Wellness

Spring by India Choquette

People change in the spring. Waiting on the subway platform, searching for ripe avocados at Trader Joe’s —we all become less rude. At the minimum. Some people light up and become unrecognizable from their bear-like hibernating winter selves. The sunlight and warmth are of course part of this change, but I think it is something more too....we are living through some giant metaphor in spring. The seasons prove that we can be reborn and transformed. Even after the soupiest, grayest, blizzard filled winter, the sun will feed the tulips in the giant ceramic planters guarding the entrances of the Upper West Side buildings. Seeing these blooms is good for all of us. It reminds us that nothing is permanent, and that no empty patch of dirt will stay that way forever.

Spring is hopeful. Contentment is surprisingly rare among the people I meet, especially given how much we have. Most of us are seeking growth or fulfillment or even total over hall. When we are stagnant and restless, knowing that time move forward can sometimes be the saving grace. Because true depression, I find, is when we despair that nothing will get better. We struck without hope of a personal spring.

On my walk home, I saw a little girl in a bright blue winter coat eating an ice cream cone on a park bench, her yellow rainboots dangling several inches off the ground. It was too cold to go without a jacket (at least for her dad to let her) but still warm enough to eat ice cream outside.

Transformation is deeply desired by us. I mean, it is how I make my living: people looking for better health (or, more honestly, a better body) hire me. I am part of the change industry that promises a better future. And I believe in change and transform constantly. I can barely recognize myself year to year, whether it be my body, my work, or my relationships. I live by the mantra that nothing is permanent, and we can pull the threads as they appear. We can be fluid in our definition of ourselves. “I learn by going where I have to go” is the refrain one of my favorite poems (“The Waking” by Roethke).

However, my goals are more like guidelines. I find that having an end in mind sometimes does nothing more than distract me from where I am supposed to wander. The possibility of spring is always there, and I can always transform, but sometimes the transformation I want and pursue isn’t the one that is given to me. And I try and be open to that outcome.

And the transformation we seek isn't always the one that would bring meaning to our lives. Often we want to change ourselves into something that someone else has decided we should be...because we should look a certain way, act a certain way, or be good at certain things. It especially makes me sad in the case of appearance. The way we look is only a portion of who we are as humans, and it is honestly one of the least impactful parts of our identity. And yet, our confidence is often defined by it. The work we make, the thoughts we express, the energy and time we give to our friends and our loved ones, our education...to me, these are all more important than the way our hair falls or how much we weigh. And yet, when we think of transformation, most of us think of makeovers. Transformation is always just hours or weeks or months or years of work away, but that before we go chasing this idea of spring, what kind of transformation does what spring does? What creates joy and warmth and kindness and hope not hours of maintenance and isolation and rigidity? What create connections and art and strength and triumph? What kind of transformations are worth undergoing? 

I am not anti-beauty. And I am certainly not anti-health. We build our life on our health. But our physical impression is only one impression that we make on the world. I would love to see a drive to be stronger, smarter, kinder, and brighter in the same way we are driven to be beautiful. Spring is beautiful. But the beauty is only part of the special-ness: the hope, the freshness and the light are what touch me. 

Recovery: Balance is the Only Way by India Choquette

“You’re looking jacked,” one of our athletes said to me the other day. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Less than you think,” I said. “I’m pretty lazy,” I joked.

“Really? This is my eighth straight day,” he said.

              People should not be doing crossfit eight days in a row. Full stop. But in our worthy desire to get better, we sometimes mistakenly think “more is more” and push ourselves beyond anything that makes sense. All those Instagram posts about how we need to “embrace the pain” and how “everyone wants it but no one wants to work for it” don’t help. We believe that some sort of extreme struggle and maniacal commitment must exist for us to get to the next physical level.

              But in many ways, the science says otherwise. Exercise, by definition, is controlled damage to your body. You body then is required to repair that damage. That’s is why we get bigger muscles, stronger lungs, and more durable joints: it is a simple response to damage AKA exercise.

              When you fail to give your body sufficient rest, recovery, or nutrients, you body is unable to fully repair the damage. And if you turn around and exercise before you have healed, then you run the risk of increasing the damage without reaping the benefits.

              Now theoretically that makes sense—if you got a paper cut, you wouldn’t expect it to heal if you jabbed a butter knife into the cut every day. That being said, training can and should be challenging, and good work comes with a certain amount of pain. Soreness is fine and necessary to get stronger. It is a matter of finding a skillful edge—pushing yourself to get stronger but also facilitating an effective recovery.

              There are several factors that go into recovery. I usually categorize stress, sleep, nutrition, and recovery work as the main factors. (I’m not going to talk about nutrition—I am not a nutritionist and it is too complex and important. But know that proper nutrition is a cornerstone to athletic recovery.)

              Stress is everything. If your cortisol levels are through the roof and you are running on fumes, your body isn’t going to be able to recover. When we are stressed, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. In this state, your endocrine system (AKA your hormones) diverts energy away from repair. From your body’s perspective, you are in survival mode and repairing damaged tissue isn’t a priority.  The kicker of fight or flight is that stress can be from any source: training, work, commuting …actually, most people in our society live a good portion of their lives in fight or flight mode because of increased stress. However, flight or flight is supposed to be a temporary state for our bodies. We are supposed to remain in it just along to deal with an immediate stressor. But we stay in it for prolonged periods which takes a toll on our systems. And when you live a good percentage of your life in fight or flight, it causes serious interruption to repair.

              So how do you manage stress? There have been thousands of books on this topic alone and it is too big a subject for a simple blog post. But the two main things I want to emphasize are sleep and the relaxation response.

              Sleep is sleep. Get it. Try to get eight hours within the same window every night.

              The relaxation response is the OPPOSITE physiological response of fight or flight. It encourages our restore and repair hormones, and they swoop in so that we can get the most out of our exercise. How do you encourage this response? In the same way a stressor cues fight or flight by creating an atmosphere of danger, the relaxation response is cued when we feel completely safe. The best proven way is meditation (check out THE RELAXATION RESPONSE by Herbert Benson or check out his steps to elicit it here). I find that restorative yoga is a more accessible version of meditation for many people and more and more yoga studios are offering restorative classes. Massages, walks in a nature, and watching the water can also encourage a meditative state. Anything that convinces your body that you are safe and calm.

              Which brings me to recovery work. Yes, recovery isn’t entirely passive. I am obsessive about training, but I don’t go hard every day. On my days on, I work HARD. On my days off, I do recovery work. On these days, restorative yoga counts as my workout of the day. Mobility work, getting a massage, a slow job in the sunshine…I count all of that as training. I will often do a circuit of corrective exercises when I never break a sweat (clamshells forever!). I consider all of this work as part of my training. And I do all this work on my rest days. It is the work that encourages repair and better movement patterns. You can’t be lazy about repair if you are going to do something as intense as crossfit.

              How many days of recovery do you need a week? It truly depends. Intense exercise is actually a sport of recovery: the better you are, the faster you recover both within a workout and between workouts. But it takes effort and time to train your body to recover. And, chances are, you aren’t a professional athlete who eats meals planned to the last red bean, goes to the chiropractor once a week, and sleeps nine hours a night. So you need better recovery not just from exercise, but from life. You need AT LEAST one day off from intense exercise. I do two or three days a week of active recovery, depending on how my body feels. For active recovery, I plan and execute some kind of bodywork (corrective exercises, a massage, long conditioning, etc.) I treat these sessions as any other kind of training and it goes in my training log. Psychologically, that helps my obsessive personality, and physically, it allows me to repair so that I am ready to go hard again.

              No single workout or day will make you strong, but if you can keep a wider view and manage your fitness in a balanced way, you will get strong without getting hurt. I know it can be hard to give your one exercise timeslot to something like restorative yoga if you aren’t used to it, but balance is the only way.