Active Lifestyle

Cycling in the Rain Brings Out the Inner Child

Groggy at 5:30 AM one recent morning, I didn’t bother to peer out the window to survey the weather conditions as I usually do.  Jumping on my bike, I headed out into the dark accustomed to cycling in the rain. Something was different.

Instead of the gentle on again-off again showers we’d been having, today’s dose of Pacific Northwest drizzle descended as stinging rain driving itself right into my face.

Cycling in the Rain is Challenging

Cycling in the Rain is Challenging

It was raining, raining, raining hard.

It was falling on my head.

It was falling on the stars.

It was falling on my shoes.

I got soaking wet

I got soaking wet.

But I stayed outside.

I stayed outside.

I’d donned my fleece balaclava but the visor didn’t reach out enough to protect my eyes. I chose not to go back and change headgear. Determined not to be a wimp, I would tap into the Viking in me and show the elements who was boss.

Cycling in the rain at two gears lower than usual (I only have seven) along the slick black asphalt the thought dawned on me that I could be hit by a vehicle since the rain and wind would also reduce the visibility for early morning drivers.

I quickly pedaled onto the adjacent sidewalk smug in the thought that I was putting safety first.

The rain was sweet.

The rain was warm.

The rain was soft

It reminded me of home

It was raining, raining, raining hard.

It was falling, falling, falling on the stars

It was raining, raining, raining hard.

It was falling, falling, falling on the stars.

With each push forward I felt increasing discomfort. Darn it, I wasn’t enjoying this experience in the slightest. The incessant rain was taunting me and my inspiration waned. I really wanted to be sitting in a warm café sipping on gourmet coffee while savoring an apple-cranberry muffin.

But the determined Viking in me pushed the thought aside:

“Ok, Miss Wimp. Seriously, you want to be disciplined, well, here’s your opportunity.”

I answered back with a few choice words.

#%*!#@&*!

“Got that out of my system,” I told myself aloud.

But the double layered raingear wasn’t working. Cold water was creeping into my underwear now. Yuck.

“Put mind over matter Miss Wimp. Think about where you’re going.”

Like a sail boat tacking to windward, I maintained my ziggety-zag course over the irregular concrete surface, dodging navigational hazards such as overhanging branches and the fire hydrant  . . .

And there it was, smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk! What the . . .

I hit the stupid thing dead on with my right knee and followed my act with a sideswipe grazing the right side of my leg as well.

I gasped and stopped to meet the pain that set in immediately.

It took hold at the bone and pushed waves of more pain outwards around the point of impact.

Soft rain

Raining, raining

Sweet rain

Raining, raining

Warm rain

Raining, raining

Sweet soft Raining, raining

Warm rain Raining, raining

Sweet soft Raining, raining

Warm rain Raining, raining

It hurt like the dickens and the inner child in me felt the pain too. That same little girl who always had scabby knees from falling down stairs slipped easily into crying mode.
I wanted my mother to kiss it and magically make it better.

The Motherly Embrace is Always Welcome (Image: Mama Bambino Arte)

The Motherly Embrace is Always Welcome (Image: Mama Bambino Arte)

I was alone atop the saddle of a bike coasting down a slick, rain drenched sidewalk.
Disgusted at myself for being such a wimp I called back my Viking Journeywoman while the inner child interrupted with indulgent tears of self pity.

Growing anger took over so I had a good talk with myself:

“Stop being a baby. Recognize that this discomfort is training you to be disciplined. You have free will and only YOU have decided to cycle through this winter rain in the cold of a BC December.”

It’s funny, but when you’re distracted from the pain with other thoughts it doesn’t hurt as much.  Big sister archetype took over and I focused on some fast pedaling.

I started thinking about what I was grateful for. . . strong legs and improved stamina from cycling for the last two years was on the list I mulled over in my mind.

As soon as I reached my destination I put an icepack on the knee.  I stopped feeling sorry for myself and focused on being responsible. I not only avoided any swelling but also any bruises as well.

We respond so much to emotions from pre-programming. We carry old habits of thinking around like talismans and are loathe to let go of them.    Navigating through life with old programming is like relying on outdated sea charts to find our way through unfamiliar waters.   We’ll waste less time on being angry when we use our free will to choose an attitude of gratitude.

That’s not to say a good cry isn’t ok. It cleanses from within as the rain cleanses from without.

My wide brimmed helmet is now by the door and Santa is bringing me new rain gear for cycling in the rain.  This Viking is going to become a wet weather professional and the inner child can play in the puddles!

 

(nb: The jazz chant included in this post is called Rain created by Carolyn Graham. I used it extensively when I taught ESL in Estonia. I’m still using it with students I tutor today since it helps non-native speakers to get into the rhythm and music of English more naturally.)

 

 

Back on Course

I recently took a six week hiatus from Crossfit.  September and October were spent ruminating over how I would like to see myself in 2014.  After participating in the CrossFit program for seven months now I was feeling discouraged that I still wasn’t able to lift the same amount of weight as the girls who were half my age. I keep forgetting about “my age” until I get a sudden reminder that the body I’ve been carrying around for 61 years has  put up with abuse and general wear and tear well before these ladies were even born!  As one of my coaches said, my hormone situation has changed and it’s to be expected that it  will take me longer to build up  strength. Dang, I keep forgetting about that little detail.  Being realistic helps a lot to get back on course.

Part of my re-calibrated plan was meant to  incorporate weekly running into my workout program. Inspiration had entered my bloodstream in a flushed rush after I listened to an interview of 77 year old weight lifting marvel Ernestine Shepherd. She gave a step by step account of how she went from walking to running so that now she  consistently runs ten km  every week  at 4AM no less.

