Happy Labor Day! Hopefully you’re spending time outdoors with a grill going or some kind of related activity. It’s a good excuse to get outside (weather permitting), and do something active. Yesterday and friend and I took out our slacklines and got in some practice. I’ve really been enjoying this challenging but oddly relaxing activity lately. It seems to fit in very well to balance out (no pun intended) some of the very high tension, maximal bodyweight and kettlebell activities too. Balance has never been a “weakness” necessarily, but it has never been something I’ve been particularly strong in either outside of tai chi and just basic coordination.
Just a few months ago, Ryan Blackburn a fellow trainer in the Orlando area—and the son of a good friend of mine, Laurel Blackburn, agreed to show me the beginner basics. I will admit at first it seemed impossible. When we started on it I actually had this thought for about 15 seconds:
Oh no. There’s NO WAY this is going to happen. I’ve wasted Ryan’s time and my time. I wish I could just go home. This was a mistake.
But I keep trying, and more importantly I cataloged that feeling. I’m sure it’s one that people who are starting with kettlebells or bodyweight exercise, or making healthy lifestyle changes to their diet, etc. experience too. At first, all these things might feel totally and completely impossible. So while I was a little irked that my brain could even have such defeatist thoughts even for a few seconds, I was grateful to think about that feeling later and brainstorm ways to help others over those kinds of obstacles. Sometimes even just a few choice words well timed can be surprisingly powerful. The super cool news was that with all the other training I’d been doing the impossible feeling was very short lived. What was absolutely crucial to the first little shufflings toward success was just exploring the balance, and trying over and over again. Cause and effect, when I remembered to keep knees bent and look at the endpoint of the slackline on the tree, I started to improve. Standing on one foot long enough to start taking the other off the ground, or just up to tip toe was where it all began. From there over time and with every session a small improvement. Then, as it started to take less and less of my direct consciousness I could monitor what else was going on besides knees and looking at the slackline on the tree. What was I doing with my breathing? For fun I started to breathe the way I do for Tai Chi and Qigong practice and suddenly noticed that the number of steps I could take in a row increased significantly (from 7 steps it jumped to 20+ consistently after warming up)! While this wasn’t exactly a surprise, I was surprised to see just HOW MUCH of an increase in steps that kind of breathing made.
This was yesterday, September 1st, 2013.
Someone asked me onwhy I would bother doing something like this, and if I was trying to “join the circus” etc. The comment was interesting in that it seemed to come from a place of mild criticism. As in, why would I waste my time with this “fad” when back in the day kids just ran around outside, and balanced on regular , not some super wide looking “footbridge” as I had set up on the tree. I didn’t get angry of course, but once again it was interesting to think how many people might be limiting their own opportunities for fun, learning, and healthy entertainment options with this kind of thinking. The real problem is, had it been said to someone less stubborn about fun challenges, then they might have been discouraged to continue exploring. Our words are powerful, no matter who we are. They can help someone else or ourselves achieve great things or make amazing changes over time, or they can stop us in our tracks and become what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. I love to encourage others to explore, to look outside, to see things differently. It doesn’t always work of course, but thats ok too. Some folks want everything to stay the same, these are the same ones who are threatened by someone else’s changes (Example: someone in an office loses a few pounds and starts feeling better, this change is inspiring to some people in that same office and poses a threat to the ones who are maybe not yet ready to make a real change. Those not ready for the change may actually try and discourage the person successfully making changes, because this success threatens them. This is an aspect of human behavior that I really REALLY don’t like. Let’s lift each other up, even when our impulse is to criticize.) Guess what I’m trying to say is we should all be careful with our words, and not let the limitations of our own imaginations be an obstacle to ourselves or others.
A similar situation happened recently when I posted a photo of myself and Angelo Gala doing some human flag progressions simultaneously on a tree in Somerville (Boston), MA. Because of the orientation of the camera, you couldn’t see our feet. An old friend commented to me that her family was saying that people must have been “holding our feet up” since you couldn’t see them on the photo. What we were doing seemed impossible to them. I posted a different photo where it was more plainly obvious that no one was helping us in that way. It had never even occured to me that someone would try and fake a photo like that. But to someone who doesn’t know us, or who’s imagination might be limited, they were ready to point fingers and say that it was impossible. When/if I have negative thoughts in that way, I try to stop and examine the moment. What makes me feel this way? How can I change it? Is it even warranted? Most of the time it’s me reacting to my own personal limitations. The only logical step at that point is to continue chipping away at those limitations and become better and better and better. I hope that by proving that these things ARE very possible that it encourages others to start training towards empowering exercises like the flag. These take time to develop and the long range goal with no “end date” has been as interesting as a mental exercise as a physical practice. The only thing that is “impossible” with this kind of goal is instant gratification, it takes time, strategic work, and rest/recovery.
So all of that babbling can be summed up as — stick with it, get coaching or help if you need it, keep trying no matter what it is you’re working towards, a physical feat, a lifestyle change, a career aspiration. When the thoughts of impossibility start to seep in, try and determine their source, just even a slight inkling of “why” has often been enough for me to move onward and upward. I hope that it would be the same for you.
And while I like to think that gravity doesn’t apply to some folks (males between the ages of 8 and 30), these guys sure are inspiring:
(Mom: I know you read this, so don’t be worried, I’m not trying to do backflips on this thing… and I promise to never land on my head)