Meditation and Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability (HRV) measures the variation between heart beats. A high HRV reflects good health and a balanced autonomic nervous system. Look here for the details.

This is far from scientific but I’ve noticed that if my HRV is low on a given day, it rises considerably after a morning meditation. Take this example from last Friday:

Before sitting down, my HRV was 61ms. After about 40 minutes of meditation it went up to 119ms. I’ve noticed the same sort of rise after a shorter 15 minute meditation.

Researchers talk about the wide-ranging benefits of meditation over the long term — but isn’t it fascinating that we can see evidence of changes in the autonomic nervous system in as little as 15 minutes?

For those considering meditation, there’s no better entry point than Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up Course’. I’m at day 17 and highly recommend it.

Songs for Sunday with Spitz

Spitz would be a global phenomena if they had sung in English instead of Japanese. Such a great band. They’ve got truckloads of timeless, well-crafted pop tracks that have made them famous in Japan but unheard of internationally.

As Japan prepares for the biggest rugby match in their history later today, here’s a couple of tracks by the wonderful Spitz to help you fine tune your Japanese support.

Fingers crossed for another inspirational performance from the ‘Brave Blossoms’!

Ganbatte Nihon!!

Rugby World Cup 2019: Predictions for the Quarter Finals

It’s an absolutely huge weekend for Rugby!

Four gigantic matches bound to set hearts racing around the sporting world:

  1. England will go in favourites against a lacklustre Australian team. Still, Australia are never going to be easy in a knockout match so it’ll go close. England by 5-10.

2. Ireland have not done anything during this world cup to show that they can win this match. New Zealand missed the last game but they should be too much for the Irish to contain. This should be the most decisive quarter-final (famous last words…) NZ by 20.

3. Didn’t watch any of the French games but based on Wales performances thus far they should have enough composure to win this one. The sooner the French are out of the World Cup, the better! Wales by 10.

4. Japan were scintillating in the last match against Scotland but can we realistically expect them to match that performance again? Against better opposition? Unfortunately I think South Africa will slow Japanese quick ball and muscle themselves through. Everyone around the world is hoping Japan can do it — myself included, but after the previous matches I fear Japan may have played all their best cards. SA by 10 (I’ve never wanted to be wrong about anything as much as this!)

Bring on the RUGBY!

Guitar Amp Shopping in Hong Kong!

Hong Kong doesn’t have the mega music stores you can find in the U.S and Japan so you won’t be swimming in a sea of guitars and amplifiers but there’s still a fair amount of choice here.

Just over a year ago, I spent weeks searching for the right guitar amp and ended up with the Fender Super Champ X2. It’s a cool little tube amp that suited me just fine— until it stopped working just after the warranty expired. Fixing it will cost about the same as a new one so once again I’m shopping for a guitar amp in Hong Kong (one of my favourite pastimes if truth be told!)

On Monday I spent hours in the reigning king of Hong Kong music stores: Tom Lee Music Tsim Sha Tsui.

There’s always a sale on here so there are often a few good deals. British amps, particularly Vox, tend to be better value than American amps.

The best buy in store was the Vox AC15 Hand Wired at around $700 USD:

As much as I love Vox amps, I do prefer the sound signature of the Fender so might have to pass on this one.

In the Fender range, the 65′ Princeton Reverb (Reissue) stood out. Perfectly portable at 13kg and at 12 watts you can turn it up without bringing down the ceiling of your house on top of you. The sound this amp produces is bell-like, beautiful and instantly recognisable. It’s been used on so many hit records that you couldn’t even begin to compile a list:

For another $50 USD you can get a 65′ Deluxe Reverb. Another beautiful, iconic amp with considerably more headroom and a bigger (heavier) 12″ inch Jensen speaker:

They had other bigger Fender amps like the Twin — but at an ear-shattering 85 watts you can barely switch the thing on if you live in an apartment. It’s also 30+ kilos so basically an immovable object:

The shop also stocks lots of Mesa-boogie, Marshall, Boss and Blackstar:

I made the mistake of using this Fender Road Worn Telecaster to test some of the amps and had serious problems placing it back in the rack when leaving. It was an absolute beauty. Even looking at these pictures makes me happy:

So it’s looking like a battle between the Deluxe reverb and the Princeton. The superior tremolo circuit on the Princeton may end up swinging it — but who’s knows — it’s too close a race to call!

More guitar/amp shopping updates as they come to hand!

16 Books to Finish 2019…

My Goodreads challenge for 2019 was 60 books. To make that, I’ll be reading a book every 4 and a half days until the end of the year. That’s doable, but as most of the books on this list are non-fiction, perhaps a little ambitious. Never mind!

Here are the books that will hopefully end the year in style:

1. ‘The Story of the Human Body’ by Daniel Lieberman — I’m nearing the end of this wonderful book. A brilliant read.

2. ‘Why we run’ by Bernard Heinrich — this should tie together strands from ‘The Story of the Human Body’, ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Running with Kenyans’. Guaranteed to be my last book on running for a while!

3. ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt — Jonathan Haidt was a recent guest on the ‘Making Sense’ podcast and this book looks like an important read.

