The Outdoor Pool

On sunny summer days, the water calls
Transparent between blue walls, reflecting the sky
We gather in the change room, often silent
Stripping down with no pretence
There are ladders in the pool
No hierarchy though
Just grace and speed and will
The coolness of the water
Distant splashes around you
Brief bursts of music through your cap
Rhythmic breathing bringing calm and peace
Perpetual movement going nowhere but far
Repetition becoming contemplation
It’s a quiet place
Where you’re together but apart
And it’s ok

Time discipline

One of the comments I often get from people is: “You are the most productive person I know!”

I am grateful for having the stamina to be so productive. However, I am discovering, as I become more mindful and self-aware, that my productivity is not the result of great planning, but of brute force effort and a strong will.

That’s just not an optimal way of being productive because when I examine myself, I find that I am often motivated by:

  • fear
  • guilt
  • duty
  • a desire to please others

The first two are bad. Fear and guilt are just awful motivators.

Of the last two, duty is a good motivator, as is a desire to please others. Wanting to please others, however, is often a case of managing their expectations! I have learned that working with others to understand what it will take to please them

I have learned that working with others to understand what it will take to please them is very important.

I am going to work on ways of managing time discipline. I am going to start by using my calendar more effectively. I have friends who do this well – for example, Mark Stewart, my colleague and good friend at McMaster University, has been a big motivation for me in terms of fitness and health. I recently realised that he is a great at using his calendar for managing time.

I will report back on the Time Discipline Project.

200 day report on my Life Transformation Experiment

I thought that it was time for an update.

200 days ago, on Ash Wednesday, I started what I thought would be a temporary personal mortification… a Lenten sacrifice. I adopted a pescetarian diet and committed to 30 minutes of daily exercise.

My Numbers, Pre-Pescetarian Life Transformation
Blood Pressure: 130/85
Weight: 192lbs
Resting Heart Rate: ~74

Athletics: I could only run 12 minutes at a maximum speed of 8 km/h. I could not make it up the (very) steep hill next to my house on a bicycle without taking a break.

Here is the 200-day punchline (i.e. my numbers now):

On Animal Product Days (cheese/eggs/fish):
Blood Pressure: 110/65
Weight: 167lbs
Resting Heart Rate: ~63

On Vegan Days (only plants):
Blood Pressure: 100/58
Resting Heart Rate: ~59

Athletics: I can now comfortably run 5km at an average rate of 9-10 kph.  I can comfortably swim 2k (breaststroke) in 55 minutes. I go on regular brisk 90 minute hikes in the woods behind my house in Ancaster.

Surprise Benefit: Acid reflux is gone (except sometimes on animal product days)! I had been taking Zantac regularly – I stopped two weeks ago and have only had heartburn on days when I ate cheese, eggs or seafood.

This experiment will now go from being the Pescetarian Life Transformation Experiment to… The Vegetarian Life Transformation Experiment.

Why vegetarian? I am sufficiently convinced that I am healthier and happier on vegan days. However, I am not yet ready to go vegan – I still love cheese and eggs too much. So it will have to be a vegetarian experiment for now.

I will also try experiments with:

  • Meditation
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Different combinations of cardio and resistance exercises
  • Schedule Planning

Why these experiments? I am finding that the key to happiness and balance is discipline. I am going to experiment with different disciplines around the four things mentioned above.

How do I keep all this going? Excel is my friend – I have a great spreadsheet with a lot of these data. For swimming I use a PoolMateHR from Swimovate, which tracks lengths, speed, force, stroke count and heart rate. For nutrition, MyFitnessPal is super useful – it allows me to fairly easily and accurately track nutrition goals so that i make sure I am getting the macro and micro nutrients I need stay healthy.

I have been thinking of getting a sports watch with HR that can track swimming, running, cycling, etc. but I have done a lot of research and still find even the best products (mostly from Garmin) feel like they are still not quite out of beta.

My goal is to find my healthiest, calmest, most productive, creative and compassionate self.

I wish you peace and health.

I will keep you posted.

 

A key to productivity without anxiety: get one thing done

I am generally very productive. I get things done, I forge forward, and I pursue goals until they are achieved. I recently found a link between my “productivity” and a constant, low-level hum of worry, disquiet or even some anxiety.

Taking a mindful approach to life has made me discover that my approach to productivity has these negative side effects. It is often productivity driven by worry and anxiety. So I have been thinking about how to reverse this, and trying some experiments.

Try to make peace with the goals and tasks in front of me, plan reasonably and then enjoy the process appears to work. I am finding that this allows productivity driven by desire and enjoyment, rather than by panic or guilt!

