Monday, November 29, 2010

We're All Individuals!

Happy Holidays!

The end of 2010 is nigh, and this year to commemorate 10 years of harboring questions in my Rolfing practice, I've put together a list of some of the common questions regarding the most burning topics of our lives:  exercise, diet, positive thinking, and relationships.

Questions like "What should I eat?", "What's the best form of exercise?", "How much alcohol should I drink?", and "Should I leave my husband?" all have a common, three-word answer from me:  I don't know.  But to elaborate on this disappointingly short reply, the following information will specify what I really mean:  we're all individuals, genetically, culturally, and physiologically.  Thus, for each person, there is a different right answer.  To give you an idea of how complicated your life is, some factors to take into consideration are summarized below.

A Tarahumara runner from Mexico's Copper Canyon. 

"What's the best form of exercise?"  Not to be snarky, but the best form of exercise is the one you do.  I wouldn't recommend swimming or yoga if you hate water and are allergic to meditation.  Anything from rock-climbing to parking farther from work to adopting a dog may be the right thing for you.
Also, I find that many people need to shift their perception of exercise.  Keep in mind that in the areas with the longest human life spans (Okinawa, Sardinia, and other so-called "blue zones" of longevity), people are naturally active, with movement integrated into their lives through gardening, walking, preparing food, carrying water, or chopping wood.  The world's centenarians don't go to gyms.  Dan Buettner, author of the The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, happens to hold three world-records for distance bicycling, but down-graded his own exercise program to low-impact exercise after researching the longest-lived people in the world.  
"How much should I exercise?"  The general answer tends to be good news for most people:  take it easy.  But first, the sad news.  Glamorizing the concept of the "weekend warrior", a stationary office worker who attempts to regain health by over-exercising on Saturday and Sunday, is simply erroneous.  A two-day cardio binge is no match for fives days of office sloth.  Sitting is the worst thing you can do for yourself.  In addition, studies find a discrepancy in men's and women's responses to high-intensity sports, namely that women tend to simply get more hungry, while men's bodies were triggered into a natural hunger suppression by the same exercise program.  And further data coming from Finland points to the fact that individual responses to exercise varies drastically: some people reap quick benefits from sports, others do not, and a small percentage end up worse off, as measured by peak oxygen uptake.  That is not to say that vigorous exercise doesn't have its benefits, as was widely reported from this 2008 study on running and aging.  Also, certain populations belong to a group of "ultrarunners," like Native Americans and the Mexican Tarahumara tribe, now well-known for their 40-mile marathons in harsh terrains.  Naturally, generations of running long distances for transportation and hunting has an effect on a population's metabolism and blood sugar, making them especially maladapted to sedentary modern lifestyles.  Anyone with these and similar ultra-runner ancestries would be well-advised to keep moving. 
The good news is that for most people, it is again non-strenuous activity that offers the most benefit.  Think of it as an equivalent to a brisk walk.  About one hour a day, at best as a life-long habit, according to a Harvard study of 34,000 participants over thirteen years.  This resembles a car-free existence, walking every day to work or school.  Incidentally, tennis wunderkind Monica Seles wrote about her experience overcoming her eating disorder by stopping her daily five-hour workout.  She fired her trainers, began living in moderation and started walking 45 minutes a day, losing 37 pounds as a result. 
Cave painting of a dear hunt.

"Should I eat meat?"  That's only one of the slew of questions I've heard over the years, along with "Is raw better?", "Should I avoid wheat and dairy?", "How much alcohol should I drink?", and "Should I take vitamins?" just to name a very few.  And here more than ever, we're all different. 
To scratch the surface of the complexities of individual nutrition, it is important to understand that populations do adapt their digestive systems and metabolism to their long-term nutrition.  For example, the ability to digest lactose in adulthood (the mutation of lactase persistence, although we're more familiar with its inverted condition, lactose intolerance) developed in areas with pastoral traditions, in other words, landscapes with cows.  In northern Europe, this digestive adaptation took an estimated 7,000 years.  But in all, about 75% of the world's population is actually lactose intolerant to some degree.  Also, populations whose nutrition historically consist of animal products (inland Australian aborigines, Mongolians, and northern native Americans) have diets that are rich in nutrients from organ meats, raw milk, and raw meat.  These populations consistently show a drastic increase in degenerative diseases associated with aging and obesity once they integrate into Western cultures, with the introduction of sugars, non-animal fats, and low nutritive content.  On a similar note, people from coastal populations which have subsisted for generations on a seafood often require a vitamin D supplement upon relocating to the inland, as their bodies have adapted to traditionally ingesting large amounts of vitamin D in fish, thus losing the ability to produce it from sun exposure and inland diet alone. 
A study of 14 native tribes by Dr. Winston A. Price, DDS, describes the vast variety of original diets and the effects on the tribal populations' health based on the prevalence of dental diseases and bone formation. 
"How much alcohol should I drink?"  The copious news about red wine's blessings would have you think that we should all be toasting to our health every day with a glass.  Indeed, not only red wine but a host of other alcohols apparently confer health benefits at one or two drinks a day.  That is, unless your ancestry lays somewhere along the Silk Road.  In what researchers call the "Asian esophageal cancer belt," corresponding to the famous trading road east of the Caucasus mountains to far east Asia, a genetic mutation of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene is found in roughly half the population.  This gene prevents the body from metabolizing alcohol completely, thus leaving the metabolites in toxic form in the body, leading to increased rates of esophageal cancer.  A person with this gene who drinks two beers a day is 6 to 10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer.  Even social drinkers with this gene are in danger.  How do you know if you have it?  The lay diagnosis is easy:  if your face flushes when you drink, then you have it.  For this reason, ALDH 2 is also called the "Asian flush gene." 
Based on our genetics, we are programmed to react differently to foods and food groups.  So, when you're deciding what to eat, pay attention to how your body reacts.  You can consult an acupuncturist or a nutritionist, you can be tested for intolerance to wheat, dairy, corn, soy, or eggs.  And, of course, ask your family about what your grandparents ate. 
"Always look on the bright side of life."  Unless it annoys you...

