Freedom vs freedom

Do you value being free?
I certainly do. Actually, it’s one of my highest values.
Do you know that feeling when you might know something intellectually for years and then bam! And you understand it viscerally, because life taught you.

This is one of those types of knowledge.

What is freedom? Is it doing whatever you want in the moment, stopping whenever you wish, going wherever you like, eating whatever you fancy, acting in any way you desire? With nobody telling you want to do or not to do?
Have you ever wished to live a cat’s life? Sleep all day, eat when you want, roam around at your leisure, get petted and play with toys.
Have you wanted to be free like a child? Play with toys and hang out with friends all day long, laugh and cry whenever you want, engage in any extracurricular activity that strikes your fancy?
I used to think that, to wish it, and indeed to aim for such freedom in my everyday life. Until I got it.
And then I began to realise something – that living in the ways described above certainly provides a form of freedom, but it does so at the expense of another form of freedom. And suddenly I had to decide which freedom I want more.
You see, the more we live the life of a childish or animal freedom, the more our bigger freedom options become diminished. Because what pets don’t have, and what children don’t ‘yet’ have is the freedom borne of discipline. Indeed, all their freedoms are granted to them by their benefactors, the owners and the parents. Their lifestyle completely depends on their benefactors. And their benefactors have almost complete control over their bigger choices.
For example, the pet can’t decide to hook up with another pet, have babies and raise them in his owner’s house. One of most pets’ prices of freedom is being castrated and giving up on procreation completely.
A child can’t decide to live in a different neighborhood, go to a better school, eat better food, go travelling or move to another country, or even to have their own room, if their parents can’t afford it, don’t want it or won’t allow it. The child’s freedom is completely limited by the benevolence, skills, abilities and freedom of the parent.
So, you might think, I am an adult! I’m not a child or a pet. I can have all the freedom they have and then some!
I certainly used to think that too.
Afraid not though. There’s still the trade-off.
As an adult, if you decide to skip brushing your teeth (because let’s be honest, who really enjoys brushing their teeth twice a day?), think not only have limited chewing options pretty soon, but limited socialising too.
If, as an adult, you decide to spend most of your money on clothes, trinkets and entertainment, then you won’t have the freedom to travel, buy a house, take care of your parents on their old age or send your child to a good school.
If, as a free adult, you decide to eat ice-cream and burgers every day, you eventually lose the freedoms that good health affords you and must become increasingly limited by illness, pain and obesity.
If you want to be free to expend as little energy as possible – to drive everywhere instead of walking, sit all day at work, then watch Netflix for hours while eating – that freedom is fine too. It does come at the cost of another freedom. If and when you do want to use your body in any way (travel, socialising, sex) you have very diminished capacity for it and a risk of injury which adds pain to the equation and reduces your freedom even more. Not to mention, the reduced freedom of partner selection, because let’s face it, you won’t be looking all that appealing to as many people either.
If, as a free adult, you want to quit working and play video games all day, or work only at half capacity, that’s a freedom too! And you pay for it with less money, aka less freedom to choose different options in life.

And finally, some people want to be an adult but to retain the childish freedoms. This means they might want to not do much productive work but still get paid a decent income, have food, shelter, entertainment, education for their children etc. That’s called communism. I escaped that. The trade-off here, unfortunately, is the same as what the child and the pet have. If somebody – an owner, a parent or a government – is providing for you, that entity will want to control your freedom, either openly or covertly. And the more you depend on it for survival, the more it will be incentivized to control you. This applies to all ‘free’ services, like YouTube and Facebook too. It always amuses me when people become indignant when they realise that Facebook is ‘manipulating’ them, addicting them, putting up ads, and in other ways tries to subtly influence their behaviour. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

So, what I realised was, by having those small pet and childish freedoms, while fun and comfortable, also makes our lives gradually smaller and smaller, until we can’t do much of anything. And for some people, that freedom is all they need in life. For some, it isn’t.
For those of us who want the big type of freedom – to go wherever we want, to do whatever we want, to travel, to take up fun activities, to be healthy and full of energy – we must trade for that freedom with discipline. And discipline is all about strategically saying ‘no’ to some of those small petty liberties sometimes, and instead saying ‘yes’ to the bigger liberty.
Edmund Burke said ‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away for expedience and by parts’. And that applies to our everyday freedom too. I look in the mirror and I ask myself, am I going to nibble at my big liberty today or am I going to cultivate it?

How to Love Yourself Skillfully

NOTE: this is a loooong post, and a little meandering, so proceed at your own peril.

‘What is love?

Baby don’t hurt me

Don’t hurt me

No more’

<La Bouche>

If you grew up in the 1990s, you might remember this chewing gum with a cartoon inside, called Love Is.21435322_168617567028311_6116259649726447616_n.jpg

I used to collect those cartoons, even though at the time my English was too rudimentary to understand what the words actually meant, I still enjoyed trying to divine the meaning of the words through the pictures.

Now, those cartoons are one person’s definitions of love, they sparked a question in me: what IS love?

Because love was a very confusing thing to me.

My parents loved me, and they beat me up often. They loved each other, yet they called each other nasty names, cheated on each other and disrespected each other.

My mom loved us so she compared us to other kids and to each other constantly, shaming us into trying harder.

I was told that boys would pick on you and yank on your hair if they like you.

