March 26th 2016: Thought of the Day

knowledge-n-action-equal-power1

I was inspired to write this post because of something I learned AND executed from the 4 Hour Body. This book was my first foray into the world of “biohacking”. Even though I first read Tim Ferriss’ masterpiece over four years ago, this is the first book I come back to when I am aspiring to optimize a physical area.

I always revisit a section in the book called reversing permanent injuries when I feel that my body needs a tune up. My back has been bothering me since I helped man the high jump pit at the UBC open track meet where I got the honour of seeing the two-time olympian Michael Mason jump.

After my hamstring injury, I scoured the internet for the possible cause of my injury and methods to ensure this injury would not happen again to me. I came across an article that exclaimed the virtues of the egoscue method. So when I saw that Tim Ferris had provided a detailed introduction about it, I was very excited but also quite embarrassed.

I had read this section of Tim’s book so many times, but I had completely disregarded the part about the egoscue method. I thought it looked silly and too time consuming. Yet, today my pain propelled me to not only read about it, but to try it out. It was absolutely amazing. My back felt brand new, and it had the added benefit of drastically improving my primal squat. 

IMG_5971-1

The primal squat is a movement pattern I struggle with a bit. The first time I am enjoying it after using the egoscue method.

Even though I had the knowledge about this powerful technique for years, I was not able to glean the positive benefit until I finally acted upon my knowledge. 

This is not only something that I struggled with for a while, but is also a pervasive problem in society. We know we should move more and eat less. We know we should spend less time watching TV and more time with friends. We know we should spend less time on Facebook and more time sleeping. But do we?  I overcame this by immediately experimenting with any new knowledge that I believe could help me become excellent and help better serve this world. It is essential to execute on what we learn because it does not matter if you know the perfect thing to do if you do not act upon it.

Summary

  • Knowledge not acted upon does not produce results
  • It is not only important to learn about new and better methods, but to also implement them in your lives

What helps you integrate new interventions that you learn about in your daily life? Please comment below! Hearing your experience could be exactly what someone needs to hear to take their life to the next level. 

Personal Excellence and Service, 

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

 

March 23rd 2016: Thought of the Day

quote-there-are-1-000-lessons-in-defeat-but-only-one-in-victory-confucius-82-90-32

One of my dear friends encouraged me to get the motivate chrome extension that displays a motivational and uplifting quote every time you open up a new tab. The quote above came up yesterday morning while I was doing some work. While I recognized the profound wisdom in Confucius’ statement, my ego bristled at it. Losing is for losers my ego continued. Only if I knew how I would be challenged later on that day.

I had recommenced training with the track team at UBC later that afternoon after a brief hiatus because of some troublesome achilles tendonitis. Something in my body felt a little bit off, but I ignored my inclination as I was feeling quite explosive and eager to return to action.

We were practicing our run throughs for a competition this weekend. I was blazing down the runway doing the last run through of my jumps for the day when calamity struck. The moment every track athlete feared occurred. Just as I had taken off for my jump, I felt a searing pain simultaneously with a huge “muscle cramp”. Having hurt this hamstring before, I knew this was a severe injury.

TRINIDAD'S BOLDON HOLDS HIS LEG AFTER THE 200M FINAL IN SYDNEY

No one is immune to injuries. However, some of us bounce back stronger and more resilient.

Even though I was extremely disappointed and angry, a tiny voice calmed me down and quipped, “they are no failures or negative events, just learning opportunities”. They were a lot of glaring physical and mental weaknesses that I was ignoring because of the wonderful progress I was making in my training. I needed this to occur to focus my attention on them so I could rebound a stronger and better athlete and human being.

Before I could conduct a thorough investigation of my injury, I needed to become aware, accept, and then let go of the emotions that were coming up after my injury. It is essential to realize that any so called negative emotions that arise from a certain event/situation is NEVER caused by that situation. Life brings out these suppressed dark elements of ourselves to the light so that we can transmute them into something beautiful. 

There are no bad or negative emotions. Emotions only become negative when they become bottle up and submerged. The key is to let it flow and then let it go. For example, do not suppress your emotions of anger because it is not socially acceptable to be angry. Instead, revel in the anger, pay attention to how your body feels when you’re angry, and then and only then can you make the enlightened decision to drop the emotion. An important corollary is that just because you are feeling an intense emotion, you are not compelled to blindly have your actions follow that emotion. It is human to feel angry, but it is wrong to commit violence when angry. 

