When I think of evolution, I usually think: “Survival of the Fittest.” I guess I accepted, with the help of my 9th grade bio class, that nature chooses the most aggressive, most cleverly adaptable traits to further a species.This could mean a better beak for opening seeds, like Darwin’s finches, or a fierce strain of bacteria that resists antibiotics.
In modern lexicon it seems we’ve taken the premise of natural selection to promote certain aggressive social behaviors. I mean, how many times have we heard “Only the Strong Survive” or “To Get to the Top, You Must Step on the Backs of Others.” In its extreme form, modern interpretation of Darwin’s ideas have become the foundation for destroying whole swaths of humanity.
With that said, I was surprised and relieved to find an article in the Shambhala Sun about Darwin’s less well-known evolutionary findings. It turns out that Darwin found natural selection to favor the evolution of compassion. Yes, really, compassion. He observed that animal communities with the “greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
I’m certainly no Darwin, but everyday I see the positive effects of human connection, kindness, and open-heartedness on the body’s ability to adapt to life’s challenges. On the other hand, I also see the how anger, resentment and self-loathing create enough internal stress to compromise the immune system. When we can find compassion for ourselves or others we encourage an happier environment internally and externally, and thus a greater ability to survive and thrive.
With Darwin in mind I leave you with these few questions: Where can you become softer in your judgment? How can you promote kindness each and every day? What can you do to forgive yourself and others?
Can vulnerability be a strength? I sure think so, and it turns out human connection researcher, Brene Brown, thinks so too. In a recent talk at TEDxHouston, Brown shares insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself better as well as to understand humanity. It is a touching talk, and well worth a listen.
As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I see the power of vulnerability every day. When a client comes into the treatment room and allows herself to be seen, she also gives herself permission to be loved. And everybody, you included, are lovable and deserve to feel that love. So much of life is spent wearing a mask or hiding our difficulties. Unfortunately this cuts us off further from what we really need: connection, hope, love, and respect. Next time you want to hide what is really going on from someone close to you, give yourself the chance to open up and have someone say “I know what you are going through, and I want to help.”
Imagine this scenario: You head to the grocery store full of good intentions for a wholesome weeks-worth of food. Of course, buying organic is what you’d prefer to do…but why does it have to be SO expensive! So you compromise here and there and do your best. Organic milk, organic eggs, organic carrots, organic corn, organic asparagus. Non-organic strawberries, celery, potatoes.
In my household, most of those organic/non-organic decisions are based on gut-emotions–”ooh, I’ve already gone over my budget this week” or “I am NOT paying 4.99 for a bunch of organic lemons! Who do they think I am!”
Luckily, there is way that you can choose wisely and save some money. The Environmental Working Group compiles a list each year of the 15 cleanest fruits and veggies at the supermarket and those that are most pesticide-laden. The good news is that eating your veggies and fruits outweighs the risk of ingesting contaminants, but EWG gives us a leg-up on reducing exposure where possible. The 2011 list has just been released. Happy Shopping!
More than ever, I am convinced that nutrition is the key to a happy life. What we eat affects our moods, memory, physical health, spiritual health, longevity, and beauty.
Now, most of us over the age of 20 are accustomed to the labels “good food” and “bad food”. These can be great guidelines to go by ie.: Cupcakes=not so good for your body despite how delicious they feel in the moment vs. Kale=full of essential nutrients, anti-oxidents and tastes great too! However, they don’t always show the whole picture.
Despite all the hype out there, no one way of eating is right for everybody. The key is to take the basic guidelines and begin to experiment. When we listen to our bodies with this knowledge (how did that Kale feel in my belly vs. how did the Cupcake feel)— this is where wisdom and mastery of our health begins.
My personal experiments with food and diet have led me to some challenging realities. The biggest, most recent realization is that I just do not tolerate sugar well. When it is in my body I break out, feel moody, overwhelmed and tired. I’ve known this for a long time, but have tried to squeeze my way around it over the years. A diagnosis of Intestinal Candida has forced me to face it head on, and it has been ugly.
So here I am, two weeks into a summer of no sugar. Because I am fighting Candida this includes all food that converts to or contains sugar (even in the smallest amounts). No watermelon, no beer, no margaritas, no ice cream, no hotdogs or ketchup. It feels very hard still, but I weigh the feeling that “I am missing out” with the reality that I already feel better inside and out.
Wish me luck that I kick this Candida in three months, but even more so, wish me luck that I become a wiser inhabitant of my body and can honor this wisdom when the Candida is gone.
Despite the fact that Springtime tends to be a wild ride between cold and warm weather, blustery winds, downpours and perfect blue skies, it is a time of expansion, growth and sweetness.
After Winter, we are so ready to get outside again that those days (sometimes hours) of perfect weather feel like the most delicious gift. The ancient Chinese medical texts talk about the energy of Spring as the time to “pace in the courtyard with great strides, hair loose, body relaxed, exerting the will for life.”
We see this “will for life” all around us. Baby animals are being born, little shoots of green are working their way out of dark soil, tight buds are transforming into explosions of color. I don’t know about you, but I feel so inspired seeing these transformations happen around me. Spring offers a sense of “live and let live.” Everything has worked so hard to make it through the Winter, you just want to cheer it on.
There is a particular emotion connected to the Spring energy, and this is Benevolence. Benevolence is defined as the “disposition to do good.” Nature calls us at this time of year to be especially kind, flexible and generous. This goes not only for the delicate new growth manifesting in nature, but for our desire to fulfill our own potential.
So now is the time to be kind to yourself, to nurse your dreams and personal growth, and to be generous to those around you who also hope to grow and change.
The holiday season brings many joys and, unfortunately, many countervailing dietary pitfalls. Even the fittest and most disciplined of us can succumb, indulging in more fat and calories than at any other time of the year. The health consequences, if the behavior is unchecked, can be swift and worrying. A recent study by scientists in Australia found that after only three days, an extremely high-fat, high-calorie diet can lead to increased blood sugar and insulin resistance, potentially increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Waistlines also can expand at this time of year, prompting self-recrimination and unrealistic New Year’s resolutions.
But a new study published in The Journal of Physiology suggests a more reliable and far simpler response. Run or bicycle before breakfast. Exercising in the morning, before eating, the study results show, seems to significantly lessen the ill effects of holiday Bacchanalias.
For the study, researchers in Belgium recruited 28 healthy, active young men and began stuffing them with a truly lousy diet, composed of 50 percent fat and 30 percent more calories, overall, than the men had been consuming. Some of the men agreed not to exercise during the experiment. The rest were assigned to one of two exercise groups. The groups’ regimens were identical and exhausting. The men worked out four times a week in the mornings, running and cycling at a strenuous intensity. Two of the sessions lasted 90 minutes, the others, an hour. All of the workouts were supervised, so the energy expenditure of the two groups was identical.
Their early-morning routines, however, were not. One of the groups ate a hefty, carbohydrate-rich breakfast before exercising and continued to ingest carbohydrates, in the form of something like a sports drink, throughout their workouts. The second group worked out without eating first and drank only water during the training. They made up for their abstinence with breakfast later that morning, comparable in calories to the other group’s trencherman portions.
The experiment lasted for six weeks. At the end, the nonexercising group was, to no one’s surprise, super-sized, having packed on an average of more than six pounds. They had also developed insulin resistance — their muscles were no longer responding well to insulin and weren’t pulling sugar (or, more technically, glucose) out of the bloodstream efficiently — and they had begun storing extra fat within and between their muscle cells. Both insulin resistance and fat-marbled muscles are metabolically unhealthy conditions that can be precursors of diabetes.
The men who ate breakfast before exercising gained weight, too, although only about half as much as the control group. Like those sedentary big eaters, however, they had become more insulin-resistant and were storing a greater amount of fat in their muscles.
Only the group that exercised before breakfast gained almost no weight and showed no signs of insulin resistance. They also burned the fat they were taking in more efficiently. “Our current data,” the study’s authors wrote, “indicate that exercise training in the fasted state is more effective than exercise in the carbohydrate-fed state to stimulate glucose tolerance despite a hypercaloric high-fat diet.”
Just how exercising before breakfast blunts the deleterious effects of overindulging is not completely understood, although this study points toward several intriguing explanations. For one, as has been known for some time, exercising in a fasted state (usually possible only before breakfast), coaxes the body to burn a greater percentage of fat for fuel during vigorous exercise, instead of relying primarily on carbohydrates. When you burn fat, you obviously don’t store it in your muscles. In “our study, only the fasted group demonstrated beneficial metabolic adaptations, which eventually may enhance oxidative fatty acid turnover,” said Peter Hespel, Ph.D., a professor in the Research Center for Exercise and Health at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium and senior author of the study.
At the same time, the fasting group showed increased levels of a muscle protein that “is responsible for insulin-stimulated glucose transport in muscle and thus plays a pivotal role in regulation of insulin sensitivity,” Dr Hespel said.
In other words, working out before breakfast directly combated the two most detrimental effects of eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet. It also helped the men avoid gaining weight.
There are caveats, of course. Exercising on an empty stomach is unlikely to improve your performance during that workout. Carbohydrates are easier for working muscles to access and burn for energy than fat, which is why athletes typically eat a high-carbohydrate diet. The researchers also don’t know whether the same benefits will accrue if you exercise at a more leisurely pace and for less time than in this study, although, according to Leonie Heilbronn, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has extensively studied the effects of high-fat diets and wrote a commentary about the Belgian study, “I would predict low intensity is better than nothing.”
So, unpleasant as the prospect may be, set your alarm after the next Christmas party to wake you early enough that you can run before sitting down to breakfast. “I would recommend this,” Dr. Heilbronn concluded, “as a way of combating Christmas” and those insidiously delectable cookies.
"OK. Maybe you’re in your desk chair. You’re in your office. You’re in New York, or Detroit, or Timbuktu. You’re on planet Earth. But where are you, really? This hour, Radiolab tries to find out.
How does your brain keep track of your body? We examine the bond between brain and body, and look at what happens when it breaks. First, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks tries to find himself using magnets. Then, a century-old mystery: why do many amputees still feel their missing limbs? We speak with a neuroscientist who solved the problem with an optical illusion. Up next, the story of a butcher who suddenly lost his entire sense of touch. And we hear from pilots who lose consciousness and suffer out-of-body experiences while flying fighter jets.”
Radiolab is one of my favorite shows EVER. Jad and Robert are excellent at sparking deeper questions about who we are, why we are, and the potential of our being. This particular episode resonates because of its implications of how the mind/body connection influences our health and perception of reality.