Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Through the bottle neck of frustration and into understanding.

This is my favorite part. The deadline is near, the training is intense. The opportunities for lessons learned are everywhere. The vehicle to those lessons is the skiing. But the lessons learned are all round the skiing.

I have been working on something specific, trying to make a change in my skiing that is appantly really hard for me to make. It's been three months of work to try to deepen my understanding.

I really enjoy this part of the learning process, and I was lucky enough to have about three weeks of dedicated training in which to diagnose the problem, train towards changing the movement, check my understanding, refocus my diagnosis, refine the movement. This meant drilling at slow speeds on groomed easy runs, which for me is the fun part! Yay!

This movement pattern is important, fundamental, and I didn't want to take it off piste or in the bumps until I had made, and kept to some extent, this change in my skiing. I kept bumping into the opportunity to see if I could stick with it.

So the fun part for me is learning to enjoy the bottleneck. When the movement isnt changing. Or when ive felt the change, but I can't keep it for some reason. It's like walking into a wall over and over again. And you want the change, and you've put the time in, and you've been so disciplined about sticking with no other thought in your skiing other than this one singular piece.

You have digested it, turned it over and inside out, broken it down into pieces and put it back into its whole again. And you can't own it. And you have a choice. You can say, screw it, this is frustrating, I need to blow out the cobwebs, or I'm going home, or I want to play in the bumps. Or, you can find a creative way to back off but stay with the thought.

We are here to make this change. So I begin to look for the thrill in the idea of pushing though. All the emotional stuff comes up. I suck, I've gotten as far as i will get. I don't get it. I may never get it. And we go out and drill again. I have learned, over time, to observe these emotions with curiosity rather than with judgement. I know when I hear those voices that are telling me to back off that I am getting close. That becoming comfortable with that place where I am SUCKING at this is the place where the learning takes place, it's the place where's the beginners mind is. It's a scary freakin place!

And it's a place that not a lot of people understand. "Why do you take this so seriously, Howe?" I hear this a lot. "you need to just go out and ski. Stop thinking."

The thing is, that doesn't really work for me. I like this part! I don't have a problem not focusing, thats the easy part. I don't have a problem going out for a fun run. But nurturing the discipline to problem solve my way through the bottleneck of frustration leads to the most wonderful openings and deepenings.

There is bliss on the other side of frustration. And feeling the frustration as an opportunity to grow even more specific and disciplined is where the lesson lies for me this time.

We had to go back days in a row before we could pick up where we left off. But my understanding changed, and my skiing changed. And I skied it for another three days, just to be sure that I got it, from all sides, and then, oh man, I took it off piste. I had my fun runs. And it was like eating desert.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Your mind is a rubber band.

I had a bit of an epiphany last night as I was laying in bed falling asleep. This post is about riding the emotional roller coaster. I believe to some extent that that roller coaster is not only good, but necessary. I also believe that we tend to do one of two things: indulge in it or ignore it all together, neither of which is healthy.

In yoga, Bikram particularly, we learn that our bodies are different every day, and that that is okay. More than okay, that is the nature of the body. If we come to class expecting to get ahead of where we were yesterday every single time, we will meet resistance, suffer emotional disappointment, and be further away from our ability to improve and get to our "ultimate goal" (although yoga continually evolves, so there really should be no stopping point. The depth is bottomless.)

This is the irony of western mindset in this practice. To improve, part of your job is to give 100% effort at your place of benefit on that particular day. If you insist on pushing further you may either hurt yourself or impede your progress by over stretching, causing the body to guard, tear, or tighten the next day.

I believe our minds are like that, as well. We have a plan for how we would like our days in general to go, emotionally. Ideally, we'd like to be continually improving in our ability to move though our day with equanimity, handling whatever comes up, and staying in a mental place that allows us to constantly improve our performance at whatever we are endeavoring to do, whether that's writing, balancing a budget, leveraging a buyout or skiing bumps.

But just like our bodies will tighten to loosen in response to our day, our stimulus and our environment, and, over a time, improve in the overall if we are disciplined enough to meet the body where it needs to be met every single time, and then at that place give 100% effort but no more, so do our minds.

