Sunday, March 21, 2021

Shifting the Open

Something shifted in me today, at least once I caught my breath and had time-space to feel, sense it... I sit here after a large brunch meal of pulled-pork, eggs, salsa verde, intrigued and curious about this first journey for me into the CrossFit Open.

I’ve formally entered the CrossFit Open this year, though I’ve been an avid CrossFitter since August 2018, not quite three years. For the first two years, it was a time in the gym that felt like it shifted the energies away from what I valued, became more numbers-oriented, competitive. I did the workouts in class, and that was quite sufficient for me. I did enjoy watching and listening to others' enthusiasms about it all, but it was never going to be for me. (Never say never.) Part of it this year was the altered structure--three weeks, not five, I think--and part of it was seeing the wide variety of ‘options’ from ‘equipment-free,’ to ‘Foundations,’ to the more traditional ‘Rx/Scaled’ versions of any workout. I still registered to support the community more than to actually submit scores and such. Wasn’t even sure I’d bother. But there’s something about the challenge and world-wide thing of it that finally caught my attention, my own sense of confidence. After watching the 21.1 festivities that Thursday night, I said to myself Why the hell not? I decided to download the app, follow the Grand Reveals on Thursdays, see what option of workout would make most sense for me.

[There were really funny memes with this image, but I can't find much but this one...:):)]

So far, surprising myself, I’m a Scaled athlete in this mix-up. Me being me, I’m holding open the possibility of Foundations or Equipment Free versions for me for next week, but it’s been a fun challenge to lean into the Scaled version...and succeed in my own mental goals with both. For 21.1, I wanted to at least get to the 21 ‘wall-walks’, and I did. A couple reps over! For 21.2, I wanted to see if I could finish, beat the time-cap. I was fine if I didn’t beat the time cap, as long as I was into the final round of burpees by then. And I finished!!! 19:33 mins, all 225 reps: 20 lb DB and 20” box for the burpee-step-overs. I didn’t even really get that nauseous until the 50 DB snatches, says the athlete who normally refuses to push herself so far as to feel nauseous. As I saw the prospect of finishing was before me, I made an exception this time.

So something in me has shifted in this journey so far. For one, I came up with a strategy for myself to both tend to nerves and keep my initial pace down. I could feel the anticipation/nerves building yesterday, though I don’t really know why. None of this matters that much to me. But my mind was simply active. After hearing many in the gym talk about their experience, coming out of the gate too hot/fast, I elected nasal-breathing for at least the first round, to keep me slow-enough on pace. Step-overs were fun, without the usual mental-game I have with box jumps. I’m a 16” box-jumper, but 20” step-overs were good (once I faced one direction, to alternate legs!). I even stepped into my own strategy-voice by sharing it with a couple CF peeps. I’m usually pretty quiet about ‘how to do this’ kinds of things, at least aloud. The first thing I celebrate here is that I came up with a strategy for myself, and it was a good one. I found it to be so. A CF peep said she found it to be so, after her wko of it. We’ve come a long way, baby!!

Wasn’t conscious of this one til just now, but I also tended my own sense of belonging in a way that connects me in the rest of my life, interests. As a carrot for getting some onerous admin work done yesterday, I experimented with a new recipe by a Dedication-Health (often) Approved guy, Mark Hyman: salted pecan chocolate chip cookies--dairy-free, grain-free. Not only was it relaxing for me, the ‘day-before,’ it was fun to share with anyone who wanted to enjoy such a treat. I do best when I feel connected in a community, and in hindsight now, this was a good way for me to feel as comfortable as I was gonna. Again, we’ve come a long way baby.

The something that’s shifted feels much older than some of these recent learnings, however. I have images wafting into my awareness, not only because of the adrenalin/endorphins: my sixth-grade self at the pull-up bar, ‘failing;’ my 5-6th grade selves having to run the 400m sprint for a school track-and-field, ‘failing’ to succeed-win-finish in a top rank. There were so many opportunities for my youngest self to enjoy her athletic successes--the diving saves at the goal when I was goalie; the tip-over-the-bar save that fractured my wrist but allowed me to move into Sweeper-defense position; the college-soccer-team two-a-days weeks in which I began to shine as a late-blooming college athlete. I have many fond memories of my athletic sensibilities--soccer, runner, cross-trainer--but the ones that feel shifted are the harder ones, the ones I felt shame about…

...because so many who worked with me didn’t know how to frame girls’/women’s athletics that maximized our strengths, our own athletic forms and musculature. There is so much women never knew to share with one another, for one, and appreciating women’s distinctive gifts and strengths was never taught in PE school when I was its student. When I learned you could do a ‘real pull-up’ with a kip, for instance. I can use my child-bearing hips to help my arms?!? I exclaimed to my then personal-trainer, Natalie. “Of course,” she said. I was furious. Why didn’t someone tell me that? Why didn’t Ms. Hill, the PE teacher whom I adored, teach me about that? Because she didn’t know herself, at least to teach it, if her body even knew how. Besides, by the time I met her, she was well over 200 pounds and shorter than I was. PE was about other things than getting a girl to love moving in her own body.

