Qi Meets Sweat

Watching my Friday morning Qi Gong students, I see them reach for the qi, eyes closed, bodies rocking slightly as they finish the session with Bamboo Sways In The Wind. Many stand but some, tired by the thirty minute session, sit, backs upright in their folding chairs. None had heard of Qi Gong before. None is younger than 75.
Some had tried the Senior Center Tai Chi class but found it too tiring, too strenuous, too demanding of arthritic hands, artificial knees, and spinal stenosis to continue. But in Qi Gong, they have found a combination of movement and stillness within their sometimes restricted reach. I may have to remind them to keep breathing deeply, nudge them away from trying to do more than they are comfortable with–it’s not easy to “relax” and “move like water” when you’ve done the opposite for seven decades–but after we finish, they laugh about being ready for a nap and there are always questions: Can you show us those acupressure points for headaches again? Is this why my granddaughters always want me to rub their feet? I don’t want to wear the back brace I bought so my posture improves so can Qi Gong help me do this on my own?
We don’t talk about religion or spirituality, but I gather from their comments that most are Christian and good churchgoers. They aren’t seeking an alternative to their monotheism, yet remain open to the idea of meditation and visualization. Not the “hippie transcendence seekers” of the 60’s, these are women who quite simply don’t want their necks to ache, who want to shop for groceries when they’re 80, who might wear sensible shoes but also rock their scarves and rings and joke about their next career as a runway model. While they follow their doctor’s orders, they’re ready to try other modalities. Health is health for them, whether the “fix what’s broken” mechanic’s approach of Western medicine to the “tend to the healthy” gardener’s view of Eastern.
While in Asia the traditions or Taoist and Qi healing go back thousands of years, from the Dao Yin of the Yellow Emporer to the bringing of Zen to China by Bodhidharma, becoming locked into the rigidity long tradition encourages, in America, lack of tradition engenders freedom of approach. My students don’t know The Eight Brocades or The Animal Frolics so aren’t insulted if I don’t teach them but would learn them happily, as well. In America, where we go to Yogalates, Spin Qi and other blended East/West workout classes, “pure” Qi Gong, with its emphasis of strength and suppleness, thousands of forms, and mix of healing, spiritual and martial arts styles steps naturally into our let’s-try-it-all culture. And for those who’ve avoided fitness because of their weight, their bad knees and backs, their lack of flexibility or balance, Qi Gong’s precept that one can and should only do what is comfortable, feels approachable in ways that Zumba, P90X or even Tai Chi doesn’t.
And seniors are not the only group that can benefit from and appreciate the teachings of Qi Gong. Stress-related doctor visits constitute the highest percentage of all appointments; insomnia has been linked to weight gain and high blood pressure; by 2030, statistics project 50% of all Americans will be overweight or obese, many suffering from metabolic syndrome. Qi Gong’s movement, mindfulness, and stress reduction with little space and no special clothing needed could be practiced in offices, homes, parks, even museums and churches, the ideal complement to Western medicine and an antidote to Western lifestyle.

Howl: With Apologies To Ginsburg

Wolves howl with their pack: Hey, did you see the dead possum over there? Who’s got cub duty tonight? Anyone looking for a good time? Man, that full moon’s so bright we’ll never sneak up on a deer!
Lone wolves howl for themselves: How come I can’t seem to find a date? Why does it seem like I’m the only one who didn’t get that joke the guy on TV just told? What a beautiful full moon; so glad I can appreciate it–by myself, no one to interrupt my reverie.
Not that lone wolves are hermits, spending their lives in caves, contemplating navels. Well, one navel: their own. They do the grocery shopping, work in people-packed cubicles, commute on subways, even go to parties or out to movies with friends. But lone wolves never quite “connect.” In a perfect, or imperfect, world, they would be happy to spend an evening curled up with a cat or three, reading Jane Austen and drinking Gunpowder green tea. That’s the lone wolf’s “comfort zone.”
And yet, not the zone they would always prefer. When they see others schmoozing at the office party or hugging with genuine affection the members of the book club or being the one people go to for everything from comfort in hard times to fun in good, lone wolves don’t feel superior; they feel–lone. In a world that values human connection, lifelong friends and deep bonding with loved ones, the lone wolf will never be fully accepting of being  the “odd wolf out.” They will wonder, if not every day, then at times, “Why am I not able to be part of the pack?”
Just as the pack wolf will sometimes tire of having his nose stepped on by another pack member when he’s trying to sleep, the lone wolf will sometimes wish someone would step on her nose.

