si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: health

Meditation for HeadBangers

Meditation typically brings to mind images of sitting in full lotus on a mountain top somewhere, head in the clouds, a slight levitation visible.

Ever meet anyone that’s done that?

pic by pureenergy

No, me either.

Fortunately, if you step back & look at meditation as a concept, it’s really just aiming to do two things:

  1. Empty your brain of thoughts (you remember those, they’re the things that are not-you)
  2. Bring you into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness

This is pretty much the description of flow. Any athlete in peak performance has that. In fact, any peak performer, in any area, is in that state.

No thoughts, no noise, just pure beingness.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard great things about meditating. Sat down, tried it, & given up due to distraction. Or, you know, found something more important that urgently needed doing.

So what’s the trick?

Well, to start with, yep, it can be hard. Thoughts swirl around us like dust in a tornado. We’re assailed from every direction. It can seem damn near impossible.

Here’s a trick though. Who said you have to be sitting still to meditate? Try going for a walk, or a run – or just sit & jiggle your leg if you’re feeling lazy. That’s fine too.

Second, who said you have to be quiet? It’s your mind that you’re trying to get to shut up.

So, how about this. Get some music you really like. Preferably stuff without words – you don’t want to be putting new thoughts into your mind. Preferably reasonably fast – otherwise your brain may (will!) start wandering in the gaps.

For me, I’m a fan of high bpm (beats-per-minute) dub, drum & bass, and other electronica. It has a regular rhythm, which means you can kind of tune it out, but it’s fast enough that it drowns out most of what’s going on upstairs.

Crank it up loud & start walking, running, or jiggling.

You’ll find the music & movement will swamp most of your thoughts. This is a great start. It just makes it easier to see any remaining thoughts that peep out from above the noise.

Now, what to do when you do catch yourself drifting off? Well here’s the trick.

Just pay attention. When you see thoughts arising, bring your focus back to the music (or the exercise). Let the thought go. You can always worry about it later, turn it into a haiku or scribble it on a balloon & fling it to the wind.

Each time your brain starts burbling away, get back into the music. You did choose loud music you absolutely adore, right? Well, that’ll make it easier.

(be sure to stretch before attempting this super-advanced meditational asana)
pic by juljo

As an added benefit? It’ll make you happier. Less crap going on upstairs, listening to music that makes your heart beat that little bit faster, endorphins pouring through your body…

Besides, you can always sit still & just breathe when you reach the top of the hill.

ps. If you’re keen to try some other non-standard techniques for stilling the mind, my good friend Dhrumil has an excellent 15min audio on “Falling Still” (or if you prefer, a 20 min video). Then there’s always those old saw-horses EFT & releasing, of course – to get rid of specific thought patterns. Or, you know, just try all of it & see what works for you.


    Brain Controls Body Controls Brain

    I was catching up on some light reading this morning – reading The Economist (the funniest magazine I know), when I came across this article, which points out that physical displays of pride & shame are hardwired at an evolutionary level. Ie, they’re not learned behaviours. This was discovered by watching athletes that were blind from birth – and thus had no chance to watch others & learn patterns.

    So, when shamed in loss, their posture slumps, they hide their faces & narrow their chests.

    In victory, they raise their arms, expand their chests, & tilt their heads back. Like this:

    (although I suspect the shirts off & veiny thing is optional)

    I found this interesting because one of the subtle things we learn at Aikido is to expand our chests & keep our heads up. I’d always figured this was just a posture thing – if you look down, it pulls tension into the shoulders & you go off balance. Expanding the chest leads to a more opening feeling, expansive rather than contracting energy, and so on.

    But perhaps there’s more to it than that?

    There have been many studies, going back to Riskind (1984) and perhaps earlier that link posture & depression. It’s common knowledge that you can cheer yourself the hell up just by adjusting your posture (eg, this,or this)

    but just how far can you take this?

    So I thought hey – let’s give this a shot. I went for a walk in full on victory pose. Chest opened & puffed out (almost), head tilted slightly back – although not so far I fell over. Umm, no, I kept my arms down. Don’t need to get arrested for being a complete loony (it’s supposed to be a secret – don’t tell anyone)

    The funny thing is, I was already feeling pretty incredibly good this morning. Confident, happy, on top of the world. The sun was definitely shining on planet Si.

    Now, when I walk I have a real tendency to get thoughtful, and thus look down. And yet after a 20 minute walk around town, consciously adjusting my posture anytime I felt it slip back ..I felt.. how could it be.. even more incredible?

    I don’t know how that’s possible, but I highly recommend giving it a go – particularly if you’re already feeling a bit beneath the weather to start with.

    I’m also beginning to think that part of the reason for doing it in Aikido is a combination of these two quotes from the founder, Morihei Ueshiba:

    “A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.”


    “Aikido can be summed up like this: True victory is self-victory”

    Ie, perhaps it’s internal, not external victory that really matters in the end – and by adjusting your physical posture, you ensure mental & spiritual victory.

    This whole brain/mind/body connection really is an incredibly interesting thing.


      Two Approaches to Trans-Humanism (Who Wants To Live Forever?)

      Post humanism is, essentially, what it will be like to be “more than human” – ie, what are we going to evolve to next. This could be purely biological, purely mechanical, some kind of nano-tech, or a combination of the lot.

      Transhumanism is more or less synonomous with “human enhancement”. This is the stepping stone to post humanism.

      Of course, many people see this as complete nonsense – and that’s totally fine.

      However, assuming people think “Hey, become better? What a great idea!”, there are two main approaches:

      1. Wait Till Technology Does It For You
      I know a guy who’s a great example of this. He’s 29 (but looks 49), chain smokes, does a lot of drugs, and so on. He plays guitar, but his body is so massively crippled that he can’t play it for more than 5 minutes at a time without extreme pain. He can’t do any exercise because every joint in his body hurts. This isn’t a genetic disease – bad life choices have gradually crippled him.