So today I’m feeling strangely vindicated inside. Like I stuck with my desire to move, my love of movement, through a wide, challenging, non-linear learning curve. I was an incredibly active little girl--tom-boy, really--who got immersed in what all adolescent girls seem to--comparatives, shame, self-loathing and more. And I’ve come out the other side, more days than not, at least. What got ingrained at such an early age will always be with me, but it seasons the journey now, it doesn’t shape it. I catch the voices fairly early, most days…

...because I’ve surrounded myself with a community of fitness and health, fun and extraordinary silliness...and discipline, trust, encouragement. I did 150 DB snatches (151, with one no-rep :)) and 75 burpee box-stepovers in 19:33 mins. I have received a witnessed, testifiable promise that I will never have to do that workout again (Melissa’s encouragement to really finish under the timecap! :):):)). And there is a lightness, an openness in me because I leaned into something I wasn’t sure I could ‘do’ and have done it. Already. Regardless of ‘success’ or not in the actual workouts. I believed in myself enough to enter into the challenge of it all. With friends.

Shifting the Open.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Patterns Today Then...

 A quiet February morning, snow glimpses enjoyed while they may be, as they’ll be gone by Wednesday (most likely...high in the 50’s). We’ve only really had winter for a couple weeks this year, really, but it reminds me to enjoy the seasons, the cycles, as they come. Always something to be celebrated or cherished, each winding step around the mountain, right? Amidst the various stressors of these last several months--pandemic, election, civic unrest, etc--I decided to focus my early 2021 attentions back on a bit more conscious-disciplined eating habits, among other things. I’m now coming up on the end of the two months I invested in for that purpose, so I figure it’s a good time to note some of the new patterns or learnings… 

I’m once again pleased with where I am, learning maintenance-mode still and again. Though my weight is about where it was, I’m actually down over 4 pounds in fat and up over two pounds in muscle. I am reminded of how much easier I am inside, mentally and emotionally, when I’m choosing good care of my body’s needs. The numbers are less of interest to me, though no longer NO interest. I’m noticing that I am actually much less stressed than I was  (though admittedly some of the input has also been ratcheted down, from the outside). I’ve remembered once again I’m less edgy inside when my body is burning mostly fat for its energies. I can push myself in workouts or around the house, for fun, without a sense of angst or fear. 

One of the take-aways this time then: I learned that recording my splurges in FatSecret terms had a gift this round, though it felt a little counter-intuitive to enter off-plan items into the CookBook. For example, I laughed aloud when I texted a friend with several laughter/thinking emojisπŸ˜†πŸ˜‰πŸ˜πŸ˜†, “Do you think it’s counter-intuitive to record the recipe for an Old Fashioned into FatSecret?” I mean, it’s clearly off plan, though I make mine as 'on plan' as possible, i.e. no simple syrup or sugar cube--rye, orange bitters, an orange slice. I’d never recorded it before. Unknown to me, it was a lacrosse weekend, so this friend was hanging out with Melissa, laughing aloud when my text arrived. A picture of Melissa came next into our phones' text-stream, all of us laughing at the collision of accountability and ‘responsible’ or ‘conscious’ splurging. I had invested in the accountability web, after all, so I loved it and laughed for a long while. Arguably, still. And yet maintenance in my own household requires me to navigate ‘conscious splurges’ too. How do I stay more conscious with cocktail hour? has been a regular question on this journey. Record it in my app, I’ve learned, regardless of whether anyone’s watching on the other end.

One Old Fashioned (with Bulleit rye) is 221 calories, with other macros minimal. Great for low-carbs attentions, but it can also lead me to less-conscious choices, particularly if B brings out chips or munchies. On days when I’m low on calories and way opens for a porch-sit with my husband, it’s an easy and splurgeworthy choice for me. While I remember it’s never completely about reducing calories, alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions and lead to choices that are much higher in calories than desired, for more days/week than desired. Evidence file: November-December. πŸ™ˆ Even if I’ve eaten sufficiently and healthily, an Old Fashioned can put me much higher above the healthy calorie threshold than I was consciously choosing to be.

The unexpected gifts of recording splurgeworthy cocktails? For one, recipe-cocktails are much more precise in measurement. I know what I’m imbibing, more than ‘pouring over ice’ in tumblers of varying sizes. Recipes moderate intake. Recording off-plan items also register the calories in a much more obvious way. In the months of ramp-up to election and post-election events, habits of stress-eating became my choice more than tending to what my body actually needed. I was unconscious of this shift, at that time, considering myself still largely on-plan, with occasional splurges. It was much more than ‘occasional,’ I now realize. Instigating ‘periods of check-in’ with FatSecret keeps me most aware. So while I don’t anticipate recording/tracking every day for the rest of my life, I demonstrated in this season that I will know when I need to return to some ‘check-in’ listening, learning, trusting each time will offer the gifts I need for that time. I celebrate that too.

