Saturday, October 16, 2021

Using Speed Reading Skimming

One of the techniques I've been using since I've been learning about speed reading is skimming. This is surprisingly effective.

There are several variations of it. The specific method I've been using is to skim a book's table of contents, then skim its actual contents:

  • For the table of contents, I read the chapter and top-level section headings.
  • For the actual contents, I read each heading and the first clause, line, or sentence of each paragraph.
The content skim depends a bit on the writing style and layout. Some paragraphs might be very short, or might be only a single long sentence consisting of multiple clauses. Others might be very long, just a couple per page.

In general, I'm trying to read roughly one out of every 5 lines, or 3-5 sentences per page.

That allows me to cover 100-300 pages per hour. Make no mistake, this is not a deep dive on information; it's a sampling method. I use the pomodoro technique with it, in 25 minute/5 minute cycles.

What's so surprising about this is that despite actually reading only 10-20% of the material, I'm able to pull a good amount of information out of it. That allows me to digest a complete book in an hour or three.

This takes advantage of the fact that paragraph structure is typically a topic sentence followed by supporting sentences. The high level information is there at the beginning. That's not uniformly the case, but it's consistent enough that the overall gist of the material can be extracted this way.

While I may not comprehend 100% of the book (since I didn't actually read it), before I skimmed it I comprehended zero percent of it. So it's definitely useful progress.

Skimming works equally well with short-form content such as articles or online posts, taking just a few minutes, and with medium-form content such as entire newspapers, magazines, and journals, taking 10 minutes to an hour.

Skimming has a number of benefits:

  • It acts as a first pass to prepare my mind for a more in-depth read, preloading a summary of the information.
  • It provides a gestalt and context to help grok the overall material.
  • It helps me quickly assess the quality of the material, for instance for a review.
  • It helps me prioritize the things I want to cover more deeply in a second pass, skipping the ones I don't need.
  • It allows me to quickly refresh, review, reassess, and reintegrate material I've read before.
  • If I'm going through multiple books and resources, I can do a first-pass digest of all of them, then a second pass on each one subject to what I got from the others.
The ability to take repeated passes through material is very helpful for increasing comprehension and retention, making use of the brain's reticular activating system (RAS). This is something Jim Kwik talks about in Limitless (see Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik). Spaced repetition helps overcome the "forgetting curve."

The pomodoro technique takes advantage of the primacy and recency effects of memory by splitting the activity into multiple sessions with breaks that allow the brain to consolidate information: primacy means we remember what we learned at the beginning of a session, and recency means we remember what we learned most recently at the end of a session. It's the stuff in the middle that doesn't do well, which is part of why cramming for hours without breaks is not effective.

I don't use this for everything. It's not suitable as the first pass for all material. When I'm reading a novel for pleasure, I want to savor every detail (and not get hopelessly confused in the plot and character interactions).

But when I want to acquire information quickly, it really does work. It also works well for incremental, additive understanding and reinforcement, lighting up the memory. That even works for later passes over material that I read normally the first time.

Here are two videos on reading a book a day that talk about skimming, with some slight variations and applications of the method. The first is a great short overview of the speed reading techniques I'm practicing, including skimming. The second talks about using skimming to filter the material down to the really interesting parts worth focusing on.

I cannot overstate how mind-bogglingly effective this is. I wish I'd learned it 50 years ago! Now I'll use it for the next 50.

Using The Pomodoro Technique

Over the past couple of years, I've been using the Pomodoro Technique more and more, for a variety of things. This is a very effective time management method.

The idea is that you set a timer for a specific amount of time to spend on something, and during that time you focus exclusively on that task. You can add additional work periods, or alternate with rest periods.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and the technique is named for kitchen timers that are shaped like tomatoes. Each work period of 10-60 minutes is called a pomodoro.

I like to use my cellphone timer, the Brain Focus app, or a timer similar to this one. There are a number of phone apps similar to Brain Focus; I picked it pretty much at random from the choices that showed up.

What's nice about the app is that it sets up an alternating cycle of work periods and rest periods. I use it for studying and reading, to make sure I take regular breaks. The default setting is 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest, with a longer 20-minute rest every 4 cycles.

