“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

zen proverb.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Did you have too much pie like I did (pumpkin is my favorite)? After weeks of overwork and overstress, I’m enjoying my long holiday weekend and relishing this opportunity to tune out a little and relax.

As I explained in the previous post, I have recalibrated my fitness plan and now need to move on to my diet. I find a good way to reset is to employ a somewhat loose approach with some ground rules similar those described in Darya Rose’s “Foodist Recalibration”:

“I don’t diet or ‘cleanse’ (I’ve yet to hear a scientific explanation of what that actually means), but I’m taking the first two weeks of January to eat extra healthy and recalibrate back to my regular happy self.”

This means no sugar, dairy, wheat, or alcohol. Drink lots of water, green tea, and eat leafy greens for lunch and dinner. Do this for a couple of weeks, After that, gradually add back foods from the “no” list – in moderation. As I write, it sounds so simple. But many of us know that in practice it takes a lot of effort and attention.

Chai tea and locally made almond milk in my favorite mug.

After willfully refusing to eat properly for a few weeks, I’m preparing myself for some discipline on this front. But stress is my biggest enemy when it comes to eating healthfully. Because I don’t anticipate the amount of stress in my life to decrease, and in fact may very well multiply as the holidays draw closer, efforts must be made to manage this stress and not allow my diet to become a causality of it.

Mindful eating is another one of those things that sound easy on paper but is actually very difficult to employ. I just want to watch hulu, read an article on the internet, maybe do some work, write, or otherwise tune out during a meal. The fact is that I often like to do something as a eat and I find pleasure these associated activities.

There’s no shortage of resources on the technique mindful eating, but this 2012 New York Times article is one that I’m starting with.  It boils down the practice of mindful eating as:

“…not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.”

The article finishes with a list of strategies to help you start eating mindfully.

WHEN YOU EAT, JUST EAT. Unplug the electronica. For now, at least, focus on the food.

CONSIDER SILENCE. Avoiding chatter for 30 minutes might be impossible in some families, especially with young children, but specialists suggest that greenhorns start with short periods of quiet.

TRY IT WEEKLY. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid wolfing down onion rings in your cubicle. But if you set aside one sit-down meal a week as an experiment in mindfulness, the insights may influence everything else you do.

PLANT A GARDEN, AND COOK. Anything that reconnects you with the process of creating food will magnify your mindfulness.

CHEW PATIENTLY. It’s not easy, but try to slow down, aiming for 25 to 30 chews for each mouthful.

USE FLOWERS AND CANDLES. Put them on the table before dinner. Rituals that create a serene environment help foster what one advocate calls “that moment of gratitude.”

FIND A BUDDHIST CONGREGATION where the members invite people in for a day of mindfulness. For New Yorkers, it’s an easy drive to the Blue Cliff Monastery, about 90 minutes north of the city: bluecliffmonastery.org/ on the Web.

In Northern California, Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax (http://www.mpcf.org/) offers half-day and full-day workshops. Fairfax is great..not a bad place to be present! 

 

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“Rest and be thankful.”

 

William Wordsworth.

I ran a marathon in early October (Portland, my first), after which I took about 4 weeks to rest my body and mind. I didn’t plan it it this way, in fact I had this whole idea that I would reverse taper after a week off (courtesy of Hal Higdon) and complete a bunch of winter races. But after nearly 6 months of intense training, my body just said “slow down.” And I listened. I wasn’t particularly lazy…I got up with the sun, took nice long walks with the dog, recalibrated my diet from “I’m absolutely uncomfortably hungry at all times” to “hey, let’s eat like a normal person again.”  

(that’s me about 10 seconds after coming through the chute)

After about a month of this I was ready to ease back into a regular fitness regimen.  At the moment, this includes 3 days a week of running 3-6 miles, 1-2 yoga classes, and 1 day of leisurely bike riding followed by a slow torturous intense workout. After 4-5 weeks of such, I’m happy to report that my rest was a huge success.  My endurance, strength, and speed have all improved! So now, I feel the time is right to kick things up just a notch. Over the next several weeks I hope to consistently practice 60-90 minutes of yoga twice a week (I’ve been really good about the Saturday classes so far), come up with some plan for an at-home practice, up my weekend mileage back to “long run” status, and to include more formalized speedwork.   

