Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Energy and efficiency, fat burning:- a perspective.

  In all my work, studies, and observations the bottom line is that we are an endurance animal, our energy systems are aligned to this hence we can keep going. A few years ago now I was intrigued by the amount of food the Kenyans were NOT eating, they were not matching calorie intake at all but eating a lot of vegetable and pulse diet. Move across to Mexico and you have the same, written about in ‘Born to run’ you have the Tarahamura Indians who seem to run forever in sandals and vegetable paste! The Kenyan athletes have a high VO2 but not the most, they burn better, the Oxygen is used more efficiently for some reason.  There was a TV program called Tribes I think with the Scottish naturalist Gordon Buchanan, he trekked with the Kalahari folk in Southern Africa. He tried to persistence hunt with them, bottom line, no way, he could not follow them very well, they appeared to drink far less during their hunt and live on a few berries and roots (high in energy but not 2500 calories!). I can hear you say Genetics, but it turns out that the genetic discussion has been drilled down up in Kenya (again) it turns out that the genetic differences between Kenyans and us are not as big as we think, we are very closely related. The one major difference by the way between Kenyan runners in Iten is their light lower legs and generally small frame that does make a difference. Energy output and weight is important that is nature described by physics, bigger folk need more energy! BUT you can change your system to a degree, hope for us all, I think.

 This energy discussion is important because the normalization of the human body to move to an efficient system of energy is a subtle one for sure. Reading further and practicing (more on this later) you can alter your metabolic rate to some degree by slow easy running and other practices as well. Conscious of my body type and overall ‘Diesel engine’ endurance machine frame I was keen to perform some sort of lengthy experiment. Nothing mad, nothing drastic almost questions such as ‘what if I do this……..for…..an amount of time…what will happen….etc’. If I change my diet what happens, will I notice, if I do this or this what happens if…….’ I could go on but  the next post, next week will outline post by post some of the changes I made, not on diet (too lose weight) but around energy systems and hence, the change in body mass. To answer some of your thoughts I don’t bonk out, I don’t hit a downer as much, I have more energy now than before for sure. Yes, rest is part of the deal, so I do sleep for the just and know how to stop. 😊

Post 1: what I was doing.

We continue with the weight loss chat, remember it was not about diet and losing weight for body image or other health issues, but I changed the conversation in my head to energy systems and efficiency. It just wormed into my head for the reasons outlined previously.  However there were a few things that I was doing before the key changes. I was practicing yoga most days, running around 25-30 miles a week and generally ‘all systems were fine’.  This, however, is an important share. My vastly better half menu plans for the week. Yep, writes out the meals and then buys the food for the list. I have tried by the way but every time I get the books out and say, ‘Oh that would be nice’ the usual response is ‘no, not sure I would like that’, ‘how about that, or this’ I reply, ‘no, not sure about that either’ comes the response. I shrug my shoulders, only been married 27 years😊 Hence the menu planning is not me. We are also vegetarian with about 90% vegan diet. Don’t buy prepared foods/meals and of course I bake bread you HAVE to bake sourdough bread folks😊 . We tend not to eat sugary snacks or desserts. I do like dark chocolate. If we make a cake, please eat the cake. Treats are fine in our house. Ok so that is the land described to you. Repeat, this chat is not about weight loss but energy systems. I have this discussion open on my laptop and a pile of marking and assessing to do at the same time, so this little writing break is useful for me.  Have a great weekend folks, more to come and I will post this onto a BLOG after I have written this with some references and links.

 

Please read before jumping to 1st change😊

As I reflect and consider posting these observations on energy/weight loss (please track back if you missed previous posts) the one thing I would like to stress is that I tend to triangulate advice. Reading, Observations, and practice. Also this was an experiment on me, not you, the human body is very subtle, those little responses do need listening and responding to.  However, I do meet a lot of runners and other folk who read a lot and then I ask ‘do you do any of this’ answer is usually an informative read and book recommendation and for some reason a lot of the diamonds out there don’t get tried on! I have boxes of books, maybe more than 100 plus books and by now I am beginning to sense some common features underneath the journo books and the mighty gravitas of well referenced science journals. Oh, don’t assume because a scientist has written=quality, a quick check of the ‘dull thud of references’ will give an indication of quality and also note any bias in terms of sharing points of view (just saying😊 ). So here we go first observation based on practice supported by some reading is:- drum roll please.

Post 2: 1st change, get used to running on empty pushing out the time a little each week. Ensure to fully hydrate the day before! If you do this, awesome, well done and I am sure you have found your energy levels zoom through the roof.

The first change and this was an incremental one, over time, was to get used to running on empty. However, I am not talking here about ultra-running or long endurance races where you and I need protein/carb mixes. I am talking about extending some of your running and associated dependency on gels/drinks.  You do need to do two things and really do note your micro responses over time, that is important. Things like amount of sweating, running lows and overall sense of energy and even thirst responses.  About 5-6 years ago I began running with my buddy every Friday morning (9:30am) almost without fail, but because he was coming back to running from a long layoff, we began real easy running maybe 5 miles.  As an aside the joy of running in the working week in the morning made us both smile. We were relaxed old blokes I can tell you!