I was told that if a man beats you up or rages in jealousy, it means he loves you.

I was told that if I love somebody I will do what they ask me to do, that I will be anything they want me to be, do anything to make them happy and never make them sad.

I was told by my favourite rock ballads that ‘love hurts’, ‘love bites’, that when a man loves a woman he ‘can’t keep his mind on nothing else’ and ‘if she’s bad, he can’t see it’.

I saw parents show their love by giving their children everything they ask for: candy, toys, money; sparing them from any effort and any discomfort. I saw parents turn their children into obese, lazy, obnoxious, spineless little monsters in the name of love.

Parents say they do it because of love when they help children cheat on their homework or when they do battle against the teacher who rightly disciplined their child. It’s all done in the name of love when they step in and do the task ‘for’ the child rather than let the child fight his own battles and learn his own lessons…

I am sure that we all have had mixed messages about love, and a lot of them when we were young and sponge-like. When we were absorbing more than analysing. A cornucopia of beliefs about love, from which we try to piece our own.

If we do not regularly sift through those unconscious beliefs, reality checking them one by one, then we’ll keep on living them out. As my favourite coach Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School likes to say ‘an unmanaged mind is like a child with a knife. It is a danger to itself and others’.

Because if we follow the above beliefs, then the acts of drug addiction, shopaholism, masochism, overeating, binge drinking and anything else – can all be acts of self-love.

***

Many years ago, when I left home at 15 years old, I decided that love means different things to different people. So instead of going by the professed feelings of love, I decided to go by the people’s actions. And if to them love meant violence or abuse, I will acknowledge the love, but I will not take any of their violence.

What I didn’t realise was that even though I left home, my beliefs, emotions and habitual actions came with me, and my unexamined mind kept faithfully applying its ‘factory settings’. It wasn’t a lack of self-love that had me overeating junk food until I had to throw up. It wasn’t lack of self love that had me overexercising until my adrenal glands carked it, staying up too late watching movies resulting in sleep deprivation, impulsive spending that sunk me into debt, biting my nails until my fingers bled, indulging in distractions, procrastinating from what needs to be done, thereby wasting my time and stealing my own life, avoiding the necessary discomfort thereby stealing my own dreams.

It was not the lack of love, it was the lack of skill.

The Adult Chair

One of my favourite psychologists, Michelle Chalfant, talks about ‘the adult chair’. It’s a great concept that describes the three mental positions that we operate out of, each one imbued with certain beliefs. There are the child chair, the adolescent chair and the adult chair. The idea is to operate out of the adult chair as much as possible while acknowledging the child and adolescent. Acknowledging and acting on are two different things.

The above realisations meant that I had to learn how to love skillfully, like an adult.

Is it love when you compare yourself, then beat yourself up for not being good enough, then escape from yourself into food, drink and empty entertainment? Perhaps, to your inner child, it is the only ‘love’ she has ever known.

Is it love when you let yourself avoid discomfort or fear and doubt that comes with chasing your goals, the discomfort of the hard slog that comes with the commitment to your dreams. Is it love when you let yourself procrastinate, distract, avoid and waste your life? To your inner adolescent, it might be the only ‘love’ she knows.

When belief becomes entrenched, it becomes an emotion. Because it’s faster acting and requires less thought, yet has more drive.

So, those old beliefs originating in the child and adolescent minds, are now living as emotions. They are desires, urges, but not (yet) actions. This is a very important thing to remember. An emotion, an impulse, a desire or an intention are not actions. And as Victor Frankel said in my favourite book “Man’s search for Meaning”, ‘between a stimulus and a response there is a space, and in that space, there is a choice’.

The stimulus: that urge to give yourself the love that you knew as a kid or adolescent, the instant-gratification and high-cost sort of love, the secretly violent, borne of expedience sort of love.

The space: pausing and sitting in the adult chair. Acknowledging the urge, the desire or the emotion. The adult does not judge, but acknowledges. Your inner child is trying to help in the ONLY way she knows how. Thank her. She’s looking out for you. Feel the feeling that is there.

The choice: Acting from the Child or Adolescent Chair means following the comfortable groove made by the thousands of thoughts and actions first laid down in your childhood. Acting from the Adult Chair means creating a new groove, building a new life, walking the new path, and loving yourself from your highest place of wisdom.

In evolutionary terms, our primal brain and our inner child, even though less wise, are much older (have been around for longer) than our prefrontal cortex and inner adult. The prefrontal cortex is a relatively recent development in evolution and the inner adult is a relatively recent development in your life.

There is a style of therapy in Japan, called Morita Therapy. It postulates that feeling emotions is a law of nature and experiencing emotions, positive or negative, is a facet of being a human being. It also states that our urges, impulses and emotions are not meant to stand in the way of purposeful action that we have committed to. Morita therapy is about taking action from your inner adult even as you allow your inner child to have its tantrum. A healthy person will allow themselves to experience all the emotions (positive, negative and in-between) as they do what they set out to do. An unhealthy person will let their emotions at the moment dictate their actions.

As my very wise friend once told me ‘I take myself to the networking event even though I would rather sit at home. I have a meltdown in the car on the way, but it doesn’t stop me going there’.

I used to wonder, what about letting loose sometimes and enjoying myself like a kid?

I think there is nothing wrong with it, but there is a lazy way to do it and a skilful way to do it.

