As I settle into week two of the third wave lockdown, recovery comes to mind. There are four seasons - one of birthday (spring), one of frolicking and play (summer), the slowing and eventual decline of vibrancy (fall), and then winter arrives - cold and damp - where nature stops growth and hibernates. This cycle of living allows for a regeneration and growth to be sustained. During the cycle of a day there is also the need for rest.
Yet for some reason, we seem to believe rest can be put off or caught up on later. Well, it can't.
Yup... read that again... we do not "catch up" on rest or nutrition.
I mentioned in a previous post the concept of homeostasis.
If you are an athlete who trains on a regular basis, the homeostasis feedback loop is continually working to assist the body in balancing hormone levels, reducing the carbon dioxide in the blood, getting heart rate back to a resting point, balancing the electrolytes in the blood, and on and on. You can check out this link for more information. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/
Bottom line.... too much exercise can be a bad thing AND rest and time for recovery are helpful in preventing/reducing the effects of overtraining.
This concept is not new. Ayurveda is an approach to prevention and healing practiced predominantly in eastern cultures. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “The Science of Life.” The premise of the practice is this idea of being "in balance" or having the body in a state of homeostasis. If the body in not in balance, the imbalance can lead to disease. This idea is also proposed by western medicine.
In Ayurveda, the idea is that we each have a different state of balance based on our own innate physiological and psychological states. This means treatment is a little more individualized - though not dramatically so. There is a book titled, Body, Mind, Sport, written by John Douillard which describes the exercises you may be best suited for based on these principles of Ayurveda. Douillard only mentions rock climbing under Kapha body types which is the antithesis of what I have a tendency to see in terms of participants, and certainly with regard to competitive climbing. For example, I have a fair amount of pitta - fire and water - this gives me great determination, tenacity, and typically pitta's are more medium in stature and type A personalities. Definitely helpful qualities for getting to the top. On the other hand, it can mean I am not very patient and can easily over train or push beyond healthy approaches which can lead to injury.
Still -- it can be fun to understand what you are made up of and use that information to help guide your decisions. As a coach, I am a strong believer in critically examining all the information out there and using what works. How can you know what you are made up of? There are countless quizzes out there and information describing what the quiz results means. The most cautionary piece of advice I will give you is that you were born with a particular prakriti - or nature - and everything happening today is influencing how you answer the questions, giving you your vikriti. Prakriti is you in balance, vikriti is you out of balance. Here is an article written by the amazing Kathryn Templeton who I trust when it comes to Ayurveda. Here is more information from Carrie Demers - also a western medical doctor.
Using lockdown skillfully
As we surf through the third wave of COVID and the governments and medical teams and volunteers get those vaccines rolled out, this is a spectacular time to go against the cultural norm of being productive by doing more. Instead, consider how you might use this time to improve recovery and prepare the body for back to training performance. All those years of living in a van, travelling and climbing, my partner and I did a more periodized approach to training, taking up to a whole month off every 2-3 months. We used the time to do other things that were not training focused.
I have watched numerous folks go through injury BECAUSE they did not take time off to prevent the injury and so the overuse injury arose. As I very painfully learned when I smacked myself violently across the chin with the end of shovel and got a concussion, resulting in nothing more that slow walks on the beach and quiet time in a quiet space, not to bright or warm -- sometimes the only thing you can do is rest.
And it is worth it. Not paying attention and getting my heart rate up with a quick jog meant painful headaches, sleepless nights and body flushes in the days and weeks that followed that 20 minutes of jogging.
After a very stressful period in my life in 2015, I went to India and spent two weeks in an ashram. I did nothing but one asana practice and hours of meditation and journalling. I ate healthy food and slept. Practiced Yoga Nidra and I never, ever felt better in my life.
Alright - you have some quizzes you can do to entertain yourself. I have given you some articles to read. AND a Yoga Nidra practice. Good luck! I do hope you find peace and rest in the coming days.