As I mentioned in Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, the rest periods are to allow my brain to consolidate information. If I'm doing some kind of physical activity, the rest periods allow me to recover physically and avoid overdoing it. Both cases allow me to put in a sustained effort that can add up to several hours.

I spend the rest period in a variety of ways, depending on the main activity and how I'm feeling:

  • Doing a deep-breathing meditation, which I also covered in the Kwik review. Another common pattern I use is to count breaths to 10 (5 breaths alternating inhale and exhale, then start over; start over if I lose count or my mind wanders).
  • Standing up and doing stretches to work out the kinks.
  • Doing "chair yoga," simplified yoga poses that use the furniture as props.
  • Doing simple calisthenics like situps, pushups, or deep knee-bends. Where the other rest activities are relaxing, this is stimulating.
  • Going for a short walk.
  • Getting coffee or water. It's important to stay hydrated during any mental or physical effort.
  • Going to the bathroom.
There are a variety of benefits. In addition to pacing out and breaking up work and making sure I get brief rests, it enforces both minimum and maximum times.

This ensure that I at least put in some minimum amount of time for something I don't like doing, such as housework; and that I don't let time get away from me when I'm doing something I like, such as reading.

It also makes sure I address and balance the various demands on my time. That prevents exhausting all my energy on one thing while overlooking other things. Just about anything can be done in small segments, mixed in with segments of other things.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Recipe: Lunch Super Salad

Like my Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl, this is my nearly-everyday salad, combining a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

As with that one, it's not a precise recipe. I've listed general ranges for amounts, loosely packed, and the specific items vary by what I have on hand.

Lunch Super Salad

  • 1/2-1 C Red leaf lettuce
  • 1/2-1 C Napa cabbage
  • 1/2-1 C Baby spinach
  • 1/2-1 C Baby kale
  • 1/2-1 C Baby arugula
  • 1/4-1/2 C English cucumber
  • 1/4-1/2 C Sweet red/orange/yellow pepper
  • 1-3 Mushrooms
  • 1/4-1/2 C Tomato
  • 1 slice Spanish onion
  • 1 scallion
  • 1/4-1/2 C Kimchi
  • 1/2-1 slice sourdough bread (1-2 WW points)
  • 1/4-1/2 Avocado (3-5 WW points)
  • 2 Tbsp hummus (2 WW points)
  • 1/2 Tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Tsp ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1/4 Tsp cayenne pepper powder (for the capsaicin)
  • 2 Tbsp Bolthouse Farms Chunky blue cheese yogurt dressing (1 WW point)
  1. Slice and chop all items into bitesize pieces.
7-10 WW Purple points.

Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

This was formerly my nearly-everyday breakfast (see Recipe: Lunch Super Salad for my nearly-everyday lunch), and forms the basis of my new nearly-everyday breakfast, by adding greens to make Recipe: Super Green Fruit Smoothie. It combines a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

A couple of the items are bitter or sour tastes, but the fruit sweetens them. I don't add sweeteners.

I've made one recent change to it since starting, replacing unsweetened fat-free Greek Yogurt with unsweetened coconut-milk kefir, based on Dr. Will Bulsiewicz' book Fiber Fueled, which is very consistent with Dr. Uma Naidoo's book This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More. The reason for the replacement is to switch from a dairy-based probiotic to a plant-based one.

This is actually a two-part recipe. The first part is a dry mix that I premix in bulk.

It's also not a precise recipe. Except for items that have WW point values, these are all Purple free foods, so the amounts are variable according to my whims and what I have on hand. I've listed recommended amount ranges.

I list specific brands where I've checked the ingredients and point values carefully. It takes constant vigilance to avoid or minimize unwanted sugars and sweeteners, so be careful making substitutions.

Dry Mix

This is a combination of spices, seeds, grains, and vegan protein powder. I use the protein powder scoop to measure everything out and store the mix in an empty protein powder jug.

All measurements in "scoops".

