Fun and Anxiety

Today at Crossfit was a lot of fun.  It was a WoD that mostly played to my strengths and I beat Will’s time by 3 minutes-ish, so I was pretty pleased with myself on that front.  I really like weights, so most of the WoDs involving weights are going to be ones I like, as was the case today.  After last week being difficult, it was nice to know I hadn’t lost my Crossfit mojo.

Mondays are my day off.  I have a pretty flexible schedule as a freelance writer and as a tarot reader (I have like 50 jobs currently).  I realized early on that I needed to set aside one day for myself where I didn’t deal with work.  I still sometimes end up conducting interviews, checking emails, making appointments and other things here and there on a Monday, but fundamentally it is my day off.  Downtime.

Sometimes I deal well with downtime, and sometimes my free floating anxiety attaches to whatever it can and makes for a miserable day.  Today has been when one of those days where my brain is spinning out on me, worried about things that either do not matter or are out of my control.  I’ve meditated, I’ve tried reading, and I’ve tried a few other tricks I know, but to no avail.  The worst thing for me is having to wait to move on things.  There are a lot of things I could do, but most of them have to be done tomorrow.  I need to have something to think about, something to do.  I finally decided to bug Will with it – his own fault, he asked me what I was up to and I was currently up to making myself anxious over trifles.  He suggested we go for a run.

Well, yeah.  Duh.  I think this is part of why I need him around (don’t tell him that, though, it will merely feed his rather large ego).  He thinks of things that are obvious and good solutions, but that I would not come up with myself as I am sitting in the throes of anxious-over-nothing.  Do I know that doing something physical will help me?  Yes.  Is it one of the things I try to do when I am dealing with a misbehaving brain?  No.  The exercise thing is still too new a concept for me to apply it to my daily life readily.

That is going to change.

We didn’t run far.  Basically we did a loop around the half block here, so not very far at all, however the anxiety is gone.  Will kept pace with me, walked when I walked (although I did run over half of it), and generally had me laughing by the time we got back home.   Running around the block has been his go-to exercise for a few weeks now for when he is sleepy, bored, annoyed, or whatever other unpleasant emotion is plaguing him.  I think that I am done talking about maybe joining sometime (I could make that vaguer, right?) and at the point where I am just going to go with him when he goes.  It does not take long to run (or run/walk) around the block.  Also, I will be able to chart my progress as I know our block very well.  If I do this often enough, maybe running won’t be such a huge ordeal.  Today it was kind of fun.  First the half block, then the whole block, and as I get one section down to running nonstop, I can add more.

Depression and anxiety are two things I am very familiar with dealing with as I have had both since high school, maybe longer.  I have a made the conscious effort to do Crossfit three times a week and yoga twice a week because that is a good pre-emptive strike at depression and anxiety.  On days where I do physical activity that is strenuous, I tend to be happy and less prone to anxiety.  Considering today was a Crossfit day, I should not technically even be having the anxiety issues, but there are always exceptions.  I have a whole bag of tricks that I use to nullify their influence in my life, but I just realized that most of those tricks are sedentary in nature.  Exercise is a new trick that works really well and almost instantaneously.  I just need to remember exercise and use it more often.

Goals and Nature

I have to set goals for myself.  I need something to work towards, something to accomplish.  I set both large and small goals, short term and long term goals.  Each week my small, short term goal is to go to Crossfit Simple to work out three times a week and do yoga twice a week.

Part of the whole exercise thing for me is that I need to be constantly accomplishing something.  Even if that just means that I showed up and did the best I was able to do that day.  While I want to lose weight, if I concentrate on weight loss being my goal, it is not going to work out well for me.  Been there, done that.

I was very successful with Weight Watchers several years ago, lost around 40 pounds, but by the end of my time doing Weight Watchers, I seriously had some self-hatred, body hatred issues.  I felt bad about how I looked, about the weight I still had, about the fact that it was so hard to get the weight off.  It became this whole narcissistic endeavor in achieving thinness – and even when I was in high school, I did not have a body that did thinness.  Too much hip and chest to be model thin.  I’ve talked with others who have done Weight Watchers – including several friends I consider to be pretty skinny – and all of them eventually felt the same way about it.  Towards the end you just end up feeling fat, even when you are succeeding.

So, while I want to lose weight, right now I want to lose weight because the more weight I lose, the more likely I will be successful in doing a strict pull-up.  I think if I was pulling up less weight, it might not be this impossible, horrifying task.  Really, that is what a lot of my weight loss is about right now.  I am sure if I was moving less weight around, I would run faster, squat easier, push-ups would be easier, and my performance would be overall much better.  I want to perform better and do much better at the things I am already doing at Crossfit.  I want to consistently beat Will at timed WoD’s (although, he keeps getting better, stronger, faster, too, so that may just be something I am always working on).

