The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout!: Discover the 15-Minute Exercise Routine That Swept the World in 1904

Does your spare tire show no signs of deflating as bikini season looms?

Is the fear of bullies kicking sand in your face beginning to outstrip the horror of transforming into a giant bug overnight?

Do you long to experience lasting health benefits along with an impressively fit appearance?

Friends, we make you this promise: The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will transform your life along with your physique in just 15 minutes a day.

That's right, just 15 minutes of daily calisthenics (and some common sense practices with regard to diet, sleep, and hygiene) is all it takes. Even pencil-necked authors walking around with their backs bowed, their shoulders drooping, their hands and arms all over the place, afraid of mirrors because they show an inescapable ugliness, can discover the confidence that eludes them, through improved posture, breathing, and muscle tone.

(Note: the Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will not protect you from the pernicious, eventually fatal effects of tuberculosis.)

The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout is more correctly attributed to fitness guru Jørgen Peter Müller, above, the author of several exercise regimen pamphlets, including the bestselling My System: 15 Minutes' Exercise a Day for Health's Sake, which was published in 1904 and then translated into 25 languages.

Kafka was definitely the best known of Müller’s devotees, scrupulously running through the prescribed exercises morning and evening, wearing nothing more than the skin he was born in—another practice Müller heartily endorsed.

The chiseled Mr. Müller was a proponent of regular dental check ups, sensible footwear, and vigorous  toweling (or "rubbing"), and an enemy of constrictive woolen underwear, closed windows, and sedentary lifestyles. My System includes some observations that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kafka novel:

The town office type is often a sad phenomenon prematurely bent, with shoulders and hips awry from his dislocating position on the office stool, pale, with pimply face and pomatumed head, thin neck protruding from a collar that an ordinary man could use as a cuff, and swaggering dress in the latest fashion flapping round the sticks that take the place of arms and legs! At a more advanced age the spectacle is still more pitiable… the eyes are dull, and the general appearance is either still more sunken and shriveled or else fat, flabby, and pallid, and enveloped in an odour of old paper, putrified skin grease, and bad breath.

In an essay on Slate, Sarah Wildman, the descendent of two lean Müller fans, delves into the Müller System’s popularity, particularly amongst 20th-century European Jews.

Just as best-selling fitness experts do today, Müller beefed up his franchise with related titles: My System for Ladies, My System for Children, and My Sunbathing and Fresh Air System.

The original book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from the Internet Archive, where one commenter who has been following the system for nearly seventy years gives it a hearty thumbs-up for its stamina restoring powers.

Others seeking to make a buck by charging for Kindle downloads have the decency to offer free instructions for each of the individual exercises, including Quick Sideways Bending of Trunk (with Rubbing) and the plank-y Bending and Stretching of the Arms, partly Loaded with the Weight of the Body.

Even those unlikely to perform so much as a single deep knee bend should get a bang out of the original photo illustrations, which, back in 1904, were as ripe for erotic double duty as the wholesome men’s physique mags of the 50s and 60s.

Insert speculation as to Kafka's sexual orientation here, if you must.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight, March 11, for the next installment of her ongoing book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sleep or Die: Neuroscientist Matthew Walker Explains How Sleep Can Restore or Imperil Our Health

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fix the work/life thing by chucking out the difference? At home, you're in the office, at the office, you're at home, always on and never off—sleep, optional. Two-four hours per 24-hour cycle should be enough, right? Wrong. We need proper sleep like we need good food, low stress, engaging pursuits, etc.—to thrive and live a long and happy life. If you wait until you’re dead to sleep, you’ll be dead sooner than you think. “Short sleep predicts a shorter life,” explains sleep researcher Matthew Walker in the RSA animation Sleep or Die, above. "Sleep," he says, "is a non-negotiable biological necessity.“

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep an average of eight hours a night. That number may vary from person to person, but fewer than six can be highly detrimental. Walker is something of a “sleep evangelist,” notes Berkeley News. Ask him about “the downside of pulling an all-nighter, and he'll rattle off a list of ill effects that range from memory loss and a compromised immune system to junk food cravings and wild mood swings.” The neuroscientist tells Terry Gross on Fresh Air, “Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.”

Walker has a lot more to say about sleep in the interview below, including tips for getting there, whether you can make up for lost sleep (you can’t), and why you shouldn’t yank teenagers out of bed on the weekends. Why should we listen to him? Well, he isn’t just any sleep scientist. “To be specific,” writes Rachel Cooke at The Guardian, “he is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, a research institute whose goal—possibly unachievable—is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health.”

 

The benefits of sound sleep include enhanced creativity and concentration, lower blood pressure, better mood regulation, and higher immunity and fertility. Lack of sleep, however, is "increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s," notes Cooke. Indeed, "after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep," Walker tells The Guardian, "your natural killer cells—the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day—drop by 70%." Sleep deprivation has such serious outcomes that "the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen."

Sleep holds many mysteries, but one thing scientists like Walker seem to know: poor sleep leaves us more in sickness than in health. And we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” “No one would look at an infant baby asleep, and say ‘What a lazy baby!” Walker observes. Yet adults have “stigmatized sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting.” It’s a way to broadcast that we aren’t falling behind or missing out. But our bodies’ natural cycles and rhythms don’t speed up along with technology and global markets.

“As bedrooms everywhere glow from the screens of round-the-clock technology consumption,” Berkeley News writes, millions of people suffer physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological stresses. Or, put more positively, “a growing body of scientific work” shows that “a solid seven to nine hours of sleep a night serves functions beyond our wildest imaginations.” Learn more about not only what’s gone wrong with sleep, but how to start addressing the problem in Walker’s book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jim Morrison Declares That “Fat is Beautiful” …. And Means It

There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in a young rock god giving voice to the fat pride movement some four decades after his death.

Years before social media amplified celebrity weight gain coverage to the realm of national news, The Doors’ lead singer, Lizard King Jim Morrison, was the subject of intense bodily scrutiny.

The musician’s drug of choice—alcohol—swiftly added some extra cushioning to the sexy, shirtless young lion image photographer Joel Brodsky managed to capture in 1967.

That lean, leather-panted version is the one the Morrison director Patrick Smith went with for the Blank on Blank animation above, using audio from a 1969 interview with the Village Voice’s Howard Smith (no relation).

Occasionally animator Smith balloons the 2-D Morrison’s belly for humorous effect, but let’s be frank. By today’s standards, the 5’11 Morrison, who by his own estimate tipped the scales at 185lb, was hardly "fat."

Pleasingly plump perhaps...

Filling out...

Eating (and drinking) like someone whose bank account didn't require belt tightening.

His compassion toward generously proportioned bodies likely sprang from early experience.

As photographer Linda McCartney recalled in Linda McCartney’s The Sixties—Portrait Of An Era:

He … told me that he’d grown up as a fat kid that no one wanted to know and that this had caused him a lot of emotional pain.

Then he explained what had brought it all to the surface. Apparently he had been walking around Greenwich Village that morning and a girl who he knew as a child had spotted him and started going crazy over him. That bothered him because he sensed the hypocrisy of it all. When he was a fat military brat these people had rejected and ignored him but now, because of his new public image, they were fawning over him.

That “new public image” is the one most of us think of first when thinking of Jim Morrison, but as a flesh and blood exemplar, it was unsustainable. Photographer Brodsky reflects:

The shot on the inner sleeve of the Greatest Hits album was pretty near the end, I think. By that time, he was so drunk he was stumbling into the lights and we had to stop the session. Morrison never really looked that way again, and those pictures have become a big part of The Doors’ legend. I think I got him at his peak.

Morrison didn’t dwell on childhood miseries in his Village Voice interview, nor did he show any self-loathing or regret for physiques past.

Rather, he gave voice to the positive effects of his increased size. He felt like a tank, a beast—a body of consequence.

(To consider the implications of bodily size for a female in Morrison’s world, have a look at cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and The Papas.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City March 11 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Nutritional Psychiatry: Why Diet May Play an Essential Role in Treating Mental Health Conditions, Including Depression, Anxiety & Beyond

For years neuroscientists have been trying to correct the old assumption that our minds are reducible to our brains. Research into what is known as the gut microbiome, for example, has shown that mood and mental health are intimately linked to the functioning of an ecosystem of microorganisms within the digestive system. As researchers write in the Journal of Neuroscience, “experimental changes to the gut microbiome can affect emotional behavior and related brain systems [and] may play a pathophysiological role in human brain diseases, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.”

Even Parkinson’s Disease has been linked to gut bacteria in studies performed by microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian, who points out that “70 percent of all neurons in the peripheral nervous system—that is, not the brain or spinal cord—are in the intestines, and the gut’s nervous system is directly connected to the central nervous system through the vagus nerve.” Our guts also supply the brain with fuel, and it requires a “constant supply,” notes Dr. Eva Selhub at the Harvard Health Blog. “That ‘fuel’ comes from the foods you eat—and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”

Such findings have given rise to the emerging field of Nutritional Psychiatry, which you can hear described in the TEDx talk above by clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge. Initially taught that “nutrition and diet were of trivial significance for mental health,” Rucklidge, like most of her colleagues, believed that “only drugs and psychotherapy could treat these serious conditions.” But after encountering evidence to the contrary, she decided to do her own studies. Beginning at around 5:30, she presents compelling evidence for a dramatic reduction in rates of ADHD, PTSD, depression, and psychosis after dietary treatments.

That's not to say that drugs and psychotherapy do not play important roles in treatment, nor that they should be supplanted by a nutrition-only approach. But it does mean that nutritional treatments are shown by many fields of study to be effective and perhaps essential, for reasons consistent with widespread knowledge about the body and brain. “It is now known,” for example, as Joyce Cavaye reports at the Independent, “that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die.” Inflammation is, in part, caused by “a lack of nutrients such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals… all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.”

Diets consisting primarily of highly processed foods and sugars are also a cause of inflammation. “Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function,” Dr. Selhub writes. These diets promote a “worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.” Processed foods with high carbohydrate content and few nutrients have created an epidemic of malnutrition among a significant portion of the population who otherwise seem to have plenty to eat. The situation seems to have majorly contributed to the corresponding epidemics of depression and other mental health conditions.

Nutritional psychiatry is not a fad or a program claiming to recreate the diet of early humans. While “a potential evolutionary mismatch between our ancestral past (Paleolithic, Neolithic) and the contemporary nutritional environment” merits exploration, as researchers write in an article published at the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, many more contemporary factors—such as economic development and the rise of scientific medicine—play a role in how we understand diet and mental health.

Rather than look to prehistory, scientists have studied the diets of “traditional” societies (those not reliant on mass-produced processed foods) in the Mediterranean and Japan. They have found a 25-35% lower rate of depression, for example, in those who eat diets “high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood,” writes Selhub, with “only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.” There is no perfect dietary formula, however. Everyone’s gut processes things differently. Dr. Selhub recommends cutting out processed foods and sugar and experimenting with adding and subtracting foods to see how you feel. (Nutritional experiments like these are probably best carried out after consulting with your doctor.)

Just as we will need to change the way we eat if we want to preserve our outer environment, the health of that rich, and no less necessary, inner world known as the microbiome will require what for many is a dramatic change in eating habits. Sadly, it is not a change everyone can afford to make. But for millions suffering from mental illnesses, nutritional psychiatry may represent a life-altering course of treatment.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Dogs sees us as their masters while cats sees us as their slaves. - Anonymous

The next time your friend’s pet cat sinks its fangs into your wrist, bear in mind that the beast is probably still laboring under the impression that it’s guarding the granaries.

Anthropologist Eva-Maria Geigl’s animated Ted-Ed Lesson, The History of the World According to Cats, above, awards special recognition to Unsinkable Sam, a black-and-white ship’s cat who survived three WWII shipwrecks (on both Axis and Allied sides).

It’s a cute story, but as far as directing the course of history, Felis silvestris lybica, a subspecies of wildcat that can be traced to the Fertile Crescent some 12,000 years ago, emerges as the true star.

In a Neolithic spin of "The Farmer in the Dell," the troughs and urns in which ancient farmers stored surplus grain attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted these muscular, predatory cats.

They got the job done.

Human and cats’ mutually beneficial relationship spelled bad news for the rodent population, but survival for today’s 600-million-some domestic cats, whose DNA is shockingly similar to that of its prehistoric ancestors.

Having proved their value to the human population in terms of pest control, cats quickly found themselves elevated to welcome companions of soldiers and sailors, celebrated for their ability to knock out rope-destroying vermin, as well as dangerous animals on the order of snakes and scorpions.

Thusly did cats’ influence spread.

Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of domesticity, women's secrets, fertility, and childbirth is unmistakably feline.

Cats draw the chariot of Freya, the Norse goddess of love.

Their popularity dipped briefly in the Late Middle Ages, when humankind mistakenly credited cats as the source of the plague. In truth, that scourge was spread by rodents, who ran unchecked after men rounded up their feline predators for a gruesome slaughter.

