OESHers LOVE the Back To School SALE, now extended through 9/7/14!!!

OESHer Email #21Life at OESH continues to be incredibly active. I think we’ve all been amazed at not only how much manufacturing we can get done, but how much fun it is to do the manufacturing, too. Not to mention the designing of all-things-OESH, which is the overarching thought behind the super products you enjoy.

A virtuous circle, you might say.

Since the beginning of the month when we first emailed everyone on our OESHer Priority Email List a discount code for the Back to School Sale on any of the six La Vida v2.0′s, it has been CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZY busy while we’ve filled all the backorders.

Of course, the first thing we did when we finally caught up this week, was in looking at one another, we said “let’s go for it!” and thusly, WE’VE EXTENDED THE SALE until Sunday September 7, for the entire BTS week beyond Labor Day.

As we mentioned before, if you’re not on our list or know someone else who would like to take advantage of this opportunity to clip a significant amount from the sticker price (ongoing for another week-plus), we’d encourage taking a look-see at our La Vidas and writing to service@oeshshoes.com for the discount code. Which we will be happy to provide you.

Viva La Vida!!!

Thinking Outside the Boundaries

Who knew that making shoes would involve cutting so much metal? Recently, we cut all new slats for our Waterjet Saw. Slats are the long, sleek metal pieces that lay in the tank and hold the material about to be cut. I know, quite ironic that we cut slats on top of slats to make new slats. Anyway, we had about 10 slats in the tank which was sufficient but decided we needed more to maximize our cutting area. The problem was that the metal came in 4 x 8 sheets however; our cutting area is not that large. Therefore, we did what we do best here at OESH, put on our thinking caps and thought of a way to complete the unthinkable. We figured that with one cut here and an eleven degree cut there we could maneuver the piece to the exact angle where we could make perfect cuts for the slats.

20140815_105316

Waterjet Saw cutting slats from metal sheet.

After much brainstorming of how to cut the slats ourselves, we ended up with 35 new ones which, as you can see, was well worth the extra work! Bring on more cutting!

                   20140815_125738

The Science of Yoga

DSC_0010

Yesterday, I did a yoga session with a friend at the Charlottesville Hot Yoga Studio, which is just around the corner from the OESH factory. The 90 minute session was terrific in all aspects, including making me think about the biomechanics of the poses we did. Every day, I do a modified Warrior Pose/Lunge Exercise, as I demonstrate above and describe here along with my scientific rationale.

I’m one of a number of people who’ve studied the biomechanics of various yoga poses with a 3-D motion and force plate instrumented laboratory and in 2005, my research team and I published one of the first studies of the effects of yoga on walking here. That work led me to become a peer-review expert on yoga, being called upon, for example, to evaluate research proposals on yoga for federal funding.

Studying the biomechanics of walking and running led me to yoga much like it led me to make shoes. I found in our laboratory several things that had never been noticed before. The specific discovery leading to yoga was an isolated reduction in peak hip extension at the end of stance that consistently occurred in various pathologies and as we age (as I further describe and give references for, here). That finding could very well help explain why many of us get low back pain and have difficulty maintaining balance as we get older.

One of the ways I looked to improve this walking abnormality was yoga. I knew there to be several yoga poses that stretch the hip into extension, including the Sun Salutation and Warrior Poses. I hypothesized that yoga, which typically includes one or more of these stretches, would improve peak hip extension during walking. Indeed, that is what we found. We performed a preliminary study in healthy elderly subjects, which led to studies in other populations.

Of course yoga includes much more than just one or two poses that stretch the hip into extension. But at least we had a biomechanical foundation for understanding some of yoga’s physical effects. Which I believed was important to advancing our understanding of yoga, as well as exercise in general. It took time to get the powers-that-be interested in funding studies on yoga. On one extreme, there were the traditional Western trained physicians and scientists who didn’t understand yoga enough to be able to study it. On the other extreme, there were some outspoken yogis who believed that there was nothing about this ancient and unique mind-body practice that needed proving.

