Squat heavy and face fear

Squat heavy and you know the deep level of psychological transformation you undergo to dip into the hole and come back. Hard training is different from hard life situations. In training, you control the level of difficulty and commit to it. In life, you can’t control the level of difficulty or the timing.

This is why training is so important. Physical training can prepare you for the hardships of life. The preparation comes from your mental capacity to deal with higher levels of sustained stress. Whether it is a physical load or a mental burden of fear, the same workings within the mind and body take place in response. Training teaches you to continue to function with precision under pressure.

When you train under heavy load, you will learn to stay calm while under pressure. It is physical pressure in training, but your mind must also deal with that force. You may want to escape, you might fear that the load will crush you, or you might panic in the belief that you won’t be able to make the lift. When you reach the level of skill where you can train with loads over twice your body weight, the principles will be magnified.

The squat simulates these pressures well because the load is above you and there is no external resting point for the weight. Once you unrack the weight, you are directly between the load and the ground. Contrast this with the deadlift, in which the weight could be dropped to the floor.

Without an immediate escape, the way to properly deal with the load is to accept it. Become comfortable with the weight. Grip the bar ever tighter, pull it down into the groove between your shoulders and back, let the bar become part of you. Find balance vertically and horizontally in your new, unwieldy shape. Keep in your peripheral vision the plates at the ends of the barbell. Gently hold them in awareness.

Balance the bar like a tightrope walker. Stay between your feet, as if you were on an island in the middle of a massive blue ocean. Grip the floor with your feet. Root yourself down like a thousand year old oak.

Keep your back tight and your ribs locked down. Your body is a concrete pillar. Allow only the movement of your hips and knees, opening and closing naturally as you descend and then ascend.

The only other movement comes from the belly as you pull in air to the bottom of your lungs. Press against the belt if you wear one, or build up an airtight balloon with your abdomen in lieu of a belt.

When you’re squatting double your mass or more, you will begin to feel the pressure. It’s a different force from the one on your back. It’s the pressure of fear and intimidation. The familiar feeling, if you’ve been bullied, of a bigger or stronger enemy staring down at you, threatening to crush you. The pressure is in your mind now, it’s crept in from the weight on the bar and is now knocking on the door of your soul.

The first stages of this level of difficulty in training will be easier to navigate. By this point you’ve built enough strength to be able to suck in a deep breath and blow past the fear.

Later, when the weight becomes nearly unbearable, you’ll learn to face it. Rather than stomping through the thin curtain, you see that it’s now a wall. The fear can’t be shaken from your head. Now, you’ve got to stay with it in there. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to run from it. Rather, root your feet harder into the ground, grip the bar tighter against your back, and solidify your belly right against that fear. Face it, and accept it.

You’ll see that this new pressure, the fear and intimidation, are merely different forms of load. All you need to do is recognize this, and make this pressure as much a part of you as the bar and the plates on your back. The fear that soaks your heart, the intimidation that fills your mind, they are fine.

Tighten yourself up and lock them in as you descend, and rise.

Apply this to life. You don’t have to squat heavy to use this principle. The next time you face someone or something that scares you, don’t run. Stay and face it, grip it, make it a part of you, and rise.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getting Sleep with a Newborn

Brilliant friends!

About a year ago, I wrote about how I was trying to figure out how to sleep better. I set a routine around a two-hour train commute, getting up at 4 a.m. and sleeping around 10 p.m. Having dinner on the ride home gave me time to digest before going to bed. This improved sleep quality, although I was still tired on many mornings. I wanted to relax at home and talk with my wife, and I often stayed up past my prescribed bedtime. So there was a stretch where I was squeezing it all in, the train rides and work, evenings and sleep, and strength training.

Well, that was twelve months ago and much has changed since. During my wife’s late stages of pregnancy, I started to drive to work in case I needed to come for her on a moment’s notice. This shortened the commute by about half an hour, but I couldn’t eat while driving. I traded the benefit of eating early with the joy of eating at home with my wife. Although I ate later and didn’t sleep as soundly, I did have a little more time to sleep in the morning.