To keep on track with getting better, I have to set goals.  Will doesn’t like to plan tomorrow or next month, so me telling him that in a year and two months I want to do the Spartan Sprint in Indiana with the Crossfit Simple team is just too far off of a goal to think about much.  But I need the long-term goal.  Will and I both kind of thought that maybe I would do better if I mentally prepped for 2014, instead of next year, but the people at Crossfit seem to think that in another year I should be able to do it.  Our trainer, Scott, said if I really wanted to do it that we could work towards that goal, but that he’d be giving me homework for over the weekends.  I was cool with that, as I would really prefer to be active for some period of time every day of the week.  I have five days of the week planned out, so homework for the weekend filled things out nicely.

Will balked at homework.  Said he didn’t have time. (he lies)

The homework Scott gave me (since Will didn’t have time) for this weekend was great.  He wanted me to go walking in a creek.  Check out stones – how they fall, which way they tilt, that kind of deal.  This sounded like a lot of fun.  I figured that I would get wet and/or muddy, but that seemed like it would be fun, too.

Will made the time.  I think he is worried that if I go out in nature by myself I will somehow manage to get irrevocably injured.  Or have a really great time without him.  He told me once I could not go hiking in Giant City alone because there were bears (for those of you unaware, Southern Illinois is NOT a home to bears – it was hilariously ridiculous).  He then told me that in winter, I couldn’t go by myself because the animals were hungry and might eat me.  I could not go in spring by myself, because that was mating season and too dangerous with animals in rut.  I could not go by myself in summer because it was too hot and that made animals cranky and likely to attack.  With fall, he said, the problem was right there in the title – too many things fall in the fall and I could be easily injured if out by myself.

I apparently cannot walk a creek alone, either.

Scott said to go slow and be careful, and we did.  Well, I did.  Will is pretty at home anywhere outside, so he could have gone 5 times the distance without me.  We only managed to walk a mile in the creek, although that alone took around an hour and a half.  Although, a good amount of that time was Will instructing me on how and where to walk, what types of rocks are slippery (most of them), what poison ivy was and wasn’t (I already knew this one, I mean, come on I’ve known poison ivy since I was a kid in the woods), how to cook and eat pokeweed (don’t if it is purple, double boil) and other things of that nature.  We also saw a snake that was curled up in a fallen down tree.  It looked like a copperhead, but Will discerned it to be just a water snake.  Several skinks – I love lizards and skinks are super cool.  The highlight of this was seeing a scarlet tanager – had no idea what this bird was when we saw it , just finished looking it up in my bird book –  but it was beautiful.  This bird is brilliant shade of red, with black wings.  It looked almost like cardinal who was confused about its coloring.  Very vibrant in color, and the red head had eyes that looked like the bird had applied black eyeliner for a very dramatic look.  Simply stunning.

I waded in water up to my read end.  After being hot most of the day, the wading in water was really nice.  I almost wished that the creeks were fuller.  It would have been nice to swim today and I am short enough that wading can turn to swimming pretty easily.

The thing about hiking in a creek full of slippery rocks is that it really does tire you out pretty quickly.  Will could have gone on endlessly – the man has the footing of a goat.  It is rare to see him lose his balance.  I am getting better at balance with regular yoga and the various Crossfit exercises, but it still is not my strong spot.  I only fell once and managed to catch myself on my hands instead of my knees, but I slipped around a lot.  Wet rocks are very slippery.  I know, the sun is hot, too.  Captain Obvious over here.

Will and I decided that regardless of future homework assignments from Scott, we are going to hike that creek more.  Further next time.  We did not have a great deal of time today – Will and his dad were working on the front porch so time was an issue.  However, I am going to make time to do it again for many reasons.  First of all, it was super fun and super pretty.  I love nature and I love animals.  The more I am out and about the more I see.  I am even chipping away at my irrational fear of spiders.  There was a wolf spider today that I thought of as merely pretty instead of frightening.  Knowing which ones are poisonous actually helps.  Why be frightened of something that fundamentally cannot hurt you?

The second reason I am going to do it again is because it tired me out.  The more often I hike with Will the better and stronger my footing will be and I will have more stamina with it.  The third reason is that Will is just so happy when he is outside.  He smiles all the time.  He is chatty.  He is just happy to be outside.  It is miraculous how pleased he is when he is in nature.  We were doing a good job of hiking a minimum of once a week before the tornado hit Giant City.  We kind of lost our rhythm then, in part because the weather was surreal, but I think I am going to try to get back into the swing of it again.

