How to ride a unicycle

 

I thought I’d finally do a video on how to unicycle since so many people keep asking me how to do it. It’s really not that difficult if you devote enough time to it every day.

The key things to remember are:

  • Practice in a flat area along a long wall or fence — the longer the better.
  • Lean forward to gain forward momentum.
  • Try to keep most of your weight in the seat though this isn’t absolutely essential early on. With time you’ll likely end up doing this without thinking.
  • When breaking free from the fence or wall use your arms to help you balance.
  • Patience, practice and perseverance.

As far as which size unicycle to learn on, I say choose a 20″ or 24″ inch unicycle(for small children a 16″ may be best). These days most people learn on a 20″ inch unicycle — I learned on a 24″. I chose a 24″ because I wanted something that I could ride around town on, besides doing freestyle tricks. A 20″ inch unicycle is great for freestyle but it’s impractical for riding around the neighborhood. A 24″ also makes a better gateway to the larger size unicycles used for long-distance riding, like 29″, 32″ and 36″ inch unicycles.

Whatever size you choose, get plenty of practice! If you’re a runner, this is a great cross-trainer. Happy riding!

 

 

 

 

 

Juggling while unicycling backwards

Lately I’ve been working a lot on my juggling while unicycling backwards technique, particularly in circles and figure 8’s. It is extremely challenging to say the least, but I am slowly learning to do smoother circles. In essence, it’s the same thing as doing forwards circles and figure 8’s while juggling: leaning in the direction you want to go in, as well as pointing your shoulders toward where you want to go. Your body is just facing the opposite direction from where you’re going.

Beyond this it can be difficult to explain the how of it. This is because so much of the learning when it comes to this difficult skill is subconscious. Repeat the same task over and over again and it gets stored in your muscle memory.

Although I haven’t mastered this skill yet, here are some tips for those who want to know how to do this(this assumes you can already juggle while unicycling forward):

  1. Relax. Breath deeply before and while doing it to calm your muscles and oxygenate your cells. Try to achieve a state of mind that is both focused and relaxed.
  2. Try to find a large, flat, quiet area to practice in. Don’t worry if your circles or figure 8’s are over-large, with practice you’ll slowly make them smaller.
  3. Learn to idle while juggling first or while learning this. Idling and backwards are closely related skills. The better your idling, the better your backwards and vice versa.
  4. You’ll likely make the same mistake over and over again. Learn to fail better, try to do the opposite of what keeps leading to the same mistake. In other words, try making different mistakes.
  5. Don’t worry if you notice an asymmetry with your turning abilities, this is perfectly normal. I find clockwise backwards circles much easier than counter-clockwise. Just work a little more on your weaker side.
  6. Be patient. It takes a while to learn a skill like this. You may experience many learning plateaus or you may even regress before getting better. Take breaks if you get very frustrated.
  7. If you are a very self-conscious kind of person and there are people watching, just ignore them. Try not to care what others think and learn to laugh at your mistakes. Or just learn to get used to having people watch you.

 

The transition from forwards to backwards can be especially tricky when you first start out. Even if you can do it well without juggling it can still be a huge challenge. It’s almost like a separate skill in itself. The key to this is to isolate your lower body and upper body so your unicycling doesn’t interfere with your juggling and vice versa. This is a good approach to juggling while unicycling backwards in general.

With enough practice this should become a second nature. Happy riding!

 

Flying Free — Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze

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I just finished reading “Flying Free  Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze” by Lynn Braz(@air_dancer on Instagram), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Lynn Brazz is a Renaissance woman she’s a very talented writer, yogini, trapeze-artist, dancer, vegan and adventurer who tells an inspiring story of overcoming fear to become a trapeze-artist after a series of career setbacks and distressing life events. Her biggest fear for the longest time was a fear of heights and taking up trapeze many years ago helped her overcome this fear. She artfully uses trapeze as a metaphor for overcoming fear and things that limit us from achieving a more fulfilling life.

For as long as Lynn can remember, fear was omnipresent, and not just her fear of heights. Fear of failure was also a constant hindrance. Taking up trapeze was the ultimate way of challenging these deep-seated fears  climbing a ladder to a platform over 20 feet in the air then swinging on a trapeze at 25 mph, that takes some courage! Courage she didn’t know she had in the end, her fears were shown to be an illusion. Her fears are not completely gone; instead of being ruled by fear, she developed a healthy relationship with it.

This book is not a how-to manual on learning trapeze or a recommendation to take up trapeze. Rather, Lynn’s aim is to encourage you to take up enriching, meaningful activities that challenge you physically and/or mentally. In other words, endeavors that take you out of your comfort zone, that involve learning new skills that put you in the “zone” or in a state of “flow”(as described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi). It’s obvious that Lynn is in the “zone” when doing trapeze, or dance or yoga for that matter.

As both a joggler and unicyclist I can relate very well to Lynn Brazz’s story. In a way her book is a celebration of circus arts and how they can lead to a more fulfilling life. There are many sentences in this book where you could substitute “trapeze” with “unicycling” or “joggling” and it would make perfect sense. Unicycling also helped me overcome some of my fear, though that wasn’t the original reason I took up unicycling and joggling. There’s a kind of magic in circus arts, whether it’s trapeze, unicycling or juggling that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

It’s an understatement to say that trapeze is a great way to exercise. It goes far beyond that and Lynn Braz explains in her book how learning trapeze has influenced many other areas of her life for the better. After deciding she wasn’t going to be ruled by fear, she eventually traveled alone to Kashmir, then and now a volatile region that’s contested by India and Pakistan. I’ll definitely reread parts of this book whenever I struggle with learning new unicycling or juggling skills since her advice has relevance for doing anything challenging. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration to overcome their fears or discover hidden talents.

 

 

 

 

 

Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger

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There are so many choices these days when it comes to plant-based burgers, it’s never been easier to go meatless during grilling season.

One of my current favorites is Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger. It tastes great! It’s savory and kind of beefy, and it also has a “meaty” texture which I enjoy. I love it with tomato, onion and arugula. This was yummy and very filling. Also easy to prepare. Plant-based burgers or veggie burgers have come a long way over the past 2 decades. I remember when I first went vegan how bland most veggie burgers were, and there was little choice. Now there’s a plethora of options.

The Beyond burger, another one of my favorites, tastes beefy to the point that some non-vegans are fooled into thinking it is beef and some vegans find the beefiness disturbing or unpleasant. I think the Gardein burger is nearly as good as the Beyond burger, which is typically pricier.

What is your favorite plant-based burger? Or do you prefer to make your own? If you prefer making your own, please share your favorite recipe!

Wild Juggling relaunched as AcroTrekker!

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Wild Juggling is no more we’re relaunching as AcroTrekker to better reflect the new direction of the blog. As I’ve said before, the name “Wild Juggling” was meant to be temporary until I could come up with something better. In part this is because I’m no longer just a joggler, I’m also a unicyclist. “Acro” does a good job of representing both of these pursuits, with “trekker” suggesting adventurer, traveler or endurance sport.

I’m as committed as ever to vegan living and to a science-based approach to health and fitness. This hasn’t changed. What has changed is that I’ve become more of a scam-buster over the past year  I’m an ally of the anti-MLM coalition and will do more posts exposing these types of scams. Sadly, it seems few vegans are speaking out against this.

Other than this, things won’t be that much different. Expect the usual(or unusual) adventures, the inter-state runs, the vegan meals, the training plans, among other things. To those of you who have followed and supported me over the years, thank you for sticking around.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African-Americans from the Civil War to World War II

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Just finished reading “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African-Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon. This book demolishes one of the biggest misconceptions of American history – that slavery came to an end in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. In actuality, it lasted until the dawn of World War II.

This book was a real eye-opener. I learned a lot, and I was sometimes shocked by how brutal and systematic the new slavery was. While the author does discuss the oppression black sharecroppers endured, the main focus is on the convict-leasing system in the South and how tens of thousands of blacks were rounded up for petty crimes or no crimes at all, and forced to labor on farms and also in mines where many would die from disease, exhaustion, or the brutality of their supervisors. Besides this, there was also rampant sexual slavery of black women(this deserves its own book).

In many ways the neoslavery was often worse than antebellum slavery since their masters – who didn’t own them for life and could easily replace them – had little incentive to keep them healthy. Some of the stories rival what happened in Nazi death camps. The author goes into great detail concerning which individuals and companies benefited from the neoslavery and the loopholes they exploited to get away with it.

Early efforts at putting an end to the neoslavery either by the federal government or outraged locals were almost always futile. The federal government finally put a stop to it during World War II because they feared the German and Japanese governments would use the existence of neoslavery in their propaganda broadcasts, which they did.

Even after the Civil Rights movement, racism and discrimination are still with us and much still needs to be done, especially when it comes to law enforcement. Falsely believing that slavery ended in 1865 is a huge impediment to racial healing and understanding.

