Statistically speaking, I’m half way through my life and I keep reading these articles about/by fellow Gen Xers, people hitting middle age and their thoughts about the process. A lot of them have seemed somewhat grim to me, reflecting a certain resignation and a sense of “letting go of possibility” which, when I read it, felt not so much that they were “giving up” as “giving in” to ideas that are limiting. Who hasn’t heard the saying that it’s “all down hill from here!”
I’m one middle aged woman here to rock that perspective. Because, what if I’m only a quarter of the way through my life? What if this entire idea that it’s all down hill from 45 is a product of a culture that is long dead since industrialization, computers and the internet came into our world? **
So here’s Lesson 1: It’s all a matter of perspective: shift your perspective and you’ll change your experience. If you’re a mountain climber, the peak of the experience probably is at the top of the hill where you’re finally able to take in the view you worked so hard to get to see, and in that sense, if you’re going down hill after, the fun part is over. On the other hand, if you’re a bike rider and you just spent an hour working your way up a steep, long hill and you finally get to the top, the best part is yet to come where you get to coast through, enjoy the view, feel the wind whipping through your hair and a sense of freedom as you glide easily down the beautiful ride. Having done the Aids Lifecycle Ride and experienced that very thing, I say, Bring on the down hill, baby!
In summer and fall of 2012, at 43 years young, I was waking up in pain just about every day and I thought to myself, “Geez, this is middle age?” Not only was I worried about the imminent statistical downslope of my life, I was worried about the decades to come. Having worked with older clients, I found out with some quick research that the older you are, the faster your muscles begin to atrophy if you are not engaging in some form of strength training exercise on a regular basis which makes poi a great way to have high repetition low weight activity for older folks.
Inspired by a(n older) client who was practicing daily, I started my own One Song Daily Challenge: a commitment to practice daily to a single song. The beauty of this is in the simplicity. Sometimes 30 minutes seems like a lot. In fact, sometimes 5 minutes seems like a lot. This practice allows the person to choose the song length and it can vary day to day as it serves the artist. For me, this was really helpful in building the habit of daily practice outside of class time where I was teaching. Which leads to Lesson 2: Getting in the habit of doing something, even just a little bit, every day develops the daily discipline muscle, an invaluable skill for all beings.
As I began noticing a correlation between my movement and the type/amount of pain I was feeling, I decided to start a more structured daily practice because I got Lesson 3: movement yields less pain than being sedentary. Coincidentally a peer was starting a 30 day Flow challenge group on Facebook. I decided to give it a go and try the challenge of 30 minutes of practice every day for 30 days, during which time I found so much benefit from it I committed to a daily practice for 3 years. I extended the commitment for so long because I got this almost immediately: Lesson 4: Taking time to connect with my body daily improves my physical capabilities. It is a gift of self love I’m grateful to have given myself.
- to be more embodied and connected with my movement
- to increase my personal practice time
- to improve my capabilities as a result of my practice
- to sweat during each session, although I changed that so I don’t need to sweat on rehabilitative days.
For me, making the commitment to a daily practice has changed everything.
At first it was really hard. Really hard. For about 5 or 6 months. I was tired and sore. I felt like I needed more sleep. Things that were easier, at first, sometimes seemed more of a drain. I often felt like I was dragging. I needed more sleep to recover and I thought quite frequently about skipping a day. That’s when I really got Lesson 5: Rehabilitation is a necessary part of life. Soreness is a form of pain, and working out at a pace I’d never taken on for an extended period of time with no rest days required some form of recovery time. Rehabilitation to get the kinks worked out of my body became a part of my self care and embodiment rituals and I added that, as needed, into my practice. Learning to listen to my body and discern when it needed me to demand more of it and when it needed rehabilitation was an unexpected gift.
Somewhere in the 5-6 month mark I started noticing a real shift in my body. I was stronger. I had more energy. And my posture was different. I also had stronger wrists and the daily practice had changed the nature of the healing of the tendonitis in my wrists and forearms.
Which led to Lesson 6: You can teach an old dog new tricks. Through my daily practice listening to what form of activity my body needed, I gained strength and endurance I hadn’t had in my arms since before I was diagnosed with tedonitis of my arms in 1998. Through my practice (and I credit my daily downward dog practice as a huge factor in this process) I was able to increase the weight of my poi for the first time in a dozen years. Several months later and about 12 months into the challenge I began exploring something completely new to me: working with poi that I grip, a task that was formerly too difficult to do because of lack of grip strength. Later, that would lead to using knob poi for the first time with any level of seriousness. Pom grips on my pod poi and tosses were suddenly made possible. And for the first time ever in the most recent Expo, I performed with fire with a grip type handle.
About 14 months in I decided to add a more intensive strength challenge to my training by adding my first plank challenge. The goal was to do a 5 minute plank by the end of 30 days. Part way through the challenge, I encountered this other plank challenge where you move through different kinds of planks (forearm, military, side plank, one legged plank), so I started doing a hybrid of the two, with the goal of being able to do any kind of plank for 5 minutes.
In a sense, I fell terribly short at the end, having barely broken a 3:30 plank. On the other hand, the point of a challenge is to improve enough to achieve the goal. 10 years prior, I couldn’t do a 10 second plank, so I was winning and improving even if I didn’t hit 5 minutes. Lesson 7: Engaging in activities that support my long term practice goals and keep me in the practice are just as important as achieving an individual milestones.
I decided to up my practice time to an hour a day at the beginning of 2014 when I added the first plank challenge. I completed that challenge and did a 2nd plank challenge where I topped out at a 4:12 plank! Closer… and… still, not there. Concurrently, I added an additional squat challenge to the mix which I actually found to be almost too easy, completing double the goal of 250 (so 500 total) on the 30th day. This opened up my practice because I realized Lesson 8: You are far more capable than you think you are. I realize again and again when I do things that were previously unimaginable that time, patience, dedication and practice brings me places beyond my current imagination.
Because, Lesson 9: Practice is a long term investment and nothing like a fast food meal. It’s easy to think in terms of days or weeks. From my vantage point of a 10 year practice with fans and staff, 11 years with hoop, 14 years with poi and a 16 year yoga and dance practice, I realize I am places now I literally thought were impossible to be when I began. It’s so helpful to remember that long term perspective because it can really help keep you committed. This practice is about being able to have less pain and more capabilities as I continue through my life which means its all about the through time experience.
Last week I gave myself permission to do only 30 minutes a day as a little respite and this week I completed 18 months, so half of my 3 year commitment. I’m smiling as I’m typing because again, I’m doing something I never thought I could do in an younger version of me. I would have laughed at you 20 years ago if you told me I would be sweating nearly every day and working out every day. Not just because I was 315 pounds of couch potato, but because I didn’t like moving around.
Here I am now doing my third plank challenge and since the squat challenge so was easy, I decided to amp things up this month and added this crazy glute challenge (and really, check this guys site out — he’s got some great stuff on glutes on there) that I did specifically because of this part of his description:
It is difficult to write a blanket-program to cover all populations. This challenge would be too easy for certain lifters and too hard for other lifters. For example, obese individuals can’t automatically bust out Bulgarian split squats and one-leg foot-elevated bridges. However, I feel that this program would work well for the majority of individuals who are of normal weight and who stay generally active (hiking, jogging, yoga, etc.).
I was curious to see, since I’m obese yet generally active, how difficult for me the challenge would be. It is no joke, and, I can feel a difference. Those one legged moves are really tough!
I share all this with you because I read this article the other day, 10+ Reasons I Love My Ugly Body, and looking at this woman’s transformation, it’s clear to me, having already lost 120 pounds from my heaviest with at least 50 more to go to be within the top end of “normal” for my height, I may also always have a similar amount of flab. Focusing on these challenges has helped me achieve body improvement goals that serve my sense of accomplishment and capabilities rather than an emphasis on aesthetics. Given my age, focusing on physical beauty clearly is a losing battle anyway as wrinkles, age spots, receding gums and grey hair start showing on the human body and material beauty fades.
Which leads to Lesson 10: Practice makes me more beautiful. As I learn discipline, as I challenge myself, as I continue to set goals in front of me I choose to strive for only for the joy of the journey and improvement they deliver, I experience the benefits of practice. Calming, centering, connecting mind and body, enhances skills, personal time, support for my health and fitness, improved physical capabilities and better temperament and as a result and I am more beautiful in how I move through my life and the world around me.
Here’s hoping this article motivates you to consider your own daily practice.
** I must take a moment here to encourage you to take action on the whole Net Neutrality stuff going on. In a nutshell, there is a movement afoot by those with money to create a “fast lane” for data transfer over the common carrier internet highways. What this means is not all data is treated equally which means if you don’t have access to the fast lane, you’re data won’t be treated with priority. Take action here Contact the White House.
Written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek professional guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little at symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).