The Crux of the Issue

I have a problem with my house. On the South side, there is an overhang at the 1st story. These soffits have vents to allow moisture to seep out of the rafters. The only problem, with a strong storm with South winds, rain pours into these vents and then causes dripping through the dry wall in the ceiling. We’ve talked about having someone come and fix the drywall in the ceiling and repaint. But without fixing the soffits first, the problem will always return. The unsightly and troublesome problem won’t got away without fixing the Crux of the Issue.

Mexico:
We complain about separating children from parents when they cross the border without using proper ports of entry and procedures. However, the real problem is why are they leaving Mexico in the first place? Let me let you in on a little secret. Most people love their home and their homelands. They were born there, they know the culture, they know the language. If it was their choice, they wouldn’t leave. But when drug cartels threaten your life, when they buy out politicians and police, when you have no one to protect you or stand up for you, then you have no choice but to leave. For the uninitiated, the drug cartels routinely hang politicians and police who don’t comply from bridges. Its not a nice scene as you are driving kids to school or to work. If Mexico was safe and prosperous, we wouldn’t be talking about people entering this evil land we call the U.S.A.

Syria:
Ditto from Mexico. We wouldn’t be talking about border crossings into Europe if Syria and other war torn countries didn’t have sectarian violence, genocide, and truly evil governments. People think the U.S. is bad. Well, you really don’t study other societies very well. Women in Saudi Arabia made the news recently because they were permitted to go to a soccer game. Not long ago, they were allowed to drive a car. Yet people in the U.S. protest more nuanced issues of privilege when other countries don’t even have the most basic of rights. A peaceful homeland means people don’t have to leave their homes. That’s the Crux of the Issue.

Chicago Gun Violence:
Yeah, I’m going to say things you don’t want to hear. It comes down to the basic family unit. I’m not going to try to persuade you as to what family unit means. But if it looks like my mother and father, then so be it. My parents love me, they love each other, they took me to church every Sunday, they taught me right and wrong, they were responsible to their jobs and to raising children, they encouraged me in my schoolwork and athletics, and I live out what they taught me today. I’ve been married for 29 years and they’ve been married more than 50 years. So we must have done something right. When kids don’t know right from wrong, when they don’t have role models in their own homes, when they haven’t been given a code to live by, then they become irresponsible teenagers and adults. You can blame governments, school systems, poverty, lack of jobs, etc…yet there are people who rise above all of that. When you start with a home full of love and respect, you have a much better chance at life. When there are consequences to your actions from a very young age, then you learn there are consequences later in life too. Only those consequences are more serious. We complain about jail overcrowding and all this other non-sense. But instead, lets focus on raising our children to be responsible adults. Lets focus on not being friends to kids but parents. Parents who love children and guide them with a firm hand. All this tangential stuff flies out the window when you do these things.

As a scientist, we often study cause and effect. We follow the scientific method. That is:
1. Observe a phenomenon
2. Ask questions
3. Develop a hypothesis
4. Test the hypothesis

I’m sure you get all of this. But what most don’t know is how to create the test. When you ask why does a behavior take place, you include a null hypothesis. This asks "What if the cause isn’t responsible for the effect?" You also suggest alternative hypotheses. That is, what if the effect is caused by something other than what we’ve hypothesized?

In life and social science, we forget to ask these questions and truly test the causes. Instead, we get mired in emotion. We see images on TV and make suppositions without knowing anything about the facts. We see the latter part of a Facebook Live video not knowing what led to that incident. We go into everything with rabid emotion without studying the facts. And the people who need to know this most won’t even read this far.

Find the Crux of the Issue. Study the Cause & Effect. Keep an open mind to the solutions. And, most of all, don’t yap your gums about something you know nothing about. Activism is futile. Instead, if you want to make a change, do responsible things to elicit change. You don’t need violence or yelling. Instead, make a difference. Give money to causes. Give until it hurts. Because talk is cheap. And emotions are deceiving.