Then, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby, and I went on parental leave. Just before my leave, though, I took on a management role at my job. At the same time, I accomplished the StrongFirst Lifter barbell coaching certification. Within a week, my life became quite different.

All went well with my wife’s labor and delivery. When the baby was first born, we slept little. We woke the baby every couple of hours to feed her, day and night. We learned  she was having tummy issues with some of the food we ate. Until we figured out which foods to avoid to ease the pain of gas in her belly, our ears were tested by her unceasing crying. We discovered that whatever foods gave me gas, gave the baby gas, even if it didn’t affect my wife!

My wife and I were so short on sleep we had hallucinations. When I got up to walk the little human after her nursing, I was often in a daze of half-consciousness. I carried her around in the dark until my arms were numb with aching, my ears turned raw, and still I carried her more, holding her close. When she fell asleep in my arms, I would sometimes sit down and fall asleep too. I was amazed that my arms still held her when I woke an hour later, even when I ended up lying on my back with her on my chest.

My wife, still recovering from birthing our baby, stayed up to nurse her. Because she was also using the breast pump, the cycle of nursing gave her about an hour and a half of sleep at a time. She could barely wake when the alarm sounded, and often moved about with glazed eyes. She also endured the pain of sitting on a recovering bottom while nursing the baby for up to an hour at a time. Her parents and I prepared food and drink for her to have in bed. She needed all the nourishment she could get to make milk, and heal.

I saw a new kind of strength forming in us, the strength of parents. I had always thought of my wife as a warrior of sorts. Seeing her persevere as a mother in the most desperate hours of the night proved me right. It might not seem difficult to hold a tiny baby to let it suckle. But a nursing woman gives the essence of her being to her baby through her milk. All of her nutritional resources are tapped to make this food. She tirelessly wakes, positions herself and the baby so it can comfortably feed, and holds that position for fear of the baby unlatching. Every moment in the beginning is crucial for the baby to receive enough nourishment.

For the new mother, this must be done with her entire body in a state of trauma, just having been stretched to the point of bursting and just having gone through the event of birthing unparalleled by any physical sport endeavor. And, with that, only sips of sleep allowed by the universe despite her desperate thirst for it.

A newborn baby knows to drink from its mother, but the baby must learn to adapt to her mother’s body. She needs to get used to her mother’s breasts and belly and how to position herself in order to receive her nourishment. The baby will writhe and cry and even scream in agony in between good latches on her source of milk. And the mother must endure this initial adaptation for several days, if not weeks.

Seeing my wife go through this struggle gave me the false sense that I too was having the same struggle. But I learned that as the father, it was not my body feeding the baby. It was not me that needed to hold and nurse and stay awake and learn with the baby to nurse. I did everything I could to help position the baby, provide food and water for my wife, and set up a comfortable nursing place. But my role was different and I had to take that on without feeling guilt.

I heard from the maternity classes and books that the father must get sleep in order to be of use when the baby was born. I knew it must be true but didn’t realize the truth until the baby was born. It was hard to let my head rest when my wife was struggling. But it was necessary for me to sleep so that I could help her in my fullest capacity.

Ironically, it was so easy to fall asleep that I was able to nap almost on command. Since I didn’t work, I could actually drop down and sleep the moment I wanted to. The tricky part was to convince myself that I needed to sleep. There was always something to do! Between cooking, laundry, cleaning, and setting up breast pump materials, it was easy to get fired up about doing more. At times, I denied the dull ache of tiredness. But I learned to routinize sleep after a few terrible episodes of prolonged baby crying on no sleep.

A couple of days after returning from the hospital with our baby, I started a regular training rhythm with my kettlebells. Strength practice was one of the anchors in the storm of newborn care. It allowed me to create and release tension. Because I was able to create more tension in training than I had already built up from carrying and soothing the baby, I was able to release the whole of it.

