Hippie Workouts

Gaining muscle mass and strength through resistence training is unfortunately a clearly advantageous strategy for improving health.  Why unfortunate? Because I’m a hippie.  Look, being born in 1962 in San Francisco genetically predisposed me to hippiedom. Resistance training? Ha! how about some qi gong or yoga man?  I don’t need a hard body, I want to keep my body soft. Luckily I played high school basketball in the era before Michael Jordan started resistence training.  Playing ball was hard enough without having to lift in the off season. So I was even an hippie athlete.  After 3 years of training to jump, run, and gun I was exhausted and ran as fast as I could to art school where the most physically taxing activity is “action painting.” Apparently, there’s is no limit to my prejudice and it cuts in every direction.

Fast forward 30 years and I haven’t lifted a finger to train my body hard at anything except partying (sound familiar).  Sure I road my bike a little, played a little golf (stupid game) and took long walks, but it didn’t do much for what researcher’s now call an organ of metabolism; my muscles.

Naturally when I reached my late 40’s my doctor said, “Hey, look, you suck.  You need to lose a bunch of fat or you’re going to have to take the first of many pills to come; and that, everyday for the rest of your life.”  I knew I would be taking all kinds of pills in my old age but I assumed it would be the hippie way; you know, vitamins, minerals, maybe a little spirulina.  “If I just eat a good ayurvedic cuisine and stay away from sausage I’ll be alright, won’t I?” So I ignored my doctor’s advice for a year or two and when I came back the next time (maybe just slightly heavier) it wasn’t just a joke anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the daoist and hindu yogic systems integrate resistence training and strength. Often we see what we need to see in the classic texts, that’s why they’re classic, they can be read throughout time and across classes and cultures. Scholars see something different in the texts than military men, who see something different than farmers. Because of my laziness, however, I could never see what I needed; strength and fitness having associations I was choosing to ignore.

But now we don’t need ancient texts to tells we should exercise, we have science.  I know science can be used for bullshit but bullshit is bullshit and science is well, science…anywhy I digress.

What is it that you might be ignoring about the whole(ness) of your life? Because I wasn’t saying to myself, “you need to get stronger” I didn’t understand that I was often failing because I lacked strength. Because I didn’t know I needed to be physically stronger not only did I not know this is what I needed, of course I couldn’t learn to get stronger and I couldn’t solve my strength related problems.  Few people were telling me I needed to be stronger either (not an excuse).  They would say things like, you need more “practice” or more “merit” or that I needed to have greater “purity and consistency;” all things that I could have interpreted to mean “more strength,” but didn’t.

This blog entry got me interested in muscle even before that faithful conversation with my doctor and lead me to a brief spate of bodyweight exercises before I slacked off and got fat again. So when I got the call to get thin or get sick I had a little experience in what it feels like to be more active, more fit, but this “knowledge” was incredibly deceptive.

Two of the most deceptive things about trying to get into shape as an older person or after a long lay off are lack of familiarity and lack of compassion. When I was a kid we played everyday and in summer, all day, every day and there were very few electronics to interupt that process other than radio and seven channels of television.  We were very familiar with our bodies because of our deep play.  When I moved on to high school athletics I was very motivated do well and I still was young enough to recover quickly.  (I started late with organized athletics and I was less trained than many of my peers, yet it still took three years to know, in my body, that I had burned out). We had a coach guiding (somethimes well, sometimes not so well) us so young athletes rarely develop a caring attitude for their bodies. They make up in youth for what they lack in smarts.

As an experienced athlete ages, there is significant moment when he has to develop a certain level of compassion for his body and how he trains it. If she doesn’t, she’ll spend more time hurt than training to improve.  Many older athletes naturally develop this compassion others don’t.  When you never did much athletics as a kid or had a super long lay off you lack both compassion and familiarity and that creates obstacles both physical and mental.

Be clear about your goals (as usual).  My goals were that I wanted to train the muscles in order to bring them back into the glucose storing business in order to bring my blood sugar down and I wanted to reduce my body fat percentage because I felt this would help me to control my blood sugar. I didn’t know the best way for doing this however.  In fact I still don’t know best way.  You could have your entire genome sequenced and do the exercises suited to your genetic parameters. You could shop on You Tube for the workout(s) that appeal the most to you and try them all. Or you could do what I’m slowly doing, which is to just start anywhere. DO SOMETHING! Do something and then keep track of what you’re doing. Keep records! You’ll need records in order to slowly winnow away what doesn’t work for you and your goals.

If  you’re over fifty like me, and time and testosterone are short you’ll have to be efficient. If you overtrain and hurt yourself then the recovery can be very long. (I tried to sprint without having developed a sufficient base, just cause I thought I could; I hurt my knee and had to recover for two years!) Having a handle on the program you decide to do will also help you to apply compassion wisely.  You’ll be able to distiguish the times to push harder from those times when you have to rest to make real gains.

