Archive | August, 2014

Learning that Transforms Hearts and Minds Rethinking How We See Our World Changes Everything by Linda Sechrist

Posted on 23 August 2014 by Jason

In the 30 years since Harrison Owen introduced Open Space Technology (OST), it has been used hundreds of thousands of times by three-quarters of the world’s countries. Whether a few people gather in a circle to share ideas and brainstorm personal issues, or thousands discuss a bulletin board of topics around tables, OST is a safe, informal venue for transformative learning.

Guided by purpose-based, shared leadership, it allows individuals focused on a specific task to freely speak their thoughts and be heard. It also encourages breakout groups to mine for more information—learning individually, as well as collectively, and self-organizing in order to concentrate on more complex topics. “Boeing engineers used OST to learn how to redesign airplane doors and young Egyptians used it to strategize for their Arab Spring,” as examples, comments Owen.

Circle Principle

For Owen, like Jack Mezirow, author of the paper, “Core Principles of Transformative Learning Theory,” 20th century Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, and Juanita Brown, co-founder of The World Café, learning is transformation, the keystone of life, and the essence of meaningful education. “The circle principle contains the predictability of fresh, emerging thoughts and learning that never occurred previously,” explains Owen.

He points to an experiment regarding children’s capacity for self-learning initiated by Sugata Mitra, Ph.D., the former science director of an educational technology firm in India. On the outside wall of the building where he worked, Mitra installed a computer facing a New Delhi slum where most children were unschooled and illiterate and had never seen a computer. He turned it on and told children they could play with it.

Via a noninvasive video camera, he watched 7-to-13-year-olds discover how to use the computer and teach each other how to play music and games and draw using Microsoft’s Paint program. Repetition of the experiment in other impoverished sections of India yielded similar results. Wherever he established an Internet connection, children that could not read English, the Internet’s default language, taught themselves how to use the Web to obtain information through their interactions with each other and the computer.

“I agree with what Mitra surmised from his experiment—learning is emergent, which is another word for self-organizing,” remarks Owen. Like Freire, Owen likens traditional education to the “banking” method of learning, whereby the teacher passes information to students that become dependent on someone else rather than learning how to think on their own.

Suzanne Daigle, a Sarasota, Florida-based consultant with a Canadian multidisciplinary consulting firm, explains how the OST learning environment changed her life: “My personal transformation began in 2009, when I volunteered to assist another OST facilitator. I was a perfectionist who judged myself harshly and struggled with the question, ‘Who am I to think I can help hold space for leaders to transform themselves through their learning when I have so little experience?’”

She notes, “Before such experiences, even though I was a leader in my corporate career, I doubted myself and often believed that what others had to say was more significant and interesting than what I could express.” Now she says she has shed her people-pleasing tendencies and former attempts to control other people’s agendas and discovered the freedom and courage of her own voice. “As an OST facilitator, my life work now occurs in the moments I am collaboratively learning and listening for opportunities to enter into meaningful conversations that can lead to actions,” says Daigle. “I invite others to do the same.”

Co-Learning

In a compulsory two-year Theory of Learning class for an International Baccalaureate degree at California’s Granadas Hill Charter High School, math and science educator Anais Arteaga helps students apply two major elements of transformative learning: self-reflection to critique one’s own assumptions and discourse through which they question or validate their judgments. She focuses on the roles that perception, language, reason and emotion play in a student’s learning and decision-making abilities.

“Questions and lively discussions are the basis of the class,” Arteaga says. “We begin with a question and explore what we know, how we know it and any conclusions drawn from the process.”

Using a democratic model in which the teacher welcomes critical discussion, Arteaga and her students have mutually discovered that knowledge is not static, but has a history and changes over time. “When we first started the class, it was challenging to accept that in many situations there is no right or wrong, just relativity and a matter of perception. We don’t really know anything for certain,” she remarks.

Worldview Explorations

Katia Petersen, Ph.D., is the executive director of education at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), headquartered in Petaluma, California. She co-developed the tools, practices and 22 lessons in the pioneering organization’s Worldview Explorations (WE) project. Founded on 40 years of IONS research, WE engages everyone in age-appropriate ways in reflecting upon long-held assumptions and how beliefs create the lens they see through, ultimately improving how they understand and respond to the world.

“When individuals understand the power of offering their story and are open to the worldview stories of others, they no longer focus attention on differences and limitations,” says Petersen. “They realize that everyone has their own truth.”

Through small groups and conversations, participants unpack how the program has influenced them by answering questions that explore what inspired, surprised and changed the way they perceive the world. “WE’s transformative learning experiences draw from the heart and soul of individuals, rather than stuffing heads with ideas and perspectives, which serves them well as they embody and apply these tools and practices in their daily lives,” notes Petersen.

She cites a particularly powerful moment for a group of young people she worked with. “A student was killed in a drive-by shooting two weeks before their certification. The transformative moment came when they said that their new awareness and capacity for compassion and understanding would not allow them to seek revenge. Instead, they chose to save lives in their communities using their new skills.”

Mycelium School

Ashley Cooper and Matt Abrams, co-founders of the Mycelium School, in Asheville, North Carolina, re-imagined a learning environment for aspiring entrepreneurs and social change agents committed to activating their potential and realizing solutions to today’s challenges. A 12-week learning journey allows individuals to become increasingly adept at learning from and helping each other learn.

The curriculum offers minimum structure, significant support and collaboration with others. “In the learning community, individuals are dedicated to a project or life question of their choice,” explains Cooper. Participants’ goals include changing careers, determining the next steps after retirement or how to pursue true passions to make a difference in the world.

Cheri Torres, Ph.D., founder of the Asheville-based Innovation Partners International SE, was one of the earliest participants in the Mycelium Learning experience. She says that she obtained an expanded understanding of the approach that she uses in her work. “The whole systems approach I use with organizational and community leaders enables them to shift from a top-down management model to one that engages everyone and uses the collective intelligence and collaborative efforts of all for the collective good. My own learning journey transformed the level of awareness I bring to my work and the understanding of who I am,” advises Torres.

“My original guiding question was, ‘How can I get so clear about my work that I can explain it in plain language?’ Ultimately, my question shifted to what would it be like for me to live and work from a place of wholeness. Through conversations with Ashley and self-reflection, I realized I was not walking my talk within my own mind-body-spirit system. My journey helped me understand that my most effective role in my own life, as well as with clients, is to create the conditions for collective intelligence and collaboration to emerge in service to the whole,” says Torres.

World Café

Like OST, the World Café, co-created by Brown and David Isaacs, of Burnsville, North Carolina, creates a transformative learning environment for individuals of all ages. Its primary principles are: set the context, create hospitable space, explore questions that matter, encourage everyone’s contributions, connect diverse perspectives, listen together for patterns and insights and share collective discoveries. Webs of conversation created around typically actual and occasionally virtual tables resemble those found in coffeehouses.

“Conversation is a core meaning-making process, and people get to experience how the collective intelligence of a small or large group can become apparent,” says Brown. After several rounds of conversation on one or more topics, participants offer their harvest of key insights, learning and opportunities for action with the full group gathered to reflect together on their discoveries.

“World Café provides an environment in which you are comfortably drawn forward by the questions you are asking together. When enough diversity is present, varied perspectives are offered and people feel listened to and free to make their contribution,” observes Brown.

What participants learn in this setting creates the climate of conditions that support the kinds of transformations that can changes lives. Brown remarks, “When it happens to me, I feel like my brain cells have been rearranged. I know something in the collective, as well as the individual, has been evoked, so that something never before imagined becomes present and available.”

Transformative learning has been compared to a sea journey without landmarks. Adventurous individuals that are open to traversing its highly engaging processes can emerge as autonomous thinkers, capable of contributing fresh, new ideas that just might transform the world we live in.

Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Visit ItsAllAboutWe.com for the recorded interviews.

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Water Doggies Given a Pool or Lake, Canines Dive Into Action by Sandra Murphy

Posted on 23 August 2014 by Jason

Water sports for dogs can be done just for fun or to earn recognition. Venues range from a backyard adult or kiddie pool to a lake, river or ocean. All offer healthful exercise for canine bodies and brains.

Some dogs seem born to swim, while others learn to love it and a few make entertaining spectators. It all depends on temperament, breed, body style and energy and confidence levels, as well as training.

Not all dogs love to swim, says Eileen Proctor, a pet lifestyle expert in Denver, Colorado, so proceed cautiously. “One of the first things to do is buy a properly fitted life jacket that keeps his head out of the water,” she counsels. “Once he is used to wearing it, train him to use available steps to walk into and out of the water every time.”

Michelle Yue, a professional dog trainer in Washington, D.C., takes her dog, Max, to a dog-specific pool twice a month. At the Canine Fitness Center, in Annapolis, Maryland, Max swims in one pool while canine buddies paddle in another. To prevent possible squabbles, company policy allows only same-household dogs to swim in the same pool.

“Max is a fetching maniac in the water,” remarks Yue. “He doesn’t like to dive, but if his ball sinks, he’ll go after it. It’s low-impact, high-exercise playtime and the only thing I know that will wear out a 2-year-old German shepherd pup.”

The skill of directed retrieve can be described as advanced fetching. Several toys or dumbbells are placed on the bottom of the pool and the handler tells the dog which item to retrieve. Nautical nosework is the most challenging; here five floating objects like tennis balls or dummies are launched into the water by another person. The dog must then find, indicate and retrieve the one ball his person has handled.

Other fun options are teaching a pet to tow a raft in the pool or to team swim with his owner. In a more complex aqua-agility exercise, the dog swims a circle around his owner as a prelude to both of them swimming a synchronized, zigzag course between floating markers before returning to their starting positions.

Ernie, a 95-pound Labrador retriever that lives with Sierra Prause and Jaron Clinton, a search engine content marketer in Phoenix, Arizona, rides in the storage area of Clinton’s kayak. Ernie came to them at age 4 and has always loved to jump in and swim alongside his owners. “Ernie’s claim to fame is fetching two tennis balls at once,” says Prause. “He wasn’t allowed in the pool at his former home, and now revels in taking a cooling dip after his twice-a-day walks.”

Maria Schultz, author of How to SUP with Your Pup, enjoys stand up paddleboarding with her Australian shepherds, Riley and Kona, on rivers near her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She and Riley learned together in the living room. “I brought the board home and taught Riley how to hop on and off, where to sit or lie on the board, and to relax,” she relates. “I forgot the living room floor stood still. Riley was surprised when he got on the board on the river to find that it moved.” Riley was a good sport about it; within a week, he knew how to ride along.

Kona took several months to get the hang of it. “Have patience, make it fun and all positive,” Schultz advises. “Know what motivates your dog. Riley works for food, Kona for praise.”

For the more adventurous, Loews Coronado Bay Resort, in San Diego, offers one-hour surfing lessons for canine guests. Taught by Coronado Surfing Academy instructors, the only requirement is that a dog enjoys water. Of course, board shorts and a bandana are also provided so that Fido gets the full surfer dude experience.

Enjoying warm weather and cool water with man’s best friend provides perfect fun for these dog days of summer.

For more information, visit CanineWatersports.com.

Sandra Murphy writes from Missouri. Connect at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.

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Runner’s Hi Women and Social Media Revolutionize the Sport by Debra Melani

Posted on 23 August 2014 by Jason

Whether donning colorful tutus or making a marathon a girls’ day out, the current running scene is attracting a broader group of fitness-seekers mindful of the enhanced benefits of a more well-rounded approach. Rather than pursuing fierce competition and personal bests, these runners are focusing on social bonding and overall well-being, likely boosting their fitness success.

Two main factors are fueling what’s shaping up as a new running boom: women and social media. “The first running-boom era was male-centric and competitive,” observes Ryan Lamppa, of Running USA. He’s referring to the 1970s, when, largely thanks to 1972 Summer Olympic marathon gold medal winner Frank Shorter and The Complete Book of Running by James Fixx, many were inspired to hook up Walkmans, lace up sneakers and train for distance races. “Today’s running boom is female-centric, much bigger and more focused on health and fitness and completion, rather than competition.”

Forget elapsed running time; just cross the finish line and have fun doing it, seems to be a growing mantra. Women’s participation hit an all-time high in recent years, comprising 56 percent of the more than 15.5 million runners finishing U.S. races sanctioned by Running USA in 2012 and 61 percent of U.S. half-marathoners in 2013. “Women tend to be more social and more in tune with their health overall, and that’s definitely a driving force,” Lamppa says.

Couple the female factor with social media-driven, nontraditional race events and the result is explosive. “Events are fun, community-centered and sometimes charity-driven,” Lamppa says of the many innovations, from paint-splashing 5Ks to mud-slinging obstacle course action, which attracted 4 million entrants last year.

Boosts Bonding

These trends could indicate America’s collective progress toward fitness as studies show the social factor plays a huge motivational role in participation. “I think running adherence strengthens when there is accountability and social support,” remarks Englewood, New Jersey, sports psychologist Greg Chertok, citing a meta-analysis of data that backs his notion in Sport & Exercise Psychology Review.

For example, such social exercise events inspire happiness. “If you are physically close to someone that is happy, eager and optimistic, you are naturally going to share those feelings,” explains Chertok, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. “Just through social connectedness alone, you’ll gain boosted performance and mood.”

As a finisher of two Tough Mudders (an intense obstacle course challenge), Chertok can personally testify to the benefits of camaraderie. “It’s just like if a married couple got stuck in a storm and had to brave the elements; the act of doing something challenging together is very bonding.”

Simply joining a recreational running group, also increasingly popular and often social media-driven, can bolster success. “When a bunch of individuals work together to pursue a common goal, they are incentivized by the group,” Chertok remarks. “You’ll run at a faster clip or go a longer distance if you are with a group, because each runner values the group and doesn’t want to let members down.”

Brings Balance

Shaking things up can also improve running performance and decrease risks of injury, enhancing long-term staying power. One study found that eight weeks of simple strength-training exercises by conditioned runners boosted their running performance over their conditioned, but non-strength-training peers, as noted in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

As for injury prevention, everybody, regardless of sport, needs to cross-train, advises Mindy Caplan, a wellness coach in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “In any sport that you engage in, you end up working certain muscles the same way all the time. Then those tighter muscles start to pull on the joints and without stretching, you end up with problems.” Moving the body in different ways helps, and working on stretching and flexibility can elongate muscles and protect tendons and joints.

“The new runner of this second running boom has much more information about training, health and fitness, and injury prevention,” says Lamppa, who occasionally cross-trains with biking and includes some yoga-related stretching as part of his regular routine. “You have to have balance in your running as in your life. If you can get to that point, you will get a very positive response from your body and mind.”

Freelance journalist Debra Melani writes about health care and fitness from Lyons, CO. Connect at DebraMelani.com or DMelani@msn.com.

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Safe & Sustainable Seafood Navigate Today’ Best Choices Using Updated Guides by Judith Fertig

Posted on 23 August 2014 by Jason

We love our seafood, a delicious source of lean protein. The latest data reports U.S. consumption of more than 4.8 billion pounds of seafood, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the average American eating 3.5 ounces of seafood a week. About half of the catch is wild-caught and half farmed. Yet how do we know which fish and shellfish are safe to eat and good for ocean ecology?

The best approach is to choose seafood carefully. Oil spills, waste runoff and other environmental disasters can compromise the quality of seafood with toxic contaminants like mercury and other heavy metals and industrial, agricultural and lawn chemicals. These pollutants can wash out from land to sea (and vice versa). As smaller fish that have eaten pollutants are eaten by larger ones, contaminants accumulate and concentrate. Large predatory fish like swordfish and sharks end up with the most toxins.

Beyond today’s top-selling shrimp, canned tuna, salmon and farmed tilapia, more retailers and restaurants are also providing lesser-known seafood varieties like dogfish and hake as alternatives to overfished species such as sea bass and Atlantic cod. These new-to-us, wild-caught fish can be delicious, sustainable and healthy.

Choices Good for Oceans

An outstanding resource for choosing well-managed caught or farmed seafood in environmentally responsible ways is Seafood Watch, provided through California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Information on the most sustainable varieties of seafood is available in a printed guide, updated twice a year. The pocket guide or smartphone app provides instant information at the seafood counter and restaurant table. Online information at SeafoodWatch.org and via the app is regularly updated.

The Blue Ocean Institute, led by MacArthur Fellow and ecologist Carl Safina, Ph.D., supports ocean conservation, community economics and global peace by steering consumers and businesses toward sustainably fished seafood. It maintains a data base on 140 wild-caught fish and shellfish choices at BlueOcean.org.

Hoki, for instance, might have a green fish icon for “relatively abundant” and a blue icon for “sustainable and well-managed fisheries,” but also be red flagged for containing levels of mercury or PCBs that can pose a health risk for children. As species become overfished, rebound or experience fluctuating levels of contaminants, their annual ratings can change.

Choices Good for Us

To help make choosing easier, Seafood Watch has now joined with the Harvard School of Public Health to also advise what’s currently safe to eat. Entries on their list of “green” fish, which can shift annually, are low in mercury, good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and caught or farmed responsibly.

If the top-listed fish and shellfish aren’t locally available, look for the Seafood Safe label, started by EcoFish company founder and President Henry Lovejoy, furnishing at-a-glance consumption recommendations based upon tests for contaminants. Labels display a number that indicates how many four-ounce servings of the species a woman of childbearing age can safely eat per month. (Find consumption recommendations for other demographics at SeafoodSafe.com.) Expert-reviewed independent testing of random samples of the fish currently monitors mercury and PCB levels. Lovejoy advises that other toxins will be added to the testing platform in the future.

“My dream is to have all seafood sold in the U.S. qualify to bear the Seafood Safe label, because consumers deserve to know what they’re eating,” says Lovejoy. “We need to be a lot more careful in how we use toxic chemicals and where we put them.”

Retail Ratings

Some retailers also provide details on their seafood sourcing. Whole Foods, for example, offers complete traceability of the fish and shellfish they carry, from fishery or farm to stores. Their fish, wild-caught or farmed, frozen or fresh, meet strict quality guidelines in regard to exposure to antibiotics, preservatives and hormones. They also display Seafood Watch and Blue Ocean Institute ratings at the seafood counter.

Wise seafood choices feed and sustain our families, foster a healthier seafood industry, support responsible local fisheries and keep Earth’s water resources viable.

Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com from Overland Park, KS.

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