Positive Thinking 
"Does positive thinking work?"  No, it doesn't.  Next question, please.
A 2009 study confirmed what many of the chronically grumpy have always known:  positive affirmations like "I am lovable" make a grumpy person feel worse.  For what it's worth, the test subjects in this experiment who already had high self-esteem did show an elevated mood, but those who were in most need of cheering failed to respond.
In addition, there are is a colorful assortment of benefits for being depressed.  Another study from Australia found that people in a negative mood pay more attention to detail, are better judges of characters, and make more well-thought out decisions.  They have sharper memories and are superior at communicating their arguments.  A lengthy article from The New York Times, titled "Depression's Upside" discusses the virtues of being down, including the observation that history's great thinkers have tended to be of a melancholy sort.  So embrace that rainy day with gusto.

"Should I be monogamous?"  Now, I'll spare you the details about the things people ask me where I've thought to myself, how in the world should I know?  However, I'm honored that people trust me enough to bring up essential questions regarding relationship and sexuality, because the truth is, besides work and health, relationship is one of the major sources of stress in life.
And once again, we're all different.  For example, the question of whether one should be monogamous or not is surprisingly as much genetic as it is socio-cultural.  Because guess what?  That's right: there's a commitment-phobia gene.  Results of a study from the esteemed Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that the presence of Allele 334 corresponded with lower ability to form lasting bonds.  Horrors, does that mean that you have to bring a DNA test to your first date to avoid wasting your time?  Since this behavior is genetic, a few questions about your date's family history can give you clues.  As to whether you yourself possess Allele 334 or not, especially in this city, resources abound for you to discover where you sit on the spectrum.  Along the way, you are sure to find birds of a feather flocking together.
This is my long way of saying "I don't know" concerning a handful of subjects, and to give you an introduction to all the ways you are unique.  We're all different.  Generalizing is a useful way to see the world, but when it comes to your own individuality, the only way to know is to strike out and see for yourself what feels right.
If you're at a loss of how to do that, take a tip from the ants.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Politics of the Wire Donkey

There’s a word in German that I love which doesn’t translate gracefully into English:  Drahtesel.  Literally, it means “wire donkey.”  Figuratively it refers to our beloved invention: the bicycle.  I find the word affectionate, since with its advent, the bicycle in effect replaced the cuddly horse as a convenient form of transportation.  But unlike a horse, a bicycle doesn’t need to be fed, washed, and cleaned up after.  It doesn’t stink, it takes up less space to park, it never gives birth, and with good maintenance, a quality two-wheeler can be passed down for generations.  In addition, as we all know, a bicycle after production leaves essentially no carbon footprint (not even passing gas in a barn) and is one way for us humans to stay in shape. 

Yet for the docile and faithful road companion that bicycles are, I’ve observed an implicit political statement that is made by these elegant creatures of metal and rubber.  One evening in San Francisco, when I was mingling at a German Stammtisch (a regular gathering in the Teutonic tradition of raising the beer glass and socializing with glee), an engineer from Frankfurt reflected to me, “In Europe, bicycles are a normal form of transportation.  But in America, they are toys for the children, or sporting equipment for adults, like a canoe, that you use on special occasions.” 

His words set off a chain reaction of thoughts in my head, and a certain a-ha realization about my impression that there was a lurking hostility on American streets between four- and two-wheelers.  Indeed, in Germany as in many European countries, the self-evidence of the bicycle is made obvious by the bike lanes that the government has laid throughout the cities.  Even in Berlin, with one of the largest urban surface areas in Europe, I remember commuting forty-five minutes from Neukölln to the suburb of Karlshorst on my bicycle, and every meter of my way was a bike lane, even in the most desolate, Kafka-esque, Eastern German neighborhoods where no one wanted to live.  Not only was there a bike lane, but it was a paved segment of the sidewalk in that characteristic red brick that pedestrians all know as being a danger zone of bikers ruthlessly whizzing by.  On the other hand, in the US, the most we could hope for would be a white line painted on the ground, sometimes leading the biker into oblivion, if not into a gutter or across an exit ramp of the New Jersey Turnpike.    
Why is this so?  Why is America so bicycle ignorant?  Back in my high-school days in Texas, where there are no bike lanes but so much space, my bike rides to school would be interrupted by well-meaning SUV drivers who would pull over and ask if I “needed a ride.”  And even in liberal, anti-petroleum San Francisco, I frequently get congratulatory remarks from non-bikers, which I find baffling given the flocks of two-wheelers in this city. 

But we know why America is anti-bicycle, it hardly requires further explanation.  There are industries (auto and petroleum) that perniciously seep into our culture, encouraging us to believe that the only fathomable form of transportation is a car.  That's the truth, and if you don't know it, accept it now.  Which brings me back to the lurking hostility that I feel on American streets, particularly in San Francisco.