Dealing with the emotions that arise due to an injury is just as important as anything physical you do to ameliorate the injury. Just like you can get scar tissue lodged in your muscle and joints after an injury, you can get emotions, such as anger and fear, lodged into your psyche. This lodged emotion will hamper your performance just as much as scar tissue.

How do you deal with these emotions? Two tools that I have found helpful when these emotions arise are:

homepageImage_en_US

One of the most therapeutic and effective tools I have used when dealing with with tough times.

  1. Journaling – There is something truly remarkable about spilling the contents of your mind onto a blank piece of paper. The key is to place NO filter or judgement on what comes out. People who say they have nothing to write about are just unconscious about how much they judge and limit themselves. Lastly, it is essential that you physically write in cursive with a pen and paper. There is an intimate connection with the hand and brain that you need to take advantage of to be the best that you can be.
  2. Body Meditation – Many times physical pain experienced in the body is a deeply lodged emotion’s last cry to become noticed. It is no coincidence that disease has the words “dis- ease.” Disease can not occur in a body in a state of ease and non-resistance. This meditation can be done anywhere at anytime you have a spare moment. Become aware of your body. How fast is your heart beating? What does it sound like? What is the rhythm of your beats? Are you at ease? Is there tension in your body? Get curious about your body and revel in all of its sensations. For the vast majority of people, they experience reality all in their head. Remind yourself that you have a miraculous body attached to your head.

Losing and/or getting injured just plain sucks. There are no qualms about that. Sometimes I wonder if the ruthless mentality of professional sports and NCAA athletics, which unfortunately is seeping its way into youth sports, needs to be revolutionized. A maniacal obsession with winning and being superior to others should NOT be seen as a positive trait. The pursuit of self actualization and personal excellence are, but beating others is definitely not!

Even though there are many pitfalls with this culture, there is one major positive aspect lurking in the background. Elite athletics is such a ruthless world that every athlete will experience their fair share of losing, heartbreaks, and injuries.

This is an amazing opportunity that provides the impetus for all of us to not only be a better athlete but also a better human being. I hope this post gave you a fresh new perspective to help deal with defeats, disappointments, and injuries that are integral parts of athletics and just life in general. If you are going through an injury now and this has helped you, please share your experience below. It will not only warm my heart, but hearing someone’s experiences could be exactly what someone needs to be the strongest version of themselves. Lastly, if you have any other tools you use to deal with tough injuries and loses, please share it with everyone. Let’s create a community of leaders who are adamant about achieving their full potential and serving the world. 

Personal Excellence and Service, 

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

How Contrast Therapy can keep you injury free and boost your health

This is how many elite athletes feel. I know I did while competing for BU. But are we really helping ourselves out following the maxim no pain no game. Absolutely not. A paradigm shift is needed in strength and conditioning.

This is how many elite athletes feel. I know I did while competing for BU. But are we really helping ourselves out by following the maxim no pain no gain. Absolutely not! A paradigm shift is needed in strength and conditioning.

Who are the only two people who are undefeated and will remain that way for the rest of eternity in sports? Father Time and Injuries. There is not much that we can do about Father Time. We are all getting older. However, we have much more control over injuries than we realize. No doubt collision injuries are impossible to avoid. However, non-contact injuries, like Derick Rose’s knee injury, should not occur when we have such supposedly “advanced” sports training. Derick Rose was all by himself and no one hit him or threw him off balance. I completely blame the stupidity of Tom Thibodeau and the Bull Training Staff for ruining his career.

There is no excuse for why D Rose suffered such a traumatic injury in a game with no contact. The major driving factor was most likely fatigue. The game was over, Tom Thibodeau should have had him out of the game.

There is no excuse for why D Rose suffered such a traumatic injury in a game with no contact. The major driving factor was most likely fatigue. The game was over, Tom Thibodeau should have taken him out of the game.

However, I digress. Unfortunately the vast majority of injuries that still occur today are 100% preventable. They are a plethora of aspects of sports training that go on today that are wrong and I will discuss them in future posts. However, the number one factor from my personal experience and experience from coaching many athletes that leads to preventable injury is fatigue. You might think we just need to reduce the workload placed on the athletes. In an ideal world this would work. However, sometimes it just can not be done.

