Meditation: Fear

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. There is no doubt that fear is the most powerful emotion that exists. In my last blog I wrote about how the news media uses fear to control the masses. Fear is a very valuable emotion. It is fear that keeps us safe and from making very risky decisions in our every day life. When fear develops into a phobia, then it can become a real problem in our life. It can make a person helpless and unable to move. The most common phobias include, heights, flying, death, darkness, public speaking, spiders and confined spaces. There are other ones, but you get the idea. This is the best example that I have seen, that shows how powerful fear can be. I knew someone who was a smoker, who had smoked for over fifty years. I can’t say this person was a heavy smoker, but at least a pack a day. When the person developed chest congestion, an x ray showed a spot on the lung. Immediately the person quit smoking for the next 6 months. The 6 month x ray showed that the spot had disappeared. The next day, the individual starting smoking again and continued for the next 10 years, until cancer developed someplace else in the body. It is amazing what fear can make a person do, and what fear can keep you from doing.

Fear can lead to the emotions of worry and anxiety. How are we going to handle this powerful emotion? There are various strategies and plans that can be helpful. Some are more practical than others. You can always avoid fears. The best way to deal with the media. This is looked upon sometimes, as the cowards way of handling fears. Like most labels this is not really true. Sometimes avoiding a fear for a finite period time, gives you time to realized that you may be able to overcome it. Looking at something from afar, so to speak, can give a different perspective on the problem. Getting away from something for awhile, and then going back to it, works as a very good problem solving method. It is used for many problems, why can’t it work for a paralyzing fear. Another way of handling fear is imagining you are doing what you are fearful of, and seeing this in your mind. That is where the fear is originating, and if you can see overcoming the fear in your mind, then you may be able to overcome the fear in the real world. There are other psychological methods to overcome fear. They range from experiencing the fear in a safe environment, cognitive-behavior therapy, virtual reality, and good old medication. I am not going into detail of the various methods, but there are many methods to handle the problem of fear.

How did fear get so powerful? As discussed earlier fear is the one thing that can keep us alive. That’s why we don’t jump off building, walk leisurely across interstate highways, and think we can out wrestle a bear. There is true power in saving one’s existence. Fear is a necessity, where other emotions are not. However this emotion then seeps down into the very fiber of our being, and keeps us from performing the simplest of task, or really enjoying life. As powerful as fear is there are other emotions, anger, lust, sadness happiness, and dismay that may get out of control or become irrational. However, when these emotions get out of control, there is some kind of action or movement. It may not always be the most appropriate movement or action, but none the less something does happen. It is only fear that seems to be so paralyzing. There is no question that meditation can help this. However, the biggest factor on why people do not meditate, is fear. Fear of what they are going to find inside. Fear keeps people from even doing nothing. Does Nike give us the answer when they say “Just do it”. Oh, if it could only be that easy. I do know that a bad plan is better than no plan, which is what fear will cause. Roosevelt said it best when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I do not think there is a solution to fear if you are not meditating, but I do not believe that meditating is a guarantee to overcoming fear. This powerful emotion at least for now is the ruler of the world. The solution has not been found, but when it is found, the world will be a better place.

Meditation: News

The definition of news is, newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events. I first started meditating in 1993, and at the same time, I stopped reading newspapers, and watching newscasts. It was one of the best things I ever did. Any big events, I heard about from friends and neighbors, but not listening to newscasts, made my life much less stressful, and more relaxing. Then came the pandemic of 2020, and to keep up with something so historic, I started watching some news shows, the Today Show and Sunday Morning on CBS. I also started reading more news stories on Apple News. Thirty years later, when it comes to news reporting, I see nothing has changed. It is a sad commentary, that the sole purpose of the news media, whether it be print or broadcast, is to create fear in the minds of their readers and listeners. They equate this with keeping people well informed. Do we really need to know ,that killer bees are invading the country, that social security benefits could be gone by the mid 2030’s, and more bad weather is on the way? The pandemic has fueled this type of reporting even more. They continue to report on ways that the environment can kill you, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. They report on stories that have very little affect on our daily lives, but show the worst sides of people. They very seldom follow the rule of reporting noteworthy information about important events.

