Archive for the health and fitness Category

My “Four Fingers”

Posted in health and fitness, miscellaneous on May 11, 2012 by gohelpyourself

I just love my “Four Fingers”.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

“Nice shoes,” said the man in the next urinal as I was about to shake off my thing. I was at theAIMConferenceCenterto attend a panel discussion on K-12 education.

Now I don’t think he was gay and that he was trying to pick me up. But it’s not really an exciting topic of conversation in the toilet. Come to think of it, maybe he noticed how big my feet appeared in my Fila Skele-Toes. And you know what they say about men with big feet.

So I simply said, “Thanks.”

The shoes in question are not really shoes. My Fila Skele-Toes are knockoffs of Five Fingers. For those who haven’t seen Five Fingers, they’re like gloves for your feet. They have thin and flexible rubber soles and Spandex-like material to cover the rest of your feet. Because they are “foot gloves”, you can wiggle your toes freely.

Many thought that my Fila Skele-Toes were Five Fingers, which, at P4,000 to P5,000 a pair, are expensive. A lady doctor in a hospital recently said, “Nice shoes, Sir. Five Fingers.” But I told her that they are actually “Four Fingers”, and that they are much cheaper at less than P2,000 a pair.

And why “Four Fingers”? Well, instead of having five digits, each “foot glove” has only four. The pinky toe and the toe next to it (what do you call them anyway?) only have one opening. But if you look at them, you’d think they have five digits because of the design.

They look ugly. If you compare them with slippers and other shoes, they are aliens. So why would you want these ugly looking things?

For one thing, they are very comfortable. They provide you enough warmth for your feet, and they are oh so light. You can leap in the air while on the street and don’t have to worry about small pieces of rock piercing your feet.

For another, they make you feel stable. You should try running using these ugly things. When I had a treadmill test recently (the doctor found nothing wrong with me, by the way), I felt so stable and free. The traction was excellent. It was like running barefoot but with less of the jarring impact on your feet and knees, and better grip on the ground, or the treadmill in my case.

It felt so natural walking and running with my “Four Fingers”. I felt like a Kenyan marathoner running after a gazelle.

Oh well. If only my office would allow me to wear these things. I’m not an endorser of Fila or Five Fingers, by the way. I’m just a very happy customer.

In the future, I hope our shoes would look and feel more natural, just like my “Four Fingers”. And when that happens, we would be admiring each others’ feet. And you know what they say about people with nice big feet.



Run and write with Haruki Murakami

Posted in book review/summary, health and fitness, writing on February 20, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Novelist Haruki Murakami writes three to four hours a day. (Photo by Gal Oren.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

I wish I could do that. But if I did, I would easily be left behind, and as for writing, I wouldn’t even know where to begin a novel.

I’ve never read any of Haruki Murakami’s novels. His popularity in bookstores, however, intrigued me, and I made a mental note to read some of his works this year. When I came upon his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I said, “Hey, I used to run, too.”

I learned that he runs every day. Before I got married, I was doing exactly that — run every day, for about two months. And before that, I was running three times a week. I felt a connection. So I guess his book about running — a memoir, actually — would be a good place to start to experience his work. He talks about how he writes, too. Vicariously, then, I could run and write with Mr. Murakami by reading his short book.

It’s inspiring to read how Murakami nurtured and allowed running and writing to feed on each other, to provide the physical, mental, emotional, and creative fuel to keep the two things going.

Murakami has been running every day for more than 20 years. Is it because of his strong willpower? Natural runner’s physique? Superhuman leg muscles? Perhaps a childhood trauma that left ominous voices in his head shouting, “Run, Mr. Murakami! Run!”?

Nope. His reason? “It suits me.” That’s what he said in the book. I wish it were that simple for everybody. For him, no amount of persuasion will convince anyone to take up running if it doesn’t suit that person.

The problem is, getting up from the sofa to the fridge to get food suits many people. And they prefer doing that instead of running. We can’t do much about that. But if you find any suitable physical activity that suits you, then that would be a good start.

As for being a novelist, he said there should be three ingredients: talent, focus, and endurance. Talent, of course, can be developed, but there must be a modicum of talent to begin with. I like his take on focus. Indeed, without focus, your talent will go to waste. Murakami concentrates on writing three to four hours a day. Not many can do that.

