The Mind – Self-Entertainment

We know other people are a constant source of entertainment, from the things they do (cut in line) or say (stupid stuff), or wear (butt-cheeks below those shorty-shorts), and how they stroll and be-bop to their tunes. A seat at a coffee shop, alone, is the quickest way to observe your fellow human being.  Add to that a park bench or music venue or airport waiting lounge and you’re good for hours.
If you really want to be entertained, study yourself. Just like the omnipresent cat videos, your mind is always available.  However, don’t expect all of the joy you get from watching those cute, claw monsters terrorize dogs, shred toilet paper rolls or poop in toilets. Watching yourself doesn’t always feel so good. It can be challenging to be introspective, but if you have the right attitude, it can be pretty darn fun.
What’s it mean to “watch yourself”?  Of course, you watch yourself, you are yourself. But, really, most of our mental process is spent doing one of three things:  ruminating in the past, judging in the present or planning (i.e., worrying) about the future. This is common, normal and just what the mind does. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing. You’re human. What I’m suggesting is that you become a bit more curious.  Think of it as meddling in your own mind. Here are a few things to watch for:
The Past – Ruminating, we do it all of the time. We pick some injustice or difficulty (not always, but often) to replay over-and-over. (Note to self:  The way you remember past events is not very accurate.)  We also tend to avoid and push away uncomfortable thoughts. The past is over and excessive rumination is just crazy-making.  Practice: Notice when and possibly why you spend too much time in the past. Are they happy memories?  Are the thoughts beneficial to you right now?
The Present – Watch how much judgment comes up about yourself and others. We either like or dislike (love or hate) everything. There seems to be a need to have an opinion about the most insignificant to the grandiose. At the grocery checkout do you look at your neighbor’s basket with the 2 6-packs of Bud, jumbo Coke, frozen pizza and Dorito Nacho Cheese chips and judge? I do. Do you also mentally comment on the speed of the checker or their age or how long they’ve had the job?  You might. Practice:  See things and events just be the way they are without the mental gyrations of labeling. Is it possible?
The Future –  Get a load of how many stories you tell yourself about the future. Problem is that much of our future planning is fear-based.  Will I screw up? Will people like me?  What if it rains?  Notice.  What is the nature of your future-seeking thoughts?  Practice: Paying attention gives you a chance shift or, the word of the day, “pivot” your outlook. Begin to see the future in a more positive light.
Can you tell how you divide your mental time between the past, present, and future?  Does one dominate?  These questions are not to be solved; they are to be observed without judgment. It’s the noticing and awareness that the key.  It’ll take some practice as the mind doesn’t so much care for being scrutinized. It likes doing what it wants.
There’s one more thing. Observe your body. When you find your mind has wandered into no-man’s land, check in with your body.  Most times the body is physically reacting to the emotions the mind is creating. If you’re thinking about an event that was fearful, your body will begin to act as if it was “real” and happening in real time. Your body will begin to show signs of stress just from your thoughts.  Again, be inquisitive and see if you can find the corresponding change in your body with the varying thoughts in your mind.  They’re there if you look hard.
I hope you enjoy spending some time with your mind. Instead of looking at it as a chore, think of it as a source of entertainment. “Wow, look what my mind just did!!  Hah!! There it goes again!”.

