The New Year: Searching for Beginnings by India Choquette

When you are in my line of work, January means a lot. New year, new you—we see more people than ever. I have a particularly jaded friend who likes to remind everyone that time is a construct and that most people will fall off their new year’s resolutions by the time February rolls around.

I have many thoughts about abandoning resolutions and what we can do to help. But what I want to talk about is the spirit of these resolutions and why I think it is so powerful.

The human belief that we can reinvent yourselves and become something more is one of the more beautiful parts of human nature. The beginning of the year shows how we want to create new beginnings for ourselves, and that we have hope for a better and better life. For me, the most inspiring part of this belief is that it is completely true: our limits are smaller than we think. We can start something.

Searching for beginnings is profound in some way. I think we humans spend a lot of time imagining what will happen AFTER we accomplish something: after we make the money, lose the weight, find love, etc. But the new year highlights the excitement of beginnings. One of the most overused (and most true) ideas talked about in fitness is that “it is about the journey.” Meaning that the process is everything. We talk about lifestyle changes rather than diets, for example. But whether you are focused on the outcome or the journey, there is something to be said for that moment you decide to start something new and implement it. Enjoy this moment too.

Now that I’m standing at the top of 2018, I’m looking out at a year with what I hope holds many beginnings for myself, my clients, and my friends. Don’t be in a rush to get to the end of anything just year. The beginning is one of the best parts.

Grocery Shopping After Work by India Choquette

I am thinking hard. I want to buy almonds, but since this grocery store has two floors, getting almonds means that I have to go downstairs.

And my legs hurt.

Which is ridiculous, I know. Especially because I'm noticeably strong. I once had a cashier at Duane Reade ask me how I got my legs to look like they do (she meant my butt, but was too polite to say that). I taught her to squat in front of the Dentyne Ice. 

I decide the almonds aren't worth it. My legs are sore from working out, so that's reasonable, but my feet are flattened and exhausted from standing on them all day. From pacing and demoing exercises and walking between sessions. 

Now I'm just standing there. I'm next to the flowers, and I should buy some. For myself, I think. I'm tired and I left my apartment 15 hours ago and it would be nice to have something beautiful on my counter. But my counter is small, and I think if I had a vase there, I wouldn't have room for my coffee maker and coffee is everything.

One thing about me is that I seem to have endless energy. But the truth is I either have 100% or 0%. And I am good enough at my job that I usually can trick myself into staying at 100% while I'm in front of people. But I deflate the second I walk out the door. And when I'm at zero, I can wander around the grocery for two hours because I can't focus enough to make a decision about almonds. 

I watch a mom with her kids. She's trying to keep the boy in the cart, but he's absolutely having none of it. His sister is putting tiny cups of coconut flavored yogurt in the cart, one after the other, and the mom is trying to put them back on the shelf and keep the little boy from escaping at the same time. 

"I want a brother," the boy says.

"You have a sister," the mom says. The sister is still loading yogurt into the cart. She's loading and the mom is unloading.

"I want a brother," the boy insists.

"Two is enough," the mom says. "Stop it, Elise. We don't need all this."

"Give Elise away," the boy says. "Then have a boy."

"You want me to give your sister away?" the mom says. Elise, the sister, is not listening.

"Yes," the boy says simply and calmly.

"Well, I'll think about it," the mom says. "Enough, Elise."

The little boy looks satisfied. He's planted the seed.

I think about it. One thing about being tired is that when you are single and childless like I am, you can't really complain about being tired. 

I get my almonds and take the subway home.

Rules by India Choquette

I subscribe to one of those grocery delivery services that send you the ingredients for three beautiful meals that were planned by some reasonably interesting chef. They send you a little recipe book with beautiful full color photos of the quinoa fritters you are going to make this week.

Except I never make the fritters. In fact, most of the time, I don't even know what the meals are supposed to be. I just open everything up and then cook whatever I want with what's in the bag. 

I also never read instructions for anything. I'm happy to install my own AC without looking through the pamphlet with the tiny print. It's not really that rebellious, but my family does joke that I don't like being told what to do. Which is accurate. 

I was thinking about this today as I was making mint/mango/cucumber salad with lime (I seriously don't look at the recipes) because I had a person I train contact me and ask about rest days. They wanted to know how many days they should come to class and what day was the best to rest. 

If you are a professional athlete, then there is likely a more precise answer to this question. But if you are just a person who moves, there really are no rules. Yes, you need to rest. But if your rest day might be the day you have to pick the kids up from softball or it might be the day your legs feel like they are going to fall off. Because we don't program how we move in life (one day you might help a friend move the next you might be stuck in front of the computer for 10 hours), the answer to your question depends on how you feel. 

I know people feel safe with rules. People like to follow programs and recipes. But the problem with all these hard and fast lists is that they don't make room for life. Life doesn't have edges. You can be strict until the day you can't, and then what? But if you can be fluid with your training and adjust based on the moment, you leave room for creativity. You also become an active participant in your fitness--and the truth is, you are the only one who knows what you are feeling, which means that you are the primary expert in your body. Yes, having a plan is helpful, but planning also limits you. I notice frequently that when people miss a step in their very strict program, they are more likely to abandon ship. But that makes no sense. If you break one dish, you don't smash all the others. 

One thing my clients often lament to me when their eating habits falter or they miss sessions is, "I was so good." As if now they are bad. You are the same. You are just doing something different at this moment. You are not following a certain rule. 

Your month long detox or 6 week six pack program is finite. Hopefully, your health is not. So while it can be fun and important to be rigid, it's not sustainable. And the sooner you can learn to make your own rules based on your own experience, the sooner you can take ownership of your training. Rest when you need to, work when you can. Practice pullups and rollerblading, if that's what you want. Take a day off. Don't take a day off. Let it be your decision. 

