Sunday morning Qigong

photoAlthough Sunday is my official sleep in day, the late Summer sun has me awake and firing on all cylinders by 7am. I decided to head on down to the river that flows near my house and to do my Qigong on the riverbank.

There was barely a soul in sight as I rode down along the bike path, looking for a good location. I eventually found a quiet spot where I could practice in relative peace, only noticeable to the joggers running down the far side of the river.
 
This time of year its green, green and the air filled with dragonflies and various insects busy with their business. The river flows straight down off the mountain side, with lots of idyllic little spots for picnics or nature walks.
 
I do my stretches and then immerse myself in the local sounds; running water, a little breeze and the orchestration of birds and insects. Since I normally train indoors ( thanks to the near vicinity of a mosquito full forest next to my house), this was a pleasant change and I found myself much more engrossed in the practice than usual. If there is such a thing as being ” at one with the universe”, then Qigong and meditative practices are definitely the pathway to that goal.
 
Any tension both mental and physical just slipped away as the environment embraced me. It felt great to be able to stretch out my time frame and let the practice meander, rather than the regimented, set time sessions I do before an average work day.
 
Finishing off with some yoga breathing, I felt pretty charged.
 
Any of you looking for a way to deal with stress, recharge or just a way to connect with yourself, you wont go wrong having a look at Qigong.
 
An amazing path of self discovery.

The quiet revolution.

 
Its been two years since I moved out of the center of Tokyo into my current digs; a 55 year old traditional Japanese house on the side wooded hill near Mt Takao. After what was in all respects a major life transition, I spent a lot of that time quietly thinking about who I was and what I represented, not only as a fitness advocate but also as a basic human being.
 
I was out at an informal dinner the other night with some students of a dance class I have been attending, and as usual for a new member of any group, I was grilled over the course of the night as to my regular activities and lifestyle. This gradually fed through the table of classmates to the teacher of the class, who ended up coming to sit next to me near the end of the evening.
 
“So, let me get this straight. You run 5 days a week, do yoga every day, meditate every day, lift weights and kettlebells regularly. Wow- you sound busy!”
 
I just smiled in response, because in fact that’s not the complete list of activities either. What was interesting for me was that some people saw my regular schedule as extreme, when if anything, it is not.
 
But it is consistent. 
 
There was a moment early on when I had just moved and I was struggling to adjust to being on my own again so after many years. I realized that out of all the things I was interested in doing, I needed to prioritize those which I wanted to achieve results with, and then focus on those activities alone. 
 
My life, as with many of us today, was just too damn busy. I was doing too much, easily distracted  by our constantly updating social media lifestyle, stressed at work and the sum of all this plus the life change meant that I felt down a lot of the time. I needed to find my motivation again.
 
I realized quite quickly that some serious decisions were crucial. How I spent my time each day, and whether these activities were truly enriching my life or simply just aimless distractions and time fillers.
 
We all have justifications, often repeated ad infinitum to friends and family but ultimately sounding hollow to us in our private moments. I wanted to get beyond that and just be.
 
There were many revelations.
 
More important to me than just having a strong body was to have a holistic, body, mind and spirit approach to fitness that embraced all aspects of my daily life, and worked around a 9-5 job. 
 
I am not a professional athlete, nor a one-discipline specialist; but just your average “Joe the plumber” type with a regular job trying to achieve some kind of healthy balance in my life. And if other people found some resonance with that, to share what I know.
 
I read a lot of books, talked with some of my fitness friends from all over the globe, did a lot of meditation and contemplation, and started off from scratch again by adding one regular activity at a time to my schedule. For me, that in itself was a major achievement. Once I felt confident that the activity was a part of my daily routine, I added another, all the while making sure I wasn’t overloading my life, and that all necessary parts of my daily needs were being met.
 
That meant making some major changes to lifestyle.
 
I also started stripping away the unnecessary. My eight year affair with social media came to an end, and while I had reconnected with many old friends because of it, from then on it would be up to more traditional methods of communication to keep in contact. The constant drone in the background was no more, and I found it much easier to focus in on my goals because of it.
 
Television? Gone. I got into reading again in a serious way and if I needed entertainment, there were plenty of movies and you tube to watch.
 
One book that particularly stands out from the last two years was The Four Agreements, a life changing book for anyone of any background in need of a personal refocusing. 
 
I got back to basics with training as well. Tim Ferriss’ Four hour body,  David Kessler’s The end of overeating, books on Ayurveda and all kinds of topics, all inspired and helped me focus in on want I wanted to achieve..
 
I started paying more attention to my food intake and habits around food and drink. Cooking for yourself can be very rewarding if one makes the effort to keep it interesting and spice things up a bit once in a while. Variety, in all things, is key. Laziness means making poor diet choices, and ultimately, you need to be responsible for your own health. A fact so often forgotten in today’s modern lifestyle.
 
I made a big decision to simplify me as well. Learn to listen better and say less, to be what I believed and to let it manifest naturally as my own personal, living truth. 
 
Beginning, middle and end. Follow the process and enjoy the journey. Results come as a natural bi-product, but are not the main focus. Smile more, complain less. Beginners mind.
 
Two years later, I count my blessings. A healthier life, better sense of balance at work, a smaller group of real friends and an ongoing desire to contribute to this world that I live in as a giver, not a taker.
 
Its small steps maybe for some, but for me, important ones that cover many miles.

Double kettlebell clean conditioning tip

Great video from the Orange Kettlebell Club and fellow kb’ers Jason Dolby and John Wild Buckley showing an excellent training aid for learning the double kettlebell clean.

By isolating the arms, it brings your shifting centre of balance and hip movement  much more into focus. Suggest you try this yourself!


Here it comes….

Lifestyle change. Capital letters. I am tired of constantly struggling with food choices, and wading through the slew of false information out there as to what is best for you, good for you, fat free etc. I can say that in many regards I am as confused as my stomach feels after a normal meal.

In other aspects of my life and training, things are definitely improving. I am hitting some of my own personal training goals, bringing in more and more kettlebell practitioners, and keeping a pretty good balance between work and down time. I stopped drinking alcohol 2 months ago, and I can say that I feel differently because of it. But I really wish that I could get more of a peace of mind from what I eat.

Now I want my regular food intake to support me in a cogent way, hence I have been edging slowly over the last few months towards the Paleo lifestyle.

Don’t know what it is? Have a look in my links bar and take your pick :)

Lets just say I am sticking my toes into the water right now and seeing how I feel, reading up differing approaches to emulating a paleo lifestyle in the modern world, and then brainstorming on how I can support that lifestyle change here in urban jungle Tokyo.

To others who might be considering a similar move in the near future, here is a great piece by the recently retired blogger Methuselah of Pay Now, Live Later who pretty much nails many peoples pet fears and misunderstandings about changing what they eat to a Paleo system and how to get there gradually.

Its going to means saying goodbye to grains and sugars for a start. But if it means I am going to look and feel healthier, so be it.

Gotta get back to study.

Peace.

Ten minutes to Eternity

You may have been wondering where I have disappeared to over the last few weeks, but I have been subjecting myself to eight weeks of online training with IKFF key member and all round great guy, Ken Blackburn. After having had quite few months off due to surgery, and resigning myself to building my strength back up from not far off scratch, lets just say that the regimen has been a boot camp for me as I start the long journey back to form, and beyond, towards a level of fitness that will allow me to compete in the Girevoy Sport.

The way I have started to accomplish this goal is by online training.

So what is online training all about? It is a combination of intense weekly schedule exercise routine, video recording and fitness level observation and adjustment which aims at taking your current fitness status to the next level and beyond. In all honesty, for me, that has been a combination of physical re-boot and ongoing foundation preparation for competition within the next year or so.

Sitting now at week seven, with about one week left to go, I can say that it has been a long and arduous journey, confirming my view that the older you get, the more that the balance of all the elements in your life come critically into play. Since I am not a professional athlete and I have to fit my training schedule around a busy daily schedule here in Japan, this makes that balance all the more important.

