Biology vs Evolutionary Biology

What’s the difference?  This is not a question that I can answer with any efficiency.  I’m neither a molecular- nor an evolutionary biologist.  However, I pose the question for two reasons 1) to highlight the aha moment I experienced near the end of the summer when all the disparate elements I was trying to integrate into my weight-loss/fitness process dawned and 2) to encourage those of us wading through the loose strands of regular/molecular biology; the biology of cancer, of telomeres, of mTOR and so on to try on another pair of glasses.  If you’re like me and you’re geeky enough to even examine some of these things, you have to ask yourself, “is it necessary get a handle on all these metabolic pathways both intellectually and practically to optimize health or is there a simpler way?

I’m an artist by temperament and my reading of the biology is that of an artist and for that reason you should beware.  This is my limitation and bias. As a shiatsu therapist the human being is always taking first place rather than the science, which has both strengths and weaknesses.  I’m sure you have your own biases and neither of us is in a position to ignore these. For example those with a stake in the energy medicine game find it easy to cherry pick studies to advance their cause or when convenient to ignore the science altogether and stand on convention/tradition/authority.  Those running the quack-watch websites and others professing pure allegiance to the scientific method can also fall victim to citing poorly done studies or ignoring the possibility that scientists also respond to incentives like professorships, tenure and straight out cash when they sit down to interpret the data.  It’s of course not supposed to be that way anymore than politicians are not suppose to stuff the ballet box but there is a real world existing apart from our innermost desires for justice and truth.

So, I can’t break down what evolutionary biology is in its deepest sense but I can give you my take on Michael R. Rose’s 55 Theses and how they tie together the many strands of information related to the biology of obesity, weight loss and the diseases of aging that have occupied me over the last several years.

In regular biology or what MJR sometimes calls 20th century biology, two main theories hold sway as to why we start to decay as we age.  The first is that there is an internal program that gets triggered which causes us to age. This program theory of aging can be further broken down into three aspects which you can examine for yourself in the link. The other is the damage theory of aging.  Over time our cells, tissues and genetic material accumulate all sorts of junk and damage and that we are never able to eliminate this with enough efficiency to maintain a state of youthful vigor. At the molecular level these seem to be true, biological programs run amok and damage is accumulating however Rose posits a different cause, perhaps a level up.

Dr. Rose points out that aging itself is not universal and that some species do not age (those reproducing through fissile division). He has observed in his laboratory experiments that in species that do age there is a point where aging actually stops, a point where visible and cellular decay plateaus. He contents that aging actually is a function of the lessening of the force of natural selection in organisms and that there are environmental factors affecting this decrease such as the first and last ages of reproduction and food quality and availability. From this perspective cellular damage is not the cause of aging but the result of the diminishing force of natural selection, which is the true cause of aging. It may seem like semantics but closer inspection of Rose’s methods (which I will not take time to do here) will show that he is offering quite a different point of view.

Dr. Rose is admittedly a “fruit fly guy,” meaning that all of his experiments over the last several decades have been conducted on fruit flies. However he draws two basic conclusions for human populations from this research. 1) Those populations that live in environments closest to the ones that humans evolved to live in will show the highest levels of natural selection.  These populations will tend to reach this theoretical plateau where aging stops much earlier. 2) Delaying the age of first reproduction will over time (many generations) lead to an increase in the overall longevity of a given population.  Please examine the links for the details (which are fascinating) but he essentially says that the ancestral hunter gatherer diet and lifestyle i.e. physical activity, sleep et cetera create the earliest plateau in aging, sometimes as early as 50 or 60 years of age. The agricultural diet and lifestyle causes a significantly later plateau of 75 to 80 and that our industrial diet and lifestyle creates a plateau at around 90 to 95 years.

