What’s More Important?

4 Sep

This is what $380 looks like

I had an experience today that’s got me thinking.

I was recently told that I needed a blood test to determine if I have a rather ominous-sounding genetic mutation that could pretty drastically alter the rest of my life. My nurse practitioner stressed its importance, so I never considered not getting it done. I also never considered that my insurance wouldn’t cover it.

Welcome to the medical industrial complex.

When I finished the blood draw and the receptionist handed me a bill for $380, due immediately, I almost cried. $380 is a lot of money, particularly for someone whose business is in its infancy and nowhere near profitable. I handed over my “for emergencies only” credit card, fake smiling and panic-stricken, already thinking about cutting yet more corners and pinching yet more pennies. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I texted a wise and honest friend who replied, immediately and succinctly, “that sucks, but what’s more important?”

She was right. I mean, what is more important than taking care of my health? What possible could be? Absolutely nothing, of course. Nothing at all.

And yet, how few of us actually prioritize preventative healthcare? How many of us easily spend $100 a month going out to dinner and to movies and to concerts, but consider $30 too much to spend for a gym membership? How many of us happily fork over $7 for a latte but won’t spend an extra $3 for organic vegetables…or on any produce at all! How many of us get downright giddy over a $40 pedicure but won’t spend $40 to work with a personal trainer? When did honest-to-God healthcare become a less justifiable expenditure than a night drinking PBR tallboys at The Doug Fir?

I’m not talking about people who simply don’t have discretionary income – as Grandma used to say, you can’t get blood from a turnip. I get it, and I don’t expect anyone to buy a set of dumb bells and a hula hoop at the expense of making rent. But for those people who are lucky enough to have more than what they need to cover the essentials, when did actual healthcare (not all the psychosomatic, trendy Celiac diseases or the “I only eat local food but drive around in a Toyota” menus) become less important than a weekend at the Coast?

I realize I’m standing on a rather obvious soapbox here, and I may be preaching to the choir. But I consider myself a member of that choir, and I still needed today’s reminder: no matter what else I would like to do with my money, there’s nothing I NEED to do with it more than protect my health. In my NP’s office, in the gym, in my dentist’s chair… there is simply nothing more important.

Lily-Rygh Glen

Everyone’s Worst Nightmare

15 Aug

I had a conversation the other day that really threw me for a loop.

I was talking with a friend who is the personification of a Portland woo-woo type: she gives astrological readings, knows a practicing shaman, assumes all jerks are really just hurting people with no healthy outlet for their pain, and always wears comfortable shoes. I don’t know that I have ever heard her pass actual judgment on anyone.

We were discussing a friend of mine who is really having a horrible time controlling her weight, to the point that her life is in rather immediate danger because of it. I was sharing my fears for my friend, wishing I could do more to help her, and talking about how desperately hard it is to feel that you are so out of synch with your own body. Her response was as surprising to me as it was profound:

“It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, to be fat.”

She said it like it was a given, a foregone conclusion that the worst possible fate that could befall anyone was to be fat. She said it as thought it was emotionally sensitive. She said it as though it was apolitical. She said it as though I wasn’t fat!

The sad thing is that a lot of people, far more than I care to admit, would probably agree with her. I remember reading about a study many years ago, in which elementary school children were shown drawings of 5 or 6 different kids: one was blonde, one was black, one was in a wheelchair, one was short, and yes, one was fat. The test subjects were asked which of the kids in the drawings they would like to be friends with. In every single case, the fat kid was chosen last. While sad, this is unfortunately not all that surprising. I mean, we all say it: kids can be mean.

But it was shocking to hear such a hardcore sentiment coming from an otherwise intelligent, sensitive, savvy woman. “Everyone’s worst nightmare.” I mean, really? Worse than, I don’t know, being paralyzed in a freak accident? Worse than losing your family in a car crash? Worse than being caught in an earthquake or a tsunami? Worse than Asthma or Arthritis or Cancer or Herpes? Worse than weekly dialysis or chemotherapy? Worse than telling your legs to move while they sit stubbornly still? Worse than watching someone play a guitar without being able to hear it? I mean, come on – there are a lot of deeply shitty things that can and do happen to people. Being fat is the worst of them?

