Sunday, August 30, 2009

Living... leading... and sparring from the heart

Last week, I had a pretty challenging training session with Sebastien. It had been a few weeks since our previous session, and we were reconnecting during an assessment week. As you may or may not recall, once a month, Seb does a physical assessment so that we can monitor my progress. We take my body weight and girth measurements from each of my biceps, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, each of my quads and each of my calves. We also do some strength/performance tests that include measuring the number of pushups and crunches I can do in one minute, grip tests on each of my hands, a seated reach test, and my personal favourite, the wall sit (my current personal best on that one is just over three minutes). After we take care of 'business' we have a little fun and have a few rounds of sparring.

From my previous posts and videos, you've gathered that I'm using fitness kickboxing as a way to lose weight, increase endurance and also add variety to my workout regime. You may also recall that getting into the swing of kickboxing has been not only physically challenging, but also emotionally challenging. When I have a sparring session, we go for about 4 or 5 rounds of sparring at about 3 minutes each -- it's a great cardio workout, an intense endurance test, and also a moment when I can see whether or not I'm using the skills I learn in my sessions with Seb, and also my kickboxing classes with Shelley at the gym. For the past few sessions, though, I've been getting frustrated because I haven't necessarily felt like I've made that mind-body connection -- that critical link between what I know I can do and what I actually do physically to full engage and participate in our kickboxing sessions. My frustration then, tends to surface with me calling quits on our sessions when I know full well that my cardiovascular endurance can handle a few more rounds, but cognitively, my brain is tired of thinking about strategy, technique, and also thinking through the emotional shift necessary for a relative pacifist to be physically aggressive. So, even though we will have had a great workout, I haven't left completely satisfied with how I've done... because I know I can do so much more.

While Seb and I were taking a bit of a break over the past few weeks, my anxiety around our session last week started to build -- because it involved sparring. So I decided that I needed to take some time to figure out how to get over this mental block -- this 'thing' in my head that was limiting my capacity to perform at my best while sparring. I thought a bit about the approach to take -- I decided to make one of my cardio workouts each week a kickboxing workout... just me and the bag, and more attention to technique. I also needed to shift my focus from feeling like I need to punch and kick with full force, to punching and kicking consistently, and with enough variety to keep Seb guessing and help me last longer during our sessions. So I did that. But I was still a bit worried about the fact that I was feeling 'stuck'.

I decided to chat with one of the other trainers at the gym -- Yvette Raposo. Highly respected and sought out by may other gym members because of her training approach and her own experience as a pro boxer, Yvette is also an NLP-master -- an expert in neuro-linguistic programming. I figured that since there was a disconnect between what I was thinking and doing -- mostly as a result of interfering self-talk that was grounded in doubt and lack of confidence -- that Yvette would be a good person to talk to.

We had a great conversation where she asked me many questions about what I was thinking or feeling when I'm sparring. What was I looking to accomplish? What did 'satisfaction' look like? What did it feel like? After a few minutes, she quite simply said, "Get out of your head... and into your body." In other words, try to stop over-thinking everything and take the time to connect with what you can do -- in your heart and in your physical being, and let them take over. Taking control of the self-talk -- that internal conversation that undermines my confidence would be critical. Trusting that my body would know what to do in response to Seb's kicks and punches would also be important. But how would I do it? How can I make that shift?

One simple step seemed to help.

This past week, instead of looking Seb in the eyes while sparring, I focused on his chest. Focusing on his chest and shoulders not only tuned me into the type of movement he was doing (i.e. what kick or punch was potentially on its way), but also tuned me into my own body. Instead of staring into his eyes trying to figure out his mental strategy, I focused on his torso and let my own body instinctively respond to the physical game. And I found myself using a wider variety of kicks and punches. My combinations felt better -- I had more variety, better technique, and didn't always lead with the good old 'jab-cross' from my right side. I threw more kicks (I even got over my apprehension about front-kicks... the first few I ever did landed in his 'no-no' zone). I led from my left. I found his open spots -- the parts of his body that he wasn't guarding and taking advantage of that. I also kept reminding myself to not punch as hard or kick as hard. Sparring isn't about that. It's about strategy. It's about endurance. It's about confidence.

