Be Careful What You Wish For…You Just Might Get It

shooting-star

Make a wish! It could be your dream come true or a big ole bucket of NOPE.

All I wanted was a little time off.

I decided to take the last week of August off from taekwondo because of a few lingering injuries that kept getting irritated and frankly, I was burned out. I had been going to taekwondo five or six days a week, attending my own classes, plus I showed up at the lower ranking classes to help teach and hang out with the instructors. It was all good fun until one day I thought, “I need a break.” I enjoyed my week off and was thoroughly looking forward to starting up classes again plus attending my gym more often and cleaning up my diet.

Instead I got a cold last week. I couldn’t go to sparring, and my balance was so off thanks to sinus pressure that I had a hard time demonstrating takedowns and jumps for students working on test preparations. Last Friday we had a color belt test instead of regular class. I got a few seconds workout sparring with a kid testing for black tip, and I took a ballet barre class on Sunday, but other than that I haven’t been able to have a hard workout in a while. I couldn’t wait to go to class on Monday.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to go back to class, my back decided to give out. No! Not another week off! Ah, the curse of the Odd Years Bulging Disc. I have “thrown my back out” every odd year since 2011. I was due this year and was hoping I could hold out until after my test, but like the rest of me, my back is a high achiever that likes to plan ahead. Hooray!

Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as my past back blowouts have been, and I was even able to move around enough today to teach a five hour professional development class at work. I can do a turning back side kick with the stiffness, but the disc is still protesting a spin kick with pain…darn it, I was just getting decent at spin kicks. A visit to my trusty physical therapist should sort me out in time for my remaining classes this week.

Okay Universe, I get it. I’m done slacking off, rinsing my sinuses with a Neti pot, and pouting on my heating pad. I’m ready to come back to class (and the gym) now!

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it! I heard that, of all places, in church many years ago. I don’t remember what else the priest said, but his wry warning stuck with me. Making a wish is also making a commitment to change. It’s planting the seed for action, which is sometimes nurtured and other times stays buried underground.

Perhaps the intention behind our wishes helps shape the results. What is behind it–frustration, anger, revenge or hopefulness, accountability, and humility? The major events and changes in my life are result of the intentions I’ve put out into the world. The Law of Attraction is real and evident in how my life’s triumphs and failures have played out. Sometimes the results I wanted were better than I could have imagined, and other times they were like the skewed ironic answers to a wish made on the cursed Monkey’s Paw.

I have wished for change in my professional life and have been answered with both stressful, unnecessary chaos and amazing opportunities. I have wished for change in my personal life and have been answered with both harmful relationships and incredible new ventures and helpful people. Either way there’s always been a pretty good life lesson involved.

Maybe my body rebelling with sickness and pain was not so much the result of an ill-intended wish but rather life’s way of showing me I’m not in control as much as I think I am. And that’s okay. I’m very organized and planful around my work and some of my personal life (i.e., controlling), and once in a while I’m reminded that I have to be ready to adapt when what I get isn’t want I originally thought I wished for. I feel even more grateful for taekwondo now that I’ve been out for two and half weeks. I can’t wait to have a hard workout, laugh with my classmates, and learn from my instructors. I feel so thankful and ready to work even harder towards second dan….I suppose that was the lesson I needed to learn this time.

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Two Months Until Second Dan Begins With Rest, Wine, and Whataburger

texas whataburger

YAS! That’s how Texas black belts fuel themselves!

So it’s still the plan that I will be testing for second degree black belt in about two months. Even though I’ve had two years to prepare for this test as opposed to six months for first degree, I’m more nervous and leery about it this time around. If you’d like to read more about the psychological aspects and musings on it, read this post. I’ll continue with that theme in another post. Now I’m going to talk about what I plan to do with myself until that eagerly awaited day.

I’m kicking of my two months of training with…rest. I have a few minor lingering injuries that keep getting aggravated by training, plus I’m getting mentally burned out from taekwondo, so I’m taking the week off. No taekwondo or ballet barre although I’ve been walking and doing yoga, plus I’ll try swimming if it doesn’t aggravate my shoulders, both of which are snapping at me with memories of old injuries. I need to stop and let my body and mind heal and reset. My biggest hope is that the swelling in my sprained finger will go down, and I can wear my favorite ring again. #taekwondivaproblems.

Next week I’ll get back to reality with getting my physical fitness in gear. And boy do I need it.

My physical health and fitness isn’t quite at the level it was before first degree even though I weigh about the same, actually a little less. Most people would probably agree that I needed to gain weight this year. At one point I was below 110 pounds, and I know I’ve lost muscle tone. Maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post. I’ve put a few pounds back on although these extra pounds I’ve put on are not muscle but rather the result of Texas-shaped waffles, chocolate, and what may very well be the best pizza in my city.  Worth it.

I still fit into my favorite short black skirt (which I couldn’t last year), and the slacks that used to be snug are still too loose, so psychologically I’m satisfied. After this forced week of rest and a few final indulgences, namely wine and the most unhealthy and delicious food I can find, it’ll be back to chicken breasts, brown rice, vegetables, and fruit smoothies. A healthier diet and an increased exercise regimen will hopefully help me build back some muscle in a few weeks. I’m also giving up alcohol until my test so I’m sure I’ll deflate in no time. Today, though, as I write this, I’m drinking a giant glass of pinot noir so I can, you know, remember what it tastes like through two months of agonizing dryness. And like a good Texan I’m going out this weekend in style with a Whataburger meal.

As for exercise, I’ll go back to ballet barre class, which is fantastic for my lower body, increase my swimming sessions, do my balancing exercises on my BOSU at home (I finally broke down and bought one after getting really good results in physical therapy), and work in extra cardio and yoga at my gym since I’ll be decreasing my time in the dojang from six days to three or four. My taekwondo classes are usually intense enough that I get a very good workout each time anyway.

I’ll go back to my regular classes although I’ll teach less other than testing and tournament weeks to avoid burnout again. As much as I love all the students and the opportunity to improve my teaching skills, I need a break. Given that I have a full-time job (which also involves public speaking and coaching) and a household to manage I really need some quiet time at home. Perhaps my introverted tendency to be drained by too much interaction has finally gotten the better of me, so for a while I’ll only attend the classes designated for higher ranking color belts and black belts. Something is telling me that right now I need to focus on being solely a student.

Rest assured the post-test celebration of Champagne and cupcakes will once again happen, and it will once again be glorious.

My Health Heroes Aren’t Athletes

SuperheroHealth

The two people who inspire me the most to stay active and healthy aren’t professional athletes or models. They aren’t yogis or taekwondo black belts.

They are two women with life threatening illnesses.

I’ve been writing about health a lot on my blog lately, and lately I’ve come to appreciate the saying, “When you have your health, you have everything.” The concepts of prioritizing health and taking it for granted both occupied my mind today. It all began with Tejano music…

Health Hero #1
3:39 AM. My alarm clock began humming softly with the cheery accordion rhythms of Tejano music. (Whatever, Tejano music is awesome, and if you don’t like it then you must not like puppies or rainbows.) Ugh. My swimming alarm.

I started to roll out of bed to turn off the alarm, and I was stuck! The mean little fiery knot of pain in my right lumbar region was still angry from the day before, and when I tried to turn over it flared up and immobilized me. After rocking back and forth like an upended bug I finally was able to fling myself off the bed. I turned off the alarm…and went right back to sleep. What was the point of going to the gym? I couldn’t even stand upright. Besides, my bed gets exponentially more comfortable the longer I stay in it. By almost 4 AM I’m ready to melt into it forever.

“Eh, I’ll swim tomorrow when I feel better,” I thought, and rolled back under my covers.

