17 Dec 2014. IT’S ALL PART OF THE PROCESS

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This week I have been thinking a lot about how I use my time. Being such a part-time worker (for about 8 months now I’ve been virtually unemployed), I have quite a lot of it and I like to think I have been using it well. I realised however, that I have come to think of exercise as my work, and it feels as though it fills up all of my time. In reality however, the amount of time I spend exercising including my yoga practice- is only about 1 to 2 hours a day. So…where does the rest of the time go?

It dawned on me that I spend so much time DWELLING on the run I must go for later, or the class I will eventually have to get on my bike and cycle to, that I’m losing the entirety of my day to what is really a very small portion of it.

I decided it was time to heed my Mothers advice on living mindfully and start actively bringing myself back to NOW, throughout the course of each day.

I am a very results driven person: I am active and I am arty but when I do these things, I am often focussed on the final outcome of the activity and constantly striving to become more efficient: always wanting to get better results with less and less effort. It’s a recipe for disaster: I like the idea of doing things, get enjoyment from the planning of schemes and strategies, and from the dreams of how happy I’ll be when I reach each goal, but rarely from the actual implementation. Of course, this leads to demotivation and the putting-off of activity: I am already perceiving any benefit as a future event that it wont hurt just to put off for another day while I slob about and gorge myself on ice cream. I realised that if I can learn to appreciate the PROCESS of doing things then I will open myself up to really ENJOY my hobbies and interests. The enjoyment of process can turn every activity into an immediate, no waiting, benefit if I choose, rather than a necessary chore or something that must be ticked off a list of things I must do each day in order to define myself as an interesting, healthy, happy human being.

My game-plan has been one of the simplest I have ever tried to implement:

Whatever I am doing, I focus on it. If my mind wanders to what I need to do next or later or tomorrow, I just put it aside and really concentrate on the physical and mental sensations of the task in hand- be it eating breakfast, writing my journal, sending emails, anything at all- when it is completed or I have had enough, I can move on to the next thing.

And guess what, by putting future tasks aside and taking things one at a time, I don’t just forget to do them later (as my brain likes to tell me I will). By rejecting continual multi-tasking I have not become less productive. Quite the contrary in fact: I have been fitting far more into my days- social time as well as work, exercise as well as slobbing about in front of the TV.

One week in and it has already had a profound effect on my mindset, productivity and self-worth. By engaging with my PRESENT, I am beginning to find pleasure in my activities and feeling the potential of every minute of my day rather than becoming anxious about how I will ever get to a stage where EVERYTHING has been done and I can truly relax (an impossible goal in itself, yet one we continually torments ourselves with).

I have been getting more from my workouts too. By feeling the sensations the freedom I feel when I run, the strength and power I can generate when I put my mind (and body) to it- I have begun to genuinely enjoy the effort and have finally come to terms with the idea that none of this is necessarily about an end result, it’s about enjoying the ride.

9 Dec 2014. RUN FREE!

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Following my- so far successful- efforts to rewire my brain to a new daily routine, I have also been trying to rewire- or more accurately (and to continue the computer analogy)- ‘reboot’ my love of running.
In truth, I never fell out of love, but this summer my love evolved : by way of a desire to speed up and to improve my strength and endurance I went from a simple joy of being outdoors- exploring my environment and being just myself, my feet and the sheer exhilarating slog of it, to an all encompassing burning passion to improve with every step. It was still love, but this one burned…

…out.

I improved, that much is true: I pushed my pace further than I ever expected and I could actually see my goal of a 1.5 hour half marathon shimmering on the horizon of my potential.

That this vision began to fade was a combination of factors:

A) I got a job, and finding enough time and energy for a 12 miler, plus stretch-out, then making it through a shift without falling asleep under the counter….well, when competing for my attention with the ease and simplicity of a 40 minute YouTube work-out, my running sessions became few and far between.

B) My knees were up to their old tricks and beginning once again to plague my runs with painful twinges. On top of this my hips were becoming stiff and causing me daily pain, despite my best stretching efforts.

