Breaking Bread, It’s What’s For Dinner…

Remember the good old days when people sat at a table together and had face to face conversations during a meal? I do. I call it “good old days”, but to those who don’t know otherwise, I guess they don’t see the difference.

Tonight, we had the opportunity to have dinner with another couple and their children. It was chaotic. There was noise. There was chatter. there were multiple children vying for attention at different times.

Know what else there was at this dinner? Jokes. Laughter. Conversation. Games. Two families enjoying an evening together in the traditional sense. Something you don’t see a great deal of nowadays.

I think that the dynamic we’ve developed as a people is such that it has become easier for us to communicate through our devices. Text messages and various forms of social media have become the new norm. When most groups sit at a table together, at least a number of them will have their faces buried in their smart phones. The newest generation haven’t even had the benefit of knowing any different. We see the same thing when we sit on the bus or at restaurants, even when it’s two or more people together.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a smart phone. I use it a lot. I mean, a LOT. And sometimes, it has been to the detriment of my family. Doing things like playing games, browsing social media and watching television have proven to be a bad example to my son especially, who thinks it’s perfectly normal to sit in front of the television during a meal as opposed to sitting together at the dining table.

As wonderful as the advancement of technology has been, and no matter how much easier it has made life, I think it’s important that we pass on those particular traditions to our children. In a busy world where technology reins, it’s important to keep a foot firmly grounded on our humanity. We shouldn’t forget that the spoken word and face to face contact should never be taken for granted.

So, take the time to enjoy those few valuable moments with your loved ones. Have a conversation. Ask how their proverbial day went and what they did. In the long run, it will be better for you than tweeting what your last meal was.

Lethargy and Apathy are NOT countries in Eastern Europe…

One of the many pitfalls of Diabetes is that is can often cause sluggishness and lack of energy. Many people tend to see this as laziness, but it is often attributed to out of control blood sugars and the physical tolls it takes on the human body.

Just to clarify, lethargy and apathy are pretty similar. the first means a lack of energy and enthusiasm; the latter means a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two.

People often wonder how to “push through” and get their workouts or exercise done, despite the lack of energy. This takes concentration and the willingness to push beyond what your body is telling you. Don’t get me wrong; it is important to take rest when it is required. Your body will eventually need to recharge and replenish itself. This is why most trainers and health professionals will tell you that you shouldn’t work out seven days a week. Eventually, you start doing more damage than good.

But as a matter of course, it is important to push yourself. When you get those days where you just don’t feel like getting off the couch, those are exactly the days where you should. Yesterday, I skipped a karate class. This is not a common practice for me, but some days one simply can’t find the motivation. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But the throbbing pain in my upper back and right shoulder, coupled with my inability to keep my eyes open, told me that if I didn’t take a rest and allow these muscles to heal, I would likely injure or harm myself further.

So it becomes important to know the difference between required rest and lethargy. It is also important to recognize the difference between the ache of a rigorous workout and the pain of an injury. If you are ever uncertain as to which you are feeling, don’t hesitate to visit your family practitioner, chiropractor, massage therapist, whatever you need. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s always better to err on there side of caution. Your body will thank you.

So, What Comes Next?

One of the curious things that happens when I tell people I study Buddhism, is the apparent need to compare my beliefs to their own. I usually get asked the same batch of questions:

“So, do you believe in God?” (Yes, indeed I do!)

“Do you believe in life after death?” (I do, in fact. This is not discounting the concept of reincarnation that most Buddhists subscribe to)

“Oh, you’re one of those meditating people, right? Do you meditate?” (Yes, in fact I’m meditating right now to get through this conversation!)

All jokes aside, I never shy away from answering questions when someone is curious about a subject I have some knowledge on. But the aspect I want to discuss today is the concept of life after death. Let’s be honest, we have all wondered what happens when we die. At some point, we have wondered and/or hoped about the concept of heaven. Some people completely discount the possibility. Atheist, Humanists and Secularists especially, will have a reasonably firm opinion that there are no pearly gates waiting once we pass away.

However, science has been able to provide some insight, even for those who don’t follow a faith-driven lifestyle. The best explanation I could muster came out of me back in 2013, while speaking with my aunt.

Growing up, I only had one aunt on my father’s side. Although her name was Iris, the whole family always called her Cookie. She lived in the southern part of New Brunswick until her divorce, after which she moved to Alberta. It would be almost twenty years before I would see her again.

Before that came to happen, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It wasn’t until my work brought me out to the Prairies that I was in a position to go visit her. I traveled from South-Central Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta where I spent three wonderful days with Aunt Cookie. Despite her waning health, she was so full of life and smiles. She was the perfect example of a person making the best of the living moment, instead of contemplating what was to come.

On the third day, before I got on the road to travel back to Saskatchewan, we enjoyed a light lunch at a local eatery, where we had the opportunity to discuss life and what Aunt Cookie may or may not believe would be coming. As we discussed, I remembered describing something to her that I would be repeating to others for the years that would follow:

“Most people fall under two categories. Those who believe we go to heaven when we die, and those who don’t! If you live a faith-driven existence, then you should be confident in what your faith has taught you. If you’re right, then you’ll be headed to heaven. Even if you don’t have faith, science has proven that living beings are energy-based. At our very cores, we are composed of energy at the very atomic levels. And science has proven that energy can never be destroyed or cease to exist; it simply transforms. So even if you lead your life without a religious faith, science has proven that once we pass away, our energy will transform or move on to some other level. So, no matter what you believe, you should trust that this is not the end…”

Make of that what you will, but it makes sense, right? And it did make my Aunt Cookie feel better and potentially gave her some peace.

My Aunt Iris, or “Cookie” as the family would call her

My aunt passed away about six months later, but not before getting to meet the woman who would become my wife.

The bottom line is that we have no way of knowing what comes next. At least, not without going there to see for ourselves. And I don’t know about you but I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon. I have WAY too many things I want to get done first. Live life to the fullest and take the time to appreciate the now. Make every minute count.

Mind Over Matter, It Doesn’t Matter So Never Mind…

When was the last time you sat down at your kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee or tea and just SAT there? No agenda, no tasks or chores that need doing and no work to get to on that particular day? Can’t remember the last time that happened? Don’t feel bad, neither do I! But this likely means that we are lacking something very important in our lives: the ability to be still!

This morning I brought my son with me to check in at work and run some errands. As usual, he was his typical buoyant self, attracting everyone’s attention and fascinated by everything he sees. He seemed to be on a kick this morning of claiming he’s only one year old! According to him, his teacher told him this, although I’m sure something got lost in the translation. I asked him what he’d like to do this morning for an hour before going back to see his mother, and he replied with typical time-proven favourite: breakfast and the play place at a local fast-food eatery.

Now, I include breakfast because it would be ludicrous to think that we’d sit in a restaurant and not order something! But let me be clear; Nathan could care less about the food; he simply wants to play on the play structure with other children. A part of me is pleased that he wants to interact and socialize with other children. Another part of me longs for the silence that I wouldn’t get even if we were there alone.

Since it was an unplanned trip, I had limited resources with which to occupy myself while Nathan played. Oh sure, I had a book in my backpack. I almost always have a backpack when I expect to be out of the house for more than an hour. When you have Diabetes, you have little choice to do otherwise. What with testing equipment, fast-acting glucose and my glasses and other medications, I generally make it a rule to keep at least one piece of reading material with me. This morning’s selection was UechiRyu Karate Do by George E. Mattson.

But as I sat there, I found myself doing something I occasionally fall into: I observed the world around me. And this is what I noticed… People bustling and in a hurry. People raising their voices over mistaken orders and everyone staring at their watch. I happen to be in a position where sitting still at 9 in the morning is a very real possibility for me, but even when I’m at work, I like to think that I live in the moment and take time to do what’s immediately in front of me. Most of the people I observed were getting their coffee and/or their food because they need it to get on with their day, as opposed to sitting and enjoying it.

