Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Meditation - All Day, Every Day?


One of the concepts I used to struggle with concerning meditation was "am I doing it properly"? Meaning, am I sitting correctly, perfect posture, is my mind completely blank, sitting, waiting, oops-there goes a thought-ok, blank mind, GO!, no wait, that was a thought! WAIT! That was another thought! NOOOO! I'll never get this!!! Enter what my Shifu likes to refer to as "the Monkey Mind".

It can be a tough thing to grasp-but wait! There's that word-grasp. If we grasp, are we searching? And if we are searching are we being still, empty, and free? Why is this stuff so hard! Then it hit me - it doesn't have to be.

Meditation is as simple as just being. Being present. That's all. I mean think about it (wait! Don't think!!! Take no thought!) if all there is, is the present-the now-we should really be in meditation all the time, right?

That's it! How many of us truly live in the now-right here-in the present? Do you? Ask yourself this question-how many times today did you dwell on past events or worry about future events? How many times were you daydreaming about your weekend plans, or your trip next month? What about when you took that water break this afternoon, were you completely present and aware as you took that sip of water? I believe this is a perfect illustration of all the opportunities we have every day to be present, and all the opportunities we miss.

I think we pass meditation off as sitting in the Lotus position with a completely blank mind, zoned out. While seated meditation (or zazen as it is referred to) is extremely important, and should become a daily practice, that is not the only time meditation should occur.

You see, meditation is not a "zoning out". Meditation is the supreme state of awareness, with a mind like glass, or better yet-perfectly still water offering nothing but reflection, peace, and stillness. It is in this stillness, with a completely quiet mind, that the "now" the "present" may be totally realized.

If meditation is a supreme state of awareness, where we are totally present and totally in the moment, why can't we meditate each and every day of our lives? Forgetting the past, not living in the future, just being now-we've already established that now is all there is, correct?

I address this idea in my book "Abundant Health: Fitness for the Mind, Body, and Spirit" that there is only now, there only was now, and there will only ever be now. Think about it, the past is what? A series of now moments that have already occurred kept alive by your memory. The future is nothing but a series of now moments that have yet to happen-and when they do happen it will be now.

If we agree that from an experiential standpoint there can only be now, doesn't it make sense why people become addicted to things like adventure sports? Consider the rock climber hanging off the face of a share cliff by his or her fingertips-I promise you (as I have been in that very position myself) the only thing you are focused on is the right now! That test next week, or the stack of papers on your desk waiting for you Monday morning is not occupying any space in your mind at that point in time.

I'm happy to tell you that you don't have to be an adrenaline junkie to experience the now-do this, take a deep breath into your belly, focus on your Dantien (your energy center about 1-2" below your navel), now breath into that point. Do it 10 more times, counting backward from 10 to 1, and on that final breath just be. Clear your mind and sit. Don't worry about for how long. Just stay clear and allow your mind to relax, if a thought comes into your mind, notice it and let it pass, but do not hang on to it.

This is much easier said than done! The first time you try this you may only be able to maintain this state for a minute or two-ugh but wait! We've just assigned meditation to the world of time and space taking it out of the now!

NOW-do you see what I am trying to get at here? All day, just be present, in everything you do! Don't neglect your seated meditation practice, there is no finer way to gain control of your mind, but when you aren't sitting on your cushion in the Lotus position battling your monkey mind for supremacy of your being, bring your attention fully into the present. Whether you are exercising, walking up the stairs, or having a conversation with a family member or co-worker, take the time to meditate all day, every day.

If you do this I'm sure you will discover that you will be able to speed up, and calm down, and you will be well on your way to a happier, healthier and more enjoyable life-and after all-isn't that what we are truly here for?

Be well!


Monday, September 23, 2013

What is Abundant Health?


The whole idea for my latest book, “Abundant Health: Fitness for the Mind, Body, and Spirit”, came about because I feel that there is a serious separation of health and fitness in the fitness industry now-a-days.

