Category Archives: Free Your Mind

I Blinded Me with Science!…

…and stuff, but not really.

I’ve been a roadie, a road bicycle rider for many decades. I’ve participated in solo adventures, group rides and organized rides around the country for quite some time. I know to prepare for events requires training, on a bike, to get to one’s goals of fitness, speed and comfort.

The Quad Cities Bike Club based in Davenport, Iowa organizes an early June bicycle tour known as TOMRV, the Tour Of the Mississippi River Valley. The ride is a two day round trip ride through the Mississippi River bottom land and bluffs of Iowa and Illinois, it’s approximately 200 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing. This ride leaves from Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa and winds it’s way north through Iowa, Illinois, touching into far lower Wisconsin to Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa on Saturday. Rinse, repeat and ride south to Bettendorf on Sunday on a slightly shortened all Iowa route.

This was the 42nd year of this event and I’ve ridden seven times. Or eight. I can’t really remember. The main thing is it’s not my first or second and I know what to expect. Iowa is not flat. Northeastern Iowa is far from flat. Northwestern Illinois is anything but flat. I live in Chicago. Chicago is flat. Chicago is flat as a pancake. Where I am able to ride and train is flat. Almost flatter than flat.

In early June, I will typically have about 1000 riding my miles on my legs, gained though a combination of spin classes, riding on my rollers with a dedicated training program and riding outside on purposeful training miles.

I performed a science experiment on myself in preparation for TOMRV 2019, a science experiment involving different training modalities excluding much of any training miles on any bikes. 

For various insipid reasons, I had almost zero bicycle training miles this year. Weather, blah blah blah, not wanting to train indoors on my rollers, not wanting to be disciplined with spin classes. 

The late winter/early spring/late spring weather in Chicagoland has been dismal. It was severely cold/cold/cold & wet/wet. In other words, demoralizing. Who in the right mind wants to ride outside in that crap?

The new shiny objects of Bikram yoga classes and olympic weightlifting classes, consistent practice of each, were to become the focus of my TOMRV training. 

In early June 2019, Strava told me I had 386 training miles on my legs before the hills of the Mississippi River valley. 

I’ve been a gym rat, a weight lifter for many years. 

As a Flatlander, incorporating heavy barbell squats and deadlifts have been a key training addition to help me ride up hills. I am not a small individual, I have never been a climber, but I can scamper up a hill on my bike. Barbell back squats, front squats, Zercher squats, overhead squats with different stance widths, I use them all.

Deadlifts work your entire body, from the tips of your toes to the end of your finger tips. 

Every bike rider can benefit from significant heavy weight lifting.

Tired of following a power lifting protocol – low reps, heavy weights – I joined a facility that had dedicated weightlifting classes. I joined Windy City Strength and Conditioning in May of 2018 with the intention of getting into olympic weightlifting classes only. I messed around with Crossfit classes for too long. I do not like CrossFit one bit, that that’s a different discussion and I also see the benefits of that training protocol. In October of 2018 I engaged myself in learning the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. 

I lack any explosiveness on a bike. Sprint? Give me some time to get up to speed. I’m like a diesel locomotive. I had zero clue how difficult learning the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk would be for me. 

The concept is amazingly simple: hoist a weight from the floor to over head in a single motion (the Snatch) or in two separate motions (the Clean and the Jerk) and do it proficiently according to one’s skeletal construction. In other words, hoist the damn barbell overhead in as perpendicular line to the ground as possible. The execution is amazingly complex and difficult, for me. 

These movements will build explosiveness from the hips. This movements will build overall bodily strength, these movements will build grip strength and overhead strength. All of it is beneficial to riding a bike.

I wanted to quit. So. Many. Times. 

In an effort to get out of my comfort zone, in September of 2018, I introduced myself to hot yoga, Bikram yoga to be exact (I had zero clue about all the different types of “hot yoga” and my initial exposure to Bikram was accidental). I am now a Bikram yoga addict, I am a member of Be Yoga Andersonville, the owner, Cat, is my teacher and I swear she sees into my soul.

I could have trained indoors on my rollers to the training programs available from Trainer Road. I have in the past and I like them, they are effective but, as I stated, I was blinded by the new shiny objects of Bikram yoga and weightlifting. Plus, I’ve been slowly painting my living space, as well as having to work my job. Working for a living puts a serious damper on other far more interesting pursuits.

Trainer Road was continually put on the back burner, with the thinking that I have 6 months to prepare. I have 4 months to prepare, but hell, this weather is now cold and wet and very shitty. I have 3 months to prepare, but this weather is still shitty so I can’t ride outside…….

