Burn the Boats

burn the boats

Several years ago, I was the pacer for a runner in the Western States 100 mile Endurance Run in California. This started as an equestrian event many years ago. When Gordy Ansleigh’s horse went lame at the start, he decided to run it on foot. And so the tradition began for what is known as the Grand-Daddy of all ultramarathons.

A pacer’s job is to keep a runner on track, especially in dangerous terrain where they can get lost or suffer collapse. In some races, a pacer can mule for a runner, which means they can carry water, food, or other needs. But not in this race. I was there for safety, guidance, and motivation. At one point, likely midnight at around mile 70, my runner succumbed to the chair. They always say “beware the chair”.  I had put a mylar blanket on her and she ate some food and proceeded to pass out. She said, “I’m done.” I prodded her to keep going. I wasn’t about to let her quit. And I said, we are deep in a canyon. The only way to get out is to start climbing cross-country. And even if we get to a road, we may wait a long time for someone to pick us up. It was unsafe and unwise. There was no going back. And she continued on.

When you set your mind on a goal, you should stay the course. Cortes and a small group of Spaniards landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519 A.D. and set out to conquer Mexico. He ordered the troops to “Burn the Boats”. That way, they would either collapse in defeat or fight to victory. And fight they did. I won’t say whether this idea or the historical act of colonialism was the correct course of action, but you have to admire the will to succeed by not allowing for an exit strategy.

Sometimes life throws things your way and often we don’t have an option. We are the soldier placed in a situation where we have no other way but to move forward. Sometimes, the boat is burned for us whether we like it or not. Sometimes people will say things in such a brash and unforgiving way that they burn the boat. There is no going back. Salvaging a plank of wood and wading into the ocean is not an option. You can forgive their anger and honest emotions, but you can’t forgive the substance of the message.

Move forward all you soldiers. Don’t even think of escape. There is only up. Gird your loins and find your reward. The horizon is yours for the taking.

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Of Rice and Ramen

sun rays

Have you ever met a person who was beyond humble? Someone who has fought battles, has a resume that stretches the length of an arm, or saves lives for a living? Yet, these facts are never brought to light. They sit in a wheelchair looking out the picture window. They pick up a piece of litter as geese fly overhead. They walk along the lighthouse path with only their muffled steps and chirps of a distant sandpiper to flutter their eardrums.

Yet, some have nothing. No life experiences. No credentials. Though they find fame in the most glorious ways. The strings of the puppet are but threads of yarn.

Blessed are the humble in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven

Privileged

Triage

I had the privilege of helping someone in yoga class last night. I was teaching Ashtanga for Beginners. The title is somewhat of a misnomer because if you only see “Beginners” and not “Ashtanga”, you’d think it was accessible to everyone. We workshop postures and show how to modify, but it really isn’t very easy.

We had just attempted headstands and most didn’t invert. Instead, many did a modified downward facing dog with hands and head in headstand position. The counter pose to all inversions except shoulder stand is child’s pose. One person had her hips up fairly high, so I had her adjust her knees and I applied light pressure to her hips. She popped up and made me aware of previous back surgeries. I thanked her for telling me and gingerly assisted her.

After class, I sat next to her and asked “tell me about your back?” And she did. And then I shared about my back and its history of pain. My pain was in the exact same location with sciatic nerve pain and the works. Hopefully, my empathy went a long way toward her seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I told her how I had trouble tying my shoes and when I could only drive with my left foot since my right leg was in such terrible sciatic pain. Sharing is good. And communicating with students that they aren’t alone. They don’t have to feel ostracized for what they see as deficiencies.

Today, I feel privileged for the numerous injuries and pains I’ve felt through my many decades of life. I still have many weaknesses and I fear drifting back into that pain that is always lurking in the shadows. I know that any weird and sudden twist can leave me bedridden for months. I keep this in mind when my students are struggling. I have the privilege of being there and can empathize with their pain. Decades of ultra-marathons, carrying 110 pound rucksacks in the Army, getting cranked daily as a wrestler, and a long life full of woes. It’s my privilege to share and understand.

We are all on a journey. There is no beginning or end. There is only now.

