Tag Archives: exercise

A Morning Pledge…to Myself

Well, it is only 9:15am on a Saturday but I woke up this morning at 7am and have been trying to either sleep more or figure out something to do that would be relaxing. I tried watching a show on Netflix, but it was making me more anxious. I tried surfing the internet for some research for my novel but I couldn’t focus. I tried reading, tried just laying down…

So since I couldn’t find anything to do to help me relax, I figured it must not be time for that yet. I guess right now it is time for me to get some writing done. I normally don’t get started till the afternoon, but since I’m up early and my brain is hyperactive, I suppose it makes sense for me to do my writing in the morning today.

That will also give me more time to work. The last couple days I had to quit before I was really ready to do so because I had other things I needed to do. Today, however, I really only have one other errand to do, and the rest of the day I am free to work.

I have also been working on getting myself back in shape so that my exercise becomes easier. At the moment it is tough for me to get on the treadmill. I’m not starting completely from scratch this time the way I did with Wellness Quest 1.0, but I am coming out of almost two months of illness where I was unable to exercise, so there’s been some muscle atrophy.

I get tired more easily, and I have had to really push myself just to do my Tai Chi every day. But that’s where I started before, and I quickly got up to speed. So I imagine that I will be able to achieve the same or even better results this time around.

Results, as always, are the product of a very simple equation. They are equal to the effort exerted divided by the time invested. In other words, if you don’t put in a whole lot of effort but you spend a whole lot of time on something, you’ll get some results. If you put a lot of effort in but don’t spend a lot of time, you’ll get some results too. But to get optimum results, it requires a significant effort and significant time expenditure.

That is the main reason why my wellness quest has stalled in the past. Because I have either stopped putting in the effort or I haven’t made the time. And so, I stopped getting the results I wanted.

It almost sounds too simple, but I’m sure everyone reading this knows that making a significant effort and spending a significant amount of time on anything is easier said than done.

Usually I write this blog in the afternoon or at night so I can reflect on my day. However, since I am writing this early in the morning, today I get to make a commitment to myself. Today, I pledge to do my meds twice. I pledge to go through my Tai Chi routine at least twice. I pledge to get my errands done, and I pledge to write at least five pages for my novel.

That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, and really, compared to what I was doing daily back in September, it isn’t. But I have to start somewhere, and right now, this is enough for me.

The Pros and Cons of our Neurobiological Reward System

Brain met

Brain met (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight’s post won’t be as creative as last night. Tonight I am just plain exhausted.

After missing four of my martial arts classes in a row because of the wedding, etc… I went to Karate for the first time in over a week tonight. I loved every minute of it, and once again, by the end I was dripping sweat, out of breath, and my muscles felt like jelly.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but the satisfaction I derive from this type of physical exhaustion it’s…well… to avoid going into topics that might be not family-friendly, let me just talk about the neurobiological component.

You see, our brains are wired to give us pleasure producing hormones and neurochemicals when we do something necessary or useful to sustain life. Thus eating, drinking, sleeping, and, of course, reproduction, all create a sense of pleasure in the brain, which is there to help keep us on track. Biologically, we are meant to keep ourselves alive and to continue the human race. And our brains are constantly trying to help us do just that.

Interestingly enough, scientists have found that strenuous exercise releases similar reward-producing chemicals in the brain. It may not be exactly the same as what you feel when you eat chocolate, for example, but the brain recognizes the benefit nonetheless.

Perhaps it is just a holdover from a time when our biological ancestors had to spend their days running through the forest tracking and hunting game and gathering food from various places. Whatever the reason, it is clear that our bodies still want to reward us when we allow them to move to the point of exhaustion.

There is, of course, a line to draw here, as with everything that stimulates the pleasure centers of our brains. There is always the possibility of “too much of a good thing”.

And I can see, very clearly, how exercise could become an addiction: when I got home right after my class, I sank into a chair, looked up at the ceiling, and honestly felt a better, truer high than I ever got from any external substance I put into my body.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I not only pushed myself to the point of exhaustion this evening, but I also pushed myself through a two mile run and a long set of strength and endurance building exercises this afternoon.

