Category Archives: Physical Fitness

Singing Trumps The Pain

Naaman and Elisha
Namaan, cured from leprosy by a seemingly simple act, offers payment to Elisha, who refuses to accept. Image by Pieter de Grebber [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is evidence that singing can be used to alleviate pain and can also be used therapeutically.  Some of this evidence is reviewed by Deb Preachuk, a Chronic Pain Relief, Posture Restoration and Athletic Performance Enhancement professional, on her blog.

I have experimented with this myself and have found it effective in the past.  There is no guarantee that it will work for you, so check with your doctor before trying therapeutic singing.    I don’t know of any negative side effects from singing, but even a glass of water can be harmful to some, therefore it is best to consult with your medical authority about the information you read on the web.

On several occasions singing has been my therapeutic agent.  On two incidents where I was feeling nausea,  I was determined to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome.  I thought to myself that it would be impossible to eject stomach contents and sing at the same time, so I grabbed a Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal from my bookshelf and began singing at the top of my lungs.  Sure enough, the nausea dissipated preventing the anticipated volcanic event.

Luckily, it is not often that I feel nauseated and so several years passed until the feeling recurred.  This time I remembered the singing tactic and tried it again.  The effect was the same, negative feelings dissipated and my spirit was uplifted by rhapsodic singing.

Recently, I had some tooth sensitivity pain and was not a happy camper.  As I was driving home from work, I decided to try the singing tactic.  I figured that It wouldn’t bother anyone else on the noisy highway and so I unleashed my voluminous vocals, with improvised comical lyrics.  To my surprise the tooth pain vanished after about 5  minutes of singing.    Several days later the same situation arose and again the singing trumped the pain after a few minutes.   The pain has not returned since.  Pain trumped and vanquished by singing .  Go figure.

But surely,  singing cannot be the solution to everyone’s pain.  Some would never even consider singing while in pain.  “Foolishness,” they say.     This reminds me of a bible story where the commander of the Syrian army named Namaan is asked by the prophet Elisha to bathe in the Jordan river 7 times in order to be healed from leprosy.  Namaan refused to perform this foolish act.  However, his servant convinced him by reminding him that had more difficult and expensive tasks been required he would have happily complied.   Namaan performs the simple tasks and is healed.

Many people would happily spend thousands of dollars on surgeries or expensive treatments that “make sense” rather than trying a simple approach that seems silly.  But what have you to lose?

The healing power of singing may be magnified when performed in groups.  Listen to the Virtual Choir orchestrated by Eric Whitacre and be inspired to sing for healing, rejuvenation and social bonding.

How Singing Does It

There are several mechanisms that may explain the healing and pain reducing effects of singing.

    1.  Endorphins –  Singing may trigger endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers.  This is especially true if you are elated by singing.  That is, singing songs you love or songs that bring back memories can trigger tears of joy or emotion.  These tears can have a cleansing effect on the mind and the endorphins released can reduce the sensation of pain.   Other similar activities that trigger endorphins are laughter and aerobics.
    2.  Gate Control Theory –  this theory is based on the idea that the nervous system can only process a certain amount of sensory data and that certain pathways when activated will, therefore, suppress other pathways.  The theory was developed in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall.  This theory is discussed by Kelley A. Lyons in a master’s thesis published in 1988.
    3. Relaxation –  This concept is also discussed in Kelley A. Lyons’ master’s thesis.  Relaxation reduces stress and allows the immune system to function better thus inducing healing.
    4. Vibration –  The voice is a powerful source of energy for the body through vibration.  Vibration may be essential for the function of the immune system just as movement is necessary to move lymphatic fluids.  That is, vibration may serve as a natural pump for the body to allow the body to realign with healing.

What to Sing

Find songs that you can sing with gusto.  Songs that inspire you.  For example,  many years ago I sang in a local Rhode Island quartet named the Kings’ Men, and we performed a version of “What a Mighty God We Serve”  that allowed me to bellow out with full vocal majesty.  Today I keep this song in my medical music file.  Find songs that are meaningful to you and give them your all.

Happiness, Joy, Laughter and Fun

Laughtacephalus

Laughtacephalus, is a word I just coined to describe the idea of “joy on the brain.”  Laughtacephalus is a strategy for healing and health that taps into positive circuits of happiness, joy, laughter and fun in the brain in order to effect rewiring as an antidote to negativity and suffering, and as a pathway to a healthier brain.  When properly applied happiness, joy, laughter and fun can help reverse the downward spiral of health, and promote a robust recovery.   Oh, I should warn you to watch out!  Laughtacephalus  has contagious qualities!

Happiness and Joy

In “The Book of Joy” (pg. 14) Dalai Lama states, “I believe the purpose of life is to find happiness … The ultimate source of happiness is within us.”  He defines happiness (pg. 35) as “satisfaction”, and joy as “great  satisfaction.”

In his view, both happiness and joy can be of two types (pg. 53), one experienced through sensory pleasure (eating, sex, etc) and the other experienced through the mind (compassion, love, generosity, etc).  The sensory route to happiness is seen as fleeting and the mental route as more enduring and dependable.

Both sensory and mental forms of happiness and joy can be applied and shared for health and healing.  However, better ways are needed for monitoring and administering happiness and joy.  We have not invested enough effort into understanding how to apply them and often people go for days without experiencing laughter or joy.  We need to develop a diet of happiness and joy.

