A Room Full Of Words…

The Mix

As a fitness trainer I’m fortunate to have such a variety of clients in my current rotation.  On a given week I will work on balance and flexibility with some silver haired folks.   I will aid clients my age who are interested in maximizing their functional fitness, that they live more active and more productive lives.  I will work with weight-loss clients who are trying to improve their overall health, appearance and confidence.  I will also work with a few prep athletes helping them with their strength and conditioning, and enabling them to perform better and stay injury free in their respective sports.

With such a variety in clients in a week’s time, my studio walls will also be witness to a variety of personalities and conversations.  The personalities are often strong, the conversations rarely dull, and I am richer for the discourse.  It works best when the client can talk and exercise at the same time, or restrict the conversation to the short breaks I allow in-between sets.  If the workout begins to take a back seat to the conversation, I just tap a bench with my finger tip, point to a weight, or look in the direction of a yoga mat and without interrupting the client, they will know to continue the workout.  They are all well-oiled machines.

Different Genders, Different Subjects

There are many subjects which get discussed in my studio each day.  Most men like to talk about seasonal sports.  As a sports fan I enjoy and look forward to these conversations.  I can actively contribute to them, even if I might disagree with the client’s stance or allegiance to a player or team.  Of all the sports conversations, football and golf tend to dominate.  That works for me since they are my two favorite sports.  Once football season is over, some sessions go completely silent for a while.  It’s like a black hole exists, post-football, where there is just nothing to talk about.  Then, a mass killing will take place somewhere, a tornado will toss a mid-western town down the highway a bit, or some senator will bag a 19 year old girl while his wife is in the next room, and the conversations start up again.

When football season is over Bill, age 69, and I have less to talk about. Then, I just mention Obama, and he pushes 135 pounds around in perfect form like it’s nothing…

Most women like to discuss shopping.  When the subject of shopping comes up, I’m more an active listener than participant.  Often times when shopping is discussed, I make lots of mental notes.  However, if the subject of shopping goes on too long, I listen to my client like my dog listens to me; I pretend to pay attention, but am more interested in the fly orbiting the half eaten orange on the other side of the room.  Still, I learn a lot during shopping discussions with my female clients, in a getting to know the enemy kind of way.

Food And Cancer

Of all the subjects which get discussed each week in my studio, two lead the way; food and cancer.

Cancer is discussed because it’s everywhere, all the time, and directly or indirectly affects everybody.  These are rarely bright conversations.  Discussing the cancer of friends, loved ones, and even the clients themselves can be heavy and a bit draining.  The positive aspect I try to retrieve from such conversations is to just be grateful for my own health and abilities on a given day.

Countless conversations of cancer have laid a solid groundwork in my psyche to help me prepare me for some variation of cancer which might afflict me some day.  Maybe it’s wrong to go through life with a it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when attitude.  However, daily discussions of cancer with clients through the years have placed me well into that state of thinking.

I find it interesting that whether they are 15 years old, or 89, all of my clients have brought up the subject of cancer at one time or another – all of them.

Food is the other topic which serves to nourish my day in conversation.  Though I make my living touting a healthy lifestyle, not all food discussions in my studio are about broccoli, grass-fed beef, and keeping processed foods minimal.  Yes, there is much discussed about healthy recipes, resources, tools, and motivation to eat well, and my studio is a great redistribution center for all healthy eating information.  There is much also much spoken of cheat days, where the best pizza places are, decadent desserts, and beyond.

In conversations of eating, I am a contributor to the healthy as well as the not-so-healthy of it all.  I sometimes feel myself cringe when I recommend Bronx Pizza to a weight-loss client, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it – Bronx Pizza is the bomb!  Moderation, I remind them, moderation.   Whether it’s on healthy eating, or the best dessert and martini combination in San Diego, food gets discussed literally ever hour in my studio.

I find it interesting that whether they are 15 years old, or 89, all of my clients have brought up the subject of food at one time or another – both healthy foods, and the not-so-healthy.

Though they gather more attention than all other topics combined, food and cancer are rarely spoken of together, or from the same root.  There is probably a connection there somewhere, and I may explore that connection in a future essay.

Conversations Over Crunches Redux

I once had a rule that no words be spoken in my gym unless they related to the workout itself; that if one is speaking, one can’t give supreme effort in an exercise, and I was all about supreme effort by my clients. I also had a rule about friendship with clients, or a lack thereof. As my client base has changed through the years, those rules have also changed, and conversation has become central to the experience.

