Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The (Running) Journey

Everyone know the cliche - "Life is about the journey, not the destination."

We all hear it.  We all "know" it.  When someone says it, it sort of washes over us and through us.  But the only way you really learn it, the only way you really feel it, is through some sort of significant personal experience.

In this particular context, I am, of course, talking about running.  This is a lesson that's been painfully (literally) slow to sink in for myself, and it started with the marathon, subsequent injuries, and more importantly, the subsequent journey into the world of physical therapy, mobility work, and strength/cross training.

Runners hear all the time about the importance of strength training, but I kept myself stuck in a narrative that said that I "can't" do strength work on my own.  I can do it under a teacher's guidance or in a class setting where I have someone to impress, someone to push me harder than I'd push myself, but I just don't have it in me to do it by myself in my living room.  Running is so easy by comparison - you decide how long you're going, and you just go.  No agonizing of decisions over how many sets, how heavy, how long, when you can cheat and when you can quit.

Even after my PT "graduation," after plenty of time of faithfully doing my PT strength homework as assigned, doing that work still felt somewhat temporary.  I regarded it as just a warm-up to do before a run and as tune-up to do when I started to feel any nagging pain.

However, my painful and slow, but ultimately healthy, half marathon last month finally hammered it home.  If I really want to run for the rest of my life - to say nothing of running next year's NYC Marathon - I have to accept so much more than running as part of my journey.

Listening to a special episode of the best running podcast ever, Two Gomers Run for Their Lives, articulated this as well.  One of the Gomers got a lecture from his physical therapist (PT's to the rescue, once again) about how runners and athletes, especially younger ones, put all their energy into the race or the sport/activity itself, and nowhere near enough emphasis on form and technique - aka STRENGTH.  Injuries happen as a result of this - sometimes permanent injuries.  Your speed or personal record race time is not an accurate reflection of being a healthy, well rounded athlete - just as being able to do a headstand is not an accurate reflection of being a "true" yogi.

It means spending less time actually running, and it demands so much more honest awareness.  I used to think that because I taught and practiced yoga, that was all the "cross-training" my body needed.  I felt like I got a pass.  But repetitive motions of any kind, even the sainted practice of yoga, can cause imbalances and potential injury.  The real work of keeping our bodies healthy and active for the rest of our lives is not that exciting.  It's not in the moment of crossing the finish line, it's in all the boring, sometimes tedious, but sometimes tremendously rewarding little moments that lead up to it.  It's all the little moments where you show up - where you foam roll for a half hour in front of the TV instead of sit.  Where you decide to no longer short change the warm up or the cool down.  It's an honest, thorough assessments of points of pain, points of weakness, and facing them unflinchingly.

And of course, it's all a metaphor for life too, isn't it?  We have watershed moments, the big milestones in the personal and professional realms.  But without the hard work to build us up to those moments, they wouldn't exist.

I've been a runner for nearly nine years - but in some ways, I feel like a complete novice.  I feel like for the first time I'm treating my body responsibly, like the fragile and finite - and strong - thing it is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sleep Tune Up

Today is Day 21 of my 3rd round of Whole30!  Physically, I feel fantastic - my energy is starting to level out (those 3pm crashes are on their way out!), ----, and I'm enjoying one of my favorite Whole30 benefits - better sleep.

Of course, full disclosure - I drafted this post last Tuesday (Day 14), and before a 36 hour birth-a-thon.  So, every night has not been full of sleep, glorious sleep and even-keel energy levels.

One of the best things about Round 3?  I'm really not thinking about food that much!  I was really worried this go-round for some reason - worried because two rounds of Whole30 and I'm not a magical perfect eater who has figured her way out of emotional eating and chocolate/sugar addiction, and I thought that my mind would cling harder than ever to the sugar I was going to be denying it for the next 30 days.  The opposite has turned out to be true.  My brain went right back into Whole30 mode, planning delicious protein and veggie filled meals, with only a passing wistfulness for the glass of wine and dessert I'd be forgoing for the next 30 days.