As a fat person, I don’t think so. And that’s why I go to the gym and work out at home and walk marathons and lift weights: because all of those things could happen to me, at any given time, and I want to live as fully as I can, while I can. The truth is that being fat is a detriment only when it comes to being a fashion model; I don’t see myself on the cover of Vogue anytime soon. You can still be healthy and strong and capable in a fat body. There’s no need to put off going to the gym until you lose weight. There’s no reason to think you can’t do distance fitness events. There’s nothing stopping a fat body from being a healthy, fit, active body.

Because at the end of the day, not being able to move my body at all, not having the choice to be active…that is my worst nightmare.

Lily-Rygh Glen


Found Exercise

18 Apr

“Find what you love, and do it.” Sounds like just some cheesy slogan on a poster hanging in a high school career counselor’s office, complete with a visual of some hiker on top of a mountain. While it’s a laudable professional goal, few of us actually get to earn our money doing something we love. But this cliché slogan can be redeemed from its relative futility, because it is also perhaps the most oft-repeated exercise advice. In this case, however, it’s true and reasonable and attainable.

A long-term commitment to exercise requires a lot of experimentation, repeated kicking of the tires, in order to find what feels good to you, today. Typically, it may not have anything to do with what feels good to you tomorrow. So it’s important to have a lot of tools in your proverbial belt. And while variety is the key, one thing needs to be consistent: find what you love, and do it.

Let me be clear what I mean by this. I’m not talking about going into a gym, trying a few grueling things, and deciding what you can tolerate, what is bearable. This isn’t about choosing a chest press over a lateral tricep press. It’s not about deciding on crunches instead of push-ups…unless you actually enjoy chest presses and crunches, in which case, knock yourself out. Because while some of us may develop a love for gyms and weight lifting and repetative cardio, many of us never do. And that’s okay, because there’s a whole world of possibilities out there.

I, personally, love a good, old-fashioned skull crusher. But you know what I love more? Roller skating. There. I said it. Not an official “exercise,” not anything the bodybuilders at my gym would recognize as a viable alternative to a leg press or time on a rowing machine. But my experience tells me that it elevates my heart rate for long stretches of time, it works my quads like gang-busters, it forces my balance to take center stage, and I laugh like a fool while I’m doing it. In other words, I am getting great physical benefit while actually having fun! Find what you love, and do it.

I like to call this type of thing Found Exercise. Much like found art, found exercise is a happy accident or a coincidence. Or maybe it’s an activity that you deliberately set out to do because it’s fun, and then you get the added benefit of increased fitness. Roller skating is a great example. So is trampolining, even bowling. (My motto: the more ridiculous, the better!) Of course there are things like tennis and softball and football and soccer. But there’s also less obvious things, like gardening and water balloon fights and even shopping! Does it elevate your heart rate for 20 minutes at a stretch? Do you feel your muscles engage and maybe even burn? Do you find yourself feeling muscle fatigue the next day? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then congratulations – you have just exercised! You found what you loved, and you did it.

Keep doing it,
Lily-Rygh Glen

Day 1

6 Apr

I met Ann a couple of months ago.  She was walking around the gym with this completely bewildered look on her face.  Her eyebrows were crunched up and she was obviously concentrating on something, yet she wasn’t looking at anything specific.  I recognized that face immediately: it is the face of “this is my first time at the gym and while I want quite desperately to know what to do with all this stuff, the truth is I have no earthly idea.”  I immediately took pity, introduced myself, and offered to show her around the gym.  I lead her through a mini-workout that day, and the relief on her face was immediate and palpable.   She thanked me profusely and then I left.