Plus I had been up since about six in the morning, so possibly I was also feeling the effects of sleep deprivation (which studies show can impair someone’s judgment significantly more than alcohol).

Either way, my body may have felt like it had just been hit by a truck, but my brain was telling me, “good work, let’s do it again on Thursday”.

I feel like the chemicals in my brain are finally beginning to level out to a point where my own endorphins kick in and the natural reward system is beginning to function once more.

The question I have to ask myself, no matter what it is, be it anything from food, exercise to sex – am I overdoing it? Am I doing this activity because I know it supports my wellness goals, or am I doing it strictly because it is pleasurable?

That is not to say that there is not a time and place to engage in activities strictly for pleasure. But for me, I just need to be on my guard.

I am of the opinion that one can become addicted to just about anything (including blogging….hmmmm). All that means is that I need to be aware of the balance of activities in my life, and make sure that that balance supports my goal of optimal wellness.

Thanks for reading, and I promise tomorrow’s post will be more… let’s say “interesting”.

Goodnight, and peace to you,

-Nathan

To Sweep Away

Ganesh Om Symbol

I don’t even remember how many times I have posted about the relative nature of time. So I won’t harp on about it today.

But as I approach big life events, forward motion, and sweeping changes in general, time always seems to accelerate. Little details fall by the wayside for me. I want to approach the big stuff with an open heart and mind. I want my energy to open to the universe and accept the newness and the change without reservation.

Of course, I want to eat ice cream too. Haha.

But my honest intention is to move naturally into what is emerging for me now. And what, you may ask, exactly is emerging for you Nathan?

My answer to that is pretty nebulous. I see less forced routine and more expanded activity. I see more freedom of movement. I particularly see more freedom from any type of mood or mind altering substance, legitimately prescribed or not.

I see a conversation with my doctors (all of them together) to truly examine what else I can do to pursue my goal of optimum wellness.

I see a full and detailed mental health evaluation by someone who understands addiction as a disease of the mind and who can truly help me worth through some of the issues that I feel have been the impetus of my last five years of hell.

But most of all I see myself changing my focus. And I don’t mean changing my goals. I mean moving from a life in which almost all my energy and attention is focused within me into a life where a significant portion of my focus and attention is spent contributing to the world around me.

It is time.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the say very clearly that you “can’t keep what you have unless you give it away”.

I don’t go to their meetings anymore and I don’t subscribe to all of their ideals, but I KNOW 100% that part of my recovery and my wellness MUST involve making a significant contribution to my community. Now, I don’t quite know what that means yet.

My mom has told me about this amazing exercise she uses in her coaching practice. It involves standing with a large table between you and a wall. On that wall is a chalk-board, wipe-board, or just a flip-chart, whatever (something you can write on). And on that writing surface, you write where you want to be in the next year, five years, ten years, or for me, more likely in the next 2-6 months. Now the issue with this is that clearly, the table is in the way. You can’t reach that goal or aspiration with that table there.

And my mom would ask you at this point, what do you do?

Many people answer that you must first move the table, break the table, jump over the table, essentially just _________ the table.

Notice the theme here? Everyone is worried about the damn table!

And the truth is that the table is only in the way because you are focusing on it. That’s another thing they talk about often in therapy and drug rehabilitation programs: focusing on the problem not the solution.

When all you can think about is the table, you quickly lose the vision you want for your future. And it becomes increasingly difficult to get past that table which grows wider and higher the more you think about it.

So what’s the solution here? We can’t ignore the table right? It is still there. Here’s what my mom would say: “you can’t get rid of the table, but what you can do is find someone, a coach, god, a friend, a psychologist, whatever, to take your hand and walk you around to the other side.” The table is there still yeah. But as you shift your perspective, the table is no longer in the way. But it often takes the help of others who are already on the other side of that obstacle to help us shift our paradigm and make the forward motion we want.

Thanks mom for the example. I have just loved this exercise since you explained it to me. And I don’t know if I got it exactly right, but I think I got the point across right?

