Fitness, Food, Feet, and Frustration

Gaah. Back on track with fitness and eating habits. And off track. And on again. And off, and on… D’oh.

I’ve decided (again) to finally lose some extra pounds. I was at 179. My goal is to get to 159 by early November (a pound a week). I’ll be testing for nidan (second degree black belt) in late February if all goes according to plan, and it would be great to spend those last 4 months of intensive training in better shape, and with 20 fewer pounds to haul around. I’ve been logging everything for a week now and have dropped a few pounds already. I should do a “before” body composition DEXA scan, so I can see how much progress I’ve made later.

At the same time, my right foot has been bothering me. Hurting under the ball of the foot if I walk barefoot on a hard floor (the mat at the dojo is fine, thank goodness). It’s been going on at a low level for at least a year, but now my toes are going numb if I stand still for more than a couple of minutes, and I’m feeling buzzing/twitching in the surrounding muscles and skin. I do have peripheral neuropathy, but this isn’t that. I think I’ve got some nerve pinching going on.

Because of the PN I hate wearing closed shoes. They are so painful that I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot when we went to our big local fair last week before I turned around and went back to the car to switch to my flip-flops. Way better from the PN perspective – ahhh – but walking in them for 8 hours was probably not the best thing for the structural issue. So that’s been annoying. I’ve been limping, holding tension, and compensating, and that makes everything else hurt, too. I’m seeing my chiropractor today (anyway) and will ask his advice, and am searching for a good sports podiatrist.

Empire and Aces Kettlebell Strength Tee Shirt

Meanwhile, I signed up for a one-day StrongFirst Kettlebell Course! It’s on July 15, so I need to get a little bit warmed up for it by then. It’s appropriate for “beginners” but I think their idea of a beginner is someone at a pretty high level of fitness. I’m really looking forward to it. This is the only course in the area all year. The only other one on the west coast is in Santa Maria in December. I would like to go on to do their SFG I Kettlebell Certification course in March 2018, too, so the July one-day thing is a must-do.

The only uh-oh there is that I realized I train barefoot on a mat at home, but in the class I’ll have to wear shoes on a hard floor. Shit. So over the next few days I’ll be trying out my collection of unused walking/running shoes to see which might be tolerable.

And yesterday I was having a really discouraged day, ’cause my foot hurt, even sitting with it up much of the day, and icing it. But I went to class (which usually helps everything), counting on having a pleasant evening, training with friends, and getting 2 hours of exercise (which already entered in MyNetDiary). Managed to drop a partner’s knee smack on the outside edge of my right foot. &#$@. No real damage done, just bruising, but painful enough that I sat out both classes icing it. So no exercise for the day. Then I went home even more discouraged and ate too much. *headdesk*

Today is another day. The side of my foot feels better – only tender if I touch it. I will survive a day of wearing shoes in two weeks. (Funny how I’m more concerned about that than about 8 hours of playing with kettlebells.) I will eat better today (even though tonight is date night). Get off track seven times? Get back on track eight, dammit.

Photo: This is of one of my favorite tee shirts, by my Aikido-and-fitness friend Victoria Pitt of Empire & Aces. Victoria is a Personal Coach and Trainer/Manager of combat sport athletes in the Chicago area.

Facing Forward, Walking Straight – Aikido and Health

Photo of my parking garage stairwell

I went into the office for a few hours yesterday – something I hadn’t done yet this whole year, as I work off site now. It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, and was excited about seeing my friends there. A quick visit, checking out a new tool I’d be using on the cool project I’m working on, catching up with a few colleagues, and then I’d be heading to the dojo to assist in the kids’ class and train in the two evening classes. The makings of a pretty awesome day.

I parked in the usual garage, on the 5th level, and headed for the stairs down to the street. When I saw them I was struck by something I hadn’t thought about in years. I stopped and stood there so long, just looking, that the security guard came over to see if everything was OK.

It’s funny the things that you forget.

When I first started training I could not climb these stairs, not up or down. My knees couldn’t take it. Every day I had to detour and take the elevator. I could do a few steps. But whole flights of stairs, no. The pain behind my kneecaps just wouldn’t let me. It’s been so long ago, so much has changed, I’d forgotten it completely.

There was so much wrong, back then. I had the knee pain, of course, and shoulder problems that had required surgery and ongoing PT. Plantar fasciitis meant I had to wear heavy hiking shoes with orthotics, and even with them I couldn’t walk far. Every morning I woke up stiff and sore, like I’d been sleeping on cold concrete. I had constant vertigo that felt like I was living aboard a ship, complete with seasickness during particular high seas. And neuropathic pain that would have sent me to the E.R. at times, except that I knew there’s nothing they could’ve done for it.

I felt old and weak and broken. But I wanted become a better horseperson – more centered, less reactive – and I knew Aikido could help. I called and asked Sensei about classes that didn’t involve rolling or falling – I didn’t know if I’d be able to. “Nope. We all train together. Come in, and just do what you can.” I didn’t even consider the link between Aikido and health – the possibility of actually improving one’s health. But I was cautiously optimistic, and buoyed by his confidence I decided to give it a try. I dragged my busted up self into the dojo and started training.

My life has a soundtrack. Somehow the right song seems to come along when I need it. Last week I got to see the brilliant songwriter Cheryl Wheeler in concert. As I was listening to her music on the way home that night I rediscovered this gem, “Boulder Hotel Room”:

Life is short, but the days and nights are long
Time will heal all these wounds
Some day soon
I’ll be rising I’ll be strong

When I first started training I loved this song for its powerful little flickers of hope and determination. I listened to it over and over, back then. I’d forgotten all about it, too.

Shortly after I started training I injured my shoulder. It occurred to me I might have made a mistake, trying to take up a martial art at my age and with my collection of ailments. Soon after, it appeared that my neuropathy might be causing new and more dangerous autonomic nervous system problems. I was worried about what was wrong with me. I thought it might be MS. Whatever it was I was scared to death that it would get worse. But I’d already been drawn into Aikido – waking up in the mornings excited about getting to the dojo, smiling about nothing on the way home from class. Come what may I wasn’t going to give it up.

But now I’m losing all my battles
Now I’m down and dropping still
And this snow’s blowing through
Like some ghost
With this blue I know too well

It turns out the worrisome symptoms – near-fainting and seeming inability to regulate body temperature – had a perfectly harmless explanation. I don’t think my doctor has ever had a patient react with such relief and happiness to discover that she’s run headlong into menopause!

But there weren’t only physical problems. In recently years I’d lost my sister to addiction, several friends suddenly to various health issues, and my first horse to colic. The equestrian community I’d been part of for years unraveled as members focused on recovering from a fire that affected thousands in our area. At the same time work went straight to hell, with a sadistic boss seemingly bent on ruining my career, and I had to quit that job. The 9/11 attacks and hurricane Katrina provided a fitting background. It was a painful time, and when I started training these things still had a strong hold on me.

Broken hearts keep on beating just the same
So I guess I can too
Go through these moves
Facing forward, walking straight

But now my glance keeps drifting downward
Now my feet can’t find their way
And this cold’s creeping in
Through my bones
Whisperin’ it’s here to stay

You know how years later you can clearly remember words that shocked your system? Someone says something so unexpected, so direct, so true that it pierces right through the usual listening we have for small-talk and ordinary communication. Like a time decades ago – maybe I was in my early 20s – in a supermarket… I was standing in the path of a woman’s cart and as I stepped aside I said “Oh, I’m sorry.” Instead of the usual “no problem” kind of civility she snapped at me sternly, but not without kindness, “Don’t apologize. Women are always apologizing. Don’t do that.” It came from out of the blue – a little verbal dope-slap – that it really caught my attention, and made me think. She was right. I took her advice to heart, and try to follow it to this day.

Anyway…I was training one day, and I don’t know what I said – probably something about how that particular technique was really hard for me, you know, with my shoulders, or how badly I was doing it – when Sensei snapped at me in the same way, not out of meanness, but so direct and piercing that really caught my attention: “Stop wallowing in your own misery!” Whoa… I hadn’t realized it, but I really was. For sure I had some problems, but I was turning circumstances into misery; I was the one doing the wallowing. I hadn’t been aware of that. I took Sensei’s words to heart, trying to catch myself when I’m inclined to revert to that way of being. The world is a brighter place when you’re not wallowing in misery, it really is.

I know there’s light on some horizon
But I can’t see so far ahead
Patience and grace, blessed is love
I’m losing my faith
In most of that stuff those wise men said

When I started training I had no idea what a sensei was, really – what it would mean to have that kind of teacher in my life. Someone who not only points out where I need to correct my body, but where I need to correct my mind as well. Not only showing me where to put my feet, but where to put my attention.

Sure, I figured that he knew what he was doing as far as technique, and could teach it well. I assumed I’d be challenged with faster, harder attacks as I became better able to handle them. I thought I’d learn to stay calm and deal more effectively with scary, painful reality.

I didn’t hope circumstances would improve. I never imagined that I would be challenged to change my reality. I didn’t even know that was an option. I couldn’t see that far ahead.

Now that old reality is only a distant, faded memory. It comes back to me, infrequently, in dream-like flashes – like when I’m stopped in my tracks at the sight of a stairwell, realizing I’m about to jog down 5 flights in light, flexible flats and a skirt, excited about the beautiful day ahead of me, like it’s the most natural, normal thing in the the world. And now it is.

Thank you for that, Sensei.



Lyrics above are quoted from “But the Days and Nights Are Long” (AKA: “Boulder Hotel Room”) by Cheryl Wheeler

Life in the Dream World

A couple of years ago, after my first few months in Aikido, I had a vivid dream, which I posted about then. When I woke up I could see and feel it in great detail, and I still can. It wasn’t until later that day I realized it was about Aikido.

In the dream I suddenly found myself in a totally unfamiliar, incomprehensible new world. A simple, quiet, calm place, where the people seemed to share a sense of purpose and belonging. Sensei was an old, wise woman, a compassionate leader, trusted by the people. I knew there was no going back, that this was to be my new life. I was upset, but I knew I was safe. I knew the leader and the people could be trusted. 

And that’s exactly how it’s been.

On a recent Thursday evening, just two days before a friend’s exam for 4th kyu, I limped into the dojo hoping I could at least sit for the 15 minutes of meditation before class. I had gotten out of a chair the wrong way, and badly screwed up something in my right hip. I’d been kept up by the pain most of the previous night, and had only gotten around the house that day by using a jo as a walking stick. My dear husband, Michael, drove me to the dojo, because he knows how I am. He insisted that I go, if only to watch. Bless his heart.

I had been training with my friend for her exam. When I got to the dojo I told Sensei that I wouldn’t be able to take ukemi for her – he’d need to find someone else. In the past, never half as bad as this time, it had taken weeks for my hip to get better, and her exam was to be on Saturday morning. Sensei was unfazed. “In my world it’s normal to be taking ukemi 2 days after you can’t walk.”

Really? Like a little kid hearing a fantastic story, I wanted to believe in it. I wanted to live in that magical world.

Let’s just say I was skeptical. Hopeful, but skeptical.

Someday I will stop being surprised at this, or maybe, stubbornly, I will continue to be surprised every time: Sensei was right. He guided me through some stretches, and I was actually able to participate in both classes that night. By Friday night’s class I was better still. By Saturday morning I had to think hard to remember which hip it had been. There were some big ups and downs in the next couple of weeks, and ultimately it got better. But that Saturday I was able to take ukemi for my friend’s exam, no problem. More significantly, I had learned I could be perfectly fine in a much shorter time than I’d ever thought possible.

“In my world it’s normal to be taking ukemi 2 days after you can’t walk.”

That’s a pretty awesome world. That’s the world I saw in my dream. It’s real.

It’s a world where we are pushed to go beyond our perceived limits, to explore outside of the arbitrary boundaries we have declared to be our reality. In this world teachers and friends don’t buy into our stories and whining. Instead they lift us up and help us see further, and then kick our butts to get us into action. Sometimes they help us to understand that patience and gentleness with ourselves is part of the process, too. And we try to do the same for them.

In this world I’ve never encountered the sympathetic-sounding, but ultimately defeating excuses and dismissals I heard so often in my past: Don’t expect too much of yourself; Don’t get your hopes up; Not everyone can be good at this; Maybe when you are older; Maybe if you’d started when you were younger; Old habits are hard to break; It’s rough out there, be careful; You can always do it just for fun; Don’t work so hard, that’s good enough; Besides, it’s not like you’ll actually need to know it, you’ll never do anything with it anyway.

This is a world where it’s OK to pursue mastery. It’s OK to expect that continued growth and development are available to anyone who applies themselves. It’s OK to be a serious student. It’s OK to ask for support, and to give it, so we all grow together. It’s OK for the impossible to be quite possible. It’s OK to make big changes. It’s OK to heal. And it’s OK to do it right now.

The world I saw in my dream was a simple, quiet, calm place, where the people seemed to share a sense of purpose and belonging, and I knew the leader and the people could be trusted. It’s a real place. I like it here.

Downs & Ups of Exam Prep

My exam for 5th kyu is Saturday morning – tomorrow. When I first started working with my mentor a month ago we began with a sort of diagnostic run-through of the exam. I knew all the technique names, and basically what they were. There was plenty of room for correction and refinement, but I wasn’t completely lost. I felt like I was on a pretty good trajectory for being ready by exam day.

Then in mid-January I did a seminar, which was great fun, and a tremendous experience. I loved it, but it was exhausting, and dumped a whole lot of new information into my little 6th-kyu brain.

The next couple of weeks were difficult all around, and left my confidence a bit battered. I couldn’t seem to do anything right in class. Friends on Facebook were commenting that my Aikido posts had been negative lately.

I accumulated a dozen or so small injuries and ailments – a jammed thumb, a knee that didn’t like to bend, sore shoulders and neck muscles, a stomped foot, assorted bruises and tight muscles, etc. I found myself stiff and guarded. Lingering symptoms from a cold in December returned, and my breathing was getting clogged up during class. One night I must have been dehydrated, and whited out (and sat right back down) when I stood up quickly from seiza.

Last Wednesday I had the worst bout of vertigo since starting Aikido. The world was spinning. I felt seasick and was tipping over and falling into things. Feeling grounded isn’t even a possibility in that state.

Vertigo also causes a cognitive hit, from all that brain CPU being used just to navigate in the world, I guess. It’s like the brain fog that rolls in when one has a cold. When I worked with my mentor last Friday, terminology I had down solid a month ago was lost in the fog. Techniques I’ve done well enough a hundred times were incomprehensible. I felt overwhelmed by how much I had left to learn.

There were other little things. Work seemed to be a morass of interruptions, distractions, and conflicting priorities. I couldn’t seem to get caught up on chores at home. One night a car easily going 100 mph very nearly rear-ended me on the freeway. The universe was not being kind.

Then on Sunday I participated in one of Sensei’s “In Focus” workshops, this time on ukemi. These workshops push us a bit. They are always revealing, and usually fun. While some of the exercises in this one were indeed fun, on the whole the experience was, for me, profoundly discouraging. The toes on my stomped foot were numb. I’d rolled funny on one shoulder, so my whole arm hurt and my fingers were tingling. I was told, and could see in the video, what I was doing wrong, but couldn’t feel it. It felt right, but wasn’t. Without accurate perceptions how can one make corrections? I’d had a similar experience, where I could not grasp *how* to learn something else in the past, and in that case I just give up entirely. So running into this particular personal brick wall was hard. Giving up Aikido is not an option, but I couldn’t see my way around the wall. A very perceptive fellow student gave me a bit of a pep talk (or a kick in the butt), but it was still a difficult day.

Less than a week to my test, and it felt like my Aikido, barely held together with duct tape and baling twine on a good day, was falling apart. Sunday night my status on Facebook said “Linda Eskin is looking for the lesson, hard.”

By Monday morning I decided I had to dig myself out of my rut. I remembered to take my allergy meds so I could breathe. I drank plenty of water, and walked at lunch. I stocked up on Gatorade and bananas to keep dehydration and muscle spasms at bay. I skipped going to the dojo to stay home to rest and heal, and to really study. I watched videos of each technique, reviewed my old descriptions of each, and wrote out new ones. When anything wasn’t clear, I noted that, so I could ask about it.

On Tuesday I visualized the whole test over and over. As I fed Rainy and the donkeys I heard the words Sensei will say, let myself be aware of the little crowd of parents there to watch their kids’ tests, felt what the cool blue mat will feel like, smelled how the mid-morning air will smell when it comes in across the little stream out behind the dojo, and heard the birds singing in the reeds. I saw and felt each technique in picture-perfect detail. I ran through it again as I got ready for work. Once more while I walked at lunch. And again as I drove to the dojo.

Tuesday night I did both classes. We reviewed all the techniques I was having trouble with, and did some great work on jiyuwaza. After class I got to practice with my mentor and with my fellow 5th Kyu candidate. We both did the whole test, plus jiyuwaza with each other. We got video of everything, and posted it so we could review it during the week. I felt so much better! Not quite ready, but confident that I could be ready by Saturday. Back on track!

Wednesday was another day off from classes. I iced and rested the ouchy parts, studied and visualized the techniques, and went out to dinner with my dear husband, Michael. Ended the day feeling more settled.

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I put together a playlist of positive, high-energy music that I love, and listened to that while driving. In the middle of a long day of meetings at work I managed to get outdoors once, sit quietly, and do the whole test again. The weapons class in the evening was very calming and reassuring. I may not be any better at weapons than at anything else, but I find them easier to comprehend. So weapons classes generally leave me feeling like I might have a bit of a clue about this stuff. I stayed late to watch some of the advanced class, write some notes and be sure I had all my questions down to ask my mentor on Friday. The class was doing some really interesting work on feeling shared energy and going with it. I’m very glad I stayed. I left feeling quietly excited, happy, and very grateful to be able to train with Sensei and my dojo mates.

Tonight is a 90-minute class with Sensei, and then a full run-through of the exam with my mentor. I’m really looking forward to both.  All I have to do tomorrow is show up, relax, breathe, and have fun.

TGIF (day 15 of 16)

This has been a very busy running-full-out kind of week at work. For some it’s been a pretty rough time. Everyone was quite ready to get started on the weekend this afternoon. For me it’s been mostly fun – the kind of work I enjoy, just lots of it, on tight deadlines. My body has had enough of sitting at a desk and using a trackball, even though I did get out for a quick walk at lunch. My brain could use a cooling-off period, too. Thankfully, I got to a good stopping point, and even entered my time for the week, before shooting out the door at 5:00.

I managed to pop a temporary crown off a molar today.  At 5:10 p.m. On a Friday. While driving in heavy traffic. On my way to the dojo. That’s always the best time for that sort of thing, you know. D’oh! Naturally I just stuck it back on, smooshed it down real good, and went on to class. Now I’m being very, very careful when I eat. Great.

Tonight’s class was a lovely respite from the madness. (I just looked up “respite” on to be sure I am using it correctly. I am. a delay or cessation for a time, esp. of anything distressing or trying; an interval of relief.) I got there early enough for plenty of warming up and stretching, and for the meditation period. When class started we did a lot of very soft rolling exercises, and then one putting each other into a forward roll, and being aware of where the connection and center was. Lots of attentiveness to keeping alignment and integrity. It was a pretty meditative, mindful sort of class.

In spite of all that, it was physically a difficult class. My left upper-back/shoulder have hurt for 2 weeks, so rolling on that side (well, for the first 10 or so times each day), or breathing deeply, both feel a little like I’ve gotten the wind knocked out of me. Before class even started my left hip and right knee were unhappy (sitting for meditation didn’t help). To warm up before class I started to jump up and down a few times, and my ankle immediately hurt. One partner missed my arm doing ikkyo, and poked me right between the eyes. I almost got stepped on about 4 times, but the key word there is “almost.” Since actually getting stepped on twice this month (once on each foot) I’ve been more careful about that, and got my feet out of the way this time. And I have a few new bruises. No real harm done (although my knee worries me a bit – it’s an ongoing thing). Hooray for Arnica gel and ice packs.

There were a couple of techniques that I and my partner were both not feeling real good about yet when we had to stop practicing during class (shomen-uchi ikkyo, omote and ura), so we stayed after for a few minutes to work on them (and on katate-dori shihonage). I’m learning to be very happy with “better.” We definitely got them “better.”

I’ve been noticing the same thing in class, that I may not have a whole technique down, but I get some aspect of it right, or even if it’s not perfect, the overall thing flows a little more smoothly. Trending in the right direction is a good thing. I’ll take it.

Class ended on a more-contemplative-than-usual note, with Sensei reminding us that Aikido is not about attacking and defending, not me and you, but about the shared energy between partners. Good thoughts to take us into the weekend.

Working Hard, Playing Hard

This is day one of my 15-day personal Aikido Intensive. Tonight included lots to think about – refining some well-known techniques and exploring some new ones. Awesome class. After a very challenging week at work (at lot of which was engaging and rewarding, but still…), I really needed it, too.

Several of the techniques we worked on involved falling or rolling – quite a lot of it. I had been kind of stiff and achy all day, and the first few rolls I did before class weren’t pretty (or pleasant) at all. But by the end of the class my partner and I were playing pretty hard (by my standards, at least), and it was sheer fun. And afterward I felt a lot better than I did when I walked in.

As I was driving home I thought about my first phone conversation with Dave Goldberg Sensei. I knew I wanted to do Aikido, and was looking into training at Aikido of San Diego. I had heard somewhere about a low-impact class, and thought that might be what I needed, since I’ve had an abundance of foot, arm, hand, and shoulder problems (with all the associated PT, surgery, orthotics, etc.). Sensei explained that he’d tried that kind of class at some point, but he preferred that things be more inclusive, with everyone in the same classes. He said I wouldn’t be expected to do anything I couldn’t handle.

Part of that conversation was some nonsense from me about only being able to train once a week, and would that even be worth doing – and would he even have me as a student if that’s all I could make time for. Thankfully, he said “A little Aikido is better than no Aikido,” and invited me to come observe a class.

I had several concerns about doing Aikido. Because of foot problems I rarely wear sandals or go barefoot, even around the house. Walking from the car to the dojo in flip-flops was the first time in several years I’d worn anything other than fairly rigid, supportive shoes or boots. I felt naked. I considered taping my feet, but hoped I could handle working on the mat without that.

I’ve also had trouble with vertigo. On a few occasions it’s been so bad I could not stand up, walk, or even look around. Completely debilitating and miserable. Last Christmas I spent two days sitting still and staring into the distance. When I managed to walk to the barn to feed Rainy and the donkeys I was so disoriented I had to hang onto things, and got seasick anyway. It’s harmless, but awful. I’ve done months of PT for it, worked with vestibular disorders specialists, etc. I couldn’t even lie down flat without risking starting the spinning all over again.

In class, of course, the first thing to do was to learn rolls, with one of the senior students. I didn’t know what would happen when I tried – if the dojo would start spinning, if I wouldn’t be able to stand up… And I told them so, because seeing someone in that condition can be fairly worrisome to one who isn’t familiar with it. I had even arranged to call for a ride home, just in case I wasn’t able to drive.

After that first class, in May 2009, I had some pretty sore muscles, but nothing injured my shoulders or hands. My feet felt OK on the mat. And the rolling didn’t start the world spinning. (Woohoo!) Most of those problems are things I still need to take care about, but they haven’t stopped me, and all have improved since I started doing Aikido.

I got to thinking about all this as I was driving home. How lucky I am to be able to do this at all, physically. How grateful I am for Sensei’s stand on inclusive classes, and for giving a “one night a week” student a chance. How wonderful it is to just feel good in my body, even (especially) while playing pretty hard.

So if you see me grinning like an idiot while getting tossed across the dojo, now you’ll know why.

Triumph Over the Brain

Classes 9 & 10, Tuesday and tonight (Thursday).

Boy, what a contrast… If you’ve been keeping up (not that I would expect anyone to), you know that I injured my shoulder a while back. Through the miracle of PT, massage, ice, exercise, rest, ice, stretching, ice, and time, it is better. I got the OK on Monday of last week to go back to rolling/falling, with the admonition to not land on the top of my shoulder ever again.

Last Tuesday my brain was not ready to roll at all. I couldn’t even picture what a decent roll would look like. Stupid brain.

So this Tuesday I figure I’d manage to start back to rolling, which I was doing reasonably well before my injury (thank goodness for that, so I had some good mental point of reference). Alas, Tuesday’s class comes around, and I really couldn’t bring myself to get to do it. I also couldn’t seem to do anything else right in class. Very frustrating. And everyone I worked with was trying to be very helpful. And usually they are helpful. (I’m regularly amazed at how good everyone is at teaching, even 6th/5th kyu people.) But on Tuesday I couldn’t make heads nor tails of many of the techniques, so repeating them was just annoying, because I was repeating the wrong thing, or doing it differently each time. I was so disappointed with myself that I went home and by gosh practiced re-learning how to roll (very gently and slowly) in the living room floor.

That finally seemed to remind my brain a little that “See, we do so know how to do this!” I ended on a good note, and let that sink in for a couple of days.

So today I got to do another class (I’m on vacation this week). I got there 45 minutes early, and very slowly started working on rolling. Like, from on your hand and knees, sliding your hand under and behind, until you just tip over. Easy peasy, right?

It’s amazing what our brains can do to us after a “life threatening” experience. When I was a kid I was fearless on horseback. (Still am, pretty much.) You know the deal about getting back on the horse? Well it’s true. I used to come off all the time. No biggie. But one day I tumbled off right near the gate to the pen, at the end of the day. I wasn’t hurt at all, and it wasn’t traumatic or scary. I was probably laughing. But I didn’t get back on. Didn’t think anything of it. I just turned the horse loose and went home. The next time I came out to ride I caught the horse, groomed her, and never even thought about that “fall.” But when it came time to get on, I was shaking. Thankfully, I am too stubborn to give that input much weight, but it’s interesting (and unsettling). Our brains don’t take kindly to repeating situations where we “almost got ourselves killed.”

That same thing happened to me tonight. I had a huge area to myself, with all the time in the world, and was feeling great. I’d do a simple, easy, slow roll, and my heart would be pounding. I’d stop and sit, and let myself feel happy for having done it right, and notice that I wasn’t hurt, and visualize myself doing it again, correctly. And then I’d do it again. More heart-pounding. “Thank you for sharing, Brain. Let’s go…” And then from squatting down, but on my feet… Have you ever jumped off the start of a zipline? You know you’re safe, you know it’ll be fun, but your brain is panicking? Yeah, like that. Walked around and shook it off, breathed, walked, squatted down and rolled. Got up, walked and breathed. And rolled again. Each time I’d wait until I was as relaxed as I could get, and just let myself tumble into a roll. And let myself experience that I did it, and that I was fine. Brain started to let my heart slow down a little.

Sensei reminded me that there is no rush. Maybe I should replace the “Patience My A**” sign on my office door with “There is no rush.” Great reminder, and one I need regularly.

And then class started. I’d never been to the Thursday night class, but whatever. They’re all Aikido classes, right? Uh… If I’d paid attention to what it said on the schedule, and not just the time, I might’ve noticed that it was a weapons class. I’ve been meaning to try that, but yikes… “Everybody go grab a jo.” What? Acck! OK… LOL It went really well. All the helpful people were magically helpful once again. I ended with doing techniques better than when I started, and was not confused about them (not good at them, but at least I understood what the heck I was trying to do). I even managed to very comfortably and confidently roll out of some jo techniques.

Aikido is fun again.

Darned Brain…

Class 8, I believe, was last Tuesday evening.

I’ve been a bit slow putting together enough connected thoughts about it to make a proper blog post. Now I’m just giving up and blurting out some unconnected things.

First, I got a surprise at my PT appt on Monday. My PT was very happy, told me to cancel my upcoming appointment, and gave me the go-ahead to roll, fall, and whatever else I want to do. “But if you land on that shoulder again, don’t come crying to me.”

Class was on Tuesday. I figured it would be best to start with rolling practice (solo only, I mean), and just do back rocking-falls (not all the way over) as uke. I wasn’t quite confident enough to do forward rolls out of techniques. That seemed like a conservative and rational plan.

Strange though, how our brains are not rational. I say “easy, soft rolls that I was doing quite happily and with confidence before I got injured, so no problem.” Brain, on the other hand, says “Uh, no way. We’re gonna die.” So I was thinking too much, and being too cautious and tense, and nothing worked well (except the sitting-backwards-and-rocking-back kinds of falls). I couldn’t do a simple slow back roll to save my life. Have you seen that Garfield (the cat) cartoon where John (the owner) asks Garfield how he manages all 4 feet when he walks, and Garfield gets to thinking about it, and then can’t walk because he’s so confused? It felt like that.

Well, OK, I did *one* back roll very nicely after class, but when I tried to do it again, it was gone. I rolled on my spine, and thunked my head on the mat, and rolled with my shoulders stiff. The more I tried to get it right, the more I got it wrong. No injuries – I didn’t do any damage – but my brain got to say “See, I was right! I told you it was going to hurt.” This could be an interesting downward spiral if I don’t get it stopped, pronto.

I didn’t do much better with anything else in class, either. Thank goodness there were a few brand new students, so we went slowly over some really simple stuff. Over, and over, and over. Which I really needed. There were a couple of things that finally started to click.

Strangely, I could not grasp irimi. The simplest thing ever. I kept stepping too far, turning too much, turning the wrong way. I wonder if we get any better at learning as we age? Something got me thinking this morning about learning to write letters as a little kid. Do you remember doing drills, following examples, tracing letters, and practicing, practicing, practicing? One would think you could hear “Look, it’s like a pointy teepee, with a bar across the middle,” and that would be it. But it took ages, and it wasn’t easy. Aikido feels like that. A lot of it is simple, but for some reason it’s hard to remember “oh yeah, I step *this* way…”

Another thing this class pointed out (strongly) is that I’m pathetically out of shape aerobically-speaking. We did the same throw many times near the end of class, in a pretty good rhythm. I grab left, I go down, I grab right, I go down, you grab left, I throw you, you grab right I throw you, repeat. That was great, because it finally started to really flow, without thinking. But dangit I need to spend a lot more time on the elliptical trainer.

Speaking of which, I asked my PT about setting up an ongoing exercise program I can do at home (correctly), for strength and flexibilty, so my muscles are supporting my joints, so I can hold myself in proper posture for more than 2 minutes, etc. He referred me to a trainer who is a PT herself (and so won’t have me doing stupid things that will just get me injured). I’ve got two sessions with her the week after next. Very excited about that.

Next week I’m off work, so I might get to do a few extra classes. I’m hoping I can convince my brain that it can shut up and just let the body relax and roll. “Thank you for sharing, brain. You can sit down now.”

Back on the Mat!

This was class #7, I believe.

I had been figuring (based on what my PT had said a couple of weeks ago) that I’d be out for a few more weeks yet. But yesterday both he and my orthopedic Doc put me through the ringer with exercises and x-rays, and both agreed I was doing great, and could go back to class. No rolling or falling yet, but anything else that doesn’t hurt is fair game. I even showed Doc a video (on my iPod) from my dojo, to be sure he understood what Aikido was. He thought I was nuts to want to do that (he’s hilarious), but didn’t think my shoulder would be in danger. Woohoo!

I tried some gentle warm-ups from class at home last night, as a sanity check, and that went well. So tonight I joined in, instead of just watching.

I kinda figured I would make it partway through (a 90-minute class), and would start to get sore/ouchy, but noooo…. I did fine. Everyone was very considerate in their techniques, and really nothing hurt at all. I’m just giddy. Yay!

The exercises I’ve been able to do (both strengthening, and mental/awareness kind of things) have made a huge difference. (Many thanks to everyone who suggested things to do, and cautioned me about things to not do, in response to a question I asked on the Forums this past week!) I don’t feel any of the muscle pain I did in the first few classes, and felt more stable and solid during class.

I was especially encouraged right from the start (during a pre-class 15-minute meditation period), when my right knee did not hurt. It was chonically stiff. Seiza hurt, and sitting cross-legged hurt more. I’ve been doing lots of warming up, stretching, and massage, and it’s been getting better. Tonight, not even a twinge.

There were even a few moments when I felt glimmers of competency. I’m still a tangle of arms and legs, all going in the wrong directions (bless Sensei’s patient heart, and my fellow students), but every now and then I got them a little bit organized and did the right thing, more or less.

I’m not letting up on the ice packs, exercises, stretches, or PT, but meanwhile, I’m very encouraged, and looking forward to next Tuesday.

Training Diary – The First 6 Classes

From my notes on my first six Aikido classes:

Physical Info – Starting Point

Health: Coming off 2 weeks or a horrendous cold. Feeling better.
Weight: 189 lbs., goal of 160 lbs. (And then “We’ll see.”)
Fitness: Sedentary work, semi-active fun (cleaning horse pen, gardening…). Few PT exercises for shoulder. No working out or stretching for many years.
Vertigo: Much better over past couple of months. Encouraged, but concerned that rolling and breakfalls could set it off again.


Tuesday evening, May 5, 2009
Class #1
Really fun, awesome people, great time, very excited about Aikido.
Very sore, tired quads later. Did lots of walking and stretching.

Started walking around park several times during the day at work.

Saturday morning, May 9, 2009
Class #2
An hour before class something “went out” a little in my hip. Figured it would loosen up with work. Ha! Wrong. On very first attempt at rolling hip went into spasm.
Limped through class. (Too stubborn to bow out.)
Did lots of walking and stretching for several days. Probably piriformis muscle. Learned trigger point technique using foam roller, which helped.

Tuesday evening, May 12, 2009
Class #3
Very comfortable. Feeling good. Halfway competent at where to stand, what to do…

Wednesday evening, May 13, 2009
Class #4
Forward rolls from standing/walking. Great fun. Lots of work on breathing, centering, flowing… Quiet blending exercises – nothing I had envisioned doing in a “martial art” – very cool!
Right at end of class landed hard on right shoulder.

Between classes
Major pain. Several days of Really Bad Muscle Spasms in shoulder. Lots of intensive work with icing, heat, and trigger points.

Breathing and centering exercises from class are tremendous for pain control. Open posture and attitude (?) reduce pain & discouragement, while closed posture and focusing on self make everything notably worse. Lots and lots of stopping, centering, breathing in the universe, focusing outward, extending.

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Observed class and tests! Dojo picnic at Santee lakes.
Lucky timing, that I should have the chance to meet so many people so soon.

Between classes
Shoulder much better, but not enough, by Monday. Off to Orthopedic guy who had done earlier bone spur removal surgery on that shoulder. Dx: Minor separation of the AC joint. Rest, ice, activity as tolerated. No Aikido. Next check in 2 weeks.

Tuesday evening, May 19, 2009
Observed class
Paid especially close attention to things I could do on my own, trying to be sure I understand them well enough to practice the right thing: Stretches, breathing, warm-up exercises, hanmi. Walking, grounding, aligning, settling. Many notes on names of techniques, and elements to remember.

Between classes
Holistic Health Practicioner (HHP) back from vacation. 90-minute massage. Many knots undone, bless her very skilled heart and hands.

Tuesday evening, May 26, 2009
Observed class
Similar notes and observations. Watching classes is time well-spent, but very much like “watching all the other kids play in the pool.” Very frustrating.

Saturday morning, May 30, 2009
Observed weapons class and open-hand class
Brought two friends who have been thinking about studying Aikido. One, Sue, with whom I used to work, and had not seen in years, and a new friend, Edgar, from Twitter who I was just meeting for the first time.
Had not really considered weapons work, but am now thinking it would be a very good idea to be doing this too.

Between classes
To Doc for shoulder check on Monday. Happy with progress. OK to do classes, but no falling or rolling. Yay! Next check in 3 weeks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Class #5
Back on the mat! Was able to do quite a lot. Finally remembered to say “onegai shimasu” at the right time. Progress! Sensei very kind about alerting me to upcoming techniques I would not be able to do. Some ouchy experiences, but mostly good.

Between classes
Still icing shoulder 3-5x/day. Some heat, too.
90-minute massage with HHP. Many more nasty knots.
On Monday not happy with progress. Feeling worse, not better. Other shoulder starting to hurt almost as bad. Made PT appt.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Class #6
Participated, but a bit more cautiously. Could not lift hands over head without pain. Sat out about half the class. Should’ve just observed.

Between classes
PT appt. Turns out there’s also an injury to the brachial plexus – a bunch of nerves. Numbness & tingling in fingers. Not a good thing. I am not to do anything that causes any pain in shoulders. Now 2x/week PT for 4 weeks. Must get injured tendon calmed down so it does not irritate nerve. Benched for at least 4 more weeks, if I’m lucky, and then will have to be careful to not reinjure shoulder.

Physical Info – Current

Health: Felt like cold was coming back. Doc says allergies. Treating that, and feeling 80% better.
Weight: 181 lbs. Down 8 lbs. Goal of 160 lbs.
Fitness: Walking breaks at work. Taking stairs. Lots of stretching & exercises on my own (stepping on/off straw bale 20 reps, 2x/day).
Vertigo: No problems so far w/rolling or falls. Survived 4-hour sailing adventure, even.

Finally – up to date. Whew. Hmm… I was thinking I had done 7 classes, but it’s only 6.