What does this mean in general?  It means that there is no program per se; that aging is not an evolutionary given and decay is dependent on evolutionary adaptive forces rather than something like telomere length (correlations aside) or diminished cellular apoptosis. He makes the suggestion that different human populations will reap differing levels of benefit from an evolutionary approach of returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle after the last age of reproduction.  For example, those populations with lesser adaptations to agricultural and industrial foods and lifestyles like the Inuit who return to their traditional diets and lifestyles will achieve earlier aging plateaus and therefore maintain greater physical function than say European populations that are further along in the process of agricultural adaption to things like cereal grains and milk drinking.  These populations will have later aging plateaus than the Inuit when adopting what is popularly called a “paleo” diet but it would be an improvement over remaining on an industrial or even agricultural diet.

For me in particular it means that that there just may be a simpler way of reaching greater function in old age than calorie counting or restrictive macronutrient schemes.  We’ll just have to see won’t we?

Spring, Summer, Fall…


It’s very nice to return here with the feeling that I can write again about things related to Movement, Music, Meditation and Massage. Since my last entry I’ve concentrated on really just one thing. Losing weight! Spring and summer morphed into this fat n=1 process of comparing the methods of Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) and Jason Fung’s idea of obesity as a hormonal phenomena rather than one of energy balance.

I wanted to experience this on my own body and it represented the end of a very long process that began in 2006.  Essentially the CICO concept was the only one I had ever known and I had tried and failed to lose weight trying to increase energy expenditure while decreasing energy input several times over the last decade.  Success if any was always fleeting and marginal.

Over time I upped the ante trying to count calories more precisely.  I began to weigh everything I ate. When that proved ineffective I began to use an application called CRON-O-METER with the hopes of greater precision. The CRON-O-METER made it also possible to monitor my macronutrients and as I had heard that this is wildly important I also began to obsess about my ‘macros.’  Eventually I heard that High fat Low Carb (HFLC) could be the key to the treasure chest I was seeking to open and I played with this.  I played throughout the entire range of possibilities that I could.

In time my lack of success convinced me that I wasn’t being precise enough on the output end of things and so I added a Fitbit to my technical arsenal. Eventually I also added monitoring of my blood glucose and blood ketones in order to add another layer of checks to understanding my ‘macros.’ My weight remained stable of even increased no matter what I tried it seemed.

By late spring my day to day experience of the process of trying to lose fat and maintain muscle was a very trying routine of weighing every morsel of food, wearing a device that monitored every step I took and the quality of my sleep as well as trying to hit on the right balance of calorie restriction with optimum nutrition.  The CICO approach in the end didn’t work very effectively.

I did however eventually loose about 13kg (27lbs) but the counting calories and tracking macros wasn’t what finally got the needle to move, it was fasting, it was just not eating.  I’ll speak later about these things in scattered bits and bites here and there.  I’ve shared many posts however on FB related to these topics throughout the summer (which you can scroll along my timeline to find) that make writing about it exhaustively here superfluous.

Throughout this process, though fasting, I continued to follow CICO (at least keeping track on all of my devices). I’ve lost a nice bit of weight but how can I sustain it now without obsessive number crunching and quantification for the rest of my life?  It’s this next stage that I feel is worth talking about here.  I’ve abandoned the scale, I’ve abandoned the Fitbit and I rarely measure my blood sugar or ketones.  Can I continue to improve my body composition, physical function and my blood work purely through the experience I have from this experiment without the “quantified self.”  Is there a more natural path? And what about you? We’ll see.

By the way follow me now on Twitter for the blow by blow exploration of my personal approach to coming into harmony with evolutionary biology.  Maybe it’s simpler than you think.


Sofa Shiatsu 2

Last week I spoke in a generalized way about couch shiatsu and I also had a brief opportunity to demonstrate this to a small group at the Leap Up! Wellbeing Day at Centrepoint here in Basel.  I would like to speak in more detail about it, a lot can be said, but on the other hand augmenting your forays into the world of bodywork with sofa and self shiatsu is about developing your own kinesthetic sense.  It’s about your learning how to be well, whole, and good in your own body.  Perhaps my words are then superfluous? But if so that would make this a very short blog entry. so instead, here are a few things to look out for or incorporate into your sofa sojourn.