CrossFit flipped on its head

crossfit hspu

CrossFit programming can be variable from box to box. I have visited several boxes and have a CrossFit Level I trainer certification myself. With slight variation, the programming generally follows:

  • Warm-Up: rowing, jogging, maybe a short bodyweight circuit
  • Mobility: targeted to the workout of the day (WOD). This may involve elastic bands, yoga-type stretches, massage balls or rollers, or PVC pipes.
  • Strength work: usually a characteristic rep scheme, like 5 sets of 5 reps (5×5), and possibly percentages of your 1 rep max for a movement. It may be to get to a 1RM. An EMOM (every minute on the minute) may be tacked on to this as part of strength or as part of the WOD.
  • WOD: This could be any nature of scheme that cranks your heart-rate and may or may not involve heavy weights. It could be an EMOM, AMRAP (as many rounds or reps as possibly in a given time limit), couplet or triplet involving 2 or 3 movements with a set number of rounds, chipper (reps for each movement that you chip away at), or other scheme.
  • Cool-Down: This is similar to a warm-up and may involve a mobility element.

I’m a yoga teacher and have a daily personal yoga practice. So, mobility is not a big concern for me though I still do specific movements associated with the WOD. But, I’ve changed from what may be standard programming and it has been working for me. Ideally, I don’t do Olympic weightlifting movements in a WOD. Not that I feel it is unsafe, but it could develop poor movement patterns. And I focus on Olympic weightlifting anyway, so I don’t need to do it in WODs. So here is my daily programming:

  • WOD buy-in: I’ve heard James Hobart, CF guru, talk about going “Jaguar“. This means with little or no warm-up, which sounds unsafe, but its what I’ve done with success and have yet to be injured doing a WOD. I usually pre-plan my WOD, but sometimes I do it based on feel. I’ll program away from sore muscles. My WODs are mostly couplets and triplets per Chris Spealer recommendations. I’ll do a 21-15-9 or other rep scheme. My time domain is almost always in the 5-10 min range. I realize this is not random nor does it cover all my bases. I feel those bases are covered elsewhere. This provides me with the heart and body work that I need. It is also my warm-up for Olympic lifting. I’ll do a couple reps of each movement and then start right in without much warm-up. My goal is not to get sore; it is to pump up my heart using mostly strength movements.
  • Olympic Weightlifting: This is my strength work. Many times I’ll start with squats (front, back, overhead, other) and end with pulls. Despite there being only two lifts, the snatch and clean & jerk, the combinations are endless. I may just do the lifts as singles and then a few drop sets. I may do complexes getting time under tension. Or I may break apart the lifts and focus on multiple reps, like cleans, hang cleans, snatch balances, or jerks. I do a Max Lift Friday every week, so I don’t usually do singles during the week. But I do Olympic lifts almost every day.
  • Cool-Down buy-out: This is my strictly cardio element. It may be a quarter or half mile run repeat, 1 or 2K row, or similar Ski Erg. I may do intervals or a straight time or distance. I often wear a heart rate monitor and stay in a zone for 5-15 minutes.

I rarely go over an hour for a total workout. Sometimes I will do yoga-related strength work, like arm balances and hand stands, pistols and pushup related movements. Otherwise, I can do this every day if I can. I never feel overtrained or fatigued. But I do get sore. I can always program away from the soreness though and the active recovery is good for healing.

For me, this program enables me to do whatever I want. If I want to do a trail running race, I do a run on the weekend, but that’s the only additional specificity of training I need. I wouldn’t change if I were to enter a CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting competition. Its good for everything.

Yoga for Healing

I am working with a private yoga client to deal with issues he is having.

Disclaimer: I am not a yoga therapist or other certified healer per requirements of registry with Yoga Alliance.

However, yoga has many healing properties. And, as old as I am, I have experience with pain and injury within myself and others with whom I’ve interacted. I am also a scientist and have had training in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and many biology/chemistry courses through graduate level studies. So there’s that 🙂

This client, having a life of dealing with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) ahead of him, has a vested interest in finding ways to manage this disease. He provided me with literature, both anecdotal and research oriented, that relates to PD. Working with clients sometimes goes beyond the time constraints of class.

While I’m not in the business of diagnosis and treatment, I know aspects of body movement. PD is an autoimmune disorder that affects how the nerve impulses are sent throughout the body. The further from the brain, the greater the effect. So, I think a lot about feet, hands, and limbs. The spine is also a major emphasis, so I focus on keeping it supple and strong.

