Yoga and the Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics

Yoga and Mixed Martial Art might seem like uneasy bedfellows, but the combination of these two, almost polar opposite arts is being used to help army veterans adjust to civilian life post deployment in a program called Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics or P.O.W for short.

It is interesting to see how yoga and martial arts are being used as a form of group therapy here, and the mission of the P.O.W program is to

directly addresses common but potentially devastating service-related challenges including the need for stimulus, structure and peer support as well as relief from social anxiety, isolation and many symptoms of PTSD

One of the toughest martial arts (and the art that kicked off the often brutal Ultimate Fighting Competition), Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, has a rich history with yoga. Many BJJ players these days supplement their grappling training with yoga to help with flexibility and general body awareness and strength. The legendary Rickson Gracie can be seen doing yoga in the documentary Choke that profiled his Vale Tudo title defense in Japan.

Listening to some of the guys on the video, it’s fantastic to hear them talking about yoga and how they’ve been taking it back into their daily lives

the biggest gift that yoga has given me is being able to focus on right now and not be hung up on the past and not be stressed out about the future

Krishnamacharya’s Life Saving Yoga Session

Often regarded as the father of modern yoga Krishnamacharya developed the Life Saving Yoga Session which he taught from the 1950s as more people began to visit him from the West. This sequence is purported to extend life. The idea of the sequence was to

lead Westerners to an unconfessional and undogmatic experience of the Divine, since their pluralistic culture would not permit an automatic access to religious matters

There’s a nice write about the sequence as well as the movie “Breath of the Gods” which has allowed many people to rediscover it here

10 Tips for starting meditation

meditation

meditation

Choose your time

Choose a convenient time, one when you will not be disturbed for the duration of your meditation. Often early morning or later in the evening is the best. The world is quiter and it can be easier to drop in to your meditation. It’s important when starting to keep a regular routine, so set up a meditation time and do it at the same time every day.

Choose your  place

Where you meditate can really have a positive effect on your practice. Finding a safe, comfortable space will help you feel at home in a new meditation practice. Set aside some space in a room and make sure it is comfortable. Use the same place every day to help trigger a meditation reflex in your body.

Choose your outfit

In general, you will want to wear loose fitting clothing for your meditation. Tracksuits or comfortable cotton trousers and t-shirts work best. Some might be tempted to say only use natural fibres (no fleeces), but experiment and come to your own decision on this.

Get comfy

The traditional image of someone meditating usually has them kneeling or sitting in lotus pose. However, this isn’t necessary at all. Finding a comfortable sitting posture that you can hold without aches and pains for the length of the meditation is much more important. You really want to be able to concentrate on your meditation without being distracted by any discomfort. Sitting on a chair is a good option. It will allow you to sit comfortably. Remember to keep your spine straight and gently elevate the head.

Switch off

It may seem obvious, but once you’ve set aside your time, turn off your phone. Text messages, instant messages, phone calls, status updates are all potential distractions that our monkey mind will pull us towards. Stopping the distractions before they start.

Follow your breath

Start with a simple meditation and stick to it – following your breath in and out, progressively tracing the path of the air through your nostrils into your lungs is an excellent first meditation. As is simply keeping your mind on your hara or dantien. The most important thing here is not to flit between different types of meditation in the same session. Your mind needs time to settle and bouncing between different methods is just giving in to the monkey mind again.

Keep it up

Try to get a schedule going and stick with it. Nothing beats consistency and it’s better to do a little every day rather than a mammoth session once a month. Keep a visible calendar and put a star on it every day you meditate – seeing an unbroken streak will motivate you to keep at it.

Keep a blanket nearby

As your body and mind become still, you might start to feel cold – keep a blanket over your shoulders to keep warm. A hoodie can also work well.

Do some light exercise before hand

Warm up the body and stretch out before your meditation. Some light yoga like some sun salutes or a few minutes of downward dog or makko-ho exercises are great, especially since you will be sitting relatively still for your meditation.

Meditate in chaos

Sometimes it’s good to forget all the above advice about finding a quiet spot and do your meditation in a busy office or crowded subway. After all, being able to meditate when conditions are perfect is not the only goal – you want your meditation to spill over into the hurly burly of everyday life so you can better cope with stress. If you can meditate in the midst of chaos, you’ll be better for it.