Unicycling and improved core strength

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As I often say, even if unicycling didn’t have any unique benefits beyond improved balance, I’d still do it because of how much fun it is. Us unicyclists often like to tout unicycling as a great way to strengthen the core, though there hasn’t been a lot of hard scientific data to support this.

Until now. Last year in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they did a study on the effect of unicycling on the trunk strength of children. They concluded:

Unicycling proved to be an effective and funny tool to develop proximal stability and strength, which prevents low back pain and improves the efficiency of energy transfer between body segments.

This is just one study, but it is terrific news. Hurray for unicycling! I admit I am very biased. Better core strength is often associated with better athletic performance in many sports, including running. Though this study was done on children, I can’t think of any reason this wouldn’t apply to adults, and it’s too bad they didn’t study juggling while unicycling. So if you want to strengthen your core, consider taking up unicycling!

Review of “The Age of Genius: The 17th Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind”

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19th-century painting depicting Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato in 1609

 

 

I just finished reading A.C Grayling’s “The Age of Genius: The 17th Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind”.

This book covers a lot of territory in 324 pages. In summary, it’s about how the scientific revolution of the 17th century amidst the tumult of religious war resulted in humans coming to see the world very differently at the end of that century compared to the beginning.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the educated elite of Europe still believed in geo-centrism; by the year 1700, most of the educated elite believed the earth revolved around the sun, among other things.

One of Grayling’s most controversial assertions is that the 30 years war(1618 – 1648) acted as a midwife of the birth of the modern mind. This war was the most destructive in European history until World War I. Millions of people were killed as a result of the 30 Years War, mostly in Germany(which was then called the “Holy Roman Empire”, a loose confederation of German-speaking states primarily divided by religion) where it is estimated that 1 in 3 Germans perished. Many other historians and philosophers disagree with Grayling, believing this war greatly hindered scientific and social progress.

Grayling argues that however devastating this war was, it greatly weakened the Catholic church which had long suppressed free-inquiry, which is essential for science. Wars can also have a direct effect on material science, as rivals figure out how to better engineer weapons(he makes an analogy with the vast improvement of rocketry during World War II by the Germans).

Grayling also argues that the scientific advances of that era were essential for or at least concomitant with social and philosophical advances that led to modern secular democratic states. It just makes sense that if humans are no longer assumed to be at the center of the universe, lots of other erroneous assumptions can also be questioned and pushed aside, including the divine right of kings. This kind of thinking played a huge role in the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. This paradigm shift also paved the way for Darwin’s theory of evolution in the mid 19th century which put an end to the idea that humans are God’s special creation(as I said before, this book is like a prequel of Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”).

One little thing that surprised me was the author’s contention that the scientific revolution influenced language, particularly English, French and German. The clarity and precision required for scientific thinking and writing also influenced language in general, according to the author. He even contrasts the long-winded, opaque writing of English authors of the early 17th century with the more clear, economical writings of late 17th century authors to make his point(also remarking that one of the things classicists of the era most admired about ancient Greek and Latin writers was their directness and clarity).

One thing that surprises many people is how practically all the early scientists who launched the scientific revolution were not only very religious but were also alchemists or occult enthusiasts forever searching for the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. Doing real science was more like a side project for some of them. I was already aware of this(in particular when it comes to Newton), but he goes into great detail about how much science had to disentangle itself from alchemy and pseudoscience to become science as we practice it today.

Toward the end of the book, while Grayling celebrates the triumph of scientific rationalism, he warns about attempts at reversing the progress we’ve made since the scientific revolution and Enlightenment. Reason and free speech are under assault, and not just by the religious but by political extremists. I’d also add that the “new age” and various pseudoscience movements are also a threat.

All in all, a good book if you’re into the history of ideas and understanding how the world came to be the way it currently is.

What I’ve learned from 2 years of unicycling

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Me juggling while idling on a unicycle, a very difficult skill to master

I’ve been unicycling now for over 2 years, and what an adventure it has been! Here are some things I’ve learned over these 2 years:

 

Most learning is subconscious

When learning a new skill(going backwards, idling, juggling while idling, etc), it’s critical to use the right technique or in the very least not do things that will impede your progress. While we all may use a different learning method, we should observe some general guidelines, especially early on.

As important as these guidelines are, they are not written in stone. Through trial and error we may occasionally find it helpful to ignore certain guidelines. It can be frustrating when we hit upon a technique variation that seems to work but later on doesn’t. If we’re persistent enough we improve, though we’re often not sure why. This is because so much of the learning is happening at a subconscious level, to the extent that it’s very difficult to describe or replicate what we are doing that is leading to success instead of failure. This is largely due to muscle memory and that practicing the same thing over and over again forces our body to do it more efficiently.