4. ‘Against Empathy’ by Paul Bloom — the author will have his work cut out convincing me on this one, but I’m keeping an open mind.

5. ‘Food Rules’ by Michael Pollan — this is a classic. A simple short guide to food that needs to be read and read again.

6. ‘In Defence of Food’ by Michael Pollan — Pollan wrote this before repackaging the essence into ‘Food Rules’. This should round out some of the insights.

7. ‘Salt’ by Mark Kurlansky — A history of Salt doesn’t sound that promising but this type of book can take you to unexpected places.

8. ‘Medical Medium‘ by Anthony William — a few of my family/friends like this guy. But after recently reading a comically inaccurate article he wrote on the ‘Ketogenic diet’ I wanted to dig a little deeper.

9. ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ by Daniel Gilbert — on my to-read list for far too long. Looking forward to this one.

9. ‘Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics’ by Dan Harris — Dan Harris’s first book was an unorthodox first look at meditation. Curious to see how far his ideas have developed and spread.

10. ‘Circe’ by Madeleine Miller — ‘The Story of Achilles’ was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Betting on Miller’s next book being just as good.

11. ‘The Book of Dust’ by Phillip Pullman — Pullman’s long awaited follow-up to ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. This came out last year and the reviews are solid.

12. ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata— quirky Japanese fiction, what’s not to like?

13. ‘Factory Girls’ by Leslie Chang — a book about the massive rural-urban migration of the Chinese working class that will hopefully shine some light on an aspect of Chinese society that doesn’t get much media.

14. ‘Upstream’ by Mary Oliver — never read a word of Mary Oliver, despite many recommending her work. This collection celebrates nature, so it seems like a nice place to start.

15. ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah — don’t even know how this ended up on my wish list, but it did and I bought it. Reviews for this are outstanding.

16. ‘Keep going’ by Austin Kleon — his other two books are practical little handbooks for a creative life, this one continues where the last left off.

Phew. That’s it for now.

What’s everyone else reading?

Book 41: Running with the Kenyans -Adharanand Finn

‘Running with the Kenyans’ chronicles a British journalist’s quest to uncover the secrets of the ‘fastest people on Earth’.

Back in 2011 Adharanand Finn bundled his family from the British midlands to the Riff Valley in Kenya. There he trained with the local runners, interviewed everyone he could find and immersed himself into Kenyan life.

As background, in the world of long-distance running Kenyan dominance is beyond dispute:

In 1975… thirty-four marathons were run in under 2 hours 20 minutes by American runners, twenty-three by British runners, and none by Kenyan runners. By 2005, however, there were 22 sub-2:20 marathon performances by Americans, 12 by Britons, and a staggering 490 by Kenyans.

Running with the Kenyans -Adharanand Finn P.156

(For a case study in Kenyan running at its best see Eliud Kipchoge’s superhuman effort in the Marathon earlier this week, here.)

Just how they came to dominate so completely is the focus of the book—and, spoiler alert — here’s what the author found:

  • the tough, active childhood
  • the altitude
  • the diet
  • the role models
  • the simple approach to training
  • the running camps
  • the focus and dedication
  • the desire to succeed
  • the expectation that they can win
  • the mental toughness
  • the lack of alternatives
  • the abundance of trails to train on
  • the time spent resting
  • the running to school
  • the all-pervasive running culture
  • the reverence for running

As well, in a country where life is hard — running can truly change their lives.

This book has similarities to Christopher McDougall’s ‘Born to Run’ but it doesn’t quite deliver the same compelling narrative or quality of writing. Still it’s an interesting read from a cultural and training perspective— and if you run, or like the idea of running, this book will inspire you.

And finally, a Kenyan tip that will give you all the help you need to settle on an appropriate pace!

If you ask a Kenyan runner what was happening in his head during a race, he will usually say something as simple as, “I felt good, so I ran faster” or “I felt tired, so I stopped.”

Running with the Kenyans -Adharanand Finn P.194


Kipchoge Runs First Sub- 2 hour Marathon

Some pundits said it couldn’t be done but this week, Kenyan running legend, Eliud Kipchoge, broke two hours for the marathon. He ran the imaginable time of 1:59:40.2.

The run was meticulously planned on a custom designed course with teams of pacemakers so it won’t stand as a world record but even so, this will be remembered as one of the great athletic achievements of all time.

The marathon is 42.2 kilometer race. It’s always been the benchmark for endurance running but it’s not a spectator sport so there’s a risk that most people won’t see this for the monumental achievement it is, nor appreciate just how fast Kipchoge was actually running.

So imagine this: you run a 100 meter sprint.

If you’re in good shape you can probably do it in say 13 or 14 seconds — so lay off just a little and aim for 17 seconds. If you’re out of shape you’ll be at a full sprint to get your 17 seconds for the 100m. So there’s your pace —then just keep running for 2 hours. There, you did it!

In this video we see a number of runners running on a tread mill at Kipchoge’s pace and the comic results underscore Kipchoge’s superhuman achievement:

And from the same channel, a post-run video detailing exactly how it went on the day: