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All posts for the month July, 2011

Walking into the Santa Monica Co-op this afternoon I passed a table with a petition— not uncommon around health food stores in California, one of our United States with an initiative process. An initiative essentially petitions lawmakers with the unified voices of hundreds of thousands of citizens who seek their elected officials’ attention, but don’t have their ear the way corporate lobbyists do. It’s an iteration of our democratic process, the will of the people!

Normally, I continue on past these tables as few issues have seemed clear and significant enough for me to investigate further. To be sure, there are lots of causes, all probably worthwhile and of grave concern, and as a human being I am sympathetic to those organizations safeguarding wayward youth, battered women, and mistreated pets, and more. However, my personal imperative is best directed and dedicated to something I’m familiar with and consider of universal effect and interest. As a US citizen I believe our government has a responsibility to ensure, among other things, the  integrity of our food supply is maintained. As a fitness coach, and hypnotherapist I am committed to showing others how they can better take responsibility for their own physical and mental well-being. As a writer I am moved to broadcast some tangible ideas and opinions well beyond the water cooler talk at the office.

So, when I realized the petition of concern was to prod our elected officials to require food labels to clearly disclose whether or not transgenic, or genetically modified organisms (GMO) were used in said foods, I expressed support. While I speak to this obliquely in Fitness, Straight-Up, recommending organic foods, which of course precludes all genetic engineering, I don’t address it head on. Rather, I address food quality, in general, and the competing priorities of health and production expedients.

• For instance, Roman military commander, author, and student of nature, Pliny the Elder sets out in his compendium, Natural History, “For the purpose of coloring wine we also as certain substances as a sort of pigment, and these have a tendency to give it body as well. By such poisonous sophistications is this beverage compelled to suit out tastes, and then we are surprised that it is injurious in its effects!”

• Something not in my book, but interesting nonetheless, is that shortly before the turn of the previous century, Kentucky distiller Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. (Old Taylor Bourbon) championing the quality control of the Bottled-In-Bond Act stated, “it is an admitted axiom that quality recedes as cheapness advances…”

• And, perhaps as prophetic as it is playful, the commercial tagline from the 1970s advertisement for Chiffon margarine chides waggishly, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” And it’s true, the transfats would become a causative agent of modern heart disease and other maladies. Oops.

The sad state of American health, and the concomitant pandemic of obesity, especially in school-age kids clearly demonstrates something is askew. A walk through the grocery store aisles stacked high with packaged and processed foods is the 800 pound gorilla in the living room. It’s the smoking gun. Yet, en masse we seem content to ignore the obvious. As Mark Twain said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

All this is to say, simply, that if we believe we still live in a land of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” then it is our duty to our country and to ourselves to direct our leaders to make decisions in our interests instead of in favor of the corporations that view you, me, and most everyone else not as human beings, but as “consumers.” Mindless cattle (awaiting slaughter).

This is troubling to me. Should you find it troubling, too, we can effect change by taking action. You might choose to do these three things:

1. Make yourself aware—

• For starters, check out the films,

• The Future of Food

• Food Inc.

• Forks Over Knives (Note: I choose to eat meat, but I think F.O.K. perspective is valid.)

• Also, visit food industry websites— those entities under public scrutiny, say Monsanto— to hear what they have to say.

• Then, considering each side, ask yourself this: Who is saying what, and why are they saying it?

2. Read food labels so you can make informed decisions about what you allow yourself to eat and drink.

• If that’s too much bother then you could be hopelessly lost, and not undeserving of whatever ill fate awaits.

• Of course, if you’re willing to stand up for yourself, the American Way, and freedom of choice then it may still be possible to reclaim the quality of life for ourselves and for our children that’s already begun slipping away.

3. So, encourage the powers that be to tend to your needs by speaking to them in the only language they will understand— profit.

• Reject the nefarious nutrition of processed and engineered foods, now.

• Buy only those foods that support your good health and well-being!

• Should you feel compelled to make your preference known and to exercise your birthright as an American citizen, or rights granted to you as a naturalized citizen, you can enthusiastically sign an initiative petition!

I signed the petition, and a copy of my book (bought by Rick and Lori who were overseeing the initiative booth outside the Co-op)— “Knock out GMO!”

 

Recently, Peter Barnett— an easy-going South-African, and the owner of Black Dog Yoga in Sherman Oaks, CA where I’m germinating a Hatha practice— sent me an email comment soon after he began reading Fitness, Straight-Up. He said,

Hi Christopher,

I’m enjoying the book very much. You have a knack of answering the questions (excuses) that have been circulating in my cranium for many months/years. On page 9/10 you make the comparison between the wealthy and out of shape and the poor with lean bodies. It reminded me of a message from the Bhagavad Gita: (paraphrasing) “By our action or inaction our future manifests.” So I googled it and came up with these links which I thought you’d appreciate (if you haven’t already discovered them, or similar, in your research).


See you at the studio,

Peter

•  The Hindu Website

The Realized Self

I flashed back to walking into a LAX airport terminal one summer day, after a week long stay with relatives. Straight away some bald-headed chap draped in an orange sheet approached and handed me a boldly colored, coffee table tome— the Bhagavad Gita. As I thumbed wide-eyed through the pages he asked for a donation. Nine years old and traveling solo I respectfully declined, closed the book, and raised it in return. Not so quid pro quo he said, smiling, “You can keep it, anyway,” and left.

Minutes later, sitting on an Eames tandem sling seat near my departure gate I remember being fully entranced by this heavy book on my lap, even though today I can’t consciously recall any specifics. Could it have been that my present philosophical leanings were influenced right then and there by the words and images of that revered and heralded text? It seems plausible enough, based on my writing. So, I wonder…

Then on second thought I realize the actual source of my convictions probably comes from reading MAD magazine.

So, like other prophecies of doom, the nightmare of Carmageddon never occurred. Evidently everyone stayed home, or skipped town. Traffic was thin, and so was the air.

 

Carmageddon. July 17, 2011. I-405 at Sunset overpass. Empty!

 

This picture of the 405 freeway at the Sunset Blvd. overpass was taken on July 17th, at about 10 a.m. Minutes later I was speeding down the same empty freeway on my Buell XB9S, more or less within legal limits. Despite the strong temptation to tuck and twist the throttle wide open on this ordinarily gridlocked stretch of road I just sat upright and cruised. The CHP was everywhere and had little else to do aside from watching me, and a handful of other motor vehicles pass by. It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.

But, the real joy of riding a motorcycle in Los Angeles is not so much about top speed. It’s all about carving the bountiful canyons in and around Malibu. I’m convinced CalTrans designed these roads with riders in mind— they are literally of world-class quality and quantity. World Superbike Champion, Max Biaggi chooses to live in the ‘Bu, and entertainer, Jay Leno describes a 13 mile loop in the Hollywood Hills as the race track in the City of Los Angeles. Leno, with whom I chatted one day while he was filling his antique steam driven car, commented on my XB, “I have one of those in my collection— they’re most fun you can have from 60 to 100 mph!” Yes, indeed.

So my typical Sunday, inclusive of having breakfast under trademark Southern California sunshine at a Santa Monica cafe, and then tooling through the Malibu canyons afterward  wasn’t altered at all. This, because those frightful predictions of a traffic-snarled weekend scared drivers off the road. Aside from zipping down the 405 freeway before it had officially opened, and breathing a bit less carbon monoxide, Carmageddon turned out to be just another day in LA.

Today, one of my Pose Method running clients sent me this article from the New York Times, Ready to Swim 103 Miles With the Sharks. Impressed by the scope of the undertaking, I figured the comments afterward would be overwhelmingly encouraging. But, instead of support, I was shocked by the flurry of negative reaction that followed the report.

I wondered:

How can an individual’s brave venture beyond the boundaries of our culture’s self-imposed expectations of physical capacities be so threatening? Is it really that frightening to be reminded, not of our vast potential, but of our deeper human legacy? I suppose the comforts of our societal terrarium have softened our bodies, weakened our minds, and skewed our self-appreciation to the point where we now shudder to even think of facing the world outside. But we’re human, and our ancestors were marvelously athletic and courageous— we wouldn’t be here otherwise. Maybe it’s too unsettling to be shown by Diana Nyad yet another bold example of fitness. In effect, how the rest of us have squandered our inherent physical abilities (our birthright as human beings, as I describe in Fitness, Straight-up!), and how our lifestyles of convenience keeps us confined, safe within narrow panes of existence. Perhaps it’s just easier to lash out, than look in.

As a long-time fitness coach I applaud and take inspiration from feats such as Diana’s. Not because they extend our physical abilities, but because they reclaim them. Health, fitness, and courage have always been ours to lose, and it all starts with how we think about it.

I wish Diana a safe and successful swim.

“You made this happen,” said my friend Roy Wallack as we met outside the Santa Monica, California public library’s auditorium. Roy’s a Los Angeles Times fitness columnist, and the author of numerous books, including the popular, Bike for Life. I’m there to buy his latest book, and hear his presentation on Barefoot Running, Step by Step. He continues, “You introduced me to Pose Method for that technique article in Runner’s World some years back, which led to barefoot running, and then to Ken Bob who lived just ten miles from me.” Co-author Ken Bob added, from behind his graying, Dusty Hill beard “Yeah, it’s all your fault.”

After twenty years of runnin’ nekkid, Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton is a well known barefoot running personality. His 3:19 marathon isn’t particularly remarkable until you consider he ran it, and some 76 other marathons, and several hundred shorter races without shoes. Born to Run author, Christopher McDougall, says when it comes to barefoot running, “Ken Bob is the master.” Their presentation is all about how we can trust our feet to carry us forward in comfort, with greater speed, and with less chance of injury.

Incredible as that may seem at first, it’s actually more incredible to think that somehow we’re incapable of doing exactly what Ken Bob does— comfortably running barefooted, over any terrain, faster than before, and without suffering injury. After all, shoes are a relatively recent artifice, and barefoot populations exist today without the injury rate of the shod. But, shoes are a symbol of sophistication, a cornerstone of civilization. We’re born into them, and can barely imagine a world without them. And, billion dollar industries would prefer the boat not be rocked.

Infants though, tend to reject having their feet crammed into the confines of baby booties, and adults sigh in relief when they remove their feet from those restrictive enclosures they’ve chosen, however sporting or stylish. “Notice,” Ken Bob points out, “how everyone is smiling after their unshod lope around the library grounds.” He and Roy also emphasize that since we have been habituated to shoes, and that the bones, muscles, and nerves have spent a lifetime adjusting to this artificial environment it’s essential to reacclimatize gradually to our natural function.

Function, of course, includes developing the resilience of the soles of the feet. But, it also involves retraining the less obvious roles of the sensory receptors, the inherent elasticity of the foot arches, the entire chain of the legs’ musculo-skeletal springs, and perhaps most important, allowing yourself adequate time to adapt. While the media has conditioned us to expect instant physical transformations, patience must accompany change. Wallack and Saxton describe the Barefoot Running Exuberance Syndrome, erroneously called a Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic (by those invested in the medical / shoe industry complex) as simply doing too much, too soon. As I’ve said before, “patience is a practice.”

As well, I was amazed that Roy and Ken Bob addressed language in their barefoot talk because it’s a little appreciated fact that it is directly through language we represent our world to ourselves (and others). They recommend replacing the language of impact, with the language of support. Instead of “pounding out the miles,” and thinking in terms of foot “strikes,” recognize that “landing lightly” changes the quality of the experience, and leaves more room for the comfort, health and well being of any runner. A simple reframe affects how we think about running, and that determines how we actually run. But, how do we run?

Roy asked me during his presentation about Pose Method versus barefoot running. I said all running was the same, and briefly detailed angles of fall because he had said he noticed that he and Ken Bob ran with a more vertical carriage than what’s taught in Pose. No doubt, what they see on their video appears more upright, but what happens between the time the support foot touches the ground, and the time that foot leaves the ground is the same from one style of running, or from one runner to the next— bar none. We’re essentially inverted pendulums swinging through roughly 23° of motion, based on speed. (Read about this in some depth in Runnin’ Nekkid right here or in Fitness, Straight-Up.) From my Pose Method perspective the postural alignment should go with the fall, whereas from what Roy describes the upper body comes out of postural alignment as the fall progresses. Roy says the upright position would reduce muscular activity in the erector muscles of the back. I think it adds unnecessary complexity, and could lead to over-striding, a slower pace, greater instability. They’re both coming to one of my upcoming book signings so they can return the volley.

In any event you can rest assured that Barefoot Running, Step by Step is not only a useful how-to guide, but a well-written and entertaining testament to an ordinary man’s great personal successes. Along the way, Ken Bob, on his own, with the sole agenda of running comfortably and injury-free has re-pioneered our forgotten birthright as natural athletes. Through his example and mentoring he’s encouraged a large number of others— many who couldn’t run at all in shoes— to express their most primal selves in a recreational, or in a competitive manner. Check out his website The Running Barefoot for his next book signing and get your own copy autographed by Roy, and stomped with Ken Bob’s foot print.