Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fitness Friday: Break It On Down

So often we think of “fitness” as a purely physical thing. But it’s not. Just ask someone who is stressed out about losing weight how many pounds they are actually dropping. Hint, not as many as if they were relaxed about it. So, today is all about an emotional thing that keeps most of us sane.

In my post on Monday I mention a little incident in boxing class one day. A meltdown. Also known as a breakdown. Which is also considered an incoherent, sobbing mess of WTF-is-wrong-with-you. Answer is, I have no fucking clue.

Emotional breakdowns are as varied as the stars. They are all made of the same basic stuff, but beyond that, there is little similarity. Most breakdowns consist of sadness (rational or otherwise), frustration (again, rational or otherwise), rage (you’re catching the pattern here, right?), and crying (internal or all-out blubbering and sobbing on the floor in a public place). But, the most important thing about them is…

They are healthy! Yep. I said it. Having an emotional meltdown is a good thing at times. It means something is building up inside you. There is a surplus of emotion, of feelings you can’t rationalize away, or force down anymore. It means that you need to vent some unseen pressure.

Think of it this way. You are a peaceful, majestic mountain. On the outside everything looks awesome! There are peaks in all the right places, valleys too, and even a snowy cap that inspires others around you. But underneath, perhaps far underneath, magma’s a’movin’. Pressure is building up, seeping into nooks and crannies you had no idea were there. It is sneaky and unseen. Sometimes the mountain rumbles. A little earthquake shifts a little rock and a new avenue is opened for the steam to move into.

Staying with this analogy, there are two types of volcanoes (yes, I know there are more, I made it through science in high school and college too). The first one has hot springs, and mineral mud pits that people pay way too much to go soak in. These warm places are the areas where that internal pressure vents. Just a little outlet is all it takes to help release this pressure and keep everyone safe in the valley below. BUT, if there is nowhere for this steam to go, eventually the mountain will run out of internal space and…

KABLOOWY!! Vesuvius wipes out Pompeii, Mount Saint Helens shrouds the Inland Empire in sudden darkness, and there is residual damage that can be easily seen decades later.

People are no different. If we hold on to everything that irritates, angers, saddens, or terrorizes us, we will build up pressure. And, eventually we’ll explode. Just like a volcano, there will be casualties. Relationships, jobs, self-esteem, sense of worth, everything around and inside us will be effected by the cataclysmic blast of our emotions.

Enter the meltdown. When we break down and cry, we are actually building ourselves up. When we let our emotions be what they are, disengage our brain, and just feel, we vent that pressure. It doesn’t make sense most of the time. It never will. Because it is a culmination of days, weeks, months, or even years of suppression. All that stuff is being pushed through the steam vents to the surface and none of it is related to what is happening in the here and now.

Example: I was having a couple of stressful, hard weeks. On the surface they were filled with minor annoyances. Little things that are easy to shake off and move past. Until I saw a card I bought for my husband on a whim. Just a random card that I thought would brighten his day. I lost it. I mean, really lost it. Crying? Yep. Sobbing? Uh-huh. Jumbling sentences until I was speaking in tongues no one has ever heard? Definitely. I was not, nor am I still, upset with the card. I still have no friggin’ clue why it set me off. But I had a full emotional breakdown. That dam of emotional fortitude cracked, split, and crumbled into oblivion. But, you know what? It felt great! I cried hard, so hard my body ached the next day. The skin on my face felt like someone scrubbed it with sandpaper. When it was over and the tears were wiped away, I felt lighter, more peaceful. It wasn’t hard for me to be happy again. For whatever reason, I needed a good, long, honest cry.

Humans are messy. I don’t think anyone can honestly deny that. We make mistakes, we hurt eachother, we hurt ourselves. And part of staying healthy, of remaining fit, is to own that. To let yourself have that private time. To not shame yourself or others for it. Just like venting pressure makes a mountain even more majestic, letting yourself let go makes you stronger, happier, and more peaceful.