Recording splurge-worthy items also makes them another choice, but each time conscious and with reminding-impact. Instead of going ‘off-plan’ and implicitly believing a “doesn’t count” kind of thing, off-plan choices can be better seen for their macros and impact. There is an implicit deciding-factor of what truly counts as ‘splurgeworthy.’ My long-lived relationship with bread, for instance. Yesterday, I finally loaded my favorite splurge-worthy bread into my FatSecret CookBook: struan, which is a Celtic harvest bread, handcrafted for celebration and love of baking. It’s a multigrain bread with oats, uncooked polenta, brown rice, a touch of sweetness. Totally off plan, but food here is more than fuel for me. When I was in my first sabbatical, needing to write my first book but unable to keep my butt in the chair, I would make three batches of struan a week. It forced me to a domestic, sitting-writing-waiting rhythm while it rose, both times, then baked. Too much to eat or store, of course, so I gave loaves away to our students for free that semester. My way of feeling a part of the community, even though I was ‘away’ writing my book. I called myself the Sabbatical Bakery, with tagline because everyone needs a little extra dough. When I make it, I do so in mini-loaves, better for smaller servings and toasting (more crusts!). I hadn’t made it in literally years, but in November, Thanksgiving time, I retrieved the recipe and made a batch. Two loaves have been in our freezer since then, so were nearing ‘eat’ or ‘throw out.’ I decided it counted for a splurge in my Saturday night/Sunday morning rest-day/family day. One small slice? 33 g carbs, 4.59 g protein, .24 g fat, 169 calories. It’s not worth it regularly or even ‘often,’ will always be splurgeworthy to me...and now I’m more conscious and aware of the impact of the choice. 

A more feasible communal pattern may also have formed in my home in these two months. Sorting out “the family rhythm” is the ever-changing pattern-discernment for me. My husband is eating just as much, if not more, sugar, carbs, etc. than he used to...which for the most part, doesn’t impact me much at all in our weekly day-to-day. We’ve figured out our regular meal-compromises and rhythms amidst work and rest during the week. The date-nights/weekends are more challenging, however.

There are times he misses some of the classic date-night meals we used to make together--paella, pad thai, vegetable lasagna, etc. I don’t miss the food like he does, but I do miss his ease and delight, his artistry and play with the food we often both used to enjoy. So...he asked about making paella earlier this week--a Spanish rice dish with lots of meats, veggies, shrimp. “How about Saturday night, then?” has become the pattern. It seems to meet a relational need, and I have been enjoying a bit of his play and artistry, some of the communion I’ve missed. Counting and recording it in these weeks of accountability? Sometimes I record it; sometimes I just leave it blank, not even trying to ask Brian what he’s created our dinner with that night… Paella is pretty easy to aim for proteins more than rice, but it's all in there. It also behooves me to watch the binge factor with such a night. If Saturday night is the ‘only night,’ then a bit of everything can wind up in the mix, which my body truly does not fare well in...

It probably seems strange to some that families consider food to be so central a connector. For his and my families, it has been for as long as I can remember. Our visits to his family are totally food-identified, which 'favorite food' of his will be when during our short stays. Hard to navigate sometimes... This new pattern of a ‘less than 24 hour’ period from Saturday night into Sunday morning where splurging ‘fits’ in my week, my rhythm...may work for the time being. I don’t even ask Ches Brian as he creates, because it alters the ease of the evening. Post pandemic, we’ll have different options, but for now… The day-after becomes rehydrating and a smile to get back to what my body prefers for ‘normal’ now...low carb, higher protein, higher fat...fresh vegetables and meats. All a body loves…

Finally, I’m continually intrigued by the invitation or drive to relaxation that ‘splurging’ seems to connote, followed closely with the body discomforts or edginess I know I do not find relaxing. What is it about relaxation/downtimes that seems associated with foods my body now does not like…? Craving arises still, though much less frequently. I know sometimes it’s simply a body-habit or body-memory that focuses my attention on things I grew up on, or have a strong relational connection to. Some of them, like my earliest-years-birthday-meal, Chef Boyardee’s beef ravioli, now disgust my palette even though my body remembers it with nostalgia. Others, like freshly baked bread, right out of the oven (or toaster), remind me of my father, of celebrations, and my own delight and artistry. These are harder to release, though I don’t like the after-effects my now-sensitized body signals. Yet relaxation seems to trigger the impulse to splurge in some way… So very curious… Such a fascinating dance in these days… 

Eventually, when I go back to my “track my food” a couple series-of-days in a month instead of daily, I’ll already know more how these recent patterns of choices play in my week, my days, with stress and without. One nice thing about the conscious-unconscious cycles in us is that it keeps us constantly learning, if we’re curious. These have been worthwhile (re)learning days for me, proving once again we can end where we began. We human beings can be as changeable and cyclical as the weather. Part of the CrossFit wisdom is to honor the cycles, the intervals, and work them again and again, in community. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Staying on the Spiral Path...

It’s been a while since something has arisen large enough in my experience to invite me to the page here, at least with respect to CrossFit journeying and the nutrition re-education path I’ve been on these last years. I’m coming to think of this path as a spiral, because I’ve spent the month of January (re)learning things I already know, but in some senses also did not remember, or at least know in this pandemic rendition of fitness and health. Reflections for staying on the spiral then…

This past Friday brought some unexpected and rather unfamiliar sensations of craving I’d not experienced in a while. Or perhaps it was simply desire, without the judgmental nuance of ‘craving.’ The week’s workouts had been good but also wearying. My body was more weary than usual at the end of a week. I had a hunger for something as I stopped by Dorothy Lane Market on my way home from the gym. For Saturday, I still planned on my sacred rhythm of arising-coffee-drive-CrossFit-drive-breakfast then into the day, but I did decide that a weekend of a little both/and paleo-and-not food-planning was in order. I got the beef-stew meat to make the paleo beef-stew I’d found, and I got the crusty loaf of French bread to go with it. And while I was there, a blueberry-bran muffin that DLM offers, which I’ve enjoyed in seasons past. 

