Pain Cave

We talk often in the gym about time in the Pain Cave – an elusive and sometimes dreaded place where the hardest work, and by natural consequence, the most magical things, can happen. It is the place to push limits, to find out what you really can do and how much you can truly handle. It is by nature a dark, often solitary, place and you almost certainly come out transformed. Unlike those used for hibernation, however, this cave has always been an active space. There is no frigid dormancy, endless slumber or reliance on fat reserves – it is a place of sweat, grit, movement, physical and mental engagement and (a perk to be sure) mid-or-post-exertional refueling.  With the side-lining of a most unforgiving injury these past two weeks, the pain cave has taken on a whole new, and not particularly favorable, meaning.

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Rocking an electric scooter in the Oregon Zoo!

My coaches and I work hard to keep our athletes active through a wide variety of injuries and ailments, recognizing the benefits of movement in the healing process physically, mentally and emotionally as well as the importance of social integration in the success of recovery. With an ironic sense of humor, or just plain bad luck, the universe sent me the one injury for which there is no modification other than strict rest. So, with an abdominal binder to get me through clinic, the rest of my time has been spent lying down, icing my abdomen and making the most out of seated calf raises and supine quad sets. With relentless consistency, the pain persists as a reminder to follow my physician’s advice explicitly and unpredictable shocking stabs of severe pain provide (unnecessarily aggressive in my opinion) reinforcement should I attempt to move beyond the boundaries established for optimal recovery.

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Unable to reckon with spending time in the space that I have always associated with power, speed and endurance in a state of complete physical incapacitation, I retreated. Reassigning my coaching sessions to a most helpful staff, I just stayed home. I pictured the sweat, the barbells, the chalk, the rig, the bikes, the rowers and the boxes and, somewhere between ego and frustration, simply couldn’t handle that snapshot with my image absent from the activity on the floor.  I posted workouts, e-mailed potential new members, admired pictures of athletes from the week and received updates from my coaches, but I didn’t make the trip over (conveniently blaming my walking ban for not covering the 2-block jaunt by foot as usual, but that really doesn’t hold water…I could have had a ride at any time).

 

On a recent trip to my childhood home, I discovered my high school journals and it seems little has changed these past 20 years – I was waking early for aerobics class and visiting the gym after sports practices for extra workout fun. I couldn’t believe my friends were satisfied with only one athletic endeavor on the day and, clearly then as now, relied on all things physical to support maintenance of my whole self.  Other than the 20 weeks I spent trying not to exacerbate contractions when pregnant with biggest, the past 23 years have been underscored by consistent (in some opinions obsessive) exercise. Considering laws of energy conservation, what happens then the usual outlet is suddenly obstructed? At least in the time prior, that energy could be converted into the growing of another human, a meaningful and tangible task, but now I found myself waffling, wandering and wondering into dangerous lands.

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I’d like to blame this look on the cave…but mostly just me and the sun attempting to co-exist.

Dark and solitary, there was a faint familiarity in this cavern, but it was overall unsettling. Lacking both the promise of renewal that follows hibernation as well as the exhausted victory celebrated post-max effort, this cave was pure emptiness, creating the perfect setting for a pity party with the focus on a farewell to muscles developed over a dozen years, now withering away in as many days. Always one to lead the start of a race, I blasted the first stages of the grief process, crushing denial early on as I attempted to power through the pain, sprinting up the anger hill with some less-than-ideal-momming moments and mentally unpacking that too-heavy suitcase, but there was no bargaining back the injury, no matter how fast I coasted down that hill. And then I hit the wall – of sadness. Between the shift in my relationship with the dynamic events of the summer season, the stolen independence of my primarily pedestrian transport and the crisis of identity as an athlete abruptly stripped of activity – I was at the edge of a deep, dark crevasse and I painfully lowered myself into a corner and stayed put.

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Breakfast in bed – the cave has a perk or two…

Disappointed, dulled and despondent are a powerful trio, but they are no match for the support and encouragement of dedicated friends, athletes, colleagues, staff and, of course, family. Their efforts created a glimmer of hope beckoning me slowly, cautiously, to the mouth of the cave and, squinting, back into the light. Returning to my home-away-from-home at CrossFit Inconceivable, I could genuinely and happily celebrate the effort and achievements of the athletes, pushing themselves for a couple more kilos and those final few reps. I saw that my presence in the space was not limited to performance, but still significant in participation through presence, contributing to the positive spirit of the community.

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Hearing the echo of my own advice, supported by mounting research, I could finally see why social integration is even more important than exercise in promotion of health and longevity. Placebo effect perhaps, but I truly felt better being around the action – watching my coaches in their glory, coaxing greatness from each individual; seeing athletes push themselves to a better result than last time; appreciating the space that has grown so much in the past 10 months to create a positive environment for mind, body, spirit to achieve beyond what we ever thought possible – and realizing that the challenge might not come in the form of a gymnastic movement or heavy barbell, but in the test of endurance of the soul through unexpectedly treacherous terrain.

