Happiness and Letting Go

I will never forget the day I finally saw the path to happiness. It wasn’t through medication, it wasn’t through a life changing experience,or Religion. The day I saw the path to happiness I was in a pretty low place, feeling sorry for myself and trying to figure out what I was going to do next. When something I had been listening to hit me like a bolt of lightning. You are not in control of your life! Anyone that has ever been in a twelve step program has heard this at every meeting, but, what does it really mean, what are the implications and what are the ramifications.

The moment I realized I was trying to control my life and the people around me, I also realized what a mess I had made of everything and how I had negatively affected the people around me, especially the ones closest to me. I knew what a practice in futility I had been involved in, and I had to put a stop to it as quickly as possible. This was only the first step of many towards happiness but I’ll get to those shortly.The realization of what a narcissistic individual I had become also allowed me to see a direct correlation between my behavior and my unhappy existence.

Step one: Letting Go! Stop, take a deep breath and release, like tentacles from a giant squid feel everything in your life trying to hold on, but you have to release all of it. The pain, the sorrow, the anxiety, all of it has to go. Like taking out the trash you can’t hold on to the garbage that’s been weighing you down all these years. Remember holding on to the things that you feel are important will leave you angry, frustrated, stressed and unable to make any kind of meaningful contribution to your life or any ones life that you care about.

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Step Two: Take the first step, keeping a positive attitude, now that you aren’t holding on to all the baggage that was weighing you down, You have the potential to do so much with your free time. look for positive things that will keep your brain producing happy juice. Little things at first will help keep you in a happy mood. do things that interest you, even taking a walk and paying attention to the world around you, you will find happiness in nature.

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  I see young children already being closed off and self involved, if they don’t realize that they are not the center of the universe, they will become unhappy teenagers, disenfranchised young adults and disillusioned thirty somethings heading for an adult life full of regret and turmoil, creating their own nightmare of trying to find happiness through others or worse self medicating to the point of death. A pretty bleak future, Don’t you agree. The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way.

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Step Three: Being of Service. There is no greater joy in life than being of service to someone else. This does not mean that you should go out and join the Peace Corps, but helping someone in need each day will go a long way. Think of it as recharging your battery. Every time your battery gets low you get depressed, Helping someone in need recharges your battery. But remember the charge is only temporary, just like any battery in a cell phone your happiness needs constant attention and up keep.

You have probably noticed the quotes from the Dalai Lama, well, after my epiphany I went in search for people who had the same realization that I did without the whole God belief system and the need to worship imaginary friends. The search made me realize that there was probably good parts to any belief system. So then I started looking for commonalities in these belief systems and “Low and Behold” one belief system was based on self-awareness and direct correlation between personal happiness and reducing pain in others. in case you haven’t guessed it was Buddhism. But if you’re not comfortable with that there also Yodaism.

Stress is the killer of health and dreams so de-stress when ever possible. Remember You Are Not In Control. Stress causes so many problems that can be avoided by just letting go. You will find you will sleep better, eat better, your Immune system will be better, and you will enjoy life with a smile on your face.

Be careful what you focus on moving forward. We are the only known species that will relentlessly chase an intangible in the pursuit of happiness only to discover that the only true happiness can be achieved by pursuing balance within. People  get fixated on money in the first half of their life-giving up their health, only to spend the second half spending all the money to recover the health they lost. Use the time you have left working towards a healthy and happy future pursuing your passions what ever they may be.

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Martial Arts and Physical Fitness

 Karate is life, life is Karate

So your thinking, This guy is going to get all Miagi on me”, No but Miagi was an Okinawan. Lets start with a little history of Okinawan Karate. There are three main types of Okinawan Karate.

  1. Shuri-te
  2. Tomari-te
  3. Naha-te

I will be focusing on Naha-te. Naha-te is the style of Karate found in the Naha Prefecture surrounding the city of Naha. there are several styles prevalent in this area,

Geneology of Naha-te Karate
Genealogy of Naha-te Karate

These styles share a common ancestor that can be traced back to Southern China. Being heavily influenced by Kung Fu they are nothing like Japanese Karate and in fact are considered extreme styles by most Japanese because of the extreme body conditioning that is required to be effective in these styles.