One of the secrets of happiness and joy is that you can have it for yourself if you provide it to others.  Interesting how this works!  Usually one needs to choose whether to keep something or share it.  But with happiness and joy you can share it and keep it at the same time.  Of course, you can also make others happy at the expense of your own joy, but then you will become depleted.

Smiling, Laughter and Fun

The physical manifestations of happiness and joy are genuine smiling, laughter and fun.  Do you experience hearty laughter on a daily basis?  Do you have fun at work every day?  Are your smiles genuine or are they just a mask that you wear?  We have been conditioned to think that fun and laughter are luxuries when in reality they need to be placed at the center of life.  We need to work just as hard at adding fun and genuine laughter to our lives as we do for the sake of survival.

Once again,  social interaction is the key and the goal should be sharing laughter and fun in a compassionate and caring setting.

Challenge yourself to find the forms of social interaction that increase happiness and fun for all involved.  This is a big challenge since many social interactions have become too formalized to allow for the spontaneity that comes with joy and fun.  Often there are hidden agendas associated with formal social gatherings that hinder pure fun or joy.

If you have taken part in fun and joyful activities lately feel free to share them.

It surely helps if you have young children since they naturally understand the importance of joy and spontaneous fun.  For example, my daughter is teaching me how to do cartwheels.  Here’s a warning though – you may need to check with your doctor before trying to keep up with a child that is  having fun!

“Be the change you wish to see in this world.”  Gandhi

I would love to see more happiness, joy, fun and laughter in my life, therefore I must find ways to grow by applying  laughtacephalus to my own brain.

We must be willing to grow new connections in our brains if the world is to become a better place.  Start reconnecting with laughtacephalus today!

 

 

Music+Dance=Festive Fitness

When auditory hair cells vibrate in your inner ear you perceive sound.  But when auditory hair cells dance you perceive music.

The relationship between music and dance is rooted at the sensory level.   Both music and dance result when space and time form an intimate bond that takes on a life of its own.   The power of music and dance on the brain and body has a profound healing potential that is part of the future of preventive and restorative health care.

In 1905 Einstein introduced the idea that space and time are not separate but rather form a spacetime continuum.   In his new book, ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains that the past, present and future exist together in an ‘extended present’ that is interconnected by timeless light beams.  I say ‘timeless’ because if you were traveling on a light beam time would stand still for you.  For example, the sun that we see in the sky is the sun from 15 minutes ago, because it takes 15  minutes for light to travel 90  million miles to the earth.  However, the light is not 15 minutes old!  In essence we are witnessing a direct connection through time and the sun’s past is directly connecting to our present through spacetime energy fluctuations.

In a metaphorically similar way, music and dance also connect the past, present and future in the brain resulting in powerful stimulation and regeneration of brain cells.   In the 2014 film, Alive Inside, by  Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen of Music and Memory discusses how music awakens elderly people suffering from dementia by reviving brain circuitry from the past that has remained dormant for long periods of time.

The Alive Inside video shows dramatic examples of the power of music for combating brain degeneration resulting from illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  One can only imagine the power of music, when used properly, to keep the brain vibrant, healthy, and free from illness.

Now consider that by combining music with dance we can magnify the beneficial effect on the brain in a way that is more than just the sum of the parts.  This approach is being promoted by a nonprofit organization named ‘Dance for PD.’   As shown below, this approach appears to trigger brain activation that allows Parkinson’s patients a greater degree of freedom to move.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Joseph DeSouza at York University in Toronto believe that dance can rebuild the brains pathways.  He states that dance is a very effective form of brain training because it involves complex brain functions associated with timing, movement, coding and decoding.

Participants claim that dancing helps them not only physically but cognitively as well.  In paper published in January 2015 by Prabhjot Dhami , Sylvain Moreno and Joseph F. X. DeSouza, it is argued that dance appears to be a tool that combines both cognitive and physical rehabilitation strategies.  The authors state:

“Not only does it incorporate physical and motor skill related activities, but it can also engage various cognitive functions such as perception, emotion, and memory, all while being done in an enriched environment.”

But of course, dance is not only a good tool for rehabilitation, and the authors also mention a study by Kattenstroth et al. (2010) in which elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activity were able to prevent cognitive decline when compared to non-dancing controls.

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get our dancing on!

References

Kattenstroth, J. C., Kolankowska, I., Kalisch, T., and Dinse, H. R. (2010). Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activities. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010. 00031

Sciatica Prevention

Health Detectives on Sciatica

Much has been written on the web regarding sciatica, but what is often less emphasized is how to prevent it.  In the case of sciatica, the same strategies useful for prevention  are also often the best way to treat flare-ups.  Of course, if you already have sciatica symptoms you should first consult with your doctor before trying any of the exercises described in this post.

Prevention is the future of health care and requires learning about common conditions before we actually experience symptoms.  It is estimated that 49% to 70% of people will experience lower-back pain at some point in their lives and 5% to 10% of these cases will be caused by sciatica (BMJ. 2007 Jun 23; 334(7607): 1313–1317).  Based on these numbers, now is the best time to learn more about our lower backs.

The key to the prevention of sciatica is maintaining core strength, stability and flexibility.  Exercises that strengthen the body’s core, provide lumbar stability keeping vertebra in proper alignment. Stretching exercises provide the movement needed to nourish and cleanse the intervertebral discs (i.e. shock-absorbers of the spine). This nourishment through movement helps to keep the spine flexible and thus prevents herniated and ruptured discs.