One thing I do adore about San Francisco is its incredible bike-ability, despite its world-famous hills.  Like water in a pebbly creek, the city’s powerful biker’s coalition has plotted out the city’s lowlands, claiming miles of bike lanes with suggested pointers that guide a biker from downtown to Golden Gate Park without having to climb a single hill.  But among the throngs of velo-commuters that flow like a river down Market at rush hour every morning, I always get a sense of, dare I say, snobbiness, that makes me wonder if I and my 17-year-old Cannondale fit in to this scene.  My feelings are embodied in the following:  Critical Mass.  
The event that calls itself Critical Mass scares me a little, to be honest.  As many hours as I have spent pedaling around this planet, and as much as I respect this movement, the group which is known as an “ideal, not an organization” frightens me.  There is nothing wrong with Critical Mass.  According to their mission statement, it is “a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road.”  It also acknowledges that Critical Mass rides are different in every city.  But if you ask me, there is plenty of innuendo (not least CM’s volunteer webmaster Michael Bluejay’s sad reason for ending his ten-year service) that Critical Mass members are growing a reputation for being combative and confrontational.  One unfortunate event was caught on video, partially shown above, where a 72-year-old motorist was caught in the middle of a CM ride, his minivan being engulfed by bikers on all sides in an apparent act of Critical Mass phagocytosis.  The video clip clearly has a pro-bike lean, and while I agree that the man should not have stepped on the gas pedal when he did, the video has tactfully omitted later footage where bikers have opened one of his doors and begun verbally assaulting him, visibly allowing tensions to escalate.

Would something like this have ever transpired in Berlin or Amsterdam?  I can’t imagine it.  Because everyone rides bikes out there, even the drivers.  And because the citizens don’t feel they have to make a political statement against the invisible hands of industries that brainwash our fellow country-people into believing that life equals car.  Thus in America, movements like Critical Mass end up attracting individuals who are fighters and activists, who hang “No Blood For Oil” plates on their bike frames, and who embrace the soapbox, for better or for worse.

Back in Germany, on a Sunday when I’m sitting in the garden of the in-laws, my 60-year-old mother-in-law returns from a bike ride through the forest, dressed perfectly as always in cotton khakis and a floral top.  Later, I mention that there is  a monthly ride back in San Francisco called Critical Mass.  She answers, “What do you need that for?  We’ve been riding these things since after the war.  We had no other way of getting around.”

But in America, a bicycle is a toy and a piece of sporting equipment.   
It is also a battle cry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rolfing in the News

Hi everyone, I'm back a little early from my travels to Germany and China (i.e. the Espionage Tour) and wanted to update you on the recent news coverage about Rolfing in the past couple of weeks.

Rolfer Rey Allen was featured on October 6 in The New York Times in this article.  He talks about Rolfing being popular for younger people, but as many of my clients know, its appeal extends beyond hipster circles and can benefit mature indivuals as well, who, in my observation, often have a deeper appreciation for the work.

And Friday morning, as I was en route from Shanghai to San Francisco, this segment with my master teacher and attendant soul, Jan Sultan, appeared on The Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda.

Thank you to Rey and Jan for helping to spread the word.
Enjoy both, and feel free to contact me with any feedback or questions at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Notes from the Road

Hello everyone from Berlin!

My clients have been informed that I will be out of my office from Sept 15, 2010, to Oct 20, 2010.  If you would like to contact me, please do so by email:

Meanwhile, I wanted to give a sign of life from the road. I stumbled upon this short YouTube interview with Leon Fleischer, the classical concert pianist who had lost the use of his right hand and for thirty years only performed repertoire composed for the left hand.  Then, he discovered Rolfing, and the rest you can see in this video:

Another tidbit of new that just came out today.  It's another one of those "I thought they DID THAT already!" But nay, it was so obvious that no one thought to actually compare stress hormone levels of subject before and after a massage, which – lo and behold! – are lower all across the board after a single session.  Read the article here about the benefits.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Head Massage for World Peace

Head Massage for World Peace

"If everyone felt this good, we'd have World Peace."  

I've heard this from enough clients after the head and neck work, and, in my office in the Financial district, I've heard enough requests for head work to balance out daily stress that I've decided to make a limited offer for head sessions.

  • Widen perspective - Enables wiser decision-making
  • Increase head-space - More space to perceive the silver lining
  • Release the back of the head (occiput) - Easier access to peace of mind
  • Relax your vision, including third eye - For greater sensitivity to subtle information to see things as they truly are

Give the gift of head space to yourself or to the next stressed person you know and love.  Or buy them in groups for your office or circle of friends.

30 minutes for $50
5 sessions for $225
10 sessions for $400

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Ants Can Teach Us About Life

What Ants Can Teach Us About Life

Especially now that we're slogging through a recession, we could really use any advice.  Better yet, free advice.  Even if it's from a silent, black, typically menacing member of society who only weighs 3 milligrams.

Aside from our present economy which is forcing many to develop new skill sets, and aside from the association of our wise critters with a spray-can of Raid, one rumination I've often encountered in the past ten years, both in my office as well as outside, centers around the question:  "What should I do with my life?"  Indeed, as a holistic alternative care provider, I am located at the proverbial crossroads of people's transformative process, which, I must say, is a beautiful thing.  And as I sit and listen to "Should I [fill in the blank with a long list of very interesting actions]...?" my most common response is, "I don't know what you should do.  But you have to try."

My little heart glows, then, the following week when the same person – which incidentally could even be myself – reports that the most urgent items of the To-Do List of personal growth have been done and crossed off!  Whether that exploration or action was the right thing to do is beside the point.  Rather, the true value of having tried something new is that the way forward is clearer than it was before. 

I can't help but draw the connection.  Do you remember learning about ant pheromones back in high school Science class?  Ants communicate with each other by emitting these lightweight chemicals that fellow ants pick up and interpret.  The messages are generally very simple, addressing basic on/off needs like food/no-food, danger/no-danger.  And we're all familiar with that vibrant, crooked, black dotted line that travels from the patio door to the old grape that fell on the kitchen floor.  That line was created when a scout ant, whose duty it was to find a food source, discovered the morsel, then scurried back to the nest, odoriferously screaming "Food!  Food!" all the way home.  His molecular exclamations were pumped out in pheromones as he ran, leaving a long, thin trail of chemical cloud.  Back home at the ranch, the other ants received him with excitement, and hearing the message that there was food nearby, they embarked on their journey down the Yellow Brick Pheromone Road.