The problem is under recovery.  As I mentioned in a previous post (Read More: Where do you get better at your sport?) you do NOT get better during your training but while you recover. Too many athletes think that once they leave the court pitch or gym that all their work is done. Their work is just beginning. Being the best athlete requires a 24/7 commitment to being the best that you can be because all facets of your life can dramatically effect your performance.

Who says that recovery can not be awe-inspiring and intensely pleasurable. My time at the Scandinave Spa was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life.

Who says that recovery can not be awe-inspiring and intensely pleasurable. My time at the Scandinave Spa was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life.

So what is a modality that you can use to drastically boost your recovery in a short time period? Contrast Therapy. It is used by many NBA, NHL, NFL, and Olympic athletes. It is quite simple. You alternate between bouts of hot and cold temperatures. This causes a drastic increase in circulation, which helps flush out toxins from your body, and reinvigorates the soul.

I was reminded of the power of contrast therapy last weekend. While on a family trip to Whistler, I got the wonderful opportunity to visit the Scandinave Spa. During my time at the spa I learned of an important  aspect I was neglecting from my contrast therapy routine. I was not having a relaxation period in between the bouts of hot and cold so my body could reach a state of homeostasis. The protocol they recommended was:

  1. 10-15 minutes to heat up your body (Jacuzzi, Hot Salt Bath, Sauna, or Steam Room)
  2. 30 seconds to 2 minutes of cold (Very Cold Shower or Ice Bath)
  3. 10-15 minutes of relaxation at room temperature to allow your body to reach homeostasis.
Not having access to a

Not having access to a “spa facilities” is no reason to not incorporate contrast therapy into your daily regiment.

But what if you do not have access to “fancy” spa facilities like a sauna or jacuzzi (although I would argue these are much more common now than people realize)? You can use a shower and get almost all the benefits. However, when in the shower the protocol changes slightly as you are unable to take a 10-15 minute break between bouts of hot and cold to reach homeostasis. What I recommend is:

  1. Spend 2 minutes in as hot as water as you can handle. If you have a stationary shower head, try to move around so that the water reaches all parts of your body. If you have a “moveable” head, you can direct the water to the areas that are in most need of repair.
  2. Then as quickly as possible switch to as cold as you can handle. Remain under the cold water for at least one minute, and repeat as many times as desired. I recommend you repeat this sequence at least twice and no more than five times.

Contrast therapy will make you feel instantly better after a grueling workout. However, its not only enhances recovery but also your health as well. Its great for the circulatory system, and flushing out toxins from your lymph system. On top of that it invigorates the soul, as the shock of switching between temperatures makes you feel alive and will make you feel joyous.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Part II – Sequencing: Theory and Illustration

Heel’s system is designed to uncover compensation patterns in the body.  It revolves around posture, breathing and muscle recruitment, which all go hand-in-hand.  Every movement must start in the center of the body and move outwards, effectively expanding the body, instead of starting at a distal (far from the center) area and moving inwards, which causes a collapse in the body.  Heel divides the body into zones, pictured below.  1-2-3 is the ideal muscle sequencing pattern, anything else is a liability for injury or subpar performance.

FullSizeRender-1

Zone 1: The Diaphragm, Psoas and Glutes:

Hip flexion and extension is the body’s primary priority – it cannot move without it. The psoas and glutes are designed to flex and extend the hip – they are in the best position to do so. The psoas will not be working properly if the diaphragm is not working properly, because the fascia encasing the diaphragm also wraps around the psoas.  If breathing is compromised, due to stress or bad posture, the functioning of the entire body will also be compromised.  If the glute/psoas can’t do their job correctly, another set of muscles will take over in order to move. I say “set” because no single muscle can do the job of either glute or psoas.

The diaphragm is involved because the fascia holding it in place connects to the psoas.  If the diaphragm shuts down due to stress, poor posture or other reasons the psoas cannot do its job.  Due to reciprocal inhibition, the glutes cannot fire if the psoas cannot fire. If the glutes cannot fire, the hamstring will do its own job AND take over for the glutes.  Because these muscles are supposed to fire first in any movement, if you can’t breathe deeply into your belly, you won’t sequence properly.