Later in the morning I thought about my aunt. She has always been the “fun” aunt, the one who shares makeup tips along with dirty jokes, and her infectious laughter can be heard from one end of the house to another. This year had not been kind to her. Following the tragic and sudden death of her father she sank into a deep depression and turned to junk food for comfort. Her health quickly deteriorated.

She lost her laughter and nearly her life. In early fall she was hospitalized with pancreatitis and complications due to diabetes. She knew she had to stand up for herself. Once she was discharged she promptly joined a gym and hired a (hunky) trainer, insisting that this was a matter of life and death.

When I saw her at Thanksgiving she was glowing with life and ringing with laughter again. She had already lost a considerable amount of weight and was determined to get her glucose levels to a healthy number. (And she had a sassy new haircut!) She goes to the gym rain or shine and drinks the smoothies my uncle dutifully makes for her. She dreams of  the day when she can eat grapes without worrying about a spike in her blood sugar.

“Health,” she said emphatically as she looked me dead in the eye across my grandparents’ living room. “Health is what matters. When you have your health, you have everything.”

My aunt would have gotten up with the Tejano music and gone to the gym, and she would have told me to get my little ass out of bed and go  too.

Health Hero #2
When you work in a corporate setting you inevitably have those moments when you feel like you’re living in a Dilbert cartoon. Today I watched with exhausted and detached amusement as my coworkers spent a good twenty minutes arguing over the wording of some power point slides about a fairly mundane topic. When the other people in the room joined in on the heated semantics debate over “guidelines” versus “ground rules,” I closed my eyes and thought, “My God, is this going to be my life for the next thirty years?” My mind drifted to a woman named Vanessa.

Vanessa is in her early thirties and works in the department that shares the same floor of the building as my department. She and I would often eat lunch in the break room together. She always had a bright smile on her face and was quick to crack jokes.

One week in July, Vanessa disappeared. News began circulating that she had a viral infection, and it was later discovered that she had very aggressive metastatic cancer. She was given months to live, maybe a few years at best. She is dying, and people are arguing over power point slides….yeah.

Recently I saw one of Vanessa’s close friends, who gave me an update. After several rounds of chemo her tumors had shrunk considerably. The prognosis was still dire, but Veronica’s response was:
“I still believe in miracles.”

I thought about Vanessa tonight as I debated between going to a long overdue yoga class and staying at home to watch TV. What would Vanessa do if she had her healthy body back and the freedom to enjoy it? I bet she would take any chance she could to get out of the house and move.

I decided that I would go to yoga class to honor Vanessa and her brave battle against cancer. I had to move slower and more gently than usual, just as I did in taekwondo class last night. Have you ever noticed in some workout videos there’s that one person designated to do the slower, more modified movements for the beginners and the old people? Tonight I was that person.

It didn’t matter how slowly or stiffly I moved. I felt fantastic and relished the opportunity to move and stretch my body. I had to modify upward dog down to cobra to avoid bending my back too much, and let me tell you, I was the fiercest little cobra in the room. Hiss!! When we did tree pose, I stood up as much as I could and was the tallest damn 5’3″ tree I’d ever seen.

By the way, here’s what upward dog vs. cobra looks like (although my cobra was sassier than hers):
upward-dog-and-cobra

When you have your health, you have everything. When your health is threatened, nothing else matters. Why should I put off being healthy until tomorrow? My aunt knew her tomorrows were dwindling and had to make a drastic change. Vanessa might not have many tomorrows left. Health begins today.

Take some time to think about what you prioritize in your life. Are you paying attention to what’s important? Are you honoring the people who love you and motivate you by making sure you’ll be around as long as you can to enjoy life with them?

My alarm is going off at 3:40 AM tomorrow morning. (I’m giving myself an extra minute to snooze). I can’t guarantee that I won’t crawl back into bed when the Tejano trumpets and accordions are silenced, but I will think of my aunt and of Vanessa and thank them for their bravery and their ability to inspire. I’ll make that day a celebration of health and of life. (And still eat chocolate…and some grapes for my aunt!)

