Weighty Matters

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Transformation

Transformation is a big word that relates to big change.  I feel like I’ve experienced it over the last few days.  I’m not talking about my three years of post-surgery with the weight loss and regeneration of physical fitness. Here’s what took place.

After the great Taoist Tai Chi International Workshop I attended in Miami in February, I decided I wanted to do even more work toward improving my tai chi.  So, I signed up for a weekend workshop on Women and the Taoist Tai Chi Arts, followed by part of a five day workshop.  These workshops took place up on the west coast of Florida, led by top level people in the Taoist Tai Chi Society.  Top level as in they studied with Master Moy, the man who created this style of Tai Chi and the other arts connected with it.  Learning from the knowledge they shared, receiving corrections personally or observing them work with others was simply an amazing educational experience.  I am internalizing what I learned, applying it to my practice and feeling myself improve.

But why do I think the experience was transformational?  Was it really so  remarkable that I feel like I was transformed?  Yes, but not in one big, hit-by-a-lightning-bolt-from-the-blue.  I can compare it to Tai Chi itself.  We talk of doing a set which is a sequence of 108 moves arranged in a specific flowing order.  When we first start taking classes, we learn the set move by move by move.  Commencement of Tai Chi followed by left grasp bird’s tail, followed by grasp bird’s tail, followed by single whip and so forth.

Each move is important.  Each has many elements.  Even the simplest looking move incorporates complexities.  When someone watches Tai Chi, it might look simple, but it isn’t.  Trust me.  After we learn the full sequence and practice awhile, eventually we stop thinking of the whole by listing the individual parts and, hopefully, finishing each and automatically flowing into the next and the next and the next after.

In the workshop we worked on key things that are important to the overall ways in which we do Tai Chi.  We look for balance, alignment, stacking our bones, dropping down and rising up.  Those are a few.   Often, the instructor picks foundation exercises and has us work on them.  Sometimes it seems like the practice is endless on one or two exercises done over and over and over again.   They might follow that by selecting a move from the set that includes that exercise or exercises and then we do them over and over and over.  While we do so, the instructors move around, offering corrections to individual students and sometimes stopping the entire class while something is demonstrated as an example that all of us can see.

I received some individual corrections over the four and a half days that might seem simple if described, but which created great improvement in all of my Tai Chi.  The corrections might appear to be small, but oh the changes to which they can lead.   I won’t describe the corrections.  To do so would involve a lot of explanation that would easily be confusing to someone who doesn’t practice Tai Chi.    So hopefully you’ll just trust me on this.  Instead, I’d like to describe the experience of the results.

Monday night, after a 12 hour day of strenuous, repetitive practice, I returned to my hotel room and needed a warm bath, a couple of Ibuprofen and some Arnical gel on my joints.  Even with that trio of treatments, I ached.  My knees were tired, sore and, quite probably, inflammed.  I had great difficulty even falling asleep!

When I woke up, I didn’t know how on earth I’d make it through another day of Tai Chi, but I soldiered on.  That morning, we started out day by doing two complete sets from start to finish.  I focused on all the adjustments I’d learned in the previous days and did my best to include them in the way that I did the moves.

I should point out that the instructors frequently remind us to smile when doing Tai Chi.  Honestly, I think most of the time, we then rearrange our faces into grimace-like expressions meant to look like we’re smiling.  We’re uncomfortable and think that we’re faking.  Honestly, it’s not that we’re unhappy or suffering.  Our tendency is to concentrate and focus, determined to “do it perfectly”.  Conversely, the instructors want us to smile because smiling relaxes us.

During the second set that morning, the instructor again encouraged us to “let it go”, to “enjoy”, and, of course, “to smile”.  Something in the way that she said “let it go”, translated itself to my body and how I was  doing the set.  I was using all that I’d learned in my set that morning.  I was relaxed, moving with grace, finding my balance in difficult moves that I’d struggled with.  It was amazing and all of a sudden, I felt better than I ever have when doing the set.  I couldn’t contain my inner happiness, so it bubbled out of me into a broad smile.

No fake, grimace, but a true blue, genuine smile.   I continued through to the end of the set with a big grin on my face and pure joy glowing inside.  When we finished the set with a bow, I breathed my thanks to the instructors, to the man who developed this form, to all who practiced it in Florida and around the world.  I thought to myself that I always wanted my Tai Chi to feel the way that it did in that moment.  I felt forever changed.  Transformed.

Suffice it to say, my Tai Chi probably won’t always go that great.  I’ll fumble or need to check my balance with a prop foot,  but it won’t matter.  I know how it is supposed to feel, how great it can feel, and will be able to tap into that whenever I need to.