Sequencing should be 1-2-3. However, most athletes are firing zones two or three first – this means that they fire their quad and abdominals together to make up for a misfiring psoas (leaving those muscles unable to effectively do their own jobs) or firing their shin or even hand muscles first. I was surprised to see how many athletes cannot get their brain to fire a hip flexor without tensioning the ankle joint first – these athletes may have shin splints, Achilles problems, chronically tight calves or any other disfunction stemming from the way they compensate when their feet hit the ground.  The predictive value of an athlete’s sequencing pattern has been pretty on point in my limited experience testing this in my athletes.

What does a 1-2-3 look like in action? Here is Irving Saladino, Olympic long jump champion from Panama. In this picture, notice the lack of tension immediately after takeoff – you can see it in this slow motion video as well, fingers lightly curled, jaw lightly closed, toe mildly up, but there is no excessive tension in these areas when he raises his free leg upon takeoff. His psoas muscle is able to do its own job, the hands and face (which cannot add anything to the jump) are able to relax because they are not called upon to work. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbLZKY2CRk4)

0019b93bd68d0a18b17f01

What does a malfunctioning pattern look like? Here I am, in two separate pictures. My pattern on the right is a 3-3-3 arm – this means that in order to flex my right hip, my brain sends tension to my left hand first. My psoas on that side cannot do its own job, so the brain tries to add tension in other areas to assist in hip flexion. This is why I make a strange claw with it as I jump. This need-for-tension in my hand explains how I could hit my head on the rim, but could not get anywhere near that high with a basketball in my hand – holding a ball forces my hand to open, and as a result, my brain cuts the amount of power it gives to my hip drive. This is a setup for injury as well, because my strength levels drop when I cannot/do not close my left hand. It also explains why I have injured my left thumb so often – my hand thinks it has to do hip flexion, so when it has to do its own job it is tired or out of position. My face is also holding a ton of tension, which is only hindering my ability to jump far.  My mind-body connection had blown a fuse, it didn’t know which muscle to fire when.  While I had some success this season, I also missed almost all of it because of injury.

Brown Invitational 2 AmericaEastTFChampsSaturday12-vi

The way we get it working again is first by working with the breath – if the diaphragm isn’t working nothing will work properly – and rubbing neurolymphatic reflex points that cause our brain to wake up muscles that it has stopped using, whether because of stress, bad movement patterns, or other reasons. The result is that there is a measurable difference in performance in controlled tests. That difference can be flexibility or strength, depending on the area. The pre/post test differences are often shocking – 45* to 90* range of motion in the hamstring, two fingers pushing down a raised knee to my full bodyweight on said knee. It can resolve pain and optimize performance. It’s pretty cool.

HOW TO BUILD BULLETPROOF BONES, PARTS III & IV: Where to get what you need, and how to cook it

As a basketball player and high jumper, I racked up 10 stress fractures over the course of 8 years.  Upon hearing this, acquaintances often ask, “oh, did you not get enough calcium?”  Actually, I did.  Doctors checked my blood, my calcium levels were normal.  So were my vitamin D levels.  I always came back slowly from these injuries as well – they never seemed to heal in the 4-6 week timetable my doctors would allot, even in college with the help of athletic trainers and physical therapists.  I would always ask the doctors, what am I doing wrong?  They could never answer.  So I eventually did my own research, and, as it turns out, I was doing quite a bit wrong.  This will be a four part series focusing on the role that diet has on bone strength and development:

Part I:  The Milk Myth

Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Part III:  Where to get the required minerals to maximize calcium absorption (listed in Part II) – Foods, Herbs & Supplements

Part IV:  The Bone Builder’s Cookbook – Several Easy Recipes

Part III:

If you read parts I & II of my “Bulletproof Bones” series, you’ll notice that I talked a lot about the minerals involved in getting calcium into your bones (not your bloodstream) and keeping it there.  The following are the best sources of bone-building magnesium and other minerals.  #1 is at the top, the rest are in descending order:

#1:  Cracked Bone Soup.  I did a post on this a week ago where you can read up on the bone and joint building benefits of this bone soup.  Is commonly made from chicken, beef, or fish.  Follows the ancient healing principle of “like heals like” – the animal has concentrated bone building vitamins and minerals in their bones.  Humans need the same nutrients, so we benefit greatly from this food.

#2:  Pumpkin Seeds.  Power-packed with magnesium, with around half of your daily requirement in just a quarter cup serving.  Also rich source of zinc and antioxidants.