PS... During that very difficult year - 2015 - I started having double vision. I literally had to push my eye upward to see straight. After the eye doctor sent me to a specialist who mentioned brain tumour, I went to an Ayurvedic doctor, while pursuing western medical tests. Results came back... I have a fourth cranial nerve palsy... it is congenital. According to western medicine the solution was new glasses with prisms.
The Ayurvedic doctor gave me a prescription that involved changes to diet and to rest every morning with warm ghee in my eyes - soothing the optic muscles. The result - no more double vision. I did not get the glasses. A year later when re-tested, the result surprised all the western medical professionals who could not understand why I no longer needed the new glasses.
Like I suggested... use what works.
Mental training - start with positivity
As Pema Chodron says, "just start by turning up the corners of your lips."
Here is a Mental training podcast on positivity. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/heathers-mental-training-tips-tricks/id1553948003
Enjoy todays podcast and this week... check out the Meditation with the Breath.
Two flowers. One filled with colour, radiance, vibrancy. One wilted, wrinkled, drooping. One seeming to express fullness, life. The other lifeless.
Just looking at these two images we can experience energy. And if we consider our own experience of energy, there are times we feel full of life, energy and also times where we feel lifeless, depleted of energy. What is this energy? How can we capitalize on it?
Energy has been identified and labelled in various ways... scientists define energy in terms of potential energy and kinetic energy. Energy cannot be destroy, but it can be transferred or transformed. When we exercise, move around and burn calories, we are transforming chemical energy to produce kinetic energy to enable the muscles to contract and electrical energy to enervate the nervous system. When we use the kinetic energy it converts to heat or thermal energy. The chemical energy we are transforming is derived from the foods we eat, the air we breathe.
Grade 4 - my first foray into gymnastics. I had been staying after school, learning how to do cartwheels and front flips, balance on the balance beam and I was impressed with my own performance. The competition day arrived and we moved through the various elements. When I got to the floor routine, I stood at the front of the mat, took the required steps and planted my hands to flip. My feet went up and over, I rotated up to standing and then my body kept moving, the momentum propelling my upper body out of balance. Needless to say, I did not get the first place ribbon.
I did learned something that day, not that I understood the science of it. I understood the impact that nervous energy has on our skillful use of kinetic energy. I was so nervous about doing well, the electrical impulses of the nervous system produced too much kinetic energy, too big a muscle contraction and I wasn't prepared to stop that force at the end of the flip.
So how do we manage nervous energy?
In the context of this kinetic energy we use, and electrical energy we require to execute movements, learning how to manage this energy can make or break our performance. We can eat healthy foods, get good recovery and rest to manage our kinetic energy, but the electrical impulses of the brain are nonstop. The rate of stimulation of the electrical impulses affects the 'mental state' and the autonomic nervous system of the body. The autonomic nervous system is made up of the fight or flight (sympathetic) system and the rest and digest (parasympathetic) nervous system. In rest there is a balance in the activation of both systems. Your body is not digesting food, nor is it climbing 5.12. Alert and awake. The mind is at rest, not ruminating about something or concentrating hard on some problem.
The brain consumes a large amount of energy to just rest. Typically the amount of energy for the brain to function does not change, but where in the brain the energy is consumed does based on the processing that is happening. For example, to smell things requires energy to divert to the area of the brain that discerns smells. To see, moves energy to another area of the brain to process what we are seeing.
All this activity is done through neurons (nerve cells) sending electrical impulses (electrical energy). The activity can be detected with electroencephalography (EEG) measuring the speed of the brain wave frequency.
What the heck does all this have to do with energy?
The body systems never turn off until of course you die. But they do need recovery - a time to return to rest, or what is called homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the ability to maintain a steady state around a set point. For example, you have a resting heart rate... when the heart rate goes up, the nervous system responds increasing respiration, you breathe more to attempt to bring in more oxygen to generate kinetic energy. However, when you stop moving, the breath rate and heart rate move back to a resting heart rate level. If you get cold, the body shivers to maintain body temperature.
