Archive for Fitness

Bad At Running: A Quiet Paradise

I sat on the couch for years. Decades. Rotating shitty couches from sidewalks and thrift stores and Craig’s List. Then somewhere in my mid-thirties I looked around my world and decided that if I wanted to enjoy the great life I was lucky enough to have built, I’d have to start showing up to care for the body that allowed me to experience my path. I’d have to get off the ding dang couch and move.

It all started in San Francisco

I started running. This is a small miracle for many reasons. I wasn’t a former runner returning to a bliss of youthful endorphins armed with some kind of positive body memory. I didn’t have more than a smattering of friends who ran, nor did I have any evidence to support the idea that I might be actually be good at this activity that, for all its popularity, actually looked monotonous and punishing to me. I had finally made a practice of hauling my carcass out of the sack before sunrise to hit the elliptical at the super gay gym when a friend called me to ask if I’d move my bod off the machines and into the streets so I could do a Pride Run with her. Bernadine is a force of nature I never felt inclined to say no to, so that’s how it all started in 2009.

Since then my running has stuck with me. And my hunch turned out to be correct: I’m actually terrible at running. And I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve run on treadmills, beaches and avenues. I’ve run in Palm Springs, Portland, New York City, San Francisco, and Chattanooga, TN. I jogged through Rome, Boston, and outside my house on the quiet country roads of Leyden, MA. I ran through a civil war memorial park in Chickamauga GA, in the heavy hot morning air of Akumal, Mexico and down the hill to Greenfield, MA. I’ve done trots in Sudbury, Albany, Guilford, Pacifica, Gulf Shores, New Orleans, in the magical desert of Joshua Tree. And after six years, I can tell you I still really suck at it. I never get faster. My stride doesn’t really improve. I have not become graceful or efficient. Truth be told, it’s an inexplicable magical thing where somehow, I have not become competitive or decided to give a fuck. Doing something I’m shitty at has been one of the best things I’ve ever done at all.

 

A run in Portland with friends.

Abdicating a sense of “improvement” has let me arrive for all the things I get from this practice that have nothing to do with the yardstick of accomplishment. I do not run to get better at it. I mean, I know I could get better at it. I could get faster for sure. But I don’t want to. I just don’t give a shit. I like the pace the world goes by at an 11- 12 minute mile. I like to look around me, listen to birdsong and watch the clouds skate out toward a horizon line. I often count my footfalls in meditation or watch my thoughts dip and roll along the pavement. I nod to fellow runners, smile, wave, and soak in the camaraderie of people I will never see again, linked by a common undertaking and citizenship of our bodies, of an endeavor. I like to wring out my bandana after a run, the salt and elemental water of effort enough of a medal for me.

My city running happens with no phone. The music of the town and my solitude among the humanity is the medicine. Plus, in a life of being constantly hooked up and plugged in, no one can actually find me without the phone. There is no email, no texts arrive, there’s no step counting machine to tell me I accomplished something, either enough or not enough, and no pace setter to inform me of my speed. It is just me, in this body, with a task at hand. I sometimes repeat Confucius on hills over and over,

 

It does not matter how slowly you go,

Only that you do not stop.

 

Brooklyn in the house.

Knowing that it is the texture of the experience itself that is the mettle of this thing for me, this rejection of aspiring to do anything at all beyond the miles or the time.

This utter lack of end game is also the exact mechanism I need to notice the other gifts of my toil. I sleep better. My skin looks a billion times better. It makes me remember to drink more water. My moods are more stable and my self-esteem is higher. EVEN WHILE BEING A CRAPPY RUNNER! Goddess knows I love the irony that being a disaster in this venue raises my self-esteem. It changes the way I see my surroundings, infusing the world with more color, sound, symphony.

And running has given me the gift to appreciate the nature of ambition I have in other venues. It has helped me to make meaning for my world in a study of contrast. If I do this thing so often that I don’t need to get better at, what is that feeling of striving that rises up in me about writing or about love or about the presence of coaching? These things I do want to get better at forever? How is my undertaking of being a new watercolor painter so different, so much richer, than how I feel about the casual hobby of making ceramics? I notice the reaction in my body about all kinds of feelings because running has given me so much time to notice my body at all.

 

Joshua Tree. An incredible place to run.

And isn’t that the biggest buried treasure of all? This pirated victory of having a new relationship to a body I have been at odds with for my entire cognizant life. At first I’d be running and the feeling of my sides jiggling and my thighs rubbing and my curves squished into the sausage outfit of the jog would bring me home in despair. Not just because of the judgment I placed on myself and how I had all this dumb patriarchal and misogynist psychic violence underpinning the most private and demanding relationship of all, but because of what that meant. How I would never be able to get out from under the pressure of a system that was so much bigger than us, me and my roly-poly vessel.

But I did and I do. It isn’t always and it requires consistency, but the more I move, the more it all falls away. The gratitude I have for this place comes right out of my pores some days with the sweat. Or just drinking strong black tea on a hammock on a Tuesday. Or watching my breath freeze at the gas pump because here I am, standing, driving a car, wearing a fabulous scarf and creating ice vapor clouds from my lungs, long since relieved of nicotine duties. Running makes me like it here more and more all the time.

 

Home. The little hill town of Leyden, MA.

And being a shitty runner relieves me of so many fears about failure. Or not really relieves me of them exactly, but I see that my ideas about failure are deeply flawed. Failure is so commonplace, such a guaranteed outcome in the course of life, that agreeing to be bad at something and finding it has so many fundamental positives associated with it allows me to open up my curiosity about living in bolder and more expansive ways. It allows me to be a beginner again as an adult, overturning the common delusion that I know what is going to happen. It returns me to a peak experience of just wondering about things, of being an explorer and get dirty on the mudpit of daily life. In turn, this particular perk has built up my resistance to shame exponentially. I EXPERIENCE LESS SHAME. I never would have imagined this possible.

So give me a crappy run any day. Give me the awkwardness and the struggle. Give me the pain and the mental doubt and the terrible outfits. And with it I’ll take the keeping myself company. I’ll take the companionship of asphalt and rain. I’ll take the solitude and the curiosity and I’ll take the sunrise.

I will happily give anyone else the ribbon at the finish line to just finish at all.

Sweating it out in Boston.

***This post originally appeared on Amber Karnes’s wonderful site, Body Positive Yoga

Willpower: The Big Bullshit Hoagie

This is Wally. He’s my dog nephew. The idea of walking on the beach with Wally can create more of a sense of friendliness in a habit than just logging steps.

I know we haven’t met, but I can tell you already,
There’s nothing wrong with you.

I mean it.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

How do I know that? Because you’re here. Not here at the blog, I mean here on the planet. And if you’re already here, you’ve got the right to be here, in exactly the body you have today. I know that’s pretty disappointing to people. They want the keys to someplace else. People wrote me a lot of letters last week confiding that they had clicked on the title of my weight loss article hoping that I had unlocked some kind of feminist, or not, solution to the problem of the body they were using to read the post. They’d been putting off exercising in public until they privately slimmed down just a little bit or they’d been waiting to get married until they could look better in the photographs, and they were even waiting to go to rehab until they lost 10 more pounds. Because we all know, it is a far more important thing to have the right photographs of life than it is to just live it.

If all of you incredible people are thinking you don’t have a right to be happy living the lives offered to you by the world in the bodies you have right now, the problem isn’t your body. The problem is the world.

It’s such a set-up, right? We’re supposed to police ourselves so hardcore that the policing becomes the fabric of life. Food gets shoved onto teams of good and bad like a high school gym class nightmare. But weirdly, and horrifically, the food talk fades and people begin to use phrases that are even more telling. They don’t say, “I ate some unhealthy things that made me feel sick to my stomach.” They simply say, “I was so bad.”

PEOPLE: You were not bad. You ate some fucking pasta. You didn’t mislead the country into a war where thousands of young people killed and died over an illusion. What happened was a decadent dessert. You didn’t lie to your best friend about siphoning off her kids’ college funds so you could go to Bora Bora with Ellen and Portia. Your nutritional escapades have nothing to do with your moral compass, your ability to accomplish meaningful things in this place, and they certainly have nothing to do with your deep and abiding worth here in this wide community of humans.

Still.
I hear it all the time.
I was so bad. I have no willpower.

Well.
You know what?
FUCK WILLPOWER

Willpower is an abusive tyrant dressed up as a hero with great abs and no emotional capacity to sustain a meaningful relationship. Willpower looks great at the dinner but throws up all over the back seat of the limo on the way home and never tips the driver. Willpower gives at the office but never marches in the street and willpower always dies bitter and pandering to the sky about having just one more chance. Willpower pulls a muscle rolling it’s eyes at you when it sees your hand reach out for just your ninth tortilla chip, then tears its rotator cuff patting itself on the back as it verbally shreds its lover because it’s HANGRY.

What do you like about your friends? Move toward that.

I don’t believe in willpower anymore when it comes to eating,
and I don’t believe in white knuckles.

I believe in habit.

Now a habit you can build in a way that suits your strengths. A habit you can stack up each day, a whole universe of everything that works. And when it doesn’t work, no big deal, just start again from a new angle. Or what about a habit that used to work and then stopped because life changed. Because you had a kid or got a new job or lost your license or you got Lyme or your funding got pulled or some jerk was careless with your heart and the pain came for you so hard and fast you lost your ding dang breath. Well then. Time for a new habit. But there’s STILL not a damn thing wrong with you.

What is this habit building I’m talking about? People, coaches in particular,  have different ideas about how to do this. Now, obviously, I’m not the coach for everyone. I’m very focused supporting people to experience the life they are having WHILE they do the work toward making change. The idea that we should put off living until we get to celebrate that change cuts us all off at the emotional knees. And, it also prevents us from having support and joy while we get there. I’m not into that. We never know how long we get to have this life and so I say, now’s it.

Every client I have is different, each with remarkable personality, talents, and creative acumen. So each person I work with has a different path in building their particular habits moving toward their particular goals. But some things, I think, can be helpful to most people looking to replace the iron fist of willpower with the new model of a habit. So, here’s my jam:

1. Be Reasonable: Let’s say you want a seated meditation practice in your life in a lasting way. Presently, you are not sitting at all. So if the goal is to have meditation in your life for a long time, and ultimately from where you are now you envision a seated daily meditation for 30 minutes with various retreats over time and a regular sangha (or group), beginning with a task of 30 minutes just isn’t a reasonable path. There’s a ton of real estate for you to explore between the nothing of now and your eventual vision. For instance, have a list of tasks that build toward that goal and hook it onto a reliable habit you already have. Like, say, brushing your teeth. So your first task can be to make yourself a comfortable and inviting place to sit. Second you can hitch that sit to your tooth brushing. You know that no matter where you are, you always manage to brush your teeth every morning. That established habit can lend a reliable spine to this new one. Third, begin with 1 minute. Or with a recording of a teacher to lead you through 5 minutes. Build up. These suggestions can be applied to anything from trying to eat breakfast to yoga to writing to walking the dog.

2. Friendliness: What do you like about your friends? What qualities make you want to stay in a certain relationship or at a particular dinner party? Take those qualities and move them into your habit building. Like dressing up? Maybe your exercise can be tennis, which can often showcase a really killer outfit. Maybe you like to yell. How about deadlifting or kickboxing? Hate cooking but really want to gain some skills to have a little more say over how your nutrition at home is happening? Add friendliness to the task at hand. Find a pal you have who actually LOVES to cook. You have one. I swear. Tell them you’d like some help and do some cooking together. They can help demystify the kitchen as well as provide company while you learn. Or maybe you want a habit of cleaning your apartment weekly. Make a playlist that is SO GOOD, it feels like a friend, and you can cut a deal with yourself to clean for, say, 15 minutes of that playlist. I often find Back in Blackis a good song for this list. And by the time you get to 15 minutes one of two things will ave happened. You will either be 15 minutes further down the road to a clean apartment OR you will be enjoying your genius playlist so much you continue spiffing up the joint happily.

Willpower is fickle. A habit, you can grow.

3. Willingness: If you can feel it in the very core of your being that you don’t actually want to do the thing you’ve set yourself up to do, trust yourself. You know that feeling better than anyone. Change the shape of the task until you feel willing. Get support in finding a version of your task you are willing to do. Like for me: at some point I wanted to run a marathon. Looking back, it’s clear to me that the ONLY thing that made that possible was the fact that I wanted to do it. My body is in better shape now but I’d never be able to finish another marathon because I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO. I’m not willing to put in the time or the pain or even the entry fee. I do want to continue my running practice, though. And having a distance kind of task to support that goal really helps me with structure. So I need to find a task I am willing to do. Because 26.2, for this gal, not gonna’ happen.

There’s more, but just begin here.
Get Reasonable.
Be as Friendly with yourself as possible.
And just be Willing.
See how this goes and let me know.

You don’t have to white knuckle your way through life. The universe is going to hand us so many challenges, so much pain and struggle already, that it really doesn’t need us to help it along.

I am not saying we shouldn’t strive or toil, or that everything should be, or will be easy. And some days even the most established habits are a total drag to show up for. But as the habit is built and the result of that habit is that we feel better in our lives day in and day out, we begin to believe in it. In ourselves. In our humanity and also in our bodies, where that humanity exists. We begin to approach ourselves with a shot glass of kindness not just in these habits, but in our most brutal and punishing days, when we need it the most.

