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I love when music guides me into a surprise workout.

Like sitting in a patch of sunlight on the living room floor on Sunday morning, stretching around aimlessly in my pajamas, not quite sure how to wake up: Yoga at home? Yoga at the gym? A walk?

I put one of my new CDs into the stereo:

Something in the music stirs me; I rise to my feet. I am doing sun breaths facing the window, the sunlight on the white curtains like a celestial spotlight on my body. My torso sways, my legs join in. I am stretching up and down, my arms undulating like snakes. I am breathing fully, inhaling as my chest reaches upward, exhaling as I curl myself down. Now I am doing small chainé turns right and left. I am marching in place, but with grace. Before long, I realize I am dancing. The music is no longer an external factor; it has downloaded itself into my brain and spread throughout my body. I no longer think about what to do; I just let myself be, and the movement comes to me.

Still dancing, I reach for my yoga mat. I carry it to the center of the floor upright and with honor, like it is the Olympic flame. I unfurl it as the music swells. Soon I am flowing, sun salutations in the sun, my muscles coordinating themselves with the music. I have never heard this album before, but my body already feels one with it. My cobras and locusts feel so high; physically, they aren’t spectacular but inside I am flying. I am open from the crown of my head to my toes. The chorus keeps repeating “Shine.” I allow myself to do just that.

As the last track ends, the CD stops spinning and the music stops. An hour has gone by, and I no longer have to think about how to wake up. The album didn’t lie. It was certainly Automatic, an instant linkage of music to breath to movement.

Lately I’ve been discovering that some of my best workouts happen when I’m just winging it, when I leave the house for work in the morning with not a clue of what I’m going to do for that evening’s workout. I’ll always leave with a bag of random gear in hand–yoga mat, sneakers/socks, shorts, combination lock for the gym. Sometimes I use ’em, sometimes I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, structure is great. In fact, it is somewhat scary for me NOT to have a solid plan, because I am normally a very.structured.person. I like to be home by 8 on weeknights, ensuring me enough time to stretch before bed, get the next day’s outfit together, prep the coffee maker, make tomorrow’s lunch. I wake up by 5:30 every morning so I can do my “routine”–more stretching, some breathing, a little yoga, a few hip exercises before hitting the shower. I have difficulties being spontaneous, because in my mind, I already have a plan.

When it comes to working out, though, I’ve been finding that I get discouraged if I start the day at 8 a.m. thinking, “OK, tonight you will ride the bike for 30 minutes and then do 10 minutes of abs and an upper-body workout.” My body doesn’t respond well to repetitive motion exercises like biking or the elliptical, so the instant I tell myself that’s what I have to do, I already start hating it. Nine times out of 10 I’ll still follow through with it, but I’ll leave the gym feeling meh instead of yeah!

As I mentioned in this previous post, sometimes just tossing a medicine ball for a few minutes sparks a spontaneous and exhilarating workout. So this week I’ve been making an effort to just wing it, or–to tie in with my blog’s mission statement–to go with the flow. Here’s what happened:

• I woke up early last Saturday because I thought I’d go swimming before my friend’s pool party later that evening (hey, what’s wrong with a little double dipping?). But as the morning wore on, it was clear that I was never going to get my butt to the gym; also, it was beautiful out that day, and I hate wasting sunny skies and summer weather by being inside. So instead of a bathing suit, I slipped into some shorts and sneakers and headed out for an aimless walk. Two bathroom stops, one organic juice purchase, a red iPod Nano on the fritz, and 7 miles later, I arrived back home, in just enough time to clean myself up and change into that bathing suit for my friend’s party. There, I played around with a kickboard in the pool and treaded water in the deep end for a bit. Long walk AND some light swimmy-swim. Score!

• With my hair still heavy with chlorine from the previous night’s party, on Sunday I headed back into the pool for a lap workout. But because I got a decent night’s sleep and had coffee recently infused in my system, my body was primed for anything but light swimmy-swim. A huge burst of energy came out of nowhere, and my normal ho-hum out-and-back lap routine turned into fast-forward, high-powered workout. In my workout log, I actually termed it the “Woah, Speed!” swim.

