Depression Vs Anxiety

Hello everyone and welcome back to the blog. Today’s topic is a ‘light’ discussion on the subtle difference between depression and anxiety. I’ll throw the obligatory “I’m neither a doctor nor a psychiatrist” rant here. Please, if you feel any major symptoms (suicidal thoughts, self harm or harm to others) talk to someone licensed in your area.

To solve a problem, we must first identify all the variables, and come to an accurate conclusion. Only then, can we take a course of action that will lead to a desired result. To take the gym as an example, I can’t train a vegan and a carnivore the same; their bodies both have strengths and weaknesses in the recovery realm, and will respond to different work volumes differently. I would need to gain a deep understanding of exactly what they’re putting into their body and when, so that I can tailor a personalized program for each to get the maximum results, or risk injury and illness.

Depression and anxiety are much the same. They often have the same symptoms and thoughts surrounding them, but understanding the key difference between the two is the difference between actual healing and medicating a problem with more and more coping mechanisms.

The key difference is time: “Depression is the fear that yesterday will be tomorrow. Anxiety is the fear of tomorrow.” I heard this in an interview with Paul Chek, someone that grows more impressive the more time I spend studying his material. It especially rang true for me, as I’ve been through years of therapy, talking about different ways I can communicate with others to help better my social life and deal with crippling fears around work. But, as I stated, my issue of depression had nothing to do with the moment. It had to do with my ‘yesterday;’ my childhood traumas not being dealt with.

Think of it this way. If you imagine your mind as a garden, your mental health can be measured by the amount of weeds you allow to exist. With depression, my original therapist attempted to give me the sharpest scissors and best searching tools ever to cut back the weeds, but failed to teach me how to get at the weeds from the root, forever allowing the issues to come back over and over.

At the time, my garden was overrun with weeds, so the short term success of clearing out the bulk was awesome. But, without dealing with the root of the issue, they came back stronger yet, leaving me worse in the long run.

To continue the garden analogy, anxiety is the fear of weeds ruining the garden whether there are/were weeds or not. This fear of perfection, or not being enough leads to sometimes crippling dread of tomorrow that leaves people exhausted from preparing for an uncertain future. Having this run in my family (skipped me fortunately), I know that most of this stems from having felt a lack of control over a situation at some critical point in the past. But while the fear of yesterday was massively prevalent in depression, this is only to a small degree with anxiety. The truth of life is this: even if we were to be able to control every variable (which if you ask me would be really boring), there are things in life beyond our ability to even comprehend, let alone control.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but so many things that ended up been a blessing in my life happened when I wasn’t trying at all. Like Tony Robbins says: “Life happens for you, not to you.” When we control life, we resist life’s greatest gift which is excitement!

Now, I’ll attempt to leave you with some practical action steps for each of these. Depression being the fear of yesterday happening again tomorrow, we’re looking at modalities that deal with the issues ‘rooted’ in our past. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has a wealth of scientific evidence behind it, and can alleviate the physical sensations from a traumatic memory. Remember, we feel things first, and then it goes to the brain to be processed, and then sent back to the body for an action.

Another is Somatic Trauma Release (STR), sometimes called resolution, or even somatic experiencing. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘the issues are in the tissues,’ STR stimulates the tissues in specific ways to ‘shake out’ the memories from the somatic systems of the body. It sounds outlandish, but I can say from personal experience that just 5 sessions of this was more powerful than two years of talk therapy combined.

With anxiety, we’re dealing with the fear and dread of tomorrow’s possibilities. For this, I’ll first say that fear is an acronym: false evidence appearing real. Often, when we really analyze the fears of people with anxiety, we find that there is really no evidence or validity to their fears (Note: if there is evidence, this is a depression case appearing with symptoms of anxiety, and still stems from past trauma). These fears have a lot of sources, but I find that the most prevalent one is some form of chemical imbalance in the forms of stress; too much caffeine, shot adrenals, even mild food allergies will put our bodies into a mild but strong enough sense of fight or flight to think that a tiger will jump out at any second when we’re simply sitting at our desk.

Fear setting is the first modality I’d recommend for an anxiety case. Briefly, fear setting is a way to hedge against your biggest fears in an attempt to define and constrain them. Often these fears are so vague in our mind that they range from zero harm to death. But, we can’t take that risk, and we control like death is around the corner anyways.) You can search Tim Ferriss Fear Setting to read his blog, or watch his TED talk on the matter to learn more.)

There are many modalities out there, but the lowest hanging fruit I’ve found in my research seems to be caffeine and a lack of deep sleep. To continue my overused tiger analogy, our nervous system is designed to always have a low level look out for danger, and if one actually presents itself, the adrenal glands produce a whole host of hormones to ramp up our potential to either fight the tiger or run the heck away. Caffeine is a molecule that skips all the sensors, and goes right to the adrenal glands to ask for low doses of the same hormones. But, just like sensitivity to things like lactose and gluten vary from person to person, caffeine sensitivity varies from individual to individual. If our levels of these adrenal hormones go up enough, the resulting fight or flight response kicks in. But our brain gets confused; we’re reacting like there’s a tiger, but there’s no tiger. So where is it? I have to look out for it until I find it, or pass out from exhaustion from looking.

(Side note: most of us can benefit from at the least reducing our caffeine intake. You might find that any trouble sleeping, random fatigue or that “2pm crash,” or even irritability will at the least decrease. For people with anxiety, cutting caffeine can be a wealth of relief)

To wrap up this heavier than intended post, depression and anxiety are not mutually exclusive. A bit of depression includes anxiety of the past happening tomorrow, making it much more real because the past DID happen. But one key question to answer is this: Is my fear that I’m attempting to control for the same every time? Or is it a sort of looming fear of an eventual bad that has not real definition? For me, it was the same every time; of feeling like I’d never be enough. It came in different forms, sure. But at the root of the weed, it was my sense of self worth. Yes, I did have anxiety about the next day and still not being enough, but my healing required digging out the weed from the root, not trimming it back.

 

That’s it for today. I hope this information was helpful to you all. As always, have a happy and healthy rest of your day, and I’ll talk to you next time

 

-Omid

Russian Twist Do's and Don'ts

Hello to all of my fitness readers trying to get the most of out exercise, and most importantly to the people who want exercise to be a benefit and not a source of future pain.

The Russian Twist is usually performed seated on the floor, knees bent slightly, and doing some form of twisting motion with the spine. While this CAN be a useful exercise, 90% of the time I see it done with poor posture by people with already overactive hip flexors and weak cores.

I won’t go into too much detail on core testing and disc herniations in this post, but I will say that if you’re in America, chances are high that you are walking around with at least one disc that is at risk of getting injured with an exercise like this. Plus, we sit so much that I really dislike most seated exercise.

That’s where the Swiss Russian Twist comes in. In this variation, the obliques are still challenged, but they also need to learn how to cooperate with the glute medius and max, the QL’s, Lats, and Hammies to control rotation. When all of this happens with the feet on the floor, we actually can achieve carry over to almost any sport or better back health with the added benefit of much less work.

The last thing I’d like to say about this particular movement is that due to our sedentary nature, twisting with hip extension seems to be a particularly sore spot for most of the people I work with that have desk jobs. So, listen to the body and start slow. If you can’t seem to get the hips to extend fully with stability, work on stretching out not only the psoas and tfl muscles, but also a lot of stretching for the quads (thigh muscles) as well to free up the butt to do the work!

Like I mention in the video, this is one of those eye opening moves for a lot of my clients. They realize quickly that the lower back and hamstrings have been making up for a lot of the weak glutes, and just how much resistance is in the anterior chain.

Try this out, listen to the body to learn what it needs, and progress appropriately.

Enjoy,

Omid

Ancestral Eating in the 21st Century

“If you’re going to eat like a caveman without moving like a caveman, you’re going to have a bad time.”

 Whatever you want to call it (the paleo diet, the primal blueprint, the carnivore diet, etc), this conversation around Ancestral Eating fascinates me to no end. It makes sense, after all. We are the product of millions of years of evolution, and the agricultural revolution is only 10,000 years old (look up the Neolithic Revolution). But, I’m pretty sure that our Ancestors didn’t have glyphosate and Wi-Fi to deal with, and probably didn’t even have a word for chair, let alone sit in one 8+ hours a day.

 So what’s right? Are we modern man, and need a modern diet for the 21st century? Or, should we go back to our spear throwing days and eat like a caveman (or cavewoman, sexist Omid)?