Meanwhile, yoga has exploded in popularity. And more and more people have turned to yoga for exercise and relaxation, as well as relief of bone, joint, and muscle-related pain. And in 2012, William Broad published a book “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards” that gave pause to many would-be yoga doers as well as put a whole new scrutiny onto yoga teachers. In his book, Broad brought to the public the many health benefits of yoga but also, a number of injuries that have occurred with yoga. While the book caused controversy in the yoga world, I believe much good has come out of it, including an appreciation for biomechanical research which has led to not only safer, but more effective poses.

George Salem, Ph.D. and his research group at the University of Southern California (USC), have been studying the biomechanics of a number of yoga poses in the healthy elderly population, described here. George is a former classmate of mine from UCLA where I received a Masters of Science in Kinesiology. For several years now, George has been studying yoga poses at USC using the same 3-D motion and force plate analysis techniques that I used at Harvard and at UVa. That type of analysis has allowed George and his team to evaluate for any given yoga pose, what muscle groups are stretched and strengthened and which ligaments and joints might be overstretched or over stressed, predisposing to injury.

George and his team have shown that several yoga postures aren’t working on the joints and muscle groups in the way that many yoga teachers had thought they were. They’ve also shown that some poses that were thought to decrease stresses to joints, actually increase stresses to joints. Their research has improved the practice of yoga, helping yoga teachers make modifications to a number poses. Most importantly, their research has led to the general recommendation that routines of poses always be tailored to an individual based on his/her musculoskeletal limitations.

With this research at hand, this is the current advice on yoga given by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

“The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) believes the rewards of basic yoga outweigh the potential physical risks, as long as you take caution and perform the exercises in moderation, according to your individual flexibility level. These rewards include improved strength, balance, and flexibility, as well as improved sense of well-being. Yoga may also be beneficial for certain bone and joint problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and arthritis.

Be aware that whether yoga enthusiasts are just stretching or assuming specific positions, serious muscle damage and related injuries can result if they do not take the proper precautions, especially for people with pre-existing musculoskeletal ailments or conditions.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics, and emergency rooms in 2010. Common yoga injuries include repetitive strain to and overstretching of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees.

There are many things you can do to help prevent yoga-related injuries.

  • If you have any medical conditions or injuries, speak to your doctor before participating in yoga.
  • Work with a qualified yoga instructor. Ask about his or her experience and credentials.
  • Discuss any known illness or injury with your yoga instructor prior to the class so that he or she can recommend pose modifications.
  • Learn what type of yoga you are performing. There are hundreds of different forms of yoga, some more strenuous than others. It is important to learn which type of yoga will best suit your needs.
  • Select the class level that is appropriate for you. Beginners should start slowly and learn the basics first — such as breathing — rather than trying to stretch too far.
  • Wear appropriate clothing that allows for proper movement.
  • Warm up thoroughly before a yoga session — cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury.
  • If you are unsure of a pose or movement, ask questions.
  • Know your limits. Do not try positions beyond your experience or comfort level.
  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially if participating in Bikram or “hot” yoga.
  • Listen to your body. If you are experiencing pain or exhaustion while participating in yoga, stop or take a break. If pain persists, talk to your doctor.”

My personal experience doing yoga has only reinforced my appreciation for having a good yoga teacher who understands current biomechanics research. The teacher I had yesterday appropriately told us not to do anything we didn’t feel comfortable doing. And when we did a pose called the Pada Hastasana where an experienced yogi can bend down to put his/her hands under their feet, he enforced that it wasn’t necessary to get our hands all the way to the floor but rather it was important to keep our backs straight. Even if that meant for some, getting our hands down only as far as our knees. Doing that pose in this modified way stretches the hamstrings without stretching the small ligaments running along the back of the spine.

I can’t speak for each of the numerous yoga studios and teachers who may or may not be in-tune with current biomechanics research. But yesterday, leaving the Charlottesville Hot Yoga Studio, I felt better. More relaxed, happier. In a way that was different than after I go for a run. And all day today, I’ve been thinking much more about my posture and my movement, which is always good!

OESH La Vida v2.0′s are Getting Ready for Back to School!

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 3.14.07 PM

Yes, we know! You’ve been loving your La Vida’s to death. So much so that you’ve been telling everyone in the world about them.

As a way to say thank you, we’ve done a couple things at OESH this summer, besides ramping up production in the factory to yet another notch (which among other things, means more stains on Casey’s blouses).

One, we’ve added two new colors (Saguaro on the bottom left and Rococco on the bottom right) to the popular White Sand (upper left), Charcoal (middle left), Fiji (upper right) and Deep Wisteria (middle right). Same wonderful, unique, responsive OESH Sole that you love. Just new colors.

And two, on August 1, we emailed everyone on our OESHer email list, a discount code for a Back to School Sale on any of the six La Vida v2.0′s so that you can save a bit on a new pair, or two.

If you’re not on our list or know someone else who would like to take advantage of the sale (which is ongoing throughout August), we’d encourage taking a look-see at our La Vidas and writing to service@oeshshoes.com for the discount code.

Since sending the email on Friday, the orders this weekend have been off the charts. But we’re determined and ready to keep up. That said, the sooner you order, the sooner you can jump into the shipping queue. We’ll begin shipping the Saguaro’s and Rococco’s in sequence of when they’re ordered toward the end of this month. Meanwhile, shipping time for the other colors — White Sand, Charcoal, Fiji and Deep Wisteria — should, within the next week, settle in to being within one to two days of ordering.

Thank you ever so much. Onward!

Ruby Slippers vs. OESH

IMG_1583

Last weekend, we took a short family vacation to Washington, D.C. While the primary purpose for our trip was to visit Ellen, my mom’s best friend from Harvard Medical School, we also spent a substantial amount of time taking advantage of the glory that is the Smithsonian Institution. My personal favorite of the many museums on the D.C. Mall is the National Museum of American History…and it really doesn’t need me to defend it. For almost fifty years, the museum has housed relics such as the dress Marian Anderson wore while performing at the Lincoln Memorial, a John Deere plow from the 1830s, THE Star-Spangled Banner, and, proudly and prominently displayed only a few steps from the museum entrance, the Ruby Slippers.

Seventy-five years after The Wizard of Oz came out in technicolor, it seems that Dorothy’s shoes are still just as popular as they were in 1939. I had to claw my way through a seething mass of people in order to take the photograph above; meanwhile, my OESH La Vidas attracted no attention whatsoever (or, at least, less attention than my elbows). Altogether, the experience begged the question: Ruby Slippers or OESH? Which is better? In the brief study below, I attempt to help the prospective buyer make an informed choice between the two products.

HEALTH: There is absolutely no doubt that OESH are far, far healthier than the Ruby Slippers, which have an uncomfortable and blister-making pointed toe as well as, most obviously, a heel taller than .5”.  (You can read about my mom’s scientific study on the horrors of the high-heeled shoe here.) The La Vida v2.0, on the other hand, are soft, flat and unbelievably beneficial to your feet and entire body: see our Concept page for more details.

VERSATILITY: The La Vida v2.0 are perfect for a variety of exercises, including but certainly not limited to walking, running, biking, lacrosse, squash, tennis, and basketball, and can be worn over an even wider variety of surfaces: grass, asphalt, cement, stone, soil, sand, mud (just throw them in the washer and they’ll come out clean!). Meanwhile, the Ruby Slippers’ effects are limited to walking–or, if push really comes to shove, gaily tripping–exclusively over yellow brick.

ENDURANCE: The Ruby Slippers, while effective in the short-term, have not yet been proven, like OESH, to sustain long periods of use, as Dorothy only wears them for a portion of The Wizard of Oz‘s total 101-minute running time.

VARIETY: The Ruby Slippers come in only one color, “Ruby”. On the other hand, the OESH La Vida v2.0 are available in no less than four styles: White SandDeep WisteriaCharcoal, and Fiji.

PRICE: The La Vida v2.0 cost $110, and they can be purchased reliably with the click of your mouse.  While the Ruby Slippers are free, they are unattainable unless you have the remarkable fortuity to land your airborne Kansas farmhouse on the Wicked Witch of the East.

AVAILABILITY: We produce hundreds of new pairs of OESH La Vida v2.0 every week. There is exactly one (1) pair of Ruby Slippers, and they belong to the United States government. Sorry.

OESHer of the Week: Kenny

OESHer of the Week is back: and, this time, for a very special installment.

Charlottesville High School’s own Marissa Tierney is an OESHer, and quite possibly the best AP English Language teacher on the face of the planet.  But although she certainly deserves a page of her own, our focus today is on her eighteen-month-old son, Kenny.  As anyone who’s ever had or cared for a baby could probably guess, there aren’t very many words in Kenny’s lexicon so far…”Mommy”, “Daddy”, and “Yeah!” flesh out the bulk of his vocabulary. However, one proper noun in particular seems to have taken hold: “OESH”.  Yes, for the past few weeks, Kenny has been repeatedly intoning the name of the most innovative shoe company in the world.  The impressiveness/cuteness is almost too much to handle:

Kenny is our very first male OESHer of the Week.  Although he’s a little too small as yet to fit into our La Vida v2.0, I don’t think anyone will begrudge him the title.  We here at OESH feel that he certainly deserves it.

You live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Do your athletic shoes know that?

DSC_0005OESH La Vida 2.0

  • Pure science-driven design

  • Zero pseudo-scientific design features

  • Locally sourced

  • Environmentally safe production

  • All seams sewn, not glued

  • 100% recyclable sole material

  • Zero heavy metals

  • Zero solvent adhesives

  • Zero VOC’s

  • No shoe box or other unnecessary packaging

We’ve been getting a lot of love for OESH La Vida being good not just for the body but for the environment. I mean a LOT of love. Which is pretty neat considering that the only real mention of La Vida’s environmental benefits is via a post I wrote about a year ago.

As the creator of OESH, what I care most about is getting all the biomechanical features from my research incorporated into the shoes. But here we are making shoes that not only have all those features, but also simultaneously have the least negative impact on our environment of any athletic shoe.

How we got here is pretty logical. As a physician-turned-shoe manufacturer I’ve had a rather unique perspective on the athletic shoe industry. People trust me when I say that the industry is unhealthy… from the polluting factories in China (which I’ve visited one too many times) to the toxic chemicals to an end product that is unhealthy on many fronts, not just biomechanically. Folks have expected that we do something about it, and we did.

We’ve been getting a ton of requests to shout out the unique sustainable attributes of OESH. So coming soon to our website will be a page that includes the following:

You eat locally grown, organic food. You don’t use toxic cleaners and use zero VOC paint. You don’t use pesticides or herbicides in your yard and try to grow at least some of your own food.

But what about your shoes?

At OESH we’ve taken the road less travelled by to offer a superior athletic shoe while simultaneously honoring our Earth like no other shoe company. Our soles are made locally and sustainably using zero waste and emissions free manufacturing. That means zero solvents with zero VOCs emitted not just during manufacturing but throughout the life of your shoes – which is important not only for wearing them but also when it comes to just keeping them inside your house.

With all of our materials locally sourced and regulated, we take the extra step to ensure that no toxic compounds or metals commonly used in various shoe sole materials ever make their way into your shoe soles…or garden. We are unaware of any other shoe company that can assure you of this.

OESH is committed to your long-term health, and we work hard at each step of the way – from design to manufacture – to create a shoe that is sustainable in every sense of the word. Yes, we are a very different shoe company. But OESH is THE shoe company that fully appreciates your commitment to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Sound like a plan? Onward!

