Visual Cues: Gorillas & Yoga

Theme song: Fifteen Minutes Old by Snow Patrol. Listen to a cover version here.

All primates, including humans, learn primarily through watching. We are hard-wired to watch and learn. Watch in the short video above how critical it is for the juvenile gorilla to see what the mom is eating. Plants make up the gorilla diet- and some can be toxic. It also helps that the baby sees where the best-tasting forages are found. And exactly what the silverback looks like; that it’s okay to be habituated to humans in this protected area, etc.*

We are visual learners. Think about teaching someone from a desert island how to peel a banana. You show them. If you’ve been new to a yoga class, you know how important it is to watch the instructor do the pose. There is a lot more to it than that. It involves my favorite theory in social psychology, Social Cognitive Theory, by Albert Bandura (pictured below). I describe how it may work in a yoga class here.


*The rough footage above was taken in Virunga National Park, Rwanda. This particular group, the Hirwa Group, just happened to be on the border between the park boundary and the village below. You can hear the village children in the background. There’s no buffer zone: it’s agriculture and then protected park. Habituation to humans has helped the mountain gorilla population in Rwanda to increase from ~250 when Diane Fossey studied them to ~700 now. All due to their value in ecotourism. However, habituation is a mixed bag. To learn more, and to help, go to

Want to go see gorillas? Go with Ged at



Theme song: Deportation by Gustavo Santaolalla from the movie Babel. intoxicating. Listen to it here.

Just a thought about how humans communicate with one another: we may have no idea what we our bodies are actually saying to one another.

During a kiss there is a huge release of feel-good brain chemicals going on: dopamine and oxytocin. Simultaneously, cortisol, the stress hormone, is reduced. So it feels great for both individuals.  In addition, we are exchanging information through our pheromones. Check out this fantastic description of the biochemistry of the kiss.

study of college students suggests that women associate more importance with kissing. Obviously, the act plays an important role in courtship. But what? Apparently men’s saliva has traces of testosterone that excite a woman. But is that why women prefer longer kisses than men? It seems that men receive more visual cues about a woman’s health and desirability where as a woman seeks more biochemical information through a longer kiss. Hmm.

If you are really interested in the science of kissing, you may want to read this book.

Think like a Zebra.

Theme song: Pearl Jam’s  Just Breathe

Humans have a hard time turning the “off” switch. We have the ability to lie in bed, perfectly still and cozy away from harm, and yet our heart can race because of our thoughts. Think about it. Just a thought  can change the functioning of the cells in our body.

For zebras, this stress response is saved for the 3 minute lion escape across the savanna. They’re not going to waste it on something that’s not going to kill them RIGHT NOW. In the 24s video above notice only a few seconds when the zebras react in a WTF? manner to our clicking cameras.  Then, it’s over. They get back to business.* That’s living in the moment. They don’t waste precious energy and we shouldn’t either.


Robert Sapolsky is awesome. He’s a neuroscientist & primatologist. Watch this video explanation of his work in  Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

If you or anyone you know suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, you get it: combat, abuse, and sadly many other forms of chronic trauma can actually have a shrinking effect on the hippocampus. For those of us lucky ones without PTSD, daily stressors can still screw with us. There is support  for the health benefits of deep breathing techniques. You can actually feel it affect your vagus nerve as you slowww down your exhale.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha.  Om Ganesha Sharanam

I’m no Sanskrit scholar, but was told this loosely translates into: When the shit hits the fan, where do you go for shelter? (Thank you, Michael Johnson. Watch his asanas while he explains the essence of yoga.) Essentially, we should be more like zebras. Wait until the shit really hits the fan- then just breathe through it.

*Fun Fact: When zebras are together in a herd, they’re usually facing different directions to watch for danger. Asses in the middle, eyes out & around.


Python Challenge Opening Day

Theme song: Listen to Radiohead’s haunting & beautiful acoustic Bulletproof.

With just a week to go in the Python Challenge there are over 1,000 people registered to hunt the invasive Burmese python. Wildlife biologists estimate tens of thousands of pythons exist in south Florida, wreaking havoc on the small mammal population. Only 41 have been [legitimately] caught and killed since the contest began.*

It is a controversial communications campaign with a cocktail of media machismo,  legitimate invasive species education & citizen science, and potential visible instruction on how to harass an innocent animal.

So I went down to Big Cypress and found something more rare. A native, beautiful Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. It was just trying to cross the road. Watch as it progressively coils up and hides its head to protect itself from our cameras:

 So here’s the deal. Burmese pythons are eating machines. They will not eat a rattlesnake (like a Kingsnake) but they will compete with it. They’re wiping out  small native mammals like rabbits, oppossums, raccoons, etc. These are the same prey items that rattlesnakes eat- both snakes use thermoreceptors (heat-seeking pits) to find their lunch. The whole ecosystem has been affected- and it’s not just the pythons. Florida has more nonnative reptile and amphibian species than anywhere else in the world.


What you can do:

  • Don’t get exotic animals as pets.
  • Whatever reptile/amphibian you choose, make sure it’s captive-bred & don’t let it go.
  • Download the app to report invasive species in Florida.

*Fun Fact: Snakes have over 200 vertebrae (we, like giraffes, have only 7 neck vertebrae). You can’t easily break their neck. They are ectothermic (cold blooded) which essentially means that their blood pressure is so low that they don’t quickly bleed to death. Basically, it’s hard as hell to kill a snake. It’s gruesome. Don’t try it.