Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thursday Book Report: Our Pristine Mind

Wanting to be happy seems to be a universal human trait, at least most of the time.  (We can make exceptions for our 13-year-old selves, who occasionally glory in the misery of it all…)  How to go about being happy, however, appears to have a more… multiplicitous… sort of existence.

One possible answer is provided by Orgyen Chowang’s book Our Pristine Mind:  A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness.  Chowang provides an approach rooted in Buddhist practice.

What I found interesting in the book was the contention that meditation can and should go beyond mindfulness.  Admittedly, many of us could do with more mindfulness, however we manage to achieve it.  Going beyond that place to Pristine Mind may seem daunting.

There is much to think about for anyone with an interest in meditation.  I am not sure I would describe the book as “practical” myself; the reader will need to do some work to parse out the actual practical steps to follow.

For me, the book touched on issues that are beyond the scope of a simple book report; I may get around to writing a more in-depth piece on that stuff or I may not.  For the purpose of this post, I will say that the book seems to be worth reading, if somewhat of a slog.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The pelican has nothing to do with the topic, but it is cool, right?

I happen to like to cook.  I think this is a good thing, since I also like to eat and eating happens multiple times a day.  Cooking is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health.

To clarify, cooking is not about throwing a prepackaged dinner in the microwave, even if we put it on a real plate afterward.  It is about chopping up vegetables and slicing fruit and choosing seasonings and herbs.  While there are many advantages to cooking, I will focus on three.

One:  it gives us control.  When we are doing the cooking, we have the power over how much sugar, salt, and fat we add or omit.  We don’t have to worry about colorings and preservatives.  Heck, we can even leave out the cilantro, just because we don’t like it (or double the amount if we do…).

Two:  it saves money.  Processed food costs more because the food processors have to add energy.  Cooking our own food saves on packaging costs.  The farmers who grow our food do not need to recoup the costs of the huge marketing campaigns they have mounted to get us to buy the Super Branded Snack-o-Rama Food of the Month in the New Improved Cheese and Bacon Flavor.

Three:  it increases pleasure.  Homemade food generally tastes better.  Also, there is the sensory pleasure of cooking:  the smell of herbs, the sizzle of hot pans, the colors of fresh vegetables.

Give it a try.  It’s good for us.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Don't play hurt

I do not like it when famous sports figures play through injuries.  It sets a bad example.  And I am, unfortunately, as subject to the influence as anyone.  A lot of fitness has a “suck it up” mentality when it comes to stuff that hurts.

I am not talking about soreness.  Soreness is a good thing.  It tells us that we have been doing what we need to do to grow.  I’m talking about pain.

When we are injured, the first thing we need to remember is to stop doing what we were doing that hurt us.  If the injury happened in some sort of freak accident way, that is simple enough.  (You know the joke.  Patient:  Doctor, I hurt my leg in three places.  Doctor:  Don’t go to those places!)  It is more challenging if the injury comes from repetitive stress.

RICE is the acronym for home remedies.  Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.  Ibuprofin is not bad either.  None of these things substitutes for professional help.

This is where massage therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and doctors come in.  Don’t be afraid to consult them.  They want us to be well!

And after all those folks have fixed us up, we can work with our trainers to correct the form issues that cause our injuries in the first place. 

But don’t play hurt.  It isn’t worth it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Need protection from the bludgers!

Fitness is a team sport, not unlike Quidditch.  We all need chasers, keepers, beaters, and seekers to win the game.  (No, I am not going to spin the analogy all the way out with detailed comparisons between position players and those we need to help us get and stay fit.  You can complete the activity on your own…)

Some of those team members are our team members, when we play football or baseball or tennis or hockey.  We need coaches.  We need trainers, referees, doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors, cheerleaders, and fans.

Some team members push us to do more.  Some explain what we need to practice and why.  Some put us back together when we are broken.  Some motivate us to keep going.

Let’s find our teams and win big.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Exercise: Quadruped

The Amazing Stickie likes variety in her abdominal workouts.  She also likes to work on her stability in multiple positions.  Quadruped is a great exercise for both of those things.

She begins on all fours (hey, maybe that’s why the exercise is called quadruped!!!!) with her shoulders directly over her wrists and her hips directly over her knees.  Then, keeping her shoulders and hips level, she raises her left arm and right leg out until they are in line with her spine.  She strongly resists the temptation to tilt her hips.  Sometimes visualizing a glass of water resting on her sacrum helps with that; she does not want to get damp!  After she lowers her arm and leg back to the ground, she repeats with the other arm and leg.

