Finding the Sweet Spot/ Exercise and Writing

People who know me through my fitness instruction are often surprised to learn about my other life, as a writer. And, there was a time when the folks at my college and other institutions where I taught writing could barely believe I teach fitness. I used to keep these worlds discrete but over the years I found a fluidity in my fitness world and my writing/teaching life. Although one practice seems static and the other dynamic, they share principles and practices: 

In my many years mentoring authors at every level of their development, I have had some basic messages: let your writing lead you, find your through-line and keep it strong, be diverse in your approach.

This advice mimics some of our best fitness training advice: listen to your body, strengthen your core and cross-train.

Each practice has an energetic intersection of the dynamic, meditative and the creative. Keeping the blood flowing and keeping the pen flowing allow the energy of one’s drive to reach new thresholds.  You can write the same standard story or essay and be a fine competent writer or mine the deeper levels of your consciousness, letting it inform your writing. Similarly, you can repeat the same routines and keep your body maintained or you can dare your body to reach farther, lift more, move more quickly. 

For some of us, what we can do is what we can do. That can be keeping our body in shape so we can move forward in the rest of our lives. That’s a excellent accomplishment.

Some writers aren’t looking to be the next great novelist, they want to express their stories, their poems with joy and interest.

The fire of youth tricks us sometimes. When I was teaching boot camp, my body was leaner, I was faster and was willing to spend hours making myself worthy of leading smart and strong people in their programs. I lifted heavy weights hours a week, studied voraciously trying to get every certification I could.  I ran a lot, bicycled even more.

After my adult onset of asthma and just plain aging, I had to recognize that body, that level of power and exertion, was possible but unrealistic. The amount of time I would need to dedicate to achieve those levels and overcoming my medical inhibitions would create an imbalance in my life.

One of the things we realize, as we age, is that a balanced life means a better life. Because we can’t live on 4 hours of sleep or skip stretching after a run. Everything starts to have consequences. We pull muscles, we get cramps and sometimes start to hear creaks and pops that weren’t there before.

Writers, too, find that the energy of the first book, the rocket speed of its manifestation is later bogged down by too much other work, and overt awareness of our writing weaknesses, demands of a public or others and the ever present inner critic. Overcoming those blocks are equally exhausting. The emotional toll comes as self-doubt, writer envy, and getting stuck in the head.

I talk a lot to writers about their blocks and give them some solutions. Read, meditate, do writing prompts, copy others works. modify your own into a something it’s not (a painting a poem), read aloud, exercise. Stuff like:

  1. Writing prompts—writing from a suggestion or idea
  2. Find lines in your story that make a poem or take a line from a poem and create a story (modifying)
  3. Read aloud, your own work or others
  4. Copy other’s work, preferably by hand
  5. Write a letter to your character or topic to free the mind.

As exercisers, we also hit blocks, especially now in the pandemic– what may have worked for us has changed. Group class people find it hard to stay interested alone. People, like me, who love weight rooms and heavy barbells can’t find a home substitute. Sometimes using videos to exercise produces a half effort because no one is watching and I just needed some tea.

We might find satisfaction in one of our exercise disciplines, say mind-body, but not in another, strength or cardio. The toll here is physical and emotional. And again, the inner critic makes us more miserable

How do I transform what I tell writers to apply to fitness?

  1. Try a workout you’ve never done before…promise yourself only 10 minutes
  2. Use a new piece of equipment: TRX, bands, balls, nothing expensive, something to capture your imagination
  3. Make a date on zoom with a friend where each of you alternates training. You choose the first, they choose the second…
  4. Select a challenge—a plank challenge, a squat challenge, etc., and do it first thing in the morning, even in your pj’s.
  5. Mark you wall calendar with your intentions—30 minute walk, 20 minutes yoga—gift yourself for 10 days in a row for completion (gifts: new socks, massage balls, get your car washed.)

 I know these tricks don’t always work. We actually don’t know if this time has resulted in low-grade depressions that may be messing with our motivation. But I have one more ace in my pocket for writers and exercisers. Music. The very nature of music speaks to the body and to the spirit. Blast it and stand. Stand and let the movement happen. Here’s a good starting point. I Need You by Jon-Baptiste.

Calling Out My Own Industry

This won’t be long, but it’s been on my mind for a minute so I’m going to run it by ya’ll. We all have had moments where we have had to workout coddling a wounded part–an injury or a healing part. It’s a pain to make the adjustment. We want the healing to move faster Or we give up, kick back and then return.

