Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Yoga & Other Bodily Defenses from Cold

Jynne Dilling Martin, Antarctica poet-in-residence, strikes a glacial pose. (source:

by Tom Haushalter

Cold enough for you?

It's not even officially winter yet, but I swear my phone's weather app laughed at me when it displayed -18 degrees at sunrise yesterday.  Whether you're in northern New England like us—or elsewhere in the snowed-under world (a foot fell in Jerusalem!)—you get good at rationalizing the virtues of four, full seasons. But that doesn't mean our subarctic sanity is automatic. Thanks are owed to layers—many, many layers. And working wood stoves.

And our biological ability to adapt!

No, really. Just out in its 4th edition, Peter J. Marchand's essential Life in the Cold: An Introduction to Winter Ecology offers a comprehensive picture of the interactions of plants and animals—including humans—with their cold weather environment, and it's brimming with fascinating did-you-knows about how our bodies learn to cope with plummeting temps.

1. Shivering is your body's built-in rattling radiator. Increased muscle activity, such as through shivering, says Marchand, "remains our prinicipal mechanism for increasing heat production." At rest, our muscles contribute about 20% of our total heat output, but shivering can raise the metabolic rate fivefold. Marchand adds, "Even before shivering, a measurable increase in muscle tone occurs, often felt as a tightening of the neck and shoulder muscles, and this alone can double heat production."

2. Yoga is the thermal wear of physical exercises. Yes, yoga builds tolerance to cold! A study of some Tibetan Buddhists who live in unheated stone huts in the Himalayas showed that their practice of an intense meditative form of yoga, emphasizing relaxation and controlled breathing, created, according to Marchand, "an extraordinary ability to elevate skin temperature in their extremities by as much as 8 degrees within an hour of assuming their meditative posture."  

3. Canadians really are more chill. Marchand cites a case study of Quebec City mailmen, whose "blood pressure and heart rate were found to be substantially lower at the end of winter, as compared to the beginning of winter." And that calmer blood flow, a la those Tibetan yogis, might lead to a rise in temperature receptors in your brain. (Probably these shirt-sleeved Manitobans blowing bubbles at 45 below would assure you the cold is all in your head.)

4. Maybe think twice about that New Year weight-loss plan. Fattier skin acts like a layer of clothing! According to Marchand, "one centimeter of fat is said to have an insulative value [equivalent to] a layer of dry, uncompressed wool or cotton clothing." 

As if I needed another excuse to plunk my hand back into the holiday popcorn tin. 

Stay warm out there.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Concussion Nation

The growing national conversation about the risks of brain damage to athletes in high-contact sports is, with any luck, headed toward fever pitch.

As pro football players continue to come forward to admit to examinations, and as incidents of suicide, such as the MLB's Ryan Freel, link to diagnoses of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), debates rage over who should be accountable for players' brain injuries (the NFL or helmet makers or players themselves?) and what should be done to change the way these games are played—some even suggesting that football helmets themselves should be banned.

No matter the opinions on the brain injury crisis in high-contact sports, the facts appear to be irrefutable: that players at all levels, from youth to professional leagues, are experiencing concussions, which, if not treated seriously, can lead to long-term, even permanent, brain damage.

Concussion, though, may not even be the first indicator of brain injury, as a recent study of Dartmouth College athletes shows: 
that a season-long succession of small hits—none hard enough to cause evident disorientation or draw medical attention—may prompt changes in the brain that cause problems with memory, mood or mental performance years down the road. (Los Angeles Times, 12/11/13)
Studies like this one will likely fuel the debates, and some are bound to construe the psychological findings as paranoia-baiting—while still others are going to just settle on these as known risks, which you "sign up for" when you step onto the field—but there's no denying the need for more information on how to identify signs of brain injury, no matter how mild it may seem, and how to know when it's safe and sensible to get back in the game.

Parents especially have a responsibility to know the warning signs of concussion in their children—and they need to know how to take a more active role in preventing injury. For this reason, UPNE was proud to publish last year Rosemarie Scolaro Moser's book, Ahead of the Game: The Parent's Guide to Youth Sports Concussion

Moser, a neuropsychologist, hockey mom, and director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey, has worked with thousands of young and professional athletes, and she provides the tools that parents and players should have, whether they're mid-season or just trying to decide if they should suit up in the first place. 

Too much of what Moser's book lays plain has for years—and for generations of athletes—been either difficult to ascertain or unavailable. As high-contact sports get bigger, faster, harder and even higher-contact, the risks of brain injury should be common knowledge.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Book Sale! Take 40% Off These Select Titles


Nothing quite beats a gift-wrapped book, except maybe a book torn into and impossible to put down.    

This holiday season, pass your love of reading—and the savings—on to the readers in your life. UPNE is offering a selection of 12 books at a reduced price–40% off!—through January 31, 2014!

(Click on each title for more info and to add to your cart. The discount will automatically be added to your order through 

Here are the books to put a bow on—and why they may be right up your alley:

Why, when Twain published Huck Finn, the humorist turned sour...
Confederate Bushwhacker: Mark Twain in the Shadow of the Civil War, by Jerome Loving, $27.95, now $16.77
Dairy-free tiramisu? Believe it!...
The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy, by Paula Shoyer, $35.00, now $21.00
Proving nothing is impossible on Christmas Eve in a lighthouse...
The Lighthouse Santa, by Sara Hoagland Hunter; illus. Julia Miner, $17.95, now $10.77
Ben Franklin lobbied hard for the turkey, because eagles are jerks...
The Whitey Bulger story as it's never been told...

The Jewish comic who paved the way for Seinfeld, Stiller, and Sandler...

A memoir of being young and starstruck among great American poets...
With Robert Lowell and His Circle, by Kathleen Spivack, $19.95, now $11.97
World's most valuable resource? A lightbulb...above your head...

Because 2014 is the year you finally start writing that novel...
The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook, by Brian Shawver, $19.95, now $11.97

Like a time-lapse video covering 50 millennia, but better...
Ceremonial Time: Fifty Thousand Years on One Square Mile, by John Hanson Mitchell, $18.95, now $11.37

How a rock radio station broke the mold, defined a generation...
Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN, by Carter Alan, $25.95, now $15.57

The sex appeal of lobsters is a real thing. Just ask Freud...
I, Lobster: A Crustacean Odyssey, by Nancy Frazier, $24.95, now $14.97

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