And as for endurance, he says you need energy to keep your focus on writing. If you feel drained and exhausted after hours of writing instead of energized and motivated, then, obviously, you won’t last long in the craft.

What is interesting to me is that talent, focus, and endurance are the basic ingredients of being excellent at anything. It can be cooking, singing, or weight lifting, or whatever “suits you”, as Murakami would probably say.

He seems to be deliberately thoughtful, quietly passionate, and compassionately wise. You may want to read his short memoir. Who knows, it may suit you, too.


No need to be sorry with sore eyes

Posted in health and fitness on December 28, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Who's afraid of sore eyes? That's me, my daughter Ariadne, and my wife Em.

By Anthony O. Alcantara
When you have sore eyes, some people avoid you as if you have leprosy. It recently happened to me. But I’ve come to love it.

Here are some advantages to consider:

1. It’s the easiest way to tell people you don’t like to get lost. “Hey, I have sore eyes.” “Really? Oops, I think I have a meeting at the other building. Bye.”

Or you can just stare at them for 20 seconds. Now that’s an artful way of sending the message. It’s like having the perfect insect repellant, especially effective against enemies endowed with annoying proboscises, generally used for sucking, and who emit irritating noise, which, to you,  vaguely resembles human speech.

2. You get to buy a new pair of sunglasses or shades. If you have one or a few pairs already, having sore eyes gives you the license to buy a new pair. That’s cool.

I didn’t have one, but I have eyeglasses that I don’t use anymore. So I just had the lenses changed. Since I didn’t want the lenses to be too dark, I chose a lighter shade, a 25F according to the scale that was shown to me at Sarabia Optical.

Aside from hiding your reddish eyes, the shades also remind you not to scratch or touch your eyes, thus preventing the spread of the virus or bacteria to others.

3. You get to stay at home. Staying at home may not be that exciting for some people, especially since you may not be able to do anything because your eyes hurt. But it can be an opportunity to bond with your family.

In my case, I got to play with my 15-month-old daughter, Ariadne. She was the one who infected me with the virus in the first place. Everytime I get home, she would run to me and poke my eyes and say “Eyes!” Then she would laugh. It’s a good thing she was cured of the ailment much more quickly than me and my wife.

So we got to play and cuddle but avoided the eye-poking. I wore my shades at home. We also had picture-taking sessions wearing shades.

4. You get to practice eye contact. Since people would tend to look at you twice, it’s the perfect opportunity to communicate with your eyes.

Usually, one eye gets badly hit by the virus, while the other awaits attack. So one eye may appear to be partly squinting because of the swelling. Here’s what you do: Look at the mirror and practice squinting the other unaffected eye. That way your eyes would look the same. If you get quizzical looks, you can just say that a speck of dust launched itself into one of your eyes earlier.

In any case, more eye contact will improve your relationships. It’s been said that more eye contact implies intelligence and confidence. So, yes, you can actually fake intelligence.

Just one exception: Don’t try to make eye contact with a drunken man on the street. That would be stupidity.

So enjoy your sore eyes. But don’t infect others–not unless they’re your enemies.


NAPA, please

Posted in food, health and fitness on October 4, 2011 by gohelpyourself

NAPA me, Lucky Me!

By Anthony O. Alcantara

I haven’t been eating grains since October last year, except for my cheat days. I’ve been following a semi-caveman diet that seems to fit me so far.

On my cheat day recently, I suddenly had a longing for Lucky Me! pancit canton. There were a few varieties I could choose from in the store at our condo. I settled on the chilimansi flavor.

It says, “NEW LOOK. Same Great Taste.” I had vivid memories of how it tasted like years ago. Another label caught my eye: “USES NATURAL GREEN TEA EXTRACT. NO ARTIFICIAL PRESERVATIVES ADDED.” In the middle of that label is “NAPA,” a convenient acronym.

“Hey buddy. This is NAPA. No artificial preservatives added. Eat this. It’s good for you.”

This is excellent, I tell myself. I felt like giving Lucky Me! a high five. So I buy two small packs, just for me. NAPA is the best.

When I got home and read the text at the back of the packaging, I learned that the product used green tea extract as a natural and healthy preservative. Nice.

It's best to read the fine print.

But when I read the list of ingredients, I discovered some artificial-sounding names: monosodium glutamate (MSG), maltodextrin, tartrazine, and sunset yellow.

Well, MSG is naturally occurring in food, but it’s not naturally occurring in pancit canton unless you add it. I guess this could pass.