Kettlebell training also rebalanced my body. I often carried the baby on one shoulder or arm longer than the other. After waking from a nap, I would be unable to extend the one arm fully, and one side of my back would be tighter.  Kettlebell clean and presses, swings, and Turkish get ups reset my nervous system and relaxed the tight areas. And of course, it made it easier to fall into deep naps.

I realized, from all the books and articles and pamphlets on baby care we read, that most experts don’t remember the first days after birth. They might remember the general difficulty and the long nights. They know the timing of certain baby development landmarks. However, I doubt that more than a handful actually remember the intense pain, the relentless crying, carrying the baby beyond the limits of sleep, patience, strength, and consciousness. I doubt more than a few remember the intense anger and sorrow and confusion and utter helplessness. Most don’t remember the moments when they wanted to quit, to throw the baby, to slam a fist through a wall, to weep, to tear oneself apart, to murder doctors and nurses, and to scream at family and friends. And even if they did, there would be no way to remember how it actually felt.

Humans are capable of great strength. Motherhood and fatherhood are among the greatest builders of this strength. With each step beyond my own limits, I knew I was growing stronger. Tests of our strength are necessary to push deep into the soul, to knead the spirit and shape it into a more resilient form.

The physical involves the emotional and the mental. Our conventional academic view of life separates the physical happenings from the mental and emotional. It is imperative to deliberately push oneself physically in preparation for the great emotional and mental trials that arise throughout life.

With all that being said, I guess I will sleep easily when I need to. As much as I try to shape my days to optimize sleep, it is also important to keep pushing myself harder. I find it more satisfying to really go for it than to stay comfortable all day long. Why walk when I can run? Why stay silent when I can mobilize to action? Why let happen when I can make happen.

Optimize sleep time while optimizing the waking hours.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Big decisions and keeping up kettlebell training

In making big life decisions, there’s the weighing of pros and cons, the cost analysis, predicting the emotional impact, and measuring the effect on your loved ones. In the end, though, there is the decision. Sometimes you make that decision based on the sum of all the math, however inaccurate, you did. But I think it comes down to something deeper. There’s a feeling, an inner arrow, or a surrounding vibe that you sense as you let go of your grip on the details.

Let yourself feel the pull of your daemon, and you may come up to find that you’re facing the other direction, or that you’re a lot further down the path to a decision than you thought.

I’m working through some major life decisions now and am coming close to the end of the process. Not sure where I’ll end up yet, but wherever that is, I’ll be sure to place myself there with full commitment.

Currently, my kettlebell regimen has been suffering, but I’m still going with it. With a long commute, I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep and I’m eating dinner pretty late. This is catching up to me. I am very grateful that I can have dinner with my wife, our dog nearby, and that the sleep I get is in a quiet and dark place. I have also been traveling quite a lot, almost every weekend for the past month. Training every day with the 32kg kettlebell was hard, too hard, with my small recovery time.

I took a break for almost a week at the end of July. During the weekends that I traveled I took days off from kettlebell training as well. All in all, I trained an average of four days a week in July, and three days a week in August.

This is rough on my psyche, because I take pride in my training. I feel accomplished, energized, and ready to rock for the entire day after a morning kettlebell session. I’m happy that I gained strength over time with such a simple tool as the iron bell. Not being able to train for so many days of the week is not easy to deal with.

It’s alright though. For now I’ll keep doing my best. The hardest part is getting up in the morning and starting my routine. If I lay down to nap for a bit, or if I take too long making my coffee, I won’t have time for training. The trickiest part is going to bed earlier. There’s not much time from walking in the front door to greeting my wife and dog to eating dinner and going to bed. I want to draw my time with my wife out longer, but I withdraw from my morning when I do.

Yeaterday, I did my first full training session in five days. It felt great. Still doing Simple and Sinister, 100 swings and 10 getups. Swings are two handed right now. I ventured into one handed swings a couple of weeks ago, doing one set for each side.

