Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 125, Finished.

(This is going to be a long and in-depth post, so by all means, save reading it for an hour when you can settle in and mindfully enjoy the time it takes)

One Year Older

About a year ago, around the time I was turning 28, this video was featured on YouTube.

I smiled and laughed a little but inside I was thinking, "Dude, that's exactly how I feel." I have spent my whole life thinking of myself as a "young person," but as 30 approaches I am forced more and more to the realization that yes, age is happening to me too.

I'm not saying, oh gosh, I'm 29, I'm so old, poor me. It just hits me in the gut sometimes that I too will lose my youth, get aged, and die, and that's a new feeling that I'm still working with.

So, that video in the back of my mind, I decided that before I turned 29 I would do something about the slow slide my body was on towards being overweight and out of shape. I can't reverse the aging process, but I sure as hell can make sure this still-young body lives up to its fullest potential. So, I'm not going to make a song about it, but I made this photo composition. One picture is from July 22, 2008, the other from July 23, 2008.

This photo kind of sums up my philosophy on aging. A birthday is a chance to look into a brighter future, not a bleaker one. As we get older we only gain more knowledge to help us live as well as we can. For example, if I happen to have a free afternoon now, I really use it to do something that makes me happy, whereas the 25 year old me would have wasted it lounging around. And when I'm 35 I'll probably do something even cooler with that time. So although our remaining years decrease, the quality of those years can increase, if we are paying attention to how we are living, rather than how long we've got left.

The Origins of the PCP

I've always been a bit of a contrarian, so I decided last year that upon turning 29 I would be going the opposite direction of most of my peers, whose jobs and responsibilities are gradually leading them to neglect their health. Not only would I be in good shape, I would be in killer shape. As the thought process evolved I realized I needed some kind of target to keep my eye on as I went through this. I had always liked Bruce Lee but had assumed his level of fitness was far beyond a normal person. But one day I was watching some old clips and I noticed that Bruce didn't have a ton of muscle mass, he was just lean as a whippet and strong where it counted. And the thought just occurred to me, "I can do that." Bruce Lee wasn't superhuman. He just stuck to some kind of plan and worked hard. If I could only find that plan!

Just as all of these ideas were simmering in my mind, I met Chen Zhongtao, who lives here in Yokohama and works at an international school above my studio. He's done it all, he studied kung fu since he was a child, and after a tour in the Chinese military he became a policeman and then a police trainer, before meeting his wife and moving to Japan. Chen mostly teaches kickboxing, but I kept pressing him about how to get a Kung Fu style look. What did I have to eat? What exercises did I need to do? I pestered him for about 2 months, until he finally said, "You really want to do this? I can make you a plan. But it's going to be a little hard." That was fine with me. Nothing worth doing is easy. So, on the back of a bank envelope, he wrote my first week's diet. He was right. It wasn't going to be easy.

I knew that if I just haphazardly tried to follow this plan, it would collapse in on itself. I needed some kind of structure. I was going to Kyoto in a week or two, and I noticed that just after my trip was the first day of spring. So I would be well rested, and the first day of spring seemed like a great starting point for a project that was all about growth and living up to your potential. I also noticed that exactly 4 months later would be my birthday. 4 months seemed like enough time to change my body. So there was my scheduling structure. A 4 month, 125 day plan.

Now I needed some kind of social structure to support my project. If I tried to do it all alone there's no way it would work. I could keep a little online diary of my efforts, and maybe a few people in my family would read it. And, I could take a daily photo, and post it online, to keep myself honest and to shame myself into sticking with it!

Now all the plan needed was a name. "In shape", "fit", "lean and mean"... all of these usual phrases didn't encompass the kind of dramatic change I was after. I didn't just want to lose a few pounds, I wanted be as fit as possible. I wanted to be in peak condition. That had a ring to it.

The rest is history. And that history has been painstakingly blogged right here.

I never meant the PCP to involve other people, or to become a book. I never thought something could work so well. I got to a point where I was getting in such good shape that I felt almost a moral obligation to share this plan with others. It's like, if you see a really good movie, you go tell all your friends, "hey, go see such and such, it really moved me." That same kind of impulse was in me, because the Peak Condition Project was having such a huge positive impact on my physique, energy levels, and that all important quality-of-life. To not share it would have been miserly.

At the same time I was getting dozens of emails asking if I could tell people how the PCP worked and if I could "PCP them." But I knew just giving someone the diets and exercises would result in failure. The PCP is a whole package. You have to have the social aspects in place. You have to have a hero to aim for, a community supporting you and holding you accountable. So I decided to take on 3 people, but to try and replicate my experience as much as possible.

You see, a few times a week I was meeting with Chen. He was checking my gains and making small adjustments to my diet and exercises. I wanted the three other PCP participants to get that same "personal trainer" feeling. So we use the blogosphere and Flickr to keep in touch, along with a daily email. And David, Corry, and Sean have been doing great, each of them having a very different but successful experience with this plan. As my project ends I hope everyone will click over to their blogs and follow their progress with as much enthusiasm as you followed mine. And starting soon 6 new people will begin their path towards Peak Condition. 3 international and 3 Japanese participants.

Chen and I have also completed a book version of the PCP which anyone can use at home. It contains everything we've learned about how to have a successful project. We're in the process of looking for a publisher now, so if you have any connections in that area please please (please) get in touch with me.

Ok, so, you've all been waiting for the jumpsuit pictures. Here they are, along with some of the lessons I learned from the Peak Condition Project.

What the PCP taught me.

  • Anything can be done. You just need 3 things. A plan. The discipline to stick with the plan. And the flexibility to change the plan when need arises.

  • I learned that I love fruit.

  • Having a strong, fit body makes a huge difference in daily life. It's like you've grown a set of wings.

  • Drinking your calories is a dumb way to live. Sodas, mochas, frappachinos, even juices, they all aren't worth the caloric intake. It's much nicer to chew your calories.

  • Flexibility is not lost with strength gain. If anything, it increases.

  • Your body wants to be fit and healthy. It's desperate to be like that. Even the smallest encouragements of a healthy diet and some exercise will get it moving towards wellness. It's not an uphill battle.

  • Keeping a daily blog for 125 days straight is not impossible. There are so many interesting and unusual things happening all around a person that there's always something to talk about.

  • Bodybuilding really is a sport. I gained a lot of respect for those guys, especially the all-natural ones.

  • For every fitness plan you find there's another one that will tell you to do the exact opposite. It doesn't really matter, just choose one and stick with it. Changing back and forth will only end in ruin.

  • Box splits are really, really hard.

  • The vast majority of the food we eat is spectacular in its unfitness for human consumption. If you stop eating crap you stop feeling like crap. Who would've thunk it!?

  • Doing something like this brings the best out in people. They get a gleam in their eyes that says, "I can do this!" It's a beautiful thing, that gleam.

  • 4 months is unnecessary to reach Peak Condition. 90 days is plenty.

  • The kids section has pretty cool clothes.

  • When you eat right, the people around you eat right. Assuming you care about the people around you, eating right is a supremely loving thing to do for them. You don't have to sign them up or force vegetables down their throat. Just eat right yourself. You'll see what happens.
  • The entire fitness industry is a scam. You don't need to spend more than 20 dollars to get in the best shape of your life.

  • What you do need is time. Everyday. This is much harder to come by than money. Which is why the fitness industry is so big, as they promise to deliver results without the investment of time.

  • Jumpsuits are really easy to move in. I can see why Bruce Lee chose one.
  • The key to losing fat is not eating less, it's eating more of the right things.