In the gymnastic competition, I was on high alert - the sympathetic nervous system was ON! It was go time. Beta waves were active, probably on the high end of the frequency. This means my body started secreting adrenaline to fuel the physical activity... giving me too much energy and resulting in too much spring in my flip. You may well have experienced this sitting for an exam - so much nervous energy you can't focus because the body is diverting blood flow to your limbs, so you can run away from this stressful situation.
Have you had that experience where you couldn't sleep because you couldn't turn off your thoughts? That was trying to sleep with high frequency beta waves. To reduce beta waves, one needs to try to slow the brain waves. This is where calming music that meets the brain frequency can have a calming affect. Or smells that stimulate a more relaxed state help.
Conversely, have you had the situation of not feeling energized, awake? We usually reach for some caffeine, however, we could also choose to increase the speed of brain waves by tapping into the sensory experience. Rub the palms together and create heat, place the warm palms over the eyes, stimulating the eyes. Then notice what you see - the colour, the texture.
We can change our brain waves with external stimuli as mentioned above. One of the most common things I hear is, "I love climbing, I cannot think about anything else, like homework or exams. It makes me feel better." When you climb, you move the body - kinetic energy, electrical energy is used to stimulate muscles and problem solve. This still has you in beta waves, AND you are now using the exercise to manage your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. An experienced climber typically is not over-activating the fight or flight response because they have familiarity. A new climber usually has more fight or flight and this will not have the same reduction of beta wave stimulation.
If you are an experienced climber, you will have had the experience of being able to climb with less beta wave activation when you have all your moves memorized or the route is so easy, you are not problem solving, it is simply moving naturally and the brain begins to calm, or put another way, the brain waves slow down. Until you find something new to try to figure out and you turn on rational problem solving.
A cautionary consideration -- the brain is always regulating our experience - processing, planning. To work with the brain, you need to meet the functioning where it is. For example, if I am ruminating about something negative that happened, I try Byron Katie's worksheet and turnarounds. Why? I am meeting my ruminating thoughts where they are (beta waves) BEFORE I start trying to move them into a more creative and open state of processing (alpha waves). If I can't sleep, I try to focus on moving my breath in a specific count, or listen to calming music. I will look out at the moonlit sky and take in the vastness of space - reframing my focus from what I am ruminating on to a different problem solving, or contemplation.
I enjoy kriya meditations because moving from beta brain wave function to theta waves is hard. Kriya meditations usually coax me along with visualizations and calm the mind while asking it to continue to do some processing. Eventually the body is calm, the mind is calm and the mind can let go of the need to respond to all the stimuli - the sounds nearby, or sensing other people. Then it can drop into deep meditation.
Conversely, if I am groggy and sleepy, (theta waves) I bring awareness to the five senses... what am I seeing, what am I tasting, hearing, feeling (alpha to beta waves). By stimulating the sensory processing in a different area of the brain, I move toward more complex task slowly.
Give these things aforementioned activities a try and reflect on the experience. Next week we will dive into how these brain waves are related to the flow state - or the athletic zone.
Power of Inspiration
For the podcast episode, click here.
When we are training, attempting to challenge ourselves, it is important to distinguish what motivates our goals. If we are driven by energy from the idea of winning, or proving, the shoulds or should nots, then we may be successful for a time, however, the energy motivating our actions can, and usually will eventually, run out. However, if we are inspired by love and joy, our energy can be endless.
Parenting is a wonderful example of providing evidence for this idea. The endless sleepless nights disrupted by the need to feed and settle a child would not be possible for the countless months it takes without that key ingredient, love.
Let's also consider more carefully that word inspire. To be inspired means to be "Inspire comes from the Latin word that means to inflame or to blow in to. When you inspire something, it is as if you are blowing air over a low flame to make it grow." - Vocabulary.com
To be inspired is to be energized. To feel more alive.
