august two-thousand-nineteen

post card from august

Weather report from a woman in her forties inside august:

Clear with a sprinkle of world-weary and a high probability for spontaneous moments of wonder.

Evening blackberry breeze tease ~ all balm and bouquet ~ the promise of sweetness. Most of the ripe ones glimmer far beyond my tallest, tippy-toey-iest reach, and I am left gazing up, imagining the taste of their juice explosion, the texture of their tiny seeds in my mouth. 

The metaphor in berry picking cannot be ignored. If you become impatient with the ones still holding tight to their stems, force them with your fingers, tug them off, you get only tartness and puckered lips. If you maintain your composure, wait for the right day, let the berry lead the way, she surrenders to your touch. It is delicious.

This approach can (must!) be applied to writing and intimacy and divine realization.

~

My husband, Joe, says I might consider be gentler toward my mother, less impatient with the slower pace of her 75-year-old brain. “Play with her more,” he encourages me. “Be lighter. See the absurdity and whimsy in it all. Enjoy her.”

He is right, of course. Sometimes I hold too tightly.

There is sun in Seattle and warmth and I am writing a lot and standing and looking up. A single sunflower blooms in a pot on our deck. (All the ones we planted in the yard were eaten by bunnies.)

~

Joe and I walk together. It’s one of my favorite ways to be beside him*. He has the cutest legs and I delight to watch them in action. He also has perceptive and precise eyes. He notices the subtle shifts of the vegetation throughout our neighborhood: a change of hue here, a new sprout there.

He calls my attention. “Look at those seed pods. Aren’t they sweet?”
I squeeze his arm.

Change is in the air, happening now and already.

How about you, friends?

*Who am I kidding? My favorite way to be beside him is every way, any way, always.

august 2019 postcard

july two-thousand-nineteen

Postcard from July 2019


I woke at 3am to the bed trembling.

“Is that an earthquake?” I asked my husband, Joe.

He pulled me into him, “Yes. You’re OK.”

I spent the day wondering: Is this THE BIG ONE announcing itself?

For as long as I can remember, they have been saying that Seattle is long overdue for a life-shattering earthquake.

-

When I was a teenager I told my mother, “I feel nervous and I don’t know why.”

“Of course you do,” she said. “You’re a little human animal living on ball that’s spinning and floating and hurling through space.”

I’m certain that this why I never took to the idea of medicating or distracting myself from the impossible emotions and sensations. Anxiety, depression, grief: these were framed for me not as things to cure, but as essential and unavoidable energies of the human experience to feel, learn from, work with, integrate.

-

In case you hadn’t noticed: The delicateness of human flesh ~ how we are at the mercy of so many things we cannot comprehend ~ cannot be denied when standing atop shaking ground.

-

I have spent a great deal of time this summer lying on the earth in my backyard, the backyard of my childhood home where my husband, my mom and I live together.

My mom has been scheming, she wants a field of sunflowers. She spent weeks sprouting seeds and growing them in pots on the deck.

Joe planted dozens in the yard.

Then the bunnies promptly chew-chew-chewed the lavish leaves down, down, down to scrawny stems.

No sunflowers remain.

Joe and my mom are researching for next year: fences, dogs, rabbit stew and other things to ensure a golden field.

Me, though, I’m just lying here in the grass, watching and laughing and feeling and breathing and marveling at ~ my man, my mom, this land ~ how I love these things more than my limited language can name.

As always,

Amanda

Movement Muse News: April 2018

I remember lying in bed as a girl attempting to feel my blood as it moved through my arteries and veins. About 10 years old, I was certain that there should be no reason that I could not feel this in the same way that I felt the wind tickle my skin or an ice cube melt on my tongue.

It was my blood in my body after all.

So I would lie in bed, attempting to become as sensitive and as aware as possible. I wanted to deepen my self understanding, to shift away from intellectualized concepts and into ~ quite literally ~ a flesh and blood, embodied experience of myself. I wanted to know myself entirely through sensation.

And then I became a teenager. My body became a source of endless shame. I wanted to hide it, change it, escape it.

And then I became an adult, riddled with responsibilities and identities and all their associated signifiers and stresses. My life became condensed to a circuit of mental strategy, endlessly looping, calculating what it takes to achieve goals, pay bills, finish tasks, wrap-up to-do lists.


***

In January, my husband and I moved into my childhood home, the place I was brought to as 10 day old baby after spending the first part of my life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

Living in this house again has brought me back to my senses. Nearly every inch of this place ~ not to mention its yard and the surrounding neighborhood ~ is filled with exacting smells, sounds, terrain that pull me like a vacuum through a vortex backward in time to the potent sensory experience that was my childhood.

