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Thursday
Apr092015

one way to progress

For various reasons Captain Cooke did not think particularly highly of the research that showed the anti-scurvy qualities of limes and lemons. It was obviously ahead of its time. But he knew there was a problem. What he did was to combine all the anecdotal evidence available, all the cures that seemed to work, and enforce them rigorously- sauerkraut, lemons, fresh meat and vegetables, clean dry clothes and bedding- and it worked- not a single man went down with scurvy on his ships.

If we suffer an ailment or problem try everything that seems to limit it in some way. This is like the strategy for making the boat go faster. You don’t need a reason- if it works- use it.

Later you may come up with a good scientific explanation, or, you may not.

Wednesday
Apr012015

passion or money? Take a cross-over path

You hear it all the time- especially on self-help blogs- go after what you are passionate about and money will follow...er, right, but what if you're skint?

I have said similar stuff- my solution, for myself, was to work for money at weekends or downtimes and use my primetime- the day- to do my own thing.

But what if you have a family to support? You can't do that easily working a couple of nights.

You need to be both self-supporting and also, preferably, on what I call a cross-over path.

If you earn your bread at a call centre and spend your free time doing what you are passionate about the passion will probably fizzle out. You'll be so pissed off you'll want to spend your downtime doing other stuff.

A cross-over path is one that earns money, reasonable amounts, but allows you to cross over more and more to what really interests you. Journalism is a good cross-over path to writing and film making. Think of activities that are congruent with your ultimate ideal way of earning a living/spending your days. Take a long term approach. Look for other people who are doing what you want to do and see what cross-over path they used.

 

Thursday
Mar192015

the simple and the subtle

Broadly speaking, formal, ‘public’, or, if you like, ‘modern’, life presents things as significant the louder more shocking and in your face they are; it also presents things that are super complicated as being more significant than that which is very simple. 

But I wonder if the opposite is true: that life is better appreciated by looking for, and showing a preference for, the simple and by being better attuned to the subtle.

When people start aikido they quickly get into very complicated discussions about foot placement and angles and such like. The real masters tend to say the same things again and again: it’s all about stance, for example. After a while you realise it isn’t the actual words that matter so much as the importance you attach to them (if that makes sense). The better you get at aikido the more importance you attach to something seemingly very simple that is ignored by a beginner who prefers more complicated (an by implication, truer) explanations.

Becoming more aware, building awareness builds an appreciation of subtleties. All wine tasters know this. Having the courage to stick with the simple also helps. I wonder if a preference for over-complication is a dry intellectual substitute for subtlety.

Monday
Mar162015

Arabeye Media Monitoring

I have been most impressed with this new service reporting on arab social media and focusing on somewhat overlooked news http://www.arabeyemedia.org.uk/

Saturday
Mar142015

New Statestman review of Prank book

This came out this week in the New Statesman...somehow I never get around to saying how much I love public pranks- Virginia Woolf dressing as an Abyssinian Prince and visiting a Royal Navy battleship comes to mind, as does Jaroslav Hasek sending fake science reports full of learned references to the Czech version of Nature. Private pranks are practical jokes...which aren't as much fun for some reason..maybe because the crime is never victimless- or the victim is us- or the joker is a self-righteous git...not sure, anyway here is the article:

Click here

Friday
Mar132015

nano adventures

My esteemed fellow adventurer Alastair Humphreys has made a great job of popularising micro adventures, yet only the other day I thought- some times the day is so short there isn't even enough time for a microadventure! Of course it's largely psychological, one should make more time, de-stress, take it easy etc etc...and yet- sometimes all you need is a nano-adventure. This is the tiniest possible division of adventure possible- there is none smaller. A nano adventure is so potentially short, time doesn't really come in into it- it is pure experience. Here are a few I've had: walking across Corfe common knowing it was Enid Blyton's choice for Kirrin Common in the Famous Five books; brewing up in the lee of an outdoor loo in a storm using an M kettle (I know, it takes all sorts); nightwalk from Chapman's rocks to pub in Worth Matravers; climbing a dartmor tor in the snow wearing inappropiate and very slippy DM shoes; spending two hours at midnight in a vigil reading the Kasidah at the grave of Richard Burton on the 100th anniversary of his death; circumnavigating Portland Bill on foot; sit on top canoeing through rock arches near Salcombe; sneaking under a locked door at the bent Pyramid at Dahshur; finding a horned viper 3km from Cairo's ring road; fishing for grey mullet using a hazel stick and a bent pin and bread paste; locating a standing stone on a map and finding it; driving through flooded roads with water coming in under the doors; tickling trout; running the undercliff at Lyme Regis; walking across stepping stones on any river you choose...simple stuff that takes less than an afternoon- start looking for potential nano-adventures in your life!

Tuesday
Mar102015

Tibetan monks raise body temperature

 

In Magic and Mystery in Tibet Alexandra David-Neel talks about the incredible ability of certain Tibetan monks. They are reputedly able to raise their body temperature at will. She writes of monks draped in wet sheets at -35 degrees C and great gouts of steam rising from the wet cloths as their superheated bare torsos turned the icy garment into something like a steaming pudding cloth. Other travellers have also made passing mention of this technique but it wasn’t until the 1980s that Western science was able to catch up with Eastern expertise.

