Category Archives: exercise

10% Happier,…a review

An Audible book review — 10% Happier, by Dan Harris

Stories have a way of capturing us.  Given that the author is in the story-making business, he creatively loops several facets of meditation, vis-a-vis a series of real-life tales, into a mainstream mindset.  Overall, I found 10% Happier entertaining and well worth the listen.

Admittedly, I didn’t know who the author was when I came across this book.  Being part of a major news network contributed a degree of credibility to the narrative, especially since he had the ability, and apparently, the desire, to interview a broad cross-section of leaders on the ‘spiritual’ side of the self-help business.  He, therefore, brings an objective, albeit at times somewhat inelastic, perspective to the concept of meditation.

It was slightly off-putting, for example, that he needed to dis Eckhart Tolle right out of the gate, even though Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which he admittedly read three times before he started his journey, opened the door into a life-changing, philosophical shift in his thinking.  His curious derision for Tolle seemed to be affected not only by concepts he evidently couldn’t grasp but also by his wardrobe.  Thankfully, Harris somewhat redeemed himself in the epilogue, reluctantly giving Tolle (some) credit.

At times, it seemed like he was writing the book for his colleagues at ABC, perhaps to explain spats of conduct as well as elucidate the logic for his path into the quasi-spiritual world.  Still, the book was highly engaging, with humorous bouts of self-deprecation and a partial inside view of the high-stress world of network news.

Apart from his highly skeptical nature — if there is no proof, and it’s not mainstream, then it borders fringe or beyond unless someone he respects provides scientific and logical evidence — Harris comes across relatively open, honest, with hefty doses of witty tongue-in-cheek, which adds to his likability.

For anyone wanting to increase their English vocabulary, I’d recommend the written book.  Because I listened to the narrated version, I was (slightly) better able to understand, if only in context, the abundance of unfamiliar flowery words and phrases peppered throughout.  Reading such a bounty of unusual words would have stopped me in my tracks more often than I would have liked (but that may be a good thing).

What I particularly liked about the book, besides the evocative anecdotes, is his method of spreading the value of meditation, which, because of his unique media role and presentation style, takes some of the mysteriousness out of an opaque topic.  I’ve been on the cusp of starting this lifestyle practice for too long.  After listening to the book, I’m a convert.  Meditation, as it’s evidently been scientifically proven, is an exercise with only constructive upside benefits.

Even though I was slightly annoyed about the Tolle dissing, (it was useful mindfulness practice anyhow), I found myself wanting more when it ended.  Hence, I’ve already pre-ordered his new guidelines coming out in Dec 2017.  I’m at least 10% more motivated.

P.S.
Suggestion: Harris closed the book with a self-developed list of ten useful “precepts.”  I’d recommend changing #1 from “don’t be a jerk” to “be kind.”  It’s easier to be something than not being something.  Besides, jerk is relative, and kindness precludes jerkness.

It’s all about balance

Ha.  Just like most things in life.  I didn’t realize how challenging it would be, although I didn’t suspect it was as easy as riding a bike.  I asked the owner of an NYC West Village specialty shop last week if he thought an old dog could indeed learn new tricks.  I knew the answer.  Still, he responded like a good salesman telling me what I wanted to hear.

For some reason, over the years the sport bugged me.  When I lived in San Francisco, they hung out in groups, loud and sort of obnoxious, disturbing casual walkers along the Embarcadero, perhaps because they didn’t have a formal place to play.  Instead, they used benches, railings, steps, and anything they could otherwise jump or slide on, and eventually destroy.

But beyond the racket they made, the sport didn’t make sense.  Incessantly practicing tricks and performing by flipping a wheeled board while not going anywhere didn’t seem logical, or much fun.

My new 32″ low profile longboard

My feelings about skateboarding started to change when I was exercising at Manhattan Beach, in So Cal last year intermittently watching surfers finish their morning bout with the waves, then hopping on skateboards to travel along The Strand.  That made sense — a commute vehicle.  Since then I’ve noticed more people using boards as a form of transportation, not just for acrobatics.

Gradually the bug bit. ‘ Why not use a skateboard as an alternate form of commuting in China, where it’s relatively flat?’ I started thinking.  GV suggested that I consider a scooter, which is probably a smarter idea.  But I was anxious to try the hands-free wheels.  Hence, I walked into Uncle Funky’s Boards last weekend and left 30 minutes later carrying a new longboard.  They told me the longer the board, the easier to learn, so I picked up a 32-inch model.  The more extended 38 incher I may have preferred was too long to hand-carry on my fight to China.  As it was, I barely finagled the 32 through the Newark airport security process strapped to my backpack.  It was too long to fit in my checked bags.

Unfortunately, the beautiful side faces the road surface

It didn’t take long to gain respect for how fast this board travels.  The four thick 75mm wheels start rolling without much coaxing.  Tumbling on my ass as the board sped away gave me the reason I needed to start slow.  I’m sure it’s simply a matter of TOB (time on board), and balance.

The new toy means I’d better carve out a little time each non-rainy day practicing if I’ve got any hope of seriously using it.

This guy, also featured last week, is as cool as a cucumber on his wheels

As in skiing or skating, part of the skill and confidence comes with stopping ability. Today as I was cruising down a slight decline picking up speed, I realized I didn’t know how to stop without jumping off.  Being a low profile board, the trucks — skateboard lingo for the bracket holding the wheels — are at the ends of the board bolted on top, opposed to typical boards where they are positioned underneath.  These low boards make stepping on the end and tilting the board down to stop, hard to accomplish.

Another challenge is twisting the feet.  While pushing the board for acceleration, both feet are parallel with the board, but cruising, they are perpendicular.  While I was gaining speed in the decline, my feet were in the perpendicular cruise position.  How was I going to twist my front foot parallel and skid to a stop when all I could do was concentrate on saying on the board?  I awkwardly jumped off, knowing I have a major hurdle to conquer.

It will be a while until I’m ready to use the board for a commute vehicle.  The manner in which the locals don’t give much credence to right-of-way means bikes, peds, and cars can end up in your path unexpectedly — requiring immediate reaction.

All in all, I’ve got a new respect for the skateboard tricksters.  Even though I still have zero inclination for tricks, I’m hungering for some of their stability.  But I suppose that will come with TOB.  For now, I’ve got a newfound appreciation for balance.

Still trying to figure out which side to face.  Left foot forward, or right?  Maybe it’s gotta be both, taking turns.

 

 

 

Fluently Fluenz

Although there is still much more about our brains that we don’t know than we do, what those who study our noggins have discovered is that learning a language is an activity that pays relatively high dividends.

Learning a foreign language creates more connections

For most of us, because of the complexity, learning a new language is not easy.  It takes time, thought, effort, recall, and lots of practice.  It’s kind of like aerobics, resistance training, and yoga all combined into a well-rounded mental workout.  And like physical exercise, the results are proportional to the effort we invest.  When we learn a language, brain scans are showing the firing of neural synapses actually help expand the plasma membrane where we need it most — memory and recall.

Good advice, but may not be too helpful for actually learning the language

As an added bonus, brain heads are also detecting a host of extra side benefits from learning a language, such as an increase in creativity, flexibility, openness, focus, and an improvement in general cognitive skills.

This seems to be about my speed

Having been in rural China (on and off) for a few years means that getting to know the basics of Mandarin not only makes life a bit easier but also a tad more enriching.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, most business communication is conducted in English, giving me an excuse and an out.  Still, I’ve poked around at several different learning methods, from podcasts, to classes, to a book and CD — each one improving my rationalization skills for avoiding the mental workouts.  I even tried using a stone of the rosetta variety, but nothing was sparking the neuron stimulation I was looking for. Then I found Fluenz.

While I’m still well entrenched in the beginner stage, it’s kind of thrilling to be able to direct a taxi and order food without pointing to everything like a dumbo.  After a few years, that’s not saying much.  Anyone with normal intelligence would be a lot further along.  But the fact that I’ve found something that is not a chore is thanks to the structure and format of this online and downloadable course.

This must mimic my own circuitry — minimal

The co-founder, Sonia Gil, has developed a method that actually makes learning the language engaging.  The premise of Fluenz is that each language requires a slightly different approach, at least for English speakers. I can’t speak for their other courses, but the Mandarin version consists of three levels, each one with more than a couple dozen sessions.  Each session is broken down into many, aptly named, workouts.  The exercises include a short dialogue with and without translation, explanations, matching words with photos and sentence structures, practice writing what you hear with the correct inflection (pinyin), and more. The sessions are pleasantly mixed and diverse enough that the learning process is stimulating.  Additionally, the iPad and iPhone versions are appealingly interactive.  The course also includes digital flashcards in a variety of formats, mobile podcast practice, and a short dictionary.

My rationalization skills for avoiding study time are still well-honed.  Many days spent justifying why not studying Mandarin is in my best interest has made me an expert at fooling myself.  The one phrase I’ve got memorized for the Chinese people who try to speak to me is “tīng bù dõng” which in essence means, I’m clueless about your language, so it’s fruitless to talk with me. But because I’m an oddball in their world, the locals are curious.  They want to converse. By not trying, tiny grains of richness evaporate, so it doesn’t seem right that I deny them, or myself, those scattered yet potentially wholesome morsels.

With luck, if the gray matter is not too thin and I can somehow overpower the phony excuses, I’ll eek out of baby phase at some point and into toddlerhood. If so, I’m hoping to eventually savor some of those residual benefits.  I won’t hold my breath, but if there’s a chance, it will be thanks to the Fluenz course.

And if I can power through, I just may pick up another Fluenz language and chalk it up to encephalonic health care.  Not being in the country where the language is spoken doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the effort.  Daily mental calisthenics with so many perks could be a worthy commitment.

Catching restorative Z’s

During my 40’s & 50’s, I was an avid alarm clock user.  It was set for 5 am, weekends included.  I was either in the gym or outdoors doing something active every day at 5:30 am, no matter what.  The daily morning engagement was a commitment.  It didn’t matter if the evening prior was filled with late fun, the outdoor date with myself at 5:30 in the morning held.

To get up at five, meant I should have been in bed and asleep by nine the evening prior.  That never happened.  It was more like 11 pm, or sometimes 12.

We should not need one of these

In my 30’s I didn’t get up that early.  But the idea may have been festering for years. During the time I lived in San Francisco, I met a young, upwardly mobile, apparently successful and vibrant couple, each running their own business.  We became friends and occasionally jaunted up to Napa and Sonoma on our motorcycles for lunch.  Curiosity led me to ask about their workout routine.  They explained that they got up at 5 am to workout in their home gym so they could fit in their physical activity before their day jobs.  Their answer to “what time do you go to bed and sleep at night” left me with my jaw hanging open.  Nine pm they said. They were my age, early 30’s.  How could anyone go to sleep at 9 pm every day I thought.  But they did. They were not going to trade-off sleep.

It wasn’t until my later 50’s, that I was slapped upside the head (actually the neck).  Yea, ok, I’m a (real) slow learner.  Little did I realize that length, and of course quality, of sleep, is just as important as eating and exercising well.

Sleep researchers say that adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a day.  Throw out the 3rd standard deviation, and that leaves more than 80% of us requiring between 7.5-–8.5 hours daily — depending on our individual rem sleep cycles.  If we trim or curtail our required sleep-time, we are not doing ourselves, or our bodies, any favors.  In other words, cutting sleep short creates metabolic distortions.  And, if we are getting the right amount of sleep we shouldn’t need an alarm clock to get out of bed.

A common habit — eating into healthy sleep time.

Most of us have (self-created) demanding, competitive, activity-filled lives, hell-bent on productivity and getting ahead, that a major challenge is squeezing life into our waking hours.  Unfortunately, sleep usually takes a hit.

It’s not surprising.  Many business success self-help books extol the virtues of waking up earlier, burning the midnight oil, and other push-the-envelope advice, ignorantly neglecting the health repercussions of extended sleep deprivation.

We’ve all had to work on less sleep from time-to-time, but when it becomes a lifestyle, then long term health is compromised.  The right amount and quality of daily sleep set us up for optimal physiological and biological performance.  It’s just as important as exercise and diet, if not more so.

The challenge for most of us is not waking up early, but getting to bed, lights out/devices off, so that we can wake up, alarm free, after a full night’s sleep.

I still have the morning date with myself but without the alarm clock.  It’s still a tug-of-war getting to bed on time.  But seeing that compromising sleep-time is a health disservice, it’s worth protecting like gold. 

Heading to the bars

It’s developed into a relatively new habit, at least a few times a week.  Even when traveling, I’ve started investigating where the bars are so that I might stay nearby.

It all started in Bangkok a couple of years ago when, in the course of going out, I took a side street and discovered a bar area worth hanging out in.

Bars can set you free, no club to join, and like most bars, a congregation area for meeting others with the same goals.

For those sharing the same hankering, the following are a few images of bar areas I’ve run across in recent travels.  If you care to share your favorite bars, your input would be most welcome.

 

The bars that started the obsession — Lumpini Park, Bangkok

East River near the East Village, NYC

When I must stay in Shanghai, I try to stay around Jing’an Park, which has a semi-hidden bar area (partial view)

On the ocean in Danang, Vietnam

Manhattan Beach, California, a bar area hard to beat

Partial View of a bar area on the Colorado River, Austin, TX

Zhangjiagang go-to bar area as long as the locals are not using them for drying clothes

This morning’s alternate bar area in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu, China

Duh,..I can’t remember

And I’m not sure if it’s buried, misfiled, or purged.  After all, there’s only so much memory space, right?

Kind of.  As much as memory storage is relative to overall health, which is affected by all the stuff we are familiar with, like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress.

Memory serves us well, as long as we don’t live in the storage bins.  But what is memory? (Don’t worry, you won’t learn that here.)  As we know it, it is simply a dynamic process of neurons encoded by conscious and unconscious thought, with a measure of observation and dash of awareness.

Supposedly, we can train and expand our recollection ability through learning.  There are volumes written about theories and methods for the most efficient ways to build the encoding, storing, and recalling process.  The thing is though, memories are not frozen in time, but rather experiences and associations which change over time.  I can’t recall who (duh), but someone in the know described remembering as creative reimagination. 

Talking to one of my sisters yesterday, we joked that when remembering events, we don’t know whether we remember what actually happened, or remember what we remembered.  In either case, remembering is, at best, a reconstruction colored by our own (unique) awareness.

Memories, or what we remember, isn’t stored in some kind of brain ether.  Memories are stored in specialized, information-transmitting cells.  But those cells, like all our cells, are constantly changing.  In a real sense, we are completely different people than we were 10 years ago.  Cells that make up our body are not the same cells of 10 years ago.  Which means life is fluid (duh).  And so is our memory (double duh).

The storage and retrieval function ends up corrupted from time to time.

For those so inclined. the good news is, they say, that a healthy mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain, increasing neurotransmitter levels (slowing down normal decay), and giving us our best chance to recollect what we care to remember.

Now if only I could remember what that was, duh.

Resistance Plus,…or is it Minus?

Two weeks ago I wrote a few meager, grainy thoughts about resistance exercises.  What I neglected to mention is the importance of tissue preparation, muscle activation, and dynamic preparation — an elaborate and more technical manner of describing proper warm up before hand, steps I must have botched last week before one of my workouts.

The low, dull, seemingly innocuous pulsing started somewhere in the lower back left side.  By the next day it had turned to discomfort and moved down to my hip, then transformed to a more serious pain in the gluteus area, to the top of my thigh, and eventually my entire left leg from hip joint to ankle.

This is not how you want to feel after resistance

Two days after it started, a 2.5 hour flight was enough to bring me close to tears as the pain objected vehemently to its forced sitting position.  Since then it has only marinally improved.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the ache subsides somewhat during the day to permit moderate mobility, except at a tad slower pace.  But at night the pain leaps out of its daytime hiding place with a vengance and has an intensely good time not letting me sleep well.

To add insult to the injured left side, a couple of days into my trip, which required quite a bit walking for the scouting mission I had planned, it started drizzling as I was cruising on a crowded sidewalk.

fortunately I went forward and not on the already injured rump

As I’ve learned the hard way on two wheels, the first coating of moisture on metal ground plates makes for an icy-like surface.  Because I didn’t have an umbrella, I picked up the pace and before I could react my right foot slipped out in front of me on a metal sidewalk plate, causing my left knee to slam to the ground where I landed in a half kneeling position.  The good news was that the new throbbing sensation from the sudden jolting impact was great enough to render the other pain a non-issue, at least temporarily.  The slip managed to win a layer of knee skin and left me with a fashionable rip in my otherwise un-torn jeans.  The passing pedistrians gave no nevermind to the half-kneeling wierdo as it took a few seconds to gather the required ummpf to rise and continue on.

Not a shiatsu pressure point nor an otherwise therapeutic massage has improved the constant stinging of the original offense.  I’m kind of down for the count, or at least off resistance temporarily, wallowing in a holding pattern somewhere between wanting to punch something or cry.  I suppose staying in the middle of those extremes is worthy of contentment.

There are so many muscles, it pays to pay attention to a few. They are all connected

Nephew Trip S warned me about the warmup importance.  I thought I did, but evidently not well enough.  So for anyone hankering to know what a good activation warmup looks like, Dr. Peter Attia, a knowledgeable nutrition professional and once marathon swimmer, along with Jesse Schwartzman, demonstrate a routine here in a 4-part video.  Many are the same activation movements Trip S teaches.

Preparation and activation are the key words.  If you resist, do yourself a favor and make it resistance plus, not minus.