Thursday, June 6, 2013

The evils of online chess and meat-eating

I haven't been able to motivate myself to blog for the last week or so. Why? Because I have re-discovered the evils of online chess! A little back story here: I used to play online chess on yahoo many years ago, but stopped doing so because frankly, yahoo's interface and the netiquette of the players suck. But just a few days ago, I discovered The rest, as they say, is history... damn, this online chess thing is truly addictive! I found myself playing every spare moment I got, compromising even my precious sleep.

Thankfully, I didn't compromise my practice. But it definitely had a very direct effect on my practice. Yesterday morning, as I raised my arms above my head for the second Surya A, I felt this "pop" sensation (the bad kind) in my right trapezius. Oh shit, I thought. I had this before: The last time this happened (last summer), I had to lay off chaturanga and most weight-bearing postures for a month. But I decided to move slowly through the practice anyway, and see just how bad the damage was this time. I got through the entire practice alright without modifying any postures, but there was this persistent soreness in the right trapezius the rest of the day. After some reflection, I realized that playing too much online chess was probably the culprit here. You see, when I play chess online, my right hand is perched on the mouse the entire time, and my right elbow is bent and suspended at a right angle. For some reason, the power that is used to hold my right arm rigidly in this position comes all the way from the back of my shoulders (i.e. the trapezius). Which results in a lot of tightness.... huh, who knew you could get injured playing chess?

Anyway, I did my practice again this morning. I took slightly longer breaths in downward dog, playing close attention to externally rotating my upper arms while in the posture in order to release the trapezius. It seems to be working: I am feeling a lot less sore today.


D over at Savasana Addict has written a heartfelt and honest post about her feelings of guilt over being a "card-carrying Ashtangi" (I don't mean this in a stereotyping kind of way, but to my mind, anybody who has made the necessary adjustments and sacrifices to make the trip to Mysore qualifies as a card-carrying Ashtangi) while eating meat at the same time.

Her post resonates a lot with me, not least because of our similar cultural backgrounds: We are both ethnic Chinese who hail from this beautiful tropical island called Singapore. As you may or may not know, Chinese food (especially the Singaporean incarnation of it) is very, very omnivoric in nature. When I was growing up, I had this perception that the only people who don't eat meat are: (1) Buddhist monks and nuns, (2) people who have certain medical conditions, and (3) people who are simply "out of it." I mean, who else in their right mind would refuse, say, Hainanese chicken rice?

Well, me, I guess. I have been vegetarian for about three years now. It all started because of this Ashtanga thing. Well, more precisely, it started when I began studying with my teacher in Milwaukee (PJ Heffernan). Before that, many people have tried in their own gentle (or not-so-gentle) ways to get me to consider not eating meat. I basically listened to them politely, and then went on with my merry meat-eating ways. I'm still not sure what clicked in me to cause me to make the change when I was studying with PJ; I basically quit meat within a couple of months. If I have to pinpoint one particular cause of this change, I would say it was probably PJ's powerful personality (it's hard to describe his personality here; you have to meet him to know what I'm talking about...).

Anyway, it seems to me that, even outside of Ashtanga circles, eating (or not eating) meat is a topic that can lead to interesting discussions. At the coffeeshop here in Idaho that I hang out and do my work at, there are a bunch of Saudi students who are also regulars. A few of them have learned that I am vegetarian, and have asked me out of curiosity why I have chosen to forgo the delights of meat (I'm guessing that Saudi cuisine is probably also very meat-heavy). One of them, in particular, is a big, muscle-bound body-builder. When I honestly told him that I chose not to eat meat because not doing so allows me to feel lighter and more energy-efficient (I decided not to tell him about PJ), he looked at me in a funny kind of way (he might be thinking I have lost it), and tried, as gently as he could, to suggest that if cooked in certain ways and eaten in certain limited quantities, it is possible to eat meat and still maintain a certain lightness of being. I politely listened to what he had to say, replied with "interesting, I'll think about this", and then went on with my non-meat-eating ways.

But well, he might have a point there. I recently half-jokingly told a friend that the one occasion on which I might consider making an exception to not eating meat is if I ever find myself in a dim sum restaurant, because I honestly don't see how one can properly partake in dim sum without eating shrimp dumplings. But we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I see that this post is quickly going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I guess I probably should sign off here, so you won't have to endure too much more of this rambling. More later.        


  1. I've heard arguments that shrimp etc. don't have the nervous system required to experience pain and suffering, but that's really not the point. The point is that the shrimp represents an Atman, and violence toward any Atman is ultimately toward all Atman(s) and Brahman. That said, I'm omnivorous. Hainanese Chicken Rice is pretty awesome stuff.

    Playing chess online - if you're not playing speed games, a good habit is to keep your hand off the mouse, and only when it's your turn and you've decided what that move is, put your hand on the mouse. Same as if you were playing face to face, your hand would not be hovering over the board all the time.

    1. I've also heard the shrimp-and-seafood-not-having central-nervous-systems arguments before. Even setting aside the considerations about Atman, I just don't find them particularly convincing; somehow, I get the feeling that people are trying too hard to justify what they are doing--or in this case, eating.

      I hear you about keeping the hand off the mouse. The trouble is, I *am* playing speed games; I simply don't have the patience to stare at a computer screen forever. Moreover, my experience has been that without the timer, many people have the tendency to just take forever when they play online.

  2. on that point I recommend David Foster Wallace's 2000 essay, "Consider the Lobster," for Gourmet Magazine.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about your chess injury. Hahaha! I just wanted to be able to write that. I wonder if it is accurate and fair to describe myself as a vegetarian who falls of the wagon a few times a year.I do notice that the falls are less frequent every year. and the memory of the flavor is always better than what it tastes like when you do cave in. I really cannot come up with any nutritional or health adverse reason not to be a vegetarian. I thing the desire to indulge in the flavor of flesh (boy does that sound bizarre!)is what has a hold on our taste bud's cravings. Now Sugar, there really should be rehab facilities for sugar.

  4. I've personally always been a fan of the 95% rule, which can apply to being vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free, or really any type of diet. That is, eat your favorite diet type 95% of the time, and don't stress about the other 5%. I actually don't eat any meat, but that's mostly a physical thing for me - meat stresses my digestion a bit too much. However, I think this could help a great deal with the possible emotional stresses of events such as family/group meals, dim sum restaurants, etc., where the emotional stress of not eating meat would cause more harm than the actual consumption of meat.