I had drunk a green smoothie, so I was in a sense running pretty much on empty. We would carry the usual hydration because our intention was to increase the distance by a very small amount each week but keep running, as one ultra-runner shared this piece of advice, run as if you are a ‘bit embarrassed to run’, that runner won a jungle ultra a few years ago😊. This slight increase in distance, running very slowly, matches all the science out there on building an aerobic engine that is for sure (Phil Maffetone, heart zone training (zone 2) 80/20 etc). The body begins to adapt and move into the fatty deposits (Runners World, the runners body book(J Dugas) is very good) , and BIG energy reserves ( 1pound of fat is around 3800 calories!! ) . You begin to re-condition your energy systems BUT you DO need to increase distance, the body adapts so well that it stays at a ‘new normal’ if you don’t. In addition to this we were both fully hydrated before the run, I don’t mean a liter of water tanked down an hour before but a couple of litres of water drank the day before.

As we increased distance over the year (yes, a year!) to around 20 miles, train the body we noted we sweated less, drank less, and had more energy during and after running even though both of us were running on empty with very little food intake in the morning. Put on the spot I would say extend the long slow easy to run to around 1h45 to 2 hours, the fact that my buddy went longer meant we noticed at around 2h 45 mins we were getting hungry, much longer in time than previously though.  What is also important to stress is that the physiology of my buddy is completely different to me, I am a Toyota truck he is a Ferrari sprinter. He could happily do and still could if he could be chewed😊 run 43-44 minutes 10K at the age of 56 but we both felt the effect. That was a surprising observation and an important one. You can’t really use ‘the build’ argument, it is there for sure for macro movement but at the micro level adaptions of energy cells etc we are similar enough. 

The hydration of my body I noticed is more important than the food issue, energy systems need H2O, slow down to create a more efficient you, train the body with real easy running but don’t think weight refocus, change the lens of objectivity, and focus on energy systems and tap into the human being that already exists inside us.

Tips. Change 1, hydrate, run really slow and run on empty ((almost))

1)      Hydrate like a trooper the night before

2)      Drink some smoothie (only) for breakfast, we use a blend of spinach and fruit.

3)      Carry some hydration and run easy and increase time on feet by a miserly 5 minutes a week

4)      I don’t stretch after the run, but I do walk a mile to cool down and drink coffee as well plus hydrate fully over the day.

5)      Small increases in distance, don’t think distance think time on feet, check watch for time not for speed, you won’t be going fast.

6)      We also do eat after the run, the book ‘good to go’ (Christie Aschwanden) does stress eating after but does myth bust a lot of the fuelling chat! After exercise I have a full pizza panini and coffee.

7)      These posts are not pointing to ultra/long triathlon endurance events. You do need to intake protein/carbs over long endurance events of course you do!

8)      Minor changes over time, it is a marathon not a sprint.

The last post I pointed to the give your belly some rest time, eat your last meal early evening. change.  Now to the next change and linked to the above change in a very considerable way. Always tricky to discuss heart rate but getting into this zone of aerobic training is very important. I have a saying and it is not mine ‘don’t argue with your breath have a conversation instead’. If you are fighting your breath, then the breathing and related and connected Oxygen/C02 system is not working efficiently. You can read more on this via Oxygen advantage (Mckeown) or Breath (James Nestor). Slow everything down so your breathing is easy. There are some heart rate discussions and guiding principles (Maffetone, etc) which I will avoid, and the reason is because I have met some very good runners whose heart rate was very high and runners who heart rate was very low.  This challenges a lot of new runners, or those wanting to improve. Some runners I have met, new to running can sometimes ‘bite of more than they can chew’ or as I stated in an earlier post you need to make the cake before you eat the cake. I am not offering paces here but as a point the Kenyan runners real easy pace for recovery IS around 9 min 30 mile! Very surprising and very easy.

I will keep stressing the point that this experiment has been on me, and has taken around 4 years.  I was and still am relaxed about the changes, I was not fixated, a change here, a change there but I always asked, ‘how do I feel’ at any moment. I think that is important to share at the beginning.

This little experiment on myself is about energy systems and the effect on the human body rather than a focus on ‘race weight’ which is a thing for sure or weight loss for health. These other considerations were not an issue for me, emotional or otherwise.

So now to the next change, remember the first change was to practice running on empty, a little longer each time, ensuring you are fully hydrated the day before. This next change is a linked one and I think probably, on reflection, more challenging than the first, but it was and still is a game changer for energy systems, quality of sleep and rebalancing your system or at least mine😊 This change is all over the internet, but I don’t like the term it is bolted onto it can feel quite ascetic and intense to be frank.