She usually does sets of ten repetitions.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thursday Book Report: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is Andrew Luck’s book club pick for adults right now.  (The kid pick, Hatchet, by Gary Paulson, is a great book and highly recommended.  I read it with my younger kid when he was in sixth grade or so…)  Everyone should join this book club. 

The book.  Right.  It is a great, funny, sad story about a guy who drives race cars and his family told from the perspective of the dog.  The story includes plenty of adversity and, better, the overcoming of adversity through hard work and character.  Also, a possessed stuffed zebra.  Enzo, the dog, is hilarious and wise.

At one point, Enzo tells us, “I know this much about racing in the rain.  I know it is about balance.  It is about anticipation and patience.  I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain.  But racing in the rain is also about the mind!  It is about owning one’s own body.  About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain.  It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything.  And everything is you.”

Read it and laugh and cry and triumph along with Enzo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Salty air is better than salty food, right?

I don’t write that much about the intake end of fitness.  I am not a nutritionist, but rather a certified personal trainer.  That means that it is beyond the scope of my practice to design an eating plan for clients, for example.

However, it is part of my practice to encourage everyone to choose foods that are high in nutritional quality and to consume them in appropriate amounts.  No matter how perfect the exercise program I design for myself or anyone else, it will not have the desired result if we eat too many calories.  We will not feel good if we choose primarily highly processed sugary, fatty, salty foods.

Let’s choose wisely for best results.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tense, but not too tense

Tension, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  Without it, we couldn’t move.  Our muscles grow, in part, because of the time they spend “under tension,” which is trainer-speak for “working.”

When we work out, we are obviously using literal tension.  Some metaphorical tension can come in handy, as well.  I am thinking, specifically, about the tension between observing and doing.

On one hand, when we work out, we want to do it like no one is watching.  Who cares what we are wearing?  So what if my weights are smaller than yours?  Does it really matter that I have sweat dripping down my back?  Doing the work is way more important than what it looks like.  We always need to remember that we are only doing our own workout and that it has to be appropriate for what we are capable of in the exact moment we are working.

On the other, we need to work out like there is someone hovering nearby with a clipboard taking notes.  We want to show that imaginary observer our best form, with our lovely posture and our aligned knees and our lifted abdominals.  We want to catch that observer lifting an eyebrow at us when we consider bailing out early on a set, even if we bail out anyway.

The creative tension between the two extremes of observed and unobserved makes growth happen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sitting in the sun is a good one...

Somewhere out there, there is probably a band named Emergency Third Rail Power Trip.  If there isn’t, there should be.  (Why, yes, I do have a problem with reading signs and giving them different interpretations than they were intended to have…)  Furthermore, we should all also find our own emergency third rail power trips.

We all have emergencies.  Some are real (sudden illness, natural disaster) and some less so (A zit! Right there!  On my face!), but all of them cause stress.  The point of an emergency third rail power trip is to remove the power supply from that stress so it fizzles and dissolves instead of sending its little cortisol messengers out to encourage us to flip out.

Let’s have a little disaster preparedness seminar with ourselves and figure out what we can do to unplug the stress.  Maybe it is breathing practice.  Maybe it is hard cardio work.  Maybe it is hugs.  Whatever it is, let’s figure it out before the emergency comes so we can stop the madness.  It will keep us healthier.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Exercise: Renegade Rows

Stickie, naturally, is a Styx fan.  How could she not be?  On days she wants to crank up Renegade, she does renegade rows and works her abdominals and her upper body strength.

She starts in pushup position with her hands holding dumbbells on the ground.  Keeping her hips and shoulders level, she raises one dumbbell toward her armpit and lowers is back to the ground.  Then she repeats with the other arm.

Sets of ten are good.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thursday Book Report: How Learning Works

My kid recommended How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman.  Being a trainer is not the same as being a teacher or professor, but some aspects transfer.  Also, I think of learning as part of life; we are all students and can maximize our learning.

The seven principles are:

1.     Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
2.     How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
3.    Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
4.     To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
5.     Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
6.    Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
7.     To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

When I think about how I plan and implement workout plans, I see how these principles apply to fitness.  For example, we all come to our workouts with some level of knowledge about our bodies and what they can do.  Sometimes we “know” how to do things incorrectly and that means we have to re-learn now to perform a particular task or exercise.  Welcome to the first principle!

