Friday, December 25, 2015

Resolutions and Goals are Pointless

It's that time of year again. Goals and resolutions for the upcoming year. What do you have as yours? Weight loss? Saving money? Travel? Quit smoking? It's nice to have aspirations of being a better version of yourself, and we've all heard that writing down our goals increase our chances of actually reaching them by 60% or whatever (because 60% of the time, it works 100% of the time), so that's what we do.

The thing is, even if you've written down your goal for the upcoming year (and it was a pretty easy one to think up, because it's the same one you've had for the last few years as well), what are you going to do about it? Most people are all about getting inspired, which is why all those motivational posts, videos, and stories are so popular. Those allow viewers to get the "slow clap" feeling of ambition and then are inspired to "do something great." And that's where most people stop. That's also where anything goal-oriented stops. They just get the feeling, the inspiration, maybe an idea or two, and then....go to the next thing that will hold their attention for a couple minutes.

Then there are some people who are inspired and actually write down their aspirations (or goals, or resolutions, whatever you want to call them), because, well, that's how things happen, right? Don't get me wrong, writing your goals down is a great thing. It solidifies your want, it uses multiple sensory input and outputs to help you remember that's what your goal is, and it (if put in a strategic location) reminds you daily about what your goal is. Great. Now what? Wait?

I heard something about some guy named Santa, a lady called the Tooth Fairy, and some Fairy Godmother or some sort....

Ever since we've been kids, we've been led to believe that if we want something, we just wish for it, tell someone about it, and then magically, at the right time, it comes to us (I'm actually very happy my parents never introduced me to these mythical providers). And now, with the Strawberry Generation (look it up) and their sense of entitlement, it's even more so turning into a world of spoiled kids waiting for their piece of the pie. Don't let this be you. And if you realize this is you, stop being part of it. You're not doing anything to help society or yourself.

I digress....

So you have this list of goals or wants. What's the next step? There needs to be an action that will bring you closer to getting what you want. In comes the Plan of Action. Draw/write out a plan. Even if it's on a napkin, the back of a coloring page for your 7 y/o niece, or whatever. This Plan of Action should be altered several times, as you will revise it to fit a realistic version of your life and efforts (and include any high-chanced obstacles), rather than your "head in the clouds" goal. You should have a total of 3 versions, a low (if everything fails, this should still happen), a middle (if things go like I planned realistically), and a high (if everything goes perfectly). It's kind of like college applications. You have a safety net, a "probably going to end up going to" school, and a "if I'm lucky and they for whatever reason pick me because Admissions wanted a charity case" school. Each one of these should have some sort of step by step and written out process, varying basically with quantifications of each step. Add up the steps and see where each path leads you. These are your low, middle, and high goals. The low one should feel pretty comfortable. The middle should feel pretty exciting. The high one should make you feel pretty uncomfortable and question your capabilities.

Now that you have a plan (which should have included a start and end date, and hopefully landmark dates in the middle), time to set it into action! Make all the preparations you need to allow your plan to go as smoothly as possible. It's like packing for a trip. Get all the things you need together, put them all where they need to go, and then go on your trip. Sometimes you'll need help along the way (know when it's a good situation to figure things out for yourself, but also when you should ask for outside help). You'll also find that your goals and plan will change as you're following it. This is normal and to be expected. Just go with the flow, and make adjustments. In the end, you'll have made much more progress towards your goal than if you had just done what you always did in the past (that, well, never worked, because otherwise you wouldn't have had the same goal again).

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Belly Breathing" is Still Poor Breathing

Breathing dysfunctions are appearing on more people's radars, especially chest-breathers. It seems like all you need to do to get "healthy" breathing is to practice belly breathing. In fact, many fitness and health professionals are even telling their clients to breathe with their bellies. The truth is, if you only breathe with your belly, you're still doing it wrong.

The respiration system is compiled from various musculatures (among other structures, but we'll only focus on the involved muscles for the purposes of simplicity), including but not exclusive to the scalenes, SCM (sternocleidomastoid), subclavius, internal and external intercostals, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, psoas, quadratus lumborum, the pelvic floor, and of course, the diaphragm.

