Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Having the Heart to Go Faster

Pulsometr donnay
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After I abandoned the 10K Turkey Trot I had planned for Thanksgiving Day, I decide to participate in Daily Mile's virtual 5K. We got almost a foot of snow the day before, so my 3.1 miles was on the treadmill. If you've been following my progress, you know the fastest per mile pace I'd been able to sustain on the treadmill is 11:07. Not particularly impressive, but I worked hard for that (or so I thought). My goal for last week was to get below 11 minute miles.

I completed my treadmill 5K in 33 minutes, making my new pace to beat 10:33. Still not particularly impressive, but better.

I am not a fast runner. In fact, I'm pretty darn slow considering I've been working on it for three years. Outside I could blame my slow pace on the Adirondack hills, but on the treadmill there is no excuse. I've just never really challenged myself to go faster.

It's hard for me to judge exactly how much effort I should be putting into my runs. I've been estimating my intensity on how I feel and, honestly, I can be a bit of a wimp.

When I first started my triathlon training I asked for, and received, a heart rate monitor for Christmas. It's been a cool toy to have, but I had no idea how to use it effectively and I ended up just wearing the watch part for the stopwatch.

To prepare for my triathlon comeback year, I decided it's time to stop being a wimp and figure out how to get faster. Most of the training plans I checked out were heart rate based.

Hmmm.... Could it be time to put that monitor to use?

After doing some research, I ended up selecting a plan that combined heart rate training with other skill-building stuff. Just a few days in, I have to admit that I've surprised myself. I can train faster and harder than I believed I could. Yesterday's run included six 30 second strides, during which I pushed the treadmill speed higher than it has ever gone. For the last 30 seconds I ran a 7:36 pace. I had no idea I could do that.

And my heart rate monitor said I still had more to give. Yipes.  
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sutras: Unbounded (1.3 and 1.4)

Yellow onions
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Last week I started my study of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with verses 1.1 and 1.2. This week, as promised, we get to find out why settling the mind into silence is something we want to be doing.

1.3 When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.

The big word there is "unbounded." Consciousness without boundaries. Consciousness without limits. Sounds good, right? So what limits our consciousness when the mind is unsettled?

1.4 Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind.

The mind chatters. It creates thoughts all the time. Those thoughts tend to be very mundane and not very focused on the present. Sometimes my mind rehashes the last conversation I had with a friend. Sometimes it reminds me, over and over, of something I need to pick up at the store (except, of course, when I'm driving by the store). Other times my mind comes up with new ideas for yoga workshops or things to blog about. What my mind doesn't do is quiet down.

Underneath all that chatter is knowledge of our essential nature. Which is where things start to get tricky. Isn't it the mind that knows stuff? And if it is, how can I know anything if I turn off my mind?

If you saw the movie Shrek, you might remember Shrek saying "ogres are like onions, they have layers." Our minds are like onions. There are layers and layers of thoughts. The superficial thoughts prompt us to put another load of laundry into the washing machine. Then there are layers of memories. There are math problems and literary themes. And deeper there are reactions to the senses - touch, smell, sight, sound - that create the boundaries that turn clusters of molecules and energy into things. There is a layer of names for these things.

Underneath all those layers, at the core of the onion, is something that is not the mind. People give it different names - the watcher, the soul, the true self - but it is that essential nature that the mind hides. It is consciousness unlimited by the boundaries created by the senses and the associated thoughts. In other words, that consciousness is not constrained by the physical world.

Our true selves don't end at our skin.

When we cease all those layers of thinking, we can experience the limitless soul. That sounds pretty groovy if you ask me. But thinking is in the way. Before we can figure out how to stop it we need to know more about all that thinking that's going on. And that's for next week...
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I am determined to get back to triathlons next year, so I've started mixing some bike workouts into my week's training. (Swimming is out of the question since the lake will soon be frozen and there's no pool nearby.) I've also decided it's time to really dedicate myself to some strength training.

I'm not a big fan of weights, although I do pick up my 2- or 3-pound dumbbells occasionally. What I do like is my resistance bands. They are easily portable so I can do my workout at the yoga studio if I need to, and, unlike dumbbells, don't hurt when I drop one on my toes.

One part of my body seems to resist getting stronger, and that's my quads. It takes four or five days for my quadriceps, and particularly my right quad, to stop being sore after a fast run or a targeted workout. The four muscles that make up the quadriceps, rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis, are responsible for knee extension. They are important muscles for yoga, running and cycling, so I've been trying to get them stronger and better able to recover. Lunges with a resistance band are now a strength-training staple for me.

