Pokemon Go Strategy Guide

Tips for beginner players

In the beginning, the whole Pokemon Go world may seem a bit daunting.  At L5 you have your prize 100CP pokemon, and you make your first foray into the gyms, and all these ultra-intimidating 1000+CP Pokemon that you don’t think you’ll ever find in your life are guarding all the gyms.  It makes you want to throw your hands up in despair.

Well, don’t.

The key to surviving Pokemon is patience.  Patience and experimentation.  The game has enough randomness and handicaps factored in where you will have advantages over experienced players.  But, if you’ve just hit L5, don’t expect to be taking over any gyms.  In fact until you hit L10, you should only be focused on capturing Pokemon and tagging Pokestops.

But that sounds boring!

Don’t worry, there’s plenty to explore and learn until level 10.  Effectively capturing Pokemon is a skill in itself that you need to learn.  Not just how to effectively flip that pokeball, but what spots to hang out at, what bonus items to exploit.

So, go to your favorite neighborhoods, see what Pokestops are around.  Check out a park or a body of water somewhere and go “fishing” – just waiting around and seeing what pops up.  If you can make something out of your “Pokemon Near Me” screen, go for it.  It’s been spotty for me.


That white ring you see represents your “discovery” limit. Any Pokemon, Pokestop, or gym in this ring will become interactable.

You can try to use the Pokemon Near Me screen to find those Pokemon you covet.  But you don’t know which direction they are, and if you’re like me, you can no longer even see how far away they are – just relative to each other (they read like a book – nearest is top left, farthest is bottom right).  So if you want to sweep for them, keep an eye on your white ring.  Run it through a neighborhood like a vacuum cleaner – up and down, back and forth, not missing any spots.

EDIT: I used to think you compete with other players for Pokemon.  You don’t.  What shows up for you shows up for others, but you all have the capacity to catch it yourself.  Even the rare ones.

What does happen is they “blink”: a Pokemon will appear in a specific location, but it will only hang out there 15-20 minutes before disappearing.  So if you chase a Pokemon that seems close and all of a sudden it’s no longer even on your radar, it’s because time’s up.  It does make the radar look like it’s messing with you.

The good news is it also means Pokemon tend to “blink” in the same spot – at least the more common ones.  So if you (or a friend) caught a Pokemon in a specific spot before, feel free to go hang out there some other time and see if it will pop up again.  Also, if you’re near that area and you see it registering nearby, go to that same spot.

You’ll also notice different types of Pokemon gather in different spots or streets.  So don’t waste too much time in your quiet cul de sac hoping a couple will show up.  Go to popular hangouts, and, well, hangout.  See what pops up.  Talk to other people and see where they caught good Pokemon.  A classic one is water Pokemon hanging around bodies of water.

This is where those lures and incense come in handy.  I think the jury is still out on how they operate, but I think they increase the chance of a Pokemon “blinking” into existence.  That is, if it is already known to blink there.

Catch them all – don’t worry if you have a bunch.  Did you know you can transfer unwanted Pokemon to the professor for a piece of candy?  So you’ll get that, you’ll get XP, and you’ll get precious stardust.

Don’t get me wrong, lures are nice.  If you combine them with a Lucky Egg and incense, you can have a wonderful time harvesting and leveling up with it.  Just try to find ones that haven’t lured everyone in sight.  I’ve seen some lured Pokestops that are virtual ghost towns.

At some point you’ll have enough basic Pokemon where you can experiment with powering up and evolving them.  But you should be cautious with spending your stardust and candy until you have some better choices on what to do with it.  Which leads us to

To Evolve or to Powerup?

It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out just how I wanted to budget my candy and stardust.  Which is part of the fun of the game.  But if you want to fine-tune it, there’s one basic rule to start: Don’t evolve weak pokemon.


Note the position of the dial. Don’t let this Pidgey fool you … it’s a butt kicker.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, above every Pokemon’s picture is a rainbow-shaped dial which corresponds to their CP (Combat Power).  Far-left is the weakest, far-right is the strongest.

At lower levels, you’ll have access to predominantly weak Pokemon.  But as you level-up you’ll see stronger and stronger ones.  One reason you wait till L10 is by then you’ll have some halfway-decent Pokemon worth powering up.  As well as a good idea of what Pokemon in your area are plentiful and which ones you should keep a tight budget with.

This Pidgey to the right is a classic example.  It’s powerful in its own right – certainly more powerful than some Pidgeots I’ve caught in the wild.  Also, if you were to take this to a gym, defeating an enemy could win you a powerful bonus.  Pokemon has a built in handicap system where if a low-CP Pokemon beats a high-CP Pokemon, you win much greater prestige.  But we’ll get to that later.


This Pidgeotto was evolved from the Pidgey above. Note the position on the dial is exactly the same – though the “XL/XS” tags can change.

The thing to remember about evolving is, any Pokemon you evolve maintains the same position on the dial after it evolves as before.

If you’ve already “wasted” your stardust on your weaker Pokemon, don’t fret.  Powering up weak pokemon is a relatively cheap affair.  But once they get near their limit, we’re talking 2000+ stardust per upgrade.  And I imagine this Pidgeotto has about half a dozen upgrades left before it’s maxed out.

So, Stardust or Candy?  At some point, you will want to pull the trigger and evolve that kinda-powerful Pokemon.  Never regret that decision.  But the bottom line is this – if a Pokemon is plentiful (like this Pidgey) you will get plenty of candy to evolve it.  So don’t waste stardust on it – find that ultra-powerful Pidgey and evolve it away.  Save stardust for those rare finds that you will want to power up.

One other note – evolving a Pokemon will automatically run a full heal.  So waiting to evolve a Pokemon until after it’s been beaten up is a good way to go.  Also, if you wait to chain a bunch of evolutions at the same time, you can get a Lucky egg in there and get that XP bonus.  Especially if you’re evolving it into an undiscovered Pokemon type.

Gym Strategy

Okay, so you’re L10, you’ve got some Pokemon ready, and you’re raring to hit the gyms.  But before you go charging in, remember – potions are limited, and they’re the only way to heal your Pokemon (aside from evolving, we’ll get to that later).  You can easily spend all your potions to take over a gym, only to have someone else knock you out in a few minutes.  So this guide will help you figure out how to save those potions for maximum benefit.

First thing to do is copy this to your phone and memorize it.


Got it?  Okay, we’re ready to move on.  Here’s where you should learn the secret: don’t let high CP Pokemon intimidate you.  I’ve gone in and wasted them with Pokemon of less than half their CP.  The key is in studying this chart, studying the Pokemon you’re attacking, and finding the right Pokemon to beat it for maximum prestige change and minimum HP loss.

A Pokemon’s type reflects their defense.  A Pokemon’s attack reflects their attack.  The two are rarely the same, and are relatively randomized.  For example, I have two Pidgeots – both are normal/flying.  But one has a Steel attack and one has a Flying attack.

When going up against an enemy Pokemon, the strategy is to find what attacks they’re vulnerable to, and what resists their attacks.  Then choose the Pokemon with the minimum CP that you think could defeat them.  Note there’s some randomness here.  You’re not really sure what their attack is, you just have a couple choices to choose from.

One way to find out is in combat.  If someone wanted to figure out my Pidgeot, he would put a Rock Pokemon to fight it, and then see if the Pidgeot’s attack is “Super effective”, which would mean a Steel attack, or “Not so effective”, which would mean a Flying attack.

As for dual nature Pokemon, I’m not quite sure how their defense works.  Do they get the strengths and vulnerabilities of both?  Are they averaged out?

Why take over a gym?

I’ll start this off with an anecdote.  I have a gym just out of reach of my house, and I have a couple neighbors in the Red team (I’m in Blue).  They told me how they need to stay in control of that gym, so any time someone took it over they took it right back.

