Gym Idiosyncrasies.

We all know that “humans are creatures of habit,” and we’re often reminded that in many cases, it’d be best if we weren’t. We’re advised to change up our patterns to stay safe. We’re warned that our routines will slowly kill us with stagnation if we don’t interject some spontaneity into our lives here and there. And everyone knows that operating on auto-pilot isn’t the ideal way to live life! Maybe so, but there’s comfort to be found in habits, routines and rituals. I’m quite attached to mine, though I know it’s true what they say… when we get set in our ways, others learn our patterns. Besides getting mired in the dreaded rut, we can become targets, if you’re looking from the dark side, or caricatures, if you’re looking with a sense of humor.

Speaking to that sense of humor side, Les Mills International posted an entry on their blog the other day, and a friend who teaches Les Mills (i.e. Body Combat) and other group fitness classes posted it on her FaceBook page. In the article, they list some of the DIFFERENT TYPES OF LES MILLS GROUP X GO-ERS.

The first type, the Front Row Diva, made me laugh right away. My “spot” in Body Combat is in the front row, and I heard that no one even stood in it when I was out sick, haha!

I would identify with the Front Row Diva if I liked to be directly in front of the instructor, or if I wanted to upstage the instructor, lead the class, or predict her moves. Or if dancing was applicable in the class, and if I could dance… or if my “dancing” was grinding. Okay, so the Front Row Diva isn’t really a good fit, at all.

But the front row part is very true. Since I use my own reflection as my opponent, I have to be able to see it, and the only way to do that is to be in front (any further back and I’d need glasses), and off to the side (so no one is in front of me).

Anyway, I thought the post was funny, and it got me thinking about my various other gym-related patterns and idiosyncrasies.

Here’s the break-down!

Clothing

–I usually don’t know what gym clothes I’m wearing until I change into them… and sometimes not even then. Sometimes, I don’t notice what I’m wearing at all unless someone (like Callaghan the other day) points it out.

Him: *sidling up to me in class* Hello, Ninja!

Me: haha I’m not a ninja.

Him: *points at my shirt*

Me: *looks down at shirt* Oh, yeah, I’m wearing my ninja shirt!

I honestly didn’t know.

This is because my method of packing my gym bag is in a huge hurry, randomly grabbing stuff out of the drawers. In the top drawer, the stack of shirts is on the left and the sports bras are on the right. My shorts are in the drawer beneath that one. I take one thing from each pile and throw it all into my gym bag without thinking about it. Auto-pilot can be a wonderful, time-saving thing, and it helps a lot that I have zero interest in gym attire. As long as my clothes are clean, I don’t care what they look like.

 

After working out last night. Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int'l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?). Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they're SO OLD.

After working out last night.
Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int’l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?).
Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they’re SO OLD.

 

–The only gym clothes I bother examining are my socks. I have black ones and gray ones. If they’re black, I check to make sure they’re the right black ones… I have two similar-but-different types, but I can only wear one kind while working out. The other ones are thinner and looser; I can feel my feet sliding around in my shoes when I wear them, and it’s annoying.

If they’re the gray socks, I check to make sure they’re a matching pair. They’re marked with the brand’s logo in different bright colors, and while I don’t care if my t-shirt and shorts are ancient with holes in them, I do care if my socks don’t match, even if no one can see the logo because it’s on the sole of the foot! (That’s why I’m calling these “idiosyncrasies.”)

Hmm… I just realized that I’m more concerned about my socks than anything else I wear to the gym.

Changing

I change into my gym clothes in the car on the way. Callaghan and I have it down to a science:

–He picks me up from work at 5:00pm. My packed gym bag is already in the car from when I’d tossed it in there that morning.

–I get in. He starts driving. My gym bag is between us, and I’ve got it open and I’ve pulled out my shorts, shoes and socks.

–We’re on Mill Avenue in the middle of downtown Tempe during rush hour and I’m slouched in the passenger seat without a seatbelt (I know, I know!) as I slide off my jeans and pull on my shorts. (If I ever die in a car accident with my pants around my ankles, that’s why. *knocks on wood*)

–Then I put on my shoes and socks.