This isn’t all that unique to unicycling since it happens when learning just about anything. However, it’s because learning new unicycling skills is so bewilderingly difficult and complicated at first that every little improvement is celebrated as a victory. While we all have an innate sense of proprioception(the sense of where we are in space which helps with balance), unicycling will lead to a quantum leap improvement in this ability to the extent that we feel like we have acquired super-powers. This is why unicycling is so uniquely enjoyable.

Taking breaks can help you improve

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to be rusty after a break but instead got better. I am not saying you shouldn’t be persistent, but rather that after practicing on a consistent basis, a break of a few days to a week may be helpful, besides taking off one day a week(or whatever works for you).

Finding the magic formula to ensuring breaks will be helpful is interrelated with figuring out what is the ideal of amount of practice time. It varies from person to person, and more isn’t necessarily better. We probably all notice that there are diminishing returns to going beyond a certain amount of practice time, and that excessive practice can lead to burnout or extreme frustration.

This is why one day off a week from unicycling may be better than doing it 7 days a week, and anything more than a few hours of practice a day is unlikely to be helpful.

Besides providing rest, a day or a week off may help your brain and muscles properly assimilate what it has learned, and practicing excessively may interfere with this assimilation. This is why occasionally taking time off may be more helpful than detrimental to getting better at unicycling, or anything for that matter.

Variation is the key to improving

You practice the same thing every day, with the same unicycle at the same place at the same time and you’re noticing very little to no improvement. We all know the cliche that “practice makes perfect”, but some of us(myself included) get stuck on a learning plateau and we’re not sure why. Again, this is not unique to unicycling. Besides taking the occasional break, practicing subtle variations may help us improve.

What do I mean by variation? By playing around with tire pressure, or putting in different size cranks, or simply practicing with a different unicycle altogether. I’ve experimented with different tire pressures while learning to go backwards and would often notice significant improvements after a few days of variations. I’ve also tried carrying(not juggling) heavy balls to increase the challenge. Also changing locations can sometimes be helpful.

The reason this probably works is because these variations force our brains to discover the essence of a skill by feeding it unique data points it otherwise wouldn’t have access to if we practiced the same exact way every day. In this sense it is kind of related to cross-training.

Think of all the ways you can vary your routine. It doesn’t have to make learning much more difficult, but it should be different enough so that it feels new or a little awkward at first. One approach I’ve often found helpful is to warm up with a variation or something different, then I practice what I usually practice. Sometimes it’s a short trail ride with the municycle, then a long practice session juggling while idling with my freestyle unicycle.

*  *  *

Unicycling is not just a lot of fun, it offers so many different fitness benefits without breaking the bank. Like I’ve said before it’s great cross-training for runners and offers similar fitness benefits. It also forces you to pay close attention to your body and all its asymmetries and quirks, like yoga or dance. Besides this, taking up unicycling is a great way to learn about learning.

Related:

The Attraction of Unicycles: A Lesson for Learning Complex Skills

How to Unicycle Backwards

 

 

 

Veganism and multi-level marketing

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It’s the new and improved veganism taking social media by storm. It’s no longer just about animals, or about health, it’s about riches beyond your wildest dreams. All you have to do is join the right team and watch the money start flowing like Niagara Falls into your bank account. And it only takes a tiny sign-up fee to get started! Or at least that’s what the “vegan” wealth gurus of social media want you to believe.

So a blog post about veganism and multi-level marketing(MLM) aka network marketing? What’s going on here? The two seem worlds apart but if you’re a vegan and you’ve been on social media lately you’ve likely encountered someone claiming to be a vegan pushing some product or an “amazing” MLM “business opportunity” that they can’t stop talking about. This used to be a rare occurrence for me, but much to my annoyance I have been experiencing a lot more of it over the past year; this is what inspired me to write this post. For those of you who are unfamiliar with MLM, it’s a business strategy that’s all about endlessly bothering everyone you know to either join the scheme or buy from you so they can bother everyone they know to join the scheme, ad infinitum.

It’s for good reason that MLMs are often considered pyramid schemes with better lawyers. Research shows that almost no one except those at the top of the pyramid make any money. These schemes often target the most desperate and vulnerable people with promises of riches, with representatives encouraged by up-lines to use a “fake it till you make it” approach, complete with fancy cars and lavish vacations to lure people in. Many people are so badly burned by these scams that they end up filing for bankruptcy. Besides this, they may end up feeling like failures because they believe they either didn’t do it right or they realize they’ve fallen for a scam and are too embarrassed to admit it. As if this wasn’t bad enough, MLM reps often become increasingly alienated from friends and family when they can no longer tolerate the non-stop scam promotion.

