Archive for March 2012 | Monthly archive page

Meditation has always been a wonderful way to calm, center, and focus the mind and spirit.  Evidence out of UCLA suggests that this kind of quiet, directed introspection could also strengthen the connections between neurons and increase the amount of folding in the layers of the brain.  A study by the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging shows that long-term meditators have a higher rate of gyrification, (or the amount of folding found in the cortex), which may allow practitioners to process information faster and integrate emotional and rational intelligence more efficiently.

Furthermore, there was a direct correlation between the amount of years spent in a variety of meditative disciplines, including Zen, Samatha, and Vipassana, and the total folding of the cortex.  After scanning thousands of points across the brain, the researchers also noted pronounced increases in gyrification in specific regions of the brain, most interestingly within the insular regions.  This might suggest a relationship between the area’s autonomic, affective, and integrative aspects and mediation’s goals of self-control, awareness, and introspection.

Following a form of meditation can also help manage physical pain.  A study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Emotion, reported that research out of the of University Montreal discovered that Zen meditators had more grey matter than non-mediators.  This meant that through thickening certain areas of their cortex, particularly the anterior cingulate which regulates pain, they were able to reduce their levels of sensitivity.  Even their perceptions of physical discomfort were less pronounced, as their emotional reactions were more controlled and they experienced less anticipation an anxiety.  Zen thought can even help re -focus someone back to their task at hand after being interrupted by distraction much more quickly.

With such amazing results, why not take a quiet moment or two to recite a mantra, do some yoga, or take a deep breath and ponder the mysteries of the universe?  Your brain may fold in on itself with joy!

 

Now, being a responsible driver not only means maintaining a slight feeling of moral superiority, but may just save you some money at the pump.  Through a set of techniques called “hypermiling”, you can conserve fuel by altering how you hit the road.  Some reports estimate taking it slow and steady could improve fuel economy up to 35%.  Before you start changing your habits, begin by calculating your gas mileage after each trip to the station by using your odometer.  Also, take note of your tendencies towards how you treat other motorists on the road, how quickly you take off from a stop, how often you brake, pass, and stop during your commute.

Here are a couple of tips to keep more gas in the tank:

-Avoid hard depression of the gas pedal as it pushes more fuel into the engine, causing it to run faster.

-When driving in town, accelerate more slowly from stops and decelerate more gradually when coming to a red light.  Lift your foot off of the gas pedal as soon as possible when approaching a yellow light or stop sign, and coast to reduce speed before using the brakes. This minimizes the amount of time spent getting no miles to the gallon while sitting at a red.

-Using cruise control on the freeway helps avoid driver-controlled acceleration changes that lead to energy loss.

Stay in motion during traffic congestion as much as possible instead of hitting the brakes creating “stop-and-go” waves of idling vehicles.

-Keep your car in good shape by scheduling regular maintenance tune-ups and making sure tires are properly inflated. Whenever possible, reduce the weight of your auto by removing any junk you may be hauling around.  Help avoid drag by taking down any cargo racks or other devices that make your car less aerodynamic, and keep windows closed.  Try not to run any superfluous electrical devices or the air conditioner.

-Do not use 4-wheel drive unless needed as it makes the engine work harder.

-Try to buy high BTU content gas when possible.  Oxygenated fuels and reformulated gas can cause decreases in fuel economy.

-Plan your trips. Can you combine outings?  What is the most efficient route to accomplish your errands around town?

-Don’t get discouraged!  This type of driving takes a lot of attention and patience, but will soon become automatic and save you enough dough to be worth the extra effort!

Now you are ready to conserve energy, money, and maybe even a little aggravation.  How do you hypermile?

Maintaining a positive outlook on life has many practical benefits.  Staying on the sunny side can help to reduce stress, improve and deepen social interactions, and ward off depression.  New studies suggest that a good attitude may also determine how long you will live and whether or not you are at risk of dementia later in life.  Researchers from the Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Zurich have found that the way individuals rate their own health, using a scale from “very poor” to “excellent” demonstrated a correlation with longevity independent of other risk factors such as preexisting disease, education, or smoking.

This personally held view of one’s fitness was linked to the probability of survival over a period of 3o years, with men of the same age who saw themselves as “very poor” 3.3 times more likely to die than those who considered themselves as “excellent”, and 1.9 times more likely in women.  Risk of illness increased steadily as negative descriptions were observed.  One possible explanation for this relationship is that those who viewed themselves as “excellent” were more likely to have attributes to “improve and sustain their health”, according to specialist Dr. David Fah.  These could include “positive attitude, an optimistic outlook, and a fundamental satisfaction with one’s own life.”

A poor perspective could also possibly predict the likelihood of developing dementia.  In a 2011 issue of Neuroscience, self-assessment was established as a tool that doctors could utilize to foresee a patient’s chance of memory loss, vascular disease, stroke, and death.  At the beginning of a study conducted by the French National Institute of Health, 8,169 people age 65 and older were asked to rate their health, and then followed for a period of seven years.  618 participants developed dementia, where the risk of incidence was 70% higher in those who had a “poor” health estimation of themselves, and 34% higher with a “fair” rating .  The research also found that the relationships between people’s personal evaluations and risk was greater among those who had no cognitive problems, where “poor” assessments were twice as likely to develop dementia as those who saw themselves in “good” shape.

