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Monthly Archives: May 2011

6 reasons your training has stagnated (and ways ahead)

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential”.
Bruce Lee
One of the pleasures about training, as a component of life, is the constant learning process. No one routine seems the same, the body and mind responds differently, you try new movements, you hit peaks, you plateau you make small adjustments, you learn from others, you ask questions, you focus on the job at hand, you see results. Many however, get tired and dissolusioned with the effort required to make progress, and it is more often a result of being overwhelmed by external factors that overcomplicate the simple internal factors.

As someone passionate about the nature of human evolution and cognition and especially how it relates to physical training, I adopt a holistic approach to helping people achieve their potentials which is often met with a confused look. People seem conditioned to expect defeat with the myriad of excuses society provides to delay progression, or reward mediocracy. But we all have within us the ability to change, it just requires awareness of the factors of interference, and the courage to step beyond their constraints.

The Deadlift

Gym Scenario

“But I just wanna get big”, dude says.

Fair enough, you´re a young guy, I was there once as well and we all know a little more naturally induced testosterone in today´s paisley shirt and skinny jeans society is no bad thing.

“Tell me about what you eat, how much you train, what kind of programme you follow and how much you sleep”, I say.

Errrrrm,(throws odd look) I train 5 or 6 days a week at the moment, plus I play indoor soccer on Monday night. On the weekends sometimes I don´t train because I usually go out. I don´t sleep or eat so well on the weekends. I eat lots of pasta and chicken, but I hate cooking, so usually just carry protein powder around with me. Always after training. I´m pretty bad with the sleep, always up late with friends on the PS3. But when I train, I hit it hard. Currently following Starting Strength every second day, but I don´t reckon that´s enough, so I do extra bench, leg press, lat pull downs and stuff on the other days. I heard the 5×5 programme is good though, so I might try that. Weekends are a bit of a mess, but, you know, student life and that”, says dude.

So your goal is to get bigger. And I assume stronger too. But it sounds like you don´t have much of a routine with your lifestyle. Pretty inconsistent stuff happening there mate. How much do you want to improve?”, I respond.

I really want to make changes, but it seems hard at the moment. I´m training most days, but don´t seem to be getting anywhere!”, says dude.

    • 1. Your nutrition is not dialled in

Eat me

    There is no way your training will move forward if you don´t adopt an understanding and appreciation of the importance of a sound nutritional plan. Time and time again, I see young guys at the gym chugging down protein drinks post-workout. If they were used in ADDITION to a proper nutrient rich dietary plan, fair enough. Fast metabolizing carbs and protein for rapid restoration of hormonal balance, controlling the cortisol increase and spiking insulin levels. Muscle gain 101 for the young gym rats. But I suspect these shakes are being used as substitutes for proper solid food.
The more I experiment over the years with my training, the more important nutrition becomes. To get big, you need to eat big. It really is that simple. But the caveats are numerous, and I won´t go into them here, suffice to say that the nutritional (macro-ratio) requirements for Mr. average body composition looking to stay in shape, Mr. slightly porky looking to lean out, Mr. skinny looking to bulk up, Mr. Crossfitter looking to improve WOD numbers etc are different.
You need to work out a nutritional plan that is right for YOU and your goals. Your metabolic typing is directly related to your various homeostatic control systems, and if your balance is not optimal, your health will not be either. BUT, the foods that make up your diet need to come from natural sources, NOT man-made ones. Once your body has eliminated the main sources of inflammation and hormonal disturbance (from sugars, gluten and plant oils) you will be in a much healthier metabolic condition to play with macronutrient ratios according to your body composition, goals and training intensities.
The great thing about the Paleo-style way of eating, is the simplicity and the seasonal adaptability. Remove the (year round) crap, eat natural foods (when in season). There is NO excuse if you are serious about your training, to be a lazy-ass when it comes to nutrition. Don´t waste money on powders and expensive supplements looking for a miracle boost or a shortcut. Only consider tweaks when you are already healthy. Eating naturally cannot be commercialized, eating man-made processed chemicals can, which is why supermarkets are 90% toxic. Be clear about this when you open your pie hole. FEEL guilty if your diet is not dialled into a natural food based regime. It´s why you feel like crap and half the reason why your training has stalled. Learn to appreciate and cook nutrient dense food, after all, it is THE building block for a healthy, strong you.

    • 2. You over-rationalize your training plans

Learn about your body

      Keep it simple. There are hundreds of training plans out there, some are even gullible enough to pay to read them, but most over complicate things. I´m not paid to recommend a certain program, and even if I was, if it didn´t include classic

Compound exercises

      like the deadlift, military press, dips, pull-ups, squats and bench press, I´d be dishing my morality. Joint strength, coordination and stabilization are essential for a healthy functional body. No matter what function you wish to perform. Add power and speed through

