Wednesday ZenDay: The New Year Project

Each year in my meditation class we do an interesting exercise. We meditate with the express purpose of figuring out our intention/theme for the year and each month. I think there’s a misconception about meditation that you’re supposed block out thoughts. And just focus on your breathing. That’s part of it. But it’s also a means to get you to a place where you can engage your super conscious mind, where you can tap new ideas, new solutions, or just reassuring thoughts that your subconscious mind tends to sabotage with negative thinking and mental clutter. So in that deeply relaxing meditative state, we go to find our intentions – those new things to focus on that are meant to satisfy our desires for the year. They’re not necessarily your stereotypical New Year’s resolutions. A couple of years ago, I set an intention to laugh. It was a great month. Another friend decided she wanted to give a gift to someone every day in the month of August. (Why wait ‘til Christmas?)

I don’t have my whole year planned yet, but I do have my theme for the year. It came to me last night. Strength. Then everyone buys a colorful calendar, we track our progress each day on our path. One of the kinda of comical things I discovered about myself is that I seem to be a month or two late on acting on my intentions. Will it be that way this year? We’ll see. Does it matter? No. We’re not about “shoulds” in meditation class. It’s not a pressure thing. More like a guidepost.

How did 2013 go? Read on, if you want to know.

Last year, my intention was “My Well Being.” I was in a bad place. Dealing with some heavy family long-term stressors had taken a toll on my health. My doctor said, “No exercise.” What was a triathlete to do? I focused on what I could change. I improved my nutrition a lot. I meditated almost every night. I stopped using a couple of glasses of wine or beer as a reward for a hard day. Instead, I turned my cocktails into elaborate juices. I worked on letting go of some things like resentment and things that didn’t bring me peace. This summer, I pretty much stopped watching the news. This fall, I took a break from social media.

Very gradually, I felt better. But my well-being continued to be high-jacked by concern for my loved ones and the new responsibility of picking up the pieces of their lives. My dad has dementia. We moved him out here almost two years ago. But we’re still in the process of emptying our childhood home 3,000 miles away and prepping it for sale. My oldest sister, lives a few states south of there. She has paranoid schizophrenia and the complications that go with it. She lives alone and in her own delusional world, won’t speak on the phone and is completely unaware of her disease. She was hospitalized four times this year. I’m responsible for her finances, smoothing things over with her neighbors, collaborating with her court-appointed guardian, answering healthcare workers’ requests for information about her and submitting detailed reports to the court each year. In 2013, I made five trips to the East Coast.

As I sit here reflecting on the year, I feel much more relaxed and even a sense of pride. I feel like I'm finally out of the eye of the storm. My dad is safe and well cared for down the street. If I had my way, my sister would not live alone. But the mental healthcare laws don’t allow any further intervention than an outpatient commitment, which we finally obtained this summer. Fortunately, one of the hospitals arranged to have a social worker visit her three times a week. That was a huge victory. A lot of heavy-duty clerical tasks are taken care of too. My part-time job for them is a lot less time consuming and draining. Their intellect used to be one of their greatest assets. It’s been a shock. I’ve had to accept that they’re not getting better.

Though they are still here, I think watching their sudden cognitive decline actually involved a whole lot of grieving. And I sense I’m finally coming out of it – no matter what happens with them next. Getting to that place emotionally has, in turn, made a difference physically.

My doctor allowed me to work out a half hour a day after a couple of months of complete rest. Then, in August, I got the go-ahead to do more intensity. It was a year without racing, except for a little fundraiser meet for my old high-school’s x-country team. I’m doing much better. A hard workout doesn’t keep me up half the night or render me useless the next day. I’m back to doing everything – swimming, biking, running, and crossfit. I started doing yoga in the morning too. So when “strength” came to me as my theme for the year – well, it just felt right. I’m looking forward to finding all kinds of new strength in 2014. What about you? Whatever you do, I hope it's a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday ZenDay: 100-Day Meditation Challenge Reboot

My 100-Day Meditation Challenge was going so well. It was getting easier and easier to get into that pleasant, indescribable (or maybe someday I will) state after a few minutes. I was determined to follow it through to the end. A couple of weeks ago, I had an exceedingly busy day right before taking a Red Eye out to Boston. Sitting outside a baggage carousel with a cup of coffee at 5:30 a.m., feeling like it was 2:30 a.m., it dawned on me, “I forgot to meditate yesterday! There goes my streak,” I said to my sister. “Oh, you must’ve done it on the plane,” she suggested as if leaving me an out. “No, I didn’t.” Yeah, I may’ve experienced a slightly Zen-like state from the drink I had before boarding the plane, but that doesn’t count.