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Of Yoga Alignment and Such

There is a difference between doing a yoga pose with proper alignment and not being able to do a pose with proper alignment. However, the latter is inconsequential since you can modify every single pose to meet its intention. Now, we can debate on intention and it is debatable. But for the sake of the pose, there are generally agreed upon reasons for doing a pose. You may overlay a concept like chakras, energy, or some other add-on intent, but it doesn’t change the function of a pose.

When I was in Army Drill Sergeant’s Academy, we learned four basic areas of soldier development. This can be applied in most settings in a 2×2 table. But I’ll list them here:

Unwilling & Unable – people who don’t want to participate and don’t have the means to do so.
Unwilling & Able – they don’t want to participate even though they are capable to do so.
Willing & Unable – these are most beginning yogis. They want to be there and want to learn.
Willing & Able – these are people who want to do better and are actually doing it.

We do what we can to make everyone reach the Willing & Able category. We give them basic tools of alignment and then they can adapt those tools to every pose. In general, we have two fundamental concepts based on the Anatomical Person:

1. External rotation of the shoulders
2. Internal rotation of the thighs

You’d be surprised how these two elements come up in every pose. There are two common places where I see #1 violated in the shoulders. The first is any plank or chaturanga type positions. Any time the elbows flail out to the side, you know they are out of alignment. But you can see this in forward folds of all kinds as well. The second is in standing poses, like parsvakonasana (side angle pose). They reach forward with their thumb down violating internal rotation. But you see this in any reaching pose.

Places where I see the violation of external rotation of thighs is in back bends. Many yogis, even very advanced ones, will sometimes turn their toes outward in bridge or upward bow. The torque allows them to lock out weak thighs and hips when the strengthening in these poses is supposed to be the quadriceps. For the same lack of strength reasons, I see people turn toes outward in wide leg forward folds. This creates impingements in the front of the hips and disengages the glutes and hamstrings.

From an engineering standpoint, I visualize bodies as cranes and pulleys. I can see the cables (the muscles) and want them to work at the upmost efficiency. When the muscle wraps in strange ways, it decreases its efficiency. This is especially true with knee and foot alignment. In nearly every pose, I say that your foot should point in the direction of your knee or knee bending. In skandasana (side squat), the extended leg should rotate so that the knee turns upward and, thereby, the toes turn upward too. This is extremely crucial in seated poses when you bend the knee and fold the lower leg back (virasana and triang mukha pada paschimottanasana). My cue is that the folded foot should have the baby toe touching the floor. Otherwise, the foot turns with toe outward greatly compromising the knee. This is where knee injuries occur. Teachers need to teach!!

So back to the original topic. For standing poses, a teacher always places feet first before moving the rest of the body. Its the first thing we look for as we scan a class full of yogis. I even see Instagram hosts with terrible foot placement for poses. And don’t get me started with health magazine covers. I taught yoga at a health club and the marketing person would post a picture for my yoga classes where the model was totally out of alignment. I always protested and asked if I could suggest a picture instead. It is a pet peeve of mine. Place the feet, see where the knees track, look at nutation of the hips, see the spinal alignment, where are the shoulders, and lastly elbows and hands and head. Dristhi guides everything!

Unfortunately, I’ve attended yoga classes where these basic tenets of yoga are not abided by. The teacher is basically a demo model. They may as well broadcast a YouTube video because the teacher is not aware of the class one bit. Ahimsa means not creating harm. And a teacher who doesn’t guide a student’s alignment can actually harm a student by not assisting and adjusting them. Having a qualified teacher is the greatest benefit of going to a yoga class at a studio.

Alignment, intent, breath, drishti, bandhas — this means everything in yoga. Its as basic as a squat or a deadlift in a fitness class. There are basic movement patterns that need to be followed to stay healthy and get the most benefit. If a student is willing and able, place them in the correct position. That simple correction will bleed over into all their other poses as well. Basic alignment is key.

Introvert Friendly

I’ve worn many hats in my life. Some of those hats fit my personality very well. Doing research in an office as a long-term student, Professor, and research scientist fits me well. Also, one of my first jobs as a janitor for Ford Motor Company when I worked nights often alone or with companions but still working alone. I was a security guard for a while during my undergrad years. I spent most of my hours through the night never seeing a soul. I was a loader for UPS where, although I worked with lots of people in the same place, I was usually in a trailer loading boxes from a conveyor belt as I built beautiful walls of boxes—alone! And, despite the Army being about teams, life in the Signal Corps is often a lonely experience. You sit in a communications rig in the woods for long shifts without much interaction.