Olympic lifts

      like the snatch and clean and jerk. Include

Kettlebell training

    for all of the above, and especially to prepare your body for the kind of intensity you´ll need to make real progress. Kettlebells will ensure your mobility (in the hips especially) and grip strength will allow you to lift cleaner, heavier and more efficiently, which is key in bulking phases.
“But what about isolation exercises?“. I read in the…..
Mate, you probably get enough isolation exercise in the comfort of your bedroom reading those FLEX mags. Try using the other hand, in the meantime, stick with what works. Learn proper technique for how to shift heavy weight. If in doubt, ask. There are plenty of people who know about this at the gym. If you feel you are not stressing the whole body enough doing these classic movements and you are not responding as an integrated unit, then you are either not lifting heavy enough, or you need to refresh technique”.
Stick with what has been tried and tested to WORK AND GET RESULTS. Get mobile, learn to use your bodyweight. Lift heavy and simple. Don´t over rationalize things. If it´s not working, cut the surrounding crap out, ask, make it work. Save the reverse cable incline suplex pull for your late night keyboard warrior session.
      • 3. You over train and don’t rest

Overtraining (source: nw conditioning)

              “But isn’t it a good thing that I train like the pros?”
              “Bro, you are not a pro. If you were, we wouldn’t be speaking like this. The set up for a pro athlete is based around their specific skill set and the optimal way to maximize their performance.”
                I’ve written about this in a previous blog on sleep. In short, if you are stressing your body on a consistent basis (through whatever source) you need to allow it time to recover. But unless you have been through a period of over training, this concept is hard to drum into some young guy full of energy and intent written across his protein shaker.
            I’ve been there, suffered moderate to severe symptoms of adrenal fatigue and wondered why my training results were not only stagnating, but dipping. It may take time, but experience tells me that LESS is indeed the new MORE.I’m starting more and more to get the nutrition and rest message across, before starting talk of sets, weights and numbers. There are many resources out there telling you how to train, but less so, those telling you how to recover. I guess you can’t make money on the latter.

Cycle your training intensities and qualities

          Some refer to this as periodization. Even if your goal is hypertrophy, DO NOT lose sight of strength endurance, flexibility, mobility, power and speed. Throw in the odd metabolic conditioning routine, stretch, swing kettlebells and keep your body guessing. You cannot skip phases and expect gains without building up strength and intensity requires to shift heavy weights and utilize speed and power.

Charles Poliquin is a guru when it comes to these ideas. Bottom line: You want your body to be primed for each training session. If it is fatigued, it will underperform. Work in cycles, say 3-6 weeks, shifting focus to prevent injury and stagnation, adding a backoff week, ascertaining your progress in relation to your lifestyle. Be prepared to MAKE ADJUSTMENTS, but not to the detriment of your long term goals. Work hard for sure, but focus on quality rest in between.

4. You are too eager for quick results

Slow things down bro!

Things take time. We live in a world where we expect instant results with everything we do. All in the name of self-gratification and we are unwilling to put the time and effort required to make the changes really happen. We want to be bigger, stronger, leaner, healthier, wealthier, have more friends, have more crap about the house. We lose touch with reality, and the gym is often a place where this can be observed. To gain the body you desire, to optimize your health, to learn new skills, to become more empathetic or to see results from a course of action TAKES TIME.

If you really are determined to make changes and achieve certain goals in the gym or in your personal life, you must fight the desire for instant gratification. From an evolutionary point of view, this is not easy. We have evolved to survive, and expect results from our hunt or our escape. This is survival instinct. But these days, at least in Western societies, food is readily available, and we are not being chased by predators. Yet we still run on this instinctual system, and we are less than happy as a consequence.

Every great thing in history has taken time to develop, and those you see at the gym with impressive physiques have most likely invested considerable time and commitment into making themselves that way. And I’m not talking about the puffed-up walnut bollocked steroid brigade. Find a training program that feels good, one that is easy to understand, one that has proven to work, listen to the signals your body tells you, rest when it says rest, and work like heck when it says work!. Don’t skip days, don’t load your body with crap, don’t make constant comparisons with the guys beside you. They have their gig to attend, you have yours. Nothing brings more gratification than results from hard work. It WILL come.

5. You are making excuses

Get on with things

“Yeah, but it’s hard not to join in when the guys are going out drinking”

“I’ve been so busy with school lately…”

“It’s hard for me to train consistently with shift work”

“I have bad knees, so I can’t really do squats or kettlebell swings”

“I can’t afford to eat so much meat and vegetables. It’s cheaper to buy pasta and bread”

“I don’t want to lose my endurance for the soccer. That’s why I back down sometimes on the hard strength days”

Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla…. Excuses are excuses. Just that. We are conditioned to look for excuses. It’s a stress-relief mechanism that social psychologists have long been fascinated by. As a defensive mechanism for dealing with conflicting ideas about what it is we are faced with, we rewire our behaviour, our actions and even our beliefs. Smokers do it, people in bad relationships or jobs do it, and indeed budding gym-buffs do it when straight-out-of-the-block results dwindle.

There are ALWAYS excuses for not achieving what you set out to achieve. Make it a conscious decision to not look for excuses. Face the challenges HEAD ON. Don’t run away and hide out of the fear that what you might experience (but haven’t) may (or may not) be bad. Don’t give up wondering.

