As a personal trainer, it is my job to assist clients to achieve their goals. Those goals are usually body-related, be it weight loss, gaining strength, improving stamina or bettering the handicap. They can also be mind-related; finding a way to deal with stress or learning how to focus on the connection between mind and body. But in any case, the goal is to improve, to make better and stronger.
And then came Parkinson ’s disease. A few months after I had starting training a new client, he received this diagnosis. What followed was a 16 year battle against the gradual deterioration of the body, dealing with the side effects of medications, adjusting to a new normal and constantly holding on to the status quo until Parkinson’s took another bite.
Over the years, I have learned to hate this disease which renders its victim ultimately helpless and completely dependent on the assistance of others. I have also seen the super-human effort required of the care-taker. The physical and emotional stress takes an enormous toll and makes the care-taker a second victim of the disease.
I have trained my client up until the end of July of this year even though he was hardly able to walk, and it took a great deal of effort on his part.
This week, I attended his memorial service.
I am usually heard saying that I live a very stress-free life, and it is true that very little fazes me.
It helps that I have complete control over my schedule, and if I pack too much on my plate it is my own doing. I also limit my exposure to the news and do not watch on TV scenes of catastrophes that I can do nothing about.
But this week I got stressed – in a major way. The reason? My dog Mr. Darcy. All of a sudden not doing well and giving conflicting messages. Eating and drinking okay but being lethargic, and once being barely able to walk, and the next moment walking just fine.
It was interesting for me to observe my own stress response to a powerful trigger. It was a situation from which I could not remove myself but had no means of changing. I could literally feel the stress hormones circulating in my body. The punch in the stomach! Sleep – forget it! Food – don’t even think about it! Off to the emergency vet we went, at least one action I could do. My favorite vet was on call, and my stress was down by half immediately.
Having an absolutely phenomenal veterinary specialty hospital nearby, he has been checked out inside and out, and I am optimistic that the reason will be found and that Mr. Darcy will soon be his usual self.
This experience made me think about stress in general. The perception of helplessness is for most people the greatest cause of the ‘stress response’, not the cause itself. I still maintain that all stress is an ‘inside job’, even if it is in situations that most people would characterize as stressful.
One of my standard pieces of advice is to say that – in a stressful situation – you may only be able to control the way you think about it if otherwise you do not have control. I still believe that it is sound advice even though I was not exactly a paragon of self-control when Mr. Darcy was not feeling well.
But I trust that he will soon be his own tail-wagging self again, and that I can return to my serene unstressed advice-giving persona.
I was in Germany a little while ago and spent four days in an area that used to be East Germany. I am so fortunate as to have a friend there who loves the region and shows it off to visitors. So I was a tourist with an excellent guide and want to share some of the beauties and wonders I got to see.
The city of Magdeburg (the capitol of the state of Saxony-Anhalt) is interesting so see. Located at the river Elbe, it has many pretty parks and landmarks. My favorite is the ‘”Hundertwasserhaus”, Check out this website http://www.gruene-zitadelle.de/englisch/ and marvel how funky straight-laced Germans can be.
Further on the tracks of architects, I also visited the Bauhaus (which is more than just a font style) in Dessau, designed by Gropius just after the First World War. His architecture influenced much of modern design, and while I am not a personal fan of the austere functionalism, it is amazing to see it emerge at an era so long ago. Here is another link for more information http://www.bauhaus-dessau.de/english/home.html.
Also in Dessau is the location of an unrivaled landscape of parks, waterways and little chalets. It is even possible to rent historical structures as weekend vacation homes. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I also have a link for you to check this out http://www.woerlitz-information.de/woerlitz-en/ho/ho_lp.php?&PHPSESSID=760e0f8d3e1195700e01566235bf15c3.
Just the next day, I saw another UNESCO Word Heritage site, the city of Quedlinburg, a medieval village near a low mountain range called ‘Harz’ with the largest collection of half-timbered houses. It has everything a tourist needs: a castle on one side, an abbey on the other, plenty of shops and restaurants in between on cobblestone streets. Here is a short youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRs2Po4kAL4 and more information http://www.germany.travel/en/towns-cities-culture/unesco-world-heritage/quedlinburg-old-town.html.
Other places in close range are the towns of Wittenberg and Eisleben, known for their relationship to Martin Luther who was born and died in the latter and posted his famous proclamations at the church in Wittenberg. There are interesting museums where he was born, lived and died. Some rooms are still there, and I liked the way the museums provided context for his life and work. Here are links to Wittenberg http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/wittenberg-luther-house and to Eisleben http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/eisleben-luthers-geburtshaus-birth-house and http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/eisleben-luthers-sterbehaus-death-house.
And if you are into domes and cathedrals, there is none like the dome of Halberstadt which houses one of the most significant treasures in the world. It has priceless tapestries which date from 1150 AD and are beautifully preserved. You may have seen the beautiful tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn in Paris. Those were woven around 1500. It appears, however, that the people of Halberstadt want to keep this treasure a secret. I could not find an English web link! So here is one in German only http://www.die-domschaetze.de/de/dom-und-domschatz-halberstadt/domschatz.html.
And while I was there, I heard about the Sky Disk of Nebra (which really lent itself to be made into jewelry and thus returned with me to the US). This disk is about 1 foot in diameter and shows different moon phases and stars. It was found about 15 years ago in that area. It is made of bronze and it quite beautiful. What makes this find absolutely astounding is the fact that it has been dated to about 1600 BCE !!!!!! That was a time well before the glory days of Greek and Roman civilizations, while the pharaohs in Egypt started on the Valley of the Kings with King Thutmose I, and we have the first traces of the Mayas. Stonehenge, however, had already been built. Here is a link with images to this extraordinary disk which is now at a museum in the city of Halle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_sky_disk.
After having seen all that and more, I want to share this with as many people as possible. Tourism to Germany is often reduced to a trip up and down the river Rhine with a side swipe to Berlin, Munich, Neuschwanstein, Heidelberg and Rothenburg where the tourist is catered to with a production of “Germany for the American” with Lederhosen and all.
I hope I was able to demonstrate that there is more to Germany than that.
I am packing my bags again, this time to go to Germany for a week. Since I have been complaining about the direct flights from Raleigh to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I am looking forward to travel part of my vacation with mixed emotions.
I got plenty of advice on how not to get sick, and this time I am hedging my bets with a combination of Airborne and tea tree oil. The agenda on the other side of the Atlantic will not be as hectic as going to a conference. I will spend three days with a dear friend who has three dogs, and I am anticipating long walks and even longer talks.
After that, I will go to the city of Hannover where I grew up and lived until the age of 26. UP to my mother’s death two years ago, I went often. This visit will probably be my last, and I hope to see a good number of friends.
Another much anticipated event is my 40th High School Reunion. I had little contact with old class mates except for one person, and while I look forward to meet them again, I dearly hope that I will see some of my teachers. It’s such a shame that one has to be at least 25 years out of school to truly value what they have done and how they have influenced one’s life. I could never have imagined 40 years ago that I would be sitting here in Raleigh, NC, writing a blog, having had an 18 year career with IBM, and now being in my 18th year as a fitness trainer.
Time flies ……..
I have just registered a team for the Walk for Hope as I have since 1996.
The Foundation of Hope is a charity which raises money for research into mental illness. The way they distribute the money is to give so-called ‘seed money’ which enables researchers to do the work necessary to apply for grants for comprehensive research. By using this method, the Foundation of Hope has been instrumental in securing millions of dollars to find cures or relief for those suffering from mental illnesses.
As the only charity to raise money for this cause, the Foundation of Hope is unique. It is also important to me to know that just about every dollar donated to the Foundation of Hope actually goes to the cause which – regrettably – is not the case with all charities (but there is a website from the American Institute of Philanthropy where you can check the rating of the charity you have in mind http://www.charitywatch.org/index.html).
The event will be Sunday October 13th at 10 AM, starting at the Angus Barn in Raleigh. There will be several options for running, walking or just strolling around the little lake, just enough to work up an appetite for the party which showcases the Angus Barn’s legendary ability to feed crowds.
Please check out the website www.walkforhope.com and decide whether you want to get involved. Needless to say, money is always welcome but I’d rather have you register yourself or get a few friends to go with you and register a team.
Hope to see you there.
I loved the last IDEA conference but getting there and back was a different story.
I remember those days when I thought that traveling for business was so glamorous. Actually, I hardly remember it because it lost its glitz very soon while I was still working with IBM. And there I had the advantage of turning my expense sheet in and getting reimbursed. One of the joys of being self-employed: you pay for yourself. It being a business expense does not change that.
We were lucky enough to have a direct flight from Raleigh to Los Angeles, all was on time and the luggage was returned to me. Nowadays, after having already purchased the ticket, one also gets the option of ‘buying’ a seat allocation. Over are the days when you picked the desired seat during the process of buying the ticket. Since we chose not to add even more cost to the ticket, we took what was left, a window seat for Rufus and a middle seat for me, several rows apart. I was sitting close enough to the business section to smell the food that was served there. In coach, you even had to pay for the peanuts; water and soda was free, and one did not need to pay to use the restrooms. What generosity!
Where I got lucky was in my travel companion in the seat next to me. I am forever curious what other people are reading and was absolutely intrigued by the small book in my neighbor’s hands with interesting graphics. I had to ask. It was a book on fractal geometry, some part of which is the underlying concept of structure in the fascia! What a coincidence! And better yet, my neighbor actually gave me the book as a present, and I read it on the way to Los Angeles and really enjoyed myself.
After we got our luggage at the airport, we too the shuttle to the hotel and got the scenic route. Rufus and I are determined to take a taxi the next time.
The return flight a few days later was the crowning glory of the trip. The RED-EYE! I have a hard time sleeping on planes at best of times but I usually still try. If I find the person who designed those seats, I want to see how out of alignment he is to have developed such torturous contraptions. I was the lucky person in the middle seat again, and no matter what position I tried and where I put that blanket, I could not get comfortable. While I had my eyes closed for much of the flight, I did not sleep and arrived rather bleary-eyed at RDU. To add insult to injury, I got a nasty cold three days after getting home.
I used to be quite a Star Trek fan and was always very intrigued by the transporter. I cannot wait for the technology to catch up with the fantasy, and then I can beam myself over to LA without any of the hassles. I would have missed out on the book, though.
It’s been a little over a week since I returned from the IDEA World Fitness Convention in Los Angeles. Having successfully knocked out the cold which I promptly got on my return, I am now sorting through my sessions and think how to integrate them into my training.
It was a grand event. 8000 participants from 57 countries! The expo hall was larger than ever with vendors displaying anything from Pilates reformers to a body-heat activated dog blanket made of bamboo fiber (yes, you are right, I got that for Mr. Darcy J).
It seems that the trend goes towards smaller equipment, and ‘core’ is still the thing which will be subjected with many devices in an effort to activate, tone or otherwise get it to comply.
Fascia is another emerging trend but I am ecstatic to say that Sue Hitzmann’s message of soft compression is starting to make an impression in the industry. While some are still advocating to beat that fascia stuff into submission, the gentler MELT approach is gaining traction.
I attended some sessions purportedly designed for seniors (or, in Lawrence Biscontini’s words chronologically-enriched) where he combines easy mental challenges with exercise. In other words, he suggests to teach people to ‘walk and chew gum, and I thought that this was a terrific idea. Watch out for that in my personal training!
A summary of the conference sessions with a few comments will soon be up on my website www.meltnc.com under the ‘Convention Newsletter’ heading.
I just received an e-mail which prompts me to depart from the fitness world onto an issue close to my heart.
A well-meaning e-mail was written on behalf of an elderly neighbor whose cat just had seven “adorable” kittens. Unfortunately, all that adorability did not help them to be accepted by the ASPCA or other local animal shelters because they are already full of equally adorable kittens.
So now there are seven little kitties looking for a home, and I sincerely hope that somebody will just be looking for a cat.
I must confess: the e-mail got my hackles up. I am an avid advocate of the spaying and neutering of pets, and here is just another great example why this is so important. Our pets will do what all animals are programmed to do: be fruitful and multiply. They live – hopefully – in an environment where they are well-cared for, have food and shelter and are free from natural enemies. The perfect background for successful procreation. One seven-kitty-litter per year for the duration of 10 years results in 70 direct offspring but if it is extrapolated on the assumption that those cats have their own litters, the number becomes staggering and exceeds 282 million! True, this is just a matter of math but it demonstrates well the magnitude of the problem if our pets are not controlled.
I won’t talk about the debate of whether or not a cat should be allowed to be outside. However, if allowed, then spaying or neutering should be an even greater priority, and the failure to do so constitutes irresponsible pet ownership.
Please spay and neuter your pet.
The next IDEA World Fitness Convention is just around the corner. Flight and hotel are booked, sessions selected, a dog sitter hired.
As I am contemplating the sessions that I will participate in, it struck me that I am no longer looking to experience the challenge of battling ropes and the latest agility drills. Why’s that? I am – by any standard – in great shape but, BUT in capital letters, I am not in the kind of shape that my body would need to be in for those styles of workouts.
I have often returned from conferences feeling utterly beaten, sometimes even hurting. Obviously, I am a slow learner because the reason is so clear, and I would have told all of my clients: if you want to do something different, particularly if it is intense, then you have to get your body ready for it. At the conferences, the very best presenters show their stuff. They demonstrate movements that they have practiced over the years. It is a good reminder that some caution is not cowardly but smart.
The very SAID (specific adaptation to imposed demand) principle applies to me as much as it applies to everybody else.
Of course, that means that I will MELT with Sue Hitzmann who will present three lectures. MELT is one of those modalities, though, for which no special preparation is needed. Everybody can MELT, no matter what shape they are in.
Looking forward to reporting back.
Obesity has recently been classified as a disease, starting the debate anew why we should give ‘those lazy people’ yet another excuse why they ‘don’t pull themselves together and just show a little more self-discipline’.
The fitness industry bears its share of blame for this attitude, pointing to the fact that we as fitness professionals are confronted with the same food choices and, for the most part, go for the green and low calorie options. We also exercise, get our heart rate just were it needs to be, and some have a great story how they were able to shed x number of pounds by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Good for them; I could not be happier. But can we really extrapolate so easily from ‘us’ to ‘them’?
There are not many ways in which I can relate to a person who is overweight and goes to food for comfort. When I get stressed, I lose my appetite to the point that the mere thought of food makes my nauseous. Come to think of it, my survival chances would have been very marginal if I still lived in a cave.
However, I remember my struggle to quit smoking when I was 21, after having smoked for about 5 years. Well, I pulled myself together and showed self-discipline and quit cold turkey. 37 years later, I never touched another cigarette, and for the longest time I would not have dared to for fear to start over again.
So why don’t these ‘lazy obese people’ do the same? But wait – you can’t just stop eating. Not only are the overweight confronted with the challenge of consistently reducing their food intake, they are at the same time constantly bombarded with enticements of any imaginable kind. It is hardly surprising that so many are just giving up. We are hard-wired to eat as much as possible when food is available. For millennia, this has ensured the survival of any species, humans included.
So: do I have an answer to this problem? No; if I did, I would not write a blog but a book and make millions. But I hope that everybody will support those who are trying to lose weight in any way possible and by not judging and stereotyping just because their personal genetic make-up makes it easier for them to control what for others is uncontrollable.