Out to Lunge: An Exercise Worth Doing

Which of the thousands of stretching and strengthening exercises out there should you make a habit of doing every day? It’s important to know that very few targeted type exercises have ever been studied scientifically. Meanwhile, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do more than a handful of them.

I’m fairly active. I run, I lift (not weights, just factory stuff), I garden like a maniac and occasionally decide that I should re-side the house. Even before starting OESH, when I had my “sedentary” job as a Medical School Department Chair, I’d often run to and from work. Because of this, I’d never felt the need to do any additional types exercise, except for one, and more recently, a few.

For years, besides studying the effects of different types of shoes on gait (walking and running), I studied gait in a variety of populations with the goal to better understand what types of targeted stretching or strengthening exercises might be effective in maintaining or reversing some of the age-related declines in mobility and function. Essentially, I was funded by the National Institutes of Health to look for the “holy grail” exercises to keep us feeling young, healthy and injury free.

My research team and I evaluated all the hundreds of kinematic and kinetic variables that can be measured in a sophisticated 3-D motion analysis force plate instrumented gait laboratory. You might think that we found a lot of age-related differences, but actually, and rather surprisingly, we found just one. As we get older, we don’t extend the hip of our trailing leg as far backwards as we once used to. We found this in multiple studies (listed below) and in multiple populations where the reduction in hip extension was exaggerated even further in various disease populations as well as in frail elderly people who are at risk for falls.

That we consistently found just one difference out of so many parameters was pretty interesting and gave hope that we did indeed hit upon a “holy grail” discovery. A reduction in hip extension during walking, which we found to be associated with the pelvis tilting more forward, could be due to a loss in flexibility in our hips and/or due to poor posture, and weakness in our back and hip extensor muscles. Each of these potential explanations are associated with other things besides a decline in walking performance — low back pain, falls, and vertebral fractures, to name a few.

Our findings were substantial enough that the National Institutes of Health funded us to study the isolated effect of stretching the hip flexors. We showed with a randomized clinical controlled study that stretching the hip flexors twice a day with an isolated static stretch resulted in modest improvements in both healthy and elderly subjects. The fact that we found any difference, given the isolated, controlled nature of the studies, is significant. But the fact that they did not completely reverse the age-related changes leads us to believe that hip flexibility is not the only issue. The results imply that poor posture, and back and hip extensor weakness are also factors in our age-related decline in walking function.

Personally, I’ve been doing the same standard hip flexor stretch we used in our studies. Jay Dicharry, one of my research team members, included a schematic of it in some exercise recommendations to avoid the hazards of sitting, here. But gradually I’ve morphed the stretch into something that is similar in some ways to what some yogis would call a Crescent or Warrior Pose in Yoga.

More and more I’m recognizing that my usual physical activity isn’t enough to keep my back and hip extensors strong. And so I’ve adapted my lunge stretch into what is more of a combination stretching / strengthening maneuver. There are numerous ways to lunge and stretch the hip flexors but some I think are better than others. I’ve found that by not bending down all the way and by not bending my knees too much, I can simultaneously work my hip extensors and lower back. While exercising the hip extensors, It’s important that the quadriceps muscles are not overworked since it’s the hip extensors, not the quadriceps, that are the weak link. I think many lunges recommended by well-meaning trainers and coaches unnecessarily tax the knee joint, which is never a good thing.

A couple months ago, a friend of mine told me about Eric Goodman’s Foundation Training and showed me his book that describes a lunge stretch that turns out to be very similar to, if not exactly, what I’ve been doing for the last couple years. I think that his lunge stretch, adapted below by Women’s Adventure Magazine here, is terrific for simultaneously addressing all the things, in varying degrees – tight hip flexors, weak hip extensors, weak back muscles and poor posture – that would explain our research findings.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 2.46.07 PM

The Foundation Training lunge stretch is just one of a number of targeted exercises aimed to strengthen the back muscles, hip extensors and entire posterior chain of muscles. Interestingly, Goodman developed the Foundation Training exercises as a means to deal with severe back pain that he had while he was a student in chiropractic school. From what I know, not just through my research, but my experience as a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and my own personal experience, I think these exercises are spot on to help with lower back pain (although as with any exercise, I recommend you first consult with your physician). And they really do target our “holy grail” research findings.