Mindfulness 101: Like a Turtle Moving Across Sand

First, an update on how I did with the “use non-dominant hand.”

Not that great!! I actually could figure out eating pretty
well–which I’m sure says more about my love of food than being mindful. But
other tasks were nigh unto impossible, especially brushing my teeth. Despite
using an electric toothbrush. Now, that’s pitiful. But I’m still doing one
activity a day left-handed, even if it’s just holding the steering wheel with
that hand instead of the right (cheating because I always used to do that when I
drove stick).

This week, my mindfulness activity is to pick a room in the
house–bedroom or bathroom, kitchen or study, whatever–and follow the mantra
“leave no trace.” To do this, pick your room (you could challenge yourself and
pick more than one) and leave it looking as it did when you entered it or
better. Now, don’t choose your teenage daughter’s bedroom, figuring that it’s
such a mess, you couldn’t possibly leave it looking messier.

When you
finish a meal, if the kitchen is your choice, be sure the dishes are either put
in the washer or that they’ve been washed, dried and put away.
The counter wiped down. The salt and pepper shaker put back. The stray edamame
pods picked up off the floor–ok, maybe that’s just me.

In Buddhist
teachings, this “leaving no trace” is associated with the turtle which swishes
its tail back and forth across the sand as it moves, wiping away its footprints.
While you may not be worried about being tracked by predators, the action of
“leaving no trace” still brings your mind to the present and to the moment of
“here and now” in this room, making you appreciate the space you are in, rather
than treating it like a quick stop on a metro platform.

Jan Chozen Bays,
whose book these exercises come from, says that a good reminder to yourself is,
for this week, to tape a little drawing or photo of a turtle to something in the
room. Since I’m choosing the kitchen for my room, my little wooden turtle will
be moved from the living room to the kitchen counter as my reminder.

And
your “leaving no trace” might spread. I made the bed this morning without even
realizing that I was doing a small “turtle swishing sand” that I don’t usually
bother to do. My “inner smile” was pleased.

Shapes and Sizes

Not the Arboretum!

Hauled my skinny legs and Buddha belly out to the Arboretum today. I love walking through the trees before they get their leaves. That’s when you really see the architecture of the trunks and limbs: the long pillar of  the Pyramidale Maple next to the circle of the Globe Maple; the layered, old man bark of a Linden; the draping limbs of the Polish Larch with its dangling cone jewelry.

And the lack of leaves lets you notice the wildlife more easily, too. I spotted, darting delicately among the flowers of a newly blooming shrub, the tiniest bird–other than a hummingbird–I’ve ever seen, watching me watch her, yet not seeming particularly worried about me. And at the top of a large pine far away sat a silent giant of a bird just checking out the landscape–an eagle, I suspect from the white breast.

I loved every variation, from the achingly beautiful to the runty and rough. And what does this have to do with a blog on people, fitness, and appearance? I think you know.

There’s An App For Fat

Logging your meals and exercise can provide powerful motivation and keep your fitness plan on track–all the while giving you a way to annoy your friends with details of your daily diet. Long ago, in the dark ages, let’s say about 5 years or so back, you went out and bought a little notebook and carried it around with you, totting up the totals throughout the day while referring to another book that had fat and calorie counts in it.

But now, of course, such rigorous, tedious research and the accompanying writer’s cramp have been replaced by technology. Many websites exist just for this purpose but happily for those who can’t remember what they had for lunch once they get home for dinner, there are plenty of mobile apps that let you enter as you eat. But which ones really work? Which make it easy for you to track diet and exercise and which are a pain in the Blackberry? And how well do they agree on their suggestions, like how many calories a day you should eat and how many did you burn off on that lengthy hike into Krispy Kreme from your car?

