habits · martial arts · motivation

Day 4.5 – A little bit of a kick

I feel almost completely human today.

However, I know from experience that the first day of feeling better is a trap!

You think you feel like yourself but it’s only in comparison to how bad you felt before. With that false sense of security, you jump right back into the swing of things and find yourself feeling awful again.

So I did not want to fall for that ruse again.

On the other hand, all of this sitting and lying around has left me with a very stiff back and hips. I also knew from experience that movement is the only thing that will help.

So, I figured out a plan that would let me move, do a few kicks and still take things very slowly.

I looked at the exercises for today and realized that they wouldn’t be very intense if I did them separately.

With that in mind, I decided to do a small warm up (mostly to warm up my muscles rather than to get my heart rate up), then do one stretch and one drill. Then, I would wait 30 minutes (you know I used my timer, of course) and try another warm up, another stretch and another drill.

I also decided to make the following rules for myself:

1) If I felt bad at all, I would stop immediately

2) I wouldn’t do the exact exercise that caused the crunch

3) I would modify anything that seemed very hard or required me to move fast

And it worked out fine!

A white woman wearing a green bandana over her light brown hair gives a slight smirk for the camera. The walls behind her are two different colours of green and feature family photos hanging on a frame shaped like a tree.
Small smirk of victory for me today.

I did four ‘sets’ of the warm up/stretch/drill combination over the course of two hours and it felt great.

I had no pain, no dizziness, no weird feelings.

My back and hip stiffness is gone.

I feel really great about it. I had to adjust a few of the planned exercises but I could feel a real difference in my hip mobility during every exercise that I did.

I’m not sure my kicks are much higher yet but they are BETTER and they feel more effective. I feel like I am executing them with more skill.

And, now that my hip mobility is improving, I can clearly see how I need to increase my leg strength to add a different type of improvement.

Bonus: My wall splits* have definitely improved since Sunday! Not a huge amount but enough for me to see and feel a difference.

I’m calling Day 4.5 a victory!

A top-down view of a medium-sized dog with light brown and white fur resting on a green yoga mat that is sitting on a dark brown floor.  A person’s right foot can be seen next to the dog and part of their left foot is visible on the left side of the photo.
In case you were worried that I was exercising unsupervised, Khalee stayed close by the whole time.

*The exercise I’m referring to is lying on the floor with your legs up a wall and then doing a sort of split by letting your legs fall open to either side while they are still touching the wall.

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Facing Forward to Find More Fitness

Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.

I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.

And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.

I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to  the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)  

Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.

Their posts hit me hard.

In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)

All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.

Image of a mountain road with rocks and trees on the right hand side and blue sky above. White centre text reads 'Don't look back. You're not going that way.' Mary Engelbreit  White text in the bottom right corner reads 'University of Liverpool Online Programmes'
Sure, it’s obvious but it’s not untrue.

And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).

This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’

That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.

I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.

I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.

I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.

I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.

I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.

I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.

A multicoloured background with white text that reads 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for. (from slickwords.com)
This is my new plan.


*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to  help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.

habits · motivation · training

Is Grit Good or Bad?

It’s Monday. Even though I don’t work a Monday-to-Friday job, nor do I have children on a school schedule, Monday morning always feels like a moment to re-up my commitment to … well to pretty much everything, from work to sports. Monday is for grit. For courage and resolve. And I think of that as a good thing.

So when Samantha shared The Case Against Grit with us on Facebook the other day, I thought: What? Grit is in the doghouse now? Being a quitter is cool? Great. I don’t have to persevere anymore. So much more relaxing. I’ll just stay in bed on Mondays.

Turns out, the article was not actually anti-grit, but pro-quit. No surprise, the piece argued that laser focus on one pursuit to the exclusion of all others and against all odds may not be the best decision. 

