Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 90: The Loneliness at the Peak

Well, that's not the title you expected, was it? Yesterday marked 90 days for me. I guess now I get a big "COMPLETE" stamp on my blog header (I've told Patrick I'd prefer updated pictures since the me of 90 days ago looks a little different than the me of today). This is what I've taken out of the project. If you've watched and wondered for the past three months, this is it.

Last night, as I climbed for the second time, I tensed up. I could feel the tension start in my climbing shoes, at the base of my body. It worked its way up my spine. It ended in my forehead where I furrowed my brow at the wall. Shit, I thought. I'm up here at the top. I can't figure out which hold to reach for. I could back down, but I'll be damned if I do that. So I have to push forward. But where. "Gwen," the instructor (pictured below) called up, "don't get frustrated up there!"

How did she know?! I thought. How did she sense my frustration? I'm, what, twenty feet up here? Alone. Facing a wall. Talking to myself. Gritting my teeth. I let go of the wall and floated in mid-air. Went back to the wall, refocused, relaxed and kept climbing. When I got to the top I said, "release." You're supposed to say, "lower." Throwback to too many years of yoga. I think in terms of releasing - breathing and releasing. Letting the body unlock itself.

So this is my last post. And I do feel great. But it was a lonely 90 days. Attending birthday parties, watching people eat cake. Going to Happy Hour and having a virgin drink. Karaoke, sober? Forget it. Workouts? Lonely. I even felt lonely when I missed workouts. And I got frustrated with myself. Pursuing health is a lonely path. Nobody will be there 100% of the time to soothe you when you're having a chocolate craving. You aren't always going to have someone shouting from the ground, "don't get frustrated up there!"

But there's this other truth, too. Disease is just as lonely, or lonelier, than health. Life is full of loneliness. The loneliest I ever saw my mom was in the months before she died - she spent hours, days, alone. Perhaps the project has taught me to come to better grips with my loneliness. I realize I still have a long way to go (ask those closest to me - I can be hangy onny in the worst ways when I'm feeling insecure).

Here are a few things I've tackled (some on my own, some with help from others) since I started the project 90 days ago:

- financial mastery - I've taken steps like meeting with a financial planner, working with a coach that is a master at the sales process, I've set up systems for managing my money flow, the flow of wealth in my life (in all areas) has improved dramatically since the start of the project

- negotiation - I've read more than half a dozen books since the start of the project. Several on the art of negotiation. I also held a yard sale, in part to try out my skills

- food - I've tried out new recipes and developed an affinity for balsamic dressings

- housing - put in an offer on a house. Got a counter. Accepted the counter. Close on the house this month.

- travel - I've added dates to the calendar and figured out ways to stay healthy on the road (resistance bands, jump rope and in-hotel chairs are really all you need)

- "no" - I've mastered the art of saying no to foods, drinks and other things that don't serve my well-being. Without qualification. Simply, no, thank you for the offer

- sobriety - being completely sober for 90 days. I can do it. I didn't love it, but I did it. There were definitely times when I wanted to numb out/relax with a beer or 3. I didn't. And I'm happy to say I feel pretty awesome for it

- greek yogurt - are you kidding me? I'm so hot for this stuff. I will never go back to "normal" yogurt. 0% fat, 100% rock party in your mouth, y'all

- new consulting, speaking, writing and party projects

- site - the new gwenbell.com went live during this 90 day period

- protein shakes - big fan. Huge fan. Embarrassing truth

- sex life - let's just say being fit makes you want to get it on

- the skinny - I dig my body. I dig my lanky frame and long fingers. I don't want to exchange it out and that's what matters. The next person to call me a skinny bitch will be responded to with a smile. It's me, it's not going anywhere as long as I can cultivate this body/mind

Here's the thing. You have to make the decision to take care of yourself. You know, instinctively, how to do it. You have a thousand reasons not to do it. You have a thousand temptations on a daily basis. You have a thousand road blocks to health. It's a lonely, solitary path. It's a tough decision. And guess what? When you get to the top, reach out with all five of your fingers and grab hold of something, you don't hang out there to savor it. You catch and release. Then you come down and help the ones that go after you. You show them the way to the peak. It is my hope that sharing my journey to the top with you has helped you make the decision to embark on your own journey. It is lonely, but that can't stop you from reaching out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Climbing Up Walls

[Image: Eric Foltz]

Last night I started an intro to indoor climbing course. It's a small class - there are four of us in it. I decided to take on the class as I'm nearing the end of the Peak Condition Project. There are a few things about the PCP that have been super challenging to me (surprisingly, I got over the chocolate cravings in the first 30 days. I don't miss it at all now). Here's what I do miss: community. I miss working out, talking about working out and swapping experiences with other people. And, more specifically, with women. I can't stress how crazymaking it has been not having someone to share the journey to peak condition with - there weren't people in my "group" on the site here, so, in a sense, I had no folks to be accountable to. Besides Patrick. And he doesn't count.