Around the turn of the century, those involved in “fitness”, took part in what is referred to as “physical culture”. You see, back then, they felt it important to develop not only the body, but the mind as well. The focus was on total human development, not just the physique and strength.

Back then there were no strongmen, powerlifters, weightlifters, bodybuilders, or what have you. Iron weights of all types, barbells, dumbbells, clubs, and kettlebells or ring-weights, were lifted for the development of strength. In addition mobility exercises, exercises performed with very light weights, body-weight exercises, stretching, and other forms of personal care were practiced for restoration and health.

For instance, George “the Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt states in his book “The Way to Live in Health and Physical Fitness”, “I have already pointed out that increase of strength means betterment of health and increase of comfort, so that every man must profit by such increase of strength, even if he does not intend to acquire it for professional or other pecuniary purposes.”

Foods were eaten in their natural state, and from what I’ve read the focus was on fresh, raw, and whole food consumption.

Hackenschmidt goes on to say, “I believe I am right in asserting that our Creator has provided food and nutriment for every being for its own advantage. Man is born without frying pan or stewpot. The purest natural food for human beings would, therefore, be fresh, uncooked food and nuts.”

In addition to sound nutrition and physical practices, Hackenschmidt thought is was of the utmost importance to develop the mind. The following is another passage from his book, “The Way to Live in Health and Physical Fitness”:

“One ought to avoid all unnecessary worry and exciting thoughts, and to cultivate a firm tranquility of mind. I have formed the conviction that all unnecessary sorrows and cares act in all circumstances harmfully upon one’s constitution. Melancholy reflections will in no way influence Fate, whereas one may weaken the constitution by the waste in energy while indulging in them. The best is to do one’s duty conscientiously, and to leave the rest to Him who guides our destiny.”

To me this is the basis of Abundant Health, developing a strong mind, body, and spirit. The founding fathers of the physical culture movement had it right. Half a world away, the monks of the Shaolin Temple practiced a similar lifestyle, they devoted equal time to the development of the mind, body, and spirit. Throughout time and history there are many examples of people and groups who have practiced this, unfortunately though, it seems like we are getting further and further away from this idea.

Today people are more disconnected and disengaged than ever. Due to technology, we have more access to health and fitness information, yet the waistlines are expanding and obesity rates are on the rise. Not to mention horrible diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are more commonplace now than ever before.

So what gives? I asked my Taiji teacher this question. His reply was that people are not developing themselves internally. Fitness is very superficial, it’s all about 6-pack abs, bulging biceps, and a massive bench press. Why do we believe the fallacy that it is impossible to be healthy, strong, and possess a lean and muscular physique? Why must we choose to be a “strength specialist” or a “physique specialist” or an “energy-work specialist”? I see no reason why meditation, qigong, yoga, and weightlifting, have to be mutually exclusive.

If we truly want abundant health, we must first strengthen our minds and commit to it’s attainment. Then we must begin our “body work” on the inside. We must learn to cultivate and conserve our energy, we must learn to de-stress, relax and allow our energy to circulate freely. Once we have cleaned up the inside, the outside will take care of itself and we will radiate health, strength, and mental / physical / spiritual well-being.

I propose what I believe to be a very effective plan for the attainment of abundant health in my latest book. It seems that many have the proper physical training habits in place, but are neglecting the mental development, energy work, and proper nutrition. If this was not the case, people would be living longer, healthier, and more vibrant lives free of the diseases and ailments that we’ve come to accept in the later stages of life.

I hope you consider adopting a lifestyle dedicated to the attainment of abundant health, just as the founding fathers of the physical culture movement did.

I guess sometimes we have to look back in time in order to move ahead into the future!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Reminder to Myself Why I Stopped Eating Meat, and Started Eating Plants!


Lisa and I were driving from Atlanta to State College, PA yesterday for the Arts Festival at Penn State and to visit her family in Pittsburgh.