The big three

I am concentrating on the three standard competition lifts: the kettlebell jerk, the snatch, and the Long Cycle/Kettlebell Clean and Jerk. In all honesty, the biggest improvement has been the snatch, and the exercise is akin to a delicate dance with yourself; to be able to generate enough power to bring the bell overhead repeatedly for up to ten minutes at a time, and be able to walk away without having half the skin of your hand ripped off from over gripping.

What I have learned the hard way
Its not just about strength; its more about overall flexibility, your level of conditioning, and your all round ongoing physical maintenance that makes this form of sport so compelling. For many looking in from the outside, they can say, well what’s the point? The fact that serious practitioners of the sport can continue to compete well into their 50’S, 60’s and even 70’s is proof positive of the overall benefits to health and wellbeing that the Girevoy sport has to offer.

Stretching

I believe I am not alone in saying that many kettlebell practitioners do not stretch enough., especially me For the Russian gireviks and other international athletes of the sport, stretching is integral to their training sessions, before working out, between sets and afterwards in cool down. It is through this constant maintenance and confirmation of basic postural mobility that strength is truly built. Without it, we are walking down a path towards injury and interruption to our overall goals as athletes.

I haven’t been stretching enough. Some of the long cycle work that I started to do with Ken was initially excruciating in the sense that I became all too aware of the lack of flexibility in my spine, and the effects that caused me when working out intensely, with ‘bells extended above my head or just trying to stand in rack position.

I sit at a desk eight hours a day, and if I don’t do some kind of maintenance and stretching it will eventually relegate me to permanent poor postural alignment and poor athletic performance regardless of what activity I choose.

Stretching, band work, yoga, and regular checking in with your body area the keys.
Its all about doing it- regularly.

Blow by blow

The program started off gradually enough, and I managed to get through the first week without any hand damage at all, despite the long sets and higher workload. Ken had promised not to kill me straight out of the gate, and rolled on the workload gradually till by the end of the second week I was operating pretty much at maximum capacity. As the workload increase I started to notice that some muscles were just tiring out much faster than other parts of my body, and that tension and energy leaks were showing up everywhere.

Tension tension tension- I was a bundle of nerves and tightness, panting and sweating trying to deal with a body that hadn’t been challenged in quite  a while. Then the wear an tear started to show as the amount of reps I was doing and length of the sets started to increase. End of week two I ripped a chunk of skin off my right hand.
And we wont even discuss into the GPP work which came at the end of the session twice a week…

Ken had me video my performance of the exercises, and the first few views were humbling to say the least. It made me realize that video and feedback are excellent tools for any student of the kettlebell sport and that added to personal coaching, nothing could make you improve faster.

Grip strength and forearms

Doing serious sets of snatches for up to ten minutes at a time will beat your hands up, period. I found that my forearms were just pumping up so much that the heart rate monitor was cutting into my wrist by the end of the set, even when I had set it fairly loose at the get go. Surprisingly, the hand that has shown the most tendency to get beat up is my right hand, on the stronger side of my body, indicating clearly to me that although stronger than the left side, I was more prone to tension on the right side of my body.

By the beginning of week three there was a feeling of obvious trepidation every time Ken sent me an update for that week’s workout. The interesting thing was- he wasn’t killing me, and my desire to overcome my own physical limitations kept me fueled up enough to make my training preparations a daily occurrence- stretching, getting enough sleep, keeping my food intake balanced enough to support the workload.

I found it harder to train by myself than when my buddy Jan Kaszuba came by to train with me. His sense of humor, encouragement and shared experience of training hard kept me focused. I kept hitting right up against my own physical limitations week after week, but Ken’s encouragement and affirmation of what I was doing right kept me from dwelling too much on what I was doing wrong. Which believe me, felt like a lot.

A Girevik isn’t built in a day.

To be continued…..

Rebuild, remake, renew

I am somewhat on a personal theme at the moment with these three words constantly on my mind as I plan my training for the coming winter period.

Having had a few months off, albeit unwillingly, I am back on track with my fitness regimen, but I also realize that more than anything, its about balancing the different parts of my lifestyle to support each other, which is easier said than done as many of you know.

Realizing too that all these personal fitness goals revolve symbiotically with a 9-5 work lifestyle, which is the financial fuel which fires the sustaining my own fitness goals. You have to pay the bills too…

Diet and rest are key components here- letting the body rebuild itself in peace after a good workout, and not getting in the way of my own development. Also, maintaining good flexibility with the higher workloads is important lest I step towards bad form, leading myself to injury.

Making sure that my daily lifestyle also doesnt get in the way of letting me achieve my goals is an important one- getting to sleep at a regular time, eating enough and with the right frequency, seriously paying attention to stress and the effect that it has on my daily life, and doing all the things that I need to take care of me; exercise, time with my partner, walking the dog, meditation etc

I am excited, and daunted by the prospect of what the next few months can provide if I maintain both my focus and my health. The key for me in all this is in training hard and fast (sensibly), with plenty of rest and good nutrition in between. More so, the ability to really listen to what my body is telling me from day to day and catch any early warning signs that I might be doing too much, or the times when I can push it a little harder.

Recovery is critical- the ability of the body to recharge after a burst of energy, how long that takes, how many days I can sustain that type of activity before I need a rest, all these things again, in balance with each other. Supplements definitely help in a big way.

I am lucky to be able to have an expert like Steve Cotter to talk to, who is willing to give me the time to talk about my own goals and help me develop a solid regimen. When you see the workload that man puts out each week, its easy to get inspired!

All in all, make sure you set some targets for yourself over the coming cool months,no matter how little or large they may be, and prepare your life accordingly to facilitate your success. The rest is up to you!

Cheers,

Markeu

Better sleep to live longer and reduce stress!

More studies being reported in Time magazine this week on the benefits of a good night sleep.

This kind of news may seem rather obvious to some, but hey, come and live in Tokyo or any big city around the globe for that matter and you will see just how easy it is to slip into an unhealthy late-night lifestyle. No offense Conan!

In Japan, six hours of sleep for many is a luxury that they just cant or wont afford themselves.Late night tv has big draw power as well, with many full time workers not getting home until ten in the evening, they need a couple of hours of just staring at the tube to start their relaxation process off.

Sometimes its a struggle to get eight hours- work, worries, noisy environs, late night messages appearing on your mobile- all these things can cut into your down time. Without proper rest you can forget about maintaining your training schedule or your desire to keep at it. And if its bad for us, you can imagine what it must be like for kids.

So do yourself a favor, and make sure that you can truly switch off to recuperate from your modern day lifestyle.And while I am at it, a little meditation or some yoga/Qigong wouldnt hurt you, either.

Put that mobile on flight mode, and rest easily my friends.

Peace,

Markeu

What drives you?

We all need personal goals. Without them, it makes our day to day activities seem without reason or purpose.
For me at the moment, still coming back into serious training after four months off earlier this year, it boils down to one word- rebuild.

The thing about kettlebells is just that- its not just about kettlebells. The more I learn how to be a good proponent of the sport, the more I learn about taking care of the whole. Its about a much more holistic approach to taking care of my body and making sure that it can perform at optimum levels. Let me explain.

Building a stronger body is not going to help me if my postural alignment is all out of whack.
Just training with the bells doesn’t ensure that my body is ready to work. At 45, I need to consider my posture, warm-up, precise performance of technique, breathing, ramping my workload over time, and building my body back up for GS style Long Cycle kb work. That some muscles are at present weak in relation to others, and I am actually looking for all round performance, so that means creating balance.
If it seems like a challenge, it is.
And it doesnt end there. I need the right kinds of food in my body, to be sure that I am getting all the nutrients I need and in appropriate levels. That I am getting enough sleep. That I get a rest day in there when I need it. That variety lays a part of what I do as well.

Challenge? Its an exciting time.

Scary news on that western diet and your gut

Well, nothing they said was really that surprising, considering the profusion of overweight people in our societies around the world today.
Even in Japan, where the myth that somehow the Japanese diet helped keep people slim is starting to show signs of cracking as the Japanese start to fill out like many of their western trade partners.

Hmm…food for thought?

All puns aside, have a read and a good think about your own diet, and what you can do to make it a bit healthier…

Cheers,

Markeu