Ernestine Shepherd

Ernestine Shepherd

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the unexpected results of the MRI on the ankle I’d broken in 2011 made it crystal clear that I would be spending several months  recovering from surgery in 2014. This hiccup was not part of the master plan. Now, I flat out cannot run unless I want to add some serious damage to an already damaged joint.  

I cringe at the thought of being cut into with a scalpel and worse yet,  “patiently” going through the  long recovery period.  

It seems I need a pin inserted to keep the ankle more stable.  When I fell, the ligaments wrenched part of that big round exterior bone away from what it was attached to.

If I ever want to climb Mt Kilimanjaro or even the local hill up to Cultus Lake I’ll have to make sure that the working parts are reattached so they can do their job properly. For now, the ligaments are suspended like limp spaghetti and not performing the stretching job they were originally designed to do.

Always Consult with Your Mentor

Navigational aids for getting back on course are often provided to you  by a mentor.  Early in life it might be our mother,  father or a grand parent. Later, we meet more mentors and so, I had a long chat with mine today who shared her experiences about the knee surgery she’d had to endure. The combination of drugs, incisions, and the actual procedure put great demands on her body so that it went into a kind of shock. 

Any residue of drugs that is still lingering in the system will also need to be flushed out. My friend told me how her vision was affected and through some basic testing it was determined that the drugs that had been administered to her had migrated to her brain. She was put on a special diet of healthy foods to be consumed in a certain order and followed with copious amounts of water to eventually feel back to normal again.

Not only are joints intricate areas to repair, the time needed to reduce the swelling and heal the incision and other areas of the damaged joint vary from person to person. If you are in excellent health your recuperation time will be speedier but that’s still a three month period of relative inactivity for the first stage of healing.  When the specialist told me that the down time for my procedure would be 3-5 months my friend said to add a few more months to that for good measure.

The pre-op preparation is just as important as post op. This means regular workouts as well as a healthy diet. I’ve already cut back a lot on those mouthwatering cranberry-apple muffins that I’ve been buying weekly from a local café. I know that the sooner I do this, the better I’ll be able to handle the withdrawal from foods I won’t be able to exercise off for awhile.

Preparing for surgery also means learning how to be calm. Apparently one is less inclined to need strong pain killers if there is less anxiety associated at the outset of the surgery.

Harvard Divinity School graduate Peggy Huddleston created a simple handbook that is used at Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital. Here are the results of their research. http://www.healfaster.com/pressdocs/taperesearchmarch07.pdf.

Carolyn Myss, one of my favourite authors, has also endorsed this book:

“In easy and comforting language, Huddleston describes the steps a patient and his or her family can take to minimize the fears that emerge during the surgical process and the recovery period that follows.”

It is important to take responsibility for our lives and that also means that when those unexpected surgeries come along, we can prepare for them to make the downtime experience as short and painless as possible. Studies show that when we become active participants in our life’s events by focusing our minds on the best possible outcome of the surgery, stress is released. Twenty minute periods of daily meditation help to boost the immune system as well speed up the healing process.

Last week I went back to CrossFit for my first WOD in weeks. I did a lot of rowing and push presses focusing more on my form than on how many reps I could do. I was surprised that I still felt pretty strong and had no problem completing 1800 meters of rowing in 400 meter increments staggered with lifting a 35 pound bar. Now it is fine if it takes longer for me to get back to the 45 pound bar. I’m in no hurry.

It feels great to be back on course and in spite of my absence it just goes to show that if you’re kind to your body and feed it healthfully, keeping it as flexible as possible, it will still bounce back.  When we work together in tandem with our bodies instead of against them, we’re more in the flow of what our bodies and minds need to feel at their happiest. That’s putting ourselves back on course  just like the sailboat at that perfect point of sail where she is sailing effortlessly at her optimum hull speed.

Hull Speed photographed by Benjamin Mendlowitz

Hull Speed photographed by Benjamin Mendlowitz

Those Difficult Squats Again

Those difficult squats are still a challenge for me. It has been eight months since I started at CrossFit but I’m starting to notice some improvement in flexibility, stamina and strength but depending on any given day, some days I feel on top of my game and other days I feel very frustrated with myself.

The Perfect Squat.

The Perfect Squat.

While doing my warm up exercises this morning, I had to do 3 sets of 10 squats:  my absolute least favourite exercise. I’ve asked more than one coach at our CrossFit centre what it is I have to do to improve. Bottom line: PRACTICE.

If I let even a day go by without stretching, then I have absolutely no desire to even attempt a squat for that day.

I was telling my coach today, who is less than half my age, that I’ve never been 61 before and it takes some getting used to functioning in this body that is over half a century old. I don’t think she picked up on the humor.

Well, when I think about it, when I was 20, I signed off anyone age 60 as over the hill with one foot in the grave. So can I blame her?

Of course, way way way back in the 1970s, I guess people in their sixties WERE practically in their grave. They didn’t live as long as we do now and I think most importantly their MINDSET was simply different.

We SHOULD Care Diddley-Squat

OLD PEOPLE weren’t SUPPOSED to be fit and healthy. You were supposed to fit the stereotype of settling back to accepting this period of your life as one where you were a semi-invalid and semi-invalid (stress on second syllable here).

I actually feel very fortunate to be in this tribe called Boomers. We get to be first in paving the way into new frontiers of re-defining what IS aging anyway.