I joined the climbing course for a few reasons. One, accomplished climbers have told me I have "the body for it." Two, I get the sense it doesn't require a whole lot of coordination. And three, it gets me in contact with other folks.

The first lesson went well. We learned:

- to tie knots
- to belay
- to be safe when climbing (we're learning to climb in pairs and check one another's gear out before we begin climbing)
- basic climbing commands (which I promptly forgot once I got up the wall)
- how to get into our harnesses

Taking on a new practice is a lot of fun. This one, in particular, as it turns out, is both fun and challenging. For me it was less physically challenging, more mentally so. You have to think before releasing a hand from the wall. You have to think about the knot as you tie it. Starting from fresh with something really does force you to be mindful about it. I'll keep you updated as we progress through the course.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three True Stories

This all happened about thirty minutes ago, within the time span of thirty minutes.

I'm on a retreat. The food at the retreat center is...retreaty. Nothing to get excited about. As I was leaving to get food tonight I was stopped at the door. Someone said, "I hear it's tofu tonight. Vegetables and rice. So I'm not going to be going. Who can eat that stuff?" "Uhmm...me?" I said. This is the first dinner where the main course wouldn't have meat in it. So I got sort of excited. I continued on my way to the "mess hall."

No sooner had I sat down to my Asian tofu than a woman enters, walks up to the buffet and calls out to a staff member, "Miss? Miss!" and then walks over to her. "Is all of that on the buffet tofu? I heard you were doing tofu tonight and I'm not interested in tofu. We'll go somewhere else if all you have is tofu." I stopped mid-bite to watch. (What can I say? I needed some blog content.) Was she berating this woman for having tofu on the bar? In addition to tofu there was an extensive salad bar, a variety of fruit options, lentil soup and, yes, meat. Deep fried chicken nugget-like things. And beef. There is no mistaking beef for tofu. You know that. It's beef. What was more surprising to me wasn't that the lady, clearly incensed that there was tofu on the bar near the meat options, but that she couldn't have skipped meat for one meal if it had been the case.

What happened next was almost as surprising. A mom, talking to the folks at the table, in response to someone pointing out what a good eater her child is laughs and says, "yes! He's the only one who'll eat vegetables, but look at all this dressing!" I look at the salad - a piece of broccoli winks at me from beneath the white creaminess.

Last of the three stories (and perhaps it's just one big story). Get back from dinner. The tofu was spicy and to my mind, pretty good for retreat food. A group is heading out to dinner. They say they heard there was tofu, vegetables and rice for dinner. They want real food, they tell me. "Sure, some people might eat that stuff, but we're sure not going to, we're going out for fast food," one of the teenagers says. I stand there unsure of what to say. So I shrug and come upstairs. To wonder about where we're all headed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Which I Become A True Body Nerd

I went off the deep end today.

I invested in a bottle so I can shake my protein/fruit shakes before running out to catch the bus or hit a meeting. And so, the transformation is complete. Who cares what my body looks like? Who cares how many reps I actually do? I'm now a body nerd. Jane Lynch shows it best as head cheerleader coach in Glee. Let's let her show you how it's done.

Now, if you're wondering (as I'm sure you are) what the experience was, I will tell you. I bought the Zyliss Quick Blend Shaker in Red (pictured above). I have never been a protein shake kind of gal. I'm a coffee shop chick! But I've seen the changes in my body. So I bought the thing to make my life a little easier.

Tonight I added the 200ml of fat-free milk, the spoonful of protein shake. And I shook it up. Before now I've been stirring with a spoon. Those days are over! No more chunks!

{Mercy. What have I become?}

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A New Experience in Yoga: Floating

I think I approach this project differently than Patrick did/does. I remember a particularly vivid conversation I had with Patrick about some extreme stretching he was doing that had him in tears. I told him I thought he was crazy to do it. He told me he was "releasing" pent up energy. I told him that if it needed to be released he could do so without pushing himself past his boundaries. We fought.

I still maintain that your body knows its limits. I don't think that's an excuse to stay well within the limits. It is our work as body nerds to get to know what they are - to explore those edges. If a stretch has you in tears, back off. It isn't worth it.

Another piece to this project is that I haven't been gung ho, trying to convert everyone I know to do the program. I realize people will find it when the time is right for them. I've had a number of folks shoot me emails or direct messages on Twitter asking about how they can get started - I would point you to Patrick and get him to set you up.

Yesterday in yoga I experienced a lightness in my upper body that had my teacher, after class, high fiving me saying, "well, now I know it's not all just for show!" referring to my upper body strength. Jumping to chatturanga from crow is still challening, but I feel the "floating" element that I never did before. I honestly thought it was a myth. There is a lot I still can't do: I can't float up into a handstand from standing forward bend, for instance. But I'm not focused on what I can't do, I'm focused on what I can.