  • 6 Ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1 Cinnamon
  • 1 Sesame seeds
  • 1 Vega Essential Shake protein powder, vanilla
  • 1 PB2 powdered peanut butter
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill muesli
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill chia seeds
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill flaxseed meal
  • 1 Unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
  1. Chop the coconut flakes finely.
  2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

  • 1/2-1 scoop dry mix
  • 7 g walnuts (2 halves, 1 WW point)
  • 5 g dark chocolate (8 Ghirardelli 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate chips, 1 WW point)
  • 1/2-1 C unsweetened coconut-milk kefir
  • 1/2-1 C blueberries
  • 3-6 strawberries
  • 1/4-1/2 banana
  • 1/4-1/2 apple
  • 1/4-1/2 peach
  • Optional for smoothie: 1/2-1 C unsweetened almond milk
  1. Chop walnuts and chocolate finely.
  2. Slice fruit pieces into bitesize pieces.
  3. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
  4. Optional for smoothie: add almond milk and blend smooth.
WW Purple points: 2

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Losing Weight With WW Purple

As I mentioned in Physical Fitness Program 2021-05, the stress eating of the pandemic caused me to put on a good 10 pounds. I was already a little bit over where I wanted to be.

In response, I've started on the WW Purple plan, with the goal of getting under 160 lbs. I've used WW in the past, along with several other weight loss methods. They all work effectively. Some are more nutritionally balanced than others.

The main difficulty with weight loss is sustaining it. Every time I lose weight, I regain it, sometimes frighteningly fast. But I've reached an age where I really need to keep it off, because it's getting harder to lose.

I've essentially lost the same 15-20 lbs. repeatedly over the decades. Now my goal is to lose it and keep it off, learning from the mistakes of the past.

What's different this time? This time I'm focusing on permanent dietary changes, not just being "on plan" and then going "off plan" when I've hit my goal.

It's that "off plan" part that's always the problem, where I no longer maintain the discipline and dietary restrictions that enabled me to lose. You might say "wild abandon" in some cases, since I have what could be considered an addictive response to sugar.

What I like about WW is that it's extremely flexible. You can literally eat anything, as long as you manage the portions and track it so that you stay within overall limits.

WW assigns "points" to each food (these days called "smart points") based on nutritional information. Some foods are zero points ("free foods"), in order to encourage you to favor these over others.

In general, the free foods are very much eat-the-rainbow choices, emphasizing high-fiber, low-Glycemic Index (GI), low-sugar, low-fat, highly nutritious foods. Just because a food is free doesn't mean you can eat unlimited amounts; you need to maintain portion control.

WW offers three color-coded programs, Green, Blue, and Purple. Each one has a progressively lower points limit, and larger free foods list, allowing you to choose based on personal preference and self-discipline.

Dietary Changes

I've already made some long-term changes that are consistent with WW, especially with the Purple free foods, by focusing on a primarily plant-based diet.

I'm also using two books for primary guidance:

Both are very consistent with WW, as are the books I've listed in Changing My Diet To Plant-Based.