Listening to our bodies is so important, and balancing all of our fitness goals is so tough! It’s tempting to want to do everything all at once. Overall I’m happy to be inspired and so far don’t feel overwhelmed.  But for example, I’m very interested in getting more serious about my yoga practice in particular, and I feel like there just aren’t enough days in the week.  

For the moment, I’ll continue to go day by day, and work on feeling the joy without enslaving myself to a specific schedule. Come late-December/early-January, I’ll begin training for my second marathon in Big Sur, April 2014. At this point, I’ll list out my 12-16 month goals, and at the same time assess last year’s achievements, and analyze where I struggled or fell short.

Gearing up for a new year!  We’re so close!

 

“Do not try to make exercise enjoyable.”

Ken Hutchins.

On Tuesdays, I wake up early, have breakfast and tea, and ride my bicycle along the Embarcadero before work.  From my apartment on the south/east side of the Mission District, I ride the down the hill through Potrero, hang a left on 3rd Street, smile at the pups playing in the dog park before zagging between tree-lined tennis and basketball courts opening to Mission Creek, where it’s a quick straight ahead until AT&T Park and finally the Embarcadero.  I make a conscious decision to take things slow and enjoy this weekly ride, this quiet moment of my day.  Hipster cyclists with Timbuk2 bags perched high on their backs race by me.  I observe the morning joggers, weary car commuters, peek into the fire station #35, garage, imagine oysters at “Waterbar,” gawk at the bay bridge.  As I approach the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building, I look to the clock tower and know that I have 5 more minutes to enjoy being on the bike.  If I find that I’m running a few minutes late, I try and avoid the urge to speed up (I hate being late).  I’ve made the decision to enjoy myself, after all.  I make my turn onto Lombard street.

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I’ve arrived at Desisto Strength Training, and for the next 20 minutes I am consumed by pain and intense focus.  

Most of what I know about SuperSlow (now RenEx), I’ve learned from 30 years of peripheral absorption… ie – my dad has been a trainer for many years. The “protocol,” as they refer to it, was progressive when he started, and it remains so today.  Without getting technical, here is essentially how it goes down:

1) 4-6 exercises, completed using specialized machines engineered for “no-momentum” training.

2) Heavy weights, executed to muscular failure (So when you’re pushing your hardest, and the machine isn’t moving – your trainer counts down from 10 and then the exercise is over. It’s kind of a scary feeling. You’re essentially pushing beyond your comfort zone, or at least trying to).

3) Reaching failure takes 2-3 minutes, and the complete workout lasts just about 20 minutes start to finish.

4) Although extremely intense, safety and proper form are crucial, integral parts of the workout.

Beyond the basics are a multitude of other specifics and philosophies, the most controversial of which is the attitude towards “cardio” activities. According to Ken Hutchins, Founder of SuperSlow and subsequently RenEx, aerobics are AT BEST INEFFICIENT AND AT WORST DANGEROUS AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE TO OVERALL FITNESS.

The below quote is maybe the “at best” scenario.  

“We accept that both exercise and recreation are important in the overall scheme of fitness, and they overlap to a great degree.  But to reap maximum benefits of both or either they must first be well-defined and then be segregated in practice.”

Still, pretty progressive stuff at its core.  Make no mistake – when Hutchins talks about “exercise,” he refers to SuperSlow and SuperSlow alone. Now, I’m not a SuperSlow authority by any means, so I’ll stop here before I find myself in over my head.  Let’s get back to mindfulness.

Enjoyable or not (emphasis on the not), it would seem as though SuperSlow/RenEx is a more mindful approach to lifting than any alternative out there.  The protocol in fact fosters mindfulness by asking trainers to enforce no music, no mirrors, and no distractions in their studios.  When we train, we focus on proper form, the muscles engaged in the exercise, and efficient breathing. None of this screaming and yelling, slamming weights on the floor, passing out, puke bucket stuff.  All in all we’re talking about a pretty low ego, self-serious take on fitness.  Perhaps this is part of what’s kept it fairly under the radar in terms of popularity.  There’s no funny business, and it’s not a heck of a lot of fun either. “Do not try to make exercise enjoyable,” Remember?  

