A Call To Think, To Lead, And To Show Compassion

A Re-Post This Week.  Originally posted 4/29/09 

Each day I witness fitness minded people; enthusiastic devotees of the movement, quick to judge – snap opinions exerted against those who might not appear to be so fit. If they dare to be honest with themselves, they could almost think to be ashamed – but shame does not compliment the fit look. If a picture of fitness were to be hung on our national wall, what is labeled as fitness in the modern era should be framed by insignificance, matted by the ridiculous, and the empty space in-between would be filled with triviality.

At worst, fitness minded people can be disrespectful, if not hateful towards those who don’t think and live the fitness way. I witness this daily as I move about and observe between my circles of exercise and clean eating, and my life among normal people. At best, it seems they are simply judgmental people – even towards those less fit people in their own families. I often wonder if the so-called fit, sincerely attempt to understand those on the other side of the fitness dilemma.     


And then, depression set in...

And then, depression set in...

We can make the argument (and few do this better than me), that taking ownership of our bodies and living as fit, healthy social stewards is our inherent responsibility on behalf of our families, our communities, our employers, and of ourselves. The true fitness agenda should be that we should strive to take care of ourselves first, so we can do more for others. In the modern fitness agenda, that virtue has been eclipsed by the binary suns of the quest for hotness, and the taste for bigotry.

Let’s be honest, most do fitness merely so they can look good, so they can have better sex, so they can have the upper hand should they fall out of their present relationships, and because the media tells us all we suck unless we’re hot. I am drawn to exercise first because I enjoy it, because it helps keep me stable, and because I find that I am able to better contribute as a result of my daily action. Still, in this age, I feel a minority in all of this.   

Clearly they workout to stave off the impending loss o fbone density...

Clearly they workout to stave off the impending loss of bone density...

Too many lack attempt for understanding those who might not be as fit, look as fit, and live as fit as others appear to live. They criticize, mock, whisper, and point fingers. This behavior is emotional vandalism. I am no longer convinced that people who are so fitness minded, are contributing that much more to the whole of society than does the 400 pound unemployed couch potato who, while eating a Ho-Ho and staring at Jerry Springer, is still mindful enough to stop and tell his wife he loves her very much.

There is also the argument that so-called fit people are a lesser drain on the medical, governmental, and community-social orders. To suggest though, that one is a lesser architect, a lesser physician, or a lesser mom, for their lack of exercise, or for the Cheetos in their hands is just bigotry. I have little doubt that on a good day I would eat more clean, run faster, and out lift the historic Jesus of Nazareth – were he to rise up and visit me at my studio. Yet, what have I done for you lately, that compares to all of that really good Jesus stuff that he did…? 

Nice workout guys.  Anyone for bread and wine...?

Nice workout guys. Anyone for bread and wine...?

A part of what has kept me (most often) grounded in all of this, is my understanding that whatever religious and philosophical implications might be surrounding my existence, I recognize that in the end I will not be judged by the shape of my abs, the size of my biceps, the speed at which I can run a mile, nor the amount of time I can hold myself in Downward Dog. Nor will anyone else.

As concepts, these may have (some) benefit, and I suggest that they have helped enhance and improved my life so that I am better able to help others. These fitness virtues though, are but shimmering trinkets, adorning the charm bracelet of my here and now, and have no bearing on defining who I am as a friend, neighbor, father, or member of my community. Nor does my fitness level demonstrate how I have fulfilled my potential for the betterment of he who might have created me. 

Lets see, good father, good business man, youre in.  Oooops!  Six-minute mile?  Guess again...

Let's see, good father, good business man, you're in. Oooops! 13-minute mile? Guess again...

I ask this of the fitness minded reader; before you rush to the judgement of others who you deem as less fit than yourself, take note of these things – note them of yourself first, and then if you wish to continue judging another based solely on how someone looks, you can apply these questions to them:

  • What kind of neighbor are you?
  • What kind of family person are you?
  • What do you give to your community, without asking for anything in return?
  • Does what you look like, how fast you run, how much you lift really matter in the heart of a creator?

The hardest actions to control in the human condition are subconscious non-actions. The ability to not judge others based on how they look definitely falls into the non-action category. Since we are habitual creatures of judgement, perhaps making a habit of asking these questions of ourselves, can help offset the error of our prejudicial ways.