Kwik's top 10 brain foods, in alphabetical order:
  1. Avocado
  2. Blueberries
  3. Broccoli
  4. Dark chocolate
  5. Eggs
  6. Green leafy vegetables
  7. Salmon, sardines, caviar
  8. Turmeric
  9. Walnuts
  10. Water
Naidoo's recommended foods, in alphabetical order:
  1. Almonds
  2. Amaranth
  3. Apples
  4. Apple cider vinegar
  5. Artichokes
  6. Asparagus
  7. Avocados
  8. Baked potatoes with the skin on
  9. Bananas
  10. Beans
  11. Berries
  12. Black-eyed peas
  13. Bran
  14. Brazil nuts
  15. Brown rice
  16. Buckwheat
  17. Canola oil (rather than plain vegetable oil)
  18. Carrots
  19. Chamomile
  20. Cherries
  21. Chia seeds
  22. Chicken
  23. Chickpeas
  24. Cinnamon
  25. Citrus fruits
  26. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  27. Cucumbers
  28. Dark chocolate
  29. Dark leafy green vegetables
  30. Eggplant
  31. Eggs
  32. Garlic
  33. Ginger
  34. Green tea (contains polyphenols)
  35. Hazelnuts
  36. Herring
  37. Honey
  38. Kefir
  39. Kimchi
  40. Kombucha
  41. Lavender
  42. Lean beef
  43. Lentils
  44. Mackerel
  45. Miso
  46. Mushrooms
  47. Nut butters
  48. Olive oil
  49. Onions
  50. Oregano (active ingredient carvacrol)
  51. Organ meats
  52. Passionflower
  53. Pearl barley
  54. Pears
  55. Peppers (active ingredient capsaicin)
  56. Pickled vegetables
  57. Pumpkin seeds
  58. Quinoa
  59. Red wine
  60. Rosemary
  61. Saffron
  62. Salmon
  63. Sardines
  64. Sauerkraut
  65. Soybeans
  66. Steel cut oats
  67. Sunflower seeds
  68. Sweet potatoes
  69. Tempeh
  70. Tomatoes
  71. Turmeric (black pepper significantly increases the absorption of the active ingredient curcumin)
  72. Tuna
  73. Walnuts
  74. Wheat germ oil
  75. Whole grains (including whole grain breads)
  76. Yogurt
Note the similarities, providing cross-correlation of recommendations. All items should be in reasonable, moderate amounts, and watch out for unhealthy additions and condiments to dress them up! Just because a food is listed doesn't mean it should be eaten in large amounts.

Naidoo's list is longer because that's the whole focus of her book. She breaks down the benefits for various brain- and mood-related conditions.

She includes both probiotic items (fermented foods such kimchi, miso, kefir, and yogurt) and prebiotic items (high-fiber foods such as beans and other legumes, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, garlic, and onions). Probiotics are live bacteria that convey health benefits through the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are essentially the food for the prebiotics.

She also recommends foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (while reducing omega-6's), various vitamins and minerals, and beneficial compounds in various spices.

She highly recommends the Mediterranean eating pattern, consistent with the Blue Zone findings. She also recommends avoiding many of the foods of the typical "Western diet," i.e. the typical American diet. These include sugar, other high-glycemic index foods, saturated and trans fats, fried foods, and large amounts of red meat.

The Results So Far

I weigh myself every day. WW recommends not doing that; they recommend just weighing once a week, since it constantly fluctuates. But I want to see those fluctuations, just out of curiosity. For consistency, I weigh first thing in the morning after getting out of bed and going to the bathroom.

This graph shows my results. Notice how jaggy it is, showing the daily fluctuations. Weighing weekly would smooth that all out.

What happened in August? My son and his girlfriend came to town for a week for a wedding. We ate bad stuff and too much of it, peaking on the 23rd, two days after they left. But then once I got back on plan, I started recovering my progress quickly. Some days show multiple pound changes!

My experience with past weight loss was that any time I went off plan, I averaged about half a pound a day weight gain. The key to dealing with that is to stop and allow my body to recover. So I can afford an occasional setback as long as I don't let it go on too long and don't let it break my regimen.

WW also emphasizes "non-scale victories," i.e. what else besides the numeric weight loss. For me, all my clothes that had stopped fitting now fit again. I was down to 2 pairs of pants that I could wear comfortably, and most of my T-shirts were too tight. Now all my pants and most of my T-shirts fit.

Here's another interesting victory: I've stopped needing Tums. Before I started WW, I generally needed a couple of Tums at least once a day to deal with heartburn. Shortly after starting WW, the heartburn stopped.

I attribute this primarily to not constantly overeating. I think being overly full too much of the time was causing my heartburn.

I looked up the points for a number of things I'd been eating previously, and it turned out I'd been eating two or three times my daily points every day. So I'd been significantly overeating on a regular basis. No wonder I'd been gaining weight!

Overall, I'm losing about 1.5 lbs per week. That's a good, sustainable rate. Once I get below 160, I'll adjust to maintain that level.

I'll be posting recipes for the things I've been eating, leaning heavily on the above food lists. In some cases, I'll list specific brand items, because I've found them to be combinations of good flavor and lowest point choice.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Jim Kwik Speed Reading On Mobile Devices

In Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, I reported how I found the speed reading method that Kwik describes to be effective. That was for printed books, where the method involves running your finger along the lines as an eye-tracking target, physically in contact with the page.