As I arrived home, putting the groceries away and eating breakfast, I noticed I was moving even more slowly… I had been ravenous, however, so perhaps just needed calories for the day. I tended to my work until about 2:30 or 3 p.m., getting ready to make some herbal tea for the afternoon. It dawned on me that I was done. I could hardly keep my eyes open. So be it, I figured, laying down to rest my eyes for 45 minutes. Two hours later, Brian stirred me, wondering if it was cocktail hour yet. Wow...a two hour nap? Marvelous! As I rubbed my eyes, I realized I was taking the weekend off. “Sure,” I told him. “Pear martini please. Hold the simple syrup but bring on the rest!” He smiled.

We had a delightful evening of some listening to music, catching up from the week, watching The Expanse (the sci-fi TV I’ve actually enjoyed, believe it or not), and working on a puzzle (for me). The paleo-beef-stew wasn’t bad, though I wasn’t sure I’d make it again. Three pounds of beef, then celery, carrots, and parsnip. Dried shitake mushrooms (ground in a processor til they become a powder) created the thicker stew-texture of the dish, instead of flour (hence, paleo). The best, though, was the crusty loaf. It’d been a long while since I’d had bread right out of the oven. My martini lasted well all evening, a good sipping drink over time. I’d made Brian banana bread earlier in the week, a sign of the way he desires to be loved. I’m not usually tempted by it, or least much of it, but I treated myself to a slice. It was delicious. I slept well enough--though awareness more below--and the easy coffee-and-breakfast-muffin in bed was luxurious. I don’t think I got out of bed until 9 a.m. It was a marvelous beginning to our weekend of rest...

The (re)learning parts are no less significant, of course. I eat the way I eat now because I love how I feel each day--the energy I have, the extensive activity I enjoy, the movement(s) I get to play in, and more. I rarely feel ‘deprived,’ in other words, though something clicked in this weekend that hit a whiff of that chord in me. So, carbs and sugar. Have at it, I told myself.

Surprise and remembrance then. I must have had over 64 oz of water that night, though the stew wasn’t that salty, and the volume more than accounted for the ounces of vodka. Thirst was intense, with dry-mouth and all. I smiled, remembering. Yes. And of course, this promised waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Smiling and worth it. Getting up in the middle of the night, however, I noticed this incredible discomfort in my stomach. Not quite nausea, but whiffs of that feeling. A weight in my stomach. A bit of discomfort. Nonetheless, back to sleep I went. The muffin in the morning was still tasty.

Brian and I went on a long loop through the nature preserve close to our home. I’ve loved these walks together, and alone, with Nala, these last months. Feeling my feet on the earth. Enjoying the landscaped campus of Mount St. John/Begamo and the less tended woodland-prairie paths. A full long loop is probably about 2.5 miles, with varying terrain and a huge hill to climb at the end of the walk. I’m eager for spring when afternoon walks can become a part of my usual routine again. For this weekend, though, I was shaky hungry by the time we returned home for breakfast. This is one of the main reasons I stay off of the carbs and sugar. It’s exhausting to get so hungry, so shaky, attempt to eat normal portions of a meal, then crash-rest afterwards. The upside, of course, is that I’m reminded how much I hate this cycle. It motivates my return to healthy clean eating for myself. All a part of the spiral, then.

A couple times throughout the Saturday-Sunday rest days, I would feel that whiff of discomfort in my stomach again. I’d drink some water and it would diffuse, go away. Of course, me being me, I began to wonder about the ulcer or stomach cancer that it probably was--my overactive mind simply cannot help itself--but the digestion of food not usual for me anymore simply took a bit more effort, methinks. All part of the spiral...

The Monday morning workout was a “30 min time cap,” I saw when I walked in. It was good to be back in my fun-space, and I was looking forward to the movement. I’d done nothing beyond the walk, really, except nap and read all weekend. I was surprised at how the workout felt, however. I’d guessed that the carb-fest of Friday night/Saturday morning would have passed through my system 48 hours later. But I could still feel the shakiness, the internal edginess and weariness. It was still fun. I still did just fine, scaling the workout to make it well under the time-cap. But I’m smiling at the body-awareness and sensitivities. I’m thankful, even as it’s also a bit unnerving. I’m so much more aware of my own body’s responsiveness to what I choose to eat. It’s a gift to be sensitive. It’s also a challenge in our food-cultures today to be sensitive. 

The pieces I’m remembering are simply I do better in my own nutrition and fitness choices when I’m within a community that holds space for me to get to choose what’s best for me. I used to feel so alone in my body-journey, guilted-shamed about food-choices and highs/lows/crashes I never could manage well, isolated about what science knows and what is lack of willpower, etc. Being wise about my own nutrition and fitness doesn’t work in that cultural storm. It also doesn’t work if there’s an obligation to do so. I resist obligation anymore. It doesn’t work for me if there is an authority ‘above’--whether I place him/her there, or others do--saying “you must, if you want to be healthy.” But it seems to work every time when I set the pieces in place for me to choose my best self. A community, a sister on the other end of the food diary, then body memories of why I choose what and how I do? It works ever time. I choose my best self much more often, over time. 