All my life I’ve lived outside of the stereotype for that particular decade of my journey and I’m not about to change that at this point. I’ll continue on in the same vein that feels most comfortable for me. (Admittedly, it’s getting harder to feel comfortable.)

So ok, I’ve never been 61 before and it takes some getting used to. The body is stiffer and needs to be stretched more often. It’s been a pretty darn good friend for over half a century. It has had the stamina and strength AND flexibility to take me to many different countries and situations that I am grateful to have experienced.

Aging needs to be embraced, just like doing the squats.

So, after CrossFit today I came home, showered, and got dressed to go out for the afternoon. While waiting for a friend, I decided to . . . . squat. …. just like they do in India, which I have personally witnessed. I figured if I incorporate the squat more into my daily living I’ll have less of a mental block about it and my body will start to accept it as a natural position to take.

I wonder how folks around here will react when they see me squatting at the bus stop?

The “Huli” Brings Out the Best in You

Last week after completing our hour long dragon boat training on Cultus Lake, several of us took the opportunity to practice a “huli” recovery.

In order to be allowed to paddle on the canoes with outriggers called the OC1 (1 man) and OC6 (2 man) this winter, we had to pass the “huli” (capsize) drill”.

Teamwork is needed to right the larger canoe so by preparing for a capsizing we learn what to do to avoid hitting the panic button.

Drying Out at Home after Huli

Drying Out at Home after Huli

As the sun set behind the mountains surrounding the lake six of us paddled out to deeper water. By now it was quite dark but the bright yellow canoe was still visible against the warm but murky water. Paddling out to deep water with overcast skies is not the most inviting sensation so I was grateful to have our instructor George with us who had generously given his seat to a team member. He swam alongside the boat as we headed out of shallow water.

Once George explained what we were to do we were  ungraciously overturned into the water. Holding onto the port side gunwale  helped keep us from being thrust out towards the outrigger.  Surfacing quickly thanks to the life jackets,  we immediately set our minds to survival mode.

The brain raced to work out how to make the body respond quickly to the drastically changed circumstances. This is an adventure unto itself and we do this more naturally as children.  As adults we’ve distanced ourselves from these impromptu moments so our responses are slower. Many of us have temporarily lost the range of motion that we had as kids.

We executed two hulis swapping paddling positions and responsibilities. For the second capsize I was instructed to step up on the butt end of the outrigger strut that would help to right the boat.

Earlier, I’d removed my rubber paddling shoes just in case they slipped off my feet. But stepping onto the short piece of wood with a sharp metal plate on it hurt and I regretted having taken my shoe off in the first place. I couldn’t get a firm footing in order to hoist myself over the bottom of the hull. A new problem had added itself to the one already at hand.

I appreciate the immense value in drills, whatever they are. In the event of an unplanned capsizing, you have worked the kinks out of the swamping drill long ago.

As I tread water I took in the scenario. I was struck by how quickly our underlying fundamental archetypes surfaced when removed from the predictable. In a typical dragonboat training scenario we would be sitting one behind the other taking instructions either from  the caller at the bow or the helmsman at the stern. Bobbing in the water, we had assumed non-linear positions close to the overturned canoe and had to recall the instructions right away.

The person from thwart nr 1 was assigned to gather and hold all the paddles while two girls from the center thwarts got on board first and started bailing water out of the canoe. The remaining girls hoisted themselves into the boat to resume paddling towards the shore.

If there ever was an environment where you get to know someone fast, it’s on the water. The primordial instinct for survival lies not far beneath the surface and it’s up to each of us to decide if we want to get to know it or not. Maybe that’s why some of us are drawn to doing stuff like this. As our everyday world becomes increasingly “virtual”, a good old fashioned reality check from time to time helps keep us better balanced.

(Below is an example of a huli drill. It was too dark for us to be taking any pictures at Cultus Lake.)

 

 

 

What Makes a Great Teacher?

One of my most memorable teachers in high school was my grade ten algebra teacher, Mr. Buckley. Tall, lanky and very English, on the first day of school Mr. Buckley instilled immediate fear in us by merely furrowing his Frida Kahlo eyebrows.

Those Eyebrows Got Our Attention

Those Eyebrows Got Our Attention

So how did this seemingly intimidating individual endear himself to his math students  year in and  year out?

A Good Mentor is Authoritative and Not Authoritarian

Mr. Buckley certainly had his challenge cut out for him. Most of us were jaded survivors of the “New Math” taught in elementary school so we were firmly entrenched in our comfort zone of complacency towards any additional math instruction.

New Math Backfired

New Math Backfired

We acknowledged that Mr. Buckley had legitimate authority in teaching us. He was knowledgeable in his subject and was enlisted to transfer this information to us. But how did he prevent delinquent behavior in the classroom where many other teachers couldn’t stop the acting out?

It was simple. Mr. Buckley turned learning math into a fun game. He dreamed up spur of the moment nicknames for some of the students.  Like the pet owner naming their kitten or puppy based on the personality and antics of the animal, our nicknames were quirky and endearing and everybody wanted one.

Those thick brows started to look less sinister  and his expression seemed to soften. This strategy not only reduced any trepidation we might have had of being eaten alive by the Heathcliff-like figure in front of the classroom, but we realized the guy was funny and on our side all the way.

He created manageable objectives for us to reach each week. Pegged as “quizzies” these simple little tests recapped what we had learned in the classroom that week. He frequently checked to make certain we understood what was being taught. As weird as we thought Mr. Buckley was, he made us laugh and look forward to algebra class even on a Friday afternoon.

