Moving Meditation

Leafy trail

Life is in constant motion.  From the rotation of the Earth, to the falling leaves, to the blood coursing through our veins, to be alive is to move.  The same can be said for our bodies and minds.  Achieving complete stillness is impossible, so instead, stillness is more of a balancing act, or at least an alternating practice.  When I move my body through running, I am able to reach a point where my mind becomes quiet.  When I stop moving my body, my mind races.

I think for this very reason, I struggled with beginning a traditional meditation practice.  I lack the capacity to quiet my mind.  The moment I sit in stillness, I cannot not stop the flow of thoughts through my head.  Stillness feels sluggish and stagnant, and mind chatter feels draining.  I struggle with yoga, and sitting, and anything less intense than long runs that leave me sweaty and depleted, but blissfully still and content.

Perhaps you are one of these people, like me, who thrive on and tolerate vigorous activity.  Perhaps sitting isn’t what you need at this moment in your life.  If so, I say embrace the run.  Let your morning workout be your meditation for now.  Let stillness come to you on the trail, amongst the trees, with the breeze and sunlight embracing you.

This is no less of a meditation than the one of your expectations, and it achieves a different, but wonderful kind of flow.  For some of us, life force, energy, and breath require movement.  Let’s embrace our nature and align with our instinct to move.  Moving meditation can be a starting point to other mindful practices.  So, if you are struggling to meditate, maybe your first step can be a 5 minute jog instead.

Advertisements

Opportunistic Sitting

chair

My favorite chair, mostly because it’s outside.

I think I sit too much.  This is the epiphany I arrived at after a few months of wearing a Garmin Vivoactive, the running watch that happens to count steps and remind you to feel guilty whenever you don’t move.

What I noticed over time from the data was that after a run of 6 miles or more, I tended to sit around for most of the day.  On days I didn’t run, I walked more.  Aside from once-weekly long run days, most days my total number of steps was about the same whether I ran or not.  Not cool.

There must be too many places to sit in my house.  After all, if I wanted to eat better, I would remove unhealthy temptations from my pantry.  So it follows that if I want to move more, then my house should not be filled with places to sit.  Thus the inventory of seating options began.

Awareness is not always an easy thing to possess.  After a household scan, I counted 33 chairs, benches, and stools.  Add in the outdoor spaces and that number soared to 44.  This is not including couches.  I have 7 of those.  Note:  we are a family of 4.  I must curl up into a fetal position now, having so far yet to go on the minimalism practice.

Ok, I’m back.  Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to focus on a single positive action.  I would move my laptop to a taller table, remove the chair, and enjoy my new standing desk.  Result of experiment:  I went two full weeks without writing a blog post and my email inbox swelled into total anarchy.  I mean, why stand at the computer, when my iPad is next to this comfy sofa?  And besides, I need to stay current on my YouTube subscriptions.  Why does my human brain default to lazy?

A few nights ago during dinner, our family got on the topic of designing our ideal room.  Turns out, my ideal room has glass walls (to enjoy the stellar view), a lap pool, bike trainer, treadmill, yoga mat, smoothie & green tea bar, and an adjacent sunny courtyard filled with an organic produce garden and waterfall.

Heck, if the location of said room was temperate enough, I may not even need the indoor sports equipment, or the garden courtyard.  So maybe what I’m realistically envisioning is a tent on a tropical island.  Either way, no chairs are necessary, because of course, I would be sipping my green tea under the waterfall, or happily sitting on a rock.

Who even decided that a house should be filled with chairs, and why did everyone else follow along?  At some point in my life, my focus obviously turned to chair accumulation, and I’m not sure I even noticed at the time.  Now I must focus on shaping my environment to reduce opportunistic sitting, since clearly my brain and body default to mush when I am presented with leisure options.

I wonder what I should do with the extra 40 chairs?

Yoga Retreat

yoga retreat

This one is called ‘Panic Pose’

After my recent beach trip, I set off on my much anticipated yoga retreat to the George Washington National Forest.  Yoga is something I suck at, but enjoy.  What I love about yoga is that you are allowed to suck, and this act of sucking is kindly referred to as an ‘individual practice’.  If sucking is too much trouble, you are always free to revert to ‘child’s pose’.

Last week, I was chatting with a friend who is new to yoga, and she described how her first yoga class was such a disappointment.  It was a little too confusing, hard core, and Sanskrit-spewing for her taste, so she promptly decided yoga wasn’t for her and never went back.  I get that.

I imagine she is not the only woman who has felt this way, exhausted and disheveled from a sweat-filled power yoga session, lower back twinging, while the lululemon-clad twenty-somethings remain glistening and beautiful on their way to grab a green juice.  Don’t even get me started on the intimidation guys feel.  My husband insists that he would be denied entry since his bald head is incapable of producing a man bun.