 

Just like that, I was back in the picture and the pain cave was once again a safe, though challenging, space, softened and strengthened by the presence of my extended family and positioned once again to achieve transformation, this time through the acts of resting and healing. Opportunity was reclaimed to yield a better me than yesterday – repairing a physical weakness that has likely been lingering in the shadows for some time, fortifying a vulnerable spirit to know itself as true with or without a daily dose of exertion and enlightening a mind to concepts often shared but not always heeded. With the darkest moments behind me, it turns out the wall had a gate and with the guidance of community, I had moved through, energized to hold on into acceptance of this new normal and prepare for that hidden kick, knowing the finish line, though not quite in sight, is just around the corner.

 

 

May we see our limitations through the lens of opportunity, accept help where it is offered and emerge stronger than when we began.

Best,

FitMamaDOc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enunciate the Negative

May is crazy. Perhaps it is because we are actively in the midst of it all, magnifying the events to larger than life appearance but, for whatever reason, there is much ado about everything these days. School events, May Day celebrations, birthdays, final games, recitals and field trips make their annual appearance while the usual daily fervor of work, school, lessons, music, coaching and practice escalates, invigorated by the longer hours of daylight, delightfully warmer temperatures and general sense of merriment scored by the spring season. These days are equal parts joyful and exhausting, which are beginning to seem an inseparable dichotomy of feelings and lead me to contemplate the concept of embracing the negative, a notion that has offered itself as a recurrent theme in many of the books and podcasts supporting my learning recently.

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In a world where we are often encouraged to seek happiness as the ultimate emotion, and in my own profession where I am focused on seeing the health, it can seem almost taboo to have negative thoughts and feelings and simply unacceptable to concentrate on the negative. As I contemplated this, the lyrics of a long-ago song played on repeat in my head:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

Now, I can get behind the utility of seeing the good, embracing the health and shining a light on what is right with ourselves, our communities and the world, but I do think admonishing the existence of the opposite can be a dangerous line to walk. It is unfair and unrealistic to ignore that negative feelings, unpleasant situations and plain and simple bad things are going to happen. Middlest displayed this effect directly when, overwhelmed by less-than-optimistic-emotion, he looked up at me with tear-filled eyes and stated, “you’re not going to like this…but I’m just not happy all the time!” What an inconceivably impossible task to achieve – all-the-time-happiness! I quickly scanned back through all the dialogue I had provided for this to be his personal expectation – comments such as “what can you control? Attitude and effort…” “Your feelings are a personal choice, choose to make it better and not worse.”

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While certainly I would want for him to live more deeply rooted in a positive, loving state of mind and heart, I more strongly wish for him (and all of us!) to embrace (and be able to handle) the full range of human emotions. Greater than limitless happiness is the capacity to feel it all – happy, sad, joyful, angry, brave, fearful, resilient, guilty, curious, confused, grateful, frustrated, encouraged, deflated, calm, excited, tired – to understand it all as part of humanity, to accept it all in ourselves and others, to hold the weight of it all with strength, to make space for it all with grace, to move between it all with the agility of a competent emotional being and recognize that without the negative companion, the positive aspect would likely lack luster.

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While I certainly don’t wish ill on my patients, family, friends or community, I must recognize that there is pathology in many forms interrupting the fullest manifestations of health. Rather than ignore it, I must acknowledge the presence of dis-ease, sit with it, uncomfortable though that may be, to better understand it – how it came to be, what is contributing to its perseveration and truly explore the capacity for change. This might be best framed as potential transformation of the whole person in relationship with this “negative” aspect of his/her health.  Resolution may not be an option, but a shift in the engagement with the ailment always is.

The more I have explored the acceptance and even welcome of negative emotion, the more I see that our attempts to seek the positive at all costs can lead us out of our truest self, out of the moment and render us unable to just be.  This is not to say that we should seek a depressive state, or that we have to act on every negative emotion that comes through, but we should be open and at least tolerant of any feeling that arises rather than resisting, ignoring or trying to change that feeling before it has a moment to speak its truth or establish the framework for future, fuller sensations of all sorts.

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I often tell patients (and occasionally athletes in the gym!) that pain has a purpose – it is alerting us to something that is not right in our bodies – that our nervous system is waving a red flag and asking for help. We can ignore that pain, tell ourselves we should just power through and hope we work it out…or we can listen – not surrender, but listen – and assess what might be the trigger – is it truly just of the body? Was there a tweak of a muscle, ligament, joint or nerve? Is it of the mind? Are we truly hitting a point of maximal fatigue or a place of fear that we might not succeed? Is it of the spirit? Have we maxed out our capacity in all arenas of life May-style and is our body lighting up the only SOS it has in the way of pain fibers, forcing us to rest, re-evaluate and reset?

