Breathing

•April 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Mark Sisson posted this article on breathing, which at first I didn’t care to read, but after reading it I realized breathing correctly really helps your body utilize oxygen and efficiently use your lungs.

Unless the afterlife has wifi, I can presume that you’re alive and reasonably well if you’re reading this post, so I’m going to assume you’ve been successfully breathing for some time. You get enough oxygen into your blood to support your physiological requirements and power your limbs, organs, andmuscles. You know how to inhale, and exhaling is a breeze. You even know how to breathe through your nostrils like a champ. In other words, you can breathe well enough to live. What could you possibly be missing?

There’s a pretty good chance you aren’t breathing correctly. At rest, when sleeping, while running – you can probably breathe different and breathe better. Okay, you’re willing to accept that, as a whole, we’ve missed the mark on a host of supposedly mundane activities – eatingexercisingsittingsleepingstandingwashing, heck, even pooping – but breathing? You’ve gone too far this time, Sisson. You’re firmly in the deep end. I breathe just fine.

Hear me out, and before you read any further, I’m going to have you take a deeeeep breath, so I can show you what you’re doing wrong. Don’t skip ahead; no cheating.

Put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. Take a big breath by inhaling through your nose or your mouth (whichever is most natural for you), slowly. Really fill your lungs, and note which hand rises more. Did your right hand move first and most, with your left hand lagging behind – if it moved at all? Did your shoulders go up? Did your traps rise like you were shrugging a couple dumbbells? Congratulations, you are a chest breather.

Now, procure an infant, preferably one with an exposed, protruding belly. Gender matters not. Got one? Great. Lay your infant on its back and watch how the kid breathes. Does his chest rise and rib cage expand? Maybe a little, but the bulk of the action is happening in the belly button region, right? That kid is “belly breathing.” In other words, he is using his diaphragm, a sheet of muscle located between the thoracic and abdominal cavities that (if you do it right) draws oxygen into the lungs upon activation. When it contracts, it moves down into the abdominal cavity, pushing the belly out, increasing the capacity of the lungs while lowering the air pressure, thus spurring the influx of oxygen. The external intercostals, muscles located between the ribs (flex your core with a finger on your ribs and you’ll feel the intercostals fill the gaps), also assist with respiration, but the diaphragm is the prime mover.

If your right hand rose first and most prominently in the previous exercise, you did not effectively utilize your diaphragm. Like the office worker with inactive glutes from too much sitting, you have an inactive diaphragm. Your synergist muscles – the helper muscles that assist the prime mover – are forced to take over. Without the diaphragm contracting and opening up the lower half of the lungs, less space is available for incoming air. Not only that, but according to some, the lower half of the lungs is also by far the most efficient at delivering oxygen; the bottom 13% of the lungs brings in 60 mL O2 per minute, while the top 7% only brings in 4 mL per minute. Chest breathing to the exclusion of diaphragmatic breathing (and that bottom 13%), then, is highly inefficient because it squanders added capacity and more effective tissue.

To really accentuate the inefficiency and help you understand how exclusively chest breathing limits your oxygen, let’s try a couple quick exercises. Stand tall and shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold that position and take a deep breath. Or, rather, try to take a deep breath. You can’t do it. You can take in some air, but not a lot, and what you can take in sounds labored. There’s a big whooshing sound that just doesn’t feel right. It feels… weak.

Next, hunch over at the thoracic spine. Imagine you’re typing away at the computer (shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as how you’re probably reading this post on a computer) and let your chest cave in, your shoulder blades spread out, and your head droop forward. In other words, give yourself the type of terrible posture that millions of us sport each day. Hold that position and try to take a deep breath. It’s belabored, right?

Finally, suck in your gut. Flex those abs and flatten that belly. Inhale, and note how thin and ineffectual your breathing sounds and feels. Your diaphragm is pinned against your contracted abdominal muscles. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t do anything, and your breathing suffers for it.

These seemingly exaggerated scenarios actually are not. Realize that a good portion of people go about their day with tight traps, shrugged shoulders, rounded backs, and caved-in chests, constantly sucking in their stomachs as they try to breathe. You see them every day. You work with them. You might even do it yourself without realizing. It’s anything but rare. It’s normal! Alan Watts writes of this “normal” breathing as “fitful and anxious,” with residual air “always being held and not fully released.” Folks hold onto their air and simply pile more on top with the next breath, rather than breathe completely in and completely out each time. They get new air mixed in with the old stuff, enough to function but not enough to thrive. You’ll notice that the only time they truly expel everything from the lungs is when some stressful event elicits a massively audible sigh. That sigh clears everything out and brings a fresh supply of air back in, thus giving a boost of oxygen to the blood and helping us deal with the stress. In other words, most of us can’t even figure out how to breathe deeply in and out on our own to promote relaxation. We rely on our subconscious to do it for us.