It is literally a homecoming. I feel what I have forgotten: The potent experience that is living in and from my body with all its physical sensations.

***

Being in your body is a powerful and and tender thing.

Being disconnected from your body is a powerful and disastrous thing.

Reconnecting to your senses, feeling your body, living from your bones, from your heart, from your lungs is an act of innocent bravery.

It is also a radical act of revolution and transformation.

It is spring.

Can you feel it?

Movement Muse News: January 2018

I couldn’t always see the details.

When coaching a squat, for example, I could see the general shape, but not the particulars.

Were her knees falling in because of poor lateral hip strength or because of collapsing ankles?

Was his lack of depth in the squat due to limited ankle mobility, lack of motor control, weakness in his leg and hip muscles?

Were over arched backs caused by anterior pelvic tilts or too much extension at thoracolumbar junctions?

Today, after 8 years of working full time, one-on-one with clients, I can observe these details, can recognize many nuances of many movements.

Seeing these subtleties is delightful.

My clients often ask, “How did you notice that?!”

When this happens I feel sparkly, like a superhero with a secret power who just saved the day.

This is the beauty of commitment, of staying put, of digging deep.

Our world is filled with distractions, our economy fueled by Newest! Lastest! Greatest!

But if we are always moving on to the next thing, we live only on the surface.

Life takes time.

Uncovering mystery takes patience.

Getting to the depths takes steady (sometimes very uncomfortable) work.

Being able to see the complexity of a circumstance, of a given system, of life itself, to be at ease amongst the contradictions, to be able to articulate what you feel and sense comes only after a very, very, VERY long period of devotion and faith.

~

For the past 5 years I have been working on a list of philosophies that underpin my work as a strength coach and movement instructor.

Yep. It has taken me 5 years to write that list.

5 years! To. Write. A. List!

This list:

1) Proper Mindset + Imperfect Action = Progress

2) Move Your Body Every Day In A Way That Feels Good To You

3) Perform The Basics Beautifully

4) Move At A Smiling Pace

5) Lift Heavy Things, Sweat & Make More Shapes

6) Build A Nourishing Plate

7) Love Your People

8) Touch Nature

9) Expand Your Perspective

10) Retreat. Rest. Rejuvenate.

These 10 points guide my own relationship to movement, nutrition, creativity, community and spirituality. They also guide the ways in which I coach my clients.

This list might appear obvious, even quaint, at first read. But I assure you -- as is the case with all seemingly simple things -- there is a vast root system that supports each idea.

Over the next year in this newsletter and in my blog, I will share with you some of the depths behind each point on my list. I hope you will read along and share your thoughts on my thoughts.

Happy New Year, sweet friends!

 

Newsletter: November 2017

Hello, Friends.

In October I discovered my new favorite workout: Chasing golden leaves as they surrender their grip on their branch and parachute toward the earth. I would watch for one to fall and then sprint to try to catch it. How many could I get? Not many! Most were too nimble, too sly.

Even so, I could have done it for hours.

But the mind has a way of grasping for time.

And time has a way of grabbing us back, insisting: Come here. Do this. Get it done! Hurry up!

As though accomplishment is everything.

What about the desire to get lost? To slow everything down? To feel every moment? The weight of the coffee mug in your hands, the burst of orange wedge on your tongue…

In July I said goodbye to my sweet studio. In August I began working someplace new. I am happy enough in my new place, although not entirely complete. Something is missing and I am beginning to feel adrift.

How do I build the bridge between now and next? The chasm appears too deep, too wide.

In my lesser moments, I let my mind spin.

In my higher moments, I look to the trees, their branches mostly bare and whisper to myself, “Trust life.”

Life cycles. Creation and destruction, fervor and rest, diligence and play. It has a rhythm outside the mind, beyond what we can control or even hold.

Living embodied is a radical task. It means allowing those cycles to exist not just in theory, but in practice. It means allowing life to arise as it wants, to be fully expressed and realized on its own terms. It means not squelching or hurrying. It means trusting the process.

It is late November. I let go, follow the leaves to the ground, soften my sinews.
May winter do with me what she will.

Yours,
Always,
Amanda

Newsletter: October 2017

If we put the care of our bodies first, we would experience a revolution.

By care I don’t mean an obsession with aesthetics motivated by narrow, arbitrary cultural ideals, or an obsession with performance motivated by ego, or an obsession with health motivated by the fear of death.