Whether you are fitness hobbyist, or a leader in the fitness community, we who strive to look, feel, and act at a higher level, we have a responsibility to walk with dignity, to lead by example, and to keep ourselves available to help others rather than criticizing them – that is what fellowship is all about. Be well. rc

Thoughts on Chris Whitley…

If Chet Baker represented all that could go wrong with the beautiful mind of a tortured artist, and the vices which can bring him down, it took Chris Whitley to give torment, cigarettes, and heroin a good name — I guess. Today it has been 5 years since Chris Whitley died of lung cancer.  Beautiful.  Gaunt.  Tortured.  Raw.  Pure.  Poetic. Rough.  Artist.  Smoke.  Trance. Bony.  Genius.  Compelling.  Torment.  Expressive.  Sweet.   Hypnotic.  Historic.  Impish.  Gracious.  These are only some of the words that I see when I think of, and when I listen to Whitley.  He was infinitely beautiful, always testing his reach, and profoundly allowing in his process and presentation.  His lyrics reflect the world within him, every bit as much as the world about him. He could tune a guitar oddly, and play it smoothly and sweetly.  Or, he could tune one roughly, and still play it sweetly.  Obscure tunings, and radical adjustments in process were his platform.  Purity was draw. Not only could he bend a guitar string round enough to throw a chair through a note, but he could bend his voice in equal portion, and that was his secret weapon.  Chris Whitley’s voice was an instrument unto itself — like no other I have heard. This has absolutely nothing to do with exercise, fitness, or mindful eating – but that between the years 2001-2003, I listened to no other artist – none.  Cardio, weightroom, running, driving, working, playing, paddling — anything, his interpretations of historic blues, and incarnations of modern blues were the soundtrack of my life. If you had lived a healthier life Mr. Whitley, and not been a smoker, you might still be around today, and I think your gift would have come through just as clear, and reached more people.  If you are reading this, and you don’t know Christ Whitley, seek him out on i-tunes or on www.youtube.com — you will not be disappointed.  A fan named rc.

In Winter Part I…

Winter is almost here.

Bears hibernate in Winter; shorter days, colder temperatures, less food to prey upon, and so-on.

Bears lose weight when they hibernate — lots of weight.

People gain weight in Winter when they hibernate — often times too much weight.

Why are people different than bears?

Bears sleep while they hibernate, and though their metabolism slows way down, they are still able to lose weight because they don’t eat (at all) during their hibernation season. Bears are smart, and know to be gluttonous in eating only when they are gluttonous in their activity.

People stay awake during their hibernation season — they hibernate from activity only, but not from life – and certainly not form eating.  During the human hibernation season the human metabolism may slow down a bit due to the lesser activities pursued during the colder and darker cycle of the year.

We humans gain weight though, because unlike bears, we’re gluttons even when we are inactive. Even with less activity in our lives, we continue to eat, and often times eat more than we do during our active seasons of Spring and Summer, because we have little else to do – and more to celebrate.

Yes, with Winter at hand, it is hibernation season yet again. I’m hopeful though, that we can all remember to keep active – even if it means indoor exercise during these darkened times. I’m also hopeful that we remember the example set by the bear as he keeps his dietary intake consistent with his activity level during the Winter. I’m not suggesting we starve, but it is a good idea to be dietary intake relative and proportionate to the energy output of the season.

In Winter Part II

I have been living in a state of denial for the past several weeks – denial that Winter is butting it’s cold steel shoulder up against the boundaries of my beautiful Autumn. I had to let that denial give way to acceptance this morning when I turned my cars’ heater on for the first time since March.

Winter; the season where even the best laid fitness intentions most frequently fall to the ground like the dry brown leaves from the sleeping trees around us. Winter is the time of year when we cover up with more clothing and we eat more calories. Cover up more? Eat more? After all, we are covered more so we rationalize the action of eating more because we can get away with carrying a few extra pounds under those heaver clothes, right?

Winter – where shorter days, longer nights, and cooler temperatures make the very thought of exercising… well, uninspiring to say the least, right? After all, we are pretty warm and cozy under our woolly sofa blankets, and in front of our fire places watching all those fit looking actors and athletes on TV entertain us.

Winter – when the new TV season is full-on at its prime, holiday parties are the weekend norm, and new hot food & hot drink recipes are floating around the office and the family to be shared, tried and embellished upon, to then be re-circulated some more.

