Year of Kettle – Lessons From Three Quarters

In what seems like a blink of an eye, the year of kettle is rapidly coming to a close. I’m going to make my final entry for this series at the end of September so that I can reflect on transitioning back to teaching full-time after this lovely reprieve. When I was first planning this year off I wanted it all – lots of travel, lots of time spent with friends and family, lots of training, lots of competition, master breathing and meditation, become super flexible, do daily yoga as well as read, study, and sort through 17 years with of teaching resources…..all while taking care of all of the chores and cooking at home because you know, I have ALL this time. The lesson I learned here is the same one that Ray Dalio describes in his book Principles – ” If you work hard and creatively you can have just about anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” It took probably longer than it should have for me to realize this, but, by the time I was entering into the third quarter, I had a more realistic vision of what I wanted to achieve….but really, it was still all a gamble. I had to make choices about which areas I most wanted to improve or pursue and hoped that it was the best course of action to help me reach my goals. I always take 100% responsibility for all of my actions, so I wouldn’t change a thing about how it’s all gone down. If you actually take the time to read this entire post – thank you, for reading my ramblings.

My last post left me with my training at an all time high. Sets were looking great and I knew when the moment came for testing  whether in training or the platform I was going to be ready. Then osteoarthritis happened. Not the first time, and something I have been aware of and dealt with before, it just had never been more than a mere inconvenience, like a headache. Not something that took away 2 months (and counting) of training. It all started with what was the stupidest most mundane movement – rolling over in bed. The way my knee got snagged in the blankets caused a bunch of movement in my knee cap that caused enough pain to wake me from being dead asleep, and still continues today. This happened to occur 6 weeks before my trip to Scotland – where my primary goal was spending time training with my coach and teammates. Thanks to an incredible team of my chiropractor (Dr. Eric St. Onge), acupuncturist (Laura Kaufer), and massage therapist (Luke Kolezar-Green) who managed to get me from walking with a noticeable limp, to able to start lifting (not training) in a very short amount of time. Needless to say my brain wasn’t ready to make such a quick adjustment from peak training performance, to rehab for daily living. Being in chronic pain for so long also  made me depressed. Four things helped me make it through the mental unrest (in addition to my amazing treatment team) were- reading (see my book list for this quarter below), my breathing practice, my bullet journal, and the kindness of kettle friends. I was surprised and touched by the people who could tell that all wasn’t right and privately reached out, offered their support and shared their experiences with me. I’m profoundly grateful for that kindness.

In hindsight, all of the mental preparation and breathing practice saved me, and my real motivation for taking it on in the first place was for this very reason – to help me cope when shit went wrong. This experience is giving me the chance to actually apply the learning and practice I put in, and has been a very powerful lesson I needed, and a big awakening. Training is easy when everything is going great,  it’s whether you can stay focused, consistent and apply what you’ve practiced when everything around you (or inside you) falls apart. I do enjoy/love the problem solving process, and learning physical puzzles/challenges that address my weaknesses…but I also hate sucking and feeling inadequate at things, which I realise is inevitable, and in fact a necessary part of the learning process, especially the beginning. I noticed that when it comes to choosing weaknesses or physical limitations I want to improve in, I have a pattern of choosing ones that give me the greatest reward/reinforcement the quickest (easiest to learn or address). This year, I gambled with what I chose to address in order to grow as a person and lifter, and I feel I have made progress, but I also feel this new insight is likely what contributed to my current situation. By allowing myself to be distracted from where the real work needed to be put in, I find myself in a situation of trying to rebuild my legs. I want to reform the muscle/nerve connections I’ve lost through decades of ignoring my lower kinetic chain (and abusing it through a lifetime of competitive sports) so that I can better support my joints as I age, increase my repertoire of movements, and move more freely. I know I’ve said this before, but this experience has really scared the shit out of me.

relax-work-hardAnother lesson I have learned from this experience is paying closer attention to the balance between tension I create in my physical training, and daily living vs relaxation – the things I do in recovery to counteract the tension. In my own experience I find that if I don’t, for the most part, keep the ratio as close to equal as possible, over time it almost always leads to injury. As I age, I am noticing the window of time that my body will allow me to live out of balance shrinks substantially with each passing year. For me, tension is the easy part. I am very disciplined with my training schedule and never need motivation to go train, I love to work hard in all aspects of my life. The relaxation part I find more of a challenge and includes (but not limited to) things like my breathing/meditation practice, mobility and flexibility, daily reading, massage, acupuncture, eating properly, getting enough rest, and hydrating properly. Despite being extremely important to the longevity of my training, and physical function they still tend to be things my brain views as optional, and are the first things to be put off, or ignored if I feel I am “too busy.” I’m very lucky that my career provides me with benefits that save much of the cost of some of these activities, and yet I only tend to use them when I am injured, where I often find I use up my allotment more quickly than if I spaced them out and used them more preventatively. I’ve also realized this shift in tension/relaxation can happen inadvertently without being aware of something as simple (but important) as changing daily routines and habits. When I am a teacher I am standing for probably 95% of the day. During this time off, I have been sitting much more of the time. Only in hindsight have I realized the impact of this change to my routine, and the effect it would have on my body.

I’m really hoping this physical rebuild will lead to a breakthrough in confidence in myself as an athlete and individual, and is long overdue. I feel like this journey is something I have started and stopped several times in my life, being too impatient maybe, allowing myself to get caught up in distractions to avoid the real work that needed to get done, maybe even fear that I would actually reach my goals or perform all of the crazy shit I want to do, and, not sure why that is so scary….whatever it was/is I am tired of it….and I feel it’s a metaphor of bigger things going on in my brain. I want to show myself I can do it, I can let the ego go to do the work that matters, before it’s too late, no matter how long it takes. Osteoarthritis doesn’t get to win. Fuck that shit.  I preach to my students about not shying away from the hard work, or the length of the struggle. So here I am, trying to get back to training with a more established routine, and working on my lower kinetic chain like it’s my job. This rebuild could mean no competitions for me at all in 2018, or ever, but I refuse to let my mind go there just yet. The task at hand is just kicking ass at life, trying to get a little bit better and stronger each day.

My reading list for this quarter:

March

  • An Inspector Rebus Novel #6 – Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin
  • An Inspector Rebus Novel #7 – Let It Bleed by Ian Rankin
  • Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Ra Wee Book A’ Glesca Banter by Iain Gray
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

April and May

  • The Obstacle Is the Way  by Ryan Holiday
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
  • Ah Couldnae Believe Ma Ears by Allan Morrison

The books by Newport, Holiday and Pressfield have been huge game changers. I’m also currently getting deep into Dalio’s book Principles and they have all had the combined effect of really showing me the direction I want to take in life (particularly where teaching, relationships and lifting are concerned). I know what I need to do, and my goal (that if I am not too shy, I will share in my final post) is to actually write my principles down and make them more concrete and visible. This whole year of kettle has really been about me exploring and deciding what those principles should be, practicing them so that they become routine, and the final phase, which will be to transition this routine into something that I will continue manage once I resume my career. There’s much work to be done, and I’m looking forward to all of it.

So, with my new vision on the year of kettle you may be wondering how my visit to Scotland went? In a word – perfect. Two weeks really was a short amount of time. I can’t believe how quickly it went by. That being said, I am pretty impressed with the variety of experiences I fit into the amount of time that I had, and I am definitely indebted to my hosts for helping me make my vision reality. My main goals were cultivating friendships that started online, in person, as well as training kettle with my peeps, and of course experiencing a different culture. I was warmly embraced and felt apart of 3 Scottish kettle families (and growing) – My original home at Barbreck Studio in Glasgow, Forth Valley Kettlebell Club in Alloa, and Focus Kettlebell Club in Banton all of whom were phenomenal hosts, and places I had wanted to train for over a year (3yrs in the case of Barbreck Studio). Being in a group training atmosphere, and to learn how different clubs operate was such a wonderful experience, especially for someone who always trains alone. It was an easy transition to make as all 3 clubs are so caring and respectful, they all felt like home immediately. Something I am really going to miss is the strong and supportive communities they have created and are continuing to build.

 

 

Being a bit of a sheltered 46 year old, this was my first trip to the UK, and really the furthest I had travelled in about 12 years. I did some homework before my trip and became addicted to a few Scottish writer’s, radio and television programs. Getting to experience it in person still blows my mind. So rich in culture and history I loved that I did not stop learning the entire time. Positively fell in love with everyone I met, and felt most welcome everywhere I went. Trevor Noah does a funny stand up bit about being in Scotland and I agree with him whole-heartedly on both the inclusiveness and friendliness of the people, as well as their ability to drink me under the table. Teehee. Where I would disagree would be that I found there to be much more diversity than I had anticipated. Both from the outside influences of other cultures, as well as within Scottish and UK culture….and don’t even get me started on how incredible the food is!!! I made a point of trying some traditional dishes, as well as some of the best kabobs, ramen and pakoras I have ever had!

 

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I haven’t even mentioned the landscape! Those of you who know what a nature girl I am will know I immediately fell in love. The weather was fantastic for basically the entire trip, and I feel very lucky for everything I was able to see and experience. Gabbing with my new beautiful friend Emma, (who is also a teacher) I told her about this time when I was in university and I worked for a summer as a camp counselor at a camp for kids with disabilities. I once supported a boy at this camp who was blind. One day we went for a hike in the woods and he told me that at 10 years old no one had ever shown him a tree before, and asked if I would. For the next couple of hours we explored the forest feeling the bark, roots, branches, leaves, needles, pine cones, whatever we could find. I was so moved at his reaction when he started to cry. Driving through Glen Etive, I know exactly how he felt. I’d never experienced anything like it. I’m such a such a sap for simple acts of kindness, but it is something I will never forget, and yeah, it made me happy weepy as well.

 

 

So…Scotland… so much more I want to learn, see and do! Really wish I had been able to pick up an accent. Lol. I’ve picked up some new vocabulary, that I was a little shy speaking there but I plan to keep working on it! My husband has been getting a kick out of my love and addiction for Scottish television shows, and my attempts to incorporate banter into our conversations. Overall, this trip was just awesome to hang with my friends on their turf and to see the way they cultivate their lives. Positively blessed to have had a sneak keek and just a huge amount of love and respect for everyone I spent time with. I was also able to end my time in Scotland attending a workshop with my two most important mentors – my coach Abigail Johnston, and grand coach Eddie Sheehan, AND getting to lift at my first Grassroots competition, so lots of kettle was still able to happen, even hitting a couple prs in 2 of my 3, 5min sets (not bad for being broken). It always takes time for me to digest my lessons learned with Eddie and Abi, and my lifting always improves as a result. Once this body heals I know there will be no stopping my goal slaying train.

 

Something I hadn’t anticipated after such an amazing trip, was the post-travel funk. For the first week back I did nothing but eat Tunnock’s teacakes, Gold bars, and custard creams, while watching marathons of Still Game, writing in my bullet journal, and missing the heck out of all of the new and amazing people I met….or maybe it was jet lag, lmfao! Seriously though, I’m truly an introvert away from the classroom, and don’t let many people in. I was in such great hands spending time with some of the most genuine people I have ever met. As much as I was captivated by the differences in culture, I was enamoured by the similarities, and shows regardless of where you are from you will attract and find people with similar values. For me it was beautiful to be in a different setting but seeing people getting after the same things I cherish – meaningful work, and meaningful relationships. Getting back to my usual routine was bit of a struggle, however, as I get older and take adventures away from home, I am overcome with even more love and appreciation for where I live, and find new beauty I never noticed before. Thank you Scotland for these new awakenings.

20180602_143116Most recently I attended a bullet journal workshop in my neighbourhood where I was able to geek out and share with other bujo nerds, collect new ideas and spend some quality time working on my journal. This journal has turned out to be a great way for me to track my accountability on the “relaxation” side of my training, and to monitor where it may need more or less emphasis. It also gives me more accurate information I can share with my coach which will only enhance the way she is able to program for me. Hopefully in time I can see patterns more quickly which will help me reduce or even prevent arthritis flare-ups or other injuries before they happen.

This quarter I decided to get a tattoo to memorialize my year of kettle. It’s no coincidence that I planned to have it completed near my friend Jeff’s birthday. Much of this year has been spent properly grieving over losing him way too soon, and I know he would love both Vivendo Discimus (“by living we learn” – he and I are both philosophically on the same page when it comes to experiential teaching and learning), and the fact that I had an alumni Deer Park student whose family had a positive impact on both of us, to design and tattoo it. I love that this motto was coined by Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish biologist (my undergraduate degree) and sociologist and one of the founders of experiential teaching and learning.FB_IMG_1527912073398

The hummingbird and flower are the national symbols of Jamaica- half of the real me, the part that was often misunderstood and endured feeling inferior for a long time. Hummingbirds are like the ultimate stoics. They have no choice but to live every moment in the present, with a metabolism so high that they have to consume more than their own weight in nectar every day, or else they will die overnight. In this way, the hummingbird represents endurance and survival. Hummingbirds are always hours away from death, yet they survive and carry that inevitable brightness everywhere they go. Joy, beauty, and wonder are just a few of the qualities this bird symbolizes.  It’s a reminder to me to keep putting my genuine self out there, and that my experiences enduring adversity are always rewarded through living, where I have cultivated a meaningful career I love, and continue to cultivate meaningful relationships with others.

 

 

 

 

 

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YEAR OF KETTLE – MID REVIEW

Well, the halfway point in my year of kettle has crept up rather quickly. It’s been a relatively quiet winter for me, hunkered down, focusing on my goals. My last blog post I mentioned that something I was enjoying about the year of kettle was having more time to read. Little did I know that through reading, I would find my focus for what I really wanted to achieve this year. In the beginning of my sabbatical, I made no specific goals on how much I wanted to read, but decided in January I would quantify it. For 2018 I have made a goal to read 60 books. I have no idea how realistic this will be when I go back to work in September, but I am determined to find a way to make this a habit that I continue indefinitely.