Along the drive I saw something that was a quick reminder about why I chose over two years ago to stop eating meat, switching to a plant-based diet and a much more compassionate lifestyle.

On the highway ahead of us was a huge truck with some "farms" logo on the side. It had about 6-8 levels and small slits along the side so you could see in. It was a horrible site. It was full of tiny baby pigs packed on top of each other.

Some of their noses were sticking out of the openings, some of their legs were hanging out. There was no room for them to move, and they were literally piled on top of each other. It was one of the most saddening, disturbing things I've ever seen. You see the videos and pictures online, and in documentaries, but to see it up close and personal was horrible and something I will not easily forget.

This was a painful reminder of why I chose to adopt a more compassionate lifestyle and a plant-based diet.

I try so hard not to sound like I'm standing on a soapbox, as I ate meat for many years. Once I realized what was involved with what was ending up on my dinner plate, I had enough, the idea that we have to have meat to survive is just that, an idea. There are plenty of people, from regular health-conscious people all the way up to highly competitive athletes that not only survive, but thrive, on a plant-based diet. In addition there is plenty of evidence backing up the health benefits of this way of eating.

Like I said, I try not to get too preachy about this stuff, as I was a meat eater for a long time. But sometimes when I hear the arguments of why we "need" meat, I shake my head, as I used to be the one making those arguments. Plus I can't see how people can say they are animal lovers yet still eat meat. I see no difference between the life of a pig or cow and my dog Kizar. I guess some people are brainwashed that some animals are food and others aren't. These same people get disgusted by other cultures who eat animals we consider domestic pets. I find it all disgusting personally.

Sure people like to talk about how even vegans who eat a plant-based diet disrupt the eco-system due to farming practices, and some animals end up losing their lives in the process, but are you going to honestly tell me that a family of moles that is forced to relocate due to farming land is the same thing as slaughtering pigs and cows? Sure, there is an indirect effect on the environment, and it is very hard to get through daily life without coming into contact with some type of animal product related commodity. But the heart of a conscious change to a cruelty-free lifestyle is doing the best you can to cause the least amount of harm. I even had someone one day trying to tell me there was no difference in the life of a plant and the life of an animal. Somehow picking an apple off of an apple tree was just as humane as killing an animal to him.

I try to tell myself that right now, everyone is just doing the best they can at the level of consciousness they have attained. But when I see things like I saw yesterday, and realize the horror that goes on in the modern farming industry-and please save me the argument about "sustainable, organically farmed meat", any animal that has a pre-determined expiration date is NOT humanely treated-it makes me very sad.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man. I feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. I do not regard flesh-food as necessary for us at any stage and under any clime in which it is possible for human beings ordinarily to live. I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species." -Mahatma Gandhi


Saturday, September 21, 2013

True Health - Integrating the Mind, Body, and Spirit.


If you've read my book, Abundant Health, you understand that the underlying concept is that for the attainment of true health we must integrate the mind, body, and spirit. A health & fitness program that neglects one is incomplete.

I've got no problem with lifting weights to build muscle, or training to improve your 1/2 marathon time; I just think that time should be spent on the other aspects of the self if the goal of true health is to ever be obtained. This is a concept I touched on in a previous blog post titled "What is Abundant Health?".

When the mind, body, and spirit are developed together true health is experienced which can ultimately lead to self realization. Often when the goal is narrow, for instance exercising for superficial reasons such as appearance, there is a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with-possibly some type of physical insecurity-and even when all the fat has been stripped away from the mid-section the person still is not content. This is why it is imperative to focus on the attainment of true health.

Integrating the Mind, Body, and Spirit
In Abundant Health, I propose a very simple program that requires only one hour a day to perform. I refer to this program as the "Mind, Body, and Spirit Power Hour". Twenty minute segments are allotted to various exercises put together to bring balance to health and self-development.

The first twenty minutes are a series of Qigong exercises that allow for the cultivation and circulation of energy (or Qi); the second twenty minutes are set for more vigorous physical activity to strengthen the physical systems of the body; and the last twenty minutes are dedicated to stretching or yoga and meditation.