I've made a simple graphic to illustrate how the ants perceive this road.  Ants do not smell with noses.  Rather, they sense pheromones with their antennae.  Thus, with their feelers outstretched, they march forth through this invisible tunnel.  The mechanism by which the pheromone tunnel guides them is very simple.  If the ant strays too far to the side, one of its antenna will fall outside the pheromone tunnel, and it will move back towards center until both antenna are safely within the cloud:

Herein lies the one important lesson that ants can teach us:  In order for them to reach their goal, they must move ever fearlessly forward.  And by staying in the "zone," they get there.  They don't sit home moping about their life situations, feeling victimized by the Raid can, or listlessly dreaming about the heavenly sugar cube on the counter.  They simply start walking, and by the action of locomotion, they allow themselves to be guided by the path. 

Inevitably, I am inspired by the countless stories I hear from people who struck out and did their own thing by doing just that: placing one foot in front of another.  Maybe it began as an internet search, maybe it began with an off-road adventure with a college buddy, a random book, or a weekend seminar.  Often they ended up somewhere very different than they expected, but the key element was that they one day started moving forward, and with each step, minuscule as it may have been, the way became clearer.

So, go. 

And happy trails!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Your Neck and Formula One Racing

So this random guy at a bar was trying to get my attention last week and failing miserably until he said one thing that made my ears perk up:  "Did you know that Michael Schumacher does three hours of neck exercises every day?"

What?  Neck exercises?  My brain snapped out of stand-by mode and started making connections:  I had just seen a woman at her house last month who has been nearly debilitated by two spinal surgeries.  One of the interventions was a neck operation, a cervical laminectomy meant to relieve symptoms from cervical stenosis:  her spinal canal was congenitally narrow, meaning a predisposition to compression on her spinal cord.  However, her symptoms of numbness and pain in the arms persisted after the operation while her overall condition worsened, as at 65 years of age, her body did not react well surgery.  Her husband dutifully brought her to numerous doctors, therapists, and specialists, none of whom gave her conclusive advice.

Nonetheless, one concept stuck with me after meeting with this woman:  neck exercises.  Because, in this woman's case, the laminae were cut to relieve the compression on the spinal cord.   To picture this, it would be like chopping off the buttresses around Notre Dame to allow more people to walk past the church.  Accordingly, there is a loss of stability.  And something has to jump in to compensate.

Of course, my client is not the only person dealing with neck rehabilitation.  This brings us back to our original subject:  Professional race-car driver Michael Schumacher.  He is a living legend.  Now, keep in mind the fact that race-car driving is the most demanding sport for the neck muscles, which can be subjected to up to 24 kg (53 lbs) of force during a high-speed turn, not to mention the constant vibration of the vehicle.  But in February of 2009, Schumacher suffered a serious neck injury in a motorcycle accident.  The injury described by his physician of over 10 years, Dr. Johannes Peil:

"He had a serious injury to the seventh vertebra of the neck, a fracture of the first left rib and a fracture at the base of the skull, roughly the size of a thumbnail but in a place supporting the whole weight of the skull.  There was also a hairline fracture on the left side of the skull."

Does that sound challenging yet?  But being the uniquely motivated über-athlete that he is, Schumacher planned nevertheless to make a career comeback for his Ferrari team, so the goal remains to regain his neck strength to withstand the extreme jostling inside the cockpit.  A quote from Dr Peil:

"He had serious rotation movement problems between the head and neck, and the physio focused on extension mobilization. There was a lot of manual therapy and therapy focused on building up the muscles. When you have an injury like that you have to look at muscular compensation – that is to say that the injury will never be completely healed, but what you can do is compensate for it by building up the muscles around that area.  We used a neck machine specially designed for Formula One drivers, to stabilize and strengthen his neck."

The keywords:  muscular compensation.  Manual therapy (that's were Rolfing comes in) and extension mobilization are known.  And after plenty of google-snooping, I found a rare image of the fabled "neck machine" that Dr Peil mentioned: The F1 McLaren Technogym Machine.  As you can see, it looks like a torture instrument:

In the middle is a steering column, and the driver sits in the contraption with a helmet which is attached with pulleys in all directions to those massive weights you see there in stacks.  When the driver steers the wheel, the machine pulls accordingly, simulating the forces experienced on the race track during a turn.  The machine essentially exerts a slow-motion, controlled whiplash to the neck in all directions to strengthen muscles not only along the spine but in concert with the shoulder and arm muscles used in racing.

But no worries!  I certainly do not recommend you place yourself in a full-body Formula-One blender.  And by all means, patients with cervical stenosis, pre- or post-operative, must consult their doctors and PT's first.  But for the rest, the consensus seems to be that exercise, lowering inflammation and good posture are the best ways to stave off later complications that may require surgery.  I happened to find a couple of videos that summarize ways to gently strengthen your neck.  Below, I give you the choice between a gorgeous, motherly Irish yoga teacher named Esther Ekhart, or a very courageous (and tan) Texas orthopedic surgeon who looks simply fantabulous in white shorts.  Both of them explain neck exercises that utilize isometrics.

And Dr. John Evans, an orthopedic surgeon from San Antonio:

I hope this posting gives you a place to begin to appreciate your neck.

*   *   *   *   
Then the random guy at the bar says, "Did you know that Schumacher drove the taxi in Coburg to get to the airport on time, and he tipped the taxi driver one hundred euros?"

Yeah, I heard that one before.  What else is new?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Subway Cellists


Two Bach Suites, a Vivaldi Concerto, and some modern pizzicato improvisation... all for the price of a morning commute!  I have seen so many cellists busking in the BART stations that I started taking pictures of them.  Okay, so the last one is not a cello, but close enough...