So leading from the body helped. Tremendously. I felt better about this sparring session than I ever have. In fact, Seb told me that this was my best session yet and that he was proud of me. I walked off the pain that resulted from a roundhouse where my shin connected with his knee (our pads shifted). I shook off the pain that came after a right knee to his side, that was blocked by his elbow -- his elbow on my hip. Ouch!!! And I also shook off (eventually) a cross punch to my chest. All in all, at several points along the way when I would have previously given up, I kept going. And that felt amazing.

Leading from the heart only now makes sense to me. After we finished sparring, we had a bit of a heated discussion about the intensity of Seb's punches and kicks. Yes, he can get into the moment a little bit, and punch or kick a bit harder than I would normally like. And yes, that helps test my boundaries and determine my new limits. That's what this exercise is about. But when we wrapped up our session, I was pissed off. I was pissed off that he was kicking and punching harder than usual. I was pissed off that when I told him to lighten up... it didn't feel like he did. And when I gathered myself and got back into the round, he would say something like 'don't punch out of anger'. That makes sense.. yes, if I punch or kick out of anger, I'm not doing it for the right reason. At the same time, punching or kicking out of anger could hurt a hell of a lot more than my regular repertoire.

So, in reaction to a few of his kicks and punches that hit me harder (probably my ego more than my body) than I would have liked, I punched back or kicked back a bit harder too. He forced me to raise the bar. He challenged me to push my threshold to a new place. And it was uncomfortable. But it works. Because as I write this, I realize that I was pissed off in part because I was uncomfortable. I was pissed off because I was being challenged to work harder at this. I was pissed off because I was sparring from the heart -- from that place within me that actually gave a damn about what I was doing, that was less concerned about kicking and punching hard, but more concerned about mastering the skills needed to endure a few more rounds than I normally would with a guy who continues to provoke me with lines like "I'll take whatever you give me." Or, "You're gonna tire out, but I could go all night." Ummm... I know how it sounds. He's talking about sparring endurance. No comment. ;)

All that said, after our friendly disagreement, and clarifying how we can better communicate with one another (yes, we could probably benefit from couples' therapy, LOL!) when sparring, I realized that this session felt fantastic.

It felt amazing.

Not just because I kept up and endured more rounds than ever before.
Not just because I bounced back from some punches and kicks that really hurt.
Not just because I was able to get in some kicks and punches that even took Sebastien by surprise.

It felt amazing because I finally stopped relying on my mind to get me through something, and had the confidence and trust needed to allow my body to do what it does best. My joints, my muscles, my limbs... they know what to do. They know how to respond and react. All I had to do was stop over-thinking it. All I had to do was be connected to my body. All I had to do was think less about what Seb was thinking, and respond more to what he was doing.

All I had to do was 'lead' from the heart.

I think I get it now.
I feel I get it now.
I know I get it.
Now.

Looking forward to my next sparring session in September... maybe we'll record it so you can see the difference.

...Maybe. ;)

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Every day is still a bit of a battle...

Without a doubt, I have had some pretty remarkable successes over the past year and a half. As of my assessment tonight, I've dropped 168 pounds, and continue to see the inches drop off my body. Pretty amazing... and I continue to get great feedback from many people around me about my progress and how remarkable it truly is. And I realize how lucky I am to have had an incredibly successful journey so far.

But every day is still a bit of a battle.

Let me rewind a bit. When Seb and I first started working together, he told me this whole process is going to be a about a 5-year journey. I remember, at that time, thinking that I never wanted to talk to this guy ever again... 5 years??? What the hell? I didn't want this to take five years. Not at all.... But the 5 year journey isn't just about taking 5 years to lose weight. It's 5 years of a personal transformation that can, in some ways, be broken down into phases. Phase one would be the weight loss phase, where I'm focusing on the much-needed task of dropping excess weight so that I can get my body moving in ways it has never moved before. Phase two is about moving beyond weight loss as an initial process, and into challenging myself to do things that are more about living an active lifestyle -- things like running a 10km race, taking up new activities like spinning, or finding new ways to stay active outside of the 'weight loss' mindset. Phase three is then about balancing my knowledge, skills, behaviour and passion for active living to ensure that I continue to take a healthful and balanced approach to the many many years of living I have ahead of me.