What exactly is Sciatica

Sciatica is lower-back pain that radiates through the buttocks, down the back of the thigh sometimes reaching the feet (JAMA – Patient Page).  There can also be numbness or tingling associated with it.  It can last for months and it should be no surprise that often there is recurrence or worsening of symptoms with time if the underlying cause is not found and treated.

The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body.   It originates in the from lumbar segments L4 and L5 and sacral segments S1-S3.  The nerve then courses over the anterior portion of the hip and threads through the greater sciatic foramen and traveling  deep into the buttocks and back of the thigh to the back of the knee where it splits into the common fibular and tibial nerves that continue to the feet.

The sciatic nerve is the largest spinal nerve in the human body.                       By KDS4444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sciatic_nerve2.jpg)
Sciatica refers to a set of pain symptoms and not the nerve itself.  The pain symptoms resulting from obstruction to nerves in the hip region are sometimes referred to other areas of the leg or feet.  That is, the source of the pain is often not the same area where the pain is felt.

In his book “Sciatica Solutions,  Dr. Loren Fishman lists the following seven causes of sciatica:

  1.  Herniation of interverterbral discs.
  2. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  3. Spondylosis (degenerative spinal osteoarthritis due to aging)
  4. Nerve entrapment (piriformis syndrome in which the buttock muscles press against the sciatic nerve)
  5. Inflamation caused by various factors such as infection, joint slippage (spondylolisthesis), etc.
  6. Vascular problems
  7. Central mechanisms

From the OnTierraHealth prevention perspective the seven causes to focus on are as follows:

  1. Lack of intervertebral disc flexibility and range of motion exercise
  2. Lack of proper lumbar stability strength training
  3. Lack of proper nutrition, hydration and oxygenation  of vertebral column, joints and nervous system.
  4. Overweight and obesity
  5. Poor movement dynamics and posture at work, play or sleep
  6. Sedentary lifestyle or long period of inactivity
  7. Environmental exposure to toxins and radiation resulting in increased nerve sensitivity.

Exercises and Stretches to Prevent Sciatica

As I mentioned above many of the exercises used to prevent sciatica can also be used for recovery, however, if you have pain when doing any exercise it is best to seek advice from your doctor or allied health practitioner before proceeding.

Healthy movement is not only good for your health, it is also a source of joy and fulfillment because the body was designed for elaborate, detailed, luscious movement along a vast number of degrees of freedom.  One of my yoga instructors would often describe certain movements as “delicious”.  At first I thought, “how can a movement be delicious? ” However, as you regain the mobility of your hips, and vertebra through careful practice you will very likely agree that healthy movement can feel “delicious.”

A valuable resource for preventing back pain and sciatica or for restoration through yoga is provided by Adriene Mishler.  The YouTube video below is good start for preventing sciatica.

Here are few more links to Adriene’s videos for lower back and spine health:

Personal Trainer John Chase provides instructions for performing 5 basic core stability and strength exercises in the video below:

Nutrition for the Spine

In general a good diet is one that is balanced for the needs of the entire body.  Targeting individual body systems can lead to imbalance in another region.   A healthy diet for the spine will also be a healthy diet for the brain, the heart and muscle.  Healthy diet also varies from individual to individual because of genetic and individual differences.  Therefore it is up to each individual to become an expert on their own body.

OnTierraHealth recommends the following approach for healthy eating:

  1. Balance the diet such as to achieve a BMI in the range between 18.5 and 24.9.
  2. Follow the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate recommendations.
  3. Consider including omega-3 rich foods such as fish, flax-seed, walnut, chia seeds several times a week.
  4. Consider including dark chocolate for its healthful flavonoids.
  5. Consider including pumpkin seeds as a healthy source of protein, fatty acids and zinc.
  6. Monitor urine color for proper hydration.  Urine color for most people should be a very light tinge of yellow.
  7. Healthy bowel movements indicate the diet is being absorbed well by the body.  Consider also natural postures for bowel movements that relieve pressure from the sciatic nerves.  The natural position is squatting rather than sitting.

Other Factors for Spine Health

There is no way around this fact – health requires detective work. There are too many possible scenarios that could affect the health of your spine to number here so keep seeking new sources of health information and listen carefully to your own body.

In general increasing mindfulness through breathing meditation will allow you to become aware of your body’s communication.  You will notice that the body requests movement after periods of inactivity longer than 10 minutes.   So get up and stretch.  Consider the use of a stability ball chair that allows you to gyrate your hips while sitting.

Also consider alternating positions by using an adjustable height desk for sitting or standing while at work.   If possible given your physical ability, it is a good idea to spend time each day getting down on the ground.   People often lose the ability to get down easily and stand up again due to lack of practice.  Proper movement techniques should be used when getting down on the ground to avoid injuries.

Many lower-back injuries occur while driving.  Consider adding addtional lumbar back support with a mesh type device to your car seat.  I have found this type of device to be a back saver on long trips.

Good luck keeping your hips and lower-back happy, and let us know your secrets for lower-back and sciatica health!

The Rainbow Smoothie Fun Day

I wanted to make a rainbow smoothie because I thought it would be fun, and it was fun because I got to spend some time with my dad.  It is also a good experience for my e-book called the Colory Colors of the Rainbow (see below for more details).  Different fruits can be used to represent the rainbow’s colors in a healthy way.