Diets Are Out

The pendulum has swung.  Dieting is out.  Healthy eating and being fit and strong is in.  Just like all pendulums, eating regimens tend to rest in equilibrium before another diet fad or scientific study comes along and starts it in motion again.  We’ve seen this dozens of times with eggs, coffee, red wine and chocolate.  It’s in, it’s out. It seems like the middle path is illusive.
Folks have become very rigid with their diets, which is a good idea, if that means limiting processed foods and sugar. But, taken further, some dieters refuse cooked food, animal protein, including milk and eggs, nightshades (tomatoes and eggplant), sugar, gluten, legumes, oil and grains. This would be considered “clean eating” and a certain NY City blogger with 70,000 followers found she was suffering from a serious eating disorder. Her periods stopped, her hair started falling out and her skin turned orange (from all the sweet potatoes and carrots). She was eventually treated by a psychiatrist for a serious eating disorder.
Not only are diets out, but fat is in. Both kinds–body fat and consumed fat.  Fat acceptance is everywhere aiming to alter the cultural biases and stigmas against the obese, like Roxane Gay’s NYT’s best seller, Hunger.  Fat consumption is making a resurgence with Atkins and Atkins-like diets which promote shifting the body into ketosis. Ketosis happens when you starve your body of carbohydrates, it’s preferred source of energy, and force it to use stored fat, resulting in weight loss.  High-fat diet allows ample eating of eggs, cheese, avocados, oils, butter, fatty meats, nuts. Recommended is even butter or coconut oil in your coffee or tea.
So, if one is to avoid “dieting” and strive for a healthy eating with a dose of exercise, what’s a person to do? While in the bookstore at Tassajara, the book The Buddha’s Diet, caught my eye.  I don’t think the Buddha was worried about squeezing into his 34 waist designer jeans, but he did try dieting. After leaving his posh life as a young man, he took on the life of an ascetic, basically starving himself. After realizing starvation was not helpful for enlightenment, he began teaching the notion of the “middle path” which is the cornerstone and Buddhism and can be the basis for healthy eating.  It’s said we should do everything in moderation, including moderation.
I like everything about The Buddha’s Diet book and if you’re on the weight-loss train, then you might also. This book is not about what to each but when. There is no counting calories or points. No green juice that gets delivered to your door or expensive tonics or shakes.  Meals do not become exercises in deprivation.  There’s no fasting like the monks.  You can eat anything you want but not when you want.
Have you noticed now often we eat?  We’re told a hearty breakfast is important (debunked) and not to skip meals.  We eat a snack between breakfast and lunch and then another between lunch and dinner and then more while watching West Wing or reruns of The Simpsons. Then there’s the boredom snacking while doing homework or chatting on the phone.  There’s even the fourth meal, introduced by Taco Bell (thanks a lot….).  No wonder we are consuming so many calories.  We were not engineered to eat all day and night long.
In the olden days eating a meal took effort and time– lots of time.  The makings had to be gathered or shot, cleaned, prepared and eaten.  Then there was the clean-up.  This was all done in the daylight hours which, depending on where you lived, was as short as 5 hours. There wasn’t time or refrigeration to eat whenever you wanted.
The Buddha Diet suggests a return to a more natural eating timetable. Next week I’ll explain more and share about my eating habits. In the meantime, if you want some homework, keep track of when, not what, you eat. I think you may be surprised.

Diets Are Out (Pt 2)