I recently discussed this with a thoughtful young instructor who had the body of a goddess, and even she admitted that some classes have evolved (due to demand) to be more like high intensity workout sessions masquerading as yoga.  Glad I’m not the only one thinking this.  I am also thinking, “Why did I not have her body when I was that age?” but I digress.

As I told my friend, if you’ve been to one yoga class, you’ve been to one yoga class.  Yoga classes and yoga studios are as unique as the many yoga instructors who teach them.  You have to try a few on, date around, until you find a good match.

Once you find an instructor or a style of class that resonates with you, you will experience the yoga buzz firsthand.  If you walk away feeling disappointment, then move on, but do keep looking.  Nothing beats the serenity of a good yoga buzz, surrounded by your happy yoga forcefield, inpenetrable by the grumpy people or aggressive drivers you will invariably encounter on the way home.

It took some time for me to find a good instructor, and of course, my favorite instructor will be different from yours.  My current instructor is close to my age, spiritually curious, sporting a cool tattoo, singing bowls, and is newly vegetarian (I think I’m rubbing off on her).  She’s also a smoothie entrepreneur, tree hugger, and she will hike your ass into the ground, because she’s cool like that.  I’ve seen butterflies land on her.  Enough said.

Accordingly, her yoga retreat was amazing.  Totally unplugged, rustic mountain cabins with bunk beds, drum circle, bonfires, babbling streams, ridiculously good vegan food (at my request), and a hike she described as featuring a small ‘rock scramble’, which turned out to be a death-defying mountaintop climb over boulders the size of small cars upon the summit of which she did a balance pose while I sat trying to stop shaking with fear.

That very same hike is the reason I love my yoga instructor and her adventurous spirit.  I am so grateful to have returned to my yoga practice this year.  Like every other form of movement I pursue, I try to embrace being in over my head.  Yoga is one of the few practices that will literally turn you upside down if you allow it to.  Namaste.

Success Cymbal

Cymbal

Cymbals:  the ultimate arm workout

Recently, I headed to the beach to recharge and reconnect with the sun and sand.  The beach is my happy place, and I am so privileged and grateful to have access to a little cottage by the sea.  I’ve had a dream to live at the beach since I was a young child, and this year I was planning to spend the summer there for the first time in my life.

Simultaneously, my daughter has been chasing a dream of her own, to march cymbals in Drum Corps International.  This was an intimidating goal, given that she was young, lacking an extensive percussion background, female in a guy-dominated world, and chasing a highly competitive instrument due to the shrinking number of corps that include cymbals.

I watched her plan over several years, gathering knowledge, attending competitions, and observing others.  This past November, she gathered her courage, signed up for auditions, admitted her goal to her friends, contacted mentors for advice, then headed to auditions.

The audition process involved traveling 6 hrs. by car, sleeping on a gym floor, practicing past midnight, and competing against college kids with years more experience.  She came back from audition camp bruised, sore, and exhausted, but also exhilarated.  I never realized what a workout cymbals could be!

Several months and several camps (and long car rides) later, she got word that there would be no contract for her this year.  She was obviously sad, but understanding that big goals take work and time, and she was on the right path.  Several months went by until she heard of another opening.  This was when the magic happened.

She expressed to me how much she wanted to try out again, but also how scared she was.  Trying out involved risk.  Risk that she would fail a second time, risk that she would feel embarrassed in front of her friends if she did not get a contract.  I advised her that failure could certainly happen, and that was the struggle she was going to have to accept if she wanted to reach that big goal one day.

As a parent, we want to give good advice to our children.  We want to protect them, but not shelter them from struggle in life.  I suggested that she acknowledge her fear, but instead focus on listening to her heart.  My advice was, ‘Close your eyes, and imagine you make the corps.  Does your heart feel joy, and if so, that is your answer.’  Let’s just say the decision was made pretty quickly thereafter, so we packed up the car again, and headed to the next audition camp.

This story ends with my daughter getting a contract, applying at the midnight hour for a cymbal scholarship (another big goal of hers), and finding out this week that she is one of the scholarship recipients.  As you can tell, I am a very proud mama!

So my most recent trip to the beach was spent packing up my things, cancelling my summer stay, and reflecting on how I will now spend my summer driving up I-95 to New Jersey, New York, and across the Mid-Atlantic to drum corps competitions.

Sometimes the Success Cymbal isn’t sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand.  It is working hard, taking risks, and chasing your dream.  Passion is contagious, and I could not be happier to be embarking on a new family adventure.  The beach will still be there for me when the drumline season ends.

Getting Wet & Other Keys To Happiness

trail shoes

Day 1, the only day they were ever clean.

I looked outside this morning, and it was pouring down rain.  One of those warm, soaking, spring rains that looked like it would pour for hours.  ‘Not a problem,’ I thought.  I now own trail running shoes, also known as the shoes that are allowed to go anywhere, getting as dirty & wet as they please.

Trail running has reminded me that getting outside, getting wet, and getting muddy are keys to happiness.  One of those things I knew instinctively when I was a kid, but later forgot as I started paying for my own shoes.

I laugh at the progression of my recent 50K trail race, how I celebrated at keeping my feet dry while crossing the first stream.  By Mile 18, I was covered with mud and plowing through a deeper stream without a second thought, pretty stoked that I could not avoid the water, and thus the decision was made for me.

When did I start deciding to become so foo-foo in my everyday life?  Foo-foo meaning too clean to go digging in the garden because I was wearing my nice pants, too cold to play in the snow, and too inconvenienced by the rain to throw on a raincoat and go splash in a puddle.  Did I have better things to do, like staying indoors and checking my email?  Do I even want people to know that I check my email?

Today was different.  I am a trail runner now.  I told my feet to suck it up.  Trail shoes went on.  The dog and I went out for a solid hour of puddle splashing and sniffing.  We both returned soaked and happy.  A person (and her dog) can only get so wet, and once we reach that saturation point, we can relax and start enjoying the moment.

Get In The Game

Blue Ribbon

First Place, Baby.

The irony of me writing a running blog never ceases to make me smile.  Why?  Because I know myself, and one thing I know is that I am athletically challenged.  Elementary school P.E. class revealed this to me at an early age, as I unknowingly walked past home plate during a baseball game and got smacked in the face (twice) with a plastic bat during my classmate’s back swing (right cheek) and follow through (left cheek).  I still have the scar on my knee from falling during the 600 yard dash.  It took me 5 years of field days before I earned my first blue ribbon for grabbing the most flags in tag event (random luck, but I still have that freakin’ ribbon).

There are a few things I know about myself:

I trip and drop things a lot.

I’m very slow relative to many of my peers.

Muscle is a very small portion of my body mass index.  No. Matter. What.

Why, then, would I subject myself to endurance events on a semi-regular basis?  Self-awareness!  I know how much I want to be athletic, and how great I feel when I go out and run.  The fact that I am not naturally outstanding just makes me all that more motivated to work hard.  I am used to not winning (in sports), and that allows me to take risks, not having the pressure of a particular race outcome.  All those years of feeling intimidated by athletics built up my resiliency in facing uncertainty.  I am able to accept unpredictable situations without becoming judgmental and discouraged.  I’m used to being in over my head, which led me to venture into triathlon, cycling, and most recently, my first ultra.

If I had waited to be a talented runner, I would have never have gotten out the front door.  Instead, I relied on my other strengths:  my love of learning, my determination, my intelligence, my desire for adventure, and last but not least, my courage.  I knew I had to drink kale smoothies while the other runners noshed on pancakes and bacon, and that I would still weigh more and run slower.  So be it.  Enjoy the Boston Marathon for me, bacon eaters of the world.

If you want to do something, then get in the game.  Don’t wait to be picked by someone else.  Create your own opportunities.  Mastery comes to those who practice.  Rewards go to those who begin.

50K Ribbon

Not first place, but still cool.

Running…I am complete.

50K finish

I made it to the finish.

One of the first things I ask myself after a race is, “What’s next for me?”  It’s helpful to look forward whether my race experience was successful or challenging in hindsight.  It keeps the post-race emotional slump at bay (I’m not the only one who has this, right?!).  It reminds me that running (and life) is a process and that personal growth is never linear or straightforward.  Sometimes I want to improve in what I’m doing, and other times I want to go in a new direction.

After my 50K, what kept popping into my mind was “Running…I am complete”.  It was true.  When I started running endurance events in 2010, I had hoped to become a half marathoner, a marathoner, and ultimately, an ultrarunner.  I wanted to use my running to raise money for charity, and I did, raising $10,000 for autism in honor of my son.  I wanted to join Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, and then run a sub-4 hour marathon.  Check.  Later, I got sidetracked by an incredibly fun alpine cycling adventure (Thanks, France), only to return to running, and that elusive goal of completing an ultramarathon.

It took me seven years to work up the courage, fitness, confidence, and to build the consistency that I needed to accomplish my goal of running a 50K.  There were many failures along the way, all of which helped me correct and move closer to my goal.  Was my finish time the best I’m capable of?  Probably not, given my uncooperative knee.  But speed was never on my radar for this race.  I wanted to show up to the start, keep moving forward, and finish.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I knew immediately after the finish that trail running was amazing, and I wanted to run trails more often.  I knew that I had blown my annual fitness budget on this big trip, and that it was totally worth it to not race again in 2017.  I also knew (as I already anticipated) that I had no desire to ever run 50 miles, 100K, or 100 mile races.  Yep, 50K was a lot like a half marathon road race.  The perfect distance to enjoy the ultra experience without feeling trashed afterwards.  It was just what I was looking for, and no more.

It’s an elusive but positive emotion, feeling content.  It doesn’t mean I’ll never challenge myself, but it means I can look at the path behind me and think “That was amazing, and I’m right where I need to be.”

What’s next?  Haven’t answered that question yet.