I am blessed and wiser for these conversations over crunches. Since I still like to see strong effort by my clients, if the talking ever does get out of hand, I just increase the weights they are using and render them unable to speak. It’s good to be king.  Be well. rc

 

Some Mixed Thoughts On Larger Purpose, Food Technology, Prejudice, And Change…

Nothing new this week.  I’ll have something fresh in 2 weeks.  I wrote the essay below over two years ago.  Little has changed in the collective awareness we have of our food system since I wrote this — and little has changed in the system itself, or how we use it.  Me thinks the train has left the station and the 300,000,000 drivers of the train don’t realize they are the drivers…

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Larger Purpose; Time’s Arrow Slowing Down

Americans are less healthy, less fit, and less discriminating in the choices which comprise our physicality than ever.  We had seen this coming for decades, and we let it in anyway – because letting it in required less work than keeping it out.  And there’s this; the National Institute for Health now suggests an alarming trend that could manifest within a few decades.  Unless serious efforts are met to combat the increasing rate of childhood obesity, for the first time in American history, children born in subsequent decades will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

It is suggested by critical thinkers like Michael Pollan, and others like him, that we should work our way toward the past, in hope that we change our future to become a healthier food-nation.  Enter, Michael Pollan’s open letter to President Obama.

Inspiring but unrealistic…?

However, from historic human social and technical trends, I see little which has happened in the past to suggest these proposed changes of national bad habits could have a wide-spread effect on the future.  I suggest using the non-wellness related books of Charles S. Maier (Among Empires), Jared Diamond (Collapse), and Andrew J. Bacevich (The Limits Of Power) to further examine the ultimate wellness concern; the ability of a society to identify what needs to be changed, and the willingness of its people to insist on making those changes.

These works of social and political scholarship attempt to demonstrate that human societies are often capable of, but very often unwilling, to learn from their mistakes.  Thus, what we try to think of as advancements, are often just highly devised concessions to a more dangerous road, but one which is more easily traveled.  Increasingly, I am convinced the waters of our advanced food system, and the obesity culture it has created, flow too fast and too wide to be slowed down, let alone altered or reversed.

Perhaps a less fit, less healthy food-culture is just our social and evolutionary destiny – our Manifat Destiny.  And the white elephant in the room might actually be 300 million white elephants, each wondering what went wrong, and why everyone else is so heavy – and what time the drive-thru on the way home from work closes.

Homo-big-gulpus…

Advancement: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Modernity is a playground for the unintended consequences of our advanced food system.  Billions of people have contributed to the advancements of our food culture in the past 10,000 years, and billions more have been its victim.  Hunters, gatherers, herders, farmers, and then scientists, engineers, transportation specialists, nutritionists, and consumers have all played a part in paving the road on which we now roll.  We have all benefitted and suffered from these advancements, as we will continue to benefit and suffer from them.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean to us, not to them…

Despite that, this is where we are in our food culture, there is an increasing prejudice from a few toward the many who consume highly processed foods, as well those who have helped to create these products.  I am reminded of my father who wants to move to a new assisted living center; one with fewer old people in it.  That scenario seems both contrarian, and prejudiced.

There are now volumes of books available distilling all the political and economic reasons – the contributing factors of how our food system has evolved into its current state.  Yet there is little credence given to the concept that; it all might have seemed like a good idea at the time…  Be it Diet Coke, Snack Well cookies, or single-serving ravioli in a can, we have often embraced these advancements at their introduction, as meeting the needs of changing human, social, and economic conditions.  But we learn and quickly forget, again and again, that from such good ideas, sometimes comes a whole lot of not-so-good.  It seems the unintended consequences of advancement, might tend to stifle…   advancement?  Or, humanity itself is God’s own Ponzi scheme.

Concepts And Realism

Though the notion of turning back our food system one hundred years seems like an enticing idea on the surface (to me it is a supreme idea), what Mr. Pollan and others like him amay not be accounting for is a lack of willingness on the part of many people to make those necessary changes – individuals and leaders alike.  That is, people can be informed of what needs to be changed and of how those changes can help us, but history shows we’re not very good listeners.  Our best shot at success with the food system may just be to keep on pumping those extra B vitamins into those Ho-Ho’s, and to keep trying to perfect protein infused Gummy Bears and pork rinds.

