There’s a business aphorism that our strengths if overused become weaknesses. For me an overused strength is my plucky determination to take on the system. How this played out over the years is that I have found myself at odds with constraints imposed by the various systems which govern my life, the main one being the constraint to work during typical business hours and the corollary requirement of going to bed at a reasonable hour that that implies. How I manned the barricades in this struggle is by going to bed late at night. To be fair, I don’t think I am one of those people who must sleep 8 hours a night. I was one of the children who would read under the covers with my Girl Scout
Girl Scout Flashlight
flashlight after being put to bed. I’ve worked a “regular” job for at least twenty-five years for which I have had to arise at typical hours to undertake a morning commute. During those years I have often had commutes of ten to twenty-five to forty miles. But somehow during that time I’ve also been a regular viewer of ye old Late Night with David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Rose (at midnight) and TLC’s midnight silent movie on Sunday nights. If I went to bed before midnight I really felt like I might be missing something. I could never (and still can’t) understand friends that say they’re in bed by 9:30 at night. I mean, where’s your life, people?
During a routine doctor visit I was once asked if I am tired during the day. I didn’t really understand the question. I mean, that’s what coffee’s for, right? I am pretty sure that I have a baseline standard of how awake I want to feel and that I have varied my consumption of coffee to bring about this result.
Somehow the process of hitting the half-century mark has helped me get a clue about a few things under the general heading of Getting Out of my Own Way. I am aware as that the brain is subject to decline related to age and figure that the least I can do for myself is to keep my cognition at its peak in part by not being a sleep deprived person. The payoff for this is feeling better in the morning. It’s nice being able to get up and shut the alarm off before it goes off and just to wake up feeling fairly well rested. Right now I still average six hours of sleep a night which is an improvement for me believe it or not. I plan to keep fine tuning this protocol until I am actually getting enough sleep but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I was raised in a culture that judged women largely on their appearance. Some people fare better in the genetic lottery than
Maneless male lion via Wikipedia
others with respect to looks but over and above that there are myriad things we’re expected to do in the grooming arena with hair, skin, nails and body hair to live up to social norms.
I started college in the late 1970’s and the question of whether women should shave their legs and underarms was squarely in the realm of political discourse. For my part I did not like having my habits dictated either way. That is, I was no more accepting of people telling me that I must not shave as that I must shave. Reacting to the stricture that women must look a certain way by telling them they can’t look a certain way still leaves one stuck in the same paradigm.
I am not proud of this but I did feel a certain smug satisfaction when it became apparent in recent years that men are now subjected to even more unrealistic images and expectations than women. I mean they still control the culture, I figured, so whose fault is that? Bombarded by media images of men with the body-beautiful men are actually being expected to conform to norms even more extreme than those applied to women, for example, according to some fashion arbiters men aren’t allowed to appear hairy any more. I shudder to think of the implications on men’s self esteem and the lengths to which they would need to go to present themselves in a way so at odds in some cases with what nature intended. It also makes me wonder who are the arbiters of what we are allowed to look like or what’s supposed to be considered alluring or attractive. My hope would be for a world in which we don’t all feel we have to look a certain way and when it’s OK to be hairy or smooth or shaven or unshaven, inked or not inked, black or white etc. That we can accept how we ourselves appear and enjoy and celebrate the variety in those around us.
Common Sense Like The Hope Diamond is Very Rare
A number of years ago I sought help from a chiropractor for an acute muscle spasm. During the visit I chanced to say that I had no common sense. I will never forget his reply which was: “You have common sense. You just don’t use common sense.” Few truer words have been spoken about me.
It’s clear that I am not alone in not using common sense. I mean, have you ever driven a car? It’s not really that all other people are idiots as it may seem, it’s just that they aren’t using their common sense either. I am very fond of my life and fond of my car so I do use common sense behind the wheel. For one thing I don’t use a cell phone when I am driving. I figure it’s best it I have my wits about me as so many others can be counted on not to.
