Category Archives: Self Improvement

No Gi, Yes Gi, Yogi sticker on orange car

BJJ: Finding Balance

The last several years of my BJJ journey have been out of balance (to say the least).

Off Balance

Something started to change for me at my old gym in early 2022. There was a separation. A hardness. I tried to push through the feeling with my trademark “long legs and stubbornness,” but those can only get you so far.

I was nursing a soft tissue strain in my shoulder that kept teasing me, convincing me it was healed, only to flare up again. To protect my shoulder, I mostly opted out of live rounds, outside of “Church” (10 am Sunday open mat) where I would roll selectively. My overall health started to deteriorate – though I didn’t fully recognize it then – and it took all my energy to stick with my regular training schedule. While I neglected things at home, I went to all my usual classes.

In April, I got COVID. The symptoms were pretty mild – mostly a killer headache and cough for 2 days – but I couldn’t seem to get my energy back afterwards. The malaise and fatigue I was feeling prior to the virus were amplified.

From the outside, according to some people, I was making excuses and not showing commitment to my training. And still, I began making small progress as we moved toward summer. Long legs and stubbornness taking charge once again…

Off the Rails

Then on Memorial Day Weekend, the wheels came off. I had to find a new gym. I was upset, but it had to happen. Talking over my options with my good friend Robin, they made the observation about the hard edged teaching and training style I would be leaving behind.

“You’ve ground your face against the wheel for long enough.”

They reminded me that I had gone through my process of getting tougher (they should know, they did much of the smushing) and I needed something different now. I could look for another style of instruction. Explore a new approach.

I quickly settled on my new destination. It was a very different gym but with some familiar connections. A few long-time members had trained at my old gym while their current (gorgeous!) facility had been built. One member, Lu, had even been at my one and only tournament. Despite not knowing each other well, he’d warmly cheered on me and my teammates. When I reached out to ask him about classes and instructors, he was immediately welcoming.

Shifting to my new gym took some adjusting. The logistics of a new location and slightly longer drive; and the glorious additions of a full service gym, changing rooms, and a sauna. The not-so-glorious switch to no Saturday classes. And weekend open mats at 8am – a no-go for this late night dancing queen.

Effort & Ease

I found myself missing my Sunday morning “Church” routine until I discovered an alternative. On top of all the other wonderful additions, my new gym had yoga classes, one of which was Sundays at 10am. I was able to resume my Sunday morning routine, but my activity and mindset began to shift.

I took an immediate liking to Kayla, the yoga teacher who I’d already met on the mats. She was active in Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing, so she understood how our bodies get used and abused. Her classes were all-levels – accessible to newbies, experts, and the off-and-on practitioners like myself. (I was introduced to yoga way back in my college rowing days and find my way back every half decade or so.)

Back in action w/my homemade yoga mat bag, circa 2005

One of the things I especially enjoyed about Kayla was her incorporation of traditional yogi philosophy into classes. Picking themes or chakras to focus on. Mixing it up to move with the seasons. And an emphasis on balance – in your mind and your focus – allowing you to honor your effort while also allowing moments of ease.

But Still Not Balanced…

In spite of these positive changes, but my health was still deteriorating. By early 2023, I was struggling to have energy for anything, not just training. My sleep was garbage, my energy and mood followed suit. I was thankful I worked from home, since my lunch breaks were often taken up by naps. I was quite simply out of juice.

I happen to run into a former teammate who’d just started a side hustle in nutrition. I thought I was just going to work on spiffing up my diet. But our conversation lead to running some labs to dig up the root cause. What we found was a whole host of things that needed fixing before my diet could even make an impact.

It’s been just over a year now. It is a long slow battle but things are moving in the right direction. I no longer nap regularly and I’m starting to feel my strength and stamina return. But the things that were damaged are slow to heal and some setbacks (like COVID bout #2 in January) are inevitable.

New Year, More Balanced Me

After the initial setback of COVID in January, I plotted out the beginning of my year. I already had a regular every other week schedule with my chiropractor and my LMT to manage my body’s dysfunction, but I was going to start a more proactive approach.

I’ve focused on the upper body strength training class on Wednesdays and am abstaining from that night’s Takedowns & Transitions class (for the time being). I aim to attend 2 out of 3 yoga classes per week, to keep everything moving and have time to center myself. And I’m attending Monday night’s Gi Jiu Jitsu class as much as possible – on top of being my favorite class, Coach Kramer’s warm ups are a killer lower body calisthenic workout.

I still struggle with shifting my mindset from the old way/place. I’ll start to beat myself up for acting “weak” or “soft” – for not training often enough or hard enough. I mentioned to Sarah Lee, my Thai massage therapist (LMT), that I felt bad that I didn’t roll as often or as hard as I did before. She pointed out that my body has become much more integrated since I slowed down and focused on my health. She could feel the changes in my strength and decrease in muscle dysfunction. After several years working together just to keep me functional, she was finally starting to see progress.