When we are pursuing a goal we feel we "must" or "should", we often feel less inspired, or more challenged in the pursuit than we would feel if we were in love with the idea of the challenge.
All of this then is to say, it is essential to identify what you love and move in that direction when setting goals. Viktor Frankl noted this in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, when he describes the long cold march in the cold with his feet poorly shod and in his discomfort and suffering, he remembered his his wife, more importantly, he remembered the depth of his love for his wife. Not even knowing if she was still alive, this memory inspired him to survive so he may see her again.
In the climbing world, the magazines and press revolves around competitors or hard ascents; firsts. A few years ago it was Alex Honnold's first solo climb of El Cap. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson's first ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite making National mainstream news. More recent trending posts about who won a spot at the Olympic climbing competition and Daniel Woods doing the first US V17,
When I was living out of a vehicle and climbing, more than a few moons ago, I would attend competitions and spend my climbing sessions trying for the next hard redpoint or onsight. I definitely enjoyed days with nothing to do but rock climb, however, I do remember the day I figured out what I really loved.
I was spending my time writing a training book, and took a break to wander around the cliffs of Rifle to see what fellow climbers were up to. My partner and his friends were projecting a 5.14, and struggling to figure out the crux moves. I watched and considered the problem. Eventually I asked for a belay, despite the fact that the hardest thing I had ever one was in the 5.13- level. I hauled my way up to the section where they were struggling, gripped the handholds, reversed the moves and promptly demonstrated a potential sequence. Turns out my idea worked and later the climbers - much stronger than me - could make it through that section. They joked about how I should project the route. In truth, I had no interest in climbing the route, but I was very happy to have been able to unlock a potential sequence and helping others be successful.
Let me know how you made out. And reach out if you want some help deciphering your path to love and fulfillment.
I have often wondered what has drawn me into the web of climbing and entangled me into a life of being on the rock four days a week. I remember getting started. The first day I stumbled and crawled my way up on a 5.6 crack climb on the domes (a generous description) overlooking Pace’s Lake. The sweat that poured over me in the summer heat and the refreshing chill afterwards as the breeze swept over the top of the 250-foot granite bulge. I followed the lead of many, then tried my hand at placing the gear and setting the anchors.
But I still can not distinguish that first moment when I redpoint climbing. At some point, I became more enthralled with being able to climb the route without falling than with just getting to the top. It doesn’t sound very exciting and there are numerous things you can send within a relatively few tries. So what is the big deal?
The deal is the experience of trying repeatedly. The deal is the very real problem solving and then creating the perfect conditions to be successful because it takes more than what you have when you start trying that particular route. The deal is moving into potential and possibility.
More than a few years ago, I went to Hueco Tanks, near El Paso, Texas. I was a newlywed, but my husband had been planning a trip to Europe before we had planned our wedding. He was overseas and I was trying this style of climbing called bouldering with some friends. Despite not being completely alone, I was feeling lonely, missing my partner and his support and encouragement.
Many would wonder at this concept of loneliness for I had with me my own two dogs, a gentle golden retriever who would get inside you if possible and a sprightly Border collie mix. In addition, I was minding the pooch of our friend travelling with my husband around France. Harvest, this little mongrel from Kentucky added a new level of entertainment to our entourage. She was very creative in finding ways to get into trouble and to generally be a pain in my a$$.
I can not lay the blame solely at the feet of our friend’s mutt. My own two beasts were very disturbed at the missing pack leader. The golden was on edge around anyone coming into a twenty-foot radius of my being or our home, an ’84 Toyota van. Sebring, the spry jumper who loves to run was very disturbed with our decision to stay in this God-forsaken place that makes pet owners keep their beasts on leashes.