C) My phone broke down. It sounds so sadly trivial, but it turns out that 12 miles with no music and only the sound of your own laboured breathing is rather demoralizing. Maybe it would be beneficial to deal with it and learn to connect fully with the efforts of my body but…it just really put me off the long runs I had begun to enjoy.

And lastly, and most critically, D) I psyched myself out so had that I became overwhelmingly anxious even thinking about going for a run- with my enthusiasm already waning I began worrying about how devastated I would be if I didn’t beat my previous performance. My regular pattern of running had lost it’s ability to keep my mind calm and my self-evaluations positive, and what was worse- it had actually become the source of increasing anxiety.

In September I tried to recover the dream with an easy, no-pressure jog. 3 minutes down the road my competitive instinct took over and I shattered my pace PB. By the evening of that day it felt like my hip had taken the beating of it’s life right along with it. I felt like all my efforts to prevent injuries had been wasted in 25 short and over-confident minutes. That was my last run before this week.

So, once again, I’m taking it slow…and short…and its weird. It goes against everything my brain is telling me: that I’m not going at a respectable pace, that I’ll come in at over an 8 minute mile and feel bad about myself, that if I don’t feel like I’m about to keel over, then I’m not pushing hard enough to be getting any benefit or make an improvement. But right now, its not about the performance, its about love, for running and for my body. So I’m fighting the urge to push, letting my hips and knees build back up slowly.  In the meantime, I might even rediscover the mind-soothing power of running that I first fell in love with.

9 Dec 2014. MAKE THE HABIT

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This week I have been embarking on a mission to FORM habits, as opposed to focusing on those bad ones I am trying to break.

Here are my works in progress:

Happy Habit #1: yoga before breakfast.

Life is so bloody busy at the moment- fitting in work shifts, exercise, social time and arty-crafty time, not to mention dreaded life admin, that unless I practice before breakfast, it doesn’t get done until near lunchtime as I’m TERRIBLE for post-meal faffing around online and before I know it it’s time to leave for a group classes and I have to choose between the two.

My habit forming process is attempting to be gentle, no pressure: even if I only do 10 minutes of gentle stretching and no strenuous poses, its all about creating a new natural routine, not guilt tripping and psyching myself out.

Happy Habit #2: no snacking.

Definitely more of a challenge- I had been swearing by snacks as an essential way of fueling my increased exercise schedule. Unfortunately, when my exercise is less, I still feel the need to snack and has resulted in some serious ‘snack-attacks’. Instead of bulking up meals with rice cakes, I am allowing myself protein packed smoothies if I’m really feeling the low blood sugar, but as a general rule, once my plate is empty, that’s it until the next meal time. I’ve actually managed A WHOLE BLOODY WEEK (!) of this and feel great for it. I think the secret is never to have my cup of tea WITH my meal, but to save it until “dessert” and do all the washing up while I wait for the kettle to boil- sometimes I amaze myself in my ability to trick my brain with these little distraction tactics!

So far so good, although it has become harder to get the yoga in now the parents are home and dad invites me to a share of the french press every morning before I’ve even rolled out of bed. Tomorrow I shall have to set my alarm earlier…

28 Nov 2014. DAMAGE CONTROL

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I have been absent, not only from the online world, but from the exercise world in general. Despite the last cycle starting Strong (see what I did there?) it went downhill quickly after the arrival of my delightful boyfriend Tyler, who is Canadian and therefore needed showing around the length and breadth of England. We succeeded…and I failed in exercising…

I must confess however, that 6 weeks is too long to be on the road for (especially for a reluctant traveler like Tyler) and though we did have quite a lot of travel time, we did spend a few weeks at my home, a period in which I had hoped to get back into routine and limit the potential damage of a full 6 week hiatus from exercise.

It turns out that a loitering boyfriend is a seriously demotivating influence- apparently I find it incredibly difficult to work out to corny YouTube videos when there are witnesses present. My yoga practice has also suffered as I found myself- mid downward facing dog- wondering ‘Oh dear, I hope he’s not getting too bored.’ It would seem I have something of an overbearing mothering/suffocating instinct, God help my children should I have any…

But there IS a silver-lining to all this failure: in large part thanks to my new job at the Leisure Centre (I get off-peak free access) not just my desperation to get out on my own for an hour or two (!), I have discovered a love of group exercise classes. My competitive streak- against the other participants as well as my own past performances- means I work my butt off every time AND I also work-out for longer than I would at home where my attention is constantly distracted.  Furthermore, the set time schedules mean I cant procrastinate and keep putting off my workouts until 9pm. Result.