So my question to all of you is what is on the other side of that table for you, and how are you going to shift your perspective so that your focus is on your positive vision of the future rather than on the obstacles in the way?

Today in our meditation group we did Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha – a Ganesh chant meant to help sweep away obstacles in our paths.

Fitting for my blog today eh?

Thanks for reading, and may you find that today your obstacles are swept away!

Peace to you,

-Nathan

Sink or Swim

Martial Arts

Martial Arts (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

A week ago I wrote a post about discipline. I had just been to my first martial arts class, and I was fired up about the possibilities. I decided to commit myself to this course, to push myself and see how far I could go. After my second class, I am now even more excited.

 

Today I went on a few errands with Kate. One of them was to drop by the academy to pick up my uniform so I could try it on and wash it before class. The dress code: simple black martial arts pants with a black T-shirt with the Modern Academy of Martial Arts logo on the front and the words “strong and secure” on the back. I like those words, but I’ll come back to that.

 

When I walked into class today, I was excited, but a little nervous, similar to how I felt last week. I was a little more comfortable today than I was a week ago since I already knew all the other students and I knew more of what to expect. But there was still that twinge of self-consciousness there, under the surface, telling me “hey! Don’t do this; you’ll make a fool of yourself! You can’t possibly do something like this!” But that voice, although it is a part of me, and is really trying to help protect me, I chose not to listen to it. I chose to just hear it, acknowledge it, and let it go.

 

I made it through the warm-up exercises and although I was sweating hard (as usual) I wasn’t particularly tired. Then we did technique exercises while watching ourselves in the mirror. 25 punches with each hand, 25 of each of three different types of kick… and by the end of all that, I was starting to get tired. Next, the instructor brought out the giant, person-sized practice bags. We all paired up with a partner, and got on either side of the bag. We alternated practicing punches and kicks until we were all starting to get exhausted.

 

Then he had us punch the bag four times, then jump back, drop down and do a push-up, then jump up, move forward, and punch again, alternating with our partner on the other side of the bag. He told us that his goal was to push us until we were so tired we were about to vomit. I don’t know about the rest of the students, but with me, he certainly came close by the end. As we finished the second set of ten, I could barely raise myself off the floor after I went down to do each push-up. I could barely see, because sweat was streaming into my eyes. And we still weren’t done. After that, we had a couple more exercises before finishing up in a circle as we talked over the class briefly and each said something we had learned.

 

My answer was simple: “I learned that I like getting really, really, really sweaty and exhausted.”

 

I never thought I would say those words, and I really never thought I would say those words and truly mean them. And tonight, I truly did say it and meant it. I am truly exhausted and I could probably fall asleep where I sit, I had possibly the most difficult workout I have ever done in my life. And instead of just waiting for it to end, wishing I didn’t have to do it, and only putting in the bare minimum amount of effort….I loved every exhausting minute of it. It really felt good to push myself to the edge of my capabilities.

 

And in truth, it also felt good to be acknowledged for my effort. After class the instructor, Chris, took me aside and told me that he had intentionally thrown me “into the deep end of the pool” tonight. He also said that I had “held up pretty well and had pretty good technique considering it was only my second class.” That made me look forward to Thursday, when I get to go back and do it again.

 

I really never thought I would be capable of anything like this. So it still is a bit of a shock, not only finding myself capable, but seeing that, with practice, I may even be able to excel.

 

I am grateful to my aunt and uncle for transporting me and supporting with encouragement. I am also grateful to my parents for seeing the merit in this class and supporting me in my pursuit financially.

 

This is truly a new challenge I have added to my wellness quest. I look forward to exploring how far I can push both my body and my mind.

 

I think that tonight was the tipping point – where I found out that when thrown into the deep end of the pool, I will chose to swim, not sink.

 

I just want to say thank you to all of my family and friends who have continued to support me through the last five years. I know that I would never have been able to make the progress I am making. I know that I would not be where I am tonight if not for all of you. So thank you, so much, for lifting me up, and making it possible for me to explore this new reality of wellness.

