Monday, March 28, 2011

Inside and Outside (Our Bodies)

I recently came across these last lines of James Wright’s gorgeous poem, A Blessing:

Suddenly, I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would

Break into blossom

The poem, though titled “A Blessing,” does not refer to any religious belief, rather it reminds us of the spiritual in nature and in ourselves, without intervention of a large organization, imposing its fixed precepts and long codes of principles. While I love the poem (in case you couldn’t guess), when I read it, I thought, “mind” not “body.” As in, “if I stepped out of my mind”…I’d go further and say, “and if I stepped into my body.”

Because that’s the challenge, isn’t it?—that our minds are obsessing about our bodies, whether we’re slim enough, or tall enough, or have the right hair, or have calves too thin or too thick, or the right shape and size breasts, or…well, I’m sure you have your own list. We aren’t really inside our bodies, instead we’re looking at them from the outside, ever the critic, constantly evaluating, judging, and generally wrinkling our nose at ourselves; and, all too often, others, which is, after all, just a manifestation of our own unhappiness with ourselves—misery loves company and all that, plus picking on someone else helps us feel better about our own failings—yuck, what a way to live.

We are already too much outside our bodies. Instead, we need to step away from our minds, those insidious producers of thoughts, and step into our bodies, into our senses, and into how we feel. Right now. Cold. Hot. Energetic. Tired. Fidgety. Still. Blah. Delicious.

Our bodies are talking to us. Let’s listen with an open mind and tender heart.

Then, gently, so gently, we will begin to blossom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Be A Living Example

Waking up, the grey morning was illuminated by the fresh fallen snow, sticky on the trees and grass. The thermometer said 40, but with the snowy rain, it felt colder as I ran through the near empty park to a workout. One of the few runners I passed was a man running with a baby jogger (kudos to him), equipped, of course, with a transparent plastic cover to protect baby from the elements.

It’s not that I never see women running with their babies in the inclement weather, but still…I have often heard variations on this theme—“It’s too cold (or wet, or windy, or or or) to take the baby out.” Thus does the woman deny herself the opportunity to run. Deny herself.

Too often, mothers feel selfish when they claim time for themselves, when they prioritize their workouts. Men…not so much. In conversation with two mothers earlier this week, they were bemoaning the fact that they had forfeited Sunday runs at the behest of their children. Their children had pressed their guilt button—something most clever kids know how to locate in an instant. Yes, of course, children are a priority. But let’s face it, for the vast majority of you who are reading this, your children are not suffering from neglect. Sure, weekend time with your family is important, but so are you, and so is your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Giving yourself short shrift is counterproductive. Yes, your children have your attention, but is it undivided and patient, or is it yearning for the run you missed and impatient, because you need some time to yourself to clear your head and get the blood flowing?

But there’s an even more important reason to prioritize your own workout. How do children learn what’s important, how to behave and who to respect?—from adults, and more specifically from their parents. Mothers need to demonstrate by example that a woman may prioritize her own time, otherwise how will her daughter ever know she can? Mothers need to demonstrate that strong women are important and respected. The only way to truly do that, is by being a strong woman, who respects her own needs. And it’s not just daughters who are looking for examples of strong women in their lives; it’s sons, too. Mothers, you are raising boys who will ultimately treat women in the way that was modeled to them at home.

Not only should mothers claim time for themselves; they set a living example when they do, one that will resonate through the next generation. How excellent—getting your run (or bike or walk, or swim, or or or) is an important feminist statement.

Go for it—rain or shine!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Soccer + Skates = Roller Soccer…Who Knew…

June Solomon grew up in Trinidad & Tobago, which, in case you have geography holes in your knowledge, as I did, is two islands under one government, controlled at various times in history by the French, Spanish, Dutch and British; and is one of the richest Caribbean islands, because it has oil reserves. And, even more interestingly from an RLAG perspective, it was only the second island to elect a female prime minister in the region. End of Geography 101 diversion.

June was the third of six children, raised by her single mother, who still found time to encourage her oldest daughter to participate in track and field excelled early at sports, training with one of Trinidad’s top coaches for a time, whose values and work ethic mirrored June’s mother’s. For herself, June’s biggest goal was not athletic though, it was to finish her education, not only for herself, but also for her mother, who, with six children, had not had the opportunity to finish school, as she had wanted.

At twenty-one, keenly aware of the unfavourable economic climate and the general lack of opportunity in her country, June came to the United States, hoping to pursue her sports, education, and help support her family. For years she worked as a nanny, saving money to put herself through university, taking the live-in jobs, where she could save the most. “I’ve always been a good saver,” June says. She continued to work part-time during school, and has remained good friends with many of her former employers.

In 1999, she graduated from Temple University with a degree in Kinesiology, a particular passion of hers. June always loved studying science and the inner workings of the human body. Back in Trinidad, she once won a science award and the prize was a forensic pathology textbook, which she treasured.

During school she took up skating—aka rollerblading. She was part of the once huge skate groups, who would explore Philadelphia (and other big cities) on epic tours during the night. In 1998, at a “Skate of the Union” event in DC, she met Zack. He was there promoting a new sport he’d invented, soccer on skates…roller soccer, as he called it. June noticed his skates first—Rollerblade E-Pro’s, the same model she had, still so new that almost no one wore them. Then she noticed he was dribbling a soccer ball between his skates. Never shy, not after dealing with coming to a new country, she skate-kicked the ball around a bit with Zack and the rest…as they say…is history. Instead of working on the physical side of sport & athletics, June ended up on the business side. Getting even more education to support her new direction—a Master’s degree in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco.

