July 13, 2010

Summer Exercise!!!

Many of you probably read my blog and think "This guy works too hard." and you'd be right. A lot of factors make it very easy to slip into a work-a-holic mode - living in the same building I work in; being in a foreign culture; being in heart of the capital city with all its noise, pollution and traffic; few friends outside of coworkers; making a difference to my students. Yeah, I came here to Mongolia to help some improve their English with the hope that might improve their lives. A worthy cause that would be easy to spend 24/7 trying to accomplish. But two facts say that isn't the case: 1) I could teach a 1000 or even 10,000 and there would still be no end to those in need; 2) If my health fails, I help no one, least of all myself.

Old habits are very hard to break. But if Buddha has taught me anything, I have all I need to change inside myself. I just need to start and now is the moment. Yes, for the umpteenth time in my life I'm on a "Let's get healthy" kick again. [smile] But now that I'm older it seems to have taken on more importance. I'm overweight, spend too much time sitting at the computer, not exactly eating a balanced diet, and my family has a long history of heart disease.

The good things in my favor are that I still have access to all the information I could ever want on the internet (although many websites now require you to pay for that information). And I have the support of my house-mate, Ani Gyalmo. She has been a vegetarian and yoga instructor for over 25 years and knows healthy living. I'm sure she has seen me on a steady decline by working too much and not taking care of myself, but she has never said anything to make me feel bad about it. And I know what ever I start, she'll be happy to give me encouragement along the way.

I know the experts say to start small, adding a piece at a time, but I never was one for conventional wisdom. My problem is that in one and half months, school starts again and it will be oh so very easy to slip back into old habits, those same habits that are slowing killing me. So, we're jumping in with both feet into the deep end so to speak. My program will include several components: meditation, strengthening, endurance, yoga, relaxation time, Mongolian lessons. I know, not your typical list, at least there at the end.

1) meditation: As a Buddhist, I know meditation is the heart of any spiritual practice I should be doing. But it is so easy to work from the first moment I get up to the last moment I go to bed. Only by working on my inner delusions through meditation can I be effective in helping others, including myself. So, first thing every morning, I'll do 24 minutes of meditation.

2) strengthening: A while back I was very much interested in a series of books called The Body Sculpting Bible of which there are several. All of them are very scientific in their approach to get stronger, faster and more efficiently. And I have learned a few things that might help me in the future. But it's all based on either weight machines at a local gym or free weights like dumbbells. PCV Travis showed me where he had bought his dumbbells in Ulaanbaatar and I seriously considered buying them except that they were 70,000₮, a princely sum in Mongolia. But I thought do I really need 'more stuff' like free weights. Then I remembered researching 'bodyweight' exercises a few years back. Now there is a lot more on the internet showing all sorts of exercises that use a persons bodyweight as resistance. So I've put together a 4-day a week bodyweight exercise program that uses the principle of compound supersets. And I've also included a 6-day abdominal program. What will be hardest is to remember to stretch after all these workouts. If you want to know more, download my PDF handout or Google 'bodyweight exercise'.

3) endurance: After attempting my first run in I don't know how long, I can, without reservation say that I have never had such low endurance. I couldn't even do the first workout of Runner's World for beginners which called for running 2 minutes. Oh, well, we knew we had dug ourselves a deep hole and there will be adjustments to get us out of it. Tomorrow, I'll do a 1 minute run followed by 4 minutes walking for thirty minutes. My goal is to be running 30 minutes before winter gets here, and hopefully I can somehow continue despite the cold and smog.

For those of you who use music to run, here are two things you should check out: MixMeiter BPM Analyzer and Podrunner. When listening to music during cadence activities like running or cycling, you need the right pace or tempo. If you want to use your own music, you need to figure out its BPM, beats per minute. So far the easiest way is the MixMeister BPM Analyzer. The other solution would be to get music that's already at a specific BPM and the easiest way (and free too) is at Podrunner. And for keeping a log of your training, try TrainingPeaks, RunningAHEAD, ActiveTrainer or ActiveLOG. I'll even post my latest workouts at the bottom of my blog.

4) yoga: I have always know the healthy benefits from doing a regular yoga program. When I lived in Kansas City, I participated in a yoga class at our dharma center and later took some classes. But then I left and have had a hard time getting started again. Ani Gyalmo teaches yoga here at the center but I'm reluctant to take a spot from a Mongolian because there are so few opportunities to study yoga Ulaanbaatar. Lucky for me there is an alternative called YogaToday.com. They have hundreds of hour-long yoga programs you can download (for minimal cost) or watch a free program each week online. My favorite instructor is Adi Amar but all the instructors are good, and the quality of the video production is first rate. We'll try and do yoga twice a week.

5) relaxation: This will be by far the most difficult part of this new summer program. I'm giving myself and hour to do nothing related to work and hopefully not on the computer either - like reading, writing letters, learning something new - anything but work.

6) Mongolian lessons: I know it's amazing but after living in Mongolia for two years, I still can't speak any Mongolia. I know I always give the excuse that everyone wants to practice their English so I don't get any practice with my Mongolian, but that's a pretty week excuse. It's just a matter of setting time aside and making it a priority. So, I'll try to spend an hour a day, either with a teacher or on my own in order to learn some basic Mongolian. At least that's the plan.

Now, I know you're looking at that list and the biggest omission is 'diet'. As part of my benefits of working for the dharma center, I am fed well by the Stupa Cafe downstairs. And while I will try and work with them to make my food more healthy (less calories!) there is only so much I can do to change their cultural tendencies. We'll see, there is a whole new cooking staff so maybe there are more possibilities than I realize.

Okay, that's the deal. Health-wise I know this needs to be a permanent lifestyle change but that seems daunting when I think about it, so lets say we'll keep on this program for the next 8 weeks which should take us right up to the beginning of the school year. We'll re-assess and I'll let ya' know how it's going.