As I started to feel empowered in a subject I had learned to fear and despise any thoughts of challenging his authority  were long forgotten. The “B” grade he gave me did away with any inferiority complex I had about the left side of my brain being defective. I got an above average grade in algebra!

A Good Mentor Believes That Everyone Can Learn This and Grow

This week at our Water Warriors workout at Cultus Lake our coach Pam reminded me of Mr. Buckley. She’s not a character from Wuthering Heights but she is a special kind of leader.  Her sense of humor provides a conduit for us to take on the challenge of dragonboat paddling and push ourselves way past our comfort zone. Once we get through that barrier of mental and physical resistance we enter the flow.

Go with the Flow

Go with the Flow

This afternoon she sat right down on the thwart with us and demonstrated how to put the “grr” into the dragonboat.  Working her way from the bow to amidships she demonstrated for us how to paddle with more strength and efficiency.

Watching Pam in action reminded me of Mr. Buckley writing a long algebraic equation on the board. He would have us chant it several times and after each chant he would erase a number or variable so that in the end, we had it memorized with nothing on the board left to look at.

He too was “in the boat” taking us eraser stroke by eraser stroke through the learning process. The equations became our friends much like the boat has become our fiery beast. He set high goals for us and this didn’t go past us unnoticed.

Fast forward over forty years where the lessons now are around paddling a dragonboat. Our coach  Pam doesn’t even remotely resemble Mr. Buckley but she approaches her paddlers with the same kind of determined aplomb by showing us how to extract the dragon spirit from a long stretch of fiberglass.

Her mentorship is instrumental in setting free the dragon residing in all of us. Only when we learn how to hold the paddle just so, and guide it parallel to the hull as we stretch forward to reach the clear, undisturbed water in front of where the front paddler’s paddle has left the water,  are we getting closer to crossing through that barrier. We lean forward to parallel our body to the gunwale, and then bring the paddle back again.

As the water travels past our accelerating hull, I hear Pam up forward encouraging one of our experienced crew to direct her ebullient peppiness towards working together with her fellow paddlers. When she compared her to the Energizer Bunny who goes on forever at top speed I fondly remember Mr. Buckley and understand the power of respectful humor. Those nicknames really work!

The love of teaching and sharing acquired knowledge with others transfers empowerment like passing a baton in a relay race.  Successful teacher-mentors are givers and they are persistent. That’s why we love them. And if you can get some humor to season the experience, you end up with a happy group of people outside of their comfort zone. Now that’s magical.

 

Co-creating Oomf on My Thwart

Yesterday we practiced our power starts for the upcoming dragonboat regatta on May 25 at False Creek, B.C., Canada. Power starts are used at the outset of a race to pick up boat speed quickly. The boat is given that extra “oomf ” where often you see the nose of the boat rise out of the water like a dragon!  Ideally all the paddlers need to be in unison when entering and exiting the paddle as well as moving their bodies forward on the enter and back to an almost upright position on the exit.
Dragonboat Paddling is a State of Mind

Dragonboat Paddling is a State of Mind

Coupled with this is speed. We try never to stop paddling so in practice, to conserve energy we do a slowed down paddle where the boat continues to move forward. When it comes time to pick up speed our caller in the bow will shout out instructions to start a certain number of repeat paddlings at a certain percentage, say 80%. We build up to this with sets of 6 or 10 or whatever the coach decides works for us. Of course, when we get to top speed, it has to be 100%.

When she calls, the pitch of her voice goes down deep several octaves so that what I hear back in row six is a husky voiced command that commands respect or else! She’s waiting to feel that moment when the boat responds with a jolt and “oomfs” forward at a faster speed. It’s kind of like passing through a speed barrier.

If you don’t follow the proper paddling technique, your arms and body will feel like they are dying and there won’t be any co-created “oomf”.

After two months of paddling practice I’m finally starting to understand what hinging my body forward means. And while I do that, I have to reach forward with my paddle until my nose is practically touching the back of the girl in front of me. And just when I’m done and pushing the water aft, I have to spring back up to not quite an upright position. Anatomically, it means that the body core is getting an incredible workout. And if you haven’t used your core in this way ever before, it will shout out to you in great discomfort and maybe even some pain.

How to get Oomf

How to Get Oomf

Then of course, you still need to keep in mind that your butt needs to be dynamic as well. One side comes up and back down again while you turn at the hips.There’s so much to remember that right now I’m only executing parts of these “orchestral maneuvers” by prioritizing on just pushing my weight down on that paddle from the waist while sucking in the abdominal muscles  and making sure my knee is glued to the gunwale while I’m holding the paddle the right way. Whew! When paddling full out I don’t know what hurts more, the butt or the lower back. It depends on the day and what side of the boat I’m paddling on.

So while I’m going through these early stages of the learning curve with different body parts letting me know where they are on the tolerance level of pain, I’m also working on my brain. It’s receiving all these messages that the body is sending out and under “normal” circumstances, it would instruct the body to stop, or at the very least, slow down. That’s about the time we all start shouting out and driving even harder in co-creating “oomf” from our thwarts.

I have to have this conversation with my logical side and convince it that since we are now part of a team, we don’t get to decide when we stop or start. So “we” must learn how to “go with the flow” and push that boat through the water in unison with our other team members who are having similar conversations with their brain. We’re all in this together.

The amazing thing with adrenalin is that once you get past a certain barrier, there’s this explosion that takes place and you find more energy than you thought you ever had in you. The pain part of the experience becomes secondary because the high you get takes the spotlight.