I haven’t seen that gym go Red in a couple days now.

I imagine they kept trying to take it over until they ran out of potions.  Now, they’re powerless to do much of anything.  The point is, don’t let pride get in the way.  You don’t need all the gyms all the time.  What you do need is to have the gyms at the right time.

Well, what time is that?  Once you take over your first gym, immediately go to your Shop.  You’ll notice a shield icon in the top right corner.  Click on that to start the timer, which runs for 21 hours.

Now, during those 21 hours, you don’t actually need to control any gyms.  In fact, if you wanna really piss people off, put a weak Pokemon in there, a Pokemon you’re ready to evolve or transfer to the Professor anyway.  Start the timer, let people beat it up, then do what you will with it.  No potions wasted.

Once that 21 hour timer expires, now it’s time to take over some gyms.  You can let it expire without having any gyms, it doesn’t matter.  Just see how many gyms you can control simultaneously when you finally go to the shop to collect your bonus.  I’ve had up to four gyms at a time when I went to collect.  2000 XP and 40 Pokecoins is nothing to sneeze at.

But HOW do I take over a gym?

Oh, that’s right, it’s still all confusing.  The way they set up gym combat was built for high turnover.  If you go up against an enemy gym, you get to use six Pokemon.  If you go up against your own color gym, you only get to use one.

To ease your way into gym combat, you probably want to find a gym with a free spot.  Then put a Pokemon in there and see what happens.  If there are no free spots, you can make one.  You do this by battling the gym.  Put up a Pokemon that you think will beat the first one (what I call the Doorman) for maximum prestige and minimum HP loss.  After that fight is over, you’ll have option to keep fighting the rest until you run out of HP, but I tend to run away after that.

That gives the gym added prestige.  Once it hits a certain threshhold, another slot opens up.  Put your Pokemon in there, and it will file in according to CP.  Lowest CP is first to fight and first to get kicked out.  The top CP (champion) goes down with the gym.

Which leads to the next topic – how to take down an enemy gym.  You get six Pokemon to do it, and you get to choose (on the fly) which Pokemon goes up against which defender.  So chances are good you can defeat the whole gym.  It doesn’t mean you take it over, but defeating all a gym’s Pokemon will deliver a huge prestige blow.  And as its prestige goes down, its bottom Pokemon get kicked out, and it becomes easier to beat.

The basic rule is – the fewer and lower CP Pokemon you use, the more gym Pokemon you take out, the more prestige damage you deliver.

And while a friendly gym will only send your Pokemon to 1HP, an enemy gym will make your Pokemon faint (0HP).  Which requires a Revive crystal.  This is a good thing.  While potions are pretty scarce, I tend to have a lot of revive crystals.  So if you can find a way to attack a gym when all your six Pokemon are at 1/2 health, you won’t need any potions to defeat it.  Just Revive crystals, and patience.  They’re also good to use on high-powered Pokemon, since they restore more HP.

Ronnybiggs is an LA based player who won’t be selling his account for $100.

Brexit happened because of immigration

I feel like the discussion about Brexit has been disingenuous at best. And if we are going to stop Brexit from becoming a total rout of the EU and the world economy, we need to bring it back home.

The Brexit vote was about immigration. Pure and simple. Not about Polish immigration or Sikh immigration, it’s about the unfettered Muslim immigration from countries that have slipped into anarchy. More so, it seems the EU has found an ingenious way to circumvent all immigration law by using the “refugee” loophole. I.E.: If you can let Muslims pour into Greece, Italy and Spain, they are welcome anywhere in the EU. Including England.  This is what is making people flinch and tip in favor of Brexit, in what would have otherwise been a much more tepid discussion.

Now, I get the population increase argument. Economics is a dismal science, and part of that means that if your population isn’t growing, the economy crashes. But where did people think they could get away with this “refugee” scheme? Did they think people would fall for it and NOT have some massive backlash? And did they remember that immigration is one thing, assimilation is another?

No, apparently not.

Officials need to at least own the situation we’re in. Own the consequences of the last few years of unfettered immigration and the dismantling of existing law. First of all, we know that a 90% male influx isn’t refugees, it’s taking advantage of the loophole they’re so proud of.

Second, Muslims in the EU need to be assimilated – we can’t just ignore this massive clash of values.  If a Muslim commits terrorism, call it Muslim terrorism.  Really, Orlando is a gun control issue?  That’s just … autistic.

And yes, assimilation happens violently, with draconian laws, machine guns and billy clubs (back to that dismal science). No-go zones need to be acknlowledged, and put under siege. Mosques need to be tightly monitored for terrorist ties (as has been done quite successfully in France). Any Muslim that doesn’t like it is free to find another country.

And if the EU isn’t to be completely torn asunder by a right-wing resurgence, it needs to QUICKLY revamp its “freedom of movement” policy. This “refugee” loophole needs to be closed.

Keep in mind, I dislike the extreme right as much as anyone. Whenever they come into the government, things get messy. I would have liked someone other than Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson to have the day in Parliament. But if they’re the only ones to address the Muslim elephant in the European room, they will continue to surge in the polls. They will continue to fill all sorts of crazy agendas along with a sloppy resolution the the immigration issue.

But if the mainstream continues to ignore this debate, the extreme right will seize the next few years, all over Europe. England is only the first domino.

Arya Stark and the Iron Bank of Braavos

Note: this post is a work in progress.  I am adding more as I go along.  

“The Iron Bank is the Iron Bank.  There is no ‘someone’… [like] a temple is comprised of stones.  One crumbles, and another takes its place.  And the temple holds its form, for a thousand years or more.  And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple.  We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it.  You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses.  If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.” – Tywen Lannister, S4E5

Looks like GoT is preparing next season to be a clash of the seven major kingdoms.  The Free City of Braavos exists as a completely sovereign kingdom of its own.  It is most known among the kingdoms as the home of the Iron Bank.  How does an Iron Bank like that exist, in a city with no visible army, and continue to prosper and accumulate wealth?  How is it not a pile of gold waiting to be looted by any passing marauder or unscrupulous monarch?

The answer is the Faceless Men and the House of Black and White.  This is their enforcement wing.  It operates as a totally clandestine army, operating exactly as Tywen describes.  My hunch is that they have been very much aware of Arya Stark’s potential since the beginning, and are ready to use her to great benefit in season 7.  They’ve been preparing her ever since season 1.  Let’s unfold the timeline.

In Kings Landing, Arya gets swordsmanship training (water dance) from Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos.  Pretty sure if the First Sword of any country sacrifices himself so you can run away, he’s got plans for you.  Of course the fact that we don’t actually SEE him dead, which in GoT is always suspect.  Especially when associated with a Faceless Clan.

She runs away from Kings Landing with the help of Eddard’s friend (brother?).  Quite shortly into her journey, she runs into Jaqen H’ghar, trapped in a cage with two other prisoners.  First, it means he and Syrio were in King’s Landing at the same time.  But he immediately knows her name and tells her his origins – but not the right one (free city of Lorell?).  She saves him and the others from burning up in their cage during a melee.

Once in Harrenhall, he finds her in a quiet spot and immediately talks to her in third person language.  “A man”, “a girl”, etc.  And he schools her in the justice he knows.  “A man pays his debts.  A man owes three.  Only death may pay for life.  You stole three deaths from the Red God, we have to give them back.”  Whether he truly follows a credo or wants to build a relationship with her is irrelevant.  It’s one and the same thing.

His second target is by poison dart.  “Wolfsbane.  A rare substance.  This is no common assassin.” – Tywen Lannister.  And the funny thing is he doesn’t suspect a thing.  He thinks it’s some Brotherhood nonsense.  BTW notice the name Wolfsbane, is the namesake of the Stark sigil?

Okay, so at this point we know something’s up.  How does a skilled assassin get caught in some cage with two rogues, unless he intends to?

