Thunder From The Heavens

I’m a bit of a loud guy from a loud family. I try to catch myself from being inappropriately loud in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hell… I can’t monitor myself that closely all the time. That would be impossible… and really no fun. So screeeeewwww that.  Let the decibels ring forth!

However, there are many ways where I am decidedly quiet.  Certain things I deem more important to be private or quiet about.  If I were to try and give you clear guidelines about what falls onto this list, I think I would come up woefully short of an apt description.  Just something about being so out front about these things can just feel… I dunno… unseemly.  That’s the word that best captures it.

I think that’s why this image I saw recently (and I wish I could remember which friend posted it to give them proper credit), it struck me so powerfully.

I’m not really one to tout my own praises or merits or great successes, although I have certainly done it a few times in the moment.  Lord knows when I finished Tough Mudder in 2012 I was all kinds of fired up and proclaimed that loudly and proudly on my Facebook wall.  But that’s very much an exception to the rule for this more retiring cowpoke.

It’s just that this image captures so many great messages, but in sticking with the most obvious, it’s about what you do and not just what you say.  Of course what you say can have a positive impact on people – some can inspire others to spectacular feats with their words.

But more often that not?  Be more about the doing than the speaking.

I’ve had people come to me for various kinds of career advice and this is usually my #1 piece of feedback.  The questions tend to be about networking and who they should set up meetings with and who they need to get to know and what teams and titles they should have.  I admire their passion, their desire to advance themselves forward.  Passion is a beautiful commodity and if you have it, hold onto it and nurture it (positively).

My response always tends to be the same: “Those things are all good… but you know what gets you noticed most?  What gets you furthest in life and work?  Consistently kicking ass at what you do.”

Occasionally my remark gets a blank response back as if to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious… I already knew that.  I needed something else…”

Except… you didn’t need something else.  You really needed to get down to putting boots to backsides.  It’s a good reminder for me as well whenever I begin to think about where I want to be going.  If I cannot answer… in detail… about what I am trying to do to kick ass for whatever definition of success I am seeking, then I’m clearly not on the right track.

As the bard of our era… Usher, of course… once sang “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”  And as horrified as I am to quote Usher, it’s a succinct way of seeing it.

In the end, Mr. Ocean puts it even better.  As loud, passionate and eloquent as your voice may be, your methodical daily grind of work will always produce a sweeter song.

Life Lessons From the Prowler Part 1: Consistency of Conditions

The Prowler is a funny thing.  Well, not so much Will Ferrell kind of funny that fills you with magic and glee and rainbow smiles… more like funny in the sense that you sometimes wonder why in the world you make use of it at all when it causes so much pain and suffering.  Nary a rainbow smile to be found at all.  Insert favorite emoticon frowny face here.

But what I have found is that a lot of rather interesting thoughts occur to me during and after my Prowler sessions.  It dawned on me that maybe I could get a series going on these thoughts and share them with you, dear reader of this blog… because here, we are all about epicmode.  Oh that’s right… beastmode isn’t good enough any more.  EPICMODE FTW OMG!

*Ahem*  Sorry about that – I think the Red Bull I had earlier was stronger than usual.

Here is my first installment from the end of my Prowler session yesterday.  To get the full appreciation of Prowler-inspired goodness, it’s critical to get those thoughts captured right as the session ends.  And hey, why not do it in video form while trying to catch your breath?  That sounds like a win for everyone involved.  No script.  No planning.  No edits.  Just pure flow.

This kick-off post is about consistency of conditions  No matter how many times you’ve done something or how much expertise you’ve developing at doing it, you will hit life snags that will throw you off your flow.

Enjoy.  Looking forward to more of these coming soon.

Getting My Namaste On: A Weightlifter’s Journey Into Yoga

One funky octopus
Downtown Yoga in Hartford, CT. Namaste, y’all.

Good Lord… the BURN.  I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.

Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.

The Start

I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can.  I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should.  I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice.  On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine.  See?  I need yoga even more than I admit.

The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old.  And honestly?  I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).

The stress piece has always been a lingering thing.  It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do).  But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be.  It was time to get some change, pronto.

Into The Fray

I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga.  If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”.  I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat.  So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you.  (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).

In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here).  What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities.  Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here.  That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer.  (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)

Plus, I liked their snappy promo video:

Downtown Yoga – Happy, Healthy, Hartford. from Downtown Yoga on Vimeo.

So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.

My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect.  I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display.  I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner.  Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row.  Sweet mother of God.

Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived.  Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll.  So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga?  Lots of good reasons.

Performance.  Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better.  My insanely tight hips are now just super tight.  That’s a big win.  I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight.  One day?  I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid.  But for now?  Small steps.  Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid.  I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower.  That’s huuuuge.

Yoga studio
It’s… about… to go… down.

Challenge Without Competition.  I’m naturally competitive.  If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.”  Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that.  I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates.  Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this.  However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.  There are no points in yoga.  No score.  No playoffs.  Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath.  Simple.

Dat Good Feeling Doe.  Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good.  No, I feel really good.  Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it.  However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well.  The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else.  Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it?  It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.

Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example.  You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish.  Then you know what Jenny does?  She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.

It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her.  In turn, this makes me feel grateful.  It’s infectious.

So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it.  I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits.  I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot.  I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).

Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB.  Somehow, damn it.

The Smartest Guy in the Room (And That Room Is A Gym)

Every time I train, I’m the smartest guy in the gym.  By far.  It’s really not a debatable point.OK sure, so I train by myself in the basement, but my original assertion stands just fine on its own.

I’ve long tried to approach my gym training with a sense of purpose and direction about what I am looking to accomplish.  I’ve tried to be focused on the fact that I have my own goals and it doesn’t mean anything whatever everyone else’s goals are.  Isn’t that the point?

2013-09-20 19.35.16-1And in theory, this should all work out exceptionally well as the smartest guy in that room I use for my training.  Who else is there to distract me?  No one is coming up to chat with me.  There aren’t any charming young lasses batting their eyelashes in my general direction.  I don’t see someone else’s routine and think “Aww damn it all… I totally should be doing that.”

Hence, look at me!  Focused!  Driven!  Handsome and charismatic.  No seriously… look at me.  That’s a whole lot of sexy man right there and he wants to know how YOU doin’?  I mean… damn.

Umm… wait, where was I again?  Ahh yes, the distraction free life in my home gym.

Guess what?  In the last few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how easily distractions can creep in anyway… and it’s all about the bench press.

The bench press is one of those lifts that, regardless of your lifting experience, you know what it is.  It’s sort of the strength benchmark for casual conversations with most people.  When people ask me about lifting and such, it’s not usually how much I squat and it’s not how much I deadlift (two lifts that I ‘m good at and care about for a multitude of reasons).

Nope… everyone wants to know “HOW MUCH YA BENCH???”

But beyond that, the bench press is also one of the classic “big lifts” for powerlifting (squat, bench and deadlift) and for most serious routines around.  It’s also a lift that is technically demanding, requires a lot of time to improve… and can screw up your shoulders.

As my shoulders of late have felt pummeled by this vaunted lift, the question finally hit me like a ton of bricks:

“OK, smartest guy in the room… why DO you bench press?”

I don’t ever plan on competing in powerlifting.

It seems to do me more harm than good.

But… but… how will I know how strong I am?

And that last point is when I realized why I still benched – because my benchmark (pun so FULLY intended) is a lift I can compare myself to others on.  Not a lift that I just need to get stronger at or which has excellent carry-over to other athletic pursuits… but one that I could relate to the strength of others.

That’s when the smartest guy in my home gym decided to make a change this past week and ditch the bench press.  Oh, fear not, fellow meatheads… I will be doing other kinds of compound pressing lifts that focus on the chest.  Just not regular straight bar bench press.

Even when you’re all alone… even when you think you have a firm grasp on your own individuality and why you do things… never forget how easy it is to let the slow creep of comparison invade.  Vigilance in repelling this interloper in the night is crucial.

Because even the smartest guy in the room can miss the whole damn point.