Posts Tagged ‘Exercise’

Yesterday morning I participated in a contact improv dance workshop (improvisational dance done – at least sometimes – touching each other…see the page on ecstatic dance at the top of the blog.)  This morning, however, we had very little direct contact with each other – and a whole lot of contact with the floor.

It’s pretty classic for a contact workshop to start with “making friends with the floor” – mostly through a whole lot of rolling, then, when it gets really exciting, moving off of (all fours, sitting, standing) and back down to the floor.  This is a wood floor with no padding.  My creaky 66 year-old body and bony hips take a beating.

This old body creaks going across the floor.

This old body creaks going across the floor.

But it’s great for me in lots of ways – and maybe especially today, when I am in that most precious state of relative balance.  It’s always hard to hold this state – and I did have only five hours sleep last night, which always makes me vulnerable to mania.  It wasn’t mania that kept me up last night, but rather a precious opportunity to spend time with an old friend – but it will be important to get good sleep tonight.

So making friends with the floor is, intuitively, very grounding.  It really gets me out of my head.

Why haven't I been doing yoga for the last 40 years?

Why haven’t I been doing yoga for the last 40 years?

A previous therapist taught me, when I was starting to rev high, to pay fine-grained attention to my feet on the floor: What sensations did I notice from my shoes?  Are there parts of my feet that feel especially connected to the floor?  Other parts that seem kind of absent?  A really cool thing this morning was that even though we were not doing any exercises focused on the feet, when I would stand back up after rolling on the floor, I spontaneously felt lots more grounding in my feet.

All this was done solo.  We did then throw in more movement off the floor and progressively more connection with other dancers – in pairs at first and then trios.  Still almost no physical contact, but more “corresponding” to each other – letting our movements be influenced by what the other person is doing.  This kind of engagement with other dancers, which is for me often a really strong part of the dance – right up there with my solo self-expression – is also more stimulating.  When I’m a little depressed it can help pull me out, but when I’m teetering on the edge of being too speedy it can be too stimulating.

That didn’t seem to be a problem for me this morning (more encouragement that I am not actually cycling up, but just feeling good), but it was clear to me that the real payoff for me this morning – the main reason why is was meant to take this two-hour workshop – was to roll around on the floor.  I think I may do it on my own when I am at risk of cycling too high.

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I talked yesterday about how while swimming laps on two recent days I used as mantras phrases from the first two steps of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous – and Overeaters Anonymous, with which i have recently gotten involved.  Here I’ll write about how on both of these swimming outings I’ve used the third step (as far as I’ve gotten, and I’ve just barely dipped into these three).

3) “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

I’ve described earlier that for me God is not a person, much less a guy.  I mostly avoid the God word, though I’m working at being less allergic to it.  I’ve actually been positively impressed with how allowing these particular (Asheville-type?) OA folks are of all the variation in how people understand their Higher Power, but there still is a fair bit of God talk in these meetings.  When I use the word Life to describe my Higher Power, I imagine some of these folks internally translate that to God – and I some of the time am doing the flip of that.  But notwithstanding the God word, this step is working some real juju on me – including while swimming laps on Wednesday and again yesterday.

Made a decision“. Am I making a decision?  A decision to be more open to spirituality – to make it more a part of how I really experience the world, not just how I think about it?  I used this phrase as a mantra for a lap or two and it felt good to me.

Turn our lives and our will over“.  This one is huge for me.  I’m usually trying to run the show.  I feel alone in the universe – who else is going to make the decisions, run the show?  The OA person I connected with on the phone when I was in such a difficult place on Wednesday morning suggested that before I go into the meeting I was feeling anxious about I practice thinking “Thy will be done”.  But who is this “thy”?  The great mystery.  And it worked!  I had a great, actually enchanted, visit with my friend.

