Finding Function and Balance

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I love activities that kick my butt, which I guess is another way of saying that I love to kick my own butt. When I began cardio kickboxing 15 years ago, the workout infected my day. I turned light switches on and off with my feet, front kicked doors open and closed them with a back kick. Still today, I get excited sharing my knowledge with new students and teachers, seeing that I am not the only person kicking and blocking my way through the day. I decided to pursue more formal training in martial arts after a couple months of kickboxing, wanting to understand how to perform technique properly to have the greatest impact while protecting my body so that I could continue doing this for years to come. I researched, studied and tested different approaches and methods to achieve natural, strong athletic performance. I signed up for competitions, scheduled hours of workout time to be completed each week, followed calorie free-for-alls as well as calorie restriction, and attempted to get stronger, faster and cleaner in burning energy.

Food is fuel, and my body knows the difference between no lunch, crappy lunch and healthy lunch by the time the evening workout comes along. On a strenuous workout day, eat a cheeseburger with fries for lunch, and notice how your workout feels…how much energy you have, how fast, slow, sluggish or strong you are. On your next big workout day, eat grilled chicken and rice and then notice how you feel. Different? You should. Point is, you can’t always eat what you want, but rather eat what your body needs to perform at its peak. Food is fuel for optimal performance! If your body benefits, imagine how your brain must feel!

While training over the years, I took my fair share of bumps and bruises, wear and tear and sustained the repercussions of overtraining. A “contact” activity will have these consequences, and during the times I was sidelined, I not only sulked in my inability to work out, but also figured out that my intense pursuit of this physical activity had deepened into something more personal and spiritual for me. This was my “reflection time,” that point in any successful person’s career (profession or life) that is necessary to grow because time is taken to reflect on the past. I attempted to find a yin to my high cardio yang. So my research and development motivation would again kick in searching for practical ways to stay active doing what I love, live a functional life and share my motivation with others.

Whatever it is you love… gardening, artwork, reading, even sleep!…you just want to the opportunity to do it, and that may require time or ways to live a pain free life. There are small things we can do on a regular basis that don’t require a lot of time or pain. It first starts with wanting to do it, and also mindfulness and awareness that we can build these things into our existing routines and lifestyles. Recently Dr. Dann Gottlieb from our local National Public Radio network discussed the importance of giving your brain a 15 minute vacation on a regular basis. You might think, I don’t even have 15 minutes. Yet what Dr. Gottlieb shared was that you don’t necessarily need to stop what you are doing. You simply need to focus on your breath and the activity you are involved in, even if it’s eating a sandwich. We all eat, and we all breathe, so even several minutes of tuning into your meal – the smell, the taste and feel of it – as well as how it makes you feel afterwards and later in the day, is one step forward to creating greater awareness in your life.

In addition to mindfulness practice, test your physical balance. While brushing your teeth, place one foot on top of the other, or rest the sole of one foot on the inside of the opposite calf (in yoga we call this tree pose). To further improve your balance while strengthening your legs during bio break (i.e. bathroom), take a 60 second time out and work in 10-20 squats or lunges before you leave the powder room.

Over time, and perhaps as I have grown older, I have developed a greater awareness of what my body can do, wants to do and wants no part of. I acknowledge it and don’t force it to do things it doesn’t want to anymore. I was a slave to my routine, until I made some choices in my life to eliminate toxic situations and people which in turn made room for more positive people and activities to move in. Continuing to practice martial arts, I found another yin to my yang – a yoga practice that could also kick my butt but more so, challenge the pace and apparent clutter of my mind. Again, wanting to dive deeper, I became a certified yoga teacher.

The magic of yoga and many physical activities is that we do it for just that, the physical activity. We like how the workout makes us feel, or the results we get from it, or how the clothes make us look (the yoga clothing industry is now a $10billion business). After awhile, we adjust the way we eat because we want to fuel up properly for that activity that we love doing so much. And other things start to happen…we find inspiration and motivation in others who like to do the same activity, or share similar values around that activity, or we simply like the people we have met through the activity. We spend less time focusing on our personal pain and “can’t do” attitude and spend more time studying the origins or pioneers of our craft. We evaluate how we can be better at it, and create more time for the goodness that is developing in our minds and bodies. The physical benefits are the surface of and a gateway to a much deeper relationship that we cultivate with ourselves. This realization creates our functional and balanced life.

Balance is not just being able to walk upright; it’s also about keeping right up with the things that matter most in our lives. Is your job making you sick? Is your workout sidelining you more than enabling you? Do you live to work or work to live? Do you avoid working out because you are working 12+ hour days? How long can you keep that up, really? To be most effective on the job you need give time and attention to yourself. Make it a priority to do what you love and others will love you for it.

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