Because of my brain's remarkable ability to jump onto a Whole30 autopilot (who knew such a thing would exist for me last June when this was such a terrifying new endeavor?), I've actually spent the past three weeks focused on improving other areas of my health alongside the improvements that I'm making by eating a whole-foods, sugar-free diet.

One of the major areas of focus:  Improving sleep!

Living in the city that never sleeps, and working every day with new moms for whom four uninterrupted hours is a luxury, I sometimes feel like I'm all alone on Sleep Zealot Island.  I've been that way mostly my whole life (with the possible exception of college...), and I think it's partly due to my morning-person nature and the fact that my brain and body just shut down when it gets late.  When I don't get enough sleep, I'm emotional, cranky, foggy, and about 30% less smart.

For the most part, falling asleep has never been much of a problem for me, but I find the older I get, the less frequently I can just pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow.  The first days of a Whole30 often negatively affect my ability to fall asleep quickly too, because drinking a few glasses of wine is a great way to ensure I will fall asleep hard! Of course, issue with that comes with staying asleep through the night, but I digress.

As I've been expending way less mental energy on food (can I have chocolate after dinner? how much?  what kind?  can I have another glass of wine? will it really matter if I eat this entire bag of tortilla chips?), I've spent more of my energy focusing on helping myself to a better night's sleep.  I've been (a little) better about not looking at screens an hour before bed, carving out more to read, taking a magnesium supplement, and finally, I'm incorporating the amazing Yoga Tune Up balls to help my to body release tension and my brain to shut the hell up.

Yoga Tune Up isn't so much a type of yoga like Hatha or Vinyasa or Bikram - it's a "fitness format" that focuses not just on stretching and strengthening, but on self-massage, corrective posture, and the awareness to identify and consciously improve problem areas throughout the whole body.  It has been a huge part of my self-care arsenal, thanks to my fantastic physical therapist and to a former yoga teacher who also happens to be a renowned CrossFit coach and an inspiration to my first Whole30, Keith Wittenstein - aka Coach Panda.

For a yoga teacher, I don't always actually use the practice in ways I know I should.  One of the most powerful ways to incorporate yoga into your daily routine is right before bed to wind down and help transition your mind and body from the go-go-go bombardment of daily life to the quiet and ease of sleep.

Below are the two Tune Up techniques I've found to be most powerful and beneficial to sending me off to bed - and bonus points, they reduce the intensity morning headaches to which I've become accustomed.  If you don't have Tune Up balls, try lacrosse balls.

Coach Panda can take you through these better than I can, so I leave it to him.  Click the links below for his detailed explanations and videos.

The Headrest
This is also fantastic to do pretty much any time of day, or anytime you have a headache.  Use two Yoga TuneUp balls in their tote, or two lacrosse balls in a sock.  If you don't have a yoga block, use a thick book or two.  It may feel weird while you're in it, but after you come out you should feel a nice rush of relief from head and neck tension.

The Jawbreaker
This is a must of those of us who clench their jaws or grind their teeth in sleep!  It doesn't take long to gently massage each side, and consistency with this one will yield results down the road.


If you don't have TuneUp or Lacrosse balls, simply doing a few gentle yoga poses accompanied with slow, deep, full breaths in a quiet, dim room goes a really long way toward preparing your brain and your body for sleep.  My all-time favorite before-bed yoga practice is this classic from Jason Crandell, which I'm sure I've raved about on the blog before.

I highly encourage anyone to try adding a little pre-bed yoga - see if it yields results, and tell me about it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thoughts, Prayers, & Action

I drafted a post early Sunday morning - before connecting with the news - as part of my efforts to get back in touch with writing proper entries in my blog.  In light of the horrifying massacre in Orlando this weekend, it just seems trivial to share it today.

Instead I want to provide a list of organizations to which you can donate and things you can do to take action in response to this hate crime, this terrorist act, this worst mass shooting in our history, this attack on an LGBTQ sanctuary, this attempt to decimate freedom and love.