It’s disturbing witnessing people who claim to be vegan engaging in this sort of unethical, predatory behavior. This can damage our movement in myriad ways. Besides inflicting financial harm on individual vegans, it also hurts the credibility of the movement and has the potential to drive people out of it. And the infiltration of MLM into the vegan movement is not just an online phenomenon, since MLM companies will often set up shop at vegan fests around the world. Our movement in general and our fests in particular need better quality control, lest the word “vegan” become utterly meaningless or a synonym for pseudo-science and chicanery(rampant pseudo-science in the vegan movement is something I’ve addressed before).

Vegans involved in animal activism and education know how difficult it can be to raise money to fund our efforts. Credibility is everything when it comes to activism and charity. People want to know where their money is going and how much of an impact it is making. It should go without saying that for activist groups to look like they have any kind of connection with a scam is a huge credibility killer(many MLMs will donate to charities to improve their reputation). Fortunately, this isn’t a big problem for most activist groups, at least not yet, but those of us concerned about the credibility of the vegan movement should be extra vigilant when it comes to MLMs trying to infiltrate it.

MLMs and other charlatans through their actions dilute the meaning of veganism, sometimes to the point that it’s only about healthy living, or for MLM-bots, healthy living + financial independence. Animal rights are pushed aside, or if they are considered at all, the “cruelty-free” label is similarly diluted. Some MLM cosmetics companies will even falsely claim their products are “cruelty-free” when they’re not: Presenters – You Need To Stop Telling Customers That Younique is Cruelty-Free, Now.

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False health claims promising perfect health or increased energy are the typical siren songs of many MLM-bots, both vegan and non-vegan. Many vegans, fed up with mainstream medicine, are drawn to the MLM-bots and their “natural” cures. If they are struggling with their new vegan lifestyle, they may seek help from an MLM-bot out of desperation, instead of going to a qualified health professional. “Failure to thrive” is a lot more common among vegans than many vegan advocates care to admit, and is probably the main reason there are many ex-vegans out there. I believe a lot of this “failure to thrive” related attrition is due to the bad advice I see floating around on social media like thick smog around a large industrial city, which MLM-bots are big contributors to. Fortunately, critical thinking can help blow away some of this dense smog of misinformation.

This very toxic nexus of quackery, greed, and deception is radioactive to social networks. The damage it could do to the vegan community is incalculable. Just imagine you’re a non-vegan and you see this kind of thing. Especially if the non-vegan knows anything about science. Vegans are often scorned enough as it is by mainstream society, but add MLM to the mix and it looks positively nauseating. And I’ve barely touched upon the cult-like nature of many MLMs and the extremely tacky “look at all the money I’m making” videos and social media posts MLM-bots often make.

It’s time we do something about this infiltration before it thoroughly poisons our movement. Don’t buy MLM products, report MLM-bots on social media, alert charities if it looks like they are associated with an MLM or other scam, and get involved with the scam-buster and growing anti-MLM movement. Besides this, complain to vegan fest organizers if you notice MLM company representatives hawking their products at the event. Remember, for many attendees this may be their first time being exposed to veganism on a large scale. If they have a negative opinion of MLM as most people do, this may make them less likely to want to go vegan.

Just because someone says they are “vegan” and uses the #vegan hash-tag doesn’t mean they really are vegan or they are doing it for the right reasons. Fake friends are worse than obvious enemies. Don’t be misled into thinking that if so-called vegans are involved with an MLM company, it must be one of the “good” MLMs. We need to declare loud and clear that get-rich-quick schemes and supplement scams have no place in our community. As our movement continues to grow we need better quality control to ensure we’re all on the same page about what veganism really stands for. The credibility and potential of our movement is at stake and by extension the lives of millions of animals. Standing for ethics and good science shouldn’t be the exception, but should be the very foundation of our movement.

Have you had a negative experience with an MLM or a vegan MLM-bot in particular, or are you just concerned about the infiltration of MLM into the vegan movement? We would love to hear from you in the comments!

Related articles:

Why I Hate Multi-Level Marketing

MLM and Social Media

Younique’s Animal Testing Statement; Not 100% Cruelty-Free

The Biggest Scam in the Fitness Industry

MLM and Appeal to Consequences Fallacy: If MLM is illegal, then why hasn’t it been shut down?

Vemma Agrees to Ban on Pyramid Scheme Practices to Settle FTC Charges