I’m a victim of my own brain, my procrastination and stress avoidance of not bike training dictated the lack of bicycle training miles this year. 

In other words of blah blah blah, I didn’t want to do the appropriate work.

Bikram yoga builds strength. It builds cardiovascular endurance. It builds mental awareness and toughness. Many times I’ve had to work myself out of a panic attack during class. I hope that I’ve learned to separate my mind from the ordeal my body is undergoing. 

How can that not be beneficial to bike riding? On a bike, you are stuck in the same riding position for hours.You are stuck in pain, for hours. A few minutes of mindful Half Moon pose during a sag stop and I’m good as new!

Saturday, TOMRV 2019 Day 1, was originally weather forecast to be awful, nothing but rain. I would eloquently flip that weather the middle finger, however, as in all things Midwest, the forecast changes every 15 minutes. Day 1 weather was magnificent with moderate temperatures, sunny cloudless blue skies and mild east winds. We should have had a tailwind!

My riding day was great. I felt well on the flats, I felt well on the copious steep hills, Strava told me I PR’d on all the Blackjack Road hills which I find amazing as I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything but finish. We finished our ride day in a decent amount of time and deservedly with three of Iowa’s great beers in the beer garden before cleaning up for dinner.

What was different about this ride compared to previous TOMRV days where I was far fitter and faster? I think I was able to ride more mindfully and be more present to enjoy the scenery, the sound of the bike tires, the group I was riding with, the feel of the road and terrain, rather than worry about when I’d finish and would there be sufficient bike parking over night. The lack of future stress made me able to enjoy the moment and just ride to the best of my ability. 

I attribute this to my yoga practice. I have surprised myself with the things that I can do and then things that I could do the day before but can’t right now. I’ve surprised myself at how I can wipe my mind clean while practicing.

How did weightlifting help my bike riding? Strength is strength and a strong grip will carry over into strong legs. A strong back and a strong shapely butt will transfer into steady speed on a steep climb.

Obviously, far more time on the bike saddle would have been preferable but this was a great experiment in seeing how other training methods can help an endeavor. As it is, I should have incorporated a lot more heavy barbell squats and conventional/sumo dead lifts into my weightlifting programming as I did lose that strength while training Oly weightlifting. Lots more heavy squats and dead lifts would have helped me on hills, as in the past.

Next year, I won’t let shiny new objects change my training focus from a planned event. If I have a challenging bike ride scheduled, more time on the saddle will be planned. There is no way you can train yourself for time on a bike saddle, other than with time on a bike saddle.

Namaste, bitches!

Success: form your own opinion, I can’t even…

Success:

success |səkˈses|
noun
the accomplishment of an aim or purpose: the president had some success in restoring confidence.
• the attainment of popularity or profit: the success of his play.
• a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity: I must make a success of my business.
• archaic the outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims: the good or ill success of their maritime enterprises.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin successus, from the verb succedere ‘come close after’ (see succeed) .

That above is the Apple OS system software Dictionary’s definition.

I’ve been thinking about success a lot lately. What does it mean? Who decides success? What is the context? Is it a mortgage on a big house? Is it possessing a boat or an Audi/Porsche/some other exotic expensive car?

Is success money? Is it property? Is it physical well being, mental well being? Is success having a firm grasp of happiness even in the face of adversity?

Is success the attainment of a goal such as climbing a mountain? Who decides the context of that mountain? The mountain could be a one mile walk or summiting Mt. Everest. The mountain could be moving without pain, or getting to be debt free.

I’m entering into the forth month of consistently attending bikram yoga classes several times per week and the 5th month of consistently attending olympic weightlifting classes.

Let me enter this fact into the record; I am a beginner at bikram and I have some idea of what is going on but I am a complete neophyte with other forms of yoga and I am striving to do them all.

I am a beginning weightlifter but not a beginning weight lifter. There is a difference.

I have an idea of how to quantify and qualify success at weight lifting which is simply lifting heavier weight, I have the data to prove this. It’s what I love about strength training, you either pick that heavy shit up, or you don’t. It’s that simple.

3 months of a consistent training on my bicycle will yield measurable results of being able to ride further, ride faster and ride fitter. Those are quantifiable markers.

Data. I have data that indicate variable measures of success in weight lifting and bicycling. How do I define success in bikram yoga, what sort of data should I have or should I even consider recording any data?