All of us have at some time have dieted.  It may have been the Tab and cigarette diet in our teens or the Atkins, The Mediterranean or Grapefruit diet.  Weight loss is incredibly complicated and I’m not suggesting that I have the end-all cure, but each of us attempt to reconcile our weight in our own myriad of ways. There seems to be no one-size-fits-all.
My last post (here) introduced the book, Buddha’s Diet, which advocates limiting the period of time in which you eat.  Instead of counting calories or points or living on cabbage soup or apple cider vinegar, you merely lessen the hours in which you eat.  Sounds easy and it is.
We not only eat too much but we also eat all the time.  Many folks eat right up until bedtime.  You may be surprised to find that you eat up to 16 hours a day. The first step of the Buddha’s Diet is to close that window to 12 hours. If you have coffee at 7 a.m., your last bit of food or drink is at 7 p.m. Done.  You can snack, if you must, but be done eating 12 hours after you start.  Continue with this eating schedule for 2 weeks. Then, shrink your eating window by 1 hour, so 11 hours.  Do this for 2 weeks before doing it again, until you are at a 9 hour eating window.  You can choose to push your breakfast forward or dinner earlier. That’s it, simple, don’t you think.  I know there will be days that this is just not feasible–business or family obligations, etc. That’s okay, but just limit these “slip” days and get back on schedule.
There’s more juicy nuggets in the Buddha’s Diet book, like What to Eat, Meat or Potatoes?, Buddha’s Whiskey, and Did the Buddha do Crossfit.  What I enjoyed was most of it was common sense and not dogmatic about “good” food versus “bad” food.  It also covers the value of saying grace and meditating for your body and our complicated relationship with our “temple”.
Along with the Buddha’s Diet, Ayurveda also recommends limiting the eating hours. It recommends avoiding eating between meals. The theory is that the digestive system works most efficiently when it is hungry and eager for the food. Digestive juices start flowing, food starts smelling and looking inviting and your body says “I’m hungry, let’s eat!”. This is the best time to eat. Throwing food unnecessarily into the system all day long only hampers and tamps down the digestive fires and the urge to eat. Wait to eat until you’re really hungry and just eat until you’re full (that means eating slowly to give the body time to register the food). Avoid snacking and notice if your hunger is just dehydration. Grab a glass of water (not soda).
People of normal weight, myself included, diet. It may not be a formal diet, but we do watch what we eat and make adjustments when necessary. When I feel a need to clean up my eating habits and knock off a few unwanted lbs. I do one of two things.  One, I take a liquid-only day.  Monday is usually easiest.  I’m very liberal with “liquid” and it can include a yummy shake and a glass of wine. This forces me to notice how many times I reach for something to put in my mouth, which is often. Two, I don’t eat after 6 p.m. This is similar to what the Buddha’s Diet advocates. If I feel a need to have something in the evening, I make it very small, like a cracker or warm milk–nothing substantial.
Regardless of how and what you eat, be thankful for the amazing bounty of food we have at our disposal.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these two posting on dieting. As always, I love to hear from you so send me some feedback, won’t you?

Sweat: Elimination (Pt 5)

Sweat: Elimination (pt 5) 
Okay, I promise.  This is the end of the elimination series(1), as I’m running out of eliminations, unless we want to explore vomit.  Along with excretions like feces and urine, the body also removes waste via the skin in the form of perspiration or sweat.  It’s a vital function and most of us don’t think about it unless it’s profuse, smells, or marks our new, overpriced, Anthropologie top.
Sweating has two major functions–regulating the body’s temperature and eliminating toxins.  It also fuels a bazillion dollar anti-odor industry hell bent on eliminating sweat and odor.  Have you checked the deodorant aisles of your local CVS!  That’s entirely different road to go down, so don’t get me started.
The skin is our largest organ and through its 2.6 million tiny pores it performs an important role in elimination. It removes 30% of the body’s waste products and is sometimes referred to as our “third kidney”. The most numerous pores are in the forehead, the armpits, the palms and the soles of the feet. The sweat is made up of water and saline but also has urea (a breakdown product of proteins the kidneys also discard), and trace metals and minerals.
Perspiration is something we cannot control and even when you don’t know it, the body is sweating a little. Sweat is handled by our body’s autonomic nervous system.  One half of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic side, is known for the flight/flight response and can bring on sweating when we’re spooked or excited, stressed or in pain.  Remember the scene in the movie Broadcast News where Albert Brooks gets the flop sweat on air.  Here’s the clip. Or what about Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly.  Still hilarious!
There’s a condition known as hyperhidrosis, or too much sweating, and is a serious medical condition. According to sweathelp.org, over 367 million people or 5% of the global population has it. This excessive sweating is not tied to the body’s normal functions of perspiration.  People with hyperhidrosis can sweat four or five times more than normal.  As you can imagine, it can not only be embarrassing but disruptive of a person’s life from career choices to relationships to self-confidence. There are many things that can be done, like super-strong antiperspirants, oral medication and even surgery.
What about body odor?  There are two different types of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine.  Eccrine glands are found in large numbers on soles of the feet, palm, forehead, cheeks and armpits. They produce mainly watery, odorless sweat.  The apocrine glands are in the armpits and the genital areas and produce a thicker, viscous and more visible fluid. The apocrine sweat is also odorless, but when it comes into contact with the body’s bacteria the strong “body odor” is produced.  The larger volume of sweat from the eccrine glands can “wash away” bacteria and the stink producing apocrine sweat. When the apocrine sweat has an opportunity to dry on the skin and react with the body’s bacteria, odor is produced.
Sweat odor can also be caused by some foods and your body’s overall toxicity levels, among other factors. Even some medications, like Tylenol, can encourage excess perspiration and foul smelling bacterial growth as drugs are metabolized by the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.  The stink you’re smelling may not even be you.  The new breeds of synthetic clothing fabric is harboring bacteria and gets activated with your body heat.
Besides regulating temperature, perspiration has a body-cleansing function, It’s healthy to sweat often, especially through movement. When we exert ourselves, we also increase our blood flow which releases toxins. High intensity work-outs, especially in a heated room can bring on a healthy sweat. Most of you are familiar with Bikram yoga, which heats the room to 104 degrees with added humidity.  As compared to gyms which often keep their weight rooms cool, yoga classes are often purposely warmed. So, in addition to the vigorous asana practice you’re also being heated from the outside.  Sweating can also be encouraged by visiting your favorite sauna or steam room.
There you have it.  There’s lots more to be said about perspiring, but I’ll let you do the research if I’ve piqued your interest.  As always, I enjoy your feedback or just a quick “hello”.

