So, This Is Love

It doesn’t hit me until I am doing laundry.

My body is already bone tired— there’s a weird pain in my hips every time I turn and I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently strained my rotator cuff, since every time I have to pick up anything there’s a weird pinching in my back. My shoulders sag; even my ear is sore from hitting the mat. I’m tired.

Then, I realize that my laundry doesn’t fit in the machine. I’m going to have to do at least two loads since I just remembered that there’s another pile in my gym bag I forgot to grab. I sigh, since it’s all going to have to be washed on hot and extra long because… frankly… it stinks. It’s covered in sweat and salt and spit and no dinky, express wash is going to be able to handle this.

I rub my eyes, split the load, and get ready for a long night of laundry.

When did this happen? I ask myself. Have I also had this much stuff to wash?

I realize that, no, it hasn’t always been like this. It’s because I’m switching identities multiple times a day now. I jump from middle-school English teacher to runner to CrossFit athlete to jiu-jitsu practitioner in a single twelve-hour period. Each requires its own costume, its own gear, and each has me use and abuse a new article of clothing. That increases the hours I spend doing laundry each week and since I’m out late doing all these things, it makes for a very, very long day.

So, this is love.

It hits me when I was hunched over the washer, stretching my hamstrings as the machine begins to whir. If love is the measure of our devotion and investment in something, the way we attempt to name the amount of time and affection we give, then I have been having an intense love affair for the past few months.

Love is multiple loads of laundry every week so that you have what you need. Love is line-drying jiu-jitsu gi and getting your own CrossFit equipment. It’s separating out piles of running clothes and looking for matching socks at 10 PM because you have to be up at 4:30 AM to run if you’re going to be able to get to everything else that day. It’s having to pack and unpack your car in multiple trips because between all the clothes and all the gear for these twelve-hour-days there’s no way you can carry it all at once.  It is, at the end of that day, running to your classroom and grading twenty essays in your jiu-jitsu gi because it’s easier to go straight to back to school then it is to go home. It’s sore shoulders and aching calves and groaning as you try and roll out all these muscles, knowing that the next morning you’re going to get up and do it again.

Because that’s what it takes. Or, more importantly, that’s what I want— it’s not about medals or accolades. I’m not a competitive CrossFit athlete or jiu-jitsu practitioner; I don’t win marathons. I simply love doing these things, even when they hurt. Even when I have a bad run or my lifts suck or I lose every sparring session, I am in a deep and intense love affair with my body. That love makes me move from workout to workout, knowing that the sacrifice and commitment now will mean something much greater in the long run.

After years of trying to understand love– of my family, my friends, my students, a man– I’m finally understanding what loving myself means. It’s the time and devotion and affection for the physical space I inhabit each and every single day. It’s investing in myself and that space to do things I never thought were possible.

“Joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms tells us. It’s not just a reminder to know that a new day always dawns, but a spiritual exercise in hope and persistence. Love is the mental wherewithal to persevere when things are bad because I believe that they will eventually be better. It’s knowing that, on the days when my body may not perform the way I wanted, the joy is in the practice itself and not the outcome. It’s believing that every failed lift or tired run is a step towards eventual triumph.

So, yes. It’s long hours and lots of laundry and an aching body. Yet, I know that at the end of that day when I finally make it back to my apartment, I will sigh happily with relief. Everything hurts except my heart. My heart is always bursting with a love for myself that completely new and thoroughly joyful.


 

Note: So, during aforementioned marathon grading session, I took a break to run to BJJ so I didn’t burn out. I definitely forgot a change of clothes and had to run back to my classroom in my gi to finish grading. The ridiculousness of it struck me, and I wanted to capture the moment. Thanks to Calamic Photography for the photo edits. 

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Rhythm and Flow: Beating Myself Back Into my Body

I’m becoming certain that, as unexpected as it may seem, there is nothing quite as mindful as getting punched in the face or choked by your own collar.

I’ve been toying with the idea for several months now, ever since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and sparring in Muay Thai. After years of becoming knowledgeable as and identifying myself a runner (something I’m struggling with), I’ve jumped into two physical worlds where I know… absolutely nothing. I’m newer than new to both sports. I had a brief stint with Karate as a kid, and trained some boxing and grappling on and off over the years, but nothing consistent.

Needless to say, the experience has been incredibly humbling. There’s a lot to learn, and while I’ve always considered myself generally athletic, there’s something really different about BJJ and Muay Thai that’s asking me to do something completely new: be totally and completely present.

Don’t get me wrong. Running and weightlifting both require thought, especially in order to do well. Running distance asks you to consider pace, strategy, and efficiency of motion. Weightlifting and doing a difficult WOD means thinking about form and timing strategy as well.

Still, both (running especially) have allowed me to slip into a cradle-rock rhythm of “work” and lose myself there. I’ve said before that running is a form of moving meditation for me. It often allows me to zone out completely until I’ve suddenly run many miles without realizing it. It has offered me solace and escape in this way for years.

Now, though, I’m working in a world where the consequences of zoning out will punch you in the face. Literally. As soon as the bell rings, all my attention has to focus on that moment– what is my opponent doing? Where am I expecting them? How will I counter their move? The physical muscle memory I am trying to build so I can hit or grapple safely and effectively is in a consistent, intertwining dance with the mental chess game at stake. Come at me with a body kick? I can be ready to throw the cross. If I’m able to take mount, I better be thinking about how to keep my base and try for a submission. Every moment is assessing the situation, choosing a response, and planning the next move.

Still, while it’s tactical, it’s a graceful and powerful experience too. It’s dangerous to overthink (and, thus, slow down) while sparring, so while there is consistently critical thought, there’s also the need to let go and see how well training and translated to good instincts. There isn’t always time to debate every possible move; the person in front of me demands a response in this moment. It demands my body to move in space with another. It forces me to interact with the world around so completely that I can no longer turn only inward and ignore everything around me. Instead, I allow myself to be drawn into the push and pull of another person, and the tension is fraught and exhilarating and reaches into a deep, gut-level part of myself that I so rarely get to interact with.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Flow, a state of joyous and complete focus.

As strange as it is, I have always had a hard time reaching Flow while running or even while doing yoga. I would try and focus, be mindful, concentrate on my body, but the repetitive movement made it so easy for me to zone out, stop thinking about my body, be able to work through other mental things (something, again, I often love).

As I am trying to grow in these new arts, though, I find myself not only focusing more quickly, but almost being forced into Flow. In some ways, a sparring situation is a Flow or Die kind of moment. You either pay attention and do your best, or you get smashed.

There’s no shame in getting smashed though. If anything I’ve come to welcome it. There’s nothing like a teep in stomach or getting rolled over your head to bring you back into your body. When I am tempted to lose myself down the rabbit hole of my own mind, being in a space with other people who will beat me back into my body– quite literally– is actually incredibly soothing in a way.

Each hit, blocked or eaten, is a reminder to breathe. Each slam of breath out of my lungs makes me grateful for the next gasp I take in. And when time my training kicks in (finally!) and I land a hit or take a stronger position, there are double blessings: there is a brief moment of triumph that my I learned and executed something new, followed by the humbling realization that it was one moment in a series of many, and that I better get back to work.

Because the work is exhilirating, empowering, and exciting.

What’s Next: Teacher, Writer, …?

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was in part to document my journey attempting to hit a sub-4 hour marathon. As I stared at the Wordpress title field, trying to think of a name, I decided to label it after my three favorite activities: teaching, running, and writing.

As I am approaching 30 (*oomph*) I had always sort of assumed much of my personality was set. Naive, of course, but I saw myself as a lifetime runner– one of those folks who would be marathoning when they were 80 or something. Running wormed its way into my heart as a daily necessity, a place I had to go to each day to be able to breathe properly. I loved it.

Now, in 2017 I don’t think I’ve run more than 15 miles a week. Tops. I have gone over 5 or 6 miles. I’m not sure because the band of my Garmin broke in January and I didn’t bother to get it fixed or get a new one. I no longer plan my life around my a run.

I still run, on occasion, as a way to help train the fighters at the gym where Chase and I coach or as a warm-up for my own workouts. It is still the place I can go to clear my head or listen to some good music and just disconnect from things. I still enjoy running, but is running still a core part of who I am? That’s a harder question.

I woke up before my alarm this morning, though, a rare occurrence that made me wonder if I should lace up my shoes. I’d had a bad day yesterday, and spent much of the afternoon overwhelmed and crying on my apartment floor. My eyes were swollen and groggy, and I wasn’t sure if I could muster the energy to coax a run out of my already sore limbs– a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years.

I decided to give it a whirl. I slipped on old shoes and trotted out the door, my body easing into a familiar rhythm. I put on some salsa music, thinking that since I was out of practice, I’d need the motivation.

As I crested the hill near my apartment, I could feel my muscles flexing with each beat against the concrete. “Oh, hey,” my legs sputtered, surprised, “we’re doing this again?” I cracked my neck back and forth, ear to shoulder, and smiled.

“Yup. Here we go.”

Within a mile, I shut the music off. I found my groove– slower than normal, I’m sure, but steady and solid. I buckled in, dipped my head forward and began to move forward. The road was still there, unchanged in my absence, ready to meet me where I was again.

As we move into April, I’m excited to start figuring out what’s next for me, at least as far as the physical is concerned. I’m teaching Yoga three times a week, taking Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and lifting heavy things at CrossFit. Each of these is challenging and exhilarating in its own way.

But it’s nice to know that, no matter what happens, the road will always meet me where I am. In a world in which I am always asking, “What’s Next?” I am grateful to know that I don’t need to eschew the things I loved before to grow– I merely find a way to fit them in. Whenever I need to, I can always strap on a pair of shoes, strip away all other distractions, and run back to myself.

Redefining Measurements

Recently, I  asked my students to write about something that had recently begun or ended in their life.

Their ears perked up immediately, and I have to say the prompt got me thinking too.  What  had I given up in my life recently? What have I learned to let go of, in order to make space for new things?

Now, there are a whole lot of emotional things I could bring up, or relationships that I’ve moved past. But a few weeks ago on my birthday, I was reminded of one have it I had recently given up without even meaning to.

I looked in the mirror on the morning that  I turned 29, smiled, and realize that it had been weeks since I’ve measured myself.

Whenever I’ve written about fitness, I’ve tried to be honest and that I’m nowhere near perfect when it comes to self-love are having a positive body image. I struggle like anyone else. While I had learned to let go of the scale, I still measured my body every day. Bust, waist, hips, thighs. Every morning, sometimes even multiple times a day, I would take stock of how much “progress” my body had made. How much I ate or whether I worked out were anchored to that  daily act of measurement.

In the past few months, something has changed. I’ve implemented so many different things– CrossFit, Muay Thai, Yoga–  into my routine with running, but I frankly just lost the ability to focus on these a static measurements. I have regularly found myself working out 2 to 3 times a day, and having the occasional private yoga session with my boyfriend in the evening to try and recover from it all.

Here’s what I know I’ve learned before, and will probably keep learning for the rest of my life: the more I focus on my body’s ability to perform rather act rather than just be seen, the better I am able to redefine how I perceive success.  Instead of using a measuring tape to figure out exactly how much I would let myself eat that day, I’d see three different work outs in my calendar, listen to the growling in my stomach, and stop leaving the meal I had brought in my lunch bag untouched. It is impossible to perform at the level I want if my body doesn’t have fuel, so I’d set that as a higher priority than what the tape might say. Frankly, at a certain point, I just sort of forgot to measure my waist and just measured my ability to be moving at the end of three hard sessions.

A few days ago, I decided to check in with both my weight and my measurements, just to see if my actions have created any noticeable change.

My waist and hips had generally stayed the same. But I’ve gained about a solid inch of muscle in my arms. I can also with more, run faster, and throw a better punch that I could a few months ago. Those seem like successes to be happy with.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you need to spend hours in the gym to attain some level of happiness, worth,  or pride in your body. I don’t think the change happened when I started spending more time working out, I think the change happened when I had new, exciting goals for my body.  The ability to run faster and focus on that was why I had dropped the scale in the first place. The ability to do new, crazy things with my body is, but I hope, has let me get rid of the measuring tape too.

So,  with my marathon season about a month away from the end, it’s time to start rethinking what’s next. Here’s what I’m sure of: it definitely won’t be boring, and I’m excited to measure how successful I am by how much fun I’m having along the way.

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Beasts and Badasses

This week, Teaching Tolerance featured something I wrote about the words we use for women:

For nearly a decade, I had sought approval under different names, ones much less badass than “beast.” I reveled in being called “cute,” “small” or “too pretty” to do something. When that same coach had, earlier that month, described me as a “110-pound girl,” I basked in the glory of that diminutive for days. I would see myself in the mirror and secretly smile at having been mistaken for someone so much smaller than I actually was.

And isn’t that a problem?

If you’ve followed this blog at all (Hi, Mom!), you know that body image is something I grapple with a lot. The balance between concepts of femininity, masculinity, and what all of that means for me has always been tough. It’s difficult to not swing to either extreme.

So, I appreciate the space to keep figuring this out. Not just on my blog, but as a teacher. I guess all I hope is that my female students don’t have nearly as difficult time to balance this narrow edge.

 

 

 

 

Running Back to Myself, for #GlobalRunningDay

It’s Global running day!

Last year, I was interviewed by On Being about my relationship with running, and how it’s affected my sense of self. Thanks to the amazing Lily Percy for  being a great interviewer, having a lit soundtrack, and pulling out this bit:

I would get out on the road and all of a sudden, step by step, it was like running myself back to myself in a lot of ways. So it’s nice to know that there’s always going to be this place I can go where it’s just me and the road. And there’s something really beautiful about that.

Listen to the interview below:

Courtesans and Questions: On Rediscovering Femininity

“You need to…,” the choreographer tilted her head, looked at me. Then she grabbed my shoulders and gently twisted them back. “Chest out.” She smiled. “Seduce the audience! You can do this.”

Can I? I thought to myself. I had been working on this piece for nearly an hour, and I was slowly realizing that my body was… different than it used to be. There are some things I’ve obviously grappled with (and written about), but this was an entirely new experience.

In college, I was a Salsa and Ballroom dancer (the video below was from about 6 months or so of dance training. I ended up dancing at a sort-of competitive level for a few years. What I mean to say is: I got better than this, I swear! But I thought it’d be fun to share).

I wasn’t amazing (and yes, I can tell you most of the technique mistakes I make in this video). I just loved doing it.

Furthermore, it was part of the way I learned to embrace myself as a young woman. When I was a teenager, I was chubby and dark and had upper-lip hair. I liked sports and hung out with boys. In Laguna Beach, California, this made me a target.

So, from high school and into college, I began to embrace what I thought of as my “feminine wiles.” I body-rolled and shook my hips. I learned to wear lots of makeup, handled the lip situation, and wielded the power of glitter and sparkly dresses. I had fun.

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My partner, Rigo, and I with awards in 2007.

Then, after college and becoming a teacher, my body started changing. I also started understanding my physical relationship with the world a little differently.

I began lifting and running and building muscle. For many women, fitness involvement often puts us in the position where we must defend our femininity.  This has made me question the perception and objectification of my body– both internally and externally– ever since. I have been questioning gender expression and trying to push my own biases both in myself and my students.

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I have been living in that place, it seems, for years now.

Then, a few months ago, I was cast as a courtesan in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I was (and am still) incredibly hyped to do something that I haven’t done in nearly a decade.

Also, a little part of me was scared and excited to do something I really haven’t done in years: act girly. I have to shimmy (which I am bad at) and shake and ostensibly seduce an audience. This leaves me where I began: standing in a mirror, trying to make my body do things that, years ago, were my shield, armor, and power.

Now, I am slowly realizing something: at some point, I began to see traditional, stereotyped forms of femininity as weak– or, at least, as vulnerable. To be feminine and pretty meant to conform to societal norms that often seemingly put me in a place of oppression.

So, I gave up those things. I rarely wore makeup. I no longer danced. Instead, I ran and punched. I decided to see how much I could lift or how much faster I could run. I tried to subvert the patriarchy by showing I could mimic its forms.

As I dig deeper into this show (which, as a piece of satire, says some interesting things about women), I am forced to hold up a mirror to my own ideas of feminity, power, and vulnerability. I have written that, as an educator, to show one’s vulnerability is often the greatest show of power (Brene Brown talks about this too). If I’ve held to this belief in my teaching practice, maybe it’s time to try and put it to work in my, you know, existence as a woman as well.

Instead of running from the parts of this that are scary, it’s time for me to remember something essential: I had fun being girly! I felt sexy and strong. I enjoyed myself.

It took years to let go of the idea that my identity as a woman was tied to dressing and looking a particular way. If I am trying to subvert the patriarchy– and I am, all the time– then I would hate to be complicit in the myth that female sexuality or femininity is somehow weak.

As I move through 2016, the challenge isn’t just being in a show for the first time in years. I am challenging myself to stand in that mirror and love the sensual, feminine, “girly” side of me as much as the one that runs marathons. I am reclaiming that aspect of identity as anything but weak and seeing it for its full worth as wonderfully and beautifully powerful.