Want to get into the best shape of your life? Let me help. https://t.co/v5Tg6aV8Hs— Ashe Higgs (@ashehiggs) November 27, 2018
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Friday, November 30, 2018
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
I've been training in adaptation to both hot and cold for several years (each one has particular benefits to health, and performance), but it wasn't until this past October that I attended a formal workshop on the material with the Art of Breath coach Rob Wilson. Although I had done Wim Hof's 10 Week Course, I wasn't completely happy with it. I felt that there were “secrets” missing from the material, some of which I uncovered by accident, in Scott Carney's book “What Doesn't Kill Us”.
The workshop with Rob Wilson was a good experience on many levels, the most important of which was just validating my experience with training cold exposure up to now, and also helped clarify my experience with the Wim Hof online course; compared to deep meditation methods like Vipassana or Zen which are meant to completely overhaul your mental “operating system”, cold exposure practice is really so simple, there's not much “how to” to talk about, just do it, and nature pretty much handles the rest over time. The keys are a little bit of intent, and controlling your breathing to manage your physiological state.
Recently I posted about a review paper that detailed some of the relationships between breathing exercises and improvements in immune function and now, we have some more exciting new findings in regards to respiration / breathing exercises and cold exposure from Wayne State University as part of exerting active control over normally autonomic functions in the body. The study is titled “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure Here are a few highlights from the study
- fMRI analyses indicated that the WHM activates primary control centers for descending pain/cold stimuli modulation in the periaqueductal gray (PAG)
- The periaqueductal gray (PAG), also known as the central gray, constitutes a cell dense region surrounding the midbrain aqueduct.
- In addition, the WHM also engages higher-order cortical areas (left anterior and right middle insula) that are uniquely associated with self-reflection, and which facilitate both internal focus and sustained attention in the presence of averse (e.g. cold) external stimuli.
I think one of the more interesting findings from the study was that BAT, or brown fat, played a negligible role in generating heat to maintain core temperature during cold exposure, but instead the muscles of the rib cage, the intercostals, played the chief role by burning massive amounts of glucose.
This helps add some understanding to my own experience with the practice, which is that anytime I'm sleep deprived, or in a fasted state I have a much more difficult time resisting the cold compared to when I'm fed, and rested.
I commonly fast two days a week, and the first three or four days of every month. In a fasted state, core temp drops a bit anyway, and my system may not yet be fat adapted well enough to efficiently keep up with the higher demand for blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. (I suspect this is true, as I still have not recovered 100% of my exercise performance since switching to a ketogenic diet in June of this year). There was also a recent study done that showed blood ketone levels above 2.0 (which wouldn’t be uncommon during fasting) basically results in “ketone resistance”.
Similarly, cortisol levels are high, and you're naturally more insulin resistant when sleep deprived, so again, this could potentially play a role in not being able to keep up with the glucose demands of the “inner fire” practice.
If you’d like a nice animated synopsis of the study and the results, the official Wim Hof YouTube channel released a nice video about it.
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References 1. “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure
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Friday, November 23, 2018
The Science Behind Qigong & PranayamaThe old masters discovered centuries ago, that deep breathing practices like qigong and pranayama lead to long life and abundant health. I teach several of these traditional qigong sets as part of our local martial arts classes here in Tempe, AZ including a variation of yijinjing unique to I Liq Chuan, as well as a qigong for health set taught by GM Sam Chin, and the “five contemplations of breathing” taught by Venerable Jiru of the Mid-America Buddhist Association.
A new review article recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry  reveals some of the mechanisms behind such practices, as well as their applications in treating both mental and physical disorders like anxiety, depression, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn's disease.
At over 15 pages, and full of scientific jargon, the original review paper is quite long and dense for many readers, so I will summarize some of the more important details below. Even as a summary, I’m going to break this post up into multiple parts:
- Part 1: some basic anatomy
- Part 2: The Immune system
The human gut has an estimated 100-500 million neurons. This is more neurons than the spine, and is the largest accumulation of nerve cells in the human body, and is often referred to as “the second brain”, but is more properly referred to as the enteric nervous system. Well known author of martial arts and qigong books, Yang, Jwing Ming has been writing about this since at least the 90’s.
The enteric nervous system produces more than 30 different neurotransmitters and communicates directly with the brain (and vice versa) via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve originates in the brain stem, and extends downward through the torso connecting to all the major organs, including the brain, heart, liver, lungs and the gut. Due to the nature of its length and complexity, it’s called “the wandering nerve” (vagus means wander in Latin).
|Photo credit - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/|
This “two lane highway” between gut and brain via the vagus nerve is referred to as the gut brain axis, or GBA.
From an “Eastern” point of view, the body tissues can be divided into yin and yang types like flexors and extensors in the muscles, or arteries and veins in the circulatory system. Nerves are similarly divided into two different fiber types: afferent (long “A” like hay) and efferent (long “E” like feel) fibers.
Afferent fibers bring information from the point of contact (stimulus) back to the brain and central nervous system, while efferent fibers bring information from the CNS back to the other end of the system. In other words, afferent fibers bring information “from out to in”, while efferent fibers bring information “from in to out”.
In the vagus nerve, a whopping 90% of the nerve fibers are afferent fibers, bringing detailed information about the gut, and the state of its internal environment back to the brain, then to brain stem and limbic system (more on this later), while the remaining 10% of fibers are efferent, communicating information about our external environment and mental state back to the gut. This intimate connection explains why you feel moody when you’ve eaten the wrong foods, or why you get butterflies in your stomach when you get nervous.