Coordination and Skill Based Movement by India Choquette

"How do you get double unders?" one of my athletes asked me the other night. Consistently I find that jumping rope annoys people. Whenever it is on the board, I get requests for substitutions or I see them roll their eyes.

And I know why. The funny thing about jumping rope--whether it's double unders, double dutch or any variety of trick--is the almost 100% of the people who walk into my sessions are physically capable of doing it. With the exception of a few injured people, everyone I train is strong enough and able bodied enough to jump rope.

But that doesn't mean that they can. Why not? Because they don't have the neuromuscular adaptations that allow them to do it. In other words, they haven't practiced. And they never learned. And people are so scared of looking ridiculous that they would rather substitute the exercise than learn the skill. Admittedly, you might not achieve the intensity you want if you are constantly tripping over the rope. But intensity isn't everything. Coordination and agility are two the most under trained areas of fitness. I think coaches and trainers are nervous to program these kinds of exercises because we risk frustrating our clients. But much like learning a new language is incredibly powerful for the brain, learning a new physical skill can take our fitness to the next level. When you force your brain and muscles and nerves to coordinate in a complex way, you are changing your entire system. A bicep curl requires very little skill and while it can make your muscles bigger, it doesn't challenge your brain in the same way jumping rope does. 

In order to be truly fit, we have to challenge everything: cardiovascular strength, muscular endurance and strength, flexibility and mobility, balance, agility, and coordination. If we only ever train for cardio, strength, and endurance, we are missing out on the full capacity of movement. 

Why does this matter? Well, you could argue that, as you age, coordination is key to maintaining a mobile and independent life. But it's really not--our lifestyle is such where you can really get around without needing much complex movement. It's good for your brain to train coordination, but that rarely motivates people when you have a finite amount of time and just want to get as much work in as possible. Personally, I simply find it rewarding to master a new skill--it's a concrete reminder that time in and focus yields results. I also think it's important to be humble and to constantly challenge yourself. If you can become comfortable with being a beginner, you won't limit yourself to the known. And then jumping rope becomes bigger than jumping rope: it becomes an example of how you can triumph and master the strange.

In answer to his question: the way you get double unders is you practice double unders. You whip the back of your legs with the jump rope a thousand times, you try different tempos, you jump on one foot, you get tight calves. You allow yourself to be terrible. And you must be terrible at first. But I urge people to do the thing you are terrible at--it's good for you in many ways. Be the person falling over as you try to get your handstand. Be the person working with the PVC pipe as you learn to snatch. Be the person who allows yourself to be a beginner. 

Ladies Who Lift: Not An Excuse To Shame Other Women by India Choquette

One thing I've noticed since I've become part of the "strong" women community--meaning physically built--is that there's a strange amount of smack talk that goes on about "skinny sticks who do spin." It's upsetting to me because I think, generally, women who train hard are incredibly supportive and not threatened. We don't ascribe to society's beauty standards, and we enjoy moving. It's powerful. I know, for me, it has helped me shift from viewing my body as ornamental to an understanding of my own physical capabilities and strength. Many of us lift each other up, cheer each other on, and, although we might be competitive in training, we are truly supportive and lift each other up.

I was reading a really hateful post by someone I know--a lady lifter--that went on and on about the skinny women with collagen lips who go to cycling class and how she just wants to shove a hamburger down their throat. It was a disgusting and bitter post, which I actually wasn't that surprised about (given the person), but I was absolutely surprised how many of my peers liked it.

Pushing someone down never lifts you up. Never. When you are ashamed of yourself, you shame others. It is an insecure move. And, honestly, women get shamed enough. We have been taught to compete with each other, to be threatened by each other, that the existence of someone more beautiful will make us lose all we have. It's not true. It's total garbage. And it's total garbage to body shame anyone. If you want collagen, that's your choice. If you want to lift, that's your choice. If it's not hurting anyone, and it's something that makes you happy, you do not deserved to be shamed. 

I can't believe I have to write this, but humans are different. We have different bodies, we enjoy different things, and we ascribed to different values. If you find yourself making fun of someone who has made different choices, you need to examine yourself and see if you are suffering from shame or insecurity. It's not funny. It's weak.

Patience by India Choquette

IT IS INCREDBILY IRONIC THAT I AM WRITING THIS POST. Mostly because I’m the least patient person. When I was little, my stepmom used to say, “Thank goodness your name isn’t patience!” because I loathed waiting. For anything. For the subway. For the microwave. For people to show up for a casual lunch (it’s casual but still). For my toast to toast. For my pencil to sharpen in those pencil sharpener machines (seriously).

But patience is one of the many things I’ve learned from training. Our bodies are incredibly complex. In order to progress, when must make neurological advances to master technique, neuromuscular advances to apply that technique, skeletomuscular advances to get stronger or stretchier, respiratory and circulatory advances to support our work load, and psychological and behavioral advances to continue down our path. In the era of steroids and “6 week six packs,” it feels WRONG to invest in slow change. We are trained to assess experiences by results. We are trained to feel inadequate.

However, the complex adaptations that occur in training are just that: complex. It does not help to fixate on the end goal. Like most things in life, there actually isn’t an end to it. Especially with fitness: the hope is that we keep training and moving and learning our whole lives. So what is the point of being frustrated? It’s not a race.

I struggle with this frustration, especially when I lack technique. I’ve gotten to a fitness level when I expect to be good at most things. But if I’m new to something technical, I obviously haven’t doing the neuro training to get it together. Even something little like double unders makes me bananas. I am absolutely strong enough to do them, but I fail to string them together in any consistent fashion. There are two ways to approach this frustration: either to use it as validation that you are a failure, or have fun with learning double unders. So I’ll put on The Spice Girls (I have terrible taste in music and won’t apologize for it), and get hopping.