So here it is. My advice and permission. You ready? Good. Get your favorite comfort food. Whatever it is, I promise there is no judgement. Got it? Good. Now, get some tissues. I’ll wait. Ready? Now, watch that one movie that always gets you right in the feels. Or, listen to that one song on repeat. Or, think of that one person or one situation that always makes the water works start. And open up. Let it all come out. Be with someone if you need to, or be alone, but let yourself feel all the things that clog your emotions and pull you down. This is not the time to write a letter, call someone, or drive anywhere. This is a time to feel. So, feel.

Once you are done and the tear wells dry up. When the sobs turn to hiccups of gasps and sighs. Wipe your face, blow your nose, and tell yourself, “thank you. I needed that. I feel much better now.”

The last part of this exercise is to move on! One of my favorite people always says, “if you’re going through Hell, keep walking. Don’t stop and buy a condo.” Maybe you are exhausted and need to sleep. Great, then sleep, but start tomorrow fresh. Don’t dwell on anything that came up for you unless it is serious. And I mean this, so pay attention. Anything that serious needs an impartial listener. No, the other patrons on the bus or subway do NOT want to be that person. I mean a counselor. Someone who listens to people professionally. Think about it. They are paid to sit and listen. That is their whole job. Sit and listen and occasionally give advice. These people are professional sounding boards. So go talk to them!

I know this post was long. There will be others about mental and emotional health, and each of them will be important. The biggest point here is to avoid judging or shaming yourself or others. Yes, it is rough. Yes, it makes you feel weak in the moment. But when it is all said and done, you’ll be stronger than ever. Thank you for reading along!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Randomness Wednesday: Ancient Cleanliness

Ew. Can we all just agree right now the hygienic practices of 2,000 years ago were f’in disgusting? Okay. Awesome! Have a great day…

When we think of ancient civilizations we tend to have this romanticized view of them. They had bathhouses, and the rich had a tub, and the poor had lakes and rivers and majestic waterfalls. They also believed that getting wet could kill you. No, really. They were afraid of water. Well, not really, but sort of.

Only the rich, and I mean disgustingly rich, could afford to go to bathhouses. They were a social hub for the highest classes of very few cultures. They were also used a maximum of 4 times a month. Let that sink (ha) in. Once a week you went to a building full of other dirty people, stripped down, and submerged yourself into a swimming pool full of germs, dirt, and people-funk without any chlorine or sanitizing anything. Ew!

Okay, bathing rarely happened and was not an option for most of the populations of the world. Let’s talk about the streets, shall we? Dirt. There was a whole lot of dirt. And horses, sheep, goats, and other livestock. Oh! And cats, dogs, rats, and people. All these creatures walking around on that dirt, beat it into a nice path until it rained. Then it became a muddy, rutty, treacherous place to be. People had to make way for wagons, which wasn’t always an easy task. The wagons were essentially locked into one track because the ruts got so deep. But wait, there’s more.

Though the Roman Empire did introduce aqueducts and rudimentary plumbing to the areas they conquered, it was not wide spread. Most of the world still used the trusty old bucket or chamber pot. Now, remember that they didn’t exactly have a sanitation service available. All that excrement went out the door, or window, onto the street, and sometimes people, below. Grossed out yet? Just wait.

So, now we have a muddy, rutty, poopy mess. Add to it the fact that all those animals I mentioned before weren’t concerned where they dropped one. NOW factor in the people trudging through this to cross the street.

Yeah, I know, this is kinda making me gag too. But once they made it through the gunk, they got to their locations and tracked it all over the floors there. And, if we wanted to bring this full circle, those caked, dripping people took off their minimal clothes and dunked themselves into the bathhouse vat that was most often a stomach churning shade of brown. OR, they took all their clothes to a central place to wash them. In this instance, the river or lake is a much better option for bathing. Finally! Something relatively clean!