 

Perhaps these negative emotions are serving that same purpose, perhaps they are a subtler version of physical pain, a prodrome if you will, and if we could tune in, listen and analyze sooner than later, we might save ourselves from more severe physical symptoms that arise as a last-ditch effort to get us to be present in ourselves and attend to our personal needs. In my exploration of this concept, I was struck by the latter portion of this definition of negative:

“a photographic image made on film or specially prepared glass that shows the light and shade or color values reversed from the original, and from which positive prints can be made”

Though we are now a generation removed from film-based cameras, indeed it has been many years since I have held that strip of 5 miniature, reverse-colored images up to the light to determine which full-color, large-as-life moment I would like to reproduce, this simple description of the intricate and fluid relationship amongst original, negative and positive struck me as a critical acknowledgment of the relativity, reciprocity and requisition of negatives for a complete picture in life, for the fullest experience.

May we all, middlest included, expand our palates to taste the vast flavor of emotions life has to offer. May our approach be as enthusiastic and broad as the madness of May, landing us joyfully exhausted at the end of the experience, satisfied that we have successfully sampled the flight of feelings that unites us in humanity.

Best,

FitMamaDOc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resting, Reverence and Racing

The end of the week has unfolded with unexpected moments, shifting the focus of, and time for, writing. The rest-day-challenge was a much smoother undertaking this week with an unset alarm allowing for freedom of choice on Thursday morning leading to a 36-hour interval of rest. Warming up with gentle biking, transporting littlest to and from soccer, and then a workout with middlest and littlest in the gym to close out the day, the restoration was upheld. With Friday dedicated to The Olympiad for biggest, I managed to sneak in the daily workout in between coaching the 5 and 6am classes with the help of my ever-faithful co-coach and was able to comply with the departure time set by my husband to ensure timely arrival at the day’s big event.

Fifth grade was one of my most challenging years in school and has brought some tumultuous moments for biggest and his classmates as well, navigating relationships, new feelings, the uncertain transition zone from the freedom and boundaries of the primary years to middle school responsibility and privilege. It was advised by the seasoned Waldorf teachers, parents and students that this experience – of staying overnight with classmates as well as students from area schools, distribution into City-States and representation of a collective, opportunity to demonstrate for many the skills they had practiced all year and honoring the spirit of the Greek gods by bringing their personal best in attitude and effort to the day – is often transformational for the students.

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Navigating the hour drive into the mountains, past one of our favorite mountain lakes and arriving to the cabins that had housed our Olympians for the night, the spirit in the air was simply joyful. Seeing the students with new friends and proudly representing their City-State, there was an air of confidence but also a lightness about them. There were many special moments through the day with speed, strength, precision and power on display through the six events, but most remarkable to me was the pace at which these were carried out and the patience and respect demonstrated by the students and adult mentors throughout the process.  We live in a world with short attention spans, fast moving schedules and shows, short snippets of entertainment and demand for instant gratification from experiences. The Olympiad offered a most powerful antidote to this rapid-fire existence naturally, with intentional and thoughtful implementation of each moment and movement throughout the day.

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The Opening Ceremonies set the tone with beautiful movements from the Priests of each City-State, transitioning them from their individual points on the periphery toward the center collective of the ring, relinquishing division for cooperation in the spirit of competition and honor of participation. Fleet feet carried the Olympians across the field in the sprints, first as representative of their collective and then of themselves. Hearts lifted to the sky launched the athletes into the air for the standing long jump. Discipline of the discus and javelin were so remarkable – waiting for each of the sixty athletes to take a throw in turn, unrushed and wholly witnessed by competitors and spectators alike.  Meeting others in a place of welcome and strength while upholding beautiful form above all brought a whole new spirit to wrestling. Energy and enthusiasm made the relays an exciting finale, working to raise the City-State flag together. Closing ceremonies brought opportunity to witness observations for each athlete from their Priest, King and Queen, acknowledging their gifts and growth through the Olympiad days.

It was truly an amazing time, in a beautiful setting, steeped in reverence for tradition, rewarding best effort, team work, leadership, perseverance and encouraging honor for self and the collective. I felt refreshed and inspired reflecting on my own Field Day Experience some 25 years prior and heading into a morning race, representing CrossFit Inconceivable out on the trails.

