The 10 Breath Technology Break

I recently heard a well-known marketing expert ask a room full of Fortune 500 types a compelling series of questions. With a show of hands, he asked how many in the audience watched TV with at least one additional screen – like an iPhone – nearby. Almost everyone raised their hands. Then he asked about having two screens nearby – like an iPhone and an iPad. Many raised their hands. And finally, he asked about having three screens nearby – iPhone, iPad and laptop. Still, there was a decent show of hands. Now that’s three open screens while the TV is on, engaging information from a total of four different sources more or less simultaneously.

His larger point had to do with modern marketing methods, the fragmented attention span of viewers these days, and the dwindling efficacy of traditional advertising.  But his point hit me in a different way, mainly because, at that moment, I was actually sitting at my desk, doing this four-screen shuffle exactly as he was talking about it!  I was watching a YouTube video of his lecture on my laptop, while waiting for a return text on my iPhone, while monitoring an eBay auction on my iPad, while glancing over at a Dodgers game playing on a nearby TV with the volume down.

I’m sure we can all relate to this crazy modern phenomenon of super-splintered attention spans. I believe it’s commonly categorized as yet another form of multitasking. But as someone who has taken great interest in the study of the mind/body connection, I’ve lamented over what this kind of hyper-multitask-ism actually does to our brain. And while I am definitely not about to jump on some kind of anti-technology bandwagon – hey, I love all my gadgets just as much as the next person – I did want to offer another take on this whole thing, along with at least one basic counter-measure that we all should consider integrating into our routines.

Concentration is King

I have often said that the most important single skill anyone could ever develop is the ability to effectively concentrate. When most folks consider what it means to really concentrate, they usually think about someone straining their brain, forcing an intense focus on something. But really, concentration has more to do with one’s ability to simply think about one thing, and one thing only. Easy in theory, I know…

Being able to concentrate is what entering “the zone” is all about in sports. Momentary lack of it is why a musician can make some nonsensical mistake in a song they’ve played perfectly 99 times prior. Concentration – and the engagement of the brain’s all-powerful frontal lobe – is where our creative genius resides, and it is essentially why Buddhist monks are the “Olympic champions” of the mental realm; meditation is the ultimate practice of concentration.

monkbrainDon’t fuck with the monks!
When it comes to total concentration abilities,
electroencephalography tests show they kick all of our asses!

So if concentration is a learned skill, and the brain can be trained to perform this skill through repeated conditioning, what the hell are we doing everyday? The exact opposite! That’s right. Multitasking is pretty much the opposite of concentration. Constantly navigating between various conversations and communications, via multiple platforms and devices throughout the day, actually conditions the brain to “focus” on multiple things at once. And because this technology shit is so imbedded in our lifestyles, our mere existence everyday ensures that we are getting further and further away from being able to do one of the most important things we could ever do: Concentrate!

Being in the Present

Another problem in this data-overkill era, is this: when do we have time to just be?  Where is the downtime, the decompression period, the little pockets of creative incubation throughout the day?  When do we allow ourselves a chance to relax into the nothingness of the moment – if only for a few minutes – and practice mindfulness, be grateful, be present for those around us. or connect with nature?  So often, it seems that folks are two places at once; where they are in person in their “physical” world, and where they are online or in text-land, in their “virtual” world. How present can we be with those in our physical world when we’re also maintaining (usually inconsequential) communication with others in our virtual world?

In terms of being fully in the present, if you have any sort of meditation practice, that’s great.  But to truly live mindfully, we have to practice more than just our designated 20 or 30 minutes of meditation a day.  It should be something that we tap into throughout the day, everyday.

zengardenBe it figuratively or literally, we must try to carve out
a little “Zen Garden” time each day…

The “Gap” is Gone

Still another real issue with all of this technology clutter is that we are not leaving enough space in our heads for those genius ideas to spring forth as often as they should. Here’s what I mean:

Think about when some of your greatest thoughts, ideas, creative surges or revelations hit you. I bet you were in the shower, or out walking the dog, or folding clothes, or at the gym, or maybe driving home from somewhere. In other words, the idea just seemed to “pop up” out of nowhere, while you were doing an activity that 1) demanded minimal brain power but, 2) likely precluded you from doing much else.

Sure, you could add technology – like being on the phone, for example – to most of the above-mentioned activities. But I’m guessing you were not doing much else when the big idea bubbled forth. Why? Because you inadvertently created a “gap” opportunity in your brain, and your subconscious mind found a little space to drop in an idea. I like to call this the Gap because it seems like ideas pop out when there’s a bit of a gap or space between thoughts.

For me, I typically have huge gap time at the gym, because I’ve always found lifting weights to be meditative and, in a bizarre way, relaxing.  I’ve recorded many hundreds of voice memos – no exaggeration – between sets through the years.  Initially, I used an Olympus digital recorder that I would always have handy, but over the past 4 or 5 years I’ve used my iPhone Voice Memos function.  (The real dilemma has been managing all of this material.  I still have hundreds of “voice notes” in various folders, waiting to be added to various manuscripts and projects.)

But the problem for most is, when is there ever a gap anymore? If we are constantly navigating, deciphering, communicating and fucking re-tweeting data all day long, how difficult must it be for one of these unexpected creative revelations to find its way in?

The 10 Deep Breaths Solution

Well… I don’t know if this is a total solution, but I can guarantee it could at least be the start of one. This is something that is deceivingly difficult to do and, at the very least, will show you – in less than three minutes – how little control you actually have over your own brain. I’m serious. This shit is hard! But at least you can do it anytime, anywhere. Here it is:

1. Whenever you find yourself with a few spare minutes between activities, pull yourself fully into the present moment; don’t think about the past or future.

2. Take 10 full, slow, deep breaths.  In through the nose, out through the mouth, silently counting each one on the exhale.  Try to stretch-out each full inhale/exhale to take between 15 to 20 seconds.