6. You think of training as an isolated goal

The master

Training for success involves fine tuning ALL elements of your life, introducing positive mental and physical stimuli, and eliminating the external distractions as best you can. Sounds easy?. Well, of course it is not. We need to pay our way, we have obligations, we have ups and downs. But in reality, those out there you admire for their fortitude, their boldness, their sheer will to make things happen are not so different to you and me. They merely set out a plan of action and get to work. Inevitably you will come across hurdles and certainly detractors. Learn to overcome these EXTERNAL factors and change your tactics in dealing with INTERNAL struggles.

Training is a part of life, even if it’s a daily walk, morning calisthenics, or wrestling with your partner. The more integrated your routines become, the better you are at reading the feedback that comes along in various ways, and making the adjustments that are the key for optimizing your efforts. We all have different desires and have different paths we take getting there. Find YOUR way by sticking to a plan for a while to see if it works. If it doesn’t, make the adjustments required, and if need be, ask for assistance. Knowledge comes from being aware and open to change. Wisdom, said Socrates, comes from wonder. When you find your way, and you put it into practice, you reveal the TRUE virtues that are within you.

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Self improvement is masturbation. Now self destruction…?

Self-destruction!

It´s not just about the sofa or the fucking khaki trousers. It´s about the way we think. It´s the way we mediate our gym time, our mealtimes, our image and our future plans. We are scared, because that is how society has conditioned us. We are stressed; we lock ourselves up and surround ourselves with shit from Ikea. We pretend to maintain an identity and self-esteem that we carve out based upon a gag of materialism and social norms. We seek false gratification out of the fear of breaking down the fake comforts that can lead us to our true primal self.

I say, chill the fuck out. Things are NOT that complicated, we just choose to follow the path of turmoil and fear, and make excuses for not doing what we need to do to get out of the way of the friggin bus. It´s called cognitive dissonance, in psychological realms, but I wont dwell on the head spin now. Later maybe. In short, we rationalize when we are stressed and faced with conflicting emotions and impulses. We may know what should be done to break free from the armpits of modernity, but we crawl back to the comfortable illusion of the dehumanized striped sofa. Aaaagghhhh.

What do we learn from the twisted world of Tyler Durden?. Not to give a shit?. To let go of everything around us that makes our identity what it is?. Maybe the lesson to take from this epic movie is to reconsider dissonance. Stop making excuses in order to protect your egocentric motivations that are cultivated by the crap surrounding you. Self-destruction, for Durden, need not be so extreme as to warrant being ostracized from modern life, your job or your family. No, but you can let down your guard and be exposed to fear, emptiness, or a path not ventured. Only then can we realize our true morality, which is not bound up in our self-improving masturbatory hand of superficiality.

Tyler Durden is Jack´s consciousness. Jack is fighting the urge to remove his dissonance. He wants to improve himself, but needs to realize that who we are runs deeper than the image we portray at the gym or the other externalized reflections we prop ourselves up upon…..Our strength on the outside pails into comparison with the drive we have internally to make changes that only a truly free self can obtain. Beyond the reach of the naysayer, or the rationaliser.

Jack: “You could take him”

Tyler Durden: “The trick is not to care”

Masturbation, Ikea crap and other material junk we surround ourselves with offer a false sense of self-improvement. Not that those momentary pleasures, in the Stoic sense, are forbidden, but that we need to realize that a kind of destruction, or massive change in discipline, is what modern society needs to open up our souls for the possibility of a return to our primal selves. What are we really trying to achieve by plastering up a broken wall in the name of self improvement?. Why do we criticize those who seek to push the boundaries of societal norms, thinking that we are broadening our horizons by conforming to superficiality?.

Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction, Truman once said. Life is not about finding excuses, tolerating the effects of stress, acquiescing to self-improvement through external influence. It is about realizing there are no limits, only those we choose to surround ourselves in. We can optimize our lives by being aware, being active, being true to ourselves and those around us. It may take severe action, clearing out a lot of crap, facing your fears and nurturing your survival instincts.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

Right on Tyler. Fuck the khaki trousers, go nude and self-destruct!

 

 
 

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Manipulating causality: Medical journals and the pharmaceutical industry fraud

“Medical journals are an extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies”

Richard Smith

This is a safe life

We are never far from captivating headlines telling us how our path to eventual death may be even closer should we consider squatting below 90, consuming a double espresso, eating bacon and eggs, or god forbid, challenging state health authority recommendations for diet and exercise. For most, avoiding doing anything remotely controversial when it comes to lifestyle changes is a scary option. And people do not like to get scared. People prefer to stay inside the wheel like a mouse, going nowhere in particular, eating birdseed, and wondering if what you did yesterday was what you will do tomorrow, and the day after. But of course being content that even if you never get around to doing something, you´ll not face fear. Society tells us a lot about fear, let´s just exist.

But some seek to understand their shortcomings, and move beyond page 3 of the tabloid newspapers whilst subliminally wondering what life on the road with Shakira would be like (this is the alter ego speaking, they confused image with reality). Some seek the science behind the myth, the clinical evidence that makes us convinced cholesterol is bad, fat loss is a genetic thing, and 60% carbohydrate intake is optimal for health performance. We go to the journals.

I´ve always liked journals, not so much for their up-to-dateness, but for the constant variation and stimulation provided on a regular basis, and the thought provoking material that one can either add to the pile in the office shelf or keep open and develop further knowledge. Much like relationships to a woman or a dip bar, journals can be a challenge, and thoroughly rewarding if approached methodically at the correct time in a focussed way, but can provide confusing feedback that may require extended periods of self-reflection. If I appear slightly Freudian, I can explain. And I love the dip bar.

Richard Smith was editor in chief of the British Medical Journal and CEO of the BMJ Publishing Group for 13 years between 1991-2004. His article “Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies” is based on a lecture at the Medical Society of London in October 2004 when receiving the HealthWatch Award. The article overlaps to a small extent with an article published in the BMJ in 2003. He later published a book in 2006 entitled “The Trouble with Medical Journals” which further expands upon this topic. Now what struck me as interesting, was the levels of collusion that must be systematically inherent in the medical journal industry that allows for randomised controlled clinal trials to be the basis of cause and effect “evidence” that ends up as published papers, which are force fed to the medical industry, state health authorities and eventually to all the mice on treadmills living the life of existence in the uncivilized and brainwashed modern society. Sorry about the long sentence, I´ve been reading too many medical journals and drinking coffee, so that MUST be the effect.

The pharmaceutical industry is big. The biggest company Pfizer had global revenues in 2008 of USD$68billion, so sponsoring journals and clinical trials and no doubt unethical medical practitioners/peer reviewers to promote its drugs is well worth it. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a fact sheet warning about the corrupt and unethical practices that are endemic to every step of the pharmaceuticals business. This is probably not so new to many, as is usually the case with multi-billion dollar industries, corruption and malpractice is the norm rather than the exception; “Join the ride and keep your trap shut, or stand up against it, quit the industry and take up life as a poor, but morally sound social scientist instead” type gig. An extract:

  • Corruption in the pharmaceutical sector occurs throughout all stages of the medicine chain, from research and development to dispensing and promotion,” the fact sheet reads.The medicine chain refers to each step involved in getting drugs into the hands of patients, including drug creation, regulation, management and consumption. The WHO notes that corruption is so widespread in part because medicines pass through a large number of intermediaries before they reach the patients who need them. Each extra step provides an opportunity for corruption to take place, ultimately driving up the cost of the medicine or diverting it toward the wrong recipients.

So we see the journals being published by professional societies (e.g. British Medical Association), the pharmaceutical companies that provide the funds for gaining the results they want and the academics/medical professionals who provide the writing, reviewing, and promotion of the results to the students/patients/media. Talk about symbiosis. Reading through PubMed to gain some knowledge about type II diabetes, hormone regulation, fat metabolism etc is like a discovering a fetish for handbags, and sitting down with a decade´s supply of Woman´s Weekly magazines to work out what has been in fashion. Take cholesterol research for example.

You got it Homer!

Statins (lipoprotein reducing medicine) are the best selling medicines in the history of modern pharmaceuticals. It is a billion dollar drug range, and these companies will do anything to keep up the myth of cholesterol being bad for us and linking it to disease. But recent research, often coming from the internet/blog driven independent health research field, is telling us that this is little more than a scam on a massive scale. Still, one cannot help but feel sorry for the confusing advice that not only is “bad” cholesterol actually “bad”, because “new insights” tell us so, but some “good” cholesterol is actually “bad”, or can go “bad”. Even statins that reduce “bad” cholesterol, also reduce the risk of certain cancer. And again here. Or we could just relax, eat well, rest well and not worry about it at all. What methods to these companies adopt to get the results from clinical trials they look for?. Back to Dr. Smith´s article (2005)

  • Conduct a trial of your drug against a treatment known to be inferior.
  • Trial your drugs against too low a dose of a competitor drug.
  • Conduct a trial of your drug against too high a dose of a competitor drug (making your drug seem less toxic).
  • Conduct trials that are too small to show differences from competitor drugs.
  • Use multiple endpoints in the trial and select for publication those that give favourable results.
  • Do multicentre trials and select for publication results from centres that are favourable.
  • Conduct subgroup analyses and select for publication those that are favourable.
  • Present results that are most likely to impress—for example, reduction in relative rather than absolute risk.
The problem seems inextricably bound up in economics. As long as drug companies continue to fund research and be complicit in directing every step along the way, then the public will not get the preventative treatment that could be developed if, for example, state funding agencies began to sponsor trials based upon the types of broad-ranging interdisciplinary research that are beginning to uncover so many of the myths of modern medicine. It seems a long way off however. I cannot see even the state providing funding for a decade-long study looking at the effects of a lower carbohydrate/sugar intake on mental and physical health, without having to admit the fallacy of their advice over the past decades to consume a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. Another suggestion would be to regulate the medical journal industry, making them somehow independent of the drug companies, and adopting a critical approach to existing research, instead of continuing to publish results from clinical trials that quite obviously seek to prove an effect from a pre-framed cause. This too, seems a long way off.
In the meantime, we can continue to discuss informally some of the benefits that a social science orientated methodological approach can provide to some of the natural sciences that seem steeped in a reductionist-type methodological orientation. We need to look closely at ideas taken from biocultural anthropology and evolutionary psychology and merge the holistic understandings about human physiological development to forge a new health paradigm for the current millennium that is not a slave to corrupt commercial interests, but actually has the wellbeing of humanity at its core.
 