  • The human body is capable of incredible energy levels, you just have to unlock them.

  • Even skinny people have a lot of fat inside them. It's just inside the muscle tissue.

  • 95% of the people at a gym have no idea what they're doing. If you're spending a few hours a week working out but you don't look like me, something is wrong. Probably your diet.

  • The clothing industry mislabels everything so that people don't feel so fat. If you're wearing something that says 32 inch waist your waist is really 34 inches. And that "medium" shirt is really a large. When you get down to a body size that actually mimics what people are supposed to look like, nothing fits anymore.
  • Peak Condition is a state of mind, not body. The moment I decided I was truly fed up with eating poorly and not looking my best, I was in Peak Condition.

  • Anyone can do this. Anyone. You can do this.

Closing Thoughts

Finally, I want to end on a kind of serious note here. As you know Bruce Lee was my ideal and my inspiration throughout this project. No one else combined technique, discipline, and philosophy so completely. Bruce Lee was a self-made man. Through his own hard work he transformed himself from a skinny kid in the back alleys of Hong Kong to one of the most recognizable people in the world.

Throughout my project I kept a little Bruce Lee pin in my pocket or bag, and when times were tough, when I wanted to push through a grueling set or was really craving some cheesecake, I'd look at the pin and think, "Every good choice I make is a step towards Bruce, every bad choice I make is a step away." So in a very real sense the spirit of Bruce Lee infused this whole project, and infuses the others' PCPs, and I'd like to thank him, for whatever it's worth to thank a deceased person.

Which leads me to my second point. Bruce Lee should be 68 now. He should be around inspiring us, leading Jeet Kun Do trainings, writing books on philosophy, and kicking ass. But he's not. He's dead. He died when he was 32 years old.

There's a lot of controversy regarding cause of the brain swelling that killed Bruce, but one thing's for certain, his training and rigorous schedule were contributing factors. He had been working hard on two movies, on top of a training regimen that I couldn't even begin to do. His body fat was so low that he was hypersensitive to the drugs they gave him after a collapse the previous week. On top of that cannabis was found in his system as he sought relief from the pressures of fame and the pain of a back injury he suffered while weightlifting years before. And all of that stuff combined to end his life much, much too early.

It's clear to me that Bruce Lee, despite being "the fittest man in the world," was not in Peak Condition. Peak Condition is a matter of balance. Being at your absolute maximum without teetering over the edge into unhealthy overtraining. It's also keeping your schedule free for things you enjoy, keeping your stress levels in check, and choosing a lifestyle that makes you happy, not simply successful. It's having that piece of cake at a friend's birthday party, skipping a training session because you want to continue a good conversation, and realizing when you've achieved enough and dialing back your program.

It's easy to get carried away with this kind of thing. It's easy to suck the fun out of it and mercilessly hold yourself up to impossible standards. I was on the edge a few times, but with good friends who grounded me I kept my perspective and have learned how to live a normal balanced life while maintaining excellent physical condition.

Above the place where I do sit-ups, I put up this picture of Bruce Lee to inspire me. I took it down tonight, because I'm finished with that part of the project. Although I'll never say a bad word about him, I don't want to have the body of Bruce Lee anymore.

I want to have the body of Patrick Reynolds.

(Patrick's Peak Condition Project is finished. But he'll be back with more news and new participants very soon! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 124, What's in the Box? And the Answer is...

Thanks everyone who cast their vote for what was in the box given to me on Day 78.

You all came up with the suggestions yourselves and I must say I'm really impressed. Have you ever read James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds? The book talks about how in experiment after experiment, a crowd's average guess is always better than a single person, even if that person is an expert. So, if you ask a roomful of people how many jelly beans are in a jar, their collective average answer will always be closer to the correct number than any one person's guess.

Well, let's see how The Wisdom of Crowds worked for my little contest, "What's in the Box?"

Here's the box.

Here's me opening it...

No way, it can't be....

It is! Damn! A Yellow Bruce Lee jumpsuit!

Which is exactly what you all predicted it would be. That's really incredible. Thanks everyone for your guesses. I'm not going to put it on until the project is really over tomorrow, that just wouldn't be right. Check back then for pictures of me in it, and for my final posting of my Peak Condition Project. What a ride!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 123, I Know This Great Little Bar...

I can't believe this! As you remember, on Day 83 I detailed my efforts to find a suitable chin up bar around the Yokohama metropolitan area. The one I found was ok, but it was always populated by kids giving me a hard time, which is cute for, oh, about 45 seconds.

So recently I've been going to a community gym to use their bar set up, which is really out of my way and which I have to pay money to access.

Anyway, today, I took a walk because the weather was nice, and I took a backstreet behind my yoga studio which I rarely use. After about 30 seconds I came onto a little playground in front of Shinto shrine. And there it was. A perfectly designed chin-up bar. All by itself, without being attached to a jungle gym, in front of a peaceful little shrine and under a cherry blossom tree. I couldn't make this stuff up!

So, here's my magical bar. Isn't it great!?

Here's the most important exercise you can do from a bar. The classic pull-up. You'll notice the fingers point forwards. This will put muscle on your back faster than anything else.

After that is the chin-up, which mainly works the biceps. I don't need any bigger arms than I have so I don't do this one much. You can see that the fingers point backwards in a pull-up.

A fun variation is one hand in chin-up position, one in pull-up position. This will work a lot of muscles along the diagonal of the back.

I've done so many crunches over the course of this project that they don't really challenge me much anymore. So Chen started me doing my abs-work on the bar. Here are a few of the abs-workouts you can do with a parallel bar.

First is lifting the legs up to touch the bar. This requires every muscle of your abdomen at some point along the movement. The key is to control the return movement and not just swing down like a monkey It's a fun one!

Next is the same idea, but with the legs coming up at 45 degrees. This hits the entire line of obliques along the side of the body.

And finally, adding a fully extended kick at the end will require your entire core as well as superior upper body strength. This one isn't for the faint at heart! Holding the legs for a moment static in the air is even harder.

And lastly is a half kung-fu situp. With just a bar it's a little tricky to get the full Jackie Chan version, but this one works almost as well, with one arm providing stability. Start hanging from the knee joints.

And do a side crunch just like you would if you were on the floor.

It's almost funny. For all these weeks this perfect bar was just 30 seconds away. All it took was me breaking out of my habitual patterns and walking down a different street to find it.

Which is the PCP in a nutshell. Inside all of us is a strong, healthy, slim person who we just haven't found yet because we are stuck in the same old habits. Breaking up these samskaric patterns is hard at first, but the rewards to be found are immense.

Two more blog posts and my PCP is history! Tomorrow I'm going to open that box!

If you'd like to apply for round 2 of the PCP shoot me an email at thepeakconditionproject (at)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 122, Admitting Defeat

Man, I just can't get these box splits. I've still got two inches to go and that's not going to be made up in the next three days, so I'm going to admit defeat right here. Sadly, I will not be doing this before the end of my Peak Condition Project.

I worked really hard to get this split ready in time for the end of my project but it just wasn't in the cards for me. Part of the problem was that the leg training and squats I do for muscle building are exactly opposite of what you'd want to do for splits training. Getting thick, shortened quads makes getting this split take forever.

Still, I'm not very happy about it. I've never spent so much time working on one pose and not gotten it. Box splits are pretty unforgiving. If just one hip abductor is tight or wonky the whole thing is a shambles. It's been pretty humbling.