 

Goodnight, and peace to you,

 

-Nathan

 

Discipline – Time to Get Some

doc fai wong demonstrates tai chi technique sn...

Tai Chi Form called “Snake Creeps Down” 

I went to my first “real” martial arts class this evening. It was the “Adult Self-Defense” course, and combines aspects of karate, kickboxing, and grappling, at least, according to my instructor; what I saw today looked mostly like karate. Surprisingly, I not only enjoyed it, but quite a lot of my Tai Chi practice carried over, and the instructor noticed.

My Tai Chi instructor is the lead instructor for all forms at my martial arts academy. So he teaches Tai Chi and the other self-defense classes. But after the warm-up, which was led by one of the student black-belts, most of the students went straight to sparring, led and supervised by the lead instructor. But, since I was the only beginner, I got to have almost the entire time one-on-one with the other instructor who I had never met.

Sorry for how cryptic that last paragraph is, but I am trying to get across the idea without using their names because I honestly don’t know them. We don’t talk much during Tai Chi class, and during the class tonight, everyone was calling the instructors “sir”. So I followed suit, but it means I can’t use their names.

So, back to my one-on-one. My instructor was probably in his mid-forties, a little taller than me, and he outweighed me by about 25lbs. Not that any of that mattered. If we had been actually sparring, he would have knocked me on my butt. However, he was extremely patient, helpful and encouraging. I really liked him, and, as I said before, I enjoyed what we were working on.

What did we work on? Simply, the fundamentals. First, the three stances: offensive stance, defensive stance, and stable stance. Attack stance opens up all your limbs as potential weapons, facing your opponent head on. Defensive stance turns side-on to the opponent and presents a smaller target, making blocking significantly easier while also limiting striking power. Then the Stable stance: facing your opponent, hands up guarding your face, with all your force pointing forward and your center of gravity very low. This stance makes it almost impossible for your opponent to land a strike on your upper body, makes it totally impossible for your opponent to push you backwards, and makes it easy for you to push your opponent away from you, getting him/her out of your face and allowing you to power your way out of a corner or tight spot.

Within each stance we worked on the types of strikes and blocks that are possible within that stance. They were very basic, with the complexity coming all from variations on each simple basic strike, and from the timing. On the offensive there were three main hand strikes. A lead-hand strike, a rear-hand strike, and round punch (can’t remember the exact name). There are also three offensive kicks. A front kick, a side kick and a round kick. In the defensive stance there are two kicks and really only two hand strikes, but there are many variations. More important to the defensive stance are couple different guarding positions. The stable stance was the easiest for me to learn, I think. Out of the stable stance there are a couple hand strikes, and two kicks, one to which I seemed to be very well suited (so said the instructor).

My Tai Chi made the stances much easier for me to learn because they were simply a variation on positions I use every day. My Tai Chi also made me better at staying balanced, and gave me a good foundation for my kicks. I seemed to be particularly competent at front kicks, probably because they are very much like the heel kicks movement in my 24-form Tai Chi style.

You remember the post I wrote where I talked a bit about how our expectations for an experience can color the experience itself (like a self-fulfilling prophecy)? Well I think tonight could have been one of those occurrences. But fortunately, I was able to really clear my mind prior to the class, and I went into it with absolutely zero expectations. I didn’t think I was going to be a prodigy. But I also didn’t think I would be an utter failure. And because I was going just as a “try-out” and everyone was aware that I was a new student, I didn’t feel like they had any expectations of me either. Many of the other students were quite friendly, introducing themselves and making an effort to speak to me during the break and after the class. I also had the benefit of a patient, encouraging, and talented instructor. It was all three of these things, I think, that made tonight’s experience so enjoyable.

I was absolutely drenched with sweat 20 minutes in, and I got a little sort of breath during the warm up as we were doing jumping-jacks, running in place, and doing these side-to-side hops which were brutal; but I actually didn’t feel all that out of shape or stiff. I guess all my exercising has paid off.

Aside from a brief period of time during my senior year of high school, I am more in shape now than I have been the entire rest of my life. Which is pretty amazing since the normal tendency for CF patients is to experience a marked decline by the time they reach my age. In fact, it is often the mid-twenties when lung transplants are required. I feel incredibly grateful that instead of thinking about a transplant I am thinking about martial arts! To me, that is just a sign that as I continue to focus my attention on the goal of optimum wellness, I will grow in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Besides the basic footwork and striking options, my instructor spent quite a bit of time teaching me how to move, explaining how to follow your opponent’s motion, and teaching me about the mental aspect of this type of martial arts. This was the part I found most interesting and the part I think will most benefit me as I move forward. Here’s what my instructor said, as close to his exact words as possible:

“In the end this isn’t about punching, kicking, blocking, or whatever. It is about the movement. It is about staying right at the edge of the critical-distance* and either forcing your opponent to make a mistake by moving into your rage or to notice when he is out of balance or inside your rage so that you know when and how to time your strikes. It is much less about what happens outside your body, and much more about what happens inside your mind.”

I am sure you’ve heard people say this about martial arts before: that it is 10% physical and 90% mental. I think it is probably more like 30%/70%. But once you have the foundation of the physical movements down, the rest is up to your mind. My instructor who is a black-belt (no idea yet what the belts really mean although black seems to be the highest like in many martial art forms) said that the biggest difference between he and some of the men and women with colored belts (like green, blue, purple, orange, and brown) is experience, and his mental ability to focus and anticipate and “tricking his opponent into exposing themselves” as he put it.

So, friends, family, and new friends I may not have met yet: it looks like I will be adding something new to my routine.

I think that martial arts can teach me a lot about my body, about my mind, and about life in general.

At the end, the head instructor had us stand in a circle and go around, each person saying something new they had learned in class today and how the class went for them.

Here’s what I said: “I learned that I actually enjoy this – I wasn’t really sure that I would. I also learned that I have a lot to learn.”

And what I learned but didn’t say is that I think regularly practicing martial arts will give me added discipline and focus skills that I might not be able to learn any other way. I think that using Tai Chi as a more meditative, gentle, flowing form is essential. But I think adding this karate based self-defense form where the emphasis is on movement, speed, mental ability, focus will really boost both my physical and mental strength and my ability to focus.

In the past, one thing I have NOT had much of has been discipline. Tonight I realized I may just be able to learn some discipline after all.

Thanks for reading, goodnight, and peace to you,

-Nathan

Experimental Data

You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot today? I’ve been thinking about the experimental nature of this journey I’m on. I know I talked about it in those terms quite a bit the first few posts I wrote. But after that, I haven’t really returned to that idea at all. But today, I was struck by just how much experimenting I have been doing. It hasn’t just been me either. Actually, both Richard and Kate (my aunt and uncle who are supporting me through this journey and with whom I am living – just in case you’re a new reader) have been making doing some experimenting of their own. This whole experience is, in fact, one big experiment. None of us knew how it would play out when my aunt and uncle came to me when I was in the hospital and proposed this plan to me.

By the time I had decided I wanted to try it and went ahead and moved in, I know that I had a little hope that things would work out. But I also had more than a little doubt; quite a lot of me was worried that this wellness quest would turn out to be a complete disaster.

But instead, I would honestly say that so far a majority of this experiment has been an unequivocal success. Whether you began reading along with me at the very beginning or you just started a few days ago, I’m sure it is evident how much I have taken to this new life I am living.

I was quite apprehensive at the beginning. I couldn’t imagine how I could stay healthy on a gluten-free, vegan diet. I thought I had to have animal protein. I thought lots of whole-wheat products were good for me. Ok, so I sort of knew that milk and dairy products were difficult for me to digest, but I loved them and didn’t want to give them up. That doesn’t sound like someone who would willingly “go vegan”. But I can tell you (and you’ve probably seen from my posts) that I am absolutely loving this new diet I am on. Besides the diet there is my exercise program, my meditation practice, my writing (as in this blog, and some other creative writing), my hygiene (yes, I had to include that), and my medications.