By care I mean a genuine reckoning with the ways in which our culture increasingly lures us away from the direct experience of our physical reality and into mental constructs and fantasies. We believe that it is our mind where real life happens and that our bodies are simply objects to carry our brain around from place to place.

But your body is not an object. Your body is your human experience. Your body is you. Your body is your life.

Care means healing the chasm and coming home.

If this seems like woo-woo philosophy with no real world consequences, I invite you to perform this simple exercise:

Step 1

As you go about your day, can you catch yourself on a train of thoughts? Maybe you’re making a to-do list, having a conversation with somebody who’s not there, playing your fears and worries on repeat or fantasizing about how you’d like your life to be different.

Step 2

Come into the moment. Notice your breath. Feel your feet on the ground. If you are sitting, feel the parts of your body that are touching the chair.

Step 3

Orient yourself to the world around you. Spend 1 minute looking and truly seeing what’s around you. Notice objects, people, elements of the natural world. Absorb the details of color and texture, expression and movement. Engage your other senses. What do you hear? Smell? Does this moment have a taste? What are the physical sensations in your body? What are your emotions?

Step 4

Reflect. How many times a day can you catch yourself on your thought train? How much time do you spend living inside your ideas? How much time do you spend consciously engaging with the physicality of the immediate moment?

Step 5

Repeat daily, often.

 

Try it. Report back. I’d love to hear what you discover!

Newsletter: September 2017

They were frustrated. I was harsh and impatient, which was really just a cover for the truth that I was about to melt to the floor in a blubbering puddle.

I had been certain that the ladies of my small group training class would be delighted by the strength circuit that I put together and lovingly titled “The Heroine’s Journey.”

They did not.

Mostly they were confused.

What exercise comes next?

How many reps am I supposed to do?

I can’t hear you. Why is the music so loud in here?

The first week at my new training home, Northwest Fitness Project, was tough. One of the lowest points of the transition was watching the the looks on the faces of these women that day, women I have trained for years, women whom I adore.

One of my passions is bringing groups of women together to move and lift and learn about their bodies in an environment that is supportive and healthy, not influenced by the diet industry or fitness fads, not obsessed with aesthetics, not overly competitive.

And one of my greatest feelings of accomplishment at my old studio, The Institute of Moves, Muscles & Eternal Optimism, was that I had created a space where women of all ages and body shapes felt safe, celebrated, successful and free to shine.

That first week, as I watched the ladies of my Strong Woman Society express confusion and frustration, my heart broke. Was I failing my ladies having chosen a new studio that was significantly different in aesthetic and tone?

Even though I know better than to sink into dramatic story lines, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching my career crumble in front of my eyes.

For the rest of the week, I kept this as my mantra: I have the capacity to handle whatever life brings my way. Besides, on a personal level I was really enjoying my new working environment. I could see already the vast potential for me to grow and learn in this space.

So every time my thoughts went toward demise, I pledged to move forward with a light heart and optimism. I pledged not to let the bumps of transition rock me. I pledged to trust my instincts. I pledged not to worry if clients chose to stop working with me. I pledged to have faith, that if some people did fall away, it was the right thing, that new people ~ better suited for me and for where I growing ~ would show up.

A week went by and it was time again for our Strong Woman Society class.

In walked Laurie. She wore a pink T-shirt on which she had hand painted the circuit outline of The Heroine’s Journey workout that had caused so much trouble for us all the week before.

We hollered and laughed. What a perfect surprise! Laurie changed the tone, demonstrated the power of keeping your sense of humor, the magic of turning your struggle into art.

“Transitions are so hard and sneaky,” Laurie wrote me in an email, responding to my thanks for what she had done. “We can't predict exactly how they are going to bite us. Thank goodness that humor is our friend -- I learned that from some of the awesome young people with whom I worked for so many years.”

Onward!

Newsletter: August 2017

Hello there.

I am here.

On summer vacation.

In Transition.

Strange place, Transition. I’ve been here before. Many times. It is never the same twice.

I remember one visit, 15 years ago. I had just broken up with the man who had been my college sweetheart, my partner in my first adult relationship. Parting from him, although sad in many ways, was mostly positive. At that time Transition was like removing a blindfold to reveal myself standing upon a bluff above a turquoise ocean, a lush expanse of rolling hills at my back. Salt air and space. Transition then was possibility.

This time around Transition is like a pair of dusty goggles found on the bottom shelf in the back of an antique shop. Thick air and murk. Today Transition feels futile.

~

I am here.

In between.

Two weeks ago I saw my last clients at my studio, The Institute of Moves, Muscles & Eternal Optimism.

