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    Free Spirit Spheres: Vancouver Island, B.C.

    Vancouver's coastal rainforest is home to a small resort called Free Spirit Spheres, which consists of spherical tree houses "suspended like pendants from a web of rope," according to the website. Designed by owner Tom Chudleigh, these three spheres -- named Eve, Eryn and Melody -- are impressively outfitted with electricity, plumbing, dining areas and beds. Be careful, though: they sway if you shift your weight around too much.

By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times

Remember the good old days when a tree house was a rough-looking assemblage of two-by-fours and plywood wedged into the crook of your backyard oak tree?

These days, tree houses are more than just hideaways for the Bart Simpsons of the world. They represent a creative challenge to architects all over the world. Firms like Germany's baumraum, which specializes in offbeat projects, and designers like Pete Nelson, a Washington State-based genius of the form, have made it their mission to bring this humble concept into the future.

They fuse the natural world with the artificial in ways that are often stunning: spheres suspended in British Columbia's Pacific rain forest; a "mirror cube” that looks like a woodsy warp in the space-time continuum; a sleek, modern cabin overlooking the German countryside, set in the ‘V’ formed by opposite-leaning oak and alder trees.

These tree houses -- if that’s even the right word -- are the subject of a recent photo book, Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air, by Philip Jodidio (TASCHEN). The book’s range, both in terms of the designs presented and geographic distribution, highlights the universal appeal of the idea of living -- or at least staying -- in the tree tops. Depicted are well-appointed hotel rooms in the air and the aerial dwellings of a remote Indonesian tribe. Taken as a whole, the effect is dizzying, and not just because of the heights.

These are truly awe-inspiring structures. In fact, we were so inspired that we took it upon ourselves to find a few more trippy tree houses not featured in the book and share them with our readers.

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    Magic Johnson

    Basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson and his wife, Cookie, wanted a laid-back, welcoming feel for their family’s seaside getaway in Southern California. Designer Michael Kreiss chose off-white sofas and blue accents for the family room and adjacent terrace to echo the sand and sea just beyond. (December 2009)

See how some of the biggest sports stars, past and present, enjoy the off-season in style.

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    QB Peyton Manning

    Every time you want to give some other quarterback the nod, the prolific signal-caller comes out and wows you once again. On Monday night against the Oakland Raiders, Manning completed 32-of-37 passes for 374 yards and three more scores without an interception. Manning did lose a fumble when sacked but his accuracy more than make up for that. The Broncos get a visit from the Philadelphia Eagles and their shaky defense this Sunday.

It's safe to say that there were some interesting performances in the third week of the NFL season. But which players actually came up the biggest? You'll be happy to know that there a slew of new faces and units on the list.

Then again, there's another performer who has earned a repeat appearance. This week, the 32 teams will begin to take their turn when it comes to getting a little rest. That will mean fewer choices for our prestigious roll call but, as usual, we will do our "best."

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    Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)

    This is a reverse triangle pose. Start the same way, but when you bend your torso to the right, bring your left arm down instead of your right. Either grip your shin, or rest your left hand on a block or the floor if you’re flexible enough. Lift your right arm vertically, and either look up at your right thumb, or straight ahead (that is, behind you) if you're less advanced. Hold for up to one minute, then switch sides.

By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times

Can yoga make you smarter? It’s not as much of a stretch as you think.

A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tested this idea on 30 female college students and found that just 20 minutes of yoga enabled them to better complete mental tasks that involve the speed and accuracy of their working memory and other important measures of cognitive performance.

In fact, as a brain booster, yoga outperformed an intense bout of aerobic exercise, which has already been shown to have positive effects on the brain.

“It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout,” said lead researcher Neha Gothe in a press release.

Although there may be many reasons for the results, Gothe believes that yoga's focus on mindfulness may be an important factor. “The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath," she said. "Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities."

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    1. Warm-Up

    Sit cross-legged, using core to keep back straight. Pull belly button toward spine and reach crown of head toward ceiling, relaxing shoulders away from ears. Close eyes and take deep breath in. Hold it for a few seconds, then let it go. Repeat twice.

Changing hormones. Childbirth. A stunted metabolism. Gravity. If any or all of the above have caused your belly to become a rounder, puffier version of your stomach of yesteryear, we have good news. You don't have to order a lifetime supply of Spanx, and you don't need to work out harder or longer to get a flatter, stronger core -- just smarter.

We partnered with yoga guru Kimberly Fowler to create Flat Belly Yoga!, the master of core-conditioning programs for age 40-plus. It uses juiced-up yoga routines -- basic poses combined with light weight lifting—to transform your midsection.

"Yoga is known for its relaxation and flexibility benefits, but it's also a full-body workout that strengthens and lengthens your core muscles. When you add light weights, you'll amp up yoga's belly-firming power by boosting calorie burn, revving metabolism, and building calorie-burning muscle mass, all of which add up to a leaner, tighter core," says Fowler, 55. She started experimenting with light weights and yoga to keep her own body in tip-top shape, and she now shares the hybrid workout with more than 500 students a day at YAS Fitness Centers, her studios in California.

These souped-up moves are gentle, but you'll feel them going to work immediately on your core, especially the transverse abdominis. "This muscle acts like a natural girdle -- think Spanx. Strengthening it will automatically give your belly a flatter appearance," says Fowler.

Aim to do this practice 6 times a week. Do the routine without weights until you're comfortable with the poses. Focus on your breath and take your time; doing a pose correctly requires more core strength than doing it fast and sloppily. Stay connected to your core throughout each pose, keeping your abs engaged. For faster results, repeat the main sequence 2 or 3 times.

Ready for a strong, slender stomach? You'll need a yoga mat and a set of 3-pound dumbbells.

Abs, Yoga
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    QB Aaron Rodgers

    It would be harder to be sharper than Rodgers was Sunday against the Redskins. Despite being sacked three times in the first quarter, Rodgers completed 34-of-42 passes for 480 yards and four scores. It marked the 20th time in his last 33 regular-season games that the Green Bay quarterback threw at least three touchdown passes. Amazingly, after throwing just one touchdown pass in his first three NFL seasons (2005-07), Rodgers is just 22 scores shy of 200 career TD tosses. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers also came up huge in his team’s win at Philadelphia.

Two weeks into the 2013 season and one-fourth of the 32 teams are unbeaten. But which players had the best performances this past Thursday, Sunday and Monday?

We are back once again to take a look at the best of the best position-wise, this time for Week 2. While you can debate the choices, keep in mind that it won’t always be strictly about the numbers. And on occasion, we will be taking a look ahead as well as give a history lesson or two. Bottom line here is that we will continue to do our "best."

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    REI Outlet

    REI has never been known for being cheap, but that doesn't mean you can't snag deals there. REI Outlet has plenty of ways to find the gear you're looking for at a good price: Daily and weekly deals with discounts of 50 percent or more, overstock and clearance from REI’s famously comprehensive selection of outdoor gear and apparel, and the ability to search by price point or percent discount. REI Outlet also sells last year's bikes for 20 to 30 percent off. The catch: you have only 30 days to return items purchased from the outlet, and outlet purchases don't qualify for REI members’ annual 10 percent refund.

By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times

As much as we at The Active Times like to plug this or that new, cool piece of equipment or article of clothing, we know the prices can stop you cold in your tracks. How much for that Arc'teryx jacket, again?

It's the dirty, if open, secret of the outdoors business: Going outside may be free, but gear is expensive.
In many cases buying used gear or simply renting it on a one-off basis will take care of that problem, but it's when you’re looking to outfit yourself with the right clothing and gear that will last that things get hairy. It might be time to start combing the Web for deals.

Finding a decent price isn’t necessarily hard -- if you know what you're looking for, and where to look. All-purpose sites like Google Shopping, Amazon and even Overstock.com can be useful for comparison shopping and the occasional surprise bargain, but they’re not ideal for core enthusiasts who want to compare specs and brands, and they don't always dig up the deepest discounts or flash sales.

That’s why we decided to share some of our favorite places to shop for bargains. Taken together, these websites sell everything you need for the activities you love.

Click here for survival schools
12 Survival Schools That Could Save Your Life

Some are modeled on old-school "outlets" that sell overstock, discontinued gear and seconds, which are items that have minor cosmetic damage. At these online stores, inventory for a given sport -- say, skiing -- changes with the season. Last year's gear often goes for a steal right before retailers have to make room for the new stuff.

As with physical outlet stores, the selection is often limited: you find odd sizes, colors that nobody else wanted, and slightly different versions of your desired make or model. But oftentimes these outlets have good-enough approximations of the right thing at half the price, so who’s complaining?

But if it’s something specific you’re after, we included a few sites with generous price-matching guarantees. So if, for example, Campmor has the best price on a particular Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag, you can see if a price-matching competitor like evo has the same item and get it for 5 percent less.

There are also a handful of online retailers that specialize in flash sales -- think Groupon or LivingSocial -- targeted at a core audience. These so-called “one deal at a time” sites (a misnomer), including The Clymb and SteepAndCheap.com, have rotating collections of heavily discounted gear from brands like Columbia and Oakley, but you have to catch the right sale on the right day. Sign up for alerts and you’ll be ready when your must-have jacket goes on sale.

And lastly -- although it's first on our list -- we included a great comparison-shopping site for active junkies that gives you cash back on every purchase. You can use it is a portal into other sites on the list to add to your savings.

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    QB Peyton Manning

    It was hard not to go with a guy who tied the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game (7), the first player to achieve that feat since 1969. This week, big brother meets younger brother at MetLife Stadium as Peyton takes on Eli on Sunday afternoon. The latter threw for five scores last week at Dallas. Four were to his teammates but one of those was to the other team, part of the Giants' six-turnover fiasco in a loss to the Cowboys.

So it is one week down and 16 more to go in NFL 2013.

Here, we will take a look at the best of the best position-wise on a weekly basis. While you can debate the choices, keep in mind that it won't always be strictly about the numbers. And on occasion, we will be taking a look ahead as well as give a history lesson or two.

Bottom line here is that we will do our "best."

For the complete list of The Most Epic NFL Stadium Foods, go to AskMen.com.

More Stories from AskMen:
-- 10 Greatest Microbrews In America
-- Exercise Activities For Couples

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    Myth: You can drink water from a cactus

    "In movies, you see a cowboy lop off the top of a barrel cactus -- a big, beach ball-shaped cactus -- dip his ladle in and get a drink of water," says Nester. "That's not water, though. It's a noxious fluid that's very high in alkalis."

By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times

What do you do when survival is not guaranteed?

You’re lost, stranded, injured miles from civilization -- if you even know what direction civilization is. Chances are you haven't taken a survival course, and all you've got to fall back on are your wits and fragments of received wisdom that you’ve gleaned from TV, movies and maybe a magazine article or two.

The sun's going down, and your stomach starts growling, and you think, "Maybe I should find some berries for dinner" -- you’re pretty sure you know which ones are edible. Or it’s been a couple days and you remember an episode of Man vs. Wild where Bear Grylls chows down on a raw grub and think “I might just be hungry enough…”

Or, say you've hiked to the bottom of a canyon and realize you don’t know how to get out and your water's running low. "I should make this last,” you think before your mind turns to an old John Wayne movie where he squeezes clear liquid from the pulp of a barrel cactus.

Ask a survival expert, though, and he or she will likely tell you none of these things is a good idea.

For just about any survival situation, there's a wealth of knowledge out there, and a lot of it's bad. Often things aren't helped by the burgeoning number of survival reality shows, which are designed to entertain rather than to educate.

"I've worked on these reality shows," says Tony Nester, an expert on desert survival and head of Ancient Pathways, an outdoor survival and bushcraft school based in Flagstaff, Arizona. "They're heavily scripted and there’s always a support crew within twenty feet, twenty-four seven."

Click here for survival schools
12 Survival Schools That Could Save Your Life

As a teacher, Nester constantly finds himself correcting his student’s misconceptions about what do in survival situations. For example, students often come to his survival courses and want to learn right away how to make fire by rubbing sticks together.

"Hey, there’s no greater joy than sitting next to a fire that you made the old way,” says Nester. "But that’s not what I want to do when I have an injured shoulder and the sun’s going down and it’s getting cold."

One of Nester’s favorite examples is the solar still, a device one can make -- given the right materials -- to collect and distill water. Grylls once made one on his show to demonstrate desert survival, and students ask Nester how to do it themselves. Nester teaches his students the method’s fatal flaw by having them make their own. (Hint: digging a hole in desert heat is no easy task.)

Nester emphasizes that there's a difference between "survival" -- living long enough to be rescued -- and "bushcraft" -- the art of living outdoors -- which people often miss, or are unaware of.

People get hung up on the idea of the survival hero, he says, and don’t realize that most survival situations are much more mundane. “80 percent of people who get lost in the U.S. and North America are day hikers. They have a mentality, when they’re at home, they think ‘I’ll just go for a day hike or mountain bike. I’m only going for two hours -- what’s the worst that can happen?'"

Tim Smith, the founder of Jack Mountain Bushcraft School in the Maine North Woods, is also quick to teach his students this distinction. “Survival is very romanticized,” says Smith. "It's not about being the toughest or most experienced; it’s about keeping out of those situations."

Survival, according to Nester, Smith and Shane Hobel of Mountain Scout Survival School in upstate New York, is a matter of getting your priorities straight. (Shelter, water, and a clear mind are at the top of your list, by the way.) We asked them to share some of the most persistent survival myths they encounter, and their corrections.