I got a couple more sessions of meditation in on my trip, but I hit the reset button on this 100-Day Meditation Challenge a week ago. So, 7 days are in the books, well technically, it’s the Wonderful Day app. Only 93 days to go.

Have you tried meditating yet? Here’s a guided meditation by Dr. Andrew Weil you can try. With all you do with your training to get your heart rate and breathing up, meditation will help give your body and mind an opportunity to slow down and recover.

My Worst Bike Crash

The last time I crashed really hard on a bike was the spring of ’96. I was mountain biking with some friends and didn’t see a gap created by the heavy rains. My friend bunny hopped it. I landed on it, went over the bars and slid on the right side of my body for several feet. I didn’t need to go to the hospital, but I remember inviting a couple of friends over to partake in a mini keg of Grolsch. And I didn’t wear skirts that summer because the road rash was so bad.

I had a pretty good streak going of no bad crashes – until last Sunday. I was just going out for an easy spin down by Todd’s place. I like going into this wilderness park where there’s a paved road to practice my aero position and take in the scenery without cars.

Four miles into my ride, I hit a pothole that I didn’t see. (Yes, I have crappy vision.) Usually I can recover from those bobbles, but not this time. My Garmin showed I was going 18.4 mph. I don’t remember the fall. But my Garmin said I took quite a bounce, crashing at 16.8 mph and sliding for 12 seconds. I got knocked out. I don’t think it was for very long. When I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by five strangers who wouldn’t leave my side until the paramedics got there. Apparently, I stopped my Garmin 1 minute and 50 seconds after impact. I don’t remember doing it. If I had been wearing this headband that I got at the Boston Marathon Expo, perhaps one of those kind people could’ve done it sooner. They kept saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t break your collarbone!”

Once I found out that I had been knocked out and saw my trusty Specialized Prevail helmet was cracked in two places, I knew I had to get checked out at the hospital. I’ve been writing about head injuries for the past 15 years for my rehab hospital client. I know you just can’t mess with them. The rush of adrenaline or shock that you get from impact kind of masks the pain. As the minutes ticked by, I wondered if maybe I broke something – my ribs hurt and my hip was swollen. The paramedics/firemen rode me, and my bike “Blaze,” out of the park. Todd’s brother, Ken, picked me up at the park entrance and drove me to the hospital. Ken is no stranger to bike accidents as you may recall. He’s broken his collarbone four times! And I was grateful he kept me company for three hours in the hospital. The folks at Mission Hospital were great. They gave me a CT scan, X-rays of my pelvis and ribs, a tetanus shot, and cleaned up my road rash. I had a mild concussion. The next day, I still felt shelled. I declined using the prescription for a painkiller. The last time I took one I had dreams of King Kong sleeping in the fetal position in my neighbor’s garage and strange little rat-a-saurus creatures with neon tails eating pineapple off my bedroom floor. No thanks! I opted for vodka and pomegranate juice instead. ☺

I thought recovering from this would be like getting over the soreness of a marathon or a half Ironman. Nope. I’m still incredibly sore on the right side of my body just over a week later. It still hurts to laugh.

With 11 bruises, my legs are like a mood ring, changing different colors every day. I have scrapes on my hip, elbow and shoulder that are healing well, but I wouldn’t dare take them for a dip in the pool. I still have a slight limp when I walk and it hurts to do little things that I normally wouldn’t think about like kicking the bottom sock drawer of my closet closed. Or rolling over in bed. I’m using my arms still to push myself up or ease myself down in bed because my ribs still ache so. Yesterday, I got on the trainer and spun my legs for 20 minutes. Getting on and off was the hardest part. Despite all of those complaints, the biggest overriding feeling I’ve had this week is joyous relief. I feel lucky it wasn’t much worse. I’m in tact. My life is in tact. I feel gratitude for the strangers that came to my aid and my honorary bro Ken. Grateful for my sister, Jane, coming over to help this week and changing my bandages, knowing she’s the most squeamish chick I know. There are such good people in my world.