Nowadays, a quick glimpse at Instagram is proof enough that cats are back on top.

(Yes, you can haz cheezburger with that.)

Dogs may see our service to them as proof that we are gods, buts cats surely interpret the feeding and upkeep they receive at human hands as evidence they are the ones to be worshipped.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City January 14 as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Jazz Musician Plays Acoustic Guitar While Undergoing Brain Surgery, Helping Doctors Monitor Their Progress

Unlike many colorful expressions in English whose origins are lost to us, the comparison of majorly consequential tasks to brain surgery makes perfect sense. One false move or miscalculation can result in instant death. The chances of irreversible, life-altering damage are high, should a scalpel slip or a surgeon mistake healthy brain tissue for diseased. This can happen more readily than we might like to think. “It can be very difficult to tell the difference between the tumor and normal brain tissue,” admits Dr. Basil Enicker, a specialist neurosurgeon at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in South Africa.

An operation Enicker led makes the procedure seem like just as much an art as a science. During an “awake craniotomy,” the surgeon and his team removed a tumor from the brain of Musa Manzini, a South African jazz bassist.

To help them monitor the operation as they went, they had him strum an acoustic guitar in the OR. “Presumably, had he hit a wrong note,” writes Kimon de Greef at The New York Times, “it would have been an immediate signal for the surgeons to probe elsewhere.” He also carried on an extended conversation with one of the surgeons, as you can see in the video above.

Such procedures are not at all unusual. In a similar case at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, young musician Robert Alvarez strummed his guitar while surgeons removed a tumor near his speech and movement centers. In 2014, de Greef reports, “a tenor in the Dutch National Opera, Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne, sang Schubert’s ‘Gute Nacht’ as doctors removed a tumor. In 2015, the saxophonist Carlos Aguilera read music and performed during an operation in Spain.” That same year, a Brazilian man played the Beatles while he underwent brain surgery.

Not all of them are musical, but awake craniotomies are so common that Manzini “watched quite a lot of YouTube videos,” he says, “to prepare myself mentally.” As for the shock of being conscious while surgeons poke around in your most precious of bodily organs, millimeters from possible paralysis, etc., well... it’s certainly more comfortable now than in some of the earliest brain surgeries we have on fossil record—some 8,000 years ago. One wonders how Neolithic patients passed their time under the knife.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Music Can Awaken Patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

In the late 1950’s, pioneering free jazz bandleader Sun Ra played a gig at a Chicago mental hospital, booked there by his manager Alton Abraham, who had an interest in alternative medicine. The experiment in musical therapy worked wonders. One patient who had not moved or spoken in years reportedly got up, walked over to the piano, and yelled out, “you call that music!”

The anecdote illustrates just one experience among untold millions in which a person suffering from a debilitating neurological condition responds positively, even miraculously, it seems, to music.

As famed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks puts it in his book Musicophilia, “musical perception, musical sensibility, musical emotion and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared.”

This medical fact makes musical therapy an ideal intervention for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In the short video above, Sacks describes his visits to patients in various old age homes. “Some of them are confused, some are agitated, some are lethargic, some have almost lost language,” he says, “but all of them, without exception, respond to music.”

We can see just such a response in the clip at the top, in which the barely responsive Henry Dryer, a 92-year-old nursing home resident with dementia, transforms when he hears music. “The philosopher Kant called music ‘the quickening art,’ and Henry’s being quickened,” says Sacks says of the dramatic change, “he’s being brought to life.” Suddenly lucid and happy, Henry looks up and says, “I’m crazy about music. Beautiful sounds.”

The clip comes from a documentary called Alive Inside, winner of a 2014 Sundance Audience Award (see the trailer above), a film that shows us several musical “quickenings” like Henry’s. “Before Dryer started using his iPod,” notes The Week, “he could only answer yes-or-no questions—and sometimes he sat silently and still for hours at a time.” Now, he sings, carries on conversations and can “even recall things from years ago.”

Sacks comments that “music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience,” evoking emotions in ways that nothing else can. A 2010 Boston University study showed that Alzheimer’s patients “learned more lyrics when they were set to music rather than just spoken.” Likewise, researchers at the University of Utah found music to be “an alternative route for communicating with patients.”

As senior author of the Utah study, Dr. Norman Foster, says, “language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.” See the effects for yourself in this extraordinary film, and learn more about Sacks' adventures with music and the brain in the 2007 discussion of Musicophilia, just above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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