Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Men Hate Valentine’s Day

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I plead guilty as charged: I too hate Valentine’s Day.

However, I have done my time and have been rehabilitated. So much so, that I am now considered by my wife and her friends as well, to be the most romantic, caring, sweetest and giving man on the planet. Gooey but true.

Like many men, I have spent most of my married life dreading Valentine’s Day with all its pressures and demands – real or imagined. It’s not that we completely lack sensitivity or that our feelings are strictly limited to our Neanderthal origins. But whether are behaviour on this holiest of holy love days is directly linked to our Homo habilis brothers or not, we men feel the need to be capable providers and know that what we provide will satisfy our partners. However, the general consensus amongst the male population is that there is a maldistribution when it comes to the planning and implementation of romance on Sweetheart’s Day. The National Retail Federation, (NRF) reported that in 2007 the average male spent $156.22 on Valentine's Day, nearly double the $85.08 that the average female spent. What happened to equality? Apparently, parity is forsaken when it comes to Cupid.

When my wife of twenty-one years and I have a domestic squabble she’s the one that says, “We’re in this together. It’s about us. Please say “we” not “you.”” This phrase of hers is rarely uttered on Valentine’s Day. Of course, it is expected that we will, as a couple celebrate our love but how we celebrate and demonstrate that love is another story. We men feel seriously tested every February 14th and many believe it to be a no win situation.

In an independent and unscientific survey I conducted of male friends and colleagues, everyone of them said that they begrudge having to take the lead on Valentine’s Day and that they feel they will be graded their efforts. That being said, I know of no living male who ever told his wife or girlfriend, ‘sorry baby but these red, silk boxers that you bought me that I will wear for approximately 3.2 seconds before we make love, just doesn’t make me feel appreciated enough on this, our special day.’ That’s quite a sacrifice don’t you think?


Since my rehabilitation over ten years ago when I went out on a Valentine’s Day strike, pronouncing to my wife that Valentine’s Day was “stupid” and that she and every other woman in the western world had been brainwashed and duped by the retail industry and that I was starting a revolution of unprecedented proportion that would no longer “feed the insatiable restaurant, greeting card, and flower industries” I have become more sensitive and understanding to why this day is so important. It wasn’t easy and it looks like history played a role.


The history of Valentine’s Day as told by some is that a priest, later to become Saint Valentine had a disagreement with Claudius II. It seems that Claudius wasn’t all that warm and fuzzy and was laden with extra testosterone that he put into being commander and conquer. He decided that unmarried men made stronger and more efficient soldiers than those with wives so he outlawed marriage. The soppy Saint Valentine rebelled against Claudius by performing secret marriages for young lovers desperate to be joined in holy wedlock. When Claudius got wind of Valentine’s clandestine actions he had his head chopped off. Wow! Just think about it, the origins of this sweet and romantic holiday lay in a priest’s beheading.


That was around 270 A.D. and I don’t entirely hold Claudius and the headless Saint Valentine accountable for creating what we men sometimes refer to as the ‘greed of Valentine’s Day.’ Legend has it, that sometime around 1418 King Henry V paid a writer named John Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois. It was the olden time’s version of CVS and Hallmark. Today’s romancers consider him a loser. All he had to do was write a few lines of his honest feelings on some musty parchment and Catherine would have rendered him her mind, body and soul indefinitely. Everyone followed suit and trudged narrow, cobbled stoned streets in order to purchase poems and sonnets setting the stage for what desperate and procrastinating men now do every year.


So, after so much disdain and rebellion why did I capitulate to what is deemed by some as a lovey-dovey dope? For one, I grew up and two, I realized that not all holidays are about me. (Darn that little boy in hiding in my subconscious.) Yes, I show and tell my wife everyday how much I love and appreciate her but there is no such thing as ‘banking’ one’s efforts. What counts is each day and if my wife is my number one customer, so to speak, then why wouldn’t I want to treat her as such? Do retailers really care if we have a lovely snugly holiday? Do they inflate prices ten fold on roses, Italian dinners and greeting cards every February 14th? Of course they do but so what? So what if I go out of my way just a little bit to make my wife happy? Isn’t that what giving is all about? Gentleman readers don’t hate me but last year I made hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured umbrellas that I stuck in between the floorboards of our apartment that led a path to the living room where I projected one of my wife’s favourite movies, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Her tears of appreciation and gratitude made the effort so worth doing and I have to admit, I had a really good time creating the evening.


According to my wife’s friends, I am in the minority and they want to know how they can get their husbands and or boyfriends to be more romantic. Every year they excitedly ask my wife, “What did he do for you this time?” (A couple of years ago my wife’s best friend Lona received a tape dispenser. Her poor husband is still paying for that.) Recently I asked my wife what she considered romantic when it came to my efforts on Valentine’s Day. She replied, “When you surprise me.” And I sincerely asked, “You mean when I actually listen to you?” We both had a hearty laugh over that!