So for the past year and a bit that I've been training with Sebastien, we've been really focusing on increasing my cardiovascular endurance, my strength, and indirectly, my confidence. In Phase one, I've shed 168 pounds. My blood pressure has leveled. My resting heart rate is 44 beats per minute. Not bad for a guy who used to weight 435 pounds, eh? But we're turning a bit of a corner on this last 'leg' of phase one of my journey. I feel like we're making a bit of a turn into Phase Two. And it's starting to scare the shit out of me.

As I approached my last target weight goal, I was beginning to think that I was done with weight defining my goals. I thought that my new goals should be more about defining my success less by what I weigh, and more by what I can do. However, when I stepped on that scale, and achieved my goal two months ahead of schedule, I realized that there was one more leg to this phase of the journey. So my last 'weight' goal is to have lost a total of 200 pounds before Christmas 2009. As of tonight, I've got 32 pounds more to go... and Seb assures me that these will be the most difficult. To use his words, "The first 168 pounds are easy... it's the next 32 that are going to be tough!"

As crazy as that sounds, I know he's right.

These last 32 pounds aren't only going to be difficult because my body is likely coming closer to what could possibly be my 'natural' body weight. And if that's 235 pounds, I'm really good with that. Hell, 235 pounds is better than 435!!! And I'll be good with 235 pounds because I can already taste the possibilities of what I will accomplish as a 235 pound man. But that's also what's scary.

Part of why turning this corner into Phase 2 is difficult, is because in many ways, it will be a first test of how sustainable my weight loss and progress will be. In the months ahead, I plan to run both a 5km road race, and a 10km race. I will be taking a spinning class with my friend Liza. I continue to run at work with my friend Alison, and on weekends with my other friend Lisa. Next summer, I plan to do a 600-km bike ride to Montreal with my friend Jonathan. And the following October, my friend Troy plans to join me as I complete my first half-marathon. So these are all exciting things... what am I afraid of???

Well, I'm afraid that I could possibly end up being one of those people who talks a big game. And little else.

And why I have that fear, is because convincing myself each and every day to live a life that is committed to health, wellness, happiness, and balance can be tough to do. For example, over the past three days, there is nothing that I have wanted to do more than sit down to a dish of sweet and sour chicken balls -- even though I've never really liked them. There is still a large part of me that believes I will find comfort and happiness at the sight of an empty plate, or in this case, at the bottom of a bowl of sweet and sour chicken balls! So, as I turn the corner into Phase two, I'm a bit apprehensive because I'm not entirely convinced that I've made the full cognitive switch that is necessary for this to all be sustainable.

Or maybe I'm expecting too much of myself.
That wouldn't be the first time that happened!

I need to remember that these 'demons' have been with me for easily 25 years... is it too much to expect that I will have fully conquered them in only a year and a half?
Likely.

How will I continue to challenge myself to accomplish all of these exciting new things, when my visceral instinct is still to say to myself that there's no way I can do what I've set out to do, so why not just avoid the embarrassment and give up?
Why not? Because doing so would be the easy answer. I took the easy way out for 25 years. And I went into this knowing that this wasn't going to be easy.

So I guess what I'm trying to reconcile still is the fact that I don't feel like I've been totally transformed. And I'm not sure if I ever will be fully changed. While I don't think I was necessarily a food 'addict', I have to think about my past behaviours as being addictive behaviours. And like other people who live with addiction to alcohol or other substances, I am beginning to accept the fact that I will always be, at my core, someone who lives with this 'addiction'. Where my success will continue to come from, is my ability to recognize and address those moments when my addiction has the potential to get the best of me -- the cravings, the bad food choices, the inactivity, the self-doubt, the lack of confidence, the low self-esteem -- and know how to move beyond those moments with the knowledge and belief that I have made a choice about living my life in a better, more balanced and healthier way. And yes, even though I made the right choice for me, I'm going to screw up. As I've written before, I plan my cheat nights, and anticipate my screw ups -- and if I falter, I know what it takes to 'correct' the mistake.

I guess part of why I may be thinking this way is that in addition to the amazingly reaffirming feedback I get, I also get reactions from people that make me a bit uneasy. I've had a couple of people talk about me in such a way that I've made this drastic life transformation and that somehow, it's easier for me because I already spend so much time working out. There's this sense of comparison -- that I couldn't possibly know what it's like or them because I've already battled my demons. I really hate this idea that this is in any way easy. If anyone had a true sense of what the debates in my head sound like when I have to convince myself to go to the gym, and not sit at home with the blinds closed eating a pizza, they may only then begin to understand that this is in no way easy. It's a constant battle against my worst enemy -- myself.

And when you are your strongest offense and your strongest defense in the same game, that's one tough battle to win.

I've also had some people (thinking I'm not listening to them) say things like "He can't be eating." Or, "There's gotta be a gimmick." Someone even asked Seb if I was really eating a balanced diet to support the level of activity that I'm cranking out each week. Doubt makes me feel unsettled. I already wrote one blog entry about how much hard work this truly takes. I've also written quite a bit about what a battle this really is. And to have people wonder what my 'trick' is, or assume that I'm obviously doing something 'wrong' that's going to bite me in the ass later... well, it's offensive. The doubt simply, is disrespectful.

So why am I writing this tonight? Well, in some ways faithful readers, I'm preaching to the choir. My sense is, that by being a reader of this blog, that you already 'get' what it takes... and how difficult this is. But I guess I write this entry tonight because I hope to instill in people, and perhaps you will share this with those around you, that this is not just a 5-year journey. This doesn't end once I've hit my target weight. I will not be 'better', 'cured' or 'normal' after Christmas this year. This is a journey for life. I do not anticipate arriving at a moment at time when this will all end.

Some people have asked me, "When will you be done." My response? Never.

The battle is ongoing. I continue to grow my artillery. My ammunition gets stronger. But the counter attack that I will continue to face is that voice in my head -- that devil on my shoulder -- that romanticizes my former life. It's a voice that continues to try to entice me back to a place where the easy answer was the only answer; where if I didn't confront my fears, that they would simply go away. But as my body grows stronger, so does my spirit. And so does my resolve to tell that voice to shut the f*%k up.

But the voice will always be there. Sometimes I won't hear it. Other times, I'll hear it and choose not to listen. And other times, I'll listen and begin to think that what the voice is saying makes a lot of sense. And I hope that those who read this, or those who dare to doubt me from near and far, never forget that the voice will always be there. And to question my success, or to assume that the voice is gone and that my demons have disappeared, is to judge my journey. And to judge my journey is to doubt my resolve. But at the end of the day, don't ever doubt the power and potential of a former 'fattie'. 'Cause if the doubt doesn't kick you in the ass first, I will be there to kick it for you.

All that said, thanks for indulging my rant... had to get that off my chest. I feel better now -- and have always felt great knowing that there are hundreds of people out there reading my story and supporting me from the sidelines. That helps me build my resolve. Thank you for being a part of it.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of the gym and into the city...

Now that summer has finally arrived in Toronto, I've been enjoying a lot of time outside in the sun. I've become a more serious and focused runner. I got back on a bike (my neighbour's bike) and am seeing the city from a whole new perspective. And I find myself looking for new things to do that will spark my interest and keep 'the active life' interesting.

What this has meant then, is that I'm spending less time in the gym. So, I've had to shift my thinking a little bit around what makes a good workout, and what are the sorts of things that I can be doing outside of the gym that will not only help me continue to lose weight, but also to challenge the boundaries of my own perceptions of what I thought I could never do.

And I'm having fun doing it.

What has been a tremendous help is finding different resources to keep me interested, and to show me the range of things that can be done outside of the traditional construct of the gym. I stumbled upon a website a while back called Generation Go, and it's a fantastic source of information about what active living opportunities exist in Toronto. I've consulted with it extensively, and have used it to find new activities and things to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

What is also cool about Generation Go, is that as a resource, they've been very supportive of what I'm doing. I've gotten questions answered; am starting to make new connections, and today, they featured me in a profile of people who lead an active lifestyle!!! Very cool... so check it out:
http://tinyurl.com/mn67y8

I guess one of the important lessons I've learned is that getting healthy is indeed about good habits. For sure -- it takes discipline and commitment to make such a significant life change. But it's also about variety. It's about exploring new ideas, new activities, new options and new people -- to help keep your mind, body and spirit active. And the coming together of all three components... the synergy of mind, body and soul is what I have found is the key to unlocking my potential to make a change.

Maybe it's your key too...

Kia kaha
Stay strong