January Reading List

  • The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson
  • What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter
  • Robert Burns NATURE – 12 poems inspired by nature by Alistair Turnbull
  • Mindset – The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
  • An Inspector Rebus Novel #4 – Strip Jack By. Ian Rankin

 

February Reading List

  • Mastery By. Robert Greene
  • The Power of Positive Thinking By. Norman Vincent Peale
  • Discipline Equals Freedom By. Jocko Willink
  • The Oxygen Advantage By. Patrick McKeown
  • An Inspector Rebus Novel  #5 – The Black Book By. Ian Rankin

 

My booklist has been inspired by many sources, but one of the main influences has been Niyi Sobo and his top 100 booklist. I regularly listen to his podcast and it has also influenced the focus of my sabbatical immensely. Part of that focus is centred on productivity. Teaching is a profession where I am constantly juggling 10 000 tasks that never get resolved over the 10 month school year, and the list of administrative tasks dumped on us continues to grow every year. For years I lived under the false hope of “caught up”. Anyone who thinks the teaching day ends at 3:30pm is sorely mistaken. Needless to say teaching impacts the energy I have for my training, relationships and well…life outside of my career. After listening to Niyi conduct an interview with Cal Newport, I was introduced to all kinds of strategies on his blog for being more productive, and creating a list of rules for myself around how I will use social media, and maximize my time to the fullest. I did a version of his digital detox the month of January which I set up and tracked in my bullet journal, which helped me solidify my own code for how I use social media, and which social media I use in the future (see below).

Good ‘ol social media! I was flipping through Instagram one day and saw a post from my friend and kettlebell sport online teammate Angelina Blyth with the #bujo. Curious, I had to click it and see what came up. I had NO idea bullet journaling was a thing, but knew right away it was MY kind of thing! Lol. In simplest terms it’s an analog system meant to increase productivity. I have always loved the physical act of writing, and the tactile sensation of pen to paper. I was one of the last ones among my teaching colleagues to have an analog mark book and day planner – which I only gave up because of the crucial and wise necessity to keep that data more protected. One evening over the Christmas holidays I took the journal I had been given in Costa Rica, and stayed up all night watching youtube videos on bullet journaling. By the wee hours of the next morning I had a vision of what I wanted to do with mine and it began to take shape. The first video I watched was the basic rules of bullet journaling. From there it was a never ending sea of watching other people’s ideas and enthusiasm  for the craft, randomly searched on youtube. There were all kinds of helpful dos and don’ts and I was able to figure out a style that I knew would work for me.

This lead me to the idea to create a theme/word of the year for 2018 (not just the year of kettle). I decided to go with COURAGE. Something I feel is even more important to have given the current global climate, and with the passing of Gord Downie reminded me of one of my favourite Tragically Hip songs. This year is giving me some time to look after myself, and having the courage to deal with some demons and fight for every bit of progress I can achieve with this gift. One of the best ways I could think of to build my courage was to focus on improving and strengthening a growth mindset in all areas of my life. Pretty much the intention behind each action I take this year is somehow connected to this overarching goal.

 

 

In my quarterly review post I mentioned that I had begun a breathing routine, and it is something that I still continue to do daily. It is how I spend the first 20-25min after I wake up everyday and I am still noticing benefits – from changes in my lactate threshold, to improved mental clarity/decreased anxiety, and improved posture. Definitely the longer I continue this habit the better I feel. I recently made a sped up video of my routine so that I could have a visual reminder of what my original starting point was. After reading “The Oxygen Advantage” I want to make some adjustments and try some new breathing patterns. A part of this routine not shown in the video is  at the end of each session, I will read a daily passage from a book suggested to me by my friend Niall. My first introduction to stoicism….and even as I type this I can feel heat rising from Texas as my friend and inner circle member BJ Bliffert is likely cursing me, as it was actually he who first introduced me to stoic concepts, by encouraging me to read the book “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. I own said book, but it is currently on my phone waiting to be read next month. Back to Niall’s recommendation – The Daily Stoic – 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by the same author. I started this ritual on January 1st and read one each day immediately following my breathing exercises. It sets my intention for the day and gives me interesting ideas of discussion with Carl and my friends. Most importantly, I have noticed improvements with my ability to cope with stress, and situations that I would have previously felt discouraged or upset by do not impact me in nearly the same way.

Embracing courage to me means being resilient. Regardless of the suck, fear, pain, whatever it is, and doing what you are afraid to do, what needs to be done. One way I have found to increase resiliency is to remove simple comforts and learn to find comfort within the discomfort. Niall brought another excellent idea to my attention – the Wim Hof 20 day cold shower challenge. Cold therapy is something I had long used as an athlete back in my days running track and cross country. It’s probably been a good two decades (a part from the ice bucket challenge) since I had really done any cold water submersion. Reading up on the physical and mental health benefits of cold therapy and I was determined to give it a try. My goal was to complete the 20 day challenge in time for my birthday, and then spend a minute in the cold waters of Lake Ontario. I didn’t wind up lasting a minute, but I will try again! Since discovering this challenge I have now made a pact with myself to continue the cold showers three times a week and increase my time up to 2minutes.

Of course it wouldn’t be the year of kettle if I didn’t mention my kettlebell sport training. During my quarterly review I had come off of a string of competitions so I was able to have some concrete results to post. Over the last 4 years thinking of what my year of kettle would look like, I had hoped it would have been one filled with competition, but due to the nature of the sport you just can’t predict how you will progress or where you will be in your training. The only competition in this phase of the year of kettle was in December at the Ottawa Agatsu Kettlebell Sport and Mace event, otherwise it has been mostly training. I competed in 20kg snatch as my only other snatch set with this bell in competition was in a biathlon. I wanted to see how different my numbers would be if it was my only event. I am definitely happy with my first attempt and 119 reps. Hitting triple digits in snatch will be a goal I will have for my next 20kg biathlon. It was an awesome competition in a beautiful city, with beautiful friends and lifters who showed up from across Ontario and Quebec. Any season is a great time to visit Ottawa-Gatineau, but I especially love it in the winter. 

 

My kettlebell sport training has felt absolutely fantastic this term. After the competition in December, was right around the time I started reading Carol S. Dweck’s book Mindset. For a week I was obsessed with this book and studying all kinds of different graphics and articles related to growth mindset. As a teacher I felt impacted by the ideas I came across, and I know this is going to positively impact the way I interact with my students in the future, and the language I use when giving them feedback. Naturally that made me think about the feedback I give myself, and how I should be role modeling the same positivity and patience with myself as with my students. I came across a list of 4 questions that I Screen-Shot-2015-11-27-at-11.37.21decided I was going to use at the end of every training session as a form of reflection, and a more useful learning tool/resource I can look back on and follow my progress. Those questions are: 1. What did you learn from today’s trainings? 2. What steps did you take to make yourself successful today? 3. What are some different strategies you could have used? 4. How did you keep going when things got tough? Taking the time to respond to these questions honestly has been game changing for my brain and my confidence in my lifting. I feel as though I am getting the most out of each training session, and it is giving my coach an opportunity to get to know me better. This allows her to program more effectively for me, and even after a few years of working together, I feel like we are hitting another gear as a team.
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Speaking of my team- I have many mentors in different facets of movement who have influenced how I take care of my body, how to move in a variety of different ways and compete fully in kettlebell sport. My GPP has gone through various stages in my kettlebell sport career – definitely times where I was doing too much, and then times where I did very little. In recent years I have made sure to focus my GPP on whatever weakness was most causing me potential setbacks in my sport lifting, but it is always something I was very conservative with to make sure that I wasn’t over training or potentially negating any potential improvement in my sport lifts. Those of you who know me know that I have been very into mobility/flexibility/ parallettes/rings/ground movements….pretty much everything GMB , and Kirsty Grosart (the lead trainer for Canada who continues to be one of my mentors and much of what she has taught me still guides my GPP practice today). This year my inner circle increased to include David 25395733_10207902902890021_7267973680728334877_nKeohan. David is someone who had caught my eye on social media as he is a kettlebell sport lifter and movement enthusiast whose interests and philosophy closely match mine. I stumbled into an opportunity to test drive a program he has put together that combines all of the things I love. I was very tentative about making any changes to my GPP (very much a creature of habit, to a fault sometimes), and working with David has been great. He has pushed me to pay attention to weaknesses I was ignoring or glossing over, and shown me it is possible to program many of the movements I love without over training, and in a way that can compliment my sport lifting. He’s encouraged me add a bit more volume to my training without hindering my nervous system, and my HRV monitoring has helped provide me with the quantitative data to support these observations. His guidance in programming has been invaluable this training cycle and I am very excited at the progress I’ve been making, both in my sport lifting, and acquiring new movement skills. I definitely recommend him as a movement coach, and his Better Human Animal program – he is super kind, attentive, diligent and knowledgeable.

20933877_10155632733863894_988592735959657966_oRelated to kettle it has been my 3rd year in a row working with Mark Stroud on the Online Kettlebell Challenge Cup. If you are not familiar with it, it is a free challenge on Facebook for people of all ages and abilities. Sets are 5 minutes in length, and each month we choose a different kettlebell lift. The page has had a huge growth spurt already this year and I have to say I am happy I have had more time to tend to the page to keep up with the entries. Look us up on Facebook if you are interested!

A wonderful part of the year of kettle has been having time to meet friends for lunch on a weekday and have it turn into a 4 hour visit! Lol. This actually happened to me when I met up with my friend Cecile this month. In our defence we hadn’t seen each other in years so we had a lot to catch up on. As a teacher I am very extroverted and larger than life, but my regular life is much more introverted. I’m horrible about keeping in touch with people and often choose quiet reflective time over time with others. I was super happy that Cecile reached out to me and took the initiative to get me out. Over the last half of the year of kettle I would like to work on spending more time with friends and making more of an effort to regularly connect, especially with those I consider to be part of my inner circle. My birthday was during the month of February and I enjoyed getting out with my sister and nephews to the trampoline park and the Black Panther Movie. I’ve also reconnected with my old stomping grounds at Strengthbox and attending a Deflying fitness workshop, as well as my friend Greg’s new book launch.

 

Even on sabbatical there is no keeping me away from school, it’s my community and second home.  My principal contacted me and asked me if I wanted to come and be a guest judge at the school’s first science fair. Science fair has been something I have judged at other schools numerous times, and always wanted to run my own. Naturally I had to check it out and take notes for next year. From the second I walked into the building I was swarmed by students and hugged by practically everyone I came into contact with. I miss my little dudes and dudettes. So many people think I am going to return to work next year and hate it, or regret having this time off, and nothing could be further from the truth. I am already feeling rejuvenated and ready to get back to it. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy the hell out of the next 6 months….it just means that I really love teaching and my career, and this whole year has been about making me better at doing what I love.

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Just Breathe

Having been involved in athletics my entire life, and music for almost half,  I have definitely known the importance of breathing, and mastering one’s breath in order to improve one’s performance. For whatever reason, my scientific obsession with health monitoring and tracking has largely focused around heart rate. Perhaps because it was more quantitative as opposed to qualitative (at least for tools readily at my disposal). In the past few months I’ve realised how under-developed my knowledge and use of breath training is, and it is something I am enjoying investigating. 

When I was a pre-teen I stumbled into middle distance running in track and field mostly as a means to keep myself in shape for soccer season. Funnily enough in the end, it wound up being track and cross country that helped pay my university tuition. I was a self-taught runner at first and initially started training by breathing through my nose. I’m not sure why. Nobody told me to. It felt the most natural and comfortable – regardless of speed or duration of my run. Towards the end of my first high school track season I was at a regional event running the 1500m and struggling. I had a horrible head cold, super runny and stuffed nose, and needless to say trying to nose breath was challenging. One of the coaches from a neighbouring school (who also happened to be a competitive middle distance runner) pulled me aside and convinced me to drop the nose breathing and a mouth breather was born, and I never questioned the approach after that.

Fast forward to university and I went on to compete in track and cross country all year, never questioning my breathing technique, or even practising any kind of breath work – with the exception of occasional yoga classes. When I finally did my post-degree teacher training, I had roommate and colleague who had been a voice major in university, and regularly practised yoga. Given that I was going to be teaching, and constantly using my voice she first inspired me to see some value in breathing and vocal exercises as a form of strength and conditioning. The meditative aspect of yoga also started to intrigue me as she was so chill, patient and calm most of the time. As someone with an overactive mind, I wanted some of that calm, and my interest in yoga began….although never really stuck with me because I found it so challenging to focus and stay present.

Moving ahead to more present day, I’m now 45yrs old, still very physically active, but realising that the restorative things I do are not only extremely inexpensive, they are also the most extremely effective solutions I have found to tackling nagging seemingly little chronic conditions that can lead to more serious health issues.  I also firmly believe these restorative practices are directly related to helping improve my sports performance as a “mature” athlete (insert joke Jimbo, lol). Over the last 2 months I have had the convergence of 3 wonderful things coming together that primed me to take on creating and implementing my own breathing practice. Firstly, there was my coach and friend Abigail Johnston, who I love to nerd out on several topics,  recommended the book “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”, by Steve Kotler. This book is about flow, not specifically breathing, but introduced me to some powerful examples of athletic feats by humans I had never heard of. As I read I kept stopping to research the athletes they described.

This lead me to Laird Hamilton, an exceptional athlete and someone known for breath work. He was heavily influenced by Wim Hof which added to my research pile. Then, as though reading my mind, at the same time, Kim Fox posted a series of videos (https://youtu.be/Rd4KilDaDIg) related to breathing and kettlebell sport. The exercises she demonstrated reminded me of some of the exercises I would do in gymnastics class, which then expanded my ideas about the applications a breathing practice could have on things like improving my anterior tilt due to hyperflexibility in my lower thoracic/lumbar spine. Fueled with some new ideas, I put them together into a program that would take me about 30 minutes to complete. My goal was to do it as close to 7 days a week as possible. The only change it required to my routine was getting up 30min earlier.

My routine looked like this:

Exercise Description
30 Wim Hof Breaths Simply some cycling breaths, inhalations and exhalations. I have been doing nose inhalations and mouth exhalations. Tuning into my own breathing pattern, not trying to force anything. Great way to get rid of a bunch of CO2 and a good warmup before the other exercises.
Laird Hamilton Breathing Warm-up ( start at 7 sets, add 1 each week) INHALE through the nose (count how long)

HOLD breath 3-4X’s the length of your inhale

EXHALE out the mouth double the time of your inhale.

