Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tools i Use, Episode 1: Notebooks App is Your Infinite Workout Log

Notebooks APP for logging workouts. Are you looking for an awesome app to help you log your workouts? Maybe thinking you should be able to take use your phone or tablet at the gym - since you have at least a phone with you anyway?
Great idea.
And the humbly named "Notebooks App" makes it dead easy to log your workouts your way, including adding photos (want to track your gun show progress after all) and back up your data to whatever sync service you wish. What could be easier/better. The infinite logbook has arrived.

This is the first post in a series on “tools i use” for different aspects of personal performance. This first post is about the tool i use for logging my workouts. It’s called Notebooks ( and you can download it from the iTunes store or get the mac app OR - yes the PC version TOO (isn't that cool?) -from the developer site 

There are several key attractors for me and the way i like to record workouts.

ipad with external keyboard running Notebooks- fantastic for
logging at home or in the gym - really.
Adding photos - like this screen shot from iThlete Precision Pulse HRM
is easy with yes the "add photo" button

  1. Cross iOS.The app is available on iOS and Mac so for me, that’s cross device accessibility
  2. Network Storage. The device supports all sorts of remote storage and syncing like dropbox and iCloud - none of which i use. I use webdav: my own home-rolled data service - and the cool thing is that Notebooks supports this independent syncing solution. Though outside the scope of this post, let me just say if you have an old mac hanging around, it’s pretty straight ahead to set up a “webdav server” and set up your own networked/cloud/whatever storage. The main takeaway here is that Notebooks syncs to your server of choice, meaning that no matter what device you use to log your workout, your complete log is always with you.
    There are a few more attributes for which i dig Notebooks for logging.
  3. Notebooks and sub-notebooks How i set up my workouts is a big enclosing Year notebook called “workouts YEAR” and then sub notebooks per month. They stay ordered by giving them their number, e.g. “02-February WO"
  4. Each Workout is its own Page For every workout i add a new “formatted” page.
  5. TIMESTAMPS  and Calendar Adds At the start of each workout i hit time stamp - to get the date and time in their. WIth the preference settings, these dates become links that when clicked on, put an Event into your calendar - fantastic - easy way to add workouts to “workout” calendar to see at a glance how consistent (or overdoing it) i’ve been.
  6. ADD PHOTOS At the end of each workout if i’m working with something like PP Heart Rate Monitor from iTHlete (another tool i use - and have used for years to get HRV r-r data), i can take a snap shot on the phone of the Chart from that workout, and add that to the Log page: how many times did my lifts go into the red? What is the estimated calorie load? it’s nice to have that visual. I can do likewise for scale data to see how it’s trending and interogate any possible links in fluctuations between that and say hours slept or meals (i like meal snap for MEAL not calorie tracking - another tool i use).

    Photos are also great when traveling as a hotel gym may mean different than regular tools - a photo means i can quickly log what the set up was. Can take the photo with the iPad or iPhone directly into Notebooks App as well. Nice
    taking pics at a hotel gym to remember what the set up was.
    YOu'll note some other tools i use - on the road - travel with bands
    These pics are then added to Notebooks in the Workbook log page.
  7. iPhone iOS view of monthly workout
    books inside Annual workout book
  8. SYNC i’ve mentioned this, but bares repeating: you can easily sync your data to a network service, and next time you’re at a different device, hit sync with that service and voila: your data is there.

Notebooks makes logging workouts and reviewing workouts kinda fun.

It’s fun to see the pages in a book build up. There’s a max of 31 pages in a month book. IT’s fun to
see how many of those slots get filled or reflect on what was happening in a month where there are fewer or more.
The syncing still strikes me as a kind of magic.

Additions i’d like to see in Notebooks

There’s only a few things i’d love to see in notebooks for logging workouts to make the logs even more effective.
  • It’s own calendar view to show entry dates for a given notebook. This calendaring was a terrific feature of a now-unsupported app on iOS ipad called Max Journal.

    I have a few years of logs in that one. Being able to glance a simple calendar image to see where there were entries was a great way to see consistency. I can imagine notebooks being able to set up calendars for various Notebooks - i have Clients notebooks and Workout notebooks for instance - being able to see some kind of date of entrey/calendar scrolling option perhaps like Max Journal would be grand.

