Friday, August 30, 2013

Life, death and Superchunk. A review (of sorts)

"I hate music. What is it worth? It can't bring anyone back to this earth."

-- Superchunk

Mid-August 2008. I hadn't heard from my friend Robert in well over a week. It was a particularly noteworthy silence because Robert was the most avid volleyball player I knew, and he had just done something previously unheard of for him -- failed to respond to an email about a pickup volleyball game. Then there was his voice-mailbox: strangely full, and unable to accept another message. So I called one of his best friends, who I knew lived nearby him, and, when Phil said he also hadn't heard from Robert in an unusually long time, he agreed to stop by his place. Robert could be the most outgoing guy ever, or a bit of a recluse. It depended on his mood at the time. I was vaguely concerned, but not very....

Half an hour later, Phil called back, "Steve, I got over to his place when they were carrying Robert out. He's been dead for a few days."

I somehow made it to age 46 before a close friend died, and for that I feel lucky. But that didn't make it any easier. Robert had diabetes. Mind you, he hadn't *told* a lot of people about the diagnosis when it happened. It was a few years before I knew it and I found out in maybe 2006 or 7 when he explained his then-recent hospitalization for an abcessed leg wound: "Uhh, I have been kind of treating my diabetes with Coca-Cola." I mildly flipped because that particular disease killed a close relative or two, but he swore he was getting his shit together. And, thereafter, his outward appearance -- although not a picture of health -- was of someone who seemed to be making some lifestyle changes.

See, I'm pretty leave-you-alone libertarian, and I don't meddle in people's personal lives unless they offer details and ask for advice, so when he said he was good/better, I took him at his word.

Robert and I were primarily music buddies. I never thought of him as someone who was likely to have picked up someone's latest album, but he was more dependable than *anyone* I knew to go see a live band. He would always have only one question, invariably worded this way: "You know exactly what I like -- I am a tempo junkie. So will I like it?" The dude liked loud/fast punk rock. It didn't *all* have to be loud/fast, but extreme tempo shifts were guaranteed to rope him right into a band's loyal following.
And the more his life spiraled downward a bit those last few years -- debt was a recurring issue, and shitty (or, eventually, no) health insurance was the result -- the more a good raucous few hours of punk rock would seem to be a revitalizing force for him.

The last time I saw Robert was a Mission of Burma show that summer of 2008. It was in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in Philly -- a vile, ungodly hot place that people only look *back* upon in reverence as some sort of hallowed musical ground after they are done suffering there. When you are actually in that swampy rain forest of a room, especially in the summer, the place is an awful melange of bodies, sweat and bad sound, like a crowded Khmer Rouge prison into which nearly-indecipherable loud music is piped via decaying speakers while you swear it is so humid that at any moment toxic raindrops will begin to drip from the low ceiling above. It takes a mighty band to overcome that shit. But I have seen a few do it: Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Fucked Up, Radio Birdman, and, that night, Mission of Burma.

Prior to the show, Robert had seemed a bit down. We had skipped the opener to grab a cup of coffee in a nearby shop. He was never much of a drinker, but the man loved iced decaf like no one I knew. He had complained then a bit about recurring health issues, but, as always, the Burma show reinvigorated him. Indeed, he seemed particularly blown away at the end of that night at the transformative powers of balls-out (post)punk.

Which somehow, in the most roundabout way ever, gets us to the new Superchunk album....

Mid-August 2013. Just about five years to the day since Robert died.

Timing is everything, says the drummer....and this Superchunk album, released August 20, was perfectly calculated for my mood. I miss my friend. And they miss one too.

In 2012, Superchunk lost a close friend named David Doernberg. The inability of music to overcome extreme loss juxtaposed with the (imperfect) healing and rejuvenative power of blasting out cathartic tunes, whether in the van or onstage, are recurring themes of the new album, titled I Hate Music.

It's a little slice of genius. They don't hate music. They hate its inability to beat down *all* the cosmic shitstorm of life, and they simultaneously celebrate its power to do so much to make life better.

When I first heard the record open with an acoustic guitar, I thought, "Whaaaaa?!" because it's not the first thing that comes to mind with this band, but quickly, the amps turn up and the band perilously and expertly balances a path through lyrics full of loss and redemption and music that is never short of compelling and urgent. A few years back, my buddy Lance penned a paean to Superchunk that still holds up to this day (right down to pegging Jon Wurster as one of the best of the best drummers out there). So go read that, and I'll spare you from a repetitive blast of gushing on my part. But let's just say that this is melodic punk(ish) rock for punk rockers who are getting a little long in the tooth. And, being there myself, I'm down with that in a big way. Life can be really fucking heavy at this point, but simultaneously full of more joy than I ever remember. Rather than go track by track through this amazing little record, you can go read the Pitchfork review if you want extreme details, but suffice it to say that if you've previously ridden the wave of awesome that is Superchunk, you will find plenty to love here, along with a lyrical depth and wisdom that I don't think they have ever equaled. They blast. They roar. They yell. They have a ball. You should get this album.