I’ve begun doing more of the Foundation Training exercises besides the lunge stretch, including a kind of lunge variation, that Goodman calls “the Woodpecker” (shown below).

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 2.46.49 PM

I’m trying to make a conscious effort to fit them in when I can… in the factory, at home, and in the garden.

Meanwhile, I continue to do the lunge stretch twice a day, faithfully. As busy as I get, it’s hard for me to find an excuse to NOT do it, as it really and truly only takes a minute.

Research Studies:

Kerrigan DC, Todd MK, Della Croce, Lipsitz LA, Collins JJ. Biomechanical gait alterations independent of speed in the healthy elderly: evidence for specific limiting impairments. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 1998;79:317-22.
Kerrigan DC, Lee LW, Collins JJ, Riley PO, Lipsitz LA. Reduced hip extension during walking in healthy elderly and fallers versus young adults. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2001;82:26-30.
Kerrigan DC, Xenopoulos-Oddsson A, Sullivan MJ, Lelas JL, Riley PO. Effect of a hip flexor-stretching program on gait in the elderly.  Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2003;84:1-6.
Laughton CA, Slavin M, Katdare K, Nolan L, Bean JF, Kerrigan DC, Phillips E, Lipsitz LA, Collins JJ. Aging, muscle activity, and balance control: physiologic changes associated with balance impairment. Gait and Posture 2003;18:101-108.
DiBenedetto M, Innes KE, Rodeheaver PF, Taylor AG, Boxer JA, Wright HJ, Kerrigan DC. Effect of a gentle Iyengar yoga program on gait in the elderly: an exploratory study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2005;86:1830-1837.
Lee LW, Evans J, Zavarei K, Lelas JL, Riley PO, Kerrigan DC. Reduced hip extension in the elderly: dynamic or postural? Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2005;86:1851-1854.
Franz JR, Paylo KW, Dicharry J, Riley PO, Kerrigan DC. Changes in the coordination of hip and pelvis kinematics with mode of locomotion. Gait and Posture 2009;29(3):494-498.
Riley PO, Franz J, Dicharry J, Kerrigan DC. Changes in hip joint muscle-tendon lengths with mode of locomotion. Gait and Posture 2010;31(2):279-283.
Watt JR, Jackson K, Franz JR, Dicharry J, Evans J, Kerrigan DC. Effect of a supervised hip flexor stretching program on gait in elderly individuals. PM&R 2011;3(4) 324-329.
Watt JR,Jackson K, Franz JR, Dicharry J. Evans J, Kerrigan DC. Effect of a supervised hip flexor stretching program on gait in frail elderly patients. PM&R 2011;3(4):330-335.

Down But Not Out

NOT a selfie.

NOT a selfie.

I’ve been wearing my Fiji La Vida v2.0 for quite a while now (and running regularly in them, since the end of my high school lacrosse season at the very least), and I’ve noticed a phenomenon which you may have identified as well: the soles of my La Vida have worn down ever so slightly. The surface of each sole is still completely flat–they’ve worn down evenly–and, with that exotic “springiness” that’s unique to the La Vida, they feel exactly the same.

As it turns out (I regale you with information I gleaned after a lengthy conversation with my mom) the La Vida are exactly the same, despite their cosmetically thinner appearance. The material the soles are made of has changed in mass, not in chemical or physical composition. Unlike just about every other athletic shoe you could buy, the shoes still function just as they did when you first bought them; the biomechanical and medical aspects of the La Vida that make OESH the healthiest option in footwear are still entirely intact. Unlike Eric Clapton, your shoes have worn down, not out.