I’m going to try out a few and over the next few weeks, report what I’ve found. To get started, I narrowed my choices down to four iPad apps that ranked toward the top in popularity:

Livestrong (related to the megafitness-empire Lance Armstrong backs)

CalorieSmart

Calorie Counter

SparkPeople (connected to the website of the same name)

I had another that I was going to check out called “Carb Lover’s Diet”–put out by Women’s Health–but discovered before I could even get started that unless you eat the recipes they supply or the “approved” foods, it’s too unwieldy; you’d have to enter every food and its nutrients by hand. And it’s a shill for the food industry, as well.

So, here I go, into the land of exercising my flying thumbs! Suggestions welcome!

>Numbers Running

>

Numeral Sequences

10,000 Steps…
30 minutes 5x week…
7% Saturated Fat

What would American fitness be without numbers? We’re crazy for them; we make them our mantra; we get nervous if we don’t know the “right answer.” Me too, I’m afraid. I tried the pedometer route to mapping my 10,000 steps a day. Really depressing. That is, until I realized that one afternoon I walked up and down State St. about three times and the pedometer claimed I had taken 200 steps. Uh, no, I don’t think so. I could have counted to 200 and I couldn’t have counted all the steps I took in that six times six blocks. Pedometer wrong; my perception right.
Not only do French women not get fat, I really doubt they totter about on their Chanels with an AccuPed in their Louis Vuitton’s (is that kosher, to wear Chanel and carry Louis Vuitton at the same time?). But Americans, we need numbers. My clients always want to know: How many calories a day should I be eating? How many repetitions of this exercise should I be doing? How many minutes, seconds a day should I be meditating(!)? And I don’t really mind presenting some benchmarks because they need numbers. I remember when teaching writing that my foreign students, those whose native language wasn’t English, always wanted me to diagram out sentences and wanted to know exactly what “part of speech ‘should have'” was. And while I wanted to say “you don’t need to know that; you just need to know how to use it” that wasn’t enough: they needed parts of speech.
Fitness is like that to Americans: a foreign language. Making sane food choices doesn’t come naturally in a land bombarded by Jenny Craig and MacDonald’s ads. Knowing when or how much activity is healthy isn’t intuitive when exercise means Wii Fit as a break from computer Solitaire. Breathing deeply, sitting quietly, well, how do you “ask your doctor if it’s right for you?”
Right now, I’m battling with my doctor because my cholesterol numbers are “high.” She, of course, wants me to go on statins; I say “maybe that’s just the way I am.” If I’m eating well, getting exercise, taking my fish oil capsules and maintaining a healthy (if zaftig) weight then I’m not real anxious to take a medication known to have all kinds of side effects to get the “numbers” exactly “right.”
So, I’m going to try going on a number-free diet. No measuring out my serving of Cheerios; no marking every lamp post I pass on a walk as another 200 steps; no setting the timer when I sit down to meditate (ok, “chill out” might be a better term for what I do). Anyone up for joining me for 8 weeks? Oh, slap my wrist: Anyone else feel like doing this for awhile?

>Om-My What Good Abs You Have

>Mid section view of a mid adult man in a prayer positionI’ve become a great fan of yoga: not necessarily doing it but watching it on DVD. And not just any yoga, mind you, although I’m sure Kathy Smith is a completely acceptable teacher. Nah, for me it’s Yee or nothing. Rodney Yee, that is.
Rodney, as I feel we’ve become close enough that I can call him by his first name, is a former ballet dancer turned Yogi. And while I’m not talkin’ bear here, might be close to talkin’ bare. Rodney is not a fan of heavy sweat clothes. Not even yoga pants. No, not Rod (getting  more familiar all the time). He’s more a yoga-Speedo kind of guy.
I have absolutely no doubt he’s a great teacher. It’s just so damn hard to concentrate when he’s in Cobbler Pose out in the desert–what am I supposed to focus on? The dunes? And I’d love to perfect my Downward Dog but, golly, then my head would be down and I wouldn’t get a gander at those glorious glutes. That long, shiny black hair isn’t hard on the eyes, either.
He’s been married a couple of times (at least) and there are DVDs that include his wife–but who cares about those–and I’m sure he’s a massive ego jerk in person–but who cares about that, either.  Just Yee and me. Together in Baby Cobra again.