In my final two weeks there, I got sick. My body was in excruciating pain. I was fitful every night. I did not sleep.

“Take time off,” my mother implored.

I did not. I was compelled to push onward, to present a strong face. After all, I am in the business of strength and vitality, not frailty and sickness.

My friend Maura has a saying: The body knows.

It is true.

Our bodies know all, even that which our eyes do not want to see, that which our minds cannot comprehend.

~

I befriend places as much as people. Locations and environments become me. I become them. I care for places; places nourish me. We are beloveds.

Closing my studio has left me grief stricken, a potent reminder of how life and loss are bound. Eventually we say goodbye to absolutely all that we love.

~

“I don’t want to be sad,” I told my mom. “I want to be energetic and positive.”

“Nobody’s energetic all the time,” she said. “And it’s better to be sad when you’re sad. Otherwise you’ll find yourself sitting in a therapist’s office saying, ‘I’m sad that my studio closed.’ The therapist will say, ‘I’m sorry to hear. When did it close?’ and you’ll say, ‘Ten years ago.’ Yep. It’s better to be sad now, to feel what you feel.”

Then she added, “Besides, sometimes being positive means moving forward even when you’re sad.”

~

So here I am on summer vacation on a roadtrip through Transition with Sadness riding shotgun.

I drive onward while Sadness scans the radio, landing eventually on a country song where all the dogs are dead and all the love is lost and there is nothing but blazing sun and remorse. The twang hits my ear, echoes the tone of my heart. We turn a corner and I catch a glimpse of the horizon. For a moment contentment washes me like a welcome rain.

I can see the distance.

Something waits for me there.

As always,

Amanda

Newsletter: June 2017

“Left foot. Right foot.”
 
It was five o’clock in the morning when Joe whispered in my ear. I was still dreaming, but the birds were already serenading the sunlight’s dance toward the sky.
 
“Yes,” I murmured in response.
 
Left foot. Right foot.
 
It is June. In the first week of this month it was 80 degrees one day and 63 the next.
 
Last month, May, I celebrated the 3 year anniversary of my beloved studio, The Institute of Moves, Muscles & Eternal Optimism.
 
In the month of May, I also learned that I am losing that studio, because the home where it is based is being sold.

Left foot. Right foot.
 
In the month of May, I married my playmate, my soulmate, my muse, my man, my Joe. We had planned to elope quietly to the courthouse downtown, but when friends caught word of this, they pleaded for a party.
 
We planned a wedding in 5 weeks. Family attended from out of town. We had music, art, delicious food. We wrote our own ceremony and vows that we recited on the warmest evening of the month in front two redwood trees as a pair bald eagles soared overhead. The next morning we woke, looked at each other and laughed so hard that tears came.
 
I love being a newlywed, a wife, in a way I never anticipated.

At the same time, I am grieving the loss of my sweet studio, feeling anxious about the changes I am facing surrounding my career.
 
I am also feeling optimistic about the doors that will open when this one closes.
 
Left foot. Right foot.
 
My tendency when ocean tides roll over my life is to either swim as fast as I can against the currents or to go placid while the waves pound me again and again onto the shore.
 
In other words, I run frantic trying put everything back where it’s “supposed” to be, where I can feign a sense of control. Or, I freeze, lie in bed binge watching and eating bags of corn chips and pints of ice cream. I bounce between the two states, and both choices leave me exhausted, disassociated from my body and depressed.
 
I am happy to say that with age (at nearly 40, I’m finally catching on to my antics) and with the support of compassionate partner (after three and a half years together, he’s catching on to my antics), I was able to hold my center quite well through the month of May.
 
Left foot. Period. Pause. Breathe.
 
Right foot. Period. Pause. Breathe.
 
It’s how you’ll find you moving through the month of June.
 
I am slowing down. And I am not stopping. Both, together.
 
And once again, summer is almost here.
 
As always,
Amanda

Newsletter: April 2017

The cherry blossoms have finally bloomed in Seattle. I have spent every day of the past two weeks walking under their flirtatious, fluffy canopies. I am smitten.

I have also spent every day of the past two weeks preparing for an upcoming workshop that I'll be teaching in two weeks at Seattle Yoga Arts. It’s a workshop about movement and breath and creativity and philosophy. It’s also about how to build a strong butt and strong core.

Here's an excerpt from the handouts and a sneak peak at the posters I’ve created for the event:

~

I was introduced to yoga not through my body, but through my mind.

