Updated: Apr 20

“Minimalism is built around the idea that there’s nothing that you’re lacking.”

― Fumio Sasaki

I'm Not A Hoarder

In Los Angeles, California, just off Santa Monica Boulevard, I'm standing in front of Madeline Timbrook's 1947 bungalow. She is an attractive woman in her fifties, with bright red hair that seems to burst from her head. She has her hands on her hips and is swaying from foot to foot. "Rumor has it Jim Morrison used to crash here." She smiles. "Don't know if it's true."

We're standing in front of her closed two-car garage, but I'm not certain two cars would fit as the frames on each side are so narrow (it turns out it doesn't matter). She steps forward and reaches down to lift one side door up, then the other. The entire garage is full of boxes, furniture, books, freezers; in fact, it's so packed you can't walk through the garage. She brushes her hands off and sighs. "There it is. Crap. My boyfriend thinks I should be on that show about hoarders." She looks at me. "I'm not a hoarder. This is just decades of junk I never got rid of and never had room for." She turns and points to her car in the street. "That's where I park."


Swimming In Stuff

Madeline is not alone. The U.S. Department of Energy statistics shows that one-quarter of people with two-car garages have so much stuff they can’t park a car in them. When space runs out in the garage, one in eleven households rent a self-storage space and spends over $1000 a year in rent. And all the stuff they have in their homes? It costs an average of $10 a square-foot to store items in your home, so the simple math? An average 2,000-square-foot house would be $20,000 a year. The average American household has 300,000 items (Los Angeles Times), and we dispose of more than 68 pounds of clothing every year (US National Library of Medicine cites the EPA Office of Solid Waste). That's a lot of stuff.


As the nation swims in stuff, it's no surprise that the popularity of tidying shows like Maria Kondo is growing, and waves of people are adopting a minimal lifestyle. Yet I think there's much more to the motive, especially during a pandemic. For one thing, people have a desire to simplify and calm, and over the last seven months, the nation has done some deep thinking on what's important for living. Minimal lifestyles are trending, and it's being led by millennials.


Less Is More

Minimalism is a lifestyle that embraces owning less stuff and buying less stuff. The latter, of course, completely eliminates keeping up with the Joneses, because minimalists condemn crazy consumerism. The minimal lifestyle is a stark contrast to anything that advocates that buying and spending more will lead to a more joyful existence. There is even minimal running, with shoes that fit like a glove and offer no cushion or support. Wearing them, you feel the ground with every foot strike (as a minimal runner, I've run barefoot for more than 10 years now).


Millennials Aren’t Lazy

The millennials, ironically, are a driving force in the minimal movement. And the notion that millennials are lazy and privileged is a misnomer, because the minimalist lifestyle requires a lot of self-restraint and discipline. After all, they grew up watching an older generation buy things. With millennials, much of the discipline of owning less came from watching their parents spend. Observing that generation seek to acquire more in reckless and excessive lifestyles eventually created enormous economic downfalls for mom and dad. And they did not unsee that.


Millennials learned that spending money on things they don’t really need is fruitless. When they do buy things, they do a lot of research and make careful decisions on price, quality, and even brand. They don’t want to make the same financial blunders their parents did, so they’re shopping carefully, if at all, and they are avoiding an accumulation of stuff. Since most millennials are paying off college debt, the need to conserve and save is important. Yet millennials are also environmentally conscious, and a minimal lifestyle offers them support for both.


Hoarding As A Drug

Why is it so difficult to de-clutter, or "space clear," one of the first steps in becoming a minimalist? It turns out much of it is in the brain. This study at the Yale School of Medicine took two groups, non-hoarders and hoarders, and then instructed them to look through pictures of items such as old newspapers and junk mail as they lay in an MRI machine. Some of the items belonged to others, and some to the participants. They were asked to decide what items to throw out and what to keep. Researchers monitored their brain activity using MRI scans as they made their decisions.


The hoarder group showed increased activity in two regions of the brain when scanning their own items. The anterior cingulate cortex and the insula parts of the brain lit up like fireworks, as though they were viewing pictures of their own children or loved ones (both are these regions of the brain are also connected with conflict and pain, and the same pattern of brain flux in other substrates of psychological pain). When the hoarder acknowledged perplexing feelings concerning tossing his stuff out, the pattern of activation was even stronger.