Over time my interest in training has grown and developed and I have had some experience progressing toward both hippie and athletic goals. Few people want to improve both their sprint and their ability to sit in meditation like I do so I have unique needs. Strength has many different expressions. I wish you good luck in finding the information that’s just right for where you want to be and on your way I hope you can have a laugh as well…, So I guess this all just comes down to which approach is better for you.  Are you a jock or a hippie? Can you be 40% hippie and 60% jock? The important thing is are you getting results? So  Chris Jones, sometimes we need hippie workouts to get us to our own unique destinations.

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Where Are You and Where Are You Going?

The fall is the season that, I personally, have traditionally chosen to assess, reasses and plan.  usually around September my creative juices start to flow and I begin to think about what things I’d like to change about my life. How can I make improvements on my current situation?  Sometimes its necessary to ask myself, “how can I escape my current situation?”

I try to apply self reflection to all areas of my life regularly but during the golden days of fall it is somehow especially important. What I often do is look back on things that I may have introduced to my life in the past year and re-evaluate them.  Often I’ve forgotten them, that process, or simply become lax.  If I can generate new enthusiasm then that’s a key indicator for me.  For example, I just dug up a notebook in which I did an exercise from Jack Canfield’s book “The Success Principals.” It was simply to write out 100 things you want to do before you finally buy that farm. I decided to type this list up and doing so was a big help in re-orienting me in a positive way.

1st meeting

Here I am on the left with my brother in the center and my father on the right. My father was just a little bit younger in this photo than I am now (I managed  to inherit the belly but not the hair). I’ve included this photo because it serves as a rough estimate of where I’m coming from in terms of physical fitness and also gives me an idea of where my genetic blueprint might be taking me. Although no one seems to enjoy looking in the mirror and seeing their parents, the truth of what may be reflected there is a tremendous teaching.  If you’re trying to stay healthy in a natural way with minimal supplementation and minimal surgical and drug intervention it makes sense to continue to listen to your parents.  This way of listening, of course, is of a different nature but it matters.

My family physician wanted to start me on blood pressure reducing medicines but I disagreed.  His reasoning was sound.  As an African-american my family history abounds with diabetes, stroke, enlarged hearts, obesity and cancer.  However I knew that although I had taken his lifestyle changes to heart, I hadn’t given it my best effort.  Body and mind not aligned. Although I was worried about my weight and the terrible bio-markers I was seeing, I delayed taking the medicine, chose a homöpathic remedy and was able to normalize my blood pressure in about 8 weeks with regular exercise.  Upon reflection I can say that my fitness program was not that good, but  it was enough to reach the important goal of lowering my blood pressure.

When my doctor recommended an ACE inhibitor was he simply following protocol? Was he looking at the statistics and saying, “blacks have a high incidence of this and so…” or was his thinking guided by some clear knowledge of my genetics? My father who was a physician in Los Angeles for over 30 years often said medicine was both art and science.  What does that mean? Does it mean we should question doctors that see cholesterol results over ‘x’ and immediately prescribe a statin? Perhaps we should question an insurance system that says, ” if said doctor does NOT prescribe a statin drug when a patients cholesterol level reaches ‘x’ we won’t pay him.” This situation doen’t seem to be very creative. To some extent I think that physicians have their hands tied, the amount information they have to sift through just to stay up-to-date is nothing short of enormous and often their patients (like me) are not as serious as they should be about their personal responsibility for their health. And of course, seeing 100 patients a day and 80 hour work weeks to boot can’t be conducive to cultivating a creative muse.

Shiatus therapist don’t usually have access to the devices that can give hard data upon which you can hack yourself.  We’re masters of the parasympathic nervous system though.  We help you turn down the noise your nervous system is making so that you can think clearly and be creative again; even if your doctor doesn’t have time to be.

Take time to look at where you’ve been and where you’re headed.  You can do this at any level of detail you feel relevant. You can simply reflect on your own habits and trajectory, you can look at your parents at your current age or you can even today get DNA testing done to determine any particular SNPs you may have that could inform your health approach or give you an early warning for the potential for Alzheimer and other diseases. Yet knowing, for example, that you have a SNP that makes it difficult for you to obtain folic acid from food, does not mean there is nothing to be done about it.  $the two controls are about epi-genetics.  Remember our genes are just 25% of the picture, your enivroment and your thoughts and actions have and essential part to play.

A Thousand Miles of Track

Recently I got a chance to sit zazen with practitioners in Suzuki Roshi’s practice lineage.  There was a class afterwards and we discussed right conduct.  I felt very relaxed and comfortable at the Clear Water Zendo in Vallejo California and if you’re ever nearby I would encourage you to drink from that stream.