At age 9 my stepfather was forced to leave his hometown of Vienna due to impending Nazi occupation. He and his 5 year old sister went together, without their parents, to a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language.

Thus began the journey that would consume the rest of my stepfather’s life. He became a spiritual seeker: How can there be such evil in the world? How does one find joy in this world? What is the soul? What is the divine?

He and my mother met when my mother was in the midst of an existential journey of her own: Coming to terms with the oppression and shame associated with her childhood religion, with the death of her first husband, with the realities of being a single mother.

My stepfather brought books when he moved in with us. Books about Buddha and Jesus. Books about Tao and Chi. Books by Hafiz and Emily Dickinson and Carl Jung and Ram Dass.

When I was 13 I slipped a slim paperback off his shelf. I took the book to my bedroom and I read. As I did, every cell in my body vibrated the way cells do when you encounter something that cuts straight to the truth, the real truth, the eternal truth.

This book, entitled simply “YOGA,” was not about how to perform physical postures, how to twist my spine and loop my limbs. Rather this book was about how to remain connected to myself, my divine nature, while living in a human body in a world that would have me forget my soul.

I was transfixed and I was forever changed.

When I was 16 I began practicing yoga asana, and over decades my relationship to this physical part of yoga has been capricious: I have been in turns enamoured, devoted, fanatic, mystified, bored, hurt, humbled, annoyed, indifferent.

On the other hand, my relationship to yoga as a philosophical framework, as a state of being, a way of living and moving through all of life, has only deepened, steadily, consistently.

Newsletter: March 2017

When I was 10 years old I moved all my furniture, piece by piece, by myself ~ dresser, desk, mattress, headboard, mirror, bookshelves, books ~ down a narrow flight of steep stairs into the huge basement that I had convinced my mother to let me turn into my bedroom.

When my mom got home from work and saw what I had done, she was perplexed and amazed. How had my little body managed to maneuver those big, cumbersome pieces?

The answer: I just did it. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t question my capabilities. I held my vision strong and put my body to work.

That afternoon imprinted me with a deep feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment and taught me that vision, determination and physical strength were essential skills for me to cultivate if I wanted to be able take action on my own behalf and create the reality that mattered to me.

As I stretched out across my mattress preparing for sleep in my new bedroom that night, my confidence quickly dissolved. The basement seemed so far away from the rest of my family. There were sounds I didn’t recognize. There were windows that lead straight into the dark, forested backyard. I felt lonely and defenseless.

I didn’t sleep well.

The next night I put off going down to my bedroom for as long as I could, until my body was so tired that sleep was inevitable.

On the third night I heard a large wolf-bear high fiving a centaur-dragon at a monster burglar spy party taking place just outside the wall where the head of my bed sat. I was sure of it. I didn’t sleep at all.

On the fourth night, when it came time to make my way to bed, my body went numb. I felt paralyzed. I mustered up every ounce of courage I had and mumbled under my breath to my mom, “It’s so far away down there.”

She understood instantly all the meaning behind that simple statement. With the kind of gentleness that only a mother can give she said, “You don’t have to sleep down there anymore if you don’t want to.”

That night I slept on the floor of my old bedroom. The next day I moved all my furniture ~ piece by piece ~ back upstairs. I slept so well that night.

Vision, determination and physical strength keep possibility alive.

Vulnerability, uncertainty and allowing grand plans to crumble into the sea can do that too.

When was the last time you felt strong, dear friends?

Newsletter: February 2017

The woman who walks the black cocker spaniel has soft silver ringlets. Those curls catch sunlight. They bounce like toddlers on a trampoline, giggling, tumbling across her forehead, into her eyes. She sweetly shoos them from her lashes. They are not dismayed. They dance around her ears.

Her skin is milk. Her cheeks are peonies. Her eyes are celestite globes.

The woman who walks the black cocker spaniel is 60 years old at least, maybe 70.

We pass each other once a week, maybe twice. We smile. We stop and talk. She is engaging, powerful, bright.

She mentions that she would like employ my coaching services. She is active, she says, but would like to increase her fitness. I ask what she wants to improve, hoping to hear something about increasing leg strength for a trek through Nepal or upper body strength to support the hours she spends moving paint across wall-sized canvases.

She places her hand on her abdomen and tells me she would like to “get rid of this stuff around my middle.” My heart sinks like it does every time a woman asks me to help her “fix” the appearance of a part of her body.

Beauty is in the eye of beholder and health is the result of many factors mingling together to create a hospitable circumstance for life to thrive. There is not one way to be a beautiful, healthy human being. Often what we perceive to be beautiful and accept to be healthy has more to do with specific cultural preferences than with objective, biological markers.