Our coach Pam talked about putting our heart and our will into paddling our dragonboat. There’s a point when you realize that you are not alone perched on this hard thwart, hip and knee practically glued to the gunwale, paddle in hand and in “stealth” position. We’re learning to do this together as a unit, and that means stretching forth (in more ways than one!) and embracing the co-creation process as one rider on this floating dragon.

Just Be Coach-able

For those who don’t know, each WOD (Work Out Daily) has got a name. Today, I did one called F.G.B. (Fight Gone Bad). The idea behind the name came from a fighter called B.J.Penn who gave it this name after he completed the circuit of exercises and found himself flat on his back panting.

“I am finding my base and building around it.” Viviann

When I look at this video of these people half my age pushing themselves I learn a lot. I’m not a casual observer since I have tried to do this myself so I have an idea of what it takes to complete the circuit.


 

I am not able, yet, to do some of these exercises My body is not yet strong enough and my brain has built a few obstacles. For example, let’s take the box jump. When I was a kid, I had no problem jumping from the floor up to a box. There was no mental obstacle. However, now there is. My coach Sarah encouraged me to try with a low box and my brain would stop me each time I tried. Sara had me jump in the air to see if I could clear the box and I could but something in my brain was stopping me. Fear of not landing properly on top of the box..maybe. So she had me start in gradations. She said she had the same obstacles when she first started and said that a lot of people do.
Of course, I felt fine jumping on the lower level and so we decided to have me do that for the WOD today.

This brings to mind a horse I used to ride in Estonia. I was just learning how to jump with a horse and to get started we would have the pole he was to jump over lay flat on the ground and get him to just step over it. Then, as we raised it a few centimeters, he continued to step over it, raising his hoofs a bit more. The brain is comfortable with scaling but sometimes, jumping to a level it isn’t comfortable with is a warning that we should just work at the level we are comfortable with until we build our confidence and skills. There’s no hurry. It will come.
As you can see in these shots taken today, my stations were scaled to meet my level. It’s a start and it got me tired as it was supposed to.

summo-deadlift-high pull with kettle bell

summo-deadlift-high pull with kettle bell

While doing the F.G.B. the thoughts that went through my head were worth remembering. I’m tapping into a part of me that I call the internal coach. She and I have a conversation. Yes, my coach Sarah is there on the outside encouraging me on at every station and telling me when I still have 20 seconds left so I try to do a few more reps. But the one on the inside is also making comments such as:
“Okay, are you going to stop now and rest, or are you going to give it one or two more tries?”
It’s an interesting conversation because while I’m having it I’m also panting hard, catching my breath and pushing my body to its limits. I realize that I’m not where I want to be and that can be discouraging if I let it take over. On the other hand, the rowing is the easiest and I know I can do more reps there. Also, the squats are getting better than they ever were and I really dislike those the most. So there are two sides to a coin here.
The internal conversations are worth recording. The internal coach coaxes the person who is doing the WOD to keep it up. It’s a kind of mental training as well as physical and helps you to become more connected with who you really are. It’s a fascinating adventure because no matter what situations you end up in along your life’s journey, you will know that you have this internal coach who will always be there to help you as long as you allow yourself to be coach-able.

Fight Gone Bad WOD

Fight Gone Bad WOD

 

Reebok CrossFit and My “Blue” Leather Shoes

Three months’ ago I pulled out my tired Reebok aerobic shoes I’d worn in the 1980s when I was a Jane Fonda “workout-a-holic” in a women’s club in Salem, Massachusetts. At the time these no-nonsense, leather shoes, topped off with knit leggings that Fonda brought into the gym, turned the beefed up ballet look into a national trend.