 The Holistic Perspective

We are a complex system of systems networked together by something we still don’t fully understand. That being said, we know a fair bit about the link between food and movement. You know the first law of thermodynamics, right? Energy cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system? Doesn’t ring a bell? How about calories in and calories out? Seems so simple: eat less than you burn via exercise, and magically weight loss.

 Well, turns out not all calories are the same. Nor is each individual’s genetics. Nor is the time of day, the position of the moon, the quality of the soil the food came from, etc, etc. Like I said, we are a complex system of systems, and any one of those systems can have a few thousand variables that change the equation. Calories in and Calories out sticks around like a thorn in my side because it fits onto magazine covers and click-bait titles better than the truth; that there is no simple equation that made you or I, that we are completely unique in almost every way from someone else.

 So, what does that have to do with ancestral eating? Well, one thing that often is missing from this conversation is so damn simple that it makes my head spin: WHO’s ANCESTORS?

 I could write an entire book on this topic, and there are plenty of them out there already, but let’s just simplify this a bit for now. I’m a pure bred Persian, and I’m about to marry my lovely European mixed lady. We face a dramatic challenge due to the fact that my ancestors came from a place where we had access to plants all year long, plus a history of being exposed to grains for much longer than her people. Likewise, in most European countries, the ground freezes during the winter, stopping food sources from plants, leaving her ancestors to follow and eat the roaming animals.

 And yes, this definitely leads to some challenges at the dinner table and our plates look different. More on that in a different post. For now, the takeaway is this – just like our fingerprints are unique to us, so are your ancestors to other people’s, and we shouldn’t just eat a standardized paleo diet because Dr So-and-So said to. We need to figure out what our genetic ancestors ate.

But let’s get back to that first law of thermodynamics, shall we? Energy cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system? Well, that’s assuming that we have a constant burn rate like a car: put in a certain number of gallons of gas, and go a certain number of miles based on the miles per gallon of the car. Turns out that if that were the case, we wouldn’t be here. Our ancestors often had to go days on end without food, and even if they did eat every day, consumed their calories within shorter windows of time than we do now. This simply means that we have a variable metabolism, or variable burn rate.

New research (I’ll get into it more down below) is even showing that the same number of calories eaten in a 24 hour window vs an 8 hour window have dramatically different effects on the body. In other words, people would eat the same thing they were eating before and losing weight rather than gaining ON THE SAME DIET. This is the right time for me to say that I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, and experiment safely with any new dietary changes, especially when it comes to anything that mimics a fasting environment.

Ancestral Eating to Me

1) The lowest hanging fruit to me is time restricted eating. While it’s clear that most of our ancestors would have been exposed to multiple days of fasting due to food scarcity, modern man just doesn’t have the need anymore for this. And while I can definitely go into a ton of science of why we should do a 3-5 day fast once in a while, we don’t NEED to, especially when intermittent fasting exists.

Simply eat all of your calories you normally would in a given window of time of 8-12 hours. It turns out that it takes a lot of energy to digest food, and without any breaks, our cells tend to start getting tired and over worked. Eating all the food in a window smaller than 12 hours allows our cells to clean out all the waste left over from cellular metabolism and be more efficient with breaking down new food.

2) This next one is controversial, but eat a LESS varied diet. Our ancestors didn’t have access to refrigerators and super markets. For the most part, they ate what was around them in only a few square mile radius on a daily basis. Just like our bodies adapt to perform exercise more efficiently the more we do it, the more adaptive our digestion system gets to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from a food when exposed to it repeatedly.

*Side note: we do need a small bit of variety in our diets, but this isn’t from a nutritional perspective as much as it is a psychological perspective. YMMV, as I can eat the same dang thing every day with zero care in the world.

3) Know your specific ancestry. Tests like ancestry.com or 23andme.com can help with this greatly. But if funds are limited for tests like that, simply look at the map of the world and chart where your family comes from. It gets tricky if you’re a mutt, but just take the largest percentage and eat the way they did for a month and see how you feel. This is critical information, as our ancestors really only ate what was around them, and not hundreds of miles away.

4) Like I teased with the above quote, our ancestors moved a LOT. We can’t just follow a paleo diet like some kind of panacea of health. We need to move like our ancestors did: move at low (walking intensities) for a lot of the day, never really sitting still for more than 30-60 minutes at a time, and short intense bursts of activity to simulate hunting and/or running from stuff.

5) Lastly, the obvious: avoid processed foods. There is a time to follow the better living by science approach, bio-hacking certain systems in the body for short term gain. But I prefer the phrase: there’s no such thing as a biological free lunch. Eat real food as much as possible, and when you can’t, eat the least processed thing you can.

 
Before I leave you for the day, I’d like to close with something I already mentioned in this post. There is nothing simple about you or I, and we are all unique complex systems of systems. Stop listening to what people tell you that you should eat, because the truth of the matter is that we have no idea. Once study of centenarians (people who live past 100) showed that they lived long lives despite their health habits (turns out most of them smoked, drank, slept like hell, and ate like shit).

What I suggest is this: that the superpower of the 21st century is awareness. Rather than listening to what people tell you you should eat, learn to be aware of what your cells want. And learning to hear the difference between psychological programming and actual self care. Once you can do that, then eating becomes another form of self expression.

I hope this information was helpful, and as always have a happy and healthy rest of your day!

Listen to the Bees for a safe Workout

Ever wonder why they call it working out? After 6 years of being a personal trainer, the answer is pretty obvious: working out is not only work, but it’s hard! Our nervous system loves to optimize for the easiest and most efficient methods through life, and anytime a change comes, the system rebels. What does it sound like, you ask? Excuses, complaints, and sometimes the occasional adult tantrum. Heck, I even had one guy literally fall asleep mid session (no, not pass out. Just zzz). Our nervous system is more influential than we sometimes realize.

Working Out
Drill Seargent

But, I know as the trainer, that it’s my job to get people through their nervous system rebellion. And I’m almost ashamed to admit that after years of trying to be suave about it, I’ve adopted some of the easier clichéd trainerisms: “You can do this,” “Only two more!” “Come on, client,” and my personal favorite, “PUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!”

But the main question I have today is this: at what point do you stop pushing? Is losing weight as easy as “no pain no gain, bro.” Or at some point in time do you have to recognize that the bees don’t care how hard you push through the pain?

Honey Bees

Bees? Wait, what Omid? Story Time!

I have the pleasure of working with some fairly extreme cases: knee and hip replacements, post surgery rehabilitation, scoliosis and vertigo, multiple sclerosis, parkinsons, etc. Remember when I mentioned excuses? Well, these clients really do have some pretty big issues to ‘just push through.’ Not only that, but they have a unique perspective on hard work that humbles me on a daily basis.

Still, the nervous system doesn’t change much from person to person. Excuses are universal, and the condition doesn’t spare us from the hard work.

So one day, a client with a particularly well versed excuse vocabulary is going through a difficult workout, and asks me, “Do you hear that?” (Questions and stories are one way the nervous system tries to delay the inevitable next set.) “There’s a buzzing coming from my fireplace,” the client says. I try to dismiss the excuse by explaining that a neighbor is using a weed whacker outside, and the sound is reverberating through the chimney. 

“Yeah?” I ask. “It’s probably your neighbor building some more on their house down the street. Rest time is over, next set.”

“It sounds like there are bees in my fireplace,” says the client, gasping for a recovery breath after some particularly hard work. I fight the urge to roll my eyes at their obvious ploy to distract from the task at hand. Until a bee flies out between the glass dividers, two feet from my clients head.

Ok excuses, you win this time. The client cried bees, and the workout was over.

The rest of the story makes for great dinner conversation, but since it happened, I’ve been thinking about the bees of working out. When do excuses turn into the nervous system crying for help? More importantly, if we use the mind over matter principal, are we risking turning off our warning systems that are there to keep us safe, and setting ourselves up for injury or worse?

