Thursday, December 29, 2011

Did acupuncture originate in ice age Europe?

In 1991, the scientific world was rocked by the discovery of Otzi, a 5,000-year-old mummified man found in the mountains along the border between Austria and Italy.

Named after the Otz valley in which it was discovered, the mummy's body was remarkably well preserved, as were most of his clothing, tools and weapons.

For the past nine years, scientists have examined the mummy's remains thoroughly, learning much about the everyday life of ancient Europeans. One of the most remarkable discoveries was a complicated system of bluish-black tattoos running along Otzi's back, right knee and left ankle.

While most tattoos are ornamental in nature, the tattoos found on Otzi's body were in the form of simple stripes or crosses. They were also found in places that would normally be covered by hair or clothing. Since such non-ornamental tattoos had previously been found in similar locations on mummies in Siberia and South America, some researchers speculated that the lines on Otzi's body were of therapeutic importance.

What, if any, significance did the ice man's tattoos have beyond ornamentation? A group of scientists from the University of Graz in Austria attempted to answer that question by theorizing a possible relationship between the tattoos and traditional acupuncture points. Their findings, first published in The Lancet in 1999 and updated in Discover magazine earlier this year,1,2 purport to show that acupuncture  or a system of healing quite similar to it  may have been in use in central Europe more than 2,000 years earlier than previously believed.

The research team, led by Drs. Leopold Dorfer and Max Moser, first calculated the mummy's cun by measuring its femur, tibia and radius. They then converted the measurements of the tattoos to cun and overlaid the locations of the tattoos to topographical representations of Chinese acupuncture points.

Experts from three acupuncture societies then examined the locations of the tattoos. In their opinion, nine tattoos could be identified as being located directly on, or within six millimeters of, traditional acupuncture points. Two more were located on an acupuncture meridian. One tattoo was used as a local point. The remaining three tattoos were situated between 6-13mm from the closest acupuncture point.

X-rays of the ice man's body revealed evidence of arthritis in the hip joints, knees, ankles and lumbar spine. Nine of the mummy's 15 tattoos are located on the urinary bladder meridian, a meridian commonly associated with treating back pain. In fact, one of the mummy's two cross-shaped tattoos is located near the left ankle on point UB60, which is considered by several texts a "master point for back pain."3-5

"The fact that not randomly selected points, but rather corresponding groups of points were marked by tattoos, seems especially intriguing," the researchers noted. "From an acupuncturist's viewpoint, the combination of points selected represents a meaningful therapeutic regimen."

Forensic analysis of the mummy also revealed that his intestines were filled with whipworm eggs, which can cause severe abdominal pain. Five other tattoos located on the body corresponded with points located on the gall bladder, spleen and liver meridians  points that are traditionally used to treat stomach disorders.

"Taken together," the scientists added, "the tattoos could be viewed as a medical report from the stone age, or possibly as a guide to self-treatment marking where to puncture when pains occur."

Admittedly, not all of the tattoos matched up precisely with known acupuncture sites; one tattoo, in fact, was located more than half an inch from the nearest acupuncture point. The scientists theorized that these differences in location "might be explained by twisting of the Iceman's skin relative to underlying structures that may have occurred during 5,000 years in the ice." They also acknowledged that some tattoos "are partly shifted today out of symmetry according to their location on the twisted body."

Despite these small variations, the discovery of therapeutic tattoos on a mummy who died more than 2,000 years before the appearance of acupuncture as it is known today raises some interesting questions as to where this form of care originated and how long it has been practiced.

"The locations of the tattoos are similar to points used for specific disease states in the traditional Chinese and modern acupuncture treatment," the scientists concluded. "É This raises the possibility of acupuncture having originated in the Eurasian continent at least 2000 years earlier than previously recognized."

"At the time when Otzi was around, I'm sure that many shamanistic cultures worldwide might have practiced it," added Dr. Moser. "But only the Chinese formalized it and saved it into modern times."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bagua hand strengthening exercises - asymmetric heavy objects

This is an example of asymmetric heavy objects dynamic hand and arm strengthening exercises. Classic bagua uses heavy oversized weapons, such as heavy swords or axes or poles. I prefer to use chairs, scooters and shovels. They are easier to find and are more likely to be at hand in a real fight.

The principle that all these weapons help you learn is the same. How to handle dynamic asymmetric forces with momentum.

These exercises develop your whole body, but particularly your arms and back. Start with smaller lighter objects. It is the asymmetric property of these objects that is important. Start by lifting them then move to rotating them. Do the exercises standing, then progress to walking.

Make sure that core muscles are engaged at all times. Your knees should be unlocked and your back straight with pelvis slightly tucked in.