Boy is that 32kg heavy. I’m able to get the bell up to the top of my abdomen, but not quite fully up to chest level. And my movement is restricted with the strain. Yesterday was all two handed swings. Got in a small set of pullups before lunch. I love days like that.

Today was a day off, because I had to write out some plans in the morning. That’s fine. I’ll get back into it tomorrow morning.

Live powerfully,

Steve

What is love

Love is deep. It is real. Love keeps you going, day to day, it keeps you whole, year to year. Love for one another, love for yourself, love for the world, love for the universe and the way of things – it’s acceptance of what is, what a person is, what the weather is, what life brings. Love is acknowledgment, isn’t it? It is the force of accepting everything as it is and the power to act while holding that acceptance in heart and mind. Then it is the power to embrace the good and empower it and let it grow. It is the power to feel the bad and acknowledge it, and to know when to keep working on it and coaxing it to good, and love is also the power that tells you when to destroy the bad.

Gardening in the summer heat teaches a man to love things. It taught me a little bit about how to love the bees that drank nectar and collected pollen all around me, as I did my work next to them. I fear the bees and their sting, since I’ve felt the digging pain of a bee sting. I didn’t want to get too close at first, because I thought that the bees would attack me if I threatened their activity. But I realized through my work there that I too had things to do, as a man I had a place there among the bees and very close to them. I learned to move and stand and crouch respectfully, to dig and cut and pull and throw all around the bees and their paths of flight without offending them. And I saw that they understood me to some extent too, that they smelled me and felt me near and knew I wasn’t there to harm them.

This is one way to love. To be with someone, to be brave enough to learn how to be close and engage, and to respect enough to keep distance and move without hampering and threatening. To acknowledge everything, to accept as is, and to work from your own principles on the goals that you must achieve, in harmony with all else. To be in this world, as yourself, and to acknowledge yourself and accept yourself as you are. And then to get the power to act as a good person. Love is the power to know that you are not perfect, and that you have many flaws, and also to know that you are awesome in equally many ways, that you have many excellent qualities, and skills, and essences.

Love can’t be perfected, although it is a sort of skill that can be practiced more and more to be made more powerful in a person. Look at the universe, which is not perfect in any way except that it is exactly as it is. Being that as a man is the same thing, and learning that is loving yourself and the world. The more I see who I am without the asterisk, without the resistance and denial of certain aspects or past actions or unfavorable traits, the better I can act and live. And this is how I can come to love myself. Not because it’s a thing to be accomplished, to get some kind of trophy for the ideal self-loving man on a pedestal, but because it’s the only way. Love.

Live powerfully.

Rain

It started last night and gathered strength through the early morning. A little howling wind joined in and the two of them flew through the tall corridors of my apartment building. The scent of the town, the wooded mountains, and the ocean beyond lingered as the wind and rain swept past.

Oh boy, I thought as I looked out through the blinds. It was still dark at 5:30 am but the light in the parking lot showed very clearly the drops falling past to the ground. Just yesterday I made a very detailed schedule for the mornings, afternoons, and evenings, to train myself to get things done.Well, the morning part involves about five alarms on my phone, one signaling the start of my outdoor kettlebell training session. I swallowed hard, knowing I didn’t have a great light waterproof jacket on hand. What I did have was the carport roof, but my car was taking up most of the space. No matter where I trained, it looked like I was going to get wet.

No need to worry about it. It is what it is, I told myself. I went about the other morning routine tasks and when the time came, I took up my iron and walked out the door. Shit it was wet. I had to be careful going down the concrete stairs, which were much smoother than I remembered. Even barefoot, it was pretty slippery. I got to the bottom okay and looked around. I realized that the corridor was open and dry, but it was right against my neighbors’ walls on both sides. Their patios were also right there, and I worried that they might hear my breathing. Kettlebell swing breathing can get obnoxiously loud. But it was kind of nice there, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay dry. So I found a good flat area and set the weight down.

I snuck back upstairs and grabbed my welcome mat, so that I would’t be clanging the bell against the concrete floor at the end of every set. A fifty pound ball creates a bigger thud than you’d think, even when set down as gently as possible. I can only imagine how annoying and terrifying it could be to wake up to the strange sound of sharp, punctuating puffs of air interrupted by the dull clang of iron on concrete. Sex? Strange beast? Military occupation??

Yes, these thoughts bounce between my ears, and can discourage getting out into the cold and wetness to exercise in the dark. But I found that grabbing the weight and feeling its pull and stepping out takes care of the doubts. I had my set up ready. Did the warmups, some squats, hip openers, and halos, took one very short moment to consider the consequences of a dropped kettlebell at six in the morning, and proceeded with the first set of swings.

It was great. I felt strong. Yesterday I didn’t make enough time to do all of the exercise I wanted, and it was great to fire it up today. I was able to recover pretty quickly between sets doing the usual shaking out of limbs and deep out breaths. The pebble-studded concrete provided good grip for my feet. And best of all, the mat stayed in place and completely absorbed all sound at impact with the bell.

The hardest part was trying not to breathe too loudly. Man. I do think this is good training in some sense. I wonder if special ops or any military groups need to train to be absolutely silent under intense physical stress. It makes sense, if they’re on stealth missions. Anyway, this was hard. I got a bit light headed when I wasn’t breathing out enough, so I had to adjust every few reps by pushing out more air at the top of the swing. I finished the ten sets in good time, about ten minutes. Hauled it back up and did ten getups inside. The details and instruction for this regimen can be found in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline.

So it wasn’t the heroic session I thought it would have been at first. I have trained in the pouring rain, and while it is a great lesson it is also quite exhausting. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it today. Perhaps a day will come when the neighbors fill the corridor with discarded cabinets or laundry machines, or a horde of raccoons prowl menacingly there, forcing me out into the weather. That is accepted. Today I got lucky.

Most important to me is that I set a goal and achieved it. I’m trying to develop stronger discipline to reduce my susceptibility to random things that prevent me from exercising in the morning. A few days off are fine, but too many gets annoying. I found today that setting silent alarms for key stages of the morning helped me to stay on track. It’s too tempting for me to sit a little longer with my coffee, read a little more, stay on the toilet a little longer. 

You might think this is spartan and too harsh, and if so this is not for you. I envy the person who gently maintains their high level of discipline. But if you believe that being a little strict on yourself can lead to happiness, you might actually find that going to the extreme is even better.

Movement and the mind, walking in San Francisco

I recently heard a podcast between Daniel Vitalis and Ido Portal. Vitalis is a “rewilding” leader who teaches ways to live in tune to original human ways. Portal is a natural movement practitioner.

Portal said that the human brain developed to the size we possess today in order to power greater complexity of physical movement. We have so much ability in our bodies to move in such intricate ways because of the size of our brains. I haven’t had a chance to verify the research behind this statement, but I have had an interesting experience last week that correlated with it.

Recently I was offered employment, which required an initial two-day training in San Francisco. I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back and forth for two days, so I stayed with a friend near the training site. I took the train up to the closest station, walked the hilly streets the rest of the way, and then used buses and ferries to get to and from my various destinations through the week.

Because the City was mostly clouded and chilly, I had no qualms about hard fast walking. On my last day I walked over 12,000 steps and scaled 33 floors, according to my phone. I’m pretty sure that a few of the hills I climbed were at least four stories high. Add the stairs at building entrances, transportation terminals, and walking bridges, and 33 doesn’t seem like that much.

I noticed that I was much more upbeat than usual. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, I had a very positive mindset about things. I felt like I could do anything.

My mood was lighter and I was also more willing to take on challenges. Part of my motivation was probably from the necessity of catching transportation before it was too late. I was on a schedule, and I had to make it on time to places. The other thing is that I was always very early for everything. I wanted to decrease the risk of being late as much as possible. I was up at five for a ten o’clock training. It’s such a great feeling that comes with being ahead of schedule.