• Monday was probably the most satisfying of winging-it days. It was the day before the summer solstice, the weather was warm, the sun was brilliant. I felt like I had to honor this day and soak up as much daylight as possible (aaaah, the bittersweetness of summer solstice, the commencement of my favorite season yet also the beginning of the end of what feels like round-the-clock sunlight, happiness, and rainbows). I drove to the nearby Red Bank Battlefield, which is ever-so-gradually becoming my go-to spot whenever Mother Nature is dressed to the nines (Side note: It’s a national park, so there are rangers on site. Rangers, with government patches on their shirt sleeves, wide-brimmed ranger hats, and official-use golf carts to drive around the property. I love rangers! It makes the place feel so official. It reminds me of Ranger Rick magazine!) There, I threw together an impromptu workout of walking around the many winding pathways, climbing the steep steps several times, doing some triceps dips on park benches, and attempting to do a chin-up on a tree branch (FAIL, because the branch ended up being a lot higher than it looked).

The sun wasn’t ready to set yet, so I set up camp (plopped down my yoga mat) on the big lawn that faces the Delaware River.

I did some basic yoga stuff (lots of sun salutes), but I had on my iPod and the music was calling for me to dance. I did stand on my yoga mat and do a lot of dance-inspired asanas, but the sprawling lawn, glowing sun, sparkling river, and overall beauty of the day were just begging me to bust out some free-form moves. I’m ashamed to admit I was held back by fear of what others in the park would think of me, this girl dancing in the grass. My body ached to express itself in such a picturesque environment, and even though I felt insulated by the iPod ear buds that separated me from any passersby’s comments, I held back and did not dance how my body was requesting to. I moved and grooved with reservation; it was nice, but not 100% fulfilling. How come I think it’s acceptable for someone to sit on a park bench and play the guitar while singing along, but I fear that dancing is totally weird? Argh. Still, a pretty decent combination of random stuff that made me sweat and get my heart rate up.

• Tuesday morning, I was listening to my otherwise chill Grooveshark playlist as I did my morning stretches when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” clicked on. Suddenly, I was on my feet and dancing. Hard. What was supposed to be a few minutes of gentle yoga postures turned into a spontaneous dance party, and by the end I really needed my morning shower. (Note: This happened again this morning as I was listening to Florence and the Machine’s album [Lungs] for the first time. Seriously, how can one NOT be moved to dance to “Cosmic Love”?! Note II: It’s the song they’re playing with the trailer for Elephants for Water.)

• Thursday night is supposed to be my non-negotiable hot vinyasa class. The studio is 2 minutes from my office, I love the teacher, and it’s one of the few studio class I get to take each week. I had my mat and change of clothes packed, but when I left the office I suddenly just didn’t want to go to class. It was insanely humid outside already. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home no earlier than 8:00 p.m., missing the group number of So You Think You Can Dance as I showered, and rushing to make dinner. I still wanted to do yoga, however, so instead I came home, took the laptop upstairs to my yoga room (which, given the weather, already felt like a hot yoga studio), and did a 75-minute Jivamukti podcast. I love that the classes are recorded live, so when I Om, other students are Omming along with me! (Many thanks to all the yoga teachers out there who record their classes and put them online; taking a “live” class is so much better than listening to someone speak into a microphone in a recording studio.) I still feel like I’m getting that community experience…plus it makes for a wild experience when the music the podcast teacher plays during savasana is the same as what my hot vinyasa teacher would have been playing at that time!

I was winging it, but that security blanket of familiarity was still rolled up under my knees, supporting me along the way.

…is the one that results after you tell yourself, “Oh, lemme do just a few sun salutations before I start dinner,” and then an hour later–after Warrior lunges, balancing postures, belly-down back stretches, a shoulderstand-to-plough-to-fish, headstand, savasana, pranayama, and meditation–you emerge from your little yoga room physically hungry but otherwise incredibly satiated and satisfied.

I surprise myself; sometimes on days where I feel utterly lazy or low on energy, all it takes are a few sun salutes, a couple of medicine ball tosses, or a few minutes dancing to that song featured the night before on So You Think You Can Dance and suddenly I’m doing an hour-long yoga practice, playing around with my dumbbells and resistance bands, or throwing a full-blown dance party in my living room to songs from my Grooveshark playlist.

I can’t necessarily plan for spontaneity–it’s a bit of an oxymoron–but it’s good to know that some of the best workouts can emerge without intention or preparation. It doesn’t always work; sometime blasting my favorite dance songs generates nothing more than half-assed hip sways and limp shoulder rolls, but it’s worth giving it a shot. If there’s something there, all it may take is one little spark to get the engine going.