Let the new dawn of my public work-outs begin…next week- I am currently nursing snuffles so bad I fear they would send me home from a class with looks of disgust and fears of contagion.

In the meantime I shall yoga my way back to good health in time for BodyPump on Monday

22 Sep 2014. IDOL(S) OF THE DAY

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Today I would like to share with you my love for the two wonderful ladies of YouTube who FINALLY got me into yoga.

It has taken a long, LONG time for me to finally find my yoga love. I have tried and tried for at least 10 years- always knowing its much-praised benefits and envying the radiant and healthy (and tiny) yoga girls with their perfect bodies and seemingly perfect mind-body balance.

I went to classes, I bought books, I used DVDs from the library: Nothing. I lived 2 years in Whistler, one of those parts of the world with an obscenely high number of yoga schools per head, where all-ages of locals swore by it as the best way to keep skiing well into your senior years and 5 FREE classes available every week. Nothing. Unbelievable. I had given up my yoga dreams; clearly, it just wasn’t my thing.

Then one day, like a ray of light through my dark and dusty closet of yoga paraphernalia, came Yoga with Adriene. her YouTube channel offers a variety of session lengths and themes, and I immediately warmed to her adorable and unpretentious style. Here was a yoga girl who brought a passion for yoga but most importantly (for me), a sense of personality that had been missing from my experience of yoga so far. It changed everything.

As my practice grew more frequent, I started feeling the need to branch out- one YouTube instructor can only suffice for so long until the craving for a new challenge overcomes loyalty, and I was not (and still am not) ready to freestyle..! Enter Lesley Fightmaster. A true yoga goddess of the internet, her classes are VERY challenging but my steady improvement and slow perfecting of the poses and movement has been incredibly rewarding. Her style is calm and relaxed and she has one of those kind voices; I always imagine her as someone very internally and spiritually content and I never fail to feel nurtured after one of her videos. The sheer volume of full classes on offer has so far kept my loyalty- not to mention that many of the poses she teaches are still slightly out of my grasp. It is here that I have come to find my now DAILY (who’d have thought it?) yoga home.

So I thank you both- the best yoga ladies on the internet- for being the glorious proof I needed that yoga is so much more than smug, dairy-free skinnies in lulus. I’m a thrilled convert, and it was totally worth the wait 🙂

Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy at freedigitalphotos.net

22 Sep 2014. HOW’S IT GOING?

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It seems to have been a strange old month. I’ve been happy with what I have achieved so far, especially that I’ve worked through ‘working out whilst working’, but the last 2 weeks have sprung up a few problems.

The first was expected- knee twinges. Easy fix: lay off the running for a bit, do more strength work.

The second is slightly more problematic: my diet changes had been helping a lot in combating the ‘brain-fog’ and fatigue I’ve had in the past, but in the last few weeks it’s been coming back and worse than ever- one night of uncontrollable tears, another of hugging the toilet bowl with waves of nausea. All the usual tests have been done- nothing out of the ordinary. I suspect the trouble is in my mind- my poor, over-thinking mind. You see, having sat down with the feelings- as my mother would, in her mindful way- I have come to notice a trend that despite ENJOYING my workouts (usually..!) and feeling great about myself and the improvements to my body, mind and overall outlook, it seems that it is the thought of an impending training session- or just thinking of one I was due at some point later in the day, was beginning to fill me with a- sometimes physically incapacitating- feeling of panic and anxiety.

I worried that I was starting to exhibit some sort of control dependency- worrying that I would not be able to fit exercise around work schedules, freaking out about what the consequences would be if I had an unscheduled rest day, etc- so, further from the cut back on running, I imposed one week of ‘yoga only’. For all the amazing physical results I’m seeing and feeling from my training schedule, I deemed it ‘not worth it’ if I’m going to end up with a new source of stress.