That being said, I know it is awful when you feel like you are hurtling along towards some impressive goal and your coach comes up and tells you have to fix your squat. Not loaded squat, just your air squat. Maybe they tell you your mobility is lacking, or your chest is falling forward, or anything basic issue, and all the sudden, you have to go way back to learning to squat. Is that frustrating? Yes. But you have, again, two basic choices: you can allow yourself to “decondition” slightly and focus your training efforts on correcting mechanics, or you can push ahead and ignore your form. Pushing through will not correct it. You will get stronger, but you also will likely get injured. And even if you avoid injury, you aren’t fixing the problem with your squat, so any gains you make will be limited by technique.

Which brings me back to fun. If you think of this as a life long puzzle, or even a life long game, then learning new skills or improving old ones becomes fun. You physical ability says nothing about your value as a human. It is simply a way to enjoy and experience the world. I don’t know if Mother Theresa could do a freestanding handstand (probably), but that didn’t make her inadequate. Keep training fun, and you will do it forever. Because the truth is time is the only way to achieve mastery.

DACA: Strength is Resistance by India Choquette

Strength is resistance: What is the point of being physically strong? Is it to do twenty unbroken ring dips, to run a marathon, to have a six pack? I train myself so I can be strong when something truly important is at stake. I have studied and worked alongside DREAMers. I now teach and train them. I've never had to ask how or why they are in the country, but I'm proud that we opened doors and allowed them to achieve and contribute. And now I see my students, who should be stressing about their term papers (term papers they studied for years to have the privilege of writing), stressing about their right to stay in their home country. It is counter the pursuit of happiness, the promise of America. 

've heard several people say that politics doesn't affect them, and that their lives stay the same regardless of who holds office. Lucky you. You are in the perfect position to stand up for the people who are threatened. Working out is about learning to tolerate discomfort and triumphing in spite of it. At the end of the day, if you are healthy, it doesn't matter how many pullups you can do or how much weight you can deadlift. But it does matter that you offer a hand when it is needed, that you advocate for those who aren't being heard, and that you are willing to get uncomfortable for the sake of others. Training without willingness to share your strength is simple vanity. We know that strength is resistance--that's what we practice in the gym every week. Be strong enough to resist this inhumane action. Especially if you aren't personally affected. Lending a hand is the greatest example of strength. And know, that if you choose to turn a blind eye and to be passive, other people are out there, calling, marching, donating money, writing letters, and becoming informed. They are rising to meet the challenge. And you are doing bicep curls. 


Biology and Effort: Bones by India Choquette

When I was doing my yoga teacher training in Bali last month, they showed a movie (and, forgive me, I don’t remember the name, but it had a bunch of slides of skeletons explained by a yoga guru with too many teeth), that discussed skeletal deviation and its effects on ability.

Our skeletons are as varied as any physical attribute. Our features, height, coloration, size of feet, etc., make up our unique appearance. We can see how different we are. On an athletic level, we can look at someone and identify them as a good sprinter with long legs or as having the shoulders of a gymnast. Genetically, certain people have a specific ratio of muscle fibers or a overall size/proportion that give them an advantage in some sports or training (I’ll write more about that some other time).

Our bones, like everything else about us, are specific to the individual. The shape of your pelvis, the placement of your hip sockets, and the length your femur all effect your movement patterns. Skeletal deviation is as normal as variety of hair color.

However, our bones are not as visible are our hair, and sometimes we assume that our skeleton should operate the same as the people training alongside us. It won’t. For example, if your hip sockets are forward facing, there’s a good chance that you will NEVER get your knees to lie flat on the floor in butterfly. Not matter how much you stretch. The shape of your pelvis won’t allow it. But if your sockets are on the side, you might be able to put your legs flat on the floor without getting any stretch at all. My person with forward facing hip sockets (me) has, likely, a better natural gait and is more predisposed to running and jumping in the sagittal plane. Mr. Side Facing Floppy Hip Socket is probably going to be a much more impressive yogi than I am (not that I'm bitter....).

Here’s another example: you know that stretch where you take your right arm up and over, allowing your hand to dangle between your shoulder blades, and then reach your left arm down and around, attempting to clasp your hands together? Google “Apley’s scratch test” if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Some people and give themselves this crazy reverse hug and tie themselves in knots. Other people cannot, under any circumstances, clasp their hands together. While flexibility likely plays a role in ability to achieve this ROM, the placement and size of the acromion process of the shoulder also contributes. It may be that, because of the nature of your bones, you will never be able to clasp your hands.

How do you tell if it’s bone shape or lack of flexibility? There’s a difference between stretch and compression. In a butterfly stretch—soles of the feet together, knees falling open—you should feel a stretch in the inner thigh and groin. If the sensation is located there, you have not reached your full stretch capacity and are still benefiting from the stretch. However, if you feel a kind of pinching, burning, or grinding on the OUTSIDE of the hip, that is compression, bone on bone. It means that you have reached the limits of your flexibility and are now compressing your joint. Stretch is the goal sensation (where you expect to feel it), compression is felt on the side OPPOSITE to the stretch. In Apley's scratch test, you should feel a stretch in the pecs and front of shoulder, if you feel pain in the back, around the shoulder blade, that's compression and you've reached your limit.

Why does any of this matter?

1.       Compressing your joints is not great. If you can protect the joint by decreasing ROM, you are better off. Or, if you have bones and joints that allow for extreme ROM, you may need to find creative ways to deepen a stretch before you get any benefits from training flexibility.