Change 2:- make sure to eat your final meal of the day before 7pm in the evening and do not eat anything else after this time. I know, right, you are out for the evening with some friends what do you do? You DO eat with them and enjoy the time, this is not a hard rule but a guiding principle, when at home we plan our menus and times to eat for around 6:30pm, therefore by the time I eat again my belly has been empty for at least 14 hours if not longer. Avoid sugary snacks in the evening, your pancreas is having a snooze after 8pm, your energy system is not geared to deal with food intake at this time of night.  You can read a lot about the need for sleep, what your body does during rest and why it is not a clever idea to eat late at night. Yes, this is called intermittent fasting but to be honest I noticed the effect before I came across the term! It has been around for thousands of years, referenced in Yoga literature and Ayurvedic advice. I do meet folk on retreat who have work patterns where this is a difficult one to follow, or partners who do eat late at night and happily munch on a takeaway. Retreat meals are usually at 6pm and breakfast at 8.30am so there is a good 14 hours between last and first meal.  The bottom line and a report on my own experiment is that my energy levels have ramped up, I only start getting hungry about 18 hours after my last meal and in that time  I might also have included a 13 mile run so something has happened for sure hence the share.

I do know there are ‘apps’ that you can buy into, it might be worth researching and this change does take discipline. I am no monk though because we do eat cakes, I do bake and eat well but the time I eat treats it is not late at night and of course, in moderation.  At my age I would rather fall ill for a few days and pass away rather than have poor health for 10 years. I suppose I am trying to bias in my favour being aware that my mother lived a super healthy lifestyle but was hit with strokes and vascular dementia compared to my dad who smoked and drank most of his life but lived to 90! He did do a few things namely drink a LOT of water (he was Greek, Greek’s drink a lot of NERO😊 ‘) and he loved Olive Oil and Greek salads, and REST boy could my dad sleep for Greece or the world for that matter! makes you think right, makes me think as well.

I could go on, ‘How not to Die from’…..Michael Greger is a good read on diet and disease.

Change 2:- eat your last meal at or around 6:30-7pm, try to avoid snacking late at night.

 

If you have been following my posts on energy and weight loss well done and thankyou😊 the next change is probably the most difficult to rationalize so I am not going to try and rationalize anything. It comes straight from the east, as B K S Iyengar states in his book ‘Light on Yoga’ (a hefty tome) ‘eastern minds, western thoughts’ is the blend I am aiming for. Firstly I like and enjoy wellness chats, the exchange of information, the reports, and the discussion with reading all super interesting and of course it makes you think a lot about the human body and, well, how simply amazing it is!

I do think, sometimes, we can get lost in the maze of podcasts, books, and journo articles it can become ‘have you read this or this….’ You try something for a few months/weeks and then gradually move back to earlier habits. Change can happen for sure, that is what, after all, I have been posting about.

This change is not really a change, more of a change of viewpoint, a subtle sense that the background of the mind has shifted a sense of how I engage in these ideas I meet and practice the suggestions.

As some of know I do meditate every morning and have written a list of noticeable outcomes based on meditation, which I might revisit as I have been reflecting on this for some time now. There is, however, one word I don’t think I stressed enough and was always the central message in the sessions led by Indra Mohan during the lockdown sessions. That word is peace, to find peace, stillness and calmness which can be carried throughout the day. Running can be a peaceful and joyful practice, those Kenyan and Ethiopian runners do smile a lot in their training! you can move in a balanced and a breath centred way. Your yoga practice and hopefully mine to, is not one of only training the body but also finding that inner connection, promoting and cultivating (one of my favourite words) peace, clarity and an ease of focus.

How does this connect with change and weight loss? I think that the ideas I have tried and pursued have not only been based on reading, observation and practice but also based on a peaceful and reflective standpoint. ‘They work, they don’t work, promising idea, bad idea’ no stress. I don’t get on my soapbox, something I think I used to do. Meditation seems to have created a calm and reflective background of engagement when considering and trying out ideas and practices. More reflective, less reactive, more proactive, more contentment, more generosity with the ideas and with the Self (capital S). As Ganesh Mohan stressed meditation is not only about THE act but encouraging a change of mental landscape, the mind wants to move to a quiet place, not a busy distracted place. A place where the mind can focus and concentrate for extended periods without effort is an important quality for sure.

Finally as I mentioned previously a relaxed body and mind is a more efficient system. Energy systems, etc are more in tune. Why Zebra’s don’t get ulcers is an engaging book, one of the chapters talks about stress and the links to weight gain/loss. Cultivating a relaxed and content mind is at the heart of this point and change. Bottom line I suppose is really do try and find that time to meditate in whatever form you find engaging and works for you not me, it is about developing a personal practice not just rolling out a script. I find myself smiling as I write this; A G Mohan has a saying ’if you find it difficult to meditate for 10 minutes, you need to meditate for 20!’

Enjoy the weekend folks.

Change 3:- meditate, practice and cultivate peace, you may be pleasantly surprised by what happens over time and in time

I have noticed if I DO eat late (link to intermittent fasting) and try to meditate first thing in the morning, I notice the mind is not calm, not steady, it almost feels preoccupied with the night before! Sleep was not good, food not quite right. You get the idea, right? If you approach from a completely different angle you can arrive at the same point. The same logical conclusions written from a holistic viewpoint.

There are three key changes to my lifestyle that I think have had a profound effect, not just a peripheral change here and there but on renormalizing my weight, note my weight is now at a steady 82kg it is not going down anymore by the way.

The three key changes are:-I am fully aware of the eastern practices on fasting.

1)      Hydrate fully the day before your long run and run on empty, a little more each time probably aiming for at least 1 hour time on feet making sure the perceived exertion level is easy.