I say, why wait for our subconscious to kick in? Why not practice proper breathing at all times and reap the benefits without having to wait till stress accumulates and does it for us? Why not do some diaphragmatic, or belly breathing?

You can do this lying down or standing up. To start with, I prefer lying down because it lets you really relax and focus on the movement of the diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly, or even lay a book with reasonable heft on your belly (this will give you something to brace against). Now, take a deep breath and let your belly expand as your diaphragm asserts itself. Your chest and shoulders may rise and your ribs may expand, but this is totally normal and expected as long as the belly moves first. Next, slowly exhale while tightening your core and contracting your abs. As the abdominal muscles contract, they’ll push the diaphragm back up. This will reduce the volume of the thoracic cavity, increase the air pressure, and expel the air contained therein. Continue to take deep diaphragmatic breaths for a couple minutes. Inhale three seconds, exhale six to ten seconds. Big, deep, slow, relaxing breaths.

Do you feel the difference? The relaxation? You might even fall asleep if you’re not careful. While there appear to be objective benefits to making this your default setting, like increased oxygen supply (great for general living and athletic performance), and I’ve already gone over how deep breathing can enhance a healthy lifestyle, the real allure of breathing with your diaphragm is simply using your respiratory as it was meant to be used. The benefits we get from breathing this way – like a reduction in hypertension – stem from eliminating the short, rapid, vapid breaths of chest breathing. We’re not getting “more” or “extra” oxygen; we’re just getting the amount of oxygen that our body “expects.” Nay, that it deserves.

Itchy Legs?

•March 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine asked me the other day why do his legs itch when he starts to run or workout.  The most common cause of itchy legs is actually because of what’s happening inside the skin, not on it.  When we exercise, the millions of capillaries and and arteries inside our muscles expand rapidly because of the demand for more blood.  If someone is fit, these capillaries remain open allowing maximum blood passage, but, when someone is unfit or inactive, they tend to collapse, allowing only minimal blood passage.  The expansion of the capillaries causes adjacent nerves to send impulses to the brain, which then reads the sensation as an itch.  The problem should go away once you have increased your fitness level.  Another way to help mitigate the problem is to try a vaso-dialator, like arginine.  All pre-workouts have this, but not all are created equal.  So through trial and error you’ll find one that best suits your needs or email us with any questions or suggestions.

Tabata My Job

•January 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A few times a week I head to the ever so lovely Xcel gym.  When I do-gasping my way through the workout- I’m inevitably met with uncomprehending stares, as though an alien had suddenly descended from the sky and plopped itself down in front of the pull-up bar.

But if my ways seems strange to my gymmates, theirs are equally bewildering to me: hours-long sessions spent wondering the floor, punctuated by short sets of preacher curls or goes at the hip-adductor machine.  How, I wonder can people work, day in and day out, so inefficiently?!  The answer, I recently realized, is practice.

And not just at the gym.  Studies show that the average American worker spends ten hours a day at the office, yet, after chatting with colleagues, surfing the web, and strolling to the water cooler, accomplishes just one and a half hours of actual work.  In other words, 85% of the time most people spend at the office goes completely down the drain.

I was initially drawn into our workouts by the brutal efficiency of the approach: such little time, such great results.  Which is why, marveling one day at the comparative inefficiency if the gym-goers around me, I started to wonder if what flows into the gym also flows back out.  If most people bring bad habits from work to working out, could I take good instilled habits in the opposite direction?  Could I Tababta my job?

At its heart, Tabata is simple: eight brief intervals of 20 seconds of very intense effort, separated by an equal number of even briefer intervals of rest, 10 seconds.  As twenty seconds of job productivity seemed slight even by my procrastinatory, distraction-prone standards, I decided to stick with the idea but adjust the time-frames, bumping them up to ten minutes work, five minutes rest.  Eight intervals, then, take exactly two hours.

Here’s how it works: Take the eight tasks at the top of your to-do list.  This is important.  Don’t cherry-pick tasks, as it leaves the ones you don’t want to face floating on your list for weeks on end.  As painful as each Tabata may be, it’s also brief enough to be endurable; the same goes for ten minutes of any of your work tasks.  Whip your interval timer out of your gym bag, and set it for eight ten-minute/five-minute repeats.  Fire it up, and jump in on the first task.