I am trying to diligently apply common sense to the schedule associated with my new job in that the job requires a longer commute coupled with an earlier start time. I am going to bed at a more reasonable hour so that I can wake up feeling like a person rather than a disinterred corpse. This seems to be working so far though I need more time to have truly made a habit of it. This going to bed scenario also requires making myriad tasks part of my evening routine rather than deferring them to morning. Again, looks good so far but need more time.
With job transitioning having had dominion over the last month of my life, I haven’t evolved a new workout schedule to complement my earlier sleep time. That will take some effort but I am optimistic. Now that common sense has been unleashed there’s no telling what can happen.
No I Cannot Do the Peacock Pose
Last spring I signed up for a series of yoga classes at a studio that teaches yoga in the Baptiste tradition. I did this because I was feeling hamstrung so to speak over my inability to lift heavy weights as I recovered from an arm injury and wanted something that would help me continue to build muscle strength without further injuring myself.
I first took yoga at college. I remember my teacher well. She was a delightful, down to earth woman from Texas. She told us she was one of few people we’d ever hear say “cow” as a word with three syllables and she was right. Yoga really stuck with me. Over the years some movements or poses just became a normal part of my stretching routines. When I started back at it recently I had not taken yoga in a formal setting in 30 years.
One of my disappointments about middle age is how hard I must fight to retain flexibility. I’ve always been reasonably flexible. Now desk jobs plus age have me suddenly concerned with flexibility in the hips. This is more than an idle concern as the tension in this area can impinge on nerves and cause some fairly uncomfortable sensations which take time and hard work to alleviate once they get started.
The class I’ve taken most is Power Yoga Basics which is really a good full body workout. Some of the poses like the pigeon really seem to help with hip inflexibility. For me the key to making progress in yoga practice are: take a place near the front of the room so I am as little distracted as possible by other people and how flexible and awesome they are and use a foam block to modify poses when needed so that I am doing as close to what I am supposed to be as possible while respecting my own limitations. My favorite place to practice is in the hot studio. It makes my muscles feel more limber. Also it’s just nice being warm at this time of year without being bundled up.
Recently the New York Times magazine had an article on the dangers of yoga. I think the main message I drew from it is that there is no physical activity that if done to extremes or excess does not carry risk and of course the same is true of yoga. That said, I plan to continue to be mindful of my limits and continue to practice. And having completed my series of classes I plan to sign up for more.
I am happy to take inspiration anywhere I can get it. Seriously. Years ago my pattern with exercising would sometimes be that things got hectic at work and in the rest of my life and I stopped doing everything physical. Those breaks sometimes lasted as long as six months. Thank goodness a friend and I started walking about 4 miles together in a local park on Sunday mornings. I think we’ve been doing that about ten years. One absolutely crucial effect of this routine is that it keeps me from getting into one of those no-exercise phases. There were times when the weekly walk was the only exercise I did. More recently it’s often icing on the cake. The New Rules of Lifting for Women calls it “active recovery” I believe. That is, something you do that’s not actually strenuous enough to be exercise but is good calorie-burning activity that allows you to be ready for more weight lifting the next day.
The fitness efforts of friends real and virtual also inspire me. From friends that are making great strides with their own levels of fitness and sharing awe-inspiring lifting, running and biking accomplishments to those whom I see looking great as they change their body composition in positive ways. Someone tweets that he’s at the gym or someone posts that she’s hit a new PR, that helps me feel inspired to hit the weights myself.
I also find it helpful to work on a program. I am quite capable of coming up with exercise routines for myself but I find that I do better when I have the guidance, structure and variety of routines put together by experts. I know people are sometimes surprised to learn that I work out by myself in my basement and that I do keep at it. Ironically, for me the need to tear myself away from home to go to the gym would at this point in my life be a de-motivator and not a motivator.
Probably the biggest motivator of all is seeing results. This is especially motivating at first when one is making initial gains but one needs to be satisfied with more subtle progress as one goes farther on the fitness journey. A friend of mine recently introduced me to stickk.com which uses a combination of things to get one to set goals and stick to them including making donations to charities that one doesn’t like if one fails to meet a goal, having referees and friends to support the effort. This all coming from the results of a Yale study on what helps people stick to goals. I am not using it yet for that but the possibilities seem intriguing.
I consider myself an agnostic in the New Year’s resolution realm. It seems foolish to make them in the sense that why structure around a date on the calendar committing to what we already know we should be doing? On the other hand, it seems even more foolish to avoid using any momentum one can to help one do what one should… So were I to make New Year’s resolutions what would they be?
First is to drink more water. A couple of years ago I bought my first Camelbak water bottle. Eventually I figured out that I needed one at work and one at home since I spend lots of time in both places. Then I figured out that I should really be drinking three bottles of water per day so I bought a third one figuring that if I started the day with three full ones I might have a chance. I haven’t yet focused on this enough to be successful but I guess it’s good to have the tools in place. A colleague of mine who lost about 50 pounds and looks great told me she drinks a half ounce of water for each pound of body weight per day. I can see how that would be helpful in keeping one’s appetite under control and feeling hydrated. If I have to focus on filling a bottle at any time during the day when I have better things to think about–and that would be always–I am more likely to fail so the game plan is to have three full bottles at the start of each day and have drunk them by the end of the day.
Second quasi-resolution is to use my Rumble Roller daily. I’ve used it about 10 to 15 minutes for the last two days and I already feel better. When I don’t do some sort of flexibility work my body quickly becomes stressed and crunchy feeling. I know that certain aches and pains are secondary symptoms of muscle tightness and that rolling will fix ’em. I know that as I roll more I can reduce pressure points and that rolling itself will feel better. If I want to go for the gold standard on this one it will be rolling my illiotibial band. Right now it’s so painful when I do that that I come close to seeing stars. I am sure my body would benefit considerably from that area of my body being less irritated. A couple of useful resources for how to foam roll are Jeff Alexander’s instructions for scaled myofascial release on you tube using a wall for things that would be too painful to do on the floor. (Sheesh that sounds bad.) Another helpful video was a longer and more thorough introduction to using a Rumble Roller by Coach Charles Staley.
Third would be actually taking the dietary supplements I aim to take. I measure them all out into little boxes each day for AM and PM. Just got
Drink .5 oz/lb bodyweight /day
to remember to get them down the hatch. The things I do try to take were inspired by recommendations of the “You Docs” Mehmet Oz and Jeffrey Roizen in their book You: The Owners Manual.
That’s probably enough for this year. I don’t feel like I have to resolve to exercise because I feel pretty motivated to do that.
A couple of summers ago I was letting an arm injury heal and found myself doing run/walk intervals and core work as a way to work out. One thing I noticed at the time is that my knees were killing me after running; and we’re not even talking about “running running” here but rather like 1 minute running followed by 2 minutes of walking repeated. When I finally sought a consultation on my arm from a sports medicine physician I thought I’d get a ruling on my knees at the same time. I was pleased to find out there wasn’t really much of anything wrong with them for a person my age. The feedback I received is that my problem, rather than being anything intrinsic to my knees, had more to do with a lack of core strength; that is, it had more to do with my gait than my knees.
Since this experience I do think about whether aches and pains are signs of injury or secondary symptoms of other problems. Recently a few issues seem to be cropping up that are a result of muscle tightness in my legs and hips. I am here to report that the imperative to stretch apparently is greater as we age. I’ve always been a tense person and held a lot of tension in my shoulders etc. but the advent of low body tightness is new.
In her book The Female Body Breakthrough, Rachel Cosgrove recommends using a foam roller regularly; in particular on days one is not working out. I have a scary one called a Rumble Roller. It really is like getting a deep tissue massage–sort of. Something I know I should do and don’t is to foam roll more; ideally every day I don’t work out. As it is I only stretch when I work out so if working out gets disrupted so does stretching. Not helpful.