I suspect that at least once a year, it’ll simply be good form for me to return to higher-accountability practices for myself, to examine closely where I am on the spiral path that this is. I can remember how much I’ve already learned, but more importantly, be reminded that this is always a learning journey as my body changes and my tastes cycle through menu and food-prep choices. 

And during an election-season, holiday-season, then into civic-unrest season that we’ve been living, it’s not the least bit surprising that food began to become once again an emotional salve for feelings I did not want to hold consciously. I began to focus on the workouts “to burn off the extra calories and less attentive food choices” I was beginning to make. Whenever I land in the “I’ll eat this and then work off the calories of it” habit of mind, I need to reorient once again. Find healthy ways to tend to the feelings I don’t want to feel. Take a break from things that are stressing me and return to what gives me joy. Ultimately, get back on the spiral path… Sojourns off of it need not be bad--some things are to be enjoyed in life for a foodie such as myself--yet getting too far off the spiral requires relearning and being reminded of the habits it entails, beckons, invites...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Failing Well at Encouragement

I’m learning a lot about encouragement in my CrossFit journey these days. Some of it comes in a daily way, with CF peeps cheering one another on during a workout or giving a “Good job today!” shout as we walk out the door. Some of it is more precise, with particular observations shared on a particular skill-development or PR (personal record) success. There’s also the one-step removed invitation to inspiration, offered by members’ Facebook page feeds and posts. Sometimes those are about the day’s workout, but oftentimes, they are ‘food for thought’ from professional and personal lives. For me, a lot of it comes down to consistent presence and companionship, being with a community fiercely intent upon fitness. And fun. Can’t forget the silliness that crops up, like creating a ‘fake PR photo’ of one coach to goad the success of a friend. Encouragement is the fruit of all of this, in different ways.

What struck me the other day is that I myself struggle to be a good encourager in words or precise observations mirrored back to another. For a woman who can be incredibly wordy--case in point--I honestly become speechless in how to encourage precisely, with attention to specific movements or workouts. I don't know what to say, nor how to reach out genuinely like some can and do. A couple of folks in our Box are really good at it, in different ways of going about it, which is what made me notice.

One offers encouragement often, but rarely in a generic way. You know she’s been paying attention and has developed an eye for form and technique. She’s precise in naming the good she observes. Another offers encouragement in his consistent team-spirit, shared with everyone. He’ll offer feedback on a technique, if asked, and will encourage with a bit of his own story with that movement. When I receive the gifts of encouragement in this way, I find myself a bit speechless, but appreciative. So I wish I had that gift too. Until I began to feel my way into this topic, that is. It’s actually a huge celebration in my own CF journey to not be good at this, this way, believe it or not!

To be really good at encouragement like this, you have to observe others with a precision and attention to detail. For a very long time, from earliest memory, I did learn how to observe others in this way. A constant attention to the other first, even before becoming aware of my own experience. It eased things in my own home, for one. Developing a perceptiveness, even intuition, about the feeling states of my parents allowed me to feel safe, protect myself from surprise or harm. I got kudos for caring for others in this way, sometimes sensing things in their experience before they were aware of them. I learned how to hold the energy of a room full of people, heightening awareness of mood-states and potential challenges (as a professor-teacher, for instance).

The downside of this honed perception, over a lifetime, is that you can lose track of your own experience, even your own feeling life. You get so good at sensing outwardly that your muscles of inward awareness atrophy. Another binding habit is the comparative one, hoping to build your own sense of self up by achieving more than another, or doing something better than another. This is actually quite unsteadying, as your own sense of things depends upon another rather than being grounded in your own body, your own journey. 

My CrossFit journey has pretty much mirrored and healed this dynamic in me, I'm so very thankful to observe aloud. The last several years in my midlife journey have been about re-centering and re-accessing my own experience first, awakening to what I might feel about something before tending to others’ desires or wants. So much religious formation can shame this inward honoring as selfishness, but it’s not remotely selfish. One, if you lose enough of your center, you have no self to be selfish about. Surprising or not, I’ve been there, myself. But mostly, particularly for women, it’s not selfish to take up space and know your own body, mind, sense of things. In my CF journey, I’ve learned to really hone my energies and awareness in my own body in a workout, attending solely to my own movements, process, feelings. I am finally completely unaware of what another CF friend is doing, how many reps, what round s/he may be on. When I log my wko and learn how others have progressed in the workout, the numbers don’t have much meaning for me internally. There’s no comparative-shame-competitiveness in me anymore.

So while it may sound rather odd, or counter-intuitive as something to celebrate, it’s an amazing victory for me to be so bad at this, at precise encouragement. The kind of observation required to be really good at it is there in me, but I’ve had to re-learn other skills necessary for balance inside. It means that I’m not aware of others’ processes or movements while I’m tending to my own, and that I can really cheer CF peeps on without any sense of connection to my own. Given my own path in life, this is a remarkable accomplishment for me. Strange to celebrate being bad at precise encouragement, but ironically, it allows me to be encouraging of everyone without any ties, caveats, or personal motives.

Victory is a sweet sweet thing...

