As a tribute to the world-changing man Seth Roberts I am re-blogging his final column, submitted to the website BetaBeat.com just before he unexpectedly died while hiking last weekend. I met him over a year ago and he was shy yet child-like in his curiosity and wonder. Seth is already missed but has helped so many people take charge of their own health by tenacious self-experimentation and the philosophy that in our own “experiments of one” we can find something close to a happy and healthy life. Seth is NOT in a better place. He should be here, still doing his beloved work. -Andrea
They are a most curious specimen, those first-time dudes at yoga class. They often come at the behest of a friend or perhaps out of curiosity.
They seem willing to give it a go and be amused by the whole thing if that’s what is needed for them to participate. Maybe they pretend they are a super hero to get them in the mood.
Poses are undertaken with an element of skepticism and, if they don’t work well, an uninstructed tweak might be tried. This results in poses that, to the trained yogi’s eye, are somewhat . . . interesting. This ain’t no Warrior I:
Then, if asked to get into a pose that is actually a bit painful – or just uncomfortable – and they’re asked to hold it, hold it, hold it – they might not. If they’re really really tired and need a break, they will take one. They are willing to abandon what is not working.
They are willing to abandon what is not working.
Persistence. Tenacity. Follow-through. All perfectly valid practices in many parts of our lives and projects we undertake. However, that doggedness can also be a huge roadblock or time-waster if we don’t recognize the other side and know when to move on. If you find yourself in one of those ruts, unable to let go of a seriously draining project or something as simple as that bag of clothes that no longer fit, think of the guy in yoga class, and ask yourself, “how is that working out for me?”
Pop quiz: which clinical mental disorder has the highest mortality rate? It’s not bipolar disorder. It’s not schizophrenia. Rather, it’s that heady place where out-of-whack brain chemicals meets up with out-of-whack societal beauty standards and renders a person incapable of eating enough to maintain their physical existence: anorexia nervosa.
Everyone knows that anorexia is horrible-tragic-shocking, but one thing it does have going for it – it is VERY visible.
Do you have any doubt that this person (who is in their 20s, by the way) has a problem?
That’s Ilsa Paulson, who looked pretty normal in high school, only to turn pro after college and got lean. Really, really lean.
On the other hand, how about this person?
Yep. That’s Hollie Avil, who retired from triathlon at age 23 because of trauma from eating disorders, depression, and general breakdown.
That’s the rub – in a strange and bizarre way, anorexia is easier to spot and therefore intervene. I’m not saying that such interventions are successful – there’s a good reason why those mortality rates are NOT falling – but for some sufferers who have hope of recovery, it can make a critical difference to hear someone say, “I really care about you and I think you might be harming yourself. Please know that I love you and want you to not die.”
But for every obvious case, there are likely hundreds who suffer almost in silence. Ironically, they can suffer more because if they don’t look the part of the eating disorder patient it can be internalized as a failure – a failure to successfully execute this disease that they identify with control and perfection.
That’s the gist of this post, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, to get you to contemplate people in your life who might be on that edge. Those who could be slipping into habits that lead to a real problem, or those that simply spend years and years and years just under the threshold of a real diagnosis. They can eat just a tiny bit less than they really need (instead of eating a LOT less than they need), while bones are weakening, muscles are atrophying, organs are shrinking (!!!), metabolism is shutting down, the brain itself is undergoing structural changes under one’s skull.
This is not as ludicrous as it sounds – I have weighed 25 pounds less than I do now, and honestly you could look at me and be like, “Ok, yeah, she’s a little smaller, but 25 pounds smaller? She’s not scrawny, like real eating disorder scrawny!” Those pounds came from skin and fat and muscles, yes, but they also came from my organs, and my bones, and my glycogen stores.
Here’s the thing: you can’t help if they are not ready. But I do believe, strongly, that if you care about someone and you tell them you care enough about them to want them to stay in your life, at absolute worst, it CANNOT HURT. Awareness of self is one of the first steps if recovery will happen.
I lost someone recently who “successfully” managed their level of disorder for more than 20 years. It’s true that you can ‘get away with’ a great deal of abusing your body with lack of food – we are remarkably resilient creatures. But not forever. She was a talented runner and no doubt helped by a very low weight (a subject for another post), but in the end her systems were too beat down, taxed, and on the edge to make it through acute dehydration due to the flu. It’s a fucking shitty way to die. My friend loved helping other runners achieve their goals and loved helping kids get excited about running. If a car came barreling down on them while on a run, I have no doubt she would have gladly shoved them aside to take the impact herself. That would have been an O.K. way to go, especially at 46 years old. How she did die should not have happened. But. It. Did.