After he helps Arya escape, he continues to stalk her.  In a really creepy fashion.  “If you would learn you must come with me to Braavos.”  “My dancing master was from Braavos.”  Here he introduces her to the Faceless Men and knows all the names she wants dead, says she can offer them to the Red God.  He gives her a coin “of great value” but “not meant for the buying of horses.”

So, at this point, Arya has learned his exacting bookkeeping credo, how to avoid being noticed, and the esoteric value of a coin.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to some Iron Bank executives when Stanis asks them for a loan.  They too are faceless, in their own way.  Expressionless, characterless, no discerning characteristics.  They only repeat the mantra of the bank.  The fact that we think bankers are dry and boring actually works against us.  It is the credo they thrive on.

And we’re also introduced to the dread the Lannisters (who always pay their debts) have to the Iron Bank.  Tywen’s quote above comes from a very informative conversation he has with Cersei, divulging the debt they owe to the Iron Bank.   “We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it.”  A number of ironies here, namely that Jaqen had been training Arya literally under Tywens nose at Harrenhall, and he never suspected a thing.  Tryion shares a similar dread of the vengeance of the Iron Bank.

This drops us off in season 5 and drops off Arya in Braavos.  It’s worth pointing out his description of the statue guarding the city.  A shield and broken sword – implying a city that does not attack, but has a supernatural ability to defend itself.  And when Arya thanks the sailor for dropping her off at the House of Black and White, he says “any man of Braavos would have done the same.”  See what he did there?  The whole city has a certain faceless heritage.

Jaqen H’ghar answers the door in disguise, and gives her the cold shoulder.  And yet he watches her every move – from dropping the coin in the sea to intercepting her encounter with the three rogues.  He probably knew she didn’t drop Needle.

It’s all part of a complicated training program he puts Arya through.  Not going to get into all of it here, but there was one telling conversation: explaining the insurance agent’s corruption to Arya, and how the Faceless Men provide justice to those who’ve been cheated.  “Perhaps the gambler loses his bet and decides he does not have to pay after all.  A destitute woman and her small child, what can they do to such a man if he keeps their money for himself?  To whom can they turn for recourse?”


So, if the Many Faced God will bring retribution to such a destitute woman, what kind of retribution does he provide to, say, the Iron Bank, if a powerful family like the Lannisters decide they don’t want to pay their debts?

There’s other lessons we could talk about here.  Like Arya learning what it means to be noone.  And that while faces change, credos, institutions, loyalties, house names remain.  “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell.”  She isn’t denying she’s noone, she’s saying the Stark name isn’t just faces.  It’s a valuable lesson the Iron Bank brings to the story as a whole.  Especially to those who just see characters like Arya as Arya, i.e. individual faces with individual stories.  Alone, apart from this grand waltz, they make no sense.  “The faces are as good as poison.

The real story is, the House That Always Pays Its Debts owes a huge amount of money to the Iron Bank That Always Collects Its Debts.  It’s too glaring a plot twist to ignore, especially at a time when the Lannisters seem to be militarily dominant and the Starks so weak.


Why America needs a Trump candidacy

Most of my coworkers are Latinos – most of those are El Salvadoran.  So when we went out for lunch one day, it was only a matter of time before they found out I was leaning towards Trump.

Needless to say, it got awkward at first.  First came the comments about his disparaging attacks on Latinos.  Then his comments about Muslims.  But after I wasn’t knuckling other to either one, since I honestly think both charges are bullshit, the silence led one of them to make an illuminating comment:

“Of course we need to have laws.”

We need to have laws.  Indeed.  That’s the crux of the Trump candidacy, and it’s the crux of the European electoral tumult.

I’ve been in politics a long time – since my naive days of Jerry Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign.  I can say that the primaries are a brainstorming session for both parties – they let any comers shoot off any strange and unformed ideas they have, and see what sticks with the voters.  It’s only towards the end of the primaries, heading into the convention, that they decide it’s time to close down the session and rally around a candidate they feel represents them.

Only sometimes it doesn’t quite work as planned.  Like this year.  This year has been a real popular backlash against ruling class policy – that of abolishing all immigration law, and allowing anybody on earth to move anywhere they want.   We may have our “illegal immigrant” problem here at home (I’ll get to that in a bit).  But it’s nothing compared to the brilliant EU loophole of allowing “refugee” status to people in any one country and then letting them in through that back door into any other country in Europe.

As Douglas Murray puts it “‘imagine there’s no countries’?  We don’t have to imagine it, we’re seeing the real consequences of getting rid of borders, and that’s people blowing themselves up in the heart of Paris.”

It’s no stretch to say this is deliberate policy.  And part of that policy is to smear anyone who criticises the scrapping of immigration law and borders as a bigot.  This is happening both in European and American governments, both Democrat and Republican parties.

And that’s why when Trump comes in and says things like “build that wall” or “seal the borders” it’s a signal that he supports something THEY CANNOT ALLOW TO HAPPEN.

The remarks themselves aren’t even worth scrutinizing that much.  In a brainstorming session, one wants provocative remarks like this, because they spur thought, reaction, debate.  Nevermind if they’re unworkable or offensive, we have plenty of time to take those comments, see the direction they’re going in, and hammer them out into workable policy.

Like the “ban all Muslims” remark.  Nevermind that they twisted what he said.  Nevermind that there’s no way to ban based on religion.  But there are bans based on country of origin.  It’s not that hard to go from one to the other, and we did it to Iran after their hijackings.

But back to the American issue of immigration.  If I make one point, it’s this.  It’s okay to demand immigration be made legal.  It’s okay to make sure those immigrating here legally can do so more easily than those who don’t.  It’s okay to demand that those who pose a terrorism risk aren’t allowed in.  The more voters who make these demands are made to feel like bigots, the more they will rally and solidify behind a man like Trump.

It’s in everyone’s interests that everyone in this country is here legally.  The fact is, someone who is here working illegally is someone who is working with no rights.  Are there issues with this?  Of course.  That’s a whole separate article.

But nobody’s saying “kick out all the Mexicans” or “Mexicans are criminals”.  Those are just slanders.  Trump’s main remark, time and again, is that we can’t just ignore our own laws and let people pour over without any record.

That’s a great starting point.  If we’re short on workers, nobody has a problem with liberalizing immigration law.  As my coworkers told me, and I suspected, poor Latin Americans can’t immigrate legally to USA.  Only the rich can.  Well, that’s a problem.  And we can change that.  With laws.  Not by ignoring laws and ridiculing those that have a problem with it.

It’s no secret that America’s a nation of immigrants.  My coworkers relay to me their parents’ stories of escaping violence and poverty to seek a better life in America, and honestly, it doesn’t sound too different from anybody else’s story.  That’s why nobody’s doing themselves any favors by claiming the Trump campaign anti-immigrant.  Because those who’ve been paying attention to Trump’s remarks realize it’s a “pro-law” campaign.

Because America is a nation of immigrants, but it’s also a nation of laws.  And one doesn’t trump the other.

You can travel faster than light speed

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
‘Til touchdown brings me ’round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home” – Rocket Man by Elton John

A misconception exists in Einstein’s famous equations – that there’s some absolute speed limit where we couldn’t possibly travel to the stars any faster than light speed.  It’s actually false. Well, to everyone we knew out on Earth, they’ll be long gone by the time we come back to regale them with our tales.  But to us and our crew on the SS Enterprise, well we could explore half the galaxy in one lifetime, with the right warp drive (which is entirely another issue).

First, the Twins Paradox – and the hidden paradox within.  The focus of the twins paradox is how one twin flying to a distant star and back will barely age, while their counterpart back here on Earth has aged several decades.

Okay, do you see what I’m talking about yet?  Here’s another hint.  Do you think they were hanging out on their spaceship all those years enjoying some fountain of youth?  No – they literally took that amount of time to travel back and forth.  While years and years passed on Earth, only a few days or months passed on the spaceship.