(photo from

All of these muscles are important in the inspiration and expiration stages of breathing. Habitual breathing (not using focus or for sport) should include the concentric activation of the inspiration muscles (diaphragm, internal intercostals), and accessory muscles (pectoralis minors, SCMs, scalenes), and pelvic floor, along with the relaxation of the expiration muscles (external intercostals, transverse abdominals, rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques, quadratus lumborum, and psoas) during inhalation, and the opposite during exhalation. A chest breather will only use their upper structures to complete the breathing cycle, completely ignoring the use of their abdominal musculature, and overusing their neck muscles. Their diaphragm then gets "tight," and sometimes cramps or causes mid back pain. They will commonly have short breaths, dizziness, fatigue, frequent yawning, low energy, side stitches, and stiff neck/shoulders (especially a tight upper trap). They might even have numbness/tingling along their arms. Poor circulation and acid reflux are also common symptoms of chest breathers because of the overly tight diaphragm.

(photo from

The solution to overdoing it on top is to start doing on the bottom, right?  Well, kind of.

I'm sure you've seen people who are really good at belly breathing. You might be one of those people. Your belly makes a nice rotund shape every time you inhale, perhaps from the belt line up to your ribcage. If you're "really good" at belly breathing, your dome belly will even reach to the top of your pubic symphysis, as it should. Go ahead, take a few of those really good belly breaths.

(image from

Good job!

Now notice what happens to your chest when you take those breaths. Any movement? No? Or it moves up and down (towards/away from your head)? Well, you're still not breathing properly. A proper inhalation should involve the chest wall and abdomen expanding outwardly equally, not one more than the other. By outwardly, I mean 360 degrees. You should have anterior, lateral, and posterior expansion.

Many people focus on actively belly breathing and "not being a chest breather," and as a result, they overdo it, and cause another dysfunction. It's kind of like if you sprained your left ankle, and instead of learning how to use the proper musculatures to even yourself out, you put all your weight your right foot, and end up with a compressed right hip. So what's the solution? Work on 360 breathing. Breathe with your chest, your abdomen, your sides, and your back. Put some Kinesio Tape or Rock Tape, or an elastic band around your abdomen, lower rib cage, and upper chest, and see if you can breathe into the bands, all at once. This is tricky to do all at once if you're not already accustomed to it, so you might want to just work on one aspect at one time, but remember to incorporate them all together, so as to not be dysfunctional in a different way.

(image from

Friday, October 9, 2015

Cancer Month

It's one of those __(fill in the blank with appropriate type)__ Cancer Awareness months again. You'll see color schemes, ribbons, walks, and fundraisers. You'll see cancer survivors, their friends, and random people who fall into the "support-but-not-support" trend to look like they're doing something.

I'll tell you what. Cancer sucks. It sucks hard. Any type. Going through the downs, the false ups, the harder downs, and the really shithole downs. The pain that nobody can do anything about. The people nagging you to do things you don't feel like because you just want to crawl into bed and go to sleep all the time. The pills. The overtake of brain space about timing and when to take which pills and with or without what foods or drinks. These, by the way, are just very basic first-hand observations. I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like having Cancer, because I don't have it. *knock on wood* I wouldn't wish it on anyone, based on what I've seen.

Something else that's highly forgotten during these Cancer Awareness trends....are all the caregivers for the Cancer patient. They feel helpless. They try their best to do everything and anything they can to ease the pain, to forget about the suffering, to keep them strong in mind, body, and spirit. They give all of themselves to help their loved one(s). Oftentimes, they give to the point, where they forget to give to themselves, too. They'll forget to take care of themselves because the dishes need to get done, the dog needs a bath, and the sheets need to be washed....twice, because it's the day after chemo. There's no time for a nap, or a workout, or a solitude walk in the park, or outings with friends. They have to stay by their loved ones' side, just in case. They give up their quality (and quantity) of sleep to help their loved one go to the bathroom, or rub their back, or get their pain meds, or call the doctor. They have to make food, but good food, and go grocery shopping for things they don't know how to find but are supposed to be good for fighting Cancer. They spend a lot of money on efforts that are often tried only once or twice. They can give up their sanity. It's hard being a caregiver for a Cancer patient. As much as they're putting in, and TRYING, there's not much they can do, except watch their loved one constantly suffer. Even dealing with the doctors is rough. False reads, miscommunicated information, incorrect information, omission of information, and being treated by them like the details don't matter, so they give the "just do as I say because I'm the doctor and you're the patient" reason. Emergency room runs are tiring (as we all know that trips to the ER are never less than 6 hours, with most of it being painful and irritating waiting). Being so familiar with the hospitals that you could draw a map and point out the shortcuts and times of day where they have free coffee at which parts of the oncology ward.

