Japan make History at Rugby World Cup

Speed, intensity, discipline and accuracy under pressure—this 2019 Japan side is a wonderful thing to behold.

Last night’s exhilarating 28-21 win over Scotland last night was one of the most exciting world cup matches of all time.

And now, after four matches, Japan finishes on 19 points, comprehensive winners of Pool A:

Regardless of what happens from here on in, Japan’s dream run will surely be the story of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. In winning last night they have become the first Asian side to qualify for the quarter finals, catapulting themselves into the first tier of world rugby nations.

But the story need not end here. Winning Pool A sets Japan up with the runner up of Pool B: South Africa.

Rugby fans will remember the last world cup meeting Japan had with South Africa when Japan won 34–32. What a match that’ll be.

Here are the highlights from last night:

A Song for Sunday with Augie March

I always felt that mainstream success might have been just around the corner for Augie March.

But despite critical acclaim and some moderate sales it just hasn’t happened (yet?). Glenn Richards has rare gifts as a songwriter and lyricist but he never quite produced that one hit single. As well, the band were fairly average live —not helped by Richard’s grumbling, morose onstage persona that took something away from the three or four Augie March concerts I saw while living in Melbourne.

Still, they continue to produce fine music of the highest calibre and here’s an example, ‘Pennywhistle’ from their 2008 album ‘Watch me disappear’.

A great uplifting track for Sunday, please enjoy!

Review of Apple’s New Music Mix

Every week Apple Music puts together a mix of newly released tracks that is supposed to be designed with your tastes in mind.

I was out doing some exercise the other day and about to cue up some tunes, when I saw an ‘Apple Music Mix’ had mysteriously downloaded onto my watch. As my hardworking apple watch had already made the effort to download this collection, I thought, why not, let’s have a listen!

What followed was a depressing mix of overproduced, derivative crap. Out of the 25 tracks, there were two songs that I kind of liked. ‘A hard way to learn’ by Ben Lubeck — an emotional, hand-on-heart track that reminded me a little of Ryan Adams. And ‘Fishing’ by Sports Team — a trashy, post-punk track about….ummm fishing.

I thought the Belle and Sebastian track would be worth a listen but man it was morbid. The (normally good) New Pornographer’s track was barely average but the low point was surely Robbie Robertson’s Walk in Beauty Way‘. Robbie Robertson is one of favourite songwriters but this track isn’t up there with his best. It’s a comically erotic duet with another singer that’s enough to put you off your lunch. Fans of Robbie Robertson and The Band, approach this track with extreme caution.

So Apple Music is clearly relying on the same bumbling algorithms that powers the virtual assistant ‘Siri’. It’ll be a miracle if these collections deliver any of the type of music I like, but it refreshes every Saturday so I’ll give it one more chance!

Evolution and Sleep

Putting an evolutionary frame around our experience is a fascinating exercise.

Over the past few days I’ve written about how the challenges we face around diet and fitness are strongly influenced by our evolutionary past.

As I continue reading through Daniel Lieberman’s “The Story of the Human body” scarcely a page goes by where I am not highlighting something or making notes on another aspect of our story.

Today it was sleep.

Everything we know about our ancestors suggests that they slept considerably more than we do now, often with additional naps in the middle of the day. They slept in large groups, on firm ‘bedding’ often around fires. As well they were at least partially exposed to the elements and sounds of nature.

The industrial revolution gave us bright lights and stimulating, evening entertainment. We also began to prefer isolated bedrooms. Our days were suddenly extended but at the same time the natural rhythms of our sleep were disturbed.

As up to 10% of people have some insomnia these days, Lieberman suggests that perhaps on some level the quiet, isolated rooms we now use to sleep in could be part of the problem:

Perhaps insomnia sometimes occurs because by isolating ourselves in insulated bedrooms we don’t hear evolutionarily normal sounds such as the hearth crackling, people snoring, and hyenas barking far in the distance, reassuring subconscious parts of the brain that everything is okay.

“The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease” by Daniel Lieberman

This makes complete sense to me. Some of the best sleeps I’ve had have been camping out under the stars — though these days, you’ve got to choose your spot carefully!

If you’re interested in knowing more about sleep get Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ without delay and thank me later.

Stay tuned for more evolutionary updates as they come to hand!

Human Fitness and Evolution

Our best intentions around fitness and diet are incredibly hard to maintain and the way we evolved gives us some insight as to why.