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“Go to bed now!” (actually, I mean that!)

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
William Shakespeare

Human biological clock

One of the many curiosities about my time in Solomon Islands over the past years has been the way locals relate to sleep. I have been raised to think of sleep as a necessity obviously, and something done at night when not much else is happening. I have thought of weekends as a chance to alter routines by staying up later, sleeping longer (or “catching up” whatever that means), then by the time monday rolls around, look to more of a routine-esque sleep pattern if I want to keep the work/study/training/social/domestic gig alive. I knew that a lack of sleep made me perform poorly at school, work, the gym etc, but I never really pondered upon how sleep patterns work, and whether or not they are socially, biologically, environmentally or hormonally conditioned.

Solomon Islanders don´t seem to have set routines when it comes to sleep. For that matter, when they eat and are physically active either. It took me some time before I realized that the linear routine of the common Western way of living does not apply to this Melanesian archipelago. Food and sleep and exertion occurs when it occurs. It seemed to me that if I was to survive in rural areas, my body would have to assimilate its natural rhythms to local time as best it could. This meant being hungry, over satiated, so well rested to become stiff, exhausted from random bouts of paddling, trekking, football, bored and over stimulated. In other words, my comfort zones were put to the test every day, by not being able to precisely judge what was about to happen. It was never drastic however. Mostly, locals rested, stayed out of the heat, chatted, chewed betel nut, and left the running about for the kids. I was an anomaly for many reasons, not the least, because I found it hard to rest so much, always on the move for more ethnographic knowledge.

I wondered how Western society has become so agitated, so excuse-orientated, so dissatisfied with its lot?. I know this is a multi-facited dilemma, but the way we look at sleep, and the way Solomon Islanders do, made me search for a deeper understanding of this massive part of our lives.

1. How does lack of sleep affect our physiological/mental/metabolic performance?

2. Is sleep a universal requirement for mankind, or are we quick to adapt to different ´lifestyles´?

3. How does light affect sleep? What about the huge changes in daylight from Northern/Southern hemisphere to equatorial regions?

4. Why am I tired in the winter months, but awake in the summer months? Are we like bears or bats?

Robb Wolf is a guy whose advice seems to resonate on many levels with sensibility and logic. Often talking about the importance of sleep, Wolf advocates getting as much as possible short of getting divorced or fired, and in terms of training, weight control, hormonal balance, cortisol levels and insulin intolerance to name but a few factors, sleep is an obvious component of a healthy lifestyle. But still, I needed to know more about circadian rhythms and environmental factors that have selected us to become tired and awake in different ways at different times of the year. After all, modern man only recently ventured away from equatorial regions out to the extremities, and surely our genetic makeup has allowed for adaptability, but not adaption?. I suspected that sleep was another factor that was being manipulated by modern life, trying to con the physiology of our natural life cycles to fight the need to rest.

I read “Lights Out: Sleep, sugar and survival” by Wiley and Formby (2001) on Robb Wolf’s recommendation. Good read indeed, despite the mediocre reviews. I found their argument about seasonal changes effecting not only our dietary requirements, but our need for more or less sleep relating to light and energy zones very much standard evolutionary theory, but sleep specific, in that we cannot speak of optimal health by preferencing one factor (diet, lifestyle, rest, movement) over the other. In this sense, it strikes accord with a paleo-like way of thinking, if not in a more extreme context. To suggest that summertime (obviously this is a Northern hemisphere bias book) is party-time, stay up late, eat, drink and be merry type gig, viz-a-viz wintertime, where we should hybernate like a bear, and live in darkness is more to highlight our misguided lifestyles, than a doctrine to be strictly abided by. Despite the somewhat sloppy writing style (having just finished Gary Taubes’ excellent Why we get fat: And what to do about it) the message appears clear:

  • Sleep more, in order to recover
  • Avoid sugar, grains and excessive carbohydrates
  • Listen to your body as it is trying to be in tune with the seasons
  • Excessive artificial light in winter and sleep deprivation screws your hormonal balance, and exacerbates carb addiction

Lack of sleep blunts human growth hormone response, raises cortisol levels and causes insulin resistance. Not good, unless you want to soften out.

Anthropology, as the great bastion of holistic social sciences, has strangely remained quiet on the issue of sleep. Professor Carol M. Worthman, a leading researcher on the social ecology of sleep and hormone related developmental issues at Emory University, Atlanta, has crucially shown that the majority of clinical research and trials on sleep related disorders and habits are based on Western societies where sleep patterns are drastically different from societies where artificial light sources are infrequently available, and seasonal changes are minimal. The comparative field of evolutionary medicine is one branch of anthropological research that can be useful cross-comparatively in determining the extent of sleep variation in cultures with a focus on certain variables that point to deterioration of physical and mental health. As yet, no long-term cross-cultural epidemiological studies have been carried out that allow us to ascertain the effects of sleep deprivation, and lead us to a better understanding of the ideal way our biological sleep temporality effects our wellbeing, regardless of locality.

