World Tai Chi & Qigong day

Saturday, April 29th is World Tai Chi and Qigong day.

These are gentle martial arts designed to get the energy in your body flowing properly. And whether you believe in “chi” or not, mindfully doing these light stretches and exercises produces and undeniable feeling of well being. The daily workout I do is part Qigong.

I’ll share with you one of the most centering Qigong exercises that I’ve encountered. I learned it as “Standing like a mountain.”

  • Stand with your legs about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your knees slightly
  • Straighten your arms so that they are pointing at an angle into the ground
  • Be aware of your breath
  • Visualize yourself as the tip of a great mountain extending downward into the earth. Your head is the tip, and your arms are the sides of the mountain
  • Feel yourself as a part of the great earth. Realize that your body is a part of the whole of the earth. Everything that your body is made up of came from the earth and thus you are the earth.
  • Being the earth, you have a sense of calm solidity.

Check out Ken Cohen’s course on qigong for an introduction:

“The Essential Qigong Training Course: 100 Days to Increase Energy, Physical Health & Spiritual Well-Being” (Ken Cohen)

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Sleep hacking justified!

As I’ve written before, I have been getting up at 5:00AM for over 6 months now. It has been working very well for me. I get more done during the day, I’m more alert all day, and have no trouble sleeping either at night or during the occasional nap.

I have been a little concerned about what it might be doing to me to reduce my sleeping hours to 6 or 7 per day. But the article Sleep Deprivation: The Great American Myth in LiveScience says it’s ok, and may even be a good thing, “From a six-year study of more than a million adults: People who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep.”

And for my friend who is on a polyphasic sleeping schedule (which Steve Pavlina has also converted to), the news is just as good, “The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.” (Perhaps I’ll try it someday when my life settles down a bit.)

The article also has tips on how to get the best rest. Interestingly, these are many of the same recommendations that Steve Pavlina had in his How to become an early riser article.

  • Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills and melatonin. [Nor do I use caffeine to wake myself up]
  • Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. [This is the second most important, and also increases your productivity because you get more “good” hours in your day.]
  • Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night’s sleep. The next night, you’ll be sleepy at bedtime. [This is the most important tip. 5:00AM for me!]
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return only when you are sleepy. [This never happens to me, since I’m sleepy when I go to sleep. The worst that will happen is that I might wake up early, in which case I’ll get out of bed and be thankful for the extra time.]
  • Avoid worrying, watching TV, reading scary books, and doing other things in bed besides sleeping and sex. If you worry, read thrillers or watch TV, do that in a chair that’s not in the bedroom.
  • Do not drink or eat anything caffeinated within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s relaxing at first but can lead to insomnia when it clears your system. [It’s interesting that I stopped drinking alcohol around the time I started my new sleep regimen. So the artificial sleepiness from alcohol hasn’t affected me.]
  • Spend time outdoors. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.

(And it’s so interesting to see memes propagate around the internet, BoingBoing picked up Steve’s original sleep article today)

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Caffeine Free: Blue Light Makes People Alert at Night

For those who are doing some sleep hacking like I have been, there may be help on the way:

Caffeine Free: Blue Light Makes People Alert at Night:

A small study of 16 volunteers found that exposure to short-wavelength light, or blue light, perked them up immediately.

“Light exposure to this system, particularly blue light, directly reduces sleepiness,” said Steven Lockley of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Subjects exposed to blue light were able to sustain a high level of alertness during the night when people usually feel most sleepy, and these results suggest that light may be a powerful countermeasure for the negative effects of fatigue for people who work at night.”

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Managing Stress With Your Breath

Working with your breath is an important way to affect your mental state. It’s easy too, since you always have your breath with you.

I have been using this highly effective technique since I read Dr. Andrew Weil’s, “8 Weeks to Optimum Health”. I recommend getting the book too, as it has a wide range of practical and insightful tips that I have used to improve my life.

From Dr. Andrew Weil’s site:

Unhealthy stress can wreak havoc on your body and mind. One effective way to help manage stress levels is through breath work, especially through a breathing exercise known as the relaxing breath. This exercise is simple, takes almost no time, requires no special equipment, and can be done anywhere. Start by sitting with your back straight. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and begin inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.



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Peaceful Warrior Workout

One of the things in my “Morning of Mindfulness” routine that I do every morning is the Peaceful Warrior Workout.

I learned this workout at a seminar I took with Dan Millman. It’s a series of exercises including stretching, qigong, and yoga moves that get me going in the morning. It’s not really possible for me teach you each step online, but here’s an overview.

The first half of the routine is done standing up. It stretches and exercises all parts of the body. The second half is done on the floor and I find does deeper stretches and exercises for the larger muscles.

Throughout the exercise routine, breath is important. Breathing should be conscious, and in through the nose. Breath work is an important aspect of the mind-body relationship that I’ll write about later.

To the Dan Millman routine, I’ve added some strength training exercises. I do push-ups and crunches on alternating days. In the beginning I tried to do both push-ups and crunches every day, but found that my muscles needed a day of rest in between. So now one day I’ll do crunches (currently I do 100 of them) and then the next day I’ll do pushups (30). If you do this every day like I have, you’ll be amazed at your progress. When I started, I could only do three pushups, now I can do more than thirty!

For crunches, I do 25 straight crunches, then 25 oblique crunches (lying on my back I put both my knees on the floor on one side) on each side, then 25 straight ones again. This works the whole abdominal area. Strengthening the trunk of your body is important for balance, your spine, and providing a strong core for the rest of your body to rely upon.