Can there be any purpose in trying to keep a population frozen in fear? Is it to keep people distracted by this constant barrage of fear inducing stories, so they will be incapable of moving on with their lives, and improving their respective position in life. I think the stories speak for themselves. We had to shelter in place because of the Covid 19 outbreak, but the media have been trying to keep people indoors for 75 years. Just today on my default browser there were stories of all the celebrities that died of Covid, China responding to a U.S. move restricting their diplomats, and how opening colleges is not working. Almost everyday there is a story about nuclear weapons. There is nothing an individual can do to stop a foreign power from making nuclear weapons, so why tell us about it. The 1950’s is a perfect example. The media frenzy over nuclear weapons had people building bomb shelters. Things have not changed over the last 60 years. Threatening weather makes the headlines all the time, like the entire country is under some kind of environmental attack. Obviously, this type of news reporting sells, or it would not be happening. Unfortunately, there are many people who like to see and hear about suffering, and tragedy, and the news media has no problem, in showing all the death and destruction. It is time for me to go back to not watching the news. Maybe, occasionally, getting a Covid update, to see if this thing is ever going to end anytime soon. Meditating is a way to relieve this stress of the news reporting, but the best way to avoid all the bad effects of watching the news, is to stop watching. It is never going to make your life better. It is time to forget about the big world, because the big world will take care of itself, it always has. It is time to take care of your world. Meditate, breath, relax, and ignore the news. While the pandemic continues, check some stats, about once a week. Be aware of what the disease is doing in your area, and any area, that you may be visiting. But forget about killer bees, and unknown forces, that are going to destroy your food supply, and render yourself helpless. Relax, and enjoy your little microscopic space in the world, because everything can be just fine there, if you follow your inward self.

Baseball: Halfway Through, Sort Of

We have one month of baseball left in the regular season and with the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals everybody has played at least 30 games. With 8 teams in each league able to make the playoffs, almost everyone has at least an outside chance. The American League is again separating out into the good teams, and the bad teams, with some surprises at that end of the spectrum. There are 5 teams that are going to have to make big turn arounds, if they are going to have a shot at making the expanded playoff picture. The Angels, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, and Mariners, are all floundering and there playoff chances are growing slimmer every day. The Orioles are fading fast, and will soon follow. That leaves 9 teams for the 8 spots. It looks like the Astros will make the playoffs, something I wrote they would not do. The big surprises at the bottom of the barrel are the Red Sox and the Angels. After all the hype on MLB Now, it looks like that Shohei Ohtani is nothing more than a .189 DH who is not going to pitch again until 2021. Unlike basketball having the best player in the game does not even get you to mediocrity. Right now, I think that the teams that are in the top 8, are just going to stay there. They may change positions, but you are looking at the 8 playoff teams right now. They are from top to bottom, the Rays, A’s. White Sox, Indians, Astros, Yankees, Twins, and Blue Jays. The White Sox and Blue Jays are the new up and comers, and should be a threat in the playoffs. The Tigers are on the outside looking in, and probably will stay that way. The more balanced National League is a little different story. There are only 3 teams, that seem to have very little chance of making the playoff field. The defending champs Nationals, the Diamondbacks, and the hapless Pirates. That leaves 12 teams for the 8 spots. The surprise team is the Miami Marlins, who are in the thick of the race. Certainly with all the moves at the trade deadline, the Padres are trying to make a serious run. Don’t think they will catch the Dodgers. I think there will be a change in the 8 teams, at the end of the season. I think the Giants and the Brewers will move into the playoffs, and the Marlins and Rockies will move out.

My home team, the Pirates have been pathetic. Again, the injury bug has hurt them, but this is a team that can’t hit, field, pitch, or run the bases. Other than that, this is a damn fine team. Of course, they did not do much during the trade deadline, because what team, in their right mind, would want any of their players. They do not have any big contracts to really unload, so this team doesn’t seem to have much hope in the foreseeable future. Free agency or bust. They would need to have the the three greatest drafts in baseball to just field a respectable team. They need to start, by getting a new owner, but I don’t see that happening. Hopefully, they are learning something out there, and the current group can show some improvement. We have a month to go in the abbreviated season, and we will see how an expanded playoff format, works in baseball. I feel once the playoffs start, that baseball may have some real surprises, on who makes it into the World Series. In my view baseball is not a playoff based sport, if you want to find the best team. Only six times, since 1990, has the team with the best record won the World Series. The playoffs level the playing field when it comes to baseball. The season should really get interesting once the playoffs start. See you then.