2.       YOUR FORM MIGHT LOOK DIFFERENT FROM SOMEONE ELSE’S. Expecting everyone to squat with their feet parallel makes no sense when you account for variation of hip socket placement or for femur length (for squats, take the stance that allows your knees to track over your toes). Don’t freak out if your body looks different while moving.

3.       The maximum differs between bodies. My max butterfly stretch is not Instagram worthy, but it has taken a lot of investment and training on my end. I benefit from doing that stretch even if my knees will never lie flat on the floor. Conversely, someone else might have to invest extra time to running gait and knee tracking. You might reach your “best” without looking like the ideal. And that’s okay. Don’t be frustrated. This is why they x-ray ballerinas’ pelvises to see if they are going to be able to perform (their pelvis determines their capacity for turnout)—our skeletons create limits for us. Don’t blame yourself for not working hard enough when it’s just your bones. If you are moving in a way that makes your stronger or stretchier and it feels good, then you are good to go.

Quality Movement by India Choquette

“Push your knees out as you go down.” I watch. “You are collapsing in. Push your knees out.” No change. I kneel beside the athlete and push my fist into the outside of their thigh. “Push against my hand as you come up.” They do. “There you go.”

My athlete just lost a precious 15 seconds in the AMRAP, but they are smart and know that improving their squat is far more important than winning the workout.

This mini story happens to me daily. It’s my job to correct form, to watch for movement patterns, and to teach when necessary. I love my job. It’s why I sit in my apartment at night, drinking tea, and reading articles debating proper knee tracking. I like what I do. I’m a fitness nerd.

When we talk about high intensity training, which is my jam, quality movement takes on an added importance. You never lose by having excellent form, but when you are training at your limit, your form is what keeps you safe. With the rise of competitive workouts (which is an extremely powerful way to drive intensity—“men will die for points”), I’ve started noticing a large percentage of athletes sacrificing form for score. This tradeoff is a lose/lose.

First off, if you aren’t doing a movement with full range of motion (the most common issue I see), you are scaling the movement and making it easier. If you are doing pushups and your chest isn’t reaching the floor or if you are doing pullups and your chin isn’t clearing the bar, you are doing a partial version of the movement. And that’s okay when you are building up strength, but if you can improve your ROM by taking a quick rest or slowing your reps, you should. Absolutely. You will be training harder even though you are going slower because those few inches or degrees add an incredible amount of intensity. If you can, you should. It will improve your fitness overall in a much more effective way than if you blow through 30 partial ROM versions. From my observation: pull ups, push ups, and squats are the most common partial ROM culprits. If you are struggling with body awareness (something that comes with training), use targets. Put a medball under your butt to squat to, take your chest all the way to the floor in your pushup.

To add on to the ROM discussion, if you need to scale to get full ROM, you should. If you are a tall person, lucky you, but pushups, squats, pullups, all of it, are going to be more challenging. It’s mechanical physics: your levers are longer, therefore workload is increased. This means that, to build your strength, you may need to do pushups on your knees. That’s ok. That’s better than bending your elbows 2 inches in a full plank and calling it a rep. Be humble and be precise. It will pay off.

The second reason, and the one nearest and dearest to my heart, is that if you are holding your form, you are doing all the things training is supposed to: building strength, promoting health, lubricating your joints, improving bone density, etc. If you are allowing your form to fail, especially at a high intensity, you are doing damage. You are hurting your joints especially. Now, I know that, when you are truly working at your max and you are in the heat of competition, your form gets a little messy. Your burpee might be a little ugly and your squat might get a little frayed. And that’s reasonable. And I don’t expect people to maintain pristine movement patterns throughout all portions of their training. In fact, you are perfect throughout, it means you aren’t at your maximum. But there’s an edge that is important. If you can do a full ROM push up, do it for the whole session even if you have to rest for a few seconds. If you cannot do 10 strict pullups, don’t do 50 kipping pullups where you repeatedly slam into your shoulder joints and fail to clear the bar. Be excellent and be humble. You should be able to hold form for 85% of the workout. When you master form, you master your body. If you can hold form, it means that you are likely going to stay healthy and continue your progress, for years and years. Injury should not be the rule, it should be the exception.

My last thought on this subject is that we all should listen to our coaches. They are our eyes when ours are blurred with sweat. Do not get frustrated when we adjust or scale. We are doing it because we know quality movement increases the intensity but decreases risk. And unless $1 million is on the line, it’s better to go for steady progress than winning a workout.

Intensity is powerful, I think it is the most effective way to train, but it’s only effective if it adds quality to your life. And if can only add quality if it improves your movement patterns. And it can only improve your movement patterns if you are precise.

People Are Not Landscape by India Choquette

Now that I'm 7 years in New York City, I think I may have pinpointed the difference between country living and city living. Over a year ago, I went to visit my parents in Vermont, and I was in the grocery store, wandering around like always, when someone yelled my name. I looked up and there was Felicity, the French teacher I knew from Saturdays at the community center when I used to live here. "India," she said, "I've walked past you 6 times and I couldn't catch your eye." 

And that's how it is: I don't really see people anymore. That's the city living effect. Most of the time if you asked me who I sat next to on the subway that morning, I'd probably have nothing to say--not even a loose description. City dwellers don't see people because there are so many. And even though we encounter hundreds or more on a given day, we don't see them as individuals, we see them as landscape. Or possibly obstacles. We use dating apps to shop for people like they are shoes. People are infinite, and therefore disposable. We don't have to worry about any particular interaction because, if it is unpleasant, we can find someone else. People are invisible because there are so many, and people are objectified because they are replaceable. This glossing over of humanity is dangerous. If nothing else, it makes us shallow and rude. It opens us up to casual relationships. Being casual reduces humans to profile pictures and selfies that work as masks to hide our complexity. 