So, for a long and healthy life, throw in a good thought or two amidst your daily exercise routine.  The power of your mind may be the key to a working body, sharp cognitive skills, and overall contentment!

The earth’s endangered species have a fierce, compassionate, and savvy representative in Gabby Wild.  An aspiring veterinarian and intrepid traveler, this graduate from Cornell University divides her time between studying molecular biology and animal medicine and conducting her own welfare work.

Wild’s lasted project, dubbed “12 in 12 for 12” focuses on harnessing the glitz and glamor of the fashion industry to bring attention to the plight of the planet’s vanishing biodiversity.  For the next 12 months, Wild will be sporting 12 originally designed outfits inspired by a different animal in peril.  Many of the ensembles were created by contestants from the hit show, Project Runway, lending a little couture and and star appeal to Wild’s wardrobe.

In addition to the “12 in 12 for 12” campaign, Wild’s charity is currently selling t-shits made in the USA and composed of 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled plastic water bottles, each featuring images of animals in desperate need of preservation.  Every garment represents 12 water bottles that will be worn instead of relegated to a landfill, and all proceeds go directly to charity.  Wild is hoping to publicize the dwindling numbers of Bactrian Camels (less than 1,000 left in the wild) and Amur Leopards (only 35 remaining) through the shirts.

With such a charismatic and tenacious advocate, some of the most critically threatened organisms in the animal kingdom may have a fighting chance.

 

This Tuesday, March 13th, come join fellow environmentally conscious members of the community for another installment of SLO Green Drinks at the Steynberg Gallery from 6-8pm.  Bring your questions and comments for the keynote speaker,  Mike di Milo from SLO Integrated Waste Management, as well as a donation (suggested $6) to benefit GleanSLO.  The event is a part of a series of forums held bi-monthly on the Central Coast designed to engage the public with members from the NGO’s, academic institutions, government, and businesses, all with the concept of sustainability in mind.  San Luis Obispo is one of many chapters operating around the world, and while informal, has proven to be a fantastic place to establish meaningful connections, find employment, and brainstorm projects.

Every host of the Green Drinks soirees follows a loose framework of rules that emphasize flexibility, inclusiveness, and agenda-free discussion.  Each venue should be easily accessible, simple to replicate on a regular basis, and most importantly, fun.  San Luis Obispo’s branch of Green Drinks is headed by Alison Cebulla, an activist, planner, and social media expert.  Having focused her studies on the issues of fair trade, cooperative farming, sustainable agriculture and nutrition, Cebulla is well-versed in working with social justice and environmental advocates.  She has created  lively, entertaining, and informative get-togethers that are are certainly worth checking out!

 

Bill Holloway and Mauro Hernandez of Masterworks Wood and Design in San Jose, CA are not only producers of beautiful works of art and utility, but responsible stewards of the environment as well.  For an example of their commitment to sustainability and technique, look no further than their reclaimed wood bicycles.

As with all of their projects, the materials are sourced from “urban” wood sources such as dismantled homes and buildings, scrap lumber, waste sites, and tree removal services.  Seals and varnishes are VOC-free, and both animal and human friendly.  Each of their six models of bicycle are made by hand from start to finish and are truly testimonials to the talent of these enormously talented individuals.  The bikes start at $5,000, which covers the cost of building materials and labor.  To visit their showroom, stop by Peninsula Building Materials in nearby Mountain View.

For a more lightweight ride, Renovo Bicycle company based out of Portland, Oregon creates custom frames from sustainable hardwoods and bamboo that are as strong and stiff as carbon.  Sealed to withstand moisture and elemental damage with VOC- free epoxy and linear polyurethane, the bicycle is sleek and durable.  Renovo demonstrates that wood can be a high-performance material, and its fatigue life rivals that of its metallic equivalents.  Each bike is made entirely in their workshop with a combination of old-fashioned human effort and high-tech computer modeling.  Built by airplane engineers, they will send you flying down the street and around mountain trails like a pro.

Return to the roots of bicycling with frames made of wood!

With the amount of lady’s yoga wear and equipment on the market, you might assume the practice in the United States was a bit of a girl’s club.  However, yoga was originally brought to the west from India by a line of male instructors, and it has only been within this generation that women have been adopting more influential and powerful roles.  This influx of female energy has transformed the way in which yoga is currently being taught by focusing more on intuition, connection, family flow, community, and activism.

HopeDance, in conjunction with Bambu Batu, presents the film YOGAWOMAN this March 21 at the Palm Theater from 7pm-10pm.  The documentary, narrated by Annette Benning,  interviews many of the world’s leading female yoga practitioners and teachers, including Patricia Walden, Sharon Gannon, Shiva Rea, Angela Farmer, Cyndi Lee, and Seine Corn.  With additional testimony from progressive medical professionals such as Dr. Sara Gottfried and Dr. Shirley Tells, YOGAWOMAN is the first feature to bring together these amazing women and their message of peace and self-empowerment.  To view the trailer or find showtimes in your area, visit the HopeDance website for more details.