Maltodextrin is a food additive produced from starch through partial hydrolysis. It is commonly used in sodas and candy. While it is easily digestible, it’s a synthesized substance.

Tartrazine is also synthetic and is used as food coloring.

Sunset yellow is used in fermented foods that must be heat treated. It’s derived from petroleum, which happens to fuel your cars, too.

So can someone please explain to me how Lucky Me! Pancit Canton Chilimansi Flavor can claim to be NAPA?

To Monde Nissin, the manufacturer of Lucky Me!, I say, “NAPA, please.” No Asinine Puffery Allowed.


Manny Pacquiao: Delivering solid punches for sports development

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance on May 7, 2011 by gohelpyourself

(I wrote this story seven years ago for the April 2004 issue of PLDT’s ACC:ESS Magazine. Manny Pacquiao fans may be interested. Too bad I couldn’t find my picture with him.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Being a champ has its rewards. Money, popularity, respect, admiration and fulfillment may be all a person could ever want. No doubt Manny Pacquiao has all of these. For him, however, there is a different kind of fulfillment he continues to seek.

Through his Emmanuel Pacquiao Foundation, Manny is not only helping the country develop its new breed of champions and excellent sportsmen but also recognize and support retired athletes as well.

Nakakalimutan na sila,” lamented Manny. “Minsan sinisiraan pa.

The two-year-old foundation, which is based in Barangay Dadiangas in South General Santos City, aims to promote boxing as a professional sport. It supports programs that seek to develop boxers, giving them opportunities to hone their skills and achieve their dreams. It awards scholarships to promising athletes and grants security benefits to retired athletes who once brought honor to the country but are now neglected.

Boxing, unlike other sports, is a high-risk sport. There is a chance that a boxer could get killed in the ring or develop internal injuries that are not easily detected and which could kill without warning some days, months or years later.

The families of many boxers are usually left with nothing when the boxers retire or when something unfortunate happens to them.

Not all boxers make it big like Manny Pacquiao. Not all manage to rake in millions and not all who earn the millions know how to invest them wisely to provide them with a decent living when they retire.

The scenario is the same for many other athletes in different fields.

Hindi lang boxing sinusuportahan ko. Sumusuporta ako sa billiards, sa basketball, basta kahit anong sports kasi yan lang ang solusyon para maiwasan ng kabataan ang masasamang bisyo,” Manny explained.

He does not believe in just giving enough of the right advice to the youth about avoiding drugs and vices.

Bukas, makalawa wala na yan,” he said. “Ganon tayong mga Pilipino eh. Yung mga bata, pag may sports, sila na mismo ang iiwas sa bisyo.”

With the new special edition call cards featuring Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champ is giving hope to his fellow athletes. Under the agreement with PLDT, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the cards goes to his foundation and its projects.

With so much given to this talented sportsman, the call to give back to society some of the blessings he continues to receive has become hard to ignore.

Manny Pacquaio is the 2nd exemplary Filipino to be featured on the PLDT Touch Card.  Exemplary Filipinos are those who have brought honor and glory to the Philippines in their fields of expertise.  They continue to inspire the nation and make a difference in the lives of Filipinos.  The 1st exemplary Filipino to appear in the Touch Card was former Senator and hero, Ninoy Aquino.

PLDT, being the leading telecommunications company and having the most innovative products and services the country, has decided to have Manny, a world champion in boxing, as one of its endorsers for its call cards.

Like Manny, PLDT has transformed itself into a very aggressive and quick player in the telecommunications business. From ordinary fixed line phone services to cellular phones, satellite communications, Internet, data networking, and call centers, PLDT has pursued opportunities and continues to remain the country’s No. 1 telecommunications company.

The perfect fit between Manny Pacquiao and PLDT can also be seen with how the two became the No. 1 in the their respective fields through years of experience and preparation. Manny with his very demanding physical regimen since starting out with boxing at 12-years-old, and PLDT with its challenging and yet illustrious 75 years of service to the Filipino people.

Manny, through his foundation, is also doing his part in helping fellow Filipinos and the country in realizing the dream of economic prosperity and commitment to excellence. As for PLDT, it has been supporting many worthwhile causes that help the less fortunate in society. The Company, for example, continues to support the livelihood projects of Philippine Business for Social Progress by contributing a certain part of its income every year to the organization.