Bear’s Favour

There is a saying we have in Russia: Bear’s Favour.

A bear saw a mosquito sitting on it’s human’s nose. Instead of telling the human about the mosquito, the bear decided to swat it, to save the human the effort. Except when it swatted the mosquito, it also killed the human, being a bear and all.

The Bear’s Favour is an act done for someone with a desire to save them the effort but resulting in actual immediate or long term harm to the recipient. It’s bingeing on ice cream to distract from sadness or boredom, instead of taking the effort to go for a walk.

It’s taking the path of least resistance when the discomfort of overcoming will mean achievement of a meaningful goal.

There are childish pleasures that can be good for us but they often require some effort (going for a walk, participating in an activity, rather than sitting on the couch and eating ice cream).

Then, there is also the problem of being unable to enjoy oneself like an adult.

In his book ‘Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole’ author Benjamin R. Barber talks about the infantilization of our pleasures as adults. If we are unable to learn to enjoy ourselves in adult ways (what are those adult ways? goal achievement, meaningful adventure, relationships, community, contribution, purpose), we will go only for childhood pleasures. Since they are not inherently satisfying to the more complex adult mind, we will try to make up in quantity what we lack in quality. Except, this time when we indulge, there is no mother around to tell us ‘that’s enough’ and we literally eat/drink/shop ourselves to death and debt.

Commitment

There is that un-sexy word. I used (and still am) to be a commitment-phobe, scared to be tied down to people, decisions, plans and places. And that fear of commitment kept me stuck in the child chair.

Loving yourself like an adult means being committed to doing right by yourself even after you have messed up, even when you don’t like yourself and even when others don’t like you.

In her insightful TED Talk, author Tracy Mc Millan extolls the virtues of marrying yourself and honouring that marriage above all others. It took me over 2 years of ‘dating myself’ to understand that I will not always like what I do or who I am, but once I made the commitment to loving myself for better or for worse, I must honour that commitment. That’s what love is.

And only my inner adult finds that sexy.

Conclusion:

All self-love is not created equal.

There is a way of loving skillfully and unskillfully.

It is only when we love ourselves from our highest wisdom, from our ‘adult chair’ and from our prefrontal cortex, that we do things that are truly good for us. Loving skillfully, just like living skillfully, is willing to make an effort and experience some discomfort with a long term outcome in mind.

‘How we do anything is how we do everything’, so our ability to love ourselves skillfully will inevitably translate into our ability to love others just as skillfully.

The blog post must come to an end, but the inquiry and the practice (and the screw ups!) continue…

 

 

 

 

The Philosophy of Fitness Minimalism

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My whole life I have been obsessed with growing up. There was a freedom, discernment, drive and ability in it that I felt was inaccessible to my scattered and emotionally immature child’s mind. This is, I believe, a natural instinct most children possess. However, it can be suppressed or derailed, by family, culture or circumstance. In every culture around the world there is a concept of ‘spoiling’ the child i.e. depriving it of the tools and abilities to grow up and enter the real world. In other words, infantilizing the child to it’s detriment.
In modern society there’s is a grotesquely extended adolescence due to the consumer culture’s pandering to the weakness of human character, thereby extending infantile state well into adulthood.
This means that in some areas of life (notably health and fitness, the areas most pronounced by their commercialisation in the West) people mature very slowly, if at all, and stay infantile for much longer, for some it’s deep into their 30s and 40s.
In nature there wouldn’t be many infantile people in their 30s and older because they would have died off first. However modern medicine helps the infantile who wouldn’t otherwise survive, stay alive for longer.
This also means that people are on average softer, more disorganized, dependent and lacking self control in their approach to life, and especially to fitness and health, which are originally the primary aspects of survival in the wild.
The reason such practices are minimalism and stoicism have become so popular nowadays, I believe, is due to the attempts of a modern mind to push back against the ‘spoiling’ and infantilizing effects of consumer culture. Qualities such as self control, delayed gratification, focus, attention, commitment etc are necessary for success, yet are being increasingly eroded by the distraction-rich, instant gratification, quick fix culture.
Have you ever noticed that there are not many (if any) children who naturally practice minimalism? Children don’t yet possess the qualities listed above and depend of their adult caregivers to teach them such qualities, for which purpose minimalism happens to be a very useful vehicle.

There’s a degree of relativity and progression in both maturity and minimalism, as in, we can be more mature in one area of life and less mature in others. Everybody’s flavor can be different and everybody is moving at a different pace. Yet in my nearly 15 years of practice, I am yet to meet a person who is struggling with their health and fitness who wouldn’t benefit from a little more maturity in that area and a little less ‘stuff’ in their heads, lives and homes.

One thing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt however, and that is increase in maturity in keystone areas of life, otherwise called ‘keystone habits’ create ripple effects into other areas of life. In other words, becoming more mature in a keystone area, you’ll eventually become more mature in other areas by osmosis.

Physical Fitness (exercise, sleep and nutrition) has been shown to be the most influential keystone area in human existence, which makes sense since it’s the primary survival mechanism in nature. If you can move and feed yourself, your brain is relatively mature. If you can’t, you’re an infant. This explains why the level of maturity around fitness so deeply affects other areas of life.

You can strengthen the maturity muscle in any area of your life through progressive learning of focus, commitment, self awareness, integrity, goal achievement (otherwise known as delayed gratification), minimalism, self control, patience, and perseverance. If you apply this in the context of physical training, you’re on your way!

Practicing these qualities through the vehicle of fitness minimalism will not only ensure success in the arena of life-long fitness, lasting body transformation, nutrition, health, life, work and relationships but develop tremendous levels of confidence and self belief, which are the necessary qualities for living life at your fullest potential.

How to practice fitness minimalism:

1. Have a long term goal, a short term goal.

2. Know your ‘why’, your ‘who’, your ‘how’ and your ‘what’. Find multifaceted motivations for achieving your goal. Yes I said motivationS. There must be many. If you are to win against the instant gratification urges and distractions that will undoubtedly come up, you need several compelling reasons to stick to your plan. Thinking that you will not come up against any distractions is failing before you even started.

3. Know yourself. While there is no substitute for self reflection, there are many resources out there to help you get started, such as ‘The 8 Colours of Fitness’ by Suzanne Brue, the MBTI personality test, Strength Finder 2.0 etc. Again, those tests aren’t definitive guides to your innermost self, however they help you begin asking the right questions. The better you know yourself, the less time you’ll waste on pursuits that just don’t work for you.

4. Set limits. Limits are the healthiest way to promote achievement, growth, creativity and getting things done. Limit the time of your workouts. Limit the amount of equipment you use. Limit the amount of exercises you do. Limit the amount of mental energy you use on training. Limit, limit, limit.

Example: all my workouts are 30 min long, and I use only kettlebells, pullup bar and rings. If I muck around, I still only do 30 minutes, whatever I can get in. I also only rotate 7 exercises in a 12-week block, about 4 exercises per workout. My plan is set for 12 weeks at a time. I get in, train, get out, with minimal thought, confusion or set up. I focus on performing my current exercises with the best technique. Every single excise is part of a bigger plan that I set at the start of the year, there is ZERO randomness. I progress very fast, and I’m really, really strong and fit by now. I’m not bragging, this is just reality. I have no injuries, ever. I go in, put in quality training and get out. Then I live my life and focus on more important things. Progress happens naturally and without my thinking about it outside of that 30 min window.

5. Go for quality. Minimalism is ALL about quality vs quantity. The only way you can set limits and still achieve anything is if you increase the quality of the workouts. Learn movement technique, learn which movements are the best for your goals, learn how to progress. Go for depth rather than breadth. This will create amazingly fast progress in a very short time. The biggest mistake people make is diffusing their focus across a million useless exercises that they do badly. There’s a huge waste of mental energy, lack of progress, waste of time, and a high risk on injury on top of it all.

It’s like going for the cheapest lowest quality clothes and expecting them to last you for a lifetime. In Russia we have a saying: a miser pays twice.

Go for quality. Use a coach of your time is precious. If you have plenty of spare time on your hands, then spend a few month/years on research in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and exercise science. And no, I don’t consider watching YouTube videos for workout inspiration ‘research’. Whatever you do, don’t compromise on quality. The whole concept of minimalism rests on it.

6. Dial in nutrition. If you aren’t supporting your training with nutrition, it’s like pouring cheap and nasty petrol into a high quality car. Think of it this way: exercise tells your body WHAT to build, nutrition provides the building blocks for the project. If you’re trying to build a magnificent skyscraper with a glue gun and some duct tape, expect it to crumble, if it’ll stand at all. Dial in your nutrition. Use research or coach, as per above.

7. Make it ALL a habit. This one is the most important step. Habits are the ultimate energy and time savers. They free up our mental resources so we can use them in other things. If your fitness isn’t a habit, then any life challenge will extinguish it and kill your progress. Have you ever been really busy and yet you still kept on brushing teeth every morning and evening? That’s what a habit is. Until it’s that with daily exercise, there will not be any lasting success.

Making habits isn’t new. You already created many habits in your life, 70% of everything you do in a day is habitual. These habits got you to where you are now. So all you’re doing is changing a few of them.

In his great book Compound Effect, author Darren Hardy says that the compound effect of every single decision operates on you whether you like it or not. What IS in your power is to decide where to aim that effect. Your choices today play a bigger part in what you’ll be 10 years from today than you imagine.

8. Be flexible. In light of the above, you need to have a Minimum Baseline level of exercise that you will never go below. For me it’s 15-minutes per day. Walking, stretching, jumping rope, etc. I haven’t gone below this baseline in over 15 years now.

I have witnessed mindblowing results in fitness and tremendous benefits spreading into life and work, when everyday people adopt this mature state of mind and body, and it is this love of growth and helping others grow (up) that drives me to continue my work with Kettlebell Academy.

Now it’s your turn.

What is your version of fitness minimalism?

Kat Tabakova 2/4/2019

Encouraging Thoughts on Nutrition

 

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One of my standard issue make everyday meals. Chicken hearts salad: chicken hearts stewed with butter, garlic,onion and rosemary. A salad of parsley, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.

 

Persevere.

In my personal and professional experience, I have noticed that both the effects of higher quality diet on a neglected body and of low quality diet on a healthy body, are relatively slow to show.

Why?

In many ways it’s down to cellular life span.

Your body is building new cells all the time. And it’s also repairing damaged cells and killing off old cells all the time. It’s making energy and fighting illness. Building materials? The food you eat. Repairing materials? The food you eat. The efficiency of energy production processes, immune response, brain function? The food you eat. The quality of the cells that your body manufactures, its ability to repair the cells that wear out, it’s accuracy at recognising and killing off faulty cells (cancer) are directly dependent on the quality of the food you consume.

So far so good.

Cells don’t live forever. But they do live for a long time. If they’re badly made, they’ll still limp on (unless your body is healthy enough to recognise and repair/replace them). Some cells live longer, some cells live shorter lives. But all in all, it takes about 7 years for all the cells in our body to renew.

Now, some of those cells of yours were built out of high quality food, some out of low quality food. And they will hang around in your body for, on average, 3-7 years.

So, the more high quality meals vs low quality meals you have, the more high quality cells you are building for the next 7 years of your life. And vice versa.

That’s why, after eating better for only 2 months you will be feeling MARGINALLY better, but wont be feeling as good as somebody who had been doing that for 3 years. By the same token, if you’ve been feeding your body well for years and then went on 2 months of less than good quality food, you will feel MARGINALLY worse, but won’t be feeling as crappy as somebody who has been eating poorly for years.

It’s not a ‘bad diet vs good diet’ thing either. If your diet this year is a little better than last year, you’re building a generation of cells that are a little higher quality than the previous generation.

Aging and genetics does affect your cell quality, but your can’t control that. The only thing you can control is the food you eat and your lifestyle. It’s all about either doing the best with what you’ve got or squandering whatever you’ve got. That’s why you can have 70 year olds who, despite being dealt a worse genetic card, take care of themselves and end up looking and performing better than some 30 year olds who were dealt a healthy body but destroyed it.

Persevere.

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Perfection is boring. On special occasions I try to go for the things I REALLY want rather than wasting my indulgence budget on random junk. This is my current favorite, a rare treat. (If it isn’t rare, it won’t be a treat). To some people those are nothing special, to me they’re exotic and divine. Your treat is your own, you’re not answerable to anyone but yourself for it. 
The ill effects are minimal to non-existent because it’s a rare thing, and because the body is robustly built on nourishing food. The better you eat, the easier your body will cope with occasional indulgences.

Mindfulness Doesn’t Rock – it SWINGS.

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One of our new members said the other day: ‘it is interesting that when I’m using a kettlebell, my mind has to be completely and utterly on it. There is no space for anything else, it is total focus’. I agree. In fact, kettlebells and mindfulness seem to go together like Red Caviar, Lewis Road Creamery Butter and Pumpernickel Rye bread (trust me, it’s divine).
 
Last month yours truly took part in the NZGSA Kettlebell Sport National Championships hosted by Shane Cameron Fitness in Auckland. It was a memorable experience, full of challenges and triumphs, all in the company of kindred kettlebeller spirits. My two events were 20kg One Arm Long Cycle (OALC), and Double 12kg Long Cycle (LC)
 
The kettlebell felt so heavy during the warm-up for the competition. ‘How could I possibly have imagined lifting THAT for 10 minutes straight?’ the thoughts buzzed like bees in my head. ‘What the hell were you thinking, picking that weight, are you crazy?’ ‘You’ll make a fool of yourself, going for the 5-year standing record and failing’ blah blah blah…
 
I had switched to a heavier 20kg bell for the One Arm Long Cycle event (from 16kg that I used in the North Island Champs) with only 3 weeks to go before the Nationals. I knew I had the strength from years of kettlebell lifting, but did I have the stamina and the mental focus to last under a heavier bell for 10 minutes? I stayed off training for 7 days before the comp, so picking up that 20kg bell on the competition day after a week of yoga and mobility, and feeling its weight drag my arm down, was a surprise.
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“Trust the process, Kat” I told myself “you have done everything right”.
 
Two minutes to go before my set, I chalked myself up, sat down by my platform, closed my eyes and did my basic awareness of breath and thoughts meditation. That’s when you enter the present moment and let all the unrelated stuff go. Including any thoughts of a ‘self’ or a ‘self image’. I noticed that letting my attention get tangled up in habitual, looping self-referencing thoughts is the biggest distraction and mental block in fitness, sport and life. There is a special time to attend to those thoughts (I personally use 10-30 minutes in the evening and in the morning nowadays), but in the middle of an event is not that time. By then, all the mental and physical homework that could have been done is done.
 
My meditation by the platform only lasted 60 seconds at most, but 15 months of daily training of meditative states seems to now allow me to clear the mind more quickly than when I first started. When I started I couldn’t focus on anything for longer than 30 seconds. Now the longest I’ve achieved has been 30 minutes. Disciplined and intentional attention is an aspect of the ‘fitness of the mind’ (of which there are several) that I believe meditation helps us train.
 
When I got up, it was just clarity and purpose, there was no ‘Kat’.
 
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On the call of 3-2-1-Go, I didn’t feel any urgency to grab the bell, just a calm acceptance of reality, and when I picked up the 20 kg kettlebell, I was surprised at how light it felt. I actually had to look down and make sure it was still a 20kg bell and somebody didn’t come by and swap it for a 12kg! It felt like all my muscles just turned on, all my mental energy leaks disappeared and my entire being was channelled to one objective. You see, the thinking ‘self’ is a heavy burden to carry. It’s pointless to hang onto it when you also have a chunk of steel hanging over your head for the next 10 minutes.
 
I could feel my face splitting in a huge grin, high on the power of focus. Every time it happens it blows my mind. The flow was on, time disappeared and I was in the ‘zone’. That was how the new National Record got set, on a total high.
 
Later in the comp, another surprise was lasting the entire 10 min in a Double Kettlebell Long Cycle, an event which I haven’t directly practised for and where the very first repetition already felt terribly uncomfortable. Again, becoming ‘one’ with discomfort and removing the self really worked. And so that was a horrible, but immeasurably valuable sort of fun. The sort where you emerge on the other side with a new understanding of what ‘challenging’ truly means, plus realising that everything you thought about your limitations before was not quite true.
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So…
 
For the past 3 months, our Courage Corner kettlebell classes have been ending with a 5-15 minute guided meditation. Our current meditation series focuses on changing habits through mindfulness. Members have been reporting greater calm, clarity and awareness. Some have even taken up a meditation habit outside of class time.
 
Kettlebells and mindfulness seem to be a match made in heaven after all!

Are Kettlebells Safe?

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Short answer:

YES

Long Answer:

In my nearly 1.5 decades of mastering and coaching just about every major fitness discipline, I haven’t encountered a safer overall strength and conditioning tool. After years of coaching Powerlifting, Boxing, Bootcamp, Crossfit, Sprinting and Gymnastics, I chose to make kettlebells my ultimate specialty, because I see the results they bring and the joy and versatility they offer. I choose kettlebells every day because I continue to experience that for most people they are the best path to fitness.

In saying that, every tool (and I mean, EVERY tool, think barbell, trx, dumbbels, bodyweight etc) is only as good and as safe as its master’s skill, mindfulness, and quality of coaching.

My goal is to enable more people to safely and effectively use kettlebells, to build unshakable fitness habits and create unbreakable motivation deep into old age. So here are some safety rules that we live by at the Academy. They are not complicated, are mainly based on basic common sense, will help you make the most of your kettlebell training and prevent injury to yourself and others.

1) Keep your spine safe. Learn to use correct muscles when lifting and brace your core on every rep. There is a reason why KBA members are used to randomly getting karate chopped in the stomach in the middle of a swing or a snatch – the essential habit of bracing your midsection when moving under load will save your spine in training and in life.

Prevent hyperflexing or hyperextending your lower back. Lumber spine is not designed for independent flexion or extension under load. That’s why we get lower back pain so easily – the muscles of the lower back are not meant to move it, only to maintain it in a neutral position. Learn to keep your lower back neutral and build a habit of using other muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quads, mid/upper back) to accomplish the movement.

2) After protecting your spine, the next big item is keeping your shoulders safe. Engaging your lats, and packing the shoulders down into their sockets will serve you not only in higher power output and great posture but in healthy shoulders for life.

3) Always use progression. Know it or refer to a professional who does. Master one level before moving up to the next and regress when you must (e.g. to re-learn a skill). I recently had to do that with a Girevoy style One Arm Long Cycle. It made me a better lifter and prevented injury down the line. Life is LONG, humility is a virtue and patience is a skill.

4) Don’t train to failure. Or at least know why you do it if you decide to do it. From a fitness, strength, longevity, health, skill and efficiency perspective training to failure, espcially past the point of good technique, is pointless, dangerous and counter-productive. The main reason to do it is ego satisfaction and instant gratification. Go into it with your eyes wide open.

5) Just because it feels hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because it feels easy doesn’t mean it’s right. Your body only knows the movement habits that you have been repeating for years, is doesn’t recognise whether they are efficient or inefficient, safe or unsafe. New movement will always feel awkward. Persevere and use a coach.

6) The body hangs on to established habits, whether efficient or inefficient ones. It takes approx 300 repetitions to embed a movement habit. It takes approx 10,000 repetitions to un-learn it and establish a new one. Have patience. And try to learn it right the first time.

7) Do not train through joint pain. In addition to aggravating it, your body will be learning a faulty habit by subtly altering your movement pattern to protect the joint. Refer to Rule #6.

8) Maintain the skin of your hands. Your hands are the part of the body that comes into contact with the bells every time you train. Practice correct technique, pumice down any protruding calluses and use coconut oil or cream to help skin regenerate. Calluses are functional as long as they are well-maintained.

9) Learn to train in flat-soled minimalist shoes or barefoot. Running shoes with an elevated heel, shoes with cushioned or overly rigid sole do not provide biofeedback to lower legs, reduce the flexibility of the soles and toes, impair stability and can cause injuries due to incorrect alignment. Learning to train without shoes when your feet are weak is in itself a progression. Consult with your trainer if you are having trouble adjusting.

10) Have at least 1 meter of space around you in every direction when you’re training. No furniture, other people, animals or children are to be in your space while you’re holding a bell. Exception: a coach or a spotter during a TGU.

11) Pick the kettlebell up and put it down like a professional. In every set. No exceptions. No matter how tired you are, your first rep is the pick up and your last rep is the safe return of the kettlebell to the ground. Make this a firm habit. It is called integrity. If you are too fatigued to exercise integrity, see rule #4.

12) If a rep has gone wrong, instead of trying to save it by breaking form, you may drop or safely guide the kettlebell to the ground. See rule #10 for the safety of others. Try to minimize such reps, unless you are practicing juggling. See rule #13. If you have reps going wrong on a regular basis, revisit your progression, see rule #3.

13) For kettlebell juggling (which is an advanced skill that you might want to learn after mastering all the fundamentals) you will be dropping the bell a lot and that’s okay. Practice in the sand or on grass, where the kettlebell won’t roll away when dropped.

14) Dry your hands when they get sweaty and/or use chalk.

15) If you have ripped the skin on your hands, wear bandages while touching the kettlebells, both for your own safety, but also that of others who use those bells.

16) Listen to your coach or trainer at all times

Sore Hands?

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SORE HANDS?

If you are a serious lifter then chances are you have experienced sore ‘burning’ hands, cracked or ripped calluses at some point in your training. This condition makes a kettlebell handle, a pullup bar or a barbell feel like a source of pain and suffering, rather than of infinite joy and delight.

We can’t have that!

One of my students used to call this the Burning Hands Syndrome, starting balefully at her hands after every set. This condition is exceedingly common. And it’s common for the same reasons as why people would train like crazy while having poor nutrition and sleep habits – it’s all about proper recovery.

When it comes to avoiding the Burning Hand Syndrome and living to swing another day, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1. Practice CONSISTENT technique.

World champion Kettlebell Sport athlete and coach Denis Vasiliev said it right: top athletes hardly ever damage their hands because their technique isn’t just good, it’s consistently good.

What does it mean, being consistent? It means that your last rep should look and feel like your first rep. That when fatigue sets in and you feel like your technique is deteriorating, do not continue to move. Stop. Exercise some integrity. Otherwise your brain will register that you are a wishy-washy sort of person when it comes to technique and it will ingrain that wishy-washy habit. Train your mind that you don’t let a bit of fatigue make you lose your head. Strengthen your character. Most tears and intense looking calluses happen due to fatigue-induced inconsistency, not due to overall bad technique.

2. Get rid of protruding calluses.

If protruding calluses form, keep them in check by filing them down regularly. Your hand must be smooth, to discourage any catching of skin. Once you have smoothed down those mountain ranges from the top of your palms, go back to rule 1 – practice consistently good technique.

3. Practice appropriate (for your situation and goals) recovery habits.

The Burning Hand happens due to skin being rubbed against the handle (of barbell, kettlebell or pullup bar), especially when chalk is used (it dries out the skin) and then the skin NOT BEING ALLOWED TO REPAIR before jumping back into gripping moving things.

The body is smart. When it’s damaged, it puts up a ‘sign’ in the form of pain, saying ‘repairs in progress, do not use’. To enable the repair process, the skin must be moisturized and prevented from drying out. Dry skin regenerates slower and is more vulnerable to further injury and cracking. Your body knows this, so it’ll continue to ‘flash’ the sign of burning hands until the repair process is complete.

So, rub (not just apply) some coconut oil or other moisture protective and repairing substance into your hands at night after showering, while the skin is softened and wet (there is no point applying things to dry cracked skin, you might as well be applying cream to your shoes and clothes). Locking the moisture in will help skin regenerate itself.

If you want an even faster and more effective repair, for example if you want to train again tomorrow, then covering the area with a sock glove really helps (see photo) by preventing the cream/oil from rubbing off onto the sheets, pillows and significant others before it has the chance to do its noble work on your hands.

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This is not a rule set in stone. Before I hear you say ‘but this is ridiculous, I don’t want to soak then moisturize my hands every night, then put gloves on etc etc’.

I get it. Life is busy. You could be doing all sorts of fun things instead of spending those 3 extra minutes tending to your hands.

But hand care, just like anything in life is a trade off and best of all, a sliding scale.

There are degrees of intensity with hand care, and you choose your level according to your current priorities.

For example:

In my line of work I’m gripping kettlebells and pull up bars every day, if not for my own training then for demonstrating exercises to students. Because of that I can’t afford to have Burning Hand Syndrome, rips or painful calluses. At all. So I take great care of my hands. If you don’t have such demands, you can let it take longer to recover by applying cream/oil and wearing sock gloves only sometimes. Or only after an intense training session. Or before a competition. Or not at all.

You know yourself best. The more demand you’re placing on your hands, or the more important it is to you that you’re able to grip things, the more attention you might want to pay to your recovery.

If you would like to read a more detailed article on hand care, check out this fantastic post from a Strong First colleague Matt Kingstone

https://www.strongfirst.com/hand-care-101/

Nobody is perfect and we’ll all have a day of sore hands once in awhile, which is the agonizing glory of being human. I therefore simply hope that this information will help you train more joyfully and with less pesky and preventable interruptions.

If Something is Important…

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If something is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.

Dan John

 

This is my favorite quote by the philosopher coach, but it seems to be also a frequently misunderstood one.

You could say: ‘But there are some things that are important to me, yet I cannot do them every day  – there are not enough hours! For example going travelling, dance classes, date nights with my partner etc’.

However, I don’t believe ‘important things’ mean specific activities. Otherwise this quote would literally mean ‘do not do any activities that you can’t do every singe day of your life’. Which mean a very limited life indeed.

I believe the quote means ‘values’.

As a demonstration of what I mean, think about exercise. The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommendations are: Complete 30 min per day of moderate exercise. Does this mean you must brisk walk 30 min day in and day out until you die?

No!