And that, to me, is the far more interesting paradox.  Let’s take our favorite star, Alpha Centauri, hanging out four light years away.  I’ll leave my brother off at home, and take off on my high speed rocket at near the speed of light, so it takes nine earth years to go there and back.  But my brother and I, being rather perceptive people, don’t just notice that he aged and I didn’t.  When we compare clocks, literally only a year passed for me, while nine years passed for my brother.

Wait.  How can that happen?  How could I have travelled to Alpha Centauri and back, something light would do in nine years, in only a year?  Did I mysteriously break the speed of light?  And if so, how did I do that?

Well, yes and no.  What the absolute speed of light says is that no object can reach the speed of light relative to another object.  That’s why it appears to my brother to take me this long.

But what happens to me?  The answer is another twin – time dilation’s lesser known twin, space dilation.  As my ship accelerates past Earth into sublight speed, it’s not just time that shrinks to nothing, space also shrinks to nothing.  The distance I have to travel to get to Alpha Centauri now shrinks from four light years to only half a light year.


The Lorentz transformation – how spacetime dilates with relative velocity.

And yes, the shrinkage is exactly the same.  It’s called the Lorentz transformation and is why Einstein called it spacetime and not just time or space.  Both time and space dilate equally according to gamma.  This is what allows a photon (ray of light) to appear to travel the same speed relative to everyone looking at it.

Here’s another fun way of looking at it.  As we said above, accelerating a spaceship to that speed is well out of our technology, and that’s the real issue of space travel.  But we regularly accelerate particles to quite near light speed in our accelerators.  So let’s pretend this particle is a spaceship and see how long it would take for it to get to, say, the center of our galaxy (25k light years away).

Fortunately my favorite website has a great example – just as it throws up its hands in at the implication that we’re permanently Earthbound.

Difficulty of acceleration

The fun part is, right below it they talk about the problems with variable mass – implying problems in general.

Saves just a second for you landlubbing Earth dwellers, maybe.  But let’s see how the world looks from the perspective of that electron.  By the Lorentz transformation, space and time dilate by a factor of about 60 for the first electron, and about 11,000 for the second one.  A good way to understand gamma is you’re going gamma times the distance in one gammath (1/gamma) the time.

Essentially, that first electron is going 60 times the distance in 1/60th the time.  So spacetime has dilated to 3600 times what it was used to back at rest – particle 1 is going 3600 times the speed of light of its old frame of reference.  Particle 2?  It’s going 121 MILLION times the speed of light of its old frame of reference.

Translation?  Particle 1 could get to the center of the Milky Way galaxy in about seven years.  Particle 2 could get there in a little under two weeks.

Of course we’ll never see the news of either of these guys travels.  We would have to wait here at rest for 50,000 years for them to return.  Entire civilizations, entire species will have come and gone by then.  But that’s not for rocketmen to ponder.

When you think about it, fiction portrays it rather accurately. The stars imploding on the ship are a good portrayal of how space would dilate.

When you think about it, fiction portrays it rather accurately. The stars imploding on the ship are a good portrayal of how space would dilate.


The event horizon – a cosmic mirage

Black holes – or more specifically, their event horizon – are a cosmic mirage.  Not much different from a rainbow.  Oh, they’re real alright, I’m not talking about leprechauns with the pot of gold at the end, but the way we experience them is totally different from the thing itself.  There is no such thing as “falling though the event horizon” because the “event horizon” is precisely only our experience of it.

Contradictions in last episode

The interesting thing about scientific inquiry is you’re never satisfied with your answers.  Answers always lead to contradictions, things that don’t make sense, new questions.  I had answered how something can accelerate to light speed in a black hole’s pull.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if some daring astronomer constantly decelerates himself as he comes closer and closer to the event horizon, constantly making sure he’s both aiming for dead center, and making a nice slow descent?

Now you could counter by saying that if you didn’t let yourself freefall, the G forces would tear you to shreds.  But here comes the complicating factor.  Supermassive black holes exist which have relatively weak gravitational force at the event horizon.  A black hole with a radius of about one light year, for example, would have a gravitation at its event horizon equivalent to here on Earth’s surface (aka 1G).

Not so coincidentally, if you were to accelerate for about a year at 1G, you would reach what I call nominal light speed – which is your actual speed if you accelerated to light speed in a simplified Newtonian universe  That just happens to be 0.618c (0.618 the speed of light) – which is exactly the proportion of the golden rectangle (?) – but we’ll save this tidbit for later.  The question right now is how is such weak gravity at an event horizon even possible?  Aren’t black holes supposed to spaghettify us and tear us into subatomic shreds and stuff?

What’s an event horizon doing with such, well, EARTHLY gravity?

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right.  radius accelSupermassive black holes have very low gravity at their event horizon.  It’s a simple formula, really.  The radius of the event horizon is the inverse of its acceleration – i.e. gravity.  r*a is the same for each and every black hole.

I could do some extra wizardry to show you the math, but you have the internet for that.  Small black holes pull really hard on that photon to whip it in a circle.  Large black holes can take their sweet time.  And here’s the fun part – if you were to free-fall into a black hole radius accel integral– ANY black hole – from somewhere outside its influence, you’d accelerate to the speed of light.  Ve = velocity at event horizon = c (speed of light).

But the twisted logic that happens at that event horizon remains the same.

A lesson on geodesics

Well, how do we wrap our minds around that?

black hole geometry

The non-euclidean geometry (geodesics) of a black hole, as discussed in our previous post

For that we have to delve into the world of geodesics.  And first in that, a beef.  I don’t like the term “geodesics.” It conjures up hippy domes in the middle of the desert.  I prefer the term “non-Euclidean geometry”.  It easily tells us we’ve left the familiar world of ancient geometers with their simple circles and triangles on a flat surface, and are falling down the rabbit-hole (so to speak) of curved spaces and planes.

And that’s what we need to know to understand a blackhole.  It’s how we can picture Einstein’s theory of relativity.  If you’ll recall from my last post, this 3D well describes the spacetime around a black hole – how it curves down into an infinite well.

There’s a few things going on in that diagram, so we’ll try to take it a bit at a time.

The thing to remember about this well is, it’s not like gravity is pulling everything down it.  It mainly describes how light, a massless particle that always travels in a perfectly straight line, can still seem to bend.

Now there’s difference in the specifics of how light and massive entities  fall towards a gravitational center.  But what’s the same is the acceleration.  Here on Earth, we are constantly accelerating towards it at 9.8m/s2.  And light is no different.

Even though it travels in a straight line.

And that’s my second beef with “geodesics”  – the definition of a straight line as the closest distance between two “local” (i.e. “close”) points.  That’s a bit of a copout, like saying “well we’re reducing this to a map”.  I prefer the term “no sideways pull”.

plane aileron

The (air)plane rotates, twisting the (geometric)plane it’s on, and then lifts into a turn. Get it?

But let’s go back to our analogy of the plane from last chapter.  There’s rudderless planes out there.  By just rotating the plane with ailerons, and using the elevators in back, you can turn every which way without ever having sideways pull.  Just rotate the plane, and go up or down.

So if you look at what makes the plane “turn without turning”, the factor here is “which way is up”.  As it rotates, it changes that “upwards” direction, and then goes up or down in that upwards direction.

And BTW, this works equally for spaceships in zero gravity.  So gravity has nothing to do with which way is up.  In more complicated math, it’s called “orthogonal” which is defined as the perpendicular to the plane.  This allows us to pile on more dimensions.

But we’re here to discuss black holes, not study math.  So let’s translate this “upness” into black holes.  earth v supermassiveCompare Earth’s gravitation of a beam of light – a1 – and compare it with a REALLY massive black hole, whose acceleration near the event horizon is less than at Earth’s surface.