I miss the scarcity of humans from my childhood. If I fought with a friend, we would figure it out, take time, forgive each other because we didn't have the perception of a replacement friend around the corner. In Vermont, I allowed myself to be friendly with people who annoyed me. I couldn't expect everyone to be subservient to my template of a worthwhile relationship. I had to accept differences because otherwise, I would be alone.

The joy (and struggle) of life is bridging the chasms between ourselves and others. Even though vastly different, we search for little oceans of commonality that allow us to connect. That's some confusing imagery, and this piece is very much a rant, but I upset that I've stopped seeing people as equally complex. I don't want people to swipe by my face or blend me into the background. I don't want to lose my ability to see the humanity of others. In New York, sometimes people melt into the landscape, but we are all much more vast and dense than any skyscraper.

Adventures Make A Summer by India Choquette

There's something magic about summer even though I haven't been in school for years. That special vacation feeling stays even though my work schedule is that same as the rest of the year. I think the summer vacation of when we were kids sets us up to see summer as a "something else" season. I don't particularly like summer weather--I'm more of a frigid winter person--but when spring breaks open and I shift my run earlier, it feels stupidly exciting. 

But now that I'm not a student, I realize how easy it is for summer to blend into fall without anything new happening. I read somewhere that "adventures make a summer." But the older I get, the more I find that I have to make the adventures in order to have the adventures that make my summer. Whether is only an afternoon thing of going to the movies or whether it's a trip or project spanning loads of weeks, make the effort to do something extraordinary. Let's keep summer. There's still a little time--I think September will be warm.

Disruptions by India Choquette

It's hard to develop a good habit. It takes me a lot of list writing, a lot of alarm setting, and a lot of calendar appointments to make a habit stick. But, once it's there, I lock it in. And I adhere to it. Exercise is like that for me now. Of course, it's my job, but when I have a disruption in my work schedule, the fact that fitness is my career just adds pressure. 

The biggest disruption to my training is travel. Which stinks because traveling is the best. But what we (all of us workout people) is that, even if we have a specific workout/class/program that we intensely follow, all movement works. Taking a walk works. Doing pushups on your motel floor works. Hiking works. Taking a new class in a new place works. We, as humans, just hate change. But rather than getting hung up on missing your routine, use a disruption as an opportunity to explore other things. Think of your vacation as a fitness vacation--not because you stop training, but because you explore something different. One of the best things about training is that there are some many ways to move: dancing, lifting, running, climbing, jumping, skating... And besides, it's usually uncomfortable and constricting when you try and maintain an exact program in a different setting.

Personally, when I get disrupted, I find it more interesting to keep the theme of the habit--fitness in this case--but explore within that category. Not everything has be about habit maintenance; it can be about habit expansion. And the ability to flow and change leads to a softer approach to life. It leads to less stress and pressure. Don't lose the habit, but allow it have variety. 

Deserving by India Choquette

This might be morbid, but when I am in a terrible situation, I like to brainstorm all the other things that would be worse than what I'm currently enduring. As I lean forward on this bench, I can see the moon, a misty moon, hanging above the subway platform. So I made a mistake. I wonder if I can fix it. Maybe, maybe not. I will try. But everything about this moment feels numb. I don't even feel angry. I don't feel sad. And I feel fairly even because I'd much rather deal with this inconvenience than having my parents die. My friend said I shouldn't put that energy into the world, but I find it comforting. And the moon here is nice, and even though I am exhausted, I am fine.

I had been planning this event for months and invested a ton of money. But money is just money and dreams are just dreams. At least my family is fine. And my friends. The thing that keeps popping into my brain, though, is how everyone, including myself to some extent, told me how I deserved this trip. 

People often tell each other "you deserve it" or "you deserve better." We say it to comfort. If someone feels guilty about eating a cupcake, we say, "You worked hard today. You deserve it." If someone gets dumped, we say, "It's his loss--you deserve better." It's a nice thing to say.

But no one deserves anything. And deserving is dangerous. It outlines a linear world that owes you things. Or even a world where things are earned and delivered. But it's not so cut and dry. When we say we deserve something, we are demanding something rather than building it. The world owes us nothing. We are here to create, not consume. We consume when we are too paralyzed to create. 

I do not know if I can fix my current situation. I don't know if this post will seem jaded in a week. But I'm glad my family is fine. And my friends. I am grateful to have a life where I can make a mistake like this--one that will simply deny me an indulgence. I am lucky to have this chance. And I know that, whatever happens, whether I lose this opportunity or not, I'll use my time to create something.

Soup by India Choquette

I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the role of soup in my life. Soup really is one of the great unsung heroes. In fact, sometimes I don't even consider ordering it when I'm out and about--I'm sorry, soup. I am seduced by avocado toast and goat cheese salad and forget that you have stood faithfully by all along.

In the romcom of my life, soup is the one that gets me in the end. But only after holding my hair back when I get massive food poisoning from that narcissistic sushi. And only after I reject the flashy circus antics of glamourous hibachi do I realize that soup has always been the one for me.

The first soup I remember is my mother's French onion soup. She would serve it to my sister, Jett, and me in glazed green ceramic bowls--hand turned, I believe--with a whole slice of bread with melted cheese floating like an island in the middle of the bowl. To be honest, I was more excited by the cheesy bread, and I would eat the underlying soup quickly without much enthusiasm. But I was young then and didn't understand that the beauty of the dish came from the warmth of the broth and the sweetness of the onions. I didn't know a lot about life then.

The other soup my mother made was Bugs Bunny soup--a pureed carrot soup. My mother is very clever. My sister loved both these soups and always begged my mom to make it. This preference partially explains my neutrality towards soup: if my sister liked it, I was blase.