Superchunk will be in Philly on September 24. I'll be there, minus a friend who would have loved every fucking second of it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 23, 2013

Guest post! One of my readers (Wren) on her meditation-challenge experience

In my house, washing dishes means catching up on podcasts. And the Universe conspired (on my behalf, of course) to put that enormous pile of dirty dishes in the sink on the same day I noticed the Born Primal episode with The Paleo Drummer at the top of my podcast list. I turned the children out into the backyard, hit play and commenced scrubbing. I was pleased to hear the discussion turning towards meditation, and by the time my fingers had pruned up, a 30-day challenge was mentioned.

Hmmmm, I thought to myself. I'm on day 1 of my 30-day clean paleo challenge. And it has been so long since I've meditated. Oh all *right* Universe, I'll do it. I admit I felt reluctant to get back into meditation, but when it had thrown in my face so blatantly, I supposed it wouldn't be wise to ignore it.

I expected that it would take time until I could easily reach that warm, blissful plane of simultaneous emptiness and connectedness. And I also expected that my mostly-in-remission panic disorder would surface again. In my past work with meditation (and self-hypnosis and trance states), just as my mind and body would relax and open up, I would have a sudden tidal wave of anxiety and I would enter a full panic attack. Zero to sixty - out of nowhere, seemingly. After multiple times, I stopped meditating at all. When you already have 3 or 4 panic attacks a day, you don't go looking around for more.

But that was a year ago, and Paleo had been my chariot out of the miserable underworld of anxiety, paranoia and panic. I felt okay with trying meditation, knowing any unwanted feelings would not be nearly as intense as they had been.

So I sat down, closed my eyes and my mouth, and tried to tune in. After going through my initial process (more on that in a moment), I was surprised to reach a relatively aware state. Thoughts still came into my mind, but I could dismiss them. I heard the noises around me, but I didn't dwell on them. I had risen above my body, my emotions and my thoughts, and I was in my awareness, that state of just 'being'. My entire body had a heavy, electric sensation that was just as real as the clicking of the unbalanced fan above my head. 'First day, and not so rusty after all,' I complimented myself, then remembered that needed to be dismissed as well.

Then my chest constricts uncomfortably, my breath is high and quickening, waves of heat rush through my body - the familiar sensations of a panic attack. They are mild in comparison to the past, but still unpleasant. Instinctively my body struggles to break free, and I nearly jump up, until a sudden insight comes to me: these are physical feelings, and I am not my physical feelings. The emotions of panic and fear have their roots in my body, the cascading hormones that cause everything from that prickly sensation on my scalp to the pain in my tight chest. And as I realize that there will be an end to them, I have a strange visitor in my head.

A flamboyant gentleman in a 70s-era purple leisure suit, with a hint of sparkle, bursts onto the scene. His matching feathered top hat is cocked jauntily to the side, his white cane waving in my general direction. "Pay attention to me!" he shouts in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. He is stomping, as if he is having a tantrum, the silver embellishments of his white boots flashing.

For whatever reason, my anxiety manifested itself as this man. I couldn't venture to guess why; it was especially disturbing as I am a scientific person and an introvert. But it was apparent that he *was* the anxiety, and in every way he knew how (including his clothes!), he was screaming for attention. And so I did just that - I paid attention to him. I observed my body in the midst of a panic attack. As I paid attention to the way my heart was beating wildly behind my sternum, it began to slow down. I turned my focus to the muscles of my chest and neck, and their painful clenching eased. The man turned in a circle, shrinking and fading from my mind. It was over - my body and hormones were relaxing, and I felt safe. (My reaction to panic attacks wasn't always this way - Paleo has calmed them down dramatically and puts them within my control.)

I never had an experience like that one again during my 30-day meditation challenge. I guess I didn't need to. It took a year of Paleo to 'cure' my panic and anxiety disorder, but less than a month of mindfulness meditation to understand it. (I still cannot explain it - but I understand it.)

