Saturday, March 27, 2010

Houdini is Released

There have been at least two releases of the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly this month. On March 6, the butterfly returned to Friendship Park in San Pedro. It was last seen at the park in 1981 and this is the first time there has been a release there. On March 18, there was a release at the Linden H. Chandler Preserve on Palos Verdes which is described in the video above. Once again, the releases were overseen by Jana Johnson and her students from Moorpark College where a captive breeding program has been going on for ten years.

Apparently at the Chandler site, there was one male butterfly whose antics earned him the name, Houdini. According to one observer:

One particular butterfly charmed all. After eclosing at Moorpark, he tried real hard to escape and successfully got out of the first level cage. The staff decided to reward his escape efforts by giving him a name, Houdini, and sending him out for release. Houdini was very active in his plastic cup, but once released all he did was sit on an Encelia flower. But that was OK, because we all got great photos of him. Check out the image of Houdini that I took with my cell phone! --Ann Dalkey

It is hoped that the released butterflies, who will only live 10 days, will mate and lay lots of eggs. The hatched eggs will go through the caterpillar and pupal stages, but the adult butterflies won't be seen until next year, possibly in late February of 2011.


Ann Dalkey sent me the following information on the history of the Butterfly Project and gives credit to all the agencies involved.

The Palos Verdes blue butterfly (PVPB) was thought to be extinct until it was discovered in 1994 at the Defense Fuel Supply Point (DFSP), a US military base located in San Pedro. Since that discovery, the wild population has been surveyed yearly and has ranged from 30 to 282 individuals, averaging about 200 during the past 6 years. This is too small of a population to survive on its own, so a consortium of organizations has since worked hard to increase the number of the butterflies. The US military has provide space for raising the host plants (rattle pod and deerweed), culturing the butterfly, and conserving habitat on the base. The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (PVPLC) runs the native plant nursery and maintains and expands PVB habitat. The Urban Wildlands is responsible for the surveying of the wild population and culturing of the captive population, known as the Butterfly Project. Two captive populations exist, one at the military base and the second, established in 2007, at Moorpark College. Under the leadership of Jana Johnson, the captive population has increased significantly, enabling the team to release captive individuals into the wild. The first such release occurred in 2008 at the Defense Fuel Supply Point. Then additional releases at the DFSP and the Linden H. Chandler Preserve took place in 2009. This year, 2010, releases have been conducted at a new place, Friendship Park, and also the Chandler Preserve. PVPLC is working hard to provide additional butterfly habitat throughout the preserves on the PV Peninsula. And, with Jana’s wonderful Butterfly Project, we look forward to seeing more of these cute butterflies throughout the Peninsula.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on Gokhale

I have received Esther Gokhale's book (8 Steps to a Pain-free Back) and am slowly working my way through it. It's a wonderful book, full of great photos and has much more detail on how to achieve good posture than her website does. Interestingly, I had been coming around to her way of thinking on my own, but her instructions have helped tremendously to make the concepts work.

But trying to turn printed words, even with lots of photos, into three-dimensional movement is difficult. So here is a YouTube video of Esther talking to Google employees and demonstrating some of the key ideas of her method.

And the book is not just for people who are currently suffering from back pain. It's for anyone who wants to optimize their health because how we stand and sit and walk affects our breathing and the workings of all our internal organs. Using Esther's method, you will find you have better circulation (no more early morning leg cramps for me), more energy, and even more confidence. It just makes you look good.

Earth Hour 2010

Another Earth Hour is coming this weekend. That's when people around the world will turn off their lights for just one hour to call for action on global warming. The program has been sponsored for several years now by the World Wildlife Fund. The date for this year's event is March 27 and the time is 8:30 pm local time. So wherever you are , turn off the lights on Saturday night!

Of course, for me the event has double significance. As an amateur astronomer, I am all for turning off the city lights that make it impossible to see the stars in all their glory. In my own area, things have gotten worse over the years as Los Angeles has expanded the port facilities. As it is, I can no longer see Sagittarius in the summer but when I can no longer see Orion in the winter, I will cry. If you want to leave your lights off for more than an hour, that's fine with me.

So here again is the date and time:

MARCH 27, 8:30 pm local time

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Standing Tall

Baby M. has just started pulling herself up into a standing position. And look how beautifully she does it! Her legs and feet are facing straight forward squarely from her hips; her feet have a natural kidney shape to them; her hips are relaxed with a slight forward tilt. She pulls her back up straight and her head is tilted at just the right angle to stretch out her neck. She easily turns her head to look at me with her eyes perpendicular to the plane of her head.

We all once knew how to stand like that but too much slouching over a book or keyboard (or knitting), or slouching in a chair has many of us tucking our hips under and pushing them forward which puts an excessive S-curve into the back. For me, the hip tucking began with ballet classes. This can also cause us to jut the head forward and then back to level the head which puts an excessive curve in the neck. All of this affects our breathing and circulation to all parts of the body, not to mention giving so many people back pain. Most car seats, plane seats, and easy chairs and sofas reinforce this slouching. And we all spend way too much time sitting!

I was alerted to a new (new to me) method of standing, sitting, lying down, and moving by a post in Mark's Daily Apple, here and here. The idea is that along with a lot of other things paleo, we should also be standing and moving like our ancestors did with more of a J-shape to our spine achieved by an antenverted, relaxed pelvis and a back that stretches up and stands tall. The woman who developed this method is Esther Gokhale. To cure her own back pain, she travelled the world observing native peoples in Africa, India, and Brazil where back pain is virtually unknown in spite of a lot of manual labor. Check out all the wonderful photos on her website and especially in her book, 8-Steps to a Pain-Free Back (take a Look Inside), which I have just ordered from Amazon. Who hasn't admired the posture of those African women who balance huge loads on the tops of their heads?

For me, the benefits of easier diaphragmatic breathing when standing this way ties in beautifully with my study of Buteyko Breathing (1, 2, 3, 4). When I pull my torso up from relaxed hips, I can breathe much more freely and I feel the air is getting down to the bottom of my lungs. Gokhale's description of how we should breath does not quite match Buteyko, but I intend to discuss this with my Buteyko practitioner when I see her again. I'm sure the two can be meshed together and we still need to breathe less. But I really feel that Gokhale's approach is the way to go and I can't wait to get her book and give it a try.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Breath Holding

"...Death consists of the passing out of the air. It is, therefore, necessary to restrain the breath". Hatha Yoga Pradipika, ancient Hatha Yoga manuscript. Artour Rakhimov
As I was stopped at a red light the other day, an older man came jogging across the street in the crosswalk right in front of me. It was a huge intersection with 8 lanes or more across in both directions. The man was running with his mouth open and what is worse, he was blowing out hard (as if his life depended on it) with each breath. He had a look of agony on his face and I was afraid he wouldn't make it to the curb. I don't know if the blowing-out part was an intentional technique that he was using, but I do know he was hyperventilating pretty badly. Each out breath lost more of his lung's supply of CO2. His muscles were working hard and making more CO2, but unless his resting CP was 20 to 30s, he wasn't making up the balance and he was doing more harm than good. I wanted to honk my horn at him and yell, "Stop! Don't do that!"

At the other extreme, here is a YouTube video of Natalia Molchanova, a champion free-diver, going for 131m in Japan—with a breath-hold of about 3.5 minutes! Watch how she prepares herself before the dive by first taking several very deep breaths, and then just before hitting the water, she blows out quickly and forcefully several times. (Do not try this at home! Even Molchanova wouldn't do this without a spotter in the water with her in case she loses consciousness.)

She is hyperventilating on purpose, tricking her breathing center into thinking there is no need to breathe. She doesn't want her diaphragm to spasm too soon. By holding her breath, CO2 levels will rise again. Free-divers hold their breath after an inhale and are very much aware of the fact that it is CO2 levels that initiates breathing. Also notice what she does at the end of the dive (at about 5:24). She comes up, takes a few breaths and smiles! No panting, no big huge breaths. Her chest barely moves.

She wears a weight around her neck to minimize the amount of movement she has to make so she doesn't have to work to stay under the water. Your muscles make CO2 when you use them and she doesn't want to raise her levels too soon. Free divers can stay
under water for 5.5s (or even more probably, I am no expert on the sport) if they don't move. By the way, the divers call this apnea, which is the correct meaning of the word, but it's a far cry from the apnea that tries to kill you in the night.

When you hold after an inhale, you can hold your breath longer and the time is related to your lung capacity and training. Holding after the exhale, as we do in Buteyko, is a measure of your CO2 levels. You do not have to have Molchanova's genes, or chest capacity, in order to increase your CP. Divers also talk about the serenity of their sport and that also is a function of CO2 stores. CO2 is a relaxant of smooth muscles (such as the diaphragm). There is also something called the diving reflex, a holdover from our evolutionary past which can be activated just by holding your breath and putting your face into cold water, as when you splash cold water on your face to relax. (It's interesting to note that seals hold their breath after the exhale.)

One image Rakhimov suggests you use to relax the diaphragm when doing a CP is to feel like you are diving into water. Just for the beauty of it, here is another video of Mulchanova (and her son) diving through the arch at Blue Hole in the Red Sea.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dim Those Lights

For those of you who tend to spend late nights at the computer, here is a great free program called f.lux, that will change the lighting on your computer monitor to sync with daylight and nighttime. The idea is to turn off the blue light after sunset. Blue light especially messes with your circadian rhythm making it harder for you to fall asleep. Blue light during the day is good, blue light at night is not.

Thanks to Mark at Mark's Daily Apple for this tip and an interesting post on How Light Affects Your Sleep, something I have blogged about several times (here, here, and here).

But then most nights (the nights that I am not out playing the violin somewhere), I don't even turn the computer or the TV on anymore and I start my getting-to-bed-routine at 9:00 pm. It's impossible to get my bedroom totally dark, so I wear a sleep mask. And I do like waking up to the light. I just peek out from under the mask to gauge the time. No alarm clock.


Well I just uninstalled f.lux. While it worked great at reducing the glare, it was always running in the background and making the operating system (XP) work very hard. Maybe I had the settings wrong. And maybe I just have a sick computer. (We knew that.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Breathing Less

I just finished my first walk while breathing less. My Buteyko practitioner gave me the go-ahead to incorporate reduced breathing while exercising into my daily Buteyko routine. She did this because my CP is now up to 20s in the morning (your early morning CP is apt to be the lowest of the day) which means I am strong enough to exercise without having my symptoms return. To get your CP up from 20 to 30s, exercise is almost required.

But she still would like me to go slowly and I agree with her. All winter whenever I have tried to get back to my usual exercise routine, I have had a relapse or caught a cold, or something. And when my CP was low, I would easily get out of breath. It has been frustrating. But I am in no hurry to get to yogi-master status as long as I feel I am making progress. So today, after a 5-minute warm-up of just plain walking, I held my breath (after an exhale) for 3 seconds, then breathed normally for 4 or 5 breaths, and then repeated this process. I walked for 2 miles at a moderately brisk pace. I walked with a rhythm and somewhere in the middle of the walk, I felt warmth and could breath more easily. So I switched to a 4s hold. The first few breaths after a hold were bigger, and more rapid so I waited for things to calm down before doing the next hold which usually took 4 or 5 breaths. And my mouth was closed the whole time. The idea is to feel a gentle air hunger that is not stressful.

Up until now I have been doing Single Nostril Breathing while sitting comfortably in a chair, watching a DVD, listening to an audiobook, or reading. You simply block one nostril with your finger and breathe through the other. The very first time I tried it, I overdid it and my nose got sore! So I learned to switch nostrils after about 4 minutes and do the whole routine for no longer than 20 minutes. The goal is to practice reduced breathing for 90 minutes per day total. That is the minimum required in order to see results. You can do this one while driving, too.

The easiest routine I have done is to lay flat on my back, knees bent, and just concentrate on my breathing. Sound like meditation? That's what it is. The goal is to relax my muscles, especially the breathing muscles, so that the diaphragm can do its job. This is how I discovered that my diaphragm was in spasms, my breathing irregular and way too heavy for someone lying on their back. I put one hand on my chest (to make sure it didn't move) and one hand on my upper abdomen (to make sure it did). I soon found that neither was moving and my breath had become extremely light and slow. That's exactly what my practitioner wanted.

Why reduced breathing? Somehow I have gotten into the habit of breathing more than I need to. The breathing center in the brain is sensitive to the amount of CO2 both in our brain and in our blood and mine has gotten set at a lower amount than is normal. If I really breathe too heavily, I will start to wheeze because mucous is collecting in my lungs to stop me from losing more of the precious CO2. If I hold my breath, the level of CO2 rises. So what I am doing with my reduced breathing exercises is to try to reset the level of CO2 that my breathing center will accept as normal. I want it to be higher. So I have to coax it by breathing less for a substantial amount of time every day.

Things that cause over-breathing include stress (the number one problem for most of us), over-eating, talking too much (hey, it pays to be the quiet one), breathing through the mouth and chest breathing, heat, sleeping on the back, lack of exercise, and the mistaken belief that it is good to take big, deep breaths. Things that can reduce breathing include breathing through the nose, breathing from the diaphragm, eating less, keeping cool, dressing less, getting outdoors more, going barefoot (that fits in with being Paleo), and sleeping on the left side or tummy.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

New Paleo Website

The Paleo/Low-carb world is expanding rapidly and it is getting hard to keep up with all the new ideas and research findings being put out on the web. Fortunately, a new website, Paleo for Life, has started up that gathers together all the latest information on low-carb and paleo diets. It's a great one-stop place to find what the bloggers have posted recently, tons of links to research topics, as well as books, videos, and other links to help you get started if you are new to Paleo.

Paleo and low-carb have more in common than differences. Those difference center around how much carb to incorporate in your diet, dairy, and the amount of saturated fats you eat. The things they all agree on are:

...only eat foods that can be picked or hunted in nature, avoid foods that cannot be eaten raw, and prefer meat products from animals fed their natural food. In practice, this translates into the following:

Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined seed and vegetable oils as these are not available in nature, and only become available after heavy industrial processing.

Avoid grains (particularly wheat), legumes (particularly soy), and starchy tubers (such as potatoes) as these foods cannot be eaten raw.

Prefer grass-fed and grass-finished beef over grain-fed beef

Prefer pasture-raised poultry over conventionally raised poultry

Natural saturated fat is generally considered neutral but superior to refined vegetable oils.

I think we all agree that we are experimentalists, too. We are willing to try new things if there seems to be a logical or scientific basis, if it seems to be the more natural way for humans to live, and if there are no side effects. And a lot of us go beyond what we eat (or don't eat if you are into intermittent fasting, otherwise known as IF) to include things like exercise, getting plenty of sunshine (or supplementing with vitamin D), going barefoot as much as possible (see my next post), eschewing soap and shampoo, etc., in our Paleo lifestyle. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up with us.