My whole life, my sister and I have tried to be as separate as possible. We are two years and four days apart--both libras--and we've made every attempt to assert our individualism. She was "better" at drawing, so I acted in all the school plays. I was "better" at creative writing, so she had to be analytical and fact minded. She was the tomboy, so I was girly, sneaking lip gloss to school while she cut off all her hair.  I was sweet, so she was tough. She loved spinach, so I spit my portion into my mother's nice cloth napkins and threw it out the window (for reference, spinach stains and I got caught). We both wanted cheesecake for our birthdays, but she had plain and I had chocolate. I don't know why we felt the need to be different. Maybe it's because we look so different that we assumed that we must be. Or maybe we were trying to avoid competing with each other. Even when we both ran cross country, I dropped out of the team before we had a chance to run a full length race together. Which sucks because it would have been awesome to run through the woods of Vermont with her, the sun coming through the birch trees and we scanned the trail for roots. I would have really loved that. But we were afraid that if we did the same activities or liked the same things that one of us would come out as "superior," and we would rather be separate than compared.

And she loved soup. I remember her loving it and me rolling my eyes and asking for macaroni and cheese or something like that (actually, she liked mac and cheese too, but she liked it with way too much milk so that it was almost like soup whereas I liked a thick buttery paste).

When I was in college, I developed an impressive stress eating habit. But having  been raised as I was--by a good mother on a good farm in a green place--I understood that if I ate a package of oreos everytime I read an invigorating article about the theatrical traditions of oompa loompas (or whatever silliness I was studying), I would become as round as I was tall, which was not preferred because I was fairly shallow at the time. So I started ordering organinc dehydrated soup cups on Amazon (I was insufferable even then) and microwaving them in our suite kitchen that overlooked Riverside Park. Since one cup of soup was not nearly enough to sustain me through a four hour session of retyping my notes on Aristotle, I would supplement my small cup of tortilla soup (or whatever it was) with cartons of mushroom broth so that it became a giant fusion soup extravaganza that filled an enormous class bowl. I believe this bowl was designed to serve salad to a family of four, but it was microwave safe and gave me enough volume to keep me entertained. I soon figured out that I could dress up my soup with sprouts and peppers and peas and really anything--dried shredded squid from Chinatown even. I bought the squid when my sister was visiting for the weekend and we took a trip to Chinatown. We liked to go down there whenever she visited and go to the supermarkets. We'd buy a bunch of foreign snack foods and eat them on a bench in next to the groups doing Tai Chi. She liked to buy interesting but certain things--green tea kit kats, rice crisps--things we were guaranteed to like even though they were new. She didn't see the point in wasting money on weird things. I liked to buy something "scary"--like dried shredded squid--to see if I'd like it (I pretended I did no matter what). I still do this and she still shakes her head and tells me to "choose whatever I want" while giving me a disapproving big sister look.

When I lived in Prague, I ate soup everyday. I lived there for a year, and because I was acting and wanted to be skinny, I avoided the heavy Czech meat dishes and fried cheese. Czechs aren't big on vegetables, so the only reliable alternative was soup. By the end of my time there, I was fairly small but mostly hungry. I loved soup then because I loved how I looked, but I also resented it because it was a kind of restrictive monotone meal even though I got to eat it alongside my friends at the strange Czech bagel shop down the street from where we studied. It was also cheap which was wonderful because I ran out of money twice during my time there.

While I was in Prague, my sister was in Washington DC working all night at CVS to help cover the cost of university. Or maybe she had transitioned to Starbucks already, riding her bike in the dark early morning (and later, after hers was stolen, my bike) to work a shift before class. She ate a lot of cabbage then because it was cheap. She also learned to clip coupons, and I remember being surprised by how much she loved going through the newspaper flyers for Giant while making her very precise shopping list. I don't remember her making soup, but she made a lot of curry. She was also cooking for her boyfriend at the time, and he had very boring tastebuds being a midwesterner. He cramped her style in many ways,  and I was worried he would cause her to supress her power and turn her into a Ranch dressing corporate employee. But she dumped him and joined the Peace Corps because she is a bad ass. Even though it was hard and miserable for her to end it, she understood that she can change the world and no baseball stat obsessed boy can stife that drive.

I was a terrible sister while she was serving in Paraguay. My work schedule was out of control, and I basically ignored her for over two years. But while she was gone, she wrote a novel. Which was funny because writing was kind of my thing. It was what I studied in college, and I actually got a substantial grant to finish a book I was writing. My novel was--and is--a modern adaptation of Hamlet, and I was very proud of my female antihero. She's very unlikeable and has prevented any agents from representing the book to this day. So proud. Jett's main character was very noble, and I remember reading her draft and thinking that it was more complex than anything I'd ever write. I don't recall eating a lot of soup during that time, and I don't believe she did either--it was too hot in Paraguay.
When I first graduated from college, I only had one job: babysitting for cash. I paid $600 a month to rent a room in Spanish Harlem. I was going to be an actor, and I turned my nose up at any security in favor of jumping off the artistic cliff. Or slamming my face into the artistic wall as it turned out. I was constantly afraid I was going to starve, so I ordered a bulk order of Ramen noodles ($50 worth or enough to fill the bottom of my closet). I knew if worse came to worse, I wouldn't starve. I never used the flavor packets, but I would microwave the noodles in water and mix tomato paste in for flavor. I knew it was terrible for me, and I tried to avoid eating them frequently, opting instead to hoard them for peace of mind. I moved these noodles to two different apartments over the next years before finally donating them to a food drive only to have the kind lady point out to me that they had expired. My roommate at the time teased me about my expired bunker, but she didn't understand that I was poor, afraid, and proud, trying to make the choices that would lead to happiness. My sister understood. She'd been eating cabbage and rice and clipping coupons for years by then.