By 2000, June was working full time with Zack to build and promote the RollerSoccer International Federation. A bit about RollerSoccer—it’s five on five, no off-sides, no slide tackling (can you imagine? Ouch), and a lower, wider goal. And, here’s the interesting part—it’s co-ed. Why?—because it’s an equal opportunity sport. “Force and size are not factors, it’s agility, fitness and technical skill,” June says. “So there’s no reason men and women can’t play together.”

It’s been a challenging journey, and, as June says, “Like everything, it takes time.” Interest in skating in the US had waned in favour of skateboarding, but recently there have been indications of a resurgence of interest in skating. June and Zack are persisting. They are putting everything they have and earn back into their dream. “If you truly believe in something, why should you give it up if other people tell you to?” says June. Instead, June looks past the challenges, and finds one thing at a time to focus on for the future. One more tip, “I surround myself with motivators.”

As of now, there are more than twelve countries with RollerSoccer clubs, including Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Norway, Pakistan, Slovenia, and the United States. In the US there are players scattered around the country, and the challenge is to find people willing to start a club. “Most people would rather join, than lead,” June says. Still, June is working on creative ways to build the sport, including a certification program in the early planning stages. She’d love, too, to launch RollerSoccer Youth Programs (RSYP) in cities across the US. She has her work cut out for her, and she knows the road won’t be easy.

“Skating could be all work for me now. So I try hard to strike a balance with fun. I love dance skating with my divas in the park!”

‘Kick ‘n Roll’ and keep skating like a girl!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Still On My Tristram Shandy Hobby Horse…

…yes, balance; perhaps because it is so elusive, there one moment and gone the next.

A couple of weeks ago, after a gorgeous run on the coastal trail of the Marin headlands across the bridge from San Francisco, I returned to childhood for an exhilarating half hour—my first time on a slackline. That is, a tightrope-like piece of webbing, easily secured around two nicely spaced trees; and, in my case, low to the soft, grassy ground. To even place my first foot on the slackline the initial few times caused uncontrollable shaking. At first I thought, this is impossible. Never happening for me. Only by dint of extreme presence, concerted focus, and, of course, relaxed letting go (and there’s the rub, of course), was I able to still my foot on the line and even, for a moment, bring my other foot to the line, for a tentative first step.

I felt like I was on the verge of total combustion. To be so there, in that moment of balance, was exquisite…and completely unsustainable…for now.

Because if you’re like me, once we get beyond those first delirious moments of learning something new, and being 100% present to the learning experience, our inner critic comes knocking again. Hey, let me in. Don’t leave me standing on the stoop. Wearily, we open the door. And in bustles Agnes (that’s the new name I’ve given my inner critic), just bristling like the village gossip, dying to tell us how things really are. You can’t…that’s waaay over your head…

Makes a girl want to put her fingers in her ears and chant, blah, blah, blah, I’m not listening. Practice self-compassion. First step—close the door in Agnes’ face (you don’t even have to be polite about it, because I know how much we all like to be polite). Letting Agnes horn in on our fun is not balanced.

I’ve been slacklining a couple more times so far. Once on a grey and rainy Sunday morning alone, in a near-empty park; and the world looked rosier afterward. Once with my partner, which reminded me of what a treat it is to just play with a friend, no agenda. Agnes isn’t allowed to come. And as a consequence, I enjoy slacklining enormously. The dance of finding balance in my physical being is a rush—I took five whole steps on Saturday—and I find that I carry the feeling with me for at least the rest of the day; the feeling that everything is more balanced in life in general. Not to mention the feeling that there are so many new things out there to explore.

Balance can be acquired—through patience and practice, in our bodies and in our minds. How fortunate!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why Watch Our Watch...

I did one of my favourite NYC runs yesterday—up to the little red lighthouse under the great grey bridge (i.e. the George Washington Bridge). I’ve done the run too many times to count, but still I put on my watch to measure how long it was going to take me. I suspected I was going to be slower than usual, because of some chattiness in my hamstrings and IT band.

I felt good. Halfway through I thought to myself, “I feel pretty fast today.” Then I looked at my watch. Nope. I was so happy to be doing the run, I didn’t care; except that small piece of me, that watch watching part, kept murmuring, not as fast today as usual, are you?

I’m not a professional athlete. I’m not training for anything in particular. Why even wear a watch? Those numbers could get a girl down if she’s so inclined.

And then there’s this…in a yin yoga workshop yesterday, the instructor told us that it wasn’t how stretchy we were that mattered (thank heavens for that), rather it was our “intention and effort,” which defined our progress. So, in my case, the fact that I’m sitting completely upright, while everyone else is folded in half, head to knees, isn’t relevant. What’s important is that I’m intending to fold in half, and I’m working as hard in that direction as is safe with my less-than-Natalie-Portman-like hamstrings.

On my run, intention and effort were present; it was just the usual pace that wasn’t. And while I whole-heartedly agree with the yin instructor’s view, I still think the watch bears watching sometimes. Not as an old communism-style tool of self-criticism, but as a reality check. By which I don’t mean, be real you’re not as talented as you think you are. Rather, as a guide, a signpost, to let you know how things are in your body, so that you can know what reasonable intention and effort are for that day or that week. Your body is talking to you, if you listen. The watch helps you listen. I’m tired. I need rest. I need more stretching. I need a slower re-introduction to running after two months of xc skiing (that’s what mine was saying).

Me and the couch spent some quality time together as a result.

As for my watch, I’ll still wear it. But it’s not the boss of me. It can’t tell me if I had a good run or not. That’s something my body and my heart get to decide. I had a great run up to the lighthouse.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mice Were Sacrificed...But the News is Good

The New York Times reported on a study today, which found that exercise keeps us young. This is not exactly news, I don't think, but it's always heartening when science confirms what "seems" to be the case. The results, as you'll read, are quite startling, actually; and more than ever suggest that doctors ought to be prescribing "athletic effort" more often.

I recommend self-medicating!