I struggle knowing that my career is associated with an industry that perpetually diminishes the potential of women of all ages by keeping them hyper-focused on the shape of their bodies.

What about the shape of our souls? What about the depth of our character? Aren’t there more important, more pressing places for us to direct our finite attention and resources?

The journey we take toward greater fitness is a noble one only when it enhances our vitality so that we can get on with performing the real work of life with greater presence and potency. And in order for our fitness pursuits to increase our vitality, they must be initiated from a mindset of grace, gratitude and love.

AN INVITATION

Ladies and gentlemen (because I know that men struggle with body acceptance, too, it just looks and sounds a little different than for women) I invite you to join me this February to build and strengthen your attitude of grace, gratitude and unconditional love toward your body.

Will you join me in writing a love letter to your body?

  • Dear Body, my favorite thing about you is…
  • Dear Body, you really amazed that one time when you…
  • Dear Body, I’m sorry that I…
  • Dear Body, one thing I would like to know more about you is…

Complete these sentences with a few words or an entire paragraph. Write a short story or a poem. Take a photograph or paint a picture. Or simply reflect. Do what inspires you and, if you are inclined, share it with me. Send me an email or tag me on social media.

I look forward to receiving your responses and sharing mine as well.

Hello From The Institute of Moves, Muscles & Eternal Optimism

"Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no results, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul."

I was twenty-two when my first yoga teacher shared this quote from the French writer and philosopher Simone Weil with me.

I immediately committed it to memory. Sixteen years later, I still recite it often to myself, to my friends, to my clients.

Meet Polle. When she came to me two years ago her body was weak and in pain due to a myriad of injuries, traumas and surgeries that she has experienced and undergone over the past several decades of her life. In the early stages of working together, even the simplest of breathing exercises could trigger pain.

Last week she deadlifted this bar for 3 sets of 10.

Do you understand? It has taken her two years to be able to lift this weight easily and without pain.

TWO YEARS!

She could have given up countless times along the way and nobody would have blamed her.

She could have concluded, "This is just the reality of my body. It's not going to get better."

She could have stopped and made do.

I, too, could have given up countless times and nobody would have blamed me.

"I can't help you," I could have told her.

But she didn't. I didn't. We didn't.

Every week she showed up and met her body as it was. She was present and did what she could. When she could do no more, she stopped.

Every week I accepted her as she was. I offered exercises. If those didn't work, I offered something else. I tried every trick up my sleeve and then had to learn more.

We kept at it. Week after week, year after year.

"Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no results, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul."

Keep moving, friends. Do not lose heart. Fix your gaze on your goals even as they appear impossibly far away. Look there. Go toward there. And then keep going.

Newsletter: January 2017

These cartoons were drawn by my mom before and after her second knee replacement surgery of 2016.

We were in the operation prep room ~ the surgeon, two nurses, my mom and myself ~ when my mom asked the surgeon to play Leonard Cohen while he worked on her knee. Although she would be deafened by anesthesia, she knew that poetic melodies of her favorite musician would protect her during the raw and brutal procedure that is knee replacement surgery.

Everybody laughed in delight when the surgeon responded to her request by singing loudly, “Halleluuuuuujah.”


“How’d you get him to do that?” one nurse asked. “I’ve never heard him sing before.”


By charming him, of course!


My mom understands that if somebody is going to knock you out and saw your leg apart, you’d better make sure that somebody notices you, feels appreciated by you and likes you A LOT.


During their first meeting, my mom asked the surgeon about his family, told jokes, thanked him for his thoughtful explanations of the procedure. The two of them developed a small friendship by the time her surgery date arrived. No small feat considering that, under the reign our of profit-driven healthcare system, doctors are allotted about 15 minutes to meet with patients.


I cared for my mother during two separate knee replacements in 2016. Being her caretaker was challenging, annoying, anxiety-producing. It was also tender, joyful, profound.


My favorite thing to witness was the way my mom befriended everyone who participated in her surgery ~ surgeon, surgeon’s assistant, nurses, hospital volunteers, even the anesthesiologist whom she met for only 5 minutes before being wheeled into the OR.

This may seem like a small, obvious thing, making friends in this way, but to me it was impressive. My mom is a very sensitive sort and I knew she was ~ understandably ~ very anxious. When my mom is afraid her tendency is to pull into herself, tighten up, shrink away. This behavior is not unique to her. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Life lures you again and again to the edge of comfort. It is your choice what you do there. Will you run away? Will you stay put and scream? Will you gaze to the water below? Dive in?