To answer help answer that question. here are some simple tips for figuring out the difference between an excuse and a bee:

back pain
  1. Pain. Pain is always a no-no. Pain is always the body’s way of telling us that there is a problem in the system. Sharp, stabbing, or shooting pain is something to best listen to, and either adjust – whether lowing the weight, taking a longer rest, or decreasing range of motion – or stopping all together. Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. Shortness of breath. I don’t mean breathing hard. Working in a depleted state is critical to burning fat, and the main reason people hire someone like me; to push them hard enough to get results. But if at any point it feels like the next breath won’t happen, or oxygen is not entering the blood stream, slow way down or stop and rest. I can tell you after 6 years of being a personal trainer, the next rep in this state leads to passing out.
  3. Sudden changes in temperature. Obviously when we work out, our core temperature rises. But any variation over a few degrees, whether up or down (especially down) is a sign to either slow down or stop. To water the science down, it is the body’s failure to respond appropriately to the stimulus or situation presented to it. Sweat is good, but a fever is not!
  4. Blurry vision.  The nervous system is programmed to prioritize the eyes over many other systems. If you ever feel tunnel vision, or blurry vision, stop immediately. It’s a sign that the electrolytes are imbalanced, and the body is prioritizing energy to the heart, and not the eyes and brain.
  5. Cracking. I’m surprised I have to explain this as often as I do, but clicking and cracking is not normal. Muscles are mostly water, and when you hear cracking, it doesn’t mean the joint is getting lubricated. It means the muscles are failing somewhere in the system, and bones are hitting each other. When you hear it, listen to the bees, and change something. Vary the weight, the range of motion, the exercise, or (more often than not) the joint is not mobilized properly.

I could go on, but those 5 cover most of the common bees that we hear in the gym. Remember, our body is vastly complex, and the one thing that ties it all together is the nervous system. While we only have feeling in about 20% of those nerves, the body tends to communicate to us through a breadth of signals that we can learn to listen to. Mind over matter can help us get through a workout, yes. But it can also set us up for some pretty serious things later in life.

Listen to the nervous system, listen to the bees, and you'll be happy and healthy for years to come!

Trouble Losing Weight? Diet and Exercise might not be the answer!

I’m about to say something controversial: diet and exercise are not the most important parts of losing weight. Yup, that’s right. A personal trainer saying that there are more important things involved that the very reason people hire me.

Before you run off and hire someone else, let me first use a quick analogy to make my point. When we think of our home, we often think of the color of the walls, what kind of curtains we want to use, hardwood vs carpet, etc. But to me, all that is useless if the house is built on an unstable foundation. It might look great for a while, but cracks will start to appear, and pretty soon the whole house is worthless because the roof is starting to collapse. Time to demolish and start again.

To be clear, diet and exercise ARE important. But just like the house, diet and exercise are not the foundations of health and sustained weight loss. So where do diet and exercise rank in terms of importance? Here’s the whole list.

Kettlebell Front Squat

#5 – Exercise

Without going too deep into the science, weight loss all comes down to calories. The current model is CICO (calories-in, and calories-out), where if we burn more calories than we take in, we lose weight. When it comes to calories-out, there’s two big parts.

Part 1 is what we call our basic metabolic rate. Think about BMR as the calories the body would use even if we were in a coma. The challenge is, according to the US department of Agriculture, the daily recommendation for calorie intake is anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 calories. So, to make up the difference between BMR and what we eat on a daily basis, exercise and movement is needed to drive up the number of calories burned.  

Easy example: 2,200 calories in from food, BMR of 1,100. I’ve got 1,100 calories left to ‘burn’ through exercise, or the leftover calories will be stored as fat.

#4 – Nutrition

Shrimp and Grapefruit

Following the same logic as above, nutrition is the calories-in portion of our equation. If we eat more calories than we burn through BMR and exercise, the body stores the extra calories for future use. Great news if it’s 500+ years ago when we would sometimes have to go days without eating. Bad news when our refrigerators are stocked, and the nearest grocery store or restaurant is only a few blocks away.

So, to balance that equation, take in less calories through food. If we keep the same BMR from above at 1,100, but only take in 1,700 calories through food, I’d only have to ‘burn’ 600 extra calories through movement to maintain weight.

 

And this is where most people stop. Eat less, move more, making calories-in less than calories-out, and we lose weight. Right? Well, for some people. The next three points are where things get tricky and quite frankly frustrating to think about. Because the next three points are where I find most people fail to lose the weight they want. Before I list them, I need to make one point clear, and that’s about what we’re made of.

You are the product of 37 trillion cells coming together to make up one big body. What’s even cooler is that those cells don’t stay the same through your life. Just like we need to replace batteries in our electronics, when a cell has burned as many calories as it can, it gets replaced by a new cell.

The problem is lifestyle gets in the way of that replication process. And that’s where our next 3 factors come in.

 

#3 – Sleep

Omid Sleeping

It makes sense that WHAT we eat is just as important as how much we eat. If we want a healthy body, we need to eat things that will support building better cells. Veggies and good quality fats are imperative to that process just as protein is vital for building muscle cells. But it’s when our head hits the pillow that the process of healing and rebuilding cells takes place.

The vast majority of human beings need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it’s more than the amount of time between the sheets. Sleep is more about the quality of recovery we get. Think about it this way: we all know that stress is bad for us. Cortisol is what we call a catabolic hormone; a hormone that breaks things down. Sleep produces what we call anabolic hormones; hormones that are coupled with rebuilding processes. If we don’t sleep enough, or worse off, we’re still stressed from bad food and too much screen time, the body never gets rid of enough cortisol, and the cells don’t grow back right.

Let me be clear on this point. Sleep is critical for the cells to replicate well. If we don’t sleep well or enough, the cells that grow are not as strong as the previous cells. Those new cells now are less capable of burning calories efficiently, and therefore we’re handicapping the calories-out part of the equation. I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll say it again: Sleep trumps exercise!

#2 – Hydration

Water Glass

Ever heard the expression ‘burning calories?’ Well, to burn something is to take it through a chemical reaction. Every single cell inside your body is electro-chemical, and water is the number one thing those cells need to maintain every single function. Think about it this way: the body can survive up to ten days without food, but only 2-3 days without water.

You can eat the best diet in the world, but the cells in the gut need water to properly break down the food. You can do the best weight based workout ever, and sleep 9 hours, but the cells need water to get rid of all the waste from the muscles breaking down. You can even meditate for an hour every day, but without water, the adrenals get stressed out and produce cortisol at alarming rates.

The number one challenge to water is this: getting too little water (dehydration) and getting too much water (hyponatremia) both feel the same! It’s all about getting the amount of water you take in to balance your sodium levels. The rule of thumb is this: 0.5oz of water per pound of body weight. But keep in mind, everyone is different, and that fluctuates depending on your diet and activity level.

#1 – Respiration

Lungs

Everyone breathes. Period. The body can go a few days without water, but if you stopped breathing, you’d be brain damaged within only 4 minutes, and dead within 10. Yet with little exception, everyone fails to breathe WELL. This point is massively important because every cell in the body respires just as we do. When a cell takes a breath, it brings in fresh resources and calories to do a job, and then excretes the waste products left over. (Fun fact, when we talk about burning calories, the biggest waste product is carbon dioxide that leaves us via the lungs. That’s right, if you want to lose weight, breathe more!)

I want you to think about your breath as the accelerator pedal in the car, and the respiration of the cells as the speed (mph). When you want to get up to a faster speed, you apply more acceleration by pushing down on the pedal. But once you get to the desired speed, you can’t just stop applying the accelerator; otherwise the car will slow down bit by bit. Cell respiration is your speedometer, and the frequency of your breath is the gas pedal. When we breathe poorly, it’s like starving the engine of gas, so the whole thing slows down. Every cell in the body respires less, and a whole host of things gets produced less effectively: hormones, neurotransmitters, ATP, carbon dioxide, and even calories don’t get burned at the same rate!

You can have the best diet and exercise regiment ever created, but if you’re not breathing well outside of sessions, the body is slowly going through asphyxiation from the inside out. The good news is that just like that gas pedal, you don’t need to deep breathe every second of every day. About once an hour, stand up and take a few full breathes to keep the ‘speed’ of the cells up.

The last thing I want to mention about the respiratory system is that because oxygen is the highest priority to our survival (remember, dead in 10 minutes without it), it is thus intertwined with a ton of other systems we have. I could write a book on that topic alone, so for the purpose of this post I’ll be brief and only list a few examples:

            The Muscular System: Take a big breath in, and notice what shape your body takes, or what movements happen. Then breathe out, and I mean ALL the way out. Every ounce of air out, and see what shape your body takes. It’s more than just the diaphragm, but the whole muscular system moves with the breath.

            The Digestive System: When we take a full breath, the diaphragm pushes down on the digestive system, moving around the internal organs almost like a massage. This helps squeeze and push not only food through the system, but helps stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes to help break down the food.

            The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is the branch of the nervous system coupled with rest and digestion. Without going into too much detail, think of the difference in how you breathe when you’re truly relaxed, vs. how you breathe during sympathetic nervous system arousal (running away from a tiger).