I'm sure a thorough Google search of one's own could turn these up, but it feels like the right thing to do today - to help throw more positive, actionable resources out there.  It should go without saying that my heart, my thoughts, my prayers, my tears are with the victims and their loved ones.  It should go without saying because we say it way too often, and the people who say it the most frequently are the ones who have the power to actually do something.

So without further ado:

Pulse Victims Fund for Equality Florida

Pulse Tragedy Community Fund

"We Stand with Pulse" Victim's Fund

Donation Page for the Orlando Regional Medical Center

Donation Page for the Florida Disaster Fund via VolunteerFlorida

Guide to contacting your representatives about gun control

Sign the petition to lift the ban on blood donation from gay and bisexual citizens

Finally, just turn to your loved ones and let this be a reminder to never ever take them for granted.  Tell them you love them.  Give your love and support for the beautiful gay community of this nation and the world.  On this Pride Month, declare yourself a straight ally to them.  Show love, kindness, and solidarity to the Muslim members of your community, and don't give in to the hysterical right's attempts to simplify this issue by calling it an issue with Islam as a religion.  There are over 1 billion Muslims worldwide.  If they were all evil and out to get us, do you really think we'd still be here?

Have civil and reasoned conversations with family and friends and colleagues who don't hold the same views about all of the various factors that contributed to this horrible crime.  Don't just blindly unfollow that acquaintance on Facebook who supports the un-American ban on Muslims - engage them in respectful debate about it.  You never know - you may begin to change someone's mind and open their heart.  Or if it's too much of a source of pain and stress - step away from Facebook (my own advice is the hardest to take) and keep engaging with the people in your life that you love and remind them every day that you love them.

In short, just love.  Love and love and love and love and love some more.



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Overabundance

Happy June!  It's been just over a month since I've posted, and I can't blame it on how oh so crazy life has been like I always do.  It's been the usual amount of busy, plus a wonderful holiday weekend with in-laws, but there really hasn't been any reason for not writing except I haven't been met with the clarity (ha) of inspiration and the time - or more specifically, the time and inclination - to sit and find something specific, articulate and worth sharing.

The two main things keeping me from posting since May 10th are a lack of scheduled structure to when I'm supposed to write in this thing and an overabundance of things to write about.  It's sort of like the opposite of writer's block, but the end result is the same - nothing gets written, and this sits here collecting Internet-dust.  It's sort of like when you have so much to do that you become paralyzed and simply do nothing.

Considering this is a voluntary, just-for-me, 100% not making any money off of this thing blog, it's ridiculous the inner agony that can go on when I think about how I've been delinquent in posting.  Seriously - it's no big deal.  But my upholder nature doesn't like the idea of a half-hearted commitment, and lazy excuses.

So, I'm utilizing the #1 tactic that always works on me when trying to build a new habit - I'm scheduling it.  Every Tuesday, rain or shine, idea abundance or idea desert, I'm going to post something.  And I'll try to make it worth reading.  For me, the simplicity, clarity, and most importantly, the obligation of having something on my calendar is what gets me to do something.  Whether it's a dreaded one time chore that I've been putting off or something recurring that gets lost in the shuffle of unstructured time, scheduling is basically my way of coping and meeting the expectations of Life as a Grown Up.

This may very well be one of the most boring posts I ever share, but it does feel a bit like an important declaration - like putting it out there that I'm doing another Whole30.  If I keep it a secret, I can choose to quit or self-sabotage.  But I wanted to set the stage for the hopefully more interesting things I want to touch on in weeks to come - lessons I'm learning in this 3rd round of Whole30 (spoiler alert: they have almost nothing to do with eating), lessons I've learned from my 3rd half marathon, and my struggles to find rhythm, normalcy, and boundaries between work and rest while leading a career where my schedule is frequently full of irregularity - especially when I'm on call.

I'm excited to jump start this old girl out of the slump we've found ourselves in for the past two years.  This blog did turn 6 years old in April, after all, and I want to continue to let it help me with figuring out the mysteries human nature, yoga, and all the rest of life's madness.