This weekend has been themed a bit around discomfort, but in positive sense (for the most part, aside from my aching back). As in, unease in taking risks, breaking out of “safe” zone, stepping out of your comfortable boundaries. Like in yoga, when we’re chilling in Warrior I and realize we can perhaps bend the front leg a little more and sink further into the stretch. Little baby steps outside of our “I feel jusssst fine” mentality.

For example, on Friday night I went to the gym for my usual 30 minutes of swimming. However, that night I decided on a whim that instead of swimming to the wall, stopping, putting my feet down, turning around, and pushing off again, I was going to try something different and do an open turn every time I hit the wall. An open turn is an easier alternative to the wall flip as a means to keep swimming rather than stop–even for a few seconds–to switch directions. You approach the wall underwater, push off with your hands to give you the force to turn your body around, and then push off the wall with your feet.

After just a few minutes of doing this, I was really feeling it. I was never one to linger at the wall before, but it’s amazing how having your feet on the ground for just a few seconds is a generous mini-break. Take those few moments out of the equation, and my heart was PUMPING. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go back to my “normal” way of doing it, but there’s was also a part of me that was determined to flow past the initial fear. Sure enough, maybe about 10 minutes into the session, I was still feeling it but I had reached a new level of OK-ness. My brain switched from OMGWTF#(*#*&!!Imgonnadrown! to “Uff, this is a tough workout, but I feel strong!” Even crazier, when I glanced at the clock and saw I had been swimming for 31 minutes, I honestly wanted to keep on going, even though I usually wrap things up at the half-hour mark. So I continued for another 10 minutes. I was utterly exhausted when I finished, but it was such an accomplishment to try something new, kinda scary, and be cool with it in the end.

My other big foray into the New & Scary was the “Introduction to the Spirit World” workshop I attended with a friend on Saturday. To be honest, neither of us had a genuine, heartfelt interest in the subject matter; it was more of a skeptic, eyebrow-raising curiosity that led us to the event. The flier promised techniques to help us raise our vibration, connect with our spirit guides, and communicate with said guides through visualization. The program was also BYOC. That’s bring-your-own-crystal, BTW. Although I am used to meditating and have certainly felt shifts of energy and vibrations, especially after very powerful dancing practices, the rest of this program material was wayyyy out of my comfort zone. My intentions were probably 20% based on curiosity and 80% more of a dubious investigative journalist approach. An embedded blogger, maybe?

I didn’t have any crystals on hand, but my friend’s fiance had an entire dusty box stashed under their bed, and I borrowed an amethyst from the treasure chest. We didn’t spend too much time focusing on crystals, and the most we did with them was hold them in our hands while we tried to connect with our spirits. I can’t say I necessarily felt anything different, but I still gotta give crystals some credit–they do emit higher frequencies of energy. I mean, for my 5th grade science fair project, my dad helped me get a transistor radio to play, powered by nothing but crystals and some metal wires and stuff. The instructor also explained that crystals–in the form of salt–is what makes us feel so cleansed after a day at the beach in the ocean. The salt purifies our bodies, removes negative energy, and makes our bodies more open and receptive to positive energy, to connect with our source. Now, I’m not ready to go out buy a quartz tower and make my husband turn our office into an official “crystal room,” but I don’t see the harm in wearing crystal pendants or earrings. It certainly can’t hurt.

However, the majority of the workshop–the talk about the spirit guides–really made me antsy. Although I kind of understood the statement, “You are a spirit first, having a human experience,” I wasn‘t so sure about the other spirits who are supposedly surrounding me. “You are not permitted to walk alone on this planet,” the instructor said, who paused every now and then while talking, looking a bit distracted, explaining to us that she was listening to her spirit guides and that she didn’t mean to be rude. At one point, as she was gesturing with her hands, she give a little giggle, apologized, and explained that she had just accidentally poked her spirit in the eye. She told happy stories of being guided through difficult situations by her spirit guides and not-so-happy stories, like the time her spirit guide of five years decided to move on and essentially “broke up” with her. We took time to sit in stillness, increase our vibration, and try to connect with our spirit guides. Some people in the room had done this before and described feeling, say, a man on one side and a woman on the other. I experienced what I usually experience during meditation–a feeling of warmth and expansion. My palms and arms were pleasantly warm, and my body felt a bit like it was a balloon being gently filled with air. I felt it in my hands the most; they were resting palm-up on my lap, and during the deepest part of meditation, it felt as though my fingers were growing like wild plants, each digit growing and growing like Freddy Kruger claws but with the appearance of tree roots.