Sports: Hockey, Is It

Before I question the validity of NHL hockey, let me say that I think that hockey is a great game. The skating skill and overall athleticism of hockey players, is something to behold. Now that I have that out of the way, the product that the NHL puts out there, for viewer consumption, I do not consider it a sport. What sets NHL hockey apart from other professional leagues, is the fighting and the referees. No other league allows fighting. The enforcing of the rules in hockey is bizarre, to say the least. I would assume this is all overseen by the league, but it makes the referees seem to be the most incompetent in all of sports. This is not a sports league that is bubbling over in popularity. They are at the bottom of the barrel, when it comes to fan viewership. Here is looking at the numbers from 2019. In each of the league’s major event, the NHL is bringing up the rear, and I mean they are way back. Around 6 to 9 million people watched the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. Compare this to 14 to 15 million in baseball and basketball for their championship series and a whopping 42 million for the AFC and NFC championship games. The U. S. Open in golf drew between 7 and 10 million in 2019, when Gary Woodland won, not exactly a household name. Despite the fact that hockey is not very popular, on a national level, none of the above problems seem be to even close to going away. Let’s take a look at each one and see if hockey can become a sport again.

The first issue, is that fighting, is not really seen as a problem in hockey. Hockey advocates feel that fighting increases fan interest and viewership. Yeah, I would hate to see all those 6 million fans, stop watching. They also say, that hockey just wouldn’t be the same without fighting. That statement is true. It wouldn’t seem so ridiculous, disgusting and staged. Fighting in hockey reminds me of fighting in studio wrestling, a very well choreographed performance. Stopping fighting is the easiest thing to do. In the other major sports fighting is severely punished with fines, and suspensions. Fighting is not the every day process in other sports as it is in NHL hockey. If they would stop fighting they may lose some fans but the gains would far outweigh the losses. Secondly, compared to other sports, they don’t have that many fans to lose. Then, there is the officiating. There are so many “unwritten rules” that the written rules often get overlook. There are studies that have been done, that predict on which team the next penalty will be call. The factors, are which team is the home team, the accumulated penalty differential, the time of the game, and the relative strengths of the teams. Whatever happened to a penalty is a penalty. There is also this unwritten rule that a penalty will not be called during the last 5 minutes of the game, unless it is flagrant. Thank God other sports did not adopt this policy, although the New Orleans Saints may beg to differ. I do not think the NHL really cares, but here are some things that could be done, or maybe a new league should form like they did 120 years ago.

In the 1890’s, the National League played baseball, much the same way the NHL plays hockey, today. They broke rules, kept players from running the bases, and fights broke out in almost every game. The fans had had enough, and it was a prime opportunity for a new league to be born. The American League began as a major league in 1901. They cracked down on all the rule violations, and penalized players harshly for fighting. Don’t look now but the American League is still around. This is a perfect time for a new Hockey League to form, that will ban fighting, and call the games, as they see them. This new league should have one major rule change. No more offsides. This would really open the game up, and create a new and exciting brand of hockey. You know the NHL is never going to ban fighting, because of the archaic idea, that this is what the fans want and expect. What fans? As I wrote at the start of the blog, hockey is great game, with some of the greatest athletes in world playing the sport. The game is too beautiful to be made so ugly, by fighting. However this barbaric tradition started, it needs to stop now, and let the sport be played as it was designed.

Golf: The Dilemma

The dilemma in golf is very simple. We are trying to hit a target with a ball, without looking at the target. We are using a method of hitting this target, that seems to be very complicated, especially for longer or full shots, which in turn, makes hitting the target, very difficult. This makes golf totally unique. There are sports, that have some similarities with golf, which I am going to discuss, but none of them have all the elements, that golf requires to achieve the desired goal. This process, of trying to hit the target, in golf has a tendency to make the mind go in all kinds of directions. This causes both mental and physical confusion. The biggest thing golf does, is that it makes the participant try to do things, that they are not capable of doing. Nobody would ever drive the Indy 500, if they have never driven in a car race before. This might sound like an exaggeration but golfers try shots that only the best golfers in the world should attempt. They do this, probably multiple times a round. Before we get to what we might be able to do about this, let us look at sports, that come close to the golf dilemma.