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving, Food Freedom, and a Giggle

Thanksgiving Day, 2020...what an altered and opportunistic kind of day this year. I rest with a cup of coffee, newly showered (me, not the coffee), lots of energy but also a beautiful and now familiar weariness from a partner workout with (socially-distanced) CrossFit peeps this morning. Push Jerks, med-ball cleans, V-ups, and up-downs-over-the-bar. It’s a quiet day of gratitude in my small bubble of two-and-a-half (Brian and our dog, Nala, who tolerates the ½ designation)...some writing, jigsaw puzzling, knitting, finishing Season Four of the Crown, a festive meal of lamb, brussel sprouts with bacon, mashed potatoes...preceded surely by cocktail hour and concluded with maple-walnut pie from Betty’s Pies, off of Lake Superior! (Thanks, Kate, for lead into! Brian loved the surprise of it all!) It’s a gentle day of gratitude.

I am thankful for so very much, not least of which is good health, even a high level of fitness in these pandemic days. For the CDC-guidelined-ways to stay active and strengthen in body and mind. And, the hidden intention of this post...I’m thankful for food freedom, which is a phrase I’ve used to try to name my experiences these days with foods of all kinds. It seems a good day to describe a bit of what I mean…

At root, food freedom means I no longer live in a driven, sub-conscious or conscious dance with food choices anymore. There’s an old folk-tale called the Red Shoes, a story warning against vanity and judgment in a young woman with a fancy pair of red shoes. Without going into too much detail, the shoes become a curse--shoes that never come off of her feet, shoes that will never stop dancing her. No matter how weary she gets, or remorseful she gets, these shoes dance her. Eventually, a woodsman amputates her feet and the shoes go dancing off with her feet still in them. (Charming, eh? Hans Christian Anderson getting back at his troublesome and vain sister, so the story goes…). 

Food used to be red-shoes for me, in many ways… I grew up with a ready fear about food, for one thing. Would there be enough? a fear inherited from my mother, whose childhood was pretty rough. Don’t eat too much! a shaming fear inherited from a beauty-obsessed/ thin-obsessed culture with power-over my often-hyperglycemic body experiences from a diet high in carbs, sugar, fat and salt. Food was also the favored response to stress in my family of origin. Nervous? Something salty and high in fat. Celebrating? Something high in sugar and carbs. Bored? How about a pizza, after a long day of work? Slim Chance in a Fat World--the title of the book that began the Weight Watchers movement--described it well. There are so many external ‘triggers’ for food-cravings--billboards or sides-of-semis with larger-than-life pictures of processed/fast-food food-stuffs--which would then “dance me” to focus on food to ease my subconscious fears or respond to whatever emotional weather was raging inside (and out). The food-marketers know this in spades, of course, and so food danced me for decades of my life.

The ways that I experience my body and the need for fueling it today are nearly completely free of ALL of that. I no longer get my mind hooked on some “temptation.” I rarely stuff myself to avoid feeling something anymore. I’m therefore more in touch with whatever emotions or felt-senses that might arise, in response to outside events. Cutting out sugar has meant I experience cravings so infrequently that they are now a noteworthy signal I can pay attention to with curiosity and wonder. Instead of being a nearly constant daily experience driving my next infusion of sweet/sugar, the sensations are slow, curious, can be tended to from within a different sense of wisdom, experience. I know from the outside, this choice looks like one about “being on a diet” or “deprivation” for the sake of “good health.” That suggests a confinement or an unfreedom... which does not match the steady wholeness I now know in my body. The experience of no-sugar is freeing, which has increasingly worn away any sense of drive-for...or fear of any kind. The low-carbs bit is intricately involved in this too, with the same basic result. 

None of this would have worked if the food that fuels me so well weren’t tasty for me, of course. My husband cannot stand nut-butters, for instance, which I enjoy every day. I love the foods I get to eat, and the practice of food-prepping meets my own love of ‘kitchen activity,’ which used to be baking. I still get to work with my hands to create tasty things, in other words. I still get to share the fruits of my efforts (now only with Brian, of course, but eventually, sharing with others (Mike Weaver :)) will return…). 

But all of it now courses through a fearless ease, a steadiness of energy and drive that no longer dances me. I get to dance when I choose to--like on a day of Thanksgiving, with a celebratory meal--then I get to rest when I need to. The celebratory meals are even more tasty, special...because of this freedom from foods driving me. 

It has consequences for my overall level of fitness, I know, but for me, it’s an emotional and spiritual thing. I’m a better human being with all the human and sentient beings in my life because I’m free, steadied, at ease, and curious. Much gratitude. So very much to be thankful for...even in this Thanksgiving Day 2020. Love the feel of a giggle in my stomach with all I GET to enjoy in this life. Blessed be, and blessings to all of you and yours...

Saturday, November 7, 2020

I Wish We Had Been BodyWise, not BodySmart

I felt a rush and an ache this week that wasn’t a mind-muscle ache as much as a heart-muscle ache and invitation. Basic gist: I come from a dearly beloved bodysmart family, and I have a felt-sense of grief (so, anger and sadness) that we were not more bodywise in all I/we have finally learned and am/are learning... CrossFit has a remarkable bodywise methodology and framework within which a steadiness and calm abiding can root, grow, strengthen. I'm thinking it has remarkable contributions to make to our civic ills, to be honest.

