Archive | March, 2013

The Holy Grail

27 Mar

A new friend caught me off guard recently with a basic question.  She started simply enough:  “You train, right?”  I figured she was going to ask me about the gym I use, or where to find good shoes, or how to do a proper lat pull-down.  Something simple, you know?  Instead, she popped off with, “How do you get motivated to work out?”

I swear I heard crickets chirping in the room.

Because this one question, whether she knew it or not when she innocently asked it, is the Holy Grail of the fitness world. 

I explained that my original motivation was a negative one: I didn’t want to go through what my momma went through.  My momma, who was a compilation of belly laughs and heroic crossword puzzle finishes and Green Bay Packers fanaticism, treated herself like garbage her whole life.  She never met a carb she couldn’t overeat, and she never met an exercise she couldn’t ignore.  She smoked 3 packs a day for more than 50 years, ate white bread and vegetables that came in cans, paid only casual attention to her doctors’ advice, and died at just 66 years old.  While her cause of death was metastatic lung cancer, she also had advanced heard disease, emphysema, and diabetes.   In other words, the brightest light in my sky was one hot mess.

My determination to chart a different course was my initial motivation when I started to work out and pay attention to my diet.  I would think about having to help my frail momma move from her bed to a chair, and suddenly I would find the extra strength to do one more push-up, to spend 5 more minutes rowing, or to lift just 3 more pounds.  That worked for me for a while – it really did.  It was a good place for me to start, because the pain of loss was so fresh and tangible that I couldn’t have run away from it had I tried.  So I channeled it into something productive and used it as my personal cheerleader. 

But negative motivators like that only last so long; they simply aren’t sustainable.  Eventually, my motivation had to about moving toward something, not moving away from something.  If it hadn’t shifted, eventually the gym would have been connected to my grief instead of my life.  Exercise would have become representative of mourning instead of living life to the fullest.  And really, there’s just only so long you can expect such profound negativity to lead to something positive.

Examples of total bullshit motivating factors I hear all the time include:

  • I know I’m “supposed” to go to the gym;
  • I feel like a loser when I don’t work out;
  • I am a loser when I don’t work out;
  • I feel lazy when I don’t work out;
  • My doctor is pressuring me to get moving;
  • My coworker/friend/family member told me it looked like I had put on some weight;
  • I need to find a new boyfriend/girlfriend;
  • I want to make my ex-boyfriend/girlfriend regret leaving me;
  • Blahblahblah

Here’s why all these examples are, at their heart, bullshit: they aren’t about you and your potential and your goals.  They are about guilt and expectations and standards that probably have nothing to do with you anyway.  Goals need to be positive, they need to be personal, and they need to be realistic and sustainable.  Figure out what your goals are, and your motivation will go hand-in-hand.  Start small: maybe your goal is to be able to carry a bag of groceries up the stairs without having to pause for a break.  Or maybe it’s to go to a movie and fit more comfortably in the seats.  Or maybe you’d like to walk along the Oregon Coast and feel safe in your ability to keep your balance in the sand.  Define your goal – which will, of course, also help define your fitness plan – and you get your built-in motivation.

Once I started to work out regularly and to eat more helpfully, I quickly noticed so many tremendous changes in my body and my mind.  Instead of going to the gym because I didn’t want to die young, I went because I loved that I was starting to get some clear definition on my triceps.  (I love triceps, so this was just terribly good news for me.)  I wanted to go to the gym because I found that I could walk longer and faster without getting so winded.  I was motivated to keep going to the gym for the community, for the endorphins, for the ability to lift heavier and heavier weights… not at all because I felt doomed to die if I didn’t. 

Look, everybody has their bad days.  No matter how motivated we are in the big scheme, there are still days when we wake up and all we want in the world is to be helicopter-dropped into a 500lb barrel of Cheez-its and donuts.   That’s just reality.  It’s not that our motivation is supposed to be rock-solid and completely unwavering – that’s just not real life.  But if you find an idea, a vision, a dream that compels you, more often than not you can turn your back on the Cheez-Its and get back to business.  Because it’s YOUR business to which you’ll be getting back.  It’s YOUR Holy Grail.


Lily-Rygh Glen




Auto Body

8 Mar

I have this client named Melanie, and I gotta tell you, she is one hell of a shit-kicker.  She consistently works harder in the gym than anyone I know, never takes the easy way out, and is extraordinarily in tune with her body.  She might glare at me when I ask for one more set of crunches, or even occasionally curse at me when I suggest a jump rope, but she rarely says “I can’t” and never, ever says “I won’t.”   Every once in a while she comes into a session and announces, quite boldly, that she needs me to go easy on her.  But most of the time she doesn’t, and I don’t.

But today, Mel said something completely different: she has been having a hard time with her balance.  I was a bit surprised, for two reasons:  1) I know Mel to be someone who actively works on her balance, routinely standing on one leg while behind the counter at work, and 2) Her balance is usually pretty good.  But I believed her, because she is so in touch with her body. 

So I asked her to start with a standard tree pose.  She had been trying them at home but couldn’t get away from the wall; she kept losing her balance and having to lean back against it for support.  But when she did that pose for me, in the gym, she just…well, she just did it.  She didn’t fall, didn’t need the wall for support, and barely even swayed.  After maybe 10 seconds, she whipped her head toward me and exclaimed, “This is just like taking your car to the mechanic.  You know that sound it’s been making for weeks?  Suddenly it’s not making it!”  It was almost as if she was afraid I wouldn’t believe her, now that her car wasn’t making that sound anymore.

I understood her frustration, and her analogy was right on.  But here’s what I think it really shakes out to: our bodies are in constant flux.  They are different on Tuesday then they were on Monday, and they’ll change yet again by Wednesday.  That’s just the way it is. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, but everything from hormones to the weather can create pretty significant changes in our bodies and how they function.  Just ask any aging athlete with an old knee injury to predict the next rainfall if you need further proof. 

And there’s also something to be said for physical environment.  Melanie is used to engaging her body in very specific ways in the gym.  It’s what that space is, the function it serves in her life.  Sleep experts advise people to adhere to good sleep hygiene, meaning that the bedroom must be where one sleeps and does nothing else — no reading, no watching tv, no working — because the body will get used to associating that room with sleep, and then set about doing it.  I can’t help wonder if Mel’s body had created its own associations with the gym, which is why it performed so well and easily a task that had been challenging for her at home.

I suppose it’s all about finding the right space and associations, and maintaining compassion as we learn about all the amazing complexities of our bodies.  Melanie’s balance had been touchy, but today it was great.  Who knows what it will be like tomorrow.  And that’s okay.  It’s all okay.  Because she is strong and powerful and willing to work hard, and she will continue to monitor the changes in her body as she evolves.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the ideal: observing without judging, and communicating honestly. 

And as long as she’s still willing to tell me about all the sounds her car is making, I’ll be honored to be her mechanic.