The instructor went around the room, her hands waving in front us like she was washing an invisible window. She praised the “regulars” for their amazing energy and clear chakras. My friend’s energy was deemed questionable. And when the instructor approached me to tune my chakras, she grew very concerned that I could not relax. It was true–we had been sitting in metal folding chairs for more than an hour, and my hip and lower back were killing me. (I hope she knew it was hip bothering me and not my first chakra!) She poked and prodded me, asked how old I was, and urged me to have a session with her. Yikes! I felt like the yoga newcomer who couldn’t even master child’s pose while everyone else in the class is up in handstand. Even the other first-timer at the program, who at first complained about not being able to feel or see or understand anything spiritual or energetic, by the end of class was describing being surrounded by four spirit guides–and was able to name them, nonetheless! My friend didn’t see any spirit guides but she did have a pretty intense emotional release that simply fascinated the other attendees and instructor. I, however, was the “special” student, who had to move to the floor because her legs hurt and who didn’t have any releases or presentations from spiritual sidekicks. But I’m OK with that, because I did have a nice meditative experience, enjoyed that brief feeling of expansion and lightness, and was happy for my friend for being able to get rid of emotional gunk that had been buried in her heart.

Lastly, I did something today that I never thought would happen: I willingly decided NOT to attend a 5Rhythms class. The decision was not an easy one, because I have attended every class at this particular location since its inception in November; I am a regular! But it’s an hour drive away, gas prices are getting ghastly, and, um, I actually listened to my body. This whole week my body has felt totally out of whack since I took a 2-mile walk in new (and now returned) sneakers. I’m not just talking about an achy lower back; it has felt like someone tried to twist my entire top half off like a bottle cap. I’ve felt crooked in downdogs, my shoulder felt weird when I swam on Friday, and my hip has been acting up again. So instead of dancing like a wild woman for two hours at 5Rhythms today, I RSVP’d “No” on the group website and texted my massage therapist in a panic: “R U available for an hour today? Please?!?!?!” Luckily she had an open slot, and thank gosh I took it: She took one look at my naked back and said I was totally off kilter. Everything on my left side was completely torqued, from my neck down to my hips.

So, as it turns out, sometimes the comfort zone is a good place to be, and finding the willpower to refrain from plowing ahead is the challenge. I was at my edge this morning and really didn’t want to creep any further off the precipice by delving into a high-intensity dance practice. Saying “no” to 5Rhythms and attending to my body first, asking for comfort, was my “discomfort” zone. And I’m glad I went there.

Visions of days like today are my “happy places” on dark, icy nights in January, when I’m sitting in yoga class, not really 100% sure if I’m actually there for the yoga or just the 95-degree-plus-humidity climate. During opening meditation, when the teacher tells us to imagine ourselves in a place where we feel at ease, relaxed, happy, I ditch her suggested visualization of a tropical beach, hammock, and ocean and instead envision a more realistic scene that includes our kitchen, with the sun streaming through the open windows, ceiling fan making the wispy white curtains dance; our bedroom, where I wake up at 5 a.m. in nothing but a t-shirt and underpants; my car, where the windows are down, my legs are bare under my flowing skirt, my feet sockless. I imagine driving down the main road in town, the path ahead of me a clear stretch of blacktop lined with flourishing green plants and canopied with flowering trees, no longer an obstacle course of snow piles and ice patches and bare tree limbs looming over me like giant skeleton hands ready to crack and tumble onto the roof of my car.

THAT’s my happy place, and I’m there right now, folks. April has been kind enough to bless South Jersey with a little preview of summer, a preview during which the digital clock outside the bank flashes 88, the shower dial isn’t turned all the way to the left, and the frozen yogurt Bryan and I dish ourselves for dessert starts softening just a little quicker.

Mornings like this make it more difficult to decide how to best wake myself up—it feels like the opportunities are endless! Do I do sun salutations synchronized to the sunrise? Do I put on my sneakers and walk around the neighborhood as the sky transitions from dark blue to turquoise? Do I bike? Dance? Swim in the sunny, salty waters of my gym?