A few hiccups in the waking hours with middlest surrounding breakfast confusion led to a scattered sentiment to the start of Saturday, which followed me into a foiled initial attempt at finding the start line of the race. Already moderately unsure about attempting the 10 Miler instead of the 5K for both timing and capability reasons, this seemed to be a sign that the latter would be the choice, if only be default. Rallying as usual, my weekend warrior race support managed to find the trail head in time and I headed to the registration table, going all in for the longer course. Given bib #7777 (which can only be viewed as 1111 multiplied by the luckiest number!) and the gratuitous start delay for technical difficulties, it seemed I would be ready to roll with the 10 Mile crew. Seeing faces familiar from the podium of other local events and knowing my capacity for technical trails, I embraced the moment for beautiful scenery and thought to myself “perhaps I can just participate without the need to race…”

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While the delay was helpful for the purposes of starting, it gave me concern for the narrow window I had at the finish to cross the line and make it back to town to coach littlest in her penultimate soccer game of the season. I took the opportunity in the opening miles to text a serendipitously visiting friend to coordinate childcare and transport – multi-tasking not thwarted by racing – thankfully she could read through the mid-run-typos and was able to help ease the pending transition. As the race looped back near the start line, I found myself in third place among the women and had a fleeting thought that it would have been nice to have been visibly leading for that moment, likely the only opportunity given that the early miles took place on a wide gravel road compared to the pending single-track terrain that forced a notable slowing in pace for my hesitant road-runner footfalls.

It came as quite the surprise to me as we dropped down a hill to a narrow, rocky footpath, that the two women in front of me kept getting closer. My breath quickened as I was right on the heels of the second-place runner, making my already anxious steps even more apprehensive as they came closer to hers. As we both approached the leader who graciously made way, I passed them both and carried on, grateful for clear space ahead and a return to the mantra of breath, feet, beauty, keeping me focused on my own effort and grateful for the gorgeous surroundings.

Falling victim to naïveté as we once again passed near the start line, I thought “I don’t know why they are calling this Tough as Nails, that wasn’t so bad!” Shortly thereafter, I made the final major turn, where the volunteer noted “keep it up, first woman, just gotta climb to the top!” And at that moment, the cautionary tale from the race director at the start line echoed in my mind “the race truly beings in the latter half he said…all the climbing after mile six he said…” and I realized my naivety. I figured the other women were seasoned veterans of the off-road and were probably better at pacing than I, but as I began to ascend, also reminded myself that their legs had to traverse the very same rocks and elevation as mine, so I should just work within myself and what was to be would be.

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The up is often in my favor, as the rocks provide traction and opportunity to utilize different muscles – shifting my mantra to “glutes and hamstrings” with gratitude for all the posterior chain work in the gym. As I reached the peak, with brief pause for a quick picture of the epic surround, I hoped I had done enough on the climb as I would have to descend for the remainder of the race to the finish line and the down is NOT my forte. One runner approached, familiar to me from the end of The Hill Climb and I made the mistake of trying to go with him, nearly sacrificing an ankle in the process. That was reminder enough that I had to stay within my own skill set and simply do the best I could descending the trails.  Final miles mantra “run like it will last forever…race like the finish line is just around the corner.”

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On the final return to gravel, a fellow CF!NC athlete was in the clearing, already finished for some dozen minutes with his race, called out “Go Amelia!” which was uplifting, until his second declaration of “Go Kelly!” rang out only a handful of seconds later. My heart sunk as we turned onto the gravel and she jetted past me but in a split second, my racing spirit took over and I thought “you didn’t lead for that long to just let it go now!” and so, I went…and harnessed the Prefontaine spirit that has carried me in so many races, knowing  that I was either going to get there first or leave it all out there trying. As fate would have it, the finish line wasn’t too far around the corner and, for the first time in recent memory, I had opportunity to truly race for first place. Just like that, I went from participant to competitor to victor, thanks in large part to the efforts of the community around me and the other female runners pushing me to the margins of my ability.

May we honor ourselves, our teammates and our fellow competitors with best attitude and effort in the events of our choosing, embracing opportunity to find hidden greatness where we might least expect it.

Best,

 

FitMamaDOc

 

 

Relaxing, Repeatedly

Confession – I was NOT enamored with the extended rest last week. I expected to enter the Friday workout ready and raring to go and could not believe how heavy the barbell felt. I opted for the lighter, shorter option of the workout and consoled myself with the knowledge that The Siskiyou Challenge, a multi-leg multi-sport relay race was pending the following day, and this could serve as a taper (a concept I have considered often, but implemented only rarely, never wanting to miss out on the fun just because of the next day’s race).  The evening brought heavy rain, and I embraced the quiet energy of the day.

Relaxing – Reluctantly

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The rain continued into the morning, but the weather was kind overall for the bike, kayak, bike, run, bike, run events. It was a fantastic day with so many members of our community, particularly from our gym, participating in the race. A social event composed of a variety of physical activities, against the back drop of the beautiful landscape of our town, complete with live music and delicious home-grown food might come close to a perfect experience. Capped off by a gymnastics performance where biggest, middlest and littlest demonstrated their hard-earned skills in jumping, flipping and dancing, the day was bursting with energy and enjoyment.

Relaxing Recreationally

 

As Sunday arrived, I relished the quiet calm of mobility to start the day (relaxing respectfully) and began to find a rhythm again in the gym with workouts, inspired by the enthusiasm of my husband and fellow athletes along with our children, who are always up for a challenge. Welcoming back the soreness in my muscles as a feeling of being alive and building strength, I began to convince myself that rest days were not for me, that I had done my due diligence and would return to the omission of them from my schedule going forward.