I also touch my toes in the beginning of the routine (partly to make sure I can still do it, but also to do some additional stretching.) And, in the middle of the routine, I add some leg extension semicircles that help a lot with balance.

The routine is designed to exercise your whole body so that if this is the only exercise you do, it’s enough. Dan says it can be done in under 4 minutes, and his original version can, if you hurry. But I don’t like to hurry, and I’ve set aside time to do this every day, so with my additions it takes me around 10 minutes. Can you spare 10 minutes a day to be physically fit? If not, drop the things I’ve added and do it in under 4 minutes. 4 minutes a day … you’ll feel better now, and your self in 10 or 20 or 30 years will thank you.

I also use the routine to get energy any time of day. If I hit an afternoon tired slump, I do the routine (not including the pushups or situps), and am energized! Much more healthful than a cup of coffee, for sure.

It used to be you had to take a seminar, or find a rare copy of a video tape that Dan created to see the workout in action, but I see that Dan has created a DVD with it. Samples are available on his web site. It’s also described in Dan’s book, Everyday Enlightenment.

The Peaceful Warrior Workout: A 45-Minute Instructional DVD


“Everyday Enlightenment : The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth”

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Sleep update

Since sleep hacking is a popular topic, here are some updates:
I have been waking up at 5AM for many months now. The last few weeks have introduced some challenges to that schedule. I have found that when I alter the routine, I don’t feel right. I tried sleeping late by an hour, and it threw me off balance for the rest of the day. I went to bed before I was tired, and slept horribly. For me, having a rhythm is apparently very important. That is, getting up at the same time every day seems to do the trick for me. One of the neat things is that I’m more productive, and have more energy, throughout the day with this schedule than I was when I was sleeping 2 hours more. Go figure!

So if a little sleep hacking works, what about a lot of it?

Steve Pavlina, who introduced me to the “how to be an early riser” thing, has been tinkering with his sleep and is now trying Polyphasic sleep. And a friend of mine is also trying it, or has he calls it, Sleeping Like Leonardo & Buckminster Fuller.

I can imagine having an extra 30 waking hours a week would be fantastic, but the system seems too extreme to me. I mean, sleeping only a few hours each day in naps spread over the whole day? It seems unnatural! No, it is unnatural. But maybe it works. I’ll let these two guys try it and see how they fare before I try it.

An Early Riser, me?

I’d always been a night person before, usually going to bed at 10:00PM or later and preferring to sleep as late as possible (6:45AM or so), and much later on the weekends. What I realized, though, after some introspection was that the late evening wasn’t really the time when I was at my best. Sure, sometimes I could really get the groove on and get some excellent work done. But a lot of my nocturnal activities were not worthwhile. For example, blogs are interesting and I hope you’ll read mine from time to time, but when I’d look back at an evening of blog reading, I’d feel like I wasted the time.

I have two kids and a busy household, so I had a hard time finding time to do things for my personal development. I exercised only haphazardly and rarely even picked up the guitar I’d been trying to learn how to play for years. So I had some incentive to find a way to work these things into my life.

I read Steve Pavlina’s, “How to Become an Early Riser” and, quite profoundly, it changed my life. (Also see his additional post on the subject, How to Become an Early Riser, Part II)

After reading Steve’s article, I decided I wanted to get up at 5:00AM. It seemed impossible, but it was worth a try. The two key things that made the change possible for me were:
1. Set a fixed time to wake up, but vary the time I go to bed. That time should be when I’m tired enough to go to sleep in less than 15 minutes
2. Get up at the same time every day (I’ll talk about “Every Day” in a subsequent post.)

The fixed time to get up helped a lot. It meant no negotiations. I get up at 5AM, no matter what. I don’t have to think about what day it is, or what the day will be like, or what the night before was like. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get up. Immediately! It’s important to have the discipline to just get up and not hit snooze or bargain with yourself. Sure, my mind tried to do that in the beginning, but after only a few days of ignoring that voice that said “just a little more sleep”, now there isn’t even a pause when the alarm goes off. Often I wake up about 5 minutes before the alarm goes off (which I’m sure my wife, who sleeps later, prefers). If the alarm does go off and I’m groggy, I do some deep breathing and that wakes me up quickly. (I’ll talk about breath exercises in a subsequent post.)

And what time to I go to bed? “It depends.” Really, it’s different every day. I go to bed when I’m tired. Not so tired that I’m falling over, but tired enough that whatever I might be doing won’t be worthwhile. Now that I’ve been doing this for many months, I can just tell when I’m tired enough to go to sleep.

Sometimes that’s 9:00PM, sometimes that’s 11:30 PM. It has been as late as 1:30AM, and as early as 8:00PM. Generally, though, I go to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 each night. So that means that I’m getting around 7 hours of sleep on an average night, when I used to be an 8 hour plus, person. And it also means that since I go to bed (on average) at the same time I used to, that I’ve added almost 2 hours to my waking day. I use that time for some of the worthwhile things I’d previously never been able to get to.

My morning schedule goes something like:
5:05-5:25: Exercise: The Peaceful Warrior Workout and other exercises
5:25-5:55: Meditate, zazen style
5:55-6:00 make tea, green
6:00-6:40 practice guitar, classical

The schedule is not really this rigid: sometimes I’ll meditate for longer and shorten my guitar practice, or I’ll exercise longer and adjust the other things accordingly. The key, for me, is that I do each of them every day. I’ll write about the activities in subsequent posts.

Has it been worthwhile for me to turn my sleeping schedule upside-down like this? For me, very much so. An extra hour and forty minutes every day, filled with worthwhile things has made big changes in my life. Maybe it would for you too?