Urine: Elimination (Pt 4)

Pacific Palisades, California, USA.

Elimination – Urine (pt 4) 

 
Want more elimination?  Of course, you don’t. But here we go again.  It’s silly to be uber concerned with what goes in our bodies and entirely ignore what happens on the other end.  That would be like buying a bunch of plastic crap from China and when you’re done with it, after about 2 weeks when it breaks, it gets thrown in the trash. Where does it go then?  It’s all too easy to close our eyes to the “big” picture and only concern our self with consuming. This myopic thinking relates to EVERYthing.  So, why shouldn’t be be just as interested in the results of our “out” as with our “in”.
What about Yin/yang, plus/minus, reap what you sow, etc.   Granted, many folks do not give a hoot about what they eat or drink. I’m not judging unless I am.  If takes effort not to buy into the “consume” economy.  Just because they took the word “Sugar” off “Sugar Frosted Flakes” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have sugar.  It takes a lot of conscious effort to counteract the barrage of malicious advertising, especially to kids.  Companies spend copious amount of money on testing, reformulating, testing, tweeking, and more testing in order to come up with the advertisement that “makes us hungry/thirsty”.  The gaming industry does this too.  Using algorithms and metrics they develop their games to be addictive, in other words, eliciting the most screen time.
Yet, I digress.  Where was I?  The last 3 weeks I shared a welcomed or unwelcomed article on paying attention to what comes out far end of the alimentary canal or, in other words, poop.  Also important is urine or pee. The quantity, color, odor and ease of exiting are worth paying some attention. Urine is often used as a diagnostic tool for many diseases.
Output.  You pee out between 400 – 2,000 mL of urine with a normal fluid intake of about 2 liters per day or about 8 cups. The amount varies depending on water intake, sweating, and caffeine and alcohol intake. Most people urinate 6 to 8 times a day, but if you’re one of those with a fancy Hydroflask bottle at your desk, it’s not abnormal to go as many as 10 times per day.  Certain medications can cause more peeing, like diuretics for high blood pressure.
Observe the color. That’s right, take a look behind (or under) you. Hopefully you don’t have those inserts from the 1970s that make your toilet water blue. A dark color (apple juice shade or even darker) is an indication of dehydration. If it’s on the brown side, go directly to the closest water source and drink down some water already.  The color of light beer is good. (No, you don’t have to actually go out and drink more beer.)  Red or red-ish colored urine (unless it’s from menstruation or eating beets) is not good and you should see a doctor, fairly pronto. Same goes for urine that is orange or even green.  There’s a good chance something serious is going on.  I’m sure you’ve noticed, but vitamins give urine a bright, almost florescent color.
Give a sniff.  Urine has an odor, but should be indistinct, unless you’ve had the wonderful delicious green stalks of asparagus that are now in season.  Although urine is mainly water, it’s the concentration of waste products excreted by the kidneys that causes the odor. A high level of waste products can give urine a strong ammonia odor.  Unusual odor can indicate a medical condition like a bladder infection, cystitis, dehydration, high level of ketones and uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes (plus more).
Ease of peeing.  Although the healthy adult bladder can hold up to 2 cups of urine, you probably should go before it gets that full. The brain gets a signal to be thinking about a trip to the bathroom when your bladder is about half full. This varies, of course. The urine should exit without strain or pain and you should “void” completely.  Pain or stinging with urination can be the result a urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney stones, an obstruction or bladder infection, among many other reasons.  Any persistent pain should necessitate a phone call to your health care practitioner.
This is only a drop in the bucket of information to be had on urine.  I’m considering “one more” article on elimination, just when you thought it was over.  What about body odor?  It’s a type of bodily elimination and I think it might be fun, informative and mildly entertaining. Stay tuned.