For the color red we used raspberries, strawberries, banana and a little water.  Normally I don’t like raspberries but they were pretty good in the smoothie.

For the color orange we used oranges, carrots, bananas and a little bit of water.  My dad and I really liked the flavor of this combination.

For yellow we used bananas, pineapple and a little water.  Usually the pineapple stings my tongue but this time it didn’t.

For green we used kale, green grapes, banana and kiwi but no water because the grapes are very watery.

Blue we did not get to do because the blueberries turned purple.  I really like how the purple came out but I would have liked to have blue.  I am still bothered by that so let me know in the comments if you know of a fruit that turns blue when it’s blended.

Initially we had prunes that we wanted to use for purple, but they turned brown in the blender.  I thought it looked weird but dad liked it.  I didn’t let him use it for the smoothie!

For violet we used red grapes with banana and no water.

My favorite part was when there was extra smoothie left over for us to taste-test.

We didn’t precisely measure the ingredients so if you want an exact recipe check out Beth’s at  BETH @ THE FIRST YEAR on FEBRUARY 29, 2016.  She uses Greek yogurt in her recipes but we didn’t.  Maybe we should try the yogurt to see if it helps when blending the colors.

When we put it all together this is how it looked! It was absolutely delicious, I drank two of them and my belly was bursting with yumminess.

Putting it together was a little difficult because we had to freeze some things and some things were too thick so they would sink right through.

Eating healthy can keep you from getting sick.  I don’t like being sick because then I can’t go to school and have fun with my friends.  Being sick is boring because you don’t have enough energy to run around,  and I love running around.

I had fun doing this. It was the funnest day of the year because my dad was not stuck on his computer all day.

I am going to make an e-book called the Colory Colors of the Rainbow.  It will be a great educational book for kids about the colors of the rainbow and what they mean.  My dad will make an adult version too but it may not have the same title.    We will let you know when the e-books are available.

Your Best Attainable Health (BAH)

Image of nonviolent struggle
Your Best Attainable Health (BAH) requires a nonviolent redirection of outdated genetics through mindful practice. Photo by ManicMorff @ morguefile.com

Over the last several month’s the OnTierraHealth blog has focused on the big picture issues that limit the attainability of ideal health for most people. Today I will focus on the fundamental root cause of the poor health prognosis for our species (taken from an evolutionary perspective). The problem is a very basic clash of developmental time scales when comparing biological evolutionary change to technological progress. The essence is this, evolutionary behaviors that were well suited for survival in a jungle-like environment are grossly unsuited for survival of life on earth over the long-term given the rapidity of technological innovation.

Biological Evolutionary Behavior

Biological evolutionary behavior is genetically determined and as such can be viewed as a bottom-up organizational force. An example of this for a heterosexual person would be attraction to the opposite sex. A person is not attracted sexually to a worm. We take this for granted but must acknowledge that sexual attraction is created by the brain. There is nothing inherently sexier about a person unless the brain makes it so, therefore to a worm another worm is much sexier. We accept evolutionary behaviors as immutable and in many cases they serve us well.

However, warfare can also be considered a biological evolutionary behavior.  It is based on an evolutionary algorithm whereby “might is right” by virtue of survival. The fundamental principle is that one can determine who is right in a dispute through an existential challenge, with the survivor being right. Initially this behavior may have led to wrestling matches and fisticuffs resulting in the selection stronger individuals. However, as technology progressed the evolutionary algorithm of “might is right” has not budged resulting in weapons for destroying hundreds, thousands and then millions of individuals (i.e. WWII). Here we can see the problem clearly, technology has advanced too quickly for the evolutionary algorithm to catch up. An evolutionary algorithm that in the past helped natural selection to create stronger individuals now has become a liability that could result in mutually assured destruction of all life on earth.

One may think that this scenario makes the self-destruction of life on earth an inevitable outcome.  However, there may be a form of high-speed evolution that is attempting to bridge the gap.  There is no guarantee that this high-speed evolution will occur fast enough to rescue life on earth.

Evolutionary Neurodynamics and Memes

The idea behind Evolutionary Neurodynamics (Szilágyi, et al., 2016) is that the same natural selection algorithms that are at work in the ecosystem are also at work on a microscopic scale within each person’s brain  and that natural selection in the brain is critical to the discovery of open-ended evolutionary solutions that can take place within an individuals lifetime.  According to the theory, neural evolution takes place at high-speed as neurons and populations of neurons compete with one another in a parallel search for solutions to problems.  Successful solutions are then copied to other groups of neurons with some variability.  This process forms a type of heredity among neural connections that is constantly in flux, resulting in the possibility of novel solutions.

Combining the idea of Evolutionary Neurodynamics with the concept of memes (ideas that are able to be transmitted and reproduced between brains) provides a framework whereby evolutionary behaviors that have become liabilities may be replaced by self-evolutionary behaviors that can be reproduced in a large population.

The advantage  of self-evolutionary behavior is that unlike the relatively blind bottom-up forces of biological evolution, neurological evolution has both bottom-up and top-down components allowing it be guided by holistic intelligence.  This holistic guidance is necessary for the success of self-evolution.  Religion, philosophy and science play a role in providing sources of holistic intelligence and in particular the practice of mindfulness may be critical for self-evolution.  However,  understanding the evolutionary challenge is also essential.

Best Attainable Health (BAH)

The problem of replacing bottom-up genetically-determined dysfunctional evolutionary behavior with holistic top-down self-evolved behavior is at the heart of achieving Best Attainable Health (BAH) and long-term survival.   It appears that at the heart of this evolutionary transformation is the art and science of mindfulness as practiced and taught by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).  The practice of mindfulness draws our attention to the beauty and miraculous nature of the present moment through breathing meditation, and in so doing causes the mind and the body to be reunited. This allows us to observe dysfunctional biologically evolved behaviors with a balanced non-judgemental perspective and to slowly rewire our brains for the next stage of human evolution.

Thay states, “The practice of meditation helps us to see things other people can’t see. ”  An example of this is the nature of inter-being.  The father is in the son and the son is in the mother,  the cloud is in the river and the river in the ocean, the tree is in the seed and the seed is in the fruit.  The spirit of nonviolence is born from this realization, that we inter-are.  Nonviolence is the antithesis of the “might is right” principle of biological evolution and it constitutes the only path towards the next stage of human evolution.  Thay states,

When we realize our ‘interbeing nature’, we’ll stop blaming and exploiting and killing, because we know that we inter-are. That is the great awakening we must have in order for the Earth to be saved.

Establishing and spreading the meme of nonviolence is the first step towards achieving BAH, because it is a direct mitigation of the self-destructive, biological, “might is right” directive.  Note that Thay warns us that we can never achieve complete nonviolence but rather, nonviolence is a direction that leads us away from complete self-annihilation.   Christ referred to it as  ‘turning the other cheek’ and though the seeds have been sown by religious figures such as Buddha, Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we are entering urgently upon the time for watering the seeds fully in order to save the world from madness, self-destruction and lost life.

Nonviolence is not a weak concept but rather a form of justice that substitutes “might is right” and warfare with reconciliation, forgiveness, and just arbitration.  It requires one justice for all people throughout the world based upon nonviolence.  However, as Thay teaches, it begins with nonviolence towards the self, achieved through mindful meditation.    From this practice will emerge the neural evolution required to reach Best Attainable Health individually and collectively.

Share the meme.

Breathing In Breathing Out

Breathing is something we take for granted.
Breathing is something we often take for granted but is deeply connected to a healthy mind, body and spirit. Photo by vickiayala @ www.morguefile.com

Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Budhist Monk who became 90 years old this past October.  In his book, “you are here,” Nhất teaches that there is a very profound power in the act of breathing, and that breathing meditation can bring us back into the present moment in a way that is powerfully healing.  He argues that our brains have complicated our lives so much that we have lost sight of how easy it is for a person to have complete happiness and joy. He emphasizes that human beings create heaven and hell within themselves and that heaven is reachable in this life for everyone through simple breathing meditation.

I have found his approach very helpful in my own life and have begun applying it to my marriage as well for improving communication.   It begins with these simple words:

Breathing in,  I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

These simple words hold the keys to a profound transformation and evolution of human thought and consciousness.  I have often wondered how society could transition from one of engineered scarcity in which individuals battle one another in fierce competition over artificially constrained resources, to a society in which everyone is wealthy and successful.

For example, consider an apple orchard in which every tree has access to water, sunlight and enough soil to anchor its roots.  These trees could be considered wealthy and successful.  But what does it take for a human being to be considered wealthy and successful?  Many people conjure up images of palaces, servants, expensive toys and thousands of adoring fans.  But Nhất has uncovered something surprising.  These ideas of wealth and success are all illusions.  True wealth and success begin with the freedom to breathe mindfully, and this is available to everyone right in the present moment!

Do you get what this means?  We have been led to think that we are sentenced to toil and hard labor as we seek to earn scarce moments of happiness.  But the reality is that we can have complete joy and happiness in the present moment at any time simply by practicing the beauty of breathing meditation.

 What makes breathing so special

The power of mindful breathing meditation is that it opens the doors to our true nature of miraculous inter-being in the moment.  Once we are drawn to a deep awareness of the present we can more fully appreciate that all things are present through each other and not separately.   For example, if I am eating an apple during breathing meditation , I become aware that the sun is in the apple as are the clouds that watered the orchard and the soil that nurtured the tree.  We are not isolated beings but rather inter-beings!  This becomes a deep realization through breathing meditation.

Think of it, all along we only needed to learn to breath to be successful and wealthy.   Sort of how Dorothy always had the power to go home in the Wizard of Oz but had to find this out for herself after an arduous journey.  This underscores how the important things in life are not taught to us in school.  I find it amazing that I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh until recently when the book, “you are here,”  was discussed on an online LinkedIn group named Universal Quest.  

Breathing is also special because it lies on the boundary between voluntary and involuntary movement.  Breathing can be controlled automatically without conscious intervention, or consciously.  This allows it to  play an important role in connecting our mind and bodies harmoniously.  Thus during breathing meditation the goal is not to control our breathing but rather to allow the body to control breathing. During this meditation the mind focuses on simple pairs of thoughts such as deep and slow, calmness and ease, the present moment and its wonder. The links below provide some first hand information on breathing meditation.  The word ‘sangha’ mentioned in the links below refers to any group of breathing meditation practitioners that meet to support each other.  Enjoy!

Interview with Oprah Winfrey

Discussion of the Dharma-Body (Dharmakāya)
and the practice of mindful breathing.

Foot, Feet, Fascia, Fasciitis

myjaykay_foot
Your feet are a marvel of strength and durability. Photo by MyJayKay on Morguefile.com

Nothing takes a pounding every day like your feet.  And often they are neglected until the screaming starts in the form of foot pain.  This may not be an easy philosophy to swallow but pain is the voice our bodies use to communicate with us and so rather than getting stressed out by it we may need to relax with our foot pain, listen to it and communicate as politely as possible.  Of course, it is always  recommended to get your doctor’s opinion as soon as possible.  Research has shown that as many as 40% of patients continue to have plantar fasciitis pain 2 years after initial diagnosis.

Active listening is a strategy that is often applied in human communication and it can also be applied to interacting with our bodies.  Listen carefully to how your body is making you feel, then dig deeper by open-ended questioning in your body’s language of touch, movement, relaxation, nutrition, hydration, stretching, exercise and balance.  These are  strategies that anyone with plantar fasciitis can apply and discuss with their doctor.

Plantar fasciitis is a complex problem that varies in its resolution among individuals, therefore it is important to take it seriously and begin the process of behavior modifications that are necessary to eliminate it.

Both my wife and I have recently had a bout of plantar fascia pain, and while my pain healed after a couple of weeks, her pain has not completely resolved over a couple of months.  My wife is also a group fitness instructor and is on her feet much of the time  which may add to the recovery time.

However, we both had pain on the right foot  only, and because of this I surmised that the problem could potentially be one of foot dominance.  That is, I realized that the problem could be caused by uneven loading and balance.

Foot and Feet Balance

The balanced loading of the foot has been described in, The Inner Structure of Tai Chi, by Mantak Chia.  In Chapter 3 he states:

“A chair or table is most stable when its weight is equally supported by all four legs. Similarly, a person is most stable when the weight is evenly divided over the nine points of the foot. These nine points are the heel, the outer edge, the small ball, the large ball, and each of the five toes.”

I have often noticed, that while brushing my teeth or doing dishes, I place all my body’s weight on my right heel.  I often do not hear my heel complaining until it cries, “Pain”.  By becoming more mindful of my foot’s sensations (which we can consider as cellular voices), I have learned to readjust my weight to distribute it across the nine points of the foot.  I have also learned to shift a balanced amount of weight to the left foot.  In fact, since the right side often takes the full load unconsciously, I often compensate by consciously shifting the full load onto the left foot for a while.  By using this strategy alone, I was able to eliminate my plantar foot pain in several weeks.

Of course, each person’s situation can be different.  Some people have pain in both feet, indicating a more general systemic cause.   Dr. Jonathan Axe recommends 4 strategies for healing plantar fasciitis.  In a nutshell they are (see video for details):

  1. Deep tissue work / massage  – rolling-pin or tennis ball
  2. Stretching – dorsiflexion and extension of foot
  3. Nutrition – magnesium, vitamin B5, C and fish oil / omega-3
  4. Strengthening foot muscles – barefoot exercises / barefoot shoes

Stretching and Strengthening

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that you take a break from exercise activities that may be aggravating the condition.  He quotes research indicating that plantar fasciitis may be caused by small tears rather than inflammation that weaken the fascia.  The following exercise investigated by M. S. Rathliff, et al., (2014) in Denmark has been highlighted by Dr. Weil as a possible way of speeding the recovery from plantar fasciitis:

stand barefoot with the affected foot on a stair or box. Place a rolled up towel under your toes and let your heel hang over the edge of the stair or box. The other leg should hang free, bent slightly at the knee.  You then raise and lower the painful heel to a count of three, hold for two seconds and then lower for three seconds. You aim for 12 repetitions. When you can do these heel raises easily, you are supposed to fill a backpack with books and then do eight to 12 repetitions of the heel raises every other day while wearing the backpack.”

There are many different strategies and perspectives on plantar fasciitis that are worth learning about.  For example, Dr. Scott A. Mills highlights that most people sleep with their foot in extension, which shortens the fascia.  The fascia then begin to heal overnight in the shortened position and tear again in the morning when the person first gets out of bed.  He recommends performing a series of stretches before loading the foot in the morning and also mentions that night splints may help for some people.

Nutrition

Foods that may help the healing process for plantar fasciitis given their nutrient content are:

Magnesium

  • Rice bran, crude
  • Pumpkin seeds, dried or roasted and seeds in general
  • Legumes such as hyacinth and yardlong beans or soybeans
  • Nuts such as brazil nuts, almonds or cashew nuts
  • Grains such as quinoa and sorghum
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach

Vitamin B5 – The best sources according to the University of Maryland Medical Center are:

” brewer’s yeast, corn, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado, legumes, lentils, egg yolks, beef (especially organ meats such as liver and kidney), turkey, duck, chicken, milk, split peas, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, whole-grain breads and cereals, lobster, wheat germ, and salmon”

One of the richest vegetarian sources appears to be sunflower seeds with about 20% of the recommended daily value per ounce.

Vitamin C  – required for the biosynthesis of collagen – Collagen is an essential component of plantar fascia, and is necessary for wound healing.  A few whole-food sources are:

  • 1 medium orange provides 117% of the recommended daily value (DV)
  • 1/2 cup of red pepper (sweet, raw) provides 158% DV
  • 1 medium kiwifruit provides 107% DV

Omega -3 fatty acids sources include flaxseed, walnuts and fish.

The Feet Have It

If you have foot pain, there is no time to lose in learning to tune in to your feet.  Health begins with a foundation and the feet are often described as a mirror for the entire body.  If your feet are already strong and symptom free – congratulations – but you may still want to begin improving your foot-communication in order to keep them happy and attended to in the years ahead.  For now,  dorsiflexion- extension and have good day!

 

 

 

 

Where Did The Muscles Go?

where did the muscle go
At 54 this bicep can only comfortably curl about 35 lbs.

While in my early 30’s I could bicep curl a 55 lb dumbbell, but today at age 54 I can only curl about 35 lbs comfortably.  Where did the extra muscles go over the last 20 years?

Can men and women above the age of 50 still develop increased muscle mass?

Here is what the research shows:

Hypertrophy Still Possible With Age

Research led by Lex Verdijk at the Department of Human Movement Sciences in Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that elderly men 65 to 85 years old experienced a significant amount of muscle hypertrophy after a 12 week resistance training program.

The training consisted of a 5 minute warmup on a cycle ergometer followed by 4 sets of leg presses and 4 sets of leg extensions  and a 5 minute cool down on the cycle ergometer, performed 3 times per week ( a total of 36 sessions).  Initially the sets consisted of 10-15 repetitions at 60% of the 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM), but this was increased to 75% of 1RM (8-10 reps) during the first 4 weeks.  Starting on the 5th week 8 repetitions were performed at 75%-80% of 1RM, but the workload was increased if the participant could execute more than 8 repetitions on 3 out of 4 sets. Participants were allowed to rest for 1.5 minutes between sets and 3 minutes between exercises.

This study revealed that muscle mass and strength in elderly men can be increased significantly while simultaneously reducing fat mass.  Strength for leg presses increased from 170+/- 8 kg to 210 +/-10 kg.  Strength for leg extensions increased from 88 +/- 4 kg to 111 +/- 5 kg.

The physiological adaptations that occurred over the 12 week interval of this study were rather amazing in that the cross-sectional area (CSA) of the type II muscle fibers were lower than the CSAs of type I muscle fibers at the beginning of the intervention but were relatively equal after the 12 week program.  This is very interesting because in young men the CSA of type 1 and type II muscle fibers is about the same.  Thus it is as if this program was able to reverse the effects of sarcopenia (age related muscle loss).  It was also found that the number of type II satellite cells (cells that are necessary for muscle growth) in the muscle also increased.

If this can be achieved for elderly legs then why not for biceps?

The Proof is in the Pudding

Meet Sam “Sonny” Bryant Jr.  He is a 72-year-old body builder who began training at the age of 44.  He is a strong advocate of staying active and stresses that inactivity and mindset are the culprits of accelerated aging.    He is living proof that it is possible to stay strong as you age.  But the question remains – does retaining or increasing your muscle mass as you age increase your quality of life and longevity?

Muscles vs Aging – How’s Your Hand Grip Doing

Taina Rantanen, et al. have produced evidence that the following factors all  promote longevity in males:

  1. having good muscle strength
  2. being physically active
  3. not smoking
  4. absence of chronic conditions at the age of 62 years
  5. having a long-lived mother

In this study 2239 men born before June 30, 1909 were followed after baseline physical assessments performed between 1965 and 1968.  One of the assessments performed was for overall physical strength.  According to the authors, “handgrip strength is a widely used measure of total body strength and a marker of physiological reserve during aging, with good strength protecting from disability and mortality (Rantanen et al. 1999, 2000). ”

Those participants that lived to become centenarians were 2.5 times more likely to be in the upper third in the ‘grip strength” category.

The concept of physiological reserve (Mosqueda, 2004) comes into play here because physical strength in men is associated with a larger buffer for coping with and recovering from stressors.  Thus men that had more factors promoting physiological reserve were more likely to become centenarians.

No Excuses

Thus it appears we cannot blame aging for low muscle strength and size, but rather it is our own sedentary inattention to the well-being of our bodies that results in our slow degradation.  We basically are sacrificing our health and physiological reserve in pursuit of wealth and other interests.

We can turn this around, while taking into account that aging does impose some limitations.  First of all everyone that is starting a new exercise plan should first consult with their primary care physician for advice.  Secondly, the volume of training should be limited to provide more time for recovery for people over 50.  The key to effective training in the 50s is injury prevention, thus do not try to keep up with the 20 year olds, you need more time for recovery.  Find a health coach with experience training older adults.

As for me, I am curious how long it will take to get my 55 lb curls back!  I’ll keep you posted.

Brain Fitness and Self-Evolution

file000894312228According to the theory of evolution, billions of years of survival-selected changes were necessary for us to reach this amazing peak of human development. Whether or not one accepts the premise of evolution one has to admit that the perspective of evolution gives much to be thankful for.  Imagine yourself surfing on the cusp of a 4.5 billion year wave without perceiving all that has transpired to raise you up to this magnificent level.

Evolution and creation theories of the origin of life are not really at odds with one another.   In a sense evolution is a creation theory!  In evolution the creator is the constellation of the laws of physics which appear to be unchanging and eternal. In the “creationist” view the creator is the great “I AM”  who is also associated with unchanging laws that reflect his/her character. The debate is not about whether or not there is a creator, but about the characteristics of the creator, that is, is the creator conscious or not.

High Speed Evolution

As humans we each possess the crowning achievement of biological evolution / creation, our brains, with over 100 billion neurons and over 100 trillion connections. Our brains are conscious super computers the likes of which have not been found anywhere else in the universe (as of yet).  One of the marvelous abilities of our brains is the ability to change, grow and morph. This is very exciting because unlike biological evolution discussed above which can take millions of years, our brains can “evolve”, adapt and change in the space of years, months, weeks and in some cases even a single day.

The process of change in the brain can be likened to the process of evolution because it is a competitive system in which neural connections are competing with each other for space in the brain. The connections that survive are fed through repetitive activation. These connections can then go on to reinforce other connections resulting in more new connections.  Unsuccessful connections are pruned away, and any existing connections that depended upon the lost connections may also wither away.

Thus the brain can be seen as a laboratory within which world simulation experiments can be performed at a high speed.  The potential of the brain when seen in this light is unpredictable, transformational and disruptive.

Self-Evolution

You are not limited to the you that you are now.  No one is. Your brain can grow or it can shrink today depending upon the choices you make.  It can also make positive or negative new connections.   Everyone knows they can learn new things, but what we don’t fully realize is that our brains create the world that each individual calls home.  Everything you perceive is a simulation being created in your brain.  Even the perception you have of yourself is only a simulation of the real self that remains hidden.   In order to grow your brain, you have to challenge its simulations.  Self-Evolution means you can change not only yourself, but also your brain’s simulation of the world.

Brain Wars

In his book, “Change Your Brain Change Your Life”, Dr. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist and brain imaging expert, warns that we are in a war for the health of our brains.  Some of the forces that are working against our brains are listed by Dr. Amen as:

  • Brain Injuries (sports, accidents, sleep apnea)
  • Drugs (including many medications)
  • Alcohol and smoking
  • Obesity and lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure and diabetes
  • SAD (Standard American Diet – neurotoxins)
  • Environmental toxins (air pollution / pesticides / etc.)
  • ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

On the other hand are the weapons that we can use in the fight for our brain health.  Dr. Amen lists the following:

  • Improve positive social connections
  • The challenge of learning and trying alternate strategies
  • Brain healthy diet (careful reading of nutrition labels on foods)
  • Improving sleep quality and avoiding brain injuries
  • Exercise
  • A healthy level of anxiety to challenge our comfort zones
  • Meditation, gratitude and ANT killing

Dig deeper into Dr. Amen’s brain fitness strategies by following this link.

Cognitive Training

How can we do it?  How can we accelerate self-evolution?  Surely it is a good thing to begin with brain health.  Because of the extreme complexity of the brain its health requires a holistic approach that according to Daniel R. George, PhD, MSc, and Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, PhD must include increased social connectivity in the form of intergenerational relationships. The authors state the following:

“For decades, a widening evidence base of cross-sectional and retrospective research has demonstrated that older adults who volunteer in their communities may experience a range of biopsychosocial benefits from physical, mental, and emotional health to longevity.”

Thus getting involved in the community may be a primary factor for brain health.    Negotiating the obstacle course of other factors described by Dr. Amen (see above) is also necessary.   In addition recent research also shows that there is a role for targeted cognitive training to help protect the brain from degeneration and to even improve cognition.

Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.
Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.

This brings us to the self-evolution phase of brain development.  We all accept that we need to exercise our physical bodies to stay fit, but we fail to take our brains to task when it comes to strenuous goal oriented, expansive, mental workouts.  This keeps our brains from fulfilling more of its potential.  This is where cognitive training software and smart phone apps may be able to contribute.

In order to push further we need to challenge our cognitive abilities beyond our comfort level.  Excessive comfort is the enemy of progress.  The cognitive abilities that form the foundation of self-evolution are memory (working, episodic, semantic), concentration, reasoning, speed of mental processing, visual and spatial skills, and executive functions (organization, planning, decision-making, attentional control, inhibitory control, cognitive multitasking).  These capabilities keep our minds agile and ready for change.

Cognitive training apps like Neuronation, Posit Science and Luminosity have been designed to target brain fitness, and other apps and games available online also provide fun and useful ways to improve memory  (i.e. MemZy and Fun with Animals) and novel thinking (i.e. Cut the Rope).

Apps like these provide a means for measuring progress and establishing goals.  Just as we may set a goal of increasing muscle strength to achieve a bench press with 200 lbs, we should also be creating mental challenges to increase the size of our working memory, our autobiographical memory, our reaction times and other cognitive skills.  These skills form the foundation of an agile mind.  However, keep in mind that the goal is not to spend bucket-loads of time in isolation with apps and games, ultimately we need to use cognitive training apps as tools for enhancing social interaction at a deeper, more meaningful level.  In fact, cognitive training apps and games may provide a tool for intergenerational interaction.

As we find our brains capabilities renewed and refreshed, we will naturally seek to challenge ourselves further by looking at things from new angles, trying new activities (like Zumba or yoga), by innovating , and by improving the quality and depth our interaction with others.  Welcome to the domain of self-evolution!

At a minimum we should be establishing a baseline of our cognitive functions so that we can more quickly detect and correct mental degradation.  But ultimately the goal is not just to live long and be healthy, but rather to live long and evolve.  To move humanity forward.  Self-evolution is coming, don’t miss the wave!