I would never be mistaken for a flexible person. Being tall (6’ 3”) I’m more often referred to as lanky or rangy, never flexible.
But age takes a toll on all of us so during the pandemic, but especially the last few months as my 45th birthday approached, I’ve incorporated more yoga into my weekly exercise routine.
I’ve pretty much stopped running. I have a bad bunion on my left big toe that requires surgery. I’m dealing with a good bit of neuropathy so I’ve switched to a long weekly bike ride for some of my cardio. I rode 60 km last weekend. I’m also doing a daily walk with the dog around the neighborhood (roughly 2 km) and sometimes I do it twice.
As anyone who’s been living/working from home the past 18 months can tell you – it gets monotonous. I traded Orange Theory YouTube workouts for random weightlifting and HIIT training but now I mix in yoga, usually every other day. I really like SarahBethYoga. Her focus on breathing, transitions between poses, and her tone really speak to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I meditate almost daily but her Yoga videos feel like a natural accompaniment to my other daily practice.
I’m not going to say I’ve become a Cirque du Soleil contortionist but I have gotten more flexible. My forward and seated folds have progressed to the point where I can easily touch my toes and grip the soles of my feet. For anyone that knew me in high school this sounds impossible but I swear it’s the truth.
I’m sleeping better and feeling fewer daily aches and pains as well. I tend to do yoga every other day and I try to find videos tailored to my specific time constraints (mostly 20 minutes) and what’s hurting me (shoulders after an upper body lift or lower body after a bike ride). I always get a good focus on glutes & core since yoga doesn’t let you forget about balance.
And my balance has gotten better too. Again I’m not the most graceful person (see all my caveats above) but I feel much more stable and grounded than I can remember feeling.
As long as I can find 20 minutes regularly I’m going to keep practicing yoga. I never regret the time or energy expended and I’m ok with knowing that I’ve made slow, steady progress.
One of the largest changes I’ve made during quarantine relates to my phone. I’ve always been an iPhone guy, and that hasn’t changed, but I’m trying to take advantage of widgets in iOS to help me become a better version of myself. This could mean being more mindful (and/or meditating more), tracking my mood, keeping a journal, and reading more often.
I do all of my fitness tracking via Apple Watch and I have no complaints there. I’ve closed all 3 rings for over 400 consecutive days (this is a straight-up brag, not a humblebrag) so I decided to change my relationship with my phone so that it mirrored how I use my watch.
I don’t waste time on my watch.
I glance at the time. I record workouts. I reply to texts or Microsoft Teams messages.
It’s essentially a very utilitarian device, albeit one that looks great and reminds me to breathe every so often. 😉 I was hoping I could transfer this type of experience to my phone.
Prior to the pandemic I might’ve flicked open my phone to check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram only to realize later that 10 minutes had evaporated and I was angry at some idiot on the internet, or comparing myself to a neighbor, or jealous that a professional influencer was skinnier, more attractive, and more successful than me. It was your textbook hedonic treadmill and I was gladly climbing onto it myself and tiring myself out many times a day. I knew I wanted to change and I thought some technological changes could affect personal change.
I’m using a few new apps to help me along the way and, as I mentioned in the beginning, relying on widgets as my window in to these ecosystems and experiences.
First I setup the widget for an app I’ve been using for some time now, Moodnotes. Moodnotes is great for reminding you to track how you feel, categorize your emotions, and think deeper about how your mood may have been influenced by this state. I’d been relying on alerts to get me in to the app but I turned those off in favor of the cartoon smiley seen on the screenshot of my current Home Screen. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement!
Second I resurrected an app I used several years ago, Day One, to help kickstart my daily journaling habit. The widget for Day One includes a “Streak” view which motivates me to write a journal entry each day. The new Day One app makes it much easier to add a photo (with time stamp) which ends up being a great trigger for me to record the good, new, and interesting thing that happen each day. If I took a picture it must have a story, right? Day One also has a premium subscription option but I’m still using the free version for now and it’s working great!