How It Works - RespirationSo that you don’t forget to do important things like breathe, say, after you fall asleep, by default, respiration (breathing) is hardwired into the autonomic nervous system. However, being able to voluntarily speed up, or slow down our breathing is an ability we all possess. (As a side note, I recently heard about a condition in which people lose the autonomic function, and basically can't sleep anymore. Every time they try to fall asleep, they wake up because they quit breathing, and eventually die of sleep deprivation!)
The nervous system can be divided into two main parts, the voluntary (somatic) nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system, which can be again divided into the enteric nervous system, the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. The vagus nerve is the primary regulator of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. To make a rough analogy, if the nervous system was your house, and the autonomic nervous system your central heating, the vagus nerve would be the thermostat.
As you may have guessed by now, breathing practices can directly stimulate the vagus nerve, by increasing the vagal tone, leading to an improvement of autonomic regulation, clarity of thought, improved mood and ability to cope with stress.
Simple breathing exercises seem to restore vagal tone, at least in part, through heart rate variability.
Each of us naturally has a different heart rate between the inhale, and exhale, as well as from beat to beat. When you inhale, the heart rate speeds up a bit, and when you exhale, the heart rate goes down.
Good heart rate variability indicates that you're in a relaxed state, whereas poor variability indicates a stressed, sympathetic state. So by slowing down the number of breaths we take in a minute, and focusing on making the exhale longer than the inhale, we naturally cause the heart rate to drop, which restores vagal tone, and increases relaxation as we shift from a sympathetic, into a more parasympathetic state. Once in the parasypmathetic state, the gut then upregulates production of “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin, which go back to the brain, increasing relaxation and beginning a cascade that feeds forward into itself.
The old saying goes "happy wife wife, happy life" but "happy gut makes a happy brain" might be more accurate.
Although the effects of practicing various breathing techniques are at least initially global, masters of breath like Wim Hof have shown that conscious and direct, targeted increases in autonomic nervous functions like immune responses to pathogens like e. Coli can be achieved.
Slow your breathing, heart rate drops, and the gut starts doing all kinds of things beneficial to our health. We can do all this consciously because the forward, “thinky” brain is wired into the brain stem through the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain), which is in turn wired to the vagus nerve.
Part two will continue with how stimulating the vagus nerve through breathing exercises like qigong and pranayama help to regulate the immune system and improve blood pressure and gut health.
Sigrid Breit, Aleksandra Kupferberg, Gerhard Rogler and Gregor Hasler
 Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health
Sameer A Zope, Rakesh A Zope  Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans
Matthijs Kox, et. al
Monday, November 19, 2018
Don't make an exception of yourself. Are your daily choices aligned with your values?#walkthewalk #MondayMotivation— Ashe Higgs (@luoyegongfu) October 23, 2017
PodcastsI really enjoyed this episode of the Paleo Solution with Mark Bell. Mark is a world class power lifting coach, but what I found most intriguing were Mark's comments on the value of slow movements (also a cornerstone of the internal martial arts), the need to put in quality work, and how training should not be an event.
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Shaq vs. Forrest Griffin, Weight Cutting Tip For Combat Athletes (& More) Weekly Round Up - 11 NOV 18
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The “Water Trick” is a uniquely effective tactic for dieters because it puts the focus on adding or increasing intake instead of reducing or taking it away. It’s ideal for occasions such as eating at restaurants or social/family gatherings. - The attached are my own research-adapted methods that work consistently in the trenches. The upper end of the guidelines (bravely) exceed the doses in the study protocols :). I nudged the 30 minutes down to a max of 20 minutes as well. Lo & behold, this almost never fails to curb the desire for large food servings, a second plate, or a post-meal dessert. - These tactics are ideal for those who want to default to lower caloric intake with minimal effort toward calculating or quantifying. - #inthetrenches #streetwisdom #boom
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YouTubeIn the video below, YouTube creator and meal prep extraordinaire Bobby Parish takes you on a tour of Costco to his top picks for eating well. I was shocked to learn about Costco's organic eggs receiving such a low ranking from cornucopia.com. For me it underscored that we should frequently check ourselves: what do I know, and how do I know it? Quite often the narratives the we spin in our own heads do not match up to reality. I had begun a narrative in my mind that all Costco products must be good, because that narrative aligned with how I feel about Costco as a company, and how they treat their employees. Similarly, people often sabotage their own efforts at nutrition by spinning a story around their choice like "it's okay I ate a dozen donuts just now, because I'm heading to the gym, and I need the pre-workout..."
Sunday, November 04, 2018
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Lean mass favors protein. The results of recent research shows improvements in body comp, and no risk to bone mineral density, kidney health, etc. Not everybody needs to go #keto, but most Westerners, particularly of Euro decent, could do with a lot more protein and less carbohydrate in their diets. @Regran_ed from @thealanaragon - Protein has been the most revered macronutrient, but it also has carried its share of persistent mythology. Thanks to the recent battery of studies by Jose Antonio (@the_issn), Anya Ellerbroek (@anyaelle), et al, several long-standing protein myths have been slayed. Daily intakes at roughly 3-4 times the RDA have failed to show harm in a range of health markers (including those of liver, kidney, and bone). - Interestingly, increased protein intakes tend to not result in fat gain in resistance trainees (in fact, the opposite has been seen). This is potentially due to increased satiety, thermic output, and a certain degree of misreporting. - It’s good to know that the body is quite adept at handling high protein intakes safely - at least in healthy subjects without preexisting kidney disease. Furthermore, the “disappearance” of extra protein has interesting applications for dieters seeking to control appetite while minimizing threats to the caloric deficit. - #science #research #evidence #brotein #mythsdiehere - #regrann
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