And then there's the feeling of unfairness and guilt. The "why me?" From the patient and the caregiver. Why the person who had no prior health issues and took good care of themselves and is a good person ended up with 2 types of Stage 4 cancer, where the guy who smokes 4 packs a day, eats fast food, and kicks puppies for fun ends up with nothing more severe than mild hypertension. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. It really wasn't. I don't understand why, or how, or why. Why. He's supposed to live until he's 110, with the way his life was going up until he was diagnosed. The doctors had told him he had the health of someone who was 25 years younger in age. Until that day. That day that changed his life, and everyone who cares about him 's life.

If you'd like to help with "finding a cure," go ahead, go on that 10k walk with your friends while you're dressed in your new pink sports shoes, your pink namebrand shirt, and all those pink ribbons pinned everywhere. But be aware that most of any monies raised in those events just goes in some deep, happy pockets, not actual unbiased research.

But if you would like to make an immediate impact on people who are dealing with Cancer in their lives, being themselves as the patient, or the caregiver, it takes a little more heart that bombarding passerbyers with colors. Bake a casserole, buy groceries, mow their lawn, wash their dishes, do their laundry, give their dog a walk and a bath, kick the caregiver out of the house for a few hours to do something they enjoy while you spend some time with the patient. These seem like little, meaningless, day-to-day things that aren't important. But to the caregiver, it means the world. And spending time with the patient will lift their spirits, and give them a little change of pace, which they need, even if it's just a temporary distraction from the pain.

There are different levels of suffering from the effects of Cancer. Watching your favorite football team wearing pink shoes while they play won't do much. I've heard that 1 in 2 or 3 people now will have some type of cancer in their lifetime. Those odds suck. Chances are, you know someone who is or will be going through it. Please don't be scared to just rock up to their house with food and the adamant intention to do some type of housework for them. I promise you, it will mean more to them than any colored ribbon you wear.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

5 Days of Iyengar Yoga

My first experience with yoga was not a great one. In fact, it was so unmemorable that I can’t even remember when or where I took the class. All I can remember was that it turned me off of yoga completely, and I generalized it as “glorified stretching.” I was already pretty flexible because of taekwondo (and probably some natural born degree of flexibility to begin with), so going to a basic yoga class was pretty useless to me. This was at least 10 years ago. 

Fast forward to this year. I’ve had the privilege of being able to spend time with someone who lives his life as a dedicated Iyengar Yogi. Before this year, I had no idea there were different types of yoga (other than Bikram, because of its trendy phase a while back), let alone what “Iyengar” yoga was. So when Jory told me he was a yogi, my mind immediately formed pictures of a stretchy hippy (sorry to all my yogi friends, this is what pops in my brain if you’re introduced to me as a yogi). I first met Jory at a Neurokinetic Therapy seminar, one that we were both assistant teaching in Taiwan. I had no idea how he applied yoga into his therapy, only that perhaps he used the yoga as the release/stretch portion of homework for his clients. 

Jory introduced me to a few basic poses during a trip to Taroko Gorge, between NKT seminars, and gave me several specific and intricate directions that made something as simple as standing a mindful difficult task. Apparently I had been standing incorrectly all this time. Well, I knew that part, but just did nothing about it. Jory had me get inside my body, controlling parts that I knew I had the ability to communicate with, but just never had. After a couple more poses, I was intrigued. And sweating. And frustrated. How was my body so inflexible, especially my awesome TKD hips? I knew my right hip was bothering me since my left knee injury, and my back has been bothering me for the last 2 years (also since the knee, but not purely because of the knee). So I worked on them for the next several weeks. Slowly, they improved, just with the poses that Jory gave me and also some additional exercises I did on my own. They still needed more (I didn't expect any miracles). 