Now I'm 25 and she's 27. Our birthdays are just a few months away. She's preparing to apply to medical school and I'm sitting alone in a restaurant in Bali eating an unaplogetically large bowl of pho. I've been her for 20 days studying yoga, and I'm a trainer and writer living in New York City. I am creative and I like science. She is the same. My training career is solid, and for the first time, I have a little money to throw at life. I love eating alone and although I'm alone, I'm not lonely. This is the greatest pho of my life and I alternate writing and eating, holding both my pen and my chopsticks in my left hand. I fly home tomorrow. I fly home to nobody because, like my sister, I am still single. She works weekends as an EMT, and she posted yesterday that she's gone on over 50 callss now, which is a lot for Vermont.

Some people raised their eyebrows when I said I was going to Bali alone, but only the people who don't know me or my sister that well. We both work as a kind of healer--her with medicine, me with exercise. We both do whatever it takes and can live off cabbage and mushroom broth. We are both tomboys, but love to dress up and dance. We both cry at movies. We are both still libras and love music. We love soup and adventure and science and art. We aren't intimidated, but worry a lot. And I find myself slurping and thinking of the bank accout I've started so that when she gets to med school, I can Amazon subscribe and save dehydrated soup to her so that I don't have to worry that she's starving while she's learning to do the job that most people are too lazy to dream of. I'm eating pho in Bali, writing these sentences in between bites, holding my pen and chopsticks with my left hand, thinking about how soup and my sister are the unsung heroes of my life. And isn't it a nice life.

Let Go by India Choquette

We can talk about training in terms of overcoming obstacles or challenges. Hard work pays off, and there’s this gung-ho feeling that no obstacle is insurmountable given enough time and work. Your fitness goals may seem impossible today, but if you are consistent and smart, you can get there. It’s tangible and simple and gives me some peace. Change is possible if you put effort into it.

I’m hardworking, organized, and stubborn. That’s the secret to any of my successes. If I don’t like something, I change it. If I want something, I work for it. But these past couple months, I’ve realized that that work and perseverance is not always the answer. When the situation is dependent on another person, especially if it requires the other person to change, then it’s time to let go. I like to win and succeed, but you truly cannot make anyone do anything. I’ve found myself going down incredibly painful and time sucking paths in attempts to get someone to change their mind or do something different. I wish I could rewind to a year ago and tell myself not to waste my time. And I wish I could win back the time I’ve wasted wishing people were different than they are. It’s outside my control. And I don’t like that. I like believing that I have control. And in many things, I do.

But each person is their own universe. We are all complex and infinite, and even though we may share corners of that universe—experiences, opinions, feelings—that’s just a tiny, tiny portion of who we are. You can’t assume that anyone is experiencing life in the same way that you are. They aren’t.

Rather than slam myself repeatedly into the wall in the hopes of breaking through to someone, I am choosing to put that energy into the parts of life I can control. Don’t let determination steal your time. You cannot win relationships.

Go Hard or Go Home (to bed because you probably need a nap) by India Choquette

In America, more is more. And I think we have started applying that to our training too: "go hard or go home" is the new fitness trend. I think that we know, without a doubt, that intensity is the most effective method of creating physical adaptations. And it has the added benefit of being wildly efficient. But I think there are two aspects of intensity that are overlooked: first of all, it's relative, and second of all, it's intense (duh).

Intensity is relative--which means that a professional athlete and a couch potato can experience that same intensity doing entirely different things. While there's a push to go harder and harder, what we sometimes miss is that you might be working at the correct intensity for a given day. Even if you aren't doing 300 million back flips then deadlifting 300 lbs. 5 pushups on your knees can be high intensity if it matches your fitness level. Yes, we want things to be challenging, but know that if you push too far, you are certainly doing more harm than good. It does not help to compare yourself. Yes, people are stronger than each other, but people are also taller, heavier, and a many other things that can contribute to the difficulty of an exercise. If you are tall, pushups are harder. The lever is longer. It's physics. Learn to monitor your own intensity rather than use others as a gauge. 

Intensity is also intense. We don't live our lives at 100% intensity--we aren't always wildly happy or sad, we don't expect ourselves to work hours and hours without sleep (or we shouldn't). Intensity is so useful and effective, but when it is constant, it takes it's toll. Stress is a great example. Stress is amazing because it activates our fight or flight response and gives us the hormonal firepower to deal with the extreme challenges of life. However, if we are in a constant state of stress (which many of us are), it leads to extreme health problems. We are not meant to be in fight or flight constantly, and those elevated hormones lead to chronic issues. Intensity is the same. When the volume is managed, intensity is the most effective way to train. But if that volume reaches a certain point, it means the efficacy is compromised and you are harming rather than hurting. Intensity is effective and efficient. Efficient means you don't need to overdo it.

How much is too much? That depends. I think we can handle a lot more than we think. Usually. The best way I have ever found to manage intensity is to see how I feel on a given day. Some days I'm ready to work. Other days I am not. And on the days I am not, I don't try and force myself. I pick something less intense and do that. I still train, but I focus on technique or stretching or just slowing everything down. Learn to adjust your training to how you feel. If you are stiff, you might need to come to class early to foam roll. If you didn't sleep, you probably should skip the 8 mile run and take a nap. You are the only one who knows what you are feeling, and you must learn how to manage your training based on your current state.

Detours/Counting Rocks by India Choquette

It's funny to be sitting here waiting for this plane to take off. I usually hate waiting. I'm incredibly impatient. But today I don't mind too much. There's a storm coming--or maybe it's already here in the city--and I feel like I'm just before a storm too. This past year, my mind has been stuck on the things and people who matter the least. I want to be in the air on my way to something higher, but instead I've been sitting in the dirt and counting rocks. I've been on what seems like a detour. But I don't believe in detours. I don't believe in setbacks. I don't believe that it is possible to waste time if you are moving, no matter the direction. No life experience is a waste if you are living with your eyes open and striving for something, even if it is tallying rocks. So long as I don't get stuck there...