So each day I would get up at my early hour, eat my breakfast, appreciate my excellent Peet’s coffee and head off to this ten-foot short boulder problem I liked trying. I knew I could do all the moves up to the crux, (or at least my crux), but the top seemed the problem and without a spotter seemed difficult to figure out. Nevertheless, I would commit to giving this thing at least twenty tries and then I could go off and find something easier. Twenty tries may not sound like much, but if you had to move off that razor-sharp edge that was tearing my tips, you may think differently.
It didn’t seem like I was really getting in a lot of climbing. A few warm-ups, twenty tries on a short boulder problem and then usually just a series of failed attempts on a couple of V0’s. I would cycle from the focus and interest on the problem to missing my partner and a sense of loneliness. He had always been there for me. I guess part of me was with him in France.
So here I am thirty tries and three climbing days later. This problem gave me something to focus on. I wanted this boulder problem. I had two, maybe three climbing days left before I was to leave the Park and return to Colorado. I had done a few V4’s onsight, but had not redpointed any hard problems. I have been climbing on the same problem for three days and I have invested time and skin into this one hope. And I want to accomplish something in my own climbing. I felt like I had been climbing the same grade forever. Here was the chance.
Day four, I approach the problem, I’ve had a day off. I feel fresh. I follow my regular warm-up ritual. I have had my Peet’s coffee, I’m wearing my lucky climbing shorts and sports bra, and I am ready to send this thing. Besides, I’m getting really tired of that sharp sidepull edge. I carefully weigh the pros and cons of wearing my Muiras over my Ghibilis. I decided that I will stick with the shoes I know, the Ghibilis. I place my lucky chalk bag on the ground, out of the landing zone. The dogs are parked in the shade and there are no toys to fight over. The crash pad has been carefully placed to protect me from a fall at the upper crux.
It is not too warm yet; the sun is rising still and has not reached its peak of radiating heat into the small cubby of boulders I am climbing in. The problem is still in the shade and I have a few hours before the rock greases in the full sunlight.
I lace up my shoes, layer the chalk on my fingers. As I approach the problem, I rehearse the moves in my head. I get into the starting position, with my left foot out in front of me and my right underneath me in an almost sit down start. I breathe deeply a few times and the gun goes off. I move quickly, reaching for the sharp edge, adjusting my feet, moving the left hand up. I set up for the big move out left to the slopey gaston. I shift the hips, through over with the hands… I’m on the crash pad. I hit it too low, again.
No matter, I can try again. That was just my warm-up. I will rest a few minutes and then give it another shot. I repeat the above performance. This lower section is beginning to feel so easy. Why am I getting stopped on that one move? I’ll rest a little longer. It is no use! Aghh! I thought for sure today I would do this thing!
I know, I’ll have a little something to eat, wander around a bit. Play with the hounds. Then after fifteen minutes, I’ll give it a try. The sun is moving around rather rapidly now. The heat feeling good on my skin. My tips are just beginning to feel a little raw. Do not think about that. Focus on the sequence. Plan how you will conquer this piece of rock. I laced up the shoes again, chalked the hands, looked at the sequence. Closed my eyes and imagined myself on the problem in my mind. I send. I know I can do this thing.
But not this attempt or the next fourteen tries that day. I switched shoes, I talked to some other people who came to test their talent on the same problem. I watched a fox as it watched me. The sun was setting now and I had spent the entire day at this one spot, trying this one problem and I had been defeated for another day.
I was down to three climbing days at the most if I climbed every day until I left. I was planning to leave around five in the morning so I could do the drive in one day and not have to camp anywhere along the way by myself. Should I climb tomorrow or rest? I decided to see how my skin was in the morning.
Another day dawns in the Park. I am up with the first inkling of light. I sneak out into the desert area with my three companions and let them off the leash. Well, actually just two of them got to be off-leash. They are gone, running madly through the cactus. Sebring bounds off to hit her stride. Autumn follows. Another morning with Peet’s coffee and my lucky shorts and sports bra. We make the required stop at the registration and pay station and we are off to my nemesis. The clouds are intermittent today and the temps seem a little cooler, but I think it must have been the breeze. I give myself time to warm up. I don’t feel so bad. Determination to get back to the problem begins to bubble to the surface.