The mind needs to have space to run the emotional gamut. And sometimes, we need to step back and watch as emotions run through it. Compassion for that place is not capitulation. Compassion for that place is meeting the mind where it needs to be met so it can process the stresses and inputs of the day. You may have plans for how you, your body, your mind, your wants and your plans should move forward (next run we will be focused, centered, and non judgmental so we can ski better), but if the mind has not caught up to that place because it is still filtering the input from a cumulative effect of hard training and feedback over the course of five days or so, you may not have the run you want, expect and plan to have.

The mind may need to work through self doubt, judgement and quantitative properties, whether you want it to or not. How you allow it to do this will dictate how fast you come back to a place of calm. Letting the mind express those thoughts, observing them, and then letting them pass through you like water through a sieve, or coming up with alternative conversation to the doubt you are hearing about your ability to perform, or your worth, or the worth of your endeavor will help Refocus the mind on the task at hand.

Trying to deny the mind this process would be like sitting on an over stuffed suitcase to get it to close. Eventually, the pressure inside will be too much for the latch, and the whole thing will fail. Now you have a big new mess to clean up and you need a whole new suitcase, you have ruined this one.

Working through this place is important and difficult, because we all wish we didn't have to be here. We all wish we could avoid conflict, especially internal conflict. We are eager to get back to that place where we felt control, and not eager to look in the mirror and watch what ever needs to happen, happen.

I'm talking about taking a moment to let your mind process and catch up, meeting your mind where it needs to be met, with compassion and patience. Observing the process with curiosity while you continue to work. Mindfully changing up the rhythm of the day to ease rather than add to the stress, while still asking the mind to perform.

Giving up and walking away isn't the solution. But a coffee break and some laughter with a friend might be. Allowing yourself to go in to full blown crisis may not be helpful. Training yourself to function while processing is a good thing, it gives depth to discipline. But do it with compassion.

Having a good, stout cry for a few minutes in private can be relieving. Recognizing when you are in over your head and you need advice or a good stout cry on the shoulder of a friend is beneficial as well. Recognizing when you are abdicating your responsibility by dumping your problems on a friend, or allowing yourself to go into crisis because you pushed things down for so long that they are blowing up, or going into crisis so you can make sure that you have friends who love you when you are in a place of self doubt is selfish and destructive, the middle path is quieter, calmer, and will lead you out of this.

observe the process gently so that it is truly a relieving pressure valve and process rather than a pity party. The first has merit for meeting the mind so it can spring back and move forward, the second mires you deeper into misery.

just like in yoga, pay mindful attention to your place of benefit. Check your alignment. Move with compassion. Ask more of yourself, observe the results, back off as necessary, make sure you are able to breathe long and slow through the effort. If you can't, reevaluate your place of benefit. With this mindful approach, your mind will snap back into a place of deep performance faster, healthier and open to process more. With a head down charge forward mindset, you will go only as far as you can until you cause harm, and then you will either stop all together, or spend a long time rehabilitating an injury.

As you deepen your practice, you will find that you rebound back and have greater depth and capacity for work, creativity and discipline with each willingness. Your mind is working like the rubber band that it is, you are going to your place of benefit and growing into yourself. Congratulations!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beginning again is not beginning again, it's just life

I've written a couple of posts over the years about how frustrating it is when life derails you. And it seems like life derails you just when you a getting into the swing of things. Just when you've been going to the gym for two weeks, just when you've avoided desert for a week, just when you are starting to feel strong.
You go out of town and you eat like crap on the road. You begin to get strong and you get injured. You begin to develop a routine and you get sick.

But these aren't things that are sabotaging you. This is what happens in life. It's not "Are you going to get interrupted" it's "when are you going to get interrupted, how much does it rock you, and how long does it take you to get back after it?"

It's a lot like bump skiing. You are going from the top to the bottom. You are going to get knocked out of balance at least once. At least one of those bumps is going to be bigger than you guessed it would be, the hole after it will be deeper. But you are still moving down the mountain. What do you do when you hit it? How do you regroup?

Do you give yourself grace? Can you make a compassionate choice in the midst of super-frustrating chaos? Yes, your house is a mess and you have over-committed yourself again. What is the plan to get the train back on the rails?

In my own experience, while I was trying to change my life, to re-become a person who had nutrition and fitness and health as a top priority, every time I got sick, or injured or had to travel, or ate poorly, it felt like the road back to the right path was a difficult one.