So, what are some observations from my mindful productivity experience thus far:

  • Be more aware of the impact of my pattern of goal setting and tasks on my life and the life of those around me.
  • Set timelines that don’t include “working on a total project”, but rather a realistic timeline for achieving small parts of a big task.
  • Try to get a few small things done every day, working toward your larger goals.

This way you are aware of the small tasks can micro-plan your day better. You are also aware of the impact on others (deadlines’ impact on other’s work or lives, your availability or lack thereof impact on others, etc.), so you feel better about what you’re doing – less guilt, more getting things done.

It sounds simple, but I am finding a mindful approach to life is really a series of simple changes that lead to more overall well-being.

Being inspired and inspiring

I woke up today feeling inspired.

I had a good night’s sleep after having accomplished a few simple things during the previous day that I had been thinking about. The feeling of sunlight on my arms and face was beautiful as well.

I got to thinking about how I could transmit that feeling of being inspired to others. How to be inspiring? I think it has to do with a few things:

  • Openness. Be open to the day and the experiences it brings. Be open to the ideas of others – don’t feel threatened.
  • Positivity. Look to see the upside of everything you encounter. This means putting openness in action. Generally people come to you with an idea because they have been inspired or maybe they are worried about something. Both inspiration and worry are legitimate! A positive outlook recognizes this.
  • Calm. Maintaining calm inspires others because it gives them a feeling of security and peace. Without those two items, it is very difficult to be productive.

I wish you an open, positive and calm day!

Pleasures of public transit

I am taking public transit as a part of my wellness journey.

I am on a trip to Ottawa today, which meant an early morning wake-up at 4am to catch the early train. I took the GO Train at Aldershot Station with the other bleary-eyed riders to Union Station in Toronto. Then VIA Rail from Union to Ottawa.

I meditated for 10 minutes on the train and felt the fatigue from only sleeping 5 hours dimish. I understand that meditating reduces blood cortisol levels, but somehow I feel more awake after meditating, especially when tired. Odd.

In Hamiton, I have been taking public transit as much as possible. I have taken the bus to McMaster since I returned from my research leave. This is for three reasons:

  • Stress reduction. It reduces my stress levels significantly. Even if my bus ride is only 15 minutes, I can still do some light reading or just look out the window. Very peaceful when compared with driving.
  • Earth-friendly. It is environmentally much more sustainable. I have only filled up the gas tank in my SUV once in the last two weeks, instead of twice.
  • Cost savings. My parking spot at McMaster costs about $1200 (not including gas and wear), whereas transit will cost only about $800. I spend about $150 in gas to drive to Ottawa (not including wear), whereas I can get a return ticket for about $120-$150 if I take advantage of the Tuesday deals.

Personal discovery: Nutrition is a practice and requires planning

Proper nutrition is a practice, I am finding. And not necessarily one where the path is obvious. I am discovering that for me, proper nutrition requires a little research and planning coupled with mindful cooking and eating.

After paying the $50 or so annual membership to unlock the hidden features of myfitnesspal, I have been surprised to find out that what I thought – through rough estimation and intuition, mostly – to be a healthy diet, is lacking in certain areas.

So I started tinkering with myfitnesspal to see what a balanced, healthy day within my calorie limit might look like.

Along the way, I learned some interesting truths and realised some replacements might be in order. Go ahead and laugh at me if these were common knowledge to you:

  • Peanut butter is rich in micro-nutrients, but almond butter seems to have more.
  • Cereals are very deceptive in terms of nutritional content. Amazingly, spoon-size shredded wheat seems to be a winner, with high nutrients and low sugar. Kashi Go Lean Crunch is good too, but has a lot of sugar (and is a lot more expensive).
  • Chips, regardless of how expensive, organic, non-GMO or other attractive, virtuous labelling are truly empty calories.
  • Strawberries are very high in potassium
  • Kale, spinach, swiss chard and collard greens are very high in calcium
  • Beans and lentils are must-eats for iron, potassium, calcium and protein
  • Potatoes are kind of a wonder food: very high in potassium!
  • Bananas are very helpful, as are most fruits
  • Dates are nutrient-rich
  • Avocados are rich in potassium and other nutrients, but very high in fat.

My takeaways:

  • I will add almond butter to my pantry, and when I have two toasts, I may make one with peanut butter and the other with almond butter.
  • Time to cut chips and other “empty calories” out. Eat only what contributes to day.
  • Spoon-size shredded wheat appears to be a great breakfast cereal, when loaded with fruit and berries and eaten with oat milk.
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale and swiss chard need to be a bigger part of my life, as do potatoes
  • Bananas and dates are in. As are avocados, in limited quantities.

Since I have gotten serious about fitness and wellness, I am going to be more systematic about nutrition. Let’s see how this goes.

Remember, I am talking about research and observations for myself here. I am not making any recommendations to anyone except myself. Go do your own research, experiment and find out what works for you.