When the bell chimes, stop.  Seriously, stop.  It doesn’t matter if you aren’t finished.  Just put down what you’re doing.  You’ll get to it later that day, or; for painful, avoided tasks, in the next day’s Tabata pass.  Then spend five minutes goofing off.  Surf the web, hit the bathroom, fire spitballs at the obnoxious guy two cubicles over.  It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it’s not work.

But, once the timer next beeps, immediately jump back in for task number two.  Hit it hard, knowing that, as soon as you start, you’re literally just minutes from  moving on.

Rinse and repeat until you’re made it through the two-hour block.

Sure, it doesn’t sound like much.  But the first morning I tried, Tabata My Job helped me blow through more work in two hours than I had in whole days the week prior.  Even better, it allowed me to cross several tasks that had long been looming at the top of my list.  In fact, in future Tabata runs, I discovered that many of the scariest tasks were actually remarkably brief-well withing ten minutes-once I finally buckled down and jumped in.

 

Gluten Free Coffee Cake

•December 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Have your cake and eat it too!

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8

Filling:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup

Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease one 8-inch round cake pan.

2. Beat together all ingredients for cream cheese filling. Set aside.

3. Combine the first five ingredients for cake then add the dry ingredients through the salt. Mix well.

4. Toss pecans, cinnamon and maple syrup together in a separate bowl.

5. Pour cake batter into pan and drop bits of the pecan mixture throughout batter.

6. Top with cream cheese filling and use a knife or tooth pick to swirl it around.

7. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool before slicing.

 

Just Squash it….

•December 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Eating seasonally is not only good for the environment, it’s also the best way to get the freshest, tastiest produce that the earth has to offer. Visit any farmers market in the late fall and early winter and you will see several different kinds of winter squashes on display. They come in all shapes and colors, have a hard skin and keep well for months if stored in a cool, dry place. Winter squashes are a delicious way to get vitamins, beta-carotenes and tons of fiber into your belly. So let’s talk winter squash.

Preparation

Winter squashes can seem a little daunting because of their size and their hard skins. What is in there anyway? They are totally easy to prepare, though. Ready for this?

How to cook any winter squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the squash in half. Scrape out the seeds. Place the squash cut side up in a baking dish with about an inch of water. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a fork easily pierces through the whole squash. Let cool fully before handling, these suckers get HOT.

If you don’t have a sharp knife, there’s another way you can handle this. The microwave. Make sure you stab and poke plenty of holes into the squash before you stick it in the microwave (otherwise it will most certainly explode). Most squashes will be done cooking in about 10 minutes, you want a fork to easily pierce through the flesh. Here’s the disclaimer though – NEVER (ever ever ever) leave the kitchen. If your squash starts squeaking, whistling, or making weird noises that is a sure indicator that too much steam is building up inside and a KABOOM is inevitable. Pause the microwave for a while (maybe even poke more holes in it) and then restart.

Let’s look at five winter squashes that are readily available at most farmers markets and grocery stores. Ready?

Acorn squash

Acorn squash is shaped like (surprise!) an acorn, with distinctive ridges along its sides and a beautiful deep green color. The flesh inside is sweet and orange in color. Acorn squashes are perfect for stuffing with other yummy ingredients, although they’re absolutely awesome just cooked and mashed with grass-fed butter or coconut oil and some cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ve gotten rave reviews for this Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe, but you should try filling them with whatever you like.

Delicata squash

Delicata squash is a cheerful-looking yellow squash with long green stripes and yellow-orange flesh. This squash doesn’t store as well as the other winter squashes because of its’ thin skin, however, the skin itself is edible right along with the squash when you cook it up. Bonus! No need to peel these. Why not try a delicata in this yummy squash salad recipe with kale and pine nuts. Sounds delicious.

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash really is all about the unique texture. This squash is a pale yellow color, about the size of a football or a little smaller, and when finished cooking, the yellow flesh pulls apart into thick, slightly crisp, spaghetti-like strands. Just tease it out with a fork. I like to use half a spaghetti squash as a bowl and mix in olive oil, salt & pepper right into the “bowl” and stir it around. YUM. However, if you’re looking for something a little more well-rounded, make this spaghetti squash with sauce along with some primal meatballs and you will impress even the harshest Paleo skeptics.

Pumpkins

There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins out there, and while everyone’s hacked one apart for a jack-o-lantern, made a pumpkin pie or maybe even Paleo pumpkin pancakes, have you ever tried pumpkin in a savory application? This pumpkin soup with sausage is absolutely awesome. Bonus points if you actually serve the soup inside the pumpkin – it makes its own little tureen!