I find bikram to be very vulgar and I love it. It’s highly regimented; do a posture, come back to center and force yourself to acknowledge yourself, physically and mentally, to reset. Some days it takes a while before I can look myself in the eyes. Some days I accept myself for who/what I am immediately. Is that success?

Let’s look at that again: some days it takes awhile before I can look myself in my eyes, some days I accept myself immediately.

You are tasked with the directive to acknowledge yourself, to acknowledge that where you are at that moment is just fine, that it’s where you need to be.

I have a close friend who’s been going to bikram classes for ten years. Her definition of success is that she’s made it to another class, consistently.

One might find they need to rest with decreasing frequency, one might find they have more control over their breathing, one may find forgiveness for themselves in not attaining a posture, one may find acceptance of what they perceive as physical faults. One may find forgiveness and acceptance of themselves, period.

Perhaps my ideas of success in bikram yoga could use a bit of finessing.

Bikram requires me to have a blank mind, to utterly concentrate on myself or I simply cannot get into my personally scaled versions of the postures.

I fail.

All.

The.

Time.

I let what made me angry about myself the day before take over. I let the horror show of my middle-aged paunchy mid-section make me angry with my diet (myself). I let the person flopping and flailing next to or in front of me, creating all sorts of distractions dictate a story in my mind how they have such little regard for anyone else, they have zero self-awareness. I let the fear of shoulder pain in Eagle prevent me from exploring it further. I let some anger of something that happened years ago simmer up to the surface and rather than release it, I try to shove it back below which means it’ll resurface at some point at some later date.

If acceptance is the goal, than why bother to actively pursue improvement?

The human body and mind are made for constant movement and improvement. If one isn’t improving, one is stagnating.

My individual successes in bicycling are reaching a minimum number of thousands of miles ridden in a years time, of riding certain events in measurable levels of fitness, of cementing friendships in all variances of riding events.

My idea of individual success in weightlifting has become more esoteric than simply weight hoisted overhead, but rather how I feel with the movements and I how my coaches feel about my movements, am I actually learning the movements. Ultimately I do look forward to the day I can snatch my bodyweight and at that point I might consider moving out of my favorite Chuck Taylor canvas flat shoes and into weightlifting shoes.

In bikram yoga, rather than achieving the flexibility in my hamstrings that has always eluded me or that perfect balancing stick or tree, maybe success would look like tolerance, empathy and acceptance not only of others, but also of myself and in return those physical changes I’d like to see on myself would happen organically through trusting the process and consistent effort.

But no, I want it all right now!

Namaste.


An Accidental Yogi

I am an ignorant man.

A quick look through the archives of this blog would reveal battles with some demons, mainly my fear of heights that morphed into bouts of dizziness/vertigo which would happen at most inopportune times and my attempts at finding a medical explanation and cure.

Some time ago I developed this irrational fear of driving a car over bridges. I was a normal kid who loved to climb trees, who loved to clamber onto the roofs of houses while never thinking about “heights” as something to be afraid of. 

Well established into my adulthood, driving over a very familiar bridge I began to feel prickly and began breathing fast and heavy, almost a hyperventilation. I was sure my car was possessed like Stephen King’s “Christine” and would careen through the barrier rails plunging me to a watery death.

Several autumns ago, I’d sent myself to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a week of schooling in a northwestern suburb. I’d never been to Florida, had never seen the Atlantic ocean from that vantage point and I wanted to stay oceanside and needing a car, I rented a bright red Ford Mustang convertible to enjoy the summer-like sun. 

Driving from the airport to my hotel, I was met with a bridge that looked like Mt. Everest. HOLY SHIT, I had to stop and collect my thoughts. I went to a Starbucks for a coffee and began to plot my way around this insurmountable obstacle. What should be known is my severe loathing of Starbucks and all of it’s charred products. The fact that I willingly went to a Starbucks is profound.

I found a detour, it would take me 90 minutes out of the way which was absurd as my hotel was less than 5 minutes away from where I was, but it was over my current Mt. Everest so it may as well have been on the moon. 

This is where I’d like to say I courageously steeled myself and set off like a World War 1 fighter pilot, white scarf trailing behind as I conquered my fear and set myself free.

I hemmed and hawed and whined and eventually, I drove over that damn bridge. I had to put the top up, blast the air conditioning and radio, anything to get my mind off the bridge and I was terrified, I imagined my car slowing to a crawl at the very apex of the bridge, stopping and then I’d need to get out and walk which would have been impossible due to self-inflicted paralysis. 

None of that happened. I made it over in less than 30 seconds. 