My long term fitness goal at this point is the Spartan Sprint.  This means that I will need to just deal with running in order to get proficient at it.  This also means that I am motivated to deal with the running.  My goal for the end of the year is to climb the rope at Crossfit.  I figure that I should be able to tackle that easily by December.  I am also hoping to run the Turkey Trot – a 5K – with my sister in November.  I may only be able to run part of it, but I will consider it successful if I can run at least half of it while walking half.

If I focus on goals that celebrate what my body can do, instead of focusing on goals centered on what my body isn’t, I am happier overall.  Part of why Crossfit has stuck where other things have not is that I am constantly improving, beating old times, lifting heavier weights.  The improvement is proven and constant.  Being at war with my body is what caused me to be out of shape in the first place.  Celebrating and enjoying what my body can do, what I can do, is what has helped me enjoy getting into shape and what keeps me working at it even when I have a hard time.

Meditation Variations

When I was a little kid, I had allergic asthma.  I couldn’t eat dairy without running the risk of not being able to breathe.  I was put on a medication to help my breathing – Theo-Dur – which was a central nervous system stimulant.  In my head I always called it Theodore, you know, like in Alvin and the Chipmunks.  As with most of my childhood memories, I do not know how long I was on this medication, but it feels like it was years.  I do know that I was on this medication when I was supposed to be at an age where I got lots of sleep, including naps.

I did not get lots of sleep while taking a central nervous system stimulant.  One of the side effects is even insomnia.  However, my parents did put me to bed with the hope that I would sleep.

Instead, I sang, read books with a flashlight, worried about the monsters in the closet or under the bed, and generally stayed awake.  At one point, either my father or my mother told me to clear my mind and think of nothing.

Sure.  While I do that, go sit in a corner and do not think about a white elephant.  Be sure to let me know how that works out for you.

I spent hours upon hours lying in bed, hopped up on this drug, thinking about nothing.  I would try to think about nothing.  Then I would think about how if I was thinking about nothing, I was still actually thinking about something, and I would try to blank my mind.  I would then spin out into infinity, thinking about thinking about nothing, while thinking about thinking about nothing, forever and ever.  Eventually, I got to the point where I was able to chase these thoughts of thinking about thinking about nothing to infinity away.  I was able to let them go.  Release them into the void.  I would be able to blank my mind and find that calm.  I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I was able to find a bit of rest.  The nights I successfully let go of the thoughts of thinking about nothing, I did get to sleep easier, although not earlier, than the nights when I sang or read books or tried to discern what the monster in the closet wanted.

What I did not realize at the time was that I was meditating.  As an adult who does not wittingly consume caffeine, I am able to meditate quite easily, as I trained myself to meditate while basically on speed.  From the many books and articles I have read on the subject of meditation, the hardest part in learning to meditate is the clearing of your mind.  Thinking about nothing.  However, the process of learning to think about nothing, even including spinning out into infinity, is training your brain how to reach that place of meditation.  Many people try meditation for a while and give up on it after they do not think about nothing successfully.  “I could never clear my mind completely,” people have told me.  However, as with so many things, they are focused on the destination, when the journey is so much more the point.  It is the exercise, not the goal of the exercise, that really matters.

Beyond that, simply sitting and thinking about nothing, clearing your mind, breathing deeply, may work for some people, but it is not necessarily going to work for you.  Luckily there are many ways in which you can achieve a meditative state.  I am still a big proponent of taking five minutes out of your day, sitting quietly, taking cleansing breaths, and clearing your mind.  As thoughts rise up, acknowledge them and then let them go.  Just five minutes will give you great results after a month.  If you can up it to ten minutes, you are a rock star.  Lately, I have been shooting for a goal of 25-35 minutes.  I have a vitamin D deficiency so I have been going outside, sitting in the sun, and meditating.  I figure if I need to be in sunlight for 30-40 minutes a day, may as well kill two birds with one stone.  It is still a challenge on some days to clear my thoughts, but I always feel better afterwards even when I am not totally successful.

Focus on the path, not the destination.  The journey is the majority of your time anyway.  Might as well enjoy it.

That said, there are other really great ways to meditate.

Full Body Meditation

Lately, I’ve been going to yoga classes.  There is nothing better for living in the moment, feeling the now, and inhabiting your body fully than yoga – at least in my experience.  I am usually so focused on myself, how my body feels, and living in the moment that none of the other stresses in my life intrude upon me.  One of the first exercises our instructor had us perform was to stand on a yoga block.  Yoga blocks are rectangles of a sturdy foam-like material.  The whole point was to balance on the yoga block.  Once we had accomplished this, she had us close our eyes and balance on the yoga block.