In simple terms, the changes in the cingulate and insula cortex create the message in the brain that something's not right. This creates an internal alarm that forces the participant to find a solution to relieve the anxiety of seeing his stuff. The researchers found it's the same dynamic as any addiction to drugs or alcohol. Holding on to your stuff feeds the reward center of the brain when you are a hoarder.


And hoarding, like drugs, is self-sustaining. Every time a hoarder holds on to something, she feels calmer and more nurtured. That relief can become addictive. Research shows that hoarders have greater activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) when debating whether to throw something out. The vmPFC is associated with a myriad of neurological experiences, but the two regions are relevant to hoarding.

For the non-hoarders, there is the sentimentality conflict. We often hold on to stuff and refuse to organize it due to memories that evoke powerful feelings. While we could sort and throw some things away, instead we stall and decide to do it another day. Yet that day never arrives.


How To Space Clear

Even if you're not a hoarder, space clearing in minimalism can be a daunting task. For most Americans, time is the most difficult thing to manage, and allowing a day or two to organize and throw away is simply not in the cards for most (perhaps the more perplexing is sorting through collected junk). Converting to a minimal lifestyle takes prudence, discipline, and hard work. Yet living it has tons of benefits. Because you spend less and cease wanting more, minimalists save money and build money-saving habits. With the minimal lifestyle, you really begin to understand what's important and what you really value in life. And minimalists learn to organize time because they prioritize and place value on daily work and activities. They assign value to what's worth keeping, and what's worth doing. Ridding yourself of the unnecessary helps define who you really are. And that's pretty cool. Minimalism could be the new love of your life.


That's A Lot Of Stuff

Madeline Timbrook invited me around the back of her house to her courtyard. The small square of cement pavers is surrounded by an even smaller speckling of grass and dirt. I smelled the ocean and fragrant Yerba Santa shrubs. There are three birdbaths scattered across the yard, some in pieces, and I count six bird feeders. As we sit, I count eight pieces of patio furniture, scarred by the salt air. There are also three hammocks, a lawnmower, and a pile of lawn tools next to the brick wall that borders the yard.

Madeline stares into the yard. "I just ordered one of those solar LED glow-in-the-dark yard lights. It'll brighten this place up."



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Updated: Apr 22



“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” - Miyamoto Musashi

There is no debate in healthcare that lean muscle tissue is advantageous to our health. Lean tissue helps us burn more fat, strengthens our bones, and makes us more immune to common illnesses. What about the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds our muscles, organs, and other structures? It's not something the fitness industry zeros in on for a healthier lifestyle. You won't, for example, hear someone say, “I'm going to the gym to work my fascia.” There is an evolving amount of intriguing research that shows fascia has an integrated role in our health, and that focusing on this tissue has enormous health benefits. It's really what the movement arts are designed to do (more on that later).

Yet there is also an ancient history involving fascia in the movement arts of budo (tai chi, qi-gong et. al), yoga, and so on. The current science backs up what the great masters knew a long time ago — optimal health exists within.

The Supreme Sensory Organ

The connective tissues in the body run posteriorly from the base of the skull (occipital) to under the feet to the toes, and anteriorly just under the mandible at the hyoids (jaw). Of course, there are different layers and different thicknesses, but the front and back lines collectively are really a stirrup, much like a suit (see Gil Hedley's work), that we “suspend” in. Fascia wraps our muscles and tendons, and also buffers and supports the internal organs.

Recent studies show fascia is a supreme sensory organ, with many more sensory nerve receptors than muscle tissue. These receptors, such as proprioreceptors and nociceptors, sense body position and pain respectively. Without them, we would not sense our bodies in space, nor feel temperature or pain.

To understand what proprioceptors do, and how vital they are in the body, check out Ian Waterman's incredible story. He literally "lost" his body from the neck down, unable to move and control his limbs. He was not paralyzed, but had lost all proprioception in his body. A major part of this man's recovery was his own intent. He spent hours, daily, thinking of his movements. Finally, he was able to control them by visualizing them in his brain first, and then by using his own vision. If the lights went out, he would collapse. He had to be able to see his limbs to move them. He now has to plot his movements in his mind and then fire the right muscles to walk, brush his teeth, or any of the daily tasks we humans take for granted. Interestingly, this man did not lose feeling of pain (nociceptors) or temperature. It’s a powerful story.

Force Transmission


Fascia is a connective superhighway. It transmits forces that used to be held accountable to only muscle, so forces applied to the body are shared by fascia. “The fascial continuum is essential for transmitting the muscle force, for correct motor coordination, and for preserving the organs in their sites: The fascia is a vital instrument that enables the individual to communicate and live independently. The transmission of the force is ensured by the fascial integrity, which is expressed by the motor activity produced; the tension produced by the sarcomeres results in muscle activity, using the various layers of the contractile districts (epimysium, perimysium, endomysium), with different directions and speed.” (Clinical and symptomatological reflections: the fascial system

Bruno Bordoni1,2 and Emiliano Zanier 2,3.)

So what does this have to do with a workout? Because forces are shared and distributed across the fascia sheet, this changes the physiologic approach to conditioning the body. A bicep curl, for example, shifts the force of the weight to the ground on the up and down phase, and the force does not stay in the muscle. Conditioning the connective tissue system is what having an integrated body really is, because you are training the brain and the nervous system. But how do we do this?

Patanjali


Performing yoga, qi-gong, or any movement art are valid beginnings to fascial integrity. People often begin yoga and say, “I need to get more flexible.” Yet yoga is not entirely about muscular elasticity; it's really about training the mind and body (connective tissue) as a unit for better health, including the brain and nerves for emotional enrichment. In its essence, the yoga asanas are meant to re-wire the brain and nervous system. Its postures are designed to make you healthier because of the effect it is has on the tissues.

One of my favorite Patanjali (a yoga seer who was believed to have written the Yoga Sutra 1,700 years ago) quotes is this: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” After all, it is a moving meditation. And more importantly, Patanjali wrote, “It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness that it can succeed.” And that is what true shugyo (determined self-training that fosters enlightenment) is. Yoga is meant to be practiced alone, in silence. We'll return to this, but the body must be conditioned daily, and for a long time to achieve optimal health benefits and changes to the connective tissue. Once the brain connects the entire body as one unit, then you can control it for unbelievable power and health.

Tensegrity


Fascia is a tensegrity structure. Man-made structures, like most buildings, are stabilized by gravitational compressive forces, yet tensegrity systems are stabilized by continuous tension, with intermittent compression. Since a tensegrity system is prestressed, it immediately resumes its prior shape when an applied force ceases. Again, forces are spread throughout the system instead of one location as they are lever components that function as one. The tensegrity system functions as a single unit, where if one thing moves, everything moves. This is how our body is constructed, as a tensegrity structure. (The Tensional Fascial Network of the Human Body, Churchill Livingstone; 1 edition (April 25, 2012) Fascia expands and morphs as forces are placed upon it. (To see live tissue doing this, I highly recommend Dr. Jean Claude Guimberteau's videos. He is a French plastic surgeon that used a camera attached to an endoscope to film living tissue.) The more we place force across it, the more the tissue remodels, and this includes stimulating nerves embedded within.

Fascia makes unconscious changes in the tissues of the body, especially the epithelial tissue surrounding internal organs. And this is something my surgeon friends often tell me, that when a kidney or other organ is ill, this tissue changes to support and nourish the organ. The tissue enclosing the injured organ is thicker and denser. Another example of this that I've experienced in my cadaver work is seeing dense, thickened tendons and ligaments in an obese specimen; because the person was obese, and more support was needed, the tissue was thicker at the joints. This is something I've never seen in thin specimens. While no true force was applied for this growth to occur (except for body weight and gravity), if the body does this unconsciously, can we change fascia via thought, movement, and an optimal structure when forces are placed upon it? Yes. Again, it's what yoga (alignment) and other movement arts are designed to do, although they are rarely taught with this scientific approach.

The Kangaroos Know


Kangaroos can jump some 25 feet, and cannot use their legs independently. So how do they jump? When researchers began to investigate the animals, they looked at muscles. Yet the muscles alone were not large enough to produce enough force to enable them to leap the distance that they do. What they discovered is that the animals store kinetic energy in the tendons and distribute forces through the legs to the ground (remember my bicep analogy?). They are able to use connective tissue to store the energy needed to jump. And guess what? Humans have the same ability to store kinetic energy. We may not be able to leap 25 feet, but we can store and use that energy when needed. In reality, our bodies are designed to be natural suspension systems. Another example of how incredible forces are generated in the body is this study at Stanford University. Using sensors, scientists measured the force generated by a tai chi practitioner, and that force was more than 14 times his body weight. And, he was able to create this weight then turn it off at will.

So if we look at fascia as a sheet from head to toe, and imagine it as a storehouse for energy (forces), it becomes a spring, able to produce incredible non-muscular power. This shifts forces away from our major joints – at least it should if your body is trained correctly. The result is less strain on joints. This is no secret to athletes; watch gymnasts, dancers, and Parkour athletes and you will see it. There is no conceivable way these athletes could perform the way they do without utilizing connective tissue. You cannot cling to a mountainside, barehanded, using only muscle, nor can you explode and leap as the gymnasts do using only your leg muscles.

Training the Tissue


The ancient arts — including budo, yoga, and even Tibetan monks — used connective tissue in succinct ways, both in movement arts and esoteric practices for health. They understood the value of training this tissue, even though they didn't define it in scientific terms. Instead, they spoke of alignment, breath, qi, prana, and the like (and this is still taught in this vernacular today).

In Japan, they stood (and still do) under waterfalls, watched by statues called Fudo myo-o (immovable-esoteric training) and performed misogi (purification) exercises that for certain had as much to do with training the body as anything. Look at some of the ancient texts, such as Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan, Chen Xin(published around 1919). You will see drawings with familiar fascial lines (much like those included in Tom Meyer's book Anatomy Trains), with spiral ink traversing the limbs, and front and lateral lines of the body. They got it. And it's how they taught movement, with spiraling of the limbs to place greater force on the tissues, and vertical and horizontal movements to increase tautness in the fascial sheet (again, look at tai chi and qi-gong).

Spirals


So the body can be trained to target the connective tissue. But how? If you do a yoga class once a week, is that enough? While it certainly may help, a much more concentrated effort must take place to really change the body. The body must be set up to pull the tissues (also known as “pulling silk”) and challenge growth in the matrix. The fascial lines must be able to be connected at will. It's really what yoga asanas are supposed to do. Just like muscles, which should be challenged in every direction the fibers work, the fascia needs forces applied in axial and spiral motions. Axially, occipital to toes are pulled taught, and in spiral movements, the bones rotate to create soft spiral tension. If you look at flamenco dance and other budo arts, the movements incorporate all of these directions (in fact, flamenco dancers are some of the most connected people I've ever met). While an instructor may never mention fascia, everything we've talked about is really what practitioners are trying to accomplish (even if they don't realize it).

I was in Seattle a few years ago to study and pick the brain of Stephan Berwick, a Chen-style tai chi artist that trained in China at an early age. I was writing about internal power, so I just had to get my hands on him. In his two-day workshop, we did a variety of ancient Chen body conditioning, yet he never once mentioned connective tissue or pulling silk — only alignment and breath control were discussed. And I was not surprised. His training under the Chen-style dictates body positioning and feeling the tautness and "root" in the body, so I didn't expect a science lecture. Still, it was interesting feeling his connection and getting his feedback.

So training the tissues and the body is vital for super health, and it can be as simple as yoga, but with a focus on the pulling aspect of fascia, and a daily practice that is consistent. This shugyo really changes the body, in ways I still discover. I have to mention one of the most profound benefits I received after starting this training years ago is my eyesight. I no longer need readers, and I cannot explain what else to credit this to. (I'm not alone; my budo friends say the same thing.)

Learning to train our connective tissues, training the mind/body, has enormous benefits. Yet it is a discipline not many adhere to. It takes tremendous focus, diligence, and self-introspection. No one teacher can place this in your body; each person has to find his or her own way to feel it in the tissues. You have to really think about the concepts all the time, with every movement (also called intent). Many yoga and martial arts practitioners, when exposed to shugyo don't want to do it. The occasional weekly classes, in their minds, are sufficient. And this is why the modern path of these arts is failing.

For more information, and if you'd like to be introduced to this journey, do a Zoom with me.

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Updated: Apr 22


"I have come to think of psilocybin as a convergent methodology for investigation of the nature of mind. It wakes people up to the extent to which the normative way they hold reality is just one way of holding reality."Dr. Roland R. Griffiths


If You See a Monster, Don't Run

In the shadows of other office spaces along Kings Street W. in Toronto, Canada, a Canadian life sciences startup focused on developing psychedelic pharmaceutical products to treat mental disorders, recently raised $34 million to fund the company’s clinical trials. The goal? How its product -- a sublingual film made with the chemical psilocybin that dissolves under a patient’s tongue -- might treat major depressive disorder. The focus is not for home-based use, but for psychedelic-assisted therapy that requires patients to be "guided" through a four-to-six-hour psychedelic trip in a therapist’s office. The therapist provides the "flight plan" that includes advice: "If you see a monster, don't run. Face it!" as well as eye shades and a choice of soothing music. It will also require multiple therapy sessions before and after treatment. Cybin’s lead program is targeting major depressive disorder, and it's a huge market, given the unreliability and side effects of current antidepressants. Yet Cybin's program is just one example of how the expansive, and re-birthed, psilocybin market is thriving. (And it could be growing in your backyard.)

Fantastic Fungi

In the early 1960's, psychonaut and Harvard professor Timothy Leary began experimenting with psilocybin, a synthesized form of the hallucinogenic chemical found in certain mushrooms and truffles. He surmised that psychedelic drugs might help transform personalities and expand human consciousness. And as the current research demonstrates, he was spot on.

In addition to Leary's controversial Harvard experiments, several other studies were conducted in the late 1960s and 1970s that showed psilocybin proved effective in treating mood disorders in cancer patients. (Then it was outlawed in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, abetted by Richard Nixon.) Imagine where fungi science might be by now if that Act was never written.

Fungi Perfecti

60 years later, psilocybin research and its effects on the brain have charted new territories for how we treat mood disorders and dementia. In 2016, Johns Hopkins University scientists mirrored the previous research in this study. It examined psilocybin used to treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

Yet until recently, millions in the United States had never heard of psilocybin, but in Denver, Colorado, psilocybin is in the political spotlight. Earlier this year, the voters narrowly placed a ballot initiative that decriminalizes psilocybin, and its use or personal cultivation is now considered a minimal crime. Other states are not far behind. A measure legalizing psilocybin therapy was passed only days ago in Oregon, and proponents in California are canvassing for its use. But what exactly does psilocybin do? And does the same guided treatment work for other disorders?

Psilocybe the Brain Hack

Imperial College London researchers used psilocybin to treat a small number of patients with depression, and tracked their brain function before and after the dosage. CAT scans of patients’ brains showed remarkable brain activity associated with reductions in depressive symptoms.

These brain benefits were recorded as lasting up to five weeks after treatment. Psilocybin has shown it “hacks” the neurological activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in multiple brain disorders, again mirroring the studies done by Leary in the 1960's. The researchers were astonished to find that psilocybin, which they assumed would amp up brain activity, actually negated it, but only in a specific area called the default mode network. This neurological pathway is involved in a range of “metacognitive” processes, including self-introspection and mental time warps (time that is distorted).

This default mode network is active when the mind drifts. Also known as daydreaming or ruminating, it is this default that is calmed after ingesting psilocybin. Functional MRI imaging also revealed less blood flow in certain areas of the brain, including the amygdala, the small, oval-shaped region of the brain proven to be involved in processing emotional responses like stress and fear. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial, who led the research, said, “We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments. Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’."

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan's recent book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, has brought a focused attention to psychedelics, and it's also changed perspectives on psilocybin 's ultimate serving purpose in society. Is it strictly for professional therapeutic benefit or can everyone benefit? Research demonstrates that psilocybin has value for everyone. Properly dosed, a psilocybin journey shows lasting, positive effects on brain health, including an "openness" and unique new perspectives on things never realized before. Users also report increased empathy and patience for weeks after ingesting it.

As Pollan makes clear, now that science has made this incredible progress in psychedelics, there is the risk of propagating the sort of political backlash that occurred in the late 1960s, which of course stalled research into psychedelics for decades. "Think of what we might know now, and the suffering that might have been alleviated, had that research been allowed to continue," says Pollan. And this is precisely why he insists we need to be cautious with how it's presented in science. In many ways, psilocybin is a remarkably benign drug that has no lethal dose, and it is nonaddictive. As with any drug, the risks involve how it's used. For one thing, it's not a party drug. It's true, for example, that someone on a concentrated dose of psilocybin could have badly impaired judgment and, without guidance, could do something dangerous, like climb a palm tree and fall. Yet as research shows, carefully guided "trips" have enormous potential in how we treat in psychiatrics, and how we might be able to dose ourselves.

Why It's Growing in Your Backyard

Many fungi experts claim the soil and climate of Fulton County, Georgia resembles that of the Périgord region of France, making it an ideal place for psilocybe truffles, a fungi related to mushrooms, to grow. While mushrooms grow amply above ground, truffles grow underground and only in specific conditions. At the tributary of the Chattahoochee River, in a mossy patch of land, psilocybe Atlantis can often be found. Psilocybe truffles are measurably more potent than psilocybe mushrooms, so plan your trip carefully; after all, psilocybin has something to teach all of us.


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