Shamanism – A Way of Life

Shamanism is a way of life, a way of living in harmony and balance on Mother Earth. The Huichol Indians of Mexico say that it is our responsibility as human beings to be good caretakers of the earth. It is our responsibility to nurture our environment, ourselves and all that lives on the altar of Mother Earth. This is the healing way of Shamanism.

The word “shaman” is thought to be derived from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Anthropologists coined the term and it is now universally used the world over, but each culture or tribe has their own word. In the Huichol language the word for shaman is “mara-akame.” This translates as “Deer Spirit Person”, one who is a messenger of the universe, or messenger of the gods.

Shamanism is an ancient technique of healing and finding a connection to the spiritual world of nature. In the world of shamanism, we say that everything is alive and sacred, such as the plants, trees, stones, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans and springs. Everything is alive with sacred energy, “kupuri” and when we feel connected we are inherently blessed and healing takes place. When we connect with all of life in this way, we help to heal our bodies, hearts and spirits.

Shamanism involves developing love and a special appreciation for the world of nature. Don José Matsuwa, my Huichol grandfather, often said “love the gods with all your heart and you will feel whole and complete, Grandson.” He instructed to do this every day. When we try to find our inherent connection to nature, we feel better, happier.

Another aspect of shamanism is to go to sacred places of power, to go on pilgrimages. A sacred place might be an ocean or a powerful mountain, like Mt. Shasta, the 14,000 ft peak in northern California. The Huichols would call such a place “a dreaming god”. The Indians know Mt. Shasta as “the healing mountain”. The Huichols go on pilgrimages often to pray and ask for special blessings at such places. We can tap into the life force that Mother Earth has to offer and ask for something special for our life. Journey to a “kakuyari” or place of power to find your connection to nature.

Shamanism also involves ceremony and dance. Ceremony and dance are done to honor life, the four seasons, the four directions and all that lives. It honors the special relationships between people, the four-legged ones, the winged-ones, the mountains, and all the nature powers. Thus a human being becomes complete.

In essence, shamanism is a way of life that brings one into balance. In this case, balance is defined by one’s relationship to nature. The more in touch we are with the world around us, the more complete our inner soul becomes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to dedicate my life to this connection, but everybody, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to find this connection everyday of their life. All it takes is the awareness to purposefully dedicate time to creating this bond. This bond is inherent to each one of us and so it is only natural to develop a spiritual connection to the natural world. This is Shamanism.

Finding Your Level of Fitness

One of the first questions about exercise that people have is how much they should actually do. Is 20-minutes a day, three times a week enough? How about overdoing it? Is a daylong bike ride too much? I want to lose weight. How much exercise do I need to do to accomplish that? Here are a few suggestions that will address all of these questions.

The first level of exercise goes something like this: any amount is better than none! If you are completely sedentary, even going for a short walk occasionally will be better than never doing a thing. There is basically no negative to small amounts of exercise and usually a positive response in overall health and well-being.

Next up is the amount that will give you the greatest benefits in terms of longevity. This comes about when a person burns about 300 calories per day through exercise, through moving their body. This is about the equivalent of walking or jogging 2.5-3 miles or doing any kind of aerobic activity for around 30-45 minutes, at a comfortable moderate pace.

You can take this to the next big gain by doing some form of exercise up to about one hour most days of the week. Research has shown that those who both live the longest and have optimal health have adopted this level of consistency with their movement and exercise. Again, that is one hour of exercise most days of the week. This can be done all in one shot, or if you are like many people, they find that breaking it up into two shorter sessions throughout the day is of equal physiological benefit and can actually help keep the feeling of Fit Soul intact from morning to night by offering a few chances throughout the day to take a true break from the responsibilities of life and get outside to absorb the beauty of life going on day and night.

Can a person put in too much exercise time? Definitely! What level this is will certainly be based on your current fitness. But if you are one of the select few who have tons of time to devote to exercise, the cutoff of true positive benefit seems to happen at about three hours. Over three hours of exercise in a day has shown to reduce immune function. So proceed with one eye on your overall health if this is the category you are in.

