Monday, March 29, 2010

FEAR: Your Greatest Ally....

"Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." ~John Wayne

FEAR: The very word drudges up mental images of cold sweats, "Jell-O legs," clammy hands & rapid heartrate. Its been something we've been taught to avoid at all costs. Fear is synonymous with "Go Back!" But what if we've misjudged fear's lessons? What if we've misunderstood its teachings?

In the April 2009 issue of "Outside" magazine, an article written called, "This is your brain on adventure" explored the neuro-chemistry behind pushing the boundry, exploring the edge, & why we need a bit of risk in our lives. To check out the article, go to the following link:


"Paleo" man/woman lived in a state of survival. "Nothing fun about that," you say. However, scientists are beginning to look at the possible way our brain gets "extra" creative when we're forced to face our fears. There's something to be said for safety. No one is questioning that. To be unsafe is silly, even faulty. However, there is a new school of thought amongst neuro-scientists that are beginning to differentiate between anxiety and true fear. True fear doesn't actually appear to be all that harmful to the body. Anxiety does. In fact, in our remote-controlled, escalator-ridden world, scientists are seeing that certain neuro-peptides have become "lazy" or "complacent" in our modern society.

Yes, its of advantage that we don't always have to wrestle a bear to get back to our "cave." At the same time, scientists are growing concerned that we don't always move past our places of comfort either. There is a healthy balance, and it will be an individual search within oneself to find it. I hear people say to me, "You rock climb? I could never do that. I'm afraid of heights." I have an answer for them: I am too. I look at climbers that are so much more accomplished than I am, and esteem to have their bravery. If I know my equipment is sound, that there is redundancy in backing up my safety mechanisms, that my belay partner has double-checked everything, and that I am capable of the climb, then I ask myself, "Almine, what are you REALLY afraid of?"

There is an element of self-preservation which is completely natural. We all have these innate instincts. Tom Brown Jr., America's most renowned tracker and wilderness survival expert, makes a distinction. He says, "My teacher, Stalking Wolf, told me, 'The difference between the Apaches and the white settlers they encountered, is when the Apaches were afraid they moved towards whatever frightened them. The white settlers stepped back."

The subtle art of knowing the difference between a "surface" level anxiety and a true gut-instinct of "move away" takes time to distinguish. According to Tom Brown, the majority of us mistake anxiety for a true fear. He said that true fear is actually rare in the wild.

Cultures, the world-over, have sought out to master their fears. This has taken place in a variety of ways. The Maya used cenotes (underground well-caves) to experience true darkness in the bosom of the earth...to experience fear welling up inside them...only to learn to calm their mind amongst it. According to Geologist and author Gregg Braden, temples of great civilizations were generally used to "isolate" certain emotions. It is there, in these temples, initiates sought out the internal power to master these emotions. For instance, Egyptologist, Graham Hancock, author of "Fingerprints of the Gods," specifically states that the very bottom chamber of the great pyramid of Giza was used by the Egyptian initiates to "master their most innate darkness." He states that the lower chamber (representing the "lower" or limbic part of the brain) has heiroglyphs etched into the walls indicating the word "fear," or the "mastering thereof."

In Chinese medicine, we look at the vital organs in terms of a more holistic approach. You really could liken them to complex systems, that each "house" or "rule" an emotion. For instance, the ancient medical text, the "Nei Jing," or the "Yellow Emperor's Cannon of Classic Medicine" (as its more commonly known) states, "The kidneys are the house of fear." What does this mean? We do know, in western bio-medicine that the adrenal glands (which look like little "nightcaps" sitting on top of the kidneys) pump out cortisol, our "fight-or-flight" hormone. Chinese medicine is based on 2 main intertwined theories: the theory of yin/yang, and the 5-elements. Both of these theories come together to create a complex, yet completely organic whole-system, view of the human being. For every "yin" organ, there's a "yang" organ. The kidneys are considered "yin," its paired organ, the bladder is considered "yang." The kidneys are said to "rule" the deepest fears of our human self: abandonment, survival, fear of the dark, of deep water, of heights, etc. The bladder is said to "rule" more anxiety, such as: "what am I going to do about money this month?," "did I leave my stove on?," etc. When we feel fear, people say, "I have to pee!" This is an obvious example of how when we feel anxious our bladder responds. "Kidney fear" is said to be mastered. "Bladder fear" is said to be ignored. There are a variety of meditation disciplines in the world to assist in quieting the mind. Lisa Rands, Steph Davis, Dean Potter, Chris Sharma...some of the most accomplished climbers in the world use one form of meditation or another to master their minds, and still their thoughts.