I’ve gone on backpacking and adventure trips with my buddies. I’ve run trail races with lots of people. While these are all solo adventures, there’s lots of people around. When I’ve really gotten to know nature is when I’m by myself. Once me and buddies were hiking across Isle Royale National Park. We had set-up camp for our last night and I wandered off by myself. I was barefoot on the trails and I just wandered. It was the best part of my week-long trip. I could hear the wildlife around me more clearly. The only noise I made was my breath and the pitter patter of my bare feet. When I’ve paddle long distances by kayak, the aloneness is the best part. When I trained for 6 hours a day for ultramarathons, it was always a solo experience. Its when I feel at my best.

Yet, I have also worn hats in my life that seem totally extroverted. However, if you talk with a good number of performance artists, they are alone on stage despite being in front of lots of people. I’ve been an Army Drill Instructor. I managed a platoon of 50 soldiers and often took a senior role as first sergeant over an entire company. That’s 200-250 soldiers. But I never had any trouble with that role. I’ve taught university classes in front of lot of kids. I’ve given research presentations in huge conference halls. I’ve spoken at conventions. And I teach yoga to lots of yogis. So I’m in front of people a lot. But I’m still an introvert. Some say its lonely at the top. Positions of authority are often lonely. My bosses don’t go out with the little people. Fraternization is a weird thing. So being in front of people is still lonely.

Aloneness and introversion are not necessarily the same. Yet, they are Venn diagrams with a lot of overlap. With technology, I’d rather if I never had to call anyone for the rest of my life. I’m quite alright with a text or an email. I’ve gravitated toward a massage therapist who uses an online app for scheduling. Then, I don’t even have to communicate with anyone to schedule my appointment. I can pre-pay and I could easily walk in and out without saying a word. That’s my perfect interaction. I’m not a worldly guy and drive my own car. So I’ve never used Uber until recently. Actually, my companion used it. I love it! Its perfect for introverts. Plug in pickup and drop-off locations and you don’t ever have to say a word.

I’m not sure that most businesses think about this introvert angle. But I think technology in itself is very introvert friendly. I’m supposed to go and pick out a new recliner for myself. But that means I actually have to go to a store, hear the spiel from the salesperson, and then wrangle a price out of them. I hate wrangling. I hate interacting. Its something I totally despise. I’d much rather go to Amazon, read the reviews and pick out something that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being at home with my family. Its easy there even if I still need some alone time now and then. I love interacting with my yogis. I have very few friends, but I enjoy those who I see now and then. I don’t mind a little idle chatter at work sometimes. Just as long as about 90+% of my day is alone, then I’m good.

Fluffy Exercise

I don’t mean to put down nuanced, dance-like, flowery forms of exercise. Sometimes, that movement to music means something to people. But for those of us who see function over form and the goals are to improve strength or musculature, some of the funny little things we do are unnecessary and just plain silly.

I’ve read many times about Strongmen and Powerlifters who lift enormous amounts of weight. They say they never do sit-ups or "core work". When they lock in their bodies in preparation for a heavy lift, every single muscle from their toes to all the muscles of their face are engaged to the nth degree. If you focused on a finger alone to contract, you couldn’t do it more than they do in a single lift. Nothing is missed.

I found this to be so true a few weeks ago when I was doing yoke squats (pictured above). I try to do yoke squats every Saturday. But I do it as part of a bigger workout. But on this particular day, I only had about 20 minutes to workout. I did a few warm-up lifts while moving my yoke from its normal place. Then I jumped right into heavy stuff. I put on a heavy weight that I felt like I could accomplish, but I only did one rep. Then I jumped up and failed at lifting a heavier weight. Then I dropped back down and did a set of 3 reps at a lower weight.