Is exercise the solution to weight loss? It can certainly be part of the answer, but research is now showing that it is usually not the entire solution, that is unless you are one of those who is fit enough to fall in that last category of training several hours each day. You can think of it in these terms. A pound of fat stores 3,500 calories. A 160 lb person would have to run just over a marathon in order to burn that amount of calories, and this is just to lose one pound of body fat. If you have say 50 extra, well, you can do the math. It’s a lot of exercise and for most people, between lifestyle commitments and bodies that may just not cooperate with three hour training sessions, looking to exercise to be THE answer to weight loss is unrealistic. In such cases, nutrition becomes the missing piece of the puzzle. (more of this in our book and in future issues)

However, exercise can definitely be part of the solution. Adding lean muscle through exercise helps burn more calories even when you are sitting still. Burning even a few more calories daily through exercise can assist in body composition changes by supporting any reduction in portion size a person makes. And most of all, exercise is definitely a big factor in gaining a Fit Body, which creates a more positive mood, which then gives one more energy and the ability to seek out healthy choices in all areas of life, which is a very positive feedback loop!

Mark Allen - six-time Ironman World Champion

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL- profiles Mark Allen and Fit Soul Fit Body

During Sunday’s Chicago Triathlon, I kept my heart rate low, cut my pace at every hint of muscular or cardiovascular pain and crossed the finish line about half an hour behind my personal record in that race. It was exhilarating.

What I accomplished is a goal I once considered unreachable, not to mention undesirable: I raced without competing. My ranking among the more than 4,200 participants in the Olympic-distance triathlon couldn’t have mattered less to me. More important, I ditched the notion of competing against oneself. That had been an appealing concept at age 40, when I was fitter, faster and trimmer than I’d been at age 20. But at 50, the triumphs of the last decade—the time I flew past most of the few-and-proud at the Marine Corps Triathlon—are far behind me, and anyway my cardiologist is urging moderation since the discovery of an aneurysm in my aortic root. “Race all you want,” he says, “but keep your heart rate below 120,” far lower than most peak workout targets.

“If you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground,” says Mark Allen, a former triathlon champ once known as the world’s fittest man.

Amid ever-rising calls for more exercise in America, there isn’t much guidance on cutting back. As the baby boomers who fueled marathon and triathlon crazes enter their 50s and 60s, their unquenched competitiveness can become a threat to their stiffening joints, rigid muscles, hardening arteries and high-mileage hearts. And it doesn’t help that nearly every exercise message they hear emphasizes more. It’s as if nobody wants to acknowledge that exercise isn’t the fountain of youth.
“The no-pain-no-gain mentality suggests that you can keep making gains if you just work harder,” says Mark Allen, a 51-year-old athletic coach once known as the world’s fittest man for winning six Ironman Triathlon World Championships. As co-author of a new book called “Fit Soul, Fit Body,” Mr. Allen argues against fighting age with more hours on the treadmill. “If you can’t let up on the competitive part of it, if you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy,” he says.

A growing number of exercise scientists are questioning the more-and-harder philosophy of fitness, and not only for aging athletes. A study published last year in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine reinforced other recent research showing that intensity tends to diminish the view of physical activity as pleasant. “Evidence shows that feeling worse during exercise translates to doing less exercise in the future,” says Panteleimon Ekkekakis, an author of that study and a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University.

Taking on new sports or challenges can give long-used muscles a break while feeding the desire for new goals, says Marjorie Albohm, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, who at 58 has become a recent devotee of spinning. “As you age, you have to be flexible about new activities.
Of course, exercise can provide substantial protection against chronic ailments ranging from heart disease and diabetes to dementia and depression, all the while helping weight control. But like any medical treatment, exercise can also cause damage, particularly in older athletes. The risk of sudden cardiac death rises substantially during exercise. Overuse injuries, especially involving joints, rise with age.

Older athletes struggling against declining performance are prone to excess training, which can hurt the immune system and raise levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. A number of medical experts, including Kenneth Cooper, the physician long ago credited with founding the aerobics movement, now believe that extreme exercise can increase the body’s vulnerability to disease like cancer.

For aging athletes, it is loss of prowess that can lead either to abandoning exercise or to a health-endangering doubling up of it, “in pursuit of what can’t be recaptured,” as Mr. Allen puts it.

In his mid-40s, after dozens of triathlons and swimming competitions, Dan Projansky was yearning for something new, so he took up the unusual challenge of open-water distance swimming, using only the butterfly. That’s a stroke that wears out many accomplished swimmers after a few hundred yards. But this month, Mr. Projansky gained glory in national swimming circles for completing an open-water 10-kilometer swim using only the butterfly. “I belong in the psych ward,” jokes Mr. Projansky, a suburban Chicago insurance professional who is 51.

The competitive flame is hard to extinguish, as the returns from retirement of cyclist Lance Armstrong and professional quarterback Brett Favre have shown. And it’s no different for fanatical amateurs. A decade ago, marriage and children brought to an end the elite triathlon career of Matt Rhodes, a 50-year-old Chicago metals trader. But in the pool where he swims these days, he competes against whoever is in the lane beside him, particularly if that athlete appears younger, “and I’m crushed if he’s faster than me, even though he doesn’t know I exist,” says Mr. Rhodes. He still believes, “probably wrongly,” that he could match his long-ago feats in triathlon.

Charles North similarly understands the undying nature of competitive urges. He was relieved when knee troubles ended his record of elite-level distance running, including a 2:46:34 Boston Marathon. As a practicing physician with two young children, “I really didn’t have time to train like that anymore,” he says.

But no sooner did Dr. North start swimming than he began plotting how to finish atop his age group at statewide meets. “Then it occurred to me, ‘What does it matter?’ ” recalls Dr. North, 61. Even so, while cycling in the hills around Albuquerque these days, he often feels compelled to pass the riders he comes upon, he says, especially if they’re younger.

In my case, the aneurysm-induced prohibition against high-intensity aerobics seven years ago presented an ultimatum: Either give up trying my hardest in races, or quit racing altogether. At the time, I was still setting personal records, and training alongside competitors who had the Ironman logo tattooed on their ankles.

Unable to imagine myself aiming for last place, I gave up triathlon. For exercise, I devoted usually an hour a day to walking, riding a stationary bike or jogging around a neighborhood track, and occasionally lifting a few weights.
As the years passed, it began to seem remarkable to me that I had ever engaged in hours-long bouts of exercise. Eventually, I started wondering whether I still had the stamina to do it—even at a snail’s pace, per doctor’s orders.
That’s when the old excitement returned. During Sunday’s triathlon—a one-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run—there were moments when I felt tempted to speed it up, usually to pass somebody. But mostly I resisted, allowing myself to turn it on only in sight of the finish line. After crossing it, I entered the medical tent and checked my heart rate: It was 97. My time was about 2:54. Next year I’m aiming for just over three hours.

For Baby Boomers, lighten the workout load

For Baby Boomers, lighten the workout load
September 1, 3:40 PM
Baby Boomer Examiner – by Paul Briand

The man who was once known as the world’s fittest man, is backing off when it comes to exercise.

That’s because, at 51, Mark Allen is slowing done … on purpose: advice he offers other Baby Boomers in a book he co-authored entitled “Fit Soul, Fit Body.”

Allen has remarkable credentials as an athlete. He was a six time Ironman Triathlon world champion. It was Outside magazine that dubbed him the world’s fittest man.

He believes Baby Boomers are at an age where the “no pain, no gain” mentality is more hurtful than helpful.

“If you can’t let up on the competitive part of it, if you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Baby Boomers as much as anyone, perhaps more so, need to exercise.

They are advancing into the age of possible heart disease, diabetes and muscle/joint ailments. Regular exercise can help control weight, reduce stress, improve strength and balance, and improve our overall well being.

To get there, Allen suggests an approach that focuses less on trying to outdo yourself … or others.

“…exercise can provide substantial protection against chronic ailments ranging from heart disease and diabetes to dementia and depression, all the while helping weight control,” notes today’s Journal article.

“But like any medical treatment, exercise can also cause damage, particularly in older athletes. The risk of sudden cardiac death rises substantially during exercise. Overuse injuries, especially involving joints, rise with age. ”

As the saying goes, everything in moderation.