Monday, March 26, 2012

Women and exercise: What almost everyone gets wrong

High five for glacial progress!

I read this post from the wonderful Scott Dinsmore a few weeks ago, and it's been simmering in my brain ever since. Maybe it's the fact that spring is coming or the brouhaha over women's contraception in the news, but I just keep coming back to the idea that when it comes to exercise advice, everyone's got it almost right. Almost, but not quite.

First off, I have deep respect for Scott Dinsmore and his dedication to waking the world up to the chance to live a passionate life. He's a genuine guy who's gone after an unconventional life and made connections with amazing people. Without a doubt, he's an inspiration.

All of the content in this post that proclaims that exercise is it when it comes to living a powerful existence -- totally true. His tips for making the change to a more active lifestyle -- right on.

Except . . .

What if you don't want to be more productive?

In this day and age of faster microprocessors, life hacks and instant fame, I know I'm putting myself in the crosshairs for even suggesting this, but here I am. I want something more from exercise than increased productivity. I want to come home to myself.

We've all lived in a performance world since we were small, and it's done some serious damage. We've felt the fear of not measuring up in school, in sports, in looks, in job achievement. As adults, it's there every day as we try to be good parents, partners, friends, co-workers, employees, bosses, children, and citizens. Everywhere we turn, we find the question, "How am I measuring up?" Even if it's not spoken, that nagging fear, that threshold of shame is so close.

Women know what I'm talkin' about. Moms especially. From the time our eyes open until they close at night, it's all hurry, rush, push and hustle. There's always more to be done, and faster. We're up to our armpits in productivity, baby. I'm proposing we need an antidote, not an increased dose of the problem.

Where is our refuge from our mass of anxiety? Where can we find a gentle, safe place where we can summon our power without wondering about our worth?

We all need a space to call our own, outside of expectations and judgement. And I am bound and determined to reclaim exercise for that very purpose. It can serve us best when used as a haven rather than a tool.

I lost almost 20 pounds in 2009, and that was extremely empowering. Back then, exercise was a means to an end for me, and I made it work for a while. I got past my fear of being slow and clutzy. I went from a non-athlete to exercise regular. The formula worked. The readout on the scale hit the target. Champagne! Fireworks!

And then I really, truly didn't know what to do with myself. Whaddya do after Mission Accomplished?

Since I have an oh-so easily distracted chipmunk brain, it would have been easy to look around for the next shiny thing to grab my attention. But I was hooked. Hooked on the power in my body.  Craving the natural buzz I got from being in motion. Loving the space I made when I could go, go . . .

In my running shoes or on my bike, I was away from from the judging, fearful part of my brain. I found peace and relief within myself. It was all about feeling good.

I can hardly believe it myself, but I'm here to offer you a scandalous possibility. Exercise doesn't have to be a painful path to some better, thinner, faster, stronger you. Forget the scale, the the speed, the reps, the distance covered.

The real salvation is simply in doing any sort of exercise, just for the joy of being in your own skin.

Forget the "expert" advice. Take ten minutes. Come on home to you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hey there, March!

My view for washing dishes

Is it just me, or is February the longest, shortest month on the calendar? Good Lord. No huge dramas to report from my locale, thank heaven, but in spite of some really good stuff goin' on, I am happy to pack up the month and jump into the next one. Whew!

The Great: winter finally comes, otters! kid fun
Leap Day was quietly wonderful. We woke up to magical snow, which means the day began with snowflake waffles --  just regular waffles dusted with powdered sugar. It's a simple, lovely tradition we've had since the boys were very small. Such a good excuse to slow down, sit down and watch the flakes spiraling down outside our windows.

Later in the day, a group of three chubby, sleek otters visited our section of the river not once, but twice. Otters! Here! We were lucky enough to see them wiggling and wrestling on the ice for a bit, too. I was able to grab a shot of one staring straight at me before he decided to slip back into the water.

Tiger Boy was in a local play with a group of fantastic kids, which was an amazing experience all around. He's been pining to connect with some kids his age, and it happened. The play was The Activity That Ate The Month, but totally worth it. I'm glad to have my evenings and weekends back, though.