Friday, June 25, 2010


Argentinian-born sports commentator, Andrés Cantor

We watch the World Cup in Spanish at home.  I understand very little of it.  My Costan Rican brother-in-law claims that in the US, sixty percent of Americans tune in to the World Cup in Spanish, while thirty percent prefer the British commentary, and a mere ten percent choose the American version.  I am still looking for Nielsen rating statistics that will confirm his scholarship, but in the meanwhile, I think I can understand why.

Take for example the following truncated transcript from Spanish-language TV of last Wednesday's USA vs. Algeria game, in which the USA won in the third minute of the very last four minutes of overtime, concluding a frustratingly flat zero-zero tie: 

"Those idiots!  So close, inconceivable!!  How can they call that soccer?  Every goal they miss has gotten worse!  A disgrace to their country!  Dempsey, what an embarrassment, what a disappointment, oh, su madre, su madre...  Will his mother be able to face her son?  Wait, now the USA has the ball!  The counterattack is moving, moving forward, Donovan, Altidore, oh!  Algeria on the ground... Dono–! [short pause for inhale] GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAL!" 

And after the playbacks have been repeated, the jumping up and down:

"The passion!  The innovation!  The creativity of the winning team!  The American spirit!  The excitement, I almost couldn't watch!  The United States, saved from the death-grip of elimination in the final minutes of the game, in the final minute!" 

On the other hand, take the UK commentators reporting that same decisive goal: 

"So, we are here watching the game in Pretoria, the score is currently zero to zero.  The United States in the white jerseys is tied with Algeria in the green jerseys.  They have moved into overtime, yes, overtime.  There are less than two minutes remaining in this game.  Donovan kicks the ball.  The score is now one to zero.  Rather late in the game, I dare say.  The game is now over.  We will return after a short message from our sponsors, Bud Light and Nissan." 

I don't know, it must be in their blood to stay cool.  Who knows, maybe sports commentators from the United Kingdom are among those who let loose off the job and wreak havoc on a Greek island like their fellow landsmen. 


The universal siren-call of victory, which brings in billions in advertising dollars annually and is cemented into the psyches of futbol fans worldwide, has a surprisingly short history.  It was first used in Italy at the 1990 FIFA World Cup by the Argentinian-born sportscaster, Andrés Cantor, who was announcing for the US Hispanic viewers of Univison.  However, the call didn't enter cosmic consciousness until the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which was hosted by the United States and to this day holds the record for World Cup attendance at 3.9 million.  That was the year when Cantor's extended yell was catapulted into cult status.  He was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman during the FIFA 1994 and 1998 (broadcasting for Late Night in Paris), and his yell was used in a widely-viewed Volkswagen commercial at the World Cup in 1998.  The call is now being sold as a ringtone on Telemundo's website. 

"We will be returning shortly to our regular programing Healing, Health, and Art.  Thank you for joining us at the Standard Gravity Blog.  Have a pleasant day."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Healing Touch Therapy

Here's a chapter from my Skeptic's Book.  It's about my experience with a technique called Healing Touch Therapy from a healer (and cellist!) colleague of mine, Sarah Fiene.  

My father was a professor for computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, for thirty years, and so I was pretty much steeped in the brain stew of scientific thinking from early on, even if it doesn't make for the most warm-and-fuzzy environment for children.  I remember amusing myself for hours as a child by folding those manila-colored punch cards into fantastical shapes.  And I would take my crayons and draw on those ubiquitous cards, always slightly frustrated that my artwork was dotted by the Iowa Test-shaped slots that were punched in meticulous rows.  I went on to earn degrees myself, and for all the nay-sayers in this economy who claim that an expensive college education isn't worth the life-sentence of student debt, I give my two cents by saying that I will be forever grateful for the rigors of critical thinking which higher education offers.  So, to be succinct, I'm nerd-blooded.  And I am a skeptic.

Enough about me.  Now, returning to San Francisco, I was introduced to Sarah Fiene by a mutual acquaintance who knew that we were both cellists and healers ("Why don't you two talk about, you know, cello-healing stuff?").  With the volume of people I have met in my life, I'm not usually optimistic about such introductions.  But I do my best to remain open.  

It turns out that Sarah practices something called Healing Touch.  For you gamers out there, it is not the "Restorative Spell" that you can acquire on World of Warcraft.  But I have to admit that the name didn't say much to me, either, so I decided the best way to find out was to experience it myself.

I invited Sarah to my office for a Healing Touch session.  I had a concrete issue that I wanted to have addressed:  stiff neck from the move and from sleeping in a different bed.  Otherwise, I had no expectation whatsoever.  She instructed me to lie on my back on the massage table, fully dressed, and under a blanket.  I closed my eyes to focus more on the subtle sensations as she took her pendulum and swung it several inches above my body around my chakra centers.  Beginning then, it was clear that whatever Sarah was doing was undeniably palpable.  The pendulum at that distance felt like a marble being rolled in circles directly on my skin.  Then, she proceeded to "balance" my chakras.  Much of the time, her hands were moving several feet above me.  Yet it literally felt like she was pushing and pulling sheets of water of varying temperatures around me like a blanket, as if her hands were powerful magnets that could manipulate energy like some Divine Aura Etch-a-Sketch.  

The second thing that stood out to me during the session was how structured it was.  The session seemed to be divided into three sections, which I can only describe as an evaluation, a re-balancing, and a grounding/opening.  I will have to ask her more later.  And within these sections, there was a distinct feeling that she knew exactly what work had to be done, at which level, and on which sides.  I remember thinking to myself that I could almost hear the parts of this session, like the sixteen measure segments of a Mozart quartet!  There was a feeling when a certain part was "done," like a sports massage therapist (or Rolfer for that matter) who works until a knot is released.  But here we were talking energy.