Butternut squash

Butternut squash, my favorite! These uniquely shaped squashes have a relatively thin skin, making them easy to peel and seed. If you’re lazy (like I sometimes am) you can even cube up the squash and roast it with the skin on. It won’t hurt ya. These squashes are wonderfully sweet and I’ve made everything from a “pasta” sauce (which I serve over meatballs) to green curry. It might go without saying, but they are amazing just roasted with some olive oil, salt & pepper, or coconut oil, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Recipe: Cream of Butternut Squash with Granny Smith Apples & Crispy Pancetta

by Phil McKeon, Executive Chef of 219 An American Bistro

I grabbed some lunch at a great local bistro a few weeks ago with some friends, and ordered this delicious sounding soup. It was *awesome* and could easily be made into a Paleo masterpiece. My friend Phil is the executive chef at that restaurant and was generous enough to share his recipe with us. Make this soup and you will not be disappointed. If you are completely dairy-free you can change out the heavy cream for coconut milk, but it will change the flavor a bit. Try this soup and let us know what you think! It is so comforting on a cold winter’s day.

 

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup oil, separated
1 cup diced pancetta or applewood smoked bacon
6 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced yellow onion
bay leaf
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground clove
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups granny smith apples
4 cups apple juice

Directions

  1. In one pot, on medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil, plus squash, carrot and onion. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add bay leaf, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cream.
  2. Cook until hot and you can poke a toothpick all the way through the butternut squash with ease. Pour the soup into a blender (carefully!) or blend with a stick blender until smooth.
  3. Salt & pepper to taste, and add some apple juice to thin it out if it’s not to your liking.
  4. In another pot on low heat, add diced apples and apple juice and stir. Cook until apples are soft.
  5. In a frying pan, on medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil and the pancetta or bacon and cook till it’s crispy. Remove from heat and separate the pancetta from the grease.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to remove the apples from the pot and add some to a bowl. Pour the butternut bisque over the apples, then garnish it with a little of the crispy pancetta and some freshly chopped parsley.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner

•November 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s time for the annual procession of all things carb: potatoes, rolls, cranberry molds, all manner of desserts. Thanksgiving, however, needn’t be a salivating stare down with the spuds. The subject du jour: how you plan to handle the holiday. Primal types seem to fall into two camps when it comes to these occasions. Some say every day is a Primal day, and they go about preparing their Thanksgiving feast the way they do every other meal. If they’re visiting for the holiday, they selectively forage and might even bring a Primal dish of their own (to share or relish alone). Others take a looser approach, balancing the value of family traditions with their Primal interests to forge a reasonable compromise for the day. There’s plenty of room under the Primal tent for both good, old-fashioned moderation and rock solid resoluteness, I’d say. Let’s take a closer look.

The “Taking 20” Approach

Yes, there’s the 80/20 Principle to consider here, and it plays out a little differently for everyone. Some folks stay pretty much fully Primal throughout the year but make their exceptions on special occasions like holidays and other celebrations. The thinking here is, “It’s only one day. I’ll have my stuffing and then go back to normal life the next day. No biggie.” Although I’m not advocating inhaling the Thanksgiving pie all by yourself, I understand the sense of making a moderate concession for the holiday. Every once in a while I’ll take that approach myself. Chalk it up to convenience or nostalgia, but Thanksgiving does only come once a year. Your family may have very meaningful traditions that you enjoy participating in, or you might just reserve a special place in your heart/stomach for a certain annual dish. Some folks will even consider the day a strategic carb-refeeding opportunity. My suggestion is to gauge where you’re at in your Primal journey. Beginners or those interested in weight loss might have a harder time traversing the route of moderation. After all, you don’t want a momentary compromise to derail your progress. However, if you feel you can enjoy it and then return to your Primal track the next day none the worse for the wear, go ahead and partake.

The “Stickin’ to Your Guns” Approach

Of all the days in the year, this can be the most difficult to navigate. Particularly if you’re spending the day with family or cooking with a non-Primal partner, your commitment can get some blowback even if it’s “tolerated” the rest of the year. Rest assured: you’re not a stick in the mud or a killjoy. It’s entirely your right to eat the way you want to on Thanksgiving just like it is every other day. You might choose to explain your reasoning (once again), or you might just try to lay low and avoid the subject for the day. (Comments/anecdotes, anyone?) In the interest of keeping peace and harmony, however, there are plenty of ways to politely turn down the un-Primal fare on the table.

The truth is, there are plenty of ways to make your holiday fully Primal – or any degree between. Whether you’re hosting or visiting, I invite you to look back at our most popular Thanksgiving recipes. They’ll truly an indulgent way to stay on track this holiday, and they’re proof once again that eating Primal doesn’t mean sacrificing taste.

Mark Sisson

As long as it’s diet……

•August 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For all of you that love soda, yes diet soda too.