Aside from Manny, PLDT has also tied up with other celebrities for the call cards where other foundations and socially-oriented non-profit organizations received portions of the proceeds from the sales of call cards. They include singer-actress Jolina Magdangal for the Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines and singer Gary Valenciano for the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund or UNICEF.

With Manny, PLDT is sure to score another victory with its call cards and the foundation that will benefit from the sales. And, speaking of victory, it is surprising to note that a world champ like Manny considers his most memorable fight not one of victory but of defeat.

Nung natalo ako nung 1999. Ang kalaban ko si Majern Matire from Thailand. Hindi ko pati nakuha yung timbang ko kaya tinanggal sa akin yung korona,” rued Manny.

However, as his win-loss-draw record of 38-2-1 and his collection of championship belts would show, Manny believes that there can be glory after defeat. In the same way, as Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan would say, PLDT, with its own setbacks and difficulties throughout its 75-year history, believes that “the best is yet to come.”


Secrets from a wunderkind

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance with tags , on November 25, 2010 by gohelpyourself
Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Josh Waitzkin’s credentials say it all: eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, subject of the book and movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” published his first book, “Josh Waitzkin’s Attacking Chess,” at 18, and became international chess master.

On top of that, he also held 21 national championship titles and several world championships in a physically-demanding martial art called Tai Chi Chuan as well.

It’s rare to find brains and brawn in one human being. And it’s much rarer to find a person performing these feats at world-class levels.

That certainly makes Josh an authority on optimal performance. The following tips are based on his book, “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” (265 pages, Free Press, 2007).

I don’t guarantee they will work, and neither does Josh in his book. But it’s worth a try.

1) Become an incremental theorist.

In the chapter “Two Approaches to Learning,” Josh describes the findings of Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading expert in developmental psychology. Dweck, he said, made a distinction between “entity” and “incremental” theories of intelligence.

Children have been made to think in ways that make them either “entity theorists” or “incremental theorists.” “Entity theorists,” Josh said, “are prone to use language like ‘I am smart at this’ and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability.”

“They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve,” he added.

“Incremental theorists” or “learning theorists,” however, tend to “sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped—step by step, incrementally, the novice can become master.”

Josh ascribes really successful people to this “incremental” theory of intelligence.

2) Find your “soft zone.”

In the chapter “Soft Zone,” Josh tells about his peak zone, where full concentration and optimal learning takes place. It is where people lose themselves in whatever they are doing and come out refreshed and energized nevertheless.

The trick, he said, is to recreate the moments when you are totally immersed in an activity. Study them and find out how you can duplicate this “soft zone” to improve your performance.

3) Think of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

In the chapter “Slowing Down Time,” Josh tells about intuition. He said he developed his intuition through years of training and he has found that it may have something to do with the theories of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

“Chunking” refers to grouping chunks of information into a single “chunk” for easier recall. In chess, for example, grandmasters don’t memorize distinct and separate moves or positions. They memorize manageable chunks that recreate intricate chess positions and sequence of moves.

As for “carved neural pathways,” this can be developed through conscious, focused and deliberate repetition or practice. If you continuously stretch yourself and deal with complex information, you eventually build “pathways” that will make it easier for you to access this complex information.

4) Develop your focus and concentration.

In the chapter “The Power of Presence,” Josh makes a case for focus and concentration.

“In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre,” said Josh.

“The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing,” he explained.

5) Make it a HIIT.

High Intensity Interval Training or cardiovascular interval training can improve mental performance as well.

In the chapter “Searching for the Zone,” Josh tells us about what he learned from a performance training center that revolutionized his approach to peak performance. It was about “stress and recovery.”

He said the routine use of recovery periods distinguished the dominant performer in virtually every discipline. He mentioned Michael Jordan sitting serenely at the bench for two minutes before coming back to the game, Tiger Woods walking in a relaxed way before making his next shot, Pete Sampras calmly picking up his racket even though he lost some points… they all show this effective use of recovery periods.

Cardiovascular interval training, which involves varying intense physical strain with rest periods, can do wonders for physical as well as mental performance, according to Josh.

6) Build your trigger.

Josh tells about how to dive into the zone in the chapter “Building Your Trigger.” He suggests developing a routine before a pleasurable activity. For example, if a father enjoys playing basketball with his son, he can come up with a routine that can perhaps involve a few minutes of meditation, a few minutes of stretching, eating a light snack, listening to music, etc., before playing basketball.