The first thing that comes to mind, is the tennis serve. The tennis player needs to hit the ball to a particular part of the tennis court. In the process, he winds up and has a backswing and a downswing and looks at the ball he is about to hit to a particular target. The big difference of course, is his target does not change, and is relatively close. The environment does not have a major impact on the process. I suppose wind could be a factor, but usually tennis is played in a rather enclosed arena. So repeating the exact same motion every single time, should result in the desired result. I know the expert puts different types of spin on the ball, but the motion of the body is basically the same. This is not true in golf. The body has to go through some subtle changes, as you progress through the clubs. Another sport that seems to have a lot of similarities to golf is baseball. From pitching to batting, comparisons are made to golf. Pitching, in particular, with the wind up being compared to a backswing and downswing scenario. The big difference, the pitcher is very capable of looking at the target while he is doing his motion. There have been some great pitchers over the years, while going through the pitching motion, will take their eyes off the target. Just before they release the ball, they will pick up the target with their eyes. The baseball swing is often compared with the golf swing. The player is intent on keeping his eye and head on the ball, as soon as it leaves the pitchers hand. Of course, the batter does not have to chase his foul ball, and does not have to control the ball any where near what a golfer has to do. Hockey players are looking at the net until they are just ready to shoot and then look quickly at the puck before firing away. There are more examples I could give, but no sport encompasses all the elements of trying to hit the target that golf does. Is there anything that can be done to make this problem easier to deal with.

We will start with the green, and one method that has been done. Players have tried looking at the hole, and not the ball, while making the putting stroke. The most successful player to this was Jorden Spieth. He seemed to do this, only on short putts, but seemed to make a lot of short putts. It makes you wonder, what made him stop, since now he seems to be having trouble with the short ones. I am surprised, that this has not caught on more, on tour. A method of ball striking, that has never taken off is the early head lift, that was done by Annika Sorenstam and David Duvall. These are two highly successful professional golfers, and each one, made the unique move of lifting their head toward the target, before they made contact with ball. In her book, she writes about this as being a simultaneous lift of the head as she strikes the ball. The pictures in the book of her swing, show this to be trues. When you would see her on TV, in the heat of the tournament, the head would be coming up before she actually struck the ball. She wrote in the book, that was a method to help free up her swing, and have a full release through the ball. I have to wonder though, if this was a way to pick up the target, just like the pitchers do, when they take their eyes off the target during their delivery. She never mentions this but it could have been a subconscious behavior. You wonder if the reverse is true. You certainly can not look at the target and make a golf swing. You know I would try such a thing and it is impossible. However, you could start your swing, while looking at the target, and then let it go back down to the ball as the club shaft was getting to about parallel to the ground. Yes! Another thing to try. I think there are two other things that stand in the way of hitting the target in golf. The first, which I have discussed before, is the swing thought. To put this as simply as possible, how can you be thinking of one thing when you are trying to do something else. You are trying to hit a target, and thinking of making a complete backswing, or whatever about you swing. Let that sink in awhile, and then forget about swing thoughts. The second is playing to a wrong target. How are you supposed to hit something, that you know deep down inside, your either incapable of hitting, or is just too risky to go at. This can range from going for tucked away pins, cutting doglegs, or going over a far distance hazard. This golf dilemma has been around since the game has been invented, and quite frankly, not much as been done, to make things easier, for those of us, who struggle along with this confounding game. Um, looking at the target while you start your swing. I will let you know, maybe.

Food: What It Can Teach Us.

Food, the way it is prepared, and eaten can teach us many things.  First it can teach us the differences in people, and how that is not a bad thing.  People can be divided into two groups, when it comes to food.  You are either a foodie, or a non-foodie. The difference is easy to define.  A foodie lives to eat, and a non-foodie eats to live. The easies way to find a foodie, is to turn to any show on the Food Network, or the Cooking Channel. These people love to cook, and consume food.  They like to find new places to eat food, and find new ways to prepare food. They are enthusiastic eaters, and when  they are eating will use  words like, heaven, oh my God, and so good.  The non-foodie will eat, and enjoy certain foods, but will not go to any great means, to find unusual ways to prepare, and eat food.  Even though, there is a distinct difference, between these 2 groups, they all seem to get along.  No one, seems to discriminate against one group, over the other, when it comes to jobs, civil rights, and opportunities. The foodies and non-foodies seem to be fine with each other, despite their distinct differences.