I also like to read on my Android phone and Galaxy Tablet. I have the Kindle app installed on both. But because they use touch-screens, the finger-tracking is problematic. I wanted to find a way to deal with that.

Touch Screen Pointer

It turns out to be trivially easy. Modern screens use capacitive-touch technology, sensitive to skin capacitance (they are not pressure-sensitive as people might think). This is why gloves prevent touch screens from working: they insulate the finger contact from the screen.

So simply folding a piece of paper such as a tissue, napkin, or receipt into a "pointer" that you can hold loosely in your hand under your fingertip allows you to run your finger along the screen without affecting it. Then just tap the screen with your pinky or thumb to change the page.

A pen or pencil also works as a pointer, but makes an audible tap touching the screen. The paper pointer is silent.

Kindle Setup

I did a little quick research on speed reading with a Kindle. The Kindle app provides a word-runner speed-reading method, but I don't like it as much as Kwik's method. 

It turns out there are entire religious wars over the effectiveness of various speed reading techniques. The only thing I'll say with respect to that is I have zero comprehension and retention of things I haven't read. If this technique gives me even just 10% comprehension and retention of things I wouldn't have read otherwise, that's a win. And I expect it will be much higher, especially as I gain facility with the method.

I did find a nice article that talks about how screen layout affects speed and comprehension, based on an academic study and resultant paper. The article does say eliminating subvocalization is not effective, but I disagree with that.

The article is How To Speed Read On An Amazon Kindle (or any digital format), by Jon Brooks, and the paper it links to is How physical text layout affects reading from screen, by Mary C. Dyson.

I had found the physical page layout of the Limitless printed book to be easy to read, so I set up my phone's Kindle app to be as close as possible, with a similar number of characters per line.

Starting with locking screen orientation to landscape (i.e. turn the phone sideways to wide view), these are the settings I came up with.

For Font, this screen shot shows the settings and what they look like:

For Layout:

  • Margins: widest margins (narrowest text line).
  • Spacing: largest line spacing.
  • Columns: one column.
Under Themes, I saved the customized settings as new theme "Speed reading size".

Other devices with different screen sizes may require different settings to match that physical layout, and might also be usable in portrait orientation.

For instance, my tablet is large enough that I can use portrait, with the next-larger font, and the narrowest margins (widest text line). It also has an extra Alignment setting, that I set to right-justified (fixed line width).

Reading PDF's On Kindle

I read a lot of things in PDF format, such as e-books and Dyson's paper. It would be nice to read these in the Kindle app with these layout settings.

One thing I don't like about academic papers is the typical layout of densely-spaced, narrow two-column lines of text. I don't like that in hardcopy print, and even less in electronic form. 

It makes reading with a typical PDF-reader application annoying, complicating page navigation. The page doesn't match the screen layout at all, so requires various scrolling, zooming, and panning, very disruptive to the reading flow state.

The Kindle app also doesn't have a way to open PDF's.

There's a simple solution to both of these: Amazon provides a Send To Kindle service that both reformats a document to work with Kindle, and adds it to the device library.

I used that with Dyson's paper, and voila! The paper shows up on screen using all my speed reading settings, nicely spaced single-column layout that is easy to navigate. The screenshot above is from it.

That makes the paper much easier for me to read. As we geeks like to say, how meta and recursive!

The service doesn't work with all PDF's. I tried it with an e-book I was reviewing, and received an email indicating it couldn't be converted. I don't know what the specific issue was.

For such documents, I'll still need to use conventional PDF reader apps, which means I need to read them on the larger tablet rather than my phone. But at least I have the touch-screen management resolved.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik

In the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, the narrator says Gates reads 150 pages per hour.

I'm totally jealous of that. Other people may be jealous of his wealth, but I'm jealous of his ability to absorb and digest information that fast. That's a superpower. With it, anyone can be successful.

I'm now developing that superpower, thanks to Jim Kwik's 2020 book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life. What's amazing is how trivially simple and effective the method is. The book is fantastic, a very easy read.