My Jane  Fonda Era Aerobic Shoes

My Jane
Fonda Era Aerobic Shoes

In December 2012, I’d just turned 61 and decided that it was time for both the Reeboks and me to make a comeback. I hadn’t followed a consistent workout program for thirty years and a recent visit to the doctor’s convinced me that it was time to tackle high cholesterol (not the good kind), poor posture and middle-age spread with renewed determination.
But the idea of lifting those heavy blocks of weights all by my lonely self strapped in a Nautilus machine no longer held the same appeal as when it was a new and trending system.
There was too, the option of having a personal trainer come to my home but in this era of social media, I wanted to be part of a community of like-minded people while getting laser targeted one-on-one coaching.
Lately, I was noticing a lot of CrossFit ads that appeared to be specifically targeted for the elite athlete where even women had six pack abs and could lift more than what they weighed with one arm. The grunge look that seemed to be the CrossFit trademark reminded me of the traditional guys’ weight lifting gyms where the musky smell of sweat was permanently embedded in the very air you inhaled.
“Hmm, think I’ll pass.”
I let a few months go by and still couldn’t find any gym or coach in my town that inspired me enough to sign up. Then one day I noticed that there was a CrossFit gym in my town and I mustered up the courage to call Sarah, one of the owners at www.crossfitchilliwack.com. A young voice answered the phone and assured me that their “box” was geared towards everyone and my age was not important. She invited me to a couple of free lessons with other newbies to get an introduction to the program.
The “box” is your bare bones gym start up. There are no Venetian statues, water fountains or mellow music greeting you when you enter. I have to say, the minute I walked into this garage-like, very high ceilinged room, images of high school flashed through my mind. The hanging ropes, medicine balls (I don’t think I’d even HELD one since high school), and bars with more ropes and rings hanging from them sent waves of fear and apprehension through me.
“Oh no, I never COULD shimmy up a rope. I think I’m getting in over my head.”
The urge to bolt out the door was kept in check by my stronger desire to just hang in there and see where this adventure would take me.
I met Sarah’s husband, Joel who introduced us to the concept behind Crossfit. It was started in 2002 by an athlete named Greg Glassman in California who created a website where he kept a tally of his workout performance. And then, it went really viral! Not only is the system used by the police, military, elite athletes and martial arts competitors, but it’s also used by amputees including soldiers returning from Iraq, Baby Boomers, seniors and children. There are 4400 affiliated “boxes” in the US alone and many more in the rest of the world.
My anxiety started to subside.
“Hmm, so maybe it’s possible I CAN eventually tackle this rope after all!”
CrossFit basically duplicates the motions of real life. The daily workouts or WODs last about 20 minutes and consist of a combination of movements such as rowing, sprinting, sit ups, pushups, kettle bells and dumbbells to name a few.
CrossFit advocates participating regularly in short and intense functional movements that focus on strength and conditioning. In a way, you’re training like a sprinter because this is where you will get the best bang for the buck. You train your body to go all out so no energy is being conserved as in a regular workout program. The time saving in this approach is phenomenal.
The CrossFit philosophy is “to pursue physical well-being and cardiovascular fitness in an encouraging environment” two to three times a week. The program is scalable so it’s suitable for seniors as well as for beginners and even cage fighters. As strength and experience increase you work your way up the scalability ladder. http://www.crossfit.com/
CrossFit addresses 10 main physical fitness skills:
cardiovascular/respiratory endurance,
stamina
strength
flexibility
power
speed
coordination
accuracy
agility
balance
After our introductory class, Joel had us stretching while we chatted. Statistics indicate that most of the falls that occur with seniors are women who fall off the toilet seat. Once this happens, they typically end up with a broken hip and confined to a wheelchair. That’s why one of the main positions that’s emphasized is the squat. Not only do you need to do a technically correct squat when lifting weights but you need to do squats and other functional exercises to maintain the quality of life that you want.
Most people can’t squat with ease. And many struggle to pick the grand baby off the floor. We are living longer than our parents but the quality of say, the last ten years of our life is questionable. We are overweight, out of shape and will succumb to diseases very early on. Our ability to perform daily activities is seriously compromised by bodies that have not been maintained.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
We carry out regular maintenance for our teeth, skin and even our vehicles. We push our bodies like we drive our cars. Responsible car owners will maintain their vehicles religiously following their owner’s manual. Our bodies don’t come with a manual attached. Most people just drive their bodies until the red light comes on indicating something has gone wrong. The road to recovery becomes a lot more difficult when we’re this far gone.

“All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.” – Dr. Kelly Starrett

The environment at CrossFit is non-judgmental and you get lots of one on one support. It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in and whether you’re wearing vintage Reeboks or the latest Vibram toe shoes. There will be a qualified coach like Sarah or Joel Tobin http://crossfitchilliwack.com to give you the road map to your new journey.
The days are numbered for my vintage Reebok black leather shoes. The ballerina look clearly won’t cut the mustard in a CrossFit “box”. They had their day and now they look forlornly “blue” on my feet. It’s time for the Reeboks to live in respectable retirement and for me to make way for a racier pair of shoes that I can design myself at:
http://www.reebok.ca/customise/yourreebok,en_CA,sc.html
CrossFit has teamed up with Reebok and they have a new line of ergonomically engineered footwear at Reebok CrossFit so for those who still want to look good in this “back-to-basics-box”, it’s not a problem.
If you want to learn more, go to a CrossFit “box” near you. It’s free for the first couple of workouts. Come see what thinking “inside the box” is like for a change.
Kelly Starette also has an informative series on mobility at:
http://www.mobilitywod.com/about
Warning: CrossFit is addictive. Be prepared to succumb to its allure.

Cultus Lake and the Sisterhood of Water Warriors

I first arrived in Chilliwack, B.C., Canada in September of 2011. I wanted to be closer to Harrison Hot Springs where I could go for the soothing sulphur infused water to treat my healing broken ankle. Having been away from Canada for 40 years, I’d been out of touch with the rich, Native history that continues to pervade this land; this land that still belongs to the Stó:lo community and their spiritual heritage.

Cultus Lake is Bottomless

Cultus Lake is Bottomless

For the Stó:lo people Cultus Lake has always been a sacred place for spirit quests. The word cultus means “without purpose”, “free” or “simply nothing” and originates from Chinook Jargon, the early language of trade in the Pacific Northwest. According to folklore the lake is bottomless and there are supernatural monsters living in it. But that hasn’t stopped the Water Warriors for bringing their dragon boats out every week.
Yesterday I went for my weekly 1-2 hour paddle with the Water Warriors in our dragon boat on Cultus Lake. It’s only 6 miles out of Chilliwack so it’s very easy for me to reach it in about an hour and some minutes by bicycle.
This was my fourth or fifth training session on the 40 foot boat which holds about 20 women and each time we practice on the fine points of paddling this vessel, I am immensely entertained.
When I signed up for the summer season, nowhere did I see in the documents that we would have some crack comedians on board as well. Pam, our head coach, has a very graphic way of describing how to move our bodies quickly and efficiently to give the boat optimum speed. Pam devoted a lot of time last Monday showing us how the arm that holds the handle part of the paddle needs to be rounded as if we are dancing with a lover. The other arm, positioned at the bottom of the handle, needs to stretch forward as if it’s reaching out persistently to a martini that’s just out of reach.
Once you’ve grabbed that martini, you “hinge” your torso back to an upright position while facing forward and place both butt cheeks back on the thwart. No sooner have you arrived at this position, than you hinge back up, keeping the arms in their position so that only the hips are driving you up and down.
When you’ve pushed back the water, the top of the paddle, the handle part, is supposed to be at the same level as your nipples. Of course, with me being tall, my paddle top stops at my neck, and this is NOT where those nipples are located. Other paddlers expressed the same observation regarding their anatomy.