Food can show how unique you are.  We all have foods, that on the whole, are good for the general populous, that can just, not make us feel good.  Mine is tomato juice.  About 12 hours after drinking tomato juice I will get a splitting headache.  My daughter can not eat broccoli. Then, there is the more serious allergic reactions, that some people develop to certain foods.   It tells you, that you are a totally unique person, and that is not bad.  You want to cultivate that uniqueness, into something special. You never want to worry about being a little different, than the “regular people”.  You are that one special person, with your own hopes and dreams, that only you can accomplish.

Food can teach you compromise.   The best example of this is microwave popcorn.  The compromise is between unpopped  kernels, and burned popcorn.   You do not want too many unpopped kernels, but if you try too hard to pop all the kernels, then the popcorn will burn.  I once, had someone tell me, they liked burnt popcorn.  This person turned out to be an idiot. For those of  us, of at least average intelligence, the goal is to pop as many kernels, without that awful burnt smell, when the bag is opened.

Food can teach you when to be creative, and when to have discipline.   When you are cooking food, that is the time, to let the creative juices flow.  When baking, you better have the discipline to following the recipe exactly.  You might be creative in finding a unique way to bake cookies, pies, and cakes, but you  better remember exactly what you did, or the next time will be a disaster. In cooking, when I make sauces, dips, and rubs I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. When the sauce, dip, or rub, really turns out well, and someone wants to know what I put in it, not only do I not the amount, but many times, I don’t remember all the ingredients.  In my view, that is the fun of it, just wing it. I do not do this, when I bake chocolate chip cookies.

Food can teach us to plan.  Planning what you are going to cook and eat for the week is a great way to learn how to plan other activities.  Planning your meals for the week can help you eat healthier and help your budget.  Plan on some left overs, which you can prepare in different ways from the original meal. You can get into your creative mode again.

Food helps you to get to know yourself, by listening to your body, on how it responds to certain foods, and cuisines.  This goes beyond the more severe reactions, we discussed earlier. Start to pay attention to how you feel, after you eat.  You should feel better than when you started.  Things that can make you off, after you eat, maybe related to waiting too long to eat.  There may be a certain food, that you can tell is difficult for you to digest, or just doesn’t make you feel right.  By paying attention to such things, you can improve your abilities in any endeavor you are doing.  You may sleep better, and be more relaxed by eating foods, that only make you feel good.

Finally, food is a great way to try new things.  Not much of a negative can happen to you, by eating something you have never tried before.  Being more adventuresome in the food world, may spread to other aspects of your life.  Getting use to trying new cuisines, may make your life a little more fulfilled. Even though we need food to survive, food is there to give us so much more.  Try to eat more mindfully, and enjoy every bite, by appreciating what all that good food can really do, to make your life better.

Meditation: Monotony

I returned from San Diego on  March 16th after visiting with my daughter’s family. Of course, I have not seen my grandkids since that time. We Facetime, which is great, but certainly, it is not the same thing, as seeing them in person.  The definition of monotony is, lack of variety and interest; tedious repetition and routine. The sentence they used as an example was, “you can become resigned to the monotony of captivity”.  I am sure many people are feeling like captives, during this current pandemic.  We are heading into the sixth month of the Covid 19 crisis.  What is worse, is there seems to be no end in sight.  For whatever reason, people just do not seem to see the seriousness of the situation.  You can blame the President on all his misinformation that has come out of his press conferences, but don’t people have some sort of basic intelligence to see the gravity of situation, apparently not.  Let’s break down the bare facts of our captivity and see if there is anything we can do about it, but I would not be optimistic.

First, we are being held captive by a corona virus, plain and simple.  This is not the flu. The corona virus has been around for a long time, in different forms and is found in almost any animal. There is a corona virus unique to cats, that causes a disease, Feline Infectious Peritonitis.  Many characteristics of this disease are similar to Covid 19.  When cats acquire this virus, most cats have fairly mild symptoms of diarrhea, or no symptoms at all.  However,  5 to 10% of cats infected will  develop a disease, that attacks multiple  organ systems, and results in the cats dying.   They die, because their immune system over reacts to the virus, which causes an extreme inflammatory reaction, that destroys the organs. Does that sound a little familiar of what’s going on when people die of Covid 19?  Corona viruses have this ability to mutate into something much more serious, in any species. Google Feline Infectious Peritonitis if you want to learn more.   The whole point of this, is to emphasize the importance of trying to stop the current virus, not matter what the cost, so it does not have a chance to mutate into something even more serious. If  we are going to escape from this prison, we are going to need to step back and relock up, until the cases start to significantly drop.  Unfortunately we are not going to do that, at this point.  We are going to have to learn how to cope with monotony, because for now there does not seem to an end in sight.