The photo sequence shows a posture I've been able to incorporate into my practice since I started the peak condition project. I could do it before, but it felt heavy or flat. Now, it feels weightless. And pleasurable, actually. In one shot you can see the emerging six-pack (w00t!)

I remember attending a workshop with David Swenson in Tokyo (pictured above). It was called the Physics of Flight. We practiced jumping through our Sun Series and held one another to practice jumping through straight-legged, hinging at the hips. I laughed at the time. I thought David was kind of a show off. I don't want this to be taken that way. I see now that he was (probably/hopefully) just trying to inspire us to discover weightlessness in our practice. It is possible, I now see.

Floating is fun, but possibly the most important things I've learned over the past 60+ days doing this is are food related. I've learned that I can (and should) leave the sugar alone, caffeine is almost as bad, chocolate is much better when you hold off from having it for a while, and it's better to just do it than to talk about it. Seriously. Nobody cares how much you work out. The results matter more than the plan to do it. Or the post about having done it. The only reason I'm writing this post is that if I don't Patrick will be mad at me if I don't. So, there you have it. Peak Condition. Final month. Let's rock this shizzle.

(To see how to practice this, step-by-step, check it.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Despondency. The Kiss of Death.

Image: CA Parks

I've reached the halfway point with the Peak Condition Proj. And two days ago I thought Patrick was going to bring the smack-down.

Here's what happened. I went to Orlando. I took my equipment. And I worked out exactly zero times. Home, didn't get back on track. Talked to Patrick and he wigged out on me. "What are you doing? Get back on the wagon! Blog about it!"

Well, here I am, blogging about it. I fell off the wagon. Sadly, I grew despondent. Good news, I'm back on the wagon. But I have zero interest in the mid-way point indulgence. Weird, right? I look at all the desserts and think, "why would I waste my indulgence on this?" (You get three indulgences during the course of the project.) I have my partner taste-test things for me, "what is it on a scale of 1-10?" I ask. He says, "6-7." I'm like, "meh." And that's it.

But really, an exquisite mango with some honey? Or a loaded chocolate chip cookie cake with a side of fudge? I guess I'd take the former. Weird.

This is a busy time of the year. I'm finding myself wanting to be outside more, wanting to bike more. Wanting to have a camera in my hands wandering around town more. It's good. I think this is the best time of year to start a peak condition project. Your body is encouraging you to do the things you have to fight to do during the winter.

Anyway, those are some miscellaneous thoughts. Consider who you'll go to when you hit the Despondency Wall. You will hit it. Make sure you have a trusted friend who can help you up onto the wagon. Whatever you do, don't have "no plan," thinking you won't hit the wall. And also, when you feel it coming on, do something sooner rather than later. Or you might make Patrick very, very angry. So find that friend who'll bring the smack-down, as Patrick did for me.
Yeah, Patrick. What are you going to do now?

It has been broughted.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I'm Not Really Hungry. I'm Hungry for Real.

Image: Ryan Byrd

Back from a 4 day, 3 night trip to Orlando for work. During which I lapsed on my exercises and subsisted mostly on strawberries (the thing about amusement parks is food is not the main attraction). I decided not to crap out and eat bad stuff. And I walked my tail off.

On the plane ride down I accidentally (it's true, I haven't had anything manufactured beyond yogurt/milk and I think there's no getting around that kind of manufacturing) a cheese cracker sandwich into my mouth. You know, the ones with "cheese" in them. And I spit what I could out immediately. It was like eating fake. I mean, I don't know how else to put it. It was the taste of fake. 

So then, for the plane ride back I was prepared. I brought a banana, a bottle of 2% milk from the airport, a plastic container of cranberries/bleu cheese/apples that I picked up at Au Bon Pain, protein powder. And as soon as I was on the plane I set about eating it.

The flight attendant came down the aisle and wondered if I were "really hungry." I said no, but I'm on a diet right now and can't eat any of the crap you have available on the plane. He looked offended and launched into how they have, "animal crackers, 2% fat cookies from ----, and cheese sandwich crackers!" What a protest. As though me skipping eating all that would somehow be a let-down.

I wasn't "really hungry" when I got on the plane but I wanted to preempt the offer of "snacks" this time so I didn't spend 3.5 hours in hunger.

The moral to the story is I was, on the first flight, what many people might call "really hungry." But more important, I was "hungry, for real food." And this nation may be one of overweight folks, but I think we're all in the same boat on one fact: we're hungry for real food experiences. And I'm afraid, on the road, in the air, and in cities all over this nation, we're finding that need unmet. Constantly. We're literally starving for healthier interactions. 

And that's the sick, sad heart of the matter.