Regular meditation practice has had benefits beyond a tool for understanding my panic and anxiety disorder. I have been sleeping better, and *not* waking in the wee hours of the morning, bolting up in the bed, wondering if the door is locked (The dog was fed? The stove is off? The children are breathing?) I have found myself less likely to 'check out' on the phone, book or podcast and more likely to 'check in' with my knees dirty in the garden, playing with the kids, or singing and dancing in the kitchen. I feel lighter, and more joyful, and more capable of coping with the daily challenges of parenting three young home-educated daughters. I find myself more likely to pause and decide my response to a situation (and not react to it).

I'd like to offer one example of a situation where my meditation practice has changed how I deal with challenges. On one particular day, one of my children was disrespectful. It was disrespectful on an eight year old level, and I started to react (not respond) in a manner that was hardly more mature than an eight year old. Then my spouse steps in and says, "Let's not let her anger affect us. Let's be 'the happy parents' for a change."

Often, I might turn on him and bluster about righteous justice and then make a smart remark about his Zen-like attitude and finally 'are-you-calling-me-unhappy'? But on this day, I felt myself open to his words. And I smiled. Yes, I said, let's do be the happy parents. So we went about dealing with our disrespectful child but didn't allow her emotions to affect us. Since then, I've made daily efforts to not allow the feelings, actions and energy of those around me negatively affect my response.


I usually meditate first thing in the morning OR just before bed. And sometimes, I take a few minute break during the day, if I'm feeling stressed, distracted, agitated or anxious. I like that my children are now seeing me take 10 minutes to meditate (they peek in my door!) instead of struggling with anger and frustration. (Of course I still struggle with these things, and outbursts happen but with less frequency.)

Typically, my meditation goes like this:

-Go upstairs to my bedroom, mid-afternoon or just before bed.
-Kick dirty clothes and stuffed animals out of the way.
-Fold up that old quilt I found in the bass drum of the kit we scavenged from the neighbors.
-Sit in a half-lotus position with my bum on the quilt, so my knees are slightly lower than the rest of my body. (It helps prevent tingling feet.)
-Start the timer on my phone for 5, 10 or 15 minutes.
-Put fingertips together in my lap, or hands on my knees with my palms facing up.
-Pay attention to my breathing. Feel the air rush in and through my body and be forced out again, my diaphragm moving. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a biology geek, so I imagine the details of the physiology and biochemistry that are occurring here. It works for me.
-Focus on breathing in my belly and lower chest. (The years of anxiety taught my body to breath high in the upper chest, and it takes practice to unlearn that.)
-Listen to sounds around me - the fan, the birds outside, the children talking. Just be aware of them, without thinking about them.
-Imagine my consciousness as a orb over my head, and feel it as it moves over me. Move my consciousness up my spine and into my head, until my awareness is looking out of my forehead (the 'third eye'). For me, this creates actual physical sensations.
-Just sit here, being aware. As thoughts arise, dismiss them. If I'm having trouble with this, I will 'name' them (e.g., this is thinking, this is worry, this is restlessness, this is resistance) and send them along. It helps me to imagine a river so that they can float away, or a box where they can go if they warrant some actual time. ('I'll think about you later, but not now.')
-When my timer goes off, I breathe deeply. I try to slowly transition myself out of the meditative state. Sometimes I press my palms to the floor, to help myself feel more grounded. Meditation can be quite a spiritual experience for me, and I need this sometimes.
-Now I go on about my day, or go to sleep, feeling relaxed and refreshed, or at least better than I did before!

Even though I have had 'peak experiences' with meditation, I don't have transcendent moments every time, or even often. Most of the time, my brain is chattering madly: softball fields from high school, the scientific names of birds, the brand of guitar strings I like, how old my cat is, the yard needs mowing, where I put those shells from the beach.......and so on. I have decided that when I work to still my mind, all those random bits of information (some from decades ago!) come streaming to the surface, all shouting at once. They all realize that finally, finally, someone up there is paying attention without distraction.

My fervent hope for my meditation practice is that this 'paying attention' will become my default for the rest of life. If I seek distraction and 'check out' as things get stressful, I also am habituated to do it even if things are pleasant. So I'll continue to "sit down, shut up, and pay attention", reap the rewards of better sleep and less crabbiness, and when a man in a purple leisure suit comes to visit, I may have the courage to hear what he has to say and quickly send him on his way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An appointment with a paleo doctor

So when is the last time that you talked with (not merely "at") your doctor about *any* of the following:

--bulletproof coffee/intermittent fasting
--the fact that high LDL cholesterol doesn't cause heart disease
--the near-uselessness of a standard bloodwork lipid panel
--fermented cod-liver oil
--grassfed dairy
--Vitamin K2
--the value of eating primarily animal protein, vegetables and good fats
--the fact that eating too much fruit slows fat loss
--how modern wheat is destroying people's health
--how going paleo will go a long way to clearing up acne and many other skin issues

Today, I had an appointment with a doc who talked with me about *all* those subjects.

It was amazing. It made me never want to discuss general health issues with my "regular" doc at all.

See, a few months back, I went to that regular doc -- the one that my health insurance covers -- and had some bloodwork done as part of a physical. Only one thing completely freaked out Dr. Regular: the fact that my LDL had nearly doubled, from 81 to 157, since going paleo three years ago. In fact, he was so flipped out that, based on this one result, he was already telling me, "If this doesn't get under 130 next year, I am going to have to give you a statin." I just kind-of nodded, thought to myself, "You can't make me fill the prescription," sang a couple bars in my head of "You're not the boss of me," and had nearly completely tuned him out by the time he got to recommending a low-fat/whole-grain-heavy diet. In fact, I got the impression that were my HDL not reasonably high (70) and my triglycerides low (66), he might have been writing the statin script *this*time.

It was a little nuts. But I didn't panic. Ever since I went paleo in 2010, I had devised a backup plan for precisely this type of scenario. I was well aware that high LDL alone was not a crisis in the paleo world and that there are more extensive -- and hence far more valuable -- blood tests that can be run to measure the real risk. I also knew that, most of the time, that real risk turned out to be minimal. I had even recommended "the plan" to a few friends who had similar blood-test/LDL issues arise with their docs: go see a doc from either the Paleo Physicians Network or Primal Docs. and get the super-extensive bloodwork done.

Today, I followed my own advice. I had an appointment with Dr. Steven Horvitz. It was fantastic to talk paleo with a doc who not only isn't preaching low-fat/whole-grain nonsense and isn't objecting to my paleo lifestyle, but is actually on the same page with seemingly every aspect of paleo.

And yeah, there is a small catch: some of these docs (Horvitz is one) don't take your insurance. The appointment may cost you more than your usual co-pay with Dr. Regular. I have one simple answer: if the mechanic told you your car needed a few hundred bucks of work, you'd go for it with little thought. Isn't your health worth at least that, especially when we are talking about bloodwork that might actually tell you something important, rather than the vague, nearly-useless generalities of a standard lipid panel?

The answer to that question was easy for me.

My bloodwork will be ready for the doc to review it with me in ten days or so.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Walk on

Sometimes I think we forget the basics, even in Paleoland.

Here we are, having stripped life down to some of the essentials: animal protein, vegetables, good fat; sensible sleep/stress-management; generally trying to not live life at a 150-mph pace. When it comes to exercise, a lot of us have ditched "chronic cardio" in favor of something that lends itself a bit better to efficiency of fat loss and particularly not to grinding ourselves to a pulp -- typically some heavy lifting and sprinting a few days a week. (Other people are training for the CrossFit Games. Have at it, you hardcore CFers, but this post isn't really for you because you have chosen another path labeled "CrossFit as a sport" rather than "CrossFit as a path to health and longevity"). We are in a good place with all of that.

But somewhere in there, the most basic human activity, walking -- outside, not on a treadmill, not in a mall -- got lost in the shuffle for a bunch of us.

Its powers are pretty transformative.

I have never particularly had anything *against* walking for the sake of the walk, but, as an exercise/fitness thing, I have to admit that it took some rearranging of my attitude to get there. It always seemed kind-of lame, like the ugly third cousin of all the cool, fun stuff I do. And even when the walk was more of a hike, I would rarely be doing it for the sheer ambulatory joy of it all, but, rather, to reach a goal, a summit -- sometimes metaphorical, but usually f'reals.

What changed all that for me was our two younger dogs. These two goofballs,

despite their apparent sloth, are actually really active. Milo (couch) is nine months old, and Ruby (floor) is a little more than two. And they both *need* at least one long walk a day, if not two, so as to put them in the exhausted condition that you see here, rather than the bouncing-off-the-wall "I'm a puppy, and I looooooooove everything!" state that drives dog owners batty. Or, as my wife says, "A tired dog is a good dog."

Even before Milo's arrival on the scene back in April or so, Ruby had demonstrated her need for a daily walk a while ago, but, since he has been around, it is an even more of an imperative. The boy has energy to spare. So off we go.... On a once-or-twice-a-day 2.5-miler.

I swear that it does as much for me as it does for them. Walking is the perfect easy activity for a rest day; it is also a great, and mostly unheralded, mobility tool for gym days. Little keeps me from getting super sore after heavy squats or deads like that 35-min or so zip around what we call "the big block."

Then there are the mental effects. I won't pretend that walking is a sub for meditation. It's not. But it sure as hell is a big slice o'chill-out. And there is a lot of value just in that. Do it every day, and you might just find yourself sleeping better, burning fat more efficiently, and generally finding the silver linings a little more often.

And really, there just is no downside. It's not enough of a grind, like a long run, or a long metcon, to cause cortisol buildup. Walking isn't chronic cardio of that sort because it is so easy on your muscular and skeletal system. It also, more than almost anything else you do exercise-wise, is exactly what we were built to do. You know all that evolutionary stuff that the paleo folks go on about (quite rightfully)? There is not much more "evolutionarily-based" of an exercise than taking a walk.

So keep eating clean, lifting heavy and running sprints. But open your mind, and your life, to the daily walk. This one small addition to your paleo regimen might just make everything even better.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book review: The Paleo Coach by Jason Seib

I'll start with a warning: I love this book so much that my only fear about this review relates to my potential inability to convey to you just how *much* I love it.

Jason Seib owns a strength-and-conditioning gym in Clackamas, Oregon. He also is a co-host (with Sarah Fragoso) of the Everyday Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness podcast.

Most importantly, he has written the perfect companion piece to the more science-y paleo tomes that are out there: you know, like The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

I won't tell you this is the first paleo book you should buy. It's not. That honor belongs to Mr. Wolf's meisterwerk. But it sure as hell is the second.

I have been going on for a while here about how your eating and exercise plans should match your goals. If you want to make the CrossFit Games, your nutrition and exercise needs to be completely different than that of the average person who is interested in health, longevity and maybe the added, fairly-common, goal of fat loss.

If you are one of those regular folks -- the people just trying to live long, be happy and live inside a body that you are proud of and content with, Jason Seib has written the (second) book for you.

Yeah, read The Paleo Solution first. It is the owner's manual of the movement, and provides with all the super-science-y reasons why you should principally eat animal protein, vegetables and good fats. Do what Robb Wolf tells you in that regard.

But then what? I know from my involvement with paleo challenges at the CrossFit gym where I am a member that it is the rare person who is perfectly content after switching to paleo. Yeah, body comp and energy levels are always better, and, invariably, the participants rate themselves higher on the "looks good naked" scale. But, fairly often, fat loss doesn't quite get to where they want it to be, and they grind and grind away at whatever their workout routines are with less-than-desired results.

Enter... The Paleo Coach.. This book is written for those everyday folks looking to lose fat and feel great. The dietary component is too easy: eat paleo. But, Seib warns brilliantly, all paleo is not the same. If you subsist on 13 watermelons and a jar of Costco almonds every day, guess what? You are paleo! Congrats. You are also likely fatter than you want and inflamed as hell from over consumption of fructose and Omega-6s.

"But I am eating paleo!!" you exclaim. "What the hell?!?"

Seib goes into just enough (but not too much) detail about why what I call Paleo By the Numbers -- simply eating from the "good" list and eschewing foods on the "bad" list -- isn't enough. Rather, "smart paleo" is the dietary key to fat loss. Eat meat, vegetables and good fat, but too much in the way of alcohol, fruit, nuts or paleo "treats," and your fat loss may very well stall, or even reverse.

And then he gets to exercise, and this part is where I think he most skillfully takes a flamethrower to convention -- in this instance the mindless, self-defeating grind that constitutes so many exercise routines that are out there.

Whether it's chronic cardio or too many CrossFit metcons a week, Seib rails against exercise that is actually overstressing the person into excess cortisol production that defeats fat loss. As Seib says, do that stuff if you really love it, but understand that it isn't promoting health, longevity or fat loss. The exercise component to optimizing those items is simple: heavy lifting two to four times a week, sprinting (or sprint-style metcons) two or three times a week, and long walks every day that you can.

And really, the exercise part of the book is huge in terms of importance. I know more than a fair share of CrossFitters (and I am a CrossFitter myself, so don't think I am bashing CrossFit) who are going so hard each week -- four to seven metcons a week, and not, by any means, mostly "sprint" ones of, say, ten to 12 minutes -- that they are tripping themselves up and stressing themselves out. And high stress does not equal fat loss. It equals cortisol. Yes, you really can exercise too much, and in the wrong ways, and so many people are doing it.