Relaxing – Relatively

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Our gym social Monday was a great celebration of achievements from both the relay race as well as a weightlifting meet for our coaches and I espoused my new philosophy, noting that it might not be the right choice for everyone, but for me, the extended, total rest intervals were detrimental rather than therapeutic. Ironically, that same day, an article I had written for a local publication was released noting Rest Days and Recovery Help to Get You Fit! Thankfully, I had detailed the option of active recovery and encouraged outdoor, playful activities, so was saved from hypocrisy by the capacity for utilization of the many fantastic local resources and would be able to achieve restfulness in the way of cycling, swimming, paddling, running, hiking or playing in the beautiful landscape of Southern Oregon.

Relaxing Reasonably

 

By Tuesday, I was back in action for an extended gym celebration – participating in classes as a new coach took the reins and celebrating the anniversary of my first-ever due date with a workout that shares a name with biggest. An unexpected add-on clinic on a usual day off was balanced with opportunity to sneak in a bike ride through town and I regained the sense of contentment that had been missing in the week prior.

Relaxing – Remotely

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I committed mentally to adjusting my rest day goal and entered into Wednesday ready to work. Thanks to the formatting of the workout, I was able to both coach and participate, utilizing the rest intervals (relaxing resourcefully!) to complete the prescribed movements and found myself drawn to the after-work with fellow athletes instead of the writing I had originally intended. Trusting the spirit of the moment, I finished the session, replete with conversation and encouragement before setting forth into an extended clinic day. The usual evening mobility session was precluded by the addition of extra patients and, instead, my unwind was a brief walk to town and a delicious dinner, recapping with my uncle, who graciously came to town to represent our elder generation at the children’s Grandparent’s Day, overriding the time I planned for writing in place of the morning session, leading me to set an early alarm for the following morning,

Relaxing Relationally

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When the tones sounded at 0425, I was overcome by a very emotional response – an internal turmoil of awareness that I did not have the energy to coach a class with the enthusiasm I would want for my athletes and wondering how I was going to survive the extended clinic day to follow, wishing desperately for a few more hours of sleep. After brushing my teeth and reaching for my leggings, I had a sudden realization – it was THURSDAY! The one day I am exempt from the coaching schedule (thanks to the forethought of my former self, recognizing that we need a regular pause from activities to maintain a positive spirit) and that a few more hours of sleep were, indeed, possible. This was a true moment of awakening and acceptance for me in the week – speaking to the need for rest as well as flexibility in timing of that respite with capacity to honor myself, past and present, in order to support the best of myself in the future.

Relaxing – Relievedly

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Owning the necessary vulnerability of the experience, I shared the wake-up distress and immediate rejoicing on discovery of the built-in rest-from-responsibility-in-the-gym-day; many took this to mean I feel burdened by coaching, which is absolutely not the case. Quite the contrary, I usually feel invigorated and inspired, eager to work with athletes, explore the boundaries of fitness, witness progress, develop new goals and celebrate personal victories. Consequently, this moment of feeling unable to enter into a typically welcome experience was the aggressive wake-up call needed. To clearly see that a limit had been reached and, in order to maintain that inspired state and the enthusiasm my athletes deserve, I needed to pause, reset and replenish. What might historically have been perceived personally as a failure, in light of this rest-day challenge and dedicated exploration of that sweet spot among mind, body, spirit, it was a most needed moment of growth.  Synthesizing the considerations I have carried in the previous weeks, I am motivated to continue with the challenge.

Relaxing Resolutely

(with an open mind on the details)

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A gentle run on Thursday evening, supporting active recovery, brought me to the gym for a lecture on Mind-Body-Inseparable with two of our athletes, who are teachers at a local meditation center. As they led us all in reflection, I neared that integral space of mind, body and spirit and landed smack dab in the middle upon hearing their testimony that the act of being fully present in the body during time in the gym was a truly unique experience, allowing us to be free of the busy mind while still mindful of the active body.  Such a profound concept and one I honestly never acknowledged – perhaps the only time in the day when we do not allow ourselves to be swept up into the current of “what’s next” and truly feel “here I am, now.”

Relaxing, Reciprocally

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With a closing statement on the use of meditation in our daily lives, it was advised that we can always return to the breath, as if it was the only thing that mattered and because it is the one thing that does, above all else. To achieve this, we practiced a simple deep breath in, thinking of nothing but the breath, and another out, followed by the direction to relax – relentlessly.

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May we find the balance point for ourselves by trusting instincts, remaining open to insights and adapting to shifts in the experience, finding reinforcement through the power of relaxing – responsibly, responsively and reliably.
Best,

FitMamaDOc

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Spot

I’m writing these words

After a rest day,

And it’s rather late I fear.