I honestly believe that the Mind, Body, and Spirit Power Hour will change the way people approach self-development, health, and fitness.

Mind and Spirit
Most people usually have the physical development in the bag, the mind and spirit are often neglected. My favorite activities for mind and spirit development are meditation, Qigong, and the internal martial art of Taijiquan. These exercises promote energy cultivation, energy flow, relaxation, calming the mind and body, and most importantly encourage the concept of being present and in the moment.

These are the things that I enjoy, however there are other activities that can be applied here, yoga, prayer, spending time in nature, the possibilities are endless!

Most people are fine when it comes to physical development, and most anything will fit the bill. Weight lifting, running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise, core exercise, pilates, yoga, you name it-if it challenges the body and you enjoy it, go for it!

Once you have your favorite activities and exercises in place, all that is left is to do them! The important thing to remember is do not let one area dominate. Do not expect that five minutes of Qigong or yoga a day will balance out two hours of intensive strength training. The key is to find out how to balance these in your life to bring about the great possible results.

If you need help, I offer a few different options in my book, Abundant Health. If you do not have a copy you can get one here: click here for Abundant Health also, please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section of this blog.

Until next time, be well!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Breathe from your abdomen for optimal health and relaxation.


Look at the way a newborn baby breathes. Watch as it lays there, on it's back, as its belly rises with each inhalation, and falls with each exhalation.

Now watch the way a typical adult breathes. Seriously, next time you're at the office watch a co-worker on a call with a client, or in a staff meeting. Watch the chest rise and fall with each short breath.

What's the difference? A baby doesn't have a care in the world. All it needs is nourishment and love from it's mother. The typical adult has many cares, many forms of stress, and usually a less than optimal way to deal with life's stress.

If you know me, or have read my book, Abundant Health: Fitness for the Mind, Body, and Spirit, you know that what I propose for optimal health involves a program that develops the mind, body, and spirit. The best way to accomplish this is through a holistic program. I recommend eating a healthy diet (preferably a high-raw plant-based nutrition plan) and coupling qigong and other energy cultivation exercises like Taijiquan or yoga, with vigorous exercises such as strength or cardiovascular training, and meditation.

This might be a tall order for many people and too drastic of a lifestyle change initially. To simplify things I created the "Mind, Body, Spirit Power Hour", a way to fit optimal mind, body, and spirit development into a simple to follow, sixty-minute program. You can read more about it in my book or in the following blog post:True Health - Integrating the Mind, Body, and Spirit.

I realize that even committing an hour a day can be too much initially for some people, so that leaves the question; what can you do that will begin to have an immediate impact on your health, that requires little to no time or effort? Simple. Breathe. Breathe deeply, calmly, and relaxed. Breathe from the belly, just like a baby.

Short, shallow breathing from the chest is not healthy. Long, deep, relaxed breathing from the belly is very healthy.

According to WebMD, "Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax." (Click here to read more from WebMD.)

Breathing is something we shouldn't have to think about, we are born knowing how to do it. Unfortunately, as we grow older and enter into our professional lives, we encounter more and more stress and sacrifice our health for our livelihood. In doing so, we forget what our body instinctively knows.

How to breathe correctly
  • Calm down
  • Breathe in deeply through your nostrils
  • As you breathe in, draw the breathe deep into your lower abdomen about 1-2" below your navel (referred to as the lower dan tien)
  • To assist in breathing into the abdomen, visualize a balloon filling with air in your lower belly as you inhale
  • Gently exhale through your mouth, allowing the "balloon" in your belly to deflate
  • Do not force the exhale, let it happen naturally
  • At no point hold your breath, let it flow in and out, continuously without effort

Breathing is that simple, but you will be surprised at first how difficult it is to adopt this practice. Be consistent, work on making this process second nature, your stress-levels, and more importantly your health, will thank you for it!

Be Well,