Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Illusion of Difference

Why do differences exist?
Why create separation?

This was going to be post 100, but it got bumped to 98 for particular reasons (order of posts & #100 being more important). However, this shouldn't downplay it's importance. I've been waiting to do this post for quite some time - months - and the message is very dear to me.

I remember one day in high school, my senior health teacher asked us to write down what made our personal culture unique compared to others. He drew a chart on the board to keep track of what we all wrote as we said what we came up with.

After he got all our points, he began to list all the similarities. A few of the things he came up with were,
  • We all have special foods set aside for important occasions.
  • We all have music we enjoy.
  • We all have holidays and celebrations shared with family and friends.
  • We all have clothes we wear for specific events, like weddings.
  • We all mourn the loss of loved ones and share the joy of new lives.
I'm sure he said more.

Differences muddle one's clarity and, unfortunately, the similarities become overlooked.

For instance, let's examine exercise. Exercise covers a broad variety of activities and is used for a number of reasons. The methods available at one's disposal are many, but how important is that?

The goals - regardless of the means - are typically the same. It's either get strong, have fun, or look better. Stronger doesn't mean being able to move big weights in the gym, but also better aerobic capacity, immune system, self-esteem/-confidence, bone density, use of the muscles, and so on & so forth.

Even sub-categories of exercise are cluttered with divisions and distinctions. Everyone approaches weight training with the notion that certain methods are more effective than others.

A squat is a squat no matter if there's a bar, kettlebell, dumbbell, weight vest, overhead/back/front placement, bodyweight, or sandbag.

Crossfit, plyometrics, powerlifting, circuit training, high reps, low reps, whatever. It's all done with the purpose to improve one's self. We should not limit ourselves to thinking so rigidly.

Bruce Lee exemplified this fact. I recall reading he studied fencing and boxing. His goal was to become the best and to do so, he studied other systems of combat. From what he learned, he incorporated the important lessons into his own practice. He did not seclude himself to one style. He passed on what he learned by teaching others.

Many differences can be created, but why separate ourselves from others? We create them, we separate ourselves.

But acceptance is finding things we have in common with one another.

Simply put, similarities are the ties that bind us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Happiness: The Big Question

It's not "which came first,
the chicken or the egg?"

I sit down in the seat to be interviewed by my professor and not know what to expect. To make it even more interesting, I didn't practice going over a single question that would be asked during an interview. Smart, right?

Nearing the end of the interview, I should have expected this:
Professor: So, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I answered with one or two options I foresaw, but I don't think it was a concrete response. More so, it was where I'd like to be.

Done with one, next I shuffled over to the room next door to be interviewed by the lab manager.

This one ended:
Her (the lab manager): Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hm, again this question. I gave a similar response and learned afterward that my professor and her didn't know they asked the same question.

It's fascinating how many times I've come across this question or something similar.

In 2nd grade, our class had a guest come and talk. In a circle, one by one we stood up and said what we wanted to be when we grow up. I forgot what most kids said, but I remember hearing NBA player and dolphin trainer among the responses. I got up, said I don't know what I want to be, and sat back down. I didn't think much of it, but he made me stand back up again and said to everyone that is perfectly fine (along with other stuff I can't recall).

Senior year of high school, my health class teacher said write down where you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, and then some time later. My mind was drawing a huge blank.

Seeing yourself in 5 years, what's the significance of it? What's it show? That you have plans?

It seems so strange to me. 5 years ago I was 16 and high school sophomore year finished. Back then, the most fitness-related thing I did was quit drinking soda.

I was 16. I didn't know I would,
  • Be working with kids on a regular basis.
  • Drop engineering at 17 for Psychology.
  • Take up a Religion major at 20.
  • Not care about what school I go to.
  • Get involved in weight lifting.
  • Be reading books. (I despised them)
  • Be writing this blog.
  • Meet all these people in my life.
  • Lose so many people in my life.
  • Head an organization.
  • Be helping other people.
That's 5 years. And you know what? I probably missed a ton of other things.

This past spring, my friend and I went to talk to our professor. My friend asked when he should go live as a Buddhist monk in a monastery. Now while he's young, easy to soak up knowledge & be molded or older when life is more peaceful & settled.*

My professor told him he is young now with a lot of opportunity, but a very distractible mind. During your later years, it would be easier to live as a monk but what if your life is different, what if you fall in love?

Life isn't predictable.

How can you predict where you see yourself in 5 years? If you did know, where's the excitement in it? How can you account for other people - old & new - in those 5 years?

As you can see, I'm not a fan of the question. However, I think there's great value in the reverse.

Look back at the last 5 years, what have you accomplished that you didn't account for? What has happened? If someone asked where do you see yourself in 5 years, did you answer correctly back then? If so, are you happy about it? Are you happy now?

In 5 years, a lot can happen.

Have a good weekend everyone.

*He's currently at a monastery in Korea. I hope he's doing well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Medicine, Methods, & Supplements

Looks so nice
I would buy it.

Continuing with suggestions from others, here's one from my friend whose name means elephant (Hathi).

She said,

"Try to do the next one on how people resort to alternative medicines and treatments in order to control their diet or lose weight, such as yoga or even herbal remedies like green tea."

Great idea! I don't think I've talked about supplements or medicine on the blog before so this is perfect.

First and foremost, no doubt Western medicine is the dominant force here in America. It's great, it's saved countless people.

in a sense, it's not wholly "complete."* Typically, a patient describes their symptoms which the doctor clusters together and matches it as best as possible to what it may be. Thus, a diagnosis is given.

However, keep in mind the doctor refers to a description of what the ailment could be. Usually it's correct, but where do these ailments come from?

They're humans' way of classifying and categorizing symptoms then giving it a name. Now humans don't know every possible problem or sickness that potentially could exist.

I'm not knocking it by any means. I'm simply giving another perspective on medicine. This is where alternative medicines and practices come in, such as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Yoga, Taiji, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and old methodology among other things.

Are they the answer to all problems? No.
Do they have some merit? Yes.

While they aren't the main driving force in good ol' USA, they have been around for a while. People have lived very healthy lives using these practices and systems, that's why they're still around.

Then we have the second tier list of supplements. Greens, fish oil, creatine, protein, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B, calcium, iron, folate, folic acid, blah blah blah.

Supplements aren't mandatory. If you have a solid diet full of protein and a variety of foods where you have the body you want, you probably don't need them.

On the other hand, if you have a diet that's good but struggle in some aspects like eating enough fatty omega-3 rich fish then supplementing with fish oil might not be a bad idea.

In the end, it's all relative. You need to look at if a person is trying optimize their specific goal(s) or health, the situation, and in general just the context of it all.

The main problem is individuals look for a quick and easy solution to their problems, such as weight loss. They want results now and immediately, but it's not that easy and unfortunately they don't realize that. What ends up happening is they hear of something - by the oh so wonderful media - and view it as a panacea.

Green tea has been hugely made more popular in the last few years. However, most people aren't aware that to see the benefits of green tea you need to drink about 4 cups a day of either loose or the teabag kind. What do most people buy? The sugary bottled stuff in stores.

One method or item is never the cure to a wide range of problems.

On the contrary, it's only one part of a system.

The different parts put into it contribute to a bigger better picture of health.

*A thousand pre-med students will descend upon my ass for this comment when the semester starts.

Nemo oil anyone?
(Yes, I know it's wrong.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thinking Outside The Gym

"Hey Jim, what's a gym?"
"Beats me Bob. A new club?"

This post is for my buddy Sean Scott.

A few months ago he commented on one of my posts saying,

"Your next post should be for people who don't go to
the gym but still want to do me!"

True that Sean.

Some people don't like going to the gym for plenty of reasons, such as
  • Not knowing what to do when they get there.
  • Not seeing results.
  • Not having fun/don't enjoy it.
  • Uncomfortable about their physique.
  • Something else altogether.
Whatever the reason, it's understandable. Now don't get me wrong, the gym shouldn't be avoided like my schoolwork. A good gym can be fun and is worth venturing to every once in a while.

If you're not hitting the gym up and have very specific goals - squatting X amount of weight for example - then it becomes a bit trickier, but not impossible.

First there's always setting up your own home gym which costs a ton, but is a long-term investment. Likewise you can buy a TRX suspension training system but that's pricey as well. Alternatively you can make your own for $35 as seen in this video. You can see a review/explanations of them here.

Moving along, then there are furniture gliders/sliders you can play around with on carpet as Ross demonstrates (original article here).

Note to everyone: Ross is a bad ass.

And who can forget the oh so popular exercise bands? Also costs a bit, but they're light weight and easy for on the go. Check out any site like EliteFTS and Perform Better for those interested.

Besides that, a solid heavy dumbbell goes a long way. You can do shoulder presses, chest presses, curls, tricep extensions, squats, swings, single-leg deadlifts, lunges, shot put it, and much more. You're only limited by your creativity.

OK, let's get rid of equipment altogether. Now what?

You still have your body. You can do vertical jumps, single-leg verticals, broad/long jumps, push-ups (against an incline if the floor version is too difficult), sprints, uphill running, burpees, planks, squats, and many exercises that are done with a barbell or dumbbell.

The squat can be done with or without resistance. It's still a squat. Slow down the pace, speed it up, increase the reps, but above all else, manipulate it to make it challenging.

Think the world is your gym.

I always attempt to lift boulders and massive rocks I pass by, none of which I've lifted yet, but it's awesome. You can even put a car in neutral and push it around for a workout (you need someone else handling the brakes while you push).

But my favorite? It's doing stuff with other people.

I love playing sports with everyone else. If you can get a bunch of people together to play volleyball, ultimate frisbee, mess around at a jungle gym, etc., then it's tons of fun.

See if you can find a sport that no one really plays that often and run with it. Chances are everyone's going to suck, but it's still going to be a challenge to play decent and no one will be that much better than anyone else.

Sports promote athletic abilities and they're a great way to stay in shape.

Obviously you won't become a bodybuilder or champion strongman, but isn't it more fun? You should enjoy what you're doing.

Never think exercise and fitness is only confined to the gym.

On the contrary, it's everywhere.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Never become this Sean.
That includes all that hair.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quick Fixes: Chairs

"I love chair."
No. Bad Brick.

It's the return of quick fixes! Yes yes, I know you're ecstatic like myself but calm yourself so we can proceed.

Odd choice, huh? Out of everything to choose, chairs? It would make sense since in the last quick fix, I mentioned how we do a ton of stuff while sitting.

And what do we like to do most while sitting? Sit
comfortably. I know I do and if it's really comfortable, I'll fall asleep in class. (not really, I'll fall asleep even if I'm uncomfortable)

The lower-body's glutes become inactive and we get tight hips. That's been covered, so now all that remains is the upper-body.

What happens is we hunch over, protrude our necks excessively forward, and the worst part is we do it for extended periods of time. This causes our body to keep these negative postures outside of the environments where we originally had them.

Just like the lower-body, our plan will be to:
  • Stretch
  • Activate/regain mobility
  • Strengthen
  • Not sleep in class
Obviously we won't be able to accomplish all of these.....

For stretching, it's specifically the pecs which can be done against a wall.

While pulling your shoulder blades back and down, simply push forward then twist to the opposite side to deepen the stretch. Start out with short durations - 10 seconds - and then either increase time or do multiple sets.

In mobility, our goal is to get movement in thoracic spine - the upper back with all the trap muscles - to get that stiffness out from all the hunched leaning. I've posted t-spine movements here and there before (or not, I can't remember), but here's a list of some good ones to use:
1 set of 6-8 reps for either one or two movements listed above should suffice.

As for strengthening: deadlifts, overhead barbell shrugs, face pulls, any type of row, lat-pulldown, and pull/chin-ups go a
long way. Not much to it, right?

I left out foam rolling because I figure most of my readers don't do it but if any do have a roller, then foam roll and stretch after.

Since the posts in this series are to be short and packed with the basics, for those interested in learning more specifically about posture, check out this article at Rearick Strength. For those who are really serious about improving their posture, the Neanderthal No More series (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) is just for you.

With lower-body and upper-body now covered, you should be able to stand tall like a fine statue. Now all that's left is to go do it.

Or look like Igor.
He's all kinds of jacked up.

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