My next yogic experience with Jory was 5 straight days and 13 hours of his yoga classes, including a couple workshops. These were not beginner classes, and I certainly did not belong in them. I was extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity by Jory to not only attend, but actively participate. As I knew my place in the classes, I also made it a point to do my own practice in the morning so I could review a bit of what was learned the day before. I had been doing this for the last few weeks anyway to continue with my own therapy and to get my morning movements in. Those 13 hours were HARD. Some more difficult than others, but none were particularly simple. Each second of his classes required full mental presence, an empty stomach, and the want and dedication to be better. Some of the poses required a lot of willpower for me, and breaking through some tough mental barriers, as there was quite a bit of fear trapped in a few parts of my body from injuries. Jory was clear, concise, specific, and direct with his instructions. He was not afraid to get in your face if you were being lazy, or just needed an extra push to get something to move. And right when I wanted to punch him in the face for the pain and struggle he had just put me through, he would have the class listen to a fun anecdote or let us do a resting pose for a minute. Every single time. And then, he’d move onto the next pose. The classes were very engaging, and there was no room for laziness or fluffing around. If you were there, you were there to learn and get serious work done. 

I journaled every day, wrote down what I could remember from the class, as much detail as possible, as I normally do in these types of circumstances. I think I filled up at least 7 or 8 pages, front and back. There’s undoubtedly much that I forgot, especially near the end, as the last day was excruciatingly difficult (3 hours of a shoulder and neck therapy workshop; with my right shoulder being injured, and my upper body being the lowest source of strength, comparatively). But I got through it, somehow, and was completely wiped for the rest of the day. Other students in that class were boasting post-class beers, desserts, and massages as a way to reward themselves for getting through that class.

I can’t say I enjoyed Jory's classes. I don’t enjoy when I am put in a place of incapability, frustration, and sometimes pain. But they were good. Really good. The classes were difficult, they were inspiring, they were encouraging, they were informative, they were nourishing, they were eye-opening, and they were challenging for both mind and body. Jory was specific, caring, strict, focused, respectful, professional, engaging, strong in his instructions, precise, and deeply knowledgable. Jory’s classes were fantastic. I am so grateful to have been able to experience his teachings, and inspired that there is more to yoga than simply “glorified stretching.” 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Being Present

Recently, I've added a new routine in my mornings: several minutes of movement/mobility work. The idea of it (for me) started after Max Shank presented his #5minuteflow (which is FANTASTIC, by the way!). I tried it during a few weeks of work trips, but it never really caught on into my daily life (I am neither naturally a morning person, and I typically have work in the mornings....both which are excuses, not reasons). Since May of this year, I've gotten an opportunity to dabble (and I use that term lightly, as this is my first real experience) a bit in Iyengar Yoga. Jory Serota put me in a few poses, gave me some directions for those normally considered basic poses, and subsequently made me sweat a lot. I strongly disliked the process during those sessions. I knew I had lost some flexibility in the last several years, but not that much, and not in those ways. But the more I practiced what he taught, the less I disliked the process, and the more I learned what my body lacked. I think the most important part of my experience with his teachings was the reminder (and a wider view) of how to..


What does "being present" mean?

It means paying attention to the details. Know what's around you, what's going on, what you're wanting to accomplish right then and there. What sounds can you hear? What does the air feel like? What does the air smell like? What are the activities occurring around you? What are the visual details? Can you see the bird on the rooftop of the adjacent building? What is it doing? Can you hear the silence of your empty house/apartment? Can you hear the neighbors retrieving their mail? Can you smell what's being made for breakfast?

"Being present" means being aware of what is happening in your body, your mind, your breath, your heart. How are you breathing? Are you chest breathing? 360 breathing? Fast? Slow? Shallow? Deep? Holding your breath? How are you feeling at this point? Happy? Bored? Dislike? Tired? A.D.D.? Intrigued? Are you sitting/standing up straight? What does it mean to stand up straight? What is your neck doing while you read this? How are your hips positioned? How are your feet positioned? How are your shoulders and your chest positioned? Is your jaw gripping? Are you still breathing?

This is only a small part of being present. There is much, much more to it. The more you practice being present in your daily life, the more you realize there is to it.

I've always been present in my workouts, ever since my early Taekwondo days. Thankfully, I had a good Master who engrained in my brain that the details matter quite a bit. Nowadays, TKD (as well as many other martial arts, sports, and well, everything) has become more of a generalized movement, and, in short, sloppily practiced and performed. What is supposed to be an exact distance and angle of the feet, knees, hips has now become "eh, it's roughly about that position." The flow of energy of a single punch going from relaxed to torqued and then terse and sharp has now become "getting from point A to point B." The beauty in a kick with perfect alignment, poise, and energy has now become a generalize "AyYah!" with a randomly contacted foot to a target. It's disappointing, really, if you've ever experienced the actual art and see what's being taught in many places.

My understanding of being present has now grown exponentially, since my early TKD days. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I am thankful to have had instructors who teach the details, and at least bits and pieces of being present in practice. It's nice to have those outside sources of reminders.

Now, in my workouts, daily movements and postures, I am even more present than I used to be. There is so much more to pay attention to, so much more than can be applied to make my body and mind strong and complete. This week, I'm taking several of Jory's classes. Of course, there will be a write up in the future :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Lately, I've been noticing that for a lot of my decision-making process, I've been incorporating one question that has had a hugely positive effect.

"Does it fit in with my intentions/plan?"

I'm really bad at making decisions. Like, really bad. I'll weigh out every option presented to me, and make a mental list of pros and cons. And I'll still have a difficult time deciding. Even if it's just lunch.

This year, I've had to make several *large* decisions, and I have several yet to make before the year closes. Yes, I know it's only mid-June, but 2015 seems to be that type of year for me. Some major decisions have been of the personal nature, and some have been professional. Normally when faced with making a decision, it's about when I've realized that my choices have been logically narrowed down and I'm getting to the "really indecisive stage," I start to freak out a little. The anxiety of "which choice is the best one?" sets in, and I start letting it occupy my mental energy. This anxiety/worry could fill a few hours, days, weeks, or even months. I fear making the wrong choice.

Yes, I've spent months of mental energy needlessly worrying on one decision. It sucks. It shouldn't happen more than once, really, if that.

After speaking with a few of my wise friend/colleagues about one of the major decisions I was to make for this year, one of them asked me what my goal was for the end result of this decision. "What do you want to do with it? Does it fit in with your intention/plan?"

It took me a couple months to really let that sink in to the point where it actually meant anything to me. I'm really tempted by variety. I like to taste test everything. (Buffets are my worst enemy.) So if I have to commit to one thing, I tend to freak out a little about what I'm missing. But once I actually realized the power of that question of "does it fit in with your intention/plan?", life has been a hell of a lot easier for me. I've realized that there are many things out of my control, especially things in the future, and that it's pointless for me to worry about them. Worry does nothing except waste energy and mental space. And it's not good for the soul. Trying to make decisions based on worry is even worse. And worrying about which choice is best...nope.

The next time you're faced with a decision, ask yourself this: Does the option fit in with your intentions/plans? If yes, then proceed. If no, well, then pick something where the answer is yes. Stop worrying about how it will affect things in the future, what may or may not happen if you choose A or B, or especially what others will think about your decision. The decision is yours to make, so make it for yourself.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Recap from a week of learning

I just spent a solid 6 straight days of learning. 4 days of shadowing, and 2 days of a seminar. Fortunately, I was also able to multitask the learning with spending time with some awesome people and great friends, which made the experience all the more fantastic and addictive. Without getting too into specifics, here are some things I was reminded of:

1. Concepts are important.
2. Don't just memorize stuff if you want to be a pro at something, understand it thoroughly.
3. Who you learn from makes a big difference. Learn the same thing from multiple people, but choose your mentors wisely.
4. Surround yourself with the people who you aspire to be, and those who inspire you to do great things
5. Immerse yourself in things (not material, but moreso actions) that make you happy.
6. Sleep is important, but you can get by on adrenaline for a short term thing. This is when learning trumps sleep. But still sleep.
7. Change can be good. Be aware of when it is and take a step back to learn and grow from it.
8. Treat your body well. No matter what great things come into your life, if you ignore your own well-being, you won't be getting nearly as much out of the great things as you could if you treat yourself well. I mean this in the most simplest of terms: Eat clean, get quality (and enough) sleep, smile, laugh, be active, spend time in your mental space, and improve yourself a little every day.
9. Love what you do, know why you do it. Be 100% that and don't stray from that.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Dreaded "M" Word


We've all heard it, we all know what it means, yet many of us are lacking in the application of the concept. Common excuses are "but _____ is good for me!", "I like _____," " _____ is healthy!", and "I don't have time for the other stuff because _____ takes up all of my extra time/stomach space/etc."