My training included cues and methodologies for those returning or those who are fitness challenged. That often included folks who were medically obese or new to fitness. We have modifications for chronic back issues, tender necks and knees. Great, that’s all well and good.

But, that harbors the assumption that you can make a choice to lift a weight, stand in a class, raise an arm. Which brings me to my call-out. The fitness industry is ableist. From the way facilities are designed, to the techniques we propagate in classes, it’s clear that able folks are favored.

It took a long time to fit equipment to women’s bodies or to bodies of folks who had smaller dimensions. We are still struggling to accept non-barbie models as our fitness instructors (I am luckily blessed by all of you). The industry’s goal conflates healthy to a standard looking fit body. We’ve worked on expanding that standard with some success, but it’s still the exception. The model with the larger waist teaching yoga is glaring. Jessaymn Stanley has done a lot to inform and change that scene. Public facilities like the Y accept qualified fitness instructors who don’t fit the model

But we are so so behind. Not only as individuals but also as institutions. People of other sizes is one thing. Ableism is another.

When I started teaching Barrelattes, I met a Y member name Leia Cash. I could tell right away that she had a dance background as every movement was precise and graceful. Later I learned that Leia teaches movement and dance to foks with Parkinson’s and their families and caregivers. She is trained specifically to address the movements and perceptions of those with Parkinson’s and it’s not just an adjustment here and there but a body of knowlege. In another club where I subbed, a member with prosthetic arms took off her prosthesis and used blocks to support her body in a plank. I don’t know if she figured that out or if a well-informed instructor did. It allowed her to participate in my entire pilates practice,

Having modifications in class is great for the ailing able body, but unless we are more adaptive, we are cutting people out of our community. A wheelchair ramp is great for those in chairs to gain access, but where are the knobs, cables, weight pins and more? The list of what we haven’t done could go on. While this is not my area of activism (you can go to DREDF), it is my area of concern and sensitivity. Like Leia, I want to learn adaptive cuing. And if there is one person in my class who cannot perform something because of their structure, I would find one-on-one time to share some adaptive techniques.

This is a whole world and I’m peeking in and trying to grow my awareness. Accommodating everyone feels monumental, as an instructor and as a facility. But here’s a thought. Let’s bring new minds and bodies to the training and designing table. Instead of imagining that we get it, let’s learn. Here’s a great class being taught by Kris Saunders-Stowe. The inclusivity in this photo should guide us to greater inclusivity on training teams, boards, facilities administrations, certifying agencies, everyone in the industry

I’ll get better in my practice, offer folks adaptive movements and positioning and educate myself on working with Abilities. I hope that while the industry has a moment to step back and meditate on who they are and whom they serve, the realization that we’re not inclusive enough will have broader meaning. It will be better for the members, the community, the industry and for ourselves.

Hello world!

Here are my classes–On this page look for information on fitness, technique, and health. I will answer questions. I will send along recommendations from others on walks, runs, and other funs.  Click Here

Body sculpting Tuesdays 10 am
Centering and Strengthening Wednesday. 7 am
Barrelattes  Thursdays 9 am
Pilates Sunday 10 am & Roller Pilates Sunday 11 am

Is it Pain or an Injury?

Because we are high self-testers, we can push ourselves and not recognize when we’ve gone too far until we feel pain. It’s a refrain you can hear after challenging workouts. “Oh, the hip pain was excruciating?” “My back kept hurting.” Sure, workouts challenge our bodies and sometimes force a structural shift or intensity. For some people, they say, “If i don’t feel pain, I don’t feel like i got a workout.”

We’re being a little fast and loose with our language there–you don’t actually want pain. Let me throw in another phrase. Fatigue. Body builders and runners often train to exhaustion or to fatigue–a place where the body feels the work and has drained all the energy from the participating parts. Why is that attractive? Many fitness fans know that crossing thresholds of strength or flexibility have long term effects in the power of the body and the amount of lean body mass. However, remember that this can be a never ending cycle, always pushing.

I appreciate fatigue as a goal, and it can be achieved without going heavier or longer each time. You can change up and cross-train and use different methodologies to support your strength building. You won’t be very surprised to know that faithful weight lifters have a lot of trouble doing Pilates. You can challenge yourself and get to fatigue by interval workouts, rotations and/or cross -training. This is why I try not to repeat a workout in our classes for 6 weeks.

So back to the subject at hand: The difference between pain and injury. Pain doesn’t damage; injury does. I read a great article about pain, its relationship to your brain and your nervous system in Absolute Health Performance and I highly recommend it. When you feel pain, whether from a psychological trigger or an experience, immediately modify your form and stay safe. Try not to stop cold, unless you’re feeling sharp pain, so you don’t cramp. Anything piercing and sharp is a signal to let up.