Greater knowledge of Tibet and her monks- whether they live on the Indian side or the Tibetan side of the border, indicated that the monks involved were practitioners of gtum-mo- (pronouced ‘dumo’) a form of breathing found in the teachings of the Tibetan Vajrayana. This was derived originally from the Indian Buddhist Vajrayana tradition.

Gtum-mo is a combination of breathing exercises and meditative concentration. The basic form involves performing ‘the vase’- this is a breathing technique where air is brought deep into the lower abdominal region and held there, making a pot belly or ‘vase’ of the stomach. There is a forceful version of this where the air is sucked in, held and then expelled with great vigour. There is a also a gentler version where the transitions are far less marked and the intake and exhalation of breath, though deep, is gentle.

Accompanying the breathing are two varieties of meditation. For the forceful breathing (which is used to ramp up body temperature quickly from ‘cold’ so to speak) the meditation is to picture internally an inner flame, something like a Bunsen burner flame, roaring hot, that starts at the navel and shoots up to the crown of the head. You have to imagine that flame in all its heat, roaring noise and light burning up through the core of the body.

For the more gentle variant of body temperature manipulation the mental image is of a surging sensation of bliss and rising warmth throughout the body.

In January 1982 Professor Herbert Benson[1] reported in the august pages on Nature on his studies into what he termed gTum-mo yoga. Conducted in the Dharamsala monastery of the Dalai Lama’s government in exile, three monks were able to raise the temperature of their fingers and toes by a creditable 8.3 degrees C. This is rather impressive- certainly it would make the difference between frost bite and frost nip or merely coldness. If climbers and others who venture into highly refrigerated environs could learn these techniques many digits might be saved.

In 2002 Harvard Gazette reported 2 monks- of Western origin and living in Normandy- who were able to raise their body temperature using gtum-mo techiniques.

But it wasn’t until 2013 that a more comprehensive set of tests and a general survey of previous attempts  was made. In the previous thirty years it had been found that raising peripheral temperatures- of hands and feet- could be made quite easily through various easily taught meditations, and, in fact, by training people to use simple biofeedback techniques. Typically a digital thermometer would be connected to sensors on the subject’s hands and feet. By sensing a greater awareness of the temperature of the hand or foot, whilst avoiding trying to force it up, the temperature could be made to rise as long raising temperatures was what was on the agenda.

But complications entered the field when it was found that raising core body temperature did not accompany raising peripheral temperatures. One theory suggested that various forms of muscular contraction served to raise hand temperature.

In the 2013 tests Dr Maria Kozhevnikov and her colleagues[2] showed that unlike biofeedback results, gtum-mo genuinely raised core body temperatures- so much so that the wet sheet dried by body heat alone was shown to be fact not fiction.

Kohevnikov located one of the very few nunneries where a body temperature raising ceremony exists. This was at the 4200 metre high Gebchak convent close to Nangchen in Qinghai province. The ceremony was held annually and the nuns participating would wear only a short skirt, shoes or sandals with a wet cotton sheet draping the rest of their body. It would be performed in winter when air temperatures would be dry but -25 to -30 degrees C. Anyone who has dipped their hand in water at these temperatures will know the extreme discomfort involved, and how hard it is to regain skin warmth after drastic colling like this has happened. Ranulph Fiennes dipped his hand in icy sea water to release a sunken sledge and did not dry and warm the hand immediately. He later remarked that these two minutes of carelessness cost him the finger tips of that hand. I’ve swept a frosty tent surface with a bare hand at -15 degrees C and found the hand still cold even ten minutes later after wearing a mitten. Such anecdotal evidence makes even the existences of the sheet ceremony all the more impressive.

The nuns were aged between 25 and 52 years old and some performed the forceful variety of gtum-mo and some the more gentle kind. It was reported that the forceful kind could not be sustained for very long, so it was used to warm the body up, after which the gentle type would be used when walking and wearing the wet sheet.

Nuns raised their peripheral temperatures easily by 1.2 to 6.8 degrees C. More importantly the forceful type of gtum-mo raised core body temperature by over a degree. One woman was able to get it higher and only stopped because she felt uncomfortable. Another stopped because she was developing fever symptoms.

If peripheral temperature raising results in a lowering of core body temperature then using techniques to merely warm the hands might actually hasten hypothermia. However, if, as the gtum-mo tests show, you can raise core body temperature and peripheral temperature you have the means to withstand great cold- as the nuns show during their freezing sheet ceremony.

As a control a group of westerners who had some experience of yoga or meditation or kung fu, were taught the gtum-mo technique. Very quickly they were able to show similar effects of raised body temperature as the much more experienced Tibetan nuns. Something that appears mysterious and oriental turns out to be rather ordinary after all. I for one will certainly be using it when I next find myself shaking with cold in some Himalayan fastness.

 

 



[1] Herbert Benson “Body Temperature changes during the practice of gTum-mo yoga” Nature 295 21 Jan 1982

[2] Maria Kozhevnikov March 29 2013 PLoS ONE “Neurocognitive and somatic components of Temperature Increase during g-Tummo meditation”.