But I also enjoy the challenge and tonight I ordered a new book about how to work with your nervous system to get the most out of your stretches. Here are some of the highlights from the table of contents:

  • How Kabat's PNF fools your stretch reflex
  • The function of the Renshaw cell
  • Taking advantage of the inverse stretch reflex
  • Shutdown threshold isometrics
  • Mastering the Golgi Reflex tendon
So fun times ahead for me. A lot of people express bewilderment that I spend so much time learning these relatively silly things. Like, who cares if you can do a box split? But these physical goals are kind of a hobby for me. Some people make model airplanes, some people play raquetball, and a depressing majority of people just crash in front of the TV at night. I choose to spend my hobby time working on my body, not in a narcissistic way, but just because it's so interesting to see what it can do. And I turn this knowledge around for my students as soon as I've gotten a decent handle on it. I believe that information should flow smoothly and that giving knowledge away is always better than trying to hoard it for a few coins. So I'll stick to my weird stretches.

But I don't expect anyone to understand. I personally don't get much out of making model airplanes, but I'm sure it gives some people a tremendous feeling of well being. Whatever works for you, as long as it doesn't harm others, go for it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 121, Productivity

This week I got a commission to do 35 personlized logos for each member of a bank staff for an upcoming bank event. I had 5 days to finish this task.

I got it done in two, and the logos look awesome. I'll post them in this entry once they've been used.

I've noticed over the course of this project that new ideas come faster to me now that I'm fit and I can simply sit down, think about a design problem, and come to an elegant solution. Before I would spend hours in trial and error, or just procrastinating.

So the PCP is really paying for itself, if I take into account how much more work I can get done in a given day now.

7 a.m. yoga in the park lesson tomorrow, so I better get to bed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 120, Your Turn

Hey everyone. It's hard to believe but my Peak Condition Project will be finished in 5 days. I just wanted to take this chance to open up the blog to questions from any of you who have stuck with me through all of this. So, if there's anything you've been wanting to know about the project, ask it in the comments section, and I'll give you honest answers. If you prefer to ask me privately feel free to do so at thepeakconditionproject (at)

I know from the numbers that there are hundreds of lurkers on this page, which doesn't bother me, I'm a bit of a lurker myself, but consider this weekend a "lurker amnesty" and go ahead and unload your questions or comments, because, for all intents and purposes, it will be your last chance. And to everyone a deep gasho from the bottom of my heart for your support and encouragement.

Also if you'd like to try the PCP for yourself apply soon at the above mentioned email!

Okay, the questions are coming in fast, so I'm just going to add them to this post as they come in. I'll paraphrase, if you want to see the original question it will be in the comment section.

Q. What type of resistance bands did you use?
I just got a cheap set of three from some no-name maker. The key thing is that your set have detachable handles and a door anchor (which I will always think of as a "dongle") My set was nice because you could add a band or two for more resistance as you got stronger. It took me snapping two bands to figure that out.

Q. What's wrong with bananas? Why do all the PCPers fruit servings say "no bananas?"
Because we really hate yellow things. Nah. Because bananas are really high in carbohydrates, which we need to keep close track of during the weight loss Phase. There's nothing wrong with bananas, but they can throw off your plan a bit if you're not careful, especially when eaten at night.

Q. Is it really healthy and or sustainable to eat all those eggs? Quite apart from the gas issue, how about cholesterol ?
-You'll notice we only eat egg whites. The yolk of the egg contains all the fat and cholesterol found in eggs. So, we boil the eggs, open them, discard the yolk and just eat the protein rich egg white. No cholesterol! But it's not sustainable to eat all the eggs, it's just during the project. After the PCP ends we'll teach you how to maintain your muscle without eating eggs all day.

Q. How do you target your legs without weights? Is there a danger of developing "big torso, skinny legs" syndrome?
-We do squats, just plain old squats without a weight. Also lunges. And for big quad work we do floor jumps, which involves sinking down to the heels, and jumping two or three feet into the air, and repeating down the length of the room. We also do a ton of jumprope, which tones the legs. However to get at the second part of your question, on the PCP no one will develop a "big torso" because the weights are low and the reps high, you will get a strong, lean look, much like the man Bruce Lee himself.

Q. How can one "keep it PCP" in a college dorm setting?
So much of living in a dorm is "Home Alone" syndrome. No one is watching you, no one cares what you eat, so you order pizza 5 nights a week, just because you can. And don't even get me started on the drinking. Just remember, it's true, no one has any say over you anymore, once you move into a dorm. That also means when you gain 20 pounds and have the same complexion as that pizza you're eating, there's no one responsible for that mess except the person in the mirror.

This isn't to say I didn't eat all manner of horrible things in college, and gained 20 pounds. Everyone gets to be a young fool once.

Q. Is it more beneficial to build muscle, strength, and vitality with yoga or kung fu? I can choose only one for an upcoming class.
-Yoga. Yoga gives you the base for any other physical activity, because it builds core strength, improves balance, increases flexibility, and most overlooked, improves the quality of your breathing. Without those things, your (insert sport here, kung fu, tennis, curling, etc...) is going to suck. True, you can eventually build those things in your given sport, but getting a handle on yoga first is the fast track to success. I've spent a few months in all kinds of dojos in Japan, and I've found my yoga conditioning has me passing guys who've been there for years in just a few weeks. They find a million ways to dismiss this, but I know it's from the yoga.

But, if you just want to have a good time and kick some stuff, do the kung-fu.

Q. What will you focus on next? Mental Peak Condition?
- I'm going to take it easy for a few weeks before starting my next project. I'll be working on flexibility and using my in-shape body for martial arts. Chen and I are also working on The Kung Fu Body, which will be like the PCP but for the longer term, more of an overall approach for life.

Q. Will there be a PCP convention?
-That would be awesome. I'd really love to meet everyone in person and swap old war stories.

Q. Will the PCP ever really end?
-Yes and no. The strict diet and exercise will be toned down a lot, in fact that's what I've been learning to do this month. But the philosophy, that you should challenge yourself to be at the top of your form every day, even when you know you're feeling like crap, will stay with me forever.

Q. In the first weeks, how did you resist the temptation of non-PCP foods?
- I used a lot of little mental tricks. One of my favorite was asking myself "how many times in your life have you eaten (___________)? (cheesecake, lasagna, etc...) The answer would usually be in the hundreds. Then I would ask myself, "How many times in your life have you had low body fat and looked really fit? The answer was always zero. So, I could do something for the 101st time, or do something for the very first time. That kind of thinking, always focusing on the positive gains rather than what I couldn't have, made all the difference. Another helpful thing is keeping your mouth busy. In the first month when I really wanted something bad I drank a cup of coffee. I like coffee so there was some small satisfaction without any caloric impact.

Q. How will you incorporate the PCP into your normal life once it's over?
-This is my main area of interest right now, and I'll post what I learn online in some way or another. Some things are easy, like the exercise and diet, others are trickier, like, what level of fitness am I willing to settle for post project?

Q. Is the PCP only for reasonably fit people with strong willpower and good genetics?
-I'll be honest with you, at the start of this project I thought that this plan would be for people who are in good shape but want to reach peak performance. But as it's gone on I've realized that it works just as well for overweight people, in fact, the results would be even more dramatic as it's not that hard to lose excess weight. The last 5 pounds take just as long as the first 2o would. Willpower isn't really the issue. The PCP is about breaking up old unhelpful habits and introducing new ones. If someone really decided they wanted to change their body they could do the Project with great success, no matter what their condition. But it won't work with a half-hearted effort. It wouldn't take very long either, even for someone 40 + pounds overweight. In fact, right now I'm looking for a substantially overweight person to sign up for Round 2. So apply! What've you got to lose! (besides your spare tire?)