–By the time my lower body is changed, we’re on Rio Salado either crossing Rural or waiting at the light at Rural. I say, “Okay! Tell me when it’s safe,” and just after we cross Rural, he says, “Go!” (Every time! How does that work? So far, no one has seen me half-naked in the car. *knocks on wood*)

–I quickly lean forward, rip off my top, undo my bra, shake it off, and shimmy into my sports bra. The whole operation takes less than 30 seconds. Down to a science.

–I straighten up and pull on my t-shirt. Then, finally, I put on my seatbelt.

–Work clothes and shoes get stuffed into the gym bag and tossed onto the back seat.

–I make sure the hair band around my wrist has two barrettes attached to it. I’ve taken to pulling my hair back once I’m in class.

–We get to the gym with enough time to run to the restroom before the class starts at 5:30pm.

FUN FACT: If it wasn’t for Callaghan driving us, I’d never make it on time.

Positioning in Class

–In Body Combat, I like to be in the front row and off-center, so I can see in the mirror, and there’s no one in front of me (see above).

–In any other group fitness situation, I like to be in the very back row, and again, off to the side. If you’ve ever been in a Boot Camp, Body Attack or H.I.I.T. class with me, you probably didn’t even see me, because I was hiding in the back corner.

FUN FACT: For some reason, the idea of being in the middle of the class (with people on all sides) makes me feel claustrophobic.

Pre-workout ritual

Come to think of it, I do have a little routine I do before class starts.

–Old habits: I do a few T’ai Chi “essentials” exercises, warming up my joints by rotating them. I go through the sequence of circular motions standing up, starting with my ankles and making my way up to my hips, shoulders and head, reversing the rotation half-way through. Then I put my hand on my head and gently pull it down toward my shoulder, first to one side, then the other. If I have time after that, I might put my hands on my knees and do some knee rotations.

Besides warming up my joints, this ritual also serves as a mini moving meditation… it’s how I center myself, get my energy (chi) flowing and my breathing coordinated with my movements, and transition my mind to training mode.

I finish with some torso twists that cause my arms to swing from side to side so the backs of my hands gently hit my kidneys, boosting the movement by lifting my heels in each direction. This is a qi gong exercise in the tradition of the Shaolin monks. I’ve heard it called “swaying arms,” or “swaying tree.”

This entire little pre-workout ritual takes anywhere from three to five minutes. (In a real T’ai Chi/Qi Gong class, it would be integrated with more exercises, and it would take a full hour.)

Post-workout ritual

–After class, I thank the instructor before I leave, because I’m truly grateful for her time. I know that most of the instructors have day jobs and family lives, and I appreciate those who have the dedication and stamina to get up there to motivate us at the end of the day! (I’m not sure that I could do it!)

–I’m drenched in sweat and totally gross, so in the car going home, I try to avoid leaning back against the seat. (I DO wear my seat belt, though.)

–When we get home, I remove what’s left of my make-up (just eyes, at that point!) if it’s during the week. (On Saturday mornings, I don’t wear make-up.) Then I usually make a protein shake before jumping in the shower.

The End. And now that you know all of my gym-related habits, I “should” change some of them, right?!

Have a great Tuesday, All!

Thanksgiving.

T minus 24 hours to road trip to California!

I was thinking the other day that not having human kids means that I’ll never have to feel like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving when my kid comes home from school brimming over with warm and fuzzy stories about the “history” of “the first Thanksgiving” and I find myself unable to keep from explaining the truth behind the myth. If schools could just limit Thanksgiving holiday festivities to cute finger turkey drawings, then fine, but somehow, I don’t see them omitting the fables of the “Pilgrims and the Indians” being BFFs on “the first Thanksgiving” anytime soon.

That bit of cynicism aside, one thing that’s remained true about Thanksgiving over time is its focus on expressing gratitude for a bountiful harvest, which has broadened to include giving thanks for everything that we have, including our good health and each other. This is the aspect of the holiday that appeals to me the most – its focus on family.

Thanksgiving is this week Thursday, and we’re going to be spending it with my family. When I lived in France, I missed the comfortable proximity to my family more on Thanksgiving than at any other time. You always hear people saying, we should give thanks and express gratitude for our families every day, not just on Thanksgiving, and I agree with this, but still… Thanksgiving.

And I’m feeling so grateful for my family… the family that chose me, the one that I’ve chosen and the one that I inherited just by being alive.

We all have family, even if we think we don’t. If your circumstances are such that your actual family members are absent in the world, if you feel isolated and friendless, as long as there are people in the world, you have family.

In Hawaii, you’ll find this concept expressed openly and naturally by the locals, as the family mentality is a part of the local culture. If you’re walking along the beach and a child is playing in your path, it’s likely that the adult sitting nearby will call to the child, with firm affection, “Come over here, Bobby… let Auntie pass.” And you’ll look over at the parent to find him smiling and nodding at you with respect. Auntie. Think of it! A total stranger will see you coming and say to his child, let Auntie pass. (Yes, this happened to me.)

You are family. We’re all family. Humankind is a human family, and I believe this to be true: When there’s injustice in the world, we have to remember that we’re all brothers and sisters, and we have to allow this to give us strength. Being united gives us strength. Our interconnectedness is an absolute, even in our moments of craving our solitude, even while counting our enemies. To me, Thanksgiving is a time to remember this and to feel our bond and connection with others. Being human also means that we can lose patience and hold grudges, but on Thanksgiving, I want to be mindful of our oneness and feel grateful for what that means. We walk the same earth and breathe the same air. We can help each other and commiserate and make each other laugh and offer comfort and support as easily as we can do harm.

 

Reflecting lights... candle flames on a dark morning.

Reflecting lights… candle flames on a dark morning.

 

Happy Thanksgiving week, All.

Here’s Ten Dollars; Keep the Karma.

Sometime in the nineties, I started noticing tip jars (often just plastic cups) sitting near the cash registers at certain casual restaurants… specifically, tip jars bearing cute little signs to the effect of, “Tip! It’s good for your karma.” I still see them around, and I always think to myself that if someone is going to use a religious concept as a charming way to get people to leave optional tips, why stop at eastern religions? One could just as easily frame it in western religious terms: “Tip! All your sins will be forgiven,” or “Tip! You’ll go to heaven.”

But I know the answer to that. Western religions aren’t hip and trendy in the western world the way eastern religions are, so the lure of “good karma,” it is. Moral causality. Throw money into the jar, and the act will work in your favor.

It’s a much more serious matter to talk about sin and heaven. Whether or not we Americans believe in karma, seeing the word “karma” on a tip jar isn’t going to pack the same psychological punch as the words “sin” and “heaven.” We’re largely a nation of people hard-wired to react strongly to those words in one way or another. The notion of karma just isn’t culturally ingrained in us in the same ways.

Where “karma” on a tip jar is cute, clever and cool, the words “sin” and “heaven” on the same jar would come across as preachy, flippant or even sacrilegious, and the effect would be adverse because of it. No matter how many ribbons and rainbows and flowers and smiley faces you put on it, a jar labeled with holier-than-thou signage isn’t going to work.

So, fine… it’s cool, cute, hip and trendy to decorate your tip jar with the word “karma.” Here are some examples I found online:

 

Karma: the new currency!

Karma: the new currency!

 

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

 

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

 

It’s light and fun and people dig it. I get that. I myself use the word “karma” lightly, every time I park somewhere and think, good parking karma! because I scored a prime parking spot. Here’s the thing, though. Here’s why “karma” on a tip jar bugs me. It’s one thing to remark and laugh about “parking karma,” but another thing entirely to use the word in an attempt to influence peoples’ actions.

Moreover, there’s this: I usually see the “karma jars” in trendy eateries where you order and pay for your food at the counter. Tips at these kinds of establishments are optional and gratuitous, since you’re not receiving table service. Tipping gratuitously at a counter in this case is simply giving.

