Let’s Get Physical

Add comment December 28th, 2010 09:44am johnny

With the New Year right around the corner, there will be plenty of resolutions to get in shape or to drop a few pounds in 2011.  If history is any indicator, a  lot of that resolve will disappear within weeks and it will be another year of failed resolutions.  To be fair, modern life does not exactly make it easy to meet those goals.  But I contend that those resolutions shouldn’t have to be goals we explicitly make every year.  One reason for this prevalence of weight and exercise based resolutions is of particular interest to me: the loss of a physical culture.

You hear it all the time: we lead a largely sedentary lifestyle.  Many of us no longer have jobs which require any substantive physical activity.  We sit hunched over desks at work and sit in cars to commute.  Common leisure activities also involve sitting, like television and video games.  If we go to the gym to get exercise, we might even sit on a stationary bike to do our exercise!  We spend an inordinate amount of time sitting.

Words from the Muses

Add comment July 5th, 2009 11:38pm johnny

Popular music isn’t known for being a bastion of deep philosophical ponderings.  Despite the image of superficiality and tabloid celebrity behavior, there are still examples of wise words from our musical muses.  Here are a few that I like.

“Life’s a journey, not a destination.” – Aerosmith, Amazing

We are only capable of living in the present.  We can plan for the future all we want, but in the end, we can only experience life on a moment to moment basis.  Complete control of life’s twists and turns is impossible, and maybe not even desirable.  The best we can do is get a rough idea of where we’re headed and enjoy our travels wherever life’s meandering path may take us.

“It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” – Sheryl Crow, Soak Up The Sun

This is a popular lyric for anti-consumerism and de-cluttering; it’s almost a cliched phrase.  But I still like the words and the meaning behind them.  It’s not about ownership or accumulating.  Happiness doesn’t come from “getting” and “having.”  The act of acquiring and owning brings fleeting joy.  True contentment will elude us until we learn to appreciate the gifts that already surround us.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” – Bob Marley, Redemption Song

“There are miracles in life I must achieve, but first I know it starts inside of me.” – R. Kelly, I Believe I Can Fly

One key teaching of Buddhism is that suffering exists primarily in one’s own mind.  Regardless of our circumstances–whether we are rich or poor, on top of the world or in the gutters–our suffering exists solely within the prisons we have built in our own minds.  We exert control over our perception of suffering and over our own perceived limitations; when we come to realize this, we can free ourselves the the mental chains which bind us.

“There’s gon’ be some stuff you gon’ see that’s gon’ make it hard to smile in the future.  But through whatever you see, through all the rain and the pain, you gotta keep your sense of humor.  You gotta be able to smile.” – Tupac Shakur, Smile

The full lyric is a bit more colorful, so I cut off the last few words to keep this post PG rated.  I admit that I’m not normally a big Tupac fan, but these words struck a chord with me.  Despite leading a rough and tumble life that would ultimately result in his premature end, Tupac still managed to pen some sage words.  This lyric falls in line nicely with the previous two lyrics.  Even if the world turns its arrows against you, you still exert ultimate control over your suffering and happiness.  You can either choose to be the victim or choose to shrug off whatever hardships are flung your way.

Set Your Feet Free

Add comment May 11th, 2009 10:56pm johnny

barefeetI have recently come across a couple of writings advocating a more barebones (or more specifically, barefoot) approach to footwear.  The first is an article expaining how running shoes do nothing to reduce injuries; the second is a blog post by lifestyle design experimenter Tim Ferriss about his experience with Vibram Five Finger shoes.  Both come to the conclusion that modern running shoes hinder natural foot biomechanics and usually lead to foot and/or lower leg problems.  Since our body movement is more of an interconnected kinetic chain than isolated movements, the impaired function of the feet causes other parts of our body to compensate for the dysfunction at the foot.  Ultimately, poor foot mechanics induced by shoes leads to knee, hip, back, and shoulder problems

I’ve written about the overly supportive shoe issue before in a previous blog post, and I have since then become even further convinced that shoes–particularly athletic shoes–are a major reason we have so many foot problems, lower leg injuries, and overall dysfunctional body mechanics.  Thick soled, elevated heel, motion constraining shoes prevent the foot from moving naturally and reduce the feedback we get from our feet about our balance and body positioning.