A better understanding of the history of sleep practices is needed so the social and physiological constraints that allow sleep to become inextricable linked to circadian patterns of consciousness, which are both phylogenetically and ontogenetically determined, become slightly more demystified. After all, to confuse this matter further, or at least my curiosity as to why Solomon Islanders slept so randomly, is the fact that circadian rhythms, and the hormonal action that takes place regulating our biological makeup, occur whilst awake AND asleep. It has the makings of something sci-fi this sleep thing. We are sleeping less and less, have more and more clutter and stress and fake-food surrounding us, and even try to alter our physical and genetic makeup by synthetic interventions – that perhaps humanity is trying to out-wit biology and attempt not just to stay up late, but stay up forever?.

I recently stumbled upon the work of A. Roger Ekirch, historian, and author of the fascinating “At Day´s close: Night in Times Past” (2005). Taking us back to the medieval days of the 16th-18th centuries, before the advent of electric lighting, Ekirch reveals the common segmented sleep patterns broken up into “first sleep” (dead sleep) and “second sleep” (morning sleep) and all the interesting nocturnal events that went on in between. Lights, he reveals, eliminated this pattern of semi-consciousness, where people would often have sex, pray and reflect. For me this is a startling find, and made me think of the way Solomon Islanders seemed half-awake, but never fully able to function in full consciousness. Often I would hear conversations, when all appeared quiet. Biphasic sleepers?.

Sleep cycle comparisons

Maybe, by looking back at our polyphasic sleep patterns from an historical perspective, comparing that with our monophasic tendencies nowadays, we are denying our evolutionary part in the animal spectrum once again?. An interesting article on biphasic sleep written by psychiatrist Thomas A. Wehr on a study about photoperiodicity (circadian rhythms) seems to confirm our tendencies to sleep in 2 periods (biphasic) of roughly 8 hours, but that artificial lighting and social norms have made us monophasic sleepers, which is not in accordance to our natural biology. To really start to geek-out on this, try this PubMed article on the evidence for a biological dawn. I also found paleohacks a goldmine of information on this issue, and as a bonus, stumbled upon this great thread for sleep hacking. Must give Tim Ferris a big High5 for getting me inspired.

I feel the need to do some more research though, and self-experimentation. Maybe my biological clock will tell me when it is time for that. I trust that clock, for it has made us a perfect species for adaptability to so much modern life presents to us, but we need sleep, and a good deal more than we are getting. That we cannot deny.

 

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20 ways to train your primal instincts

Henri Rousseau "The Dream"

1. Read a book this summer about evolution.

Carl Zimmer´s “Evolution: The triumph of an idea” is a great starting point. Inspiring and fascinating. You will be a changed person with some evolutionary theory in you. Not just for the geeks, a must for the human species. It´s nice to have the science behind why we must fight, sleep, eat meat and have sex.

2. Sleep outside one night.

Use a net if you must. Drift off to the nocturnal sounds and rise naturally to the dawn. Leave your phone at home too. Get someone to join you if you´re afraid of bats.

3. Cook a bird, fish or animal whole on a fire you made.

Take the guts out, see how it all looks, season, cook and eat everything.

4. Go for a run in the woods without your shoes.

That´s right, barefoot. Feel the earth, stones, sticks whilst walking on the balls of your feet. Jump, hop, skip, crawl and roll. A great read too for the summer, is “Born to run” by Christopher McDougall. He tells the story about the legandary Tarahumara Indian barefoot runners of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Gripping and interesting. Get a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers to ease your way into naked feet. We were not born with shoes, Nike knew this, but brainwashed us into believing the modern running shoe was doing us good…plahhhh. Check out barefootshoes.no for advice on barefoot movement.

5. Eat no sugar, no grains, nothing from a box or packet for 30 days.

Be strict, don´t cheat. I personally guarantee you´ll look, feel and perform better than ever before.

6. Have a day of critical examination.

If you read newspapers, watch tv or speak to a friend, decide that everything you read, see or hear for a day, may be wrong, misleading or simply an opinion. Make your own mind up, by examining options. Tell people about your critical day.

7. Spend an afternoon at a playground.

Think for a while of your childhood and the things you did on the bars, ropes, swings and logs. Practice those moves, barefoot.

8. Go to the forest and pick berries. Eat loads too.

9. Climb a tree. Spend an hour or more up there.

10. Have a clear out at home.

Think hard about all the stuff around you and how much it contributes to your happiness. Throw stuff or give it away. Have another rethink the following day, and repeat the process. Less in life, may just be more.

11. On a hot day, lie in some longish grass, naked.

Imagine you were living 20000 years ago, and all you thought about was food and sex. Empty your mind of all superficial clutter.

12. Find an old person to talk to.

Ask him/her to talk to you about their childhood and what they remember about family responsibility, play and work. Decide on living for a day or a week like they did, and let them know how you get on. Ask for advice.

13. Go for a bike ride into the countryside.

Stop when you find some farm animals. Talk to them, out loud if you want, explaining how you appreciate their part in evolution, and the respect you have for them every time you get to eat meat.