When the session was completed, I sat up and observed what I was feeling.  Restored, yes.  Rested, yes.  Neck pain gone?  Yes!  She did not even work directly on my neck.  I also noticed that my head was clearer, that unbeknownst to me, through the past months, my mind had become a veritable landfill of stress and loose scraps of fear and worry. 

We sat down and talked for a short while afterwards, which I like to do sometimes after a session to help me return to Earth.   I was put at ease by Sarah's maturity, humility and honesty.  She is clearly talented and disciplined, and I sensed that her healing practice is not about her, but about a talent that she makes available to clients.  

A very interesting aside:  Sarah originally came to the Healing Touch technique through her own experience.  She suffered for years from a debilitating disc abnormality which defied all treatment, including surgery.  It was "healed" exclusively with the work of a Healing Touch practitioner within four weeks.

For more information, you can contact Sarah Fiene through her website

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brazil vs. North Korea: Running Tips for the Supreme Dictatorship

(Dear readers:  Unfortunately, all the World Cup highlights have been removed due to copyright infringement.  The other links below are still working.)

To the North Korean team:  I have contacted your coach via his invisible phone to congratulate him for his team's success, and to share with him my observations that could improve your futbol techniques, based on last Tuesday's World Cup game against Brazil.  But for the less elite citizens of the world who don't have access to such invisible cutting-edge technology, I am writing this blog post.

Brazil's Maicon was biting his knuckles and crying for joy after he scored that first goal in the 54th minute.  Against North Korea.  To no one's great surprise, the world champions claimed victory in the end, although The Mystery Land put up a commendably good fight.  However, I was distracted by something else:  The difference in running technique between top-seeded Brazil and bottom-scrubbers North Korea.  Here's a peek into my thoughts.

Firstly, I didn't know if it was just my bodyworker's eyes that had the feeling that for every step Brazil took, N. Korea had to take five.  Something about the N. Korean team seemed inefficient.  Even when Ji Yun-nam scored the historic goal for his country, he was running like a switchblade.  In the minute-long clip above, you can see a little of what I mean, especially in the instances where the two teams are running side by side.

The most obvious thing that stands out is the beautiful extension in running that the Brazilians display with their longer stride.  But smaller steps doesn't necessarily make Korea a worse team.  Look carefully, and you may get the feeling that the Brazilians seem to be hardly moving as they play.  There is a stillness and agility that North Korea, as valiant as they were, didn't possess.  Specifically it is a stillness in the upper body.  This is because the Brazilians are using their arms to stabilize, whereas the Koreans use their arms to run.  The result of grabbing for speed in the arms, instead of maintaining stability, as I see it, not only wastes energy by encouraging more twist in the trunk, but also sacrifices adaptability by lifting the center of gravity when the elbows are bent.  That means the player has to expend more energy preventing a topple, while dedicating less energy to following the ball.  Furthermore, the player has to brake as he redistributes his center of gravity while transition from running to preparing for a kick.

To illustrate this more clearly, examine the technique of Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger in the following video (that is, when he is playing, not so much when he's whooping to fans).  I remember back in the 2006 World Cup, when the kid was only 21, he stuck out to me for his unmistakable posture on the field.  It wasn't just his shock of blond hair that was easy to spot, but his arm position when he ran was very low and wide.  Lower the center of gravity and the chest facing forward makes him more agile.  (Please excuse the choice of music!)

Take another world star, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.  There is a reason why they call him "The Antelope" for baffling opposing teams with his footwork, then moving in for a lethal shot.  The following video is someone's 6-minute collage of Ronaldo's obsessive footwork, giving the impression that if Ronaldo ever got cut, he would bleed little soccer balls.  Now, Ronaldo's body build is key to his ease.  Because of his long spine, his weight distribution is naturally lower, since his legs make up less of his height.  And having this longer torso also lends him a more upright posture, even while running, which means maintaining a constant vertical axis around which he can turn.  This leads to more stillness in the upper body, more control, more adaptability to the quickly moving ball.  Once again, you can see how he does not swing his arms to power his run, but keeps them low and relatively still to stabilize the torso. (Again, I apologize for the soundtrack.)

However, we're only looking at the best of the best here, so it may seem like I am splitting hairs as far as technique.  So, as an example of less-than-world-class football, I invite you to watch this clip of Sri Lanka vs. Afghanistan, tied at 2:2 and surely an exhilarating show nevertheless.  Note that on the field, the players look more like they are jogging:  high swing of the arms, strongly bent elbows, and twisting of the torso which means the chest is moving in all different directions.  The play lacks elegance and focus, the movement is messy.  But, the stadium is having a blast, which is what counts.

I'm going to sign off now, must hit the sack early to get up at the crack of dawn for Germany vs. Serbia...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yoga in San Francisco: When Your Yoga Teacher has Cancer

 When Your Yoga Teacher has Cancer.

This first posting about Yoga in San Francisco is a personal one.  I returned from Berlin last May to the startling news that my favorite Iyengar yoga teacher, Karl Erb, was admitted into the hospital with cancer.  The initial diagnosis was terrifying:  intestinal cancer which had possibly spread to his lungs, a soft-tissue death sentence.  What a cruel dealing of fate for a young, brilliant, and compassionate man who had dedicated his entire life to his spiritual practice and teachings!  But then came a relief during the first week in hospital when his diagnosis was downgraded to an encapsulated tumor and a treatable cancer that would probably be under control by summer's end.  So Karl's survival chances are very high, but as any cancer patient (and companion) knows, even a manageable case is a substantial disruption to a career and personal life. He will continue to receive chemotherapy in cycles of fives full days, followed by two weeks of pause.  For this, he must take a hiatus from his work and will have to give up his home.

There is much to be learned when a venerable teacher gets sick.  Most probably, the first thought that comes to mind is, "But he's a yoga teacher!  Isn't he perfect?  He is not allowed to get sick!"  Indeed, we must have compassion for these thoughts, but then we let them pass through.  Next, we have to toy with the reality that people in the position of teaching, healing, and spiritual authority are human just like all others, and in fact the most insightful among us are often a touch more human than the rest: Many have formidable flaws which propel their evolution as they overcome challenges through meditation, consciousness and discipline; many have unimaginable pasts from which they draw exactly that wisdom which they impart.

Reminding ourselves that perfection is an ideal, not a person, is a surprisingly abstract task when it comes to a figure of authority.  A yoga teacher who smokes a joint once in a while?  That certainly exists.  Is my psychiatrist secretly alcoholic?  Could be.  A spiritual guru whose neglected wife left him for her golf instructor?  Not unheard of.  And yet their services continue to be invaluable.  This is not to say that all teachers have double standards, which most do not, but the take-home message is this:  We have to avoid getting embroiled into a one-dimensional definition of perfection.

The relationship between teacher and student, patient and clinician, healer and healed, of course is dependent upon the education, talent, and experience of the person of authority.  But it is also a contract in which both sides agree to honor an ideal for their mutual benefit, and it is this ideal which is the ultimate teacher, be it the ideal of perfect health, wisdom, information, or a skill.  Both teacher and student are striving for the same ideal, where supposedly the teacher, through natural talent, inclination, and discipline is further along than the student.  And many teachers, like Karl, do a pretty darned good job of it, living and breathing these higher values, day and night, to an extent where it inspires others to do the same.

In this age of self-help and self-determination, the danger arises for some to over-simplistically blame patients for their own ills, and the word "cancer" on its own is a frequent lightening rod for this trend.  Well-meaning relatives and friends, in trying to draw connections, sometimes inflict unnecessary emotional harm with their lay interpretations, yet decades of research have failed to find any conclusive evidence that stress or personality "cause" cancer.  Often as I watch clients, patients, and loved ones grapple for some logic to hold on to, the silent scream in the background pleads:  It is what it is!  What better meditation is there?  The attempt to remain standing on this wave of the unknown is nothing more than a Rorschach test of fears; if we slow down enough to listen to the water, another lesson abounds with the opportunity to re-structure old beliefs.

Coming back to Karl, to put it in plain English, I love thus guy as many people do.  He has spent over twenty years learning, teaching, and building the community which is now stepping in to support him during this jarring time.  Especially in the Bay Area which is the stomping ground for many career spiritualists, Karl is the polished stone, a dedicated purist with a sense of humor, humility, and quality.  He is in a league of his own next to the jungle of yoga experimentalists who may be high in fashion, but low in compassion.

The loving fruits of Karl's practice can be sampled through his blog, which he is maintaining during his chemotherapy.  Fortunately for his followers, he knew exactly how to instruct us while he is away, as always well-thought out and planned.  In his communications to us via email and blog, his first imperative has been consistent and in line with the principle that we are all striving for the same ideal:  Keep practicing Yoga.  Stay dedicated.  The true teacher is not ill.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Because it's hard to ask for one's self, I'll ask on Karl's behalf:
Donate by Paypal via Karl's blog (link in the right column) for his healing sabbatical at Swami Dayananda's Ashram after chemotherapy.  It is still uncertain which expenses will be covered by insurance.  Thank you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Die Walküre at the San Francisco Opera :: Reflections on Roots

I was generously given a pass to last Sunday's open rehearsal of the SF Opera's Die Walküre, directed by Francesca Zambello, stage design by Michael Yeargan, and conducted by the Berlin-moonlighting maestro himself, Donald Runnicles.   Surprisingly, five hours went by quickly with this very entertaining production where the legend of Valhalla meets Banana Republic aviator chic.  Betrayal, murder, incest, and a freeway overpass... who could ask for more.

Coming from Berlin, where the average resident is notoriously under-paid and over-cultured, I have to say that significant tidbits of quality at the SF Opera were a great relief to my eyes and ears.  The orchestra was polished:  warm, well-rehearsed, and together, which is sometimes too much to ask at the house on Bismarkstraße.  And, as a friend to many a female opera singer on the European market today where "thin-is-in" rules the audition panel ever more, it was a joy to see normal-sized opera singers cast on the stage at the War Memorial.  More importantly, one must be reminded that this musical goliath is carried out on stage almost in its entirety by a mere six singers who belt out scenes upwards of one hour long. The audience was smitten by Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek's Sieglinde, with her soaring phrases on the mountain top in the third act.  Mark Delavan's clearly experienced delivery of Wotan was so full of conviction that it certainly exceeded any expectations for an open dress rehearsal, which Sunday was.

I could single out every singer for their admirable performances.  But to bring this posting to the subject of gravity, besides belonging to Wagner's cornerstone of "heavy" music, I want to talk about my personal impression of the production design, and roots.  To date I haven't been disappointed by any stagings at the SF Opera, even during Pamela Rosenberg's experimental period, even in John Adams/Peter Sellers collaboration Doctor Atomic.  Perhaps it is better stated that I have never been "shocked" or "challenged."   However I can't say the same of the track record in various German opera houses, where the public is left sometimes asking if the Inszenierung even qualified as art, or if they had just witnessed the sad results of budget cuts or a backstage political compromise that created a neither-nor decision.  What can be said in defense of the avant garde on stage is the proverbial "But it made you think!" rationale.  Fine, I'm thinking, and I'm blogging. 