Similarly, all of us who have progressed from one level of an exercise to another have experienced the third principle.  We begin our pushups on the wall, move to the bench, maybe use our knees on the floor, and so on, each progression marking a stage of mastery over our bodies.

Let’s take a look and see what we might want to focus on to increase our learning during our workouts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


I wear glasses.  My prescription has only the slightest correction for distance vision; I don’t have to wear my glasses to drive safely.  The real reason I need to wear my glasses is so that I can see what is right in front of my face.  (Glasses are easier to come by than longer arms.)

That said, I need both kinds of vision.  So do we all.  When we figure out what we want in fitness goals, we need to look both at the distance to figure out where we want to end up and at the immediate to figure out where to start.  We need to know where we are going and what steps to take to get there.

Let’s invest five minutes in naming the big fitness goal and then deciding what to do today or this week to bring it closer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I'm so lazy I need to work out

In some ways, the best reason to focus on fitness is laziness.  Laziness loves efficiency, because it leaves more room for sleeping in and reading and cuddling.

Fitness saves time.  Time spent exercising is an investment.  It makes us healthier, which gives us more years to live in and a better quality of life during those years.  We get to spend fewer hours in doctors’ offices.  We don’t waste hours staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep.

Fitness saves money.  Many fitness pursuits are cheap in themselves.  Almost all of them are cheaper than therapy and doctors.  When we maintain our weight, we don’t have to spend money on bigger clothes.  When we maintain our moods through fitness, we don’t have to do retail therapy.

Fitness can save our lives.  Sometimes this is literal.  Fitness correlates with reduced risk of all kinds of nasty diseases.  In a more figurative sense, it can save our lives from stress, boredom, and depression.

Work out so you can be lazy!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bonus points for carrying up and down stairs

While lifting more weight in the gym is, in itself, a goal for some of us, it isn’t really supposed to be an end in itself.  The point of the exercise lies in what happens the rest of the time.

Over the weekend, I ended up doing some recreational furniture moving with some friends.  It is good to be able to lift and carry what seemed like endless boxes of books.  It is interesting (and sometimes frustrating!) to apply the mechanics of lifting to something like a filing cabinet instead of a barbell.  Yes, I like having a nice, tidy number next to the amount I can lift.  I like it better when the amount I can lift becomes a practical asset in daily life.

By all means we should take joy in our gym time and in all our times.  But let’s remember that life happens in other places, too.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Exercise: Mountain Climbers

The Amazing Stickie works hard to ensure that she has strong abdominals and excellent cardiovascular condition.  One way she does this is by doing mountain climbers.

The starting position is more or less a pushup position, but with a slight pike to the body.  In other words, Stickie sticks her bootie in the air.  Then she brings one foot forward into a modified lunge position.  She jumps her legs up and switches which foot is forward, repeating rapidly until she is good and breathless, keeping her abdominals lifted the whole time.  A minute is a good amount of time to spend on this exercise.

It is also possible to do this exercise with the hands on a bench or on a BOSU.  Standing mountain climbers are also good; in that case, Stickie pretends she is Spiderman climbing a building, side bending as she lifts her knee toward her elbow on the same side of her body.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thursday Book Report: The End of Overeating

David A. Kessler’s book The End of Overeating trots out many of the usual bad guys.  Hi added sugar, fat, and salt!  I’m looking at you!  He goes over the cultural shifts that have encouraged us to become larger.  He points to food industry practices that don’t help us.  He also discusses underlying brain chemistry in nice small words.  It’s a good introduction to all the reasons why we find it so challenging to eat enough of the right foods and not too much.  That takes up about two thirds of the book.

The final third discusses what to do about it.  He suggests regaining control over our behavior through awareness, competing behavior, competing thoughts, support, and emotional learning.  Most of those things should look familiar to us.

Overall, it is an engaging, personal, and personable book.  Depending on what you already know, it might be extremely informative.  I found it useful as a reminder about taking personal responsibility in the face of much societal pressure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Work it out

Exercise works.

I see people come to workouts tired, worn down, anxious, stressed, even maybe a little grumpy.  They leave better.  It ain’t my personality that makes the difference, I’m sure.

It’s the movement.  It’s the pumping heart, the breathing, the push of muscles against resistance, the coordination of multiple body parts in multiple planes.

We are happy to take an aspirin and wait half an hour for the headache to go away.  Let’s give ourselves half an hour of exercise and rejoice in what that can do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bicycles are like watermelons; skis are like oranges

Fitness can be seasonal, just like produce.  It is challenging, without a lot of travel, to ski in the summer.  Similarly, unless we have special stuff, biking in the snow might not be the best plan.  This is all good.

However, it does require that we think about our fitness plans as the seasons change.  In biking season, the focus might be on the endurance required for long distances or the strength gains desired to conquer hills.  Skiing has its own particular special muscle groups that need both strength and flexibility for best results.

Maybe one season is more about weight lifting and another is about cardio.  That is not something to worry about as long as we keep moving and strike some kind of balance.

Go play.

Monday, June 6, 2016


(This picture is scanned from a postcard I bought at the MOMA in New York in 2005.  It is a work by Christopher Wool called “Untitled, 1988.”)

Many people are currently writing about what Muhammad Ali meant to them.  To me, he was a touchstone for survival.

I don’t get boxing.  I try to avoid hitting people.  I try to avoid getting hit.  I deeply respect the athletic requirements of the sport, the essential strength, endurance, and grace needed to compete.  I somewhat understand the idea of athletic endeavor as battle.  I just don’t see that the battle needs to involve actual beating of other people.

Metaphorically, however, Ali gave me what I needed to make it through some of the worst parts of my depression journey.  I played Rope-a-Dope with the Depression Monster.  My goal was to take whatever it dished out for as many rounds as it took to get the monster to wear out and then smash that sucker.

Beyond pure survival, Ali provided an example of what one might want to survive for.  He was a man of principle, a fighter who would not fight for something he did not believe in and who would fight like crazy to advance causes he loved.

I am grateful for his life and example.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Exercise: Push Press

Compound exercises increase the efficiency of a workout, and the Amazing Stickie is all about efficiency.  She has more to do than just work out, you know.  Because of this, she likes the push press because it works her whole body at once.

She begins the exercise in a squat position with dumbbells at her shoulders.  A barbell would also work.  On an exhale, she stands up tall and raises the weights above her head without raising her shoulders toward her ears.  Then she inhales back to the starting position.

Done quickly, this is an aerobic move.  Slower performance builds muscle endurance.  Using heavier weights for fewer repetitions will build maximum strength, but light weights and many repetitions add tone.  Choose according to your goals!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thursday Book Report: Dirt

“Just as lifestyle influences a person’s life expectancy within the constraints of the human life span, the way societies treat their soil influences their longevity,” David R. Montgomery writes in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.  We cannot be fit without food and we cannot have food without soil, so Montgomery’s fascinating investigation of our relationship with the dirt in which we grow our food provides a bigger context for how we choose to live our lives.

Historically, humans have had some pretty unfortunate effects on the planet.  Erosion of topsoil, because it is usually a gradual process, tends to go unnoticed until there is a drastic event like the Dust Bowl.  However, many of our farming processes encourage erosion at a rate faster than soil can be replenished.

There is good news.  Research suggests that there are many avenues available to reverse the erosion trend and maintain the crucial and mostly invisible resource under our feet.  Many are already dear to the heart of environmentally minded folks:  local culture, organic farming, cover crops, fallowing, small, worker-owned farms.  Others involve shifting process from plowing to discing.  Still others require the kind of long-term thinking that comes hard when there are mouths to feed right now.

In any case, the book was interesting, often wryly funny, and informative.  All of us who like to eat could profit from this reading experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

No more pencils...

So maybe school has been out for us for a while.  Like years.  But there is still something about summer that feels like a release.  It might be the flip flops, setting our toes free from inside boots and shoes.  It might be the light and warmth, lasting into the evenings.  Whatever it is, here at the beginning of June we are free!

Free for what?  Ah, yes.  That’s the catch.  How can we make summer into a time of healthy renewal?

Move outside!  It’s beautiful out there!  Enjoy the breeze and the sun and the water and the trees!  Mess about in boats!  Get dirty!  Get clean again!

Read for fun!  Give the brain something to play with. 

Eat summer fruit!  Because it is awesome and will make you feel refreshed and good.

Store up all the good times!