Muscle soreness is a great indicator that you’re accelerating your strength. But real muscle response usually has a delay of a day or two. You know when you did 1100 squats on Sunday but couldn’t walk on Tuesday? I appreciate this article from UTPhysicians who break down muscle soreness and injury. If something is immediate, you might have an injury. Get it checked out by a health provider and take it easy. However be careful not to get too static. Sometimes moving is the one thing that will get the oxygen to the affect area and start the healing process

What I know about Sciatica

First before I get into my own management methods around sciatica, let’s see how it’s defined by docs:

Sciatica – Topic Overview

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is pain, tingling, or numbness produced by an irritation of the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is formed by the nerve roots coming out of the spinal cord into the lower back. It goes down through the buttock, then its branches extend down the back of the leg to the ankle and foot.

What causes sciatica?

The most common cause of sciatica is a bulging or ruptured disc (herniated disc) in the spine pressing against the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. But sciatica also can be a symptom of other conditions that affect the spine, such as narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along joints) caused by arthritis, or nerve root compression (pinched nerve) caused by injury. In rare cases, sciatica can also be caused by conditions that do not involve the spine, such as tumors or pregnancy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of sciatica include pain that begins in your back or buttock and moves down your leg and may move into your foot. Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the leg may also occur.

  • Sitting, standing for a long time, and movements that cause the spine to flex (such as knee-to-chest exercises) may make symptoms worse.
  • Walking, lying down, and movements that extend the spine (such as press-ups) may relieve symptoms.

How is it treated?

In many cases, sciatica will improve and go away with time. Initial treatment usually focuses on medicines and exercises to relieve pain. You can help relieve pain by:

  • Avoiding sitting (unless it is more comfortable than standing).
  • Alternating lying down with short walks. Increase your walking distance as you are able to without pain.
  • If swelling is prevalent around the nerve, use ice on/off 20 minutes – until swelling subsides
  • Avoid massage or twisting stretches until the inflammation goes down
  • For pain control –after inflammation-Using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the heating pad. You can also buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. There is not strong evidence that either heat or ice will help, but you can try them to see if they help you.
  • Take arnica, use arnica or cpd cream in area

How I manage my sciatica

I was in a canoe in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada, celebrating my doctorate. 3 weeks of paddling and portaging and fluctuating temperatures along with constant contact with the metal seat of the canoe started affecting my left leg. After about 2 weeks I felt paralyzed and was really worried because we were 2 days paddle out of any town.

When we finally got me some care, it was the first time I had heard of Sciatica (1985) and actually was relieved that it was something to manage, rather than something I would need surgery for.

Recognizing a couple of things about irritation of the sciatic nerve helps you manage it

  1. Sitting too long compresses the spine and pushes on the nerve system in the buttocks.
  2. Vehicles like cars and planes vibrate constantly—the vibration is subtle but endless and often attacks the sciatic nerve
  3. Putting a wallet/phone in the back pocket is extra pressure on the nerve
  4. Misalignment of spine and hips contributes
  5. Exercises that compress rather than separate also irritate.
  6. Wearing tight pants or a heavy belt should be avoided when having a sciatic episode

The best way to take care of it is to have body awareness

Do you cross your legs while seated?

Do you forget how long you’ve been sitting?

Are you carrying weight in your abdomen?

Do you engage in activities that compress you spine and lumbar?

Here’s what i Do

  1. i set a timer while I work so I remember to get up every 90 minutes—I do yoga for 10, or go out and throw the ball or stand in the kitchen and make tea
  2. When I’m riding in any vehicle, I put a pillow under my thigh. This lifts the buttock and the sciatic nerve off the seat, so that the vibration doesn’t agitate it.
  3. I work very hard on my core, including exercises that lift the spine upward
  4. I try to keep my abdomen light and lean and I am still trying
  5. I sleep with a pillow between my knees if l’m lying on my side or under my knees if I’m lying on my back to reduce pain
  6. If I have a flare up, I start with ice to reduce swelling and take arnica tablets (Chinese meds)
  7. I use a lap desk to regulate the symmetry of my legs when I’m working on the couch.
  8. Shoes need a slight elevation to move the pelvis in a little less pressured stance—some people have success with clogs, other with sneakers

As i mentioned before, you have to know what your habits are that influence sciatic flare ups and keep them to a minimum. Like me, you may forget you have it.