I found the book this weekend at my parents' house while visiting them in West Virginia. They were reading it as part of maintaining mental fintess in their 80's, which is what makes it relevant here.

Looking over the table of contents, I saw that chapter 14 was "Speed Reading". I thought, yes, I can use that! I read somewhere between 30-40 pages per hour.

So I read chapter 14, then used the method to read the rest of the book cover to cover. It worked amazingly well.

One of Kwik's premises is that many of our basic learning skills are things we learned at a young age, and never learned to advance them.

My interpretation of that is it's like we learned to read early in elementary school using training wheels to help, but then no one ever removed the training wheels. As we grew older and matured, we naturally improved, got better and faster, but were eventually limited by those training wheels.

Kwik removes the training wheels.

The book follows the typical self-help formula, with the author's story (the hero's journey), anecdotes about the people he's helped, explanation of why you should pay attention to what he has to say, and the actual methods and advice.

His methods are full of practical, actionable techniques. They cover memory, studying, note taking, focus, and of course speed reading (which should have been chapter 1 or 2, not 14, since you need it for the rest of the book!).

He covers the Pomodoro method for time management and to allow your brain to rest and consolidate information.

Another of his premises is that the brain is like a muscle, and skills like these are things that can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest, just as muscles can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest.

It's not that someone is inherently a fast or slow learner or reader and can never improve. It's that they simply need to be shown the methods and put them into practice, and they will improve.

I won't steal his thunder or his income by telling you the methods. The book does an excellent job of motivating and describing them, in an easy-to-follow form. I already use a few of them, so that was enough to convince me the others are worth trying.

The book is a worthwhile investment of your time and money. For the price of a lunch or two, you can use this information to truly advance your capabilities.

You might even change your life.

My return trip home consisted of two flights, an hour and twenty minutes for the first, an hour and fifteen for the second. I had brought two books by Dr. Herbert Benson to read over the trip, The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being, 2003, and Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, 2010.

I had read his 1975 book The Relaxation Response a couple weeks before (how to call up on command a calming response to counteract our reflexive fight-or-flight response when you experience immediate or long-term stress).

At the start of the trip, I was up to page 182 of the first book. On the first flight, I read the remaining 106 pages. Given that flight time includes ground time and air time, with announcements and settling in, I spent roughly an hour of actual reading time. So I read roughly at the rate of 100 pages per hour.

That's somewhere between two and three times my prior reading rate. I felt my comprehension and retention were a bit compromised, but largely just as good.

Why was my previous rate so poor? I was a victim of two common habits that Kwik describes, subvocalization and regression (i.e. backtracking). Subvocalization means "reading out loud" in your mind, effectively limited to your speaking rate.

The problem with this is that because your brain is capable of so much more, it gets bored and distracted. Reading as fast as you can while subvocalizing just isn't enough to fully engage your brain.

Then you find you can't remember the last sentence or paragraph you just read. So you backtrack, go over it again. That means your effective reading rate is even less than your speaking rate in order to get good comprehension and retention.

These are side effects of using elementary school reading techniques, the training wheel methods, with a fully-developed and much-more-capable adult brain.

For the second flight, I started the second book in the gate area. But first I downloaded the Brain Focus Pomodoro timer app to my Android phone. Why this one? It looked reasonable, so I gave it a try. I was very happy with it. I'm sure many of the others available are just as good, so you have lots to choose from.

I spent about 10 minutes reading while waiting for the flight, then during the flight, spent two and a half 25-minute Pomodoro work periods reading, with 5-minute break periods.

During the breaks, I used my slight variation of Benson's deep-breathing meditation for relaxation:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Relax your body head to toe: relaxing face, forehead, and temple; unclenching jaw; releasing neck and shoulders; opening hands; easing your back, legs, and feet.
  • Breathe deeply and regularly.
  • Silently repeat the word "one" on each inhalation and exhalation.
This is basically counting to one over and over, so you can't lose count, you always know where to return if your thoughts drift, and the oxygenation and brainless repetition trigger the Relaxation Response.

I'm sure I must have looked pretty crazy to my seat-mates.

