If Lao Tzu were traveling the Hangu Pass today, he’d no doubt be strip-searched by security.


Qi Meets Sweat

Watching my Friday morning Qi Gong students, I see them reach for the qi, eyes closed, bodies rocking slightly as they finish the session with Bamboo Sways In The Wind. Many stand but some, tired by the thirty minute session, sit, backs upright in their folding chairs. None had heard of Qi Gong before. None is younger than 75.
Some had tried the Senior Center Tai Chi class but found it too tiring, too strenuous, too demanding of arthritic hands, artificial knees, and spinal stenosis to continue. But in Qi Gong, they have found a combination of movement and stillness within their sometimes restricted reach. I may have to remind them to keep breathing deeply, nudge them away from trying to do more than they are comfortable with–it’s not easy to “relax” and “move like water” when you’ve done the opposite for seven decades–but after we finish, they laugh about being ready for a nap and there are always questions: Can you show us those acupressure points for headaches again? Is this why my granddaughters always want me to rub their feet? I don’t want to wear the back brace I bought so my posture improves so can Qi Gong help me do this on my own?
We don’t talk about religion or spirituality, but I gather from their comments that most are Christian and good churchgoers. They aren’t seeking an alternative to their monotheism, yet remain open to the idea of meditation and visualization. Not the “hippie transcendence seekers” of the 60’s, these are women who quite simply don’t want their necks to ache, who want to shop for groceries when they’re 80, who might wear sensible shoes but also rock their scarves and rings and joke about their next career as a runway model. While they follow their doctor’s orders, they’re ready to try other modalities. Health is health for them, whether the “fix what’s broken” mechanic’s approach of Western medicine to the “tend to the healthy” gardener’s view of Eastern.
While in Asia the traditions or Taoist and Qi healing go back thousands of years, from the Dao Yin of the Yellow Emporer to the bringing of Zen to China by Bodhidharma, becoming locked into the rigidity long tradition encourages, in America, lack of tradition engenders freedom of approach. My students don’t know The Eight Brocades or The Animal Frolics so aren’t insulted if I don’t teach them but would learn them happily, as well. In America, where we go to Yogalates, Spin Qi and other blended East/West workout classes, “pure” Qi Gong, with its emphasis of strength and suppleness, thousands of forms, and mix of healing, spiritual and martial arts styles steps naturally into our let’s-try-it-all culture. And for those who’ve avoided fitness because of their weight, their bad knees and backs, their lack of flexibility or balance, Qi Gong’s precept that one can and should only do what is comfortable, feels approachable in ways that Zumba, P90X or even Tai Chi doesn’t.
And seniors are not the only group that can benefit from and appreciate the teachings of Qi Gong. Stress-related doctor visits constitute the highest percentage of all appointments; insomnia has been linked to weight gain and high blood pressure; by 2030, statistics project 50% of all Americans will be overweight or obese, many suffering from metabolic syndrome. Qi Gong’s movement, mindfulness, and stress reduction with little space and no special clothing needed could be practiced in offices, homes, parks, even museums and churches, the ideal complement to Western medicine and an antidote to Western lifestyle.

Hi-Yo, Lipo! Away!

I just can’t get the image out of my head. Tiny thighs, gigantic paunch. Or maybe flat abs, zoot suit shoulders. What horrible nightmare led to this? Oh, nothing much. Just a study on the long term results of liposuction. Our bodies, apparently, really like their fat, don’t want to lose it, would write love songs and send flowers if they could.

So when we mess around mechanically with what our bodies see as their dear, dear fat cells, the body gets ornery about this. Wouldn’t you, if your friends tried to take your sweetie out every night for margaritas when she should be home with you? Oh, right, that’s not exactly mechanical. Well, what if a giant crane plucked your first born out of the nest and carried him away to Katmandu. Another bad example if your first born just moved back in at 29 with no job; you might think Katmandu is the Kat’s pajamas.

But our bodies are more faithful than we are. Take away the fat from your thighs by having it Hoovered out and you may think you’re done with it but noooo. . .

Your body has other ideas. It can’t just redeposit fat in the thighs because you took the actual cells out, not just the fat in them. So instead, fat starts being deposited in other areas where there are still plenty of cells. And scientists found that where the body prefers to put the new fat is “up” from wherever it was removed. So, you get those skinny thighs and–next stop on the fat track is the stomach. Take it from the stomach and presumably, it moves to the chest or higher.

Keep going and you’re going to end up looking like Sherman from Rocky and Bullwinkle: scrawny little body with a gigantic head. Start practicing saying “Gosh, Mr. Peabody.”

Most disturbing: The majority of people who gained fat upward after thigh lipo? Said it was worth it and would do it again.

“Gosh, Mr. Peabody!”

App For Fat Update: Why Bother?

Before we get to the next stage of how the app “contestants” are doing–I find I have some pretty strict or maybe quirky standards for what works and what doesn’t–maybe I should talk about why you should even think about tracking your food intake.

Reasons not to are pretty obvious:

  • It takes a lot of time to search for foods, enter them, figure out serving size, add time of day, etc. etc. And who has time these days?
  • Tracking every morsel going into your mouth can be pretty intimidating. Even if no one else is going to see it, you walk around blushing and mortified after your third Twinkie.
  • It’s boring. First day, maybe fun, but after that, really, really, really boring.

But there are real benefits to tracking and the research is convincing:

  • Tracking your food intake makes much more tangible how you really eat. Maybe you know that you ate three brats at Brat Fest (oh, aren’t we supposed to boycott that this year?) but when it’s in print or at least in font, you can see it right there in front of you. Brian Wansink, one of the key researchers on behavioral eating, has shown that when two groups are given platters of chicken wings, a food that leaves evidence behind, the group whose bony carcasses are left on the table eat fewer total wings than the group whose remains are briskly removed. Food diaries help give you that visual.
  • And that visualization makes eating more naturally “mindful.” You might easily forget the mound of croutons on the salad once they’re gone and, thus, order that salad the same way again, even if you know how fatty coutons can be. But if you’ve tracked it, you will really stop and think about the effect on the total nutrition, calorie, point, or whatever those croutons have, internalize that knowledge and find it easier to remember to skip them next time.
  • People who are trying to lose weight lose more when they track their food. In 2008, Kaiser Permanente followed 1685 adults, men and women, for 20 weeks. They encouraged them to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and requested but didn’t demand that food diaries be kept. At the end of the 20 weeks, all participants had lost weight. But those who didn’t keep a food diary lost an average of 9 lbs. The participants who tracked their food? On average, they lost twice as much–18 lbs. And government studies of people who lost weight and kept it off (there’s an ongoing tracking database for this–more about that in another post) indicate that one of the factors the “maintainers” gave for their success was continued food tracking.

Boring, yes. Productive, afraid so. In theory, the apps should make it easier to do but do they? That’s what I’m finding out, so more next time on how the contenders are doing.

Exercise du Jour–or Door–or Wall

Wall Squat w/ Bicep Curl   What a great day to just hang out against a wall.  Well, we can’t make it quite that easy. But this Squat with Bicep Curl is a dandy for hitting lots of muscles at once. And it’s not hard to learn.  Although getting the ball behind your back if you’re by yourself can be quite a trick. Ah, that’s why you should have a personal trainer!

OK, So stand with a stability ball wedged between your back and the wall. Grab a couple of dumbbells. No, wait, grab the dumbbells first–see how tricky this is getting. Once you’re wedged up there with the dumbbells in the “up” position of a bicep curl, you can start the actual exercise. Slowly go into a squat, pressing your back against the ball, feet a little in front of you to keep pressure off the knees. As you squat, lower the dumbbells, again slowly, using that eccentric power to control them.

Now, stand back up, curling the weights as you stand. Remember that as with any bicep curl, you keep your elbows tucked to your sides.  With your back leaning against the ball, you won’t have to worry about the “hip hinge” and knee position as you would a regular squat but if you do feel it in your knees, just move your feet forward a little more.

And, man, doesn’t it look like she has incredibly long legs! Not a picture of me, I’m afraid!

(And no, there really isn’t a video with this. But I’m going to do one. Promise. But you’ve all heard that one before.)

Women’s Health Week Studio Open House

Monday May 9 from noon to 5, drop by the studio at 2564 Branch St. Suite B10 and play with the equipment, learn a new exercise, scope out the muscle charts (“what the heck is that called?”) or just say “hi.” No sales pitch, I promise, but a deal: sessions bought that day get a $5 discount. And yes, guys are welcome, too. Because every week should be Women’s and Men’s Health Week.