Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Magic of 70 Percent Effort

All the images in this post were taken from this article
which I highly recommend.

Year ago I would work out with a personal trainer.  I admired her because she had attained a level of fitness I hadn't seen before.  She was a dedicated trainer and our sessions were intense- hours upon hours of plyometrics, heavy lifting, sled pulls, and sprints.  The group who trained with her would put in insane amounts of exercise.  They would arrive at the gym 30 minutes before our session to warm-up, put in a 90 minute training session, and then head off to ski or bike or run for the rest of the day.  It didn't take long for my body to become completely wrecked.  I would go in for the 90 minute training session and then go home to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.  My immune system was shot and every muscle in my body felt contracted and sore.  Eventually I quit training altogether.

In an effort to heal from chronic illness, I dialed back my fitness to the point of just walking and doing yoga.  That's when the healing began.  When I quit pushing my body, it did what bodies do- found the balance point of health and harmony.  I couldn't believe it.  I began to feel so good that I started working out again, but I kept my training in the 70 percent zone, or the zone of maximum growth. As Tai Chi master, Bruce Frantzis, explains, "striving for 100 percent inherently produces tension and stress because as soon as you strain or go beyond your capacity, your body has a natural tendency to experience fear and to begin, even without your being aware of it, to tense or shut down in response."  I discovered that by only giving 70 percent of my effort to my workouts, I could really get strong.  I would still use effort and break a sweat, but I would have something left in the tank at the end.  Working out became enjoyable again.  Had I continued putting in the 100% effort workouts, I never would have attained the level of fitness I have now.  I was only able to run a full marathon after I switched to training in the 70 percent zone.  (More on that later.)

What surprises me is that even with my discovery about moderate workouts, I am still struggling to find a moderate, sustainable lifestyle.  This modern world feels so fast paced and I feel an almost constant pressure to produce, perform, and achieve.  Balance and moderation are not highly prized in our world.  How often have you heard someone say, "look at what moderate hours he keeps at work!" or "she sure has a reasonable body!"  No one says those things.  This is why when I feel my life move towards balance, I start to wonder if there is something wrong with me.  Does balance mean letting go of all the goals that society praises you for attaining?

I have noticed that even when it comes to relaxation our approach is extreme.  Interested in meditation?  Why not give it 30 minutes twice a day!  Like yoga?  Why not do 30 classes in 30 days! There was the local yoga salesgirl who tried for years to get me to sign up for a 1,000 hour $4,000 teacher training program.  Is it not enough that I carve out time to attend a class a couple of times per week?  What is our obsession with taking things to an extreme?  I wonder if we are afraid of the middle path.

I have even noticed in the "enlightened" self-help community this "go big or go home" mentality.  After consuming too many messages of "if you can dream it, you can do it" and "I am unstoppable," I begin to feel discontent with my very ordinary, and yet miraculous life.  Its as if all the abundance around me is not enough.  I don't want to feel that way anymore.

This made me laugh.  It is so true! (Especially the part in black)

I want a life that is sustainable. I need a life that is sustainable.  As the school year comes to a close I feel like a marathoner at mile 24.  I need to conserve enough energy to make it to the finish line without collapsing.  I wish for myself the courage to be more content with moderation,  I hope I can cultivate greater appreciation for a life of balance.  I know what the opposite of balance can lead to- illness, injury, depression, or worse.  Walking the middle path does not mean living an average life because the average person lives a stressful life that fluctuates chaotically between different extremes.  Walking the middle path means giving 70 percent effort in a world demanding 110.  It means listening to what each moment is asking for.  It means rest and play and effort and confidence in one's own well-being.  I hope you will join me in this revolutionary practice of moderation.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Faith in Loving Fiercely the One Who is Rightfully Yours

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness 
and what we feel we are 
worthy of in this world. 
-David Whyte

There is something that I don't want to admit- not because I am ashamed of it, but because I wish it were not true.  That something is the amount of admiration and respect that I receive for being a moderately attractive, younger than 40, physically fit woman.  I know that I get attention and respect from certain people who would not give me that same attention if I were less fit, less attractive, or heavier.  It gives my words more weight. It also makes me sad to live in a world where many people making extremely respectable contributions to the world receive very little actual respect.  Other people who are arguably making the world a worse place to live receive wealth, fame, and admiration.