My wife suggested that I start offering Valentine’s Day coaching for men. The old Draco me would have laughed at this but I thought it a good idea. So ladies and gentlemen, since I have been branded a good romantic, my experience and rehabilitated self are at your disposal, all in the hopes of the only thing you are guilty of this February 14th is of being in a state of perpetual bliss and happiness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pains in the Back

I had back pain and leg pain that had left me flat on my back for three weeks straight. I suffered for many years off and on with this debilitating pain and went to doctors, chiropractors, and natural healers all to no avail. Like many others, I too have the x-rays that show a slipped disc however, I later learned that wasn't what was causing the pain.

A friend had begged me for years to read Dr. John Sarno's, (Professor of Clinical Rehab Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, and an attending physician at the Rusk Institute of Rehab Medicine, NYU Medical Center.) books, Healing Back Pain and The Mind-Body Prescription claiming that just reading the books 'cured' his back pain as well as his asthma. I was very skeptical, as it sounded like a bunch of hokum to me. But I was in so much pain along with the depression associated with the pain that I asked my wife to pick me of a copy of both books. I was fascinated with what I read and saw myself in every page! Within a couple of days the pain started to subside. I learned that this wasn't a placebo as placebos only work once not over the long term. What I had was Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) which, in short is mild oxygen deprivation to the nerves and tissues - one must read the book.

Within two weeks I was pain free and it has never returned. Oh sure, "it" tries, but I now know what to do to rid myself of it instantly - all through a program of education, not physical rehabilitation. Now, sometimes when I run the "pain" tries to enter my knees front and back and when I won't let it reside there it turns to my calves. The brain is very cunning and powerful but I have all the proof I need that there is nothing physically wrong with me. Yes, the pain is real but where it was coming from was not generated by a physical situation such as running or picking up a heavy object.

I went to one of Dr. Sarno's panel discussion that he holds at the Rusk Institute in NYC where he practices and teaches. On the panel were four former patients of his. One had 24 back operations and a piece of his coxis removed all to rid him of his terrible back pain. The operations did nothing for him - all he did was read Dr. Sarno's book had his pain went away never to return.

Since I read Dr. Sarno's books three years ago I have spoke with many people, friends and clients alike who suffer from neck, back, shoulder, buttocks, leg and foot pain. The ones who have read the books and have applied the theory no longer suffer pain. The pain I'm talking about here is not normal pain and discomfort that one experiences after a long run or helping a friend to move into a new apartment. This is chronic pain and if you have ever suffered the intensity that I have, you would do anything to relieve it. That being said, I would never go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist again seeking back pain relief. The more I focused on the physical the longer the pain stayed with me. Once I started to think about the psychological, I was on my way to a pain free life.

Here's something interesting for you female runners: my wife who was diagnosed with severe IT Band problem, (more women than men are diagnosed with this problem due to their anatomy) was prescribed with an intense physical rehabilitation program for 16 weeks. They massaged, kneaded, iced and exercised the poor woman to tears. At the end of her rehab they fit her for orthopedic insoles which she was to wear everyday until she felt comfortable. The insoles were suppose to help put her knee in its proper place which, was out of alignment due to the nasty IT Band. She followed the doctor's orders to the letter, never missing an appointment, always completing her exercises at home. She wore the insoles as instructed and finally one day many months after she started her rehab program she went running. Within a half-mile the pain was so bad she came limping home. She was dejected but vowed to keep up the exercise program as prescribed. She was told that it could be a long road back to running longer distances. Well, the pain never got any better and she quit running altogether. When I asked her one day if the pain could be TMS related she said that she never thought about it. I suggested she read the Mind-Body Prescription and today she ran 3 miles pain free! Wow!

I am not a doctor so, I am not prescribing that you not seek medical treatment. My experience as shown me that most of my pain no matter where in the body it takes place was just mild oxygen deprivation.

Should anyone like to discuss my experiences or need further references please, contact me.

Do the Swiss Laugh?


I teach laughter and humor programs in the workplace. When embarking on a business trip last year to both Zürich and Tokyo to teach a laughter program, I was concerned about the cultural aspects indicative to each region. I was told in no uncertain terms that the Japanese certainly will not laugh in a ‘controlled’ environment and that the Swiss as well will first grill and quiz me on the benefits of laughter and then, maybe then, they may offer a chuckle or two. Basically, I was told that both cultures would be very uncomfortable laughing in a business environment and that encouraging them to do so would only help them to feel more uncomfortable.

When I arrived Tokyo I decided to test out the citizen’s laughter willingness and went to a local coffee shop where I easily engaged with a young woman behind the counter. We exchanged pleasant smiles and then I slowly started chuckling which, turned into light laughter until the two of us were fully engaged in free flowing, natural, honest, joyful and unabashed laughter. Soon too, the patrons who were sipping tea and coffee were infected with laughter and willingly joined the fun and within minutes the entire café was one big ball of joyous laughter.

This experience should me that there would be no big challenges the next day when I was scheduled to lead an Investment Bank’s IT group in laughter exercises. And my experiment in the café proved correct: the Japanese do laugh and enjoy it as well. The program was a huge success and the group went back to their desks with more vigour, energy and happiness, which, we all know turns into better efficiency and productivity.

Zurich I felt would be a different experience than Tokyo. I was nervous. The first time I taught a team building class was a huge learning experience with a great toll to my pride, ego and feelings. I was so excited to be in Switzerland! I loved the country years before I stepped foot into it and having been a skier for over 35 years I felt like I was going to the Mecca of snow and mountains. Within ten minutes after the start of the class a young man stood up and said in no uncertain terms, “This is bullshit!” You could feel a pall settle on the training room that weighed ten tons. My face turned bright red and my heart attempted to leap from my chest. Where’s the Swiss courtesy and neutrality that I so often heard and read?

This was my introduction to the Swiss corporate culture so I was sure that the laughter program scheduled for the following day would not be a success. I was wrong. The first class had less than ten participants, which is not always conducive in helping attendees drop their inhibitions and spread laughter. Within ten minutes the class was in an uproar of laughter. So much so, that a business meeting of investors in the next room, (unbeknown to us at the time) came into our training room wanting to join in.

Since I have ‘taught’ (how does one teach what is so instinctive?) laughter in this Swiss Investment Bank their offices have a healthy radiance filled with laughter, appropriate laughter. After all, they are in a business setting but just because they are laughing and are subsequently more happy dose not mean they are not producing, quite the contrary. This is what I convey to all of my clients: happy workers are more productive, healthier and loyal workers and, we have the data to back that statement.

Teaching laughter and humour programs all over the world, I have found believe it or not, that the group that has the most difficult time letting themselves go just to laugh, are the Americans. Yes, it’s true. We, you are considered so brash and bold and loud are the most introverted (my own unscientific experience) when it comes to the exercise of laughter.

When it comes to the Swiss laughing, one just needs to visit my wonderful friends and colleagues (pictured above) in Thun, Switzerland at the Sol Luna Centre where mothers, fathers and children of all ages laugh freely and joyfully everyday.

We're going to test laughter out on the Spaniards this spring when we run two Laughter Yoga Retreats in Tenerife and Barcelona. The Americans will get a chance to prove me wrong this summer when I will lead a three-day Laughter Yoga workshop at Kripalu Center for Health and Yoga.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Spirit's a Rockin' in Harlem

My father is turning over in his grave.

Last Sunday I attended the 9 a.m. mass at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, NYC. My wife and I had talked about going there for years to experience the Church, the Gospel music and possibly find a community.

I believe that my appreciation for the deep and rich sounds of Gospel music is directly tied to my Philadelphia roots. Philly has a rich musical history and I grew up listening to my older brother and sister's 45's of Doo-whop and classic Motown. Philadelphia was a stop on the Underground Railroad and reading the history in elementary school made me proud to be a son from the City of Brotherly Love. There was a certain beat in Philadelphia music, a combination of the Gospel, Blues, Doo-whop and jazz that created a gutsy, griding and truly soulful medley.

The M60 bus travel time from where we live in Queens to Harlem is just thirteen minutes so, we arrived 125th Street and Lennox Avenue with plenty of time to walk the thirteen blocks to 138th Street where
Abyssinian is located. Ten years ago we looked at renting an apartment in Harlem but by that time the neighborhood was so gentrified that it was untouchable. Strolling up Lennox Avenue the brownstones on the wide side street are neat, tight and well maintained. I thought, "Oh, how I wish I could have been here in the 20's, 30's and 40's. What a time, what a place!"

We arrived the Church and mulled around looking as if we new where we were going and one of the Church members kindly and silently led us to the entrance and were immediately felt welcomed. We knew that a lot of tourist buses would soon be unloading hundreds of curious visitors and we quickly went up to the balcony to get a sweeping view of the Church. Taking our seats in the second row of pews parishioners smiled and wished us good mornings and the Church staff handed us the days program. There was a real sense of community and sincere friendliness and my anxiety over being an outsider quickly subsided.

After the female minister informed us that the Rev.Calvin Butts was traveling and that a guest Reverend would be speaking she rattled off at least two dozen announcements that ran the gambit from the Baptist Weight Loss Challenge to a call for volunteer life coaches. The woman sitting next to me introduced herself extending a hand and asked if this was my first time to the church. The Musical Director walked to the piano looked up to the Choir perched above the altar and commenced in a soul lifting rendition of "Great and Glorious." I felt tears running down my face as a young female Choir member let spill forth some of the most beautiful notes I have ever heard. "So this is what it means to have the Spirit move you," I thought. It does and it continued throughout the service. I wished that my own religious up bringing had a rockin' House like this one. Maybe I would have stuck around longer and continued its traditions and practices.

The guest Rev. Delman Coates sermonized about Non-Prophet Churches which tickled my non dogma beliefs and I stood and raised my hands to the ceiling when I identified with the good Reverend's message that, "Cities can find the money to finance new sports stadiums and not fix their schools is..."

An hour and half flew by and when the Service concluded more parishioners greeted us and asked us to come back next Sunday. We agreed and danced our way out into the fresh winter air with the beat of the Spirit in our souls of our shoes.