In the face of her surgeries, my mom did this: She climbed down slowly, rock by rock, breath by breath, gently encouraging herself. “You can do this. You can do this.” Amidst her fear and careful descent, she paused, looked, noticed the people around her, brought them onto her team. She did this even though all she wanted to do was hide.


In this way, she moved beyond what she had before perceived as her limit. It was beautiful to watch my 72 year-old mother grow herself.


2016 brought my mom to her limit two different times.


It brought me to my limit more times than I can count.


There’s no right or wrong way to navigate this edge, of course, but I have learned from my own experience that it feels better to soften there, to expand into fear rather than shrink, to notice my breath rather than hold it, to make space at all my joints rather than clench my body. To keep moving. If. Even. Just. Very. Slowly.


In this way we emerge from challenge bigger and new.


Until next time...

P.S. Yep, the surgeon did in fact play Leonard Cohen during the procedure.

Just Get Warm

If given the opportunity, I would spend all of December, January and February alone in bed, binge watching Netflix, eating croissants and bacon and chocolate cake and ice cream and prime rib and scalloped potatoes.

Thankfully, I don't have this opportunity. Not that there's anything wrong with any of these things per se, but if you are a person like me ~ sensitive with, shall we say, an "artistic temperament" prone to bouts of melancholy and hopelessness ~ you know very well that too much of this sort of indulgence is a fast track to hell.

My work as a strength coach is not the career I chose for myself. It chose me. The very lessons I need to learn are the things that I earn my living teaching. Things such as how to stay present in my body when difficult situations and emotions arise instead of flying off into La-La Imaginary Daydreamer Escapeville Land or how to remain committed to a long-term process even when it stops being shiny and new. This work is a spiritual practice of sorts for me and, unlike many other strength coaches and personal trainers I know, it does not come easy to me. I have to work really hard to stay on track. It is challenging, but the blessing is that it allows me to have genuine empathy for the struggles of many of my clients.

One of the mantras I use with my clients (myself included!) who struggle to develop intrinsic motivation around movement is this: Just get warm.

When you feel unmotivated remind yourself this: Just get warm. Once your body gets moving you might find that your spirits lift, that your lack of motivation vanishes, that you are happy to be moving. You might also find that your are still tired and unmotivated, and in that case it's good to go home and rest.

This is how we learn to use movement as a tool for self care instead of as as a tool of obligatory punishment or as an outlet for arbitrary ambition.

For me, yesterday all I wanted to do was go home and continue watching Gilmore Girls and eat a rack of ribs.

But I didn't.

"Just get warm," I told myself.

So I did.

And this happened.

And it was needed.

And I felt better

Newsletter: November 2016

If we put the care of our bodies first, we would experience a revolution.

For several years, this idea has been weaving through my thoughts.

If we made the care of our bodies our primary focus, the foundation of our daily existence, we would ignite a revolution.

By care I do not mean adhering faithfully to the formulas of fitness culture, flattening your abs, toning your arms, running marathons, getting your ass kicked amidst loud music and yelling instructors, feeling sore for two days following.

To care for your body means to meet your body where it is, as it is, in this very moment, to pay attention, to see what is needed and then to take loving action to meet that need. Care requires a mindset that is flexible, curious and filled with reverent awe.

At its simplest, care means being able to distinguish if the sluggishness you feel is because you are getting sick and need to rest or because you’ve been inside in one position all day and need to get outside to move or because you ate something that zaps your energy and need to make a different choice next time or because of something else entirely.

Care means learning about yourself, it means seeing what you need in this moment and taking action to meet this need. Care is not about pushing or punishing or doing what you think you are supposed to do.

If we put the care of our bodies first, we would experience a revolution.

We would not tolerate long work days in front computer screens, because we would feel the tension this creates, the physical pains it produces.

If we put the care of our bodies first, we would not value ambition, achievement and financial success above clean water and air, above the rights and dignities of our fellow human beings. We would understand ourselves as part of an intricate ecosystem.

If we put the care of our bodies first, we would know the right thing to do by drawing our attention to our bellies. What’s going on in there? We would listen to our hearts. Are they beating steady and deep or rapid and shallow? We would feel our breath. We would know the language of our bodies and trust it as more reliable than the overgrown ideologies running wild in our minds.

If we put the care of our bodies first...

What do you think?

Newsletter: October 2016

^ Morning view from my studio, The Institute of Moves, Muscles & Eternal Optimism

Nearly every day in my work, I watch people do things outside their comfort zones and current ability levels. I ask them to tune into parts of their bodies that they have never before consciously considered.

“Jump!” I say. “I haven’t jumped since I was a kid,” they say.

“Lift this,” I say. “No! Too heavy!” they say.

“Engage your butt muscles,” I say. “I can’t feel them,” they say.

“Can you draw your shoulder blades down your back?” I ask. “Where are my shoulder blades?” they ask.

They get frustrated. They resist. They get mad at me. They cry.

“We aren’t here to do what comes easy to you,” I tell them.

They sigh. They roll their eyes at me. Even so, they try.

Eventually they laugh, learn, succeed, grow. They squeeze their shoulder blades, they ignite their butt muscles, they jump over the hurdle. “Make it heavier!” They demand.

We all must be beginners if we are to grow.

Growth requires movement, and it means that there are things you do not know now that you will know later, but only if you are brave enough to allow yourself to be a beginner, brave enough to spend time fumbling along, doing things “wrong” for a while, before you do them “right.”

Or, in the words of my friend Jay, “You have to allow yourself to be bad long enough to get good.”

A unique intimacy develops between my clients and me when they are willing to be vulnerable, willing to show me their weak points, willing to admit where they feel lost, willing to reveal their shame, willing to receive my compassion, willing to consider my advice, willing to try an unfamiliar approach.

It happens when they are willing to be beginners ~ clumsy uncertainty and all ~ with me as their audience.

I, too, must be willing to be a beginner, willing to let go of my preconceived ideas, willing to listen and hear, willing to change my approach when it doesn’t work, willing to admit what I don’t know, willing to learn more, willing to notice when I become impatient, willing to do my own internal work so that I can show up as more present and effective coach.

I turn 38 years old next week, and of the boundless growth I have witnessed in my work with clients, the most profound growth has ~ without question ~ been my own. With age comes an understanding that there infinite things I do not understand.

One thing I have learned for certain, powerful things happen when two people come together and say, “I am willing.”

As always, I love to hear from you.

With love,
Amanda

This Thing A Woman In Her Sixties Once Did

I have a client who is a woman in her early 60s. Since childhood she has believed herself to be uncoordinated, unathletic, incapable when it comes to physical activity. I don't know the entirety of how this self-image formed, but I do know that at age 8 she was criticized by her teacher for the way she skipped on the playground.

She has struggled her entire adult life with many aspects of her physicality.

I have worked with this woman for almost 4 years and she has come to trust me, knows I have her best interest at heart. We have come to love one another like family. We are kin.

Slowly, slowly, through our twice weekly sessions, she is becoming stronger, reaching beyond her comfort zone.

Today while watching her squat, clean and press, my eyes filled with tears. I had never before seen her work so hard. And I knew she was doing it for me mostly, because I have been encouraging her lately to push harder. She resists often, but today she just went for it.

My eyes filled with huge tears. She was beautiful to watch, her devotion, her ease, her total embodied-ness.

Five minutes later ~ while in the middle of her workout ~ she started crying.

"Is this from muscles?" she asked. "Why am I crying?"

"Because you're disproving a lot of stories you've been telling yourself about who you are and what you're capable of," I said. "It's a big deal."

"I think you're right," she said.

She kept moving and eventually her tears stopped and there she was: Just a middle-aged woman lifting heavy ass shit like it was no big deal.

Embodiment Ups & Downs

On Wednesday I was strong, lifted lots of weight. Jumped high.

This is me today, Sunday. It was not supposed to go like this. It was supposed to be that I would meet my girlfriend for a lifting session and again I would be lifting lots of weight.

Instead I am lying on the floor, breathing. I am tired, resting an old shoulder injury that is resurfacing due likely to some combination of too much time at the computer, strange sleeping shapes and (I hate to admit) an overly ambitious training schedule.

Pain comes. Pain goes. Strength comes. Strength goes. This too shall pass. And then that will pass. Goodbye this, hello that. Again and again.

I believe that those of us who commit ourselves to pursuits of the body ~ gains in strength, complex yoga asana, athletic competition, dance performance ~ do so not only for physical exhilaration, but for the way in which these pursuits mirror the bigger patterns of existence. There is no distinction between physical experience, mental experience, emotional experience, spiritual experience. They are all just shades of the grand cosmic tone.

To be embodied is a profound, wild, wonderful endeavor. As humans we are continually asked to muster huge amounts of strength, strength we didn't know we had.

And then at the next turn we are asked to graciously surrender, to be quiet and humble, to accept the truth of what is, even when that truth hurts and disappoints.