So here I am, now at the end of my yoga week and…the world has not ended and I have not even gained a single pound- although am definitely feeling SLIGHTLY less strong, and I still have the same old brain fog. Second theory- since returning to my parent’s house from my home in Whistler, my good intentions for my diet have become more of a reality. I know from past research into various detox’s that usually ‘you will feel worse before you get better’. Unfortunately I am the type to reach for the biscuits in a time of stress, thereby setting myself right back at the beginning of the cycle. The fix here is a no-brainer: this time, don’t cave- push through. This time: DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

31 July 2014. NECESSARY MAINTENANCE

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I am already beginning to doubt myself. Even mid-training I’m wondering if I’m pushing myself enough, whether I’m allowing myself too many ‘one off’ treats to be able to realistically expect the outcome I hope for. My bike ride on Tuesday was rather shorter than planned, a doubt trigger for certain, but it also resulted in something rather magical and reassuring.

I hadn’t realised how much I had been missing cycling- just the simple act of cruising around- in the last few days of traveling and unpacking and life admin, until I was reunited with my old friend of yore:

Allow me to present to you:

THE DAWES LADY GALAXY

A circa 1970’s beauty, she is actually one of a his ‘n’ hers pair belonging to my parents way-back-when. I (that is: my dad) gave her a full tune up in my late teenage years after I became fed-up with the intensity of effort required to get around on the cheap and old-style mountain bike bought for me on my 11th birthday. I remember at the time my parents being so thrilled that I was finally big enough for them to buy me “the last bike you will ever need”. I now know what they ACTUALLY meant was “as you won’t technically outgrow this bike, we won’t ever be buying you another…you’re on your own kid.’ And so it was Lady Galaxy to the rescue; for years sad and abandoned in the garage in favour of shiny new hybrid bicycles. We were clearly made for each other.

She is one of the best things about moving back home…except that after 5 minutes of joy- the wind in my hair, the speed of a gentle downhill coast- I remembered her myriad flaws: the awkward seat angle, the aching palms on un-cushioned road bars, the fact that I can’t use my large chain ring and, Holy Jesus, the RATTLING!

Fortunately, I’m a little more bike savvy these days. Although I hadn’t realised it and it seemed that any bike troubles were simply examined, briefly explained and then fixed in a whirl of tools and mystery by my well-meaning boyfriend Tyler, APPARENTLY I have absorbed knowledge by some kind of osmosis. For, after a quick jaunt around a couple of local villages- marveling at the flatness of the English landscape and narrowness of the country roads- I set up in the garage, excavated my dads tools and set about fixing up all the problems I had identified…and discovered that I COULD. I EVEN know how to fix the front derailleur and regain use of the big chain wheel…if I can ever find a screwdriver that’ll fit in the bloody screw…they probably don’t make them anymore. I’ll work on it.

It’s so easy to look at things- a piece of machinery, a tax return, even a diet and exercise plan- follow the instructions and cross your fingers in hope of achieving the desired outcome. Personally, I hate that feeling of blindness- of going through the motions but not knowing WHY it might work. Sometimes it renders me completely useless, overwhelmed by my ignorance to the reasoning behind a process and left paralysed- not knowing where to start. And so it has been, that the men in my life have fixed up the problem as I sat agonizing over the fact that I just couldn’t understand- waiting for the moment when all of the pieces clicked together and I would know ENOUGH to do it myself.

That moment is now. The last time I looked at Lady Galaxy, she was a mystery: a cranky enigma that I loved but didn’t know how to nurture. Now, 2 years, 10 million half-watched YouTube instructionals and 3 failed attempts by Tyler to ‘teach’ me to fix my bike, I finally look at her and see all the little parts and the way they link together and how to clean and tighten or replace each piece to make her far more than she was before.

It will either sound very strange to you or it will make perfect sense, but the feeling of clarity that comes when things finally make sense is my motivation for just about everything and makes my present adventure all the more alien to me. Knowing the outcome and striving to comprehend the method is familiar, but knowing and understanding the process of fitness training but being uncertain of the eventual outcome is not. I hope that the novelty of the experience will be part of it’s value however, and teach me an alternative way of operating. This is the way I must think of it, rather than feeling discouraged by the uncertainty of the result .