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Herein lies the annual archiving of the books that occupied me this year.  I’m breaking this down into multiple posts to make it easier on all of us.

1. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

If you like Amy Schumer’s comedy and you want a good laugh, then you should go watch Amy Schumer’s comedy instead of reading this book.  If you are curious about the person behind the clown, it is worth reading. It’s written in the style of a personal diary – loosely organized thoughts about her family, her life, her loves, her stuffed animals, and her years of work behind her “overnight” success. She includes excerpts from a diary she kept in her early twenties with retrospective commentary.  It made me want to dig out the Winnie the Pooh journal I kept in my teens to remind myself what I was thinking back then.  As a whole, the book has a vibe of raw honesty that people rarely reveal to each other.

2. A Monster Calls

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”


I paid too much for this book at the airport newsstand because it said “monster” on the cover. It was October 31 and I needed a way to mark the holiday that would be otherwise consumed by travel.  I crammed myself into a little airplane seat with my monster book and read it cover-to-cover. This book had me crying all across the sky on Halloween.

“…and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.”

–Patrick Ness

3. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity


Silberman has provided the most comprehensive historical perspective on autism that I’ve read in my 16 years of studying autism and working with folks on the spectrum. He also delves into the wide range of controversies, treatments, and organizations associated with autism. It’s a work that honors the varieties of human intelligence.

4. The Japanese Lover

 From a retirement home in San Francisco, an octogenarian recounts the events that shaped her life to her young Moldovan employee. Her recollections span from her immigration from Poland to the events leading up to her marriage and beyond. In the telling I learned a lot I didn’t know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII  – and that was just the backdrop for a short episode in the narrative.

It’s hard to say what I admire most about Isabel Allende’s novels:  Her settings are as nuanced as her characters. She makes history live and breathe on the page.  She also guards her characters’ secrets well.  You have to get to know them and love them before you gain their confidence.

5. Another Day

This was the much-anticipated sequel to Everyday [Reviewed Here], the fascinating story of a bodiless teen who wakes up in a different person’s body every day.  Unfortunately, Another Day sucked and I am kinda (irrationally) mad at David Levithan right now. It was the same story, same events, same characters as before, but it was told by the boring character’s point of view instead of the awesome one’s.   Ugh – Why do that?  Maybe because it was written more for commercial reasons than for artistic ones.

6. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism 

A friend wanted to read this book together, so we did. Drawing heavily from research in positive psychology, Cabane offers practical exercises to sharpen listening and speaking skills and to increase one’s general likeability.  The practices and advice were reminiscent of the principles from yoga teacher training, though Cabane couched them in the language of the corporate and academic world.

7. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works-A True Story

 

TV journalist Dan Harris attributes meditation to making him happier and generally less of an ass.  In his self-help/memoir hybrid he shares the experiences, ideas, and  research to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the type of happy that meditation provides.

8. Leaving Time


A psychic and a detective reluctantly join teenager Jenna Metcalf’s search for her missing mother, Alice.  The search centers around the elephant sanctuary where Alice worked as a scientist. As the story weaves back and forth from past to present, the author explores mother-daughter bonds, memory, and grief in both humans and elephants. The ending had a crazy turn that I did not see coming.

9. The Great Gatsby

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been a little obsessed with the 1920’s this year and because I hadn’t yet read this classic, I figured it was time.

10. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows


An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.

Snow Maiden

My Soul

by Peter Mayer
There are a hundred billion snowflakes swirling in the cosmic storm
And each one is a galaxy, a billion stars or more
And each star is a million earths, a giant fiery sun
High up in some sky, maybe shining on someone

And deep inside a snowflake, I am floating quietly
I am infinitesimal, impossible to see
Sitting in my tiny kitchen in my tiny home
Staring out my window at a universe of snow

But my soul is so much bigger than the very tiny me
It reaches out into the snowstorm like a net into the sea
Out to all the lovely places where my body cannot go
I touch that beauty and embrace it in the bosom of my soul

And so brief and fleeting is this tiny life of mine
Like a single quarter note in the march of time
But my soul is like the music, it goes back to ancient days
Back before it wore a human face, long before it bore my name

Because my soul is so much older than the evanescent me
It can describe the dawn of time like a childhood memory
It is a spark that was begotten of the darkness long ago
What my body has forgotten, I remember in my soul

So we live this life together, my giant soul and tiny me
One resembling forever, one like smoke upon the breeze
One the deep abiding ocean, one a sudden flashing wave
And counting galaxies like snowflakes, I would swear we were the same

Oh my soul belongs to beauty, takes me up to lofty heights
Teaches sacred stories to me, sanctifies my tiny life
Lays a bridge across the ages, melts the boundaries of my bones
Paints a bold eternal face on this passing moment, oh my soul

~*~

Wishing you beauty and a happy forever.

