Archive for October, 2009

“A Dog’s Breakfast”

October 20th, 2009 No comments

Caprice just sent me an article on the Canadian diet … just when we were feeling so superior to our neighbours to the south in the nutrition department.

Here’s the gist:

  • Canada has no pro-nutrition national food policy.
  • Even having normal weight and a slight paunch is dangerous (that would be me, now …).
  • Everyday foods can be pretty toxic.
  • Canada does promote meat, dairy and crops that go into processed foods. The article calls these “profitable calories”.
  • Canada imports 80 percent of its fruits and vegetables. I didn’t know that.

Here’s the article.

Categories: nutrition Tags:

Chinese Obesity Epidemic?

October 15th, 2009 No comments

It seems that 30% of Chinese are now overweight or obese. (In 2004, 58.8% of Canadians were overweight or obese) This, to me at least, shows that simply being Chinese or living in China has nothing to do with health, or at least healthy body weight. I do take issue with the article’s statement that Chinese people are thin because of the poverty due to Mao’s policies, implying that the Chinese people are malnourished and would be fat if they weren’t poor. I don’t associate their obesity with prosperity — I believe it’s the result of the availability of North American-style foods and the younger Chinese people’s associating prosperity with an American lifestyle.

To be sure, I recall that the Chinese culture has associated fat with prosperity in the past, since only rich people could afford to be fat, and that this idea may still be held by many. I suppose that the only way to determine the North American influence on this weight of Chinese people would be to determine whether the population is growing fat on American food or Chinese food.

But of course, the other side of the coin is probably an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. To combat childhood obesity, they were instituting mandatory dancing over there in 2007.

By the way, a new word has been invented: “globesity“.

(Full disclosure: I need to lose seven-to-ten pounds and drastically reduce sugars and cholesterol from my (mostly North American) diet. Eat better exercise more. Yessirree.)

Categories: fitness, nutrition Tags:

Mindfulness, part 2

October 14th, 2009 No comments

My squash coach, Barb Cooper, recently shed new light on the concept of mindfulness. She told me that on the court, it’s more important to be mindless, rather than mindful. Of course, she’s right, and this led me to refine my understanding of the two concepts:

1. There are different levels of mindfulness. Depending on the task at hand, too much mindfulness can be detrimental. For example, on the squash court, we need to mindful of the flow of the game, not tonight’s supper. However, in the midst of a point, being mindful of every little detail (stroke, breathing, posture, foot position) can lead to a lousy game. So we need to add a certain amount of mindlessness, or “no-mind”, which is described in Japanese as mushin, or loosely in Chinese as wu-wei (non-doing).

2. We do need to be mindful when training, or when programming new habits. In a coaching, training, or practice session, we can be mindful of a detail on which we are working, such as proper foot position. In a tai chi context, we could choose to be mindful (gently!) of our breath while practicing. Or, if we wanted to create a new walking habit, we would be mindful of walking with our feet slightly closer together to avoid moving from side to side when we walk. Once these habits are ingrained, we don’t need to be mindful of them.

3. I think the general idea is to be mindful of what you are doing at the time. Given that while walking to work, we may be seeing, listening, walking, breathing, holding a coffee, anticipating traffic and so on, we might want to define what it is we’re doing. If “walking to work” is the task at hand (not “thinking about lunch”), then we can choose to be mindful of the group of tasks which come under “walking to work”. This would mean that we would assign different levels of mindfulness to the individual tasks within that group, choosing one as a priority: presumably we can walk pretty well, so being mindful of the direction and surroundings might be assigned the higher level of mindfulness.

The challenge comes whenever we want to change a habit. All of a sudden, we are asking ourselves to focus on something that we haven’t given much thought over the years — such as walking. Recently I realized I needed to change a few things about the way I walked, and wasn’t looking forward to it. I have to change the way I walk? Many people would balk at this, but I thought I’d give it a shot. It takes more work to apply some attention to something habitual, but it’s paying off.

4. As I mentioned, mindlessness is also important. That’s where an action has been programmed into our subconscious to the point where it has become quite natural or reflexive. When we catch a ball, do we think about every detail of how each joint of our arm moves, or how each finger opens then closes? No, we catch the ball. Does a jungle cat think about the details of catching its prey, worrying about proper form? No, it probably thinks “prey there, go now”.

5. One key to aim for  a state of “no-mind” regarding a task is to imagine that you’ve already mastered it and relax. Of course, if you really want to master it, you need to be mindful of it on occasion, but if a detail is distracting you from the task at hand, imagine you’ve mastered that detail for now.