Third I polled Twitter for app options to help track habits. Folks I trust recommended Streaks which I bought in a bundle with two other apps by the same developer for $7.99. The widget I use to access the app is infinitely customizable (and you can change the app icon color if you’re into that sort of thing) and includes timers for certain tasks I want to do – 10 minutes each of reading and meditation. For the meditation tracking Streaks actually relies on Apple Health data so regardless of whether I use Headspace or Tap In (my two main meditation apps) the streak gets extended and recorded.
I’ve also got two additional habits I’m trying to make stick – not drinking on weekdays, and not eating dessert. I figure curbing alcohol and sugar are noble tasks made harder during a pandemic so I’ll take whatever help Streaks can provide. Thus far it’s been a mixed bag with my not-drinking much easier to do than not eating desserts. Midnight snacking, late grazing, and plain old mindless munching are all too easy to do.
So now I’m reading, writing, meditating, and tracking my mood more often – though not quite daily – but what about the rest of my Home Screen? I added a very simple app/widget called Moon that displays the current phase of the moon in the widget. I find the photorealistic moon very beautiful and calming, and most quality watches & clocks show moon phase, and what is my phone if not a secondary clock when I’m not twisting my wrist? The Moon just adds an air of sophistication, class, and adulthood to what had been, and still is sometimes, a big toy.
And just today I finally went all-widget on my Home Screen and added a new weather app, Hello Weather, that is free and taps through to radar or forecast, all powered by Dark Sky. It’s pretty great so far and means I get glanceable info that I can park at the top of my phone screen where it’s hard to reach to tap anyhow. It’s a win-win.
Mainly the widget layout means I have to be much more mindful – or just more willing to swipe down or right – to get to brain-and-time-sink social apps. If I don’t see it on that first screen I’ve got to go searching for it. The things I can see are all things I’ve decided I want to do more/better. They ultimately serve as a measure of whether that day has been productive in the sense of accomplishing life-affirming, spiritual tasks. That might sound cheesy but it’s the choice I’m trying to manifest in my life by virtue of the way I use my phone.
I’ll let you know how the actual habit cultivation turns out long-term but in the past few months, since around mid-February when I got Streaks and did my first Home Screen widgets, I’ve garnered a few streaks in the teens. That may not sound like a lot but I’m very pleased with things. I also find that when I mindlessly swipe to open my phone I’m confronted with all of the good things I could be doing – reading, writing, meditating – which has led me down the path towards actually completing a book or writing a journal numerous times.
I also just love seeing the smiling face of Moodnotes and the moon phase. They make me smile.
If I’m being philosophical about the devices it’s because I’ve had time to consider why and how I use them. I decided I want to use them for self-improvement and now I’m learning to live with the consequences of that decision. So far that’s been calmer, more meaningful, and mindful experiences.
I’ve written a few blog posts during quarantine cataloging the weekend walks (and their corresponding pictures) I’ve taken these past 7 months or so. This time around I took a very leisurely stroll in the rain on Saturday and then I did a combo walk/run on Sunday when the weather was better.
I’ve broken up the pictures into two galleries but I find them hopeful. The recurring theme is that you can find some real beauty when you slow down a bit. [I know this isn’t earth-shattering]
I’m a very difficult person to live with. I can be sullen and withdrawn and maudlin and, even when I’m doing the dishes or cooking dinner and you try to talk to me, I can be miles away – years away – thinking about an ancient conversation I wish had gone differently or idealizing a future that requires zero effort for me to fix.
In short (too late) I’m a magical thinker who tends to give too much credence to my imagination and my feelings. I’m often not rational preferring to listen to my gut and to navigate the invisible reverberations of the emotions of those around me instead of saying what I need or want. I’m terrible at naming what I feel so often times I don’t even try. It’s almost always too acute or too specific and I can’t quite get a grasp of how to explain it.
Imagine the iridescence of some exotic butterfly and trying in vain to describe the brilliance of the shifting, shimmering colors as its wings catch the sunlight. Or the simultaneous strength of wings that can carry it thousands of miles but would rend like paper if you barely touched it. This is my experience of my inner self and I’m always afraid to show it to people – to tell my truth – because I perceive others as being either far less esoteric and complex or maybe they have an ability to just say “pretty butterfly” while I have to blurt out a paragraph of text as seen above.