2)      The last meal is usually around 6.30pm, no snacks and no sugar, having breakfast at or around 8am

3)      Breath work and meditation.

 

From a runner’s body chat this is still too heavy for endurance running and really to ‘nail hills’ my understanding is the cut off is around 75kg. Where did I get that figure from? Listening to the tour de France commentators. It is to do with energy systems and watts output supposedly hence those big sprinters do not like those days in the alps and can sometimes get cut from the race.  I think body type does matter but at my little level not as much😊 and to be frank losing a few kg’s is possible for many folks rather than buying super expensive shoes.

My last point is to bring this all together about weight loss and energy systems. Where does the weight go? If you create a more efficient body, that is a more energetic system with less lows you are burning fat for sure. If you keep reaching for sugary snacks all day and have crashing lows or often tempted by the ‘sweet cupboard’ that is a sign that your mind/body is a glucose/sucrose machine. This is detailed out in science journals. Fat holds C, H, and O, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The two by-products of fat burning are water and carbon dioxide. If you eat your last meal before 6.30pm, fully hydrate and run on empty once a week up to 2 hours max for a long run you create a fat burning energy efficient system. However considering atomic masses (I know right😊 ) H20 is released through sweat, wee and poo however the heaviest element, carbon, is released through exhalation only (Co2), which surprised me and accounts for 83% of the weight lost!! (I have been researching this one, can you tell). So these three points about meals (I am predominantly vegan in diet, I believe in the power of veg, protein is protein not animal or otherwise), hydration and running real easy creates the conditions to allow you to become a more efficient human being. In fact, I am going stress what the human machine is designed to do from birth. You renormalize your energy systems and physiological responses. Meditation is a core practice, creates the conditions for a balanced approach, an ease to the practice but also the breath work element I am pretty sure made me more of an efficient breather and energy burner(this needs researching to be frank, I need to do a PHD for this one ‘study of various breath patterns on the aerobic energy systems of the human body when running’ !!)

That was always central to my personal experiment.  If you are performing of course, then you do need energy and carbs as you will bonk out. I hear that a lot when following the ‘tour de france’. Remember I was not performing this experiment as ‘diet’ but as an energy experiment, the outcomes are more profound and connected than only losing a few kgs.

However intermittent fasting (from TedX chat)  is not for over 70’s, diabetics and  children in particular, you would need to discuss this with your doctor. I am not sure all doctors are up to speed with lifestyle, but the British Society of lifestyle medicine (BSLM) is, check them out. The one thing that I reflected on was that you do need a healthy relationship with food, I think fasting might fuel the negative relationship to food. That gut feeling was backed up by a nice youtube clip from a nurse discussing fasting as a tool to improve overall health etc.

That is it from me on this topic, all views are based on practice, observation, reading and reflecting over a three-year period. That might be regarded as enough for some folks of course.

Take care folks.


Friday, 10 September 2021

Meditation:- what is it?

 Let us dive straight into the deep end. Perhaps I should have worn armbands to avoid drowning in the deep and often confusing waters of meditation. Meditation which include the practices of Mantra and breath work(Pranayama) is the only practice that I can say, without doubt, has transformed the activity of my mind. How I respond to situations. What I say, do, the quality of sleep and even how I move, keeping me light in tone and balance which before the practice I would have thought would not be an obvious outcome. I would stress I am very aware of Wim Hoff, Oxygen Advantage, Pilates, Calm, Headspace and my other small practice via the mindfulness association. All have benefits. 

Practicing stillness and encouraging a peaceful space inside us is one worth pursuing. However, it's hard! Whatever I say or get you to consider, there is no question that the feedback I receive from folks, runners, movers and shakers is......it's hard. What! Yes, being still, practicing stillness, practicing nothing much appears to be very difficult for people to do. Because you ARE doing something, no question. Behind the 'nothing much' is the intention, the breath and calming of those fluctuations of the mind which we recognise.

Why is it so difficult for people to do, this meditation thing? This is the key point and worth taking a little time to discuss and tease out. We are very much  in a constant state of distraction, attention deficit and overloaded with external signals from all sorts of artificial prompts, feedback, views and opinions. We are invited to interact, offer a 'yay, or nay, thumbs up or thumbs down' so many times during the day. Opinions swamp our thoughts and cloud our views, feelings and senses. If you are not busy, what are you DOING. You really should be DOING something. Our lives are organized in a very tight orchestrated manner, have you noticed how many reminders you get, how many times your opinions are sort. How your in box is full of stuff that seems to match your search history. All very clever, these algorithms track you, your views and behavior. Who is pulling the strings, who is the conductor? You or them, you know, those big institutions and organizations that seek to interact with you. It sounds very dark, Orwellian even and in this society of interdependence we can feel a little lost.  

Whenever I get lost or feel swamped I do close my eyes and think of one of my favourite clips ever on TV. The clip is a younger David Attenborough encountering the mountain Gorillas of the Congo way back in the 1980's. These beautiful animals sit, play, eat and relax. You get a sense of calmness, with these big animals.  The mind that is on show to me, is one of peace and a full integration with their environment. 