I myself practice a style called Uechi Ryu, also known as Pang Gai Noon or Shorin Ryu. This style is traced back to Fujian Provence in China and has roots based in Dragon, Tiger, and Crane style of Kung Fu.

If you would like to make Martial Arts a part of your health regimen like I have , You will see the benefits of  this type of exercise almost immediately. Be Careful when choosing which style you are interested in, Everyone will tell you their style is the best, and you should sign up for six months (prepaid) to take full advantage of the Dojo. “Don’t Do It” take your time, research the styles,as a friend of mine once said ,

It’s not the style that’s important it’s the teacher.

He should know he is a tenth degree black belt and holds belts in three other styles.

Look at the teacher, See if they still work out actively, Do they teach the class or do they allow lower belts to run the classes? and cost is important. Some of the best teachers teach at local community centers for about $35 a month. Some of them are considered masters in their styles and do it to teach what they love and not for the money.

The reason I chose Okinawan Karate over another style,(and trust me I visited probably 12 Dojos and as many styles in the year prior) is because of the Okinawan connection. In longevity studies done by the World Health Organization, Okinawa stands out as the population that has the best longevity and overall health.

According to the Okinawa Centenarian Study there are several factors to this longevity, Diet, Physical Fitness, and Genetics. there are other contributing factors but these were sited as the main three. Martial Arts are a big part of Okinawa and one of the main reasons for their health at such advanced ages.

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Shuri castle training martial arts students.

Soba Noodles are one of the mainstays of the Okinawan diet.
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Dealing With Back Pain

I would like to address something I had to take care of before I began an exercise program. I suffered from lower back pain. I needed to get this under control and create a comprehensive program that would alleviate the constant pain. So I did what any intelligent doctor fearing male of Fifty would do,I turned to the internet. I read article after article, everything from Web MD to Men’s Fitness. What I found was there can be many problems that cause lower back pain and not all of them are caused by spinal damage. But I didn’t just have back pain I had Sciatica. Shooting pain down my left leg and left knee that only felt better when my leg was immobilized and elevated.

Here are some causes of lower back pain
lower back nerve root irritation.
Smaller nerves that supply the lower back are irritated.
Large paired lower back muscles(Erector spinae) may be strained.
Bone, Ligament and or Joint damage.
Disc degeneration.
There may be other causes but these are the most common.

I was lucky, I had a Physical Therapist in the family and not just any PT but one of the best with years of experience, Thanks Mom! I also had a close friend who was a Chiropractor, well after an adjustment I put together a comprehensive recovery program that was both low impact and that enabled me to build my core strength. I knew without building my core strength the pain and discomfort would come back and continue to bother me.

Core Exercises:

Core exercises are everything ,I can’t stress this enough, without a strong core all the muscle in the world wont help you. You have to get that back strong and flexible. That’s right flexible, stretching is everything so here are a couple of stretches that can help your flexibility in your lower back and hips.

Flexibility:

Do these stretches slowly and don’t bounce hold for at least twenty seconds. Stretching also allows nutrients into the soft tissues of your back that will aid in healing.

Exercises:

Start of with ten repetitions and build up to three sets of ten.

Realize, this is not a quick fix, but it will get better with time. If your planning on going to a doctor , don’t be surprised to get a prescription for pain medication, Hint: Pain Medication doesn’t fix the problem and leads to its own list of complications. If you do the exercises and stretches there is a byproduct of this new-found core strength and flexibility. You will lose weight around the middle. Add in proper diet and you will start to see almost immediate results in weight loss.

Other exercise options:

1. McKenzie Exercises

2. Pilates

3. Yoga

4. Tai Chi

Diet

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People are going to look at you like you have lost your mind if you tell them your thinking of doing something about your quality of life. Your friends may laugh, your wife may look at you with skepticism and distrust (especially distrust). your co-workers will be supportive and then shake their heads when you walk away. Get used to it. Just do us all a favor and don’t be the guy who walks around the office bragging about the great work out or diet you just started. I’ll say this once “We Don’t Care”, we really do not give a damn, so keep it to your self.

Speaking of Diet lets talk a little about that, I will not be recommending any diet plans, to be honest they don’t work for the average person. If diets worked there wouldn’t be so many overweight people walking around. I am going to talk about some of the do’s and don’ts of eating. Ready, let’s get started because we have a lot to cover. OK now you have probably seen all the commercials and all the advertisements and some of them actually work. But I’m here to talk about what worked for me. First I had to find out what foods were doing what to my body so I went on a completely vegan diet for a week. I know right! this guy is a total whack job! Well I discovered two things. First I have had a minor food allergy since childhood. Second, once I finally got off the toilet I never felt better. I mean I felt great. alive, energetic, I became a real pain in the ass. So I tried a second week and something really weird happened, I lost ten pounds and my blood pressure went way down. My blood flow increased and my sinuses cleared up (the allergy I mentioned).

Conclusion Dairy and Meat were not doing me any favors. So giving up the Dairy was easy just read some of the reports connecting milk to rectal cancer that should do it. Second reduce my meat intake to 4 oz a day. make up the rest with vegetables and carbs. That’s right I said carbs! yes Carbs, say it with me Carbs. Now I’m not saying its OK to sit down and eat a whole German Chocolate Cake by yourself but you can eat a Vegetarian Pizza with no cheese, and its delicious.

CARBS: I wrote that in bold because I want you to pay attention, Ready, carbs are wonderful! in the right amount they give you the energy you need to get through your long day with out wanting to eat your hand every twenty minutes. I was going to need that energy because I was starting a new work out program (oh yes you are) there are good carbs and bad carbs. Lets start with the good ones you will hear that white rice is worse than brown rice. True but the only real difference is brown rice still has the outside shell and white rice does not. That shell is roughage, but so is the news paper, and I’m not eating that either. Sugar in small doses is OK but the average 12 oz soft drink contains 3 times the daily allowance and Diet sodas are just a big lie. So try water, I’ll talk about that later. Pasta is alright but remember I’m talking about increasing my vegetable intake by 70% while reducing everything else. So reduce carbs but do your research and try to stick to the good carbs.

Meat: simple 4 oz a day that’s it, no more.

Vegetables: Different vegetables have different positive and negative aspects. Try them all. sautéed, Steamed, Braised, Grilled, it does not matter just eat as many as you can stomach at first just fill up on them you want all the nutrients you have been depriving your body all these years and I had decades of damage to fix.

So we have laid the base for the diet all in all I lost twenty lbs in a few months remember though it’s not about losing lbs it’s a game of inches. The Battle of the Bulge, if you will. so remember this part of the journey is very important. 80% of the struggle is the diet. I knew if I could get this aspect under control I could get the rest in time.

It Begins

Staring at fifty like a deer in headlights

So your turning fifty, welcome to the club. Just know your not alone. I’m going to use my experience with this life changing number to try to alleviate some of the anxiety, and mistakes, that I went through, in you. I will be addressing weight gain, diet, vitamins, high blood pressure, stress, and physical fitness. I am a classically trained chef and recently a martial arts student. I found out the hard way what worked for me and what did not. This blog is from a male point of view but is not exclusively for men.

If you are ready to get started, the first step is “Commitment” let me say it again… commitment. You are going to have to make a tough decision here. How do you want to address your future. You can accept your fate and live out your life with the attitude that this is my life. Or, you can get off your backside and do something about it. I chose to”not go quietly into that goodnight.”

First things first, Don’t go out and join a gym! Lets face it we didn’t end up in the shape we are in because we went to the gym and we are not going to start now. We don’t have time, we don’t have the knowledge and we don’t want to be a bodybuilder or Olympic athlete. Our bodies are different now so save your money, you’re going to need it.

Have goals,(Realistic Goals) of what you want. My goals were being healthy and being active into my eighties. Those may seem like pretty broad goals but think about it, in order to meet those goals my life decisions were pretty specific. Diet, exercise, and mental health. All you have to do is look around at the men who are in their late seventies and early eighties and they have three things in common, physically active, good eating habits and positive outlook on their life.

Each week I will be addressing one of these aspects of my life. And relax it will be OK.

By the way I’m not a professional writer so yes there will be spelling and grammar errors, give me a break!