All in all, I did 3 sets. And I did a total of 4 completed reps. That’s all I had time for. But for the following 2 days, my glutes, traps, biceps, calves,… were all quite sore. But not just your normal soreness. If I did a chest workout, I’d know exactly where it will be sore and I can characterize the soreness. For heavy work, it is very much a neuromuscular soreness. You get tingles and a core soreness that is very different. My abs were sore too without doing a single sit-up or crunch.

Now to the body pump group who do the little flairs of movement, I’d ask you to try this out. You don’t even have to lift a heavy weight. It could be isometrics. Maybe lean against a wall and press as hard as you can for 15 seconds. Do that for a few rounds. It may be going to the bumper of your car and lifting for 10 seconds. You’ll feel the same effect as doing a heavy lift. And you’ll engage everything.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to YouTube and search "fitness motivation". You’ll see hundreds of videos of models doing really silly movements. Believe me, doing a

Plié prior to every squat may look beautiful, but its not doing much to make you stronger or look more fit. Maybe if you have all the time in the world, you can do all the excess movements. But if you focus on efficiency of time and movement, then you’ll find what I’m talking about to be true.

Pumping with 3 pound plastic dumbbells is fine. But if you want to drive your motivation higher, try to actually outperform yourself now and then. Surprise yourself with something heavier. You can throw your crunches and flutter kicks away.

Warrior Diet update

I’ve been on the Warrior Diet with a mostly Paleo bent more rigorously for the past few months. I’ve slowly lost 7 pounds and feel like my strength and mass gains have remained. I also feel better all the time. I don’t worry about breakfast or lunch. And I feast for dinner (sometimes). Other times I eat a fairly moderately sized meal.

Or I might have a salad or bowl of rice and then eat bigger later.

I follow a Paleo-ish diet that is mostly veggies and meat. I’ve greatly reduced all starches and don’t eat any breads, pastas, and very little fruit. My one vice is rice, which is a nice filler for me. If I teach a vigorous yoga class, I don’t eat until after class, which means about 830pm at night. I go to bed a 9pm and feel like I fall asleep better like this. And I wake up feeling no hunger. I also have a very regular post-buttal evacuation every morning. Its all perfectly timed 🙂

Here is research I just read:

The Warrior Diet
This diet schedule is another variation of the daily fast and is one step more extreme than the LeanGains diet. The Warrior Diet promotes a single, healthy meal per day (typically dinner). It claims that this pattern of eating is in sync with humans’ circadian rhythm and will promote general health while “removing harmful toxins from the body”. To our knowledge, there is no scientific evidence supporting these claims.
In a study by Stote et al., participants of normal weight consumed adequate energy to maintain body weight in one meal per day or 3 meals per day for 8 wks (Stote et al., 2007). Despite consumption of the same number of calories, participants lost weight during the 1 meal per day period vs. the 3 meal per day period. In fact, fat mass was significantly reduced (p < 0.001) and lean body mass tended to be greater (p = 0.06) after 8 wks of 1 meal per day.
http://easacademy.org/trainer-resources/article/intermittent-fasting

I know this isn’t for everyone. But it makes life so much simpler. Yeah, if I’m working out hard or if I teach Rocket or Hot yoga, I’m a little bit more hungry the next day. Sometimes, I’m just plain HANGRY by dinner. But that’s OK. I know those are the times when I’m burning the most fat. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat. And sometimes, I become a glutton during feeding time. But that’s OK too. Just as long as I don’t eat more than my daily intake. I haven’t calculated what that is recently, but it must be around 1,800 calories. Some days a lot less.

Back woes!

Having a bad back is a lot like opening the hood of your car, taking a hard whack at the engine with a 10 pound sledge hammer, and then driving off wondering if anything bad happened.

You honestly never know when its going to happen and, when it does, how bad its going to be. You usually know when it happens. You’ll feel a slight twinge. But its not a nice twinge. Its like accidentally putting you finger in a light socket. You’re like "POW!!" But you don’t know if it was a ouchy that will last a minute or if it will last a month.

I have been working on my depth in my overhead squat. I blame lack of depth mostly on tight ankles. When most people sit in a deep squat (or malasana in yoga), I look around and everyone has their heels touching the floor. Mine are no where close. Some of that is genetics. My wrist extension is the same way, which causes issues for a host of other poses.