Of course, there may come a point at which the soles of your La Vida wear all the way through to the cloth outsole (consistently providing the same benefits to your feet, legs and entire body right up until the very end).  This hasn’t happened yet for me, but I must say I’m actually looking forward to it: I think I’ll expand my horizons a little by treating myself to a new pair of Deep Wisterias. I could use a little more purple in my wardrobe.

Yogaville

What do you do on an uneventful Saturday morning in the last June before you go to college? You and your La Vidas v2.0 recruit a friend, get in the car, and drive the forty minutes from Charlottesville to Yogaville.

Yogaville is located just outside Scottsville (we Virginians do love our ‘ville’s, don’t we?). This tiny town—and I use the term loosely, as I believe only a hundred(-ish?) denizens live there full-time—is dedicated to the physical and spiritual practice of yoga. I had only a passing, borderline-morbid fascination with Yogaville—and yoga itself—as I threw together the plans for this journey, so I quite honestly had no idea what to expect as we traveled down the main road, almost imperceptibly gaining altitude as we hurtled along through the central Virginia countryside. We almost missed the turn through the sheets of dust billowing from under the car’s wheels—braking sharply, we turned and stared. After forty uninterrupted miles of alternating woods and fields punctuated only by small, unobtrusive churches and stores, we were confronted by an enormous, pastel-pink arch. I found myself reminded strongly of a Sleeping Beauty birthday candle stuck into a loaf of whole wheat bread.

As we passed, shaken but undaunted, through the arch, the speed limit ticked abruptly down: after the 55 mph-zone and bright sunshine of the main road, we found ourselves peering along a wooded, one-way and perfectly paved path. We were directed by various signage to “ENTER”, as well as to decrease our speed to 10 mph—and then, after a particularly sharp turn, to 5 mph. And now it was quite clear that we were climbing into the mountains.

A few more turns—a few more held-breath moments—and we came upon it at last: the LOTUS shrine. If the entrance arch’s appearance amid its surroundings was striking, the shrine’s was garish. An immense field, constrained at its 90-degree angle corners by a barbed wire fence, stretched to the edges of a lake of similarly perfect geometric proportions. The massive pink LOTUS shrine, situated just before the lake and shored up on three sides by the Blue Ridge Mountains, beamed at us across a parking lot of the kind typically found in front of a Kroger. With no desire to change our state of willful ignorance by paying homage to the visitor’s center, we plunged straight for the shrine, passing several fountains and pairs of stone elephants.

We removed our shoes. Upon entering the completely dark and dome-roofed room upstairs, we discovered three women sitting in silent meditation; not wanting to disturb them—or the silence of the room itself—we hastened downstairs. The first floor of the shrine was comprised of a series of brief displays summarizing the major religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others. Quite alarmingly, “African” religions were all lumped together indiscriminately, as were “American Indian” religions. I chose to interpret the display to mean that the shrine does not intend to provide a conclusive catalogue of all religions that may be worshipped within its walls, but rather gives a sample: I would like to think that Yogaville intends to say “here are just a few of the religions we appreciate” rather than “here are the only religions we appreciate”.

This is a place surrounded by a peaceful, silent, truly wild mountainous Scottsvillian backyard, simultaneously inundated with commonplace construction work and the ever-present swirling red Virginia clay dust, and all these impressions are broiled thoroughly together by a lancing summer sun. The effect on the unwary, dispassionate traveller is not entirely good and not entirely bad, but distinctly eerie. Yogaville, for better or worse, is a powerful place, and I, for one, was touched by it.

Besides, my mom did one of the first scientific studies of the effects of yoga–the activity itself– and found only positive results. It should come as no surprise that yoga is entirely healthy and beneficial!

An actual signpost--leading to an actual road--in Yogaville.

An actual signpost–leading to an actual road–in Yogaville.