            The Immune System: Oxygen manipulation is one of the primary ways the immune system combats foreign invaders. New research and treatments are now looking into the effects of using ozone as therapy for cancers and even joint pain!

 

house of cards

I’d like to start to close out this post by expanding on the house analogy from before. The foundation of our house, as said before, is respiration, water, and sleep. Those create a stable floor that we can then build our walls of diet and exercise on. But the challenge isn’t that the foundation starts cracked. It’s that when we start to see results from starting slow and learning the basics, we tend to skip over some of our foundational habits. Getting to the gym is more important than sleep. Lifting a heavier weight is more important than breathing properly. Pretty soon our foundation is getting corroded from bad habits, and the value of our house is dropping little by little.

What’s worse, and I say this from years of experience as a coach, is that people are all too quick to make up excuses for foundation problems. “I’m just old, that’s why my back hurts,” instead of realizing that respiration is one of the prime movers of the spine. Or, “I’m just stressed because my boss yelled at me,” instead of realizing too little water stresses out the adrenal glands.

If you ever find yourself in a state of sub-optimal health, start with the foundation of your house first. Or, if you haven’t the faintest idea on how to fix the issue, hire someone like me to train not just your muscles, but the whole body from the inside out. Because remember, you are 37 trillion cells, and every one of them need training to stay healthy.

The Many Factors of Weightloss, and Easy Tips to Help Lose Weight

It’s the New Year. You’ve been at the gym every day for a month, and seen no results. In fact, you’re more tired and hungrier than ever. You just don’t understand. You’ve heard the stories for years: cardio and weight training and restricting calories should lead to weight loss, but it’s just not working. In my career, I’ve met more people like this than I can count. Sure, some people just need to move more, and just breathing gym air makes them lose 2 lbs. But to the other 60% of gym dropouts, I’ve got a message: it’s not your fault! My industry has been severely lacking in teaching you about the many factors that go into what is healthy and what is holding you back, and it is my aim with this post to educate as many people as I can on the common hidden causes of failure.

To do this, we NEED to learn a bit. I know, I wish it were simple too. But we need to remember that we’re dealing with a complex system of systems, and just like only one tool is not the fix all to everything, there are many factors on the road to the coveted healthy lifestyle. So, without further ado, let’s jump a workout, and some epic science!

Its leg day and squats are on the agenda. Grab a set of weights, and go right into heavy butt to floor movements, right? Wrong! Why? Well, as I mentioned earlier, movement is a complex system of interactions between lots of different tissues. Here’s the order from outside to inside: skin, fascia, muscle, ligaments and tendons, then more fascia, bones, and cartilage, and marrow. Wow, that squat just got complicated.

As we lower ourselves into the squat, most of this tissue has to lengthen to allow range. Here’s the hard part: if any one of these parts are tight, the movement will be compromised. A few examples: no warm up after sitting at the desk for 8 hours, and the muscle simply refuses to stretch. If we haven’t moved for years, the skin can be unable to stretch and move at a joint, and the bones get restricted. If we’re stressed out, we tend to get knots in the fascia, and the muscles can’t work in those areas. If we’ve got arthritis, the bones themselves are compromised, and our knees, ankles, or low back will hurt.

Ok, so warm ups and foam rolling is important to get rid of some knots and tension before we squat. Easy enough, yeah? Well, let’s get to the end of the workout. Our squats are done, and our legs are shakier than Bambi on ice. Congratulations, you’ve just completed 15% of the work! Too many people forget that just as stress makes the body tight, compromising the body for a workout, working out itself is a stress on the body. A good stress, yes. But we also need recovery after, to loosen the tissues for the rest of our life. Ever had that next day feeling where you can barely move from tightness? A proper stretch after a good workout goes a long way towards recovering those tissues faster and avoiding injury.

Now, we’ve warmed up, worked out, and stretched. 50% there. They say that nutrition is the most important element of body composition change. We just caused micro damage to our body, and our body needs to repair itself. I won’t go into detail about what diet to follow, but simply put, a protein shake is great for muscle, but protein does very little for our bones, skin, and fascia! Rule of thumb: at least two servings of veggies after a workout and that tissue will love you forever. Got your post workout done? Great! 80% there.

Final part of our squat (wow, this got complicated!): sleep. I want to be clear about this, as it is in my opinion the most often factor in not seeing results. The results DO NOT happen in the gym, but in bed. For reasons I’ll get into below, the body simply cannot repair much while we’re active. We need to get at least 7 hours of solid sleep to allow the body to focus on those repairs and keep us healthy. Any less, and you’re starting on a path of borrowed time, especially if you’re trying to do the right thing and work out every day.

Great job! 100% for the first workout. Now, here is where I have to put on my Debbie Downer hat, and explain more about the body. Remember all that tissue I explained earlier? Well, inside of it all are cells. Duh, Omid, I remember that from grade school. Well, in my experience, while most people will know about the nucleus and cell wall, they simply haven’t been educated on how amazing our cells really are!

The cells are chemical, electrical, magnetic, sensitive to light, and if scaled up produce more energy than some power plants. That’s in every single cell, and we’ve got over 35 trillion of these in our body at any given time. I say that, because our body kills cells and replaces them all the time. To explain this easier, we all know smoking is bad for us, but have you ever thought of why? Well, when we smoke, our body has a much harder time replacing the old cells with healthy new ones, and the new cell is weaker and less able to perform. Add a couple dozen of these replications, and we end up developing cancerous cells.

Carcinogens like burning tobacco are well understood by the general population by now, but there are so many other factors. Remember, complex systems. Household cleaning products disrupt the chemical processes of our cells, and over time will replicate out our abilities to create energy and hormones. Electro magnetic frequencies (EMF) from cell phones and other electric sources, while low output, disrupt the electric flow inside the cells just enough to cause damage over long periods of time. Those same frequencies can disrupt the natural magnetic fields inside our bodies and harm the communication between cells, and damage our nervous system. Finally, we use light in our eyes to see, but every skin cell you have is photoreceptive, and can be affected positively or negatively to different frequencies of light.

You see, just like one cigarette isn’t the end of the world, one breath of bleach won’t kill you, nor will one day of sitting next to a cell tower. But through this process of cell death and replication, the cells get just a little weaker over time, and pretty soon we’ve got a weakened environment inside our bodies. Remember those squats we were doing? Every cell involved in the movement needs to produce a ton of energy and electricity to move well. But if we were just at the office, where the cleaning crew uses industrial strength chemicals, and the lighting is toxic, our cells have already been working overtime to produce energy, and are not prepared for the demand of squatting.

Worse yet, that recovery during sleep is effected; weak cells can’t bring in those nutrients from veggies to repair tendons and bone, and over years we develop arthritis and clicking knees. Even better, those same cells are in every organ of our body, and it’s not long before we start developing a weakened liver, kidneys and heart, and feel tired all day.

Fast forward again to day two of our lifestyle change of working out. You wake up after that night of sleep lethargic, and reach for a cup of coffee. You schlep to work, and sit obliviously through a battle raging inside your cells as they combat bad circulated air, poor lighting, and a stressful boss. During your shoulder workout, which you don’t feel like going to, you just don’t have the energy to finish your sets. You skip the cool down, and order take-out because you’re too tired to cook those veggies. Rinse and repeat for a month, and now we can see why so many people quit their new year’s resolutions.

Like I said, it’s not your fault. No one told you. You can do everything perfectly in the gym and in the kitchen, but the reality is that our world robs us of vitality, and makes us sick. Depressed yet? I know I was when I learned about this all. Good news for you, is that I’m hear to tell you about how to not only fix your health, but get you back in the gym feeling like a lion and smashing those workouts!

Here’s my top 5 fixes for these systems:

1)      Sleep: 7 hours minimum, and in a completely dark room. Even though your eyes are closed, your skin is still sending signals that there is light, and it disrupts the deep sleep we need to recover tissue.

2)      Food: I’ve read over 100 different diet books, and listened to countless hours of lectures and tips on nutrition plans, and every single one of them includes a minimum of 5 servings of veggies a day. If you’re not at least there, don’t worry about gluten or carbs, worry about getting that fiber and nutrients in you to recover tissues.

3)      Stretching: When I stretch, I get sore. Too many people stretch for 30 seconds and think their done. There’s a reason yoga is so hard, but so effective. Regardless of whether it’s holding one stretch, bouncing in and out, or foam rolling, 2 minutes is the minimum for any change to occur.