As a light beam approaches earth, it enters Earth’s gravity, changing its “upness” and starts to “curve” around Earth.  What causes the curve is the “upness changing”.

Now, compare that to a supermassive black hole.  By the time you’re near the event horizon (as seen by this incredibly drawn cut-out) you’re practically vertical.  But there’s not much “upness” left to change.  You’re just being whipped around in what seems like a flat surface, in a very large cylinder, “upness” pointing directly into the middle.

Any way you look at it, it’s the speed of light

The problem though, with such small scale cutouts, is they conveniently leave out just how far we’ve come to get to this “vertical space” in the supermassive black hole.  As I hinted earlier, before we get to this spot in a supermassive black hole, we’d have been freefalling literally for years and years.

But what if we decided not to freefall?  What if we got some theoretical rocket thrusters and slowed down our descent, so we avoided being anywhere near the speed of light at the event horizon?

Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation

The answer is it doesn’t matter.  Because how would you do that?  You would manually accelerate yourself in this gravitational field.  If you did the same manual acceleration outside a gravitational field (i.e. deep space), you would go from 0 to light speed.  So no matter what your behavior is around the event horizon – hovering, freefalling, or some combination of the two (i.e. orbiting) – you’d be at near light speed.

This is what Einstein is talking about, that we experience a spacetime dilation in a gravitational field, even if we’re hovering/standing/using rocket thrusters.  The spacetime dilation is basically equal to the sum of acceleration from deep space to whatever surface you’re at.

Back to where we started

Which takes us back to the incredible shrinking black hole, except this time we take it a step further.  In the last post, we talked about the fact that a black hole shrinks away from any object approaching it.  But just how?  We don’t want to just WATCH something fall into a black hole, we want to KNOW what it’s like.  We want to BE whatever it is that falls in.

Well, considering we nixed any realistic possibility of crossing the event horizon with strange tricks, let’s pretend  we’re freefalling directly to a black hole’s heart.  And orbits are boring.  We want to go straight in.  So we have this craft that doesn’t try to resist gravity, and doesn’t let us slip to the right or left.  And we’ll start well outside a nice supermassive black hole, about 1 light year diameter.

The best way to picture this is pretend we’re falling in a Newtonian universe, and at periodic intervals, we’ll recalibrate to allow for how spacetime changed around us.  Don’t worry, if someone gives us flak for this, just tell them delta apporoaches zero.  If it doesn’t shut them up, send them my way.

If you were to freefall to what you think is the event horizon, you’d hit what you’d think was light speed in a Newtonian universe – i.e. “nominal light speed”, or to put it another way, Newtonian velocity = momentum divided by mass = light speed (v=p/m=c).  So let’s take our new bearings.

Distance to center is still r.

Actual relativistic speed is now ?c (~.618c).

At ?c, distances shrink to ??.  So the radius of the new black hole is r*??.

Time also dilates to ?(1+?) for those outside of you, but we don’t care about them, so that’s kind of irrelevant.

Recalibrate your instruments for your new reality, and freefall AGAIN to “nominal light speed” – the speed you’d reach at the new event horizon at r*??.

Distance to center is now r*??.

Except now you’re at ?c compared to where you were before, or basically, your momentum doubled from your starting point.  You’re at  ?c compared to your last point.  Or, to put It another way, Newtonian velocity is twice the speed of light (p/m=2c).

New event horizon is now r*?.

freefall graph

While “light speed” is maximum, momentum is infinite. Here’s how momentum compares to the relative size of an event horizon. You would even out where the event horizon was ?? times the distance from the singularity as you are.

And so on, in the grand progression of the golden rectangle.  The ultimate equation is that y=r*a/ ?0.5(x-1) . Where y is your Newtonian velocity (momentum/mass) and x is the radius of the black hole.

Here, you know what?  Let’s draw a graph.

Notice there’s no time here.  Acceleration is whatever it is to get you to the light speed you’d reach at event horizon.

How far down do you want to go?  How much can your imaginary ship take?  How infinitely fast do you want to go?  How far do you want to escape those boring confines of flat spacetime and see the universe from the perspective of the infinite?

That is what it’s like to fall down that well.





The Incredible Shrinking Black Hole

Couple interesting stories in the news lately.  One was about the discovery of gravitational waves.  The other was about directly witnessing a star get swallowed by a black hole.

star getting swallowedExcept it seemed the writers of these stories were so abuzz about the actual event, they didn’t point out the curious aspect of HOW a star gets sucked in by a black hole.  Observe the artist’s illustration:

Wait, what?

Did you see that?

Here, let’s take the REALLY interesting part of this diagram.

gravity pulling away notes

Shouldn’t the star be getting sucked directly into the black hole?  If the black hole has such all-powerful gravity, shouldn’t the star’s mass be getting pulled right along the blue line, right into the center of the black hole?  What’s it doing curving AWAY from it, like with the red line?  When was the last time you saw an object fall and turn AWAY like this?

For this, we need to get into the deeper workings of Einstein’s theory of general relativity – the idea that space is curved, and all we can ever see as observers is a flattened version of it.  Not far behind is the mystery of black holes, those unknowable holes of nothingness, those Bermuda Triangles of the universe, and ultimate examples of relativity in action.

To better understand the relativity of black holes, we must understand the concept of curvature of space.  flight mapThis is the branch of mathematics known as non-Euclidean geometry, and we’ve all seen it at one point or another.  Take, for example, an intercontinental flight.  Watch your flight take place on a map, and your plane seems to curve along its way to the target, rather than going in a straight line.  That seems a bit … inefficient.

flight globeUntil you recall that we’re not travelling on a map, we’re travelling on the surface of a sphere.  We and the pilot are very nicely travelling along a straight line, never veering to the left or right as the map would have us believe.

Likewise, light always travels straight, unperturbed by gravity since it has no mass.  So why does it bend in a gravitational field?  This is where Einstein’s theory comes in.  He said that gravity is more accurately understood as a warping of space and time (spacetime), and that a massless beam is still travelling straight through the field.  flight whirlpoolMuch like if, instead of traversing a globe, our plane were to fly through a depression or whirlpool without turning.  It would also bend its path even though we were flying perfectly straight.

So here’s the issue, mathematically speaking.  If a straight line goes through any whirlpool, no matter how steep, it will spiral in, level out, and eventually spiral its way out.  If a black hole simply has really, really steep walls, light will be able to escape.  There would be no such thing as an event horizon, through which light can never escape.

flight steep whirlpoolFrom a mathematical perspective, the only shape that can hold a straight line is a cylinder. flight cylinder

And that’s how we would need to understand the topology of a black hole – not that it is just really really steep, but that it’s more like a well – with walls asymptoting (limiting themselves) at the event horizon.

Which brings us to an interesting concept.  “Light can’t escape a black hole” is actually a misnomer.  Fact is, light can never ENTER a black hole.  By our idea of the asymptotic well, light will always spiral in ad infinitum. black hole well

We can see evidence of this in the picture below of a black hole crossing over a galaxy.  That corona around it?  That’s light from the galaxy hitting the black hole, spiraling into its well, before spiraling back out in that ring formation.

And let’s take that the actual mass of a black hole is a infinitesimal speck right in the middle of the event horizon.  What we’re seeing already is a black hole is literally a RUPTURE in spacetime.  By this model, there is no spacetime between the black hole and the event horizon.

black hole galaxy

The “corona” around this black hole is light from the nearby galaxy that gets trapped in its pull. It then spirals in, flattens out at a certain depth, and spirals back out at us.

This is where things start to get weird.  To better understand this weirdness, we need to understand just HOW spacetime warps around a black hole.

There is no speed limit

First of all, the “speed of light” is a misnomer.  There is no universal “maximum speed” per se.  It may take four years for light to reach here from Alpha Centauri.  But that’s from the perspective of us sitting here on Earth.  If you were somehow to hitch a ride on a beam of light, you’d arrive at Alpha Centauri in an instant.  It’s only to all your friends back home that it seemed to take you four years (eight years, really, since it would take four more years for news of your arrival to hit home).

So what’s going on?

If you were to somehow speed up that quickly, and slow down again, what you’d see is the whole universe collapsing all around you, Alpha Centauri would only seem a step away, you’d make a quick jump, and then the universe would expand again as you slowed down, finding yourself at your new star in just a moment.  Meanwhile, everything around you just aged four years.

Cool, huh?  Of course we haven’t even gotten to the fact that you’d have to accelerate far faster than the speed of light to get anywhere near it – meaning, if you had some gyroscopic speedometer that was based purely on acceleration, it would say you’re going far far faster than light speed.  But let’s save that for another time.

Here’s a more realistic application – the Cern supercollider, which accelerates particles to near the speed of light.  It runs them along a magnetic circular track, accelerating them to near the speed of light.  What happens from an observer’s perspective is far different from the particle’s perspective.

cern observerFor simplicity’s sake, let’s say the track has a radius of 1 mile.  It accelerates to near the speed of light, running round it at 100 times/second.

But let’s say we could shrink down to that particle level and hitch a ride.  What would we experience?  As we approached the speed of light, time would slow down for us, AND distances would shrink.  Other things would happen too, like we’d become more massive.  But the distance and the time are the interesting part.  cern particleOur track would shrink to only 1 meter radius, and now while we were at around the same near-light speed the observer sees us at, we’re now doing the track at 160 THOUSAND times/second.  In that second, we’d see the outside world age 25 minutes.

Okay, now back to black holes.  One fascinating phenomenon about matter entering black holes is, for a while it seems to turn AWAY from the black hole.  As if the black hole wants matter to orbit around it rather than sucking it right in.  How can that even happen?

Once again, this is an illusion brought by travel along non-Euclidean spacetime.  Let’s go back to our diagram of a black hole as a well.

Better yet, let’s look down an actual well.well

Now, imagine this well is really deep.  I mean, really REALLY deep.  See that disk at the bottom?  How small can you imagine it?  And remember, it’s the exact same diameter at the bottom as it is at the top.

Now, try shining a laser pointer at  the bottom of this really deep well.  Not too easy, is it?  You’ll inevitably end up hitting the surrounding wall.

And that’s what happens when matter or light hits a black hole.  Let’s take what we learned from our Cern particle and see what happens as matter hits a black hole.  From an observer’s perspective, it approaches, then mysteriously turns away as it accelerates and starts orbiting the black hole.enter observer

The incredible shrinking black hole

But what happens from the particle’s perspective, as it hurtles towards that black hole at breakneck speed, powerful gravitational forces accelerating it near the speed of light?  We go back to our Cern illustration.  As it accelerates, its universe collapses around it.  Rather than curving away from the hole, the very black hole it seems to be hurtling into shys away from it. enter particle It continues ever towards it, missing this now shrunken black hole.  Since it can never aim for absolute dead center, the black hole will always shy away just enough to have it “miss” and gett pulled into orbit instead.  Keep in mind it’s the same black hole, it’s still travelling a similar near-light speed, but it orbits this shrunken black hole 1000 times in the time it takes the observer to see it orbit the black hole once.
That infinitesimal dot at the bottom of our well is starting to make a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?  Also, it’s a nice location for the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  But we digress.

So, here’s where things get REALLY interesting.  If the event horizon is the circumference at which light can no longer escape – it means from the perspective of anything on the event horizon, that black hole is now infinitesimal in size.  Which just happens to be the perfect distance for quantum mechanics.

Now, I’m not much of a quantum mechanist.  I know enough about the subject to separate science from new age bunk, but that’s about it.  But as a mathematician and armchair philosopher, I also know about Zeno’s paradox: That nothing can ever get from point A to point B.  That’s because it has to travel half that distance first, and half that distance before that, and so on ad infinitum.

The solution to that paradox is also the prediction of the atom – that ultimately the universe is composed of indivisible quanta.

plasma globeAnd that’s what I think is happening between the event horizon and the point of singularity.  The concept of spacetime in here is bunk.  It’s a hole in spacetime.  An infinitesimal hole, a quantum leap between the event horizon and the point of singularity.  And particles snap to singularity.  Kinda something like this plasma globe.


Some fun observations

So let’s go back to our black hole eating the star.  What’s happening?  As the star’s matter approaches the black hole, it’s getting accelerated to speeds approaching light.  To them, they’re going straight into it.  But the black hole is shrinking.  While we’re watching them slowly orbit around it, they’re orbiting it at fractions of an instant.  As friction eats away at their orbit and they get nearer and nearer the “event horizon” it keeps shrinking farther and farther away from them until they get shredded into the light show you see above.

People are fascinated with the event horizon.  More so, they’re obsessed with CROSSING it.  What’s on the other side?  We now see that simply APPROACHING the event horizon gives us plenty of questions to answer before we throw a probe into a black hole and hope it doesn’t fall apart.

The fun thing about black holes is they’re such a drastic warp of spacetime that they render our very flattened perception of them meaningless.  For example, the more massive a black hole is, the smaller its apparent gravity at the event horizon.  There are some black holes so massive that, as far as we can tell, gravity at the event horizon is less than gravity at the earth’s surface.

That doesn’t make any sense, does it?  If you could hang out like this at the event horizon with some rocket thrusters, it would be very easy to throw a depth charge through the horizon, watch it explode, and witness the event via the light that crosses through the horizon.

Except you just contradicted the whole concept of an event horizon.  Something’s wrong about our calculations.  Ah yes – we forgot we’re not in flat space-time.

It’s not just the faster you travel that the smaller everything gets.  The more warped the spacetime you’re in, the smaller everything gets.  It’s all the same phenomenon really.  So even if you somehow managed to temper your descent into a black hole so you got to what you thought was the event horizon, instead you’d be seeing a smaller black hole.

Animated black hole

It’s not just an accurate portrayal of falling down a black hole … the downward spiral is a great literary device.

Matter will always be accelerated towards a shrinking black hole until it reaches light speed, and the whole universe collapses around it to a timeless point.

These are certainly things worth thinking about.  We have to remember, when we think about these things, that an event horizon is such a profound warp of space-time, we can’t just “hang out around the horizon” like sci-fi illustrations would have us believe.  As we can see from the 3D diagrams, before we think of crossing the event horizon, we have to understand the profound differences of anything approaching it.  Any matter we interact with it would either have to accelerate an orbit to nearly the speed of light, or experience gravitational force that would rip any matter to subatomic shreds.

All this, within a space of millimeters by our outside perspective, that was somehow stretched to astronomical lengths invisible to our naïve eyes.



I work on the 14th floor

I just started a new job, in the 14th floor of a building.  As you know, buildings skip the number 13 when they number their floors because it’s unlucky.  But it just got me thinking.  As a mathematician, you’d think we’d be above number superstition.  But we actually get that much worse about it.

Namely, in this case, is my floor still unlucky since it’s really the 13th floor?

But it gets that much worse.  Here’s some other neuroses that come out: is 13 only unlucky in the realm of integers?  Or does it apply to real numbers too?

If it applies to real numbers too, what’s the range of real number that are unlucky?  Anything that rounds to 13, meaning anything from 12.5 to 13.49?  Is it precisely 13 on the dot that’s unlucky?  Is there an envelope where things get more unlucky the closer numbers get to 13?

In the realm of integers, is it only the number 13 that’s unlucky?  Is 1300 unlucky?  13,000?  Are only powers of 10 unlucky, or any number with a factor of 13?

What about a number with a 13 in it?  Say, 2134… is that  unlucky?  Should we avoid following any 1 with a 3 in that case?