 

 

Closed Door, Open Window: How Adversity Can Hone Adaptability

ducks

The way forward isn’t always a straight path. Sometimes it’s curved. Sometimes it’s a zigzag pattern. Other times you have to take a few steps back or even start over to get yourself going in the right direction.

My injuries these past few months (first the hamstring, now the back) have been trying, but they’ve also been interesting lessons in patience, balance, and as I experienced in tonight’s class, modification. Another way to look at modification would be to call it adaptability.

I thought I was following a nice forward path to recovery, but for some reason tonight my body decided to take the proverbial two steps backwards. Before I headed out to taekwondo class, my lower back began stiffening up from the bottom left lumbar region up to the shoulder blade, and on the other side a nasty knot of irritation began boiling near the right sacroiliac joint. I felt like I needed my back to pop so badly, but I just couldn’t get that satisfaction.

I knew from the beginning of class that I’d have to modify. A jump in the air–NOPE. A spin kick–NOPE. Not happening. My instructor gave me some cues at the beginning to help me adjust my movements, and I did the rest of the jumping kicks from the ground.

I could have quit with the first botched spin kick. I could have sat on the sidelines while my classmates sweated and jumped. That would have been a 100% guarantee I would be protecting my back by doing nothing, but I would have been doing nothing to improve my taekwondo skills or sharpen my ability to adapt to a difficult situation. Besides, while my body needs a little more gentle care right now, completely stopping all exercise would make me feel more stiff, lethargic, and depressed.
No way. I was sticking this out.

I spent the rest of the evening seeing how I could adapt my kicking and striking approach to balance the demands of the class with the demands of my body. Instead of focusing on what my body couldn’t do, I focused on what it COULD do. I couldn’t jump or twist or move as quickly as usual, but slowing down helped me concentrate on being more focused and precise. I gave myself more time to work on little details I often gloss over when I’m going full force in taekwondo class. And for the record, I still worked up a sweat.

Adaptability means we can quickly make sound decisions and adjust our approach when faced with change. Being adaptable helps us flex our creativity muscles and try things we might not have normally tried in more supposedly ideal circumstances. When we make the choice to adapt to a situation, especially an adverse one, we have the chance to prove to ourselves that we are stronger than we gave ourselves credit for being.

We are all on our paths forward. Sometimes we hit some bumps or even run into brick walls. We still, however, have the power to change our attitudes and control our responses to the situation. Sometimes the adaptation is even more amazing than the original.

 

 

The Inevitable Slump

sad dog

“It’s January and February right now. Spring will come.”

My dad was offering me some words of comfort the other night as I sat curled up in my bed, sobbing and dredging up one ridiculous worry after another: regrets of things I did long ago, a reopened wound from a bitter breakup, letting go of pieces of me that I couldn’t get back. I felt lonely, vulnerable, and hopeless. I didn’t really have a rational reason to be upset, but it felt like the flood gates had been unleashed. Damnit, I was going to give myself something to cry about.

Dad suspected that I was feeling some post-black belt test depression, and he and Mom had even wondered before my black belt test if the crash was inevitable. Dad likened it to the depression some people feel after the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over: the excitement has died down, the fanfare has quieted, and now you’re back to life as usual in the suckiest months of the year. What’s the fun in that?

Apparently I am in a metaphorical January.

While I am thrilled to be a new black belt, I know I’ve lost some of my excitement, drive, and focus. Being waylaid by an injury hasn’t helped matters. Exercise always makes me feel better. I experienced that when I started to get a hint of the crash a few weeks ago, but an invigorating (and slightly insane) workout from a senior black belt student nipped that in the bud. Nothing like the sweet combination of exhaustion and endorphins to make you feel on top of the world.

