Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Blustery Day

This blog post today is simply a well wish for all those negatively affected by the storm "Irene". 
My neighborhood was lucky enough to get through relatively unscathed. My house was without power for about 14 hours only and there were no car/home damages to report (thankfully)! I sincerely hope that all is well with you, your family & friends and that any troubles you may be experiencing are rectified quickly!
HUGS, Michelle

Friday, August 26, 2011


What are you doing? 
Why are you doing that?
Do you think that's the best way to get what you want?
What DO you want?

These can simultaneously be the easiest and the most difficult questions to answer. You can be simplistic and literal, "I'm drinking coffee to wake up because I want to wake up." Or in my case right now "well, I'm writing a blog post. Why? Because I want to connect with all of you out there in the world; share my thoughts, my hopes, feelings, experiences and the occasional tirade (lucky you!) and hopefully inspire you to engage me in return."

As CrossFitters though, we are accustomed to being asked "why do you DO that to yourself?" I don't know about you but I have a tendency to stumble over my words when it comes to explain our workouts to an outsider. I stumble over science and application and emotion and it comes out, "uuum because it's awesome..DOH!" So I am proud to say that at long last I have discovered a stylish & elegant way to describe it. It came to me in yoga the other night as we were discussing the Yoga Sutras.

The first word (in Sanskrit, being first denotes great importance) of the second chapter in the Yoga Sutras is "tapas." Not to be confused with small tasty Spanish dishes that cost $15 each, tapas can be translated as austerity, self-discipline, dedication, and motivation. Tapas initially referred to ones committal to Yoga as a method of perfecting the body, senses and the mind in order to become a "shining one". I happen to think it applies equally well to CrossFit (or your physical discipline of choice).
  • Tapas is a taking on a discipline (yoga or CrossFit etc) and knowingly and lovingly devoting yourself to it in order to reach a goal.
  • It is not a chore, it is not a burden. Without your desire for the end result, there is no tapas. 
  • Tapas is the strength and courage to commit to your goals despite trials and tribulation. 
  • Tapas is fiery: it is a deep passionate desire and yearning to achieve your goals. No obstacle is too great because your inner fire will incinerate anything that stands in your way! Tapas is NOT a to-do list and it is NOT complacency!
  • This burning desire makes the path, and the challenges you encounter, LESS burdensome because your heart is set on the goal instead of on the difficulty of each obstacle.

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will fall amongst the stars."

So why do I continuously return to CrossFit and to yoga? Why do I take a beating and come back happily tomorrow? Because these are my disciplines, they are how I care for myself. I CrossFit and do yoga to push the limits of my mind and body, and then to push beyond that. My abilities, heart, and mind are constantly achieving, discovering and seeking new horizons. I do yoga in addition to CrossFit because I want to be able to have strength and flexibility in every possible combination of directions that my body can achieve; leave no stone unturned! I am a better person because of the work I have done in each of my disciplines. I am a better friend, daughter, sister, co-worker, coach and athlete because of them. I have a burning desire to be better than yesterday, to consistently evolve into the highest and best form of my self that could possibly exist! I want to shine!

Do you want to shine?

“Discipline is remembering what you really want.”
“Tapas…is the choice of finding a better way.”
~ Doug Keller

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

21-15-9: Thrusters and Contentment

Santosha is listed in the Yoga Sutras as one of the necessary conditions for enlightenment, peace of mind and true happiness. Santosha means "contentment", and while I was sitting on my yoga mat I saw all the ways in which I'm in tune and all the ways in which I am NOT!

Just this past weekend my friends and I drove several hours north to run the Warrior Dash! We made a weekend out of it and rented a house to spend the night at after the race. So while I got to sleep in a real bed that night, it was not my own, and I was exhausted come Monday morning. Pathetic as it may be, I spent all my time in the office on Monday dreaming I was napping soundly in a soft blanket at home.Thankfully I made it to yoga class that night because it started with a discussion about this concept of contentment.

Our teacher told us a story about a supervisor of his that said the best thing you could do, upon entering the work force after college, was to buy a boat. "Buy a BIG boat," this man said. "Then you will need to work hard in order to pay for that boat and therefore you will be more motivated to make more money then if you had no bills to pay." Brilliant, haha. It made me realize though that I had just spent every minute of that whole day wishing for something different than what I had. I had not spent much, if any, of my day contented.