Moments of Balance

It’s cliche but true – everyone’s BJJ journey is different. I’ve proven that I can do the hard stuff. I don’t have to do it all the time for that work to count. It is a trait I can use when it’s necessary or important to me. Not when other people think I should, especially not the echoes of voices from my past. I’m not where I imagined I’d be back in 2020. But now I know where I’m going.

Ironically, it’s taken me a long time to write this post because I felt like I needed to be in a perfectly balanced place to hit publish. But the reality is that balance is a fluid state – something Kayla reminds us of when we’re practicing Tree or Crow or other balance-intensive postures – and it changes moment by moment.

I’m continuing to work towards balance. I’m giving myself both the space and grace to move in the ways that I need to move. Though Jiu Jitsu and Yoga have been more hit or miss than I hoped for, I’m on a nearly 3 month streak with lifting and starting to see some PRs and other encouraging progress.

Tree pose for balance, t-shirt for laughs
Embracing the Majestically Awkward

Speaking of balance… I was able to snag a cute Gaidama sticker for my “new” ride. It is an orange 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, aka the Atomic Tangerine, aka reason that my bank account is currently very far out of balance…

No Gi, Yes Gi, Yogi sticker on orange car
The Atomic Tangerine repping the balanced mindset.

Depression Lies – But She’s Such a Convincing Bitch

Depression loves to lie to you. Whether it is a small lie (“new recipes never turn out right for you”) or a big one (“you’re not going to find another job in your field”), Depression is going to twist things up and make you doubt that good things will happen in life.

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Lazy Bones “Mexican” Beef

In honor of the Cinco de Mayo and being stuck at home, here’s a stripped down recipe. Once again, I looked at a real recipe, thought that looked like a lot of work, and made it simpler.

Does anyone remember the Abs Diet? It was like low fat and Atkins had a baby. Lean meats and net carbs. I can’t say the few recipes I got from it did much for my abs at the time, but the general gist of their Aztec Casserole stuck with me through the years and modified pretty easily to being Paleo.

Continue reading Lazy Bones “Mexican” Beef

BJJ: My Time to (Shark) Tank

In September 2017, I tested for my 1st stripe on my white belt. In some ways, the real test was stepping on to the mat and saying I was ready.

On January 11th, 2020, I tested for my 4th stripe. For those that don’t know, it’s the final stripe for white belt which makes me eligible for blue belt promotion. And while I drilled probably hundreds of hours with my training partner, John, and ramped up my rolling, the hardest part was simply telling myself it was time to say yes.

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SoML: Maybe

The past year was been… rough. All over, but particularly at work. I started traveling at the beginning of March 2018 and didn’t stop until March 15, 2019. To say I was burnt out was an understatement. I had traveled at least part of nearly every week. I was gone so much in September 2018 that I asked Aaron to keep Delta for the entire month. By the time it was over, I was bone weary. I wanted my own house. My own bed. My normal life.

Continue reading SoML: Maybe

BJJ: There is No ‘Sorry’ in Jiu Jitsu

OK, so technically there can be sorry in Jiu Jitsu. Just not nearly as often as it gets said. Did you inflict major damage? Say sorry. Did you have a moment and act like a complete dick? Say sorry. But minor bumps and innocent mistakes? STFU and keep training.

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Review: Le Tote Dress for Success

Nearly 2 years ago (wow) I started subscribing to the clothing rental service, Le Tote. I wrote my initial review a few totes in and I was still iffy on the service. The results were mixed but I’d had some fun and even stepped out of my comfort zone to try a dress. Or maybe I should say I stepped into my comfort zone.

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SoML: Song Meanings Unplugged

One night on the way home from dancing, I was talking with Kaetlyn about how we relate to music. Or rather how I relate to music. Kaetlyn loves dancing and has eclectic taste, but she doesn’t make the connections to songs that I do.

Connecting Through Music

I connect to music but I also connect through music. Songs can bring me to a moment or remind me of a person. “Me and Bobby McGee” makes me think of Jen, one of my best friends from childhood. “Smooth” by Santana w/Rob Thomas makes me think of my mom rocking out in the Plymouth Voyager any old time, but “6 Underground” by Sneaker Pimps reminds me of a specific stretch of tree-lined highway we traveled between college visits. Continue reading SoML: Song Meanings Unplugged

BJJ: I Have the Touch

No one get excited, I am not saying I’ve got some sort of magic touch in BJJ. I’m not even good at BJJ, much less magical.

What’s on my mind lately is “positive touch” and how BJJ provides that contact we social creatures crave so much. And how much that’s helped me personally in the last year or so. I found myself telling my “touch-starved” story twice recently and it dawned on me just how much BJJ had helped me.

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