Winter – where 90% of our annual calories are consumed, and 90 of our annual excuses to not burn those calories are created? After all, Winter is the time to celebrate our favorite basketball and football teams, celebrate our Religious beliefs, and ring in our New year, share our chocolaty Valentines, and bathe in Easter candy.

Yes, between these built in excesses and the excuses we use to carry them with, Winter is where a lot of damage gets done to the waistline, the digestive organs, the heart, the pancreas, and most of all, the ego, right?

No, I have no special “Winter” plan for staying in shape – none. No secrets nor special Winter-only tricks or workouts to keep those clothes from shrinking and to keep us motivated. Motivating ourselves in Winter is our individual job.

Simply, this is to shout out and remind us all that exercise and mindful eating matter more in the Winter than in other times of the year. It is discipline and fortitude, however, which matter most in the Winter – when there are so many more excuses and excesses, and more reasons to forsake our fitness agenda.

Discipline is as functional a utility as a Swiss Army Knife, and just as portable — it can be carried with us everywhere we go, even in Winter.   It’s time to start loading up discipline once again, because the Winter is upon us. Be well. rc

Exercise v. Recreation…

Strength training isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure.

Strength training is done indoors. Golf is done outdoors.

Strength training is hard work. League softball is social, and fun.

Strength training might wreck your back. Walking is low-impact.

Strength training is for people who like to look in the mirror. Biking is for people who like to look at the scenery.

No, strength training isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. Ah, yes it is, and if you’re not currently including 1-2 days of strength training in your exercise regimen, you might be well advised to begin – today!

People who regularly engage in physical activities other than weight training as their primary form of exercise often spew these gasses at me from their volcanic mouths, often passionately opposed to the concept of strength training.

The afore mentioned assertions always end or start with this phrase; “I don’t need to lift weights because…”

People too often can’t identify, or won’t acknowledge the broad line between recreation and exercise. Or, they view it Americanly, through the eyes of rationalization. In fact, most of what people tell me they do as a means of improving their fitness level is recreation, and not exercise.

Rigorous exercise can be joy, poetry, prayer, therapy, and success, all rolled up into one sweaty ball of you. Exercise can be cleansing and beautiful. But understand that recreation is not always exercise, and that strength training is rarely recreation.

Recreation doesn’t always burn calories in bunches. Recreation doesn’t always strengthens muscles, tendons or promote balance. Recreation doesn’t always stave off the loss of bone density. Recreation doesn’t foster an increased flexibility and an increased metabolism. Not all recreation helps minimize blood pressure, cholesterol, and decrease body fat. Conversely, strength training, done correctly, isn’t always recreation – it can be work.

Strength training might make you sweat, may make you breathe hard, and can cause a person to become fatigued – in the short-term. Strength training can also be invigorating, in macro ways that general recreation can never reach. Done correctly, strength training, in my opinion, is the single most efficient form of exercise there is. To me that is the best part of strength training – its utility in a busy and modern world.

Yes, there are other forms of exercise that are not recreation, and they are good: Yoga, Pilates, and group classes such as Step, ball classes, kickboxing classes, and just plain old cardio and calisthenics. I’m never going to talk down about any form of exercise. Exercise, like music, sex and pizza, knows no bad, only different levels of good.

Strength training can be superior to all of the others because strength training, done correctly, can be all of the others. With proper management, a consistent strength training regimen can bear all the depth, width and breadth of the entire modern exercise spectrum.

If you work a strength exercise through a complete range of motion, the act of strength training is simply the act of yoga – intensified. Intensified because the resistance is serving to help you achieve your stretches and postures more completely.

No different than Pilates, strength training is the act of flexion and contraction. If you hold your muscular extensions, and muscular contractions at either end of a strength training movement, then you are attaining what those who engage in Pilates seek to attain; a greater command of your muscular body.

If you select challenging (but never excessive)weights, keep your rest minimal between the sets of your strength training exercises, and seek to engage all the major muscles groups throughout your workouts, you can be take your strength workout into a cardio state – one unequalled by those hi-impact group classes.

If you strive to increase concentration and body-awareness from strength workout to strength workout, you promote a Zen-like mental clarity similar to that you might experience in intense prayer.

If you have done all of the above in a 30-40 minute workout, you have used efficiency to rinse your body with the warm waters of health, longevity, and clarity.

Bottom line: Keep your bowling night. Play softball. Golf. Ride your horse along the trail. Ski the black diamond’s of Vail, and conquer croquet. If you are looking for recreation, you have found it. If you are looking for exercise, may I suggest strength training…? Rhetorical. Be well. rc

Hog Tied: Fitness, Illusions, Ownership, and Brief Thoughts On Baseball

No doubt, the CDC has some statistic that says that the odds of me being attacked and molested by a gang mutant jackals, dressed in Kevlar pajama pants, with whiskey on their breath is 90% greater than the odds of me dying from the H1N1 virus. This may be true. I will continue however, to view the events of the past week and a half as a near-death experience. I have a statistic for the CDC; last Wednesday evening, 100% of me was knocking 99% at death’s door.

If that seems like an exaggeration, it’s really not. In my life, I have been lightening struck, rattlesnake bit, survived a parachute malfunction that cost me a couple of years of my life, and been a life-long a Red Sox fan, so I feel adequately qualified to use the term near-death, and determine the context.

I have just done battle with an invisible swine. Not much of a battle really, the virus found me running on little sleep, scurrying within a maze of planes, trains, rain-blown Chicago sidewalks, hotel rooms, and it proceeded to raise me up and body-slam me right back into my own bed – end of battle.

I have been as humbled by the wit and severity of this virus, as I have been humbled by my own lack of fight against it. I got caught where I always get caught; hiding behind my own complacency – born from thinking that I am invincible due to my rigorous fitness regimen.

Somewhere between the delirium of Wednesday night’s cold-sweats, and Thursday morning’s burning-chills, I recall asking Patti to drive me to the funeral home “now” so we might save money on the delivery expense later – surely I was going to die. And there were still the Yankees to deal with.

I had originally intended to weave together a tapestry of metaphor and circumstance, that I might translate and share something profound or insightful about my experience with the H1N1 virus. I wanted to include the usual humor, fitness perspective, and religious body shots, but there is really nothing to share. No lessons learned, no personal experience which might translate well, that others might benefit.

This flu just sucks. H1N1 is the worst flu I have ever experienced. Aches. Heat. Cold. Weak. Dying. Bleak. These are the only words I can think of to describe those long hours in bed praying to be taken back. There was one moment in particular when I believed I was about to pass. I felt weak – could not reach to the table beside me to retrieve a glass of water. Barely breathing shallow breaths. Lights grew bright, but images around me more blurry. Transcendental. I felt I was just about to take my last breath, when Philadelphia pitcher Cliff Lee turned and back-handed a ball hit straight to the mound, as he continued to make the Yankees look like children. No, this would not be my time to die. I must live, that I might see the Yankees die again. Red Sox fan.

Oh, and there’s this: I eat better than most. I exercise more than most. I contemplate the function, and the possibilities of the fit human body more than anyone I have ever met. I bathe ten times per day in the concept of fitness, and pray to the altar of whole foods 6 times per day – always facing Boulder, CO. For all of fitness’ virtue, and all I do to promote my so-called fitness lifestyle, being in-shape did nothing to stave off H1N1, nor make it easier to live with – nothing!

Three weeks ago I had joked to a client;

“Swine flu won’t catch me, swine flu ain’t fast enough.” (Franklin Ajaye paraphrased)

Now I could argue that had I not been well conditioned physically, this virus might truly have killed me. Or, that I recovered more quickly due to the physical condition of my body. Maybe, but I don’t see it that way – not this time. All of last week, I was Yankee hitting, and H1N1 was Cliff Lee pitching.

As I contemplate life and death on this day of increasing wellness, and from surviving several near death experiences, I have learned one thing above all others; to truly live each day as though it were my last. Now that’s been said for millennium, and there is a certain banality about that statement in this era. Living each day though, as though it might be my last, might be the only thing I have ever succeeded in – it’s the ultimate Roy thing.

Wednesday night last week when I thought I was dying, I was grateful for every single day of my life – even the ones that sucked. I was grateful, even parked at death’s door, for every smile, every tear, every ounce of pain or torment I have ever felt, as well as for each moment of joy – and that I might see the Yankees lose just once more.

I am alive today and I am so damned glad because I may truly be dead tonight. Laugh with exuberance, cry with intensity, move with purpose, and enjoy every sandwich. rc