I know diddly about boats so let's talk workouts! You walk into the box and you see your mortal enemy's name scrawled on the whiteboard (ie "Barbara" 5 rounds of 20 Pullups, 30 pushups, 40 situps, 50 squats). 
We're all concerned with our final time of course, but it's the ability to ride the waves of change DURING the WOD that will determine how you finish. Can you remain content and aware in every moment? Everything is always changing: you may catch your breath on one set of squats but then your breath may get erratic during the next set of squats. Are you going to get mad about it and let that annoyance effect the following set of pullups? NO (is the right answer)!

My biggest f* up during WODs (even in yoga class) is getting emotional about what's next. I've noticed that THIS burpee feels harder because I know there are ten left after it. This warrior lunge feels hard because I know that dreaded side angle I always fall out of is coming next. I get emotional about what's coming instead of focusing on the immediate task (ask anyone who's heard me scream "F--K" at myself! Lady-like, I know). Just imagine doing your whole workout focused on doing each and every rep as quickly and as well as possible with ZERO concern or thought for the next rep. You'll get to the next rep when you get there. Personally I know I would haul ass, and mostly because I'd save time not having to retrieve my jump rope after I got mad and threw it :-D

Let me point out that contentment does NOT equal complacency. Big difference. HUGE difference!  This concept of santosha does NOT mean that you should be satisfied with just good-enough. It does NOT imply that you should be content with whatever time you get. Striving to be better is non-negotiable in this life! The idea is to be IN THE MOMENT and focused on doing the work of that exact moment and not on the work that is coming. The more time you spend being aware of your present moment the less time you have to "spend in the emotionality of anger or depression or other negativities." This is MUCH easier said than done however. Some days my mind is perfectly focused like this and I'm amazed at how much simpler the workouts are (not easier, simpler). I don't let the work that has yet to be done turn into a swirling black whirlpool of fear before me. I can remember the very first time this happened and my mind cleared during a WOD and I will never forget it. Whatever my coach said to do I did. She said, "do five thrusters," and I did five. I was still completely aware that my legs were screaming at me but I simply acknowledged the pain but did not assign a feeling to it. I can only tap into this on occasion (still practicing) and these are my "crush it" days!

Work is just work: get it done! It's when we assign emotion to it ("oh my god, this is so hard I'll never make it to the pushups") is where we stumble. When we give the work an emotional power over us, it all starts to tumble over like a toddler on a hill. So the trick is to ride the wave of change without emotional attachment and to simply be content. Wandering around whining about missing a rep, thinking about WHY you missed it, worrying you hit the proverbial wall...all that takes TIME and emotional energy away from the work you need to get done!

Does this make sense to you? If you have EVER finished a WOD thinking you could have done better had you not spent so much time THINKING then read this post again. Don't get mad if it doesn't happen right away, just try to stay focused on each and every rep! Now go. Do!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dig Deep & Reach For the Sky!

A few weeks ago, after weeks of stalking studios online, I finally decided to join a local yoga studio. I've done videos at home, the occasional class at a globo-gym and also played with some poses on my own just to see if I could do them. I also have the pleasure of being able to do yoga with my boyfriend in his yard, surrounded by grass and open sky. A couple years ago I took a course in Holistic Fitness that emphasized the emotion-yoga pose connection (fascinating stuff). Just this year I completed a yoga course designed for Personal Trainers. So I had dabbled with this 'yoga stuff' long enough and I finally decided to get serious about my yoga practice.What I wanted to share with you was that this week I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a more advanced class (NOT to be confused with an Advanced class). Oh boy...

First of all, this new studio I have started going to is wonderful so far; no elitist instructors, no huge yogi-egos, no b.s. Each class starts with the instructor giving us a short lesson (usually regarding a branch of yoga or a sutra) which is not something I've gotten from videos or globo classes. Afterwards I can go home and read more about it from my own copy of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. So yes, the geek in me rejoices at this informational portion of class!

Yoga is not inherently scary. What I do find a little unnerving though is not knowing what the instructor has in store for you. Especially if you choose to take a more advanced class than you are accustomed to. Now with CrossFit I don't like to know what the WOD is going to be for me on any given day. I'll panic about it if I know ahead of time, but if I just arrive and read it on the whiteboard I'll get excited. And I love my WODs! Now with yoga, you never know what you'll be doing. Thirty-minutes into class and you still don't know! You can't even be sure how long you'll be asked to hold each pose let alone what's going to come next! It's a little torturous in that way.

So I walk into class to find a man relaxing in a perfect head stand. "Oh wow, what did I get myself into?" It was a great test for myself (and the instructor)! Would he take care to get me through? Could I dig deep and get myself through?

Obviously I did. I made it through alive. It was more the pace of the class that made it difficult. There was some Sanskrit thrown in for giggles ("Now forward in Bhujangasana!") and a few tough poses to keep me straining. At one point my leg seized up as I tried to hold a revolved extended side angle (hands in prayer). It was excruciating...and I'm a CrossFitter. I don't use that word lightly at all. In the end I made it through better than alive. Actually I came out all glow-y (<- new word!). When the instructor singled me out to say that my "alignment was wonderful" that was all I needed. Sold!

I know it's all the drills for the Olympic and other lifts we do for workouts that has helped develop my alignment. 100% sure of it. So now I'm excited to see how the yoga will give back to my lifts! New personal records here I come baby!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Peace, Love & No Holds Barred!

Sometimes doing yoga makes me feel like this happy lady.

But on occasion, right in the middle of a Warrior Pose I'll feel like this:

As one woman put it, "yoga makes me wanna knock the next girl right out of her down dog!" Are we all totally nuts? Maybe yoga exposes us as nutters but CrossFit utilizes the crazy?! What's going on?

  1. Most CrossFitters are Type-A personalities. 
  2. Many CrossFitters start to feel violent at the mere thought of doing a gentle yoga class but giddy at the thought of doing "Lumberjack 20" (anyone want a weight vest?!). 
  3. Most CrossFitters neglect their post-WOD stretches regularly.
  4. EVERY CrossFitter would be better if they addressed their flexibility more regularly. 
One working yogic theory is that the hips (more specifically the psoas) store strong emotions like anger and grief and those emotions are released during hip-opening poses. OK, so maybe some of us have some things we're repressing but dammit, now is not the time! So what is it about a relaxing hatha yoga class that makes us feel mean while a regular organized stretch session won't?
Another idea is that we're too tightly wound for full mind-body relaxation! We just cannot stand to be alone with all of our thoughts. An intensely active meditation like a WOD can focus all that scattered energy onto a single task resulting in short-term mental "relaxation". But sit us quietly in a softly lit room with ALL of our thoughts and holy Mother look out for our angry inner-child! 
(I had to fit this guy in SOME how!)

Then again maybe it is just that yoga is too slow! After all, you do WODs for TIME!  Taking your time is unheard of. "I have to HOLD this pose? For HOW long?! There's no power in that, it's just annoying!"

Maybe doing yoga makes you mad because it's really hard but you don't think that it should be. Maybe doing yoga makes you mad because while you're struggling to hold that pose that less-fit-looking guy looks like he's in his bliss. Right or wrong that pisses off your inner athlete (it's okay, this is an honest space). Maybe doing yoga makes you mad because it requires that you get to know yourself. Maybe you're finding it difficult to hold a pose as your muscles quiver and your thoughts start to clash. I mean, yeah maybe you have some stored anger in your hips but I'll wager that your grey-matter is playing a bigger role.

Let's compare the back squat and Warrior I (Virabhadra). To do a back squat, you take the bar across your shoulders and step away from the rack. You stand still for a moment. Then you "block" by taking a deep breath, bracing your abdominals and pulling your belly button down into your pelvis. Then you move through the squat to full depth and then back up to standing where now you breathe again.  To do Warrior I, you stand still in Mountain pose, then you exhale to step wide and raise your arms straight overhead and in line with your ears. With each exhale you adjust a little more until you are fully in Warrior I pose. Now the work begins as you hold this pose and breathe fully and steadily for one minute. 

Do you see that? 
Stand and breathe. Hold breath to move. Stand and breathe. versus 
Move and breathe. Breathe steadily but hold pose. Move and breathe.
They complement and balance each other. So now your challenge is to find the parallels between the fitness (CrossFit) and the flexibility (yoga) in your own practice.

It is just as hard to hold a pose at the edge of your comfort zone as it is to push the limits of your back squat ability. The difference is that if you miss the lift you can assign blame (even a little) to the bar. If you can't hold the pose there ain't no one to blame but yourself. I mean, are you serious? You can back squat 180 pounds but you can't hold a simple little lunge? 

See, that's tough to hear.

What I'm hoping is that the next time you do any yoga you can think to approach each pose like it's a max lift. Instead of doing a set of five lifts you'll instead hold a pose for five breaths. 

Come on, you're a type-A, take-no-prisoners CrossFitter! Don't you dare tell me that you can't!

Now go crush it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Meditation That Leaves You Nauseas...

[My coach & friend Melissa and I are doing the Clean and Jerk WOD from the 2011 NE Open.]

I stare down at the bar and set my feet. I place my hands wide and grab my thumbs but then let go, stand up and shake it out. It wasn't right. I'm breathing too hard to make the lift. I can't concentrate, heck I can barely SEE! Now I'm getting a little mad, making it even harder to see.

So I take a deep breath, steady myself and go through my ritual again. The deep breath and focus calms me. I set my feet, place my hands, grab my thumbs. Deep breath. Block. Pull. Zero to squat snatch! Stand. Do it again.

When a heavy and complicated movement like a squat snatch is thrown into a WOD it causes it the whole thing to become a lesson in time and anger management.  I can't just scream through the WOD and let it get a little sloppy as I could if it involved situps or box jumps. Nope, here I have to FOCUS because bad form equals no lift...or worse, an injury. A "no rep" or an injury will set me back far more than taking a moment to breathe will. I can't, in this moment, afford to be distracted by thoughts of errands to be done, people to call, laundry to fold.

A WOD is an exceptionally dynamic meditation.

If I told you to meditate you might "assume the position" and sit on the floor, cross your legs, place your hands on your lap and close your eyes. Maybe you'll even chant "Om" because you saw it on t.v. I hope you'll be happy to discover that you do not always need to sit quietly in order to unify your body and your mind. So let me introduce the concept that everyone meditates during a WOD. It's true: I haven't met a person yet that doesn't. No seriously, do you mutter to yourself when you're 5 minutes into a 20min AMRAP? Is your mind a perfect blank? Do you yell at yourself or coach yourself through?

Some minds do go quiet...there's nothing but the hear and now, the sound of their breathing, the plates hitting the mats, their feet hitting the box, the feeling of the pullup bar in their hands.

Some minds get loud, tough and confrontational..."don't be a pu$$y", "don't put it down", and "the pain is a lie, keep moving!"

Some minds get loud but supportive..."you can do it", "you're strong", and "you're making great time."

Either way, when you repeat these phrases to yourself you do so to "invoke or cultivate a feeling or internal state or attend to a specific focal point" and comes from the Latin meditatio, meaning "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder." Yup, you're meditating kiddo!

Not what you had envisioned right? You were thinking more like this right?

Well CrossFitters, we aren't drooling musclebound meatheads! We are highly evolved athletes!
First we crawled out of the slime of the globos to stand tall (with a barbell) in our local Box. Then we crawled out of the Fritos bag and started feeding ourselves properly. We are always striving to get better; spending more time working form, moving to a smaller pull-up band, adding weight. So now that you're aware that your MIND is playing a monumental role in your development as an athlete, wouldn't it be nice to HARNESS that and really make it work for you?

The next time you WOD just let your mind run and take good notes as to what it says, where it goes and what it does (you may be surprised). Just in case, choose a short mantra (motivating phrase) to repeat to yourself if you're not sure you like what your brain says if left without supervision. If your mind says, "this is too long, too hard" then choose a mantra like, "one more rep, keep moving, one more rep". This way, your next WOD can be a dynamic and POSITIVE meditation that helps to bring your athleticism to the next level. You may find that you move faster, use fewer breaks, nail your form and shave off a few seconds. Unfortunately though I can't promise that you'll feel any less nauseas or that it'll hurt less. But I know you wouldn't want that anyway.

Write back and tell me how it goes!