glow notes

Thursday, August 18, 2005

rhythms of change

Recovery from my hip/low back injuries was a looooong slow process (12 years). Same with my elbow tendon injury, though that was only about a year.

One of the steps along the way for me is this point where I get a clear picture of what it would look like to live without that pain. What would it feel like, how would I move, how would I get out of bed in the morning, dance, run, play, make love, eat, breathe.

Would I wear my hair the same way without back pain? Would I have the same job?

These may seem like silly questions to ask about a body ache, but the thing is, I don't think so. Our bodies are the vehicles through which we outpicture our spiritual existence, and being in pain - or feeling blissful - impacts who we are, how we interact with others, the choices we make.

Any actor knows the impact of adding a limp, a facial tic, or a slumped posture on character. Character is not just about acting, it's about who you are. And we've all probably felt fat or frumpy on a particular day, for whatever reason, and then, again for whatever reason (a sincere compliment, a bit of well-applied self talk, a good workout, etc.) felt like a shiny god(dess).

Back when my hips and back hurt, as I was doing yoga, I would ask myself those questions about how it would look/feel to be without the pain. Free my inner Mind said. Free free free free free free free. I would run, jump, dance, and sit with exuberance. I would be unconstrained and full of childish laughter. I would be fearless. I would never have heard of fear.

And it is wonderful to put on running shoes and just go, without fear of pain, just the air in my lungs, the sound of my heart beating. It is wonderful to move freely. It is affecting the choices I make each day and how I interact with the world and people in it. It has freed me up for something new and wonderful that's just beginning. It's about much more than physical pain - or, rather, my body isn't separate from my mind or my spirit.

These things are layered, in my experience. Get rid of one pain or emotional constriction, start working on the next. That sounds sort of depressing, but it's not. It's wonderful. Because each step reveals a precious layer of essential, pure self. It's always there, it's never gone, but it's constricted, bound up, and it feels so good to rediscover it.

And that pure self? It's always giving you taps on the shoulder. Helloooooo it might say could we please take care of this issue so we can be even more joyful and free? Don't mind me, I'm just going to give you this little migraine to get your attention. Love you, g'night!

Last night my incredible, wonderful, gorgeous new girlfriend Aleila gave me the most blissful 2 hour massage I've ever had. I've had a lot of massages. And I've had long massages, and wonderful massages. But this massage, it was deeper than muscles and tendons and joints. I had that experience I mentioned earlier, of beginning to picture what it would be like to live without a pain.

What would it be like, my inner self asked, to live without always trying to control the world around you and everything in it. What would it feel like not to manage other people's emotions and reactions? What would it be like to be yourself one-hundred percent, straight from the heart? How would it feel to allow a bit of chaos around you and know that you're still grounded in yourself. How would all of that feel?

Like God exhaling, so deep and complete.
Pure release.

I slipped into sleep like diving under a warm ocean wave. I slept cradled in the rhythm of that wave. I woke up with the sound of the ocean in my eardrums, the rhythm in my blood, a drumbeat calling me home.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This is the house that jane built

When the subject of bodybuilding comes up, most of us think of Arnold Schwarzenegger or, for those who occasionally read muscle magazines, Ronnie Coleman.

Traditionally, bodybuilding refers to weight training and manipulation of dietary intake with the purpose of developing a particular physique. Participants liken it to a sculptor carving and adding clay to create the perfect form, only the medium is one's own body. This is not the same as either Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, which are sports that emphasize sheer strength and the technique of the actual lift. The aesthetic that professional bodybilders aspire to is determined in large part by the trends of the day, and has tended towards the HUGE in recent years - though muscular balance is also important in judging.

It's a sport, there's money in it if you're dedicated (and genetically gifted and, in many cases, willing to take illegal drugs) , and that's all well and good if that's your thing.

But most of us in the weight room are not trying to turn ourselves into super(wo)man, nor do we expect to be paid for our efforts. Yet we are all intent on building our bodies, to one end or another.

The amazing thing about the physical body is that it is in constant flux. Every few years, every cell in our body is replaced - we have, in effect, a totally fresh body. And what this body feels like, looks like, and can do is very much up to us.

Our bodies, like our minds, like our lives, like everything, respond to our actions and beliefs.

When I pick up a 20-pound dumbell in one hand and curl it 10 times, I'm telling the muscle fibers in my biceps brachii that I need them to be stronger, as there will be things to pick up and carry. I'm also telling my brain that it needs to get used to doing this, as we'll be doing it often.