All of which is merely a prologue for some very unhealthy behavior I’ve displayed this week. As usual I’ve taken my inner anger about my birthday – a nagging sense that no one really appreciates me for the unique person I am even while I push them all away or hide all the crazy/messy facets of myself from view – and I made rash choices. I deleted some social media while vomiting up all my insecurities and pain on another.
I didn’t fight fair. I don’t fight fair. I hurt people before I’ll let them hurt me. I deny my own feelings of longing for someone to see the authentic, original, total me by “reasoning” that if they wanted to know they’d just dig a little deeper. Just try a little harder. Just do a little bit more.
But, again, that’s not fair. I know it’s me that has to change. I know that I’m the one with work to do. I have to receive the love they could offer me more than I’m afraid of them rejecting the “me” I almost never show. I want so badly to be that vulnerable but beautiful butterfly but I’m so comfortable here in my cocoon that I don’t know what to do.
I took a long walk this afternoon. I’ve always loved feeling tired after exercise or standing in the rain or bracing against the cold. Something about feeling the physical fragility of life seems to connect me more with that interior experience that I mostly keep hidden. It helps me synthesize all my thoughts so that I can finally say what’s on my mind or show what I’ve been working on. It helps me lower my guard and realize that we’re all basically the same and that I shouldn’t fear showing myself anymore than I should fear that tired ache of exercise. I can understand the emotional ache of wanting and wishing and hoping and so I should just acknowledge those feelings too.
I feel everything so acutely. The rage at the handling of COVID-19. The anxiety about voting rights. The stress of working from home, learning remotely, and the isolation from family and friends. There are days when I feel like an exposed nerve and the only way I know how to show my family that I love them is to make dinner and clean the kitchen and try to just be as unobtrusive as I can be. I think that shrinking myself to a tiny, quiet point will mean the pain can’t get to me but my brain finds way to route around my body if given half a chance.
I don’t know what the point of writing all of this down is but I do know that I acted out the other night and it makes me feel ashamed. I also know that lots of folks reached out – privately and publicly – to check on me. I’m thankful for your messages. I’m not okay. The weight of this year is crushing and I’m running out of ways to displace that burden. Maybe I ought to just spend all day walking – taking all my meetings by phone so my body can help my soul deal with everything. Maybe I just need a good cry or yell at the universe to let all of those feelings loose.
I just know that I’ve been bottled up and that most times I try to explain what’s wrong I get angry at myself before I finish the first sentence because it isn’t coming out the right way. I spend so much time gaslighting myself that things are fine that when I finally start to snap out of it I’m mad twice – once for suppressing myself and a second time for not changing things immediately.
I’m just the slightest bit hopeful that maybe some of my less-rash decisions will make a little bit of difference. I’m not holding my breath but I’m trying to be honest. Maybe I should have more meltdowns? I honestly can’t tell anymore. I just know that I’m having a hard time and I’m trying to explain how I feel so *I* understand it.
Related to some thoughts I’ve been having – both recently and as part of a longer exploration for a book I’m half heartedly and haphazardly writing – a poem fragment sprang into my brain yesterday.
Here’s what it became after some refinement last night:
Late Summer Sunday stroll amidst cicada song I’m struck Maybe these are sirens That I’ve misheard as wilderness wallpaper And I wonder How many other opportunities to be open To listen To hear That what I always thought harmony and melody Might represent solemnity, sorrow, or strife And now as I round the corner home I consider It may not be just the cicadas I’ve misunderstood But also my friends, neighbors, and lover too So I stand in the shimmering street Sinking into that silent thought And the daylight drones on
Shoutout to Jason Dominy whose poetry posting on Facebook & Instagram made me consider taking a little wisp of inspiration and running with it.
Thanks, man. I’m hoping this small effort will let me re-focus on a larger work that’s been dormant for a bit longer than I’d like.
Stay well, everybody, and keep looking for the meaning amidst all the meandering.