Q. What's a Leg-up?
-It's when you lie on your back and instead on crunching your upper body, you lift your legs. This works the lower abdominals. When I started I did a lot of these buy now I hang from a bar and lift my legs over my head when I want work that area.

Q. When you switched from smoothies to regular food for dinner, did you continue to lose weight or did it stabilize?
-It stabilized. But we only switched to smoothies when the target weight was reached. I would've been on them longer but I lost my weight fast for some reason. The other PCPers were on them for longer but have just gotten off. The smoothies were actually one of my favorite parts and I still drink one when I don't feel like cooking or want a light meal.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 119, What is Kung Fu?

When you hear the word Kung Fu, this is the image that probably springs to mind.

In America we mostly know Kung Fu as a guy with fancy moves kicking the crap out of another guy. The word Kung Fu is usually used as the name of a martial art, the same way we say "Karate" or "Taekwondo."

This is pretty far from the original meaning of the word Kung Fu.

First we have the character Gōn (功), which means achievement, or to have merit. And Fu, (夫) which means man. So to have gōngfu means to be a "man of merit" or "a person of achievement." Perhaps a rough colloquial English expression would be someone who is "worth his salt."

You can see that this has very little to do with beating anyone up. Wikipedia, which is great for info but often lacking in literary style, actually has a very readable passage on this which I'll reprint here.

"Originally, to practice kung fu did not just mean to practice Chinese martial arts. Instead, it referred to the process of one's training - the strengthening of the body and the mind, the learning and the perfection of one's skills - rather than to what was being trained. It refers to excellence achieved through long practice in any endeavor. You can say that a person's kung fu is good in cooking, or that someone has kung fu in calligraphy; saying that a person possesses kung fu in an area implies skill in that area, which they have worked hard to develop. Someone with "bad kung fu" simply has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems to lack the motivation to do so."

I really love this meaning of the word Kung Fu, even though it is all but dead. It is how I try to do everything that comes my way, be it business, yoga, graphic design, or even keeping up this blog. Consistent effort over extended periods of time is the only way to truly master something.

The cool thing is that to have good kung fu in training isn't nearly as hard as gaining other types of kung fu. Eating right, working out the smart way, and just keeping at it is all you need. It doesn't take many months either as this blog has proved. So, on the scale of arts to master, getting in shape is a no-brainer. And the best thing is that having a fit and healthy body gives you the energy and focus to pursue those other, harder to attain goals.

So whatever it is that you're doing in your life right now, find the Kung Fu in it and do your best. This isn't just so that you'll be successful (which you will be), but will insure that you actually enjoy doing it.

(For a few more days we'll be accepting applications for round 2 of the PCP, apply and surprise yourself Thepeakconditionproject (at)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 118, There Was a Star Inside Me the Whole Time!

All of the PCPers and I have been going on for weeks and weeks about how different we feel eating right, getting stronger, and learning how our bodies work. This project is definitely one of discovery.

Some of the discoveries are just plain neato, and I've been meaning to share this one with you ever since I noticed it a few months ago after I lost all that weight.

As I wrote about at the time, when you lose weight you lose it from your arms, your butt, your face, everywhere. In fact, the place you lose it last is your belly and love-handles, which is frustrating because that's where you want to lose it first!

Well, one of the places you lose that fat layer is your chest, and I don't just mean your man-boobs (which I had) but your actual chest wall, as in the skin covering the solar plexus. Well, once that fat layer was gone, I found the coolest thing. For some lighting reason it's really easy to see as I get out of my shower, so that's where I took this picture, after my shower today.

Can you see it? Right there on my solar plexus there's this meeting point of cartilage which I can only describe as a starburst. Here's the pic from one step closer.

In my 28 years of life, I had never seen this part of my body before. It was there the whole time, just under the fat I guess. I think it's so funky. I feel like I've seen similar things on other people, but I couldn't find any pics on google images. What should I search for? Starburst cartilage on chest?

Anyway, I'm going to use this little star as a kind of yardstick. As I mentioned yesterday I'm quite happy for my weight to fluctuate throughout the year and season, but I'm making a little rule for myself. If that star starts to get faint and disappear, it means I'm slipping back into some bad habits and need to address whatever's going off track.

Does anyone else have this star? And what is it exactly? I have a ton of anatomy books, but I can't find what exactly this thing is. All my books skip right to the muscle, then the ribs!

(want to find out things about yourself you never suspected were there? Apply for the second round of the PCP at thepeakconditionproject (at)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 117, Remember Day 47?

Day 47. That was a long time ago, 70 days to be exact. It was just after I had lost 11 pounds of fat. One of the unexpected side-effects was that I was freezing my ass off. I hadn't realized how much extra warmth that layer of fat provided. Here's a cross section showing the subcutaneous fat layer undeneath the dermis.

You see how it's all spongy and bubbly? Remind you of anything? How about this?

All those pockets between fat globules act as a protection against the cold. And when you lose them you really do feel like you've left your jacket at home.

Ah, but now it's summer, and you can guess what I'm going to say next... I've never felt so cool on hot days before! It's great. When I have to wear long pants for work or something I don't feel like I'm roasting from the inside out. And I haven't turned on the air-conditioning once and I intend not to all summer (for ecological and economical reasons).

Now I'm not saying I don't feel hot, I do, but it's just on the surface, and when I get out of the sun my body temperature returns to normal pretty quickly even though the ambient air temp is still high. And the most obvious proof is when I spend time with someone in Not-So-Peak-Condition who is sweating profusely and peeling off layers, cursing the heat the whole time, while I'm cool as a cucumber.

So, knowing this, I think when winter rolls around again I'll put on some pounds to get that layer of fat back a little. This seems like a very natural and obvious thing to do. Nature designed this excellent system for keeping warm, it'd be a shame not to use it.

And if you want to experience these fun side effects for yourself we're still accepting applications for round 2 of the PCP. Apply today and change your life! ThePeakConditionProject (at)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 116, "Spirituality" and The Peak Condition Project

Recently, our podcast, Zen is Stupid has received some criticism for not talking enough about Zen. We've been talking about pretty secular stuff lately, like movies and video games, but there's always an element of "how can we do this more mindfully" in every episode, so I'm not really worried about the comments. Sometimes not talking about Zen can be the most Zen thing you can do. However, it does highlight something I've found on the PCP as well.

I'm just thinking out loud now, but it seems that the modern world has drawn this sharp line between the base "physical" and the elevated "spiritual." I think it must be an offshoot of the idea that the body is unclean and undesirable and the mind/soul is pure.

Every passing year we find out more and more that the mind and body are so intertwined that it's quite misleading to even call them two things. So there's all this study into the mind-body connection and so on.

However, in India and Asia there isn't such a historical divide between the physical and spiritual. The whole practice of yogic asana is a way of using the body to reach a spiritual destination. And in Buddhism (well, Zen Buddhism) the body is always your home base, where you return if you get stuck in too much circular mental thinking. This can be seen in meditation, where we return to the breath, or to the pain in our legs, or to the straightness of our backs, when the mind is wandering. Or in koans where the student asks an esoteric question and is answered with a smack to the skull. The message is clear. Get your head out of the clouds and truly inhabit the moment, which is where your body is.

Your mind can take amazing voyages to the past or the future, but your body will never leave the present moment. And that's where real life is.

But, I've received a little blowback and a vast amount of silence from the Buddhist community during The Peak Condition Podcast. This doesn't surprise me but it makes me somewhat sad. Buddhists in general are a very cerebral bunch, and all too many do the majority of practice in their heads. In all the retreats and Buddhist events I've been on I've never seen someone in really good shape. Most people are a little thick around the middle, which isn't a shocker as Zen's main event is sitting on your ass.

I get the impression people feel that spending time working out, getting your portions right, and exercising are all a bit shallow. Certainly when compared to the deep wisdom of meditation. Again, one practice is considered base, and the other, pure. And many Buddhists would hint that spending time building muscle and getting strong is just a form of attachment and craving. Attaching to your good physique, craving the validation of others, etc...

Well I'm here to say all of that is misguided. In Zen we are working towards mental clarity. Trying to see the world as it really is, without delusion. And I have found that being in good (peak) physical shape has brought me a lot of clarity. Whereas before I would go around and around with a problem in my head, I'm finding making choices has become easier. I've become less mopey and more motivated, and I'm finding that I want to talk less and act more (except on the blog of course, where I can't seem to shut up!)

And I've written about in this blog before, but zazen has become much easier physically and more placid mentally since I got my core and back muscles toned up.

And finally, doing a difficult set, with your muscles screaming and on fire is a guaranteed ticket into the present moment. You sure as hell aren't thinking about how you'll pay for retirement in those times. The PCP has been the most life-affirming practice I've done in my life, and that includes countless complicated meditations on the body and long periods of meditation.

So, I'm thinking about a new kind of Zen retreat. Where you do your zazen, and instead of the classic "go sweep the leaves mindfully" BS worktime, all the students workout and learn how their bodies really function. If anyone out there has the ability to organize this, I have the whole thing laid out and just need to hear the word "go."

And I don't want to hear any more masters with a huge stomach tell me I need to control my mental states. They need to control their physical states! I leave you with a Bruce Lee quote.

"Too often one of those big-belly masters will tell you that his internal power has sunk to his stomach; he's not kidding, it is sunk and gone!"

By the way if you're interested in applying for the second round of the PCP leave a comment or email me at ThePeakConditionProject (at) We'll be starting three more people up soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 115, Baby-Hands

One week when I lived in Morocco my community village decided to put in a concrete tarqua, which I guess in English is known as an irrigation ditch. (There is a whole range of agricultural words I only know in Berber and not in my own native tongue)

So anyway, the first step to make this thing is that you have to dig a big ditch through the village. So of course I'm trying to help out and show I'm part of the community or whatever. I get down there with a pickaxe. Within 30 minutes I got blisters on my hands and couldn't go on. Which leads all the guys of the village to laugh at my "baby hands." There isn't much going on in Berberland, so it became the running joke in the village for a few weeks. "Hey baby-hands, can you come rub my face with your so soft hands?" or "Which of these scarves is softer, baby hands? We can't tell because we don't have baby hands." Eventually my hands toughened up but my reputation never did.

Anyway, I've been doing all this bar work, with the chin-ups, leg ups, and the stuff I was talking about yesterday, and my hands are getting pretty raw, with raised callouses on the pads of my palm. Chen was like, "just get used to it" but I know he was thinking something along the lines of "baby hands"

I was down with getting toughened up hands again, that's no problem, but it occurred to me that this time around things are very different. I use my hands for my job, adjusting people in yoga poses, and for that you need as soft a touch as you can get. Would you like some rough scratchy hands on your shoulders as you're trying to move deeper into Up-Dog? I know I wouldn't.

So this time I decided to not try and be a hard-man about it, and just get some freakin' weight lifting gloves and protect my baby hands. So I went to Sports Authority today after classes and got these cool gloves.

Which is what I really wanted to talk about in this post before I got off on a Berber tangent. I was in Sports Authority, this huge mega sports store, and I swear, every person in there was either scrawny or overweight. It was almost funny. There was this guy with a huge beer belly checking out the protein powders. And a dude with little stick arms testing out the dumbbells.

This is ironic and funny of course but I also find it very uplifting. No matter what kind of shape people are in, there is something inside of them that inspires them to change. Companies take advantage of this self-improvement instinct by selling absolute beginners top-of-the-line stuff, but that's beside the point. What I've learned over and over in this project is that people want to be better. They want to take care of their bodies, they want to be the person on the outside that they know they have inside. And that's a beautiful thing.

But there is a risk that all that excitement that leads you to buy some weights or an exercise machine will fade away as soon as you find that buying stuff is the easy part, it's the actual work that feels like, well, work. And then you have a house full of exercise crap that you slowly grow to despise so much you end up throwing it out.

So, my advice to everyone is, if you want to take up a new sport or exercise routine, start off with the cheapest most beat up equipment you can find. This will tell you truly whether you enjoy the hobby for itself or if it was just a passing fling. And you get two bonuses.

One, your house isn't full of junk from failed fitness projects,

and Two, if you do decide to pursue the exercise, you'll know what you actually need because you've already been doing it. So today for example, I knew just what i wanted out of the gloves, where I needed the padding, how tight they should feel, etc... Who knows what I would've bought if I had rolled up in there on my first day of the PCP?

Time and time again I have seen beginner yoga students come to class with 80$ Lululemon mats and $150 yoga clothing ensembles. And you know what? They usually give it up after a few weeks. And you know another thing? Invariably, the people who most stick with it are the ones who come in an old beat up pair of shorts and a t-shirt, with a thin exercise mat they won in a contest a few years ago.

So don't buy any more stuff, until you can say exactly why you need it and for what purpose. Anything else is just throwing money at your idea of yourself as a better person, rather than actually doing it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 114, Immense Satisfaction

The thing about The Peak Condition Project is that when you're up you're up. I felt strong as an ox today, and just as endurant. Taught 4 yoga classes, did my box splits, and after all that went to the gym with Chen to do hanging sit-ups using that gym's parallel bars.

I call them hanging sit-ups, I don't know what else to call them. Basically you hang from a bar and lift your feet over your head. Or you turn your body to the side and lift the knees up to your face like a side crunch. Or you can do reverse hanging sit-ups with your feet locked in the bar and crunching up your entire upper body. (I showed this in my Day 65 post using Drunken Master... by the way the gym said we had to stop doing those because it looks like you're going to break your neck and I guess it freaked them out too much)

Today the challenge was not only to lift the legs, but then perform a full kick with the legs straight out. This is so freakin hard to explain, I wish I had had my camera.

Anyway, imagine this guy but not jumping, just hanging from two parallel bars, but doing the same motion. Using his core to execute the action rather than a leg assisted jump:

So me and Chen were trading back and forth doing these air kicks 5 feet off the ground. A few guys in the gym were looking at us, and after we finished our sets they were like, "what the hell is that?" And I told them they're kung fu sit-ups. So of course they want to try them out.

These guys were pretty fit, they looked in shape to me at least. So guy one gets up there and he gets one air-kick out, and.... he's totally spent. His friend is laughing at him so he tells his friend to show him how it's done. The friend can't even do one.

As you know this whole project I've been looking up to Bruce Lee, which is incredible motivation because he was such a great guy and in such peak condition, but it's also a bummer because I will never ever be anywhere near him truly.

But today for the first time I looked down the ladder at some people a few rungs below my condition, and realized how far I've come. The thing about the PCP is it's a pretty solitary pursuit, outside of the blogs. You wake up, stick to your diet, and do your exercises. There's nobody watching you, nobody egging you on. It's you and your resistance bands, working quietly away for all those weeks.

But all those crunches and V-sits were apparent tonight when we were busting out those hanging sit-ups. Perhaps it's because the air-kick is such an exuberant exercise, but I felt huge gratification from having that level of control over my body. And then when the other guys couldn't even do two I felt another jolt of immense satisfaction.

I want to make clear it wasn't like, "Man, you two guys are weak, and I'm a total badass" If they worked hard they'd be doing those moves in no time, and if I stopped working out I wouldn't be able to do them after just a few weeks.

It was just another happy and unexpected milestone on this path.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 113, Obesity

I like the online magazine Slate and usually cruise over there once a day to see if they've got any interesting articles running. Well tonight this is what I saw. (Click the pic to go to the story)

With all the good things I've heard about WALL-E I was surprised by the headline, (which was of course the point) and as obesity and the environment are two things which really interest me, I dove right into the article even though I haven't seen the movie.

The logic of the article really baffles me. The author, Daniel Engber, who is usually pretty lucid, gets into his argument like this.

"Wall-E is an innovative and visually stunning film, but the "satire" it draws is simple-minded. It plays off the easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe, pushing the notion that Western culture has sickened both our bodies and our planet with the same disease of affluence. According to this lazy logic, a fat body stands in for a distended culture: We gain weight and the Earth suffers. If only society could get off its big, fat ass and go on a diet!"

How is it lazy logic to see that overzealous consumerism is the cause of both the obesity rate and our current ecological situation? And his facetious sentence, "If only society could get off its big, fat ass and go on a diet!" makes perfect sense to me. A diet from fatty useless food, from fossil fuels, from overworking just to make more money to buy more crap, I'd say a diet is just what the West needs. Engber goes on:

"But the metaphor only works if you believe familiar myths about the overweight: They're weak-willed, indolent, and stupid. Sure enough, that's how Pixar depicts the future of humanity. The people in Wall-E drink "cupcakes-in-a-cup," they never exercise, and if they happen to fall off their hovering chairs, they thrash around like babies until a robot helps them up. They watch TV all day long and can barely read.

It ought to go without saying that this stereotype of the "obese lifestyle" is simply false. How fat you are has a lot more to do with your genes than with your behavior. As much as 80 percent of the variation in human body weight can be explained by differences in our DNA. (Your height is similarly heritable.) That is to say, it may not matter that much whether you eat salads or drink "cupcakes-in-a-cup," whether you bike everywhere or fly around in a Barcalounger. If you have a propensity to become obese, there's only so much that can be done about it."

This really confused me. DNA is part of the picture, but it's not the main part. There is a difference between eating salad (why is it always salad? The fittest people I know never eat salads, they eat vegetables) and eating a cupcake. There is a difference between biking everywhere and sitting in a chair all day. The difference is staring you in the face every time you go to an international airport concourse in the US. The Americans are fat, and the foreigners are not. Sorry to put it so baldly, but I've seen this with my own eyes for years now, and I've been on both sides of it.

I object to the idea that being obese is a disease that we can't prevent. Now this is where someone is thinking "easy for you to say, you're not one of those people with the fat gene." But I AM! I've always been a little heavy, and if I don't exercise and don't eat well I get fat within just a few days. I blimp out. It's in my family, it's in my genes. The author is seeming to say that if you are unlucky enough to naturally tend towards fat, you might as well have "cupcake in a cup" because you're screwed either way.

This is completely backasswards. If you have the DNA for obesity, you have more responsibility than anyone else to not eat the cupcake, to stick to a low fat diet, and to freakin' exercise. If someone has diabetes we tell them they have to be more careful than most people about the GI of their foods. If someone has heart problems we teach them how to eat vigilantly to keep their arteries clean. Why shouldn't the same be applied to people like me, who get fat faster than any of the people around us?

But the article did get me thinking. Since the PCP I have probably become less tolerant of obese people than before I started. This is because I now know exactly what it takes to lose fat and gain muscle. You just need to follow a few rules consistently, and the body takes care of itself. And I don't want to hear about your thyroid problem or obesity gene. There's no way to accrue that much mass without introducing that mass into your system through large servings of fatty food. There's just no way. (Well, technically, you could convert the energy around you into mass, but that would blow up the entire planet.) These people have eaten their way into their condition, and they can eat and exercise their way right out of it. And the truth is that it's not that hard.

It's not that hard. It's not that hard to take an hour a day to exercise your most precious possession, your body. It's not that hard to stop eating junk that only makes you feel sick and depressed when you finish it. So, yes, I do think an overweight person is weak-willed, indolent, and stupid, in a fashion. Weak-willed to not be fed up enough to finally change, indolent for, well, being indolent (indolent does mean habitually lazy, after all) and stupid to not realize that they're running their one and only body into the ground.

I can say this because I used to be one of those people, and I was all those things, and it drives me nuts when people like Engber hint that you have no choice but to be fat.

You do have a choice. And the choice is not that hard to follow through with. And you can do it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 112, The BMI Is Whack

A few weeks ago I played Wii Fit for the the first time. The first thing you do in the game is set up your character, by providing your height and letting the board weigh you. Then it will spit out your BMI.

(Note: This isn't my screen, it's just a screencap I got off the internet. You can tell because that rough polygon lego character looks nothing like me!)

Now, what is the BMI? You probably know it stands for Body Mass Index. Ooh that sounds so scientific, it must be good right? Your Body Mass Index is the following equation.

That equation gives you a number somewhere between 13 and 60. This number puts you in a field that's classified as "underweight," "healthy weight," "overweight" or "obese."

So where exactly did this BMI system come from? Surely some fitness and health experts got together and figured it all out right? Wrong-O! The BMI was invented by a Belgian mathematician named Adolphe Quetelet in the mid 1800's as part of his plan to take all kinds of social phenomena and quantify them into numbers so that he could break us pesky, unpredictable humans into easily processed equations. Actually he was just trying to measure Belgians. From the 19th century.

So, I found out my BMI... and guess what? I'm on the borderline of being "overweight." Yep. Me. The guy wearing shorts from the boy's department. So the damn game is like scolding me and telling me I need to watch it or I could slip into the red zone. It really pissed me off. The BMI also has no way of figuring out your cardiovascular health, so a marathon runner will get the same score as a couch potato if their weights and heights happen to be equal.

Why did this happen? Because the stupid BMI can't tell the difference between weight from muscle and weight from fat. So for someone like me, with minimal body fat and a lot of muscle, it thinks I must be on the heavy side. This glitch basically bars me from playing Wii Fit, because the exercise plan they give me is designed for the fat guy I'm impersonating.

So, don't pay any attention to the BMI. Or any numerical evaluation or your health. Instead, go back to the simple things that we don't need a calculator for. For example:

How do your trousers fit?

How do you look in the mirror?

Can you touch your toes?

Do you get winded going up stairs?

Can you do the things you want to do without feeling crappy?

These are much better questions that "what's your height divided by your weight?" Give me a break. It should stand for the Body Mass Inanity.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 111, The Goof Off Week

I have these periods in my life when I really just want to goof off. I slack off on all my work and just do things I like. These times don't worry me because they are always followed by periods of extreme productivity and new ideas. So I've learned not to beat myself up about these phases and just roll with them.

I'm in one this week for sure. Last week a lot of events and projects came to a close, and I knew I'd be cruising through this week, taking time to enjoy the simple things, electric guitar, One Piece, nunchaku, sunshine, blended frozen mango smoothies, just to name a few.

What's not so great about these goof off times is that I tend to not pay close attention to my diet and a lot of things slip through. Like the other day I really wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I just made one and scarfed it down right at the kitchen counter. Peanut butter isn't bad but it's loaded with relatively empty calories. The jelly has too much sugar and the bread is just a waste of my daily carbs on fluff. It's a pretty dumb snack, all things considered. If you are mentally objecting that "there's nothing wrong with a PB&J!" then you aren't thinking like someone trying to reach or maintain Peak Condition. And that's ok, you didn't sign up for this. But we did, and so I had to just shake my head at what I ate.

And today I ate an entire pack of udon. I wasn't even hungry, but I had some extra dashii and the noodles were just sitting there so I threw them in the bowl and ate them while reading The New Yorker online. Again, the problem was my lack of mindfulness and mental laziness. Tonight I had an intense low blood sugar crash after spiking my system with all that glucose from the udon. I felt terrible, worse than I ever had on this Project, and I was reminded again that enjoying something for 2 mins on your plate is never worth the 2 hours of feeling gross from it, either with an energy crash, when you look in the mirror, or the next day when it passes through your system.

So I'm working on a way to have the goof-off week, which I need mentally, without a subsequent lapse in my diet choices. It's tricky and the best way I've found to deal with it is to go back to weighing stuff just like I did in the early stages of the PCP. 100 grams is 100 grams, and having weighed it all out you're not so tempted to go back for seconds, because there's no way that you can rationalize that an extra serving is still somehow 100 grams.

So, send me positive energy, because I'm struggling with the PCP this week!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 110, Protein Surprise

As I wrote about on Day 93 I've been drinking this whey protein powder stuff after my workouts and before sleep. These days my workout isn't as intense as it was in the early and middle periods of the PCP, so some days I go light on the protein and others, when I do a heavy workout, I drink a good two or three scoops more at night. So that's the background here.

In addition, as you know I'm working hard to achieve box splits before this project ends. If you've forgotten what they look like here's the master of them, Jeanne Claude Van Damme. They can be seen at 1:50, 2:30, and 3:25. I've heard VanDamme is a tool in real life but his high kicks and splits are unrivaled.

So, I'm doing a lot of stretches to get to those splits and some days I am really sore the next day. Not the kind of sore you get from over-exertion, just feeling a little beat-up around my groin area.

But I noticed something as I began drinking the protein powder. On those days I downed a lot of powder due to a tough workout, I noticed the next day I wasn't nearly as sore feeling from the box splits.

I have been thinking of the protein powder only in terms of muscle growth, but it seems to have an equally salutary effect on strains and soreness.

This makes perfect sense of course, since what you do when you lift weights is to tear the muscle fibers so that they can be reknit overnight bigger and stronger (with the help of amino acid building blocks, also known as protein). Why wouldn't the protein do the same thing for a stretched out, tired, beat up feeling hip abductor?

This is a pretty cool discovery for me, even though I'm sure it's been well documented in medical literature. Upping your protein consumption will help you get over injuries faster! So I think I'll always keep some protein powder around, and on a tough day when I know I'm going to be feeling a lot of soreness the next day, be it from yoga, hiking, martial arts or whatever, I'm going to drink 3 scoops of it before bed. I want everyone else to try this to and see if my observation is true for you too!

If so, it would be a pretty big boon to yoga students who feel sore for days after their yoga class.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 109, Shirtless and Storytime

Well, it's officially summer in Japan. That means one word, humidity. Beads of sweat on your hairline, moisture in all your creases, T-shirt sticking to your chest.

But this year I'm feeling pretty good about it. And for one reason. I'm not embarrassed to sit around shirtless! It's hard for your t-shirt to stick to you when you don't have one on. I'm planning on spending the whole season topless, at least while I'm in my own apartment. Here's me as I type this post.

Before, it wasn't like I was so shy that I didn't want anyone to see me without a shirt. I would just get kind of disgusted by my gut after a few minutes and put something on so that I didn't have to think about it anymore. I'm sure pretty much all out of shape guys go through this.

I've always thought it was the most unfair thing in the world that guys can go shirtless but women can't. Take it off ladies!

But you want to know the worst thing about the humidity? I have a scar on my head that runs from my forehead to about halfway to the middle of my skull.

Normally it's no problem (except that it makes my hair messy) but when it gets humid, the scar swells up and becomes tender and painful to the touch. On the worst of days I can feel it throb with pain in time with my heartbeat. This is how I perform my famous slowing down and speeding up my heartbeat trick that you may have experienced if you know me personally.

How did I get the scar? When I was 12 I went to summer camp. One day we were hiking down to a swimming hole called Sliding Rock, for obvious reasons.

It had rained the night before, and the trail was a little slippery. I can't remember much, but I've been told that as I turned a corner on the path I slipped and fell right off the trail, down a ravine and cracked my noggin on a rock. I was sitting there by myself for a minute or two while the counselors tried to find a way down there. I had ended up propped up against a rock like I was lounging on a patio chair, with this hot fountain of blood shooting up into the air and down on me, and I kept saying to myself. "I've gotta get to Sliding Rock so I can rinse this red stuff off me."

A counselor finally got to me and he started carrying me back up, and I was like, "No, Sliding Rock is that way, you're going the wrong way! You're going the wrong way!" Ha ha. Good times, good times.

But there is a real message here. If you're dealing with someone who's had a head trauma, remember their brains are totally addled. Just ignore whatever they say and keep them awake.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 108, 108

You may or may not know that the number 108 is a mystical number in Hinduism and Buddhism. There are a number of reasons for this, which I know you don't care about. But if you want to know more check the wiki page on 108)

I've always thought it was silly to get wrapped up in numbers because of special properties they have. Prime numbers, the Fibonnaci sequence, Pi, etc... it always seemed to me strange to give some of them meaning over others.

Today was special for me too because we had our annual "All you can stretch event" to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Yoga Garden.

So I'm very tired tonight and this is about all I can manage as far as blog posts go.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day 107, Don't Get Caught Up in Being "Ripped"

Lots of heavy physical labor today and again, as I described in Day 32 I was able to get through it with tons of energy left over for the rest of my evening. At one point I was carrying a large plant in a heavy pot, and I noticed how easy it was after doing all those curls. It really made the job more pleasant.

All of this work was done out in the heat of the day and I was very thankful to not have that extra layer of body fat around me. While of course I still feel hot, there isn't that clautrophobic sweltering feeling anymore. I also don't sweat as much as I remember in summers past.

This is all great stuff as it is examples of the PCP working well in real-world situations. One of the things that I don't want to encourage too much is just looking good for the sake of looking good. Actual health and vitality have very little to do with how big your shoulders or or how defined your six pack is. There are a great deal of inner muscles which we never see that do the majority of the heavy lifting in life. If you want to a great example of being in superb health just look to yoga masters. They sure don't look like well defined models, but they live for years and years with perfect health and can do things like this at age 91:

Really, the only thing that looking super cut and defined is good for is your self-confidence. But that's a pretty big deal for most of us I guess.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day 106, One More Band

Getting stronger. As you may recall I broke two of my resistance bands on Day 44.

Following that I figured out that I needed to distribute the force over more bands. So for the past 2 months I've been using two bands. But recently I wasn't feeling so much resistance so I went ahead and added a third band, which is the last one I have.

So I'm getting stronger, but what I'm most pleased about is that I've kept my muscle lean through this whole thing. We managed this by keeping the overall amount of food low and the protein high, coupled with low weight exercises.