Giving, in eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism – to simplify, let’s just default to Buddhism, since that’s the trendiest of the eastern religions, and that’s the one I know the best – is dana, which is a Pali word that indicates “selfless” giving. I shall be helpful to others. To give selflessly means that you don’t want or expect anything in return. You give without thinking of what you might get back.

I grew up spending Sunday mornings sitting in a Jodo Shinshu church (Jodo Shinshu is a type of Japanese Pureland Buddhism on the Mahayana side) listening to dharma talks (sermons) and going to dharma class (Sunday school), and I’ve heard countless lectures on what it means to be selfless. From what I understand, putting a sign on a tip jar that says, “Tip! It’s good for your karma” is actually anti-Buddhist in nature. Dropping money into a jar thinking of what you’re going to get out of it later isn’t Buddhist. It’s the opposite of Buddhist. It’s selfish, not selfless, because you’re putting money into the jar thinking of yourself.

I just can’t see it as cute or cool or hip or whatever. All I can do when I see these “karma” tip jars is try to be a good Buddhist and have compassion, but it’s hard when I’m inwardly rolling my eyes and biting my tongue. I am not a good Buddhist.  I’m always trying, but I see where I need to tweak my meditation practice in an attempt to improve.

The proliferation of tip jars asking for money with the promise of something good in it for me has always irked me, as the general cultural appropriation of eastern religions by westerners has irked me (please note that I’m differentiating between earnest students and converts to eastern religions and those who just dig certain aspects of the religions to the point of, say, slapping a “karma” sign on a tip jar while not actually knowing what that means, much less studying and practicing said religion). Buddhism seen as a hip and trendy cultural thing just confounds me. I don’t know what to make of it, really.

I’m confounded by those tip jars.

I’m confounded when people think that being Buddhist means that you have to be a vegetarian. (Unless you’re a monk in certain temples, you can eat whatever you want.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks authoritatively of having a soul. (Buddhists don’t believe in the existence of souls.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks of sin. (Buddhists don’t believe in the concept of sin.)

Buddhist philosophy is difficult and complex, and I’m certainly no one to judge when Buddhist-curious people or admirers of Buddhism or actual converts display ignorance. I’ve been working toward the realization of a higher prajna (wisdom) my whole life, and I can tell you, it’s not easy. I have a stack of books, some of which I’ve had as long as I can remember, as they were passed down to me by my Grandmother, filled with my questions scribbled in the margins, post-its with more questions marking pages, hundreds of my questions that haven’t yet been answered. Karma is just one of many challenging concepts in eastern religions, so the sight of those tip jars with their blithe karma signs written by people who (probably) aren’t Buddhist acting like they care about the welfare of my karma so they can get money just annoys me if I see them when my patience levels are low. What do you know about karma? I want to ask on the days I’m cranky when I see the karma tip jars. Please enlighten me, because I was raised Buddhist, I am still Buddhist, I’ve been studying Buddhism/Buddhist philosophy/eastern religious philosophy all of my life, and I still don’t fully grasp the doctrine of karma.

 

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

 

The truth is, I probably have a decent grasp on eastern religious philosophy, but its complexity is such that some aspects of it seem to elude my understanding the more I study it, and at this point in my life, I just want to enjoy the feeling of serenity and peace I experience when I release my mind during my practice. So I don’t study it as much anymore. I just do my practice and try to live by Buddhist principles as best as I can. I try to “practice intention with detachment from outcome.” I try to practice mindfulness and gratitude, saying “thank you” freely and often, and really feeling it. And I try to be patient, but as you can see from this post, I still need a lot of work in that area. A part of this is that I tend to be impatient by nature (in some contexts).

This tip jar at one of my favorite local restaurants is a welcome breath of fresh air every time I see it:

 

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

 

I’m going to happily continue partaking of their somewhat luxurious fare every once in a while, because the Chop Shop Tempe guys are honest, and honest is what’s cute, cool and clever… plus, their raw vegetable salad with grilled tofu (which I order without cheese) is delicious and vegan and therefore good for my karma! (If you know me well, you know that I’m giggling as I write this.

Carry on.