I’ve been stuck at home recuperating for much of the week from severe back pain that struck last weekend. Other than some healing sessions with my physical therapist (it was almost worth hurting my back for all the lovely care and treatment), I haven’t moved around much, and I know my mood plummets whenever I become more sedentary. Obviously I hadn’t been able to go to taekwondo class, but I was also in too much pain to swim, do yoga, or my other normal actives. Even walking for long distances was difficult until yesterday.

It’s frustrating to feel this way and to have it possibly adversely affect my approach to taekwondo because life as a new black belt has hardly been ordinary—there’s no same old, same old as a newly minted Jyo Kyo Neem. I’ve barely learned one of the two (two!!) new forms I get to learn, and there is still so much to practice with hand-to-hand combat and defense against weapons. I’m not even used to seeing myself in my fancy new black-lapeled uniform and embroidered belt.

So what the hell?? I’m really not that upset about the back pain. I get injured all the time, and I know I always bounce back. I can handle physical pain. Emotional pain is a much stickier matter.

I really hope it’s a case of an emotional slump because I’ve been forced to be inactive and confined to my home (other than when I wasn’t at work or PT) and NOT due to a more elusive and dangerous habit I thought I had kicked: constant dissatisfaction. In the Bad Old Days, when I had low self-esteem, I was searching desperately for happiness in all the wrong places. I wanted other people, material possessions, work, academic achievements, and even my superficial looks to fill that void in my heart that I eventually learned to fill from within.

Nah, I’ve made it too far in my journey of self growth and kicking life’s ass to have gone back to my old destructive ways. I know I haven’t lost that little glimmer of inner peace, contentment, and newly found confidence. I’m just cranky that I can’t kick teenagers for a week or two.

This will pass.

 

Day Before the Black Belt Test: It’s Rainy, So I’m Feeling Contemplative

philosoraptor

Stats For the Week:

Weight: 115 pounds
Number of early morning swimming sessions: 3 (YES!! Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, I’M BACK!! Get outta my lane!)
Number of therapeutic massages because I think I’m younger than I am, but my body says otherwise: 2
Number of times I’ve done a round of heat and ice on my back today: 2, but the day is young
Visible bruises: 4. The rest are fading so right now I kind of look like a washed-out leopard
How much I want a cheeseburger, fries, and a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie: Infinity
Number of unsettling dreams I’ve had this week about taekwondo: ZERO!!

About the unsettling dreams:
For the last few weeks I’ve had at least one weekly dream about taekwondo mess ups, and not all about the black belt test. There was the one where I was at my childhood home trying to practice a form, and I kept running into furniture, plus, I couldn’t remember the form. Then I had another dream that none of the students had turned in their paperwork for the black belt test, so we just did a demonstration of one-step sparring with our partners and all went home feeling sad.

The worst dream was the most recent one: my classmates and I were flying (Southwest of course) to a tournament in Houston. I have two doboks (uniforms), and instead of packing the top and pants, I realized at the gate that I had packed two tops but no pants. The look of disappointment and frustration on my Grandmaster’s face was something I never want to see in real life.

While I didn’t have any creepy TKD dreams this past week, I did have a rough night on Wednesday. My back and legs were protesting loudly and warning me that their patience with my abuse was running out. I got winded and loopy much earlier than usual during sparring class, and it seemed that I could do nothing right with one-step sparring or hand-to-hand in the later class. The one thing I was really proud of was my breaking practice. I’ve been having trouble getting the distance just right for my flying snap kick, and last night, finally, it felt precise and powerful. At least something went right.

I’m not too bummed about it though. Sometimes it’s good to get all the worries and wiggles and dumb mistakes and crap out of our system before a big event, whether it’s a play, a speech, a competition, or a black belt test. The day before my bo dan test in April I ate the floor during a spin kick I was practicing for the breaking portion. It happened so fast I didn’t realize I’d fallen until I found myself dazed and staring up at the ceiling. The next day at the test I did a perfect kick and got a second black stripe on my belt. Spin kick has been a thorn in my side from the beginning, so I was especially proud and grateful that I had pulled it off.