So please excuse the tardiness

‘Twas not the plan, to be clear

But to my bed, after a long day at work,

I’m afraid I got too near.

And I’m writing this blog

After a rest day,

And it’s rather late I fear.

Reporting live on the aftermath of an official and total rest day! I held true to the plan this week, only coaching the 5am yesterday and walking myself home from the gym rather than into the action of the 6am class. Considering last week as a “scaled” rest day, allowing for an endurance workout whilst coaching, I took this one up a notch and “Rx+’d” the challenge by returning to pajamas, my bed and even a later alarm. While more sleep did not transpire, there was rest and relaxation as I bought myself a bit of time with a proposed recipe for middlest to prepare for the morning – grateful for the synergy of his new-found prowess in reading and love for all goods baked!

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The infamous baker…in a Joey Tribbiani moment…putting on ALL his PJs…

Fueled by a 14-hour marathon of coaching, training and book-clubbing Tuesday, taking the pause was easier this Wednesday. While it felt a bit of a letdown not to write during that designated hour, the anticipation of an extended no-breaks clinic day provided a quick reality check that confirmed rest for the mind in that 60-minute window was wiser than a compressed moment of creativity. Walking home from work, the original finale for the day was teaching mobility class, but as fate, the 90-degree day and a solitary soul in attendance would have it, I could even relinquish that physical responsibility to my trusty coach and instead join my family for dinner.

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One of many inspiring insights from our book club selection, The Alchemist, thanks for the rest day universe!

 

All week I have thought about the pie charts from my last installment of writing. I appreciate their utility in visualizing the concept and have even kept a running pie-chart-progression at the bottom of each entry in my Book of Joy journal (the accurate completion of which I often question as my entries do not always seem overtly joyful, but I digress). There has indeed been a shift in the distribution among the three components. Seemingly following conservation of mass as applied to the circle as a whole, if space is made in the body and mind aspects, the spirit has no choice but to expand.

There has been an increase in time spent with family and reduced need for extreme weekend workouts, embracing a five-soccer-game-Saturday in the blissfully warm sunny weather. Spontaneous progressive dinners with my husband as well as the sharing of laughter and stories with friends. Walks home with littlest, life lessons with biggest, creative moments with middlest and a glorious solo lunch with relaxed reading and writing. Space made for reflecting, planning, connecting with family and journeying on the next step on the path.

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Through this all, however, I could not sit comfortably with the idea of mind, body and spirit co-existing so rigidly – aloof neighbors never crossing the fence line.  Ever drawn to the fluid – in treatment and in the flow of the river of life, the image that kept coming to mind this week is better reflected here:

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Still occupying mostly their own domain, but with inseparable pairings and that most precious central space – the intertwine of all three – this is the image I wish to hold and the feeling I hope to create through the rest day challenge.  Which activities fill those darker shaded areas, which successfully blend exhilaration of mind, body and spirit simultaneously? That is where the joy is found…perhaps an exploration of journal entries will reveal those most magical moments and light the path toward this elusive central region.

Fully intending to finish this last night, I was surprised to find at the end of my rest day that I was more tired than usual. A paradoxical outcome, but perhaps rest begets rest and when I finally made the space for respite, suppressed fatigue surfaced. Ever seeking efficiency, I set my alarm for the time I would usually wake to coach the 5am class and schemed that I could finish the writing and make it to the 6am class to train…but as the tones rang out at 0425, that sentiment was replaced with a continued weariness and I opted to return to slumber.  I’ll consider it another level up on the commitment to rest. And as I sit, awaiting my first patient of the day, I feel refreshed, though without the usual buzz from an early morning workout…and for the first time in recent memory, walking up the stairs to my office was free of the exquisitely excruciating awareness of all the muscles in my lower extremities…who knew that soreness could dissipate with 36 hours of recovery!?!

Grateful to have made shifts, opened space and reframed relationships with a new focus on that sweet spot in the center – nourishing mind, body and spirit in part, pair and, total.  May we allow for fluidity in view and find fulfillment in the whole – all at once or as the harmonious sum of its parts.

Best,

FitMamaDOc

Rest Days

Rest days. These have never been my forte. Movement, workouts, training, energy expenditure, competition – these sustain me. They orient me. They compose me. They make me a better mom, wife, doctor, friend and citizen. They are non-negotiable. It is easier to make it to the gym than it is to omit. When my mood dips, my family will often suggest a run or a workout as the antidote. When on-ramping athletes into our program, it is difficult to relate to challenges incorporating workouts into their schedule as for me I would not cope without daily athletic engagement. As I look at other goals I have for myself, for which I do not manage the daily task load to complete, I begin to see the power of habit, the role of daily integration and understand more clearly that though the non-negotiables are different for all of us, the negotiables often follow a similar pattern, requiring more attention and clearly established commitment.