In my mind, the absolute worst outcome would have been to look like these guys:

These guys are actually very fit and incredibly strong. They can probably lift a car, but the question is who wants to lift cars? I'd much rather be strong enough for daily life and a little martial arts, flexible enough to be comfortable in my body, and toned and slim without any unnecessary mass. The few times I went to the gym with Chen as part of my studies I could feel a weird kind of pressure from all the dudes there that bigger is better. And you start comparing the size of your bicep to the guy next to you. This is all very silly.

If you look at Bruce Lee, he is actually a very small guy. You could probably wrap your arms all the way around him.

But what power! What speed! He could actually do something with his body, rather than just lift heavy things like a plodding ox. This is the same philosophy that informs my yoga practice. Find out how a pose fits into real action in your daily life and work from there. The kung-fu and yoga approach also has another important benefit. You can do them all the way until very old age, when all the muscle and flash has faded.

I've met several older kung-fu guys and even though they appeared to be small old men, when I got near them I could feel enormous confidence and power radiating off their bodies. I'm not trying to get new agey and talk about their chi force or anything. I'm just saying they held themselves and moved in such a way that told you they could still release a lot of power if called upon to.

That's what I want from my life. As I wind down my PCP I'm actually going to try and get smaller. I've gained a little too much shoulder and arm mass. It's the beginnings of another project Chen and I are cooking up. I don't have much more than the name of it, which I'll share with the public now for the first time... The Kung Fu Body!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 105, When Carbohydrates Are Scarce

Felt very strong and limber today. Maybe because I had one of those perfect sleeps where you lay your head down, fall into a deep dreamless sleep, and wake up the next morning totally clear headed and ready to go with no jostling around in the night to pee or open the window or anything.

I've been really cruising with my evening meals, especially letting the extra carbs slip through. The truth is that it's very hard to have anything resembling a familiar meal when you only have 50g (I piece of toast's worth) of carbs to work with. Pretty much any kind of tortilla, bread, or pasta based dish is out as the required vegetables and protein will swamp the measly carbs.

So I'm working on figuring out entirely different meals that don't require a starch to hold them all together. One of the easiest ways is to stuff something. Stuff a zucchini or a bell pepper and you're doubling your vegetables with the same bite. It's funny though, because most of the stuffed recipes ask that you fill your outer vegetable with rice or bread crumbs, which gets us back into carboland. So I'm working on various vegetable mixtures that will hold together without being like baby food.

One thing that does work is rice paper. Because the stuff is so thin but strong you can put a ton of veg in them with very little carbohydrate. But the fine chopping and rolling take time.

So most nights I end up eating a big bowl of steamed vegetables over a little pasta or rice with some kind of fish. I alternate between 3 or 4 low calorie dressings (radish, basil, sesame soysauce, tomato vinegar) to put on top.

Did you ever see Castaway? Like in his first week on the island he's all cooking the fish and stuff, and then they fast forward 4 years later and he's spearing and eating live fish right on the beach, with a wordless 200 yard stare the whole time.


That's kind of where I am with these steamed vegetable meals. They are my nutrition source and beyond that I don't expect a lot from them, either in taste or presentation.

I know most people will feel this is kind of a sad state to be in, and in a way it is. But it's also incredibly liberating to be free of the idea that every meal will have some kind of big flavor sensation. Our overly spiced and complicated modern foods are very out-of-sync with how people ate for thousands of years (those agricultural based thousands of years themselves being out-of-sync with the millions of hunting and gathering before them)

As I have lived in the developing world I have noticed the local people getting very excited about this or that feast coming up, or that this or that fruit is finally in season, and I also got excited. But when we actually sat down to eat this special food, I found it unremarkable and not really worth all the fuss. I realize now that we were operating from a different palate. For them, used to blander and less varied diets, it really was a treat to have, say, a marinated sheeps gonad (real example). From my McDonalds and Pizza Hut upbringing however, it was just some more odd and slightly gross food.

I'll never forget the time I visited a family in Turkmenistan and with pride they offered to cut me a piece of meat from a rotting goats leg, sticking straight up in the air with flies buzzing around it. For them it was a real honor to serve meat to a foreign guest. I made some excuse about how I couldn't accept such hospitality and was already full from visiting so many people that day, but what really took away my appetite was the enormity of the economic gulf between our two countries.

Every single day in America is a feast, and if you think about it, that's a little messed up. Our bodies also don't know what to do with such culinary overload, and it's making us sick. So, maybe something is lost with my rather bland and predictable dinners these days, but something is also lost when every meal is an extravaganza.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 104, Alcohol

I've been thinking over how to present this post for a great many days. I'm still not sure what exactly I want to say so I'll just muddle through as usual.

One of the things you stop doing on the PCP is drinking. Alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories considering you aren't getting any nutrition out of the beverage. People in the business refer to these as "empty calories" and they are the first thing to go when you want to cut fat and get lean.

It was also one of the harder things for me to let go of. One of the nicest parts of my day was getting home, kicking back and having a cold beer. It's probably the most prototypical male thing I did, actually. Always just one beer. About 5 times a week give or take.

I noticed that I was looking forward to that beer more and more, especially during stressful times. I would start thinking about it first on the way home from the station, then it would be on the train home, then it would be in my last class before getting on the train, earlier and earlier.

This puzzled me because I never drank more than one beer, and was never really tempted to. My craving didn't seem to be just the drug content of the alcohol, although surely that was part of it. I think it had just gotten to be my routine. And I didn't realize how attached to it I was until I had to break it up with this project.

But I just stopped. I had one beer on day 15 and that was it. So I was satisfied that it wasn't a physiological thing, like my body had to have beer or anything. Why then was it such a big deal for me to give it up?

I try to winnow down my attachments every day but beer still sticks around. I pass the cold beverage aisle now without even going down it, because if I do I really crave a beer. But just one. I don't get it.

If you take the novice vows of Thich Nhat Hanh's order, which Gwen and I have, you promise not to consume stimulants of any kind, all the way from cocaine to beer to mind-polluting TV shows. We grilled a young nun about what was so bad about having a glass of wine with a good meal. The nun explained that every time we spend our money on beer or wine we support a system that ruins untold lives through alcoholism, drunk driving, liquor fueled violence and domestic abuse. If we are truly mindful of all the pain that our choice to drink comes with and can still enjoy that glass of wine, then we are quite free to have it.

This argument gets me pretty good, because it is the same one I use to explain vegetarianism to people. "If you can truly understand all the stuff that happened to that animal for it to arrive on your plate, then you are welcome to have it. But if you're just eating it carelessly there's something wrong with that."

The nun's explanation is an extension of the Buddhist concept of interdependence. Every action results in numerous consequences, most of which we have no way of guessing. But some we can see if we just look a little deeper. The negative effects of alcohol and supporting the alcohol industry being one of them. So I feel really guilty whenever I dwell on that side of my beer routine. But I also really like beer. So I go around and around about it.

I know most people think this is far too much analysis over something as small as a can of beer after work. But that is what the PCP is all about. Not just accepting things being "pretty alright" but being the absolute best you can be. Setting high goals and not accepting mediocre results. Most people will think it's overthinking the issue but that has stopped bothering me. Many of those people are the same ones who don't understand why anyone would do the PCP to begin with.

High-reaching goals that require all of my resources and creativity are the only kind that interest me recently. Maybe I can make getting beer out of my life forever on of those as well. I'm still undecided and sitting with the issue. This is usually the only way I can resolve anything, so I'll let "just sitting" do its magic