My thoughts this weekend are with my blogger buddy, James Walsh, a phenomenal endurance athlete who got hit by a car this weekend going 50 mph. The driver hit another cyclist in his group as well. James suffered numerous broken bones and I can only imagine how uncomfortable he must be, if I’m hurting this much still without breaking anything. Please send positive vibes his way and cheer him on for a speedy recovery on Twitter at @jmwalsh2.

How Fitness Can Help During all Phases of Cancer Treatment

This following is a guest post by Melanie Bowen, an awareness advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. While a lot of us may be focused our next training session or race, you never know when these words may come in handy for you, a loved one or a training buddy. Here's her post: Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, many people feel that their fate lies solely in the hands of their doctors. Doctors play a crucial role in helping their patients survive cancer, but there are certain activities that patients can use to help give them the best odds possible. One of these activities, exercise, is proving to be tremendously helpful in preventing cancer and helping patients deal with treatment as well as possible. Here are some of the ways in which fitness and cancer interact.

Preventing cancer It is not wholly understood why all cancers develop, but most experts now agree that it takes multiple factors to cause a case of cancer to occur. Some are speculating that physical fitness is effective at reducing precancerous growths, which can lead to the prevention of certain cases of cancer. While it is not known how many cases of cancer physical fitness actually helps prevent, it should be understood that even the healthiest people around can still develop cancer.

Preparation for cancer treatment Those who have never been diagnosed with cancer or who have recently been diagnosed but have not yet commenced treatment, will want to view physical fitness as a means of preparing for cancer treatments. Chemotherapy often makes it difficult to eat, and many who undergo chemotherapy treatments lose a substantial amount of weight. Strength training and exercise can help people prepare for this possibility. If possible, those who been diagnosed with cancer may wish to gain a few pounds to help them fend off the weight loss that comes with particular chemotherapy treatments.

Recovering from cancer After cancer has gone into remission, many people have difficulty regaining their energy level and strength. Physical fitness is the key for returning to one's previous lifestyle. Cardiovascular exercise can help people increase their energy levels and it has also been shown to help their heart recover. Some weight training can help people recover lost strength, which can allow them to resume activities that they used to enjoy. Further, some believe that exercise can help fend off the reoccurrence of cancer in those who have fought their cancer into remission.

Whether diagnosed with mesothelioma, breast cancer or any other form of cancer, patients will want to consider physical fitness as a means of dealing with their cancer most effectively. While the road ahead will be difficult, some preparation and commitment to physical fitness can help ease the burden.

Wednesday ZenDay: A Conversation with My Inner 7-Year Old

Recently, my Zen Coach gave us an interesting exercise and guided meditation. She asked us to close our eyes, “Think back to when you were 7-years old. What are you doing? When you have that snapshot, open your eyes.” I looked around the room and every single one of us looked very happy and content. I saw myself running on the grass of my parents’ front lawn and my dad on a aluminum lounge chair with white and green webbing. What was the point of that? She picked that age because this was the magical time of our lives where we had no thoughts about responsibilities or feeling judged. It’s a particularly joyful age.

Then she took us on a guided meditation to talk to our 7-year old selves. My mind was partway open, but I must admit, I was pretty damn skeptical that I’d be able to talk to little ‘ol me. I think we all were.

Zen Coach took us down an imaginary river that represented our adulthood and adolescence until we arrived at our destination. Ah, wow, where was I? I landed at the nursery my mother used to take me to look for plants. It had a babbling brook where I used to escape with a wagon. I remembered pulling the wagon into the cactus greenhouse when it was 12-degrees in the dead of winter and how wonderfully balmy it felt to be there.