I have found that being perceived by others as "fit" holds a lot of currency in our society.  I'm not totally sure why this is.  I think it has a lot to do with insecurities.  We see someone who appears toned and fit and we assume that they have exceptional will-power, are living a healthier lifestyle than we are, or are perhaps morally superior.  I have experienced this on both sides.  People say things to me all the time like, "you eat healthy" or "I wish I were skinny like you" or "I'm sure you don't eat sugar" or "you probably don't get sick." It makes me so mad because the people making the comments have just projected an entire lifestyle onto me that is not true.  They've given me that untouched, "other" quality that we give to people we see as different from ourselves.  I've struggled with my health for my entire life.  I eat sweet things daily basis.  I have body image issues just like literally every other person I have ever met.  I am a human being.  I am a human being having a human experience.

I believe that all people deserve respect.  Our ideas deserve to be heard, our feelings deserve validation, our hard work deserves praise, our struggles deserve empathy.  In a society that respects extremes of youth and wealth and beauty while simultaneously condemning old age, under-funding and under-valuing public schools, shaming fat, and serving up a steady stream of media designed to make us feel inadequate, it is no wonder that we begin to question our worth.

I am not writing because I know what to do about this.  I am writing because it troubles me.  I think I'll start by doing the only thing I can think of to do which is show more respect to a wider variety of people.  I can keep the intention to see, honor, and remind those with whom I interact of their inherent value. I can continue to speak up from my own place of worth which is strengthened by the simple act of believing it is there.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Aging Well

This post is inspired by my first yoga teacher, D'ana Baptiste, who also owns Centered City Yoga.  She is powerful and graceful and has worked tirelessly to bring yoga to people who need it including public school teachers.  She is also a single mother of three boys.  In the last year or so I've noticed her being incredibly honest about what it means to be a woman aging or perhaps gaining weight in the public eye.  And then this photo showed up in my Facebook feed.

Beautiful, ageless Dana wearing scroungy clothes, sunglasses, and a hospital mask on her head, trying to cheer up her ex-girlfriend who was in a Mexican hospital recovering from pneumonia and knee surgery.  When I saw that photo I felt something shift inside of me.  There I was at work where I had already consumed an entire bag of chocolate at 9 am because being in a room full of needy kids everyday is jarring on the nerves,  And on top of the chocolate were the thoughts of guilt about my diet.  And how I am too tired to work out as much as I want to.  And wondering when will I lose the five pounds I've gained this year.  And while I'm thinking, I can feel my forehead furrowing and the wrinkles forming.  And all of that gets interrupted by this picture of someone showing up in the world in the best way they can, trying to do a little good and not let their ego get in the way of that.

It made me think of that beautiful Mary Oliver quote (which I first heard from D'ana) "you do not need to be good" (you could also insert skinny / ageless / perfect).  You do not need to be good, but whatever you do, do not stop showing up as yourself.  The world needs the gifts that only you can offer and those gifts have nothing to do with the size of your thighs or the smoothness of your face.
If you look at my forehead you will see the beginnings of my wrinkles.
Sometimes they show up more than others.
Please don't start telling me how to get rid of my them.
That will be a never-ending battle I'm not up for fighting.
I'd rather spend my life energy in other ways.

I am so grateful for those women who were born before me who continually redirect me to what matters.  It is easy to get confused.  It is easy to start believing the lies that we are not worthy of love and belonging because we are not perfect in some way.  It is tempting to start pouring our life energy into juice fasts or plastic surgery or hiding ourselves because we are embarrassed about how we look.  But the trouble with that is it becomes a struggle for belonging based entirely on control.  And what happens on the day that you can't keep up the diet or your stress gets the better of you?  You start to feel like you are less worthy of love and happiness.  You start to lose your confidence which is directly related to your empowerment.  True confidence comes from within and can go with us wherever we go.  It is our birthright as human beings.  And when we are truly confident we can begin the light we were born to share shine into this world.

Today is my mom's 64th birthday.  She is a woman who has truly spent every second of her life trying to make the world a better place and help as many people as she can.  (Those of you who know her can attest to this.)  When I was younger I used to wonder why my mom didn't get facials or have her nails done.  And I think the answer is this: life is short.  We have a limited amount of time and energy and every day we get to decide how we use it.  My mom decides to use her time building people up, empowering her fourth graders, helping give welfare to people in her church, creating happy memories for her grandchildren, planting flowers, making my father laugh.

Before my mom and I had lunch today, she said a quick word of grace.  "Thank you that Celeste came to visit me.  Thank you that I got to live 64 years.  I am so lucky."  Then her students came in and she played the Beatles' song "When I'm 64" while I had the kids make cards for her.  Their cards said it all.  "Thank you for teaching me."  "Your smile makes me want to learn and work hard."  "I love you because you are so fun and you are nice when I miss a problem on my homework."  Here is a glimpse of what really matters and what we leave behind when our time runs out.

Happy birthday, Mom!  Here's to growing older and bringing our whole selves- wrinkles, courage, cellulite, smiles, tears, kindness, acne, truth and authenticity to the party!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

What's Wrong With The Whole 30 or How Do We Love What We Love

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
-Mary Oliver

Here is a random smoothie I made to use up some fruit before it went bad.
Then I ate an entire 3 serving bar of chocolate which was delicious.

I want to start off by saying that if you have completed the Whole 30 and had a good experience, good for you!  I in no way want to take away your experience.  That said, I think that the Whole 30 and programs like it are damaging and hurtful.

If you've never heard of the Whole 30, it is a wildly popular diet with two best selling books.  I had a good friend jump on board with it so I decided to check it out.  Here are excerpts taken directly from the Whole 30 website:

"For 30 days eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients... More importantly, do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial, do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking, do not eat grains, do not eat legumes, do not eat dairy, do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites, do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients."

It goes on to say:

"You are not allowed to step on the scale or take any body measurements for the duration of the program.  The only way this will work is if you give it the full thirty days: no cheats, slips, or “special occasions.” You must commit to the full program, exactly as written. Anything less and we make no claims as to your results, or the chances of your success. Anything less and you are selling yourself—and your potential results—short."

As I read through the website I could not believe the way in which readers were encouraged to treat themselves.  The tone I heard was condescending and controlling with no room for kindness or oatmeal.  Participants are supposed to feel like failures or "cheats" for eating a doughnut or some black beans?  Anything short of perfection is to be met with shame and guilt.

 The Whole 30 claims that it will reset your relationship with food.  First of all, food is one of the few things that everyone interacts with on a daily basis for their entire life.  It would be impossible to reset our relationship with it in one month of strict dieting.  Secondly, dividing up foods into categories of "good" and "evil" will not help us make healthy choices as we navigate our modern world.

What the Whole 30 is lacking (in addition to kindness and self-respect) is moderation.  I am not sure what our society's obsession with extremes is all about.  I know that it had been a challenge for me to prioritize balance in my own life.  Accolades are not given for living simply.  I think we all feel enormous pressure to give 110 percent of ourselves when we should perhaps be giving 70 percent and saving a little energy or a little money for a rainy day. The truth is that health doesn't come in a 30 day fix.  Eating a balanced diet is a process, not a destination that can be arrived at in a linear fashion.

So, where does true health and well-being come from?  I truly believe that it begins in relationship- our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the larger world of which we are a part.  If you do not love yourself, no diet will compensate.  If you set up impossible standards for yourself, become extremely critical when you fall short, and are constantly trying to regain control then self-love will be a very hard road.  Trust me.

When I read material (such as Whole 30) that is written to inform grown-ups, I like to ask myself if I would apply the same techniques in my second grade classroom.  The answer is usually no.  Children are just smaller sized grown-ups.  They are learning and growing so quickly and in the process they make roughly 10,000 mistakes a day.  But you know what every kid I've ever met wants to know?  They want to know that it's going to be okay, that they are lovable, that their best is good enough.  I don't think that changes with age.

Here is what my hair looks like when I brush it out.
I have struggled to embrace it my whole life.
If I could find a tasteful way to photograph my cellulite, I would post that, too.
I am a human being worthy of love and belonging and you are, too.

When I started writing this blog, I had no idea that I would end up so publicly sharing my own clumsy journey towards being a more compassionate, more relate-able, more human- being. I am learning that there is a place for me with all of my imperfections if I am brave enough to step forward and claim it.  There is room for the soft animal that is me to love what it loves (including food of all kinds) and still have health, happiness, and belonging.  The quote I shared above is taken from a Mary Oliver poem.  I love how beautifully Mary reminds us, "whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things."