Street Smarts

I often define intelligent people as bright or smart.

Bright people don’t have to work very hard to be intelligent. Their brains are wired in a way that allows difficult concepts to come to them easily. They can listen to something one time and have it figured out. They can read a book and totally embrace a subject.

Smart people have to figure things out. Yes, they are intelligent, but in a different way. A mechanic can work through a series of tests and quickly determine what part of an engine is having a problem. But its something they’ve had to work at. A salesman has learned how to bring a product to the mind’s eye and make you realize that you need to purchase that product. It’s all about nuance. Its the person (like me) who had to read 3 books on the same subject from 3 different perspectives. But the depth of knowledge sometimes goes beyond a central line of thought. It is perceptive and reactive to change.

I wouldn’t pigeonhole any of these categories of people. But to generalize a bright person, I’d suggest Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory. This person has a memory of books and can verbalize the most scintillating details of a concept, but they can’t change a tire on a car. Whereas, the smart person can do many practical things in the world, but its often an uphill climb when the technical detail becomes complex.

If we could only have both worlds. Assuming everyone starts from a smart perspective, we’d actually have to study harder to find a glimpse of brightness. And the bright person would actually have to get their hands dirty and figure some things out about the world around them.

An aspect that many bright people lack is perceptiveness. Sheldon Cooper struggles to know when sarcasm is used. The next door neighbor, Penny, would quiz him on pop culture. It’s almost like making a robot into a person.

Along with perceptiveness comes awareness. When I was a University professor, I’d see other professors walking on the sidewalk. If I can stereotype a few people, sometimes these bright people have tunnel vision. Their thoughts are deep into a class they are about to teach or a research problem that needs a solution. They barely see where they are stepping let alone the birds in the sky and the students flocking around them. They lack an awareness of common life. Yes, its an extreme example, but what if normal people did the same things?

When I would do Infantry leadership training, my mind was racing with books of knowledge spilled out into stressful situations. When I would lead a patrol, my mind was thinking of a hundred things at once. Its why a young PFC who has been in the Army one year is only given a narrow set of tasks. They are expected to do those things to the best of their ability. But the team leader, squad leader, and platoon leader have incrementally challenging tasks they need to consider. We went by the acronym METT-T for combat leadership.
M = Mission. What are the goals that we need to accomplish?
E = Enemy. Who are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How many?
T = Terrain and weather. How does the topography and atmospheric conditions affect the mission?
T = Troops available. I’m leading a platoon of men. What platoons are on my flank? Do I have artillery or mortar or air support? Who do we have in reserve behind us?
T = Time. How much time to prepare? How much time to get to the objective? How much time to extraction?

Even as a team member having simple tasks, I was always aware of so many things. Did litter on the ground indicate how long ago the enemy was there or how disciplined they are? Am I watching for booby traps and snipers? How do the leaves and branches underfoot give away my position? Am I being silhouetted against the sky or a background? Am I in a place that will stop small arms fire?

But more crucially in combat awareness is how I feel when I get back to the civilian world. Unlike that professor who has tunnel vision, my senses are extremely heightened. I’m predicting my movements many steps in advance. I’m anticipating what I’ll do if something goes wrong. I sense a South wind and know a storm is coming soon. I look to the horizon listening for the helicopter I hear far away. I can’t afford the deep thoughts that cloud my awareness.

I guess the latter example would be Street Smarts. What I do to survive on the street or in the bush? What Crocodile Dundee knowledge do I have if my plane crashes in a remote place? I know people who refuse to learn basic survival because they think they can always call someone or someone with them can do what they don’t know how to do. Or they live like bobble-heads never imagining a worst case scenario. When the time comes to live, they often die.

To be honest, in most cases, the book smarts don’t go very far. Yes, maybe they’ll help us solve a very high level problem that affects a global population. But it doesn’t help us love, empathize, celebrate, enjoy, appreciate, laugh, and cry.


Art of Breath

I was listening to a podcast with Kyle Kingsbury from Onnit who was talking with Brian MacKenzie and Rob Wilson. They were talking about the Art of Breath.

Wow, was I amazed. Breathwork, or pranayama in yoga, is something I embrace as a teacher of yoga. In every Rocket class, I approach pranayama from various ways. But this podcast inspired me to learn even more.

Something that really intrigued me was the idea of nasal breathing. It is nearly the sole means of breathing in yoga. And, apparently, it should be our sole means of breathing in all of life. But then you say, how do I get enough oxygen when I run or workout? Awww, still through the nose. And its not just a Fraternity hazing ritual or military rite of passage. There are physiological mechanisms that negatively go against mouth breathing. But can I give you the details? No. I need to study this more.