Doing this routine before playing basketball, and before a challenging task at the office, will help develop this trigger. Of course, as the months pass, the routine is truncated up to a point that you only have to imagine the music or just take a few deep breaths in order to go in your “soft zone.”

“This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth,” Josh said. He explains the process at length in the book.

In a nutshell, Josh has one overarching message: optimal performance can be learned.

If we want to learn to be the best, then we might as well learn from the best. Josh Waitzkin is one of them.



Decision-making and Aikido’s 5 martial arts steps

Posted in health and fitness, martial arts on November 18, 2010 by gohelpyourself


That's me trying to look fierce.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

To the uninitiated, Aikido may appear to be a graceful, dance-like martial art taught by men fond of wearing black skirts. And to those who know Steven Seagal, that great popularizer of Aikido, it may appear to be a brutal form of self-defense that involves breaking fingers and arms like twigs.

As an Aikido practitioner for 13 years, I’ve often wondered about the sound of breaking arms. But then I never got willing and enthusiastic volunteers for my live experiments.

In any case, Aikido can be both graceful and brutal. It’s very effective, too. But it’s a long story and I’m here to discuss the parallels of great decision-making and Aikido’s five martial arts steps.

Recently, my Aikido sensei, or teacher, announced via email that there is a video about these Aikido steps for sale. I think the video is a great idea. But having recently attended a seminar on analytical thinking at the company I work for, I thought of using decision analysis.

Should I buy or not?

That’s when the idea hit me. Why not use the five Aikido footsteps as a framework for decision-making?

It may appear silly, but who knows what may come of it. So here are the results:

1. okuri-ashi – Some rough basics first. When you assume the basic stance In Aikido, one foot is in front of the other. In okuri-ashi, the front foot or the leading foot initiates the movement and moves forward. The hind foot follows, and you end up in the same stance.

In decision-making, sometimes we need to initiate the move to come up with a good decision. We initiate the research and gathering of information. In this case, I did a little research and I found out there is no other similar video about the five Aikido steps made here in the Philippines. If there is one, please let me know.

2. tsugi-ashi – Now this involves the hind foot initiating the movement, moving forward until it reaches just behind the leading foot. The leading foot then quickly moves forward and you end up in the same stance. In making decisions, sometimes we are pushed by events and ideas. We don’t initiate the movement. We are pushed and forced to make a decision. The stimulus that we receive forces us to think about the situation and take action.

In deciding whether to buy the video or not, I was pushed or influenced by my sensei, who can be very very persuasive. He’s a 5th dan black belt and has almost 30 years of experience in teaching Aikido.

3. ayumi-ashi – This is just like walking. From the ready position, the hind foot moves forward and overtakes the leading foot, which subsequently takes a similar quick step forward so that you end up in the same initial stance.

Sometimes, when making decisions, we are not pushed by other people but led or directed to certain directions. Other people initiate the move and lead us to certain decisions.

In my case, I was also pulled and led by my sensei to make a certain decision. Of course, the promise of a great product attracted me, too.

Another "warrior-like" pose.

4. tentai – From the ready position, you just turn 180 degrees or face in the opposite direction, with your feet turning but still on the same two spots on the floor.

In decision-making, you also consider opposing views or perspectives. I’ve turned 180 degrees and thought that the video won’t really make a significant difference in my Aikido.

5. tenkan – This also involves a 180-degree turn. But there is a difference. You plant one foot in place and turn your body and swing your other foot behind you until you face the opposite direction.

Sometimes you just have to look at it from all directions or perspectives. In any decision there are always other perspectives, and all of them can  be valid.

In deciding whether to buy the video or not, I had to look at different perspectives: from the perspective of the learner, the skeptic, the know-it-all, the open-minded, the spend-thrift, the curmudgeon, the gullible, etc.

In the end, after considering these five Aikido steps in my decision analysis, I decided to buy the video.

Why? Simply because it is a well-made video and a pioneering video for my club, which is the Makati Aikido Club. And I wholeheartedly support any worthwhile and great product.

I know I didn’t have to use the five Aikido steps to make a decision. But then again, would you like to volunteer for my experiment? The five Aikido steps can help you decide.


(For those interested in Aikido or the Five Aikido Steps video, visit the Makati Aikido Club website