Above all else, though, was the constant moving. I was walking, walking, walking. I loved it. My ankles became uber mobile. Up to three days after I got back, I was able to sit in a squat with feet much closer than usual. My normal tightness from sitting was absent, although I certainly sat a lot during training. At times I was sweating, at others I was huffing and puffing, and mostly I was warm and mobile.

My conversations with people were positive, productive, and often powerful. I spoke with some people I might not normally have spoken to. I was quicker to respond, more creative, and more alert. And I slept better.

Yes, there are many factors involved. Different environment, new job, temporary situation. However, I deeply felt the connection between lots of moving and mind stimulation. I don’t know if I would have been the same way had I driven my car everywhere, sitting for hours in traffic. I don’t think so.

Those four days in San Francisco will never leave my memory. Aside from the amazing training experience, my awesome friends who showed such kindness, and the humming life of the City, I will always remember the vigor I felt from significant movement every day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

NL 152 Barefoot Training Body Weight Squat The Brilliant Beast Blog.png

Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

NL 152 Fat First Grass Fed Butter Coffee The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg

Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Amazon Affiliate Links
I link to tools I have found to be useful and meaningful.
Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Practice

NL 151 Triangle Pose Yoga The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg

I’ve been to less than ten yoga classes ever. I realize that might be more than most men, but even so, ten classes isn’t much for something I value so highly. Yoga is meditation through the moving and posed body, to me. As much as I love it, I have gleaned just one pose from those sessions: and I don’t even know what it’s called.

I love this pose. It connects me to the ground and the sky. I find my balance through it, and it’s gentle enough that I can do it first thing in the morning. I get a great stretch in my hips, groin, and shoulders. Also, I get some development in my foot arch by doing it.

The other reason I love this pose so much is that I get the chance, on sunny mornings, to have some sun time for my  eyes. I’m recently using the Bates method, created to improve vision. I’ve worn lenses for most of my life, and only recently have been discovering that I don’t always need them. So it’s been great time out in the sun as well.

It strikes me how little of what I learn from classes, books, and the internet actually sticks in my mind and gets put into practice. I am an avid learner. I believe that well thought programs or stories or instructions are to be carefully absorbed, digested, and correctly put into practice. There’s a big difference between your quick news article, telling you that omega 3’s are good so you should eat flax seed, and a book, which provides carefully gathered information and deep thought to tie it all together. So when I come upon good instruction, I take care to look at the details.

The latest example of this is in Kettlebell – Simple and Sinister, a book about beginner kettlebell training by Pavel Tsastouline. I love this book. It’s simple, concise, and comprehensive. The thing is, every word in this short guide matters. As I began kettlebell training, however, I couldn’t possibly incorporate everything from the book into my actual behavior. It’s always a matter of time and effort when learning something new. There’s just so much already programmed into my mind and body. It is taking lots of trying to add new movement and muscle recruitment, change old ways that don’t work, and get rid of the harmful patterns.

So as I learn to swing and get up with my precious modified cannonball, I keep going back to the text. There is literally always something that I haven’t incorporated, or something I missed, or a completely forgotten technique from the first few times I read it. And every time, it’s like an exciting new task to get it better in my next training session.

Practice makes perfect, they say. But what makes practice?

Will.

I look for information so that I can improve my self, my life, or the world. To take something from outside, however small, absorb it, and then make it a part of my daily life to my benefit, is the ultimate purpose of information. Yes, there is “entertainment value” in things. But even entertainment is a form of improving life.

The internet keeps growing. The rate of information growth increases by the second: every second, the amount of info added to the net is more than the second before it. This makes me sort of panic. How am I going to access it all for my advantage? I can speed read all the articles in the universe and end up with tired eyes and ears, if I use the audio versions too.

But none of it matters except that I can make practice of the stuff that matters.

When you took what you learned, tried it, liked it, and began doing it regularly, you made it a practice. And practice can make perfect. But through practice you also cultivate that golden fruit, experience. Pavel refers to Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan:

“We are built to be dupes for theories. But theories come and go; experience stays.”

Make it a practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Happy For Now

Right now, I’m happy.