So here's an example of things people like to do too much of, but can be viewed as something that is beneficial:
    -Training in a specific sport
    -Eating something considered "healthy" or "good" for them

Just because you enjoy something, or it's good for you, doesn't mean you should let it occupy all of your free time. I'll start with a small example. Broccoli. Everyone knows broccoli is good for you. Whether or not you enjoy eating it is another story, but in general, broccoli is a pretty safe bet if it's part of a healthy diet. I know someone who only ate broccoli (and quite a bit of it, because "it's good for you!"), and did some serious gut bacteria altering as a result, which landed him in the hospital, after having constant abdominal pains. Determined cause of pain: too much broccoli messed up the balance of bacteria in his gut and his stomach didn't appreciate it. (*side note, you can look up a guy who actually turned ORANGE from eating too many carrots!!)

Another example: Working out. It's great to be active, work out, and find a sport that you enjoy. Staying active and physically fit is great for you. However, doing the same sport ALL the time is not. Sure, you might be physically fit, but there are many aspects of movement you aren't getting just by practicing in one sport. Since my gym is connected to a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, we'll just use that as an example. BJJ is a fine sport and martial art. Many people have lost weight by training BJJ, and also become addicted to it (since it's so much fun). The thing is, BJJ is a very flexion-based sport, so you tend to miss out on all the extension you need to counterbalance that flexion (especially since regular life is also flexion-based). Because of this, I see many martial artists have "lazy ass" syndrome (where their glutes are inhibited, and they're using other muscles to compensate, causing back pain and other discomforts), amongst many other physical deficiencies. 

Studying, reading, etc is great for the mind and improving oneself, but doing only that in your free time, you ignore the physical movement your body needs to be useful. I see this a lot, being in Asia. People start out at a very young age (around 2-3 y/o), trapped behind a desk, slouching, rounded shoulders, heads forward. All just to get ahead in their formal education. By the time they're in high school, their postures are terrible and habitual, and they don't realize the damage they're doing to themselves structurally until later in life when they get a job, everything hurts, and people have already accepted that it's "normal" to have compressed lumbar discs, bone spurs, and flat their 30's and 40's. I'm not sure about you, but to me, 40 seems way too young to be dealing with those types of conditions, unless you've been in some type of accident or something. 

These activities/foods are good for you, sure, but in moderation. There should be variety in your life, with whatever you do. Variety will get you much closer to being optimal and super awesome than repeating the same thing over and over. If you enjoy broccoli, have some, but also eat your carrots, bell peppers, and beets. You need more types of nutrients than what broccoli can offer. If you enjoy BJJ, train, but also cross train in something that requires extension, like proper weight training, or even ballet (it's also been proven that athletes who cross train perform better in their main sport). If you love to/must read a lot, by all means, please go right ahead, but take breaks to go outside and play physically for a bit. Maybe climb a tree or go for a hike or play a pickup game of basketball (fyi, kids learn better when they get to take physical play breaks, rather than jamming through learning stuff for extended amounts of time. So do adults). Make time for the "other" stuff, while still doing the things you love. Those other things will make you better at what you love to do anyway. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Healthy Cookies

Ooh! There's a fruit and nut instant oatmeal! Acai infused juice drink! Cranberry oat cookie!

I recently saw an article which highlighted a recipe for a "healthy chocolate-covered marshmallow." Folks, I hate to burst your sweet, sweet bubblicious bubble, but that "healthy" marshmallow is still a sugar-filled marshmallow. It's not healthy, no matter how you spin it.

These are examples of people getting duped by marketing. Or just food manufacturers. Either way, they're getting one pulled over their heads. I don't blame them, though. I used to do the same thing: drinking chemical-laden protein shakes, eating sugar-filled low fat foods, consuming massive amounts of oatmeal or protein bars, primal-style desserts. These were all supposed to be things that were "healthy" and "good for you." They had ingredients like "whole grains," "real fruit" and "24 grams of whey protein." 