I use climbing as a metaphor because heights is such a common fear (the #2, to be exact...public speaking is #1). I ask myself, over and over, "Almine, if you know your gear is sound, and the climb is within your ability, what's the problem?" I then look at my deepest fears, and do my best to move forward. I'm not always successful. Sometimes I can't commit to the climb. Sometimes I can. This is why the Buddhists call the discipline of "stilling the mind" a "practice." Every day is different, and you have to accept that. Be kind to yourself. Mastering our fears is the opposite of what we've all been taught to do.

We all grew up being fascinated by "Star Wars." The graphics, the costumes, the archetypal story. However, nothing in "Star Wars" captured the imagination, of young and old, like the Jedi. Joseph Campbell, the brilliant mastermind behind the story line of "Star Wars" was one of the greatest mythologists the world has seen. His book "The Power of Myth" is an academic classic in the world of anthropology, history and philosophy. Did you ever stop to wonder where this great concept of the Jedis came from? The historical Egyptian "Jeds" were Campbell's inspiration for the Jedis." The Jeds were said to have "mastered their fears in the temples of Anubis. The underworld (the mind of fear) had no hold left on them."

We are enamored with the timeless Jedis, because we too have the same fears that lurk within us: of the dark, the deep ocean, of small spaces, snakes, heights, the list goes on...insert your own fears.

As an Amazonian shaman said to me, "It is your job, as a human being to live free from fear. To live beyond the shadows of the mind. Do your best and practice diligently."

To resist fear is cheating ourselves. It may have some lessons yet to teach us. Be open to yours, and in the way they come to you. Observe them when they come up, without judgement. They simply ARE. They're neither good nor bad. They're your teacher. Use your life circumstances to practice this, and as the Buddhists say, "The fear of death then, can have no hold on your mind."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." -Nelson Mandela

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ever Wonder Why A Flock Of Birds Fly Faster Together, Or Why A Pod Of Dolphins Swim Faster As A Group? Maybe They're Onto Something...


ALMINE & HER FRIEND, TARA, at "Oregon CrossFit," 2009

We all love our solitude. My job is very people-oriented. Sometimes I just feel the need to clear my head, be alone, and experience the silence of a trail-run...

If you're a "solo exerciser," a recent study found, however, that it may not be a bad idea to expand your horizons. Researchers at Oxford University found that rowers get a bigger surge of mood-boosting endorphins during a synchronized workout vs. when they row alone. Doing the same movements together is a bonding experience, which helps trigger the feel-good vibes, the study authors suspect. The endorphins seemed to be heightened when the group moved in unity, instead of merely just moving as a group. An example of this would be a troupe of dancers moving to the same choreography vs. a group of people hiking together.

So, it may not be a bad idea to take that dance class, or explore rowing in a boat with a group of others...find a synchonized group workout class and throw it in the mix of your "solo" exercise schedule 1-2x a week. The research indicates it can do nothing but make your more happy ;-}

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Q., "Almine, What Is Your Feeling On Grain/Grain-Based Product Consumption?" C.B., Portland, OR.