4)      Chemicals: We’re fortunate to live in an age where there are alternatives to nasty chemical cleaners and preservatives. Certified organic, non toxic, and all natural are things you want to look for. Easy rule of thumb: if hippies use it, you should use it.

5)      Breathe: Our body uses oxygen for so many chemical processes, and what I find is that most people default to a shallow breath due to stress and being in the brain too much. Stop. Breathe. Repeat. I won’t say mediation is the answer, but statistics show that people who have some practice of slowing down and breathing are healthier, thinner, and happier people.

It’s not New Year’s, but there’s never a better time for resolutions than right now! You’re now equipped to make that lifestyle change, ridding your body of toxins just like we quit cigarettes. Create a resolution to love your whole body, every one of those 35 trillion cells, and I guarantee that you’ll notice a difference in your workouts and overall health. As always, any questions on this, let me know in a comment bellow or drop me an email, and I’ll be more than happy to help out. And if you’re looking for more personal guidance, and want to work with me to see real results, I’m available 6 days a week in South Bay Los Angeles.

Have Fun!

 

Workout with the Magic School Bus

Years ago, Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus gang explored a world without friction. What ensued was a colorful depiction of chaos, and a valuable lesson on how our bodies are affected by the world around us. These days, I often ask clients that struggle with a movement a simple question Miss Frizzle style: how would you perform the movement if you were in a world without gravity?

Before I answer the question directly, a quick lesson on how our muscles work in conjunction with the nervous system. The brain is the central hub of our nervous system, and the controls every function of our body. An electrical signal starts in the brain, and then travels through a series of nerves that connect the brain to the specific muscles we want to use. This electrical signal is so awesome, because it not only tells the muscle to work, but also how much to work; we wouldn’t pick up an egg with the same pressure as a heavy weight, and the brain knows just how much pressure to use.

Think of it like the engine in a car: you can have the greatest ties, strongest frame and most amazing stereo, but without the engine you’re not going anywhere (or rocking any tunes). But, if you have an amazing engine in that car, and all the proper wires and tubes in place, that car will get you from point A to point B with relative ease while bumping those sick beats.  

Likewise, if the brain doesn’t generate the signal to move, or the nervous system is not functioning properly, muscle and bone doesn’t do us any good, or at the very least will be difficult to control. This is why people with an auto immune disease like Multiple Sclerosis have such difficulty in life: their brain is generating the signal, but the electric signal won’t reach the muscles.

Continuing the car analogy, how fast does the car go? If you answered ‘as much as I put the pedal down,’ you’re correct. This is where the analogy gets difficult. You see, we don’t have only one brain. The engine is only one part of our brain. But we also have a conscious part of our brain – the part that makes decisions and where our will power resides. Just like a car is useless without the driver (or soon software), our muscles are useless without our decisions to go and move weights around.

Ok, last piece of this anatomy lesson, and where the car analogy no longer serves us. Your brain also makes unconscious decisions about how it wants to build your body and nervous system. The brain LOVES efficiency. To keep it short: if you don’t move around a lot, or maintain one position for long amounts of time (cough, sitting, cough), the brain goes to work and reshapes the body and re-wires the nervous system to make sitting easier to do. The brain ‘thinks’ it is helping, but the obvious problem is we still need to move from our desk to our car to our couch. The car will always have relatively the same structure, but your body is capable of growing and deteriorating by itself depending on what you tell it to do.

While I’d love to jump on the ‘never sit again’ bandwagon that is all the rage these days, I’d be a hypocrite, as I’m writing this post sitting down. Furthermore, sitting isn’t the only problem. Even standing all day, we rarely reach overhead, twist, or pull as often as we push. And when we don’t use these movements, the brain is constantly busy pruning away the nerves and muscles that help our body not only perform them, but also stabilize them. Jumping ahead, if you’ve got pain, chances are your brain hurt you.

For example, let’s just use a body weight squat. In the real world, we rarely perform a squat well, simply because gravity is always helping us out to reach the chair or toilet. In fact, most people usually rely on gravity for these movements, and without much range. So what does the brain do? It sees all the stabilizers and flexors of the hips as inefficiency and shuts off a lot of signal to them; after all, that’s resources that can better be used to stress about our job or our hair.

Now, let’s get on the Magic School Bus, and visit that zero gravity world with the same squat. If you’re standing, how do you squat down without gravity pulling you down? Really think about it. Put yourself there. Without me telling you, your brain figures out that you have to pull yourself down to the floor, and likewise push against the floor to get back up. I didn’t have to tell you what muscles to use, or how to use them. The driver is learning how to drive again and manipulate the wheel and pedals again. Better still, the brain, having this practice learns that it needs to rewire the body to perform these movements without relying on gravity to do the movement for us. Over time, those stabilizers and pulling muscles get stronger and easier to control. Well done, Kids!

Here’s the take away: re train the brain and body to use the muscles, and stop relying on gravity for half the movement. Some examples for you:

  • Use the back muscles to help pull you down in a push up, and you’ll get better faster at the push up
  • Use the hips to pull yourself down to the floor in a squat or lunge, and you’ll get stronger faster with less knee and back pain
  • In a row, you’re not pulling against gravity, but more the active tension in the chest (pulling the collar bones apart)

Pretending that gravity does not exist for a minute is a great warm up in preparation for a workout. It sets up the brain and nervous system to fully control the movement and activate as much muscle as it can, which results in more muscle working in strength and stability. Get the most out of your workouts with this simple and easy brain trick, and have fun while doing it. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the Magic School bus, don’t worry. I’m sure you still have an imagination and can pretend there is no gravity. Can’t you?

Have fun with this, and let me know how it helps or doesn’t. And as always, thanks for reading, and have an awesome day!

Stop Storing Nuts and Start Living

Like a squirrel storing nuts, our brain uses our physical tissue as a storage system for emotions and intense experiences. This phenomenon is not fully understood by modern medicine, but has been known of for centuries in philosophy though explanations of spiritual healing. It has also been something I’ve played with in my own personal training practice for about a year now; using specific movements and explosive patterns to release stress and emotion to create a certain level of catharsis for clients.

I first learned about it years ago listening to Tony Robbins tapes. To be sad, our body assumes a specific posture that matches the emotion, as it does with happy, angry, afraid, and peaceful. Our organs react the same way by shifting hormones and heart rate rapidly to match the state. Recently, research by Amy Cuddy has shown that by simply assuming specific ‘power poses’ with our body, we can influence not only our mood, but specific bio markers as well.

My current N=1 experiment of non media consumption has led me to noticed my visceral tissue changing as well. Rather than constantly being bombarded with stimulation from the outside world and storing most of it to be processed at a later date, this detox has led to the ‘backlog’ being cleared. My sleep has improved, my mobility has improved, and even my levels of reactivity have decreased to specific traumas (a car cutting me off no longer raises my heart rate).

I do leave room to this being psychosomatic, but just as a placebo works with no knowledge as to how, who cares? If that means that I can take the news of my spine resembling a failed level of Tetris as easily as finding a piece of cat hair on my sleeve, so be it. Because I can remember a time in my life that any small inconvenience in life meant feeling like life was over, and all of the same visceral reactions as being chased by a bear.

Ironically, this week has been so busy that my meditation and breathing practices have fallen by the wayside, and this level of zen was always the goal of both. It brings to mind the question of whether meditation is a cure all to mental clarity and health, or whether social media and what I’ve dubbed ‘other people’s opinions’ are the reason to meditate in the first place; to heal the damage done by a lack of self.

While I still have no idea what the answer is, or how I can use this new information to help others, I do know that by allowing my body and mind time to get through the stored nuts, there is something profoundly different in the way I conduct myself, and how my body reacts to the world. 

What is your threshold?

If I give you one dollar, you might smile. But would you consider yourself rich in a practical sense? Probably not. But what if I gave you a dollar every minute of every day for the rest of your life? The question is not if you would be rich, but which dollar it was that made you so? Was it at $5? Was it at $1,000? Or did you need to have a million before you knew you were rich? What is your wealth threshold?

What if I replace the dollar with a droplet of water, and drip it onto your forehead for every minute of every day for the rest of your life? Which droplet is the one that triggers insanity? Would just the first one make you crack? Or could your nervous system withstand a few million before beginning to crack? What is your pain threshold?

When I was a teenager, I would often hear news stories about school shootings, and the psychologists blaming violent music for these tragic events. My mother would nod along, agreeing with the easily replaceable reporters, and scold me for listening to my progressive metal. Surely this couldn’t be the case, because I hadn’t even raised a finger to anyone in school, let alone lift a finger to find a gun.

But what I’ve realized these past few days is that our nervous system is dramatically affected by external stimulus, even though we have our attention elsewhere. Our brain is a powerful organ, using a whopping 20% of our total energy every day. And while we can focus on only 7 (ish) things at one time, the rest of our brain is processing every small amount of sensory data the rest of our body throws at it. This fact has given rise to feng shui as an art form for decorating an environment pleasing to our senses, even if we are unaware of what to be pleased with.

It’s no wonder that the only word I can describe my Day 2 of no media with is ‘calm.’ Without so much auditory stimulation to process, my brain can focus its power on other things. My only guess is that if the brain is overloaded with external stimuli, our brain power is taxed, and it makes it that much harder to focus on work, or our spouse, or even digestion.

So my question for today is, what is your processing threshold? How much stimulus can your nervous system handle before it is sufficiently taxed? I suppose this can be trained, just as jugglers learn to handle many more than just three objects. But it seems to me that the amount of work that requires is something I don’t miss at all. I happen to like this feeling of calm, and while I may not swear off all media forever, I will definitely be pickier about what stimuli are allowed to affect me. 

Deafening Silence

Imagine a heroin addict; a complete slave to a drug which slowly withers away self and leaves a husk of a human that has forgotten any other way to live. In between uses, there is a slow build of desire until the next use. It is also not uncommon for an addict to lie, cheat, and steal for their next score. However, if we take the heroin away, before the Hollywood levels of withdrawals hit, there is a small window that is referred to as extinction burst. Our addict, now knowing that the precious drug is not available will lie and beg as never before in an attempt to satisfy the urge for the reward. This is a period of pure chaos, where self is a distant memory, and violence and destruction exist as means to end the pain of not having.

In my 12 hours of no media, I have been experiencing my own extinction burst. In my mind, there is a chaotic playlist of random jokes from comedians, movie clips, songs I haven’t heard in years, even dreams I forgot decades ago. Just like the heroin addict, this noise started as a small whisper, and has crescendoed into a maelstrom that has taken over any normal thought. I now intimately understand the cliché of ‘deafening silence.’

A most disturbing realization has surfaced, something I could have never imagined I would discover going into this self experiment. I have found that silence is uncomfortable not because of an addiction to noise, but rather that silence is a reminder that I am alone with myself. The reward of this noise is distraction from self. Being a personal trainer, the happiest parts of my day is being with clients, but today I realize that being with clients is joyous because my attention is where it needs to be: on the client, and not on me.  

Being comfortable in your own skin is apparently easy if you don’t spend every second of the day there. And when it gets uncomfortable, I simply plug into a podcast and listen to someone tell me about their lives, instead of living mine. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the reason why politicians can get away with something as vague as ‘a better tomorrow’ because we hate ourselves today? The same reason that reality TV has blossomed so well during back to back recessions? The same reason people can’t afford health care, yet pick up a copy of their favorite tabloid to get their weekly fix of escape from self?

This experience has not been all bad. Quite the contrary. There have been moments of clarity I haven’t experienced in years; moments of pure grounding in reality, and a pure joy of being in my own skin, happy in silence. Still, just as the heroin addict, I now know that while the road is hard, there is light at the end of the withdrawal tunnel. But does the light represent a strong sense of self and havingness? Or does the light belong to an oncoming train of relapse? I’ve still got six more days to figure that one out. 

The Media Cleanse - An observation of what silence is

At birth, our brain has over one hundred trillion neural connections. Almost none of these connections are myelinated (coated in fat to speed signaling), so we’re pretty much useless at defending ourselves, or even basic bodily functions. From birth to about three years of age, our environment and genetic coding not only reinforce (myelinate) connections we need on a daily basis, but unused connections are destroyed by our own brain simply because we don’t use them. This process gradually slows until our teenage years, but the truth is that our brain is shaped by what we learn from the environment around us and the people in our lives. Put in simpler terms, we are born one person, and graduate into our twenties as a person shaped by the world around us. Change any one life event, or hundreds of small observations, and we could have been a vastly different individual.

Putting the nature vs nurture argument aside, this got me thinking about how the world around us continues to shape us even after age 25 when this process slows to a crawl. What has the world set us up to be? Does the world and what we choose to focus on continue to influence who we are as an individual? And how can we know what is really us, or what is a byproduct of these external influences?

Today, we are bombarded with noise and other people’s opinions on an alarming frequency. One researcher analyzed the advertising practices of the media and estimated we are advertised to upwards of 5,000 times per day. So called experts on half formed platforms impart their knowledge to us constantly and often in contradiction to what we’ve heard just the day before. Even Facebook censors us from the opposing views we hold on to so dearly as part of our identity, stymieing or critical thinking muscles and further polarizing our opinions.

All of these reasons and more have lead me to start a purely observational experiment with N=1, me. For a period of seven days, I will create silence. No so called experts on podcasts telling me how to run my life, no movies or television portraying unrealistic relationships or conflicts, no video games providing a false sense of accomplishment, and no music to cover the beauty of my own thoughts. I’ve even chose to read only books that will stimulate thought through questions, rather than cherry picked science and stories that tell me to root for a fictional character rather than myself.

I have no idea whether my brain will prune away neurons shaped by the media, nor do I have any idea whether my brain will myelinate more of ‘me.’  At worst, it’ll be a long meditation, and at best, I might come out a new person with new habits and appreciations for life. Regardless, I have been aching for an adventure and extreme experience, and the resistance I’ve heard via social media reinforces my resolve to accomplish the task.

Follow along via this blog, and my YouTube channel (search for Succeed With Omid) to see whether I lose my mind, or become a modern day Yoda. 

The cure to self doubt

Working in a gym for a number of years, I encountered countless people who were intimidated by the presence of others so much ‘better than them.’ I often counseled those individuals and convinced them that we are all in the gym for the same reason: to better ourselves in some way. Whether to lose weight, gain muscle, find self esteem, or even train to be better at a sport, the gym is a place of growth.

But I do understand and relate to the human need to compare ourselves to others. It’s hard to dance like no one is looking when you’re not alone in the room.  We want to be unique as a finger print, yet are constantly threatened by our own appearance and demeanor. We see what others have, and contrast it to our own lives; looking for ways to find ourselves lacking. 

The truth is that a paradox exists: a paradox between wanting to be an individual and wanting to fit in; the paradox of living in the moment, and still setting goals of being better in the future. The quest for the answer to the question of ‘Who Am I?’

There will always be someone taller, thinner, stronger, happier or even have more money than you. It’s not unfair; it’s the reality of having close to 7 billion other people sharing this planet with you. And comparing yourself to others, only delays your journey of self discovery. But there will only ever be one you. One now. One life that you get to chose how to live. One life that you get to create for yourself however you see fit.

Create a life where you are the center. Create a life where you decide what you will tolerate, and what you will chose to say no to. To do anything else is selfish, as you are denying the world of the beauty that is you. And yes, you are beautiful. That is who you are.

Live well, love well, and love yourself. 

Empty Reps

If you've been working out and watching what you eat, you've no doubt heard about CICO, or calories in, calories out. If you want to lose weight, you need to intake less calories than you expend through the day. To do this while still getting all the nutrition you need, you have to minimize the empty calories. That's why low carb diets work so well.

But this post is not about nutrition as it is about the workout itself. Most people understand the concept of empty calories, but then waste reps at the gym. Swinging the weights, not getting the heart rate high enough on the elliptical, resting for way too long between sets, picking a weight that is too light, or even forgetting to breath during the exercise! All of these will not only stop you from getting to your fitness goals, but will also waste time that could be better used for the rest of life!

Personally, if my workouts last longer than 30 minutes, I'm doing something wrong. I'm a big fan of high intensity workouts that push me to the maximum. But high intensity doesn't always mean high heart rate, or big heavy weights. Even in a basic bicep curl, I'm squeezing my core, butt, and bicep as hard as I can during every rep, maximizing my own effort, and breathing as much as I can. 

The best analogy I can come up with is if you're at work, and want to get a promotion. You work your butt off, turn in work that is above what is called for, and love the process to EARN the promotion. You don't get rewarded just by showing up. 

It's the same with your workout. Every rep counts, just like every calorie, or work assignment. And if you can't push yourself to that point, that's where a good trainer/coach comes in handy. 

How foam rolling can dramatically help with weight-loss and pain

If you’ve been exercising for any length of time, chances are you’ve seen or heard foam rolling. For most of my clients, there is a love/hate relationship with this method of tension release. If you’ve ever had a massage before, you know how wonderful and relaxing it feels to work out any kinks or knots you may have. But while foam rolling achieves the same thing, it just plain hurts. I’m selling it so well, right? Well, let’s get into a little bit of science behind why it works, and then outline how it can help not only reduce any pains and aches, but also dramatically help anyone lose weight.

Let me first say that any calorie burning and work is done at the cellular level. Every cell in our body has a certain amount of energy available to it, and can perform only a certain amount of work before it gets too tired to function, and has to replenish its energy. One muscle is made of hundreds, if not thousands, of muscle cells all contracting and expanding together to move us through the world. Think of it like a small army working together to make movements easy and efficient. Put even simpler, many hands make light work.

But if we have knots in a muscle, some of those cells cannot contract, cannot use energy, and cannot be involved in the weight loss process. Even worse, the other non knotted muscle cells have to work way too hard, making them fatigue quickly, making us take rests sooner than we’d like during a workout. Even worse, those cells also have increased risks of injury when they fatigue, and need much longer to rest before we can use them again. Think of it like pulling all nighters for just a few days can lead to even the simplest tasks becoming impossible. In exercise terms, we call that over-training, and this can lead to a weight-loss plateau faster than anything else.

Stretching should help, right? Well, stretching is a great way to stay limber, yes. But think of the full chain of cells in a muscle like a really big rubber band. If we tied a knot into the rubber band, the muscle would stretch, but NOT the cells involved in the knot. Enter foam rolling. By applying direct pressure to the knot, we force just those tight cells to clench hard for about a minute (the pain), and then release their stored tension (the release). Unfortunately, tighter/bigger the knot, the more pain we experience. On top of that, the release may take up to a week of foam rolling every day to fully release the knot. But, the relief for my clients with chronic pain is immediate and sustainable after only a few days of ‘treatment.’

If every cell in the muscle can be used for movement, not only does life get easier, but we have more cells using energy at once, and each movement we do burns more calories! Not only that, but we can perform harder movements, at higher intensities, and even take shorter rests.

So what do we foam roll? Well, the whole body would be nice. But unless you’re retired, or a personal trainer and do this for a living, there’s not enough time in the day (a minute per knot, remember?) For most people, three major muscle groups are really the culprits of most pains, and the biggest muscles that use energy/calories: the middle back, the glutes (butt muscles), and quads (thighs). These three groups need to be free to do not only more work functionally, but when they get tight, they actually turn off other muscle groups (ex: tight quads mean the hamstrings and glutes can’t function well. And a tight mid back means the low back and neck do way more work. Eww back pain!)

I leave techniques for foam rolling to any YouTube video or self experimentation you desire. But bottom line is this: foam rolling means more work in less time, faster weight loss, and a lot less pain.

GMO, Glyphosphate, Gluten, Gobbledygook?

As a health expert and personal trainer, I get questions about the latest nutrition related buzzwords all the time. Are genetically modified foods bad? What is gluten, and is it bad for my gut? Is glyophosphate (Round Up) toxic to my microbiome? Is Dairy the Devil?

Well, as a total nerd, and educator, my first gut reaction is to break into song and dance about different scientific studies, the chemical compositions of our cells and these substances, and even point them in directions for more information. Fortunately, I'm usually able to stop the show, and simply answer the client with this: you're asking the wrong questions. 

The real question is this: how does eating food make you feel?  For example, I love to eat Lavash (a type of bread, i.e. gluten), topped with a good quality cultured yogurt (i.e. dairy). Gluten and dairy are terrible, right? For some reason, I can eat literally pounds of the stuff and be fine. But a tortilla/bun from any fast food place? Cheap white bread? Top that off with processed cheese? Within minutes (no joke) I gain an inch on my stomach, and become so bloated with gas that I clear rooms. For years, I gave up all non vegetable carbs and dairy, because science told me it was bad, and I missed them so much. But only after I asked myself the question of how does this specific food, I can now eat what I love!

Becoming aware of how your body reacts to specific foods is the key to leading a happy healthy life. It sounds like a lot of work, and at first it is; tracking all your food, different apps and sensors to get the data, tracking how food effects sleep and mood, etc. But the long term effects are so worth it. Sure, at first you'll have to give up some foods you may like. But once you realize how they make you feel, you'll not want them much. Think of the freedom of being able to eat anything you want, AND feel great doing it. 

How can you tell? One easy way is this: we don't have gas and bloating when we eat well. Farts come from the bad bacteria in our gut getting what they want. Another way is to download any heart rate variability app on your smartphone (I personally use StressCheck by Azumio for Android). The variation of the space between each beat of our heart can tell us just how stressed food (or lack of sleep) can make us. Lastly, food should be energizing and vitalizing for us. If you feel lethargic and don't want to move after a meal, you may have eaten something wrong, or simply way too much.  

Reconnecting with your body is the most basic, and most important step to conquering weight-loss, muscle growth, heart problems, joint pain, and even the bedroom.  Don't wait for studies and conflicting science to tell you how to eat and live your life. Take the time to say hi to your body again. I promise, it's worth it!

 

Butcher Box and the Grass-Fed Revolution

As a consumer, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when it comes to labels on our food. Personally, I’ve invested many hundreds of hours into learning all the different buzz words, and even I have trouble when actually standing in the super market trying to pick up a good cut of meat. Grain free, grass fed, no hormones added, vegetarian fed, USDA organic, free range, cage-free, omega-3 fortified? What does all that even mean?

Grass-fed vs conventional factory meat:

When a cow is force fed corn and other grains, inflammation runs rampant through their bodies. Their immune systems are compromised, which the farmers must combat with high levels of antibiotics, and their natural hormone levels decrease, which means hormone boosters to keep the cow healthy.

What does that mean to us as the consumer? Well, when we eat the meat from a factory cow, we’re consuming all the added antibiotics, hormones, and inflammation. You may not notice the effects from one amazing steak, but over time this leads to weight gain, digestion issues, and faulty hormone levels. (Even the World Health Organization now confirms this can also lead to an increased risk of cancer).

But because grass-fed cows are not treated with any added antibiotics or hormones, and are raised as much ‘happier’ cows, we as consumers suffer much less from these negative health effects. In fact, compared to their factory raised cousins, meat from grass-fed cows has less bad fats, more antioxidants, and 2-5x the levels of omega-3’s (the heart healthy omega). Grass-fed beef can even have up to twice the levels of CLA, which can help with muscle growth, reduced risk of heart disease, and lower the risk of cancer.

Up till recently, the only way to ensure the quality of your beef, a consumer would have to carve precious time out of their schedule to go to a farmer’s market, and make friends with their local farmers. Or worse, spend a small fortune on premium cuts of grass-fed beef, sometimes costing three times the factory equivalent.

Enter Mike Salguero’s startup Butcher Box. After a monumental Kickstarter campaign, Butcher Box is now offering free shipping on a box of hand picked, fully grass-fed beef right to your door on a monthly basis. Each Butcher Box will contain 15-20 meals worth of hand picked beef from the highest quality available each month. Mike and his team also help consumers by including delicious recipes to make cooking easy and hassle free. Each box is also packaged with a calculated amount of dry ice to ensure maximum freshness, even if it sits at your door for up to 24 hours.  

That’s right. No guess work. No reading endless food labels. No having to make best friends with the farmer. No insane price hikes. Easy, convenient, healthy, delicious grass-fed beef direct to us, the consumer.

 

 

Himalayan Salt Lamps

About a month ago I started learning about Himalayan Salt Lamps. At first, I wrote them off as hippy garbage, or at best, a placebo producing product. They had to be, with claims like:

  • Cleaner indoor air
  • Reducing allergies
  • Improved mood
  • Reducing the harmful effects of EMF (electromagnetic fields)
  • And even helping to prevent cancer. 

If it sounds too good to be true, my skeptic meter goes crazy. Prevent cancer? Yeah right. But lately, I've been getting much more into meditation, yoga, and other practices from the East, and I've noticed massive benefits to my life. So, I decided to jump on a sale for a pair of these magic rocks, and see what might happen. (At the very least, my clients might think they're pretty in the studio)

Before I get to my experience with these pretty pink wonders, I do want to get to some hard science, as you'll never get fru-fru hippy crap with me. Let's go through three of the top health claims, and some of the science that supports them. 

