It’s the simple things

Every time I’ve had a low-back problem on the road, it was because I jumped right into a bend and twist activity (moving luggage, picking up a kid, once it was dragging a vacuum) without being mindful of the mechanical situation my body had just been through the last few hours. The body needs a transition zone—just a little time to remind it of all the other positions it might have forgotten it could assume after repeating a single shape or pattern for an extended period of time.

~ Katy Bowman from, https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/travel-well-do-this-for-your-low-back-once-you-arrive/

In addition to some wonderful movements you’ll find therein, there’re endless movements you can find on your own. Movement to be found in a chair, or standing by a table, or with a lacrosse ball that you manipulate on the floor with your feet… Movement to be found hanging, or leaning, or endless inspiration in yoga and tai chi… There are so many ways you can move, but it seems to be too rare that people set aside time to experiment. “What if I laid on the floor and tried… ?” or “What if I took my shoes off…” “What if I stood on one leg while…” There are just so many things to try.

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Breath

I’m gobsmacked. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on breath work. In the last few days, something new clicked into place for me. Hopefully, this saves someone somewhere some time on the learning curve:

Ashtanga yoga is about breathing. You may also notice there is some movement involved in Ashtanga; Don’t be distracted by the movement! The movement is irrelevant if you haven’t discovered the importance of the breathing.

I’ve written a lot about my personal restorative practice. Breathing and relaxing into the things I do has been an important part of it for a loong time. I cherish my 15 years of study in a style of Aikido where breath is integral to the physicality. I spent a few years regularly practicing Tai chi, and later a few years with Yinn yoga. But Ashtanga yoga never clicked for me. Sure, it’s always a great workout. But I could never really get into it as a practice. I’d bet I’ve been in hundreds of situations where someone (random warmups, movement and martial artists of every stripe, and proper yoga instructors of countless flavors) has led what has aspired to be Ashtanga yoga. Without exception, it has always been a bashing struggle for me.

Because it’s about breathing. No two people are going to have the same breathing. Absolutely, I can imagine that at advanced physical and mental levels, people could synchronize their breathing and then they could do Ashtanga yoga in sync. But that’s not me. Not me at all.

To be really clear: I’m not bashing on Ashtanga — nonono. I’m freakin’ excited because now I feel like …scratch that! Now I can practice Ashtanga. I look forward to it! I’m looking forward to practicing it for a while, and then finding an instructor and taking a class to get help improving. Rather than my old, “please lead me through the sequence”, I’m looking forward to, “please help me improve my sequence”. Which I’m betting will be instruction on breath, and maybe some instruction on movements too.

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Don’t try so hard

If you talk to someone about “relaxing,” they will usually think of that as the opposite of “trying hard.” They think of lying on the couch, muscles relaxed, not doing anything. “Relaxing” is equated with “laziness” for a lot of people. So “trying hard” and “relaxing” are seen as two opposite things. What would it be like to try hard while relaxing?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/dao/

I’ve long known I have a bias to action. So trying hard used to always look like activity—often physically strenuous activity. Eventually I came to refer to that as my “bashing” mode. Imagine the Hulk working on anything; Bashing. But this leaves a trail of destruction more often than not. As I’ve worked to value recovery, rest, and relaxation—because, hey, why couldn’t one’s life be mostly peaceful relaxation?—I’ve gravitated towards “work” that can be done in a relaxed state. If any of this is news to you, as always, Babauta does a great job suggesting ways to get into it.

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Models models everywhere

Building models is a fundamental part of trying to understand the world in any systematic or organized way. The world has too many details and complexities to be taken in all at once. In order to really understand a particular phenomenon, we need to focus on certain essential details while ignoring others.

~ Todd Hargrove from, https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2016/are-models-of-pain-accurate

I often remind myself that all models are wrong, but some models are useful. Maps, metaphors, similes, and even some storytelling are all models.

Two things top of mind: Why oh why!? doesn’t similes pluralize via -ies? (Say the singular and plural forms of smile and simile… wth English?) And second, I use a related-to-models test for what I mean by, “I always tell the truth.” (To tell the truth, I always say the thing which helps the other person build an accurate model of reality.)

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Trade-offs

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.

~ Greg McKeown

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In the last year, I’ve been regularly returning to my personal mission. It’s a blazing beacon on the horizon. Every time I am aware that I should make a choice, I can honestly say this choice right here is in service of my mission. (The corollary of course is that those times when I’m not aware that I’m making a choice, my mission doesn’t help me at all.)

And I do literally mean all the things are in service of my mission. My choices about my commitments to people, family responsibilities, taxes, friendships, volunteer work, rest, relaxation, food, and many more things are all intentional choices now made in service of my mission. All those things, which others might say seem to be off-mission, are in fact making me a functioning, decent person who is then able to pursue a mission. There’s a whole suite of things that people incorrectly talk about as “home” life, (or “personal” life, or sometimes just “life”,) which they need to balance against “work” life. No. No no. No no no. I tried splitting my universe into work and life and that’s simply not reality.

There’s only “life” time. Stare unflinching at those choices that seem to be on the margins, for they too are just as much important choices about your life.

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Sometimes the problem is you

The approach is to learn to find peace with chaos.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/feel-scattered/

As with everything I’ve ever seen Babauta post, I agree. If you’re feeling scattered, you could do a lot worse than to read that article. It provides perspective, and some small, actionable things to start on.

Sometimes whatever-it-is is not actually a problem; The problem is our attitude about the problem. (Try Jack Sparrow’s admonishment which echos Aurelius’s reminder to himself.)

But, my Dear Reader, sometimes the problem is ourselves. We said ‘yes’ to one, or two, or twenty, things too many. And the yes’s are insidious. We are all so eager to help, that we rush in. (“The rescuer,” is one of the corners in the Karpman drama triangle. For which I refer you to M B Stanier’s, The Coaching Habit, p138.) So, if you’re feeling scattered: Check for drama.

The hard part is when you learn to start to set boundaries. Dealing with how setting boundaries feels when you’re comfortable being the rescuer is hard. Dealing with how it feels when everyone knows you as that person is hard. It takes cahones to relax and sink, to save yourself from the drowning swimmer you were trying to save. It takes chutzpah, when a friend asks you for what they think is a small favor, to pause for several seconds, to do the mental calculus, to set your boundaries for just how much effort you’re going to put into the thing… and only then answer them, ‘Yes.’ It takes brass to be kind enough to yourself to ensure you have boundaries that work for you.

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What if I just did the thing a bunch more times?

7. Consistent and repeatable results come from a process. “True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.”

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2016/06/things-learned-architecture-school/

That articlette is about a book, 101 Things Things I Learned in Architecture School. The 7th point, in bold, is the penultimate of a best-of-the-best selection from the book. The inner-quoted part is Matthew Frederick, the book’s author.

This point about a holistic process—the idea that mastery isn’t some higgledy-piggledy mish-mash of throwing things together—is an idea I’ve held dearly for a long time. Every time I see it, like in this articlette, I want leap up, flipping my desk over and scream, “Hear! Hear! …and again, louder, for those in the back staring at their handheld devices.”

Every single time that I’ve decided to take a process, and repeat it in search of understanding, (for example, my 10,000 rep’s project,) the learning and personal growth has paid off beyond my wildest dreams. At this point, I’ve done nearly 200 recorded conversations—I’m not stretching the truth, it’s actually hard to figure out exactly how many I’ve done. I’ve started another show recently as part of the Podcaster Community (25+ episodes and counting) and I’ve set up all the moving parts for yet another show as part of Movers Mindset “shorts”. And I keep wondering…

What would happen if I did 500, 1000? …what about 10,000? Not because I want to be famous and whine, “but I did 1,000 episodes why doesn’t anyone love me?!” But because I can see, in myself, how much I’ve learned and grown after 200. What would happen if I did a lot more?

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Know when to punt

25 days ago I started a wee challenge: Trying to train every day for 100 days straight. I’d done this challenge in 2017 to mixed results. Physically it was mixed; training every day is too much and I ended up defining some recovery days as “training.” Mentally it was also mixed; I wasn’t trying to build a new habit, so the “daily” part didn’t work towards that, and it became a serious drag forcing myself to train every day.