A. To answer this question, I'm going to pass on a link to an article that I think addresses this issue very well:


Upon reading the article, if you have further questions about it, please don't hesitate to ask. I will say this: In general, I'm a proponent of the "Paleo" dietary lifestyle (see previous post on "What is CrossFit?"). I also spoke yesterday of "ancestral eating." My ancestors (predominant genetic "strain") were French. They lived in the Rennes-Les-Chateaux region of France. This is a goat/sheep herding region. I eat a fairly modified version of the "Paleo Diet." I do incorporate some goat and/or sheep dairy into my diet. My body seems to do very well with it (no surprise by looking at my genetics), particularly when the dairy is fermented in a product such as kefir or "Roquefort" raw sheep's cheese. That being said, the "Paleo Diet" does not advocate grains and/or grain products. I want to make a distinction with quinoa and amaranth. These two "grains" are not, in fact, botanically speaking, grains at all. They're actually seeds. I do consume quite a bit of quinoa. I soak it overnight (see above link), & get it to the point of soaking where it smells almost "sour." That's when you know its time to discard the soaking water and cook it. If any grain has been pre-soaked, it actually is quite a time saver. It cooks up (particularly quinoa) within 2-3 mins. of high-heat "flash" boiling. Its very time effective. Quinoa has as much protein as turkey, and as much calcium as milk. If someone is a vegetarian, they should absolutely be incorporating quinoa into their diet (please soak first...read above article to understand why this is crucial). When I was doing research in Peru, soaked, fermented quinoa "gruel" was the first baby food introduced post-breastfeeding. It has an extremely high amino acid profile as well.
I have friends who are endurance athletes who consume a high-amount of grain products. Its not my recommendation, however, but they at least can justify the high-carb. caloric intake with the amount of calories they burn per hr., so its unlikely they're going to experience weight gain from it. The old adage of "carb loading" before a workout is now being re-examined by sports nutritionists and physiologists. The jury is still out, however, but I think an excellent read is "The Paleo Diet For Athletes," by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. A longer lasting fuel source for endurance events is actually fat. The good, healthy kind. "Navy Seals" will tell you that during intensive endurance training drills they consume vials of olive oil. Dean Karnazes, "The Ultramarathon Man" was tipped off to this little dietary tip, and hasn't looked back since. He consumes healthy quantities of olive oil as his preferred fuel source during long-distance runs. For folks who may experience a sense of "heaviness" with the combination of exercise and fat intake, my suggestion would be to play with coconut oil. It bypasses much of the break-down process that needs to occur with other fats, & goes straight to the metabolism to fuel it immediately. Coconut oil is also the preferred choice for those who are blood type A, and/or the people who have fat digestion problems (gallbladders removed, lipase and/or bile salt deficiency, etc.) During Adventure Races (AR), or other endurance events, I actually take coconut oil in capsules. Its much more convenient to take it that way, and seems to settle well in my stomach. It gives me a "boost" during any event. If you look at the gladiators of old Rome, historical records of the time state, "They consumed large quantities of raw cream during sports events." Again, we see that fat was the preferred source of fuel for the athletes of history.
Of course, this is a trial and error process for everyone. You will need to "play" with your preferred fuel source, and see how pre-soaked grains feel in your body.
On occasion, I will cook up millet. Outside of quinoa (again, which is a seed, not a grain), its really the only grain we eat in our house. Millet is one of the most ancient grains on the planet. It comes from Africa, & is the main dietary amino acid source in the Sudan and Eithiopia. You rarely see millet "by-products" in the U.S. (breads, tortillas, crackers, cookies), which generally means its still fairly unadulterated. Millet is the only completely "alkalizing" grain there is. It has a complete amino acid profile (which most grains, in fact, are very low in amino acids), and is highly anti-fungal (think disorders such as yeast infections, systemic candidiasis, halitosis, "jock-itch", athletes foot, fungus on the toes, etc.). We use millet in Chinese medicine to help promote fertility, to "hold the baby" (i.e. prevent miscarriage), and to promote healthy "Stomach Qi" (good for gastric ulcers, GERD, gastritis, Crohn's, morning sickness, nausea, etc.). Millet is unique in that it has no phytic acid surrounding the individual grain (see above article), so it doesn't need to be pre-soaked for your body to easily absorb the full nutrient profile, and get maximum nutrition benefits from it.
I hope the above information has been helpful. Another book I'd like to highly recommend is, "Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine," by Dr. Ron Schmid, N.D. (the same Dr. Ron who sells the org. glandulars I referred to in yesterday's post at: www.drrons.com) He expounds more on how traditional peoples fermented and pre-soaked their grains for maximum absorption. If you're not willing to do this process with your grains (millet would be the exception), then I would avoid them, and any products derived from them altogether.
If you need some great "Paleo" recipe ideas, please scroll down to the bottom of my blog page to Stephanie Amato's blog-site called "Primal Mama Cooks...and Dishes On Life." She has some great suggestions (which are incredibly tastey, I might add ;-)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Q "Almine, What Are Some Of The Best Supplements I can take?" T.S., Boise, ID.

A. The supplements that I prefer are not vegetarian. I wanted to state that upfront, because I do get that question a lot. Questions about supplementation for vegans and/or vegetarians would be a separate post. That being said, I'm meticulous about quality. Quality DOES count. You get what you pay for. I only get grass-fed, humanely-raised, additive-free organic supplements (a mouthful, I know ;-) People ask me how I have so much energy? I have "slower" days, like everyone else, but in general, my energy is very good. One of the reasons for this, I attribute to what I call "ancestral eating." My B.S. is in Medical Anthropology. My Master's is in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. I have traveled the world over, doing research in the Amazon to living in the high Himalayas. I've lived in jungles in Central America, doing research on Mayan OB/GYN practices, & have studied throughout Europe with the best Celtic herbalists and homeopaths. My suggestion is this. Research a predominant "strain" or "line" of your ancestry, & read up on what their traditional diet was. Do your best to follow that as closely as possible, & it will be hard to not have good health. Genetics don't change very much over thousands of years. New fangled "faux" foods, such as imitation "milks," "meats," etc. zap energy from you. Your body doesn't recognize them, or how to break them down. An example of this would be COQ10. Your body doesn't recognize COQ10 on its own. However, the plains Native Americans have been shown, through Medical Anthropology, to have the highest COQ10 levels of any traditional people. Why? The plains Native Americans, such as the Pawnee and the Sioux ingested heart. Yes, you read that correct: heart. You may recall this being shown in the movie "Dances With Wolves." There is a saying in homeopathic and Oriental medicine: "Like treats like." You eat heart, to have a strong healthy one. If you choose to eat meat, then my advice would be to eat as much of the animal as possible. This is what your ancestors did. They didn't eat the muscle meat only, which was actually considered the "lesser" meat of the animal. All micro-nutrients, organically bound minerals, and fat-soluable vitamins (which is ONLY found in animal fat...there is no vegan source of fat-soluable vits.) was in the organ meat. Again, quality is of the utmost importance. You cannot ingest organ meats, which have been treated with anti-biotics, pesticides, etc. and expect to feel good. These harmful substances, when given to the animal, go straight to the vital organs. Therefore, you MUST get high-quality organ meats. I ingest a great deal of raw, organic, grassfed liver and heart. I get my liver by the large tub at: www.bodybuilding.com Liver is the highest bio-assimilable iron source in the world. Women, in particular need this. Most iron supplements out on the market (even the "natural" ones) create bowel irregularity. The more active a woman is, the more iron she needs. On "high" exercise days I eat up to 18 tablets of liver. Liver is also one of the highest sources of branch chain amino acids (BCAA's), B-complex, and has up to 30x more beta carotene than carrots. In Chinese medicine we use it for eyesight/night-vision problems for obvious reasons (the high beta carotene content). I get my heart at: www.drrons.com Dr. Ron is a naturopathic physician and grass-fed raw dairy farmer. All of his products come from N. Zealand, where they've never had a case of organ contamination, and they do have "humanely raised" standards. If you eat meat, you're "skimping" yourself nutritionally if you're only eating the muscle meat. For more information on this, "ancestral diets," and the Medical Anthropology of native/traditional peoples, please purchase Dr. Weston A. Price's book, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration." Truely, the pictures in there are worth the purchase alone. Or, you may go to: www.westonaprice.org My undergrad. thesis was based on Dr. Price's work on traditional people's and native diets.
Also, I'm a proponent of HIGH-VITAMIN cod liver oil. I emphasize high-vitamin, because it must say that on the bottle, or you're not getting the fat-soluable vitamin amount in the cod liver oil that your ancestors did, when they ingested cod liver oil. You cannot find high-vit. in stores, even "Whole Foods" or any of the health food store chains. Again, you may order this online from www.drrons.com They even have a fermented option, which is a bit more expensive, but worth its weight in gold. It is a completely raw product, rich in enzymes and associated nutrients, and is produced in America by traditional methods with imported cod livers.
In addition, I always take digestive enzymes with my meals, even my raw ones. I eat a diet rich in a variety of fermented beverages and foods. Native peoples get the majority of their vit. C (particularly those above the equator) from fermented foods. There are very few trees of the citrus family in places such as the Alps, Ireland, Scotland and Scandanavia, so Northern European peoples had to improvise by using the "food alchemy" process of fermentation to create a dynamic, bio-assimilable vit. C source in the winter, rich in pro-biotics and enzymes by fermenting their food and beverages such as kraut, olde-world style mead, beet kvass, etc. With the depleted soils, that our food is produced in (even the organic ones) it would be hard to get enough fermented foods and beverages in your body, particularly for the athlete. Digestive enzymes have been shown to decrease DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) post-workout. People can say, "Yes, but I eat an all raw, or the majority of raw food in my diet, so I'm getting enough enzymes." My response, "Not necessarily." Just because you ingest something doesn't mean you digest it. Oriental medicine says, that unless you're living in a warm, year-'round area to have the environment help "warm the middle jiao" (or the digestive system, as we say in the west), eating a perpetual diet of raw food in a cold region will "suppress the digestive fire, and in the long run create weakness." My suggestion is to eat seasonally. Traditional people ate more cooked foods in the fall/winter, and then switched to more raw in the spring/summer. Using the "Macrobiotic Diet" general rule of "80/20" is a good place to start. I "eyeball" my plate, and have 80% cooked food on it in the fall/winter, and 80% raw food on it spring/summer. You don't have to measure this out. Just use your eyes as your measurement tool. Again, when I eat a predominatly cooked diet, I eat and/or drink a good amount of fermented foods and/or beverages with it for enzymes. This is the way of my ancestors. Native people's didn't eat like it was Thanksgiving everyday. Even when their physical activity increased in the spring/summer, statistically, they still ate less in the warmer summer months. Generally, Americans eat like they're about to go into a famine everyday. You will have to take into consideration physical exercise, of course. The amount of food one eats, for obvious reasons, will need to be increased the more physical activity you do. This is a different subject matter all together. For now, I'm referring to "the average American." The above is a good start to getting you on your way to peak health and wellness. Enjoy ;-}

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q. Almine, What Exactly IS "CrossFit"? -J.B., Columbus, Ohio

A. "Crossfit: World-Class Fitness in 100 Words" (according to Coach Glassman)

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.

"Welcome To My New Blog"

As a licensed acupuncturist & certified fitness trainer, I get many questions a day ranging on topics from herbs to fitness protocols. This blog is a way of streamlining some of the answers to your questions. It is also a way to keep you updated on new findings regarding complimentary medicine, fitness, sports nutrition & various events that may inspire you to move your body & stay healthy. Frequently I'll post fitness activities I'm doing, answers to questions (when I'm able to...some medical questions I may not answer via internet), & various recommendations on how to keep yourself healthy & fit. Thanks for stopping by. I'm just learning about how to blog, so will hopefully be a bit more "sophisticated" with it by adding pictures, attaching articles, etc. in the future. ***Enjoy!***