Impermanence

Note: This isn’t about running at first glance, but we’ll get there. Eventually.

On the other blog I keep (and the one I’m better about posting on regularly), I recently finished a book that, in part, talked about meditation. One of the concepts covered was impermanence: the idea that nothing lasts and everything changes.

I might be muddling it a bit. I’m not Buddhist. But you get the point.

This was one of those ideas that latched onto the back of my brain and just sat there. Why? Because it was something I implicitly agreed with.

I’ve had this happen before. I loved reading Good to Great and The No Asshole Rule in large part because they were explaining ideas I already believed (who knew people liked to hear things they already agreed with?).

And so it was with the concept of impermanence.

The idea is to live in the now and appreciate it because you know it’s leaving just as soon as it showed up. Where this really comes in for me is trying not to idolize the past.

When I did the Super Awesome Year of Me, there was the Draw Something month. I had a nice little collection of drawings. They weren’t nice drawings, but it was a nice collection. I really appreciated having them, so I gathered up my favorites and mailed them to some friends.

Impermanence.

I did this because I didn’t want to bask in the finished work. The point of doing the work was doing the work. The final drawing was just a byproduct of the process. I was drawing for my own benefit. The final picture was never the point.

Pretty sure I called it disposability of ideas. In part I stole it from this comic by The Oatmeal. By recognizing the impermanence of the art (that sounds so freakin’ pretentious) and the way it made me feel, I would be better able to produce something I liked in the future.

The other area this philosophy shows up is that I don’t have heroes. I’d say it’s like never meet your heroes, but kill your heroes (not literally) might be the better explanation.

I don’t like to idolize people. People are just people. There are aspects about people that wow me, but there’s never been a person I just thought of as the ideal human being that I wanted to emulate. I try to recognize that one piece of awesomeness is usually accompanied by something less than awesome.

This can seem a bit pessimistic at first glance, but it was an important part of being an adult for me. I needed to be able to look around the room and be able to assert who I am without giving ground. In my job, I’m the youngest by more than 5 years as best I can tell. I have to be willing and able to get in arguments with people who get AARP mailings. I can’t afford to idolize the people around the table. They might have good ideas, but I also might have good ideas.

This comes back to impermanence.

I don’t idolize anyone, but I try to listen to everyone, even people I actively dislike. It isn’t easy, but I want to make sure I consider every idea as I hear it. If it’s something that pisses me off in the moment, I try to avoid reacting and let myself digest it for a while.

Nothing exists in a constant state. No one is perfect all of the time. And no one is wrong all of the time. I mostly try to deal with people in the moment without carrying baggage with me. In one moment you might be helping me out. The next you might be hurting me. One isn’t necessarily connected to the other.

So where does this all lead? It leads to living in the moment, enjoying it, and understanding the moment’s going to pass.

This is a fitness blog, so I could post about having to avoid past baggage, including the good (the days I could touch a basketball rim despite being under 6 feet tall) and the bad (the various injuries that have derailed progress over the year). But that’s not 100% what this is about for me. It’s about enjoying the moment. To a certain extent, the baggage doesn’t even exist in this conversation. The moment does.

So what is the moment? It’s running.

I got a new phone earlier this year, and I was deliberate about getting one that was the same size as my last one so I could keep using my arm band. Except the shape was just different enough to make it impossible to continue using the armband. And I’ve dropped the phone a bunch since buying it during my non-running time, so I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I don’t want to buy an armband only to need a new phone a few months later.

So I’m running without my phone. I’m running without music. I’m running without Sam guiding me through a field plagued with zombies.

Instead, I’m shuffling around campus taking in the sights and the sounds. I’m feeling my breath. I’m hearing my steps. I’m more present.

The moment was always going to pass, but at least when I disconnected from technology a bit, I could at least appreciate the moment while it was there.

Impermanence.

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Q’s Documentary

I got inspired today to do a documentary. Fantastic.

Then I realized I didn’t know what story I wanted to tell. Not fantastic.

But then I thought about this blog and how the basic idea is to get my lazy ass off the couch. Ok, could be fantastic.

At this point, I had to start operationalizing things. What would this actually consist of?

The Cast:

This is the first thing to tell. If you want to tell a story, you need to know whose story you’re telling. My goal would be to tell the story of real-ass adults trying to not fall into the obesity cliff. I’ve got friends running marathons, doing Spartan races, and lifting ’til they’re swole, all while maintaining actual jobs with actual lives.

I want to tell the story of real people. You can see the effects staying vaguely in shape has on people, and you can feel their emotions when they achieve their goals. Some people are chasing a 2-hour marathon. Some people are just trying to cross the finish line.

So what do the regular people have in common each other and what makes each of their story’s unique?

The Questions:

There will be more to it than this, but it comes down to what do you do and why. Everything after that is just showing off.

Part of the story is always documenting, so you ask the question, but you also have to show it. You show the people trudging through a weekend 20-miler. You show people getting up before the sun to put as many plates on their deadlift as they can get away with. You show people bending their way into a pretzel for no apparent reason.

As for why, you have to find the emotions. Find the little moments in the workout. Find the little moments in the interview. Wait for composure to break. Wait for a natural moment.

The Sell:

I feel like PBS wants to air this.

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Or maybe not. I mean, YouTube’s still an option.

But that’s all there is for today. If you hear from me, it’s because you’re a real-ass adult getting your fitness on. Or I punched the wrong number, in which case, we’ll both just pretend you’re a real-ass adult getting your fitness on.

I’m out.

Running Reboot: Revenge of the Knee

In the next 12 months, I will either be almost done with the Super Awesome Year of the 5K 2.0 or I’ll have a gnarly scar on my knee.

villain-spotlight-series-scar-from-the-lion-king-accent

Not that kind of scar.

This decision came about for a few reasons. 1) My weight is creeping up. Me not being able to run isn’t helping. That’s my best cardio option. 2) I’m back to doing almost everything I was before the knee blew up on me. 3) The ortho person I saw here was hesitant to cut off part of my knee cap given what the issue is. He actually listed big scar as one of the down sides like I gave two craps about that.

But if he’s hesitant to cut me open, then I might as well be too (even though I’ve basically been delaying surgery since March).

So we’re rebooting the Super Awesome Year of the 5K.

Some ground rules before we get rolling:

  1. Same as before, one a month. It’s not about doing 12 5Ks. It’s about staying consistent with running.
  2. Keep up the physical therapy-oriented activities of lifting and yoga. Part of the reason for the weight creep was the lifting and the ensuing spike in appetite, but I need to keep my legs strong.
  3. Cap my runs at 4 miles. 10Ks seem to be beyond the limit of my knee, and that’s ok, but if I can cover 3-4 miles on a regular basis, I can live with that.

That last one is a bit of a bummer considering this was supposed to be the Super Awesome Year of the 10K, but maybe my knee isn’t built for 10Ks. I was looking forward to seeing what I could do; my knee was not.

But this is all ok if I can regain my level of activity. So the journey started this week. I got my running shoes on for the first time in Oklahoma and got ready for a run/walk rotation to easy myself back into things.

Some notes:

  • They use Woodway treadmills where I’m at, and I’ve missed these bad boys. Treadmills are evil. Woodway treadmills are slightly less evil. I can’t remember which university I was at (I think UF) that had them, but I knew they were magical then. Just not as jarring to use.
  • Less jarring means less pain, but there was still some pain. It was within my regaining form threshold, so it’s nothing to note. Certainly better than I was when I was doing PT, so either things are better or the treadmill really is making a difference.
  • My cardio is crap. I knew this, but it’s a different thing to feel it.

But that was day 1. And now I live in Oklahoma where winters are winter. I’m going to miss Mississippi when I’m freezing my ass off in January. At least I’ll be running (or my knee will have fallen off and I’ll get that stupid surgery)

-Q

The Highlight of My Weekend

At some point yoga became the highlight of my weekends. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was just supposed to be something that I happened to do.

But it wasn’t just something that I did. In Starkville at Firefly Yoga, it was taking away my mornings. In Stillwater at Red Earth Yoga, it steals the middle of the day. I was having to dedicate real time to these things.

I didn’t realize what would happen as a result. Ashtanga is a special kind of evil yoga that goes after pretty much every muscle, even ones I didn’t know I had.

Because I couldn’t lift after a shoulder issue kept me out of the weight room for a while, I quit the gym in Mississippi and was left with yoga as my only real source of upper body strength training. For the most part, that’s not going to cut it. Ashtanga disagreed. More specifically, 58 vinyasas disagreed.

I almost threw up the first time I went to an ashtanga class. This was something I had to take seriously.

I started making sure I was prepped for class. I generally wouldn’t run the day before class. I was getting a good night’s rest. It was still kicking my ass, but I was getting used to it.

Flash forward to the move, and I had a new studio to acclimate to. I had the luxury of a weekend ashtanga class again, but I had to deal with it a new time, a time I didn’t want to spend sweating on a synthetic mat.

After a few weeks of procrastinating, I finally made it in. I then proceeded to attempt dying after 90 minutes of 90-degree yoga. It was brutal. I was wiped. But I made it. And that’s what matters.

I’ve been back a few more times, and as I’ve acclimated to the heat, I’ve started being able to make it through class somewhat successfully. A few weeks ago, I was able to do all but a couple of the vinyasas available to us. Last week I did them all.

Crap. You know what that means. Time to make it harder on myself.

Once I started doing ashtanga here, I went from 3 weight room sessions to 2 so I could have the rest before masochism took place. It was working. I was about as fresh as I could hope for going into ashtanga, but now that I’m no longer dying, I decided that lifting the day before might not hurt so bad. I took it relatively easy, but I was still lifting. I woke with sore shoulders that were bound to appreciate all the vinyasas I could throw at them.

And I threw the vinyasas at them. I lucked out. The studio was in the 60s when we arrived because someone turned the heater off (the windchill hit low 20s this morning), so it took a while for the studio to heat up. My shoulders still hate me, but I survived again.

So in the middle of the pie-eating contest that is academia (and the prize is more pie), I keep adjusting my week around 90 minutes in a musty studio.

And I’m cool with that.

Adios, dorks.

-Q

I’m making progress? I’m making progress

The first time at the real yoga studio killed me.

The second time also killed me.

The third time killed me, but it took longer to pull off.

That’s progress, right?

While I’m used to getting in the swing of things, I didn’t expect to get into the swing of things this quickly, especially in a heated class where we’re going all the vinyasas for the sequences that we do (I’m guessing about 6-10 vinyasas missed today, but that’s the most I’ve done).

I’m still soaking through my shirts. The first session was bad enough that I’ve started taking a spare shirt to switch into afterward, and I’m putting a towel underneath me to avoid getting my carseat sweaty (not working well enough).

I say that to say this: It’s still hard. I’m still sweating profusely, but I’m hanging in there.

And why? Lifting.

That’s the only logical answer.

I’ve overlapped with lifting and yoga before, but usually it’s one or the other. For the first time, I’m able to do both (in part because I have to from the knee issue). And for the first time doing ashtanga, I’m able to lift at all. I started doing ashtanga after my shoulder kept me out of the weight room. Now I’m lifting during the week, which makes all those effing vinyasas a little more bearable.

In an ideal world, running would be added to the trifecta. Weights are getting me through the movement, but I need better cardio to sustain 90 minutes of 90-degree heat and about 50 vinyasas.

But progress is progress. I’ll take it.

Taking Little Steps to be Healthy

Yesterday was about policies and systems, but today we’ll talk about individual steps. At the end of the day, policy can make life a lot easier for individuals, but no matter what, individuals still have to make their own choices.

Inspired by this video (that I watched while eating my lunch), I thought I would share my own bits and pieces of advice for being a bit healthier:

No junk in the house. Willpower is mostly non-existent. The best way to avoid giving into cravings is to make giving in impossible (or at least extremely inconvenient). If I want a Coke right now, I have to travel half a mile or start breaking into neighbors’ homes. If I want a cookie, well, there are some in the freezer. In the last 48 hours, I’ve had 19 cookies. That’s 2,470 calories in cookies.

Parking farther away. I’m not as good about this as I used to be. At Mississippi State, I would intentionally park far away. I’ve fallen out of the habit in my new job, but I’m still ok about doing this when going to the store. But parking at the end of the lot by yourself can make you look like a weirdo. Here’s what you can do as a rule of thumb: Try to find a spot where you can park with both spots around you empty. You would only be spaced out two farther than the last car, so it wouldn’t look like you were being a goober, but you would also likely be parking farther out than you have to. It’s the little things.

Go for mid-morning/afternoon walks. Another one I haven’t been as good about of late. 5-10 minutes is a good way to clear your head. I wished that I did that. I don’t feel as lethargic when I do. And it also just gets you outside for a little while.

Don’t lean on things or grab handrails. Yeah, bet you weren’t expecting that. I have crappy core strength. One of the things I’ve tried to be more cognizant of the past couple of years is not leaning on things. Whether it’s leaning against the counter as I brush my teeth or bracing myself as I grab laundry out of the machine, I’m shifting the work away from my core. I first read about it related to treadmills, but then I started watching out for it in my own life, and I realized I do it a lot. It’s just one more way to make sure you’re using the muscles you need to more often.

Use posture cues. Like leaning on things, I use other posture cues to watch how I’m sitting and standing. Do a tadasana pose. If you do it well, you’ll feel your core engaged. There are a couple of things I see as triggers for watching my posture. One is the back support I have on my chair. It’s less about the support itself than it is about using it as a reminder to sit up straight. Again, I don’t want to get used to leaning on things. The other is keeping my hands out of my pockets. I randomly read somewhere that keeping your hands in your pockets could mess with your posture. While I don’t know if that’s true, I do catch myself slouching when my hands are in my pockets. I use the pockets as a cue that I need to stand up straighter.

And keep smaller cups at your desk for water. I used to only drink from the water fountain, so I was getting up a lot. And then I switched to big travel mugs. Whoops. That killed a lot of walking. I switched to coffee cups eventually, and I’m getting up more often. I would probably be better of just using the fountain, but sometimes it’s just not practical to do that.

That’s all I’ve got. Hopefully you can use some of this or at least it can get you thinking about small steps you can take to help yourself out.

-Q

The Food and Fitness Policy Discussion You’ve Always Wanted to Read

We like to think of obesity as an individual issue. We make poor food decisions. We make poor fitness decisions. And then we pay for it.

These things are true. Personally, this week I hate 13 cookies in a 24-hour span. I’ve also only been able to exercise 2 times in a 7-day span. I should pay for those decisions.

But this oversimplifies things.

Individual responsibility is a thing, and it’s not something we’ll ever fully get away from in this country. We value individual liberty too much, even if that means making crappy decisions.

Imagine, though, systemic issues. Being confronted with the opportunities to make poor decisions repeatedly and having to go out of your way to make good decisions.

That’s the reality for much of the country.

I was showing a couple of documentaries to my classes this week, which means I was watching the documentaries. One was Super Size Me (quality of the actual shooting is super low by today’s standards, but it’s still a worthwhile movie even to see how little some things have changed), and the other was Fed Up (more professional, though I could make a case that it’s actually more propagandaish than Super Size Me).

I’d seen them before, so it wasn’t anything new. More of a refresher put things back on the forefront (seriously, there’s so much freaking news going on these days that they’re going to have to reboot the matrix).

When I moved to Florida in ’09, I was the fat kid. I was carrying a little extra weight, but I wasn’t fat. But I was fat compared to the people there.

Everywhere, you have people jogging. People are biking all over the place. And there were so many healthy options for eating out. It was ridiculous. The culture was built to help people be skinnier.

And then I moved to Mississippi at my heaviest and immediately felt like one of the skinnier people there.

My time in Mississippi was great, by and large, but there’s no getting around the fact that Mississippi is one of the epicenters of the obesity epidemic, and it was easy to see how.

It’s super easy to eat like crap there. There were days that for 10 bucks (excluding tip) I could get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, fried okra, a biscuit, and a big-ass Coke. And then I could get a refill on the Coke. And then they would give me a Coke to go. There’s individual choice involved, but this wasn’t an atypical experience because

It was surprisingly difficult to eat healthy there. When I think about my options, the restaurants largely focused on homestyle, Southern food. Even getting salads at these places wasn’t necessarily going to end with a healthy balance. The cards were stacked against you if you were eating out.

You would also have difficulty getting around if you weren’t in a car. Bike lanes were mostly non-existent. Sidewalks were only slightly more common, and as they were getting built, people would complain about them. Even the buses weren’t all that frequent compared to Florida, so walking to the bus stop wasn’t much of a requirement. Where it seemed like there were runners everywhere in Florida, runners were a much rarer thing in Mississippi.

I was also able to park SUPER close to wherever I needed to be (dealing with that in Oklahoma now). For a lot less money than I was spending in Florida, I was walking less than half the distance. There were days I was only hitting two or three thousand steps. I started intentionally parking farther away because I was hoping to work off that 10-dollar calorie bonanza I was ingesting.

And lastly, there are just a lot of overweight people there. It’s weird to say that overweight people are the cause of people being overweight, but we know that behavior is contagious. So much of what we do is ingrained culturally. We seek social approval. If you go out to lunch and everyone else orders fried chicken while you get a salad, you’re going to stick out. There might be outright jokes at your expense, there could be passive aggressive comments, and there could be plain resentment. Even if there’s nothing at all, it’s not easy to make good decisions if the person across from you is eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, a biscuit, and drinking a big-ass Coke.

But how do we fix these things?

We take away people’s ability to make bad decisions as much as possible, which really means public policy.

“But Q, what would your policies look like?” I’m glad you asked. Here are my requests, in no particular order:

  • Bans on Coke machines in places of education. This policy has been popping up, but I’d want to see it across the board in K-12 and higher education. You can’t stop people from bringing them in, but you can make it more difficult for people to get easy access to them (and believe me, I’m a big offender when it comes to Coke machines). Even dropping one can a day during the week would amount to 700 calories saved a week (35,000 over a working year). And don’t even pretend diet is any healthier for you.
  • Bans on aggressively large portion sizes. I’m old enough to remember what a large Coke looked like at McDonalds around 1990. Portions are ridiculous. But people want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. If you can at least have restaurants serve reasonable sizes as their default, you can mitigate some issues. Yes, some people will just order more, but some people will order the smaller size and be ok. If the smallest size is too much food, you’re not even giving people a chance.
  • Daily PE in schools. Physical activity is overrated in terms of weight loss (compare the time it would take me to burn off the estimated 2,300 calories I can get for 10 bucks in Mississippi to the 15 minutes it takes me to eat that meal), but it still has huge benefits for health overall. At it’s most basic level, you increasing physical activity, but you’re also potentially ingraining physical activity as a habit.
  • Naps for everyone. This is about stress. Stress affects how much people eat and exercise, not to mention just their general well-being. We fetishize overworking ourselves in the US, including demonizing naps. Naps are great. There’s ample evidence they improve productivity, so grab yourself a pillow and a snuggie, and go crawl under your desk for 15 minutes of shuteye.
  • Taxes on sodas. This has happened on small scales, but I want to see it across the board. This won’t prevent consumption, but if you taxed Cokes like you tax cigarettes, you start to price people out of some ridiculous consumption. And if you earmark the funds for something to go toward public health, then even if you don’t cut soda consumption directly, you at least can fund other positive activities.
  • Taxes on fast food. This is mostly the same as the previous, but we know fast food is largely a big bag of crap in terms of nutrition. Those options that are big bags of crap should also be taxed. I’m willing to withhold the tax on things like Panda Express’s healthier options (think bowl with brown rice and string bean chicken), but it would have to be a case-by-case situation.
  • Required labelling of added sugar. This one is supposed to show up next year, but considering the new administration has made its main priority undoing anything resembling social progress, I don’t know if this will actually happen. Sugar as a substance is necessary, but it’s not necessary in the amounts it’s been added to everything under the sun.
  • Car-free downtown zones. This shows up different ways. In Barcelona, they’re reworking city blocks so that traffic will increasingly be cut off from driving in certain areas. In smaller areas, you could effectively close off a downtown area from driving and make it a pedestrian and bike zone. To do this means building parking garages, which is a cost, but you would get people walking around more.
  • Increased bike lanes and sidewalks. It should always be an option for you to get anywhere in town via bike or walking. There were times at Mississippi State where I would have to cross the street twice just to stay on the sidewalk. No bueno.
  • More parks. People need places to play. Green space makes a difference. Go hang out around Central Park some time. New York is densely packed, and yet that park sits there ready to give people a break from the world, whether it’s a chance for a chill walk or you want to be overly ambitious and run all over the damned thing. People need good options to get out of their homes for physical activity.
  • Adding gym memberships to all insurance plans. This is fairly common, but as we seek a goal of universal coverage, we also need to make sure it’s good coverage. Good coverage should cover gym memberships. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, but you need to have access to a gym. Parks are great, but they don’t include weight rooms, usually don’t include fitness classes, and aren’t going to protect you from inclement weather. Having my gym paid for at my new job has already made it easier for me to justify staying active (because of my knee, I wouldn’t be inclined to pay for membership knowing I can’t get as much as I’d like out of my time there; counterintuitive, but if I’m spending the money then I want to get every ounce out of the gym I can, similar to the 2,300-calorie meal).
  • No junk food served in schools (K-12 or college). This goes along with the Coke machines, but I wanted it to have its own line because this has to be more than vending machines. Nearly every meal I ate in high school consisted of pizza and fries (tater tots if it was a good day). In college, I lived off of pizza, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. Yes, healthy options were there, but I wanted the thing that tasted better and gave me more calories for staying active. Kids are dumb. They aren’t programmed to make good decisions yet (and yes, college students are still just kids; believe me). Taking away easy, bad decisions at least gives more people a fighting chance.

This was a fun rant. Basically, take a look at your environment. Look how it’s stacked against you. Yes, people have to live with the decisions they make, but we can make decisions as a group to make it easier for everyone as individuals.

Stay frosty, friends.

-Q