When I finished the 2017 challenge I knew it sucked and definitely didn’t want to make that a thing I did often, nor even yearly. When 2020 rolled around—my physical activity was exactly as usual, with me outside doing various things just as much as 2019—but I started thinking about doing some more rock climbing (outdoors, on real mountains.) That prompted me to think about getting into better shape. For me, that’s primarily removing fat. For the first couple months I concentrated on diet, which means focusing on when and how much I’m eating.

After I peeled off 10 pounds of blubber, that’s when I had the idea to take on a fresh 100-days-of-training challenge. It was exactly what I remembered it was like: It sucks. In years past I would have just embraced the suck and pushed through the thing. Note that I would have constantly considered myself to be failing. Entirely missing a day here and there, realizing I need a rest day and defining recovery as training, and just generally nagging myself with, “I should go train.” Instead I simply punted on the whole thing and deleted it entirely.

…aaah, yes, the power of “no” when you have a bigger “why” burning inside you.

When’s the last time you punted on something?

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Creating space in the morning for reflection

“The pleasure in thinking and doing things well is…deep-wired.” I think this is absolutely true. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond, in part, to do nothing — to just observe and live deliberately — but he also wrote a first draft of a book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, while in his cabin. He then left the pond to move in with Emerson, where he wrote another book, this one about his experience at the pond, then another soon after, Civil Disobedience. Thoreau found peace observing nature; but his real pleasure was in producing enduring work.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/04/01/on-productivity-and-the-deep-life/

I’ve long ago lost any real sense of which life changes have had the most benefit. But if I were to pick one, it would be making time to reflect. I’m often making adjustments here and there to my life, and those changes are always based on a period of reflection. What have I been doing that has been making me feel well? What have I been doing that has been making me feel unwell? …and so on.

For a while—three years to be specific—I’ve been trying to begin each day with some basic movement/stretching and then some sort of physical activity. I’m talking about first thing each morning. Get out of bed, deal with necessities (eg, coffee :) and then begin with movement and activity. 3 and 2 years ago, that activity was running. For the past year, the physical activity has been a sort-of-like-Olympic-weight-lifting program called Happy Body.

This is not working for me. Sure, when I manage to start with activity then I’m awake and moving and it’s good for my health and I get lots of what I want done each day. But it’s a struggle every. damn. day. blech! What I really want, first thing in the morning, is to NOT be physically active, but rather to be mentally active.

Starting today, I’m overhauling my first-thing-each-day routine to be:

  1. Reflect on the day’s self-assessment reminder
  2. Reflect on the day’s entry from Holiday’s, The Daily Stoic
  3. Read my previous journal entries and write in my current journal
  4. Spend some time in philosophical reading

I encourage you to build a reflection habit. It can be first-thing each morning or whenever works for you. (Many people allocate time for reflection as the last thing each day before going to sleep.) You should intentionally choose what to do as your reflection practice. I’ll go so far as to suggest you perform a few weeks experimentation with each idea you come up with, until you find a reflection practice that works for you. The more you reflect the more you’ll want to iterate and improve creating a virtuous feedback loop.

That’s the plan anyway. It’s certainly the best plan I’ve come up with for me, so far.

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§24 – Recovery Days

(Part 36 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

In certain circles it is said, “what was once your workout will become your warmup.” In my journey of rediscovering activity and play, there was a long period—20 years now, perhaps—where I was able to focus primarily on growth, forward motion, and transformative change. This made for a very long period where my workouts did gradually became my warmups. Certainly I’ve always had rest days; nearly 10 years ago, when I started parkour, it was all I could manage just to recover over the course of the entire week before heading back to the next hard training session. Rest and recovery were always in the mix, simply because I began my journey of transformative work in my 30s.

I’ve found it increasingly challenging to remember the importance of recovery now that I’m no longer shoving the needle of progress ahead day by day. Truth be told, I’m squarely on the mid-life plateau and it is time to take life more freely. Sure, the days of working every day for seven years on the house, climbing mountains, jumping on stuff, and doing things which cause police officers to say, “…and you sir, how old are you? You should know better!” are not over. (As far as I can tell.) But these are also, certainly, the days where spending a couple hours, every day, sitting still reading and writing is truly blissful.

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