Sisterhood

Paddling with the Water Warriors must be what summer camp was like at fourteen. I can’t think of any more fun than striving to connect our bodies with our minds together with this sisterhood of paddlers. Each of their life stories is so special, Hollywood directors would be beating at their door to have the rights to the script.

The Magic of Summer Camp

The Magic of Summer Camp

Pam also had us executing a Round Robin where we had to move clockwise around the boat every fifteen minutes so she could observe our paddling up close and personal. Pam, ever so graciously pointed out to me that it’s really great that I have such flexibility when I’m hinging down to the point that I could be the star pupil in a yoga class, but I don’t need to have my nose touching the thwart on the dragon boat.
It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. For a lot of us have forgotten to do this and instead, take ourselves too seriously.
After our two hour paddling session the sun was setting behind the mountains. We headed back to the dock quickly like a horse to his barn. The conversation in the aft area of the boat consisted of when the best time in the day to take glucosamine was and in what quantities. Now, how often do you find yourself in the company of like-minded souls who you can share joint pain remedies with while paddling like mad and contorting your core into repeated hinging motions?
By now I had been “round robinned” to the stern, and wedged into the narrowest area of the boat with my thwart-mate practically suctioned to my left hip. My right butt-cheek was still supposed to pivot on that one centimeter of flesh.
I smiled contentedly in the knowledge that I was getting the best of all worlds: the beauty of nature, a kick-butt workout, a brand new skill, invaluable sisterhood and a great end to an otherwise hectic day.

The Rewards of Paddling with the Water Warriors: New Friends

The Rewards of Paddling with the Water Warriors: New Friends

Here, Kellie and I are feeling high after another fine day out on Cultus Lake with our community of like-minded women. Kellie is a cancer survivor. She usually paddles seated on the thwart immediately ahead of mine. I follow her paddle and she is one mean paddler because she never stops for a break!

Journal Writing CrossFit WODs

My wonderful coaches at CrossFit Chilliwack have reminded and encouraged me for the last two months, to keep a WOD Journal (Work Out Daily). This means noting how many reps I’ve done of assigned exercises in a short block of time. These intense, time efficient WODS, are highly effective in building strength and endurance, especially in the core area of our body. We tighten up the abdominal muscles,  tuck in the tush, and repeat the workout until the lungs feel like busting.

If you haven’t noticed already, we do an awful lot of sitting in our twenty-first century lifestyles! Core exercises help to train the muscles in our lower back, hips, pelvis and abdomen to work in synchronized harmony.  When strengthened, we enjoy improved balance and stability. As kids and young adults we took this for granted but as we age and those ever changing hormones come and go one more time, we see and feel the changes in how easily or not we accomplish our daily routines. Instead of making beautiful music, our bodies go out of tune and become discordant.

As we age, the likelihood of a fall resulting in a broken hip bone and wheelchair-bound existence increases dramatically.  When you can’t easily carry the weight of your own body anymore, you topple over, plain and simple.

Comments Open New Possibilities

Sarah Tobin, one of the owners of CrossFit Chilliwack, also recommended that I include comments in my WOD journal where I can reflect on how I feel about my weekly work outs. When she said that, a light bulb came on in my head.

“Aha, let’s draw a speech bubble next to each tortuous  WOD  “prescription”and gauge the intensity of pain from 1 to 10.” (Frankly, right now they’re all darn close to ten depending on the length of time and repeats to complete each circuit.)

Like a kid, I got inspired and have already pulled out my box of pencil crayons and magic markers to make this book reflect the “labor of love” I’m subjecting myself to on a tri-weekly basis.

For anyone who’s followed a physical fitness program, we know there are days where, just like the jogger experiencing runner’s high, we almost bubble over with exuberant euphoria. For me, the adrenalin kicks in when I hit 1000 meters on the rowing machine. Once past the half way point of 500 meters, I  go into overdrive, clamp down on the “oars”, and just do it.

But there are also those days when we wonder where our sense of empowerment has disappeared to. We find it’s hard to do more than ten sit ups let alone row to China on that wretched machine. Those are the days when “the shadow” looms over like an ominous cloud and threatens to rain on our fitness parade.

Just when I feel ready to throw in the towel and dash over to Starbucks for some consolation in the form of a fudge brownie with a side of mocha latte for good measure, I remember that funky covered blank note book I just purchased at the Dollar Store. I whip that thing out, turn the cover to the first fresh white page awaiting some insightful contribution, and I begin to write.

In the nick of time, I’ve elected to connect emotional release to pen and paper rather than to a regrettable measure of carbohydrates which will stick around to haunt me for an entire week contributing to my “muffin top”.

Muffin Top

Muffin Top

The Calming Power of Ritual

The writer Christina Baldwin talks about how “ritual calls us out of the ordinary into the extraordinary, it wakes us from the stupor of usual activities, imbuing them with meaning. In so doing, it offers us another form of guidance.”

Whether we know it or not, most of us have incorporated ritual into our lives.  The simple pleasure of taking a bath, for instance, will slow down those anxiety-ridden brain waves.  We light the candles, add fragrant oils, pour our favorite beverage, turn on some soft music and let the brain waves enter into a calmer state.  We lay out the pretty night gown, have fresh sheets in the bed, and enjoy setting up each key component to this special bathing ritual. We become more centered and connected to The Person residing on the inside. This is The Person we used to spend more time with in the sandbox, swimming in the lake or engrossed in some other activity that totally absorbed our attention.