      He’s firmly convinced he will live forever.

      I suggested that perhaps he should cut back on the smoking, but he disagreed. Why? Because he’s sure that ‘science’ will catch up soon enough that it’ll be able to fix all his smoking related issues – oh, and all his other health problems as well.

      Ahh, well. Ok then.


      2. Start Now
      Aubrey De Grey is a main figure in the immortality movement. He’s opinionated as hell, so unsurprisingly, his ideas are hotly debated. He does however have some interesting points.

      One of his key tenets is that if you can live another 30 years, then medical technology will improve enough to allow you to live another 30 (in robust health – we’re talking quality of life here too, not just quantity). In the 30 after that, technology will improve to allow another 30 – and so on ad infinitum. A longevity equivalent of Zeno’s dichotomy paradox.

      The critical first step is that you want to hit that +30 year mark in as good a shape as possible. It’s touch & go which aspects of human frailty will be dealt with first – so if, say, you have destroyed your lungs but the rest of you is fine, you might die anyway if medical science hasn’t quite figured out lung replacement (or lung cancer) yet.

      Now, health & wellbeing is a many faceted thing. Is it worth having a healthy body if your mind has completely deteriorated (or vice versa)? All the different aspects of your system have to be kept above a certain baseline, otherwise the entire system will collapse in on itself. Witness how quickly old folks can spiral downhill if they lose their mobility, catch pneumonia, or lose a loved one.

      So, unsurprisingly, this is the approach I prefer. Working on improving my physical, mental, emotional & spiritual wellbeing, more or less all at once – thus ensuring maximum longevity (more importantly quality of life, not just quantity), and, eventually immortality.

      The really interesting thing is – once you start looking at some of the technologies that have become available to assist & improve in these areas (and boy, the internet is a godsend for this kind of research), you quickly become exposed to more & more ways to improve your life. Not only that, but many of these technologies are both exponential in benefit & complementary to each other. You start using even a couple of them, and massive chunks of your life radically improve at once. The more you use them, the faster & more significantly your life improves. Even better than that, many of them are both free and stupidly simple to implement.

      Of course, which technologies (or indeed any) to use is always a personal choice – and different things do just seem to work better for different people.

      An unexpected benefit too is – once you start looking at some of these diverse aspects of the human system, you’ll start to see that it is possible to live a life with higher highs (& much higher, or even non existent lows) than you might ever have previously dreamt possible.

      Happier. Fitter. More energy. More peacful. More fulfilled. Wealthier.

      I look at all this, and to me at least it seems obvious – why wait for the future to arrive when it’s becoming easier & easier to race up to meet it, with a giant smile on your face?

      But of course, as usual, there is always choice 1.


        The Importance Of Speech

        “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
        — Buddha

        I heard this quote the other day (thanks @tinybuddha), and it hit like a ton of bricks.

        love_in_a_bubble.jpg pic by Trove Designs

        When I was growing up, I was always told “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Conceptually this is the same thing, except that it’s negatively framed and a little dictatorial in tone – I guess it’s not surprising my younger self rebelled! Still, I guess this is the point where I say “Yes Mum, you were right. Again. I love you Mum.”

        Buddha provides a pretty simple checklist. Makes it easy to remember.

        1. True? Yes/No.
        2. Necessary? Yes/No.
        3. Kind? Yes/No.

        I thought about this a bit deeper & I realised, speech is one level, but what’s behind speech?


        Couldn’t the same thing apply here? If you’re going to think anything, ensure it is True, Necessary & Kind.

        Of course, the vast majority of thoughts are simply self-speech – talking to or about ourselves. We’re the cruelest & least forgiving toward ourselves, so if anything this self-speech, thought, is far, far more important to consider.

        So, being the extremist that I am, I tapped those two things in – both speech & thought. Because it’s tapping IN a positive, instead of tapping OUT a negative, it’s worth having a few goes to clear out all the blocks.. but already I’m feeling my attitudes – towards those around me – and myself – softening.

        It’s a path well worth travelling, no matter how few or how those steps are taken.


          LSA, Linseed, Linseed Meal: Traps for Young Players

          I’ve recently been introduced to the benefits of LSA. That is:

          3 parts Linseed
          2 parts Sunflower seeds
          1 part Almonds

          This was used by Sandra Cabot as a liver cleansing diet (although originally put together by a couple of other Australians, in the 80’s).

          Ok, so that’s great. Soak, grind & add that to my diet, and we’re away. Right? Wrong.

          Turns out, I didn’t have any linseed hanging around the place, just some linseed meal – I figure that’s gotta be the same stuff, just ground up, so where’s the problem?

          One thing that juice fast taught me was to listen very, very closely to my body when I’m feeding it things, and I noticed that after having the LSA mix, something wasn’t quite right. Basically ok, just a little off.

          So I started doing some research.

          Linseed is another term for flaxseed. Flaxseed is well known as a source of omega-3’s, etc etc. So what’s the problem?

          Turns out linseed meal is a by-product of extracting the oil from flax/linseeds. Ie, it’s what’s left over after you take the oil away.

          Now, linseed meal is fed to horses, and is still high in protein, so what gives?

          Then I discovered this [pdf]. “The toxic action of linseed meal on trout”. Turns out some scientists discovered that when you feed linseed meal (ie, the by-product, not the entire seed) to trout, it turns them black. And blind. And dead.

          So. Entire seed, good. Meal, bad. Of Course! How Obvious! *facepalm*

          It’s a tricky world out there. Stay sharp kids!