It’s not that I’m well-rested. Nor that I’m well-fed. Nor that I’m sitting in a comfortable home on my earthing mat. Nor that the sun is bright outside, promising a beautiful day for training later. It’s not that I have family near me. Nor that I feel vibrant, strong, mobile, and well.

I’m happy because I am appreciative of all of this. I’m happy because this is what I let myself expect, want, and feel good about. I desire more, ultimately. I have dreams. And I will see them through. But I am at the moment, just now, here, satisfied with who I am, what I am, what I have, what is here.

I am not ecstatic, overjoyed, or excited. I am calm, serene, and still. I won’t be in this state for long. I won’t be happy all day, every day. It will fade, and I’ll enter one or another mood, state of mind, point of focus. And that’s okay. Happiness to me is about moments. It’s about ebbing and flowing, entering and exiting a state of awareness, an appreciation of the environment. And as transitory as it is, I still enjoy it and have it when I will.

Happiness for me is something to pull in and hold when it comes, then let go when it’s gone. What choice do I have? I can’t hang on to something that’s no longer there. Happiness is something I can be sure will come again, even though I let it go this time. Happiness is not nature’s permanent gift to me. It is a temporary reward for a state of mind I build. It is a result of mental, emotional, and physical work I give. And yes, it will fade. The rich aroma will run out. The warmth will dissipate. And I’ll accept that, in order to fully embrace and enjoy it when I have it.

To be sad, to grieve, to feel glum when happiness fades, can give way to greed. Greed is the opposite of happiness. To continuously want more, to not enjoy while something is in my hands, is to be greedy.  Greed is an absence of appreciation. It is constantly grabbing for something else, just out of reach, letting the good I have in my hands slip out in my grope for something else. It seems simple and innocent enough to feel this way, but you can see how greed feeds dissatisfaction, unhappiness, sadness, and anger. These feelings can lead to cruelty. Why should someone want to act gentle, considerate, and positive, when they are never satisfied? When they feel discomfort, unquenchable thirst, and grating want? Something as innocent as reaching, when you have something already, can lead to shameful consequences.

Happiness is not settling, though. Being happy does not mean you sit for the rest of your life once you’ve gotten something you appreciate. Settling is a determination not to grow. Happiness, rather, is the momentary appreciation of what I have, and it doesn’t dictate that I will not work for something else. It is a continuous state of taking, basking, and letting go. In this way, I can be happy all my life, although I won’t be happy every moment of life.

This is the difference that confuses many people, myself included. Happiness is not an ultimate state. It’s not a heaven at the end of life, a permanent place to dwell and forever feel “good”.  Quite the contrary. Nothing is good in infinite quantities. Golden retrievers, the Prius, coconut water – how undesirable they’ve become through ubiquity! Scarcity makes a thing valuable, cherishable, desired, delicious. Happiness is scarce. It is a rare fruit, something I can come upon, pick, and enjoy at points along the road. How much better a single, ripe pomegranate by chance, hanging from a happenstance tree branch, than a boxful at the store? If you have something all the time or everywhere, it’s just not as good. And that’s why happiness is so sought – because it’s so rarely had.

How to be happy more often then? It has a lot to do with your placement of needs and means of living. What you expect from yourself, others, and the universe will determine the threshold at which you find yourself satisfied. But you can see that this isn’t all. Even if your “current” needs or wants are eventually met, your standards might have changed by then. The other component to being happy, then, is to hold steady the expectations you’ve set for yourself – at least until you’ve achieved them and allowed yourself to reap the benefits of that achievement. Even if for only a moment, you will be in possession of happiness for the appropriate amount of time, and at the appropriate time.

You don’t have to do this consciously, like keeping a record of the things you want and then checking them off one by one. This sort of blatant, systematic approach might kill the whole thing. But if you are the type to need or take extreme satisfaction from doing such methodical things, then it might benefit you. You might actually find clearer, more recognizable moments of happiness. For others, the process can be a bit more touch and go. It can be something you think of every once in a while, setting goals and making note of your desires and only coming to it again when it is in front of you to achieve.

Either way, it’s important to see that happiness isn’t a permanent state of being. At least it’s true for me. And that being happy, when you are, can be a deliberate action, especially if you are not in the practice of allowing yourself to be happy. Study yourself. Are you the type of person who puts off reward, and feelings of satisfaction or achievement, even if you have truly done something well or achieved or gotten in possession of something you desired? Do you delay these feelings of gratification because you would rather wait for a greater moment of accomplishment, the ultimate desire met?

There’s much benefit from this sort of discipline. However, you might want to break down the accomplishment into smaller segments. Because as great as the reward may be for that ultimate accomplishment, you may never find yourself enjoying it or being happy. For, when you do reach it, how do you know that you won’t simply feel that there’s something better? And there’s always better, given the type of person you are. As much as discipline can give you great results, it takes discipline to acknowledge when it’s time to rest and celebrate. To never feel happy or satisfied can damage your well-being. It is good to let yourself enjoy what you have accomplished, although it might not be the ultimate goal.

That is, if happiness if what you really value.

Live powerfully,

Steve

NL 147 Coconut Water Bali Beach The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg
Me, enjoying a coconut on a Bali beach. Happy. photo and editing by Audrey

subscribe: The Brilliant Beast Blog

Pound-For-Pound Most Powerful Tools

I like to share some tangible things that help me in my “quest” for wellness. This time it’s a book. Actually two.

There is nothing that pound for pound has the changing power of a book. After all, how much does one printed word weigh? Is that even measurable in ounces?

Multiply that by hundreds of thousands and it barely amounts to one or two pounds. But the power that those words have in instructing, revealing, and illustrating truths for the mind can hardly be contained to a measurement.

Fire in the right hands can produce the advancement of civilization, and in the wrong hands can destroy it.

Then again, sometimes all you need is a candle flame to get your job done. Think melting butter versus searing steak.

There isn’t one book that’s right for everyone. And no one will find every book useful. This is all the more important when you consider the time, energy, and attention it takes to read a book. It’s a significant investment.

However, a few swimming strokes down the cresting wave are more effective and less tiresome than a hundred against it. The right book can catapult you forward. So pick your book wisely.

With any book you consider, read a bit first if you can, like the first few pages, the summary, or listen to the first minute of audio sample. Determine if it’s going in the direction of your endeavors. Will it be a powerful advancement toward your goal, or futile effort against it?

One human struggle close to my heart is the work-life balance. I believe people struggle to achieve this because it doesn’t exist. Just like the act of swimming and the act of riding a wave, I believe work and home life can either go along with each other, supporting and building up the counterpart, or clash against each other, drowning one and weakening the other.

It appears very simple to me: either build, with focused work, your own livelihood; or pay, with work, toward the livelihood of someone else’s dream in which you truly and strongly find inspiration.

Here are two books that have helped me on both faces of the coin.

The Four Hour Workweek if you intend to create your own business. It isn’t perfect for everyone and every type of endeavor. But you’ve got to take a glimpse to see if it resonates. Tim Ferriss makes plain the paradigm shift of separating yourself from the 9-5 working ranks, and to take initiative to start your own business.

The 48 Laws of Power if you want to learn the intricacies of dealing with politics in the workplace, and increase your influence on your own destiny. Many choose to let others lead, allowing them to take the brunt of the hardships of initiative and fear. These people would rather enjoy success in managing, making decisions, and helping to propel the endeavors of the leader they admire. It takes great skill to acquire and build power. This book by Robert Greene is a sure stepping stone to increasing your longevity in that art.

I hope you find one of these to be a powerful stroke toward the exciting wave that is your life. If you’ve read either or both, please comment on the effect the book has had for you. Even if it’s a year later. You never know who might find your words meaningful.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Amazon Affiliate Links

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

I link to tools that I have used, found meaningful, and that I believe could benefit my brilliant readers.

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily