Tuesday, October 28, 2008

72 Hour Fast

My name is Zachary Cohn, and I have never been hungry.

I don't think I've ever gone more than 18 hours without food. Even during religious holidays when fasting was encouraged, it was only sun-up to sun-down (and I'd sneak food throughout the day anyway). I've wanted to eat before, my stomach has told me it was empty and needed more food to sustain it. Even right now, my stomach is growling a bit, even though I ate less than 2 hours ago.

Food is actually a fairly significant part of my life. I eat healthy and I love to cook. I pride myself on having never drank a soda. My roommates and I regularly cook our own dinners, ranging from calzones (made from scratch!) to oven-baked chicken with a homemade alfredo sauce. We eat healthy, and we eat a LOT.

I live in an upper-middle class household where there have always been cans in the cabinet, apples on the table, and milk in the refrigerator. I've made enough money so if I'm out, I don't have to deliberate and decide if I can afford to eat out somewhere or if I should just hold out and wait until I get home. Food has always been an arm's reach away.

I was sitting in class last week when my stomach growled and I decided I was hungry. This time though, for some reason, I thought about my last thought. "I am hungry." Four hours before, I had eaten a 3 egg omelet with cheese, turkey, and peppers. There was no way I was "hungry" again. This is when I realized that I've never truly been hungry. Starving children in Africa, to use the cliche, have gone days without food. People tortured in POW Camps have been deprived of food for days at a time.

Running out of peanut butter and jelly that morning suddenly seemed like not as big of a deal.

That's when I made my decision. I was going to fast. Not for any religious reason. Not for health or weight loss or purification. Just to see if I can do it. To see if I have the willpower to not eat for a full 72 hours.

I hope this will do a few things for me.

First, I think it will ultimately be satisfying. My training for Parkour goes beyond simply running and vaulting over stuff. I train Parkour so I can be ready for anything that happens. Parkour alone won't do this, which is why I do a variety of activities (Parkour, martial arts, rock climbing, lifting, slacklining, even swing dance and juggling). When called upon to act, I want the ability to perform and meet the demands of the situation. If the situation is not having food available... I want to know what it feels like. I want to be ready.

Side note - I'm interested in deprivation training. In the coming months, I hope to spend a full 24 hours with various disabilities. I want to go one day without sight, another without thumbs, with only my non-dominant hand, and without my lower body. But for the next 72 hours, I'll be going without food.

Second, I think this will allow me to control my desire to eat better. A lot of times I find myself eating just because there's food around, or because i have nothing else to do, or because it's "that time of day" when I usually eat and I feel obligated to eat. I want to break that habit. This will hopefully give me a frame of reference. Which leads into the next reason...

Two point Five, this will also be a test of willpower. I am not removing food from my life, I am just not consuming it. I will be around food fairly often. I will be going to the dining hall with friends, I will be eating dinner with my roommates, perhaps even cooking food with them. Being around food, but not eating, will probably be the hardest part of all. Several people have said it would be cooler if I went into a jungle or into the desert and did this... but at that point eating is simply not an option. In my case, eating IS an option, and yet I choose not to eat.

Third, I want to know hunger. It's an experience that most people in society never know. zNo one I interact with knows, has ever known, or will ever know hunger. I'm not kidding myself, three days is nothing. People can go 15, 20 days without food. I'm not willing to sacrifice and damage my body to that intensity, but I feel like this will at least be a taste of what true hunger feels like. To really understand what I mean, please read this short story (it's 7 paragraphs, and it does an excellent job describing what I'm talking about).

Because of these reasons, because I consider this experiment "training," I'm not going to be changing my daily routine. In fact, I'm going to become more strict. I am going to wake up and get up when my alarm goes off. I will continue biking to and from school each day. I am going to get to every class on time. I am going to get to work on time. I will also be attending the activities I usually participate in those evenings. Wednesday is juggling night, Thursday is swing dance, and Friday is Taekwondo (although this one I teach in, so I won't be actively participating in all of the drills). I will not be eating a huge dinner tonight, just my normal meal. I'm not going to prepare for this at all, I want it to be as though eating was suddenly no longer an option, yet I had to continue on as normal, as if I was fighting in a war and we ran out of rations (although slightly less intense).