Oh! And I got a mandolin. I'll tell you the whole story later, but the Reader's Digest Condensed Version is that I saw a clip of Sarah Jarosz and was totally smitten. I decided I wanted to play. Now. This is probably my favorite piece, with this and this coming in right behind. I think this 20-year-old woman has redeemed bluegrass for me.

The Crunchy
I hate fake-positive words like "challenges" but I like the idea of a positive spin, so my code word is crunchy.

Winter is starting now (What?! Huh?!), which means that the past few months have almost been a bust. In November, Hot Husband and I were looking forward to weeks of cross-country skiing to get that much-needed hit of endorphins and outside time, but the snow has pretty much sucked. Skiing involves driving an hour only to find marginal conditions.  

Embracing the ugh
Result: one sluggish, frustrated mama. The worst of it was a two-week carb and sugar binge that made my skin break out and probably packed on five pounds. No, I don't weigh myself obsessively, but I do check in from time to time when I know I'm trending either direction. This was not the direction I wanted.

Luckily, age offers wisdom with the wrinkles. In past years, I would have berated myself for my lack of control and discipline. Soooo sexy and productive, I know. This year in a post-chocolate gorging haze, I remembered a phone call I had with a friend several years ago. We were both feeling blah and unproductive, and I was hip-deep in "I'm not good enough" mode.

She was older and wiser, and she simply said something like, "Yes, I noticed that I've been unmotivated. Then I remembered that it's February, so I just decided to go with it and hunker in."


That's a choice? I don't have to be a bundle of productivity all the time?

So I made that choice and honored this month of tucking in by thinking about what really nourishes me. Good movies, books that transport me, soulful music and naps made the cut. Corn syrup, not so much.

After deeply considering considering what food truly satisfied me, I decided to use Lent as an excuse to ditch carbs. I'm not getting all nutty about it, but they're gone.

The back story
This has happened more than I care to admit: I have sweet coffee and a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast, then down an entire bag of chocolate chips, a few stealthy grabs at a time. Once I start in on sweet stuff like caramels, licorice, or even bread, for crying out loud, I just can't stop. It's like someone released a runaway train that has no brake or reverse. Several times this month, I watched myself take one teeny handful after another, and another and another and I could not back away. I got a little scared.

This time, I chose not to go to shame. I connected the dots instead.

I know that my best fuel is pretty much veggies and protein. I know that three family members have lost about 30 pounds each by going low carb. I know that carbs from sugar and grains give me brain fog or the jitters. And I have known all of this for years.

A week later, I'm down five pounds. Yes, two big skate ski workouts last weekend sure helped, but just ditching grains and sugar has really made a huge difference. My head is clear, I have energy again, and I feel better in my skin. Ahhh . . .

The real gift from this switch is that I'm free of the compulsion to fill myself up on junk. I've been doing a lot of mental sorting lately about what matters, where I'm headed, and who I want to be. Restless. Yearning. Looking for a safe, nurturing place.

Sugar and the internet were impostor places. The wonderful Jennifer Louden calls them shadow comforts, which is a perfect term. Finding out what I really desired seemed too scary and inaccessible, so I took a nasty shortcut to sweetness. We all do it. I blew time aimlessly meandering online. I scarfed empty, meaningless calories. Lookin' for love in all the wrong places . . .

For now, I'm out. I'm turning to salads instead of Twizzlers. Making a burger instead of sneaking a cookie.

Am I here to preach the low-carb gospel to you? Nonononono. My solution is probably not yours. However, I'm happy to hand you a permission slip to take a look at what really, deeply satisfies you rather than the quick fix. Your deepest needs can't be stuffed away with a sugar, potato chip or  Internet pacifier.

Real, genuine nourishment in all its luscious glory, is your birthright and mine. Own it.

Here's to a wonderful March!

Productive? Maybe. Nourishing? Yeah, baby.

Opening night! Tiger Boy in the middle with his bros.

One otter staring

My mandolin