Then she asked us to talk to our 7-year old. I saw her. Little me in with cat-eye tortoise-shell, thick glasses, a red shirt, beige corduroys, and bright red Stride-Rite sneakers. I asked me/her, “What do you want? She responded, “I want to climb trees. I want to play with boys. I like my sneakers.” I grinned. No doubt about it. That was me alright. When I was a little girl, I was a little Tomboy in a big neighborhood of boys. Which meant endless tree climbing, tackle football games, hitting wiffle balls over the neighbor’s house, and mimicking Evil Knievel jumping off ramps on my purple Schwinn and popping wheelies when my mother wasn’t looking.

After she guided us back to reality, we feverishly wrote down in our journals what we saw. Zen Coach then asked us, “What do you think you need to do to bring that joy back into your life?” I grinned. It all made sense."Crossfit," I answered. This is why I love crossfit so much. I’m basically climbing, playing with boys, and well, I like my sneakers.

But I can’t do that kind of intensity right now with my endocrine system out of whack. So I think it means I need to spend more time on the trails too. A few days later, Todd took me on one of his Strava trail outings. I hiked it and watched him peg it with a trail run. My inner 7-year old was very satisfied.

Wednesday ZenDay: 100-Day Meditation Challenge

As I was reading this excellent post over at Wildmind Buddhist Meditation, I came across this 100-Day Meditation Challenge. Okay, it officially started at the beginning of the year, but my/our participation is welcome nonetheless at anytime. Today represents Day 3 for me.

I’ve been meditating for years, but struggle with doing it daily. I often feel like a human pinball, flitting from work and family responsibilities to social stuff and workouts. And before I know it, it’s time for bed! (Woops, there goes another day without meditation.) But I feel so much better when I fit it in.

Since my doc still has my workout activities limited to 30 minutes/day, this is the perfect challenge for me to wrap my head around right now. I won’t be going for the miles, but instead I’ll log on several more minutes of deep breathing, quiet solitude, and bits of unexpected wisdom that often emerge from my super conscious mind.

Here’s how to join the challenge. There’s no submit button, no medals or tee shirts, but some solid recovery I’m sure. If you want to join this journey, here’s another post on how to meditate regularly.

Wednesday ZenDay: Breathing Techniques

The December 2012 issue of Triathlete magazine had a Training Tip article that stated, “Constant exhalation is a necessary skill for an efficient freestyle stroke, but many athletes (especially newbies) have a tendency to hold their breath underwater.” Hmmm, I think I’m guilty of that too. So when my crossfit gym Beach Fitness posted a breathing workshop, I thought it might offer some insight last Saturday. The breathing workshop was taught by Laura Adams, a certified Pilates and yoga instructor. The hour-long class really helped us think about breathing beyond just our normal cardio workouts. I must admit much of it reinforced what I’ve learned in my meditation classes. But I was up for a refresher and a new perspective.

Laura gave us a great overview first of the basics of Diaphragmatic Breathing. (This video is a short and a little dry, but bear with me because it demonstrates the mechanics of what’s going in your body well). She had us practice deep belly breathing by putting one hand on our stomach and another on our chest. So often we actually don’t breathe from our belly, especially when we’re anxious and that’s why we can end up with that tight feeling in our chest when stressed. Hint: if you have a big presentation, race, heated conversation, test, etc., focus breathing from your belly to relax.

Lateral Rib Cage Breathing emphasizes breathing into the costal muscles between the ribs as the lower belly is gently contracted. She had us lay on our mats so we could feel our ribs expand. Here’s another video that demonstrates how to do it.

Pranayama breathing is utilized to alleviate pain and unbalance in the body. I was first introduced to it in my meditation classes. But Laura suggested this technique to use during stretching to help loosen up tight muscles or joints. Here’s another video that show you how to do it.

While much of our breathing happens autonomically without any thought, we can improve our performance, sleep and recovery by applying these techniques.

Making Produce Last

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to not waste food, particularly produce. Spending time back and forth between Todd’s place and mine, I noticed something. He doesn’t waste food. I do. I’ve been the queen of good intentions whenever I go to the store and tend to buy enough fruits and vegetables. I just don’t get to it all before it goes bad. After doing much soul searching I’ve come to the following conclusions for why this happened:

  1. Perhaps my eyes are actually bigger than my stomach.
  2. Definitely not enough meal planning on my part. I shopped for the same stuff on autopilot.
  3. Believe it or not, I forget to look in the vegetable crisper drawers. For me, out of sight can actually be out of mind.
  4. Items get hidden behind the bigger items and turn into things that look like science experiments.
  5. Ethylene-producing fruits shouldn’t be stored with or near ethylene-sensitive vegetables or they will go bad quickly.

That last one was an ah-ha moment for me. You can read more about the science of why produce can go bad quickly and which fruits and veggies should not be stored together in a great article by Vegetarian Times here.

Once I read that I was reminded that I have a couple of FridgeSmart Tupperware containers (click for a short demo video) tucked away in a cabinet.

These containers have two vents, which can be adjusted in four different open or closed combinations based on what you put inside them. I’m glad I kept the pamphlet that explains the way they should be adjusted for each type of veggie and fruit.

I also picked up a few more Progressive Fruit and Veggie Keepers, which I found on sale at HomeGoods.

I still keep a couple of things in the produce drawers. But everything isn’t jammed on top of each other there.

After three weeks, I can see that the new system is working. For me, being able to see things, lined up and organized in their own containers is helping me stay on track with eating healthier while preserving food longer.

Wednesday ZenDay: A Big Enough Dream

One of my favorite things about my bimonthly meditation group is that our “Zen Coach” often reads to us a wonderful passage from Ralph Marston. And our group usually responds with a satisfying sigh of agreement. I usually can't wait to share them with Todd and his bro. So I thought I’d share them with you here from time to time too. A big enough dream

How big is your dream? Make sure it it’s big enough to overwhelm all the challenges.

Are life’s pains and problems and annoyances getting to you too often? Though you can’t stop them from popping up, you can stop them from dragging you down.

When you’re passionate about where you want to go, you’ll more easily deal with all the things that happen where you are. When you focus on what’s on the other side of the challenges, you’ll find the strength to persist through those challenges.

There is a beautiful purpose within you. It is a purpose so compelling that it absolutely will not allow you to give up.

Open yourself to the truth of who you are, and you open yourself to that purpose. Allow that purpose to inspire you, connect with it, and tap into its undeniable power.

Express that purpose with a dream that is too big and too wonderful and too meaningful to abandon. With a big enough dream, anything is possible.

Ralph Marston

The Big Off-Season Tune-up

  This is the time of year when triathletes can finally rest and take it easy.

My off-season officially began in the last mile and half of my Olympic distance race in mid-October. The heat got the best of me. I mostly walked it in, feeling lame, alarmed, and defeated. (But would you believe I podiumed?) I knew I didn’t feel right. And with chronic insomnia, I hadn’t felt right in a long time.

I made a long overdue appointment with my doctor. She took eight vials of blood and performed a couple of other tests. Yup, she pretty much looked at everything under the hood.

The good news:

• I’m not going to have a heart attack anytime soon.

• I do not have sleep apnea (according the home test that made me look like a Jedi warrior and scared Todd’s cat 7)

The bad news:

• I’m low in iron, but not anemic. According to Runner’s World, 56% of the runners they polled had an iron deficiency.

• I’m low in vitamin D. Yes, you can be low in D even when living in sunny So Cal. I had tested low in this three years ago too. Being low in D can cause fatigue. I guess it’s one of my bug-a-boos. My body doesn’t absorb it well. Back then, I was told that 50% of Southern Californians are low in it.

• My endocrine system is a bit of mess. My doc said, “I’m amazed you’ve been able to do what you ‘ve done. Your body isn’t producing energy right now.”

The great news:

It’s fixable. I just need to give myself some time to let my body rest and get re-adjusted with the meds and supplements. Which means, for now, super light workouts. No exercise within four hours of bedtime. Limited activities. And do whatever I can to reduce my overall stress. I’m still a bit overloaded with work, but I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. For now, I'm basically going to have to act like a bear in hibernation.

I’m glad I got checked out. I had about a million excuses to put it off. But in retrospect, the beginning of the off-season is the perfect time to get checked out by your doc. Okay, your turn. If you haven’t done so in a while, please make an appointment so you can have a great season next year.