This was much more difficult.  Eyes closed, balancing on this block was an exercise in living in the moment.  The meditation was simply one of keeping your balance.  No other thought was in my mind.  This was a great way of clearing my mind and an exercise I still do at home when I am feeling too stressed and want just a brief moment of not having to carry the worry of the day with me.

I have talked with people who do a variety of body meditations similar to yoga.  Finding an exercise that works for you is just a matter of finding the body movements you feel clear your mind best.  There are numerous exercises that can create that mind clearing, trance-like state of being that you seek through meditation.  Dance (whirling dervishes, anyone?), tai chi, running, walking, archery, swimming – the possibilities are as diverse as humans.

I have one friend that finds working a carpet shampooer to be very meditative.  This is a particularly cool one, because you can meditate and clean at the same time.

The point with full body movement is to not be self-conscious, be focused on the body, and to let go of thought as you move.

Sound Meditation

If sitting silently and clearing your mind is not your cup of tea, there are a wide variety of guided meditations out there.  These are usually spoken meditations that take you through the relaxation and meditation process.  I love guided meditations.  Not all of them are created equal, and I have found a few unpleasant or annoying enough that I have turned them off, but for the most part, guided meditations are lovely as they take most of the thinking out of your hands.  You listen, follow the instructions, and voila – you meditate.

For guided meditations, a good, free way to start is to search online for podcasts.  There are a lot of people out there who host guided meditations via podcast, blogtalk radio, and other online venues.  Try out a sampling of these free guided meditations before spending money on CD’s.  Also, keep in mind that just because you like an author’s books does not mean you will like an author’s voice.  While there are some great books out there with companion CD’s to listen to, their voice may not match their writing.  There is one prolific author who makes a click noise at the end of each sentence.  Drives me right out of the meditative state.  Listen to samples, if you can, before you buy something.

Chanting is another way to meditate via sound.  I am not saying sit at home, in lotus position, saying “Om…..” to yourself.  I personally cannot get into lotus position as it makes my knees angry.  However, for those who have done meditations using mantras, they are very helpful.  One of my favorite mantras/chants to meditate to is to Ganesh – “Om, Gam, Ganapatye, Namaha”.  Traditionally, you would repeat this mantra to Ganesh 108 times.  The sounds resonating through your body when you chant do help induce meditative states of various kinds, depending on the chant or mantra you are using.  I should point out that it is best to find someplace away from others to kill any feelings of self-consciousness.  Using a mantra in meditation is helpful, but not if you are wondering what people would think if they saw/heard you.

As with guided meditations, check out free sources online first.  YouTube has a wide variety of chants and mantras to choose from.  Everyone is different and what appeals to me is not going to necessarily appeal to you.  Check around for something that you can sing or say to yourself that resonates and helps get your mind into the meditative state.

In addition, if singing or chanting is not your style, there is classical music, singing bowls, chimes, and many other sounds that may help you in achieving a meditative state.  Experiment with sounds and see what you like best.  There is even a genre of music called Trance music.  It is not my particular style, but that does not mean it won’t be yours.

Visual

I don’t know about you, but if you sit me near a fire, it’s over.  I am gone.  Fire transfixes me.  I may get up and play with the fire to get it rolling more, but for the most part I am totally zoned out if there is a camp fire to look at.  Or a bonfire.  I have even created the same effect with a single candle although it is less intense.

Some people can meditate upon flowers, trees, a picture, or other visual aid.  For me, there are two pieces of artwork that can cause almost effortless meditation – Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night, cliché but true, and John Martin’s Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion.  The latter picture is at the St. Louis Art Museum, and as a child and as an adult that has been the highlight of visiting the museum for me every time.  While I know what that painting is about, I do not care as my own stories for it are better.  Also, the tiny man in the vastness of nature always made me happy.

Some people have had much luck with meditating on various screen savers.

Basically, as with the other venues, find something that you like, that inspires you or quiets your mind.  The possibilities are endless.  It can be a moving visual such as screensaver or fire (although I recommend fire, but that is because it works for me).  It can be a still image such as a painting, or even an object you are drawn to.  Experiment and find something that works for you.

Sometimes we go through phases where we respond better to certain stimuli – visual, auditory, mental, physical.  Trying out each way of meditating might help you find a method that works well for you.

Because everything in life comes back to the zombie apocalypse, here is some food for thought.  People who meditate on a regular basis are able to handle crises much better than your average, non-meditating human.  While those who meditate will have the same shock and surprise and those who do not, they go back to their functional mental state much more quickly.  This is an advantage when it comes to defending yourself against zombies.  If your brain is still screaming “Aaaaah!  Zombies!” when it should be thinking “Those zombies are closer, I should run away now” your chances of survival are lower.

What types of meditation work best for you?  What methods of meditation have you loathed?  Feel free to share in the comments section!