High stress also doesn't promote good sleep, and the necessity of solid, restful sleep of at least seven hours a night is another theme of Seib's book. Although -- and honestly this is about my only regret about this book -- I wish he did a little more to highlight the theme of meditation as the key to stress relief, you know... the one that you see me going on about here fairly often, and that Seib has picked up on in his recent podcasts with Sarah Fragoso.

But, non-emphasis on meditation notwithstanding, overall the whole sleep/food/exercise focus here is a brilliant reminder that you have to go after this health-and-longevity/fat-loss approach in a smart, multi-faceted, coordinated effort.

Seib also highlights the amazing success stories of some of his clients. Particularly noteworthy to my female friends who are still checking the scale compulsively is the tale of Deb who went from something like a size 16 to a size 4 and didn't lose a pound. She just got awesome; that's all. Seib's resulting anti-scale diatribe is a keeper, as are his tips not to paleo-evangelize to the unconverted (it just causes fights), his paeans to rest and recovery -- particularly making sure you only work out when you are rested, recovered and ready, not when your calendar tells you to -- and his ultimate goal of "health and fitness by rote."

Since I finished reading this book, and I *just* finished it, I have already recommended it to three women in our gym who are looking for an extra edge on fat loss. It is the best paleo *lifestyle* book out there. I won't pretend it's the only paleo book you should ever buy, but it is the one that, so far, best integrates all the components -- sleep, food and exercise -- into one near-perfect recipe for health and longevity. Get it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The perils of the grammatical mind

Undoubtedly, you've seen that meme called, "Grammar saves lives," right?
It juxtaposes two phrases -- like: "Let's eat, grandma!" and "Let's eat grandma!" -- to demonstrate the value of punctuation, usage or grammar to a clear understanding of a sentence. Well....

Reading Facebook posts is a nightmare for people like me. And by "people like me," I mean those of us whose moms were English teachers, so we have been indoctrinated so deeply in grammar, usage and punctuation from a young age that its proper form isn't just a matter of rules -- because I don't really believe in mindless adherence to rules for rules' sake; rather, it's a matter of: "Quite possibly, I don't know what the fuck you are talking about."

And I am talking about basic stuff, not some semi-archaic/rarely-observed rule about the proper use of "due to." No, I mean things like correctly using apostrophes, or maybe using punctuation at all.

At one point recently, I actually had to change a FB friend's status from seeing the person's posts all the time to "just seeing important shit," or however the ol' FB designates a mere occasional viewing of the splendor of someone else's life. Why? Because she just stopped using *any* punctuation. She is a sweet person, but come on now.

Yes, really. And if you aren't horrified by that, and don't understand why I couldn't afford to spend that much mental energy reading her updates that HAD NO PUNCTUATION AT ALL, NOT EVEN PERIODS, then move on now, because you aren't going to "get" the next bit at all. (Yes, I was yelling there for a moment, and I apologize).

Yesterday, a (completely different) friend ranted about her "neighbors fucking dogs." Other friends of hers suggested calling the police. I was about to agree. I mean... The poor dogs, right?

No. The poor absence of an apostrophe.

Hers was not a post about her neighbors' (or perhaps neighbor's) penchant for man/dog love.

The dogs were simply barking a lot.

Grammar doesn't just save lives; it saves reputations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Guest Post! Jim Eaton from Evolutionary Eaton on his 30-day meditation-challenge experience

Hi, my name is Jim Eaton and I am a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. You might be wondering why I am writing a post for The Paleo Drummer...frankly, so am I!

A while back my friend/classmate/colleague, Kendall Kendrick, host of the podcast Born Primal, asked me who she should have as guests on her podcast. My first thought was "The Paleo Drummer." At the time, I was casually following Steve on Facebook (along with about 1,000 other Paleo/Primal/Nutrition/Fitness pages), and so was Kendall. A few days later, Kendall contacted me and said she had an interview set up, and the topic would be meditation. I was a bit shocked, which made me realize that perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention to this Paleo Drummer guy, since meditation wasn’t something I expected them to talk about!

In combing through Steve’s previous blog posts, though, sure enough meditation was a common thread, which got me excited about the interview Kendall would be conducting. And as you probably already know, that led to a 30-Day Meditation Challenge.

Shortly after the episode premiered, Steve asked if anybody would be interested in writing about their experience sitting every day for the month of July. I responded and that brings us to here...

I’ll start by saying that I haven’t always meditated, and I haven’t always been Paleo. Prior to making those two changes, my life felt a lot more chaotic. I struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a kid, and used alcohol and weed to self-medicate starting as a teen and spanning into my mid-30’s. There were also countless therapy sessions and prescription medications, none of which seemed to help. At the time, it never even dawned on me that my Standard American Diet – with mainstays such as Spaghetti-O’s, Chunky Soups, Ring Dings and Devil Dogs – had any effect on how I felt, or what I thought. Yet the more processed carbs and sugar I ate, the worse things got for me, mentally, physically and emotionally.

Then a few years ago, my formerly-vegan daughter came to my rescue (she really is my hero). She called and proclaimed "Dad, I eat meat again, I feel great, and I have a book you need to read!" It was Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, and all of it just clicked with me.

That was my turning point from a life of unhappiness and unhealthiness, to the life I’m living now, which is to say physically, mentally and emotionally free(r).

So how does meditation fit in and why did Steve’s 30-Day Challenge speak to me?

As my diet improved and I began to feel better, I realized I had decades’ worth of obsessive thought patterns and manic behaviors that I still needed to change. Since therapy wasn't helping, I decided to go in a new direction. On a whim I signed up for a "Yoga Nidra" class (aka iRest), not really having any idea what it would entail. It turned out that the class is a series of group exercises and guided meditations that help a person become grounded in their body and "welcome and let go" of all thoughts, feelings and sensations. In other words, detachment to whatever is happening, and alignment with desires and a person’s True Nature. I also got involved in a more traditional meditation group, sitting and focusing on breath. As much as both groups helped and energized me, I could not seem to commit to a daily meditation practice on my own.

Enter Steve’s 30-Day Challenge. I am not a runner per se, but I will enter a race from time to time to focus my training. Steve’s Challenge was my Meditation 5K. From a purely academic viewpoint, the way the Challenge was laid out (sit and stare at a wall for 15 minutes every day in the month of July), I failed, maybe hitting 18 out of 31 days. That’s 58%. (Please don't tell my mom or I'll be grounded for the next semester!) Even at that rate, though, I noticed an improvement in my mood, energy levels and quality of sleep. "Sitting" is not easy and I'm not sure it got any easier for me throughout the month. Any success I had was a reminder to become more aware of what I was thinking, feeling and doing.

I’ve learned that meditation is not banishing all the negative thoughts and feelings. Instead it’s becoming aware of them and realizing it is OK for negative thoughts and feelings to exist, and then letting them go. They are not who we are! The Challenge also helped me realize that I DO meditate everyday, just not in a so-called traditional manner. For instance, when I take the time to truly enjoy the food I am blessed enough to have in abundance, that’s meditation. Or when I watch the pure joy my dog displays chasing a stick. Or when I look deep into my girlfriend's eyes and say "You are Magnificent," and then she does the same for me, and we both really mean it. Or sometimes it’s simply stopping what I’m doing at any given moment, taking several deep breaths, looking around at this amazing planet and realizing "I'm alive! How fucking awesome is that!?!"

Like diet, meditation is an ongoing experiment for me. Find a good starting point (like Paleo and Yoga Nidra), try new things (organ meats and chanting), keep what works, set aside what doesn't, move on and try more new things. I am a big believer in "Progress, Not Perfection," not to mention that we are all individuals. I do believe a clean diet and meditation can greatly improve a person’s quality of life, but what that looks like is up to each person. What works for me may or may not work for you, and vice versa.

Maybe the best we can do is to keep sharing our successes in forums like these, and continue to learn as we go.


Jim Eaton, NTP
Evolutionary Eaton

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The "accidental" PR (and how to purposely set more of them)

I am not in this paleo/ancestral food/exercise game for anything other than to feel good, be happy and live long. But I am a competitive person, particularly with myself. Whether it's physically or mentally, I don't think you have ever reached your best, and you should always keep striving for improvement. And so... here I am at this seemingly contradictory place with exercise: I have no specific exercise goals, but I still enjoy setting PRs (personal records).

Strangest of all, in some sort of parallel to that old line about "if you love something, set it free," I have been noticing that ever since I ditched any specific exercise goals, I set a lot more of those PRs.

See, it used to be, back in my "totally drunk on CrossFit" early days in the gym, and particularly on deadlift days, I was there with nearly the sole purpose of setting a PR. If I didn't, that training day was, in at least some sense, a failure.

Idiotic, right? But, yeah, that scorched-earth training policy was where my head was at. And even when the durrrr realization hit me that PRs are special occurrences, not day-to-day events (except maybe for the extreme newbie), I definitely still was trying to PR on certain days. Again, particularly on deadlift days, I would go into the gym with a PR goal. And if I went in with a PR mindset and didn't achieve that level of success that day, I would slap a big fat "failure" sticker on my whole damn day. It's a very binge-and-purge/extremist mentality, and I have learned that it's not conducive to success, physical or mental.

