Monday Musings: on listening to your body

Today, my body felt sluggish and tired. My muscles are often sore these days as I try to incorporate more strength training, with more weight and increased complexity.  Some days, I just don’t feel like I have it in me to work out. Today was one of those days.  I contemplated taking an extra rest day for recovery, but something didn’t feel quite right about that decision either.

When I really stopped to listen to what my body was saying, it wasn’t saying that it needed a day off. It was saying ‘I don’t want to run’. It was saying ‘I don’t want to grind it out at the gym’.  But it was also saying ‘I still want to move today’ just not at any level of intensity. The first thing that usually comes to mind for me is taking a long walk, but today my mind was screaming ‘yoga!’.

For many, this would be a perfectly natural choice, but I haven’t done yoga in well over five years. In fact, I have never really practiced yoga in a meaningful way. I’ve done my own thing, without instruction, and mostly at times of my life when I was experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. In those situations, I found yoga to be surprisingly calming. However, as soon as I found myself in a more balanced headspace, I’d inevitably abandon yoga in favour of more intense workouts.

For whatever reason, and though I don’t consider myself highly anxious nor stressed right now, yoga felt like the only suitable option for me today. And for once I found it easy to squash the inner voices that usually tell me to run anyway, to get a better workout in, to push through the muscle discomfort. I am generally a fan of this pushing through the discomfort, but I also believe that sometimes our bodies are telling us to slow down for a reason.

What I can tell you is that my body was undoubtedly craving a gentler form of motion today, not that yoga movements are easy for me, mind you.  I have the flexibility of a 60-year old. Actually, scrap that, I’ve known some supremely flexible 60-year olds. I have the flexibility of an 80-year old.  My balance has suffered tremendously since my injury. I struggle to quiet my mind.  I was ready for all of that today. When my flexibility interfered with completing the most challenging variations of movements, I was kind to myself and stuck to the basic or modified versions. When my balance wavered, I avoided getting frustrated with myself and simply started over until I was in balance again. When focusing on my breathing, my mind, quite miraculously, was able to flush my running hamster wheel of thoughts right down the drain. I achieved inner quiet and felt completely rejuvenated.

Afterwards, my body felt noticeably less tense, my muscles loose, and my mind calm.  Even if these feelings turned out to be short-lived, what I had was certainty: listening to my body worked today.  I find it incredibly tempting, and actually consider it a point of personal pride, to force myself to work out hard even when I’m tired or sore or just plain don’t feel like it. In doing so, I sometimes bulldoze right over what my body is telling me.  I have to remember that sometimes those inner voices are telling me to slow down for a reason. I have to remind myself that exercise comes in many forms, not all of which leave your body feeling exhausted, or that an extra day off is not always a sign of laziness or lack of willpower.  It sounds so obvious, and yet I am highly experienced at ignoring what my body is telling me. Today has been an excellent reminder that listening deeply and letting go of self-imposed expectations is sometimes the best course of action.

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Training Tuesdays: 5 Fitness Trends I will Never Try

I have never been one to hop on fitness bandwagons. I’m a lone wolf by nature, and prefer to exercise on my own. I have written about my dislike of running in herds, and I feel much the same way about other forms of group fitness. It’s been interesting going through a long injury recovery process. I have received a lot of suggestions for things I should try and I’ve also done a lot of reading on different ways to keep fit. Without experiencing any of these alternatives, I’ve already firmly decided that they are not for me:

1.CrossFit: At the top of my list is CrossFit. This will be controversial. People who love their CrossFit, really really REALLY love their CrossFit. In all sincerity, I can see the appeal if you thrive on competition, or a sense of community, or if you have a body that functions properly. I’ve had people recommend CrossFit to me ad nauseam after my SI injury as a way to rebuild strength. What I’ve learned from working with my trainer, though, is that I need to be watched like a hawk at all times and I need to move slower, not faster if I’m going to have any hope of keeping my form in check. The whole AMRAP thing would be the kiss of death to my ailing SI.  Also, I am not a community joiner (see lone wolf comment above). So, no thanks CrossFit. I’ll stick to my personal training sessions.

2. Barre: I imagine that this would be a great workout and would enhance my flexibility, yet I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I have had a life-long fear of scary ballerina girls, formed solely by books (like my personal childhood fave, Bad News Ballet) and movies full of really mean and catty ballerina girls. Sorry, ballerinas, but pop culture has made you all seem evil.  I realize that Barre classes will not actually be full of ballerinas but, once the association is there, all hope is lost. Also, any class that requires a semblance of coordination and/or a room full of mirrors is so not going to do my ego any favours.

3. OrangeTheory: On the surface, OrangeTheory seems perfectly sound. It combines cardio and strength and doesn’t require a specific pace. What it does do, however, is track your exertion. I find this problematic for two reasons. The first reason is that, even though OrangeTheory purports to use heart rate monitors, I have a personal belief that all of these classes overstate caloric burn. If I were to see that I burned 800 calories, I would want to believe it so badly for the sole purpose of eating twice the ice cream. This would defeat the purpose of working out, particularly when, in reality, I probably only burned 500 calories.  The second challenge is that I do not want to see my level of exertion. I do not need evidence of how much I slacked off. I am a master at looking like I’m trying really hard when I’m not, a feat which is greatly aided by the fact that my face turns beet red and I sweat like a beast even with minimal exertion. I prefer to delude myself into believing that I’m working harder than I am. Keep your stats to yourself OrangeTheory.

4. SoulCycle: Combining dance and upper body movement with cycling sounds like a recipe for both disaster (see above where I talk about coordination not being my jam) and for injury (as stated in a number of articles about safety concerns in SoulCycle). I’ll leave the whole argument about whether it’s a better workout than standard spin aside and just stick with the fact that I’m not interested in embarrassing myself in front of a room full of strangers by demonstrating my lack of rhythm, balance and coordination. Also, my dark little soul can barely handle the forced enthusiasm in regular spin classes. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for me to handle the so-called cultish enthusiasm of SoulCyclists.

5. Aerial Yoga: I have a confession. I despise yoga. It would be great for me, I know, but rather than finding it calming, I am irritated by the quiet and grow impatient with the pace. Aerial yoga takes my hate to a whole new level. Hanging from silk ropes, or worse yet flipping around in them, sounds like my worst nightmare. I imagine myself plummeting head first into the floor, or perhaps dangling upside-down and precariously by one leg. Neither appeals to me, and both sound like surefire ways to throw my SI into extreme spasmodic discomfort. Once again, my issues with potentially embarrassing myself in front of others come into play. I would be that pupil requiring constant and remedial attention–and possibly first aid!–from the instructor. About the only thing that looked appealing about these aerial yoga classes was pictures I saw that essentially looked like people napping in silk rope hammocks. Now that I could get behind.

Suffice it to say, I think I’m going to stick with my (attempts at) running, standard spin, hiking and strength training for now. I have no doubt it’s safer for me…and those around me.

Mid-Week Tangent: Ridiculous “Cures” for Road Rage

I have a confession to make. I have mild road rage. I want to emphasize ‘mild’ because I don’t want to create the impression that I’m one of those lunatics that honks, gestures and/or engages in any threatening actions towards other drivers, nor do I engage in erratic driving behaviour when my rage is sparked. My road rage is more like a slow and intense burning ember that starts small, then creeps through and quickly takes over my entire being until I am on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

It can’t be healthy to hold all that rage inside of me, so I thought it would be amusing to ask commuting colleagues for suggestions on calming road rage, and also to see what the internet has to offer. As I expected, I was greeted with a wide array of options, all of which I quickly deemed as completely unsuitable for me.  Let me share with you the five suggestions I found most comical and unhelpful:

1. Classical Music: I have never understood those that find shrill violin notes, clanging cymbals, and bold swells of orchestral music calming. Classical music isn’t soothing to me at the best of times.  I find it jolting and irritating. I can only imagine how much more it would annoy me as I sit in an endless stream of cars crawling, crawling, crawling, ad infinitum.

2. Podcasts/Audiobooks: I love to read, but I cannot for the life of me follow a story that’s being read to me. I am not an auditory learner. Back in high school (yes, in high school), I had this one teacher who insisted on going through chapter upon chapter of Dickens through read-alouds.  She thought it was saving us homework time. No, I had to go home and re-read everything because I absorbed nothing from narration. And don’t even get me started on some of the horrible audiobook narration out there. Once, a colleague made me listen to a vampire audiobook narrated by a women who mistakenly thought she had a knack for southern accents. My goal is to reduce my annoyance, not increase it.

3. Breathe deep and relax: Oh, this one. This one is such a perfectly rational suggestion. If only its proponents understood that when strong emotional reactions are triggered, rationality is the first thing to fly out the window. I can successfully breathe deeply when in the throws of road rage, but it’s not at all out of relaxation. No, my rush hour deep breathing is more like rage-induced hyperventilation. I don’t think that’s what these people have in mind.

4. Hand Yoga: This one was almost my favourite.  Almost. I read it and I actually said a big “WTF” aloud because, seriously, what is hand yoga? I didn’t know such a thing existed and I can only imagine that some other motorist would assume I was rudely gesturing at him or her, and that can only end badly. Hand yoga? Come on.

5. “Imagine sending love and joy to every motorist you see”: I kid you not this was an actual line of text from a site offering tips for managing road rage. I mean, again, I understand the rational nature of this suggestion, but if there’s one thing I can see when I commute, it’s that there is very little love on the road. And I can safely say that I have no desire to send love and joy to the many categories of drivers that provoke my rush hour rage, namely the: lane change leap-froggers, giant trucks that block my field of vision, extreme accelerators and brakers, and carpool lane cheaters. Take your love and joy and shove it.

If anyone has legitimately helpful tips for how I can reduce my road rage, please let me know. Until then, I will continue with my own strategy of calling my poor parents who, by virtue of being retired and my parents, are available and basically have to listen to me rant about road conditions on an almost daily basis.

Training Tuesdays: On Learning to Breathe

Not surprisingly, since most of my body appears to function incorrectly, I also don’t breathe properly.  Now that my collection of health care practitioners is suitably freaked out about the tenuous nature of my injury, we’ve all gone back to basics. I knew I’d be scaling back on weight and complexity of exercises in my personal training session this week, but I had no idea I’d be going as basic as breathing properly.

Even worse, I had no idea I don’t know how to breathe properly.

You’re going to think this is a tangent, but I promise you it isn’t. I don’t do yoga. Everyone tells me how good it would be for me, and I actually agree, but I refuse. Want to know why? Everything is all about breath and grounding your pelvic floor and all these other expressions that are utterly meaningless to me. Even when people try to explain to me what it should feel like, I’m just like “huh?????”. I am a lost cause.

Clearly this is not me. Also, I sort of hate this guy.
Clearly this is not me. Also, I sort of hate this guy.

I told you it wasn’t a tangent.  In fact, it perfectly explains two frustrating breathing-related experiences I’ve had lately. One was when I was told to breathe like I’m breathing through my groin. Seriously, what? The thing is, you don’t breathe through your groin, so that is an absolutely terrible way to describe what you’re asking me to do. The other was when I was told to breathe so that the base of my rib cage expands, but that my pelvic floor stays grounded. Again, what? I’m not even a little embarrassed to admit that I kind of don’t even know what my pelvic floor is, so keeping it grounded is a complete and utter mystery. All of it is just beyond frustrating.

Here’s the thing: I understand why I’m being asked to do these things. Evidently, these fine professionals have noticed that when I breathe incorrectly, my shoulders tend to turn in and my upper body collapses and all my form goes to hell. When I breathe properly, my shoulders stay separated, I have “space across my collarbone” and all is well with my body form. It’s all perfectly logical. The problem is, I have no idea how to translate the descriptions and directions I’m getting into actual, proper breathing.

I told you. Lost cause.