I'm publicizing this for a few reasons. I hope I make other people to think about hunger. I don't necessarily want everyone to join me in my fast or in a fast of their own, but I do want people to recognize that they probably have never truly been hungry in their life.

I've posted a link on Digg to my Twitter, where I will be making regular updates about how I'm feeling. I hope this will help the information get out, but I also hope this will hold me publicly accountable and be added incentive to stick to it.

I'll be updating twitter pretty often, and on Saturday, after my fast is over, I will be posting here again with all the twitter updates, and a "wrap up" summarizing how it went and what I learned.

[Edit - Read Part One and Part Two of my twitter-logs from my fast]

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chronic Injuries B Gone - Trigger Point Therapy

You can lie to yourself, but deep down, you know what it is. Your elbow, knee, or some other part of your body is always hurting. For a while, it was only right after you were physically active.

That's normal, right? It just means a good workout.

Then it started to hurt during a workout.

That's not a big deal. I'll just rest it for a day or two, then I'll be good.

But after a few days of rest, it's starting to hurt all the time. When you wake up, when you're watching TV, when you're at school or trying to go to sleep. Even now, a lot of times you'll lie to yourself.

I'll rest it for a week, I'm just training harder and my body isn't quite used to it.

It feels a bit better after the week, then you start training again and it immediately gets worse.

Finally, you can't lie to yourself anymore. It's some sort of chronic injury. This scenario describes overuse injuries, but there are all sorts of causes for chronic injuries. It could have been a single injury that never fully heals right, or it could just occur over time due to poor posture.

Chronic injuries, to put it bluntly, suck. There are so many possible causes for “sore elbows” it's not even funny. You can go to ten different medical professionals and get fifteen different diagnoses. Tendonitis, tendonosis, tight forearm muscles, tight upper arm muscles, weak back muscles, back muscles that are too strong, weak triceps, triceps that are too strong, shoulders that are rolled too far forwards, shoulders that are rolled too far back... you get the idea.

The worst part is that most chronic injuries will never fully heal on their own. You'll always be dealing with it. Every day, people quit running, or climbing, or tennis or whatever their favorite activity is because it causes too much pain. Quitting often doesn't even help address and fix the problem, it just helps prevent it from getting worse.

I've been dealing with elbow problems for close to 9 months now. They developed due to a combination of factors (which is pretty common, a lot of bad things stacking on top each other), but it was primarily from bouldering (rock climbing). Way too much.


Going from having never climbed, to climbing “two hours a day, five days a week, for ten weeks” too much. In retrospect, it was dumb. Really dumb. But it was winter in Rochester, New York. It was cold, and there was nothing to do at night except climb.

There were certainly other factors that contributed to it. I didn't stretch after I went climbing, and usually I biked about 2 miles home in sub-freezing temperatures. I sat at my computer with my elbows dangling off the side of the desk. A few other things as well, but it was definitely primarily the climbing.

I didn't notice anything until week 8 or so. I might have taken a day or two off, but I just pushed through it. The quarter ended, and Charlie came back home with me for Spring Break. We did a lot of parkour training then, and my elbows kept hurting more and more. I finally recognized that this was a problem, and stopped all activity for a while. I thought it was okay around week 4 or 5 of Spring quarter, started doing some things, relapsed. Since then, I've been taking upper body work very easily, barely doing anything with my arms unless I absolutely needed to.

It helped, but not much. The constant pain went away, but whenever there was any sort of activity, it'd hurt again.

I started reading about other solutions. Everything from surgery to injecting the tendons with a saline solution, which was supposed to fix all tendon problems via pseudo-magic. Then I started reading about trigger point therapy.

Trigger point therapy is a type of massage that has been around officially for about 40 or 50 years, but has roots and influences all the way back to ancient China's acupuncture. It essentially is the study of “knots” in muscles and tendons - how they effect the body, how to find them, and how to allow them to release. These aren't the knots that your girlfriend massages out of your back though (although those are common trigger points). These trigger points are often located deep inside a muscle, or under the shoulder blade. Sometimes you have to release a smaller one to get the muscle to relax enough to access the other ones you want. Finding one usually results in pin-point pain, and with constant pressure over a period of time, the pain decreases (sometimes it increases before it decreases) as the trigger point starts to release.