Here is where I’d like to say that fear was conquered forever as I had to drive over that bridge multiple times per day for the week of schooling. This didn’t happen, yet I grew less afraid and could enjoy the toplessness of the convertible.

What happens when one gives into their fears? They fester and grow. 

Proprioception (PROH-pree-o-SEP-shən):  “this is a medical term that describes the ability to sense the orientation of your body in your environment. It allows you to move quickly and freely without having to consciously think about where you are in space or in your environment.” In other words, how self-aware you are about how you move through space and time.

There’s a particularly big local bridge that I’ve avoided for years. Not long ago, I drove to a job that would have taken me X amount of time if I travel via this bridge. I chose to drive almost a freaking hour out of my way to avoid this bridge. In what instance does X minutes + 45 minutes sound like a constructive use of time?

I am ridiculous as well as ignorant. 

Not wanting to add another hour to my travel time, I drove home on the bridge. I wrote about this episode here Make That Bridge your Bitch.

A while back I suffered a bike crash. I had been to a friend’s house, there was some drinking of rum and wine involved. I don’t know what happened, friends found me laying in the street, the thought is I was hit by a car. I broke teeth, suffered a gash in my leg, some painful wrists, etc and while I recovered from those injuries, my balance is still suffering. I used to navigate rocky roads and twisty paths riding my bikes with no hands. Riding my bike with no hands now, a skill that all accomplished bike riders need, is tenuous at best. 

When driving during in-climate weather, such as rain or storms, any time where visually the world would become very flat with no contrast, I would undergo bouts of dizziness, perhaps even some vertigo. My skin would become clammy, my brain would buzz, my breath would shorten, I’d need to do something like open the windows, turn off the heat, blast the radio, to rip my mind away from the torment of feeling like I was out of body observer. During a snow storm I had to stop my car in a parking lot, calm myself down, talk myself into continuing. 

I brought these experiences up to my doctor during a physical one year and what followed was an amazing experience within the medical sciences, I wrote about these multiple times beginning with MRY am I here?.

I knew these events were caused in my own mind, I knew that I could control them, but I didn’t face that, I chose the easy way and let that fear of bridges and heights fester and grow and morph until they became physical and prevented me from progressing.

“Yogi”: It has meaning and the topic is broad so I’ll leave this one here for you to ponder. What’s a “Yogi”?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably read countless self-help books, listened to countless self-help podcasts and seek out the inspirational TED/TEDx talks on a regular basis. You may follow a passel of Instagram or Facebook (insert whatever floats your boat here) Inspo pages too. 

Here’s a universal truth: Action Cures Fear. 

I work out with weights and I ride my bikes thousands of miles a year. I firmly believe in the concept of healthy body helps a healthy mind. Recently, I deliberately added CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting to my life to learn something new. I love it. I look forward to every weightlifting class. 

There have been goals simmering in my brain that would make themselves occasionally obvious – I think these may take the form of headaches that I frequently experience – and I typically self-medicate and suppress those goals. One of these goals was the outwardly simple act of one class of Bikram yoga. 

How hard can that be? You do a bit of research, find a studio, find a class time and you go. Easy. If you have my mind, this easy task for any reason becomes tediously difficult, therefore it goes back into the storage bins of my brain.

I had been a very infrequent practitioner of yoga several decades ago however I incorporate various yoga positions on a daily basis as a way to keep my body healthy enough to ride my bikes and lift weights.

Deciding recently that my “some day” thoughts of Bikram needed to become “today” thoughts, I wrapped all my fears around me like a cozy blanket of support and found something I just love, on accident. 

The best thing about ignorance is it can be cured. I thought yoga was only about positions in which to stretch the body and in turn the mind. I had no clue about all the various forms of yoga outside Hatha yoga. Since that day a few months ago, I’ve experienced a few different yoga classes and instructors and now I can’t wait to go to another class, I want to experience all of them.

What other than their current “newness” do I hope practicing weightlifting and yoga will accomplish for me?

Lifting a load overhead the most efficiently and safe way possible requires knowledge of one’s body and how it moves in space. It requires a trained body and a trained mind. So many times I’ve let my mind get away from me and class goes terribly.

I’ve felt what concentrating my mind on myself does for me and my balance in Bikram; while I can’t do Eagle pose well at all, I can do Standing Head to Knee and Balancing Stick poses fairly well, depending on how well I let myself do them.

I am confident that weightlifting and yoga will calm my mind, will cure my dizziness and help me be a better bike rider and perhaps a better person. Proprioception. 

What does the concept of “yogi” mean to me? Right now it means I’m an eternal student and with that concept I am not accidental.