REPEAT

Eg….if I did a 4 sec inhale, then I would follow with 12 sec breath hold, and an 8 sec exhale

Kim Fox exercise – Belly breathing and bracing with neutral spine Belly breathe – 1 min

Brace (spine flat against floor but also pushing through abdomen-360 degrees)

Breath through brace 5-10 breaths

Relax, return to belly breathing

REPEAT X5 sets

Kim Fox exercise –Belly breathing and bracing in child’s pose Belly breathe – 1 min

Brace (spine flat against floor but also pushing through abdomen-360 degrees)

Breath through brace 5-10 breaths

Relax, return to belly breathing

REPEAT 5-10 sets Rest 30 sec between sets

Kim Fox exercises – Band punch (2-3 sets, 20 reps) Anchor red band to post at chest height with you in kneeling position

Hold the band with both hands against the centre of your chest, arms bent

Hold brace position 360, nice and tight

Slowly extend your arms away from your body while still maintaining the brace!

Slowly return your arms back to starting position.

REPEAT

My consistency with this routine has been great. Definitely no less than 5 days a week, usually 7. One quantitative marker I can measure is blood pressure, but so far I haven’t noticed any significant changes, but I am hopeful with more consistency there will be. Here are some benefits I have noticed:

  • Improved ability to calm breath during kettlebell sport training, particularly sets near anaerobic threshold
  • Increased ability to focus and shut off my brain/ ignore distractions
  • Improved posture, better handstand line
  • Stronger abs and lower back
  • Improved sense of calm, less anxiety/ stress
  • Improved digestion – compression of breathing into quads and bracing in child’s pose position

Now that my brain radar is on to all things relating to breath, lol, I am seeing references everywhere. Doc Jen Fit on Instagram has some amazing free and informative posts on breathing and mobility, and I will definitely be cycling some of them into my routine. At the beginning of the week I posted a few exercises from my routine on instagram, and no sooner did I submit it when I saw Ryan Hurst – creator of GMB Fitness, published a post with an excellent review of the book “The Oxygen Advantage”, by Patrick McKeown. This has introduced me to the Buteyko method, and more reading I need to delve into. So stay tuned, as I am sure this practice is going to change over time. Feels like the story may come full circle as I rediscover the world of breathing with my mouth closed. We’ll see if it ever feels as natural as it did all those decades ago.

This breath practice is only the beginning, and will definitely continue to develop and evolve, even when the year of kettle comes to an end. It’s too important, and I see too many valuable benefits for something that only requires the investment of time.  One of the most rewarding things about the year of kettle is being able to chase down these ideas and experiment without feeling guilty. In my usual world of teaching, spending time developing practices such as these seems like a luxury, that doesn’t pay bills. Treatment of medical conditions however,  is costly, and personally I would rather invest the time in trying an inexpensive lifestyle change, than gambling my health until more invasive treatments like medications and surgery are required.   

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YEAR OF KETTLE – QUARTERLY REVIEW

Sigh*** I know this precious year off is going to go by all too quickly. I wanted to try to break up the year into quarters so that I could reminisce on the amazing things I have been doing other than report cards, marking,  fighting the constant pressure of fitting in standardized assessments with actual learning…..all while trying to create a dynamic and relevant program that meets the needs of a variety of learning styles and abilities, and trying to make personal connections with students and their families…..yup….I wanted to write a post where I could focus on the things I would daydream about doing when I was back in the classroom. Next year, at this time, when I am counting down the days until holiday break, and freezing my ass off on yard duty, I will turn to this post and get my gratitude in check. For now, let’s get back to reminiscing. This post is also an accountability check so that I don’t completely slack off and waste my year on Netflix and social media. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished in this first quarter, but know this is the calm before a storm of more awesomeness.

Since I have built this year around my kettlebell sport training, I guess it makes sense to start here. Normally, when I am living the life of a teacher I train 3 times a week. I keep two of them on a week day and try to put the 3rd on the weekend to cause the least amount of disruption to my work schedule. During the year of kettle I have added an extra kettlebell sport training session because I have the time to properly recover. I have also made 3 of the 4 during the week so it feels even more like my new “office job.” The weather this fall has been amazing, and I was able to train outside for quite some time period. Even now I will still go outdoors to do my GPP. I love having the freedom to take my time and do a proper warmup and cool down. The recovery aspect is probably the biggest part of the year of kettle for me that is largely unseen. Each day my main priorities are to fit in my breathing exercises,  and mobility and flexibility training. My goal is to make it as solid a routine as brushing my teeth. Other than saying that my body feels great, and training is going well I can’t say if I notice any other differences from my new schedule. I’ve been doing some biometric measuring, looking at my hrv and blood pressure and collecting data to see how these change as I adapt to my new routines. No definitive results at this time, but hopefully in a few months there will be. There were 2 kettlebell sport competitions I attended that fell into this first quarter of my year.

The first was the CKA Toronto Girevoy Sport Open , held at the Fighting Arts Collective in August. It was run by the Toronto Girveoy Sport Club, masterfully lead by Robin Spencer and Alberto Isirido. It was an excellent meet, very efficient, great prizes, very positive and energizing atmosphere. My goal was to complete my first 20kg biathlon (one-arm). I knew lasting 10min for jerk was no problem, but I knew snatch was not in my wheelhouse yet. I must say that this went better than I imagined when I first registered for the comp. Having my coach and grand coach in Canada two months prior really made a difference. Nothing beats face time, both for receiving feedback, and learning. I’m a visual learner so being able to see what is being explained to me makes all the difference. Video is somewhat effective, but nothing beats real contact. My confidence went from questioning whether I was ready to snatch 20kg at all, to considering aiming for CMS snatch only numbers in biathlon. In the end I wasn’t far off the mark. Total score (and CKA record for 63kg weight class) 234 (148 jerks- pr for me, and 86 snatches – also pr since I had never snatched 20kg in competition before). I’m very excited because now that I have had that experience I feel so much more confident that I can improve on both of those numbers. My fear of 20kg snatch is dissipating. I know I have it in me to last 10 minutes. Just have to stay the course and keep putting time under load. I can feel the changes and adaptations happening with my technique, I just don’t quite have the power (and maybe confidence) to control them yet.

The CKA Toronto comp was at the end of August, and so there wasn’t much turn around time before the Agatsu Toronto Kettebell Sport competition in October. Feeling too soon to do another biathlon, I opted to give snatch only with the 20kg a try. Only to conquer fear and uncertainty is to throw yourself in the arena, and keep trying. During these training cycles I was still recovering from a shoulder issue on my left side, and I feel at this comp that my arm was physically more capable than what my brain trusted. I only lasted about 3.5 minutes on that side. Still, at 116 reps I hit my CMS ranking for GSU snatch only on my first go! When I think of the number of years it took to hit triple digits for 20kg oalc, and here in my first training cycle for 20kg snatch I had done it in a matter of months! To be 45 years old and still capable of growing and improving as an athlete is the biggest reward.  I know I have over 130+ reps in me (which is the Ketacademy requirement for MS). Back to my little training room I go.

 

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As I mentioned, the year of kettle was really more about having the time not just to train like a professional athlete, but to recover like one. All of the things we tend to think are unimportant enough we can skip, I wanted to diligently practice. Flexibility and mobility training has been a big part of that. My guru for this for the last few years has been Kirsty Grosart. I am very blessed that she lives only a few kilometres away from me and has been an invaluable resource to help me determine my areas of weakness in overall human movement. This is helping me in all areas of life, not just kettlebell sport. There are some dope skills like handstands that we work on for fun, and it is a challenging way for me to play with the strength I get from kettlebell sport. Mostly I focus on improving my overall posture, and creating the best range of motion in my joints as I possibly can…..within this development I get to play with a lot of different movements which has helped make me more confident to be more creative and play with improvising flow patterns. I’ve found I have to gently sprinkle in my time with my movement guru. Handstands and ground movements are very sensory rich on my wrists. Lots of weight shifting. With my kettlebell sport training volume, I’ve found a fine balance line where the body weight training works without being too much. Closer I get to competition the less bodyweight play I will do. My GPP programming for my current training cycle (and sprinkled in portions of last year) has largely been based around Kirsty’s analysis of my areas of need, and drills she has taught me over the years. Her teachings drive a big part of my active recovery regime.

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Another part of my recovery regime has been Yoga. I know, I’ve been down on yoga in the past. My previous entry on my experience at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica has changed all of that. Admittedly since coming back from Costa Rica I have only attended one class. Lol. A commitment of 2 classes a week is my goal for the next quarter. Feel free to check in on me and see if I am doing it. Despite my lackadaisical attitude towards getting to yoga class, I have been very fervent in what I am calling a Breathing Program. It really deserves its own blog post. I’ve had mentors around me my whole life who have taught me the importance of mastering your breath. I didn’t really feel compelled to give it more thought until I read a book recommended to me by my kettlebell sport coach, Abigail Johnston. Reading this book tipped a cascade of ideas for me, that made me want to adopt breathing work in as part of my recovery regime. It basically involves me getting up 30min earlier each morning and I have a series of 5 different breathing exercises I do that take about 6min each to complete. When I was in Costa Rica I bought a handmade mala necklace. Traditionally used as prayer beads, I use them as an abacus as I cycle through my breath patterns it helps me count and shut off my brain so that I solely focus on my breathing.

 

Abi’s book recommendation is a nice segue into my next category of active recovery – Reading. Nothing settles the mind like getting lost in the pages of a book. I don’t care if it’s fiction or not. This is something I definitely need to prioritize when I go back to teaching next year. I swear sports and reading were Ritalin for an adhd kid like me growing up in the 70’s….and frankly I am so thankful I did not grow up in the pharmaceutical era of today’s younger generation. It’s been so amazing to have time to read. Initially it did take some time for me to settle my mind enough to allow myself to get into a text, but it didn’t take long to come flooding back. Listed below are the books I read over the last 3-4 months. I highly recommend all of these. I won’t go into a review of them all, or what my take on them was, but feel free to drop me your thoughts and book recommendations in the comments.

House of Cyn First Quarter Reading List:

  • Rebus Detective series (up to book 4) – Ian Rankin
  • The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  • The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance – Steven Kotler
  • Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable – Tim Grover
  • Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation – Larry Rosenberg
  • As a Man Thinketh – James Allen

For the second quarter of the year of kettle, top priority on the reading list is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I am embarrassed to say that my friend Jeff (who passed away last year) gave it to me as a present and I still haven’t finished it. I need to read that wrong immediately! My friend BJ Bliffert in Texas, is another mind I like to interact with who has given me some wonderful book recommendations over the years that I haven’t completed yet either (sorry BJ, but I’m working on it!). There are also about 16 more books left in the Rebus series so I have my work cut out for me. To honour Jeff, I will be better.

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Nutrition is another big part of my recovery process, and with a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science, is something that I like to experiment with. I always considered myself to be on a fairly anti-inflammatory diet, with relatively even macros shifting towards higher carbs on training days, and higher fat on non-training days….and decent quality food sources (with only occasional bad choices). I thought I had found a balance where I was relatively easily able to maintain my body weight, and properly recover from training. One biomarker I had recently started tracking was blood pressure. Both my mother and sister have high blood pressure and take medication for it. At various times when I have been to the doctor for checkups I have been told that my blood pressure was high, and initially we were able to dismiss as white coat syndrome as when I would test at places outside of the doctor’s office it would read normal. I measured it daily over the summer months and I was consistently high to a point where I know a considerable number of physicians would probably encourage medication. I’m way too fucking young to be going down that road (in my stubborn opinion) so I want to exhaust some harmless/ less invasive measures first to see what I can do to make a difference. One of those is diet.

Enter the vegans in my life – I’ve been surrounded by them and they don’t fit any of the stereotypes I see them being teased for. They all have different reasons and approaches to their relationship with food, and they don’t push it on anyone. They are strong, active, beautiful, and most importantly – healthy men and women. So…I did what any scientist would do and started doing some research. I’m enough of a realist and scientist to know that for every study saying plant based diets lower blood pressure, there is one saying it doesn’t. Bottom line is there could be potential benefit to a plant based diet on lowering blood pressure. That’s enough for me to suspend my disbelief, and answer the question for ME….does a plant based diet have an impact on MY blood pressure? So, for the past 3 months I have been plant based, maintained the same body weight, and seen no detrimental effects on my training. I will admit to negligent monitoring of my  blood pressure this quarter so no noticeable improvement in my readings so far, but I’m still committed to giving this more time, and really enjoying my new food choices. 

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This takes me to the final part of my first quarter wrap up and monitoring my HRV (heart rate variance). If you don’t know what that is…wake-up and read my blog!! Lol, and of course there’s google. For almost 4 years I have been diligently collecting HRV data, and for the most part using it to guide daily decision making around my training. The longer I began to use it, the more I became in tune with the impact alcohol, poor sleep, arguments with co-workers or family, or hard training sessions would do to my hrv readings, and could even use it to make decisions about future predictions such as increasing my glutamine intake a week before my menstrual cycles starts. I was excited when I began working with Abi that she also collected data and used the app in her trainings as well. She introduced me to the Elite HRV software, which opened me up to a world of calculations and applications I had no idea existed.  Of course it is really for the nerd at heart- you have to honestly love collecting data and then take the time to sort through it to contextualize and interpret your results. It’s like the manual/physiological version of Escape Station , on yourself. Through monitoring various correlates you problem solve using a variety of strategies, different ways to increase your ANS response. What you escape are a host of chronic diseases. The gains – well, longevity and great health. You have to thrive off routine, but also think laterally when making connections between subjective and objective data. Naturally, I am stoked because all of that is in my wheelhouse. Through advertising on the app I saw their online course in the Foundations of HRV where I decided it was time to learn more about this since I had already invested significant time and money into the 3 years of data measurements I have already collected. The course was everything I had hoped for an introduction. I am looking to more advanced versions as they develop. For now I have so much to chew on.

Moving forward with my HRV levels I am more committed to doing weekly or biweekly reviews and looking for patterns related to my blood pressure scores. I’m hoping that the cumulative effect of reading, breathing exercises, yoga/ mobility training and the plant based diet will have cumulative positive effects on both my HRV and blood pressure, but I need more time and more measurements. Can’t wait to see what the next quarter will bring! No year of kettle would be complete without also mentioning how amazing it is to spend so much extra time with Stella. She is a huge part of my mental therapy. That forces me out of the house at least once a day. Usually first thing in the morning we will take an adventure walk in the neighbourhood or go to the beach. We’ve also been exploring new places and parks like Mount Nemo in Milton. Spending more time outside has been a much needed luxury I am very grateful for! Holidays are coming, I’m looking forward to connecting with friends and family!

 

Pura Vida – Celebrating Flow in Costa Rica

For the last 4 years I diligently lived off of 80% of my pay to make taking this year off a reality.  My husband promised at some point during the year he would take some time off work so we could travel together. We’ve been married 12 years in December, never took a honeymoon together, and never travelled out of the country (not counting trips to the U.S with me for kettlebell sport). Carl and I wanted to choose a getaway where we could be active, eat healthy, and come home feeling invigorated, not like we needed a vacation from our vacation. 

A year before my sabbatical, Carl ran into a very close friend (and yoga instructor) Amanda Montgomery; who, with the Moksha North York yoga studio had been running retreats in Costa Rica for 7 years. She had just returned from Costa Rica in 2016 when Carl inquired, and told her we were in for 2017. We’ve known Amanda for over a decade, and she is special to us for many reasons. Being able to attend this trip with her we knew would be a memorable experience we were sure to enjoy.  Spoiler alert – The Blue Spirit Retreat in Costa Rica was more than we had imagined. 

 

 


Costa Rica is a beautiful country whose values I love. They are leaders in environmental stewardship which was visible from the plane before we even landed. As we flew in we could see many wind turbines, and as we drove out of Liberia towards the Nicoya Peninsula we saw a solar farm. The government has put global warming at the top of its national agenda and has initiated a program to become the first carbon neutral developing country by 2021. With no standing army since 1948, the country has chosen to inject more resources into health care and education, with the longest standing democracy in Central America and a 95% literacy rate. We found the culture and people to be very friendly and inclusive. The Nicoya Peninsula, where Blue Spirit is located, is known as the “blue zone”,  one of the five geographic areas of the world where people tend to live the longest. Blue Spirit derived its name from this concept.


Blue Spirit retreat is an excellent example of the eco-tourism Costa Rica has become famous for. They are role models in ecological sustainability with a natural water filtration system using bacteria , composting on site where the rich soil generated is spread upon the grounds and used to grow food, and all electrical cables are located underground to insure safety of local animals, such as the howler monkeys. Much of the food we ate was grown on the premises, with the remaining sourced from local farmers. The retreat lies on one of 3 beaches in the area that are protected turtle refuges.

The retreat provided us with 3 meals a day that were incredibly nutrient dense and super flavourful. Meals were buffet style and most options were plant based. For several reasons I had switched to a plant based diet two months before our trip, so this was not much of a transition for me.  I loved EVERYTHING I ate. The chef is amazing, and has recently published a cookbook I will definitely be getting!

 



Several activities are offered at Blue Spirit such as horseback riding, river kayaking, surfing, ziplining, as well as spa services (massages, energy work, osteopathy, reflexology, facials). On the 2nd day I had an intuitive massage by an amazing RMT named Gobinde. 

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Post massage bliss with Gobinde
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Following Gobinde’s homework

It was amazing and I felt the first real significant release of tension and anxiety. She also gave me homework (lol) that I needed to followup my treatment with some coconut water and a walk on the beach (and being a diligent student I listened). On a more serious note she also recommended I be more consistent with my yin yoga practice specifically focusing on my shoulders….which I must admit I have known as of course kettlebell sport and handstand training contributes to much of that tension. I definitely need to up my recovery game in that area.

This week I particpated in 2-3 yoga/meditation classes, totalling about 4hrs of training each day. I feel much more confident in my meditation practice and it is something I am looking forward to continuing to develop.  Classes were a combination of vinyasa flows, moksha practice, and yin yoga. We also were treated to 2 classes in which live music was played which added a really powerful and positive vibration to the already awe inspiring atmosphere. Each teacher brought unique and insightful aspects to both the movement and meditation components of class.

 

 

Mid week Carl and I took a day to go on a hiking/zip line canopy tour in the forests of Nosara, a town not far from Blue Spirit.  It was amazing. I was a teeny bit nervous at first, but the scariest part turned out to be about 12 of us riding in the back of this huge truck we had to take to get to our starting point, with bench seating, and only a skinny metal chain at the back to keep everyone in. Lol. It was about a 20min drive on narrow dirt roads with huge potholes, and it had rained a lot that morning (they had to cancel the morning tour we were originally scheduled for) so the roads were very soft, slick and muddy.

 

When it came to ziplining, our tour guides made us feel completely safe. They were very professional, and knowledgeable, but they were also very playful with a great sense of humour. We traversed about 8-10 (I lost count) ziplines , the longest one being about half a mile, and the largest drop was about 900 feet (which I did tandem with one of the instructors hands free!!). The scenery was amazing. We saw lots of monkeys, unique species of butterflies and birds, and learned about some of the plant and tree species.

 

 

If we’re friends on Facebook you are very much aware of my love/hate relationship with yoga. For the last 10+ years I have had a very inconsistent practice. Part of my dislike has come from negative experiences with different instructors, coupled with my adhd which makes the breathing and meditative aspects extra challenging to me. I’m horrible at shutting off my brain to the constant external and internal stimuli/chatter. As a result I avoided really trying something that offered the potential to be very beneficial if I was just more patient and consistent. My husband on the other hand is the opposite.  He has a dedicated practice, and has really cultivated some serious skills. Being way more zen than me, he really enjoys meditation. This trip was my attempt at being open to new experiences, and knowing how much Carl would benefit from this experience was enough motivation to get me on board.

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Yogi triple threat (left to right) – Darcy Hagerman, Amanda Montgomery, Jessica Lemon

Of course what wound up happening for me was very profound. Teachers make all of the difference and Darcy, Amanda and Jess are amazing, and I have so much gratitude and appreciation for them and the work that went into organizing this trip, and sharing their expertise with so much love and kindness. They are so intuitive and intelligent. Their combined experience is so vast, and multi-disciplinary, I found their approach to be a much more modern, refreshing and enlightening compared to other yoga classes I have taken. Being submersed so intensely for 7 days really forced me (in a good way) to not only really give it a full chance, but actually experience some flow. It was super powerful stuff. The studio we practised in everyday had the most amazing view of the ocean and forests. Being in such an awe inspiring environment made me feel connected to the earth in a way I haven’t felt before.

This week I feel as though I maintained (and possibly gained) my physical strength and conditioning, while experiencing the most profound changes mentally and spiritually. Ever since my friend Jeff passed away ( and probably even before) there has been this ball of anxiety/stress/negativity/anger/resentment building and residing deep in my chest, and with each class I found I was able to free myself of it, a little bit at a time. It’s amazing how much stress and adversity that we needlessly create for ourselves, and how much it takes away from really living fully.

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Spending a week in the mountains of Costa Rica, breathing such oxygen-rich air, so close to the ocean really reinforced my connection with nature and my sense of duty and purpose to help repair the incessant harm we are doing to mother earth. Ecoanxiety is a new term that sounds completely ridiculous, and yet, something I feel impacted by. Environmental advocacy and literacy has been an increasingly important practice for me as a teacher. I find myself feeling deeply affected by the way in which we treat the earth, and each other. I constantly question if I am doing enough, and worry about the world we are leaving to future generations.

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Had to do a #take3forthesea even without Stella

Everyday I teach I am constantly bombarded with the amount of waste we create as a society and how we deal with it. I wonder if I am reaching my students and whether or not they are being mindful of their daily habits based on our lessons. The amount of (plastic litter) I see on a daily basis when I walk my dog, and even here in Costa Rica on a protected beach really saddens me.

This experience hasn’t taught me how to completely quiet the noise in my brain, but it has allowed me opportunity to step back from it and see it more clearly for what it is. Through yoga I have found a more productive way of coping and taking care of myself that works in so many ways. It’s been a challenge to feel worthy of this gift and feelings of guilt surfaced this week over having this year of freedom, even though it was something not handed to me, but that I worked very hard for.

Jess, Darcy and Amanda reminded me this week that self-care is not selfish, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to be my best self. It makes me a more effective teacher, wife, sister, daughter, friend….person, that it actually allows me to give more of myself to others. Given that so much of my identity is tied to being a teacher, this is very important to me- to be as real and authentic as I can, and hopefully motivate my students to treat themselves (and each other) with love and respect and know that they are worthy of it.

Pura Vida

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Looking forward to more adventures with my bff

 

Fish Tacos

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Last night I made fish tacos for the first time. They turned out magnificently. For the last several years now I have photographed many of the meals I make at home. It was the beginning of my healthy food journey and the attempt to end an excuse I used to use for poor food choices – “I don’t know what to make.” When I made a healthy meal I enjoyed, I photographed it, and soon became a catalogue of delicious healthy meals I love, and therefore no more excuses. I used to think taking the picture was enough. That I would see it and magically remember how I prepared the meal. I was so naive. Lol.

I’ve since realized I really need to copy this shit down. I’m not getting any younger, haha, so better to record this stuff as soon as I remember. That way the general public also has the option of trying too, if they want. 🙂

I used hard corn tortilla shells I bought at the grocery store. Judge away, they were yummy and are very low on the asshole scale (imo). I used a shredded cabbage/kale/lettuce mix as the first layer in the taco. On top of that I placed warm, baked tilapia fillet chopped into pieces (preparation described below). On top of the fish I added some sliced avocado, and finally topped it off with pineapple-mango salsa. Did I mention it was awesome?

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Baked Tilapia

Preheat oven to 375

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place tilapia fillets on parchment paper and brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with chilli powder, Montreal steak and chop spice mix. I brushed a bit of chipotle aoili, and squeezed one lemon on top before putting in the oven.

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Thanks to Alex and Dave Preston for the Montreal steak and chop spice mix. I never would have thought of putting it on fish and was just being uncharacteristically impulsive. Lol. Paid off huge. Fish was sooooooo tasty!!!

Bake for 15-20minutes until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

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Pineapple- Mango Salsa

1/3 cup of cubed mango

1/3 cup of small pineapple chunks

1/2 red pepper diced

10-12 cherry tomatoes quartered

smallish hunk of red onion finely diced

fresh cilantro (to taste)

dressing – juice of 1 squeezed lemon, 1tbsp coconut aminos, tsp of sriracha (or use cayenne pepper to taste)

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Longer the flavours marinate the better. Stores well in fridge for several days.

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Assembly:

We baked the taco shells in the oven for about 5-7min at 350. Then we took them out and sprinkled a layer of our coleslaw/kale/lettuce mix, on top of this we added the baked fish while it was nice and warm, on top of the fish we added some sliced avocado and topped it all off with the mango-pineapple salsa that barely fit!! Lol. It was delightfully awesome! Defintely making it again and needed to record what I did for when I forget! Lol.

Early Spring Cleaning

Wow. I see that my last post related to kettlebell training was on January 27th, 2015. So much has happened in the last year. There is too much to explain, so let me sum up: Over the last year I went in a new direction with a new coach – Abigail Johnston from Scotland. 2015 was a time of transition so I did not put any unnecessary pressure on myself in terms of competitions. I tried to save some money and did not travel to as many places, or as far away. I just enjoyed my training and playing with long cycle, and biathlon.

My 2015 Competition Schedule looked like this:

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April – Agatsu Competition, Toronto, Canada, 20kg OALC, 89 reps (CMS Ranking, KETA)

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June – Niagara Kettlebell Sport Open, St. Catharines, Ontario, 16kg Snatch (5min) – 91reps (Rank 1, KETA)

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July – Bells on the Beach, IKFF Comp, Rochester, NY, 16kg biathlon (170 jerks, 128 snatches) (Rank 1 IKFF – biathlon, CMS for jerk only)

 

October – Agatsu Competition, Toronto, Canada, 20kg jerk only, 134 rep (MS rank, Agatsu/Keta), TALC – 12kg, 84 reps

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December – North Texas Kettlebell Sport Open, Frisco, Texas, 20kg, OALC 93reps (CMS Ranking, KETA)

The transition to a new style of programming took a few growing pains, but even still, I managed to set personal bests at every competition. Three competitions I performed events that I had never done before on the platform. The year ended with me feeling very optimistic and confident in my lifting.

So enough living in the past. Here’s 2016. What’s up is my first competition is in 6 weeks. In the winter I really need a long training cycle. There are so many events and commitments I have as a teacher between October – February. It’s insane. It challenges my ability to stay organized and my commitment to staying prepared and doing what it takes to meet my goals. As anyone who juggles a career with kettlebell sport (and for many parenting as well) will tell you – it ain’t easy to keep a consistent sleep schedule, and nutrition on point when you have so much to juggle at once. At any rate for me, I prefer not to add the extra stress of preparing for a competition during these months. Instead, in the winter, I hunker down like Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV. It’s a great time to just lift. In some ways I know I have used my time well and I can feel and see some growth in my lifting. On the other hand I am disappointed in how my mobility and flexibility routines have suffered.

Hahahahaa…..and it really only took THIS long to get to the point of this post. Lmao. When I don’t like the way something is working – I change it. Instead of wallowing in the disappointment of my current state of mobility (and nagging wrist injury), I am getting proactive with shit. I’ve made a plan for the next 6 weeks to make the following TOP priority no matter what else life throws at me:

1. GMB Hip and Shoulder routines on lifting days

2. GMB General Routine/+Gymnastics homework on non-lifting days

3. Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) twice a week (Tuesdays and Saturdays)

I have a few movement benchmarks that will let me know how I’m progressing – e.g. sitting in lotus, shrimp squats, and animal walks.

LLLT brings in a new addition to my support team (lol). Colin Badali is a RMT+CSCS+LLLT and friend who I once worked with as a personal trainer at Strengthbox. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Colin as he begins his career. We are both data nerds and I am just as excited to see the results as he is. Colin is also one of those people I feel is a natural healer. He has a very calming presence and usually offers a more conservative and safe approach which for me has traditionally been the most effective long term.  LLLT is fairly new to me and I must admit that I do not know more than what’s in this video, and this youtube video. What I do like is that is is pretty non-invasive and therefore allows me to train while still doing these sessions. I’m optimistic that it will help my preparation over the next 6 weeks, and my hope is it will heal up this issue with my wrist and let me get back to handstands and crawling activities 🙂

 

This is my formal public declaration that I am committed to resolving the weaknesses I have in my lower body. My mobility/flexibility routine is not an option but something I MUST be committed to working on every day. Over the next 6 weeks as I prepare for the Agatsu competition in April, I will be reporting in on the progress I am making with my 3 new areas of focus. Thanks for reading!