Conversely, if I -don't- use the muscles in my arm, my body figures I don't need them and conserves energy by allowing them to atrophy. My brain, also, becomes flacid if I don't work towards goals and build habits.

Not that weight lifting is the only way to train your body and mind. It's just one of my favorites.

So, back to bodybuilding. I am building a body that meets my needs. I want to be strong and lean into old age. I want to feel good and not be injured. I want to experience the exhileration of my heart pumping fast and hard as I run along the beach. I want to be able to lift and move heavy things so that I can be a good partner to my man, so that I have the power to affect my world without asking for help.

Do I care how I look? Yes. I want my belly to be flat, my muscles defined. Do I want to look like a supermodel? No, it doesn't occur to me to compare myself to anybody else. I want to look like the very best me, the strongest, leanest, most disciplined me.

I am building a body that expresses who I am.

I am building the house that I want to live in.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Mind games

9/10ths of fitness is about my brain, not my body.

Oh yeah, I've got to do the work to get the results. But my body, while it does fatigue, it does demand good nutrition, and it does need care, is pretty resilient. Even an injured body can do a lot when coupled with a well-trained consciousness.

My mind, on the other hand, can be an obedient slave or a petty master.

The brain is like a puppy. It needs to be trained. If it doesn't think you're strong enough to take control, it'll try. And the brain, like a puppy, is ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of running your life.


Brain says: cardio is boring. Let's eat sour cream 'n' onion potato chips and Chunky Monkey ice cream and watch Chasing Amy again.

-I say: look here, brain, you have an Ipod and over 4000 songs. Take 20 minutes, make yourself a new play list, and huck to it.

-I say: just 20 minutes. OK! We did 20, just 10 more.

-I say: see here, I bet you can't work up from a 10 minute mile to an 8 minute mile over 12 minutes, hold it for 6 minutes, then work your way down. Nah, that'd be tooooo hard.

-I say: ok, well . . . I was thinking about buying us some new jeans in a size 4, but it looks like you don't want to fit into them anyhow . . .

-I say: sure. Let's just finish these hand-coded HTML tables instead. And make sure they're Section 508 compliant. That'll be fun!

-I say: ok, but I saw that new girl from the office at the gym the other day . . . I guess she's just more into it than you are.

Brain says: Wait! Did you SEE the size of that antelope over there! Oh look, my running shoes! Let's put them on!

And so we do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Claiming my space

I've heard a lot of women say it:

"I don't lift weights much, I don't want to bulk up."

Dude, I've lifted weights steadily for 4 years, and have gone down 5 sizes. Where's the bulk? I'm de-bulking.

I'm curious about why so many women believe that they shouldn't be strong and have muscles.

To back up a bit - I am fully in support of any aesthetic an individual wants to have. I mean, people wear those crazy tribal ear . . . things (what are those called?) and I figure that's just none of my business. I think skinny girls with straight-up-and-down arms look anemic and sad, but who asked me? Not everybody would agree with me that this is about as gorgeous as a female body gets.

Amanda Savell didn't get that body by curling 10-pound dumbells a couple of times a week. She did it through assiduous and targeted bodybuilding techniques, a nutritional regime that would blow your mind, and probably an intensive cardio training program. And that photo is of her in competition condition, which she'll probably maintain for a few weeks, just long enough to get through the season before macking on a burger, fries, and large milkshake.

OK, back to taking up space. I don't believe that media images have much to do with an adult woman's estimation of her own attractiveness. After all, most straight women have discovered that real men like real women, with flesh, blood, and pretty bits to tease them with - not that we need masculine approval, mind you. The media annoys me for many, many reasons, but I don't hold them responsible for reflecting back at us a cultural obession with a rather odd feminine ideal.

Where am I going with this . . . let's see . . . individual aesthetics, Amanda Savell, media images . . . oh yeah! While I respect every woman's right to make choices about her body, I wonder why so many think that muscles are unattractive or unfeminine on a woman.

What's unattractive about slowing the aging process down by increasing cell mitochondria, improving blood lipid profiles, decreasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and maintaining good bone mass? What's unattractive about maintaining a healthy body weight well past middle age? What's unattractive or unfeminine about being able to haul a package or pick up a child?

My literary theory days are long over - it makes my head hurt to even think of discussing the heuristics of the post-structuralist gender politics innate in the boundary transgressions of the female athlete, or whatever, but Krista's got some interesting analysis on her site.