Indeed, it is known that American opera audiences are more conservative than the European, as seen by the uproar triggered by the Met's Swiss-designed Tosca last year.  Extrapolating this to my general experience of American life, it could be theorized that the American audience, in its yearning for a sorely missing tradition, seeks exactly that sense of past in something as rooted in convention as opera.  In other words, the US has enough of "new."  With the constant deluge of innovation, we are the testing grounds for all things invented yesterday – be it online bill-paying, automated voice-recognition customer service, or "simply" a "Caramel Macchiato made with nonfat milk and sugar-free vanilla syrup" with unknown health repercussions.  Then, to compensate for this inadvertent fast-lane existence, America thus is susceptible to cling to commercial semblances of tradition, as seen by concerns founded in 1997 or 1992 that strive to exude the image of antique. 

The flip side of the coin is what I gleaned from my experience of Germany, working with war survivors, and German apartment hunting.  Bear with me, I will tie this together shortly.  When we think of Europe, undoubtedly it conjures up for even the most ignorant of us some image of classic beauty.  But my belief that this appreciation for the old was universal was dismantled ten years ago during the time of my favorite Gründezeit apartment from the 1870s in Hannover, Germany.  I was so proud of the 1,200 square foot pad with the parquet floor and fifteen-foot ceilings.  Until my German mother-in-law said one day of her generation, "Well, if you ask me, it's a nice apartment but old is not really our thing.  After the war, we just wanted new.  We wanted to move on."  And she as a child of the war was not alone.  Thousands of 19th-century apartments were modernized, the plaster moldings knocked out, the hardwood floors carpeted, the walls covered with wood paneling, and those high ceilings lowered to save heat and make the the living units more "cozy."  Post-war real estate reflected the same, where newly-built houses and buildings commanded higher prices.  They'd had enough of the old, as anyone would after losing a war on your own land.  "Contemporary" in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe as I have come to see it, became an etude in moving on, for better or for worse.

Yet it is also a healthy impulse to be searching for roots, even creating some where none may exist.  And coming back to the opera house in San Francisco, precisely the element which sometimes irritates me about America, namely the penchant for over-romanticizing tradition, even in its modern, was a welcoming sensation in the Opera's Walküre.  Because, for its minimalist, industrial design, there were touches in the costumes and set (riding boots, stuffed deer heads) that grounded the experience in something recognizable and expected.  The music is enough food for thought, and the last thing one would need is to get lost while the main roles instant-message each other next to a male choir dressed up as honey bees in yellow pantyhose.

So, a concluding thought is not necessarily a criticism nor praise, but rather an observation of the swinging pendulum of our roots, with currents so strong that it can literally be seen at the level of the Weltbühne.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Obviously, this handicapped access button was being used by others, too.

At the Stage Entrance to the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, where I went to the open rehearsal of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre last night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sometimes it's not clear where you are supposed to go until after wards.

After being submerged in a car-free European urban environment for the last four years, I am gradually re-acquainting myself with commuter life in America.  Even though Berlin is a full seven times larger in area than San Francisco, getting around the City by the Bay is surprisingly slow, complicated and costly.  One small price for Paradise. 

Last month as I was furnishing my office, I found myself driving around parts of town that I don't usually frequent.  And at one point, I spotted the traffic sign pictured above (can you name the intersection?).  The light had just turned green and there was an army of cars behind me, anxious to step on their gas pedals, and all I could think of was how the shapes in the sign resembled those planaria that we studied in eighth-grade science class, the little water-bound creatures that could grow two heads.  However, more importantly was to figure out which of the five lanes would allow me to legally continue straight ahead.  Although I won't tell you how this ended, I can say I certainly relate to that feeling of looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing where one was supposed to go, and wondering how in the world to get there.

That's what it's like to be new in town.  You hesitate, or you stop.  You get into a fender-bender and have to say sorry to the person behind you.  It costs you time and money, and you feel tense, you get pulled out of your center, and you make mistakes.  And often in life, there is pressure from behind to make a decision into the unknown.  This is also why we prefer to stay in our daily routines, because doing new things is clumsy and expensive.  But for all our trouble and misery, for our willingness to tolerate a degree of discomfort, we've learned something, which is quite a lesson in humility.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Standard Gravity


Welcome to Standard Gravity Blog!
Notes on gravity in daily life.

Originally, I was unsure about the concept for my Rolfing website for Standard Gravity.  I was sure that I wanted it to be about gravity, but at the same time I was reluctant to create anything along the lines of the plethora of bodywork and healing websites that are out there.  I wanted something I could throw together quickly, something different, with no Sanskrit, no New-Age jargon, no rainbow colors.  And the result is here.  

Today I received some positive feedback about my website.  A colleague said, "I like your website."  "You do?"  I replied, belying my worries that it was maybe too avant garde, maybe alienating to the average Bay Area visitor.  "Yeah, it's nice," he continued.  "With those Victorian etchings, it seems to combine the art and science of what Rolfing is, and because they were originally hand-drawn pictures, it seems more real than a lot of the graphic web design that is out there today."
Ah, okay.  Cool, thanks.

Indeed, I found it interesting what he said about the "art and science" of Rolfing.   I come from a family of physicists and after all, I did learn from my father that elegance is an inherent quality of good science.  And if I think about it, when I am body-reading in a Rolfing session, my eye is detecting where there is lack of that particular aesthetic in movement and form.  In those areas where the aesthetic is not flowing, I know there is an imbalance in the body.

I've started this blog to document my observations of gravity in daily life.  It's an exploration for me as well, and I'll surely be surprised at where I draw connections.  Whether we know it or not, we are constantly coming to terms with living in gravity (does your body feel like it's fighting the downward pull some days?).  Or our minds are grappling with the complexities of life in the symbols of the gravitational field, such as feeling ungrounded, spacey, fallen, uplifted, heavy, or stuck.  It is so ubiquitous that our spirits and dreams communicate with us in a language which is common to all creatures on Earth:  Gravity.