History offers us few good examples of us reversing strong social and technical trends.  We may abandon some social and technical trends in favor of others once we realize they are not working well for us, but we tend to not reverse anything.  Humans are more the walking away type.  It is frequently proven that the next positive advancement in the food system is just as laden with unintended consequences as the advancement we had just abandoned.  It’s official; I have no answers, only questions, and a heart full of concern.  Be well.  rc

I end this diatribe with 2 questions from which I would appreciate your responses to:

1)      Do you believe that our food system will truly be in a better state in 10 years than it is today?

2)      Will this column affect how you think about our food system?

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head…

Child In The Window

Nothing to do with fitness this week.  Enjoy a few thoughts from my personal journal.  Please check back in two weeks.  Perhaps then I will have something to say about fitness.

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I am fascinated by flying.  It seems I fly somewhere every few months.  Usually I fly to coastal parts north, to play.  I fly to Chicago to visit my daughter 3-4 times per year.  I fly to Colorado or to the mid-west to visit with friends.  I love to fly.  In fact, I always take great care to secure a window seat when I fly – be it in the daytime or even at night.   An aisle or middle seat, for me, even on the shortest of journeys, is an emotional kick in the stomach. A window seat is a gift that never goes unappreciated by my soul.

Recently I flew from southern California to Athens, Greece and stared out the window for a great majority of the 16 hour flight.  I rarely sleep when I fly, even during 16 hours of flying.  I am just compelled to keep my eyes fixed to the window with wide wonder.  Even if I see only clouds or darkness, I stare like a child to whatever might be beyond them.  When it’s clear, I’m always in awe of the planet below and the heavens above.  As a being, I feel exceptional to be in such proximity of the upper and the lower Earth.

37,000 feet over the Atlantic ocean enroute to Athens…

It’s not feeling exceptional that most heightens me when I fly.  When I fly I am stirred by the honesty within.  It’s an honesty that I never feel when I’m on the ground.   Whether it’s well founded or not, my media fed perception of the risks involved with flying are always at the surface when I fly.  As the wheels of an aircraft lock into place beneath me after takeoff, I am nervous.   Thoughts race through my mind of crashing, of dying, of flames, fears, screams, of my family, my finances, and even of my own funeral.  I always wonder as the plane leaves or approaches the runway, if I don’t make it, will anyone show up to morn my absence…?

Eventually, with enough time and air behind me, confidence builds and these morbid thoughts taper and give way to a kind of honesty I don’t experience on the ground.  I feel so pure looking to the earth and to the sky from a single vantage point – as if my long lost innocence has been given back to me to wear for just a few hours.  It’s during these times when I am best able to put my life in perspective.  To see the earth from this view and be so close to the sky – simultaneously, is to also see my future in equal portion with my past.  The chaos of life, from 37,000 feet, doesn’t seem so chaotic.  It all makes sense to me there.

At altitude, my thoughts are fresh, more pure, and seem valid even to myself.  Nothing I consider, ponder, or write when I fly seems forced or contrived.  There’s no false inspiration there.  I simply am who I am, on my way to that place.  I once read a theory that the moments after an orgasm are the most honest moments of a person’s life.  Though they may be the sleepiest moments of my life, they are not the most honest.  The most honest moments I have ever experienced are when I’m halfway between up and down, and headed to over there.

Some soul searching, post Mancation, 30,000 feet over Alamosa, CO…

I once even began flying lessons, with the scarce intention that I might someday fly as a career.  However, impending fatherhood and flying lessons were at different ends of the financial spectrum so my flying lessons were short lived.  I remember though, the very first time I took off in a Cessna 152.  As pulled back on the yoke and gently allowed the plane to leave the runway, I felt two separate and distinct things – simultaneously.  One thought was,

Oh my god, I’m flying, I can’t believe I’m flying an airplane.

The other was,

Holy shit, I’m going to die. 

In my head, a more polarized crux of emotions had never existed.  I felt pure joy, and pure fear, all at once.  Maybe that’s where my airborne honesty comes from.  Caught between sky and land, between fear and joy, what choice do I have but to be honest…?  Maybe that’s why I love to fly.

In the interest of full disclosure, this essay was written at night, from seat 6A, on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to San Diego.  I had to stop writing multiple times, just to stare at the lights below and the stars above.  Be well.  rc

Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” on the blender in my head.