I agree. Sticking to something just because we’ve invested a lot of resources in it already is not a good reason. I quit being a lawyer after investing years of my life in school and practice. Nothing I do now even remotely requires a law degree. On my worst days, I’ll wonder why I wasted so much time. Most days though, I don’t regret those years. I recognize them as building blocks in the life I’ve constructed. I credit law school with teaching me how to be organized and complete projects, how to think structurally.  

The problem with the never-quit motivational-speak is that it forgets about discernment. We have to choose wisely what to get gritty about. We have to try different things, to know what to stick with. If we don’t delete, then we will never have the resources (time/space/money) to invest in trying new things. 

We have to check in with ourselves regularly about why we stick with a pursuit:  

·     Why am I doing this activity? 

·     What am I trying to prove and to whom? 

·     Why do I want to quit? 

·     Does this pursuit align with my values?

·     How will I feel if I quit? 

·     Where would I rather spend my grit?

With law, I was trying to prove I was smart and capable, to myself and others. But the whole endeavor was a performance of those qualities, not rooted in any fundamental desire to be a lawyer. I also wanted to be useful in the world. I wanted my life to have some of that elusive meaning, so many of us look for. Eventually, I realized that I could find meaning elsewhere and be more fulfilled. Quitting law wasn’t proof in a case against grit (nor did it prove I was a quitter). 

The topic is tangled. Samantha wrote about grit and her Aikido practice: Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle.  As Kenny sings, we need to know when to fold ‘em. And Tracy shared thoughts on grit, too: “Why am I doing this?” On wanting to quit but not quitting. Both posts are about the organic, ongoing need to assess the balance between sticking with something and strategic quitting. 

I also wrote about grit in my new book. Quick background, Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year is structured as a book of days. After all, that’s how we live; cyclically, seasonally, in loops that come back around again. I’m injured. I’m recovered. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m peaking. I’m flatlining. All of which takes grit to get through. 

May 12-15 in the book look at grit from various angles. Here’s May 13:  

. . . what’s right for you

Just because everybody is doing high-intensity interval training, or boxing, or long slow distance, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The only way you can figure out what sports your body loves and responds to is to try them on. See how an athletic pursuit fits. And quit when it’s not right for you. 

I pursued aerial arts for about a year. I learned how to climb a silk, wind myself up in the strong, stretchy fabric that hangs from high rafters, then flip and spin my way out. One day, just as I was starting to feel comfortable in the practice, I almost ripped my arm off grabbing at the silk in a moment of fear. Once my shoulder healed, I started back at the practice, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I kept forcing myself to go, because I thought, Well I’ve already invested a year on a steep learning curve. I can’t quit now. Yet I’d known, even before the injury, that I would never make the time to become as good as I’d like. I would have had to give up other sports I loved (such as running), not to mention that after the shoulder incident I better understood that I risked an injury, which could sideline my true passions. 

Still, I’m glad I tried. The experience of learning something radically different from anything I had ever done before was mind-bending. 

But I’m glad I quit. Soon after I was introduced to aerial yoga, which fulfilled my craving to fly. 

In addition to law and aerial arts, I have quit: triathlons, road marathons, downhill skiing, rock climbing. The list could go on. Sports are easier for me to quit. What I value is movement and diversity in how I engage my body, so there’s no one sport that demands I stick with it. 

I have also stuck with a lot of things, the things that matter most to me in my life. I’ve stuck with building a life around writing. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but nope, takes a lot of grit, pretty much every day. And I’ve stuck with moving my body a whole lot. The sports change, the commitment to getting out on the road or into a studio stays the same. 

Hand holding a pink sign with white lettering that says, “Practice Kindness”
from Unplash, by Sandrachile

We have to balance our grit with the grace of knowing when enough is enough.Tracy thought about quitting because of a mean and discouraging voice in her head. She didn’t listen to that voice in the end. The voice that should guide us in our decisions is the one of kindness. Kindness isn’t going to let us get away with being half-assed. That’s not kind. Kindness wants to hold us to our own highest standard. 

