September 2016 Newsletter: on consistency and cycles (plus events and reading)

For seven weeks, I worked on an upper body circuit of push-ups, chin-ups, and tuck holds, three times a week. When I began, I was able to complete 6 chin-ups total (2x2 and 2x1). I didn’t have a specific goal, other than to consistently work on this circuit, emphasizing smooth, high quality movements. By the end of the second week, I was able to complete 8 chin-ups. “Huh. I wonder what will happen by the end of this,” I thought to myself.

Five weeks later, on my very last day of this program, I finished 12 chin-ups, 4x3. In seven weeks, I doubled the amount of chin-ups I could do, simply by working on them consistently. 

This is the boring part of athleticism, the part everyone wants to gloss over. For years, I looked for “tricks” to make myself stronger, fitter, faster. I wasted time I could have consistently worked towards a goal hopping from skill to skill, never spending enough time with any one exercise to attain noticeable changes. 

I think this was the subconscious appeal of my Ashtanga yoga practice. It was a set sequence, meant to be practiced 6 days a week (I practiced 3). When I began, I noticed dramatic improvements, like anyone does when they first learn something new. I quickly stalled, however, and instead of making gains, I found myself maintaining the initial improvements. 

At this point, I didn’t have a teacher, so I was left to my own devices. This meant I didn’t have anyone helping me explore the postures differently. My practice became habituated, while I took the path of least resistance to move in and out of the asanas. It also never varied. I didn’t explore changing the order or spending a chunk of time working on one section of the series intimately, understanding the nuances and complexities of each pose.

Ultimately, I left the practice because I didn’t feel it was serving me the way it once had. I have done other forms of yoga over the years, but like my fitness routine, I never found a consistency that allowed me to attain a sense of accomplishment with a skill.

One of the principles I learned to embrace while going through the GMB apprenticeship is the idea of cycling through training. It’s an exercise physiology principle used to prevent injury and burnout. At first, I balked at the idea of working on something consistently for a little while, only to step away from it once proficiency began to settle in. The OCD part of me wanted to continue working on the skills and reap improvements. Once I realized stepping away for a short time actually gave me the opportunity to look at the skill from a fresh perspective once I returned, I began to embrace the idea of cycles.

A year ago, I struggled to do one chin-up. This week I did twelve. I am stepping away from chin-ups for the next 12 weeks to work on the bent arm stand. Hopefully, when I return, the twelve chin-ups will still be there, but even if they aren’t, with a little bit of practice and consistency, the strength and ease will return.

Yours in health and wellness,

Upcoming Events:
When: Saturday, 9/17 from 10-12
What: Joint mobility Workshop
Where: Be Well Personal Training

When: Saturday, 9/26 from 9:30-11:30
What: Introduction to arm balances
Where: Be Well Personal Training

When: Saturday, 10/1 from 11:30-1:30
What: Introduction to GMB
Where: Paradigm Sport, Santa Cruz, CA

When: Saturday, 10/22
What: Introduction to MELT method
Where: Be Well Personal Training

Suggested reading:
Tribe: on Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger
Exuberant Animal: the Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement, by Frank Forencich
Rising Strong, by Brene Brown
The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker (a bit dense, but interesting if you are curious about words and language)