Specific effects of PD that I am helping with are:

  1. Posture – PD results in drooping of shoulders and head forward resulting in increased kyphosis of the spine. Besides general posture associated with all physical poses in yoga, I am working on strength in the entire back especially upper back and shoulders. Locust pose is an ideal solution. Both upward and downward facing dog is also crucial. Anything we can do to keep the posture upright is warranted.
  2. Feet shuffling – the most problematic effect of PD is a shortened stride length. This leads to falling forward and tripping with steps. The main aspect we are working is keeping length in the legs and strength. So we’ve started with long lunges (anjaneyasana) stepping forward across a room and back. This also has a balance effect. We hold at the first few steps to keep length in hamstrings and glutes.
  3. Balance – since the neurons and synapses between them are not functioning well, signals to the brain to help with balance are lost. So we are working on keeping all those stabilizing impulses firing. Tree pose is the go to for balance, which we do with a light assist at the wall. But, even Tadasana is used where we may lightly close or close eyes completely. This requires a lot of balance for most people. Warrior poses, triangles, and other standing poses are critical as well for balance.
  4. Pranayama/Meditation – our last area of emphasis is in meditation. Dopamine receptors are greatly affected with PD. Re-programming our brains to find calmness assists greatly in reducing the chaos of our minds. Also, in daily life, when hands begins to tremor and feet begin to shuffle, it creates anxiety and the feeling of helplessness in the mind. Any time we are stressed, we inhale, hold our breath, and breathe at a high, shallow register. So we are re-training our breathing to make us aware of what we do. When we feel anxious, we consciously need to breathe deeply and evenly to calm our minds. This is never more obvious than in meditation. We work with the breath and visualization to help program our bodies to find peace. This may be the aspect of yoga that contributes the most.

You would be amazed at the number of ways yoga can help with our lives. As a yoga teacher, it is amazing to experience what others go through in addition to our own experiences with life. Learn, adapt, teach, and learn some more!

Arm Blasters

lu xiaojun

If your focus is on building a better body or maybe even in being a body-builder, then think about this. When we are starting out doing the prescribed 3 sets of 8-12 reps of dumbbell curls, you may be starting with 20 or 30 pound dumbbells. And if you have massive guns and that is working for you, then read no further.

If you are willing to experiment and go deeper, then read on.

First, consider a pull-up. Say you are a man between 150-220 pounds. Regardless of how you do a pull-up, whether strict or kipping, you are lowering your full bodyweight to the full extension of your arms. That eccentric contraction is a massive load on your biceps. Sure, it is meant to focus on your lats and other back muscles, but your biceps take a brunt of it as well. Considering your bodyweight, you would have to lift 75-110 pound dumbbells in each hand to equal the eccentric load of a pull-up. What if you can’t do a pull-up? Find a bar or stand on a box that allows your arms to bend slightly as you reach the bar. Then jump to a full chin-over-the-bar pullup, hold, and then slowly lower down. That eccentric load will be good for lats and biceps alike.

Second, for the advanced lifter, nothing makes my arms more sore than repeated hang cleans with a heavy weight. The same is true for hang snatches, but maybe not quite as much. It is a distant side effect of Olympic weightlifting that can build massive guns. My biceps are crying right now, so this is the main reason I’m writing this. I did sets of 3 hang snatches yesterday and I can surely feel it today. Consider that you are lowering a heavy weight, much heavier than you’d ever do with a barbell curl, with a huge eccentric load. The eccentric loading is where most muscle growth occurs. You can do this with any barbell with or without bumper plates since you don’t need to drop the weight on the ground. But bumpers help if you got them so you can do full lifts.

Try these two movements and see if they work for you. And if you don’t grow, you’ll definitely get stronger.

Lose Yourself

DSC_0016.JPG

“Practice what you Teach, Teach what you Practice”

I took this to heart yesterday. My mind has been crowded with so much in life. I often practice yoga over lunch in my office. I lock my door, turn off the overhead lights, slide a table aside, and roll out my travel mat. I started easy into my Sun Salutation A’s since I was struggling. But before you know it, I was lost in what I was doing. I stopped analyzing my movements. While my breath lead my practice, I didn’t focus on it. I stopped counting. I went completely by instinct. When I felt it was time to come forward out of downward facing dog, I did. Sometimes I succumbed to child’s pose; not because I needed it, it just happened. We throw out the word “flow” in yoga a lot. This was truly a flow. It had no beginning or end. I didn’t even know where I was.

Ever notice how you cannot predict what an ocean wave will do? It moves where it needs to move

I wanted to badly share this experience, and that came about in my Rocket class later that evening. Without any fanfare, I had the yogis come to the top of their mats and begin. I told them we wouldn’t do Surya Namaskar B today. But we’d lose ourselves in a seemingly unending Sun A. I gave a few suggestions at times, but otherwise let them try to feel what I felt earlier. I told them to stop counting. To move when it feels right. To hold where they need to. To experiment with fingertips and closing eyes. Lifting mula bandha with lightness and ease. To gather their warmth and glow in it.

Sometimes we share hoping others will feel the deepness that we’ve felt. Even if one connected with my experience, then my sharing was a success.