How do we do this?  There is no secret here.  You will  have to emphasize all the things that make life work, except more so. Count your blessing, and appreciate every good thing in your life.  Especially appreciate your good health.   If health is an issue in your life, at this moment, then now is the time to start getting better.  Find joy in the little things in life.  Enjoying another persons companionship, good food, a nice walk, and a warm and sunny day are ways to make monotony tolerable.  Continue to look inside and dig deeper during meditation and times of quiet.  Realized that some day this will all come to an end.  It may not come as quickly as it should,  but it will end. Meanwhile continue to hunker down, pray that all your loved ones, and everybody can stay safe, until common sense prevails. Then, we will start to do the things that will free us from the confinements of the corona virus.

Sports: Injuries

One of the big factors in sports, especially the major team sports, is injuries. Teams that can stay healthy, and seem to avoid a slew of injuries, have a better chance of getting a championship.  Injuries throughout the history of sports, have always been a bit of a mystery.   Some players seem to avoid injuries, and other players always seemed to be plagued, with various injuries.  Some years teams will experience the same thing. One year there seems to hardly any injuries, and the next year the whole team seems to go on the shelf.  What I find interesting, you do not hear much about teams in any sport, trying to avoid injuries.  It seems they leave it up to Devine intervention.  All teams, in all sports, seem to go through some heavy duty workout routines, but they really don’t seem to make much difference, in injury avoidance.  I do not think there is any doubt that football has the most injuries, with the other three sports, baseball, basketball, and hockey running neck and neck, with maybe hockey having the second most.  The latter three seem to have their own set of unique issues, when it comes to injuries.  Baseball with the arm issues, basketball with the knees, and hockey with various upper body injuries. If you google why one player seems to be able to avoid injury, and others seem to be prone to injuries, there are lots of articles. Let’s look at some theories, which for the moment don’t seem to be helping much.

One theory is  the micro injury or tear, which goes unnoticed, until the repetitive action of the motion causes a bigger problem. These are termed, the injuries of redundancy of action.  Working out can cause these injuries, and throwing motions in the respective sport, can be good examples, of potential injury causing problems. One study looking at football injuries, narrowed it down to three issues.  Muscle Imbalance, Core Stability Deficits, and Poor Neuromuscular Control.  There has been developed a set of 7 Functional Movement Screens which evaluates the aforementioned factors, and is  scored anywhere from 1 to 3.  The top score is 21 and anyone scoring lower than 14 is consider prone to injury due to having a problem with any of the three.  Of course, if you are resistant or prone to something, it must be genetics.  Apparently collagen and bone density is the big factor hear. Another factor that is always considered when something has gone wrong, is stress.  The stress factor in over emphasizing winning, could lead to an increase in injuries, some hypothesize.  I looked at one team that was probably under a lot of  stress to win, the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s and compared them with the best  team of this past decade the New England Patriots.  I looked at it from the standpoint on how many players from each team were able to play every game during the regular season.  Now granted, in 1960 the season was only 12 games, but then expanded to 14 games in 61, and for the rest of the decade.  The Patriots had to play 16 game seasons.  The Packers, averaged 21 players a season that played every game, with their best year being 23 players in 1960 and their worst was  17 players in 1961.  For the Patriots of the past decade, they averaged 17 players, who played every game, with their best year being 2016 and 17, where they had 21 players play every game, and their worst year was 2015, with only 13 players playing every game. Despite the fact that we should have more information on the function of the human body, the number of injuries, at least in football, seem to be worse, than they were 50 to 60 years ago.