In that roughly 75 minutes of reading (85 if you add the breaks), I read 151 pages of the second book. So roughly 110-120 pages per hour, again with comparable comprehension and retention.

That's huge. That's enormous. This was a technique I'd learned 3 days before and had only practiced using for a few hours.

Imagine what it'll be like after I've practiced it and built up the brain muscle over weeks and months, a year from now. I expect to improve all three metrics, speed, comprehension, and retention. So not only will I be able to get through material faster, I'll know it better.

Think what it would mean for you to have that ability. Think what it would mean to give your kids that ability.

I can't wait to apply his other methods and advice.

Read the book, chapter 14 "Speed Reading" first, and then practice that method on the rest.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Physical Fitness Program 2021-05

It's been over a year since my last update.

This is my current weekly physical fitness program, following my Physical Fitness Principles:
  • Monday: Free weights and weight machine for strength.
  • Tuesday: Running for endurance.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for flexibility.
  • Thursday: Repeat Monday workout for strength.
  • Friday: Repeat Tuesday workout for endurance.
I've made a few tweaks from the previous version 2020-03:
  • I eliminated the Pilates for simplicity and time.
  • I reduced the strength sets from 3 to 2, but increased the weight a bit.
  • I separated repeated workouts by 3 days, including across weekends. That allows a little extra recovery time to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
  • I use running on the treadmill for all endurance workouts and warmups/cooldowns. This was the result of participating in the Massachusetts Virtual Endurance Challenge, running a 55-mile virtual course on the treadmill. I enjoyed adding up the miles on my main run days and the warmup and cooldown segments on other days.
  • I shortened the run interval cycle to 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how I'm feeling. Once again, this is part of keeping it at a manageable level.
I continue to use the full sport-specific stretch routines from Bob Anderson's Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition.
This has worked well. I haven't had any back twinges or persistent muscle or joint soreness, and my left shoulder is doing much better, so for now this seems to be a well-balanced program. But it does show I can vary the specific details of workouts as my whim sees fit.

The other big thing of course is that we're still in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, it seems to be winding down in the US. I've had my first vaccination shot and will be getting my second in a couple weeks, and have been working from home for the past 15 months. Unfortunately, there are parts of the world that are not doing as well, with many people suffering.

For the most part our extended family has fared well; one person lost their job due to it, as well as suffered a mild case of it. But the overall stress has definitely taken its toll. I've put on 10 pounds that I attribute directly to stress eating, despite the exercise and otherwise eating healthfully.

One thing I've done to manage the stress is use deep-breathing meditation more regularly. That includes daily practice sessions to be able to trigger the relaxation response described in Dr. Herbert Benson's 1975 book The Relaxation Response. I've also been reading Dr. Judson Brewer's 2021 book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. I've found these to be genuinely helpful.

Benson's premise is that stress is a direct contributing factor to medical conditions that can lead to death. While that was controversial back in the '70's, we've come to accept it these days. Therefore, actively managing stress and anxiety is an important part of long-term health.

I've largely stabilized my dietary changes to about a 50% reduction in animal-based foods. Where I used to have some kind of animal-based item at every meal, now many meals are entirely plant-based, or only a smaller amount of animal-based foods. That strikes a balance with my wife's more animal-based diet.

As before, I generally don't work out on weekends, and I try to make sure to have time available for each full daily workout. If I'm short of time, I can cut the number of reps or sets down, cut the time down, cut the rest periods by 15-30 seconds, or skip some yoga poses.

Monday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's weightlifting stretch routine.

Strength part: 25-30 minutes of free weights and weight machine following Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle. 2 sets of 8 reps for each of 11 separate exercises at slow, controlled pace, with 15-60 seconds rest after each set. I make sure the amount of weight I use doesn't cause any joint pain during or after completing all the sets.

The exercises and weights (pounds):
  • Squat, 85
  • Leg extension, 75
  • Leg curl, 25
  • Chest press, 75
  • Chest fly, 55
  • Seated row, 75
  • Shoulder press, 55
  • Lat pull-down, 75
  • Tricep push-down, 55
  • Bicep curl, 25
  • Ab flex, 65
These are mostly an increase of two 5- or 10-pound plates from the previous program, except for the squats, which is an increase of 45 pounds after my lower back recovered (which I did 10 pounds at a time each week for a month).