When I was in a yoga class, one teacher commented on my lack of depth in chair pose. Since this was the middle of class, I didn’t have the time to explain myself or the decades of running and ultramarathons I did. And, that I’m a little older now and undoing decades of connective tissue build-up would be a tough cookie to bite in to. But this teacher had the audacity to say "do you stretch at home?" Hmmm, I’m a yoga teacher…let me think about that 😦

So back to the issue. I have been doing something called a Pressing Snatch Balance. Its nice because you don’t have to balance the weight overhead when you squat. Instead, you push it up as you squat down. You can’t use very much weight, but its been great in improving my depth. By my last set, I can get to a full depth overhead squat with my heels on a 1/2" board.

But, as sometimes happens, I got down to one of these squats and felt that ever problematic painful twinge. On a pain scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst, it was only a 1 or 2. A day later, I taught a hot yoga class and avoided demonstrating too much. But I was functional. Two days later, I sit here in semi-agony. All my spinal erectors are locked up as I speak. I have to focus on them and breathe to let them release. And I walk like Tim Conway’s "old man" with my first 20 or so steps.

I’ve mentioned this before, people give me lots of good advice. However, I know my body. I’m a yoga teacher, Thai yoga massage practitioner, and I study a lot about human movement. I know when you damage a neural pathway, only time can heal it. There aren’t any stretches, inversions, body cracks, tractions, or magic pills that will fix it. I just have to wait it out and keep my body moving.

I wish you all good health my friends. Never take it for granted.

Bite Your Tongue

I haven’t done that in years!

Olympic weightlifting is such a complicated sport. They say that even elite lifters should only be given one direct cue at a time by a coach. There is so much to consider when you are under heavy load. Any incorrect pull means you could miss a lift and leave kilos on the floor.

I watched all the videos of how to lift. At the time, I was in CrossFit and I learned primarily a triple extension style lift. I’ve modified since then, but most of the cues remain the same. It was still a lot to remember. And you had to get your muscles to remember that too. I took videos of myself and compared them to elite lifters. Coach’s Eye became extremely useful in breaking down my lifts. I could see things in stop motion or slow motion. Then I’d read about how to fix problems with each phase of the lift.

The jerk, as in the Clean & Jerk, is a complicated lift in that it can be an endurance event. It can be an eternity to get through a clean. Its like telling someone, do a really heavy squat…now put it overhead. That’s easier said than done. You are exhausted when you get to the jerk. Then, you have to bend your knees and dip the bar so that it creates a downward oscillation. Then, as it elastically recoils into the air, you launch it upward all the while your feet are flying into a split. And your feet have to land perfectly.

The problem (one problem) is your head. You start with you chin up as you jerk the weight up. Then you have to move you head forward as you lock out your arms overhead. Then you press the bent front leg and step back and then step the back leg forward.

But when I was first beginning, this “problem” was painful. Sometimes, I was concentrating so hard on my cues, I would slam the weight really hard into my jaw in the jerk. I did this a handful of times. Each time scared me more than before. I don’t even know how that’s possible. But it happened to me. I heard of others doing it too. But I can’t say that its very common.

So last night, I was doing kind of speed sets. I would grip the bar without much setup and clean the bar without any hesitation. Just grip and rip. Then, instead of re-settling and taking a breath, I’d dip and go straight into the jerk. That is, until my last set. It wasn’t my intentional last set, but I wasn’t doing any more after that. I was jerking the weight up and hit my jaw….HARD!! So I don’t even remember dropping the weight. And I had to think clearly if I had knocked myself out or not. That is quite an upper cut when you bash a 200+ pound weight into your jaw at full force. I leaned over with my hands on my knees. I immediately felt and tasted blood rushing out of my tongue. So my next thought was to search in my mouth to see if I bit off my tongue. Maybe a mouthpiece isn’t a bad idea?!

In the end, it was just a lot of embarrassment. Like, how did I do that after all these years of lifting? And my tongue was intact though a little bloody and broken. Live and learn.