I forgot the most important element of food: whole food. And I don't mean grinding your own almond flour to make your low carb cookies, I mean eating food that is actually completely unprocessed, aside from perhaps a little heat. When was the last time you could actually see every single ingredient in your food? Or a big hunk of real meat that came from an animal that lived a happy life? Or even just ate an entire carrot? These are real foods. They are readily available everywhere, but might seem less enticing than that diet cookie down the aisle. Do yourself a favor and skip those aisles in the grocery store. They don't have anything good there. Stick to the produce, meat, and seafood section, and make sure those haven't been altered, either (good quality, fresh, unadulterated things that used to live as an independent being). Cook with fat that came from a healthy, happy animal (like lard or ghee, or even good quality butter). Plants are really bad at making fats, by the way. Do you know how many canolas it takes to make a tablespoon of canola oil? I don't either. I don't even know what a canola is, but I know that it sucks at making fat. Pigs and cows make fat pretty well. Stick to those. 

When things need a label to convince you to buy them, there's a reason why they need that sales pitch. "Why buy this cookie? Because it has apple bits in it!" Well, guess what! An apple has apple bits in it, too! And nothing else! With an actual apple, you won't get all the other 23 bits that the label fails to mention, like sugars, chemicals, and weird things derived from parts of insects. You just get an apple. And that's really what your body needs. 

Be able to see what things really are, rather than how you want them to be. Just because a cookie has fruit in it, doesn't make it healthy. It's still a fucking cookie. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stretch Armstrong: Active vs. Passive Flexibility

Are you flexible? Maybe you can do the full splits, forwards AND backwards, ooooh! Impressive. 

Here's a question: Can you stand and raise your leg past hip height?

No? Well then, my friend, you are a great example of why passive flexibility doesn't mean much in real life functionality. 

Passive flexibility is what most people see as "flexible." Doing the splits, touching your toes from a standing position, reaching overhead in a laying position, etc, are all examples of passive flexibility. These are great if you are mush, or if you want to look elongated in a photo....while you're resting. The thing is, if you can lay down with your hands overhead, but you can't do that from a standing or squatting position, that shoulder "flexibility" will do you jack shit, other than being able to reach the TV remote a little easier (in which case, get off your lazy ass and go outside to play!!). 

Active flexibility (aka, "mobility") is something I prefer much more than passive flexibility. As an ex-competitor in Taekwondo, I was always jealous of the guys on my team who couldn't touch their toes or do the splits (both of which I could do with ease), but could kick your head before you even knew what happened. I always had trouble with getting my leg up there with being able to apply any force. Stretch all you want, you're not going to really improve your kick that much. 

I see this from a lot of newbies at our gym, too: They can fully extend their arms while doing crocodile breathing, but can't do a shoulder press or handstand worth jack, let alone a proper wall slide or overhead squat (by the way, if any of these movements are foreign to you, I invite you to come to a class). 

The thing is, flexibility without stability is pretty much worthless, if you're talking about being able to move. It's like being a limp noodle. With the help of someone else (or even gravity), you can be in any position, but you can't do it by yourself. Where do you need the stability to establish the mobility? My bet is your core. This doesn't mean doing a thousand situps. In fact, I hate sit ups. Please don't do them. Also, your core doesn't just compromise of your "abs." There's a whole lot more to it (like your spine stabilizers). 

Also, your prime movers need to be able to move. Ever watch someone bend over, and their back rounds? Yea, you actually probably do, too (have someone take a picture of you from the side while you pick up your keys off the floor). Do you hinge from your back, or from your hips? If you're hinging from your back, I'm suspecting a sleep butt (look up "glute amnesia"...I know muscles don't have feelings, but it's a good way to understand kind of what's going on). 

Now for the tricky part: which prime mover goes with which limb/joint mobility? I've seen people increase their shoulder mobility by increasing their thoracic stability. I've also seen people increase their hip mobility (ex: squat) by increasing their shoulder stability. I've even seen people increase their back flexibility by increasing their hip stability! 

How do you know where in your core you lack the stability, or which prime movers you need to get working again? Well, it depends on you. I can't tell you on a blog, sorry. You are not the same as everyone else. You are an individual, and deserve to be treated as such.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Rest: How much, when, and what type?

Rest. It’s a term many serious athletes come to hate. Training gets addicting for many athletes, but too much training will take a toll on even the most healthiest of bodies. Everyone needs rest, no matter the level of the athlete. Rest is crucial for recovery, as exercise/training actually damages the body (in both good and bad ways, depending on how you train). Without enough rest, your body will keep trying to heal without enough resources, kind of like pouring water into a cup with a hole on the bottom of the cup. How much rest is enough, too much, or too little? That will depend on each person. 