Grit is for the pursuits that nourish us! 

What’s gritty and what’s the voice of kindness suggesting you quit these days?

#deanslife · cycling · fitness · habits · motivation

“How’s the #writeandride goal going?” Sam is glad you asked.

Image description: Puppy Cheddar, with surprised look on his face. White text over image says, “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

So last week I pledged to write 30 minutes and ride 20 km everyday (except Fridays when I can write for an hour and weekends when I can ride more). I didn’t make it everyday. Life got in the way of writing one day, riding another, and one particularly busy work day neither happened.

In general I’m not someone who throws daily habit goals away if I don’t make them work every day. Maybe I’m too easy on myself. Tracy and I noticed we have different approaches to the corporate step counting challenge that way. Me, I happily get up the next day and try again. Still, I rode 120 km in a week and that’s not too shabby. I finished one book review and two abstracts.

Still on the overdue list: one update of an older encyclopedia piece, one book review, and one companion chapter. Due June 1st, another abstract, 1000 words. Due June 2-4, two contributions to panels at Congress.

I did some of each, writing and riding, at Susan’s cottage on the long weekend. I loved writing on her comfy sofa, curled up with my laptop in front of the fire, surrounded by friends who were also reading, writing, napping, and cooking. It felt so good to finally be outside riding with friends. And best of all, after a weekend of riding hills my knee felt better not worse. Yay!

By the way, in case you think there’s too much talk about academic life here on the blog. Deep breaths. Don’t worry. I’m starting a Dean’s blog over the summer and some of this talk will likely land there. My first post is “Yes, I work at the university. No, I don’t get summers off.”

Image description: A group of young white women with white helmets in matching black and white stripey team kit. They’re riding road bikes, in a close pack, and smiling at the camera, making thumbs up and peace signs.
Fear · habits · meditation · mindfulness

Nine Nifty Things I Noticed in 150 Straight Days (and counting!) of Meditation

As I write this, I just hit 150 days of meditation in a row. That is a big accomplishment for me. My longest meditation streak ever. 

The day I started this streak, I participated in a meditation workshop and the teacher suggested that all we needed to do was noticeduring our sits, be mindful of our noticings. So that’s what I’m doing. 

The biggest thing I’m noticing is that I’m in a constant state of re-learning what I already knew, but somehow forgot or thought I had changed. Or I’m discovering that circumstances have changed and what I learned no longer applies. Or I am the circumstance that’s changed and therefore needs to learn anew.  I don’t got this, but I am getting it. Very few changes stick forever, no matter what, no backsliding. Good to know, so we don’t judge ourselves as falling short! This whole streak has been about impermanence and the wow-reallys?of staying curious. 

Small brass yogi sculpture in cross-legged seated position, reading a book, wearing a red string scarf (made of a string I was gifted by a fellow attendee at my first silent meditation retreat)

Here are 9 more noticingsthat jazz my curiosity and keep me coming back for more: 