It’s a game you see. You get to pick your exercise. You can of course stick to brisk walking most days, but you can also get creative:

Day 1: You might brisk walk for 30min

Day 2: You might jump rope for 5 min (which replaces 30 min brisk walking by the way)

Day 3: You could attend a 60min dance class

Day 4: you could perform 15 min of strength training

Day 5: You could do a 20-30min yoga session

Day 6: You could do a high intensity Tabata protocol – 4 min only, but replaces 30min of moderate activity.

Day 7: You could swim for 30min

Day 8: You could do a 2 hour hike in the bush

Day 9: A light 20min stretching session to recover from Day 8…

Some days you might do more, some days you might do less. But the piggybank of ‘exercise’ gets a daily deposit.

The same thing applies to all our values. What is important to you? Is it family? Friendship? Health? Mindfulness? Kindness? Compassion? Learning? Discovery? Courage? Relaxation?

Now think in how many ways can you practice each value in your daily life?

Let’s say friendship is important to you. Does it mean that you go out of your way to hang out with your friends daily? I think there are many more ways to exercise friendship.

  1. Txt a friend, just one, and ask them how they’re doing – 2min
  2. Answer a message from a friend with honesty and kindness – 5min
  3. Actively listen to your friend’s concerns – 15min
  4. Call a friend who is struggling, or call a friend if you’re struggling and give them the opportunity to be a good friend. Either way is practicing friendship – the giving of love is just as important as the receiving – 30min
  5. Think of what being a good friend means to you, and be that towards your partner, your child, your coworker – 10min
  6. Do a loving kindness meditation with your friend firmly in mind – 5min
  7. Further an acquaintanship and move it closer to a friendship – 15min
  8. Help someone you care about – 5+ min
  9. Initiate an honest difficult talk that you have been avoiding with an estranged friend – 30+min
  10. Extend the hand of friendship to someone you are interested in – 10min
  11. Take a step towards terminating an unhealthy friendhsip that isn’t working, so you can give more energy to your healthy friendships – 5min
  12. Sit quietly with a friend and be present – 5+ min
  13. How can you apply friendship values to yourself? Are you a good friend to you? Do you speak kindly and honestly to yourself? Do you sit quietly and be present with yourself? Have you done so today? 5+ min

Some days you do more, some days you do just a little thing. But there is no way it’s impossible to do ‘something’ every day for the value of friendship. It requires just minimal thought and basic creativity. And the Long Game Mindset – an understanding that things are not built in a day and that consistent daily deposits into the value bank counts towards the long term growth and strength of the value in your life.

And the same minimal creativity can be applied to all the things that are important to you: health, family kindness…. But what’s even better, some actions include in themselves several values: for example, talking to an estranged friend with honesty and kindness takes courage – double tick if courage is also your value!

And you know what happens after awhile? Your days begin to be filled with the things that are meaningful to you in that time of your life, and the meaningless stuff gets crowded out, since there are only 24 hours in the day. And so your life gains more depth, more strength, and more richness, like high quality dark chocolate.

This is not an exact science, and none of us are perfect, me least of all. But I have found over the years that this principle is not only worth living by but it is both achievable and sustainable.

If something is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all. 

Thank you, Mr John.

Kat

 

 

 

 

 

Body Image vs Body Confidence

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Imagine how much energy can be freed up in the service of worthy pursuits if you swapped worrying over your body-image for cultivating body-confidence.

In our culture, we focus on creating a positive body-image, as if an image has any power. No one’s body-image has ever accomplished anything. Body image is a passive object, it is never a subject of the story. An image has no inside and no volition, it cannot do or experience anything. It cannot mature or evolve, it doesn’t die. An image is not an agent of life.

Your body is an agent of life, the life you create.

Body confidence, on the other hand, is a conscious acknowledgment of what you choose to DO with your body in light of living by your values. Body confidence is based on action, on substance and on DEPTH. What your body looks like matters ONLY in that context.

Do you prefer to inhabit your body with vigor, use it functionally, care for it, love it, and harness it in the service to your purpose?
Then every time you look in the mirror, you will be bursting with confidence, admiration, and gratitude for what you see and feel, because you’ll see and feel pure substance in every feature, reflected in its functional form.

Progression and Variety

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It’s easy to just get sick of exercise if you keep doing the same thing over and over and over. That’s why the number 1 advice from fitness pros is to change up your routine.

However, it’s also easy to lose motivation if you keep jumping from one thing to another. After all, there is a reason why variety is called ‘the spice of life’.
‘Spice’ is the operative word, as in NOT the main dish.

For the same reason we can’t live off spices, we also can’t sustain any meaningful level of motivation on variety alone. Randomness is exhausting to the mind. Our brain and body thrive on growth, discipline, and improvement, NOT on softcore entertainment.

I like to make organic progress and to effortlessly maintain the longevity of my fitness habit. Therefore I tend to avoid jumping through a huge variety of random workouts. Instead, I discipline my mind, figure out my goals, break them into milestones and create dedicated programmes to achieve them, focusing on consistency, progression and celebrating small wins from one level to the next.

Variety workouts (kettlebell juggling, anyone?) definitely do add spice, and they can be great fun.

But, it is the structured path of small victories on the journey towards a worthy goal, that sustains intrinsic motivation and brings JOY in fitness and in life.

How do YOU keep your motivation high when the going is tough?