But you see, there is method to this madness.  Because it begs the question of the character of numbers.  And that’s ultimately why we got into mathematics in the first place.  Even when talking about something as fickle as luck (or lack thereof), it’s a great thought experiment.

See, numbers have character.  Indeed they are a reflection of existence itself, which breaks down into quanta.  And when you discuss numbers like this, you discuss existence.  Indeed when you get into advanced mathematics you find out that the biggest figment of our imagination is the set of real numbers.  They exist only to describe abstract things where we have no idea what’s actually going on.

Oh and for the record, the answers are: Yes, applies to reals, no, no, yes, no, yes, yes, only powers of 10 (or 101, 1001, etc in diminishing amounts), no, no.


Yoga and Gas


Gas is the major unspoken problem in yoga.  It is worse than sweat, because sweat you can’t help.  Gas you feel is voluntary, even though it’s not.  Why do you have it?  Is it really a faux-pas?  Can we admit that yoga helps release gas?  What’s the best way to release it?

Contrary to popular belief, gas is not unhealthy.  It’s a normal part of a healthy diet.  What is unhealthy is the buildup of gas that comes from eating too much food and/or too bad food.  This buildup of bad food and gas in the intestines is what distends your abdominal cavity.  This makes all sorts of poses and activity much more difficult.

The real tragedy about all this is, the need to cut one in the middle of class is a great indicator that your practice is improving.  So we don’t want to deny this basic urge.

But let’s get something else out of the way.  We’re not here to usher in an Aquarian age of open discussion of gas (even though Aquarius is, counter-intuitively, an air sign).  We feel like some things are worth being unspoken.  That’s what books are for.  Here, we can have a frank discussion about gas without ever having to break that third wall about it in public.

So that’s what we’re here for: to tell you, hey, pal.  You’re not alone.  We know you have this “problem”, we share your belief it’s not really a problem.  But we also know you want to impress the people around you, even though you may know that they all go through the same thing.  And hey, it’s okay.  Let’s work through this.

The release of gas is not unlike any other pose in yoga.  You will get better at it with mindful practice.

Basic Phsyiology

The major issue of gas is that a beginner generally comes into yoga with a distended gut.  Bad diets, bad habits, bad life, at some point one seeks the path of penitence and attrition, says they need to do something about this bad path, and shows up on the yoga mat.

And then they look at the yoga teacher.  Generally trim, fit, joyous, cheerfully getting in and out of the most complicated poses, while the beginner is generally gassy, sweaty, stiff, and well plain miserable.

It calls into mind the Ancient Greek paradox, that nothing ever changes.  That’s because in order for anything to change, it has to go from a state of being to not being, or vice versa.  That means at some point it has to both be and not be, simultaneously, a contradiction.

So yes, it does seem like you’ll never reach that point, it’s because with this mindset, you won’t.

But if one were to see the world as in a state of eternal flux, where nothing is in a state of being, and everything is in development, then the contradiction is resolved.  And that’s the attitude to have towards one’s yoga practice, and dealing with gas.

The basic development process we talk about here is what happens in your gut.  There’s a lot going on in there.  The abdominal muscles aren’t just in front – they surround your guts, forming a living corset.  It connects your lower body (hips down) to your upper body (chest up).  It is involved from any athletic movement to just picking up heavy objects.  An upright posture involves a core that is tightly wound around the guts, compacting them and resting your body weight on them.  This makes the spine virtually float.  If you have lower back pain, it’s usually a sign of abdominal muscles that have checked out, letting the guts spill everywhere.  Now you are relying on much smaller lower back muscles meant for balancing to do the work.

Side view of adbominal section - in good and bad posture.

Side view of adbominal section – in good and bad posture.

Engaging your core is not so much an issue of strengthening your abdominal muscles.  It’s an issue of “getting the gas out”.  For example, in a basic issue like a sit-up or a crunch, notice how someone with a distended gut does it from someone with a tight gut.  If you’re feeling a sit-up too much in your hip flexors or your neck rather than those delicious abs, it’s because you’re trying to get around that huge gut that’s in the way.  But if you feel like you want to poop or pass gas when you do a sit-up, congratulations.  You’re on the right track.

And as one’s yoga practice improves, one’s gut gets tighter.  That means a large process of muscles pushing in on the intestines, pushing large amounts of mass and gas through.  So, gas and … other digestive issues are a frequent side effect.  If pain is weakness leaving the body, gas is sloth leaving the body.

And this is the basic issue of yoga and gas.  It’s a faux-pas, yes.  But it’s also a sign that you’re making advances in the battle of the bulge.

A good pose to look at for help is “dog pooping pose”.  Notice how they stand.  They look like they’re squeezing on their abdominal muscles, like some toothpaste tube, pushing their tailbone and sphincter away from the body, until the filthy deed comes out.  This is basically what we’re looking to emulate in many of these poses.

You can find inspiration in darndest of places.

You can find inspiration in darndest of places.

Of course nothing exists without a proper foundation.  So we need to talk about leg alignment.

A classic position in all sorts of yoga poses is the bent leg stance.  This applies to all sorts of poses, and chair pose and warrior pose really get into it.  In a practitioner whose gut has checked out, they push down on the bent leg primarily from the quad.  This is not the proper way to go.  The quad gets tired really quickly, and you’ll see them straightening their leg out frequently.

Bent-leg poses: It's all in the glutes

Bent-leg poses: It’s all in the glutes

If one activates their inner leg, though, all sorts of muscles start lighting up.  Namely, the glute, which pushes the leg down like pushing on a brake, and now bears the body’s weight.  Much more efficiently than the quad.  The glute lights up, then the groin, the hamstring, the psoas, the abdominal muscles … *POOT* ah there we go.  You can hold that pose for a few minutes now with just a little practice.

Poses and their effect on gas

All poses use the core to varying degrees.  Therefore all poses have their effect on the releasing of gas.  We’ll go over major poses that affect/release gas, and good strategies to cycle through them for minimum gas disruption.

Getting ready for class: basic and warmup poses

Showing up gassy in class is always an issue.  So there’s some poses you can do to start.

Mountain pose:  This is basically standing up straight.  And you can use this as a barometer too.  Stand up against a wall.  If you can get your feet, butt, shoulders and head to all touch the wall, you’re standing up straight.  If you have to crane your head back to reach it, you’re in a slouch.


How your abdomen affects mountain pose.

How your abdomen affects mountain pose.

The basic physic here is to push your feet into the floor by the heels, as if you’re hitting the brakes.  Shoulders back, push your hands down as if they’re on parallel bars.  If you’ve been doing this for a while, you can feel your abdominals tightening already.  But we don’t need to worry about that yet.

Happy Baby:  two basic movements here.  Pushing your tailbone back and down (dog pooping pose) and pushing your feet into your hands.

Downward Dog:  This is your basic gas-relief pose.  It’s indeed a relaxation pose, because your abdominals don’t have to clench to keep yourself upright.  The weight of your guts is taken off of them and rests into your chest cavity.  This is open to debate, but there’s also the fact that gas is lighter than mass, and in a downward dog (ass-up asana) physics gives it a good nudge out the door.  Indeed I’ve found my strongest passings come in this pose, especially after a long, gut-wrenching sequence.

So it’s good to get a couple of these in before the practice starts to get a feel for your guts.

Getting into your practice

Finally, we get to the center of the shrubbery maze.  You’ve prepared, warmed up, and now you’re in the middle of your yoga practice.  And it’s going great!  So great, that you need to cut one in the middle of a pose.  And we get back to the major point here – your need to release gas is a sign you’re doing the pose RIGHT.  You don’t want to back away from that pressure.

So let’s begin by looking at the various major poses, and how to go from a gas-retaining (unhealthy) to a gas-releasing (healthy) version.