3. In public, you can do this so discreetly, no one will even know you’re doing it. But in private, I suggest exaggerating the actions, which includes inhaling more deliberately and exhaling like you’re blowing out a candle.

4. Try to think about little else but the air going in through your nostrils, filling up your lungs, expanding your chest, then exiting your mouth as you (silently) count your 10 breaths. Envision any distracting thought as being encased in a bubble that you blow away with your exhale.

5. Try this 10-breath practice on two or three separate occasions throughout the day to start.

deep-breath(image courtesy of “Kale and Kant”)

Crazy Observations

I don’t want to assume that any or all of the following will happen to you… but it probably will! So just be on the look-out for a few common things:

  • Notice how this might feel like the longest three minutes of your day, every time you do it.
  • Notice your fundamental resistance to this practice… how the mind starts freaking with nothing else to occupy it but counting these breaths.
  • Notice your potential impatience… how you can’t wait to get to 10… or how your mind will begin to stray even after only two or three breaths.
  • Notice how your “monkey-mind” might be so distracted by the inactivity you’re asking it to embrace, you might actually lose count!
  • Notice how you’ll start thinking about what you just did (past), or what you have to do next (future)… basically any other thoughts that are not about the present moment.

If any of these things happen, don’t get discouraged.  Just calmly bring yourself back to the present and keep counting those breaths.

And finally, think of this process as a sort of “introductory weightlifting practice” for the mind. This three-minute practice will help to strengthen your brain every time you do it, but you do have to do it consistently to fully experience the benefits.

So delay that mindless three-minute text exchange or tweet that you were about to do, and try this… right now!

Until next time,

BR

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Building Strength and Muscle: How it Works

I get a lot of questions about protein, supplements, special training routines and the like when it comes to building strength and muscle.  And as a long-time vegan, the inquiries are often multiplied, given the fact that I’ve continued to get all of my protein exclusively from plant-based, non-animal sources for well over 20 years now.  I’ve also shied away from taking tons of “designer” supplements through the years, having studied about, and experimented with, enough to know what’s what.

But before we can talk about routines, supplements, how much protein you need, or anything else, let’s jump into a quick refresher here about how it all actually works.

1. Your muscles are comprised of two types of fiber; slow-twitch and fast-twitch.  Slow-twitch has more of an endurance function, like for running, while fast-twitch has more of an explosive function, like for pushing heavy weights around at the gym.  Slow-twitch development doesn’t usually mean bigger muscles, although endurance activities can burn fat, which can in turn create a more muscular or athletic appearance.  Fast-twitch development does generally mean bigger muscles, but not always big, “bulky” muscles like you might see on a bodybuilder.  (Think of an Olympic marathon runner’s legs vs. an Olympic sprinter’s legs.  That’s the general difference between slow and fast-twitch development.)

2. If we’re talking more strength – as in the ability to lift heavier weights – and building more muscle tissue, we’re talking about your fast-twitch fiber. And the way to develop this is through consistent resistance training built around strategic, progressive increases in workload.  Why is this so crucial?  Because when you overload a muscle group through resistance training, you create what’s known as microtrauma in the tissue; the literal breaking down of the muscle fiber. And this is key because…

3. Your body’s natural response mechanism to microtrauma is to launch into a state called hypertrophy.  And this is where the magic happens.  Hypertrophy involves the recruitment of more muscle cells to the “traumatized” area and/or the enlarging of existing muscle cells.  In either case, this creates a slightly bigger, stronger muscle in anticipation of the next thrashing it might receive.

muscle-hypertrophy(diagram courtesy muscleandstrength.com)

4. As we gain strength and (depending on the style of training) size, we consider this progress in the land of fast-twitch fiber development.  However, if we wish to continue to make these types of gains, we must continue to successfully engage hypertrophy.  This is not an easy or an especially natural process, because the body is one hell of a survival machine… which means that it will develop an “immunity” to a particular workload rather quickly.  This is what it’s wired to do and, in fact, what hypertrophy is really all about.

All this said, to successfully engage hypertrophy is not something that is usually spoken about in the broad, holistic manner that it actually takes.  Because, as you’ll see in a moment – and contrary to what the supplement manufacturers might have you believe – there’s a lot more science involved with optimizing hypertrophy than just the popular notion of “drink this special protein shake and get bigger muscles.”

Maximizing Development

So if hypertrophy is basically the process of making “broken-down” or traumatized muscles bigger and stronger, how do we optimize this process?  I’ve deconstructed this down to four major categories:

Training: This might be painfully obvious, but it’s clearly the single most critical step in the development of fast-twitch muscle fiber through hypertrophy.  Simply put, if you don’t actually break the muscle fiber down through some intelligent, intense, strategic and consistent training, none of these other steps will matter much.  I recommend that you cycle your training through various phases throughout the year so you can avoid injury and maximize your periods of intensity. Mainly, though, you will want to focus on free weights, vary your routine regularly, reach for the heavier weights, and always use impeccable technique in your lifts.

dumbbellsNothing beats good ol’ fashioned iron!

Rest and Recovery: There’s an old gym rat saying about how we actually do all of our growing away from the gym.  This is true.  Think of this phase in two parts.  Rest is the amount of time you wait before blasting a muscle group again.  It will be at least 48 hours, but sometimes an extra day or two might be required.  The idea is, you want to allow the body to repair the damage you did last time before hitting it again.  Recovery is about the quality of rest time between workouts.  It’s about the optimal quality and quantity of sleep (which is likely when your body is doing the bulk of the repair work), proper stretching, icing any problem areas, and basically managing inflammation as best you can so you’ll be ready to blast again when the next workout rolls around.

Nutrition: When we talk about nutrition and as it relates to gaining strength and muscle, one key nutrient always goes front and center in the discussion: protein.  And yes, it is a critical element to the hypertrophy process because this is the main nutrient the body utilizes in the actual reparation process. BUT - Protein isn’t the most important nutritional component to hypertrophy.  Total caloric intake is actually most important.

Think about it: hypertrophy is about increasing lean muscle mass, which is ultimately about weight gain. And when we are talking about weight gain, the single most important factor is taking in more calories than you’re burning off. So the first thing you want to cover in the nutrition department is to make sure that you are taking in a surplus of calories. Without this, all the protein in the world won’t much matter.  Additionally, you will want to stay properly hydrated, take in plenty of high-fiber carbohydrates to efficiently fuel all of your workouts, and get enough healthy fats and electrolytes in the diet.

pepperpowerIngredients for my Pepper Power Gazpacho:
Pure plant-based muscle-building fuel!

Gear and Accessories: This category covers everything from the equipment you have access to at your gym, to any accessories you might use to give you an edge in your training.  To be clear, a lot can be accomplished with a little.  A simple free-weight set-up in a garage and little else has gone a long way for many.  But, to the extent that you have access to an array of benches, heavy-ass dumbbells, various machines and other modern health club gear, it’s foreseeable that you will be able to optimize your efforts exponentially.

As for accessories, I’m talking about lifting belts (to stabilize the lower back for heavy lifts), wrist-straps (for heavy back work), wrist-wraps (for heavy chest presses), knee-wraps (for heavy leg day), etc.  Can you get by without these things?  Sure.  But anything that assists you in reaching for heavier weight can only help.

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Now that we have this basic foundation established, next time let’s delve a little deeper into protein, supps, and more specifics on getting your hypertrophy rockin’..

BR

 

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Drum Solo

mohegandrums2It’s no secret that I love to do drum solos. Grew up on ‘em. All my favorite players were monster soloists… and purveyors of the drumming art form in the process.

Sadly, it’s become somewhat of a dying art, partly because most players don’t work on this aspect of their craft, and partly because many of those who have, have not been especially musical, mindful or entertaining in their ultimate presentation of their solos in the context of a live show. This has created a bit of a stigma about drum solos in certain circles.

Nonetheless, I’ve always felt that a well-played, appropriately-styled solo could work in almost any situation, because drums and rhythm have such a primal, universal appeal. I learned this early on in my career, playing various bars around Houston. I noticed I could play drum solos in a rock environment, at a jazz club, in a honky tonk playing country (yes, I’ve done it), or even as the only white boy in the building of a funk gig in Houston’s fifth ward… no matter. Everyone would hoot and holler just the same.

Through the years, I’ve expanded my drum solo vocabulary and musicality considerably and have tried to become even more mindful about the audience at hand and how to best communicate with them. No more of this focusing on playing a bunch of super technical shit like I’m in a room full of drummers (unless I’m actually playing for a room full of drummers!). I try to think big picture: What type of solo might enhance the show and serve as an appropriate musical segue in the set, and what kind of vibe would this particular audience groove on?

It’s really no different than writing or speaking professionally. If you are going to write or speak for a particular audience, it helps to know who the audience actually is so you can tailor your communication to them in a way that will best resonate. Same thing with drum solos.

To Vary a Lot or Not?

The only thing I still struggle with sometimes is the idea of exactly how different to make the solo each night on a particular gig. I know the idea of radical variation is most prominent in genres where improvisation is a huge part of the style. In these cases, I find myself playing more off-the-cuff, which I like.  But if your solo becomes part of the set, and you travel around and play the same basic set each night over the course of a tour, it seems natural to fall into some basic kind of form that’s replicable from night to night. This is what I seem to do, even though there is a lot of room for variation, new sections, different riffs, varying durations, etc. It’s never the same twice, although certain aspects of the beginning, middle and ending might be similar.

Accordingly, I sometimes wonder if it’s okay to be repetitive about key elements of the solo that seem to go over: stopping and starting again to elicit crowd reaction, playing with one hand while toweling off or drinking water with the other hand, ending the solo with some kind of signature “going ape-shit” kind of grand finale, etc. (You’ll notice all three of these examples in the solo below.)  But at what point is it “Oh, I saw him do that last time,” vs. “Man, I hope he does that thing again like last time.” Of course, many of my faves had certain signature riffs they repeated – hell, even the great Buddy Rich had a similar ending to his solo for decades. So… I guess it’s cool.

Anyway…

Here’s the complete 4-minute solo I did at a recent Lita Ford show at the Mohegan Sun in CT. I initially shared it in two halves, as two separate excerpts, on Facebook, and folks seemed to enjoy them. Some also asked to hear the whole thing together as I had originally played it.  And so… here it is:

(Special thanks to my “east coast” tech, Mark Chiaramonte, for the cool camera coverage.)

Best,

BR

PS. And finally, my friends, this is blog #20 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  Missed the goal by a few days, but that’s life. It’s been fun. See you guys next year. Kidding!

I plan on hitting it more regularly than I had been, but not as often as I did in June. Thanks for being here…

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Rehabbing the “Hopeless” at Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary

sanctuary3Earlier this month, I did a retrospective post about the whole Michael Vick dogfighting thing, which I know is kind of old news to most. But one of the main themes of the piece was the idea that every being – human or animal – deserves another shot. So instead of just euthanizing these fighting dogs, why not give them a second chance… even if an uniformed society deems them hopeless.

Indeed, why not?

This was the perspective Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary had when they agreed to take in 22 of the worst cases from the Michael Vick fall-out. These 22 infamous dogs would become known as the Vicktory Dogs, and their story is inspiring and hopeful. Inspiring because they all would go on to flourish on one level or another, and hopeful because the world is watching, and seeing, that even the “worst case scenario” pit bulls can be rehabbed and given a second chance at a non-violent life.

I bring this up because I was just there at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah this past weekend. But I didn’t get a chance to see any of the Vicktory dogs in person, because most have been adopted into forever homes where they are enjoying some blissful normalcy for a change. A few were court-ordered to stay at the sanctuary, but even they’ve continued to grow and heal from the unspeakable trauma they were subjected to as fighting dogs.

Lance-Vicktory-dogOur boy, Lance

Most recently, it was a Vicktory dog named Lance who was placed into his forever home. A few of the volunteers there at BFAS were just talking about him. Apparently, after all of their training, it turns out there’s a 10-part test that places the dogs in mildly stressful situations to gauge how appropriately they would react in real life scenarios. During a test run, Lance passed, and now he’s out the door and into his new life.

Here’s a BFAS blog post celebrating their progress at the five-year mark. You can meet them all here, too: http://bestfriends.org/News-And-Features/News/Good-Newz/

And, of course, there are hundreds of different stories like this playing out at the sanctuary at any given time. I got a chance to meet a number of “problem” cats, each of whom are receiving the best rehab and training possible so that they, too, can eventually be adopted.

sanctuary4One thing’s for sure: their digs are smokin’! I liked how they all had indoor and outdoor components to their living quarters.

sanctuary1Beyond that, there was a lot to see around there, and the scenery was really killer. It’s a great place to visit if you’re in the area…

sanctuary2
Best,
BR

PS. This is blog #19 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014. (Yes, I know it’s July now, but we’re almost home.)

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Let’s Get Heart Attack-Proof!

Big news in the world of plant-based eating today:

The Journal of Family Practice just published a hugely successful study that Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and his team recently completed. It confirms what I’ve been preaching about for over 20 years now.

Many of you may be familiar with Dr. Esselystyn. He’s one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject of healing and reversing heart disease primarily through a plant-based diet. He conducted a famous study more than two decades ago that proved the efficacy of this phenomenon via a nutrient-rich, low-fat vegan diet. This study would be the basis for his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

Prevent-and-Reverse-Heart-DiseaseThis new study was considerably larger, but still with equally compelling results. The study followed 198 consecutive patients counseled in plant-based nutrition. These patients with established cardiovascular disease were interested in transitioning to plant-based nutrition as an adjunct to usual cardiovascular care.

Here were the participant’s parameters for this study -

The Core Diet (followed by “compliant” patients):

Whole grains, legumes, lentils, other vegetables, and fruit comprised the major portion of the diet. A multivitamin and vitamin B12 supplement were encouraged. As was the use of flax seed meal, which served as an additional source of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Foods Prohibited:

Initially the intervention avoided all added oils and processed foods that contain oils, fish, meat, fowl, dairy products, avocado, nuts, and excess salt. Patients were also asked to avoid sugary foods (sucrose, fructose, and drinks containing them, refined carbohydrates, fruit juices, syrups, and molasses). Subsequently, the study also excluded caffeine and fructose.

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Results

Here are the results and particulars of the study as reported by our friends at vegsource.com:

  • Out of the initial 198, 177 individuals were compliant with the diet (89%).
  • Of this compliant group, only one individual suffered a recurrent event of heart disease. That is an event rate of .6% – the lowest recurrence rate to date of any study of plant-based diets and heart disease.
  • 21 individuals of the original 198 in the research group did not adhere to Dr. Esselstyn’s diet program. They went back to the standard American diet. 13 of these nonadherent participants – or 62% – subsequently experienced adverse cardiac events. (It is worth nothing that the individuals who did not eat the plant-based diet were still under typical cardiology care and received standard medical interventions like pills and procedures. Yet 62% of them still succumbed to more adverse heart events.
  • 62% got worse with a standard diet and standard medical care, whereas only .6% of the people who followed Dr. Esselstyn’s diet had any further heart problems.

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Here’s the link to the actual study:

http://dresselstyn.com/JFP_06307_Article1.pdf

I hope every serious cardiologist around the globe will take a look at this. And perhaps more importantly, I hope all my friends over 50 will take a close look, as well. As we age, we just don’t have the same kind of resilience we once did to all of the various foods that damage our arteries. Plus, if you’ve been eating these kinds of foods all along, you’re going to have a much greater build-up of fat and plague in the ol’ arteries just from the accumulative years.

arteriesActual before-and-after x-rays of an artery healed from plant-based eating!

This shit is real, people…

So, can this style of eating really make you heart attack-proof? Hard to say 100%. But so far, it appears to offer us the greatest odds.

Interested in More Info?

If you haven’t seen it already, check out the documentary Forks Over Knives. It features the work of both Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell (author of The China Study), and shows a lot of compelling science that supports this concept.  (Scope on Netflix instant download and other places…)

Forks_over_Knives

POST NOTE: You’ll notice in Dr. Esselstyn’s “prohibited foods” recommendations above that he also includes nuts and avocados.  This is the only debatable aspect of the study in my mind.  Of course, I have YET to see a study that reversed heart disease that included any animal products.  But I have seen evidence that a similar diet-style that included some plant-based fats (nuts, seeds, etc.) could also work.  And this was from Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  See Fuhrman’s Huffington Post article here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-fuhrman-md/heart-health-prevent-and-reverse_b_783565.html

I admire both of these guys, but they happen to differ in this one area.  Both promote plant-based diets, but Esselstyn is more hardcore about avoiding ALL forms of fat, even those naturally occurring in nuts and avocado.

My advice is this:

1. Enjoy moderate amounts of virtually ANY kind of whole food plant-based fat source, like nuts, seeds, avocado, etc.

2. Try to avoid adding ANY form of oil to anything.  (I know this is tough.)  This includes olive oil, which by the way, is NOT a heart-healthy food, even though it is often promoted as such.  Will you be able to do this?  Probably not until you have to.  Oil is everywhere. But at least be aware of it.

3. For omega 3s, I don’t think there’s much harm in having a small serving of flax oil a few times a week (added to your smoothie, for example).  But we simply don’t require very much omega 3 – especially when we have lower amounts of omega 6 in the diet (more on this later).  Still, if you can get it from flax seed or chia seed, all the better.

4. The more at-risk you are (total cholesterol over 150, etc.), the more strict you have to be with all of these recommendations!

Will be posting more specifics soon…

 

Stay tuned -

BR

  1. This is blog #18 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  (Yeah, I know it’s July 1 today. What can I tell ya?)
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Get Back! – Building the Back Half of the Body

It’s easy for all the muscles in your back and rear legs to be “out of sight, out of mind,” since these areas are not so easily visible in the mirror as we evaluate our training progress. However, our backs are most important to us, because virtually everything we do – sporting activity or otherwise – is anchored to the balance and alignment we create with this intricate network of muscles.  So quality back training will strengthen these muscles for better physical performance, and also provide superior conditioning as a preventative measure against injury or strain.

getbackmainAn original version of this excerpt, tweaked for Drum magazine

From traps, rear delts and lats, all the way down to lower back, glutes, hams and calves, serious back training is a complex endeavor.  But just to get things rolling, here are three simple, foundational movements you can do two to three times a week to condition your back, backside, and hamstrings (rear leg).

Lat Pulldowns: Great for total back development, with emphasis on the large outer muscles, or “lats.”

1pulldowns1. Grab the cable bar a little wider than shoulder-width as you’re sitting down, and secure your legs under the thigh pad.

2. With your back slightly arched and your head tilted back, pull the bar down toward the top of your chest to chin level. Focus on pulling with your back muscles, as opposed to your arms.

3. Slowly return the bar to starting position for one rep.

Work up to three sets of eight to fifteen reps.

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Machine Rows: Ideal for mid-back muscles and overall back strength and thickness.

2rows1. Take a seat with your torso against the chest pad, making sure that you can reach the handles.

2. While keeping your chest tight against the pad, pull the handles toward you as far as you comfortably can. Again, focus on pulling with your back muscles, as opposed to your arms.

3. Slowly return the bar to starting position for one rep.

Work up to three sets of eight to fifteen reps.

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Stiff-legged Dumbbell Deadlifts: Excellent for strengthening the lower back, backside and hamstrings. Go super light with these at first!

3dumbbelldeads1. Stand with a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the front of your thighs.

2. While keeping your back and legs straight throughout the movement, slowly bend down at the waist so that the dumbbells are heading toward your feet.

3. Once you reach the mid-shin area, slowly return to the starting position, focusing on pulling with your hamstrings and lower back.

Work up to three sets of eight to fifteen reps.

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Train hard,

BR

PS. This is blog #17 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  So close… but yet so far!

 

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Leonardo da Vinci and the Real Housewives of New Jersey

My North Hollywood practice space is basically a two-room lockout.  The first room is wall-to-wall with the 40 drums of my full solo kit.  Heaven, people.  The second room has a small collection of snare drums, a practice pad, sofa, and a full stereo system/satellite TV rig with TiVo, studio monitors and a rumbling sub.  This rig is mainly for the longer practice pad sessions when I’m working on the never-ending hand exercises, and I need some outside stimuli to distract me from the monotony of said never-ending exercises.

When I first had satellite piped in some years back, I was only watching cool shit on TV while practicing; documentaries, thought provoking films, PBS, etc.  But at some point, I started surfing through mainstream TV just to see what was going on in the world, and inevitably, I encountered a slew of these various reality TV programs.  I would generally only watch partial episodes, and I initially found myself in judgment of many of these shows.  “Are you fucking kidding me?  There is a TV show based around this?  What possible allure would this have to the public?” …and so forth.

Of course, reality TV, as a genre, encompasses many types of shows, and I don’t mean to lump them all into one category, per se.  I’m sure if you’re into certain subjects – like cooking, fashion, real estate, or entrepreneurship – there are shows that could give you a pretty decent behind-the-scenes education.  Still, so much of it seems to be about pointing a camera at everyday people while they do everyday shit.  Literally, everyday people: housewives, pawnshop owners, junk resellers, pregnant teens, brides-to-be, amateur musicians, even fucking insect exterminators!

Then there’s another faction of reality TV programming that seems to focus on folks whose lives are probably better left private.  Example: There’s a show about drug addicts who are tricked into thinking the cameras are there to document their addiction… only to learn that their entire family has arranged to ambush them into getting treatment through an intervention.  Hey, I recognize that interventions are probably the necessary “final straw” for many folks to get it together.  But to spend an hour watching someone destroy brain cells on liquor, crack or inhalants, only to discover (in some cases) that their rehab program didn’t stick?  Misery.

Another one is all about folks who store an ungodly amount of shit in their house and live amongst unimaginable clutter and filth.  Concerned family members are interviewed, along with the featured hoarder of each episode.  Okay, so something happened to this person along the way, they snapped a bit, and now they need some hands-on assistance.  Fine.  But is eavesdropping on these folks as they trudge their way through the roach-invested piles of garbage and knick-knacks around their home really entertainment?  Misery.

Still another series of shows is all about prisoners, profiled like celebrities, and shown going about their daily activities.  Seriously – we watch the tattooed fucking convict being led around in handcuffs, or taken out into “the yard” for a little recreation time, then ultimately involved in a skirmish of some sort.  Then we get the benefit of an exclusive interview with the tattooed fucking convict, as he eloquently expresses how he was wronged, once again, by a guard, or the system, or a fellow inmate.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I wish the tattooed fucking convict well, and I hope his rehabilitation time is ultimately successful.  But goddamn it!  Is this really a show?  Is this really the best use of 60 minutes of national airtime?  Misery.

My Perspective

From the standpoint of an artist/entertainer/creative person who values any kind of platform for their work, it can be difficult to see this amount of valuable airtime allotted for such viewing… which is why I was initially put off by the sheer volume of these kind of shows.  There I was, in the practice room, metronome clicking, shaking my head in both amusement and despair with these programs, as I blazed through an endless array of rudimental hand exercises like I’ve been doing for 40 years now.