Nobody seems to be very concerned that injuries seem to be dominating the sport news of today.   It seems like work out routines are becoming more and more intense, even though there seems to be more injuries everyday.   There was one interesting comment by Zack Greinke when spring training was in full bloom, before the pandemic.  On his first outing of the season his fastball velocity was up when compared with other spring trainings in the past.  When asked about that Greinke  responded, that he was throwing more during the offseason, but worked out less. He also stated that he felt better, by not working out as much. I know this is only one athlete, but it makes you think back to a time in sports, when essentially nobody really “worked out”.  They just seemed to play their sport and they played it often.  Back in the 20’s and 30’s baseball players almost played the game year around. They barnstormed the south playing games against players of the Negro Leagues.  We always talk about the long season in baseball, but players of that era practically played the game year around, with no off season.  I still feel the best exercise for golf, is to simply swing the golf club.  You do not have to hit a ball, but simply take a club and keep swinging.  I am not too sure if isolating on one muscle, or a group of muscles, is all that great for the body, as a whole.  I do not know if that is the answer for the injury issue in sports, but I am sure going to watch Zach Greinke this year to see how he does.  Stay safe and watch you step.

 

Golf: Muscle Memory?

Well, this post turned out to be more interesting than I ever anticipated. My purpose of looking into muscle memory, was to debunk a lot of practice recommendations, regarding muscle memory, since I am down on practice.  I knew there was always a lot of debate on muscle memory, whether it existed or not.  When I began to research muscle memory, I had no idea, I would be reading about zombies, weight lifting, and that it does exist, but not in the way we thought.  Even though the definition of muscle memory has changed, they still call it muscle memory.  It is like calling tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, vegetables, when they are really fruits.  Everybody is fine with it, so who cares.  Let’s forget about golf for a moment, I know it is hard to do, and just look at muscle memory in general.

The way muscle memory use to be thought about, was the more you performed a task or movement, the better you performed that movement.  This was called muscle memory.  This is really brain memory.  It is memorized motor nerve impulses sent to the muscles, to perform a certain task. The more you send these impulses, the better the muscle performs.  I will let science take over here.” Muscle memory is a type of procedural memory. However, the name of this particular phenomenon is a bit of a misnomer. Although it includes the word ‘muscle’, the memory center actually lies in the brain, not in the muscles. When we repeat an action over and over again, it gets transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term storage. In the beginning, our brain is more actively working to perform the task, but as we practice or repeat it, over time, our brain needs to pay less attention to successfully perform that task. Another way that some people express the concept of muscle memory is with the term ‘zombie agents’. Some researchers use this term to refer to agents in our brain that can carry out a particular task without us being aware of it, and without any application of judgement. For instance, imagine that you drive to your workplace every day. One evening, you need to go out for a social commitment and take your car, but something is on your mind, keeping you distracted. By the time you realize what you’ve done, you have started to drive your car on the usual route to work! Keep in mind that the muscle memory at play here is not just about remembering the route, but also the act of driving the car. You will honk when necessary, change lanes, speed up and slow down, but you still may not realize that you’re going to the wrong place. This example aptly shows just how efficient muscle memory can be’. I knew it was due to zombies why my golf game stinks.

So, if the muscle memory of performance is a brain function what do muscles remember. Again we turn to science. ” Muscles that have been trained before, find it easier to get back to a trained state than untrained muscles building up for the first time. The reason for this lies in epigenetic changes that happen at the level of each individual cell. Specific sites on each cell are responsible for muscle growth and an increase in strength. When muscles stop training there is a slow at first and then faster decline of muscle size and strength but the genes responsible for muscle growth do not go away. Muscles do have a memory of their former fitness and strength encoded in their genes and it allows them to rebuild that strength faster when they lose it.” Even though the strength of the muscle goes away from lack of use, there are still parts of the muscle that “remember” how to get strong again  faster than the first time.   Now, lets get back to golf to see if we can apply any of this, to our golf games.

The good news here, is once you get muscles in golf shape, they will stay that way, and be easier to get back in shape for a new season. Swinging a golf club every day, without hitting a ball, will help keep those muscles in shape.  The brain is still in charge of improving your golf game and golf swing.  Some other things I learned, while reading about muscle memory.  Your golf muscles will not decline until after 2 weeks of non-usage.  You will learn faster, if you allow at least a 6 hour gap between each new change of your swing.  No matter how many swing changes you think you need to do, don’t do more than one at every range session.  The bad news is the brain side of muscle memory, can slow the process of making swing changes, by ingraining  bad swing habits, if you continue to do them. This may explain why students have problems making the proper swing movements, because the bad ones are so ingrained.  This explains, in my view, why the inability to aim is so prevalent in the game.  Our muscles as it turns out, are very much like ourselves, as they do remember how good they use to be.  But unlike us, they can get back to their former selves much easier. Remember, true improvement in golf, must come from the brain, just like everything else.