14. Watch some Chinese martial arts or Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Notice how they move their bodies and how sharp, strong and smooth they are. Practice some of the moves you saw over and over again.

15. Spend an hour each day meditating.

It doesn´t matter how you do it, just read up or ask someone some basic techniques, find solitude and try to empty all negative emotion. Think of breathing from the stomach upwards. Feel light. Think strength.

16. Spend a full 24hrs alone.

Surprisingly few people do this. We have become addicted to our mobile phones and Internet. We are available and use others as constant reference to our state of being. Bring a notebook; camp out, reflect yourself upon your thoughts in solitude. Like we used to do.

17. Have a week off training.

If you train 4 or more times per week, sleep is erratic, stomach bothers you, feel stiff and get headaches, have a week where you focus on walking, stretching like animals do, sleeping more, drinking lots of water, eating meat and fish plus vegetables. It´ll do you good.

18. Have a day eating coconut.

If you can get hold of fresh ones, great. If not, buy some canned coconut milk and some shredded coconut. Make a curry sauce with coconut. Just add some masala spice to some tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and coconut cream and simmer. Blend up and add to your favourite meat. Add some dark chocolate and butter to a pan, melt, add the grated coconut, some walnuts and dried berries. Stir well, add to ice cube trays and freeze. Enjoy with tea after your coconut curry. Coconut is amazing.

19. Make a commitment.

This is open, but make a deal with yourself to fulfil something you had planned to do but somehow found an “excuse” not to finish it. Stop doing something you told yourself you would stop doing, but made an “excuse” to keep doing it. Tell someone close that you have made a commitment, and ask for him or her to support you in your choice. Don´t make excuses. If you think you can or cannot do something, you are right both times.

20. “Be as you wish to seem”

Read some Socrates, or any philosophy. Try to apply some to your life. Learn about thought.

 

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Paleo – Primal – Evolutionary MINDSET

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”

Oscar Wilde

Think about this. What you eat, how you sleep, how you move your body, how you think about your surrounds and the people in your life, society, work, holidays… We are surrounded by a linear world. Everything we are told to do, is a form of progression towards normality. It is to be less of a burden on society. It is to work harder. It is to save money. Accumulate shit. It is to conform to an existence that we are not capable of thriving in, because we are not adapted, physically or mentally from an anthropological perspective, to shun our primal roots, or our natural state, as we are doing. Our natural consciousness in other words, has become preconditioned through ´reason´ and our habits towards ´sensibility´ of how best to exist in our modern habitat. Unfortunately, modern society is in a cyclical epoch of unsustainable essentialism regarding our ideas pertaining to co-existence with nature. But fear not, the power within us to change things is evident, accessible, and actually quite simple. It just requires awareness. Awareness brings change, and change is enduring.

What is primal living?

Our life of denial need not be so complex as we make it out to be. Sure, we have split the atom, stepped on the moon, made sheep in a dish and invented the internet. All good and useful, but why have we been told that the way mankind has lived for thousands of generations is worth so little in this modern era?. In fact, why are we told it is dangerous?. Where does one draw the line between accepting the belief that existence is fragile, and deciding for oneself how existence according to the norms of fragility thrust upon us by society, is in fact harming us?. How is it that we become adapted to existing, instead of adaptable to the crap surrounding us?. How modern Western society thinks, eats and moves today may be harming us, or just sustaining our existence. Primal living (our evolved way) does neither. It just makes us healthy and alive. I’ll explain.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?…”

George Owell, 1984

Take a step inside your local supermarket Winston. Overlooking you, is Big Brother, and he is looking out for Thoughtcrime. Grab your packets of artificial corn-variant crap (80% of what is on shop shelves) and do not think. Exist, that is all. Read the signs on the glass window outside, and buy what it tells you to. Good Winston, DO NOT think that what I am serving you is making you weaker, more subservient and me richer and more invisible. Go home now, damage your body, and blame your partner, or society for your stress and ill health. “The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” Sound scary? It is the way society is heading because we are acquiescing to the evil figures who are SO desperate to hold onto their power by literally feeding our ignorance. What Hitler did in Germany was legal, but was it right?.

Eat meat, you are an animal, not a bird or a mouse. Don’t pretend you are not an animal, it just looks silly, serves no purpose, and will eventually make you keel over and die. Grass reared meat is the most nutrient dense source or proteins, fats and essential minerals and vitamins known to man. If you can, eat the whole animal. Our ancestors did. Eat fish too, oily ones and deep sea varieties are less likely to be polluted, farmed fish in limited doses. Stop at just this, you will live well. But we like variety, so eat these:

Animal fat, do not trim you meat cuts. If you do you are throwing away THE primary dense calorie source needed for optimal performance. Remember, animal fat is not equivalent to human fat. Sugar, in its varying forms and side effects, makes us fat, inflamed and prone to disease. Fat from butter, coconut oil and some extra virgin olive oil are healthy too. Most of our energy should come from good fat, NOT birdseed. Avoid common ´vegetable´ oils like soy, canola, sesame, sunflower and corn. These oils are components of most junk/snack food, breads, grain products and contain linoleic acid (Omega6) which is nasty to your system. But they are cheap to produce, heavily subsidized, totally unnatural and better suited to run car engines. Avoid.