It’s a fine life-lesson, this.  Transformation doesn’t need the magic, all-at-once event.  It can be created by putting a series of small changes into place, refining the individual moments, and then opening ourselves up to the joy.

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Changing Lifestyle

The process of changing a lifestyle is more important than reaching a goal or measuring a performance. – Theodore Isaac Rubin

This quote was part of my daily reading the other day.  It really summed up what I continue to struggle with  in my recovery.  I know that my recovery is all about changing my lifestyle from unhealthy and sedentary to healthy with physical fitness and activity.  Yet, all too often I still measure my success in whether I strictly adhered to a rigorous protocol of food choices and what the number says on the scale.

These issues battle for control in my head all of the time.  The one that is winning on any given day all too often determines how I feel about myself.  When I focus too much on my weight by number or whether, goodness sake, I actually treated myself to some pasta at dinner or a single cupcake for dessert, I send myself right back into the diseased thinking of “You failed.  You ruined today.”

When I focus on how much I’ve achieved with my overall lifestyle change; when I embrace that I am SO much healthier in the way that I eat, the food choices I make, the physical activities that I enjoy doing, the adventures that I explore; I feel so much better emotionally, mentally and spiritually too.

I need to cultivate positive reinforcement for my lifestyle change.  I need to notice when I have a good, balanced day.  I also need to be mindful about how I talk to myself or quiz myself.   Did I choose the things I ate with care, or did I eat mindlessly, driven by compulsion?  Was I in balance in the actual food choices – healthy, fresh, natural most of the time and not so much fatty, low-quality, over-processed foods?  If I ate anything compulsively, or over-indulged at some point in less healthier food choices, I shouldn’t go on to castigate myself.  Nothing is served by mentally berating myself.  I can look at the day objectively and treat myself with love, understanding, and a re-commitment.

Was I physically active?  I don’t need to march a 5K every day, but some part of my day needs to include some sort of activity — walks with the dogs, Tai Chi, a workout DVD, a bike ride.

Consistent commitment to the healthier choices strengthens the foundation of my improved lifestyle far more than obsessing on the scale numbers or the size on the tags of my clothes.  Do I feel good, strong, and energetic?  Am I peaceful and happy in my heart?  Those are the things that matter.

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The Fear Remains

Will I ever lose my fear that small deviations screw up my food and fitness efforts?  Am I that wired into the mindset that perfection is the necessary goal and anything less equals failure?

I spent yesterday, a Sunday, doing things around the house.   Sunday, the daily exercise routines with the program call for the Yoga Fix.  Instead of Yoga, I did Tai Chi.  I also walked the dogs and cleaned the pool.  Between that and other things, I was still physically active.

I did not eat junk, but I didn’t eat on the same time schedule that I use weekdays when I’m at work.   As part of my dinner, I ate some potato.  It’s on my plan, but because, overall, the day felt a little wonky program-wise, I started emotionally obsessing over whether I’d “blown it”.

Once I start down that path, I really need to work to put on the brakes because my motivation and determination start to crumble under the pressure of negative thoughts.  Negative thoughts as in:

“You blew it again.”

“Yousuck.”

“Whybother? You already blew it.”

“Might as well go pig out on something.”

“Get a cupcake it won’t do any more damage since you already blew it.”

“You’re destined to fail.”

My diseased thinking is absolutely rotten to me.  If I heard someone talking to a friend like this, I’d give them a blistering talking to — a verbal bitch slap into next week.  Thankfully, I did not give in to its suggestions that I go pig out on cupcakes or something else that would have made the situation even worse.

Even so, I woke up all annoyed with myself, walked to the scale like a condemned prisoner doing the green mile, and saw that I’d lost another half a pound.

My disease-oriented brain was, once more, dead wrong.   I wasn’t perfect and rigid on my plan, but I didn’t damage myself.  This is not a case of a narrowly missed close call.  I was still healthy in my eating and didn’t overeat.  THAT’s the lesson I need to learn, the distinction I need to make.  Progress not perfection.   Healthy eating does not have to be rigid.  It just needs to be . . . healthy.

The perfection poison is destructive in the long run.  It effectively manipulates my emotions and my mindset.  Ultimately, it can undermine my effort instead of bolstering it and shoring up my foundations.  Today I’m focused on diffusing its power.

I’m going back to Booyah in my attitude.   Even though I’m still doing things around the house, I’ll stick to my eating schedule.  This will help me to avoid the negative thinking.  I have yummy, fresh food to enjoy and I will savor it.  I have some projects to do around the house and I’m looking forward to completing them.  I already took the dogs out for a walk and will do today’s cardio routine a little later this afternoon before I get ready to go to a friend’s house for a barbeque/birthday celebration.

I may not be perfect, but I won’t give into fear either.  I got this!

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