1) Himalayan Salt Lamps (HSLs) clean the air, reduce allergies, and combat EMF
This claim is based on the idea that the HSL is hygroscopic in nature (meaning that it attracts airborne water molecules). When the lamp inside the stone is on, the lamp then evaporates this moisture to produce negative ions in the surrounding environment. Pollution, smoking, and electronics of any kind all produce a combination of positive ions which are harmful to us, and the HSL's negative ions combat these positive ions to produce a more 'balanced' environment.  
(You can actively feel these kinds of negative ion effects on a large scale when near waterfalls and beaches, where negative ions are abundant)

2) Improved mood and sleep
For this claim, we need to turn to chromotherapy (a method of treatment that uses the visible spectrum (colors) of electromagnetic radiation to cure diseases). According to one study, "the color pink (the distinct color of the HSL) does have some tranquilizing and calming effects within minutes of exposure, and suppresses hostile, aggressive and anxious behavior." 

3) They frikin' cure cancer!
This claim I had the most trouble with. Going back to the same study, the color red does seem to have been shown to be effective in the treatment of cancer and healing wounds. Add to this the effects of decreased EMF radiation, the HSL helps regulate our melatonin levels, which have been linked in many clinical studies around the world to inhibit cancer cell growth.

It's been two weeks since I've had these rocks running in my house. I have no physical data to back up my claims, but I will say that the difference is noticeable. The air does smell better. I have more energy through the day, and I would also say my moods have been elevated. I also track my sleep, and the few nights I've had the lamps on before bed, my sleep quality overall has improved. Lastly, I was right, and my clients do love the look and feel of the lamps in the room, whether while getting trained or coached. 

I won't recommend a specific stone for you, since I don't have enough experience to give that kind of recommendation. However, I would say that if you have any worries about your air quality, and don't want to invest in a $500+ air purifier, these little stones might be worth a try. 

 

Your Midas Touch

We've all heard the story of King Midas, who above all else wanted wealth. If you have not, it is a tragic tale of a man who meets a god, and asks for anything he touches to turn to gold. In the end, the King realizes that all that truly matters in life is to be grateful, and to rejoice in all that is simple and natural. 

Said in another way, "The happiest people do not necessarily have the best things. They simply appreciate the things they have." Who said it? Yup, Warren Buffet. Sure, easy to say when you're worth $72.3 billion. But the story of King Midas tells us that having is not the same as being. 

Recently, I've become a big fan of the late Zig Ziglar. He had a way of explaining the Midas paradox, and Warren Buffets beautiful quote: "You've gotta be before you can do, and do before you can have." To have wealth in life (or happiness, physical health, love, etc) we must do what people who have it do. In order to do, we must first become a person who does those things. Be a grateful person first, do as grateful people do, and have the rewards that come from gratitude itself. 

Be a grateful person first. What do grateful people do? 

  • Be ready to meet every day with a profound level of gratitude. Start to notice all that you already have in life. 
  • Realize that no matter your situation, there are people all over the world who survive off of less than $2 a day (down now to $1.25). 
  • Get your ego in check. With near 7 billion people on our planet, chances are a few people have gone through what you are, or worse! You are unique, not your situation! 
  • Journal about what you are grateful for, and make this a habit on a daily basis. Just like reps in a gym, we need to build our gratitude muscles with repetition. (I personally journal at least 5 a day, first thing in the morning)

King Midas asked for wealth to be given to him. He skipped the BE step. (How's that for entitlement?) And in the end, it cost him dearly. The story ends with him being and doing as great leaders of men do, and in doing, he gathered more wealth for himself, his family, and his nation than ever thought possible. 

So what's the take away here? Why is Omid telling me to be grateful? Because gratitude is key to anything you want in life. Ungrateful people blame others, stagnate in a pity party, refuse to give from a place of warmth, and poison those around them. Grateful people are happier, give more, are wealthier financially, healthier physically, and even live longer

Ungrateful King Midas loses his daughter to his entitlement. Grateful Warren Buffet is a billionaire. And this year, I've read over 70 books reinforcing the need for gratitude in life to get what you want. Turn this into a daily practice, turn gratitude into your Midas Touch. and I promise life will not only turn around, but you'll also find a wealth you didn't even know was possible. 

Patriot GMOs?

 

As far back as 1571, tobacco has been used as a medicinal herb, insect repellent, for tooth and skin pain relief, for stress relief, and even improving cognitive function in Alzheimer and Dementia patients. When the cigarette was first introduced in 1917, we had the excuse of ignorance from the link between smoking and lung cancer. And for nearly 40 years, we simply didn't know any better.

In the late 40’s, research was starting to show correlations between smoking and lung cancer. In 1953, as a response to this research, a secret meeting between heads of big tobacco companies was held. This meeting resulted in a campaign of misinformation (designed to hide and bring doubt to the new research), to slander the people and doctors behind anti smoking campaigns, and to promote the many benefits to cigarette use. Finally, starting in 1965, a ‘caution’ sticker was placed on cigarettes claiming smoking may be hazardous to your health. It wasn't until 1980, nearly 63 years after the introduction of the cigarette,  when the words: “Smoking causes lung cancer…” was printed on the packages. 

Now what does this history lesson have to do with GMO's? (Genetically modified organisms, if you've had your head under sand for the last 5 years) First, let me say that personally, when it comes to GMO's, I am of the opinion of ‘I don’t know,’ and choose to abstain as often as it is convenient. However, while sometimes I am lazy (and some food is just too damn tasty)  I have done my own research into both sides of the debate, and I find it odd that there is one part of the debate that is overlooked.

GMO's, as they are being presented now, are Un-American. As of now, some companies (you know who you are) are allowed to only give half truths on the processes, and fund and promote scientific studies backing only their claims and torpedoing the rest.

As an American, I am entitled to (yes, I’m using that word here) information, and the right to choose what I put into my body. And as an American, I reserve the right to choose to ignore said information and put said substance into my body anyways. But to deny the access to information is not only communistic, but to spread misinformation on a subject is immoral, and illegal.

McDonald's is still doing well even after putting calories and other nutrition labels on their menu. Tobacco continues to do well even after many variations of warning labels on their products. Labeled GMO's won't stop anyone from buying them. and would only serve to increase the level of conversation of how safe they are (if that is your belief). But the freedom of choice was what this country was founded on, and I refuse to believe that those days are over. 

I will close by saying this: corporations will be corporations, as much as boys will be boys. As optimistic as I am, I doubt that'll change anytime soon. But this IS America, and you are an American. An American with access to the internet. (And access to someone like me who will do the research for you, or be more than willing to point you in the right direction). Choose to be informed. Don't wait for someone to misinform you. Or GMO's will simply be your tobacco, and lung cancer your reward. 

Nothing like a cold shower to put a smile on your face

Our water heater is out. Again. Third time in the short 8 months we've been living here. The last time our landlord's plummer came out, he said they might have to completely re build the side of the house to replace the system.

This is terrible news for us tenants only so far as we might have to put up with a hotel for a few weeks. Even worse news for our landlord who might be out a few thousand or more for the construction and new water heater (I don't even want to consider the labor cost). 

I bring this up because as a listener of Dave Ramsey, and an avid debt opponent, I hear people buying homes as they graduate college with who knows how much in debt. To quote Dave,

A home is a huge financial blessing if you have money. If you don’t have money, it becomes a curse, because the water heater breaks. The heat and air system goes out. The winds blow shingles off the roof. Houses cost money. They’re a good investment, but they cost money to operate these things. You’ve got to be prepared. If you move into a home with three student loans that have been around so long you think they’re a pet, MasterCard, you’ve Discovered bondage and American Excess, and two fleeced car payments with no money, you move into that home, Murphy will move into your spare bedroom and bring his three cousins Broke, Desperate, and Stupid. Don’t do that. 

So while I may be waking up quite briskly tomorrow morning, I'll have quite a smile on my face. Why? Because I have a plan. Being wise in choosing to pay down my debt first before buying a home has allowed me the peace of mind to not have to worry about this water heater issue. 

And after all my debt is paid off, I'll gladly buy my first home as a blessing. And WHEN that water heater goes out, I'll have the peace of mind knowing that I can pay it easily, because my credit card payments, car payment, student loan payments, or debt payments of any kind won't be there with me when I move in. 

So, do you have a plan? Is it detailed? Is it long term? Are you following it? If not, I've got the expertise to help if you need. If yes, congratulations. You're on your way to succeeding in life.