This morning, when I was struggling with whether to have another little bit of a food that I had already overeaten, I interrupted the struggle by thinking, “Maybe I don’t have to fight the fight – I’ll just turn it over to my Higher Power.”  My first reaction to hearing myself think this was, “Where did that come from?  That’s not how I operate!”  But it felt kind of soothing – and it amazingly got easy to let go of having the food.  So this phrase, which for part of the time I shortened to just “Turn it over” (one of the most popular 12 Step phrases), really had a lot of power for me.

To the care of God, as we understand him”.  This is the one that most took me places Wednesday and especially today.  What if, when I turn my will and my life over to this Higher Power/Life/Spirit/Great Mystery, it genuinely has my best interests in mind?  No, more than that, cares for me.  What if, when I let go of trying to have it my way, i drop into being cared for, cared about?  After a couple of laps thinking the phrase “the care of God”, I really went for it: “Life loves me” (two laps), “I am loved” (another two laps).

Then I spent a couple of laps thinking about people in my life who I really do believe genuinely love me.  Two days ago, as I was sitting on this very same front porch writing, my 37-year-old roommate Will – who is a wonderful artist – brought out a beautiful drawing of the Buddha, which he had shown me on day 3 of him working on it and which I had enthusiastically loved.  He said, “This represents what it’s like for a bipolar person to be in balance – I want you to have it.”  That completely blew me away.  I spent about a lap today thinking about this gift – then going on to ways that other people (including Tom, my other roommate) have recently expressed care for me.

I probably don’t need to belabor the connection of all this with depression.   I more and more getting it that being out of control of my food is discouraging and depressing.  One of my core depressive mantras is “Nothing works”.  Opening up the possibility that OA might actually work for me – might lead to some real, concrete, positive change in my life – is really torqueing my stuff around.  Yesterday morning I was kind of jumping out of my skin with the internal battle between the forces of hope and despair.

But, as much as thinking that i might make significant change in how I eat is kind of blowing my mind, the 12 Steps are messing with me on a deeper level.  What if this program were to significantly change my relationship with Life as I understand it?  What if this network were to – as it promises – provide me with relationships that offer real support, real intimacy? (I’m already getting glimmers of this being true.)  What if working this program were to help me shift my life (not just my eating) in some healthy, life-affirming ways?  People talk about the 12 Steps changing the whole way they approach their lives.  I’ve been in the periphery of various 12 Step programs and people in recovery for much of my life, but I have never really thought about it as a system that could have a big impact on my life.

But who knows?

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Here’s what i did while swimming laps on Wednesday that allowed my mood to continue to lift after my magical visit with my friend (yesterday’s post).  It’s especially fresh, because I did essentially this same thing swimming a couple of hours ago.  I started this day at a mania-depression 8 (definite physical contraction, with significant discouragement and negative self-talk), lifted to a 7 (slightly depressed) during and after a good Overeaters Anonymous meeting, then got to a 6 (balanced – yay!) during and after swimming.  So far this has held.  Since my mood frequently is better in the afternoon and evening, I’m hopeful that I’ll get through the rest of this day in this wonderful state of balance.  And I’m going ecstatic dancing tonight (see page at the top of the blog), which tends – if I’m even close to not depressed – to be a lot of fun.  (If I’m really depressed it can be awful.)

Lap swimming, like ecstatic dancing, is one of my key tools for staying balanced.  I’m a lousy swimmer, have never learned to put my face in the water and do a reasonable crawl and instead do lots of side stroke and back stroke, but still 45 minutes of it is great exercise, leaves me more relaxed – and on a good day can be soothing to my mind.  Oftentimes I will try to count my breaths (1 on the inbreath and again on the outbreath, then 2 – up to 10 and start again) as one way to calm my mind while I’m swimming.  Other times my mind may not get quite this quiet, but I can do some soothingly peaceful thinking about things in my life.  When I’m really depressed, as the last couple of weeks, the contents of my mind may stay pretty gnarly through almost the whole 45 minutes – maybe easing up a little as the time goes along.

No goggles for me - I don't stick my face in the water, which makes me a very clumsy swimmer.

No goggles for me – I don’t stick my face in the water, which makes me a very clumsy swimmer.

All this 12 Step stuff – after just 2 1/2 weeks of exploring it (see my post on August 28) – is mostly still also swimming in my head, but I have just started trying to get my hands around the first three steps.  These last two times swimming, I have been occupying my mind with phrases from these three steps

  1. “We admitted that we were powerless over food – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

    Just thinking the word “admitted” has been soothing to me – I can feel the resistance, the tension, the inner struggle softening as I just acknowledge to myself that I have a serious problem with food.

  2. “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

    “Came to believe”.  I don’t believe in a personal God. I consider myself to be non-theistic, which is very different from atheistic – I don’t oppose the idea of a God.  I actually think that when people use the word God, they are trying to point towards the same reality I do believe in.  I also think of myself as more spiritual than agnostic, which is simply saying “I don’t know what is true.”  I do believe there is something going on deeper than material reality.  I believe that life (I sometimes use a capital L) is in some mysterious way intelligent and benevolent – keeps sending us exactly the experiences we most need for our healing and growth.

    My rational mind sure doesn’t know how to get its hands around all this, but I still believe it’s true – and sometimes even experience it as true.  But most of the time it is not experientially/psychologically/emotionally true for me: I don’t live from this place.  I don’t most of the time emotionally feel supported by Life or any Higher Power.  But I want to – I want to translate this principle from a cognitive belief to a living, breathing experience.  And from just these couple of weeks of sitting in OA meetings where people are making reference to their Higher Power (two meetings in my first twelve days, then four in the last five days!) and having now four support calls with people who come from this orientation, I feel something starting to get loosened up in me.

    I sense the possibility of all this getting more real for me.  So using “Came to believe” as a mantra while I swim has been very powerful for me.  It’s soothing, encouraging – makes me feel like something new and positive may be starting to stir within me.  I even feel like I might be on the verge of a kind of conversion – not to a personal God, but to a more personal, supportive relationship with Life, whatever that is.

    “Could restore us to sanity.”  That “admitted” word from the first step has me really acknowledging not only that I am powerless over food, and that my eating life has become unmanageable – but I’m looking at a whole variety of ways that my life is pretty crazy, many of which relate directly to bipolar disorder.  At the heart of all this is the crazy illusion that I am a separate self in an uncaring universe.  The idea that I could be restored to sanity feels really good.

There’s more that I want to share about the good stuff happening while I’m swimming, but that’s already a pretty hefty post for today.  Let’s put up the rest of it tomorrow.

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I’m not integrated today – I’m fragmented.  My concerns about an out-of-control mania have passed: I got seven hours of sleep last night and am not particularly speedy – just enough to call myself a 5, slightly expanded, rather than balanced (the grail and a state in which I spend very little time).  As always when I’m not depressed, I worry when the next depression is coming and how bad it will be.  Walking the dog this morning, I was not very responsive to the Spotify music playing through my phone (Steve Earle, who just yesterday was really rocking me).  Is this an early warning sign that a depression is looming?  Or just a part of how mentally preoccupied I am today?

And i am mentally preoccupied today.  I have a whole lot of writing queued up for this blog – posts that I have unfinished or unedited, dictated in my phone and handwritten in the little spiral notebook I carry with me everywhere.  This is some of the standard fragmentation that comes with running too high, which i have done for a week now.

But even more than that I have the disconnection between the grand vision that emerged for me last week for where I am going with my business (see Depression and Life Purpose, August 9) and the day-to-day reality of my life.  These aspirations for three books and a public speaking business are as yet pretty ungrounded: the first book, my memoir, is only part finished – and the other two books are as yet just a vision.  And the public speaking business is also right now just in my mind’s eye.

This wonderful vision crystallized in part as my response to a 6-month entrepreneurship training that I signed up for last week.  They came together from fragments that have been floating around in my mind for months and years.  They came together with a force that was a little shocking.  Was the mania that I teetered on the brink of last week a result of so much stimulation or the cause of it?  Is this vision just one more manic plan that there is no way that i can in reality make operational?

Aren’t these always the fears for someone who wrestles with bipolar disorder?  Can I possibly reach that mountain I saw so clearly just a few days ago?  How do integrate these two realities i inhabit?  Where are the baby steps that can link my grounded (or even depressed) reality with my bigger vision?

For me today, the baby steps have everything to do with this blog.  This blog is the link between my current reality and my vision of books and a speaking business.  I have posts and pages to write and edit.  I have several ways I want to improve the blog before I start promoting it with mental health professionals, an effort I want to begin within a couple of weeks.

And today I need to not get compulsive or too driven with these tasks: I need to spend time with my friend Badria.  I need to swim, big-time.  I was sick at the beginning of last week, got rained out of a swim another day – and it has been over a week since I swam, which is so integrating for me.

I have work to do, baby steps to take.

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When I am depressed, it is almost impossible for me to enjoy music.  Music that I have otherwise grooved to just irritates me.  If I try to listen to music while I’m exercising, I turn it off.  When I am even a little bit up, I love music – it  takes me to some wonderful places.  In my recent long spell of depression, I mostly lost track of music – now, praise God, I’m starting to get it back.

About ten years ago, I was hospitalized in the same state hospital twice in a month.  The first time, I came in suicidally depressed, then within my first day there flipped over into being pretty manic.  There was a terrific young woman staff member who rotated among the units doing I don’t know what she called it: “exercise therapy”? “music therapy”?  She would come on our unit maybe every day, using just a cheap boombox, and would play very upbeat music while she had us up on our feet following her in some series of aerobics.

Well, I pretended to do her exercises, but I mostly just danced.  I had a ball.  i was totally all over the rhythm, owned the beat.  I pretended i was dancing in some wonderful, magical night club – not a dingy and oppressive mental hospital.  I loved the (mostly not so special) music over this less than mediocre sound system.  I do think she was genuinely terrific – upbeat, supportive, charming.  But then I may have been exaggerating that, too.

They let me out of that place in just a few days – I was no longer depressed and they don’t keep you there if you’re not dangerous to yourself or others.  I was back again in just two weeks – the shortest time ever between two hospitalizations, but I hadn’t stayed long enough the first time to really do much good, and had left seriously manic.  This time my suicidal depression didn’t lift for a couple of weeks.  And I hated that exercise class.  I couldn’t find the beat.  My body would not move.  It was all painful.

I’ve been doing a meditation called Modern Day Meditation, which is all done to music and they encourage you to get up and move if that is what is wanting to be expressed through you.  They also encourage you to do this at home, and when you are having a hard time to try at least to let yourself to go with one song: to dance hard, cry, shake, scream, whatever – just to get the energy moving.

One day a few weeks ago, when I was really bottomed out, I went up to my room, played some of my favorite Spotify music, and did most of these things.  I had a very hard time getting into it – at first most of it felt like hard work.  The music just didn’t work for me.  I several times changed what I was listening to, some of my favorite music just grated on me.  But little by little, over the course of about 40 minutes,  I did get some release.  Then I went out on my front porch and wrote for about an hour and ended up feeling pretty good.

So I know it can work.  And I believe there must be music out there which is soothing when I’m depressed – I just haven’t found it.  Know some?  Put it in a comment where we can all see it.

For the last two weeks, I have again been mostly depressed, and I have let go of the music that three weeks ago – through the magic of Spotify – I was happily discovering.  This morning, a couple of days into being at about a 5 (slightly expanded) on my manic-depression scale, while walking the dog I discovered Ani DiFranco (not dance music, but warm and rich and human and poetic) on Spotify – and life is good.

My current Ani DiFranco fix

My current Ani DiFranco fix

Knuckle Down cover - doesn't she ever look full of life!?

Knuckle Down cover – doesn’t she ever look full of life!?

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