Ritual provides an opportunity to dissipate frustration, anxiety or any of those other energy consuming feelings that the archetypes (those Other People) who live in the same place, want to rob us of. Ritual helps us to celebrate our successes no matter how small or insignificant they may seem  to the rest of the world. Each well earned accomplishment should not be taken for granted. They are important and need to be acknowledged.

The journal provides an ongoing archive to re-read, re-call and refresh.

On Further Reflection, New Stories Emerge

Gyms typically have mirrors where you can monitor your technique and form as you perform your workout. Imagine then a mirror that runs parallel to your spiritual path that you’re following in your life. This mirror reflects your feelings, beliefs, thoughts and attitude about what’s happening to you.

Mirror Your Path

Mirror Your Path

Imagine that a part of you is the Watcher. Just like you watch yourself running on a gym treadmill, visualize that you’re intently observing and probing this reflective self who’s helping you to feel wonderment about your experience. All too often we don’t give ourselves the pat on the back that we’re craving. It feels good to do it and believe it or not, it makes a difference to how you’ll feel about yourself at the end of the day. I got encouragement from the coach and girls I lifted weights with today, but I needed to do this for myself as well. We know intuitively that if we stick with it, we will eventually reach our goals.It’s very important to reinforce the accomplishment so that one’s sense of self worth is also acknowledged. We need to take ownership  of what we earned.

What makes the process of goal reaching interesting is studying how the game itself is played. Think of any ball game like basketball, football or hockey. Fans pay a lot of money to watch the strategies used to get the ball into the opponent’s side of the court or field.

The same metaphor holds true for observing ourselves. We have different players residing within each of us. Each one plays the game from a different position out on the hypothetical playing field. Players strive to become more expert in their game; so too, we progress through our different players or archetypes where each one in turn helps us to evolve and grow into more mature and introspective human beings. When doing so we can appreciate our evolution along this hierarchic journey.

Journal writing is like keeping a travelogue of our mind. It maps our journey of the internal dialogue we’re conducting with our archetypes and our self. I like to think of it as a sea chart since I’ve always enjoyed sailing. A good sea chart will include up-to-date navigational aids to keep the sailor away from such unpleasant hazards such as shoals, sand bars, wrecks and a myriad of other obstacles that can sink your boat fast and put you in a bad mood.

Seacharts: Don't Go To Sea Without One

Seacharts: Don’t Go To Sea Without One

Just like sports players have a playbook sailors have sea charts and logs. So, as part of my ritual I created not only a WOD journal but I’ve also started a second book for charting a course to an exotic, geographic destination. The idea is to put myself back into the sailing mindset while creating my route for a desirable destination. But this will be explained in another blog post.

Journal Personalizing Reveals Other Stories

Not content to look at plain white pages, I’ve started to make a kind of vision board in this journal as well where I’ve included messages that inspire cut out from magazines. This satisfies my urge to decorate as well as add a graphic dimension that carries empowering messages. By doing so I’m adding my personal signature to these WODs while inspiring myself to scale them up the next time I do them. From three rounds I would next move to four and from ten reps move it to twelve for example.

WOD Reminders Emerge When the Night Returns

It’s almost midnight and the places on my body where I stretched, pulled and lifted are sending out messages of soreness. The wind is blowing down from the mountains that line the Fraser River Valley with great gusto. This year there’s a twist on the expression: “March comes in like a lion”. This year, it’s “going out like a lion” as well.

I almost got blown off my bike several times after cycling home from CrossFit tonight. Holding onto the handlebars with one hand and my cap with the other, I realized how much the WODs are helping me test myself in my daily cycling, whatever the weather may be. I did a lot of moaning and groaning in the process, but needed to hear the struggle I guess. So far, so good!

Functional Fitness: Hang On

Functional Fitness: Hang On

Journal Writing Chronicles Daily Living with Our Spiritual Life

I included in my journal my feelings about lifting a forty-five pound bar today. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a shoulder press with such a heavy weight. While raising this round metal pole the neurotransmitters in my brain were busier than usual sending messages out to the many parts of my body occupied with helping me execute the lifts. Signals to hold the pole more to the left, and oh yeah, tuck in the tush, and then push harder to get that bar all the way up, oops, forgot about the tush now.

I kept getting a mental visual about a commercial jet taking off.  I visualized the space age looking dashboard in the cockpit with its array of blinking lights monitoring the aircraft’s ascent.  The computers are kept busy making sure the aircraft keeps near perfect stability in spite of any unequal weight distribution on board. For a magical moment, passengers seated by the portholes get to   witness their departure from the world below as it recedes to nothingness. It’s a kind of spiritual euphoria where we’ve also left behind the noise and stress that preoccupy our daily lives. Here, in the rarefied atmosphere of the stratosphere, we can settle back with our Watcher, collect our thoughts, and simply slow down and “be”. Essentially, the aircraft is in the flow, and we can choose to go there  too. In sailing terms, it’s the point of sail where the vessel seems to move  effortlessly along at her most steady and optimum speed and as long as the wind doesn’t shift, she can do this for days on end.

Journal writing can become a ritual that helps us transcend the ordinariness of daily living and, like the jet plane and sailboat, take us to a timeless place where we simply open up to the moment, put pen to paper, and let that original Self come forth and talk. This is a spiritual journey that parallels the physical one and can prove to be the most fascinating one of all.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Coco Chanel