This is the time of year when routines are broken, when just because I planned to do such-and-such this morning, you know what? It’s so beautiful out, I’m inspired, and I’m going to do THIS instead. I went to bed with every intention of waking up at 5, doing my meditation challenge, and heading outside for a 2-mile walk, but after assessing the way my body was feeling, I decided to dance instead of walk. I had just gone on a nice walk the evening before, and I was reluctant to change out of my comfy pajamas. Meg from Spirit Moves Dance recently posted a great 5Rhythms playlist that I have been itching to try out, so this morning my way of waking up included a little bit of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. Forty minutes later, my pajamas were saturated in sweat, my heart rate quicker than any walk could have given me. I felt like I was partially responsible for helping the sun rise, like my 7 minutes of thrashing around in Chaos shook the earth just enough to pop the sun from under the horizon.

Although I changed my planned routine this morning, I do have morning rituals that are very hard to break. Aside from the basics (brushing teeth, getting dressed), my morning essentials include:

  • Drinking a big cup of warm water. Apparently warm/hot water gets the digestion tract going, and I also believe everyone wakes up dehydrated, so it’s important to get liquids in the system ASAP!
  • Rolling around and stretching on the living room floor like a cat, which usually involves some kind of yoga moves (downdogs, supta matsyendrasana), as well as using my foam roller to knead out muscle kinks.
  •  Standing warm-ups, such as Breath of Joy or Empty Coatsleeves…something with a hara breath.
  • All or some of my physical therapy exercises. Doing the entire set takes about half an hour, so usually I’ll abbreviate each exercise or do only a few.
  • Showering. Even if I shower the night before and do nothing in between then and leaving for work, I still need to stand under warm water for a few minutes. My muscles aren’t the same otherwise!
  • Finally, meditation. This is relatively new, but I’m trying to get it to stick. I started the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Spring Meditation Challenge 10 days ago, and I’ve actually been looking forward to the 10 to 15 minutes of quiet reflection each morning. I’m hoping that one day meditating in the morning will be as easy as drinking a glass of water!

QUESTION: What are your morning rituals?

I was so excited to see the sun today. After a mostly miserable/dreary morning and afternoon yesterday that had my husband and I in our pajamas until 3 p.m. trudging around the house like those depressed little wind-up dolls from the Pristiq commercial,

a 70-degree morning with sun blazing through the blinds and lighting up my beautiful carnations was enough to get me giddy.

I made an ambitious to-do list of everything that needs to be done before I leave for my parents’ house for Easter dinner, started sipping on my coffee, and felt the caffeine fly through my system. My body was buzzing with excitement over the weather–I wanted to frolic outside!–but I had other things to do first: throw in a load of laundry, wrap an Easter present for my mother-in-law, do my PT exercises…oh, and meditate. So there I was, attempting to do the most “still” thing ever, and it felt like I was tumbling around in a clothes dryer, my mile-a-minute brain thunking against everything thought it came in contact with. So although I was sitting there, hands on my lap, meditating…was I really doing it, or was I lost in some abyss of ungroundedness?

This mental frenzy reminded me of an analogy my 5Rhythms teacher used last week to explain the entire concept of 5Rhythms; specifically, a “Wave,” the term used to describe a linear completion of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The analogy, not surprisingly, was surfing.

My high school friend Wendy, now a Hawaii resident!

Surfing, my teacher explained, isn’t just “getting swept away” by the waves. Although it looks like the surfer is totally just going with the flow, allowing the ocean to do the work and the person just happily cruising along, there is a very strong connection between the person, the board, and the water. A surfer doesn’t just quickly pop up from kneeling to standing without some kind of intention, without some kind of relationship (kinetic, energetic, etc.) with the board and the swelling waters around her. When the surfer stands, she is grounded. There is connection with that board, a connection running from her eyes to her arms, to her torso, legs, feet, nerves, blood, muscles, and beyond. But to the naked eye, it’s just a big ol’ wave with a teeny tiny person going along for the ride.

Dancing the 5Rhythms is so very similar. If a newcomer stepped into a studio and found a group of people sweeping around the floor in Flowing, it would be so easy to assume that these people are caught up in some kind of mystical flow, moving around like directionless kites on a breezy day. And during Chaos? Clearly, everyone is out of their minds, possessed.