Let Go. Make sure you really have 30-40 minutes for yourself. Don’t forget to put your phone on airplane mode or use some other methods to ensure you’re not interrupted and give yourself time at the start of the session to just “be.”  When I was demonstrating last Saturday I felt pressure to “get things moving and describe something cool” and that was a very unacustomed and uncomfortable feeling.  Don’t let outside forces compromise your quality time with the fascia.

Vary the tempo and dynamics. Bring a sense of musicality and play to these sessions.  Once you’re settled in and gradually becoming aware, look to introduce rhythmic elements to your touch and then begin to introduce a play of tempo changes mixed with altering the amplitude of the movements.  For example alternate circling the feet slowly with making an action as though you were swimming free-style and paddling furiously. As you travel along the body’s surface in your explorationns see if you can introduce a variety of movement, tempo and amplitude at each of the joints you visit.  Ask yourself, “what are the limitations to this joints movement? Is there pain, popping sounds  or obstructions?”  Question as if you where a procecuting attorney.

Allow time for the fascia to move.  Without starting an awkward and misplaced technical explanation here abut fascia simply know this:  The sublime “bags” of skin encapsulating all the body’s structures and swimming in a gel-like media respond to 1) heat 2) pressure and 3) time under the influence of the first two factors. Google more if you like but for our simple purposes as John and Jane Doe bodyworker we just need to know that as we apply sustained pressure to an area of our skin, the heat of our hand (or foot), the angle, depth and type of pressure will, with time cause the underlying fascial structures to “melt” and “flow.” Here is your chance to deepen your meditative stability and move your mind into some of the body’s structures and get them to move and groove.

The main thing to remember is that if you want to influence the fascia e.g. increasing range of motion up and downstream from a joint, then you must apply pressure for a minimum of about 90 seconds before the tissue begins to respond.  You’ll really need some patience and you will have to exercise some cleverness about how you will apply steady pressure at an adequate depth for long enough to reach the minimum dose  WITHOUT allowing that pressure to create tension somewhere else or just plain exhausting you. Since you’re awesome I know you’ll have little trouble with this though.

Next time I’ll suggest a few tricks for leveraging this limb against that one so that you can enjoy the “melt” without getting all “tensed up,” I’ll also point out how you can extend simple techniques by launching into some creative movement improvisations so that you can experience “the switch” under your own power.

A Modest Plan to Fix Your Machine

I tend to see shiatsu as part of a clever but modest maintenance plan for your body.  I wouldn’t necessarily put bodywork on the front line of a battle with cancer or heart disease (though shiatsu has been shown to help relieve the sufferings of chemotherapy) I think its a good thing to already have in place if (God forbid) you have to face cancer or MS or something you thought only other people get.

As such bodywork tends to lack glamor. If you’re freeing people from terrible circumstances with heroic efforts in the operating room or on the battle field then, well, people sit up and take notice.  But if you’re just a mother reminding her son to sit up straight, well that’s not very interesting is it?  Yet think of all the pain that is avoided if the son does take his mother’s advice. Preventative care is like the negative space in a drawing or the silence between the notes; you have to train yourself a bit to understand how important they are and once trainied you have to continue to remind yourself not to lose sight of their magnificent emptiness. Things like taiji, yoga, calisthenics and standing meditation require rememberance, mindfulness, and consistent effort (unfortunately).  I’m like many of you, hard pressed to turn away from my latest distraction in order to remember to sit up straight and eat my vegetables.

A well thought out plan is also a boon to getting on track and enjoying the benefits of a consistent maintenance plan, but like me, creating and executing good plans may not be the gift God gave you.  Don’t fret, I think its enough to be willing to look deeply and address what’s there in front of you with out judging and then acting sensibly.  What do I mean by that? Well strive to move from the particular to the general  in how you address your own needs.  There’s just a lot of information out there, a lot of workout plans, a lot of systems of spiritual exercise, a lot of approaches to dieting.  Start by looking at what you actually eat, how you actually move, what motivates you. Then look at what the science, what philosophy, what morality might be saying about these behaviors. What sounds right to you?  What did your parents eat? What did your grandparents eat?  What kind of lives did they lead and what kind of body have they bequeathed to you. Think about your childhood and think about your strengths.  Understand that you will tend to get more mileage out of playing up your strengths rather than laboring to bring up your weaknesses. Take yourself seriously. When, after weeks of research, you can’t find any scientific evidence supporting your 20 cookie a day dietary supplement than take yourself seriously enough to try something else.

Maybe you’ve heard that diet and exercise are useless. They’re useless and even harmful because they’re temporary measures.  Training and nutrition are better terms because they are part of your personal evolution. See if you can make this mindset change from serial dieting to giving your body the nutrition it needs to function optimally.  Transition from exercising here and there, waving your arms when the fancy hits you, to training in a way that suits your lifestyle and inclinations on a consistent basis.  Focus on making improvements and increasing your capacity. Bodywork is meaningful in a regime of training and nutrition but less so as a get rich scheme.

Look at bodywork in the context of your personal evolution.  Certainly some forms of bodywork work well to correct injury to the musculoskeletal system (depending on their severity) and that may be the reason you first explore Rolfing or Tibetan point holding but don’t lose sight of what an attitude toward prevention can bring.  When I say personal evolution I don’t just mean woo woo evolution but I also mean things like: “can you get more shoulder mobility with less pain?  Can you correct imbalances brought on by carrying that heavy ass son of yours for two years?” One source of ideas for these corrections for me has been the work of Kelly Starrett.  Here’s one of the early videos (2011) from his Mobility Projects as an example. In past blogs I’ve hinted at self shiatsu and its potential as a self-maintenance strategy and next week I’ll begin an exploration of what I could call level one relaxation (but don’t):  Sofa Shiatsu. Some of the things I will be trying to describe and show are inspired by Starrett’s work but adapted for non-athletes and normal Janes and Joes. Check me out next week for the start of the Sofa Shiatsu protocol.


Reponse Ability

Shiatsu is both treatment and training.  When you study shiatsu you’re bound to come across Shizuto Masunaga’s edict that when one makes an energetic diagnosis by palpating the back or abdomen that this action is both treatment and diagnosis.  in shiatsu one shouldn’t separate treatment and diagnosis or knowing.  The receiver should also not separate treatment and knowing.

Perhaps a particular physical or psychological pain has brought you to my praxis but rather than focus completely on whether the treatment relieves the pain or not the receiver, I think, is obliged to explore his own kinestheic sense and increase their own self knowledge.  You may think, “shiatsu and acupuncture are just placebos so of course you rely on a conditioned response from the client.”  Without directly refuting that statement just yet I would say that having the ability to respond to both the treatment and the knowlege it brings, is ancillary to the treatment and is instead part of your job as a client or patient seeking health.

One of the faults of our health (re: insurance) system is that we try to insure not just accidents and catastrophic occurences but also all of our normal maintainance.  If you have car insurance, you’re insured if someone barrels into you as you wait a stop sign, but you’re not insured for every oil change or tire rotation. That would increase your insurance costs exponentially.  Yet in the field of their personal health most people are hard pressd to do any “maintainance” unless their health insurance picks up the tab. Yoga or pilates classes, sure if my insurance will cover it.  Shiatsu or psychotherapy? Only if I can bill it to the collective. I’m not saying this is you, but the existence of particularly in europe, of socialized medicine encourages this type of thinking to a large degree. If you’re a “health nut” like me, and you try to make conscious food choices and exercise regularly you’re not getting any recognition, encouragement or financial incentives for these positive behaviors per se. But if you’re waiting until you’re “ripe for the emergency room” before you act, then the system is designed to kick in and give you the most expensive care imaginable. Penny wise and Pound foolish.

In this interview Dr. Smith tries to make the point that health care is theoretically inexpensive and that it would actually be inexpensive if the market were free and government would get out of the way and let health providers compete.  I think there are many merits to this argument but it presupposes a client and patient base willing to take responsibility, willing to pay for their oil changes out of their own pockets, so to speak.  The day when most everyone has the ability to respond to what their body is saying to them may be coming soon and is one of the advantages to using modalities like meditation and bodywork. If you’re willing to invest more mentally and psychologically in shiatsu than “I hope my knee pain disappears,” then evolving your own health routines are not far down the road.  As you evolve your own singular approach and awareness of who you are in this body, all of the seemingly hot air I spew about nutrition and training can be gradually integrated into your unique approach.  Eventually you may be willing and able to easily compare this surgeon with that and decide if you’re better off heading off to Poland for your dental procedure or Nicaragua for a cancer therapy. But as Stephen Molyneaux alludes to in the above article this mindset has to be in place before disaster hits. You have to buy your the insurance before the flood sweep your house away.

Begin with the simple routines and awarenesses in and of daily life. These don’t have to be shiatsu or yoga or kinesiology if you don’t believe they’re proven or effective. But don’t just wait around doing nothing, eating chips and watching Big Time Wrestling on Saturday mornings either. Don’t be penny wise and (£)pound foolish.


Self Perfection or Just Tryin’ to Cope

You have to consider that when I advise someone to try managing or coping with their stress with meditation my point of view is rather biased. I’m like a person who is totally into model railroading advising you about their beloved hobby.  I know there is something great and wonderful about my trains but I’m not sure how to talk about it with just the right mix of detail and simplicity that will keep your eyes from glazing over or my chest from filling with pride like a poisonous blow fish. Often its better to answer specific question when a topic is very broad so if you have any questions please ask in the comment section.

Receiving shiatsu often can get you to a “feeling place” akin to still meditation (whether seated or standing) and one of the things I like to try to do is to get my clients to replicate those “feeling tones” and states, from our work together, on their own.  If you already have experience with the goals and methods of meditation my particular emphasis then is on indicating ways in which you can shift the context and take greater advantage of your experience.  Remember, most (religious) traditions of meditiation look down on meditating with mundane goals like coping with the world banking crisis or anxiety born from getting mobbed on social media.  ‘If you’re not striving for enlightenment then we ain’t got nothin’ for ya.’ Its a delicate process to get people with this bias (me circa 1998) to see the more general usefulness of the skills they have acquired in yoga, with zen meditation or through prayer.

If you are someone that is on the other end of the spectrum then my job is to give you enough background and technique to allow you to apply them to the themes you have decided to focus on in our relationship as shiatsu  giver and receiver.  Month long teachings on the 37 practices of a bodhisattva just are not appropriate and in fact often extremely small snippets of advice and instructions can go a very long way for newcomers.

In addition I like my advice to stay kinesthetic in nature because, well, I’m a bodyworker, but also as Tom Meyers points out, (around the 25.12 mark) here in the West, we have an overwhelming amount of visual and auditory imput but increasingly small amounts of “felt” information for our brains. Its not just Gen X’ers bent over the latest and greatest S or i-phone series; shoulder- and buttock fascia slowly laminating into a hot mess who have seemed to have forgotten they live in a body. Even those of us who prefer sticks and stones as playthings, bemoan our loss of function as we age, rather than fight to preserve it; rather than go deeper into the body and the life of the body. Our personal goals become increasingly abstract, leaving little space for a cointinued striving for self-perfection through the vehicle of the body.  I think this is partly due a lack of appreciation for the aging body and our culture’s facination with the kind of beauty only the young posesss.  But what about the beauty of the aged? All that glitters truly is not gold.

Its important for you to take yourself seriously, to know within the continuum of your heart-mind that you can make improvements, that you can get to the bottom of your problem and that you can reach the end of the tunnel and bask in the light. I’m not encouraging you to harbor illusions. Have you examined yourself? Weigh your situation carefully and relax into that reality. Input from shiatsu therapy is like getting a second opinion on that physical, kinesthetic reality that you must then, in a consistent and responsible way, open to in your chosen methods of stress reduction and self knowledge. Don’t back down. Don’t succumb to your habit energy. I have confidence in you.