It's different now. I try to train more intuitively. Every day of a particular lift *begins* the same, but where that lift ends up depends on how things go. I have standard warmup weights for every lift, and I go through that part of the drill mechanistically. But then, when things start getting heavy, instead of pre-setting a target goal weight (that used to almost always be a PR for that lift), I try to listen to my body. What was heavy, or not-so-heavy, last week may or may not feel the same today.

And the double-secret Zen trick to the whole deal? I have been actually setting *more* PRs with the intuitive-training mindset than the old "today I will PR" one. Even better, every day of lifting is a success, because I am just there to do my best *that* day. And that just requires a solid, sensible effort.

Is this all feel-good slop/pablum for the brain? Sure. A little, anyway. But attitude matters, and "search and destroy" just doesn't work for me every day. In fact, it just messes me up, in body and mind.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Germans

Hmmmm, I am getting *thousands* of blog hits a day from Germany all of a sudden. So, I just have one question:

Ich liebe euch, Deutschland, aber.... Warum seid ihr hier?

And yes, I am using the informal second-person plural because it seems that we're all close pals.

In all seriousness, if one of you wants to clue me in on my sudden popularity in Germany, I'm all ears.

"Look! She'll love it! She's German!" -- Basil Fawlty

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Are you training to live, or living to train?

My latest podcast obsession is the Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness podcast that Sarah Fragoso and Jason Seib have been doing for almost a year now. They are killing it with smart talk about exercise and paleo food. "Heavy lifting" and "Take a walk" are two of their favorite phrases. Mine too. Exercise minimalism rules the day there. And I heard Jason say something recently that really struck a chord with me. It went something like this (I am paraphrasing):

"I don't want my clients to *love* their workouts. I want them to view them as a chore." And he followed that with: "But I want them to like doing those chores when they actually get going on them, just not love them so much that they show up at my gym too often."

And then I thought about all the many times I heard folks at the CrossFit gym *complaining* about rest days. So here's my followup to what Jason Seib said:

"If you hate your rest day that much, maybe you need to take another rest day."

I realize that this rant is a bit of a repeat of the last one. We have already discussed in detail how you can stray pretty quickly off the path of health/longevity and onto the 12-lane high-speed freeway of sport-specific training that grinds up athletes and spits 'em out sick, tired and injured. But I am sure that most of you will swear to me that you are doing whatever it is you do -- and let's say it's CrossFit, just 'cause that's what I am most familiar with -- to be healthy and live a long time.

So why do you hate rest days so much? Unless you are someone who is a really rare bird -- the person totally happy with body composition, under super low stress and sleeping like a rock every night -- rest days ought to be popping up *really* often. In fact, Jason Seib would likely tell you -- and I certainly would -- that a CrossFitter who is not trying to make the CF Games and is doing CF just to be healthy, live long and have great body comp likely is doing herself (or himself) no favors beyond three days a week of CF. Maybe four for you serious youngsters. Maybe just two, and an additional day of heavy lifting, for a lot more than that.

In other words, if you are hating rest days, you quite possibly have made working out a little too-frequent occurrence in your life. You might just have turned "training to live" into "living to train."

And I get it.... CrossFit is a fun community. I love my CF friends. And I dig working out there. But exercise addiction is no small thing. It's not just "more fun than you were already having" to hit the gym five or six days a week instead of three. The cortisol buildup and stress that that much CF causes will usually take your CF training right out of the health/longevity pathway. That's cool, as we discussed last article, if CrossFit is your "sport" and you have made the decision to beat the snot out of yourself with the goal of making the CF Games or even killing it at regional competitions. But all that has nothing to do with health/longevity. At that point, you have made the decision to beat yourself up to reach a *sports* goal, not one that advances health/longevity. So, in reality, Mr. or Ms. Person Who Wants Better Body Comp and Wants to Just Live Long and Be Happy, are you pummelling yourself because you think more is always better?

If it sounds like I am saying that a person unhappy with body comp is doing his or her body no favors with those extra two or three days of CF, yeah, that's *exactly* what I am saying. And if you need me to get more dramatic, think about possible thyroid damage too.

It's a pretty common mistake: love a form of exercise so much that you overdo it. Look in the mirror and tell the truth to yourself about your alleged health-and-longevity-based training. If you "hate" rest days, it's fairly likely that you need to dial down the exercise and take more rest days.

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