But just as I’m sure surfers would say their sport is mix of being grounded and letting go, so is dancing. Even during the most wild, sweaty, head-tossing, feet-flying Chaos, we are still in connection with something. Maybe it’s not the physical ground (especially if you’re leaping and jumping), but it’s spirit, Self, god, an intention, universal connection, so on and so forth. We are only able to let loose by staying close to something. In yoga terms, rising into an inversion or bakasana is like taking that brave step up on the surfboard, but even then during flight the yogi is connected to the ground, hands firmly pressed into the mat, core engaged, breath and mind in sync.

A very literal expression of this was done in my last 5Rhythms class. During the start of Chaos, the teacher gathered everyone in a circle, holding hands. The music was frenetic, deep drum beats, and we were instructed to let everything go, move the body, shake the feet and legs, toss the head–but to keep our hands connected. It was one of most powerful moments of Chaos I have ever experienced, even though I wasn’t flailing around the room, corner to corner, wall to wall. Here I was, confined to this space between the person on my left and the person on my right, my arms only able to move so much without snapping mine or my partners’ out of the sockets, but I was letting go, being swept away, dancing outside of my brain. The connection was what had made it so intense, being supported by those other dancers’ hands, being part of this circle in which everyone was holding on tight but simultaneously letting go.

I have a few more things on my to-do list to check off before I head out to dinner. I’m going to try my best to surf my way through them all!

In honor of it being Earth Day, today’s flashback takes us to 2007, when Bryan and I went on our first real kayaking outing together. It was beautiful! Kind of scary! And because I drank a whole lotta coffee before our 4-hour adventure, the excursion was not without plenty of stops to use nature’s toilet–the earth, of course.

(Originally written in 2007.)

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Do you know that until today I have never peed in the woods?

I’ve squatted before — in China — so I was prepared for the act, just not for the surroundings. Bryan and I were in the boonies of Burlington County, celebrating his 28th birthday with a surprise kayaking trip along the Batsto River. It’s a 4-hour journey through the Pinelands, so I knew ahead of time that would be urinating on God’s green earth. And several times, in fact.

But I digress. Let me start from the beginning. Ever since our little paddle experience a couple of months ago along the Maurice River in Cumberland County, Bryan has been obsessed with kayaks. As in, he wants one. So for his birthday, I booked this kayaking trip with this little canoe/kayak outfitter in Shamong Township. You drive to their headquarters, hop in their van, and they drive you through the woods to the launch site, where they give you your kayak, paddle, life vest, and a “goodbye, we’ll see you in 4 hours.” When you arrive at the endpoint, there’s someone there to drive you back to the headquarters.

For two people whose only kayaking experience had been a 30-minute “test drive” on a wide and straight river, we truly learned by trial and error this time around. The river we were on today was in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere. It was narrow, it was twisty. Fallen trees formed natural archways and road blocks. Our paddles got tangled in seaweed. The sun was so bright at times that you couldn’t see anything in your path and it felt like we were paddling into a big, black hole. We plowed into muddy banks, got wedged against submerged tree trunks, and scraped against low-hanging branches (and I have a scratched-up arm to prove it!).

We didn’t know the route, and we didn’t know precisely how long it would take us. The entire journey was an adventure into the Unknown, each turn a surprise. Every time we rounded a corner, I felt like I was entering a new mythical territory. The collapsed trees–and those near collapsing–looked like giant butresses, and sometimes I felt like I was a character in Lord of the Rings, Neverending Story, Narnia.

It was Quiet. Absolute seclusion. Whenever we took a break from paddling and just let the current carry us along, the absence of sound around us was chilling. And then when you dunked your paddle in the water again, the noise sounded like breaking glass.

We passed several small beaches, stopping for water, food, and bathroom breaks. I had to pee so badly on our first stop that when I finally did let loose, it was like that scene from Austin Powers where it. just. never. stops. The grass brushed up against my ass, and I feared spiders would get in my butt and start making a web.

Running to the "bathroom"

As far as scenery, it wasn’t spectacular. The changing of the leaves will probably start next week, so today was mostly fading green and lots and lots of pine trees. Sometimes the reflection of the clouds and trees in the water was pretty, and we did pass a few turtles. (One was doing yoga, I swear, maybe Warrior III? Its back leg was extended straight out behind him.) The few white lily pad flowers we saw were diamonds in the rough, and one beach we passed had some people on horseback mosying along. We couldn’t have asked for a better day weatherwise, though. I mean, the last day of September, almost 80 degrees, and perfectly sunny with a super-slight breeze.

Our final leg was through some marshy waters, and I got a little panicky here because it was all out in the open, as opposed to the tiny narrow wooded path we had been following. The area was so wide and expansive, and it was difficult to tell which way to go. I didn’t know where the endpoint was for sure, and, sure enough, we paddled right instead of left and ended up going totally out of our way before we got on course again. Seeing that “Canoe Landing” sign was a relief, and my hands, arms, shoulders, back, and chest screamed out, “Don’t you dare do any upper body work at the gym for the next 3 days, AT LEAST!”

Ain't no one gonna mess with a woman with a paddle.

I ate an apple during the return trip and it was the most wonderful fruit ever. It’s amazing how famished one gets while kayaking. Bryan and I rewarded ourselves with frappuccinos from Starbucks, and ohmigod the sugar and the cold and the sweet was deliiiiiiicious.

I cringed as I unpacked my swimming gear last evening at the gym–swim cap, goggles, ear plus, towel–but I had forgotten my stopwatch.

Ugh, this is going to be the lonnnnnngest-feeling workout, ever! I groaned to myself. I usually wear the watch to keep track of my time; I’ll do freestyle for 10 to 12 minutes, then bust out some kickboard/freestyle intervals, and then at the 30-minute mark finish off with a few laps of just arm work. The watch keeps me on target, especially because the wall clocks are too small to see from the pool.

When I’m wearing the watch, my first glance is usually at the 6-minute mark (4 minutes until I can do the kickboard!). Then again at 8.5 (almost there!). I’ll glance down again around 10 minutes, but then I’ll tell myself, Eh, just go till 12 before starting the kickboard. So, in essence, a good deal of my workout is spent peering down at the watch, being disappointed about how little I’ve swam, and continuing until I hit the appropriate number.

But last night, with my wrist naked, I jumped into the water and began my freestyle warm-up. The water felt great on my skin, having come from a roasting 82-degree office building. The late-day sun was streaming into the windows, making the water look like fire when I came up for air. The only other person in the pool was a woman in the lane next to me, whose steady laps created a rhythmic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh that matched mine.

What I dream of every time I go to the gym: An empty pool.

When I finally stopped long enough to squint over at the wall clock, I couldn’t believe my goggled eyes. 12 minutes! I had gotten in the water at 6:10, and it was now 6:22. How did that happen? Why did I not get antsy at the 6-minute mark? Or 8 minutes? How did I swim that long and steady without feeling the urge to check my time?

I started my kickboard intervals at that point, rotating between one out-and-back with the board and three laps of freestyle in between. Out and back. Out and back. I kept going until I felt slightly fatigued, at which point the clock told me I had been swimming for 30 minutes. This blew my mind, because I still had energy to continue. And I did; I did a few more laps of freestyle and then my standard concluding laps of just arms. I had been swimming for a total of 35 minutes and probably looked at the clock only 4 times, as opposed to the 25 times I normally check my watch.

Here I was concerned that not having my watch was going to drag out my workout, but in fact the opposite held true. Unbound by numbers, I relied on my body’s intuition and natural energy reserve to carry me through. I’m not going to lie–sometimes swimming can be dreadfully boring, and having come from a hot office after a long day at work with no emergency afternoon caffeine in my system, I was certain I was going to want to bail out after 15 minutes. But I did my complete workout–and then some–and felt strong the entire time.

Can numbers be a nuisance? Of course! It’s fitting that just the other day I listened to this Radiolab podcast about ultra-runnner Diane Van Deren, who, due to severe epilepsy, had part of her brain removed. It was the temporal lobe that was taken out, the part that makes sense of time and space. Not only can Diane not read a map (it looks like nothing but random lines and shapes to her), but the concept of time–minutes, hours, days–in the grand scheme of things makes no sense to her. So part of the reason she is able to do (and complete) these insane endurance events (we’re talking days of running) is because the sentence “I have been running for 200 hours in the Yukon” means the same as “I have been running for 2 hours in the Yukon.” Numbers are just numbers to Diane, and they aren’t associated with “good,” “bad,” “hellish,” or “WHY AM I STILL RUNNING?” (Talk about the Zen Buddhism concept of non-judgment!)