I thought I would make a quick list of all these aspects of my wellness quest and give you an update on how I’m doing and whether the changes I have made have seemed to have an effect or not, or if it is too soon to tell.

Here is my “experimental data” thus far:

Diet: switched from “eating-whatever-the-hell-I-wanted diet” to vegan/gluten-free diet March 27th, 2012

Effects: I have gone from having significant stomach discomfort almost every day to having almost none. I think I have had a couple of hours on perhaps three separate occasions when I have felt discomfort in my digestive system. But, fortunately, it has usual just been gas. (I know you might not like to talk about bodily functions, but let’s be honest, we all have them. If you don’t want to read about them, tough. I won’t get into a whole lot of detail, though, so don’t worry.) Besides the lack of stomach discomfort, I have noticed that my weight is stable, and I am not gaining fat (I did use to have some, even though I was thin). I have also felt like my energy level throughout the day is more stable – instead of having this “burst” of energy followed by a “crash”, I feel awake and alert through much of the day and I attribute some of this to the fact that I no longer load up my diet with refined sugars and other foods with a high glycemic-index level, which means my blood sugar no is no longer spiking really high after a meal then dropping really low. All in all, it is clear that this diet benefits my health. I also believe it is making a contribution, however small, to the health of the planet. And at this point in my life, that has become important to me.

Plans to Change or Modify: None. I like this diet. Although the gluten-free aspect makes life inconvenient at times, I would rather wait to eat or not eat out, and avoid eating gluten than eat it and have it trigger health issues. I no longer feel the need to consume animal flesh. I have seen through this experiment that it is not necessary for me to do so in order to remain healthy. In fact, I have found that it is healthier to not put animal protein into my system, because that puts stress on my body. For that reason, I have no plans to change this.

Exercise: went from hardly exercising at all and having no routine to walking/running a mile then doing 30-40min of Tai Chi in the morning then doing strength training (weights/bowflex/situps etc) in the afternoon for 30-45min

Effects: I have seen a marked improvement in my strength, balance, flexibility, stamina and breathing. One easily measured thing is the amount of weight I lift in my bicep curls. I began with five pounds in each hand. Then I moved to 7.5lbs. Then to 10lbs. And now I have had to move to the bowflex because we don’t have any handweights bigger than 10lbs! That may not seem like much, but it is a huge change for me. I also went from walking half a mile at a slow pace to running a mile in under 10 minutes. Again big change for me. And my Tai Chi routine was so difficult when I started it that I could hardly get through it a single time. Now I go through all 24 movements at least 4 times every morning, and sometimes more later in the day.

Plans to Change or Modify: My only plan to modify this is that I have noticed that my knees have been sore and stiff and that it seems to be related to the increased running. So I plan to slow down a bit and go back to walking one-third of a mile and running the rest of it, and working back up to running the entire thing, until I am able to increase it to multiple miles. I need to be careful of my joints, because they have had problems before and I don’t want to cause problems again, but I also am noticing such positive effects that I have no desire to cut out my cardio entirely. Moderation and progressive increase seems to be the key.

Meditation: from zero meditation to spending at least 20 minutes a day in meditation on my own and an hour on Monday mornings meditation with a group.

Effects: the most pronounced effects I have seen from this have been my ability to deal with stress and to stay calm under pressure. I feel like my meditation practice is helping me to see the world and myself from a new perspective, and that it is providing me with spiritual connection to the universe that I haven’t had in over a decade. It is pretty amazing, because 20 minutes a day is really not much at all but it has made a big difference in my patience, my compassion for others, and my compassion for myself.

Plans to Change or Modify: no plans to change, although I may modify the method I use. That depends on how I feel once I have been doing it longer and once I “iron out the kinks” in my practice. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

 

Writing: I have gone from writing sporadically and often poorly to writing at least every night, usually for about an hour, and usually around 1500 words. Just like I am doing right now. In addition to that I am working on two creative projects, a novel and a collection of poems. The novel is in its early stages and the collection of poems is mostly done, just needs editing.