HopeDance, a project headed by Central Coast local Bob Banner, seeks to exhibit films and hold workshops that feature pioneers and exceptional individuals that are committed to creating a new world.  HopeDance also publishes material that encourage sustainable ecological practices, community-building, holistic healing, and work designed to inspire hope and stimulate meaningful dialogue.  Come and join your fellow curious minds and open hearts for YOGAWOMAN!

There are certain actions that as a decent human being, you would never consider doing.  You wouldn’t hit a someone with glasses, steal candy from a baby, or sue a guy who promotes kale on a t-shirt.  Bo Muller-Moore, a Vermont artist and supporter of local agriculture, has for more than 10 years created shirts that encourage the world at large to “Eat More Kale”.

  Somehow, the people at Chick-fil-A, a company that the New York Times points out is a business large enough to sell over 530 sandwiches a minute, got wind of the shirts and decided to send a cease-and-desist letter to Muller-Moore.  They assert that his t-shirt tagline infringes on their ads that feature the motto “Eat mor chickn”, words written by cows looking to direct attention away from beef and sell more nuggets.  The fast food giant stated that the kudos for kale “is likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A’s intellectual property.” Yet, Chick-fil-A has no stores in Vermont, Muller-Moore’s shirts predate the chicken campaign, and only someone who has difficulty differentiating a vegetable from an animal would have trouble with telling the two businesses apart.

Luckily, Muller-Moore has a lot of grassroots support.  Labeled by admirer as a “Vermont institution”, his legal support has been provided for free, a petition on Change.org set up for him by a local soup company, and he is being assisted with publicity by a former aide to governor Jim Douglas.  Peter Shumlin, the current governor, has also offered to appear with him at a news conference in order to back his cause.  In a state where community, artisanal food, and local businesses are taken very seriously, “Eat More Kale” has become a rallying cry to those who value quality, the environment, and the social implications of what people consume.

Currently, Muller-Moore is are planning to trademark his merchandise.  True to his green and proclivities, each shirt is printed on a Comfort Colors garment, dyed in Vermont by an environmentally-minded shop using a process that takes 2/3 less water than conventional methods and recycles liquid runoff.  The shirts are then hand-screened, one at a time, in a garage over Muller-Moore’s home that his wife helped him to build.  All of his stencils are cut individually, and the water-soluble ink is heat set for a flexible, durable design.  For stickers or clothing, visit the EMK site to wear your love for the earth, craft, and the people who work to make community happen where they live.

This year, I finally entered the modern era with the purchase of a smartphone.  When searching for applications that could take advantage of the amazing computing power of this little machine, I was overwhelmed with choices.  There are programs that run the gamut from fun to functional, and I was doing my level best not to buy anything that would not keep me too glued to my phone and out of the real world.  Being environmentally and socially conscious, I was pleasantly surprised to see a growing number of applications that not only could keep me informed of my surroundings, but may even help to improve how I care for the earth, make smart purchases, and support my community.

Seafood Watch-  Concerned about the health of the oceans, but still long for a fish dinner?  The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app, a digital version of their popular laminated card, lets you know which fish are safe to eat, most sustainable, and which to avoid.  The latest version also allows diners to share their favorite restaurants and markets that provide conscious ocean fare.  Sushi guides even give the correct Japanese term for what you order to clear up any cross-cultural confusion.  Best yet, it is free to download for both iPhone and Android.

GoodGuide- Making purchases with the well-being and safety of both your body and the planet in mind can be challenging when staring at the thousands of choices lining the shelves of your local supermarket or drugstore.  Enter GoodGuide, an application that allows you to search over 50,000 toys, personal care, and household products and rates them according to health, environment, and social responsibility.  GoodGuide will let you personalize your app, scan barcodes, and is free to download.

greenMeter- Turn your phone into a vehicle efficiency device with greenMeter, which can help calculate your car’s fuel and power usage, and evaluates your driving habits in order to make the most of your gas money.  Results are displayed in real time, and the software asserts that it will pay for itself in savings within 1-2 trips to the gas station.  Available for about $6, it might be worth a try if you are looking to change your driving habits and stay informed as to when you car needs a tuneup.

Skeptical Science- Arguing with a climate change skeptic, but too flustered to answer in a succinct manner?  Need some help with remembering numbers?  Want a good chart or peer-reviewed paper to back up your claim?  John Cook’s Skeptical Science iPhone App could help you convert a non-believer using cold, hard data.  It also provides responses to the top 10 most used denial phrases.  Climate nerds may also enjoy the Global Warming Prediction app that uses land, sea and air temperatures to create aggregate models and forecast the weather.

Sky Map- Looking at the night sky, it could be a bit of a challenge for those of us modern hominids who have lost much of the knowledge of our forebears.  Luckily, Sky Map uses GPS, compass, and accelerometer data to take a picture of the stars, and tell you the name of the constellation in question.  Moving your phone against the sky, the screen registers a representation of the cosmos where you can search for astronomical curiosities, save searches, turn layers on and off, and track the movement of heavenly bodies.  Free for Android users.

 

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