There, we have the word that I think is the source of the mental malaise that is being reported at an increasing rate. Our environment, the one we interact with the most, is not the one we evolved to interact with. Our environment is the natural world. Our minds and body settle here or over there! The Pandemic made us realise just how much we need nature we noticed how still our minds became when we walked and moved in the natural world around our local area. 

Tuning into simply being, being still, being alert with clarity, being aware of our internal senses is a practice that animals don't need to do. They are there. WE are the ones who are not there. The practice of stillness, meditation is about cultivating and encouraging a mind that is less easily distracted. The levels of focus and concentration over a period of time feel easier and less of a yoke. Samyama is a sanskrit word introduced in Chapter 4 of the Sutra's. We do recognise this word if I describe it thus; , there you are in an exam, fully focused, over time, everything is flowing, you are simply on point. Or, you are listening to a piece of music, reading a book, focused and present. You are less aware of the external senses and more aware of the internal you, the object of the focus is clear. You can also have the Samyama of Mathematics, astronomy, art, music and yes! Running , you get the idea. There are other words associated with this but Yoga is about encouraging what is already present and deep within us, the ability to 'see things as they are' not as they are perceived or interpreted. With this, suffering (Dukkha) is reduced and the associated emotions of  fear, desire and anger subside. 

Big ideas here, but we can sense them and taste them, even going for a wee run on my local beach. I keep this part of my life very simple, I like simple, I like playing, I also like to practice. Whatever is shared here as A G Mohan stresses 'don't take my word for it, practice'. 

see you for another Blog in a while. 


Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Yoga of Running (part 2 intro)


I love metaphors, I play with them, the image, the narrative and how the meaning of what you are trying to share is brought into sharper focus through the metaphor. They have  break points though, the reflection of the idea that the metaphor is trying to enhance and amplify can be infinitely extended is not correct. You can have some freedom but there are constraints. Really good metaphors can sit with you for a few years before you find a small chink in the description. That does not really matter, what matters is they have helped you make sense of a complex idea.

After that fairly long reason why I like metaphors here is a description of yoga I use with some metaphorical language to help us sense what Yoga is. I find it helpful. Too much formality clouds the issue.

Stare out of window and what do you see? Notice the smallest thing, focus on it, for one minute. It could be a leaf, part of a leaf, describe it, study it, focus on it, fully concentrate and commit to it.  After a minute or so (did you time yourself?) ask yourself 'where was my mind'. Probably no-where else. Those distracting, darting thoughts ceased. For a minute, the mind calmed, the senses diminished. You were you, the I of your function faded and Self made an appearance. Yoga is nothing special, in his book 'Zen mind, beginners mind, '(1970) Shinryu Suzuki states 'nothing special'. Don't look for the yoga mind and stress about doing something special, 'here I am doing yoga', look AT me. The yoga mind exists inside you. The access key, is you, you are the key holder and door opener. In a recent series of classes held by the Mohans', of www.svastha.net Indira Mohan stressed that cultivating peace and holding on to that peace in our everyday lives is a fundamental part of being human. We sense this, I think, but perhaps do not know how to cultivate and work with our bodies, breath and mind on a regular basis to encourage this feeling of Sattva (lightness and ease).

 You have to cultivate this practice, the fluctuations of the mind can cause disturbances and we lose control of our senses, we are quick to judge, make assumptions and choose language that does not precisely convey our understanding. The converse of this statement is the clear; the unobstructed mind, the mind at peace, where actions, thoughts and feelings combine with an intention fundamentally based on letting go of attachments, such as desires, fear and anger(Kleshas') is the mind that has transcended 'I' and moved to the Self.   

This feels heavy duty, Yoga thinking and descriptions can be complicated. Listening to my teachers discuss Yogic philosophy you can sense they understand the nuances of the landscape but yoga is not an academic exercise, not an intellectual pursuit. 

Runners have experienced a yogic state of mind, sensed this clear mind, the stilling of thoughts, the easing and softening of our body. It is not all about times and performance. When I am faced with yoga practitioners or yoga teachers who have attended a 1-2-1, I stress that the yoga mind is the running mind, the yoga breath is the running breath. Some feel challenged, some others state 'of course' and smile. There should be no difference to the practice on the mat compared to the practice on the trails.  If you find yourself fighting yourself, struggling with your breath when running or practising yoga this is not a practice that will sustain you in the long term (I almost said 'run' which is also physiologically true, short breathing is not a good aerobic habit). The practice of moving well and cultivating a sense of 'moving into stillness' is one that is worth holding onto. That mind can be moved into the world away from the mat,class or trails.

And finally, in this intro section, here is the sanskrit written in English for you, from the Yoga Sutra's chapter 1, verse (Sloka)1.2

'Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah'   

My translation, which some yoga students would find appalling is:- The practice of yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind, allowing the mind to be clear and still.  I write this because this is what I feel, not what I think or have read.

Interestingly, the whole point of Yoga is met at the beginning of the Sutra's. not at the end. The rest of the chapters and verses are really a series of connecting statements that instruct the practitioner on how this state of mind can be reached, the practice and the dangers. 

We are now at the end of the beginning. A sense of what Yoga is about. Approaching your running with a yoga mind, may, just may give you new insights into your training, or answer that gnawing sense of something   missing from your practice. Who knows! My only advice is to give yourself some space to try out some of these ideas in this 'wee text'. It ain't a big read:)


 

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The Yoga of Running intro part 1.