Since my weight machine doesn't have a leg press, I do squats with a barbell.

I don't like the bicep curl station on it, so I do those with either Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells, or the dumbbells that come with the barbell. I have a range of hex dumbbells from 10-30 lbs., which is convenient for doing a variety of free-weight exercises without having to change plates.

I use a Bicep Bomber for bicep and tricep isolation with both the free weights and the machine.

Weight machines generally isolate the targeted muscles and joints well, so all the effort is directed to them. While that's good for building just those areas, it also means higher force on them and higher risk of injury. I pay close attention to make sure I'm not overdoing it.

I built up from the previous level by adding weight every 6 weeks, cutting back to 6 reps for each set for two or three workouts, then increasing to the regular 8 reps.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Tuesday: Running For Endurance

This workout can be done almost anywhere outdoors, good for traveling. Also, many offices, hotels, and resorts have treadmills in their gyms. I do post-workout stretching to prevent tight or sore muscles the next day.

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's pre-run stretch routine.

Endurance: 30 minutes on treadmill in 4-minute intervals: 1 minute walking at 3 mph, 3 minutes running at 5 mph. If I'm feeling tired, I use 3-minute intervals.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Anderson's post-run stretch routine.

Wednesday: Yoga For Balance And Flexibility

This workout is very portable after memorizing the sequence of moves, good for traveling.

Because yoga workouts generally incorporate warm-up, stretching, and cool-down, I don't do those separately.

No matter what else I do during the week, if something disrupts my routine and I have to skip one or more workouts, I make sure to do this one, because of its general therapeutic and stress-reducing effects.

Balance and flexibility: 60 minutes of Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs by Rodney Yee. I cycle through the different programs on different weeks. They're all very similar, but with slightly different emphasis. I use a Yoga Mat, Block, and Strap Set. Sometimes it's convenient to have a second block. The 3rd program on that DVD shows best how to use the blocks and strap.

I also do some of the workouts on Yoga With Adriene for variety.

I'm not nearly as flexible as either of them, so I limit postures to only the degree I can do comfortably.

The postures, or asanas, not all of which appear in every program (most of the names from the book 50 Best Yoga Positions):
  • Tadasana, mountain pose
  • Adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog
  • sun salutation (this is actually a sequence moving through several poses, including mountain pose, lunge, plank, pushup, cobra, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward bend)
  • Biralasana, cat pose
  • Virabhadrasana I, warrior I
  • Virabhadrasana II, warrior II
  • Virabhadrasana III, warrior III
  • Trikonasana, triangle pose
  • Uttanasana, intense forward stretch/standing forward bend
  • Dandasana, staff pose
  • Navasana, boat pose
  • Balasana, child pose
  • Single-leg forward bend
  • Paschimottasana, double-leg forward bend
  • Upavista konasana, seated wide-angle forward pose sequence
  • Baddha konasana, cobbler's pose
  • Supta padangustasana, reclining big toe pose/raised leg stretch
  • Jathara parivartanasana, revolved abdomen pose
  • Marichyasana III, sage twist III
  • Garudasana, eagle twist
  • Kapotasana, pigeon pose
  • Anjaneyasana, crescent moon pose
  • Dhanaurasana, bow pose
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose
  • Purvottanasana, upward-facing plank
  • Urda dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose
  • Virasana, hero pose
  • Utkatasana, chair pose/power pose
  • Prasarita padottanasana, wide leg stretch/wide leg forward bend
  • Savasana, corpse pose/relaxation pose
I built up to this level by using Yee's Power Yoga - Flexibility, 25 minutes. This is mostly the same set of asanas as the Power Yoga Collection, so it's both good training to learn them, and a shorter session if I have less time. It's also a good light flexibility workout any time I need it.

Adrienne also offers a number of shorter videos, as well sessions targeting different body areas or situations.

Thursday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

This is an exact repeat of Monday's workout.

Friday: Running For Endurance

This is an exact repeat of Tuesday's workout.