As mentioned yesterday, we “crave energy-rich food and rest whenever possible“. These behaviours, written deep into our genetic code, were essential to the survival of our species. But these urges still direct our behaviour and their impact can be seen today.

Despite the fact that our ancestors walked or ran 9-15 kilometres a day for millions of years, nowadays an average adult walks just half a kilometre a day. This preference for rest is seen everywhere. Less than 3% of people willingly take the stairs over an escalator for example—and if that’s not bad enough, technology continues to find ways to make our lives more and more comfortable.

Despite our hardwired preference for rest over activity, we have been an active species for 200,000 years. And reintroducing exercise at any stage of life produces tremendous benefits.

Take this article from today’s sciencedaily.com newsletter of current research:

This study was designed to compare the effects of exercise on three different age groups (<65, 65-80, >80). Each of the groups were in rehabilitation for cardiac episodes and after 25 sessions of exercise, all age groups benefited:

“We found a few weeks of exercise training not only significantly improved exercise capacity, but also decreased anxiety and depression. Patients with the greatest physical impairments at baseline benefited the most from exercise,”

Elsevier. (2019, October 8). Regular exercise is good for your heart, no matter how old you are!

It was interesting to note that the people who showed the biggest improvement were the ones in the worst physical shape. Demonstrating that our bodies are primed to respond positively to exercise and even indicating that a fit body is our natural state.

The moral here?

No matter your age, condition, shape, health or interest — exercise, and you will reap the rewards. The people in the study were 80+ years old recovering from major cardiac events and they all did just fine! This can surely motivate the rest of us. Just prepare yourself for some ‘genetic resistance’ before you manage to get out the door!

An Evolutionary Perspective on Dieting

I’m knee deep in the Neolithic era with Daniel Lieberman’s “The Story of the human body” at the moment. It’s a book that charts the origin and evolution of our species.

Through the lens of evolution a few mysterious aspects of our shared experience come into focus.

Take dieting. 

As little as 300 generations ago farming and agriculture revolutionised the way humans lived but for hundreds of thousands of years before that, we were hunter-gatherers.

Natural selection ‘generally favours fertility over health’ so when our Palaeolithic (2.6 million to 10,000 years ago) ancestors faced food shortages they were ‘selected to crave energy-rich food and rest whenever possible, helping them store fat and devote more energy to reproduction.’

So over a couple of million years (200,000 as modern homo sapiens) we were hardwired to eat as much as possible and rest whenever given the opportunity. Not the best set up for a successful diet!

This primal software is always running in the background:

An evolutionary perspective predicts that most diets and fitness programs will fail, as they do, because we still don’t know how to counter once-adaptive primal instincts to eat donuts and take the elevator.

“The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease” by Daniel Lieberman

Aha!

What surprised me here wasn’t the food/sugar craving most of us know about (sugar gives a dopamine hit after all) but the preference for rest over activity. Our ancestors would have been physically active so I naturally assumed that people would be hardwired for exercise. But no.

If selection for fertility has been stronger than health we can see why exercise has an ongoing layer of psychological difficulty despite the fact that we are well adapted to an active life.


The Logic of Practising Meditation

Alongside the 50 days of guided meditations the ‘Waking Up’ course has a series of lectures/lessons on topics relevant to meditation and an examined life.

In the first, Sam Harris presents his thoughts on why we should meditate — and it’s worth sharing.

He argues that the quality of your mind determines the quality of your life.

As all experience appears as mental events in consciousness, changing how we notice and respond to these mental events literally changes our experience of the world.

External circumstances matter of course, but it is your mind rather than the circumstances themselves that determines the quality of your life. 

The problem is that we little control over our mind and spend so much of our time lost in thought that even the luckiest of us create considerable unnecessary suffering.

Meditation allows us become aware of our experience in the present moment, giving clear, non-judgemental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness. 

This practice produces “long lasting changes in our attention, emotion, cognition and pain perception which correlates with structural changes in the brain.”

Meditation is a method for making profound discoveries about the nature of our minds —a tool to notice truths about your mind that otherwise would never be discovered directly. 

I didn’t need any convincing as to the benefits of having a meditation practice but Sam Harris’s insight on the logic of practice is second to none.

Download the ‘Waking Up’ app and give it a go — there’s enough free content on there to see if it’s a good fit.