  1. Practicing daily makes it easier to drop into a meditation. Every day is different, but most days there’s a moment (often in the last moments of the sit) when I feel like my mind drops away and my body simultaneously gains 100 pounds and sinks into the earth and slips the bonds of gravity. I find that this moment may happen right away now. Not that it lasts the whole meditation, but the opening fidgets hardly have time to squirm before I’m noticing my mind and body in that more concerted meditation-y way.
  2. A short meditation is better than no meditation.When I started this streak, I sat for 10 minutes a day. I knew that if I demanded more from myself that I would fail. Why set myself up for failure in advance? There have been days when I’ve only managed 8 minutes of riding on the personal rollercoaster of my mind. Great. I accomplished what I set out to do. Often, I am more open to a longer meditation when I’ve given myself the grace of a short one the day before. 
  3. Noticing feeds itself, so I notice more details when I’m not meditating. Over the last months, I’ve become more aware of the complexities and hidden corners of how I am in the world. What feels most sharpened is my sense of responsibility for who and how I am. I notice that blame is futile. Better to open my heart, to consider how I might change the circumstance, even if that’s just changing my own attitude. Pissed off by someone else’s thoughtlessness, how can I be more thoughtful somewhere else? Noticing slows the world down enough to create a pause for reflection.    
  4. There’s a lot of dogma around meditation, which we should not be dogmatic about. A lot of people prepared to say that there’s one right way to meditate and at the end of their suggested path lies … fill in the blank—peace, bliss, no pain, wealth, happiness, fulfillment, career success, spectacular sex, love, the source of infinite wisdom and so on. The dogmas conflict, no surprise. We have to self-test and find the combination that works for each of us. To do that requires tuning into where our mind and body is at, making an honest assessment of our condition and situation and choosing for ourselves what feels right, which, by the way, may change. I’ve been self-testing a lot of different modes on my meditation app (Insight Timer)—various guided, recorded music or chanting, timer with background of rolling OM chants; plus some other guided meditations I’ve downloaded, and meditating on specific subjects or objects (my spirit guides, space-time, elevated emotions like joy and gratitude, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear). 
  5. Meditating on fear is squirrely and uncomfortable. I recently read Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear. These past days, I’ve tried on a bit of her dogma, meditating on fear. The idea is that getting intimate with my fear will transform the feeling into a healthy catalyst, instead of a dreaded obstacle. My list of fears stretches the length of the alphabet and more, ranging from losing my ability to move easily, to not connecting with people, to my washing machine going on the fritz and flooding the downstairs neighbour’s apartment. Plus, the existential, running subtext fear that my life doesn’t have meaning. Simply allowing fear the space to express itself, instead of telling myself to get over it, is new. I feel a small catalytic effect. As in: okay you’re scared, that’s okay, let it be, and hey, maybe you can still do the scary thing.
  6. Owning my woo-woo is scary. Meditating on, for example, one’s spirit guides feels out there. I fear that I’ll lose credibility (whatever that means) if I admit to any kind of woo-woo experiences or encounters. I am allowing myself to be more woo-woo curious and owning up to it (like in this piece about a puppy in India, that I wrote around day 100). 
  7. Sneezing during meditation is like an orgasm. As a kid, I read Where Did I Come From?, which compares an orgasm to a sneeze. Over the years I wondered if I have orgasms wrong, because they never felt like sneezing. Then I sneezed while I was meditating the other day. Because I was alone in my office and in the midst of a meditation and quite sure I wasn’t about to sneeze out great gobs, I just let myself sneeze without holding my arm in front of my face or ducking my head or any of all the twisting we do to be polite and not sneeze on others. Holy crap. That sneeze went right through me like a wave of sparkles over my nerve endings. Our well-justified, necessary public fears around sneezing mask the thrill of the simple sneeze.  Like orgasms, something to look forward to in private.
  8. I think a lot of non-contemplative thoughts when I’m meditating. In addition to thinking about sex when I’m meditating, back on day 45, I narrated a succession of interior design thoughts I had while meditating. I still have such thoughts. Everyone does, even monks on high mountains. Oh, and I did get the new duvet from Boll and Branch I was thinking about, which makes bedtime even more delicious. (I’m with Tracy, who writes often about the radical pleasures of sleep.)  
  9. Meditating regularly enables me to be kinder with myself. Noticing generates the gentle pause, in which we see our suffering from the outside and thus cultivate compassion. A truism worth repeating—if we are more compassionate toward ourselves, we will be so with others.

All of these noticings are small. Yet abundant enough to keep me going on my streak. Have you noticed anything in your meditation? Or in another streak you’re having? 

fitness · food · habits · sports nutrition

Sam Tried for Ten: A Week in Review

The original idea? To try to eat ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day. See Sam tries for ten.

I was curious to see how I’d do with a positive eating goal and I thought I’d share my thoughts and results with you.

Short version: While initial enthusiasm helps, it might have been too ambitious a goal for a busy work week!

My report card:

Day 1: Tuesday

Vegetable stew: sweet potato, onions, peas; Side of mixed veggies: green beans, cauliflower, broccoli; banana, Bites of apple, zucchini noodles, asparagus, artichoke hearts

Score: 11/10

But it was Day 1!

Day 2: Wednesday

Orange juice, Eggplant, Okra , Zucchini noodles, Bok choy, banana

Score: 6/10

Day 3: Thursday

veggie burger, hummus, veggie ramen: mushrooms, peppers, Bok Choy

Score: 6/10

Day 4: Friday

Melon, strawberries, grapes, lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, berries, arugula

10/10

Day 5: Saturday

Orange Juice, mango, orange

Score 3/10

Day 6: Sunday

Orange juice, veggie fresh rolls with broccoli slaw and carrot sticks

Score: 3/10

Day 7: Monday

Edamame, orange, carrot sticks, red peppers, tomatoes, kale, green onions

Score: 7/10

Lessons learned:

The first day of anything new thing is great. So much motivation!

Also, I don’t do that badly on my weekdays without much effort. Thanks GoodFood. I do the vegetarian prefab meal kits three nights a week and they’re loaded with vegetables.

But weekends will take work! The main take away is that that’s where I need to put some effort in if I want to get enough fruits and vegetables.

Do you track fruits and vegetables? Do you get ten servings a day?

Carrots and artichokes,
Photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash
fitness · habits

More on movement rituals

For those of us who observe various forms of the Christian calendar, today is Easter Sunday. I’m a church lady, so the week of Easter is always busy for me every year. I buy pita and baba ganoush and lamejuns (Armenian sort-of pizzas; a recipe is here) and all kinds of yummy foods for my church’s Maundy Thursday dinner; I live around the corner from a great Armenian bakery and food store, so it is my happy errand to do.

Then comes Good Friday service, and on Saturday I help with brass and silver polishing in the morning, followed by helping get the church set up with lilies for Easter Vigil that evening. I rush home, then rush back for the service that evening. We have a little reception with bubbly beverages and nibblies, then I go home after 9pm.

Sunday morning is the main event, with a full court press of children in pastels running around, lots of sweets at the festive coffee hour, and the church filled with sights and sounds and folks I haven’t seen since Christmas. It’s one of my yearly rituals.

You can tell from my story that I like rituals. They are comfortable– familiar and predictable and soothing. Okay, maybe they can get monotonous, but I don’t usually mind monotony (at least in this context). There is also evidence that rituals (religious, personal, etc.) can provide provide us with feelings of more self-control over our behaviors.

Feelings of more self-control over our behaviors… Doesn’t that sound great?

This spring has been more than usually hectic for me– I took on an extra course for teaching, I’m serving on my university’s tenure committee, and recently became one of the wardens (yes, that’s the term) of my church. This is, in short:

TOO MUCH
too much. way too much.

I’ve noticed that, as my workload has increased and my stress level along with it, I’ve turned to some rituals in my movement. I do a gentle or restorative yoga ritual (well, youtube video, but ritual sounds nicer) every evening before bed. I make sure to move and walk and seek out stairs in my day.

I’ve also paid attention to a couple rituals for self-care lately. I have been turning off the light in my bedroom by 11:30pm. I have made time for a quiet coffee in the morning, even when I’ve faced a very long day. That’s what I’ve been managing.

The ritual of Easter weekend is almost over. I like immersing myself in it, but I don’t mind when it’s over. The rituals I engage in every day and every week (movement-wise, spirituality-wise, self-care-wise), support me day in and day out. I’d like to develop a few more.

Dear readers, what are your rituals or special habits that are soothing, or grounding, or motivating, or pleasing? Movement, self-care, whatever– we’d love to hear from you.

Movement Ritual