I myself have been regularly working with my SuperSlow trainer since 2011.  It was around the time that I started increasing my running mileage, training for longer races and aiming to improve some of my finish times.  The idea was that lifting weights might be a good way to avoid getting hurt.  Though I do experience injuries from time to time, my overall stamina and power have improved.  Even more apparently, strength training has made a huge impact on my abilities and confidence in yoga, especially arm balances, chaturangas, and other poses requiring upper-body strength.

My slow workout is nowhere near as enjoyable as the ride I take to get there, but it’s certainly one of the most meaningful parts of my week. 

“Without a solid base of physical strength, you can’t accomplish anything very intricate or demanding. That’s my belief. “

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Haruki Murakami – “Runners World,” October 2005

Here’s the full quote.  I just love it:

The most important qualities to be a fiction writer are probably imaginative ability, intelligence, and focus. But in order to maintain these qualities in a high and constant level, you must never neglect to keep up your physical strength.

Without a solid base of physical strength, you can’t accomplish anything very intricate or demanding. That’s my belief. If I did not keep running, I think my writing would be very different from what it is now.

I always forget that this is from Murakami’s “I’m a Runner” feature and not from his memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” which is a such a nice little book.  But anyway, I repeat this idea a lot.  To fellow runners, to yogis, to my trainer, to colleagues, to family, friends, strangers.  It perfectly sums up the way I feel about the importance of physical fitness.  In the RW quote, as in “What I Talk About…” Murakami attributes a large part of his professional success to his now 30-plus years as a marathon runner.  The point is that “fitness,” in the physical sense, is one piece of a greater whole.  It’s part of a larger effort to be our best self, to achieve our goals — mind and body united.

The idea of increasing physical strength and endurance to improve or enhance mental or emotional process is not groundbreaking or new, but is so often overlooked.  Most people who embark on a regular exercise routine probably experience and can talk to some extent about the holistic benefits.  I love running because it’s empowering, enriching, and fun.  In every run, here’s something I can learn something about myself.  Was there a moment when I panicked?  What triggered this?  What techniques did I use to overcome that moment and get myself home…finish the run?

We learn a lot when we put deliberate stress on our bodies.  It allows us to practice determination, perseverance, and calmness in the face of fear.  As your body gets stronger, your ability to be determined, persevere, and remain calm get stronger as well.  These things are translatable.  Handling emotional or intellectual stress can be a lot like handling bodily stress.

Now, I’m not saying this translation is easy.  It’s something I struggle with every day.  It takes focus and mindfulness.  It takes an understanding of why this is important.

There’s another part of this – and that’s kindness.  I’m constantly toeing the balance between pushing myself and respecting my limitations.  Discovering these boundaries.  When things don’t go right, or when I begin to feel like I’ve lost control — body or mind — I try to recenter and give myself a break.  And according to Murakami, this isn’t just wimping out with a walk break, or justifying your temper tantrum to the point of sociopathy.  Maybe it actually cultivates empathy…

One aspect that I have gained from running in the past 22 years that has most pleased me is that it has helped me develop respect about my own physical being.

I think to realize this is very important for all human beings.

To have such respect for your own body makes it possible to do the same for others

 

Goddamn do I love Murakami.  

 

“we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

The pillars of this web log?   Betterment.   Simplicity.   Warmth.   Health.   Quiet.   Small Things.   Body and Mind.   Tea.   Walking Around.   Sheets of Fog.   Thoughts.   Careful Words.   Mindfulness.   Positivity.   Calm.   Nourishment.   Clean.   Breath.   Soft.   Honest.   Fearless.

How do you introduce yourself to yourselves?  Your best and your ideal and your authentic and your real self and your impulsive, automatic self?  And where does your worst self sit while the others eat and drink and cheaply and sleep warm and love each other?