Rest, however, is mandatory for growth and, with the guidance of my expert coaches and discipline of the fellow athletes in my gym, I am learning to embrace them…gradually. An article posted last week highlighted the waste of a rest day. Rather than shifting focus from physical to mental or spiritual or a new version of productivity, the day becomes a drain, and with the loss of orientation, you find yourself spinning into oblivion, eating all the foods, gazing at the pile of unmatched socks, wondering if you can adapt to the shows everyone mentions on Netflix until suddenly it is time for bed and you find yourself adding items retroactively to the ambitious to-do list you so enthusiastically made the day prior, fueled by the adrenaline of your day-before-your-rest day-workout. How can this be approached in a more functional manner? This question ran through my head during a weekend bike-ride towing littlest to see middlest play soccer and am (as I write!) testing a hypothesis.

In the midst of National Osteopathic Medicine Week, I considered the relationship of body, mind and spirit, often seen simply as integrated, interrelated and, I was realizing, sometimes from my view, indistinguishable. During that bike ride I mentioned earlier, I had the recurring vision of a pie chart and considered body, mind and spirit as parts of the whole, with occupancy of one limiting space for the others. These were the most common breakdowns that transpired:

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I envisioned the usual distribution of myself among these three aspects and realized that while there is generally some time reserved for spirit, and I do see some crossover from the mental and spiritual rejuvenation of a physical workout, this point is fairly fixed…and lowest on volume by a considerable margin. My sister often reminds me, “you can have it all, just not all at once” and I have had a difficult time embracing this concept but am maturing into the acceptance of my mortal status, the need for balance and granting self-permission to let some things go to encourage the growth of others.

This required reflection on what might be included in the spirit category – reading, writing, music came to mind and I also reminded myself that family time, snuggles, stories, evening hang-outs with husband, baking with middlest, coaching littlest, run club with biggest, all contributed, so perhaps a truer breakdown of the split might be:

 

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Even so, there is still work to be done…how could I bolster the spirit component even further? Would the rest day and a decrease in the body category allow for this shift? Could I still feel fulfilled on a day not marked by the usual sense of accomplishment of completing the reps, miles or minutes? Reflecting on the rest vs waste concept, I considered the “let down” I often experience with poor utilization of the time I would usually spend on a workout along with the absence of the energy from this investment that often motivates a productive day. I again drew on my osteopathic roots and realized that if I wanted better function, I needed to look at the structure of the day and remove the obstructions that were interfering with my goals and my “other job” owning and coaching in CrossFit helped with this piece.

Recognizing that the most attractive aspect of CrossFit is the direction – a workout designed for you, led by a coach with clear expectations, timelines, movements and targets for performance, I decided to apply that concept to my rest day through an activity that has long been rejuvenating for my spirit, but has fallen off of the priority list despite aspirations for regularity – writing. I thought jokingly about the usual parameters we might use in a workout – As Many Reps as Possible in a certain time frame…5 Rounds For Time of a group of movements…1 Rep Maxes for lifts…but none of these seemed quite right to apply to writing. I didn’t just want a high volume of words, I certainly wasn’t going to get through multiple rounds of writing in a day and this wasn’t going to be max effort as I was learning to be more relaxed in the process. Eventually, I was drawn back to the work in Barbell Technique Class, which has been a new endeavor for me and one of the more humbling experiences of my athletic career – revealing countless flaws subject to revision, rep after rep at lighter weights, focusing on technique with a lot of reflection. This was the sentiment I wanted to take with me into my rest day challenge (a bit of an oxymoron I realize…) focusing on quality, honing concepts and investing time in skills practice with regular output to encourage better performance in the long-term goals in writing that will only be supported by good habits and commitment.

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And so, the challenge is extended – to take a Wednesday rest day, replacing the usual 6am workout I would complete after coaching the 5am class and instead set that 60 minutes aside for generation of a blog. Practicing regular writing, bringing ideas that have been stuck in limbo to the page and creating – a rest day for the body but rejuvenation for the spirit. Full disclosure, day one I was able to participate in the 5am class…but stuck to the plan of writing during the 6am, so it seems baby steps will be part of the process.  It seems I will likely need a little more time to revise the draft before publishing but am going to time cap the effort at 2 hours to ensure procrastination of perfection doesn’t thwart the whole project.

I hope if your pie chart is a bit unbalanced, you will join me in this challenge to shift the space, making room for body, mind and spirit to stand on equal ground and bring best balance to the whole, examining structure of your days to optimize function. Looking forward to where this will lead in the coming weeks as I prepare for a shift in this site and in spirit – thanks for joining me!