A good way to understand what exactly trigger points, or knots, are, is the rubber band analogy. Take a rubber band, pinch it with your thumb and forefinger. Now with your other hand, grab the other side and stretch. The rubber band stretches, except for the point that you're pinching - that's still tight. Now imagine that the rubber band is a tendon or muscle, and that tight spot being pinched is a trigger point. These knots can be created by any of the things we talked about earlier – overuse, injury, poor posture, improper care of your body.

Though the name may sound like it, Trigger Points are not energetic sites as one finds in Chinese acupuncture or Indian ayervedic medicine. They are physical bodies, of tight and perpetually contracting tissue that can be palpated, or massaged, directly. The existence of Trigger Points have been recognized ever since we figured out that kneading and pressing on muscles and tissues feels good and helps rid us of aches and pains.

They have been treated in some form or another with every type of bodywork, including traditional Chinese medicine practices, Anma (the original type of official massage performed exclusively by blind men in Asia), thousands of years ago. But until real research on treatment options began in the 1960s, there was no physiological proof of trigger points. The study and therapy of Myofascial Trigger Points is medical science, not mysticism. You don’t need to “believe” in it – the treatment either works, or it doesn’t. Trigger points are identifiable, verifiable, and the problems they create are very predictable. In short, trigger points are very real.

An important part of trigger point therapy is what is called “referred pain.” That means that if your elbow hurts, it might be because there is a trigger point in your back. If you have ankle pain, it could be in your calf, or your quads. There are entire books full of diagrams of referred pain patterns. If there is pain here and here, the likely trigger point is over here, etc. Referred pain exists because the body is a single, interconnected ball of organic matter. If that rubber band has a knot in it, it can go anywhere from causing discomfort or pain to physically limiting range of motion. Your body will naturally shift posture try to compensate and avoid pain or reclaim that range of motion, and this can often cause even more muscle imbalances, posture issues, and problems.

According to medical research over the last 50 years (and especially in the past 15-20), between 75% and 80% of myofascial pain is due, at least in part, to trigger points. A lot of times something is diagnosed as tendonisis, arthritis, or bursitis, but it's really due to trigger points.

I read this, and started thinking about my elbow problem. I hung out in a Barnes and Noble for three hours and read a couple books about it, learned a fair amount. It's hard to apply to yourself, however, especially with no formal instruction and only a few hours of book learning.

And then I met Graham Musler. He is a student at Monroe Community College who was interested in Parkour. He came out to train with us one day, and while we were walking back to the car, we started talking. Turns out, he had graduated from Monroe Community College with an A.A.S in massage therapy, and then spent an additional year at the Pittsburgh School of Pain Management studying Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy.

Coincidence? I think not.

I've had three appointments with him so far, and each one has done wonders for my elbows. They're not better yet, but they've made huge amounts of progress. I've also learned tons about my body. There's one trigger point in the upper back where, when pressed, you feel pain (but good pain) shoot from the trigger point, up your neck, around the back of your head, and around your ear. It's absolutely fascinating to not see, but feel, how all of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones are connected and how intricately they work together.

Last session, he was working a trigger point on latissimus dorsi (lats, side of the torso), and I felt one of the more painful spots on my arm start to tingle and release. This is an area I never thought would effect my elbow... but it does.

A lot of people don't believe Trigger Point therapy is a real, valid treatment. I say, from experience, those people are wrong. I'm not 100% fixed yet, but the progress I've already seen is proof enough for me. Trigger Point really focuses on addressing the causes of the problem, not just the symptoms like many other treatment methods do.

As a way of saying thanks to Graham, I'm going to post his contact information here. If you have any sort of chronic pain or lasting acute injury, please do yourself a favor and contact him. If you just want more information on self-care, trigger points, or any other treatment he offers, shoot him an email. After the first session, I guarantee you'll recognize the value. Would you prefer living the rest of your life in pain, preventing you from doing what you enjoy? Or take a chance and give Graham an hour of your time.

Contact info:
Graham Musler

Services offered:
Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy
Chinese Acupressure
Friction, Pressure, & Pull
Lomi Lomi Hot Stone Therapy
Thai Massage Therapy
Sandstone Rejuvinate Therapy

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Zenith Parkour Class - A Big Hit

On Sunday, October 5th, I ran a free "Parkour and Obstacle Coursing Workshop" at Zenith Gymnastics in Rochester, New York.