Title: The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards

Author: William J. Broad

Why I Read It: As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I have experienced the transformational power of the practice, so I was curious to see how Western science, a reductionist endeavor, would parcel out a holistic experience and to what effect.  The book looked and quacked like science when I flipped through it quickly at the bookstore. Besides, Yoga Journal said it was “a well-researched book that belongs in the library of every yogi” right on the book’s cover.  Surely I needed this?

Synopsis: The author, a journalist and yoga practitioner, gives a brief account of yoga’s history and describes some of the gurus’ claims on health, mood, healing, sex, and creativity.  He smatters in various sorts of research tidbits in the attempt to substantiate those claims or refute them.

Highlights: The book provides an introduction to some researchers and practitioners of interest.  The chapter on the risks of yoga was an original and helpful contribution that added to my knowledge base for particular poses.

Lowlights: If you’re going to use the word “science” in a book’s title, you really need to bring it. The science reporting here lacked rigor and clarity.  It was a mishmosh of personal anecdotes and poorly explained studies delivered with the sort of content and writing style better suited to a gossip magazine. I give you an example: “Ranjit Singh was an ugly little man who liked to surround himself with beautiful women” (p. 13).  What this has to do with yoga or science is beyond me. Also, I think the author tried to cover too many topics with too little depth and he was overly focused on the sensational (like the sophomoric chapter on sex) at the expense of the substantial.

 

The theme for this week’s “Weekly Photo Challenge” is: An Unusual Point of View.

august 9 021

I recently met this Wooly Mammoth at the National Museum of Natural History.

In case you don’t know yet, that’s my doggy, Moon Pie.

Let’s geek out for a bit, shall we? I filmed the above video today. Moo Moo is three months into her training. She is doing better with action words than nominals. Her repertoire of action words includes: Sit, Down, Off, Come here, Get, Outside, Touch, Drop it, No, and Listen.  She’s currently working on Stay. Her nominals include: Ball, Panda, Yip, Nickel, Kitty, and Squirrel.

Due of my own training, my approach with Moo Moo relies heavily on behaviorial theory with a linguistic spin.  Recently though, I’ve been learning about “dog psychology” from Cesar Millan.  Skattur has been telling me to check out this guy for awhile. She watched his show religiously, despite the fact she doesn’t have a dog. I finally broke down and got his book, Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems. It was fabulously undogtrainingguidebookish.

I abandoned most of the dog training books in my gianormous stack within a few chapters (and sometimes within a few pages) because they were horribly boring or just too campy.  But Cesar Millan’s book was different.  First off, he does not consider himself a dog trainer.  He describes himself as a “dog psychologist,” which for me instantly brought up a mental image of a dog reposed on Freud’s couch. Based on that image alone I was prepared to not like this book. Then there’s the fact that he works with all these celebrity people and he frequently uses the word “energy.”  Psychology, celebrity, and energy — the combination of the three made me roll my eyes in self-righteous derision. So, I surprised myself when I stayed with this book until the end. I was even more surprised when I realized I like him and his book. Millan is a ballsy guy who bootstrapped his way to success. His insights on dogs are based on sound experience.



The only other book I’ve found about dogs recently that I liked was a work of fiction — Nora Robert’s The Search.  The blogger behind roughwighting.net recommended it. I haven’t read Nora Roberts in years, so I was due for one.  The woman has written about a bajillion books and her writing style has definitely evolved since the last one I read. Romance isn’t my usual reading fare, nor is it my go-to genre for dog information, but I felt strangely compelled.  This was no ordinary romance novel.  There were serial killers, murders, a bit of mystery, and lots of dog training tid-bits. The romance seemed ancillary, though there were steamy parts.  Table sex was involved.  It was a good read on all counts.

Back to Moo Moo.  More videos of Moo-Moo’s genius may be found in the following posts.  I highly recommend viewing them at work due to their Power of Kawaii (Nittono, Fukushima, Yano, & Moriya, 2012), which improves your productivity. More information on that following the reference. 🙂

This Week on the Farm:Dreams, Rescues, Attacks

This Week on the Farm: Project Moon Pie

Just Another Day at the Office

Reference

Nittono H., Fukushima M., Yano A., Moriya, H. (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46362.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362

Overlapping Seasons

It is spring again.  The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart. 