Effects: I have found that allowing myself to express what is on my mind in this blog every day and staying disciplined to write every single evening is giving me a whole new insight on myself and my ability to apply myself and my creative drive. And I think my writing is improving because of it.

Plans to Change or Modify: No specific plans, except that I think I am going to start making a list of possible topics for this blog, and that my topics will slowly begin to shift from being very focused on my personal life to having more relevance for my readers. I couldn’t entirely eliminate myself and my experience from the blog and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Part of what I truly love about this blog is that I get to talk to you intimately, like it is just you and I sitting together and talking after a long day. The one thing I really want to do is to figure out how to prompt more responses from you, my readers. So if you have any ideas, please post them in my comments or email them.

 

Hygiene: Uh, yeah…before I moved in to my aunt and uncle’s place and began this quest, I was showering maybe once every two weeks, I brushed my teeth about as often, hardly washed my hands, did laundry maybe once a month…basically couldn’t care less about my appearance and taking care of the “outside” of my body. Now I shower every other day, I brush and floss my teeth every day (although at times only once), and I wash my hands all the time, and do laundry and clean my area of the house once a week at least.

Effects: I hardly think I have to tell you how much of a difference this makes in my self-esteem. When I was choosing not to care how I looked, I was also, in effect, choosing not to care how I felt about myself. Because at the point when I entered Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in an ambulance from Hooper Detox Center, I had not had a haircut in months, I had not shaved in at least as long, my hands and feet were filthy, I had acne all over my face, back, and chest…I was a mess. And I felt worthless and hopeless. Now I maintain positive hygiene habits and I feel good about myself, and, frankly, I am happy with my appearance for the first time in a couple years. Yes, I look good, and I know it J

Plans to Change or Modify: No plans to change these things, except to get contact lenses so I don’t need to wear my glasses all the time. Only slightly related to hygiene, but it didn’t fit anywhere else, haha!

 

Medication: I almost never doing my inhaled meds or taking my enzymes and anti-biotics while abusing prescription (and non-prescription) pain medications. (And yes, this means I was injecting heroin and other similar drugs.) Now, I take all my medications as prescribed every day, and I do all my breathing treatments diligently three times a day. I only have one medication with any abuse potential, and my aunt and uncle dispense it to me and keep it locked in a safe the rest of the time so that I don’t even have to worry about it.

Effects: First of all, I feel a lot better. My lungs are better, I’m not in constant pain, I sleep pretty well and usually go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning. I cough much less often. I am not abusing any drugs and I feel so much better being sober. I think clearer and I make better decisions. My lung function actually improved a few percentage points from one doctor’s appointment to the next (which I don’t think has happened in at least 5 years). All in all, this aspect of my experiment seems to be making the most difference, with diet coming in a close second.

Plans to Change or Modify: Well, at some point I am going to want to be off the one medication with “abuse potential”, called subutex. It is also difficult to find prescribers for it. Plus, I know that ultimately my health will be better served once I don’t have to take any medication that changes my brain chemistry directly. However, the subutex has been doing a great job at managing any physical pain I’ve been having, as well as eliminating cravings for opiates, which is its primary purpose. So although  at some point I will need to wean myself off this drug, for now, it is doing its job without hindering my progress.

 

Wow. Ok. So thanks for reading through all that. I just felt led to do a detailed sort of cost-benefit analysis of this experimental process I have undertaken.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my process and to hear about your own process.

You may not have embarked on an intentional wellness quest like I have. But life, in and of itself, is an experiment. We choose things, experience the consequences of our choices, and then either make the same choice again or make a different choice depending on the previous outcome. It may not seem as methodical as that when we are living it, but on a fundamental level our lives are nothing more than a multitude of miniature experiments involving many small decisions within each minute of each hour of each day.

It comes down to intention. I am intentionally spending time and energy focusing on my own process. I don’t think it matters how you do it, but I challenge you to spend some time and energy focused on your own process this week, and to think about what it would mean to make optimal wellness one of your primary goals in life.

After all, what should be more important to us than the health and well being of our minds, bodies and spirits?