 Yoga is a mighty big word, often misused or used in a way that implies 'exercise' as it is matched up with Pilates and other forms of movement in the West.  If I asked you to perform some sort of yoga, you might perform some lunge of a description, or perhaps bring your thumb and forefinger together and mouth 'Om'. It might look like Yoga, or at least the Yoga that you are aware of and seen via social media. 

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with taking a small element of Yoga and using it to help you with your running. If the movement works for you, that is, you feel the benefits in your movement please continue. This discussion and extended series of blogs is intended to  connect the experiences you feel and possibly sense during a run or your extended running practice and link them to a wider understanding of  the practice of Yoga. This shift in lens, or perspective might help you connect other practices such as diet, relationships and overall sense of Self under the helicopter view of Yoga. 

The first main point to stress is Yoga is part of the bigger family (Darsanas') of eastern practices such as Buddhism, these two practices in particular share many common features such as Mantra (repetitive singing and phrases) and Breath practices(meditation). The other point, and a fairly obvious one, is that the practices have been part of the fabric of human knowledge for thousands of years. Yoga is not a 20th Century phenomenon, lineage and the passing down of knowledge is a key aspect of my own teachers. They can track their teachers back to about the 10th Century. 

The other point to stress, and I suppose being constructed here, is that looking at our running through an eastern lens does give us a more connective or  more awareness to our mind/body connection. Western approaches have tended to view the mind and body as two separate entities. We treat the mind under the umbrella of psychology or psychiatry, whilst the body is treated under the discipline of medical science and rationalism. Nothing wrong here, without science and mathematics our understanding of our world would not be complete. I should point out that my first degree is in Physics. The moon is a long way without Newton:). However, the Chinese and Arab worlds had their forms of physical science and mathematics, long before the West emerged from the dark ages. This is not about West v East. There has been too much of that. Integration of western minds and eastern thoughts is the only direction of travel.

 The eastern approach is, in general, to unify and treat the mind/body as one entity. Yoga means to 'connect';  bring together, here the use of the word Yoga is about bringing together and amplifying the connection of the mind and body to help us gain clarity, inner balance, lightness of mind and of the body. We use a similar word 'synergy' which means to add value when two or more things combine, but this word only gives a flavour, a taste of  Yoga. 

 Through a Yoga lens the mind and body, cannot be separated. From a running perspective you will sense this, run angry, run tired, run sad, note how the feeling permeates your entire body and mind, regardless of how fit you are. Your mind has influenced the macro and micro state of your body. I remember teaching a group of teenagers in a school. Their gut feeling about the point of yoga was really interesting, they had less clutter and were keen to experience not only the physical practice but also the meditative and breathing practices. I stressed to one student 'we don't do Yoga, we are IN a state of Yoga, you should feel, light, clear and easy with your mind and body' (this is the Sattva state, more on this later). I did not give much thought to the interaction but the next week this particular student came back to me and said in her geordie tone 'how, sir, you waz reet, I was IN yoga definitely' and she smiled. This is the bigger point, when you and I run, we might feel in a state of ease and clarity, the troubles of the world have disappeared even for a fleeting moment, we sense the inner Self more than the I of roles, age, gender, health at the point you could say our minds are in a state of Yoga, the feeling of minimal effort, rhythmical breathing and inner calm is the state we sense. A yoga practice is about carrying this feeling into our wider lives, a yoga practice refines, amplifies and cultivates the mind/body connection.

I have coached a lot of runners who have a lovely lightness with their sense of Self, but I have coached an equal amount of runners ( of all abilities, ages and background) who have a very strong attachment to their running but they are almost running away from the fear of themselves, either trauma, stress or anxiety(this would be the Rajasic and Tamasic states of mind, more on these later:) ) .

The main definition of what Yoga is, how to practice and develop the practice, is from a  text called the 'Sutra's of Patanjali' these threaded phrases and statements cover 4 chapters and are a bedrock of Yoga knowledge. However, there are other major texts that also support this knowledge, extend and connect big ideas and maybe mentioned here in these series of blogs. If you become stimulated enough to want to explore these other texts I would strongly recommend visiting https://www.svastha.net/  for links and courses on texts such as the 'Gita'. 

Running books, of which there are plenty, have stressed either the training approaches or the mind/body connection. Books. George Sheehan's  'Running and Being' (Sheehan, 1978) and Sakyong Mipham 'Running with the mind of meditation' ((Mipham, 2012) bridged the gap between this mind/body connection. Other books such as the newly published 'Out of Thin air' (Crawley 2019) look at culture and the development of running, in this instance in Ethiopia, through an anthropological lens whilst Daniel Liebermann's book exercised (2020) takes a wider holistic of running as part of our evolutionary heritage. I could go on, the list is endless(I have a few books myself) as the continuum moves between western minds and approaches (technique and training) to eastern thoughts (flow and somatic experiences). Authors almost demand a 'piece of the running action', newness is to be shared, explored and sold on Amazon.  However let me share an extended quote from one of my favourite books 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' (Pirsig, Robert, M, 1974)and a view that newness and fashion results in plenty of distraction as we move from one idea to the next in a rapid scatter gun fashion. We are, in a way, as Jon Kabat-Zinn observes in a state of attention deficient. 