Finally, she was not just some anonymous friend that I need to hide. She was Susan “Sus” Brozik.
Find your little-bit-skinny, little-bit-obsessive, little-bit-food-paranoid friends and tell them you appreciate every part of the good things they do. If you think it’s not too much, also tell them that their healthy body is the thing that lets them do those awesome things, and you’d love it if they kept their body around for a long time.
“Are we teaching yoga in public schools now?” he asked. “Are parents notified?” – New Mexico state representative Alonzo Baldonado (R, but like you couldn’t guess THAT). He said these comments and more in a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee where he is a non-voting member, during a session meant to demonstrate things that educators are doing to combat obesity and assist in the general health of schoolkids. The committee studies current educational metrics in New Mexico and makes recommendations for funding or changes to educational law.
During the meeting, a local PE teacher was describing her stretching routine to help warm the kids up before engaging in other sports, and this is when Mr. Baldonado chose to speak saying that he, “didn’t go looking for a discussion on religion. It just came up.”
Never mind the fact that the state representative’s own children are home-schooled, far from the overly influencing realm of regular classrooms and gym class and stretching. Good for them (?). However, Mr. Baldonado is extremely concerned that other people’s kids will be exposed to non-Christian religious practices without their knowledge or consent of their parents.
Yoga for Westerners = Stretching in Tight Pants
Never mind the fact that yoga, as Westerners know it, has approximately zero to do with its own traditional roots. According to Mr. Baldonado, who has “nothing against Buddhism or Hinduism”, “yoga could be seen as a gateway to Eastern religion.”
I won’t spend this post talking about what might happen if, indeed, some kids became interested in Eastern religion, whether that interest was sparked by a book they read or a conversation at school or a television show or gym class stretching. Conversion from one religious thought system to another is rare and not my topic for today.
Instead, my topic is on yoga: Mr. Baldonado could use just a wee bit of schooling himself. On eastern religions, on Christianity’s hold on upbringing, on yogic traditions, and on physical activity as a contributor to mental/academic performance. But mostly on what in the heck it means when a person says, “yoga”.
Do YOU know what yoga’s traditional roots are? Do you know what yoga really means? Let’s do a brief overview, keeping in mind that I am not a trained scholar on the history of yogic practice. So this will be quick, and it will be assisted by other folks online who are better experts than I.
Yoga – the Driving Analogy
Calling the stretching and exercises that we as Westerners call yoga, “yoga”, is like calling your ignition key your car. The key is a tool, used in the whole process we call “driving from one place to another”. Other parts of the process are things like the car itself, the roads, your knowledge and experience with driving, how much you know about your destination, the traffic along the way, and even the mental decision that made you choose this destination and this day and this car to take you there. Whew.
Similarly, the whole system and concept and world of yoga is a journey and an education, with goals along the way, rules, guideposts, and teachers. A yoga teacher of mine likes to say that we “will never have a perfect pose or session or day – that is why you call it yoga practice!”
Yoga: the four letter word with eight parts
What that tiny four letter word YOGA encompasses is EIGHT areas of focus that ultimately touch upon all of a person’s life:
- Yama: self-restraint. Otherwise known as not going overboard in a Western consumer kind of way.
- Niyama: introspection, self-study.
- Asana: activity, stretching, body alignment.
- Pranayama: breathing, study of breath.
- Pratyahara: quiet sitting, detachment from distractions.
- Dharana: calming the mind, preparing for #7.
- Dhyana: contemplation, meditation.
- Samadhi: bliss or enlightenment, or just plain feeling at one with everything.
THAT – all of it – is “the yoga”. What looks familiar? The word “posture” should have been a sign – it’s number 3 on the list. That is what most of us – we humans who go to yoga class and bend and twist and say hello to our friends and their new shiny yoga mats – do and call it yoga. From now on I will call what Mr. Baldonado and everyone else refer to as yoga by its name on the list: asana. (Asana is also referred to as “hatha yoga” – so if you go to a yoga studio that says they practice Hatha Yoga you can be sure that you’re getting…. yoga. Just like you expected. As opposed to a meditation studio or such.)
There is nothing wrong with asana all on its own. Physical movement, especially habitual daily patterns as is common with asana practice, is extremely good for us.
Most of the other steps and practices are also helpful in our cluttered lives: steadying your thoughts, breathing in different ways to enhance your desired goals (slow to calm down, forceful to awaken, et cetera), meditation. These are practices that would benefit nearly every human on the planet. Ok, I’ll go on a limb (har) and say it could benefit EVERY human.
And that’s nothing that a schoolkid’s parent should have to sign a consent form for.
Just a quickie today – I read a decent article in The Atlantic about food, our guts, and skin health and a quote popped out that made me smirk:
Maybe if you’re 20 you just have good genes and you can have pizza and beer every day and still glow. But if you’re over 40, often there is a fair amount of kale involved. – Robynne Chutkan, author of Gutbliss
Yeah, that’s true – taking care of ourselves is a moving target that can shift from year to year, decade to decade. And yet, it is all to easy to find “inspiration” (or the more insidious varieties called thinspiration or fitspiration) for how we should look or feel or perform in people who do not resemble us AT ALL. They are almost always possessing of several attributes that are conveniently forgotten:
- they are fit for a living
- at the end of a long diet process
- starving and dehydrated on photo shoot day
… those “amazing” looking women on the cover of Shape are – more often than not – dehydrated and almost about to pass out from hunger. They are likely at their lowest weight point of the previous (or upcoming) six months.
In short, THEY DON’T REALLY LOOK LIKE THAT. Just like you don’t look like the 10 years-old photo on your driver’s license, or the tiny and cute avatar that’s been attached to an email account for eons, or the glamor shot used for your corporate bio at your firm. And that’s OK, as long as you see the parallels in the disassociation from reality in both camps.
This blog post is part of the Week of Self-Love hosted by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt of annesophie.us. (Even though the week is technically over, I still want to give her link-love for the great idea!)
Today marks just 5 days before I am scheduled to venture up into the scrubby hills between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon for an inaugural 100 mile race. Problem is, my body isn’t excited about this prospect, AND there is a much closer, locally-organized shorter event the same weekend. So, as is usual for me, I am torn.
Normally my course of action is to wait until a decision foments on its own, but that is not how I’d like to BE as a participant in this life. Deciding is not a bad thing, not a scary thing, not to be avoided at all costs. So, to make this be an effective behavioral change, I think I should set a hard deadline for the choice (24 or 48 hours from now), and make the choice and deal with it. Lovingly, without regret or self-recrimination, or even too many “but, if….”s in the mix.
Self-assuredness is a quality I could use a bazillion percentage points more of. Here’s my pledge to make that happen, little by little, with care and compassion for my own flip-floppy mental state.
Ultras and nutrition seem to be a match made in caloric heaven. Just eat as much as you can possibly stand so that you CAN keep standing, right?
Not quite *that* simple, but for some folks, close.
The key is judging your own effort level first, and your familiarity with digestion on the run second. A 48 hour grind with 90% hiking is a different beast to appease than a 6 hour zippy race. This topic is ripe for detailed digging (and I will, I promise), but here’s an overview for starters. Keep in mind that the golden running rule always applies: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. (No, the golden rule is not, “What Would Anton Do?“)
Here are the types of foods that will help for different effort levels, for a 50 mile distance:
- Hard/fast and lots of running: fuel like a marathon with some additional easy-digesting quasi-real food. This would include: gels, sports drinks, water, and other quick foods such as candies, pretzels, m&ms, or even boiled potatoes.
- Easy and long effort – lots of hiking over varied terrain, some running: whatever tastes good, no matter what it is. Gels, sports drinks, cookies, sandwiches, soup, burritos, coffee, you name it. If it tastes good and you’re power-hiking tons, down the hatch!
- Medium effort – hard uphills but hiking, some good and hard downhills: this one is trickiest. It will depend a little bit on the placement of aid stations and how much food you are willing to carry. The short answer is to eat what tastes good but not stuff yourself, and try to eat/digest when you know you will be walking (usually uphills). Really jarring downhills can mess with any food’s processing, so keeping digestibility high is still a good strategy. This means opt for a jelly sandwich instead of a spoonful of peanut butter.
That’s a really basic primer. More will surely come.
Here’s one bonus tip: candied ginger is the “new” Gu Chew / Shot Bloks. That stuff is amazing on touchy stomachs.
If you’ve done yoga for any number of years, you already know that the above and the below are the WRONG questions to ask or even speculate. Pose the questions and get an immediate game show like buzzer sound:
What has yoga DONE FOR ME? <Errrrrr!>
What do my triceps look like? <Berrrrrrr!>
Can I do Crow yet? <BERRRRR!>
What a person “gets” from yoga is a spectrum from nothing in particular to the tools you need to cope with Western society. No more, no less. You get a little more flexible, a little more gentle, one hopes. It is not about achievement or levels or belts or PRs. But still, a milestone is a cool thing, so I found this in my email box today:
I have been in and around yoga for exactly 5 years today, with an 18 month hiatus in there along the way. Initially it did wonders for both my psyche and my physique. Of course, like all things the effect wanes with time.
Everyone understands that a drug addict needs more and more as time goes on to get the same effect, but that is hardly limited to drugs. Pretty much anything habitual with a physical component will have a slow compensatory effect, from running to pushups to hiking to coffee brewing techniques to typing speed to . . . you name it.
Our nature is to constantly change with our environment, seek out new challenges (or be bombarded with new problems to solve without any choice in the matter, as was the case for most of our evolution), and leap to a different level or pastime when one has exhausted it’s ability to fascinate. Just before my hiatus I wasn’t sure what was “next” for me with my practice so I decided to just stop and see how long it took to come back. Months, days? It was more than a year; it seems I do well while doing yoga but it does not take up my life, nor is it a black hole when not a part of my daily routine. I work with it, or without it.
I do still love it – love watching the trembling of balance, the stillness of mind after exertion, the ease of friendships in the studio. For now, I will continue.
Thank you to Molly and Bruce, who made this their entrepreneurial calling nearly 10 years ago, and to Jamesina, who took me to my first class with James and unleashed my monster: it was a downward (dog) spiral from there.
Effecting change is a wish of many of us. But usually it remains a wish, and often it can become a burden, an annoyance, an irritating behavior, and a pestilence. Why? In the way-smarter-than-me words of Seth Godin (from his book Tribes, and from his blog):
People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves.
I think the biggest long term impact is to somehow change their behaviors without forcing the issue. Nudge-like stuff. Change is hard. Really freaking hard – James Altucher says so. And I like James. Because he writes silly and interesting things about dead bodies, sometimes.
In the realm of changes toward more physical activity, especially in the evening, here are some ideas I’ve had recently. Start by setting positive context for behaviors that will lead to better health, happiness, mobility, and on (which doesn’t have to mean weight loss, but could):
- after a meal, “I feel like a short walk – want to come with me?”
- at the end of a meal (regardless how you actually feel), “Wow, that was filling. Definitely no dessert for me.”
- walking the dog, “want to come with me?” If NO, then other nudge-like methods, “I’m taking the dog out, want to come and talk about that house project we are working on / that crap that happened to you at work / your parents’ upcoming visit / what we want to do on vacation?”
- either all at once or gradually, get rid of or fix visual reminders of unwanted behavior: messy environment, snack foods, dirty exercise clothes
- YOU DO the habits that they will need to do. Set a visual, rather than verbal, example.
- start training for something. Warrior dash, office arm-wrestling, whatever.
- don’t personally do the bad habits they should not do: popcorn at movies, extra appetizers, watching TV all night, saying you will workout or do something physical and then bailing out. If you say you are going to work out, fucking go work out.
For lasting change, they really do have to want to drink even if you’ve led them to the water. I don’t think there is much way around this. Again, see Seth’s quote above. Robb freaking Wolf could not change members of his family who had chronic and very uncomfortable diseases that might have been reversed with lifestyle changes. That should not be depressing, per se, but rather help all of us to understand that folks need to come into knowledge from their own divination.
It has to be their idea.
Even if it’s your idea. It has to be their idea.
Let them steal it, and honestly, you BOTH will win. Honestly, isn’t what you wanted for them to change – not for them to bow before you as a fountain of lifehacker knowledge?
I fell for yoga hard. It was just over 3 years of a relationship before I decided to take a break. That break lasted 18 months.
I’m now into month 2 of the return, and found this amazing quote buried deep in a blog post on a yoga website whose domain name I can’t help but admire: YogaDork.com
See – isn’t that awesome? Their Facebook page even shows the Rolling Stones hanging out somewhere, Mick Jagger in a shoulder stand on a huge rug.
Now, for more awesomeness, here is the quote. If you love your life or are completely numb to it, you’ll not have much of a reaction. BUT, if you are currently a SEEKER of self, of being alive, of living, try not to get all misty-eyed when you read, re-read, and absorb it.
Let your heart break for all that you’re losing and all that you’re scared of. But also let it crack open with the profound joy of falling in love with who you really are. – Jay Fields