The past year, my focus changed. I was less kind, less creative, and more superficial and robotic. I lowered my expectations of humanity and myself, and I pretended I was satified with counting rocks. But that doesn't mean I lost a year. That feeling is something I hear expressed all the time: "I've let myself go," "I gave up," and even "how could I do this to myself." Time is not wasted if you live with your eyes open. The moments you spend in the dirt shape the way you see the sky. And I've kind of become an expert in rocks--not to brag or anything.

Training vs. Working Out by India Choquette

My first jobs as a trainer were at a university, and I've always approached training with the goal of not only creating physical adaptations, but also increasing understanding of the body and movement. I'm pretty pedantic, and I will spend an annoying amount of time breaking down a squat or plank because my goal is to make people their own trainer. I want to foster a body awareness that allows us to move without a set of eyes on us. When I first started working at private studios, I found that the emphasis was often on entertainment (not that I have a problem with that--fun is important), but that instructors often were hesitant to spend too much time teaching because they didn't want to frustrate their clients.

Which is understandable. We are in the service industry, but by allowing someone to run rampant with a crappy form, we are being lazy and timid. We are creating a workout, but we are not training. I took a class this week where the instructor wrote kettlebell swings on the board but did not even demonstrate a kettlebell swing before asking us to do it. Nor did she give us a hint about a reasonable weight for the exercise. I get where she was coming from--she wants to pack as much as possible into a class, and if she took the time to teach us, she would lose precious sweaty seconds and maybe lose her studio's reputation as one of the most intense workouts. But it's crap. If you want to repeatedly slam your body full speed into the wall and get a little skinnier and more toned, then that's working out. But if you want to train, you have to get your brain and body on the same team. You have to take the time to learn technique. And here's what you'll get out of that: you will advance in ability (lat pulldowns will lead to pull ups...etc.), you will develop greater body awareness (which means that you will know when you need to rest and when you can work harder), you will avoid injury because you will understand yourself better, and finally, you will be able to translate your strength into the rest of your life. If you take random classes that are really hard at random studios, you are likely enforcing negative movement patterns and even amplifying issues. But if you take the time to learn how to properly squat, you are becoming mindful of your movement and you might notice that you are rounding your spine next time you sit down. You become your own trainer.

If your trainer is "slowing you down" and you become frustrated with their coaching, look at it long term. Do you want to train or do you want to workout? If you just came to sweat as much as possible with no thought of the future, find classes where you get ignored. If you want to learn, find a coach who has opinions about your movement and tips to help you. It's better to be told to lift your head up 500 times than to allow your poor alignment to create all the pain and tension in your neck. Embrace learning. 

Thinking makes it so by India Choquette

"There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so." This is a quote from Hamlet that I think about a lot. Sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don't. But, either way, perspective is what shapes our experiences. The problem with perspective is that we sometimes feel as though it's outside of our control (our perspective is that our perspective is fixed). But it's not. We create our own perspective through our thoughts. Whenever a client tells me they "can't" do something, I know that, as long as they say that, the won't. They are creating a perspective. My immediate response is always for make them say, out loud, that they are doing it. So if they say, "I can't row 1000 meters," I make them say, "I am rowing meters." And I swear, it's like witchcraft: they all of the sudden just go ahead and do it. But what if they can't do the task? It doesn't matter. Now they have a positive perspective about the challenge, and it changes their experience. My dad will sometimes wake up in a bad mood--he'll slam his coffee cup around, yell at the dog, or whatever grouchy thing he's doing. But he has a brilliant strategy for dealing with these mornings: the man literally gets back in his pajamas, gets back in bed, and starts the day over. He brushes his teeth again. Gets a new cup of coffee. And he makes the choice that it's going to be a good morning this time. He controls his thinking and his perspective. The day itself isn't any different, but his approach to it is. You can shape your perspective and control your experiences. Use thinking to make things good, not bad. Working out is only bad if that's what you think it is. Working hard is only bad if your have a negative perspective. Maybe you don't need to brush your teeth again (although it can't hurt), but when you find yourself setting yourself up for misery, flip your perspective.

Priorities Part 2: I'll sleep when I'm dead by India Choquette

Whenever someone tells me "I'll sleep when I'm dead," my first thought is ALWAYS that without sleep, you'll probably die a lot sooner. 

I know that's super dramatic, but it's probably true. In my last post, I wrote about how prioritizing fitness above EVERYTHING is seriously detrimental to your life, but the flip side is even more dangerous. People who obsess over fitness might miss out on life experiences and human interaction, but people who drop healthy behaviors the second they become busy are draining quality (if not quantity) from their lives.

You are always going to be busy.

Let me repeat that.

You are always going to be busy.

What are you going to do about it? If you wait for life to slow down before you get enough sleep or train, you will wait forever. Yes, your job may be more important than working out, but you are going to spend 8 hours at your job...can you find one hour for training? Can you find 30 minutes? 

I notice that when we get overwhelmed, often one of the first things we do is cut all fitness and/or sleep out in an effort to make more time. But this makes us unfocused and miserable, so we still end up losing time and that creates more stress...and it's on and on. We aren't helping ourselves. We are just prolonging discomfort. 

So, here's my question: if we accept that we are ALWAYS going to be busy, what do you need to do to make sure you are taking care of yourself? I write sleep, training, classes, etc. in my calendar and show up, no exceptions. I also allow myself to do a less than perfect job in some of my work so that I can steal a little more time for myself. I have learned to manage my busyness instead of waiting for it to end. Because I know it won't.