The first thing for me to honor and name is the sense of grief or loss about it for me, without blame or shame on anyone. I wish I had landed in CrossFit 15 years ago, but of course, I wasn't ready until I was ready. I wish I had known… is the phrase that comes, even though I come from a long line of beloved, wickedly smart and funny people. We are family that takes pride in what we know. I mean, serious pride. To know and to be articulate is family capital, spent in conversation and correspondence to build connection and a sense of belonging, resonance. I love this about my family, probably more than I should because for years, I’ve been really good at it. But I really wish we had lived a whole lot more into a body wisdom… We really are the best versions of ourselves AND doing a lot of work that needs doing for each of us. Yet this rush and ache have wisdom for me, I know it...even as I'm a bit pissy it took me so long to get here.

The easiest place to begin is simply about the food my body thrives on, which I did not learn until the last 18 months. Over fifty years of food struggles and weight struggles and body-image struggles (that persist, of course, because I’m me, after all)...which lessened to a ghost of themselves simply by cutting out sugar and lowering my carbs intake. The usual ‘location’ for this observation is in diet and fitness, which makes sense, but I want to talk about the emotional and spiritual impact of that body-decision, for me. I wish I had known...

The bulk of my feeling life, for most of these decades, was immersed in food-choices. I was choosing food to make me feel inside my body. Thankfully, I’ve had enough emotional support and body-smarts to curb the worst excesses of such things. I don’t have an all-out food addiction to speak of. But I would be driving home from a tough meeting at work, looking at the various restaurants or billboards, deciding what food choice would salve my tender soul about whatever just happened at work. Or I would leave the house in an angry burst, heading for whatever food-joint would calm my emotional weather with some ‘solitary time’ in anonymous space, with a beverage (wine or coffee, usually) that would soothe. The social times would vary depending upon the community. At a church potluck, food (and alcohol, sometimes) would become the buffer against all the unwanted assumptions or emotional interactions I didn’t want to have as a preacher’s wife. With friends, it would become the things to share together, splurging for the emotional festivities of it all. Food was intimately intertwined with feeling, to almost know I had a body.

The steadiness and calm abiding that I know now (to use a Buddhist meditation term, perhaps inappropriately ;)) are direct results of being invited into a bodywisdom path I had never known. A path no one in my family really knew, even though we were plenty bodysmart. My father is a physician, after all, and so created the healthy practices he knew at the time. I didn’t grow up on sugar-cereal (unless we could get Mom to buy it on the sly when Dad wasn’t around!). Dad baked homemade bread every week, so we had nutritiously-grained bread (probably protecting our guts from a lot of the GF needs in so many today). Both parents encouraged exercise, whether it was playing on the first ever girls’ soccer team (it WAS the 70’s after all) or going running. I remember going running with my mother, who would begrudgingly run her 1-2 miles because her "body needed exercise." She never has learned to love her body, but I think she wearied of feeling less-than alongside my father’s overly-active life. He’s always had more energy than she has, and I seem to have inherited his genes in this respect. But it was begrudging, an obligation, and boring. Even so, I was fortunate to grow up in a family with bodysmarts, to be sure.

Yet we were not bodywise, as so few of us my age might have been had we grown up in different decades of American market-economy advertising and nutrition-science, guided by lobby-corporate interests. Our food choices declined unconsciously from healthy-habits or what would make a body thrive. The nutrition pyramid got swiped by the sugar industry and the heart-attack scare’s focus on fat. High salt, high sugar is what I grew up on, landing in the cycles of cravings and hungry-shakes when the crash would come. Exercise was largely a repetitive-motion, achievement-focused thing on distance and/or duration. We were introverted bodysmart people, so learned exercise habits that were mostly solitary.

Still today, my father tracks his fitness by the number of miles on his bike, the total number of miles on his bike for a season. Can he top 2000 for this year? First, he was an avid runner, until he torqued his knee tendon. I’d ride my bike alongside while he ran, which was a great way for a daughter to be with her father, btw. Loved it. Then it became bike-riding, long-distances in Miami County. Some of my most treasured memories are from these rides--stealing pears from a farmer’s tree (not unlike St. Augustine, I might add), having to stop pedaling because I was laughing so hard over “an Alaskan robin’s” tweet/call (imitated by my father...long-story not worth trying to share). Each exercise option was a mountain to climb, a thing to be tracked and stretched, focusing on the end-goal much more than the movement or process. Injuries were more frequent, as a result, and increasing boredom that focuses on the shoulds of being in one’s body.

All this contrasts with what I’ve been learning over a period of years now, CrossFit methodology and bodywisdom. Dedication Health offers what I have called the “nutrition re-education” invitation, for those who are curious about learning food’s impact on their own body sensations, experience, steadiness. It’s still easy to think of it as a diet-program, but it’s not (in my experience). It’s an invitation to sensitize your own body to its messages and ultimately, its slower-paced and subtle needs amidst an industry honed to distract and confuse you/us. Bodywisdom here means walking a counter-cultural path, companioned by a community of practitioners, learning to stay in their own body experience, less and less distracted by the social and marketing needs of others, businesses, corporations. Counter-cultural means it’s easy to ‘fall off the wagon,’ but it’s also distinct enough that you get wise to your own negotiations and slippery slopes. You develop a bodywisdom that is yours alone, supported by fellow travelers.

Enjoy the movement is the mantra I say either to myself or quietly to those around me as the clock gives the 10 second countdown to a WOD (workout of the day). Just get better, as you decide ‘better,’ is another mantra in the community. Any WOD can be scaled, so to maximize challenge level and intensity of effort within a reasonable (decided usually by the coach) amount of time. Each WOD has a best “window of time” expected, by wise coaches, so that we all finish within shouting distance of one another, in terms of time. Reasonable is the key. I’ve come to trust the coaches in my ‘box’, even though their sense of reasonable sometimes makes my eyebrows rise a bit. More often than not, I’m the one who underestimates what will challenge me. And not all CrossFit coaches are wise. I read about CF beginners who are still trying an Rx version of a WOD, finishing twenty minutes after seasoned athletes in their own gym, struggling to get better but succumbing to injuries and shame...all because their coaches are not wise, or are unwilling to scale the WOD appropriately. When scaled well, every WOD becomes an event on a playground, a fun experiment with how your own body moves and loves movement, getting fitter and fitter.

CrossFit’s bodywisdom also centers on intervals and diversified planes of motion over several days of workouts. Not only is the body movement continually varying, it is set in short-spurts of focus with short rest-periods in between. Warm-up is probably the biggest gift to myself that I never could receive when I was a solitary runner. I learn that my body can and does love to do a wide variety of things when she’s warmed up!! Seems obvious to me now, but it’s not obvious to a cognitive-oriented woman like me. I could never ‘take the time’ to truly, properly, warm up by myself. “Good enough,” I’d say, trusting I’d get warmed up in the first mile.

The wide variety of ‘planes of motion’ also protect my body over sequential days, moving in ways I love to move. It’s a remarkable gift in my own box that one of the coaches is a doctor in physical therapy. I joke with friends, as I used to say about a personal trainer I worked with for nearly a decade, “She helps me not injure myself!” Which is true. Thinking about body movements is vastly different (for me) than moving my body in healthy ways as those movements are intended, with joints and muscles in proper alignment for the movement.

I live in my head most of the time--though less so than I used to--and would attempt movements at the fitness center that I thought I was doing ‘as specified.’ I’d then come home with a strain in my wrist/arm/shoulder muscles or a knee-tendon or some such...learning
after the fact that I had not been in alignment in the movements my body could do well, healthily. I would get disheartened and sometimes even afraid. I easily injured myself again and again, whether it was planes of motion or choosing the same exercise over and over again, landing with a repetitive motion injury--plantar’s fasciitis or pulled hamstrings or inflamed IT bands or whatever… I've been CrossFitting for over two years now and have had maybe two slightly strained muscles or discomfort. I've learned more about my own core-muscles and how to protect my lower back. I've learned all about the QL muscle(s), though I could not teach anyone else 'about it.' I can tend to my body's need for care and healing of such slight things...all without having to formally pursue 'physical therapy.' Deepening bodywisdom means less dependence on others for bodycare, body-listening.

So I’m much more sensitized to my body’s messages now, knowing how to listen and how to tend sooner to a discomfort, rather than later. The biggest thing for me here is that I’m not afraid when I feel some discomfort or a slight twinge in arm or leg, hip-joint or shoulder. I used to land in a body-sweats-fear that I should stop all movement, period. Now? I listen. I pull back to let that muscle or area of my body rest. I trust that there will always be something else I can do to stay lively in my body, unafraid and well-companioned by those who are bodywise

This week spurred all these reflections because we had a “fun-Friday” workout that was largely “active recovery” and sociable while being bodywise and “just right” for physical activity in a full week of CrossFit WODs. The invitation to scale and listen was guided by the coaches, with humor and option to disregard… The movements eased muscles and strengthened form, i.e. doing overhead squats with PVC pipes after a lot of air squats. The movement remained, but the form became conscious and intentional again. Given there were a huge number of squats my particular hour class did, we were advised to do three minutes on the assault bike, “to get the oxygen back into your quads” and lessen soreness. Someone bodywise knew to invite us to become more bodywise.

The bikes were socially distanced, but we got chatty while taking good care of our legs, easing the soreness. One fellow has lost well over 50 (100?) pounds in his months of CrossFit bodywisdom, and we got to talking about how utterly cool it’s been to see his journey unfold here. I realized my own reaction was one of delight for him, and then a wave of anger, a wave of sadness...

...that so many of us fall down the hole of unconscious/misdirected nutrition and defeatist-macho-driven-athletics, that we never know there can be another way out of the hole. I wasn't conscious of the rush or the ache that I came to know, and now to write. But my body was angry and sad inside!!

So I got a bit pissy and over-active on the bike. A friend laughed at me, as I pretty immediately slowed way down, realizing I’d been attacking the bike...never a good idea. “You began like a maniac!” Kate said to me, laughing. 

Yes... I did. Most of us in American cultures today are maniacs because we don’t know and even resist knowing there is a better way to just get better. Or if we see it, and imagine it, we cannot invest enough in ourselves and our body to live into it for a long haul, to really feel that there is a better way to be human in this body we have. I’m realizing I love my body, just as she is, and I want to live in her for as long as she’ll keep me. That means continuing to grow in bodywisdom more than what I read-to-know or hear-from-the-experts-to-know. Listening to my own bodywisdom, surrounding myself with bodywise people. Bodywisdom is much more intimate and fun than being bodysmart...which, ultimately, is not that smart.

Let the years of adult recess and lovin the movement grow...