Don’t feel like running? Put on a gay bandana. WORKS EVERY TIME.

*Inflammation Station Part 2: The Sweet 16 of Stress Reduction

You probably began reading this article because you feel, not just stressed out, but also TRAPPED in that stress. Your life is so packed up, there is no time to edit anything out, change any commitment, or find any space at all to make it to a goddamn yoga class with a mat strapped to your back on a crowded city bus. Or maybe you have too much to do to make the kids are getting their needs met. Or things at work are over the top tight now. You’ll find a way to tae care of yourself as soon as it slows down. But here are some ways to take care of yourself and your stress levels TODAY. NOW. Just pick one from the list and start there. Then  maybe two. Mix it up. Let yourself be healthy.
1.   
Breathing – Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important meeting, when it occurs to you that you’re actually not breathing? If you look further, you might also notice that your heart rate is above normal and your temperature has risen. Taking deep breaths lowers your blood pressure, delivers oxygen to the far reaches of your body, and relaxes your alarm system into peace.
2.    Exercise – You do not have to be bench pressing Toyotas or climbing Mt. Shasta to reap the incredible rewards of exercise in terms of stress management. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, your body’s own personal Dr. Feelgood chemicals. It also elevates your mood and self-confidence, while improving your sleep and increasing your overall daily energy reserves. Start slow. But start now.
3.    Creativity - When we engage in an act of creation, we can achieve a kind of focus similar to the concentration achieved through a meditation practice. Allowing yourself the time and space to focus on knitting a scarf, spinning a ceramic ewer or crafting a hilarious blog helps you to be present with yourself without tripping out on the future or the past. The act itself slows the pace of things and your body responds by relaxing, counteracting the effects of toxic stress.
4.    Schedule time for Yourself – Your calendar has a ton of things in it. Sally’s birthday dinner, a presentation for the marketing department, a training HR is sending you to attend for a whole weekend,. What it probably doesn’t say is “Wednesday from 2-3:30. Take self for a walk along the water. Read new detective novel on my favorite bench in the park. Go to the fencing class you’ve always wanted to go to.” Prioritize time for yourself at least once a week. Making this commitment actually strengthens your commitments to others, diminishing your overall stress levels of feeling, ironically, overcommitted.
5.    Interspecies Pals – Hang out with your dog Gus. Or your cat Parsnip. Or your fish Thelonius. Being with animals not only provides us comfort, but often it highlights simplicity and strips down the stress we labor under. Food. Shelter. Love. And a nice swim, except maybe for Parsnip.
6.    Sleep Getting a good night’s sleep can improve our concentration, our effectiveness and our energy levels. Try to lay off the liquids 2-3 hours before bed so as not to interrupt your slumber with an insistent bladder. Cut off the caffeine about 7 hours before you turn in. And try to get in bed the same time every night. Keeping yourself consistent with your pillow will begin to ratchet down your stress levels.
7.    Hilarity – Go ahead and laugh your ass off. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins. Laughter also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
8.    Stretch – Yoga is great for stress. But look, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It’s ok to hate yoga. Really. You don’t have to tote a little mat around town or invest in Lululemon wardrobes to reap the benefits of stretching. Just go ahead and start your day by doing five minutes of stretching and see how things go. You will be in more alignment, more embodied, and begin your whole day grounded. Literally.
9.    Dance and Sing –You can go out with friends and get lost in the thrill of a great sound system or stay home and get wild with whatever blows your dress up. Abandon and fun in a totally physical sense decrease your stress levels and free you from the tangle of daily irritation
10. Eat a Healthy Diet – Start your day with breakfast. Always. Starting your day with complex carbs, slow digesting fuel, will keep you full and energized for your morning. Keep your diet balanced, your consumption of refined sugars limited, and pile your plate with colorful produce. A balanced diet of whole foods and produce keeps your stress levels down and your blood sugar stable. This results in a more consistent energy and mood throughout the day.
11. Get loud about it – According to a recent study in Great Britain, work-related stress can be relieved by up to one quarter by letting out a good scream. Get primal. Just let it rip.
12. Call a Friend – You don’t have to do it alone. Call someone you trust and air out your stress. Let people go through it with you. The bonds of your relationships will strengthen, you can get it out of your head, and ultimately, you will take solace in human connection, an experience proven to reduce stress.
13. Gratitude – Studies show that cultivating gratitude can be one of the greatest weapons against stress out there. Keep a gratitude list by your bed and each night or morning (whichever suits you best) write down three things you’re grateful for. Everything from your new socks to a stable of wonderful friends. Begin cataloging all the things about life that rule, three at a time each day.
14. Get your Financial House in Order - If looking at finances gives you sharp emotional vertigo, schedule five minutes a day to begin assessing where you are. Just 5. And at the end of five minutes, move on with your life. Engaging yourself slowly and daily will build confidence, shake you quite gently out of denial, and put you on the road to making choices based in reality. Soon five minutes will turn to ten and then fifteen and healthy choices on that front will lead to peace and recovery in other venues.
15. Delegate – Do you hate spending so much time at the laundromat? Drop it off. Does looking for parking make you nuts? Take public transportation or treat yourself to a walk. Does paying bills drive you crazy? Set up automatic payments. I am not saying these are the right answers for you, I am just saying there ARE answers for you and you can take action to strip stressful things from your life.
16. 1979 Time – This is my favorite. Turn off your phone for an hour a day. Walk away from your computer. Close Facebook. Turn off the television. Just one hour a day. Read a poem. Go look at a tree or the sky. They get more and more fascinating if you let them. People really can wait an hour to hear from you or get an email response.

Think of all these things like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles or a fascinating chain reaction of good stuff. If you get a good night’s sleep, you wake with more energy and feel inspired to make yourself some steel cut oats for breakfast. Once that happens your morning is fully fueled and your cravings for sugar and caffeine diminish. Highs and valleys even out and your blood sugar stays healthy throughout your day. You take yourself away from your desk at lunch and sit outside in the sun reading a battered copy of Moby Dick you always meant to get to. That lights your creative spark and you plan a quick picnic dinner for your sweetheart and the two of you enjoy a pleasant evening together with no texting or TV reminding you why you are lucky to have companionship in your life. That leads you to remember other ways your life has delivered gifts like how your dentist told you your teeth look great.

The Domino effect works in both directions. Set yourself up for some serenity today. The world will do its part to offer you stress, so don’t keep helping it out. It’s doing just fine and it completely supports your new plan to give yourself abundance. And so do I.

*The original version of this first appeared in the WONDERFUL blog, MindBodyGreen

To Rock, Or Not to Rock…

When I began running on the streets of San Francisco, I took out my ear buds and hit the pavement free of electronics. It’s not that I don’t like music, I LOVE MUSIC, it’s just that I don’t particularly want to make a wrong step in the middle of Back in Black only to find myself in the hospital and out of the running for becoming America’s Next Top Model. I want to have all my senses available on the road to listen for cars, hear my breath, and be awake to traffic light changes.

I ran around town for hundreds of miles leading up to the marathon. Hours and hours of my life ticked by with my lungs filling and my legs moving and the sweat saturating one bandana after another. Running. And all that time, just my mind to keep me company. It was an incredible way to get to know myself anew, a person in an immersive endeavor, a durational undertaking I have no talent for. It has been some of the best time I’ve ever spent with myself even with all the pain, the sunburns, the failures and the nausea. I had so much time to observe my brain doing all the little dances it does: on a good day I could see the Samba of Support, a kind of cheerleader for me, or a long Waltz of Compassion after I’d run down the grudges of resentment. These things are heavy to carry, literally, and running 50 miles a week is a good way to discover their true weight.

Look who got some Vitamin D

After the race, which I finished gracelessly, slowly, and yet in complete bliss and triumph, I took many months off the road, came back to movement slowly. I now split my time between the gym and the road, right now heavier on the gym. And since there are no cars there, I re-employed beloved music into my exercise practice. I thought maybe we could talk playlists. Great.

He likes Slayer.

Here’s some of my highlights.

1. They played this song at the starting line of the marathon so I think about that every time I hear it. I also think about the San Francisco Giants’ Championship Season. But mostly, I still think about Tony.

My Favorite Sociopath really inspires work on the Elliptical

 

2. Beyonce – Check On It
3. M.I.A. – Paper Planes
4. Kyuss – Hurricane

 

You Call That Running!?!?!

5. Hall and Oates – Rich Girl
6. Wolf Parade – Shine A Light
7. NSync – Bye Bye Bye

Vintage Justin: Just Hit Him with the TRUTH

 

8. Wiz Khalifa – Black and Yellow
9. Shirley Ellis – The Clapping Song
10. Public Enemy – Bring the Noise

The Finish: Powered by Chuck D.

 

The playlist goes on and on.
But how does yours go?
Help me change it up some, wouldja?