 

Sports: Baseball, The 60 Game Season.

Next Thursday, the 2020 Major League Baseball season, will get underway.  It will be a 60 game season.  Just like everything else in 2020, this will be unchartered waters, for our American pastime. This will be the least amount of games played, for a season, in the history of baseball.  Even though many of the experts that cover baseball, feel that anything can happen, everyone thinks  that the cream will rise to the top, and the best  teams will make the playoffs, and world order will return.  Of course, once  opening day and the schedule was announced, the in-depth analysis has been going on and on and on. There is this obsession with Shohei Ohtani, the universal DH, and the extra inning rule.  Despite all of this, I think there has been things that have been overlooked  and because  I’m about to lose my mind, I will make my own predictions for the coming season, sort of.

I think, one of things, that has been over looked, is the lack of travel, that has been built into the schedule.  A lot of teams will hardly leave their time zones.  This should help more veteran ball clubs, from a fatigue standpoint.  There should be less need for days off.  This means your better players, should be able to play almost every game.  A team should be able to ride the hot streak, of a player, and not worrying about tiring him out. I know injuries, and testing positive for the virus could be big factors, but with a shorter schedule, I feel, with any luck at all, depth may not be a big issue, for some teams. Let’s face it, you do not have to be lucky, for as long, to avoid injuries, this year.  You can not say that a 60 game season is a sprint, but it is far from a marathon.  Pitchers, down the stretch of the last 10 to 15 games, can be used more than they would be at the end of a 162 game schedule.  The other factor, that seems to be overlooked, is that there will not be any of those cold weather games that you see in April and May.  I feel this affects some teams more than others.   Many people feel that teams, like the Blue Jays, Padres, White Sox and Rangers could be contenders, because of all the young talent they have.  I feel that it will be the more veteran teams, that will be fighting for the playoffs. The short season may make bullpens less important, down the stretch.  The bullpen may be important to start the season, since some starters will need to stretch out early in the season.  However, this is the perfect season to ride the starting pitching the last 14 games and right through the playoffs.  One of the big factors will be, what team can remain the coolest, when things start to go wrong. Panic mode will be hard to avoid with only 60 games to be played. So, what do I think might happen.

There are seven teams, the Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Tigers, Mariners, Pirates, and Giants that are given no chance to make the playoffs.  I feel that one of them will make the playoffs.  Of these teams, I feel the Pirates may have the best chance.  I think the NL central, is by far the weakest division in baseball, and that the winner of the division may finish at .500 or below. For lack of a better term, with the whole division floundering around, the Pirates may be able to flounder up a hot streak at the end, and pull out the division.  The Giants have a veteran presence, and may be able to slip in as a wild card. The other teams would be a bigger surprise, but in 60 games anything can happen.  On the other side of coin, I feel the Astros will not make the playoffs. Without playing a game, the Astros have caught a couple of  breaks, by having the season delayed, and with no fans in the stands, to harass them.  However, this team has a stigma surrounding it, that will be hard to overcome.  If they get off to a shaky start, they would have to live in a cocoon, not to hear all the insinuations, that the only reason they won, was by cheating. This, like any sporting endeavor, is a game of confidence, and theirs could be shot by the 10th game.   When spring training started in March, I thought it was a foregone conclusion, that we would have a Dodger-Yankee World Series.  I still feel that way, but I think there may be one team, that could spoil the party.  The Oakland A’s could be a team, that will benefit the most from this shortened season.  They have always been a team that has waxed hot and cold.  I think they will win the division, if the Astros decline, like I think they will.  They can avoid the one and done wild card game, which may be enough to get them into the World Series.   In this crazy year, it would be nice to see this Oakland regime finally get a ring.

So, there you have it, the baseball season preview, with some rare predictions by yours truly, which I will revisit in about 2 months.  Let’s hope most of all, that the players stay safe, and we can enjoy this very unique baseball season, that is about to start. PLAY BALL!