A little history, I am full blooded Native American. My father is Sac & Fox, the tribe that Jim Thorpe belonged to. My Dad told me about a real rite of passage for boys becoming men. They would have to take a cup full of water into their mouth without swallowing. Then they would have to run a certain number of miles. At the end of the run, they had to spit out the water. It sounds a little strange, but there may be some science behind this.

When I started running road races, it was at the very beginning of the running revolution. People started to see this strange trend of people running all over the place. It was the early 1970’s and shoe companies and clothing brands were just being launched. Jim Fixx came out with his book on running that everyone was swiping up. I have a copy myself. My first race was at an Air Force Base where my Dad had duty. Myself, my little brother, and my best friend all ran our first 10K together. Amazingly, my brother and I had always only breathed through our nose after what my Dad had told us. It was natural for us. While running this race, some nice fella was telling us we should breath through our mouths. Hmmm, little did he know.

The guys on this podcast were talking about negative physiological indicators when you start to breath through your mouth. They were talking about Wim Hof, who is a Dutch athlete who learned to withstand extremes of cold. He could run barefoot on snow and ice for long distances. And the claim is his breathing techniques were all a part of accomplishing these feats.

Breath was a huge part of Kenpo Karate that I took as a kid. Later in Aikido, Tai-Chi, and other endeavors, I found even greater strength in breath. Control of breath is such a huge part of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and CrossFit. So its something I find interest in a lot.

So, I’m probably going to bore my yoga students and friends with a lot about breath. I am beginning on a journey into something much deeper. Let me start with discipline.

So, in the podcast, someone replied to them that they didn’t get anything out of cold water immersion. To be honest, I’m a total skeptic myself. But for the same reason as the naysayer, they said "maybe you didn’t stay long enough to learn". [Lightbulb turns on!!!] Its not about the cold. Its about how your breath controls your mind and how your mind controls your body. Awwww, I see!! Back to the military for me.

Do you ever walk into a pouring rain? What do you do? You bow your head and shield your eyes. You may put your hand up or pull a hood or hat over your head. You crouch down and walk like hopping over puddles. You shorten your steps and move faster. But, what if you pretended the pouring rain was not even there. That it wasn’t 40F degrees with 20 mph winds. Imagine you keep a straight face and unsquinted eyes. Imagine you walk upright and slowly with a normal gait and cadence. How would that change how the rain affects you?

Think of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Do the sentries cower to the weather? Do they react to beads of sweat on a hot day? No!! Its the discipline of the mind. I watched Survivor last night and a guy lost a challenge because a butterfly flew in front of him and landed on his ear. What if he trained himself that nothing would get in the way of his success? It takes training to do that.

That’s what breath does. It calms the mind. It makes Ashtanga Yoga possible through an intense awareness of Ujjiya breath. Its what makes a monk able to sit on a bed of needles for hours without experiencing pain. Pain is not real. It is a reflection of the brain’s perception of stimulus. Yes, we feel pain, but it deceives us.

I recall in the movie Platoon. A bunch of newbies went on patrol and ended up sleeping in the bush overnight. They got caught in an ambush and a firefight ensued. Several were injured or killed. One guy who was shot was screaming at the top of his lungs. So the platoon sergeant jumped on him and put his hand over his mouth. He said "Take the pain!". You could see the guy started breathing deeply and was quiet.

The breath is the tool. It leads to so much in life. It can help us control our struggles and open doors to performance and awareness.

Feels Like the First Time

My senility was raging strong last night. I had an 8pm Thai yoga massage scheduled, but showed up at 7pm. I even set an alarm to get there on time (but alas it was the wrong time). Go figure.

So I set up and was ready to go when I realized this. Someone in the studio said they’d like to try it out since they had nothing to do. So that’s what we did. They had never received Thai Yoga Massage before. My feeling is that it went over really well. I’m always happy how that works.

I know I’m super biased, but Thai Yoga Massage is my favorite modality. I still love other modalities too. I think they all do great for whatever purpose. One thing about Thai Yoga is that it is active and requires consciousness of the client. Whereas, I can pretty much fall asleep in other modalities. But I’m OK with that. Each serves a purpose.

One thing about Thai Yoga Massage is that even if someone comes in feeling totally healthy, there is always something in our bodies that needs healing. Sometimes I’ll find a knot or a tight fiber in a muscle and the client will be like "oh yeah" (insert: I did this or that to myself recently). I cover everything so I can usually find an issue. We all need it when we can get it.

If you are local to the Champaign-Urbana area, sign up for a session with me.
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Rich off the Taxpayer’s Dime

I just took 40 hours of Federal Fiscal Law as refresher training. The biggest takeaway is always the optics of the government getting rich because of having a position of authority. For me, its contracts. I can’t receive a kick back for awarding a contract. I can’t be offered employment by a contractor without lots of rules and reporting in place. I can’t accept gifts of more than $20 with a maximum of $50 in a given year from a single entity. And, for the most part, if the gift would appear as favoritism to any normal citizen, it is frowned upon to accept. We can’t buy and trade stocks based on insider information that we get from our position when we are involved with regulation/deregulation and other aspects of commerce. The bottom line is, congress authorizes funds to serve a purpose, we cannot accept volunteer or unpaid efforts to complete the mission, and we must accomplish that mission with the trust of the taxpayer.

But, do you ever wonder how a career politician can have mansions, retreats in the Hamptons, fancy cars, and jet-setting lifestyles when they were never gainfully employed in a non-government position? Given Federal Fiscal Law, we aren’t supposed to accept benefit from our position as a government employee. Yes, a congress-person makes a living wage, but nothing of a millionaire lifestyle. Yet, many of our congress-people are millionaires having never worked in the private sector. They have huge McMansions with wait staff and heating and AC when they rarely even live there.

The hypocrisy of it all baffles me. And for the little guy like me, it would be downright illegal. But then again, I don’t make the rules. They do!

Do We Need Money?

For most of us, that’s not a valid question. But to an altruistic, out-of-the-box thinker, that’s a perplexing idea.

I was talking with friends the other day about jobs, careers, and making a living. We were talking about changing directions and finding what works for us. I think about this kind of thing a lot. But as someone in the twilight of my job, maybe I have a different perspective.

The comment that the youngest of us made was "its too bad we need money". Or something like that. I know what she meant and I have a little insight from where she is coming.

To be honest, I was raised camping. I learned to live off the land and survive the elements. I have a pretty good idea of what it takes. First of all, if you think living off the land is easier than working a full-time job in an office, then you are sorely mistaken. I’d encourage those people to at least watch survival shows. I watch them all because it fascinates me. "Alone", "Naked and Afraid", "Survivor" (though I don’t consider this real survival, but very borderline for yuppies). But especially those shows where people live remotely or off-the-grid lifestyles like "The Last Alaskans" and "a name I can’t remember". Also, homesteaders like the Kirchers in "Alaska the Great Frontier".

All of these shows include tools that are given to them or acquired. It includes basics like fish hooks, fishing line, ammunition, bows and arrows, flint, or a few other essentials. For the homesteaders, you’ll add snowmobiles, dogs and dog sleds, boats with engines, and a multitude of tools and heavy equipment. Yeah, homesteading is a little different. But its still off the grid. Regardless, some essentials include ammo and fuel. Its hard to live without those in the backcountry.

I’m afraid that people who live cushy lives, or city lives in general, they don’t realize what it really takes to live. Most of those homesteaders are still making money. They are trapping for furs, making crafts, hewing lumber, or doing whatever they can to buy essential equipment, ammo, and fuel. Even in a bartering or trade situation, barter is still money. It may not look like the paper in your wallet. But its still needed.

The question comes back "do we need money?" Heck yeah we do. And we need to sweat to make it. Yeah, maybe some of us get highly educated in hopes of a better position. Some of us learn a trade (which I wish I did early on). We need some service that we can provide to make money. And making money isn’t as easy as those who are without wealth think. Some of it starts in Kindergarten. Some of it is good parenting. Some of it is honoring role models and seeking our own success in life. Things aren’t just handed to you. And if they are, then it doesn’t work well.

I’m Native American. My parents technically live on a reservation, but not the kind that you think. Oklahoma is really one big Indian Reservation. But I’ve been to many reservations both personally and professionally. Some are really nice communities. Others are slums. I’ve seen the homes with dirt floors, leaky roofs, and light coming through the walls. I’ve seen people in abject poverty. When the only way you know is getting a government check for doing nothing, then there isn’t much aspiration to do much with your life other than live. Getting free money (that is never free) is never a good idea. It does significant trauma to your psyche.

Inherently, we all want more out of life. Even for those who don’t have and decry those who do. If they’ve ever stayed in the penthouse suite or dined at Michelin starred restaurants, then they’d know what they are missing. If you knew what a nice massage and spa treatment felt like, then maybe they’d know what they are missing. But if you’ve never had those things, then you just look over the fence at those rich people and hate them. I guess I understand that.

Honestly, I have friends from high school who were bookworms. They were smart and were the goodie two shoes with parents who had high expectations. The kids who didn’t have a good home life. Some of whom I know were abused by their fathers. Some who didn’t have 3 meals a day. They were the ones who picked on those nerdy bookworms. But now, later in life, those bookworms are now living in McMansions taking trips to Italy. Who has the last laugh now?

That’s how it is in life. Some work hard and sacrifice to make a living. Others sit around and wait for things to fall in their laps. And most often, the falling in the laps never happens. So they play the lottery and try to find shortcuts to success. Some resort to taking what’s not theirs. And then, when they get thrown in prison, people blame society for their incarceration. When it really comes down to who you are as a person. Do you expect much from yourself? Do you see yourself succeeding in life? Are you willing to put in the hard work and dedication to make your dreams come true? We can’t fool ourselves into thinking otherwise.

Nothing in life comes for free. If you live in society, you have to live by their rules. Otherwise, live the life and death struggle of living in wilderness. I’ll give you one week and you’ll be crawling back to the city looking in the dumpsters for your meals. Its your choice.

Its Painful, but not Difficult

I told people, there isn’t anything really that difficult about being in the military, its just a few moments and hours that really suck. They always say "embrace the suck". The same can be said of CrossFit. I mean, honestly.

My Monday workout lasted 3:58. And in under 4 mins, I was sore the next day. It was all I had planned and I didn’t do any more. Just that. I probably laid sprawled out on the floor longer than the workout. It was a couplet of trap bar deadlifts and dumbbell push presses. Nothing hard about that. But it killed me.

Last night was even easier, but again, very short workouts. I did a Tabata interval of dumbbell rows alternating sides each round. If you aren’t familiar, Tabata is a well-researched workout developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata. He evaluated several interval lengths and found this formula to be the most effective at promoting various biological markers. It is super simple. You exercise all out for 20 seconds, then 10 seconds of rest. You do that for 8 rounds totaling 4 mins. And you can do it with any exercise. There are Tabata playlists on Spotify that you can use to keep your time. You probably think that sounds easy. I would ask you to try it. Run some sprints with Tabata intervals and tell me how you feel afterward. It will totally smoke you.

My second workout, still very simple, was a 10 minute EMOM of 3 power cleans. Again, not difficult, until you start to do it. Every Minute On the Minute you do the exercise and then rest. You have the option to increase the weight in between as well. I would say my heart easily stayed above 75% the entire time. That’s really the goal. To get the benefit of heavy lifting while also working your heart.

There are so many marvelous techniques for interval training. Intervals for everything, including running, swimming, biking, are wonderful for general fitness. When you do steady state cardio (like a running pace for 30 minutes), you never do explosive, heart wrenching, muscle pumping work. Its always done at an even keel. And when you do the standard Globo gym workout where you do a set of weights, then socialize or play with your phone, you may do a set every 3-5 minutes. So you never get the heart effects. Both of these methods (steady state cardio and gym lifting) are also very inefficient. Why not try a workout that lasts less than 15 minutes? Its not the time in the gym that counts, its the quality of your effort.

Research all the unique techniques for building muscle in different ways. It adds variety that keeps you excited to be in the gym. Learn new skills and techniques. Unlike what Jillian Michaels says, there are millions of combinations and permutations of exercises and techniques that are possible. Don’t get stuck on one area. In fact, I would say do your favorite things 10% of the time. Spend a majority of your time on your weaknesses. That’s where you probably need it most.

You may not call it CrossFit. You may call it HIIT or something else. Just do it. Everybody can do it. And yes, its going to be painful. But its in the pain where we find ourselves and grow.

Packing Light for Travel

My plan for our recent trip to Thailand was to travel light. Coming from Winter to a 94F degree average in Thailand is a little tricky. We wore warm, but light coats to the airport and on the plane when we needed to. We also had a long layover in a chilly Tokyo. We only traveled with carry-on bags to reduce having to check anything. When we got to Thailand, we located a Lock Box in the Bangkok airport. I understand with the app that they are working on you being able to reserve a box. Otherwise, there were only like 6-9 lockers available. It wouldn’t have been a problem since most of the major subway (Skytrain, BTS, MTS) stations had Lock Boxes. And some of the shopping malls too (like the Siam Paragon). We stashed our carry-ons and warm clothes and socks into the Lock Box. The attendant gave us a 24 hour window at the end of our 10 day adventure to get our stuff and a key code to get them out. So after our trip, we just unlocked our stuff and loaded our carry-ons. That was one of the best choices we’ve made. Even on our last day, we checked out of our hotel at Noon but had a midnight flight. So we went to the mall, I got a Thai massage, and we went to a movie and had dinner. So we locked our backpacks in the mall. It works great!

As for packing light, I ordered two small backpacks that, when folded, measured probably 2x2x4". Super light. One had more pockets but the other was just one big compartment. The biggest thing is, make sure you have water bottle pockets on the sides. You can also put wet clothes or swim suits in the mesh. I waterproofed them with silicone spray. We were pleased with their performance. We also kept a spare copy of our passports and other IDs in each pack.

When we got to the airport, we went to the 7-Eleven and bought laundry soap, deodorant, and other liquid items that are easy to get anywhere. We used up our 1 quart allowance on things that we couldn’t get in Thailand easily: Picaradin insect spray (since my wife doesn’t tolerate DEET; and believe me, NO natural products work effectively), SPF 30 sunscreen (all Thai products include a whitening agent, so don’t buy it if you want to look whiter), and a few other items. Fortunately, we didn’t need the anti-diarrheal, but we sure bought a good amount of Tylenol when we were there. I also took Malaria meds the entire time. Next time, I would bring activated charcoal since I couldn’t find that anywhere. And electrolytes. I had water purification tabs that I didn’t use since bottled water was available everywhere.

For clothes, we each had conservative pants and my wife a dress that covered shoulders and knees for Temple Touring. A sarong or something is also good, but the Temple Police can be strict sometimes. It was a bummer for me to wear pants most of the time in Thailand since it was so hot. But I got used to it. The lifesaver was the sheer linen gauze shirts I bought. I had both long sleeve and short sleeve variations. When I would sweat, they would end up in the shirt and kept me super cool with even the slightest breeze. I never tried that trick before but it worked great. We kept looking at hats but never went that route. It was just too hot. Sunglasses were a definite must though, especially when on water and if you are driving.

I brought running shorts that doubled for many purposes. I worked out in them, swam in them, and sometimes walked around with them. They were the coolest things I had and they would dry easily. I wore flip flops sometimes, but even for someone who wears these often, your shins and feet will turn to cramps if you walk too long in them. So having huaraches, sandals with strapped heels came in super handy. I made mine myself for running. You also want something that slips off easily for temples, which rules out Tevas, Xero shoes, and others. Those are difficult to take on and off. I never needed shoes the entire trip.

So we would wash clothes in the sink every day the first chance we got after dinner. I washed my pants maybe every 2 or 3 days. But my shirts & undies got washed daily. Then I hung them to dry. Often they were still moist in the morning which felt so good when I got outside. Really, you don’t need any clothes. I think people change clothes just because of what other people think. As tourists, nobody will notice you wearing the same thing every day. And, I couldn’t say enough about the bamboo silk bikini undies I bought. Believe me, having undies bunch up on a hot day is no fun. Briefs and boxers would have been too much. These bamboo silks made me feel good and mostly cool all the time. I think cotton would have gotten baggy and gross and anything non-natural (polyester, nylon) would have been too hot.

The only really heavy things we packed were our toilet articles and electronics. I had the nicest power converter with multiple outlets and USB ports. Instead of my larger DSLR camera, I took a waterproof, shockproof FinePix XP130. It took such great pictures and has lots of effects and options. The screen layout is slightly clunky but I got used to it. I thought I’d regret that choice since I know my DSLR takes really good pics. But I appreciated the lightness. And if it rained hard, I’m sure my DSLR would have been compromised. Keep the weight down on toilet articles and electronics is key to traveling light.

Also, it looks super touristy, but a fanny pack was priceless. I carried two water bottles and had a camera pouch on the outer belt. I kept sunscreen, anti-diarrhea pills, and anything else needed with me. My wife had a much smaller passport pouch with RFID protection. She also kept lip stuff and other odd items. You really don’t want something draped on your back or shoulders in that heat.

The other things that are super hard to find is Guaifenesin (Robitussin, Mucinex). We looked at all the pharmacies. All they had was brown cough syrup of unknown ingredients. No thank you! With the smog and pollution, our lungs took a heavy toll. We wore masks as often as we could (bring your own with a more breathable filter; and they are often sold out in Asia). But the coughing and breathing was fierce. Bring Mucinex in its box for sure (illegal drugs result in heavy penalties. Keep the box & prescription bottles so you don’t end up in a Thai jail).

I used to be in the Army. We’d do training road marches with a (light) 40-50 pounds, which is what I ended up carrying as a civilian backpacking too. That gets old really fast. On heavy patrols, I’d carry 110 pounds. Believe me, carrying under 20 pounds in your bag is a lifesaver. When you figure out you don’t need as much as you thought, it makes life so much easier. And if you want to buy trinkets, wait until your last day. Then you can pack it in your carry-on at the airport.

Happy trails!