I hadn’t seen her since that first encounter, but because my schedule changes all the time, I didn’t think anything of it; I assumed she was coming to the gym when I wasn’t there.  Then I saw her yesterday.  She was warming up on the treadmill and immediately gave me this big, radiant smile.  She victoriously exclaimed, “I’m here!”  She went on to explain that since that first day we met, she hadn’t been back to the gym at all.  “I really wanted to come, but my depression kicked in and I just couldn’t.  I tried, but…I just couldn’t.”  She said all of this with a look of resignation on her face – not sadness or even regret, just an acknowledgement of what had happened.  We ended up having a lengthy talk about how vile depression really is, in that the best thing for it is to be active, but activity is about the last thing you can contemplate when you’re depressed. It’s the ultimate vicious cycle of mental health.

But her depression had lifted and she was there, in the gym, because she now could be.  She was obviously proud of herself and ready to get started on improving her health, despite the delay.  She didn’t express any shame about her setback, just a determination to do what she could, when she could.

I think most of us have something to learn from Ann, myself included.  So many of us tend to get down on ourselves for the things we didn’t do: we didn’t work out today, we didn’t make the best choices at dinner, we didn’t respond as we wish we had when somebody told that offensive joke, we didn’t blahblahblah.  And while it’s important to take stock of the choices we’d like to make differently in the future, what I love about Ann is that she simple saw her choice to stay home and take care of herself as a necessary choice that eventually lead her to where she wanted to be: in that gym, on that treadmill, on that day.  She could have very easily allowed herself to spiral, used her depression as an excuse to never go to the gym at all, even when she was feeling better.  She could have guilt-tripped herself into thinking that she was a failure, allowed herself to be embarrassed, and just given up.  Worst of all, she could have engaged in what I call DET, or Donut Equivalency Thinking: “I already blew my meal plan by eating an extra carrot, so I might as well just eat this box of donuts.”   [Fact: I actually did this once, as a 17-year old bulimic who was constantly fighting against my body.  You really can’t make this shit up.]

But she didn’t do any of this.  She just showed up, when she could, with this really infectious pride and excitement.  She seemed to understand that today, like every day, is an opportunity to start over, to make great choices, to empower herself despite her imperfections and the previous opportunities of which she wasn’t able to take advantage.  She obviously understands that guilt is useless and shame is counterproductive.  She just gets it.  And it was an inspiring reminder to me, someone who is completely committed to my physical and mental fitness, but who still has those days of not quite getting it right.

So this is just a simple reminder:  Today is yet one more chance to get it right, whatever “right” is to you.  For Ann, and for all of us, Today is Day 1.


Lily-Rygh,      http://www.flexiblefitnesspdx.com

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.





Getting to know you…

25 Feb

A couple of weeks ago, I tried out some new Crossfit classes in my neighborhood, intent on learning some new exercises for my clients and for myself.  And I did learn some new things.  But the real take-away from those classes was something entirely different.  More than anything else, it was a reminder that the overwhelming majority of people working in the fitness industry have no idea how to train people who are overweight or out of shape or not already athletes in athletic bodies.  In a class full of people who looked like professional underwear models, it took me a full 5 minutes to explain to an otherwise knowledgeable trainer than I could not lower my squats any further or I would fall backwards; he didn’t understand that gravity is a real contender when it comes to those of us with a bit of junk in our proverbial trunks.  I’m a personal trainer, which means two things: I have a relatively strong body, and I’m not afraid to be a little mouthy.  So I held my own with this guy.  But it made me wonder how demoralizing that situation would have been for a woman who didn’t already know what her body could  do, and wasn’t confident enough to stand up for herself.

It’s a sad and totally irrational truth that much of the fitness industry is like the diet industry: it sets people up to fail, because failure creates repeat customers.  I’m interested in really breaking  that mold.  I believe that most people who start exercise plans and “fail” only do so because they weren’t coached into the right plan in the first place, and they weren’t given the proper motivation.   My goal is to do the exact opposite: to introduce women to exercises that are appropriate to their bodies and their goals, and to encourage them to work up to their potential, understanding that potential, by design, isn’t achieved right out of the gate.  True fitness incorporates the body, the mind, and the spirit, and it takes time.  There are no quick fixes to fitness, no sexy pills, no “as seen on TV” packages that make it easy.   It’s hard.  But it’s attainable.   It really is.

To get started, contact me at FlexibilityCoach@gmail.com.