As always, I appreciate any feedback, questions, or topic suggestions.  Really, you’re not bothering me.

Elimination (Pt 3) – Squatting

Elimination – Squatting (pt 3) 
 
Public bathrooms can be nasty.  Porta-potties as well.  I remember my mother carefully laying toilet paper on the rim of the seat in public bathrooms.  As I got older, I followed suit, trying to keep the paper on the rim without touching anything. I later found it was much more efficient to squat, if you weren’t going to be there long.  Squatting  was also necessary on long runs and other “got to go now” times. Fortunately many public restrooms have toilet covers. but you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting it to stay on. [Does the long tab-thingy go on the front or back?]
According to the WHO, 1.1 billion people go without a toilet. You may have noticed on your foreign travels that some public toilets have a porcelain foot print on which to stand and squat.  Many people, although they have a toilet, choose to squat.  Really and why?  After some research and chatting with squatters I found it was the preferred position for elimination and it has positive health effects.
Slate’s article Don’t Just Sit There! has an entertaining and informative article on squatting, even relating the advice given to President Jimmy Carter’s by his proctologist to explain his hemorrhoids. “We were not meant to sit on toilets,” he said, “we were meant to squat in the field.”  Who knew that hemorrhoids affect half of all Americans and new research suggests that getting your butt off the toilet can help.The theory is that squatting makes defecation easier and eliminates the straining that can lead to hemorrhoids.
In order to mimic he squatting position without there’s a gizmo, Squatty Potty, that sits by your toilet and raises your feet, bringing the knees closer to your body.  It simulates the squatting position. You can see their SharkTank video here and their YouTube video animation of a unicorn pooping ice cream here (reminds me of the hilarious ad for Poo Pourri). As the videos suggest, improper toilet posture can affect your health and correct posture can help with straining issues such as hemorrhoids, pelvic organ prolapse and constipation.
Here the why behind squatting for bowel movements.  We have the sphincter muscle that keeps poop from coming out.  But, it doesn’t do all the work on it’s own. There’s a bend or angle between the rectum, where feces builds up, and the anus, where feces comes out.  This bend is called the anorecal angle and is about 90 degrees.  It keeps the feces inside. (It helped me to see an illustration.)  When we squat to defecate, it’s like a garden hose.  The angle flattens out and, voila, feces out. Toilets puts us at the improper angle.
Whether you suffer from elimination issues or not, try squatting.  You don’t need to buy a Squatty Potty, just put something, like yoga blocks, under your feet as you sit on the pot. You could try to climb on the toilet seat, but be careful, it’s slippery up there.(1). Happy squatting!
(1) While traveling in Spain, to squat, climbed onto a toilet seat with my socks on.  I lost my footing, my feet slipped into the bowl and I slammed my shins into the seat. Good thing no one was watching. I’m sure it was quite hilarious!