I was counting in pounds - they seemed so hard to lose, and so easy to gain back. When I looked at life that way, it seemed next to impossible to gain ground. When I had three jobs and no money for yoga, I felt stymied.

But I finally opened my eyes to the fact that I could go for a walk with my kids, and if that was all I could do that day, so be it. I did something.

I realized, somewhere along the way, that if I just kept starting again, eventually I would just be living rather than starting over.

And I realized the other day, when my head touched my knee in yoga, a position my (excellent and talented) surgeon was pretty sure would never happen, that I had started again after surgery, by waking up from surgery and asking to take a walk. That desire to move, because movement leads to healthy, helped me heal. I put my scale away. I stopped counting my health in pounds.

It is true here that I needed to be willing to listen to my wise friends who had been through surgeries like this before me when they told me, "your job is not to get strong right now. Your job is to heal."

That was a hard thing for me to keep in perspective, it was hard for me to know when was pushing to hard, and when I was doing all I could in the boundaries of good healing. My body told me, and I learned to listen to it, and my friends.

It was a three month practice in patience. And then two more months of humility and more patience. My body would get strong in its own time, if I helped it, if I let it, if I asked it consistently, but didn't push it. I had to let go of my fear of being weak, of losing ground, and just be where I was, doing what I could do.

I knew I needed to get strong to make it to the tryout. I lost a huge amount of muscle in the 16 weeks after my surgery in september. I was weak. And flabby. And tired. And in pain. And I had to start again.

But something about this time was different. Maybe I just didn't want to atrophy, maybe it was having the surgery only a few months away from the tryout, but I was motivated to heal. And I didn't have a lot of cash, September and October are not terribly lucrative months in the ski biz. But I got some help from my community, and I looked to people that had been there before me, and I Reprioretized some things.

As soon as I could get a hundred bucks together, it went to the yoga studio. Because I knew that being in the hot room would help me heal. And it became a matter of health that I wish it had not taken a major surgery to teach me. I wish I could have felt permission from myself in my life earlier to do that. To go every day. Because it makes me strong, and healthy, and whole.

Because it gives me energy to play with my kids and do better at my job and it encourages me to fill my body with good, healthy food.

But it took the surgery, and that's okay. And after the surgery, I got healthier. And then I got sick, and I didn't t have to start over. I just went back to yoga after I felt better. I cared for myself long enough to recover and then I went back to the studio. And this time, it didn't feel like a long road back. It took six years to get to a place where I crave exercise. The kind that used to make me groan.

I could get there, after about three weeks of hard work, I could look forward to a workout. To a summit. But I never looked forward to the suffering. And now, the work doesnt feel like suffering, it feels like celebrating, it feels like living, it feels like necessary and wonderful care taking of my body and heart and mind.

And the journey back after a life event (rather than a setback) is just a re entry, not a starting over.
And here's the wonderful part. Now that I've stopped dreading the long journey back, the journey back has gotten shorter. Sometimes, it only lasts an afternoon. And then my routine is so familiar, that my body, in whatever state it is in, healing, healthy, somewhere in between, is just there, and so am I, and we work together to get stronger and more balanced and the journey continues, almost seamlessly.

And it occurs to me that this is not unique to changing fitness, it is unique to changing habit. Whether that's learning to be better with managing money, or time, or anger, or organization, or whatever it is that triggers you to wish that things were different. Change is very hard. It takes diligence, and practice, and grace, and compassion. And a willingness to begin again and again until one day, your beginning is just a continuation.

So stay after it when it feels like you've fallen off the band wagon, or life had thrown you a curve, or your pagan or momentum was interrupted, its going to happen again, thats life, that's living.

Practice starting again over and over and one day you may feel that you aren't starting again. You are just picking back up after the interruption ends, like restarting a conversation. You may need to recap to get back on track, and that's just fine. Welcome back.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Riding the hairy edge of overtraining!

SO the schedule I set myself was a bit on the WOW side. I have been able to ramp up into it to some extent, but the biggest lesson I've learned on my way to getting stronger is a big reminder that in order to gain strength and fitness, I have to allow my body to FULLY recover between workouts.

This is frustrating to me! But its a great lesson. My body is very different this time around than it was when I was younger, I recovered faster.

Obviously, the most important thing is for me to be on snow, mindfully practicing turning my feet in all different kinds of conditions. But, that being a given, I have to adjust what kind of terrain I'm on, how many hours I'm skiing, and how hard I'm going. Ive spent the last three weeks skiing really slow on groomed terrain because I'm working on changing a movement pattern. I chose to do two hard days, but they were only 31/2 or 4 hours each.

After that, we go into the rest of the training program...

So the first, most important thing is sleep. 8-10-12 hours a night. Your body can not recover if it isn't resting. I'm trying to be in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10 every night.

The next thing that builds the foundation for fast recovery and strength gain and health is nutrition. When I'm completely devoid of sugar, I recover faster, sleep better, my energy is better.

I've managed to cut out alcohol completely, and reduced my sugar intake massively. I do let myself have a nibble of ice cream about once a week, but honestly, I'm losing my taste for it. Now I see it and I think, ooh, that would be good, and then I have a bite and I think, ugh, that's too sweet. I ate a kit kat during the CS2 exam in Vail because my energy was waning, and that did pop me up, but I felt that sharp slap after. Next time, I'm going for Justin's Peanut Butter instead.

I'm surprised at that change, not craving sugar and not really enjoying it when I have it, but I'm grateful for it. That took about six years... the thing that's harder to change is cutting out grains other than things like Quinoa.

I read the book Wheat Belly, and then started reading and listening to other research on how grains have changed in the last 50 years, how much we consume, and how quickly it turns to sugar. I'm thinking of bread as sugar now, so its easier to cut out. This certainly makes eating on the go more challenging, but I definitely feel better, more consistent energy when I'm away from the grains.

The next most important thing is Bikram Yoga. And yeah, I'm gonna say Bikram. Being in the hot room, letting all the water go through my body, rinsing me from the inside out, working those postures in that order, it heals me. I can go to Bikram every single day, sometimes twice a day, and it undoes all my other training (in a good way). I can adjust the workout to my place of benefit, so sometimes its really a vigorous workout, and sometimes my intention is to heal my legs from training so hard.

If I do other kinds of exercise every day, I get tired and overworked. Bikram is the medicine that heals all of that. If I don't go to class, its because I have a fever or I need to fit in a hard workout. But I am finding that those hard workouts can only happen once or twice a week.

I'm not skinning every other day like I was hoping to, I'm still recovering from other stuff. I have found that a good 20 minute walk or spin down on the bike helps my legs recover, so I'm starting with that. When we went down to the hot springs, I spent time walking around in the pool to try to work out the soreness.

The next most important thing is balance training, so I'm doing trampoline training once a week to improve my spatial awareness and over all athleticism. Its great for the core and hip flexors as well, but I am SO sore after it, its amazing. I don't feel when I'm there like I'm working out at all, but the next day, and for the next three days, I'm in recovery mode.

Skiing on one ski (dropping one at the top and getting after it) is the next most important thing, but it works me hard. Today, I am beginning to feel like I have legs back after skiing on one ski for four hours last Thursday. True, it was a powder day, and that made me work extra hard. But I learned a TON about my movement patterns, especially on my left leg. Then I paid for it for a couple of days.

I am loving Crossfit, and that has been the hardest thing to manage. I feel like a champion every single time I go. I feel like Rocky. I am stronger than I think I am, and the community, and the workout make me feel like a superstar. I get stronger, I get fit, I get sore. BUT.

When I'm that sore from training on snow, I can't go to Crossfit, because we do SO many leg intensive activities. Squats and box jumps are incredible for building strength from skiing, but I'm just not quite in a place where I can train as hard as I am on snow and gain benefit at Crossfit. I'm finding I can make it to Crossfit about once a week, because I won't go if I'm still recovering. And that is the piece that is taking more discipline than anything.

Because I want to be there. Working hard. But I've already injured and over trained my legs twice. Not because of Crossfit, but because of how hard I'm working, and then choosing to go to a workout that I know is going to overload my legs.

That makes me sad, because I want the strength gain, but my smarts tell me that I won't get strength gain if I'm so fatigued that I have to lift my legs up with my hands to get them in the car. (That's how my legs feel while they are recovering. After my one ski day, I was picking my legs up with my hands for three days.)

If I have a deep muscle pain, I can still go to Bikram, but I can't go to Crossfit. And I'm going to use my brain and be smart about this.

I'm eating my bananas, drinking my coconut juice, soaking in Epsom... I got a massage yesterday from Blades (HOLY WOW, hes really REALLY GOOD!) as my left side surgery muscles are aching and my neck is locking up... all that stuff from the surgery is tightening as I'm training, but it definitely feels much more healthy than it has, its getting strong.

I am finding that I can do one of Sharon's hot Vinyassa classes OR Crossfit, but not both in the same week. I'm doing tabatas at home that help fill in the gaps, situps, pushups and pullups, as well as forearm planks to build core and arm strength. That way, I can get the workout in the upper body and core if I can't go to Crossfit or Vinyassa. I'm definitely more worked after Crossfit than Vinyassa, so I pick according to how sore I am.

In this way, I'm gaining strength and balance slowly, pushing the edge and then seeing how long it takes to recover. I want to be sure that I enter tryouts with maximum strength, but also maximum energy. If my legs and body feel slow and heavy, that aint it. So this month is also about paying strong attention to how long recovery is, and what makes me feel like I've peaked.

Doing nothing on big recovery days does not help, there has to be a 20 minute walk or spin down, a soak, a massage, and maybe a Bikram class. And 12 hours of sleep on those days helps a lot.

The journey continues!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Trampoline training at the RedBrick!

Every Thursday night from 7-8pm the Red Brick hosts Adult Gymnastics. Last week I went in for the first time, and I was immediately intimidated by three level 8 competitor 10 year old girls. I caught them doing their ab work, pike pull ups under the balance beam while they were chatting away.

I don't know, is it weird to be inspired by the body of a 10 year old?? They were ripped, and having fun. The level of discipline was amazing. I asked the mom sitting next to me. "yes, she's been doing it since she was 2. She loves it. She practices about 21 hours a week. She'd do more if I let her.". Gymnastics was her world, and the level of excellence she has achieved was truly outstanding.

"Do you live here?" I asked. No, they were from New York. "How does our little Aspen gym stack up to New York?" I asked.

"honestly, it's great!" she said. "The level of coaching here is equal to anything we could find in New York. She always improves when we come to Aspen, and she loves it here. She has friends here who she looks forward to training with." Olympic level sleepovers, I'm sure.

I was set at ease a bit by the idea that the coaching was so good. I have heard that trampoline training is one of the best things you can do for ski training, and I've been longing to do it for six years. My very first coach, Mike Hickey told me to get a trampoline if I could. I couldn't buy one, so I started looking for places to train. Insurance problems prohibited adult gymnastics at out incredible Bozeman facility, and I was out of luck.

Since moving to Aspen, we've been on a tight budget, and tramp training seemed like it was far off. Enter the city of Aspen parks and rec department, there's rock climbing and trampoline at the Red brick for $15 And here I am at trampoline class.

We warmed up on the spring floor and for the first time in my life I pushed myself up into a headstand. I have been nervous about trying them since my surgery, so I've just been going to the prep and working on the position in yoga, but not actually going up. My neck felt good, the floor was soft, and I pressed up.

Next we kicked into handstands and then it was time to do 180s down the tumble track. Other classes were going on around us, the 12-16 year old boys who are killing it in AVSC (the program that created two time x games medalist Torrin Yater Wallace, now a sophomore at Aspen Valley High) were doing corked out triples on the big trampoline continuously.

Tony, our excellent and enthusiastic coach, dragged out a big landing mat and we bounced down the tumble track learning to do "rodeos", jump up, half turn, splits in the air, half turn, land.

After about 20 minutes we were up to 540s and it was time to warm up front flips.

We did forward dive rolls onto the huge fluffy mat and then it was time to land on our feet. The sensation of vertigo was amazing, very different than landing in a swimming pool! I think something about landing in the water head first changes that rotation sensation...

Next it was time to practice form for back flips into the mat, and then... it was into the harness on the big tramp for backup flips.

I have not laughed and giggled like that since I was six. It was unbelievable to be flying through the air and having so much fun. I'd say it's one of the best natural mood lifters I've ever experienced. I was hooked. And the next morning when I woke up and my core was completely super sore for the next three days, I knew that I had worked out hard, but at the time, I hadn't even noticed.

I spent the next week waiting for Thursday so I could bring Kurt and watch him giggle his way down the tumble track. Thursday was last night, and he did not disappoint. The laugh feat began, and sure enough, several back flips later, my core is wicked sore again!