Peace to you, and goodnight,

-Nathan

Balance

I woke up this morning to my alarm at 7:30am. I turned it off, and was about to get up. And then I woke up again, this time at 8:30am. Oops. Fortunately, I didn’t have any real need to get up early. I just prefer to get up early enough so that I can finish my morning routine before noon!

It doesn’t sound like I do a whole lot (at least to me), but it always seems to take a couple hours at least. Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about today.

When I did get out of bed, my body was sore and stiff. And once I was fully awake, my mind started running out of control. I don’t know if it was just the fact that I’ve only just recently returned from the trip to the River House, part of it might have been that it’s the day after Independence Day, it may have been thinking about my friends getting on a plane to Africa… I honestly don’t know what it was. All I know is that I felt really out of sorts and, in a lot of ways, exhausted.

I sat, doing my meds, and I tried to read to distract myself. Then I went online and checked my email and responded to a few. But nothing really brought me back to myself. Until an hour later, after breakfast, I started my Tai Chi. By the time I had finished my Tai Chi routine (which is four times through the basic 24 forms and takes about 25 minutes) all those thoughts had left me and I felt grounded and present. I also felt my energy come back into balance. The soreness and the stiffness in my body disappeared. The difference was remarkable.

I know I have written a bit about Tai Chi before, but I want to focus on what this practice is like for me, and why I have continued to do it every single day for over a month now.

I chose Tai Chi for two main reasons. The first was because I had been basically laying in a hospital bed for over a month, and my body wasn’t able to handle more strenuous exercise like running or weight lifting. I also chose it because I wanted an exercise routine that had a mental and spiritual component to it. Tai Chi fit the bill. It is low impact, and stresses muscle tone, flexibility, and the flow of “Chi”, or energy, through my body. The best part in my opinion? The discipline required to be able to move through a series of forms as slow as possible. That may seem odd to those of you conditioned to other forms of exercise. But if you think about something like weight lifting, proper form requires a four second extension and four second contraction of the muscle group you are trying to work. So if you are doing a bench press, you lift the bar from your chest – four seconds up, then four seconds down. Not exactly “as slow as possible”, but slower is better than faster.

Tai Chi is similar. The discipline of moving in what might seem to others as “slow motion”, requires focus, balance, and flexibility. And it requires one to be fully present. It is practically impossible to think about anything other than what I am doing right now when I am truly practicing Tai Chi. I notice that as soon as I start to let my mind wander, I speed up, rushing through the forms as if they are just something I am trying to get through in order to reach some abstract goal.

The wonderful thing about Tai Chi is that there is no abstract goal. The goal of Tai Chi is….to do Tai Chi. Sure, there are the secondary benefits that I listed above, like improvement in core strength, flexibility, balance, concentration, to name a few. But the main focus of Tai Chi is to learn to practice Tai Chi better. It is an end and a means in and of itself. Although Tai Chi began as a martial art, it has lost much of its use in that field. In a Tai Chi competition, competitors do not fight each other. The go through a series of complex forms in front of judges who score them on their speed, form, style, and posture. It is not about fighting against other people. It is more like fighting against the human tendency to step out of “now” into “then”.

The last, more abstract, benefit of Tai Chi that I am going to list here is the spiritual aspect of “Chi”. In traditional Chinese medicine, the energy that flows through one’s body is called Chi. It is comprised of two opposing forces, commonly called the Yin and Yang. They are opposites, like hot and cold. And when those forces are in balance, one’s Chi can be said to be “in harmony”. And when they are not balanced..well, that causes illness.

Tai Chi is said to help balance that energy in one’s body. And it is said to improve its circulation or flow. It may not make sense to those who haven’t tried it, but I can honestly say that I feel my energy change before, during, and after I do my Tai Chi.

And this morning, I went from being completely distracted with my mind and my energy scattered about, to being present and focused. Pretty amazing what doing pseudo-martial-arts movements really slowly can do!

Sorry for waxing on about this, but I felt like you all ought to benefit from my experience if possible. Try it sometime, you might like it.

Physical, mental, and spiritual – it’s all about balance.

-Nathan