"What's new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.(Pirsig, 1974, page 17)

They key phrase 'the silt of tomorrow' will you be leafing through that running book you bought in 10 years time? Probably not. Will you be running in 10 years time, I really hope so!

Why do we run? The action is primal, we are wired to move, walk and run. It is the most efficient way to increase aerobic capacity, to oil our engine and improve our metabolism. It is part of us, there is no escaping this basic fact. I am not stressing athletics and top end performance, these achievements of which I am a very real and engaged spectator are the ferrari's/F1 of humanity. The fine tuning sports car with mechanics and background staff that do support the athlete. However as Kipchoge stated 'without discipline, you can never be truly free'. Here we get the sniff and sense of something subtler going on when we choose to run.

 Running is a discipline, I have coached and played many sports in my time.  I was the annoying young man who was a 'jack of all trades' when it came to sports. The number 7 at cricket, the flanker, the badminton player, the doubles partner, the Volleyball spiker, the handicap 3 golfer aged 16, etc. However none of these sports are as pure as Running. There is a very straightforward connection to Yoga from a Running practice. This is the exploration, this is the journey. It will go beyond running for sure. Running is the tool by which to lever and explore the human condition. 

 


.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

good feeling with the ground

'When we were young, we ran barefoot, look after our cattle. We developed strong ankles, you know....(gesticulating with hands as feet)we  had good feeling with the ground' Rudisha 2010

Pretty much nails it in one sentence. There are only two parts of our body that have evolved to be in contact with the ground namely our feet. That is it, there is no need for lengthy discussions about reasons why our feet need to be in contact with the ground. Our bodies evolved to be upright, to work with gravity, to be IN gravity (John Stirk and Gary Carter) hence and therefore, the body needs the signals from our feet (mainly) and other sensory inputs to keep upright, to keep in balance, to body sense balance.

Many times over the years I have shared the sentence above with the 'killer' video clip and the vast majority of folk nod. They may not have heard of David Rudisha (800m Olympic gold 2012 1m 40") but get the emotional connection with that word 'good'. Quality of movement begins from the ground up. 

Running and walking should feel good. However, when you watch most folks walk there is not a real sense of ease of movement and lightness of feet, not a 'good feeling with the ground', not a sense of 'in gravity of with gravity' but a sense of effort and drudging acceptance as a form of locomotion.

The quality of ground varies of course, consider the nature of the ground you run and walk on. In the developing and developed world we have flattened our environment, steam rolled out the lumps and bumps, even trails are flatter. I do understand access for folks here but consider our range of movement just in our hips as we climb over things and move across the landscape. Understanding our terrain and moving over it is a strong evolutionary drive. Wayfaring is a great expression (Out of thin Air, Crawley, 2020), it is how we move across the landscape that is as important as point A to point B.

Running and walking intelligently means coming to our senses and tuning into the landscape around us. Feeling and moving with ease, not fighting yourself, or fighting the watch.
 
 I stressed this next observation maybe two years ago but worth sharing again. When observing runners I listen first. Generally if I hear them with their feet and/or the quality of the breath I don't really need to look, I know what I need to look for. When I look at the runner I notice the overall shape of the runner moving as a sense(not fat/thin etc)and where the focus of runner is, where the eyes are, the head is, where they place their attention. I notice excessive movement, rolling and small instabilities, all of these observations come rushing in over a short period of time.  I then have enough information to work with. 
 
Tuning into the runner and getting the runner to tune into themselves will allow them to develop good feeling with ground.



Saturday, 14 March 2020

'life live'

 In this very short post I consider 'life live'.

Do we really live in the moment? Consider most of the time our minds are reaching for future or previous actions/moments and play endless movies in our minds. This constant busy state of our mind (lost in thought) is Vrtti in Sanskrit. We can get lost in the movies that play constantly in our mind even when running or when practising yoga. How often can we sense our minds drifting off when practising, checking into actions and thoughts?

Learning to check in to the here and now is a skill that needs to be practised. As Erich Schiffman stresses he goes for 'life live' not life previously, or future but here right now, right under you as you run and breath. Being in the moment living life live is enjoying every second of existence. 

 LIFE LIVE
Yoga practice is not about the shapes on the mat but about controlling the rapid motion of your thoughts (different and uncontrolled directions) to some focus and steady gaze and direction. You become the seer of the mind not in the river of consciousness and thought but sitting on the bank of the river controlling the steady flow of mind.

As some of you know a meditation practice is a key part of our retreats and practice, here actionless action can begin. On the outside, nothing is happening, but on the inside, the reins of our mind are being brought under control by skilful action ( Most of you know this feeling and have felt it when IN your running, completely present, step by step. It is entirely attainable if you live LIFE LIVE,

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Some lists take 45 years generate, ask questions, seek don't follow.

very rare running bling. Fell race 2017
This is a slightly more extended version of the life hacks from the FB page. Asking questions and searching seems to be a life trait. This observation begins with a conversation from about 20 years ago. I was sitting with a group of students who were studying with the Open University's Master's programme in Mathematics and Maths Ed. I was sitting next to an older gentleman and was happily chatting away(I always do yack on) sharing my observations when he started to speak. His voice had such a strong resonance 'I know that voice' I said, 'where in my life did that voice come from'. It was as if the voice itself was placing me in another body it was that strong a sense and pull to a different time.