– train mindfully, execute with no-mind. Refine and Repeat.
– be mindful when changing a habit, eventually to perform in a state of no-mind.
– determine the key task at hand, be mindful of it, and enjoy the fruits of it.
– try imagining you’ve mastered a detail (for the time being) if it’s distracting you from the task at hand.

Categories: squash, Tai Chi, Zen-like stuff Tags:

Up (or down) the yin-yang

October 6th, 2009 No comments

(content added at end, 10/20/09) Here’s some more to chew on regarding such an old Taoist cosmic concept: the taiji or yin/yang. Hopefully it makes sense, although it is my opinion.

taiji1. It’s a metaphor: a means of attempting to explain or find a pattern to what’s “out there” in the real world. 

2. The dot represents the presence of the opposite quality: a bit of yin within yang. The seeds of the opposite are contained within. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a natural, living system. The seeds of death are within life, but the seeds of life are within death. The exact same thing won’t spring up again, but something else will. Regarding tai chi, when you’re doing it, you should be relaxed, yet keeping a bit of alertness within your relaxation.

3. As far as I can tell, this model only applies to natural processes, not abstract concepts. Natural processes involve animals, weather, people, and so on. For example, the seeds of a civilization’s death are contained in its birth since it’s made up of people. Now, don’t worry: reinvention is a kind of death, and not that big a deal …

4. The yin/yang of something can occur at different scales. Many sub-processes within an system may be in or out of balance, and that system may be seen as in balance or out of balance in its entirety. For example, civilization can be seen to be out of balance because one component, its citizens’ health, may be out of balance. Can one component be too yang, while another is too yin, restoring balance? I don’t think so — the overall organism is still out of balance. 

5. In this context, qi (ch’i) can be viewed very generally, as the driving force behind any processes in a system. It can also be viewed as the force behind any changes in a system. Qi is like any force: intangible, though with tangible effects. I hope that makes sense.

6. In a system, things are always changing at some level. The diagram shows this if you imagine traveling around the circle. You change from yin to yang, with the yin diminishing and yang increasing. When Yang reaches its maximum, the dot of yin appears, beginning the increase of yin, which can be seen creeping around the corners of yang.

7. It’s not useful to attempt to categorize half the universe as yin, and half as yang. For example, grouping feminine, negative and down together doesn’t make any sense, since they do not relate to each other and have no effect on each other. Instead, each pair of qualities (e.g. masculine/feminine, or positive/negative) is only relevant in its own context. One is the opposite of the other, and bears no relation to any quality in another context.

8. Although … there are some common qualities to yin and yang forces as generally defined: yin is stop, contracting, inward, static, while yang is go, expanding, outward, dynamic. This is best applied in a Tai Chi context. For example, you need root (yin) to express force (yang).

9. This model is very useful in reducing stress, believe it or not. If we imagine that change is inevitable, we will avoid attaching ourselves too much to any outcome. Also, once we become aware of the patterns of change inherent in a system, we can better prepare ourselves for the upcoming changes. And if we are truly a student of change, we won’t attach ourselves too much to those patterns either, since they are likely to change at some point.

10. Change is hard-wired into living systems. All living things are born and die, but they’re also constantly changing at some level, even when standing still. Movement within stillness.

10. The diagram can be oriented as “rotating” clockwise or counter-clockwise. I don’t know if the concept of “clockwise as normal” was around when the symbol was created.

11. Nature seeks balance. So it’s possible that a system can move toward balance and remain there, without needing to satisfy this metaphor and change to a state of imbalance. 

12. Taoist cosmology states that this state of taiji (“grand opposites”) was born from the state of wuji: “no opposites”. The diagram for wuji is a plain circle. One of the goals of Taoism, as I understand it, is to restore a system to a state of complete balance, equanimity or equilibrium. This would be the wuji state, where there is no longer any need for changes to occur to restore balance. Maybe to return to wuji, if the practitioner keeps aiming for balance, the changes required (amplitude?) grow smaller and smaller until balance is achieved.

13. Now … sometimes these shifts from one state to another can be stimulating, especially to those who love drama, so I can see how achieving complete balance may not be very appealing to many. Although … maybe most of us might benefit from actually trying to determine what we are seeking: it may be balance, and we may not know it.

I hope that makes sense. Thoughts?

Categories: philosophy, Zen-like stuff Tags: