug – sort of – for a resort in our neck of the prairie

Wendi Gelfound

Opening on Aug. 17, Sunrise Springs Integrative Wellness Resort, a 52-room spa resort in Santa Fe, focuses on “nature bathing,” the opportunity to dwell in nature as a stress reducer and energy booster.Daily activities include yoga, meditation, Native American rituals, therapeutic gardening and animal interactions such as chicken therapy, which is presented as a soothing activity that involves stroking a bird’s feathers.

An on-site greenhouse and kitchen garden will serve as showcases for gardening lessons and food sources for the restaurant. Guests are encouraged to unplug from their digital devices. They can seek health consultations with staff doctors and specialists in both Eastern and Western medicine.

“At Sunrise Springs, we encourage our guests to unplug, tune-in and actively engage in their lives,” said David Hans, a psychologist and the resort’s executive director, in a news release. Rates start at $675 per person per day, single occupancy, with a two-night minimum stay, including meals and activities.

Sunrise Springs has been one or another kind of destination for the decades I’ve lived in New Mexico. My wife and I had some delightful meals there in previous incarnations.

We feel no urgency to visit a wellness resort. If anything, we kind of count Lot 4, here, as achieving most of the same functions – though I haven’t done any “nature bathing” or poultry petting since I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid.

A yoga time-out with the summer solstice in Times Square

New York’s Times Square, one of the world’s busiest crossroads, has come to a standstill to allow yoga enthusiasts to mark the summer solstice.

The Manhattan square became a sea of yogis exercising in time on their mats, beneath the billboards.

Tim Tompkins, co-founder of event, said part of its appeal was finding stillness and calm amid the city rush on the longest day of the year.

Into its 11th year, the event has grown from three people to more than 15,000.

They can only fit 600 at a time into Times Square so the rest are at other locales, different times.

Free yoga classes began at 07:30 local time and were due to continue until sunset.

The oldest of the teachers in the square was 94, the AFP news agency reported.

Bravo. For all the right reasons…fitness, calming, relaxation, health.

Of course the nutball brigade in the Republican Party will call this further proof of NYC as a center of Satanism.

Hotels “help” geeks through their holiday without a hookup

With the advent of smartphones we’ve become used to being constantly connected, even when we’re on the road or on vacation. But now a growing number of hotels are adding “digital detox” packages to their roster of offerings.

Detox packages are nothing new. For decades, hotels and vacation retreats have enticed guests to “clean out,” often with the help of a specialized diet plan and fitness regimens (with a massage thrown in for good measure). These days, the concept is being pushed to help us disconnect from technology. The World Travel Market Global Trends Report even listed digital detox as one of the next big trends to hit the hospitality industry in the coming year…

“We’ve witnessed the increased dependency people now have on their electronic devices,” notes Andrew Henning, the general manager at The Westin Dublin, in Ireland.

In March, the hotel introduced a digital detox package to combat this gadget addiction – recently classified in the media as “nomophobia”. Guests that partake in the package stash their electronic devices in a safe, and in exchange get a detox survival kit, which includes a board game, a walking map, a tree-planting kit, and other reminders that life exists beyond the confines of an iPad.

Via Yoga, a company that hosts yoga retreats in Mexico and Costa Rica, feels so strongly about the need for its guests to unplug that it decided to offer a 15% discount as an incentive for anyone willing to give up their iPhone…

Via Yoga’s detox package is popular, but other venues offering similar packages admit that while there’s interest, they’re not flooded with bookings.

The Hotel Monaco Chicago provides guests with a “black-out” option, whereby they surrender their gadgets to reception upon checking in.

“We were constantly hearing from guests how they loved that the Monaco was an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Marco Scherer, the hotel’s general manager. “We decided to allow our guests the option to experience the ultimate seclusion by voluntarily forfeiting all methods of electronic communication at check-in.”

Though guests are intrigued by the package, Scherer says very few actually opt to give up their devices…”Most guests prefer our free wi-fi,” he admits.

Cripes. Neurotics worrying about being neurotic.

Electronic gadgets serve useful functions. It’s why cameras were invented. Same goes for the apps, If you have no control over your life, paying someone else to “help” you with the problem – during a holiday stay – is absurd. Unless you’re spending your money to head off on a therapy holiday.

Probably cost less to get your therapy while maintaining your normal daily life.

Ascetic yoga retreat ends with death in the desert

McNally and Thorson, better days

Rescuers had rappelled from a helicopter, swaying in the brisk April winds as they bore down on a cave 7,000 feet up in a rugged desert mountain on the edge of this rural hamlet. There had been a call for help. Inside, they found a jug with about an inch of water, browned by floating leaves and twigs. They found a woman, Christie McNally, thirsty and delirious. And they found her husband, Ian Thorson, dead.

The puzzle only deepened when the authorities realized that the couple had been expelled from a nearby Buddhist retreat in which dozens of adherents, living in rustic conditions, had pledged to meditate silently for three years, three months and three days. Their spiritual leader was a charismatic Princeton-educated monk whom some have accused of running the retreat as a cult…

The retreat — in which adherents communicate only with pen and paper — was designed to allow participants to employ yoga and deep meditation to try to answer some of life’s most profound questions. Mostly, though, it has only raised more questions.

Was it a genuine spiritual enclave? What happened to drive Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson out of the camp and into the wilderness? And just why, in a quest for enlightenment, did Mr. Thorson, a 38-year-old Stanford graduate, end up dead, apparently from exposure and dehydration, in a remote region of rattlesnakes and drug smugglers?

When Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson left the retreat on Feb. 20, after having participated for one year and one month, she had been its leading teacher. The monk who ran the retreat, Michael Roach, had previously run a diamond business worth tens of millions of dollars and was now promoting Buddhist principles as a path to financial prosperity, raising eyebrows from more traditional Buddhists…

The retreat is set to end on April 3, 2014. Of its original 39 participants, 34 remain.

Over the decades I’ve known a number of students of the Buddha. Some have been and are close to my heart and life. They have no problem with my atheism and scientific understanding of philosophical materialism. I have no problem with their quest for peace with life and nature.

Over the decades I’ve known a number of students of some pretty outlandish philosophies and religions, the former becoming the latter and vice versa. RTFA for a tale with all the elements of a soap opera – including a tragic death.

Yoga and Harry Potter are evil, says Pope’s champion exorcist

For most people it is a way of toning the limbs and soothing the stresses of everyday life, but the Catholic Church’s best-known exorcist says yoga is evil.

Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.

Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist…

“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.

“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome…

Father Amorth has previously said that people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron and have such superhuman strength that even children have to be held down by up to four people.

He has also claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries was proof that the Anti-Christ is waging a war against the Holy See.

Being caught at criminal behavior apparently is just a result of the anti-christ plot. Uh-huh.

RTFA for more superstitious silliness.

It is Guinness records day

Irish leprechauns, tea-sipping Britons, Australian ABBA impersonators and the oldest yoga teacher on the planet were just some of the people setting world records Thursday.

More than 300,000 people around the world took part in the seventh annual Guinness World Records Day, in which a number of records have already been confirmed.

They included the largest cream tea party (334 participants) in Essex, England; the largest gathering of people dressed as leprechauns (262 participants) in Dublin; the oldest yoga teacher (91 years old) and the largest hula hoop workout (221 children) both in Florida…

In keeping with the national theme, 262 members of the public in Dublin got into leprechaun costume to break the record previously set in the United States.

We believe that a record for leprechauns belongs to its native soil and we’re really pleased to bring it back to Ireland,” Derek Mooney from Ireland’s RTE Radio One said…

On the other side of the globe, Australia got involved in the record-breaking action as 368 children in Melbourne transformed into “dancing queens” to set a new record for largest gathering of ABBA impersonators.

Other record attempts Thursday included the most people whistling in Switzerland, the world’s largest Zumba class in the Netherlands, the largest 3D painting in London, the most arrows caught by hand in two minutes — blindfolded — in Germany, the largest rice cracker in Japan, the largest speed-dating event in China and the largest coloring book in Nigeria.

My kind of creative folks. With a sense of humor. Always pleased to see that Guinness feels the same.

AntiGravity Yoga

Did you ever see an interesting class at the gym that you were too intimidated to try? Or maybe you need to freshen up your current workout routine..?

For my first Gym Class I tried AntiGravity Yoga, a fitness class that adapts the poses of traditional yoga for a large silk hammock raised off the ground. Sometimes called suspension or aerial yoga, AntiGravity Yoga was developed by Christopher Harrison, a former aerial acrobat and gymnast who found traditional yoga too hard on his injured wrists. The weightless poses can be used to strengthen the core as well as relieve aching joints and stretch tight muscles…

To see what happens during an aerial yoga class, watch the video, taken at the Om Factory Yoga Center in midtown Manhattan, and check out the Gym Class ratings below.

Gym Class Rating (from 1 to 5):

Difficulty: 2
Intimidation factor: 4
Workout intensity: 1
Fun quotient: 5

I might add Looking silly: 5

Having an even sillier name: 10

Hindu guru paid off blackmailers to hide sex tape

It’s good to be the Swami

A revered Hindu guru paid £1.4 million to a blackmailer to stop the release of a video of him having sex with a popular Indian film actress, according to detectives investigating the case.

The broadcast of a sex tape showing Swami Nithyananda and Tamil actress Ranjitha last year caused outrage among his followers who rioted near his ashram retreat near Bangalore, Karnataka.

Nithyananda, 32, has built an international following for his ‘Life Bliss’ programme of yoga and meditation with devotees in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Guadeloupe and Singapore.

The programme takes followers through a ‘death experience’ for rebirth into a ‘new life.’ His youthful good looks and charismatic style brought vast wealth to his organisation and personal fame and celebrity, with television appearances throughout India and the world.

But his supporters felt betrayed when the sex tape was broadcast on India’s Sun Television channel, portraying him as ‘impure’.

A police investigation brought further allegations of sexual abuse within his ashram and claims of financial impropriety…

According to detectives, he told them he had had sex with up to 20 of his devotees and had won over many followers by hugging them. He said his success in attracting non-Hindus had caused some resentment.

In a video message to his supporters, Swami Nithyananda said he had been the victim of a smear campaign, but had not done anything illegal.

Swami, eh?

Nice work if you can get it. If you can afford to pay millions to squash a sex tape.

Hindu group stirs debate over who “owns” Yoga

Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.

But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.

That suggestion, modest though it may seem, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it.

The question at the core of the debate — who owns yoga? — has become an enduring topic of chatter in yoga Web forums, Hindu American newspapers and journals catering to the many consumers of what is now a multibillion-dollar yoga industry.

RTFA. To me, the best that religions can offer is guidance to the spirit of charity that lies at the [oft-forgotten] roots of most. I never worked construction projects with Habitat for Humanity because the inevitable prayer sessions were a distraction from the task at hand; but, I would be the last to deny the good performed by such groups.

Ownership of the brand more often comes down to conflict, armed or otherwise, over who owns which patch of ideology, ritual or a chunk of land and livelihood. The article provides beaucoup details. All pretty silly.