Crash Boom BANG

January 19, 2011

Not only is it finally winter again here in Bozeman, it was sunny today, I built snowforts all afternoon and after work I got to go on a long classic ski. Life is great.

Except something is out of whack.

During my ski I fell not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. These weren’t simple oops-I-lost-my-balance-I-better-sit-this-one-out falls. These were yard sales, if you can have yard sales with non-ejectable bindings. These were animated-slow-motion-flying-appendages falls.

What could be out of whack?

Humans have multiple sensory and muscular systems working to keep our balance in check. The main organ for this gargantuan task: the inner ear. Two small sacs in the inner ear are filled with sensory receptors and small crystals in a gel. When we move our heads, the crystals slide from one side to the other and the receptors tell our brains the relative position of our heads. Another section of the inner ear, called the semicircular canals, helps us figure out when we rotate our heads. The canals are partially filled with fluid and are at right angles with each other. When we turn our heads, the fluid bends another gel filled sac and receptors in the sac send more messages to the brain.

Why is it so important for us to know where are heads are located? They are always connected to the neck unless we find ourselves beneath the guillotine. The reason is that we can’t see our heads to know where the all important brain protector is or what it is doing. Thats why we need the inner ear.

The other main organ for balance is the eye. Our eyes can see almost all of our bodies, beside, of course our heads so they send messages to the brain telling it where Mr. Left Thumb and Ms. Right Calf are and what they are doing. Finally, proprioreceptors in our muscles and tendons tell the brain how stretched or relaxed the various parts of our bodies are at a given time.

So what happened to my balance today?

My inner ear could have been a little clogged, my eyes a little dull or my balance muscles a little fatigued. Personally, I am going to chalk it all up to snow snakes. They must have come out in celebration of the new snow.

The eepy creepy and evil "Serpentia nieve"

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Peptide of the week: Oxytocin

November 22, 2010

Ever want to feel a sprinkling of the magic life-is-good fairy dust without going outside and sweating your ass off for endorphins? Here’s how you do it. Pet your dog. Or have a baby, but petting your dog is much easier and less time-consuming.

I recently watched the Nova episode, Dogs Decoded. Along with puppies, puppies and some more puppies, the documentary went through a bunch of cool research on how we bond with our dogs including with one of the many super cool peptide brain chemicals.

Oxytocin, the empathy hormone, is released by our friendly neighborhood drug dealer, the pituitary gland. It encourages contentment, reduces anxiety and increases feelings of security and trust. Mothers experience a huge release of oxytocin after giving birth so that they love the child who so recently caused them excruciating pain. The pituitary also shoots out some oxytocin during romantic endeavors; apparently to discourage cheating. Finally, we experience oxytocin highs when we pet our dogs, and our dogs do too.

So next time you or your dog gets that anxious, stress-o look in your eye (it also turns out that dogs are the only species on earth besides humans that can read human eye movement), plop down with your pooch for a nice long belly rub.

CRAZY EYES!


After I spent the morning reading science papers and watching for the non-existent 100% chance of snow to start falling in town, I headed to Sourdough with rock skis and snow dog in tow. I scouted the trail yesterday and was delighted to find more than enough snow to reduce the traction on my running shoes and make me itchy for some glide. Today, despite the disappointingly faulty forecast for Bozeman, the snow and the temperature fell as I drove south to the canyon. In the parking lot, after managing to lure Raven away from some tasty elk leg by running and screaming zombie-style, I clicked into my bindings and

Magic.

I started up the trail and found the rhythm I miss so much during the summer. Soon,  my body heated up and after managing to lure Raven away from the massive, and once again tasty, pile of horse droppings, I worked up the beginning of the hill (the trail is pretty much all one large hill up the canyon and a blazing fury of a descent back down). I could feeling happiness coursing through my veins. It was

Magic.

Also known as endorphins. During exercise, sex and apparently the consumption of spicy food, the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in our brains release gleeful little peptides called endorphins that work like opiates to make us feel as though the world is in order and happiness fairies are sprinkling us with their magical dust. Who needs a boyfriend? I can ski! A study in Europe measured endorphin levels in skiers after a long-distance race and found elevated levels in all of the skiers, but especially in those that were more experienced and better-trained. Apparently, all the years I spent skiing (even the period around age 8 when would cry when I had to skate up a hill) have trained my body to give me an even better high.

Endorphins.

Or magic? Science is the logical investigation of observations that leads to more questions, to more curiosity. Scientific thought is the lens through which I choose to read the never-ending mystery novel of life on earth. I find it enchanting.

Enchanting enough to write a blog about it.

The groomer was on the way up while we were on the way down, which made for a fun descent.