Age. A younger body will need much less rest than an older one. This one’s pretty common sense to most people, but it is something that still needs to be mentioned, even though it’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to come to terms with. Somewhere in your 20’s, you might start to feel your recovery time change. And then again in your 30’s, etc. Listen to your body, and give it ample time to recover. Don't compare yourself to someone older or younger than you when it comes to training or rest. Or anything, really. Age really is but a number, but generalizing, it can actually say quite a bit about a person.

Gender. Gender is not an excuse for anything, but lower amounts of testosterone will actually affect recovery time. If your workouts involve building muscle, you will be increasing your testosterone level automatically (women, it has a natural cap, so you don’t have to worry about getting to the bodybuilder look). 

Injury. If you are recovering from an injury, a simple general rule of thumb is to wait an extra 1/4 of the time it took to recover to 100% before you start training again. Example: If it feels better in less than a week, wait an extra day after it feels 100%. If it takes 4 months, wait an extra month. Many chronic injuries (injuries exceeding 6 months in duration) are actually minor injuries that were extended because of improper recovery time. 

Diet. If you are eating a diet of foods your body has a hard time processing (junk, allergic/intolerance foods, artificial anythings), you will have a slower recovery time. If you are not drinking enough water, you will have a slower recovery time. If you have circulation problems (like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, varicose veins, etc), your body will have to work much harder to distribute the nutrients it needs to recover. If you are taking supplements, those can either hinder or help your recovery. Typically, supplements that help with your actual workout will slow your recovery. 

General condition. If you haven’t worked out in a while, it’ll take you much longer to recover from a workout than when you’re already in shape. Either way, don’t let muscle soreness get in the way of your training, but if you start to feel any signs of overtraining, you should rest.

How your body responds to certain stimulus. Some bodies are designed for the slow twitch stuff, like long distance running or 90 minute jumprope sessions. Others are more designed explosive plyometrics like striking or burpees. Have you ever ran for 60 minutes and been unable to walk for the next day, while someone else was completely fine after doing the same? Our muscles are programmed to be able to handle more of one type of training than another, and it will differ among athletes. Yes, this is something that can be trained, but there is already a predisposition to what your muscles can handle. 

Type of workout. If you are used to that type of workout, your body will take much less time to recover. If it is something that requires you to use different muscles than you normally do, or just do something in a different way (aka, “mixing it up”), it may take you longer to recover. 

Frequency of workout. With a weekly regimin of 2-4 evenly spaced workouts, extra rest is probably not needed, as there should be enough time between workouts for the body to recover. However, for more serious athletes training 2-3 times per day, actual rest days should be planned into the week.

How long you have been training consistently in your life. If you are new to the world of physical activity and competitive sports training, yet find yourself addicted to the mats, you’ll have a little more difficulty recovering than someone who’s already been in the game for longer, even if they’ve never trained that sport before. 

Types of rest:

Active rest. This can range anything from a light version of what your normal training is (maybe a 1-4 out of 10 on the physical exertion scale), to stretching/yoga, an easy hike, or just playing outdoors with the kids. You should really be giving the muscles you normally work a break, but while still doing something active. This will prevent things from stiffening up, but still be providing the body with some sort of physical activity to aid in circulation, hence speeding up recovery (blood circulation is how the body delivers all the good stuff to the cells to repair them). 

Passive rest. This is where you actually do nothing. Like sleep. Watching TV doesn’t count, because it’s actually wasting your time (your body burns more calories from sleeping than it does while watching TV, since your body is actually working hard at repairing itself while you sleep, but not when you watch TV). Naps are great, especially if you are doing two-a-days (or more). Some people need a mere 6 hours a night. Others need 12. Some need naps, some don't. Whatever it is, be consistent, and your body will know what to expect and do a better job of recovering. 

So how do you determine the amount of rest suitable for you? Trial and error. Since each person’s situation is different, and each body will react differently (even to the same stimuli), try to go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time. Do this for a month straight, and see what happens. You might need to add a nap during the day, or cut out an hour of sleep in the morning. Once you get into the habit of proper rest, your body will recover more effectively, and you'll feel much more refreshed every day.