Chair pose: this can really enlighten your use of gas.  Like with the situp, a distended gut chair pose is not very effective, and gets tiring quickly.  That’s because it relies on muscles that don’t push on the gut to maintain itself, like your quads or the lower back.

A proper chair pose involve stringent tightening of the core muscles, pushing down on the pelvis much like dog pooping pose.   A good chair pose also lights up the inner legs and feet like I said earlier.  So once you light up these areas, that burrito you ate four hours earlier suddenly makes itself quite apparent.  Again, that means you’re on the right track.

The pose however is right side up, so negotiating this pose might just result in gas shifting rather than releasing.  Still, it’s a great place to loosen up those pockets before you hit down dog.

Temple pose: this is an extension of Chair pose.  Bear down like that pooping dog, get out of your quads and into your glutes and groin, and gently clench the sphincter lest you think you were on a French toilet.  This is the closest pose to a full squat, which is how humanity has gone #2 for eons.  Really, your whole tailbone should feel a downward pressure like you’re hitting the toilet.

Temple Pose

Temple Pose

Note the figure on the left.  Trying to work around gut distention means your body has to rely overly on the quads, pushing the feet outward like a bent tripod.  So not only do your quads get tired, you better have a really skidproof mat or your feet are slipping all over the place.

But the figure on the right, that proper core engagement really frames your glutes to hold you up.  Your hamstrings can then keep your shins vertical, making your feet slip-free.  Meanwhile your whole spine gets a downward pressure which pushes everything out the tailbone.  It’s no secret that this and the squat are how humanity has done #2 since the dawn of time.

Forward bends:  Be careful of what you think you can or can’t do.  Usually if you can’t bend down too far, it’s because your gut is hanging out.  If it collapses inward like an accordion, as you bend over, you can get a lovely release in your spine and continue to release forward.  Keep pushing into your heels like you’re hitting the brakes, and *POOT* there you go!

Forward bending - good and bad.

Forward bending – good and bad.

For the figure on the left, you see the extra line approximating the spine.  This is because having to bend over a bloated gut generally means you also have to crane your neck up.  This is uncomfortable.  But if you can get your belly empty enough to really fold over your legs, you can really let your head loose and get a great thoracic/cervical spine (shoulders/neck) release.

Twists:  These can really shake the gas up… if you won’t release gas in this pose, it’ll likely get your next downward dog to expel.  I think it’s because they twist your abdominal cavity so intensely that the gas doesn’t get much of a chance to do anything.  You will notice though, that if you kept your core tight from previous poses, all of a sudden you can twist a lot more.  That’s because it’s much easier to twist when you don’t have to do it around a bowling ball.

You’ll also notice that if you keep that front leg bent from the gluteus muscle like in the above diagram, instead of from the quad, you can still get that gut pressure going.  That push in this twist can release gas in some troublesome pockets that other poses can’t reach.

Navasana (Boat Pose): one of the basic core activation poses, and I think one of the best sit-up style exercises out there.  This is an inevitable gas-releaser.  If you are to be forgiven for one major ass-trumpet, it’s in this pose.  But let’s dissect this a bit futher.  There’s two ways to do a sit-up: the wrong way, with the hip-flexors, and the right way, with the rectus abdominis i.e. six-pack abs.

Boat pose - good and bad.

Boat pose – good and bad.

If you do it with the hip-flexors, you’ll feel them burn-out pretty quickly.  This is because they’re not meant to do heavy lifting.  But, if you have a big gut in the way, your six-pack abs have to relax to give it space, so your body has no choice but to use the hip flexors.

But – get that gut down enough, and activate your six-pack, brace with your side abdominals to get that toothpaste tube pressure – and you’ll get a huge pressure in on your gut  *POOT* oh wow!  You feel light and airy!  You could hold this forever!  Ironic considering how much air you’ve let out.

Inversions:  Shoulder stands are the safest if you want to avoid gas.  Watch out for handstands, especially if you get a violent kick-up, because the jerk can involuntarily release gas.  Otherwise, these tend to be advanced poses.  You’re generally not going to get into most of these without your gut already tight in place.

Shavasana:  While this one isn’t so intuitive, often the deep relaxation of this pose really offers the intestines a chance to relax and let the gas pass through.

When/how to release?

Ultimately, you want to release when you can.  And you want to release in small doses, unless you’re in a friendly environment.  The two big no-nos are loud noises (this totally disrupts the class in a fit of laughter) and stinky gas.  The latter is easily dealt with – don’t eat junk food.  The former is a bit harder.

But then how do we do it discreetly?  Well, on a positive note, the need to release gas means you’re activating your core muscles – and this means you have control over how much they push.  The trick then is to use your core muscles to mindfully release the gas slowly.

The ideal release of gas involves a gentle opening, along with a slow controlled release of gas, which makes little to no noise.  Enough noise that the person next to you may hear it, but they’re not sure if it was their imagination, and they’re not sure where it came from.  We’re looking for plausible deniability here.


Off the mat: Where do we go from here?

Here we want to send off the reader with sound advice for how to manage their gas, along with the knowledge that it’s always going to be a thing.  The issue is being mindful of it.  We will also discuss diet, since we’ve established that this plays a major role in how effectively your abdominal muscles function.


Why don’t we start with seated pose?  It seems like the simplest pose, but it’s actually one of the most complicated.  And when you try to maintain it for hours, it’s easy to see why the gut checks out and you slouch.

The slouch seems obvious, but for this we should actually start with the legs.  A sloucher generally lets his legs hang loose.  The feet should actually be firmly planted off the floor and handle some of your body weight.  If we go back to that diagram of the bent leg, the same applies here.  Your glutes should be engaged as if you’re trying to get up out of the chair.  Engaging these will tighten your core, push back your shoulders, and if you can get it going just right … *POOT*

Seated pose.

Seated pose.

There.  Now you’re sitting up straight.


As implied from the picture above, a corollary of sitting is slouching.   And there’s no shortage of discussion about slouching.  The problem is that it takes none of what we discussed into account – people just assume you can just winch your joints around with enough willpower and FOOM you’re a model sitter.

bad slouch

Some people … can’t even slouch right.

This, here, is not a slouch.  This woman couldn’t slouch if her life depended on it.  She’s just bending forward.  Now compare this with a REAL sloucher.

good slouch

Now this guy is slouching like a champ!

Notice the difference?  Notice what makes someone slouch?  It’s that gut.  You think you could give this guy a quick tug on the shoulders and solve all his problems?  You would fare much better having him lay on his back and getting a small child to treat his belly like a trampoline until everything gets squashed out.

That’s because it all goes back to our basic gut diagram.  Distended belly leads to relaxed abdominals, leads to raised shoulders and head forward.  There’s no way around getting the gas out.

So, in a way, this is encouraging.  You now know what’s enforcing your slouch.  Your muscles would like to have you sit up straight but they just can’t compete with the mass of that gut.  So next time your mom tells you not to slouch, just tell her to shut up and stop feeding you so much.


Now I’m not here to discuss diet.  Diet gives me a headache. I can tell you that I cut carbs (not entirely) and that’s reduced a lot of the bloating I had in my gut.  That’s because your body digest carbs by turning them into a soup.  And eating too much meat slowed me down, so I keep those servings to decent levels.

And the more I paid attention to my diet, and figured out what caused the bloating and got rid of it, the more my gut shrunk.  And the less I needed to eat to get full.  But what works for me will not work for everyone.  You have to figure out what works for you, you are a special snowflake and only you can figure that out.

All I can say is that diet is really important here – I dare say more important than exercise.  All the situps in the world aren’t gonna help you if your abdominal muscles keep trying to work around that basketball you have trapped in your belly.  On the other hand, though, get rid of that basketball, and you’ll find yourself WANTING to do situps.  Because all of a sudden you realize how good it feels when those core muscles can move freely.

And those intestines can pass gas freely.