Not long after this I began a 62 hour train trip from California to Michigan and I was reminded of Suzuki Roshi’s analogy of the train track.  He said, in effect, that the bodhisattva’s way, the wish to attain enlightenment in order to benefit others, must be like the rails we travel upon to our mundane destinations.  It is necessary that the tracks maintain their perfect and unwavering relationship to each other.  It would not do if one rail were to deviate from its path.  Even if the other rail would remain steadfast it would still spell disaster for both man and machine.

In Buddhist philosophy the two rails could be likened to concentration and wisdom, or insight and skillful means or perhaps the two, ultimate and conventional, truths.  If we don’t walk a sure path between relative and absolute truth we will lose our way.  In the context of caring for our health if we don’t balance our efforts at understanding theory and our practical purpose; between acting with ease and joy and strictly applying what we’ve learned from the research, we will have little hope of achieving our long sought after goals.

So as always, take it easy. Look before you leap. Don’t Be Afraid the Clown’s Afraid too.  A diet plan, a strength training plan, a qi gong form, the use of a particular supplement; these are just iceberg tips for honing awareness. Of course, as you learn a particular taiji form, you are using it as a template for your body and mind. You are coming into a special relationship with a method. Yet how your body looks while doing the form, or your intellectual grasp of the martial applications of the form, should not be your ultimate aim (well they could be but I think there’s more to be gained, especially in the context seeking a dropping off of the mind-body.) Even developing “mysterious energy” may not be the best and final goal for you. Yet no one can determine these things for you, not even your hair dresser. You are the boss. You take control. You go girl. Stay stable and balanced, upright and clear.  If you need help don’t waste time thinking about how your mother never needed help, go get help.  If you need a bar of chocolate don’t f*ck around, there’s plenty of  chocolate out there to be had.

In the sutra path, the bodhisattva’s way is thousands of lifetimes long and just as my transcontinental train ride required consistently parallel tracks, the life of the body and mind require evenness and balance. We don’t always have to walk straight and narrow, life’s trials need the ability to adapt, but as we adapt we have to consider the physical, the social, the financial, the spiritual and so on without picking and choosing;  balance them as evenly as possible and take good care not to over steer the mark and come off the rails.

Don’t obsess.  Don’t obsess about your meditation. Don’t obsess about your diet.  Don’t obsess about your disease. Just don’t.  Simply wind your way gently through the canyons completely at ease, never pushing the pace. If you can do that then I’m certain you’ll make the grade.

Glorifying Ignorance

I speak about unknowing, not knowing and non-knowing quite abit here but I hope that I am not simply glorifying ignorance.  I am not  a philosopher so I don’t usually speak about universals. I usually focus on me and you right here and right now. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle of the nowhere land of practical handworker and street philosopher.  The kind of guy who might sometimes say something profound but he’s also not afraid of an ad hominem here and there.

I say to my friends and clients that its ok not to know–just go find out, and feel intimately your unknowing.  don’t be afraid of the dark.  That’s easy enough, naturally there’s a great deal not to know and unknowing is everywhere to be found, especially in the run up to an election year.  Mostly our main trouble is to be found in what we think we know.

Grasping at knowing holds us.  It doesn’t necessarily hold us back but it holds us, otherwise it would not be grasping.  When do you grasp?  Is it simply a response to losing your balance? Or is it a habit formed in the past, and deeply ingrained.  Do you actually remember when and why you became willing to spend so much money on your hair and nails? Is there a practical reason you’ve saved every scrap of paper from your childhood? Is this a just a fundamental grasping at self or are others involved?

We grasp at our plans and goals, our thoughts and actions, even those formed on a whim and we are willing to lose our way for them.  Perhaps we are just exploring the edges of the garden path?

So our ignorance and our grasping hold us.  We are bound. We are bound to express this solitary boat among the reeds reflecting the brilliant moon.  Our youth, our hopes, our dreams all are a testament that holds us yet there is no posssiblility of keeping and holding them.  Is this glorious ignorance or can our minds really lead us to increased strength, better concentration and a more supple body?

That depends I guess.  How aligned are your thoughts and actions? Only just a bit? How appropriate, useful, and efficient are your actions once your thoughts have sparked them? Do you have great ideas but are unable to stand up out of the victim chair? How in tune are the two controls to your core purposes?

A little shiatsu, a little meditation, good conversation with someone meaningful to us and our life can all help us overcome our glorious ignorance.  Not knowing requires patience and inner strength.  Don’t panic.  You can also overcome ¨think you know mind¨ as well and fully experience the light and shadow before being scattered among the flowers.