I'm just here to tell my story, and maybe I'll even tie it up into some kind of a point at the end.

I spent the first 12 or 13 years of my life just living in my body, eating and moving like a normal kid, enjoying being in human form. At 13 somehow I got the message I didn't have a right to take up space on the planet.

Or something.

To make a long story short, I dieted my way down to a good 15 pounds below a healthy body weight. I wasn't ever sick, but I was too thin, I was hungry all the time, and I was annoyingly obsessed. I don't honestly know how anybody could stand to be around me. And yet, I've never gotten more positive feedback. Not for anything I've done with my brain, not for any creative work, not for graduating from college, getting a Master's degree, or landing my first real job.

Certainly not for being the glorious expression of God that I am.

I'm all grown now, and I don't need external feedback to feel good about myself (though compliments are always thoroughly enjoyed). Yes, I still am into my body, that's true. Actually, I'm into ALL bodies, I love the complexity and primacy of the human machine. I am a very physical person, and you know I like to push myself hard. But now that energy is channeled into doing something for myself, not in an attempt to chisel away at my own being.

I can't say what women are feeling or thinking inside when they express that they don't want to build lean, healthy tissue. Are they seriously concerned that they'll wake up looking like Lisa Bavington in competition form? Do they just not want to do it? Is their aesthetic just plain different from mine?

Or did they, too, get the message that they aren't allowed to take up space?

It's true, my pants size has gone down dramatically over the past four years, and my body fat percentage is getting lower daily. But you know what?

I take up more space now than I ever have.

And damn, it feels good.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Sit down here and get comfy, I'll tell you a little story

When I was a teenager, I was a very bad kid indeed (-I- would have sent me to military school).

An example of this is that I used to go running before school with my friend Cindy, then pop by the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and head out to the curb near the high school for a cigarette. I won't go into all of my other deviances today, because we're going to talk more about that running thing.

So, despite some of my poor health habits (e.g. smoking camel straights in a hard pack, which at the time were 99 cents a pack at the Circle K, and which they sold to me, a 15 year old, back before that was a shooting offense), I was relatively fit. I ran, I lifted weights, I took ballet and modern dance, I did yoga, I did aerobics. This was not for health reasons, mind you, it was because I was obsessed with being thin (very very thin, though not quite anorexic). But I got the health benefits of the exercise nonetheless.

When I went to college, I majored in English literature, for reasons that are unavailable to me now. Living in Eugene Oregon, I didn't need to actually smoke weed to get a contact high, but smoke it I did. Needless to say, sitting on my butt reading, writing, and taking bong-hits took a front seat to fitness.

I gained some weight, but I still looked good - I was young and lush of form, I could get away with these things. But, at some point I decided to take steps to get back into shape.

The problem with a person who used to be fit starting an exercise program after a 4 year hiatus from any movement at all is that said person may not realize that she has to take it very very slowly. I signed up for a jogging class. The class simply involved jogging - no stretching, no strengthening, no information on warming up or building up to 3 miles.

Within days, I had extreme pain in my hips and low back right around the sacroiliac joint. It was a crippling pain, and walking was difficult. I was 22 years old.

And thus began a journey of 12 years.

Over time, I saw a variety of practitioners and tried a variety of therapies. An incomplete list includes:

- At least 5 chiropractors
- A sports medicine doctor who told me that my symptoms were impossible
- A sports medicine doctor who wanted to inject bursae in my hips with saline solution to re-injure them so that they would heal properly - a procedure which he invented and I (thankfully) declined.
- At least four physical therapists
- Massage therapists out the wazoo
- Hundreds of hours of physical therapy exercises, stretches, yoga, and probably some other stuff I can't remember.

The pain was alternately bearable and horrible through all of these treatments until, at age 30, I hired a personal trainer and learned how to get myself fit. I lost most of the pounds I had put on during that time and packed on enough muscle to help stabilize my hips and low back.

But, the pain would recur if I overdid it, and I knew that I could never run again. Every time I tried, my hips would sieze up and I'd be crippled with pain for a week.

I love to run - it's free, it's childlike, it's primal. It's my favorite exercise next to picking heavy things up and putting them down again.

Jump forward. I'm 33, and I've injured my elbow tendon at work typing too danged much. My doctor sends me to acupuncture, then to physical therapy. Except these therapists aren't like any I've met before. They're working in an entirely different paradigm, which I can't go into because it'd make my little story too long, but it fixed my elbow (which, by that point, I sincerely thought would never get better, and which was another source of depression and weight gain, though not as severe).