–Rainer Maria Rilke

It snowed this weekend…right atop the autumn leaves, budding roses, and daffodil blooms.

snow

Fall leaves, winter snow, spring daffodils

Fall leaves, winter snow, spring daffodils

The Duck Report

mallards

mallards

We lost one of our ducks, Baby Gold, to a raccoon who found a breach in El Diablo’s Duck Defense System (DDS).  The perp was apprehended and sentenced to exile.

The seven remaining domestic ducks have been joined by three mallards (two males and a female) who have taken up residence in the pond. Not to be outdone by P. Recious Rainbow, Kiki Duck is now nesting with a *crazy* number of eggs beneath her feathers.

Project Moon Pie

We’ve introduced another label (ball) and another action word (touch) to Moo Moo’s repertoire.  The ever-determined Moo Moo has taken to watching videos of her performance trials to improve her skills.

Moo Moo the Genius

Moo Moo the Genius

…and speaking of improving performance, here is:

Good News for Crazy Cat Ladies

Thanks to researchers in Japan (of course) we now have scientific evidence that looking at cute kitten and puppy pictures/videos facilitates performance in dexterity and focus tasks.  I am not making this up…click that link and you can read about it for yourself.

 This is exactly why you should read my blog. I post cute baby animal pictures regularly. I can help you at work. I bet you’ll even snag a raise.  Subscribe today!

Nilla Bean

Negativity is like a virus.   It infects and spreads, creating more of itself.

 

If you can’t free your voice, how do you expect to free your soul?

–Yogi Hari

~~@~~

Working to cultivate joy is good for you and it’s good for the world. A natural by-product of cultivating joy is that it tends to spread to those around you. Lorne Lander refers to this as resonant empathy.  We have a natural tendency to reflect the emotional energy that others project.   If this language is too touchy-feely and woo-woo for you, hang tight while I couch it in different terms. There is empirical evidence at the cellular level that supports this idea.  In the 1980s and ‘90s a group of Italian neurophysiologists (Rizzolati, Giacomo , Lacoboni and others) discovered mirror neurons in both non-human and human primates. (Don’t monkeys make everything sound more scientific and cool?) These brain cells respond to observing behavior as if the observer is the one performing the action. In other words, if I watch you make a frowny face my own frowny face neurons fire automatically.

Now, I am the child of Nanook the Barbarian and the Angry Russian, whose battles rage as fierce as their names imply.  As you may expect given this lineage, I inherited a volatile temper.  I tend to bottle my anger and flee the scene so it won’t explode on anyone in a violent outburst. Sometimes I fail miserably and spew caustic nonsense.  Sometimes I keep it contained and the anger turns to resentment. Figuring out what to do with this surplus of negative energy has been an ongoing struggle. It may always be a challenge I have to deal with, but I think it’s worth finding peaceful solutions to the problem.

In yoga boot camp I learned a couple practices to deal with negative emotions. One practice is to replace the negative with its opposite on the emotional spectrum.  If greed is a problem, practice generosity. Give more away than you hoard.  If you find yourself depressed, work to cultivate joy. Replace the anger you have with peace.  Pretty simple idea. Trickier to do.

Two other practices we learned are raja and nada yoga. Raja yoga is meditation and I’ve written about it elsewhere (Be Quiet, Be Still). Nada yoga pertains to the power of sound. I’m a bit obsessed with this topic. I’ve devoted over a decade to studying the production of sound and resonance as it pertains to speech development, production, and disorder from the perspective of American linguists and speech-language pathologists. Nada yoga breathed new life into this discipline.  According to this belief system, everything in the cosmos is vibrating at some frequency. Even you. Pause a moment to think on that. It’s an amazing concept. There’s your own inner music, or anahata (can you catch the strains of your own personal tune?) and the vibrations that surrounds you (ahata). You can harness the energy of both through music, mantra, and chanting. If the terms mantra and chanting don’t work for you, then replace them with the metaphor that does. Mantra – what words do you repeat over and over to yourself? Are they protecting your mind from negative energy or creating more of it? Chanting  – whose words and tune are you singing?  Both will affect your mood. For example, if you’re feeling depressed then singing along to Reba McEntire’s For My Broken Heart may not do much to elevate you out of your funk. Try an inspirational or devotional song and make a joyful noise.  I’ve found U-2’s Beautiful Day works wonders for me.

How to radiate joy? First be responsible for the energy you project. Cultivate joy and it will naturally bubble over.

In this video Janine Benyus shares her story of being courted by an amorous waterfowl and what sexy birds have to do with environmentally-friendly design.

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