Maybe my dreams and real-life flub-ups are my body and mind’s way of working out any remaining tension and anxiety about what is going to be a wonderful day. I get to hang out with people I care about (my blood family and my taekwondo family), and I get to spend a few hours doing something I love. I think that’s a pretty nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The Countdown Begins

countdown2

August sucks. There aren’t any holidays, the comforting summer buzz of the cicadas has died down, the grocery stores are down to the last mealy dregs of my favorite fruits (nectarines and cherries), and for the much of the month the temperature is around 100 degrees. While summer is my favorite time of year, I’m usually not sad to see this particular month come to a close.

The end of August marks the beginning of scarves and knee-high boots, pumpkin-flavored everything, and apple scented candles. The end of August also means I have less than two months left to train for my black belt test.

Every time I think about it my stomach does a little involuntary flip, but I’m not as worried as I was when I tested from white belt four levels up to green belt during my first few months of training. I’ve known everything I need to perform for the black belt test for several months now thanks to my own hard work and the guidance of very patient and thorough instructors. I’m much stronger and have more stamina than I did during my white belt days. My jumps are higher, my shoulders and legs have gotten bulkier, and I’ve brought a new joyful aggression to my sparring. Despite my lingering hamstring injury I’ve been able to bring my A game to the dojang as much as I can and have supplemented my workouts with my usual swimming, yoga, and Pilates. I’d like to think I’ve gained a little bit of the emotional maturity a black belt needs since I first donned my dobok…some days anyway.

As for nutrition, I kind of let my diet go by the wayside, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Due to family visits, my birthday, work events, my discovery of Jif To Go mini peanut butter packs, etc., I’ve had the good fortune to indulge in some delicious although not very nutritious food over the summer. I did get back to my veggies/brown rice/boiled eggs/green juice regimen during August (uh, for the most part) and have been completely off alcohol since March, but I haven’t been as strict as I have been in the past. I’m a bit of a hedonistic hippie: I’ll wash down a cheeseburger with kombucha and not blink an eye about it. And of course chocolate is still happening. Oh is chocolate ever happening.

I’ve had body image and eating problems since I was a teenager so the fact that I gave myself a pass to eat pimento cheese and cookies without judgment or regret is an improvement in my book. I may be a little heavier (as in, closer to 120 pounds than 110 pounds), but I’m happier. During a deep tissue massage to help ease my hamstring pain the massage therapist told me she could tell my muscles were “very strong.” That made me feel prouder than being told I’m pretty or thin. Besides, I’m always one stomach virus away from Grandmaster telling me I look “too skinny” anyway.

I finally sought out help from a sports medicine doctor for my injured right hamstring. Turns out it’s not a pulled muscle but rather a suspected labral tear in the hip—meaning the little ring of cartilage where the femur attaches to the acetabulum (socket) in the pelvis is torn–not a good thing. He also detected some calcification and impingement syndrome in the right hip…the old problem that began about seven or eight years ago and is most noticeable by sharp pain in the front of the hip. Next week I will see the very same physical therapist who helped me with severe pain in my right hip all those years ago (and what may very well be contributing to things currently screwing up on the backside of that leg).

It’s frustrating not only because of the pain and discomfort, but also because it impedes my performance in taekwondo class when I’m so close to testing for my black belt. This is a not-so-rare problem in athletes that if serious enough requires surgery. So leading a healthy active lifestyle for all these years is now keeping me from being as active as I want to be. Ugh, really? The upside is that I’ve gotten more experience coaching and holding kicking pads for other students so I can give my leg a rest—I swear we need a separate class on how to do that. I’ve learned to listen to my body and be more patient with myself. I have faith in my PT and my doctor to help me heal. And besides, every good sports story needs some kind of challenge right at the climax.

Let’s do this.