You see, in some senses, we are every person we ever have been. We CAN time travel, our body remembers not only memories but the sensory transmission of emotions throughout our entire body. I stared at the man for some time and I just couldn't place it. We left with no resolution.

The next session he came up to me and said 'I thought I knew that name, I looked back at my old school records and I was your primary school teacher in Y4, (which is 9 years old)' He smiled and then said 'You haven't changed, you've asked questions then and you have kept asking questions now'. It still makes me smile, asking questions, searching, never content, the Self-searching for the knowledge above and beyond books. Hence the list below(amplified in 2021) is not about some random list put together for FB. It has been on my mind for 45 years. Enjoy :)

  •   The blend of a cardiovascular exercise with yoga/movement/other modalities is more than the sum of their parts. Do both if you can. If you can't run ,walk a lot. I was delighted to read about how in the book 'exercised' by Daniel Lieberman(2021), the Tarahumara Indians did NOT exercise for their amazing running feats but walked everyday, around 10-13 miles tending their farm. 
  • squat, sitting is not against the law.  Tribes sit a lot (Hadza tribe for one), they do not want to use up their energy, it is their movement away from sitting that is the key. Squatting is the sitting, there are lots of good physiological responses that are activated through this motion. One of which is squeezing lymph glands, and activating some other body processes. I am convinced anyway:)  
  • Eat more vegetables a LOT more, and no, there is no such thing as animal protein, it is protein. 
  • Read:) 
  • Spend time outside, in different conditions, rain, wind, snow etc. Activate your senses, we evolved as part of this planet, not away from it. We are connected at a very subtle level to the shift in seasons and weather. 
  • Go to bed 10 minutes earlier, sit on the bed and focus on your breath then go to sleep. Here you can make friends with your breath, your first breath was an exhale your last will be exhaled, bring attention to your breath and meditate. Nothing flashy, sitting in a comfortable place and being attentive to your breath is the beginning of transformation.
  • Don't count the miles, just move, I reckon you could move more if you stopped counting. I once took a runner out for a session, I told her not to look at her watch, the session finished and we had ran about 8 miles, initially she was really angry, 'too far'. 'how do you feel' I asked, 'I feel Ok, actually'. We set limits on ourselves, way too easily. I do like data and feedback but consider 'time on feet' and make it quality time on feet as well. 
  • Shoe matter but not as much as you, moving well and moving in balance, as a child first learning to walk and run. We develop this 'feeling touch' with our feet. Find a grassy area, beach, anywhere 'dog poo' and sharps safe. take your shoes off and be a child again, learning to run in 'beginners mind'.  
  • Follow your breath when running, find the rhythm with the breath, you might need to walk/run a lot to find the sweet spot but it works. Breath, rhythm and relaxation, the body loves it. Breathing is tricky, I think there is a strong emotional connection here that needs breaking with good training. The Oxygen advantage (Patrick McKeown) bypasses Yoga and Ayurvedic holistic approaches and gives a great programme to help develop your breathing. Breath by James Nestor is a great overview on all things breathing. Finding that breath, following that breath, gives you the tuning mechanism for good health and improved cardio vascular fitness. 
  • Single leg balances are important. Practice balancing.  There is a rocky section on my local beach  I watch folk struggle as they lose balance, most of these folks are 40 plus, keeping our balance is an important point. As we get older and I mean much older we don't want to lose our balance and fall. 
  • You don't need to do marathons or need the next challenge if these make you feel good....great; personally, I am a Mary Oliver fan, I've been tested thankyou and I know what it feels like so I go for the following 'you do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles repenting, you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves'. During my Yoga training and studies, there is the term Shanti, 'peace' a sense of peace and stillness should be an aim of our existence. Not everything has to be 'on', and 'full gas'. The best athletes are focused, still and at peace with themselves in that moment. Practice finding peace. 
  • We all move differently, If I look back at the 2TB of the video there is NOT one runner who matches another. Amazing!
  • I don't do dogma, I don't do tribes, I prefer being a searcher. You are the experiment, listen to yourself. 
  • Create good habits when you are well, a yoga practice, a running practice means that  when you are injured or life hits you hard you have built resilience and mental strength and sense of who you are. I think we tend to wait until all the red lights are fully on before we do something. I did. Eluid Kipchoge has a great quote 'only the disciplined can be free'.
  • Change a word can change perception, try  changing  pleasure to fulfillment. It is a subtle change but makes a huge difference. Fulfilling means just that, filled up and complete, pleasure is a one hit sensory overload  we become addicted to and attached.
  • Slow down in life. Busy for being busy sake is a habit of this society. Enjoy the time in the here and now. watch your mind tracking across the day before you have even woken up. Hence meditation in the morning sets up the tone of the day. Still the mind, move the body. 
  • Be kind to yourself. We do beat ourselves up. Positive affirmations are a good thing to state on a regular basis.