Over time, our reliance on support from the shoe weakens our feet.  I’ve noticed this in my own feet.  I inherited the flat foot gene that permeates my dad’s side of the family.  My feet were once so flat that I could step on a surface and tell how level it was by the feeling on the soles of my feet.  I also sprained my ankles a lot playing basketball.  After switching to thin soled aqua socks for several months, my feet became stronger, and my balance got better.  These days I suffer far fewer rolled ankles since my feet better sense the ground and can react faster to protect my ankles and my balance.  As an additional pleasant surprise, my previously completely flat feet now have a noticeable arch; not much of an arch, but enough to that my friends and family have confirmed that I’m not hallucinating.

I won’t deny that cushioned shoes are still useful; after nearly a year of my minimal shoe experiment, my feet still hurt after extended periods of pavement pounding.  I’m glad that I no longer fork over gobs of cash for fancy shoes that ultimately do nothing for me other than weaken my feet.  I don’t know if I can win over more converts to the minimal shoe/barefoot lifestyle, but I know I plan to continue minimizing how often I wear my cross trainers.

Mind the gap

Add comment March 7th, 2009 04:40pm johnny

Mind the gap

Mind the gap.

Initially recorded in the days when digital storage was vastly more expensive, this pithy phrase wastes no words in its safety reminder.  In three simple words, the phrase reminds British train passengers to pay attention to the gap between the train and the platform lest they trip and fall.  In the hustle and bustle of a busy train station, even a sizable gap could go unnoticed by a distracted passenger.  People regularly fail to notice things from not being in the present moment. (more…)

Ends and Means

Add comment February 3rd, 2009 11:31pm johnny



“They say the means are after all just means. I would say means are after all everything. As the means, so the end.” — M.K. Gandhi

From time to time, we become so focused on the end goal that we lose sight of the path; the ends override the means. It’s rarely the case where the means are separable from the ends. Even if we can artificially extract one from the other, doing so leads to undesired consequences. We only need to look to recent history to see a prime example of the foolishness of justifying the means via the ends. Profit motive drove numerous questionable decisions in the trading of mortgage-backed securities in the financial sector. Focusing on the end goal of profit led to greed instead of sound business practice and eventually led to the sharp economic downturn we are currently experiencing.

That’s not to say that the ends never justify the means. There are unique instances where the benefit of the ends can outweigh the downside of the means. Arguably, the choice to use the atomic bomb in WWII saved many lives. At the same time, the atomic bomb was devastating for its victims and initiated a world fear of nuclear holocaust. Though the ends can sometimes justify the means, the means are still intimately intertwined with the ends.

Ultimately, it’s not a question of ends versus means. One necessarily affects the other. The ends and means are fundamentally interconnected.

Connection to our food

Add comment January 24th, 2009 06:16pm johnny

Cornucopia of veggies

(CC) Creative Commons.

Growing up in a restaurant family, I’ve always been surrounded by good food and good cooks.  Even after I left the restaurant life to pursue my education, food has been an important theme in my life.  I’ve always felt it important to eat well and that food plays a pivotal role in our lives.  We must eat regularly to nourish our bodies and thrive. What food we eat determines what nutrition we receive and how well we can maintain our health. (more…)

Reflecting on the Essence of Happiness

Add comment January 7th, 2009 07:02pm johnny

Happy Buddha, Longhua Temple, Shanghai China (CC).

Happy Buddha, Longhua Temple, Shanghai China (CC).

The past several months have been an unpleasant blur. I didn’t have a terrible car accident, lose my home, or anything most people would consider all that traumatic. The unpleasantness arose from my work. A few months ago, I moved and started a new job. The job was on paper a good job, but the practical reality of the situation was a starkly different. There were long hours stuck in front of a computer with no breaks, with the only human interaction coming from a boss who’s idea of being nice was letting you have lunch. The job was slowly but surely sucking away all my joy in life.

Despite the sluggish economy and fear of an unknown employment future, I left the job.  (more…)

Mindfulness Inside Out

Add comment September 21st, 2008 01:40pm johnny

Thinking the box, inside and out
Illustration compliments of Lem Fugitt of Robot Dreams
In a prior post, I wrote about the value of thinking inside the box. Working from within the box, we can come to recognize the bounds of the box and begin to understand the framework it establishes. It is after coming to understand the box that we can begin to think outside of it. In a similar fashion, mindfulness training takes an inside to outside developmental route. Though there are a lucky few people in the world who can immediately reach enlightenment and perceive the world with unclouded vision, most people will need to journey through a path of self-discovery first. (more…)

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