I move into the sheltered spot beside the boulder and once again begin the ritual of getting ready. I gnaw on my Clif Bar as I rehearse the sequence. I carefully wipe my soles of my Ghibilis. I lace up. Chalk up. I begin. I miss the sharp edge. Ow!! The sting of my tips. Okay. I just need to warm up a little more. This excuse works a second time. By the fourth failed attempt at getting to the sharp sidepull, I decide I will just work on the crux move. A few feeble tries later, I come to the conclusion that today should have been a rest day. We pack up the homemade crash pad, the dogs pick up their toys and we return to the van. It will be a rest day. And, if I rest tomorrow too, it will be like two days off.
Later that evening, under the starry sky and light breeze, I think about Nick again. I wonder what he would be doing at that time, probably asleep. I think more and more about trying to go to France earlier than planned. What had we been thinking to plan such a long separation? I felt miserable. I eventually meet up with my friends at the campsite and discuss my day. I am quickly reminded of my own words. A climbing day is a climbing day and a rest day is a rest day. Today was a climbing day. I think about these pearls of wisdom that I was assuming did not apply to me. It had been a long time since I had taken two days off.
I did decide to take two days off. That allowed my skin to heal and my muscles to relax. But it left me with one last day in the park. If I did not send that day, I would just have to leave. The thoughts of self doom crashed around me throughout the night. I awoke feeling sore and tired. Why did I believe I could do such a difficult problem? I had never done moves this hard before, why did I think I could do them now, without Nick’s support and encouragement? Would it really matter to him if I did this thing or not? How much did it matter to me?
This is not exactly the best approach to take to trying to redpoint your project, but there I was feeling anxious. Sorry for myself. I really was ambivalent about what I wanted. I decided I would climb that day and I would try my problem. But more importantly, I was going to leave Hueco the next day and I was going to try to go to France earlier than planned.
I walked onto the top of the boulder. I looked at the holds I had to go to from there. I think I can do it. I tried again. I was on the same holds, same body position. Onto the crash pads, I fell. That boulder behind me seemed suddenly so much closer. I felt that if I blew the next move, I may fall against it. I was alone.
I repeated this progress for two more tries. On the second try I actually moved my feet back onto the wall and slapped my right hand up to the sloper above my left hand. I heard people approaching. I could recognize only one person in the bunch. But all were friendly. We talked about the temperatures, mutual friends. I asked for a spot.
I wanted to do this thing, but now I was feeling a little embarrassed. I was a nobody, pitting myself against this boulder problem that was way too hard. They probably think I’m chasing grades. I told them of my limited chance for success. Of my reasons for selecting this boulder and this line. I got into position. There was another couple of Cordless pads now. Not just my nylon rope bag tarps filled with foam and held together with snaps, (the heavy-duty kind). I get into position, my heart is racing. I decide to remember that it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to France.
I move from the start. I get out to the sharp edge that feels like it is ripping my tips. I shift the feet. Left hand to the pocket. Right foot up to the hole. I shift my hips, reach with the hand. I can feel the fatigue. I grasp the slopey gaston, and readjust. Catch the swing as my feet release from the rock. I get my left foot on and slap the right hand up. I know I would be a loser to jump off now. I slap with the left hand. I can’t see my feet, but I paste them up on the smooth surface. My edge catches on something. It's enough. I move my right hand further over the top. I throw my right leg over the top and roll onto the top of the boulder on my belly. I am gasping for air and shaking widely. I felt uncertain about the descent. I might topple at any moment. The spectators mildly congratulate me as I babble in my adrenaline high and pack up my crash pad. My work in Hueco is done. I’m going to France.
The beauty of climbing is the story it creates for us. Some routes create a drama, some a comedy and others a frightful horror. In these stories, we are the star and we go through an experience that profoundly changes how we see ourselves and our potential.