Best,

FitMamaDOc

(previously known as MamaTriDOc)

Presents of Presence

For the first time, perhaps in history, all my siblings were in their own homes on Christmas Eve. Though a combo of all six is now a rare occurrence, there are usually pairs or triplets together. This year, however, we all rolled solo, fully immersed in our own families.  With my oldest sister departing for college when I was two, my Christmas memories are of the reunion – listening to the red vinyl Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album while waiting for the “big kids” to get home. Eventually, college adventures kept the older ones away for the holiday and I remember particularly the year we all gathered around the TV on Christmas Eve to watch with amazement as our oldest sister received Communion from the Pope in Vatican City, a valid reason to take our family star from six points down to five. My own time abroad began a trend of scattered Christmases as I spent 2001 in England with my future husband’s family and we later enjoyed multiple holidays in Boulder with my oldest sister.  We nearly made the complete half dozen at our Muskegon home in 2012, hosting 35 overnight guests, comprised of my own siblings, my husband’s, cousins, their families, and friends who were as such to us. Love truly does multiply, making for a moving target and rather challenging complete assembly.

As I saw pictures this year of my nearest sister, in Chicago with our own adult cousins, whom I have not seen in person in years, I wondered if that would be the case for our children – meetings every few years, only for major events. With my own move 3000 miles away from home, this could very likely be the case. We have not been a family of proximity for as long as I can remember, with members scattered across the country and half of the marriages of my siblings to citizens of foreign lands.  We have, however, always stayed connected, with visits and chats, trips and adventures.  Certainly easier when I was centrally located geographically, nestled between my brothers and sisters and within (a day’s) driving distance, even with the vast span of the United States between us, we have managed in-person visits at least annually. After a Thanksgiving in Minnesota complete with a half dozen of the next generation, I truly see the importance of this consistency.

We are planning for a summer gathering of all my siblings, the last of which served as the announcement for our cross-country move. It will be a milestone moment as we now have 10 cousins and will be seeing the second oldest graduating high school and entering a new phase of life. Bittersweet as we reunite with the elder generation represented now only by our mother and simultaneously welcome our newest member, not yet one year old.  I look forward to the time en masse and in pockets of two or three, sharing laughter, time and, simply the in-person opportunity to share each other’s company.

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Newaygo, MI – July 2015

Much like, and likely because of the long-distance nature of, my biological family, commitment to my family of friends has stood the tests of time and distance.  Be it for birthdays, weddings, births, funerals, meetings, conferences, races, sunshine or simply because, reuniting with the sweet souls who have supported and shared in my life experience for the past twenty plus years has been a crucial part of my well-being. My greatest gift this year was designed months ago, opened in Michigan on Christmas morning and will be delivered locally just in time for my birthday. With an exceptional spirit of generosity, my dearest friend from medical school was surprised by her husband with a trip to visit me in Ashland – no easy feat with their dual (and often dueling) physician schedules and sweet daughters, all three under three.  While we have shared brief gatherings during my return trips to Michigan, opportunity to spend days and nights, share my new home town and the time with their Tusha for my own three will be a truly special occasion. It is hard to believe fourteen years has passed since we were preparing for exams, reviewing scribes by the apartment pool, distracting ourselves with eggplant parmesan, marathons of our favorite TV shows and the ubiquitous sushi on Tuesdays.  Friendship forged in, and subsequently strengthened by, the stresses of the time carried us through weddings and babies, personal losses and professional victories with travels together and to gather with our own families, now totaling ten. I will un-wrap this present of presence with tremendous gratitude, just in time for my next adventure around the sun.

For my birthday last year, I began a letter-writing challenge, aiming for composing and mailing a hand-written greeting once each day. It was an amazing experience for many reasons – reconnection, the joy of a return note and practicing patience, with a notable shift from the instantaneous response that comes with the e-mails and texts that are more often my medium of communication. I made it half the year, thwarted by the smoke season here when my daily walk to the post-office ended (I know I could have mailed them from home, but the stroll added to the allure). I hope to begin again this year, perhaps without the personally imposed daily mandate, but simply motivated by the opportunity for connection from afar. Having been on both ends of the experience, the energy of focus given to the composition of the card is carried across the miles and felt by the recipient with the opening of the envelope and reading of the text.  Present across the miles, connected in words.

Locally, we enter the year with our new community at CrossFit Inconceivable – focused on best health along the path toward fitness with the launch of our Inconceivable Wellness programming. Drawing on my osteopathic training, considering the needs of body, mind and spirit, we are expanding beyond our workouts to discuss nutrition, sleep, stress, injury prevention and recovery, relationships and community connection. While all are important in the movement toward comprehensive wellness, I have seen in the few short months of running the gym that the latter is most important – it is truly the meeting space and common thread shared with fellow members that holds the most weight.  This was reinforced in a recent study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, relating the benefits of group exercise compared to solo and again for me today as I read Braving the Wilderness, the latest by Brené Brown and the first for our Book Club, noting that loneliness tops the charts as a health risk, increasing the odds of dying early by 45%, out-pacing even obesity (20%) and excessive alcohol consumption (30%). Our best health is found in community with others, a critical factor for our true well-being.  To that end, near and far, in person or in prose, let 2018 be the year we cultivate connection, giving and receiving presence, the most vital and valuable present of all.

Best,

MamaFitDOc