The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

In life we often find ourselves traveling a road which takes us in a direction that was once obvious and fitting, but in time becomes no longer consistent with our personal growth and changing values.  So we choose a new road, one which we see leading us in a better direction or into the next phase of our life.  Somewhere down that road, we may realize we’re back on the original road we turned off of.  Either consciously or subconsciously we’ve circled back only to find that we’re headed in that same direction which we had exited for all the right reasons.

As it relates to my relationship with strength training, several times since my mid-40s, I have chosen to leave one road in favor of the road which makes more sense for the next phase of my life.  It usually doesn’t take long though, for me to end up back on the road I left; the road of bigger, stronger, leaner.  That was the right road for the younger me, but no longer.

At least 3 times in the last 10 years I have said enough is enough in the pursuit of more; more strength, more mass, more lean.  I well understand the limits of age; that the human body will only get so strong, so muscular, so lean.  So I choose a new road; the road of the elegant plateau.  The elegant plateau is a direction where if I don’t get any stronger, any more muscular, or any leaner, I’m ok with it.  That if I can just maintain what I have as I grow older, that is progress enough.

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This Time I Mean It…

Nearly 10 years after I first told myself enough is enough, I found myself on the road to bigger, stronger, leaner yet again.  Daily in my strength workouts I note in my journal how challenging or not a movement is.  If it’s not too challenging, and the form is intact, I note to increase the weight for the next workout.  In some exercises I’m actually using more weight in proper form than ever.  That this progress is doable is feeding me ego.  It is also stifling the very purpose for my workouts.

This pursuit of increased poundages is not breaking my body down excessively.  It isn’t hurting me.  It isn’t stressful.  It’s simply a departure from a philosophical tenet; that I just don’t need more of anything.  In all other aspects of my life I pursue less or just enough, yet when it comes to my workouts, I have been pursuing more.  I’m done.

I am once again committing to the road of the elegant plateau – and this time I mean it.  Simply stated, I will no longer pursue more strength, more muscle mass, or a leaner physique.  The condition I maintain today, is also the site of my next month.  If I can maintain this condition ongoing, I’m ahead of the game.

I look ok in a form fitted shirt – even when it’s tucked in.  I push reasonable weights in proper form.  I can run as fast as needed if being chased by Frankenstein.  I’m as lean as I’m going to get.  For all of this, I have few aches and much confidence.  I work out first and foremost to enjoy it.

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Buddhabuilding…

Bodybuilding light, or Buddhabuilding as I like to think of it, is based on the structure of traditional bodybuilding for larger purposes, but with a little less intensity, a little less volume, and a more moderate load.  It is still concerned with strength, size, and aesthetics so far as maintaining them goes.  However, it carries with it more utility in the areas of functional strength, balance, flexibility, sustainability, and the best aspect of all, a transformative, meditative state during the workout that just isn’t there when I’m in pursuit of more.

Buddhabuilding also incorporates balance and stretching movements in-between sets.  That is, if I’m doing 3 sets of incline bench presses, in-between sets I’ll either hold a stretching posture for 30 seconds or perform a balance exercise for 30 seconds, then on to the next set with more balance or stretching in-between the sets which follow.

The weights used with a given strength exercise are by no means light.  They are challenging, yet achievable, and lend themselves to a meditative state as I am better able to concentrate on the muscles involved.  This is where a connection takes place between my mind and my body that just isn’t there when the weights are heavier.

The Soundtrack & The Result…

One of the better aspects of Buddhabuilding to me is the soundtrack.  I gave up listening to music while exercising years ago.  These days it’s books on philosophy, religion, and cultural evolution which lead me through my games with gravity, efficiently building body and mind simultaneously, one hour at a time.  I had a great run at Buddhabuilding from 2005-2011 when I got greedy again and wanted more.  It’s time to get back to being me.

Liking my workouts – loving them has been the methadone of my existence for years.  It’s where time stands still for me.  I find that when I’m pursuing bigger, stronger, leaner, the physical results may be glorious, but that timeless state that sooths my soul is elusive.  When the weights are more moderate, the concentration is higher, and my mind is similarly stimulated, the result is a transformative workout, and that result is much more needed in my life than larger triceps.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from Jason Falkner.  Enjoy!

Aja: More That A Continent…

The Era…

In the 1970s my social contemporaries we largely tied to the music of Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Rush, Pink Floyd, and the like. Not that I didn’t have an ear for it too, I did. Listening to the rock & roll of the day was among my primary hobbies. It was an era when vinyl was king, and the thematic or the complete album was central to FM radio. Though this was also the era of disco and the early stages of punk rock, the FM radio of the day was all about dirty hippies making well-orchestrated masterpieces.

Counter to most of my friends at that time, one band I focused on more than Frank Zappa, Uriah Heap, or Deep Purple was Steely Dan. This was a band most of my friends couldn’t connect with, yet they were my obsession. With those who did though, it did seemed like we spoke another language.   Being a Steely Dan fan at the age of 15 landed one a very good seat at the rock & roll nerd table at school – just behind the kids from the short bus.

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The Scope and The Band…

Steely Dan’s heyday was from 1972-1977, though they are still active today. Starting with their first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, the primary players were producer Gary Katz and musicians Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. Many musicians showed up on Steely Dan albums through the years. In the early years, the same dozen or so players were granted parts on most of their first five albums.

As the band evolved, the varying players were depended on to raise their game with each successive album. If they did not, they would be used less or not at all. Notwithstanding that as their music style changed, there might be less of a need for a flugelhorn, and thus less of a need for flugelhorn player Snooky young. By the time their 5th album, The Royal Scam was released, the hierarchy of Fagan, Becker, and Katz was firmly in place, but also beginning to strain. Though it would be a year before the world would hear their 6th album, that year took forever – at least for me.

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The Album…

We all know what it’s like to anticipate an album release. In the pre-internet, non-digital music days of my teens, this was the first album I remember truly waiting for. All we had in 1977 was teasers from Rolling Stone magazine, word of mouth from friends, and hints from DJs to tell us when a new album might be out. The buildup for Steely Dan’s 6th album was overwhelming – by design. When Aja was finally released in 1977, I was at Peaches Records & Tapes before anyone that day.   I took my fresh copy directly home and listened to both sides over and over for a couple of days on the Marantz stereo of my teens.

From the first track, Black Cow, I realized this album was distinct from any of their previous albums. It was large. Though they had always been a jazz influenced project, I never considered Steely Dan anything other than rock & roll. In hindsight so many years later, I consider Aja the first jazz album I ever owned.

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This was Steely Dan’s best album – period. Aja was made when producer Katz still had some say and control over the rotating players of the project that Fagan and Becker abused in process. Aja was Fagan’s vision, but it was to be was Katz’ finest work as producer. From beginning to end, there’s not a single bad track:

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Deacon Blues

Peg Home at Last

I Got the News

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No matter where my tastes in music have drifted through the years; punk rock, country, Americana, the paisley underground, blues, and jazz, Aja has been a constant, and has never been out of my rotation. I have owned Aja on vinyl 3 times, on cassette, on CD, and now I stream it digitally on a regular basis. Though the delivery system has changed through the years, the effect has not.

Listening to the song Deacon Blues frames my mind in the same way sitting on a jetty and staring the ocean’s vague horizon does. Time slows down. I relax. I breathe more deeply, and forget all things but the moment. Listening to the song Aja after a long day is like the first glass of wine before dinner; it subdues the monkeys perpetrating lesser thoughts in my head.

The Memory…

All these years later when I think of the 70s as a collective, I don’t default the image of a powder blue Volkswagen Bug with bold flower stickers all over it, Richard Nixon, The Godfather, images of Vietnam, hot pants, women’s lib, or even the Rolling Stones. When I think of the 70s, I think first of Aja, its album cover, the arrangements and the artistry it contains. I think of driving my Ford Fairlane to the edge of town alone on a Friday night, turning my Pioneer Super Tuner to 11, and laying on the hood — transporting my soul to a place I can’t fully define.

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If the fingerprints of my past are responsible for the all marks that have made my soul so scuffed and leathered through the years, being touched by Aja gives that soul a smooth feel and a golden tone – if only for an hour. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Steely Dan’s album Pretzel Logic.  Enjoy!