An important part of one’s mental and physiological well-being is to occasionally take the time to just sit still. Let the world around you melt away and just take the time to enjoy the moment. Sounds easier said than done? You damn right it is! But the benefits can be plentiful. Even for someone with Diabetes. Allowing yourself to relax causes your heart rate to slow, your blood pressure to lower and permits you to relax (depending on how many milligrams of caffeine may be in your beverage of choice, of course), all of which will help with blood sugar levels.

Today’s rat race makes it all but impossible to find time to sit in silence. And thanks to the advent of technology and social media, most of us can’t comfortably sit in silence anymore. But the practice is still sound and should be exercised. So, take some time for yourself. Sit there and let your mind drift. Well-known authors and composers have claimed that they do their best work when they simply let the ideas come to them. Why not emulate this behaviour and let your mind reset. Maybe you’d be surprised at the ideas you could develop!

The Future Is Now!

I still remember how I felt when I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I was four years old, it was 1982 and technology was a far cry from what it is now.

I recall a number of symptoms that, at the time, made me angry and sad without having the benefit of understanding what was happening. I began wetting the bed again. This was the most humiliating, since my parents felt they had no option but to put me in diapers when I went to bed. I would wake in the morning with a soaked diaper, wondering why I didn’t wake up to use the washroom. My weight and appetite fluctuated and my personality changed almost overnight. My thirst was constant and I was always cranky.

My parents thought that perhaps I was simply going through a phase. I had just turned four, after all. The well-known “fournado” period was well under way. It wasn’t until I awoke one morning and sat at the kitchen table, complaining of stomach pain and feeling strange that things reached a plateau.

One morning, I promptly passed out into my bowl of Cheerios (I don’t know if it was actually Cheerios, just to be clear. But one can assume…). I was transported to the local hospital, but I don’t remember a great deal of the next few days. This is likely because I was comatose. I would later learn that my blood sugar had gotten so high that the glucometers of the time couldn’t effectively read my blood glucose. Considering my modern day glucometer caps off at 33.0 mmol/L, that’s saying a lot.

Once I woke up (several days later), it was discovered through testing that I had been diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic. Although I didn’t really know what this meant at the time, it would go on to define me as a person for the rest of my life.

The weeks that followed involved a lot of trial and error as well as a glucometer that took almost three minutes to test with, and was about the size of a brick. My parents had no concept of what carb-counting was, or how to ensure that I didn’t ingest glucose from sources they weren’t aware of (“oh, bread doesn’t have sugar, sweetheart! You can have as much of that as you want”). Back in the 80’s, sugared goods were sugared goods; I’m talking cookies and baked goods and stuff. Bread, milk and potatoes were considered non-sugared goods. Unbeknownst to me, I was causing all kinds of damage to my system from consuming all those carbs without the benefit of calculating how much insulin I would require. It would prove to be a challenge I would have to deal with, later on in life…

I don’t blame my parents. They did the best they could with what they had available at the time. I honestly wouldn’t learn about carb-counting and such until 2015, almost 33 years after I was diagnosed.

My point is, now I’m connected to an insulin pump that is tethered to my body. It weighs less than an ounce and I test my blood using an interstitial fluid glucose reader, which would have have been considered inconceivable ten to fifteen years ago. But it’s how I live my life now.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet some people interested in upgrading to a new insulin pump. The latest design, it calculates and adjust one’s glucose levels every five minutes and helps to eliminate a number of steps required to maintain good glucose levels.

I met a gentleman who had been on an insulin pump in the 1980’s, as well as a youth who has only been on the pump for about three months. The variety was humbling, and I’ve ultimately decided to upgrade and move on to something newer.

Although I have always been a believer that technology isn’t the answer to everything, we keep moving one step closer to a point where perhaps someday, we’ll achieve a worry-free system that will take care of itself. We may not be able to create a new pancreas, but we can sure as hell combine technology with biology to provide a better tomorrow for future Type 1 Diabetics.

April Fool’s Day, A Day For Fools…

I’m going to keep it light this morning and cover today’s reason for pranksters to get out of bed: April Fool’s Day.

Nobody is EXACTLY certain where April Fool’s Day comes from, but there are some ideas out there. According to an article posted on history.com (https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/april-fools-day), April Fool’s Day, or All Fool’s Day, has no exact origins but some ideas have been proposed over the decades.

One idea is that back in the 1500’s, when France switched to the Gregorian calendar, some people were slow to get the news and continued to celebrate the new year during the last week of March and through April 1st. These people became the object of ridicule, having paper fish stuck to their back and referred to as “poisson d’avail” (April fish), which symbolized an easily caught, gullible person. That seems a bit harsh, since a lot of people still use the imperial system despite how long we’ve been on metric. I can’t imagine how long it would take me to adjust to a new calendar.

Some believe that April Fool’s Day is tied to the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather. I can certainly believe that one as we tend to get some weird and radical extremes in weather, here in the Prairies.

There are some other ideas and thoughts on where today’s “festivities” come from, but the agreed consensus is that it has become a day to play pranks and punk the people in your life. In some circumstance, it can be amazingly annoying or innocent fun.

In school, we used to celebrate by making cut outs of small paper fish (I went to a French school as a child). In recent years, I’ve been the victim of all sorts of fun little pranks. I’ve had the sleeves of coats, filled with paper shredding. I’ve had and sanitizer smeared on my phone receiver then one of my co-workers would call me. Years ago, I had some co-workers in New Brunswick keep me busy while they wrapped my car in post-it notes, panty liners and pallet wrap. That one took a while to clean up!

Given how much darkness and negativity there is in the world these days, it’s important to take time to enjoy the fun stuff. To stop and sniff the proverbial roses, if you will. Take some time today to lighten to mood and enjoy a few harmless pranks. Obviously, if you’re pulling something at work, remember to keep it simple and don’t do anything that will interfere with your job’s work mandate.

And if you happen to be the type of person who doesn’t care much for pranks, well just bear in mind that it’s just one day and it’ll all be over soon. Just ride the wave, then you can retreat for home (where there will hopefully be no one pranking you).

Bone Alignment and Proper Form

When training in the martial arts, or any sport really, it becomes ultimately important to maintain proper form. Having improper bone alignment can lead to pulled muscles, injuries in the tendons and other serious sports-related injuries.

As it relates to the martial arts, the power behind a strike comes not only from one’s brute strength but a number of different factors that people often don’t think about. For example, a properly executed punch will draw some of its power from the ground. Don’t believe me?

A good example is if you’ve ever seen two people on the street breaking out into a fight. You’ll never see someone throw a punch from a normal standing position. They’ll usually blade or take a step back or something to allow themselves the opportunity to properly chamber the strike.

Another very important aspect to examine is your body’s natural pronation and supination. These refer to the natural alignment and rotation of your bones and joints. It becomes extremely important to acknowledge these and to try not to move against it. For example, when doing a “horse stance” movement in karate, one should keep the back straight and allow for the feet and knees to point slightly outward from the body. This is the natural movement of the body and the only way to effectively perform this movement.

The beginning of a good horse stance. I continue by getting lower into the seated position (no laughing at my orange carpet!)

Some styles try to point the feet directly forward or keep the knees pointed forward, but as you squat down in a horse stance, this movement becomes unnatural and taxing on the body.

The same goes with any of the limbs or joints. When one throws a proper punch, it becomes important to strike, keeping the knuckles, wrist and elbow lined up perfectly. This not only guarantees a stronger punch, it also prevents injury.

This is one of the reasons why boxers, muay thai and MMA fighters generally have to wrap their hands. They have lots of striking power, but no precision or ability to align their joints. Without the additional wrapping, they would likely injure themselves after the first few strikes.

A punch, demonstrated with proper alignment of the knuckles, wrist and elbow

Now, don’t get me wrong… I sure as hell wouldn’t want to take a punch from any one of those types of athletes! They have tremendous power to their strikes. But in a situation of true self-defence, one needs to train the body to be ready to strike without the benefit of padding or wrapping.

Normally, your body will tell you if something is unnatural. But this doesn’t mean that the movement your body HAS gotten used to, is correct. Sometimes we need to be corrected and adjusted in order to promote that natural movement.

Like A Bullet From A Gun

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine recently, where we discussed the varying responsibilities surrounding a serious problem within my own life.

During this conversation, we postulated that the responsibility for the existence of most problems in our lives were threefold: part of the fault lies with the other involved party, part of the fault is completely out of our control and last but not least, part of the fault lies within ourselves.

Most of us have a serious issue with that last one! Think back to when someone told you that something bad in your life was YOUR fault… How well did you receive that criticism? I’ll go out on a limb and suggest it probably didn’t go over well. And as well it shouldn’t. As a people, we’ve grown and developed to look for reasons outside of ourselves for the things that go wrong. We generally don’t want to believe that we, ourselves, are responsible for our own suffering. After all, why would I do something that causes me pain, right? It’s generally easier to blame someone else.

But the reality is that it’s true! In some ways, often through indirect channels, we are responsible for the good AND the bad in our lives. Whether through indirect words, actions or decisions, we are the result of our life’s choices. Once we realize this and make peace with that, we can begin to make peace with ourselves.

You can’t change the other involved party’s involvement. It’s like the old saying goes: “I can only control my own words, not how you react to them.” People will often cause issues in others for their own agenda. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their agenda is bad, but the resulting actions can sometimes cause strife in other people’s lives.

Here’s a good example… Think about the last time you got a speeding ticket. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it may have ruined (or at least damaged) the flow of your day. But that person is trying to contribute to the safety of our roads while trying to do his or her job. Their agenda is not BAD per say, but once you drive away, you’ve likely been left feeling angry and frustrated. Maybe you’re frustrated at the loss of money required to pay the fine. Maybe you’re frustrated because you believe the officer shouldn’t ticketed you. But the second part of the equation is that you obviously wouldn’t have gotten a ticket had you not been speeding, hence your part of the responsibility. The remainder is out of your control.

Although it’s a great example, some of you are probably thinking I’m off my rocker at the moment. But the reality of this is sound. Considering my background, I like to think of problems as being like a bullet from a gun. You have an incredible amount of control when dealing with a gun. You choose how well to clean and maintain the gun, whether or not to load it and what direction to aim it. You even have the choice as to whether you pull the trigger or not, although this may be influenced by outside sources. But once you pull the trigger, that bullet leaves the gun and is no longer in your control. It becomes too late to regret pulling the trigger and there is little you can do to stop the bullet. So I often say “It’s like a bullet from a gun. Once you pull the trigger, it’s too late…”

The bottom line is that we should never regret our choices. I’m repeating myself as I’ve covered this in a previous post, but it’s true. We are the culmination of our choices and any change in those choices would alter who we are in the here and now. And who we are in the here and now is pretty great. I think that as a people, we simply need to work harder on understanding that we have a responsibility for all aspects of our lives, good and bad. After all, if you want to see a rainbow, it kind of hard to complain about the rain. Nothing happens “just because”! All things happen for a reason; even when that reason may not be obvious.

The Martial Arts Ladder

My Sensei used to say that martial arts was like a ladder; we all want to climb up the rungs and get higher. But once you’ve made it up a few levels, it’s important to look back and help up the ones below you. Once they progress, they could potentially make their way higher than you and they would, in turn, reach back and help lift you up to the higher level you have not yet achieved. This is the beauty and wonder of the martial arts…

Years ago, we used to have three regular classes a week. Now, just to be clear… this was back in New Brunswick and I’m talkin’ turn of the century/millenium when everyone was freaked out over Y2K but all I could think about was graduating my black belt in karate! I was training hard. But the world’s perspective on martial arts was changing. People didn’t want to shed blood, sweat and tears like they used to. The next generation was growing strong and people were more interested in the 3-year black belt that some particular schools and styles catered to as opposed to hard work and developing oneself.

When I achieved my green belt (this was the first adult belt in my system after four ranking stripes), it became my responsibility to show the new arrivals their first steps and katas. I had climbed up the first rungs, so now I had to look back and pull the new climbers up.

When I achieved my brown belt, it became my responsibility to teach the entire class and guide them during their basic exercises and aiding movements. I would guide new students through their first couple of forms and help with correction and checking on some body conditioning.

When I achieved my black belt, it dawned on me just how little I knew. I realized that a kick was just kick and a punch was just a punch (sound familiar?). Who was I, to try and guide these newcomers into their journey towards whatever it was they were trying to learn? But as I progressed, I came to understand that white belts also needed to understand how to kick and how to punch, and wouldn’t learn unless someone showed them.

I guess my point is that as a student learns, it becomes important to help the newer students to progress so that they can show the newest practitioners, and so on and so forth. You can’t be an efficient teacher without somehow helping the students to grow to to the point where they will teach others. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Tonight, I had the benefit of having an experienced black belt teach me and show me a form in his particular martial art. It was humbling, because he could have spent his time practicing his own thing, but he spent time showing me the way instead. And isn’t that what’s important? No matter what level you reach, someone will need to carry on the way.

And this, dear friends, is the martial arts ladder. We grow, we learn, and we teach. So for every two steps you take, be sure to help someone else take one as well. Someday, that white belt may become a Sensei who teaches someone one new.

Lactic Acid, NOT An Ingredient In Your Milk…

We’ve all been there, right? Maybe you’re on a wicked jog, or participating in an intense spinning or Zumba class…. Maybe you’ve lost your mind and decided to drag your wife through a particularly sweating hypertrophy workout because it’s “something different”…

No? Just me? Alright then, think back to a time when you’ve been working out or exercising strenuously. Do you remember feeling that sudden burning feeling in your lungs? A noticeable lack of strength in your muscles and your body is essentially telling you to stop and rest? That, my friend, is a build-up of lactic acid in your muscle tissue.

Lactic Acid, or Lactate, is caused when you’re body is burning through more oxygen than it is carrying while exercising. Lactic Acid can be used by your body to produce energy without the use of oxygen, but it leaves some unpleasant side effects in its wake. The buildup of Lactic Acid is sometimes referred to Lactic Acidosis and the big problem is that your body will generally produce more Lactic Acid than you can quickly burn off and this is what causes you to feel symptoms like pain, cramping, nausea, weakness and exhaustion. One can sometimes fight one’s way through the effects of Lactic Acid buildup, but the result is more Lactic Acid. Rinse and repeat. Fun.

Once you hit that point, or what’s called the “Lactate Threshold”, it’s important to start your cool down. Your body’s exhaustion will likely tell your brain that it’s time to stop completely and maybe lie down for a nap, but this is not the proper thing to do. You need to cool down and allow your excess Lactic Acid to burn away.

There’s no real way to prevent Lactic Acidosis, other than to exercise regularly and increase the intensity gradually. I think WebMD said it best: “Don’t go from being a couch potato to trying to run a marathon […].” But if you build yourself up gradually, it will increase your threshold and make you capable of a lot more physical exertion before Lactic Acid builds up. The reality is that our ancestors sometimes had to face threats that didn’t allow them to build their intensity gradually, and this is why our bodies have this backup. But it is meant to be temporary. Unless your life is in jeopardy or the immediate situation mandates it, continuing to fight through Lactic Acidosis can be harmful (at the very least, it hurts like hell!).

But once you’ve hit that point, be sure to rest up and drink plenty of water as it helps to eliminate the excess acid. In some rare cases, medical conditions can cause Lactic Acidosis without intense exercise. Believe it or not, people who use Metformin for Type 2 Diabetes can experience Lactic Acidosis as a side effect of this medication. If you’re getting any of these symptoms as a result of a medical condition or medications, obviously you should speak with your doctor.

Otherwise, stretch properly, drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet, chase all of that with a good night’s sleep and keep working out. I often hear people think that they believe Lactic Acidosis lasts for a couple of days after the workout; this is part of the recovery and not the actual Lactic Acid. Lactic Acidosis is an event that happens in the moment, and is usually gone soon after the workout ends.