Vegetables and fruits, are nice sides to meat dishes. They provide a good source of carbohydrate and fiber. Try to eat more root vegetables with low fructose and glycemic load like sweet potatos and yam. Fruit is very high in fructose, which hits the liver hard, and contains nothing you cant get from vegetables, so go easy. Berries in season are great, melons as well. The occasional apple and banana in conjunction with vigorous exercise can be helpful. If you are conscious of your weight, or want to lose weight, be very cautious of fruit, especially dried fruit. Think nutrient density when selecting foods.

Eggs, go well with everything, taste good, are portable, and are very nutritious. Eggs are a great source of protein, and the yoke is especially rich in minerals and vitamins, fat and cholesterol. All good things in other words. Oh, and it seems that even the ‘bad’ cholesterol, may indeed be good. See this latest study.

DO NOT EAT GLUTEN, grains, corn and all their toxic side products

This is the biggie for most people, along with eliminating sugar. Gluten is a protein found in many grains which is added to most processed or man-handled/created/packaged foods. It is toxic to man and has many common side effects including weight gain, depression, fatigue, hair loss, constipation, hormone imbalance, skin irritation, joint pain and inflammation, sweet (carb) cravings, digestive problems, bloating. Just a few then. The removal of gluten has been medically proven to improve and /or eliminate most of the above. Grains contain a toxic mix of gluten, lectins and phytates that are selected to fend of predators that try to eat and digest them. In fact we cannot break down toxic lectins in our digestion, and this causes gut irritation (common for most people) which can trigger auto-immune response from our own system (celiac, being a familiar condition). Having a damaged (or leaky) gut lining hinders the absorption of nutrients we ingest. The spinoff effects from this are numerous, paving the way for many of the diseases and illnesses listed above. As Robb Wolf says: “Why does this happen? Because grains are pissed off that you want to eat them and they are willing, and able, to fight back”.

The human body is not adapted to thrive on grains, they are a potent anti-nutrient that we do not need in a healthy diet. Leave them to the birds and rodents.

DO NOT EAT SUGAR, Party longer. Sugar drives excess insulin production, which drives high blood glucose which causes inflammation, fat gain, adrenaline rush, false satiation, depression and a whole herd of other consequences. Sugar (carbohydrate) is in almost everything processed, and has the same addictive properties as heroin. Eat carbohydrates with high glycemic load, coupled with little or no protein, and the sugar is quickly metabolized making you eat more. When the sugar levels in our blood are so high that they cannot be dealt with, then insulin steps in and stores it as fat. Insulin is the bouncer at the nutrient party. It decides what to do with all the dressed up glucose, fat and amino acids lining up to slide down your pie hole. Inside the party, DJ hormone Dr. glucagon gets to work when bouncer insulin is maintaining order, and releases stored nutrients (and body fat) for energy. Barman Mr. leptin keeps the gig alive by knowing when enough is enough (i.e. when we are full up) Chaos at the door, all hell breaks loose inside, DJ loses the plot, barman keeps letting the mouth open, fights break out, party gets closed down, some make it out alive, others don´t.

So basically, a low-fat, high-carb diet(or standard carb as we are told by the authorities) is a make-us-fat -and-sick diet. I am no expert, I have just read with interest what the experts have to say, changed my ways, and am living the benefits. You limit the amount of sugar (carbohydrate) pumped into your body, the magical metabolic properties of the system turns to fat supplies to run off, and bingo, you lean out, look, feel, and perform better. It seems complex, but it is not. The authorities (Big Brother) that subsidize the amount of corn produced depend on holding our ignorance levels high, by funding ‘science’ to produce garbage studies that keep the majority thinking a high sugar/carb/low fat diet is healthy. It is killing millions every year, but then again, it sustains jobs in the health industry, and makes rich food-chain owners (political backers) richer. Get aware.

Play and Rest well

My favourite part. Life must be lived as play, Plato once told us. Forget how to play, or think of play as something for kids, then we may as well climb in the box and save some of the water supply. Remember how we climbed down from the trees, stood upright, enhanced our vision, chased prey, lit fires, slept in caves, woke up to sunrise, smelt the flowers?. We had life on our plate, and even though it was tough, I´m sure it was fun. Look upon play as part of life, part of the way you interact with nature, feel connected with your body and the power and energy it can provide when well nourished and well rested. Lift up stones, stretch, lie in the grass, climb trees, learn to balance, run fast. If you think that “exercise” is something to be compartmentalized and added as a supplementary component to your life, then you are off track.

Primal living is your lifestyle that evolution has so gloriously created for us. Luckily we have some great additions that modernity has given us, like coffee, kettlebells, full-suspension mountainbikes and iPhones. Unfortunately, we also have a growing apathy that is allowing us to jump tracks and head in the wrong direction. Seek pleasure in the consciousness of free spontaneous action, according to Aristotelean ethics. Play can be experienced within the subconscious, as our bodies resonate an embodied sense of cohesion with nature, where there is no preconceived idea or outcome. Primal pleasures differ in the function of their very expression. But in the end, Socrates was right, wisdom begins with wonder. Never forget that.

 

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