How could this be?  What is the attraction?  Shouldn’t television be the place to engage the fantastic… to see and experience shit you can’t see and experience elsewhere?  Anyone can watch these pedestrian, reality TV kind of things play out in everyday life.  Why would we then want to sit on our collective asses and watch more of it play out on TV?  I did not understand it.

Well… once I got past my initial reaction, I’ve been able to occasionally observe these shows without judgment or emotional charge of any sort.  Why?  Because I finally came to terms with the practical function of reality TV: in general, it’s kind of like fast food for the brain.  It’s quick, easy, familiar, enjoyable, even addictive.  You don’t have to think much to watch.  It’s easily assimilated and entertaining enough.  It can also provide some much-needed escapism from the day’s toils.  I get it.

However…

I also wonder what happens to our brains from repeated exposure to this material.  If we liken a lot of this kind of viewing to junk food, I don’t think there’s much harm in enjoying some vegan ice cream, cookies or dark chocolate, in moderation, and in the context of an otherwise stellar nutritional regimen.  But what would happen if you only ate the treats and snacks… if there wasn’t a sound nutritional foundation in place to ensure that your body was well fed?  Your body would atrophy.  Same thing here, I’m afraid.  I would think if you’re only inundating your mind with this schlock – and there’s not much of substance finding its way in – it, too, will experience some degree of atrophy.

Simple formula: If we eat a bunch of junk, our body will falter.  If we watch a bunch of junk, our mind will falter.

Which brings us to…

da-Vinci-collageThe Leonardo Factor

Leonardo da Vinci remains one of the more interesting characters in our history for a number of reasons.  First, his work has left an immortal imprint.  It’s 500+ years later, and we’re still captivated by his work and fascinated with his genius.  Second, his radically diverse areas of expertise in both art and science represent human potential to a staggering extent, making him a great example of what’s possible when a human being develops mind, body and spirit to such a crazy degree.  In essence, he’s a reminder of what’s possible for us all… an ongoing wake-up call to hold our own potential to the light for some real evaluation.

So where does Leonardo da Vinci fit into the mix here?  Well, presuming we have an interest in the expansion, evolution and expression of our own “genius” life purpose, I sometimes wonder what all a brilliant mind like da Vinci’s was exposed to everyday, back in the day.  I’m sure he had his recreational downtime.  But what, in general, fed his mind, muse and imagination each day?

And if he suddenly reappeared today, what would he think about all of this kind of mainstream viewing?  Certainly, we all know there’s lots of quality stuff out there, as well.  But if Leonardo were to sit down and scope shows based solely on highest Neilson ratings, what would he think?  And what would happen to that infamous mind if he were forced to watch several hours a day of this shit… eyelids propped open ala “A Clockwork Orange”?  (Food for thought, so to speak.)

Fortunately, we’ll never have to find out.  Instead, we can enjoy his legacy and be inspired to hit our own potential, in our own way.  And in case your TiVo is a little too backed up to view anything else at the moment, here’s a quick little 4-minute tidbit on our boy that reminds us of what’s possible.

Let’s not forget.

Leonardo da Vinci: The man, the myth, the mystery

Peace,
BR

PS. This is blog #16 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  Gettin’ close…

PSS. Hope you enjoyed this lightly-revised encore post.  It’s an old fave and still rings true, I believe…

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A Conversation With the World’s Wisest Man (book excerpt)

silhouette
Master Exle (a.k.a. “X” or “The X-Man,” as I often refer to him) might just be one of the wisest people in the world.  He is a 92-year old Shaolin monk in stunning physical condition (looks about 70), reportedly never having missed a day of school or work in his life due to illness. With a salt-and-pepper crew-cut and black-framed glasses, he’s always dressed simply, in some kind of martial arts pants, a loose-fitting shirt, and sandals. Always. Even for important meetings, speaking engagements and local television.
Pure monk, right? At the same time, he holds the highest degree black belt in a number of Kung Fu styles and has been one of Samson’s key teachers through the years. (More on this later.)  Plus, among other things, he is a revered painter, fluent in eighteen languages, a prolific author of more than 200 books, and a master musician who plays nine different instruments on a world-class level.

The X-Man is one of the most revered “political” figures in all of Zentauria and, fortunately for me, was assigned to be my main advisor/confidante throughout my season on the island.  We met once a week at the “evening hour” (8:00 PM) and enjoyed the most extraordinary conversations.

Zentauria documents several of these weekly conversations, which were basically transcribed from digital recordings.  Here’s an excerpt from one of them:

Evening Hour With The X-Man: Session VI – The Art of the Moment
Day 43 – 1:30 AM (Guest Quarters)

After reflecting quite a bit on our last session, I really wanted to explore the finer points of the “moment” with the X-Man today. Of course, I’ve been a huge Thich Nhat Hanh fan through the years, and I’ve studied other philosophies that deal with the idea that it’s all about the present… all about finding the ecstasy in each moment. So I was curious to explore Exle’s take on the Art of the Moment and to also get a sense of how this related to our past and future.

Me: I notice that any time we talk about life purpose as defined by results, outcomes, or achievement of goals, you always seem to bring it back to this “present moment” thing.

Exle: That’s because the present is all we really have.

Me: Well… I understand that perspective in theory. However, we all have a quantifiable, documented past, and we are all creating a future that will be a quantifiable, documentable thing, as well, so long as we continue to breathe. Doesn’t this make them real?

Exle: Real to the extent you’ve lived it or will possibly live it, but largely irrelevant where the almighty present is concerned.

Me: Why largely irrelevant?

Exle: Because relevance is usually defined by the meaning we give something. But the meaning of our past and the experience of our future is being continually redefined by our moment-to-moment choices in the present.

Me: How so?

Exle: Consider this:

The past is only a series of events, evaluated through the filter of our present mindset, based on our current relationship with the future. These events were largely influenced by some combination of our thoughts, feelings, and actions prior to their unfolding. But in this eternal moment, the past no longer exists.