To do lunges, stand with your right foot on the middle of the resistance band, holding the ends of the band in each hand with your arms by your sides. Step your left foot back far enough so that your right knee will stay behind your toes when you lunge. You should be on the ball of your left foot. Bend your right knee a bit. Bend your elbows, lift the ends of the resistance band to almost shoulder-height and hold them there.

Keeping your core strong, back straight and chest lifted, slowly lower your left knee towards the floor. Your knee might lightly touch the floor, but don't put your weight on it. Make sure your right knee stays behind your toes and try to get your right thigh parallel to the floor. Then slowly lift up to the staring position.

Do two or three sets of 12-15 reps on each leg. You can build up by increasing the repetitions or switching to a heavier resistance band.

What I didn't resist was doing all of my planned workouts last week. I was on the treadmill or the bike trainer for 4 hours and 11 minutes, running 13 miles and pedaling 12 miles. The week included a run when I ran 11:07 minute miles, my fastest treadmill run so far.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Sutras: Silence (1.1 and 1.2)

Cumulus humilis clouds in the foreground and c...
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Now that I've finished my series on the Chakras, I've decided to spend some time with Patanjali, the father of yoga. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a very short book of verses, has been guiding yogis for two thousand years, but I'll admit I haven't opened it since teacher training. To get me thinking about it, I'll tackle a verse or two every Sunday. The translation I have is by Alistair Shearer, so I'll be using that one, but there are others.

1.1 And now the teaching on yoga begins.

The first verse is pretty straight forward. I can picture yogis of old sitting in lotus, listening to their guru say those words. Pay attention, because here's where the good stuff starts.

1.2 Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.

Right there, in the second verse, is the crux of it. Yoga is silencing the mind. It's not eco-friendly rubber mats or butt-lifting spandex pants. It's not headstands or backbends. It's not even breathing deep. It's simply letting go of the stream of thought so all that's left in your head is silence.

Have you ever laid on the grass and watched the clouds? The breeze moves the clouds, forming them into shapes. Your mind starts to associate those shapes with animals, people or things, giving them names, and it watches for the next shape that looks like something. All the chatter in the mind is like watching the clouds, a constant stream of analysis, naming and anticipating. But what if, instead of watching the clouds, you watched the blue sky? What if your mind didn't have anything to associate with anything else? Focusing on the blue sky and ignoring the clouds is like silencing the mind. And silencing the mind is yoga.

That's all you have to do.

My husband hates it when someone says "that's all you have to do," because whatever is "all you have to do" usually requires a big commitment of time, energy, materials or money. When I say "all you have to do is replace that light fixture," he's likely to spend three weekends rewiring the house. I'm sure he just read "that's all you have to do" and cringed.

If you, like my husband, read the second verse and thought that quieting the mind might not be as easy as it sounds, you're right. It's going to take some major rewiring in your energetic house. And if you wondered why you'd want to silence the mind anyway, well, that's for next week...
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Must Bake Cookies

The rind of a lemon is exceptionally bitter, w...
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In last week's post I admitted that I was on a bit of a baking kick. That might have been a slight understatement. I'm in a baking frenzy. Maybe the snow flurries coming down outside are making it feel like the holidays and that's why I can't seem to bake enough cookies lately. Unfortunately I'm also eating the cookies, so I'll have to keep running on the treadmill.

My baking frenzy is not completely out of control. I have one rule that I've been sticking to - I can only bake with the supplies I have in the house. After cleaning out my cabinets I discovered I've amassed a collection of gluten-free flours and other starches, as well as doubling up on things like baking soda because one box got buried near the back of the shelf. So all this baking is also helping to clean out the cupboards and use up things that might go to waste if left sitting too long.

Thanks to Google, I've been able to find recipes that use only what I had on hand, although I had to adapt some.

Beth Hyzy's blog Delicious Inspiration provied a great gluten-free sugar cookie recipe for Halloween. I had some Halloween-colored sugar and sprinkles, so I used them rather than icing the cookies. The unflavored gelatin means these cookies are not technically vegetarian, but they were really good so I decided to let that go.

I found a recipe for peanut butter and oatmeal cookies that sounded yummy, but when I checked the peanut butter jar it was pretty low. I replaced the peanut butter with cashew butter and the pecans with coconut and they came out great! I think they might be my favorite cookies (until another really good cookie comes along).

A couple of weeks ago I bought a bag full of lemons and didn't use as many as I thought I would. I didn't want the lemons to go bad, so I went hunting for a lemon cookie recipe. Bonnie's blog Bake This. Eat That. Then Move! (Bonnie is my kind of gal)  had a great recipe for Gluten-free Lemon Cookies with White Chocolate. I didn't have any white chocolate chips, so, since I'm not buying anything, I made the cookies without them. They are still good. I drizzled them with a powdered sugar and lemon juice icing to make them extra lemony.

In another burst of productivity I recorded a new podcast yoga class. Since Thanksgiving is almost here and I've been eating all those cookies, I decided to do a core-focused practice. If you've been eating cookies too, grab your mat and click the play button.

Even if my cookie baking frenzy continues through the holidays, I have Kim's amazing and very healthy cooking to look forward to at the Adirondack Women's Empowerment Retreat in January. You could join us there. All the details are here.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Excuses, Just Do It

A chicken running
Image via Wikipedia
This morning's run was slow, but I'm on day nine of sticking to my training plan, at least in spirit. The plan assumed that I hadn't taken three weeks off due to illness, injury and laziness, so I'm not hitting the speed or distances the plan calls for. What I am doing is getting my feet onto the treadmill every time my calendar says "run."

I even spent an hour on my bike, which is set up on the trainer next to the treadmill, in a basement that's finally clean thanks to a surge of domesticity. I am determined to get back to triathlons next year and figured I would take advantage of my run plan's cross-training days for some bike workouts. It's better than starting from scratch in the spring.

This morning I was tired, but I got on the treadmill and walked. After five minutes I got bored with walking and pushed the treadmill's speed up. I did something, rather than staying in bed and taking a risk I might slip back into inertia. I'm noting this so I can come back and read it next time I think about skipping a workout.

No excuses, just do it. This is my winter mantra.

(Please note: the above picture of a running chicken has nothing to do with this post, although the chicken may, in fact, be running faster than I did this morning. It just came up as a Zemanta suggestion and I couldn't pass up a running chicken.)
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beam Me Up, Brahman

Seventh Chakra, the final frontier...

We've reached the end of our Chakra journey. We've climbed the spine and, in the previous Chakra post, visited the third eye to find Shakira's (and our own) intuition. One more step up brings us to the crown of the head and beyond, ready to boldly go where everyone has gone before, even if they don't know it.

The Sanskrit name for the seventh Chakra is Sahasrara, which means thousand-fold. Sahasrara unfolds like the thousand petals of the lotus flower. Located in the cerebral cortex, of course the seventh Chakra governs the energy of knowing and learning. While book learning fits in there, the real knowing of Sahasrara is that of our true spiritual nature.

The ancient texts called the Upanishads teach that Brahman is the ultimate essence of everything, including the human self. Brahman cannot seen or heard. Brahman's nature can be known only through self-knowledge. When Sahasrara blooms, everything material drops away and we know our true selves. We know that we are Brahman and, therefore, everything.

Try and wrap your cerebral cortex around that one.

When the Chakras are in balance, when we live with passion and heart, when we speak our truths and trust our insight, the energy has no place to go but up. Everything we've practiced to open previous six Chakras has prepared us to dive into the very depths of our beings where we may, for what may be the briefest of moments, discover our connection to the divine source of all existence. When the connection is made, we see all that is physical as an illusion which has been masking our true nature.

So we did all that work to exist on the physical plane, only to discover that we don't really exist on the physical plane? It is, to quote Mr. Spock, "illogical." But there is more to wisdom than logic, and those whose seventh Chakras are shining a bright white light toward heaven are the wisest of us.

Sahasrara's wise energy gives us the ability to take all the information that comes at us every day, process it, and assimilate the knowledge we gain. Those with healthy seventh Chakras are intelligent, thoughtful, questioning and open-minded, while at the same time having an innate sense of connection to something greater. These are the gurus, the masters in any field of study. These are the people whose guidance we seek.

The energy doesn't always balance out, though. When the energy gets stuck in a lower Chakra or comes up against a closed mind, we find those whose beliefs come not from knowing but from simply accepting what they've been told. No matter what additional information they are given, these people won't change their minds. Then there are the cynics, who refuse to even acknowledge any motivation except the self-interest of the bottom Chakras.

Sometimes the scales tip the other way and the energy hangs out in the head rather than flowing through the lower Chakras as well. We see this in the overly intellectual types, analyzing everything to extremes and never really internalizing anything. These are the people we call "book smart;" they can recite the dictionary but never explain a thing in their own words.

Excess energy in Sahasrara can also lead to spiritual addition. Caught up in the search for their spiritual nature, these folks forget that our physical existence has requirements, like dinner. Perhaps they will find a good caretaker to remind them to eat, but these people sometimes fall victim to the those who would happily strip them of whatever physical stuff they managed to amass before they got lost in their heads.

To nurture your divine spirit without losing touch with your physical existence, spend some time learning something new. Explore different religions and metaphysical systems with a questioning, but open, mind. And sit for a few minutes each day to meditate, looking for your true self.

Developing your seventh Chakra is a bit like asking someone on Star Trek's Enterprise to beam you up. When the transporter activates, the physical body fades into particles of light and then nothingness, and you are absorbed into the cosmic stew, part of everything that is. Just make sure you have someone in a red shirt  (or a strong red energy center) to bring you home.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Tending the Hearth

HestiaImage via WikipediaIn the Greek pantheon, Hestia is the most grounded of all the gods and goddesses. She is the goddess of the hearth, which represents the center of the home, domesticity and family. While her immortal brothers and sisters played with lightning, broke hearts and toyed with humankind, Hestia sat on a wooden stool and never let the home fire go out.

I am not always as grounded as Hestia. Sometimes I'm not even close. I go through phases, sometimes lasting for months, when I feel that taking care of the house will get in the way of all the other things I need to be doing - from planning yoga workshops to writing blog posts to workouts.

A few weeks ago one of those phases came to an end, and with the end came a new realization. To snap myself out of my anti-housework mindset, I took a good look at what I was expecting myself to do every day. Then I shortened the list to something much more reasonable.

Guess what I discovered! If I stick with my realistic list and keep up with the house, I have more time. Crazy, right?

I'm back to regular morning workouts. I've been able to clean some of those "I'll never get that clean because I don't have the time" things. I've been reading the personal trainer manual again (I am determined to take that test before a full year passes from when I got the materials). I've organized my pantry, refrigerator and freezer and I have actually been cooking the food we have instead of buying more. (In other news, I've been cooking!)

And I'm baking.

Baking is the activity that most grounds me. But I can't bake in a kitchen where I have to dig for a bit of counter space. Having room to set up my mixer or roll out cookies is essential. An uncluttered counter calms me. Being able to decide to bake and get right to it, without having to tackle a mess first makes my heart sing.

Maybe preheating the oven isn't exactly the same as tending the hearth, but I feel very connected to Hestia when I bake. Producing cakes, cookies, brownies or bread feels like making something very solid, very real. Having all of the ingredients on hand means having enough. To bake is to celebrate abundance.

Wednesday night my son's Cub Scout leader called and said we had to bring snacks to tonight's meeting. Today I baked snicker doodles and peanut butter cookies. Half are going to the meeting. Some are in a container for family snacks. And some went into my newly cleaned and organized freezer, because you never know when you might need a cookie.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Starting Again

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea— Airmen from the ...Image via WikipediaThough not perfect, my neck is feeling better. I have also gotten over a cold that knocked me out last week. After a Sunday afternoon basement-cleaning frenzy, the treadmill has been freed from piles of camping gear and my bike is sitting in the trainer and I am ready for winter training.

After Daylight Savings Time came to a glorious end, I set my alarm an hour earlier and have gotten onto the treadmill the past two mornings. I find switching from the road to the treadmill is like learning to run again. Different muscles complain and the warm house challenges my cardiovascular endurance, already beat down by the cold. It feels so much like starting over that it's hard to believe that I'd only taken three weeks off.

This morning I walked on the treadmill. Yesterday my body let me know it wasn't quite ready to run with low back and knee pain. I'm hoping that after a few days of walking my body will remember the mechanics of running and I'll be training at the level I'm used to. In the meantime I will keep listening to my body.

And I can always spend lots of time on my yoga mat.

I also added crunches to my workout this morning. 75 may have been too much. I'm feeling it now and wondering if I will be able to sit up tomorrow morning.

Trying to find some new motivation, I recently started logging my workouts on Daily Mile. If you're using this site, won't you be my friend?
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