The secret to self control

marshmallow

Marshmallows

The marshmallow test is probably the most famous experiment that examined the effects self-control had on people’s lives. In the experiment, children are placed in a room with a single treat (a marshmallow or cookie for example) and told if they can manage  not to eat the treat for fifteen minutes, they will be given two treats to eat. If they give in, however, they only get the treat in front of them.

It’s a tough choice, and the experiment, set up 50 years ago by Walter Mischel, tracked children who participated in the experiment through their lives. Children who managed to exert some self restraint turned out to do better in school, go on to earn more money and had lower BMI scores. The ability to delay gratification seems to be a fantastic indicator of what type of person you will become.

Self control, will power, grit, determination. Whatever you call it, if you can master it, you’ve got it made. So how do you go about it? Well our actions are controlled by two often opposed parts of ourselves – the limbic system (which enjoy immediate gratification) and the prefrontal cortex (which is the more cool calculating part of our personality). The key, it seems, is to train the prefrontal cortex to take precedent, to give us a few seconds to fully analyse our decisions. This is simply a matter of practice and the best way to do it is to start with simple “if” statements. So, you program yourself to respond by deciding “If it’s a Monday or a Tuesday, I won’t have any wine”. Telling yourself this and subsequently practising it on Monday and Tuesday evenings when you’ve had a tough day and really want a glass of wine to relax, eventually trains you to analyse your decisions. Eventually you can discern when a decision is simply because your limbic system has gone into overdrive and when you have calmly decided for yourself.

However, as with anything, we walk a fine line – too much self control is as bad as too little – finding the balance is the key.

6 Reasons for Namibia’s Unexplained Fairy Circles

fairy circle close up

Close up of a fairy circle, grass surrounding an area of barren land. Photo credit Stephan Getzin

Most of the Namib desert is dry, barren and lifeless. The occasional rain shower will bring with it a few days of intense colour as the dormant plants grow rapidly. The most striking plant in the Namib is the Welwitschia, which grows only two leaves that tear and split through the life of the plant.

But along an 1800km strip of land in the Namib are unexplained circles of barren land surrounded by lush grass. These are the “fairy circles” and can be anything from around 2m to 15m in diameter and are completely barren inside the ring of grass. The circles even have a lifespan – they appear, grow and die, living up to 75 years. So far, they have defied any scientific explanation, but that hasn’t stopped the theories coming in.

 

The myths – gods and dragons

The myth surrounding the fairy circles passed down by the Himba people is that the circles were created by gods or spirits. Some say that they are footprints of the gods, others day that a dragon lives in the sand and that the poisonous breath kills the vegetation.

 

Termites

One theory put forward was that termites caused the circles in order to create a better habitat. First feeding on the roots of plants and killing them, the termites create an area where water can pool below the sand because there is no vegetation to absorb the moisture. This keeps the termites happy, but the excess water helps the ring of grass to grow.

 

Radioactivity

The Damara Granite of the Namibian desert often contains Uranium and Potassium 40. If the sand in the area was formed from the Damara Granite, it could be radioactive! This would cause three distinct radioactive zones which create a vegetation pattern seen in the fairy circles – a lethal zone where nothing grows, an effects zone where some vegetation grows and a no effects zone where there is no radioactive effect. Each circle could, according to this theory, be a mini radioactive area.

 

Cannibalistic grass

Resource competition between different species of vegetation is thought to be a cause of crop circles and in grassy landscapes, barren spots can occur when different types of grasses compete for water and nutrients under-ground. Could the grass actually be eating itself to cause the Fairy Circles?

 

Allelopath – the theory of the toxic plants

The Melkbos or Damara milk-bush plant is considered the most toxic plant in Namibia. The milky latex from the plant is said to be able to kill animals and humans. The plant is often used to poison watering holes in order to catch game that have drunk the poisened water. The melkbos is a possible contender for the fairy circles, with the theory being that the residue left by a dead melbos plant creates an area in which no other plants can grow.

 

Gas – the scientists’ dragon

Could gas leakage be causing the circles? Scientist collected soil samples from the fairy circles and found that seeds planted in the samples didn’t last very long. Chemical analysis led scientists to believe that natural gas leaking underground could be creating the formations by killing off plants in circular patches. Maybe there really is something to that dragon theory.

 

fairy cicrles

Fairy circles form part of the dramatic landscape of the Namibian desert. Photo credit: Stephan Getzin