So, I spoke to Mike, my therapist, about my hips. And whether I could ever run again.

"Sure," he said. And he told me about his wife, who couldn't run around the block when they met in PT school due to knee pain, and recently ran a 1/2 marathon. So I signed up. Within a month or so, if I did my exercises assiduously, I was able to run a few miles a week on soft surfaces. This was a major victory. But the pain didn't completely go away, and I had to be vigilant about stretching and PT. Some days I felt good, some days I felt about 90 years old. I began to wonder if running was worth the hassle and pain.

So . . . cut to a few months ago of this year. I'm at a used bookstore where I like to trade in my have-reads for new to-reads, and I saw a book called The Wharton's Stretch Book. Me being a fitness-obsessed sort of a girl who likes to build her personal library of exercise and nutrition books, I picked it up and looked it over. I saw new info in there that seemed worth a couple of bucks. Maybe it would be useful for a client. I took it home and put it on the shelf.

Then one day I sat down and read it. And I did the stretches.

The next day, I had no pain.

Hmm, I thought. So I went for a run. And stretched again.

No pain.

I have tried this experiment multiple times, with the same results. I can hill run, I can run on pavement. I can trail run. I am a running fool. I'm running anywhere from 6 to 10 miles per week - I could do more, but resistance training is more important to me right now.

Was everything else I did a waste of time and money? Some of it was a detour in my journey to health, but I know that much of it was crucial to my healing. I think of it like a deadbolt lock. The key has to press each pin. Yoga pushed one of the pins. Chiropractic, especially when I started going regularly, was another piece of they key. This latest round of PT pushed another. the stretching routine was the last, and - click- healing was unlocked in a miraculously short amount of time.

Why do I write this? Because sometimes when people (like me) fail at healing, at weight loss, at whatever, they give up. They think nothing will work. They think they've tried, and oh well, I guess there are worse things than not running/being unhealthily overweight/knee pain, etc. Like me, they may get frustrated and low-grade depressed.

Thing is, you may not be failing. You may be succeeding in pushing consecutive pins in that deadbolt, but you won't see the benefits till you find that last piece to push the last pin.

Huh, my metaphor could use some work maybe. But you see what I'm saying?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tipping point

I get an email newsletter called The Daily OM. I often tuck the newsletter away in a special email folder because the ideas are so interesting from a personal growth and coaching perspective. Today's article is called Breaking the Wave and describes how large-scale societal change can happen in a viral manner - a few people start to do yoga, a few more - and suddenly, everybody you know is doing yoga. These shifts can be small or breathtaking - from the popularity of Pilates to the fall of the Berlin wall.

I love this concept for at least two reasons. One, it speaks to how societal change can happen, and can be encouraged, without government intervention. I deeply believe in individual liberty even when I violently disagree with the individual in question. (And yes, I know that the government was involved in the fall of the wall, but it happened as a result of a change in consciousness).

I also love this concept because it describes the way transformation happens in an individual. We do these things to promote change. Perhaps they are physical, such as exercise of various sorts and eating differently. Perhaps they are emotional, such as seeing a therapist or reaching out to friends. Perhaps they are spiritual, such as meditation or seeking a group of people to worship with. Or some combination.

And we do these things, gradually increasing the duration, the amount, the intensity. Gradually making working on more and deeper habits and habitual ways of thinking.

And we may see benefits, but they seem small in proportion to the amount of work. And sometimes we see none at all. Even when we see large benefits, it doesn't feel like a transformation. Where's my transformation, you might ask? I'm doing all the work.

Then, suddenly one day you notice that you didn't reach for that jelly donut at the office party, that you hardly noticed they were there. Or you don't get frustrated with your husband for leaving his dirty tighty whities on the floor, you just smile to yourself as you pick them up - getting a nice hamstring stretch in the process. Or you realize you don't have to talk yourself into going to the gym any longer, it's just part of your life, like brushing your teeth. Or you wonder when the last time you ate a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's was, and you used to do it once a week (ahem, or sometimes twice). Or that mean-as-hell co-worker doesn't invoke an adrenaline reaction in you any longer, but instead compassion for her obvious pain.

So, the metaphor is this: each little act, each movement toward change, is a water droplet, and when enough droplets accrue, a wave forms. And when this wave gets big enough, you're just in the flow.

And all you have to do is ride it.