Have fun.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Balance through martial arts

A very smart person has said this recently. I think it is worth quoting here:

We all know that the martial arts, at their very root, are about beating up other people.
But...if we go on from that, into the related benefits that come with training to do that, I think "balance" really comes to the fore (or at least it should).
Now...I don't mean standing on one leg or walking a tightrope.
I mean balance in the sense of adding or taking something from one side of the equation in order to even out descrepencies.
Applying that idea to humans, physically, mentally and emotionally.
For me in martial arts this comes through group training. Or at least it should do if the gym/dojo/club is serious about the growth of its members (and the members just as serious).
For example...a big strong guy has to tone that down when working with weaker people. He has to learn to apply that strength with skill and sensitivity. If he doesn't he won't progress much, will maybe injure people and come up short when he meets someone stronger than him.
In the same way someone that is weaker will have to attempt to maximise their strength. Through the applicaition of skill and the physical training itself.
Someone that is naturally aggressive will have to channel that aggression positively. Apply it where needed. Turn it off when not appropriate or counter productive.
By contrast someone that is shy or lacking in confidence will have to gain some aggression in order to "compete" or keep up with the strong or aggressive people. They will have to learn to turn the aggression on.
Each ends up in the same place but from different ends of the spectrum.
So ideally you end up with a group of people where the differences help to "balance" each person. To make them better than they would be if they tried to go it alone.
The weak become strong, the strong become sensitive, the aggressive become calm, the shy become aggressive.
Everyone gains some "balance" and the differences less noticable or less important.
That for me is where the real power of martial arts can be found.
To the point where if I ran a club I'd specifically look for things to tackle in this may. I'd make the big dude roll with the little dude. Give the big dude specific instructions to try to use skill and finesse.
Pair up aggression with shyness and tell the shy person to try to emulate the aggression.

Here is the link to the original page.

Bagua hand strengthening exercises

This set of exercises is designed to strengthen your hands for grabbing, gripping and pinching.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mind over matter

When I was a 12 year old kid, I came across a book which talked about autogenic training. It had a list of six simple mind body exercises, which even a 12 year old (a bit weird 12 year old admittedly) could understand.

The six phrases used by autogenic practitioners are (with some slight variations):

1. My arms and legs are heavy...
2. My arms and legs are warm...
3. My heart is calm and regular...
4. My breathing is calm and regular...
5. My abdomen is warm...
6. My forehead is cool...

The book talked about Tibetan monks who do shamanic energy work have a grading test up in the mountain peaks wherein a series of standardised sheets, soaked in freezing water, is placed on their naked bodies. They dry them out! The heat rising from the tummy is ironically called "Tummo".

It talked about the oldest culture on Earth, the Koi-San Bushmen who struggle to survive modern racist violence in the Kalahari, have the same training. They call the "boiling" energy in the belly "N'om".

It talked about how in the nineteenth century two scientists called Vogt and Brodmann of the Berlin Neuro-Biological Institute discovered that some of their patients were able to put themselves into semi-hypnotic states. They also discovered that this condition had a positive, healing effect. Patients who were able to calm and relax themselves were far less likely to need medical attention than patients who were continually feeling harassed and anxious.

In the 1930s a German psychiatrist rediscovered the work of Vogt and Brodmann. Impressed by it he decided to investigate the therapeutic possibilities of this type of self-hypnosis.

Eventually he called the approach ‘autogenics’ and it became known as ‘autogenic training’.

For a 12 year old who was into Flash Gordon and Superman, this was like discovering that there is a way to learn how to fly. I read the book so many times and I remember spending hours practicing it every evening when I went to bed. Eventually, like all 12 year olds I found more interesting toy, and I stopped doing the autogenic training exercises, but I never forgot the feeling of your body heating up, becoming very, very heavy and empty. And I never stopped reading and learning about the mind body connection.

This was the first time that I came across the “mind over matter” concept and what it can do. Since then I came across many techniques that utilize this concept and many examples of people who are able to perform seemingly superhuman tasks by using these techniques. And here is one of my favorites.

Meet Wim Hof the Ice man.

Wim Hof is a Dutch world record holder, adventurer and daredevil, commonly nicknamed the Iceman for his ability to withstand extreme cold. He holds nine world records including for the longest ice bath. Wim broke his previous world record by remaining immersed in ice for 1 hour 13 minutes and 48 seconds at Guinness World Records 2008. Hof describes his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures as being able to turn his own thermostat up by using his brain.

Wim is probably the first TEDx speaker to do his presentation in his shorts. Neither has another speaker ever spent 80 minutes on stage… and that covered in ice from neck to toe! That’s exactly what happened here today, astonishing every single person in the packed Stadsschouwburg. Wim wished to demonstrate how he can influence the hypothalamus (so called “body thermostat” ) and suppress the flammatory marks in his blood. According to Wim, he has the ability to do this because he is in balance with nature. “Nature is our teacher,” were the words that got an applause before he stepped into a box and was covered in ice.

Prof. Maria Hopman Maria Hopman, MD, PhD, FACSM, is a medical doctor interested in cardiovascular regulation and adaptation to exercise training and inactivity/deconditioning in humans.

She stepped on stage to try to explain how Wim can be exposed to ice for so long. They did an experiment with Wim, and, surprisingly enough, it showed that his core body temperature didn’t drop more than half a degree, whereas his outer body temperature drops significantly. His heart rate hardly increased (the expected reaction), yet he managed to double his metabolism.

Maria Hopman gives three possible explanations:

- Tummo meditation, a technique mostly practiced in Asia that produces heat
- Training in being exposed to the cold (Wim has done it for years)
- Genetic advantages

No final answer is given because more research is needed, so the mystery of the Iceman remains. Moderator Jon Rosenfeld did ask why Wim does this: “The cold is my warm friend… My mission is to show that everybody, by their mind, can reach more depth within themselves, and that we all have healing power, an inner doctor. Go back to that inner power and heal yourself.”

Here is the TED talk presentation that the above paragraph talks about. there are hundreds of other videos showing Wim’s achievements on the internet.

Wim is now teaching his technique to anyone who wants to learn it. Here is his official website if you want to learn more about what he does.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why is countering attacks easier in sparing than in real fighting?

Why is countering attacks easier in sparing than in real fighting?
I saw this question being asked on one of the martial arts boards:
We have a few major differences between sparing and real fighting. In a fight, it's odds on that most attack will be committed to. In sparring of course, I can throughout my jab and loads of feints and all that. There is also more power in fighting, as sparring the intensity can vary widely.

So first question, if every attack is committed to in a fight, then theoretically wouldn't it be easier to counter an attack on the street? I just want to point out that obviously it's not easier, but in theory it should be, so why would it be harder?

This is a very good question which is not often asked.

The reason why it is more difficult to block or counter real attack is because fear, panic, rage take over. People start gapping all over and are not able to see the attack until it's too late. Also they tense so their reaction speed becomes slow.

You don’t need to be in a real fight to observe this happening. Depending on how mentally and emotionally stabile the people are, some of them will start showing these signs of stress even during semi sparing. You see people getting really agitated, angry, and panicky. A lot of people are able to control themselves during semi sparing, but fall apart during free sparing. Sure sign of this is the fact that all their techniques go down the drain and they end up resorting to plain scrapping. I have seen this in taeqwando I have seen it in bagua. No difference. The trick is to stay calm, and the way to practice staying calm is through meditation.

Interestingly enough, the attackers are usually drunk, which makes their muscles relaxed, and their reactions faster and more instinctive, because their brain is pretty much switched off. So it becomes even more difficult to counter them. Alcohol also makes the attacker’s movements more unpredictable, as they are unable to move in the straight line.

This affect of alcohol on fighting was noted by kung fu masters of old, which is why they developed drunken monkey style of fighting. It teaches you how to be relaxed and unpredictable in your movements. This is also what all internal martial arts teach you as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quantum properties of living organisms

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of living systems. The scientists are discovering more and more proofs that living organisms poses properties that are not found in inorganic matter. These properties cannot be explained by classical laws of physics, and cannot be replicated using any replicated using any artificially created equipment. However, these properties can be observed in living organisms, can be measured, repeated and verified in laboratories.

What gives these “supernatural” properties to living organisms and organically produced matter no one knows. For those who draw their understanding of the world from what they had learned at school, you better start reading again. Our view of the world and life is changing beyond recognition as we speak.

Here is the first example of what I am talking about.

"BIRD brain" is usually an insult, but that may have to change. A light-activated compass at the back of some birds' eyes may preserve electrons in delicate quantum states for longer than the best and most powerful artificial systems. How is this possible? What kind of undetectable force and energy is at work within living systems which can do what most powerful accelerator systems which draw energy from nuclear power plants can’t? Is this chi? Who knows? Who cares. It is just a name. But something is there for sure.

Here is the article that talks about it.

Physicists have found the strongest evidence yet of quantum effects fueling photosynthesis.

Multiple experiments in recent years have suggested as much, but it’s been hard to be sure. Quantum effects were clearly present in the light-harvesting antenna proteins of plant cells, but their precise role in processing incoming photons remained unclear.

In an experiment published Dec. 6 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a connection between coherence — far-flung molecules interacting as one, separated by space but not time — and energy flow is established.

So here we have a quantum powered energy source within living organisms. One of the claims made by chi kung literature is that you can draw energy directly from the sun. Is this chi? Who knows? Who cares. It is just a name. But something is there for sure.

Here is the article that talks about it.