I've been working with Zenith Gymnastics through the RIT Gymnastics club since the end of last summer. I was calling all the local gyms I could find, trying to find somewhere that would give us access to their equipment and facilities and let us train there. After some negotiation, RIT Gymnastics started going there weekly, learning from Sasha and Maria Kourbatova - Russian olympic gold metalists and leaders in their fields. We learned a lot over the year, and we're looking forward to a very successful second year with them!

Amy, the owner of Zenith Gymnastics, has been trying to expand her boys program. My roommate, co-founder of Rochester Parkour, and President of the RIT Gymnastics Club Charles Moreland, offered his help and has begun to teach some of the Boy's Gymnastics classes at Zenith.

Back in August, I called Amy to confirm plans for Gymnastics this year. At the end of this call, I proposed to her the idea of starting a Parkour class. She was interested in the idea, and told me to develop a curriculum and some flyers. I came up with several different ways for the class to work, depending on some of Amy's goals, and we finally settled on a 4 week class aimed towards Zenith's primary demographic, 8-14 year olds.

Yesterday, I ran a free workshop at Zenith to generate some interest. Five kids arrived, and there were between eight and ten more on the list of people interested. Two brothers, around age 9, two fourteen year olds, and a seven year old.

We started with some fun running drills up and down the gym, then I introduced them to QM (Quadrupedal Motion). We did more of what I called a "gorilla run," a fast and galloping motion. After a minute or two of practice with this, I wanted to start getting them engaged.

One thing I've learned in my experience with Taekwondo is that kids are very easily distracted. In fact, I've made a chart:

You can't argue with science this sound.

In order to keep the kids entertained and on topic, I mixed a lot of games into the class. The first game we played is QM Tag. You have to stay on all fours, and then the person who is it has to tag someone's elbows. They enjoyed this a lot, and it was a great way to warm them up.

After a few other warmup activities, we moved straight into an obstacle course.
I started by showing them a simple safety vault over a balance beam, and then they landed, immediately QMed under a second balance beam, and then stood up and vaulted over a third. After that, pull-overs on the uneven bars, QM-balance on a balance beam (floor height), jumping over some blocks, some more qm, and then some precision jumps to and from tape on the floor.

We broke it down, piece by piece, so A) I could teach them some of the basics of a technique to overcome that obstacle, and B) so I could make sure they were doing it safely. The only thing people really had problems with was the pull-overs, and so I stood there and assisted them.

Later on, we played a game of PDQ (a game where the goal is to jump on people's feet), ran through another obstacle course, climbed ropes, and jumped in a foam pit!

The two brothers picked it up immediately. While I only showed them the safety vault, they were already modifying it into what looked like a two-handed speed vault. They plowed through all the vaulting and QM and balance. Later on, we were practicing rope climbs. Once they were done and waiting for the other three boys, they asked me if they could practice the pull-overs. I don't really know why this left such an impression on me, but I told them of course they could and watched as they figured out how to do it themselves!

The two fourteen year olds did quite well also, they had some problems with the rope climb and the pull-overs, but they didn't give up! That's another thing that really left an impact on me. Even when they couldn't do it, they were thinking about how to practice or how to build enough strength to do it. I can barely remember all these kids' names, and I'm already so proud of them.

All in all, it was a great experience. The kids had an enormous amount of fun and were really excited about coming back (one of them even signed up for the www.AmericanParkour.com forums already... I didn't even reference it! He must be doing his own research) Amy is very excited about Zenith being the only gym with a Parkour class for 400 miles (er, 200 miles. Stupid Toronto...), and I'm very excited to be teaching it!

For now, there's only one class a week: Sunday's at 1PM. The age range is 8-14 (although I'm sure plus or minus a year won't hurt much). If you are interested in a class, but you or your child is not within this age range, email me at zac@rochesterparkour.com and call Zenith and let us know. If there is enough interest, we would love to open up more classes.

If you are interested in registering for the Zenith Gymnastics Parkour and Obstacle Coursing Class, please call Zenith at 585-292-5370 and let them know! Zenith Gymnastics is located in Winton Place just off the East end of Brighton Henrietta Townline Road.

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