#3:  Beans.  Lentils, Soy, mung, adzuki, black, and lima beans are all great sources of magnesium, as well as protein and other beneficial vitamins and minerals.

#4:  Whole Grains.  Especially quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice, barley, millet, oats, rye and wheat (in descending order of magnesium content, from whfoods.com).

#5:  Green Vegetables.  Chlorophyll makes plants green, and at the center of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium, making these guys a great source as well.

Note:  Much ado has been made in health circles about the phytic acid content of beans and whole grains, with some (usually paleo…) people advocating that we leave them completely out of our diet for that reason.  Phytic acid is one of the ways a plant avoids being eaten – it is a toxin whose intent is to render the plant inedible, by binding to vital nutrients and rendering them unusable by whatever animal were to try and eat them.  However, research has shown that the body produces its own chemicals to break down phytic acid.  I personally soak grains the night before I use them (just put ’em in a mason jar and let ’em sit on the counter covered in water, then drain the water and put it in the fridge, preferably use it within a few days – soaking is as simple as it sounds) because it breaks down phytic acid to a negligible amount by beginning the sprouting process (during which the plant’s nutrients are most bio-available).  I first read about soaking grains in Paul Pitchford’s “Healing with Whole Foods,” a book on western and eastern nutrition.  Since so much of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s nutritional recommendations are focused on getting the most nutrients possible while wasting as little of the body’s energy as one can to assimilate those nutrients, I feel that soaking is worthwhile.  I usually place a lot of faith in traditional wisdom, due to its strong track record (our survival).  I feel I get less of a dip in energy (less food coma) immediately after I eat soaked grains (vs. non-soaked).  Could be placebo though…You decide.  As for beans, soaking DEFINITELY makes a difference by reducing the content of particular sugars that upset your stomach.    

Part IV:

Minimal Work Recipes

There are more complex recipes out there, but if you’re just starting with cooking, on a budget, or lacking a full kitchen’s worth of ingredients, then these will do just fine.

Chicken Broth/Stock

Dahl (Lentil Curry):  bring 3-4 cups water to a boil.  Add 1 cup soaked lentils.  Simmer until soft, then add a tablespoon of curry powder OR turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne and coriander (all powerful anti-inflammatories, especially turmeric), add salt to taste, and cook 5-10 more minutes.

Gretchka (made with Kasha, which is simply toasted buckwheat):  boil 3 cups water, add 1 cup Kasha and salt to taste, simmer for ~20 minutes, add a sliver of butter and parsley if desired, cook another 5-10 minutes (until the water is soaked into the buckwheat – 1 cup of buckwheat will look alarmingly bigger after cooking!)  Millet can be made this way as well (though I don’t often include butter with millet, as it is creamy in texture as is).  Wild rice and brown rice are similar as well, although wild rice will take more like 45 minutes.  I will often sauté a vegetable in olive oil or butter on the pan, then add water to boil, then add grains – adds veggies to the meal, and flavors the grain!  I like mushrooms with buckwheat, onions with lentils or rice, broccoli with millet – this addition is something worth experimenting with.

photo (3)

From Bazaar on Cambridge St. in Allston, MA, a primarily Russian grocer – Millet is $2.89, Barley $1.89, and Kasha $2.79 for 22 servings – that’s less than 13 cents per serving for a food nutritious enough to be a staple of one’s diet – they said eating healthy was expensive, did they?

Finally, to bring it all together I have a recipe a client gave me last week – this one is a little more involved, but since it uses a crockpot/slow cooker it is super easy.

(Slow Cooked) Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts*

1 cup quinoa (soaked)

2-3 sweet potatoes, depending on their size

1 can black beans (rinsed) OR equivalent of a can (~1 pound) dried black beans soaked and then cooked somewhat (boil, 20-30 minutes simmer)

2 big tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic

5 cups chicken broth – since I make my own broth, I’ll often cut it with water, i.e. 3 cups broth, 2 cups water – my broth is much more flavorful than store bought broth

Chili Seasoning – 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne powder, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper – you can use this ratio to make a bunch of chili seasoning for use in other dishes, storing for up to six months

Instructions:

Pour in liquid – broth or combo broth/water

Add in chicken, quinoa, rinsed beans

Peel sweet potatoes (or not, if you’re as lazy as I am) cut into cubes and add to pot

Dice tomatoes and garlic and add to pot

Add chili seasoning to pot

Place on high for 3-5 hours or low for 5-8 (I do high for 4.5 hrs)

Use two forks to shred chicken, stir & serve

*Note:  I often skip the chicken if I’m cooking for myself, replacing it with another pound of black beans or adzuki beans – I don’t eat meat more than a few meals a week.  Why I do this will be discussed in future posts.

Bon appetit!

How to Build Bulletproof Bones, Parts I & II: The Milk Myth, and What Really Matters for Calcium Absorbtion

Note:  You can see the summary from this article at the bottom of the post.

As a basketball player and high jumper, I racked up 10 stress fractures over the course of 8 years.  Upon hearing this, acquaintances often ask, “oh, did you not get enough calcium?”  Actually, I did.  Doctors checked my blood, my calcium levels were normal.  So were my vitamin D levels.  I always came back slowly from these injuries as well – they never seemed to heal in the 4-6 week timetable my doctors would allot, even in college with the help of athletic trainers and physical therapists.  I would always ask the doctors, what am I doing wrong?  They could never answer.  So I eventually did my own research, and, as it turns out, I was doing quite a bit wrong.  This will be a four part series focusing on the role that diet has on bone strength and development:

Part I:  The Milk Myth

Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Part III:  Where to get the required minerals to maximize calcium absorbtion (listed in Part II) – Foods, Herbs & Supplements

Part IV:  The Bone Builder’s Cookbook – Several Easy Recipes

Part I:  The Milk (and Supplement) Mythmcgwire-milk4501

Drink enough milk, they say.  It’ll give you strong bones, they say.  Lower rates of milk drinking are often cited as a reason behind the current epidemic of osteoporotic injuries (injuries from weak/brittle bones) in America.  The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that “around 40% of US white women and 13% of US white men aged 50 years will experience at least one clinically apparent fragility fracture in their lifetime.”  Some doctors believe that this problem is because of a lack of calcium in the diet.  But is this true?

If we were to look at the countries with the highest per capita dairy consumption, we’d also see the strongest bones, with all the calcium that dairy consumption provides, right?  Wrong.  Scandinavia is leading the way in dairy consumption, and guess who has the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world?  I’m not quick to say that dairy consumption causes bones to weaken (although that’s a possibility: cheese contains high amounts of phosphoric acid, the same substance that is believed to be why colas (not all sodas) have been scientifically proven to cause bone loss).  The lack of sun must also be involved in the Scandinavian epidemic, as vitamin D “turns on” calcium absorption.

If dairy doesn’t work, what about supplements?  If just getting enough calcium doesn’t work, vitamin D will help, right?

The US Preventative Services Task Force actually recommends not taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, since the evidence does not clearly show that they have any effect on fractures in women.  There are actually concerns about the safety of calcium supplements, as some studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease for those taking the supplements.  Sunlight and a healthy diet are highly correlated with regular vitamin D levels, which are highly correlated with strong and healthy bones, and supplements of vitamin D have been shown to effectively raise levels in the blood in many cases.  However, in my case, and in the cases of at least three fellow stress fracture-plagued athletes I met through my career, our vitamin D and calcium levels were tested and came back normal, and we still kept breaking bones.  Is it possible that we had normal calcium and vitamin D in our blood and they were still not doing the jobs that they were supposed to do?

sun_vitamind

Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Magnesium & Vitamin D

WebMD.com says that “magnesium is a mineral that is present in relatively large amounts in the body.  Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.”  More than 300 reactions, including those in which vitamin D is involved.  Actually, magnesium turns out to be a cofactor in every interaction requiring vitamin D.  Carolyn Dean, MD says that “When you take high doses of Vitamin D and if you are already low in magnesium, the increased amount of metabolic work drains magnesium from its muscle storage sites.  That’s probably why muscles are the first to suffer magnesium deficiency symptoms — twitching, leg cramps, restless legs and charlie horses.  Angina and even heart attacks affecting the heart muscle are all magnesium deficiency symptoms.”  This is very important for athletes that play sports outside – if you use magnesium to metabolize vitamin D, and you get a lot of vitamin D (from the sun) then you must make sure that you are getting enough magnesium.  One reason for the lack of attention that magnesium gets by the average doctor may be because it is very difficult to test for.

Calcium, Magnesium & Calcitonin

Magnesium stimulates the release of the hormone calcitonin.  Calcitonin is produced by the thyroid, and is a regulator of calcium and phosphorous levels in the blood.  It actually prevents the release of calcium into the bloodstream.  When the message reaches the thyroid that there is a large amount of calcium in the blood, the thyroid releases calcitonin, which both enhances the uptake of calcium and phosphorous by the bone AND slows the activity of osteoclasts (cells that recycle bone).  If you want stronger bones, you want less osteoclast activity, as the osteoclasts break down bone to release their mineral content (osteoblasts, on the other hand, are the cells that build bones).

Lastly, studies have shown that even a small amount of missing magnesium from the body can interfere with the quality of your sleep  and sleep is required to rebuild the bones and all of the tissues of the body.  Another interesting fact is that magnesium is required for serotonin production.  Low serotonin can cause migraine headaches and is associated with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

In Summary…

-Getting enough calcium is important, but it isn’t everything.  Ever been told drinking milk will build strong bones?  Countries that eat the most dairy products, per capita, have the weakest bones.  What matters is how much calcium actually gets absorbed by your bones.

-Phosphoric acid (in colas) has been proven to weaken bones.  Sorry, no more Pepsi/Coca Cola if you’re going to be an athlete person.

-Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption, but cannot be absorbed if it there is not an adequate amount of magnesium in the body.  Due to the Standard American Diet (processed foods lose much, if not all, of their mineral content), magnesium is often a missing link for American athletes.

                -If you play sports outdoors or consume a lot of vitamin D in food or supplement form, you must be sure that you are getting enough magnesium.  Your body’s demand for it is greater.

-Magnesium also is involved in the release of the hormone calcitonin, which is required to keep calcium in the bones (where you want it) instead of the bloodstream and soft tissues (which can lead to calcification of the arteries and arthritis, among other things).

-Magnesium deficiency is hard to test BUT some signs that you may not be getting enough are leg cramps and charlie horses.

-Further, magnesium can help to improve your mood, relax your muscles and your mind (as serotonin production is dependent on magnesium), as well as helping you to sleep better by relaxing the central nervous system.

Next Monday we will look at both the sources of bone building substances in the food world and also common inhibitors of those substances.  In addition, we will look at some popular (and lesser known) herbs and supplements, their function in building super-strong bones, and some of their pros and cons.

UPDATE:  Further research has shown that the alkalinity/acidity of the blood (highly influenced by diet) also has a huge impact on the health of bones and soft tissues.  Later this October a specific post will summarize this rather complex topic.

Mindfulness in Motion

“It’s not about how much you practice, it’s about how much your mind is present when you’re practicing.”

If you follow psychology at all, you may have noticed that in recent years, the term “mindfulness” has been garnering a lot of attention. The most commonly accepted definition of mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”  Mindfulness is not a trance state, it is not someplace that you can get to. It is a way of being in the present moment.  It is not some clear-minded, peaceful fantasy world.  Noticing the breeze brushing against your cheek is mindfulness, but so is noticing your desire to check that text as you drive.

Chinese Study showed that after only 20 minutes a day for 5 days a group given meditation instruction scored significantly better than a control group (given relaxation training) in:

Attention

Lowered anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue

Decreased cortisol

Increased immunoreactivity (increased immune system functioning)

Recently, researchers from Harvard have also begun to study mindfulness meditation on a regular basis.  Using randomly-assigned studies where they have taken before and after shots of the participants’ brains have shown that over the course of 8 weeks the group that practiced mindfulness meditation had significant changes in their brains.

Brain

What were these changes?

Increased gray matter in:

The left hippocampus – involved in both short & long term memory, as well as spatial navigation.  Team sport athletes – imagine being able to learn and absorb your team’s playbook more quickly than ever. Imagine being able to navigate the court knowing exactly where your teammates are, developing court vision like Chris Paul.  Individual skills and sport benefit from increased gray matter in the hippocampus as well – memory is necessary for learning, so this finding would imply that you would be able to remember and re-create that perfect forehand on the tennis court or a spot-on approach in the long jump.

The posterior cingulate cortex – link between several different regions of the brain – if your parts of your brain can’t communicate with the others, you can’t function.

The temporo-parietal junction – used to process incoming information – think of how much information you have to process during a competition – your coach, your opponent’s intention, your teammates’ intention, their location, etc.  Improved ability to do this would theoretically lead to improved skill on the field.

The cerebellum – this piece of the brain has a large role in motor control, i.e. coordination.  Damage to the cerebellum has been shown to mess with motor skills and posture among other things.  As an athlete, you need this area in tip top shape!!

, in the body, stress markers such as cortisol were proven to have become significantly lowered – cortisol is implicated in disease and overtraining, among other things.

Chris+Paul+2012+NBA+Star+Game+6uqjeaJ_fY7l

But wait…aren’t these meditators sitting the whole time staring at the floor?  How do these changes in brain structure apply to performance in a sport?  It’s a fair question.  Let’s bring it back to the Kobe Bryant quote at the beginning.  You cannot improve without being present.  If you aren’t paying attention, or are otherwise putting in poor-quality work, it is not going to be of the same benefit as high quality work.  You can’t even know if you are putting in high or low quality work if you aren’t present and paying attention!  Being present is a skill.  Some people are better than others, and these people generally learn faster than the rest of us.  However, like any skill, you can practice it.  Just like training for strength in the weight room can benefit an athlete on the track, training in formal mindfulness can benefit an athlete by helping them stay focused.  Formal practice is helpful, but you can also practice it without sitting. It can be walking to class or brushing your teeth, an everyday moment.  I used to use segments of collegiate practices throughout the week as specific times to hone my focus – warming up, cooling down, during downtime.  I would try to stay as much in the present moment as I could.  By doing this I noticed two things: first, that I would become more aware during the rest of practice as well, and second, I would notice a lot of things that I had never noticed – feelings and thoughts that were there all along were brought to light.  Simply using your mind to pay attention to whatever may arise in the present moment – worries about the upcoming test, regret that you didn’t say more to your crush in the dining hall a few minutes before, the sensation of sunshine on your face, whatever might be swirling around in that head of yours– is practice.

A key to mindfulness practice is being there for anything that comes up – often we like to run away from thoughts or feelings that we don’t like, and often make our situations worse for ourselves by doing so.  Procrastinating is an example – the work does not go away, and the anxiety only gets worse with each passing moment.  While mindfulness practice does not mean that you must resolve anything, it requires courage to face it.  It takes effort to be with suffering without running to a social media feed or whatever we like to use as a distraction when we would rather be someplace else.  One must be there for our sensations, thoughts and emotions in the present moment like we are there for a loved one – unconditionally, through good times and bad, without judgment.

On the playing field, this means that we are not only present with thoughts and emotions that we like – the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net, the thrill of a big hit – we are present with things that we do not like, like our self-judgment after a mental error, or the butterflies in our stomach.  By harshly condemning our response to our errors, we make a mistake in the way we handle our mistake.  The first step is to stop digging, to accept what is, and to move on from there.  Mindfulness’s contribution to sports psychology is not in that it changes our thoughts and emotions as much as it changes our relationships to our thoughts and emotions.  They may change as you really face them, examine them, hold them up to the light – but they do not have to.  It may be enough to understand that we can tolerate fear, embarrassment, anything.  In the same way that the thought that “this is going to be a great game” doesn’t always turn out to be true, by staying present and accepting of the opposite thought (i.e. this is going to be terrible), we do not have to trap ourselves in the self-fulfilling prophecy that that thought often leads to.

at mark  Throwback…Monday?

As a track & field athlete, some days, practice was pretty painful.  However, as both my mental ability and meditation practice developed, I was able to stay with my dislike of workouts that I wasn’t good at, and shift my attention back to what I needed to do to get better.  Many track runners, and other athletes as well, mindlessly blow through repetitions without realizing that every step is an opportunity to perfect their form, their speed, even work on their attitude as they practice.  So although the workouts still hurt – and I still didn’t look forward to them – when I left the track I could honestly say I was better than when I arrived.  Had I tried to avoid those negative feelings…I would have completed the workout, sure, one way or another…but I would have missed the opportunity to improve that my new acceptance in the present moment gave me.  Sport is all about small improvements. In track & field athletes train for months to get fractions of a second faster.  In team sports as well, an inch will often separate a basketball from a defender’s outstretched hand.  Every little thing matters – the question is, are you going to be present to improve?