So, when you read books staged in ancient civilizations, or watch movies based in those time periods, don’t trust the pristine image in your mind or on the screen. It was actually quite disgusting and many of history’s biggest epidemics occurred because it was so dirty in so many ways. Having said that, I urge you not to research this further. At the very least, don’t go looking for pictures. Stay with the pretty ones in your imagination because some things simply can’t be unseen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Martial Arts Monday: Why?

Fitness is a fickle thing. You either avoid it at all costs, or spend every spare, waking second doing some kind of activity. There is rarely a middle ground. Those of you who have found it can stop reading and email me your secrets. Seriously, I need help.

For me, I feel great when I exercise. I mean, while I am moving. Being in the middle of something active where you are rocking it and everything works and sweat is running down your back. Ah! It’s just awesome! But then you have to go home, and take a shower, and get something to eat, and somewhere between walking through the door and waking up in the morning someone wrapped a painful straight jacket on the voodoo doll of every major muscle group. That part sucks. And that is when all the excuses start. “I’m too sore to workout today.” Or, “I need a rest day to let my muscles recover.” Or, “I’ll workout hard tomorrow.” Yeah, right.

The trick at this point is to drag your sorry butt back into the dojo, back onto the mat, and start again. That is when the magic happens again. You start moving and your muscles warm up and suddenly you feel a bit sluggish but great! And you push harder. And it feels amazing! Then we do the nightly routine again with the same end result. “Holy mother of GOD, why do I do this to myself?!”

The truth is, I do martial arts not to be a badass, although that is an awesome perk. Nor do I do it because it is the end all be all of my existence, admittedly it is damn fun. I do it because I want to learn. I am a perpetual student. I want to learn everything about everything. Especially if that knowledge could save me or someone else. Martial arts as a genre of study is one of the few things that guarantees you have a better chance of escaping an attack. Anything, any amount of training, gives you a greater chance of success. And, as much as I hate thinking the worst of people, or thinking that it could happen to me at some point, I am not willing to leave my fate up to chance.

I have trained in multiple styles of martial arts. I am not a master of any art form. But I have enough knowledge to stand up in a fight, take it to the ground, and do enough damage to get my happy ass the hell out of dodge. In a society that turns a blind eye to sexual harassment and women’s rights, I find this to be an extremely important skill set to have.

The sad reality is that women still aren’t seen as equals in society. We aren’t respected, admired for our intelligence or talents, or given the same opportunities as men. Though life for us is much better than it ever has been, we still are seen for our bodies and what they can, or can’t do. What they look like, or what standard we fell short of. Truth be told, I am a chubby, asthmatic, 33 year old mother. I am not a model. I am not a fitness sex icon. I’m a real woman with a real figure. And I eat real food. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who see me as the intelligent, creative creature that I am. But anytime I separate from that core group, I am subject to someone else’s preconceived notions of what I should be. And I almost always fall short. I don’t mind. Their opinions are as wrapped up in their insecurities as mine are entwined with confidence. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that those looks, and the whispers, and the hidden insults don’t cut at me. They do. I just have the sense of self to let them go.

I train in martial arts to protect myself. Just like wearing a seatbelt. You rarely need it, but when you do if it isn’t strapped across your body, it’s too late. I train on the off chance someone thinks they can violate my boundaries. I train because it is good exercise. I train because some of my best friends in the world are there. I train so I can protect my son if I ever need to.

I highly recommend everyone get some basic self-defense training. But understand that one class once a week for a month is NOT enough. If you have never sparred before you don't have a concept of how intimidating it is. How your mind goes completely blank. How horrifically scary it is even when you are decked out head to toe in protective gear and facing someone you trust with your life. One class will not cure you of that insecurity.

I had a breakdown in boxing class after a round of sparring. My coach pulled me aside and said, "it's not a natural thing to get hit in the face, but you need to suck it up." Harsh, but he was right. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of bruises, a lot of getting hit in the face before your body knows how to move. THAT is the effective training I'm recommending. No, you don't need to be the best fighter in the world. No, you don't have to set your sights on the UFC. But everyone needs to know how to escape an attack. And that doesn't happen overnight from one class.