I keep track of my total swim time because I like to make sure I’ve gotten in enough of a workout to benefit my heart, lungs, and muscles, but having that watch can clearly slow me down, so to speak. One thing I have stopped doing is keeping track of my laps. I used to hit the “new lap” button every time I hit the wall; go till I hit 40, 45, 50, whatever I thought was “right” that day; and go home and calculate my yards and mileage. I did that until the numbers became distressing, when I was more concerned about the total laps I was going to pound out rather than the quality of my strokes and kicks. Now that I don’t worry about laps or yards, I focus more on making sure I have the proper form, that my core is stable, and that my breath is steady and even.

It’s probably a good thing I realized this when I did, because I came home and noticed that my stopwatch’s battery is dying. Could it be the universe’s way of telling me to ditch the digits? 🙂

I am a creature of habit, so sometimes abandoning routine and “going with the flow” makes me feel like I’m walking into headwind.

(Even now, as I write this, I am eating my usual morning bowl of oats, the same thing I eat every.single.Sunday. Sometimes, even when I’m craving eggs and waffles, I’ll still eat my oatmeal out of fear of “missing my oatmeal.” *tear*)

This past week, though, I found myself falling into the flow more than once–and it actually turned out OK.

It started on Wednesday, which is usually my swimming day. I leave work, drive to the gym, change into my Speedo, and do laps for half an hour. However, that afternoon my right arm started acting up, probably from working on the computer all day, repeatedly clicking away on my mouse as I SpellChecked an entire journal issue. From my neck to my wrist it was tingling, and by the end of the workday I was concerned that swimming would exacerbate the arm. But…but…it was Wednesday! It’s my swimming day! My bathing suit and towel were in the trunk of my car, ready to go.

I took some deep breaths. I contemplated: Swimming is one of the few workout outlets I have at this point. You bust your shoulder, you’re out.

I listened to logic and followed the flow back to my house.

At home, I did a 30-minute complex workout taken from the new issue of Experience Life magazine (one of the best healthy living mags out there, IMO). Afterward, I fiddled with Grooveshark and accessed some trancey music from Maneesh de Moor, falling into free dance for a solid 20 minutes. Flowing like that felt great after the weight routine, and I got so into it that–out of nowhere–I started vocalizing my movements, as though I were leading a JourneyDance class. My eyes closed, and I pretended I had bodies behind me, their arms moving like taffy, following my guidance. I had no intention of breaking out into teacher mode like that, but I just kept working with it, flowing.

I felt pretty good the next day at work, so much that at one point I spoke up to our editorial director about something I thought could be changed with our procedures. I saw room for change, and instead of just sitting back and saying, “Well, that’s what we’ve always done,” I voiced my opinion and suggestions for improvement. “That’s not a bad idea,” she said. “I’ll have to talk it over with [Big Boss].” Woah!

By the end of the day, I was facing a situation similar to Wednesday’s. I was supposed to go to kundalini class that evening, but I had been sitting all day (it was downpouring all day, so I wasn’t able to take my usual lunch walk), and my butt, hip, and legs ached. Sometimes the majority of a kundalini class is sitting, and I so wasn’t looking forward to 75 more minutes of being on my rear. But…it was kundalini day! Once again, I had to deliberate the options. And again, I abandoned routine and decided to go with the flow, instead driving to the hot yoga studio for a 90-minute vinyasa class. The constant movement felt great for my whole body, and the heat was CRANKED up that night, at one point reaching 106. I think it was the sweatiest, most disgusting I’ve ever been, but I felt freakin’ fabulous. During savasana, the teacher bent down and did a little Thai yoga massage on my legs, gently rocking them back and forth. It was the first savasana “adjustment” I’ve received in ages, and I was touched that she thought of me and my creaky hips. In fact, after class she asked if it would be OK for her to do that after every class. Most certainly!

As I was about to leave the yoga studio, I passed the mini-fridge that houses the coconut water for sale. In the past, if I wanted coconut water I brought my own, because of course the studio marks it up. But all I had was plain water that night, and after such a sweaty, exhausting class, I could practically hear my cells plea for electrolytes. And, although I’ve bypassed that fridge now for almost a year, that night I got the money out of my pocket and paid for an overpriced carton of coconut water. I chugged it down like a frat boy with a beer can, and damn, it hit the spot.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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