    How Max Journal incorporated calendar data for views
  • A single click timestamp option Right now timestamping is a two-step process. One of the things with myJournal is that you could hit “timestamp” and it just plopped one in - which was great for checking how long a set took today vs. last week. Or even how long the last set took vs the first. In notebooks, you have a bunch of types of timestamps you can choose, so it’s hit time stamp, then pick the one you’d like - a way to set a default that single clicks in fast would be awesome.
  • Weather THis may be asking for one too many things but some logging / journaling apps are able to add location and weather. That would be just a nice option to add to an entry like timestamps. A macro or something to pop this in to be able to see oh ya it was cloudy all that week but my times on the bike went up. Wow, it seems 9C is a great place for me to work on X.
  • Smart Notebooks it would be great to be able to create a kind of “smart notebook” that could pull together all my “upper body heavy” workouts - maybe that’s a tag - for the past month/six months, whenever just to see what’s happening or not, to be able to page through such a notebook quickly would be awesome. Fantastic if things like “saturday” became a smart notebook, or whatever - to gather practice trends. Afterall i might believe i’m killing it on saturdays: may turn out to be only once every month is saturday as intense as i think it is...
Logging workouts has a long and valuable tradition. We can get so much more from these logs than just our practice performance.

Notebooks app is the first universal and cross platform app i’ve encountered that has the rich variety of features, in an easy to access fashion, that makes workout logging both highly (re)usable and just a treat to keep.

Conclusion: Notebooks App to infinity - and beyond for Rich, Useful Workout Logging

Highly recommend exploring Notebooks App for your workout log - bet you’ll be using it for more than just your workouts, too. The great thing is: you can!

If you found this review helpful, and you'd like to support this blog, you can use the following links: for US itunes store and

for uk store

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Going Vegan - an Exploration of Eat Less; Mostly Plants - to avoid death

Concerned about Death? want to avoid it in a robust way of youth/health preserving? Oh ya. So how about "mostly plants" for eating and less death? Does that help? Magic 8 ball and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says, looks promising. 

inadvertently, increasingly raw: home grown kamut wheat grass - so easy
with spinach, banana, brown rice protein powder fresh ground cinnamon
Hence, over the past 5-6 weeks, i've been exploring going vegan. That is eating less; mostly plants. It's not about weight loss - though i have been curious about that effect. It's been about budget - is it cheaper - and most especially - sustainability - and not really of the planet - but that's there - i mean about my health. And longevity. 

Death - and really the ill effects of aging - are things i'd like to avoid right now. IF you're over 24, that's where you're heading. We peak around 24-27, eh? So how optimise telomere length for this post peak period - which is usually longer than the pre-peak? Well, deliberate exercise, eating slightly less (the occasional fast) and a more plant-based diet seem to be worth exploring, based on research. 

A bit of context: long time on and off vegetarian but not vegan. getting real.

on the road, travel with nuts and seeds; soak overnight
have during morning with coffee. yum
About five years ago i started eating meat again quite happily based on what i saw in blood work - my veg eating was not optimised for performance, so thought screw this, i’m checking out meat again. and that’s been fine. Perhaps not the best way to ditch a dietary practice, but i was hanging with a Paleo / Perfect Health Diet crowd so i had support. I also dropped 4 pounds of fat, so bacon is my friend. 

But to get back to thinking about longevity (and sustainability from a good for person; good for planet synergy as a nice co-incidence)

So about five weeks ago, right before going on a road trip - super timing, right? i started a vegan experiment. And i’m still on it. The decision was to explore what going the full yard - going vegan - was like. 

Ryan Andrews (b2d interview) in his Drop the Fat Act and Live Lean (b2d review) points to Victoria Moran as inspiration. She has a lovely book, Main Street Vegan (US Amazon Link || UK amazon Link ), on exploring veganism as a moment to moment choice (my paraphrase - all inaccuracies mine) My approach is very much informed by Victoria Moran's one day/one meal at a time approach to doing the vegan thing. so not a vegan, but committed to exploring "mostly plants" as Michael Pollan's eat less, mostly plants, phrase goes.  

Mostly Plants: Here’s what i’ve found so far:

  • IT's EASY i find it so much easier to do clear vegan than dealing with dairy / eggs.  it’s also cheaper and one might argue healthier.
Lentils, soaked over night, cooked in pressure cooker,
with fresh sautéed onions tomatoes and mm mm spices.
Cheap, super nutritious - serve with greens - lasts a week.
  • VEGETARIAN COP OUT?  intellectually - knowing how meat is processed whether free range or organic or grass fed is for dairy - i’ve been to the farms so labelled. i don’t see how animal (ab)use with chickens and cows for egg/dairy is much different than eating the slaughtered or asphyxiated end product. If you can use a cow for milk, you know what happens to the beast at the end of its life cycle? You know what happens to male chicks? so WTF. I feel like an idiot for doing that so long.
    Dark chocolate: vegan - beyond vegetarian
    - no dairy (and often no sugar or just a touch)
  • Feels like yoda: either eat or don't eat animal products; their is no try.
    In other words, and this is just me - for me - i’ve kinda given up on vegetarianism -  intellectually - as a cop out.  The arguments about animals at that point just get too nice. And there’s no energy/sustainability argument that can save it either. it just doesn’t work. Either you’re in or you’re out - i say to myself - if you're going to claim to be something. And right now, i claim to be an opportunistic vegan - i opt for that right now as a default.
  • ASK! Restaurants Will Go Theere - for your Green Backs. When i’m out, i also find it empowering to ask a restaurant if they can just put together something green and beany/lentilly - lots of dark stuff - i’m amazed how willing to accommodate these places are. Sometimes completely surprised. Like testing for wifi where you KNOW they won't have it and oh wow there it is. Yesterday this gastropub bent over backwards to figure out a way to do something that met the vegan way - made sure i knew something i'd suggested "red pesto" had dairy "well let's try something else..." This is cool as a way to help folks i work with say "see, you can ask; it's ok if it's not on the menu" 
Restaurant (@theGoatUK) truly iterated to pull every usable item from its full
menu - v. non-vegan - to create a vegan lunch. No
idea what the orange stuff was, but kinda tasty.
  • It's a Choice When push comes to shove - it did out a a business dinner the other night and rather than to -and fro’ing with the waiter about me and my dietary needs, i was fine to eat a piece of fish - opportunistic vegan - creating opportunities as frequently as i know how so far.
  • BUDGET Oh ya, and my food budget? that's part of the experiment i'll be looking at again in another week, but it's looking like a SIGNIFICANT difference in my grocery spend. Esp. when you're the must be free range, grass fed, not grain finished, home schooled type of meat eater. 
stuff sprouts - just add water - soak, drain
and literally rinse, wait, repeat - good things happen like increase protein quality
  • New Way to Explore Food for Fuel not Fat In terms of clients working with me around fat burning, and healthier relationships with food and their bodies, and we look at dairy - that becomes one of the easiest performance ways both to save calories (assuming there are sufficient nutrients in the mix already, so this may not be a starting point at all)  i’m stunned at how much extra *stuff* comes into meals from processed dairy and eggs. If you say goal: reduce/eliminate dairy/eggs, that also gets rid of processed food pretty much in a heartbeat. it’s stunning. Not saying these things are evil, and not saying it's good to do UNLESS there's a great practice for how to replace the protein/healthy fats that are there, but it becomes part of the conversation now.

Optimising for Mostly Plants - one meal at a time. 

SO right now, i’m personally optimising at the moment for mostly plants - the raw and the cooked  - and getting into sprouting grains and legumes to make them more tasty, live and consequently bio-available. I LOVE sprouting chickpeas. Those things sprout crazy fast. As does Quinoa. IN a fry pan with some veggie umami Tast no. 5 paste. um umm good. 
sprouted chick peas, sprouted rice, sprouted oats and
greens and beats and seasonings and WOW. taste bomb
I can make Dal on sunday and it’s tasty and lasts all week long. awesome.  And CHEAP. and fresh. 

Main Street Vegan
US Amazon Link || UK amazon Link )
As Victoria Moran suggests, I take it a day, even a meal at a time, and just ask before i eat, can this be a plant based meal?  Implicit in this question is "a healthy, nutrient dense, satisfying" plant based meal.

Im not religious - last night i had chai tea and that is milk based and i loved it - but now i'm thinking, hmm, what would the social alternative be there without dairy? is there one? if yes what? 

I love this one meal at a time, no judgements; each meal is a choice. I know why i'm making this choice: sustainability of me for as long an happily as possible - and the nice side benefits for the planet aren't bad either. 

This is an experiment - mind you - i haven't committed to this as a way of life - but i'm intrigued, and enjoying on many levels. No massive changes in weight clarity of mind or other such things, but them i'm a pretty clean eating omnivore - so not really expecting much there. And 5-6 weeks is early days yet. But, cool. worth continuing. Today. Right now. After coffee. Black. Fresh roasted

If you're an athlete, lifter, or someone looking for hypertrophy/strength and think how can this be done on a vegan plan? you may find this plant-based experiment by John Berardi interesting (and here's part II)

How about You?

Are you exploring mostly plants? how's it going?
What encourages you to explore - even a couple days a week? or a meal a day?

What keeps you from exploring?
What would you need to know to make it safe and fun?
How goes?

i'm on twitter @mcphoo but please feel free to leave comments here - they go to moderation after a couple days to deal with spam alas. but floor's wide open.
Look forward to your thoughts.

Meanwhile, eat less; mostly plants - lots to recommend it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tweet your #lunch4science!

Dear All: Please Share your Lunch (photos)

#lunch4science - white whole bowl
for scale and colour balance
by @leslieowensby
It's June 15 (or pretty close)
For the next few weeks, would you please tweet a pic of your lunch - for science?
Would you please ask your friends, colleagues, loved ones to do likewise?

Here's all you need to do:

It's simple:
     Before you take your pic, make sure there's some white in it. If it's on a white plate - showing the whole plate is great for scale, too. That's a bonus.
    If there's no plate - please put something white in the photo - a napkin, or piece of paper - an open notebook - this helps with colour detection by something known as "white balance."
  2. TAKE PIC With the twitter app - or any way you wish - take a pic of your lunch.
  3. Use the hashtag #lunch4science or even #lunch4sciBONUS: if you feel like it, use text to tell us what it is "a ham and rye sandwhich" a "salad with tuna and moz". 

Example Tweets

Example Pics

Thank you

You are making an incredible contribution to science. 
Really? yes you are. 

Two main ways, for this first phase of #lunch4science:

FIRST, you're helping to create an awesome log of what folks actually eat at this time of year (who happen to be connected to the internet and likely have a smart phone).  That's potentially v. interesting. 

SECOND, you're contributing a set of real world images to test out some computational vision techniques. 

What we're not doing:
  • We're not trying to identify specific foods - that's been worked on/done
  • We're not trying to convert what's in the pictures to calories. (We don't think counting calories is particularly helpful or interesting: there are better relationships to have with food).
What we ARE doing in this first phase:
  • We have a pretty simple (but perhaps elegant) hypothesis at play in this wee quest for our lunch images. We'll be sure to share this with you after this collection effort is finished up - if we did before that, that might affect the pictures we take. Hope that makes sense? 
  • If you have quesitons, just ask either @mcphoo on twitter, or here, in the comments.
Again THANK YOU for your help.
#lunch4science (or #lunch4sci if you're running out of characters)
this is work with Alex Rogers, University of Southampton, UK, Stefan Rueger, Open University, UK and well, me, dr. m.c. uSouthampton too.

#lunch4science - white bit, full plate in pic much appreciated 


Friday, December 5, 2014

4 gift ideas to create WELLTH - a book a sensor a stimulant an energy source - Fire Up the Season.

'Tis the season of giving, and boy do i have what i think are absolutely AWESOME ideas to help the ones you love experience joy and wellbeing - all over the map in prices, so you have LOTS of wonderful options.
Whether celebrating Festivus or Solstice
it's fun to share some wellth with the ones you love
(image source
Today, i'm going to offer you food for thought on four wellbeing things:

  • a paradigm shifting book on physical practice - the CardioCode
  • the one sensor i can recommend on multiple levels - for the sun - sunsprite
  • a couple things in the coffee space from flavour to skills beans to pour over
  • and still cooking - what may be a paradigm shift to make cooking more fast fun efficient and enjoyable - with induction

Hope you enjoy, and perhaps get inspired with related ideas to help your loved ones OWN their wellbeing practices.

Idea 1: Books

If you already have a fitness practice

"what books would you recommend" in the strength space, a wonderful sports columnist asked me recently - he mentioned a bunch - not the one i'm about to recommend -and i said, well, there's really only one right now - and i'd suggest you read it first as it may change your mind about the other ones.

The book is Kenneth Jay's CardioCode  - download

That's it. This is the only book on the list, and there's a reason:

It's a kind of paradigm shift for those of us who love strength training and have thought of cardio as more of a supplement than a primary.

From reading this book, you'll get that that perception of cardio may just be a bit wrong. You'll see why especially if you're doing a lot of strength work, your heart valves NEED this kind of cadio/vascular work.

If you already do primarily aerobic work from step to long runs, this book will help you understand how to tune that practice and assess it on multiple levels to make sure you're spending your time on the trail as effectively as possible.

I hope to do a more indepth review/interview with KJ about the book, but for now, suffice it to say, the emphasis of the book is to get at helping us (1) understand what cardio vascular training really is/means (not what we usually think eg long slow endurance or occasional fat burning intervals) (2) what CV training means (3) how to assess baselines and progress across multiple factors (not just heartrate zones, oh no. we're talking power power power) (4) why CV training in the way described in the book may need to become the dominant form of training.

For those who know KJ from his Kettlebell days, Cardio Code is not a repudiation of strength training; it's a refinement of previous practice - it comes to terms with how doing One Thing of anything when talking complex systems like the body may not be ideal. KJ seems to be exploring how to develop optimal approaches to training to support optimizing the performance for which we as humans seem best designed.  The next time KJ talks about weights, it will likely be around power/force generation rather than lifting raw loads for the sake of. I'm not prescient - he's been posting about Fast Force First for awhile on Facebook.

This book is what ya might call "important" - and part of why i think it's important is this alignment - as i see it anyway - of exploring what it means to be Human - physically in particular. And how to be a Great Human - physically.

Other books that treat CV related training do so as a means to an end: do this to be a better rower, cyclists, runner. And that's fine. KJ's focus - again, this is my take - we haven't talked about this - is that he's interested in how to become an optimal KJ - for his own sake. And that he's sharing this rationale with the rest of us so we can optimise up, too.

It's not that other folks haven't been talking about functional, primal and all sorts of basic movements and practices for ages. You will be hard pressed however to find another book that goes into the basics behind why the kind of intense CV work KJ describes. Or offers ways to baseline performance.

I've said intense a few times. CV training in this book is intense. It's not sit on a bike and casually spin. It's work. Again, the book takes you into why/how of working this way in order to achieve very particular adaptations.

I'm kinda in love with the book because it shows research on what are the BEST mechanisms to achieve these CV adaptations. Guess what they are? Running Rowing and Biking. I rarely see that combination - especially getting down with the research on rowing. and i love to row as my cv power hour and channel Xeno Muller.

On biking if you cycle (i like to ride (hills in the rain, oh ya) and row; run is usually recovery) - there's good literature review of what's going on there and why but the two main performance examples illustrated throughout the book are running and rowing. And that's fine. If you're into cycling this book will let you know why you'd want a power meter - and there are some good books in that space - but neither focus on the why's for wellbeing like KJ does - they focus on dialing in power for performance. So if you're a power cyclist - you will benefit mightily from this book.

Examples Live: As we speak KJ is also running a 6week protocol for rowing to improve his 2k row time. Folks can follow the program on facebook, run it themselves etc. He walks the walk and the book lets you know why this might be a Good Idea for getting into the CV intense space. And because he's always online on FB it's easy to engage and get feedback.

If you're super interested, KJ has started a course on the cardio code, too, to help you get one with the measures and techniques.

Really, read this book. It will tune your mind in new ways

Very short list, eh? really, i just don't want to suggest anything else till we're all on the same page with this one.

Idea 2: Sensors

Here comes the Sun:

Ya fitbits. wifi scales; calorie counters; hours slept - all things that count - what are we doing? That's
a post coming up. What the heck are we doing with these numbers. Really i'm asking what's our model for these devices? Are they helping to make us healthy? For instance: are 10k steps the big win, or is it movement frequency - maybe fewer steps - that is the big win - and that's harder isn't it? how build a sensor to help us move more frequently? It's not as simple as a jawbone zapping us every 20 mins - it's supposed to do that only if you haven't been moving - but doesn't know if you're standing - and movement is pretty insensitive. 

SO i'm feeling a little dubious about measures without good models as part of building resilient knowledge.

BUT there is one sensor that i think is just fantastic in its completeness.

It's something called sunsprite. I THANK Ben Rubin of Boston's Change Collective (formerly of Zeo) for telling me about the folks at Sunsprite and this awesome tool.

Gotta do a big review of this too, but for right now why spend money on this over a fitbit or anything else? because it will help you Dial In Better more quickly and easily and effectively than just about anything else with the LEAST cost/effort of any of those other awesome things AND it's the one key thing, especially to be aware of in this dark season, that most of us simply are not dialed into - at our loss. Having a plateau issue? with weight loss or strength or stress? put some light on it and see what happens. 

Sunsprite happy dance

A video posted by @m.c.phoo on

The simple simple premise of a whole lot of complex science is: get a bunch of sun (or bright white light) at the start of your day, and you'll feel SO MUCH better - and sleep better. 

The monitor simply tells you when you've gotten 10K Lux worth of radiation. 10 LEDs on a sensor - brilliantly powered by a solar battery - clever or what - let you know how you're doing. That's it. 

What's really scary is how dark UK days make it almost impossible to get that level of sun. I've walked 5miles in dark grey days and gotten to 4 only. WHereas a bit more sun - 30 mins and all in. I'm exploring using a litebook or philips goLite as ways to pump up my exposure. 

The thing is, getting the sun/light DOES make a difference to quality of life pretty quickly. Do it for a week and notice better sleep - less interrupted - less stress too.  I dunno. it's freaky.  

The research i've been going through shows that for everything from mood/affect to weight management, syncing our various circadian clocks earlier in the day with a solar jolt does amazing good - quickly.

So why the sensor?
 If the intent is to develop a light practice, a sun focus, this tool helps build in some feedback on success or not.  There is a bluetooth phone app you can also use to observe patterns of light - would be nice to have a build in affect / sleep quality perception tracker too to make correlating light and mood and rest together. But perhaps that's a developer opportuntiy.

 If you've hit a plateau with your wellbeing practice, if you're dealing with stress, poor sleep, mood stuff - or just not feeling like you're firing on all cylinders - get some more big light. And if you want to see how you're doing - and get a nudge to keep this in mind - the tracker is the only sensor i can happily recommend right now as connecting model and measure so elegantly.

Idea 3: Stimulants - and so much more 

 Coffee - Consider the source: Go Local and International

Do you know someone who really loves good coffee? Coffee can be so wonderful.
i've been tweating over @mcphoo a variety of articles about coffee and green tea and how they are good for so many things  - and i mean the whole food/thing that is coffee and tea - not isolated caffeine. 

Coffee because of its strange flavour possibilities can be so nuanced. It's wonderful to have a really good cup of coffee. One where you really don't want to put anything in it. I mean it. Recently i started making hand cut french fries: slicing up the spud, baking them in the oven. We could not believe the flavour - ketchup took away from the natural savory sweetness of the spud. Great coffee is like that - it's so good it doesn't need anything else - that starts to kill it. You know?

Not that there's anything wrong with a fantastic latte - esp with latte art - but that's a different drink that a lovely cup of coffee. They are different. That's a latte this is a cup of coffee, you know? 

Coffee Beans make a fantastic gift: the bag is kinda squishy, you can shake it - and it gives off a fabulous aroma. What's not to love?

AND if you do a google search for your area, guaranteed you'll find roasters who will mail out fresh roast beens. Read the reviews online - find out who people recommend - look at what feels good. This can be a hugely affordable and personal gift all at once.

Roasted Single Origin Beans. If you have someone in your life that enjoys coffee, you may want to find out how they make it at home: if they like to buy beans and grind them at home, consider getting them some single origin coffee beans. Just check for roasters in your area. Mail order is easy; beans come fast and fresh roasted - just ask when the beans do get roasted - try to get under a week old. In the UK i just got some from a roaster called RaveCoffee that was roasted the day before it got to me. 

If they get beans ground: you can still get them fresh roasted beans and ask to have them ground - for the kind of coffee they like - a press pot grind is different than drip is different than epsresso. So are the roasts. Lighter for pour over; darker for espresso - not always but usually. 

You may want to get a couple types of beans that are very distinct from each other for flavour. Kenya AA is very different from Ethiopian is very different from Guatamalen. Which is great - it means your pal can start to explore tastes and learn more about the beverage they love.

Local Baristas
What can also be fun is doing a Cafe Crawl - to find independent coffee makers - sans attitude - who will make coffee for you and talk about it with you. Loads of resources here too to put together a tour for your pal - that is something made with research and lots of love. In the London area for instance, Philip Wain is a total coffee area maven. In Boston for espresso and related espresso based drinks, for bean recommendations, well, you might check out San at the coffee trike 

Going Manual - for the slightly ocd coffee person in your life
In the UK startbux was quoted the other day as saying it makes Zero profit here (tax issue - starbucks/amazon not paying uk tax). 

Fantastic. Let's help Startbucks go even further away from worrying about profit. How? 
2) make your own (dam) coffee 

I don't mean espresso per say but that cup of coffee thing.
You may be thinking, i have a coffee maker, and i go to Starbucks or Nero or Costa because i don't really like the coffee pot next to my double carmel machiata for a million dollars every morning.

I understand. I hear you.
It's so easy to get coffee wrong - to be crap. 
But, it's also fun to get into making it beautifully - to OWN that cup of coffee.

There are many many ways to go here, but i'm going to touch on two i enjoy for one or two people servings - not for something to stand all day. 
1) aerobie aeropress (Amazon uk || amazon US link affil links) and 
2) hario v60 ceramic with filters with choice of sizes (1 or 2). (UK || US

They both cost about the same in the USD 25'ish mark. They each require practice to get right, but when you dial it in, it's awesome. And saying that - they're both different. The aeropress forces the water via pressure over the grounds (not unlike espresso/moka uses pressure); the pour over uses gravity of the water to flow over the grounds. 

There are many videos and how to's for both. In each case, you will hear about grams of water vs coffee -and water temperature, and how these all effect extraction/flavour. 

The amazing thing is, a coffee buddy who goes out for coffee and has a cup of coffee from time to time will amaze themselves if they just follow the instructions for instance that come with the aeropress - and make it dead easy to have a brave new coffee experience.

Here's a wee video i did about travelling with the aeropress -

And here's my fave way to make a wee Hario v60 pour over 

Life tuning events can happen so unexpectedly...
My thanks to Ed Cutrell for challenging me this spring/summer to give the Aeropress a try. 

Idea 4: Cooking 

- induction 

This gift idea starts to get into electronics and the price goes up. Double the price of that aeropress, and getting even more personal with the one you heart.

induction plus pressure cooker
mas macho.
see stock story
If your loved one has pots/pans on the bottom that say they can handle induction, you may want to give getting a portable induction hob as a gift - if they don't already have induction. Why?  It's a great complement to gas, and blows the doors off any kind of traditional electric.

Induction is cooking by magnetic field: so only the part of the element gets hot that is under the pot. really simple. And very very fast to get to any level of heating. Very efficient, too. It's so clean in how it works, it's just awesome. When it's off, like gas, it's off. And like gas, the only thing that stays warm is what the gas has heated - so it comes on fast the area cools fast. It's amazing. For the pressure cooker that i love the induction plate is its soul mate.

I first got turned onto induction watching a how to make a hanah grant Saxo bike team how to make an omelette video (take a look)

Then! i was staying at a place for a conference that had induction. WOW.

Some portables i can tell ya, are great in the mid range but are not great when it comes to simmering - so need to check how it does its temperature intervals. It seems that they may have a limited shelf life, given comments on amazon. But they're cheaper than taking the family out for a meal, so oh well.

Now, in looking for a better induction hob, i inadvertently found one that is the Ferrari of induction plates: the CS30001TS. Ferrari From quality to price. Designed and made in the UK for the catering 12-15 hours a day of use, it has 99 steps for tuning its heat. My portable has 10.

look - one surface, three pots going - and a half grape fruit
staying chill.
AND it has that funky blue light.
like neon lit license plates, or what?
If you're into the pro level - or just want to see what that's like, in the UK, do check out Induced Energy - they even have an induction set that works under a fabricated granite-type counter top - to no cutting holes in the counter to have a hob. Freaky.  If you are at that place where you can get one of these - let me know - would love to hear how you use and enjoy it to pieces.

Heh, they even have a two ring version - and after watching Little Paris Kitchen - where the wee wee flat has a two ring gas burner and toaster oven for all cooking - well you know - one could do a more space age version of that flat - and still save space.

And if none of this works techno wise, but your pal/family want to get more into cooking, then Little Paris Kitchen also shows, it don't take much besides fresh whole food to make flavourful feasts (check out use of limited space, dual gas ring and toaster over here).

Wrapping Up - An important part of giving, for the Reveal

Well here's a bunch of ways to support various aspects of wellbeing in i hope a few new ways at least - and sometimes a change in practice is as good as a rest.

If you try these, please let me know - give me a shout @mcphoo on twitter (kinda phasing out @begin2dig)

And have a great solstice season.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

buddha and the nervous system: detachment from stress & suffering via reducing threat

i'd like to suggest that buddhism has a nervous system analog. In fact any systemic approach to the
Walking Buddha
Even the Buddha
got movement
to blow off stress
(image source)

world, like buddhism and my fave the Sedona Method that all feature "letting go," of desire in the former case and feelings in the latter, are really cognitive analogues to a cold shower: something that snaps us out of our threat/neurotic focus on the thing in front of us - often to the exclusion of all else in order to restore our peripheral vision, awareness of Other Stuff, alternatives, the wider view.

When we are less attached to something it's easier to see others, other ideas; when we are less invested in one position we are open to possibilities others might offer.

I am effectively likening stress to attachment. Let me try to break this down.

Stress = Attachment = Viewfield Narrowing (ie Focus)

In buddhism, as i understand it, suffering is the big issue - and suffering comes from attachment. Let go of desire; let go of suffering. We cause our own suffering. Suffering; joy - it's argued is all just perspective.

Ah ha!

Perspective is a metaphor, but a telling one relative to what happens via the nervous system under threat.

Our field of view - our peripheral vision - closes down when we're under threat. We focus on the salient thing in front of us: the tiger, the avalanche, the angry boss, the object of lust. With that focus, there is a phisiologic response that includes that narrowed field of view (and also audio shut down). We do not hear or perceive much outside that salient focus.

fight, flight or freeze
when under threat we protect the squishy bits
that becomes our reflexive locus of concern
In a stressed state, what's more, with that narrowed often negative field of view, the salient bits that get through tend to be negative. We have a hard time perceiving positive occurrences when recalling our day, for example. We are physiologically as well as now psychologically attached to that stress/negative filter and focus.

Dealing with a Stress/Threat/Attachment Response as it happens

We often imagine the buddha sitting with his fingers up.
Maybe he's doing breathing exercises.
Buddha was also around when folks were a lot more active - not living in a sedentary culture - like now.

Thus, for most of us sitting is not a change up; not a break and NOT the best way to deal with that stress/negative focus, yet this is the dominant posture of most of us reading this post. IF you're sitting right now and feeling stressed, consider getting up and doing some stairs or going for a walk.

We go do that walk or some push ups or something to elevate the heart if we are having a stress/threat (attachment to suffering/emotional) response in a non-physical context in particular (that is not being threatened by a bear), where we are still wired to respond by movement: getting our heart rates up will help blow off the chemical responses being triggered by stress.

Stress is a sign physically to fight or run away. If we get our heart rates up from movement, our hormones charging us up for a physical response can calm down because we are doing what we're wired to do. When we don't move, that's not listening, is it? so the signal gets sent again - our stress level increases (irrationally, but physiologically) - do we respond by moving?

Reducing Instances of Threat/Attachment/Stress

That's what to do to help blow off a stress response when it's happening, but how about reducing the likelihood of getting triggered into a stress or highly emotive state (anger, fear, lust, pride - any of these can get us tripping, narrowed focus).

A great way to help stop undue triggers/attachments is sleep. If we're tired/vulnerable/less able to react effectively, we also tend to have less resources to deal with stress, so it takes less to set us into that negative spiral. Get sufficient sleep, we have more resilience. Less attachment. Easier to be buddha.

Resources to Deal with the Physiology of Attachment/Stress/Threat

One more way to make it easier to be buddha is to eat whole food so our necessary nutrients are stocked up.

Stress, after all, has a HUGE  physiological component. We may cause our stress to get worse by dwelling on a situation cognitively, or by trying to rationalise away our feelings, but there's a cycle at play: are our hormones triggering a tighter focus on getting an appropriate threat response? or our lack of physiological resources upping our reactivity to smaller triggers? If we don't eat the nutrients we need to function in a balanced way, we don't have the chemical resources our systems require to process these stressors effectively. We are running on a chemical deficit. Heck even being dehydrated can make it harder to deal with stress. Fast food or lots of processed food that takes out nutrients are both great ways to put us at a nutritional deficit such that we're more vulnerable to getting into a threat response.

And stress, hormonally, is a threat response.

Consider if we feel stressed at work. Why? because we fear our job is under threat? our performance is being judged? we are being bullied and feel unsafe?

Attachment as Threat Response

To bring this back to buddhism - Why do we fear an evaluation of our work, for instance? we are attached to our status and that may be at risk - unfairly or otherwise - from this evaluation? We are afraid to lose our perceived means of survival (income loss etc and can't perceive the options we may have)? We have a desire to achieve something we've invested in and thus are attached to that outcome ( eg i put in a grant proposal that takes months to write - do i get invested in wanting to see it come through? uh huh!) Our concerns about outcomes can narrow our focus to just that thing - we stop seeing alternatives.

The simple equation here is that attachment to suffering may just be a threat response: where attachment is focus narrowed to the most salient target - our fear (or lust), and a belief that says must focus on this as my life/happiness/success/relationship depends on it. But does it? or does it just seem that way? How do we know? If we can't pull up - reduce the threat, the attachment, the emotional state - it's very difficult to "see" what's around us, to perceive the panorama

panorama view - disappears under threat
comes back when we reduce threat (image source)
Reduce threat - reduce that hormonal response we AUTOMATICALLY restore a wider field of view; we can perceive options again - we are able to ask, for example, "what is the worst that could happen" - and work back from there.

This framing is not to say that having a threat response is not appropriate in some cases; it's not saying move to some la la state where everything is awesome when it's not  - but sometimes we get triggered more easily than may be appropriate to the situation, we get too focused on the Thing rahter than on for instance what the sedona method calls Right Action.

My observation - and the research literature seems to back this up -  is that we are more easily threatened/triggered/fearful when we are
- under slept
- poorly fed
- sedentary

just to touch on a few factors.
let the sunshine in - the earlier
in the day, the better
check out to check your levels
image source

Circadian Syncing for Neural Support
Another factor i've been noticing lately is helping me feel more balanced/less attached and less easily triggered, and therefore more able to respond effectively without freaking myself out, is getting a big jolt of light in the morning. In other words, working with my circadian rhythms which also is a key to our hormonal processes- but more of that (and the amazing sunsprite) another time.

We have Bodies: work WITH them
The big point here is that we are physical beings, and our physiology has a lot to do with how we cognitively process our environments.

You may be able to think of times when things seemed so much easier when you were well rested or had been doing more walks or were eating healthier - if not, you may wish to give it a go.

A Wider Field of View: Houston we Have Options

The benefits from a creative, innovative perspective, and from a working with others perspective, is
winter sunrise - walkin' buddha
knows sunshine helps
keep it together - in a detached
kinda way
(image source)
that it's much much easier to think new ideas, to perceive options, when our bodies do not feel under stress - when we can therefore physiologically achieve a wider field of view - literally and metaphorically.

It is easier to deal with the tiger in front of us if we can perceive the tools/support around us to deal with that situation; when we're less stressed we can also respond less reflexively and more thoughtfully/lovingly

In other words, it's simply easier to be zen about the world around us, our lives, to feel less attached, less emotionally driven, when we reduce the threat response.

It's much easier to move out of threat when we have quality movement, rest and food

So if you are feeling stressed about work, short tempered with your family, in lust with something or person, consider your movement, sleep and food as places you can start to engage the problem. From improving these aspects, you may find it easier to relax, physically look up and around the horizon, breath and see options. From here it is easier to "let go" of the attachments, the feelings, keeping us in the hole.

In other words, we can give ourselves a better chance at enlightenment with quality rest, activity and food.

If you're feeling stressed/fearful/lusty right now - narrow focus - rather than wider view - which one of these three might you be able to tune in right now: movement, rest, quality food. Give yourself a week with one of them; see how you feel. My bet is your inner smiling buddha will emerge fairly effortlessly.

let go of attachment; perceiving the options
easier with quality food, sleep movement and food
image source
Thank you to Ed Cutrell for a lovely suite of conversations about Buddhism.
The concept of the Nervous System wired to detect threat or not threat was introduced to me by Eric Cobb D.C., founder of Z-Health.


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