The future is only a series of anticipated events, the outcomes of which are being influenced largely by our thoughts, feelings, and actions of the present, which are often influenced by our memories of past events. But in this eternal moment, the future has yet to exist.

The present is this moment, right this very second, as we are conversing. The past has no relevance now, except for the meaning we choose to give it from one present moment to the next. The future has no relevance now, because it is not guaranteed, and it only holds the promise of more present moments like this one.

To the extent that we desire the rich memories of past moments or the electric anticipation of future moments, they can only be created in the present, anyway. So it always gets back to the truly eternal nature of this moment and our deliberate experience of thought, feeling, and action.

Me: This is deep, X. [Pause.] You said something about the past being irrelevant except for the meaning we choose to give it. But doesn’t the event itself provide its meaning to us?

Exle: No.

Me: Why not?

Exle: Because the filter of any present moment with which you evaluate the past is ever-evolving, based on new information, deeper understandings, other developments, different perspectives, and so forth.

Me: Yeah, but aren’t some things in the past absolute?

Exle: Nothing is ever absolute.

Me: What about some of the major historical events of our past, particularly the atrocities?

Exle: Such as?

Me: Well, let’s say, slavery.

Exle: When and where?

Me: Let’s say, the American enslavement of Africans.

Exle: What are you saying is absolute about it?

Me: That it was a disgrace to humanity we ever did all that.

Exle: That’s a judgment you have about it, based on its fundamental violation of the One Truth – that we are all as one, connected through spirit – and to objectify, exploit, or subjugate another being is to act out of harmony with this Truth. But we were talking about assigning meaning to past events.

Me: Fair enough, but the meaning seems pretty clear. I mean, how many different meanings can you derive from something so atrocious?

Exle: Well, how about the fact that American slavery would inadvertently provide the impetus for you to engage in what’s been an important part of your artistic inspiration and expression?

Me: What the hell?

Exle: Trace the roots. Slavery spawned old slave hymnals, which spawned pure blues, which spawned rock and roll and R&B, which eventually spawned all of those first-generation hard rock acts that initially inspired you to play music.

Me: Oh, shit. True.

Exle: And speaking of dark past events, this is to say nothing of the many tortured souls through the centuries who, out of their agony, have brought us some of the most compelling music, art, and literature we’ve ever had the joy to experience, so –

Me: So don’t tell me we have to continue to suffer or perpetuate atrocities to create great art.

Exle: I’m not saying we have to, I’m only pointing out that we have. And this speaks to my original point that our evaluation of the past is ever-evolving.

Me: But are you actually justifying all of the suffering and atrocities of the past, so long as they have somehow benefited us in the present?

Exle: This isn’t about justifying anything. I am simply addressing the futility of regarding any past event in any absolute way. Because to regard any past atrocity as an across-the-board dark negative – be it an individual or collective act – is to disregard all of the light positive that invariably resulted in response to it. And that would be dismissive of one of the fundamental laws of this plane that we all agreed to partake in.

Me: Which is?

Exle: Polarity. We chose to engage this dimension knowing there would be up and down, hot and cold, happy and sad, black and white, rich and poor, privileged and exploited. And as both polarities continue to exist, the brightest light often emerges from the darkest room. In fact, for any magnificent thing in life to exist, we have to embrace the fact that its opposite polarity has to simultaneously exist, as well. Your greatness, your brilliance, your Light, your supreme expression of the God Force – whatever you wish to call it – will often be most profoundly expressed in the midst of mediocrity or even darkness. So once you really understand the concept of polarity, you tend not to waste much time trying to assign much meaning to anything that’s already happened.

Me: Because until the proverbial fat lady sings, we’ll never really know what the bottom-line meaning was, right?

Exle: Actually, the fat lady never sings, as you suggest, because whether you’re talking about the linear experience of time as we know it here on earth, or the boundless, eternal experience of time on the other side, there is never an ending. And even if the fat lady did sing and the universe suddenly evaporated into itself, we could all still derive different meanings from any past event, based on what level of consciousness we were holding in that final moment in time.

Me: Wow. Heavy duty, X. [Pause.] So what’s the meaning behind this conversation?

[Exle smiles.]

Me: Oh, I get it. There is no absolute meaning because my perception of this conversation – as I reflect on it from the filter of any future moments – could shift from one moment to the next, right?

Exle: Now you’ve got it.

Me: Well… it certainly is a liberating perspective on the one hand, but on the other, how would we live without having an opinion or some kind of evaluation about everything?

Exle: Very comfortably, thank you.

Me: But doesn’t the joy in life come from our being able to discern certain events as happy ones through our evaluation of them?

Exle: Sure… until you run into an event you discern as unhappy. And again, in this world of polarities, these are not great odds.

Me: So are we to somehow always strive to be joyfully indifferent?

Exle: Joyfully indifferent to outcome, yes. This is the way of non-attachment, of liberation from desire. Because, again, what’s the point of making an evaluation on something when the inherent meaning or cause-and-effect result can shift over time? But “indifferent” is not a word I would use to describe anything you might care to engage in the present, because everything is created out of the present; so we really want to be “present” for the present and experience all of its layers. To acknowledge the joy and beauty in each moment… this is the way of enlightenment.

(continues…)

________________

ZBook2

Man, I still love rereading these dialogues.  They continue to really resonate with me.  Hope you guys dig ‘em, too…

All for now -

BR

PS.  This is blog #15 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  Crunch time…

(top pic by Adam Jones)

 

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Caffeine: A Closer Look

I’ve always been one to discourage the use of caffeine and officially, in general, I still hold that position.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally indulge and, under certain instances, and with great caution, allow for its use on occasion.  So let’s look at the good, bad and ugly of caffeine:

Offduty: Caffine Drinks(pic from “reaching utopia”)

Caffeine is prevalent in so many of our common indulgences like coffee, soda, energy drinks and chocolate. But it’s also a bona fide stimulant, not unlike cocaine, that affects the central nervous system. Accordingly, this addictive substance can play a role in many health maladies like heart palpitations, high blood pressure, constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, restlessness and sleeplessness. And to the extent that you “get by” on less sleep due to your caffeine intake, you then open yourself up to all of the potential issues associated with inadequate rest, like premature aging, among other things.

Caffeine is also a known diuretic, depletes your body of iron, potassium, calcium and trace minerals, causes a quantifiably acidic reaction in the blood, and can be heavily addictive.

On the other hand, when the chips are down and you need a boost, caffeine can be like a long lost friend, dropping by to liven up the party, just in time.  And so – presuming you’re in excellent health and have a pretty clean diet and lifestyle – I say a little caffeine can come in handy for those “emergency” situations.

For me, that’s meant things like enduring crazy travel, on very little sleep, and then finding myself a couple hours out from showtime, fried.  In some of those cases, boom – I’ll grab a hit.  Or maybe it’s midnight after a rough couple days and I have no choice but to saddle up to the desk for an all-nighter and get some writing done.  Boom – I’ll grab a hit.  Or maybe it’s been an insane few days of little sleep, but I have a chance to catch a workout, and it has to be a quality, intense one.  Again… boom – I’ll grab a hit.

In metaphorical terms, I think of caffeine like I think of anger.  Anger can be a healthy emotion on occasion because it can get your ass off the couch and out into the world fighting for something you believe in.  However, if you allow anger to be the central, motivating energy source that drives you, I believe it will soon overtake you, and the chemical releases associated with this powerful emotion will do more harm to your body and mind than good you can do for the world.  So engage in some anger on occasion, but upgrade to a more productive, sustainable emotion as soon as you can… once things have been set in motion.

Same with caffeine.

Caffeine is a great fire-starter or “desperate hours” sustainer, and if you can truly limit it to these special scenarios, I think it will be very difficult to find any quantifiable, long-term issues with the use of a little caffeine.

BUT – that’s if, and I mean IF, you can limit your overall use of it.  And here is where the problems come in.

The addictive nature of caffeine can create a vicious cycle in and of itself because, like many other kinds of stimulants, your body will typically develop an immunity to caffeine and you will often need increased amounts to get the same pick-me-up effect that you got with considerably less. This is why the serving sizes and/or frequency of caffeinated products tend to increase over time for most caffeine consumers.  Eventually, a hefty amount of, say, morning coffee, simply becomes the norm.  And while you might feel a light sense of alertness and elation, there is no big jolt like there use to be.  Why?  Because of this immunity factor.  So now, you need way more quantity to feel any real difference – or to sustain the effect for the desired length of time – and that’s when you get stuck in the cycle of addiction.

And make no mistake about it; it’s a serious fucking addiction. If you disagree, or if you want to test yourself, just drop everything from your life that has caffeine in it.

Welcome to hell.

So, to review:

♦ If you can live without caffeine, that’s best.

♦ If you want to utilize the buzz on special occasions, radically limit your use of it to 3 or 4 times a month, max – less if possible.

♦ If you are already consuming a shitload, try to find some substitute beverages to alternate with your caffeinated ones (herbal tea, Teecchino, decaf, etc.) and ease down to a nominal amount.  Or – try to go for a month without, then cautiously try to resume a way more occasional use.  (Easier said than done, for sure!)

Good Luck…

BR

PS. This is blog #14 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014.  Just got my laptop back from a motherboard issue.  The days are numbered.  Will I hit 20 by July 1?  We shall see…

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Let’s Find These Boys a Home!

boys1Crash and Junior

Friends, meet Crash and Junior, two really special male cats who are in desperate need of a new forever home, They were “owner-surrendered” to a Los Angeles shelter in one of the saddest, most nonsensical cases I’ve heard of in a while. Fortunately, my friend Karen stepped in and grabbed them before something bad happened, and she is now fostering them. BUT, the clock is ticking on this arrangement, and we need to get these boys into their new forever home – or at least another foster situation – ASAP!

I have personally spent some time with these two guys and, let me tell you, they are a couple of cool, loving characters who would make a beautiful addition to any family… whether you are a single guardian, a couple, or family of any size.

Crash is 11 and Junior is 9. They’ve lived together in the same home since Junior was brought in as a kitten and are a bonded pair, so we’re looking to keep them together. Both are neutered, micro-chipped, up to date on vaccines, and have tested negative for FeLV and FIV. They’ve always been indoor-only cats.

Meet the Fellas… In Their Own Words!

boys2
Junior

Just call me “Mr. Personality,” because I’m a social, fun-loving guy who loves people. I like to greet folks at the door, am very vocal, and will look you right in the eye when you talk to me. I love to play with stuffed mice, strings, ribbons and, well, I just love to play in general!

boys3My older brother Crash is cool, no doubt… but if you’re looking for the life of the party, look no further than yours truly: I know how to have fun!

boys4
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boys5
Crash

I know I might look mean, but I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m very mellow and love to be near people. I like to rub up against strangers and get a belly rub whenever I can. And if you lay down next to me, I’ll usually cuddle up near your chest and neck. I also like to “make biscuits” and get brushed, but my favorite thing is my cardboard scratcher!

boys7I have a raspy meow and a deep, low purr. I love my little brother Junior, but I’m definitely the “cooler” of the two of us!

boys6
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boys8As you might imagine, it’s been a confusing few weeks for us. We’ve enjoyed staying with our Aunt Karen, but we are ready to settle into our new forever homes. We are friendly boys, not too picky about food, and are pretty low maintenance. If you give us a chance and adopt us into your home, we promise we’ll be good!

 ____________________

For more info, or for any questions, hit us up on email: info@bobbyrock.com. My assistant or I will get right back to you.

Thanks much!

BR

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