Friday, November 7, 2014

Squat Day & Dresses

So my last workout (Wednesday 11/05/2014) went thus:

A1. Back Squat
            5/4/3 Waves
            30 sec. rest between reps
            Add 10lbs ea. wave
Wave#1= 120lbs x 5, 130lbs x 4, 140lbs x 3
Wave#2= 130lbs x 5, 140lbs x 4, 150lbs x 3
Wave#3= 140lbs x 5, 150lbs x 4, 160lbs x 3
B1. 1 Arm Rows x 5ea @ 30lbs
B2. Db Floor Press x 7 @ 35/35lbs
B3. RDL x 7 @ 95lbs                         2:00 x 4
C1. Weighted Step Ups x 5ea @ 25lbs
C2. Over Box / Under Crawls
C3. Push Ups x 10                              X3
:30/15 x2
Wall Balls
Ab Saw
Rope Slams
Rope Climbs

It was my third workout in a row and I have to admit. I was so tired by the end of it. I’d also like to note that my squats were awesome despite being absolutely shattered. I didn't really finish the C-Series as it was a little too soon to be stepping down on my bad shin which (because I like to learn things the hard way) was evident halfway through. Push ups were all done but the step ups faltered down to pretty much nothing and I walked around the boxes so it was a little bit of a bust. It’s okay because I was able to make up for it on the finisher and rounded the week out with a all-around good showing.  

On a silly Pagan-y side note: I am currently trying to figure out what my costume is going to be for Earth Spirit’s Feast of Lights Stag King’s Masque this year. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to go last year so my costume was slightly less than stellar.

I am currently courting this number from

I think I would pair it with a minimal midnight blue laser cut mask and some black ballet slippers. The only thing that concerns me is the very long pooling fabric. I like the dramatic look of it but I think I’d trip over it ALL night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Deadlifts and Darkness

So those of us in the Eastern US have finally taken the plunge into darkness with the time change. I left work last night at 5:30 to go workout and it really hit me that winter and the long dark time of introspection is upon us. In the winter I find it harder to want to get to the gym—I leave work and I’m tired, it’s dark out and it’s pretty cold. Fatigue from working out the day before always hurts more in the winter when my body is cold. My “mental toughness” comes more into play and I really have to focus more on how I’ll feel after I work out and less on how much I don’t want to. It’s a bitch.

I’d like to try to get in the habit of posting my workouts here – apart from perhaps helping others to get their own workouts in it gives me a certain accountability that will help keep me going.

Monday’s workout was pretty tough this week:

A1. Sumo Deadlift
            9 x 60% @ 140lbs
            7 x 70% @ 160lbs
            5 x 80% @ 185lbs
            3 x 90% @ 210lbs
A2. Db OH Press @ 20/20lbs & 25/25lbs

B1. Bench Press x 5 80% @ 95lbs
B2. Rope Rows X 10
E/O for 8 min.

C1. RDL x 7 @ 95lbs (x3)
C2. DB Farmer Carry x 2  @ 35/35lbs (x3)

Finisher:          Sled Rows (235lbs)
:35/15 x2         Bear Crawls
                        1-Arm Carry (25lbs)
                        Plank Variation

I like sumo deadlift but I don’t do it often. It was the first deadlift variation I learned using the straight bar and the second variation I learned after Trap Bar. Randomly I have only recently utilized it as an accessory movement during workouts so this was the first time I have utilized it with weight at my current percentages. In short—I’d never attempted a 210lb sumo deadlift before. It went surprisingly well. I find that I have a lot more power in this stance but I have a lot less control. It is most certainly a lift that requires more balance. I had to go to an over hand/underhand grip during my last set as I almost lost the bar on my first 210lb lift.  It was a lot of fun.

On Tuesday I went again and was surprised to find more deadlifts on the menu:

A1. Conventional Deadlift EMOM
            10 x 3 70% @ 160lbs
A2. Band Pull Apart EMOM

B1. Pull Up Variation
B2. Ground Zero Jumps
B3. Db Single Arm Bench @ 20/20lbs
7 min. AMRAP x 2/4/6/8 etc.

C1. Goblet Squat w/ Pause 7-1 :35sec
C2. TRX Row w/ Pause 7-1 :35sec

Finisher:          Chin Ups
:40                   T Push Ups
                        Rev. Lunge
                        Ground Zero Jumps
                        Mt. Climbers
                        Band Punches

                        Jam Ball Slams 20lbs
                        Dynamax Ball Throws (Lying) 8lbs

I was a little leery at first. I've never had two deadlift days in a row and I find that they kick my ass more than any other lift we do. It stands to reason; it’s really a full body lift. It doesn't look like it from the naked eye. It totally embodies the “I pick things up and put them down” joke but somewhere between my gluts, my hamstrings, my core and my arms… by the time we got to that last set I was just trying to stay in form without having to drop weight. I was really proud of myself.

These two days of deadlifting reminds me that even in our everyday lives we face a lot of fears. If I am not careful in my lifts I have a chance of causing myself some pretty serious injuries. Currently I am trying to work with a shin splint (paired with bone bruise) and I’m still watching the hamstring pull I had in June. But eventually all things heal. In this time of darkness and introspection it is time to face those fears and remember that we are stronger then we think. 

Mental Toughness comes from our ability to see the darkness in ourselves and honor its place in our construction. I was able to stick to my percentages this week and have faith in my ability to accomplish the tasks set before me. These valuable lessons in the gym allow me to face the darkness within myself when I sit at my alter in the weeks and months to come –to have courage and faith to do the inner work along with the outer work. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Honoring Our Ancestors

A large and often overlooked aspect of striving to be fit physically is the effort to also strive to achieve mental fitness as well. I know that one of my major fitness goals is mental fitness. My need to reduce the stress in my life and the need to release that stress is actually what led me to weight lifting in the first place. The two for me are inexorably linked.

One of my “mental fitness” exercises is to practice “Letting Go.” As a practicing Pagan I do this a lot with built up energy—especially after ritual. In my personal life I try to use it to deal with the losses of loved ones I am remembering during Samhain. The energy of so many memories builds up inside me. If I am not mindful of this energy it can build and build and work against me.  

This Samhain I am remembering my Uncle Jeffrey. He is deep within my mind and this year I am planning a special alter to honor him.

Jeffrey was my godfather and even though I did not get to see him often he was a very important person in my life. The man had a lot of baggage he was holding onto. Baggage in life isn’t always a black and white term. Baggage just is. I think how you deal with it determines the weight of the luggage. My uncle’s baggage was very heavy to him – a burden he could not escape and he used drugs to lighten the load. His drug problem eventually defeated him.

I was devastated when he died. For weeks before his death I had wanted to write him letters—telling him all the things I wish I had been able to tell him to his face. I wanted those letters to bring him back to reality, to remind him that I was someone who would miss him. I was afraid to write him—which I found absurd as writing is what I do right? It’s the medium by which I express all the things in my head I’m too fucked up to say. Nope. I wrote him letters but I wrote him silly ones full of nonsense.

I think sometimes when I’m having a bad day I particularly like to torture myself into wondering “what if.” What if I had written him honest letters, what if I had actually let him into that place in my head that is so like him? In general though, I have been through this before and I know that the “what if’s” in life lead nowhere. During Samhain it is time for me to remember that instead of allowing sadness to enter my energy spectrum I need to turn it around and allow joy to alleviate that negative energy.

By honoring my Uncle I am honoring all the things I wish he could have found in the universe. I honor him by being truly and uniquely myself. I honor him by being Pagan and proud even though my religion is not main stream. I choose to not let the prejudices of others direct my stars. I honor him by remembering to be kind to myself—that a branch too rigid does not bend but breaks apart. I know that he would not want me to break but bend in all the ways he could not. To honor my uncle I need to remember to have fun in my life, to not let the burdens of my life kill the childlike nature within me. Fun for the sake of fun—we only live once.

To honor our ancestors is to bring honor to ourselves. To reach into ourselves and learn the lessons they were here to teach us. Some of these lessons are painful and full of regret—and like the Five of Cups are a warning to us that it is not too late to change the course of our lives and be the people they know we can be.

When I create my alter for my Jeffrey I will fill it with happy memories and promises for the future. I will bring into this New Year the lessons I have learned from his life and I will give us both the courage I knew he had but couldn't see. I will let go of all this energy within me, I will send it to him so he will know that yes, I am listening and yes, I can hear him. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Making the Connection: Everyday Sacred

Three years ago, if you had asked me if there was a connection to working out and being a Pagan—it would have taken me a long time to answer. I would have had to really think about it. I don’t believe I really made the connection between my spirituality and what was then a “lifestyle change” I was attempting to make permanent for health reasons. I was enjoying my workouts and I was happy to see the changes in my body as I continued them, but it wasn’t until this connection that my dedication really took hold.

The gym I go to is located in an industrial park and is next to a very well attended Baptist Church. After class one evening, as we were cooling down, the instructor was explaining that we would only be able to push sleds (weighted sleds used in our fitness class) on certain evenings because there were complaints from the church next door that we were taking up too much space in the parking lot. Now I can respect that. It’s not a very big parking lot and everyone has to share.

We were discussing this and then suddenly a woman next to me stated “I’m not very religious… this is my church.” It was that statement, said almost to herself, that flipped the switch for me. It’s wasn’t just like a light turning on— it was like Handel’s Fireworks Suite. “This is my church.” Four words that have changed me, changed my thinking, changed the way I approach fitness, and changed the way I celebrate and connect with my goddess.

As Pagans we make offerings to our gods/goddesses. Sometimes we offer them wine or beer. I would offer Freya mead or gold jewelry. It’s a token of appreciation. It is a connection leading to further meditation when spending time at my alter and really, it’s just good manners. I still make an offering before meditation but I began to tie my workouts to my offerings as well. 

One night, right before the final round of a very punishing finisher when I didn’t think I had much more to give, I suddenly offered my exertion to the goddess. I was tired, my legs were sore but I pushed on and pushed through the tired and found a place I never knew I could go. Offering that energy to the goddess gave me tenfold in return. I found I could push harder, test my limits, because I was dedicating my efforts to her. My sweat was in honor of her.

Freya would send her Valkyries out among the dead and wounded on the battlefield to find the best warriors to bring back to Valhalla. What better offering then then testing my strength and endurance in her honor? I knew then that the best way for me to honor my goddess was by testing myself physically and by bringing this element into my workouts it gave me a sense of connection and a sense of purpose. I wasn’t just working out—the gym had become my secondary circle, the weight rack my secondary alter and that last round of the night my true offering in sweat.

I always quote Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, and once again remind myself “True magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own and not expect to get it back.”

I have since made sacred my workouts. I like to get to the gym early—many people can often see me with my eyes closed while waiting for our class to begin. I am meditating. I am asking for strength, for a safe and effective workout. I am offering up my sweat to the goddess that I might honor her, that I might push harder, faster, lift stronger and push out one more rep than I think I can. I will not take the easy road.

I’m not just a Pagan with a fitness hobby. It is an integral part of my spirituality. I am learning lessons about myself and my values. I am seeing strength within myself I never knew existed. Deeds not words. I cannot honor my goddess with words when I have actions to prove myself with. 

Honoring our gods and goddesses need not be limited only to offerings of wine or mead. Sometimes we must get to the heart of the matter and leave our comfort zones in order to truly connect to the sacred energy around us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alter-Craft: Keeping It Simple

I read a lot of Pagan based forums and one of the main things I have noticed when it comes to people who are new to the Pagan path is that they have a lot of questions on Alter creation. Alter creation is a very personal thing and also depends often on what your spiritual path centers on. I can honestly see how new people can get very confused with alter craft.

The books tell you to represent all the elements, the books tell you the elements must be represented by certain objects, the books tell you the pentacle must go here or the wand must go there….that you have to have a wand, that you have to have special crystals or that you have to set up your alter on specific moons etc. The books can, for the most part, go fuck themselves.

I don’t say this to shock anyone or to show disrespect to other people’s spiritual path. I say this to liberate those of you who might be having an Alter based melt down. Books are books. They represent a helpmate, guidance if you will, to aid in those who are looking to learn more. When you become more comfortable in your practice and when/if you begin interacting with Pagans who have been practicing for a long time, you will find that the actual process of Paganism is much freer, much more organic then some of the books on the market will have you believe. It’s the path that you ultimately choose and the intention of the alter that often dictates the creation process.

I often use AA slogans. I come from an AA family and they have been ingrained in me from a young age. They are useful because they hold their own simplistic truths. In this instance I would say “keep it simple stupid.” Some of my more meaningful and beautiful alters have been the most simple and heartfelt.
I criticize Hollywood the most for this sort of thing. Television shows and movies lead people to believe that in order to wield power we must have “stuff.” The energy in ritual comes from within, it comes from the universe, it comes from our community and it comes from our deity of choice. It does not come from the “stuff” we purchase or collect for our alter. Most items only have the energy we imbue them with. 

You don’t need to go out and purchase beautiful cups, expensive jewel encrusted wands and large brass pentacle alter makers for your alter to hold power and meaning. Unless they hold some kind of significance to you, don’t take on the burden of that expense until you want to or you are ready to. You don’t need to bury it in feathers, mounds of stones or vessels full of water, herbs and salts. There is no need to have a rock from every corner of your property or a leaf from every tree represented in your radius. You don’t want to confuse your intention. You want to focus your will like a lighthouse in the darkness.

The singular light of one lone candle—charged with our energy—can be the beacon representing your will and intent.  This can be enough. We must first find the power within. We must find the strength to know that we, as we are, are enough. Once you find that, items on your alter can help focus your intent.

The key to a personal alter is to find things that speak to you—that speak to your intentions and help you focus your energy. Begin simply and build as you change and the seasons and situations around you change. Life and Spirituality is only as complicated as you make it. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perception is a Harsh Mistress

Like the title states, perception is a harsh mistress.

For better or for worse our perception of a person or event or even a thing blinds our view of it and changes us. I don’t believe we can ever escape this. We are only human after all and I think, at least of late, there has been a very hard push on humanity to foster perfection.

For the purposes of this post let’s focus on the term “Body Shaming.”

What is it exactly to “body shame?”

The definition is as easy as the name. When we think a woman or a man is too thin, we’re body shaming. When we think they are too fat we are body shaming. Any criticism, no matter how minor, any opinion no matter how trivial comes under this new vogue umbrella term.

Is it fair to criticize others on their physical appearance? I’m thinking that answer is a no. It’s not fair. A lot of people cannot help the way they look and pre-conceived societal notions of beauty change moment to moment. I mean hey, just look at the renaissance and the early 90’s.

I applaud the fitness industry’s brave new world of “let’s all love each other no matter how we look” and Hollywood’s new stance on “why can’t women eat?” I totally love the fact that people have yet again coined a new “term” they can now use to shame others who shame others who shame others.

I am highly attracted to cyclical hypercriticalism. It’s my favorite, along with wine gums. Wine gums are awesome.

I don’t want to “body shame” people…. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought isn’t “Hey! Let’s go find a fat man to verbally haze!” No, really… it isn’t.  In fact, I seem to collectively make it through the entire day—everyday—not giving a flying fuck about the bodies of the people around me.

It’s amazing the sense of freedom having an actual life is. I go to work, I stress out about my job. I go to the gym and I lift very heavy things and I put them down. I do so with other men and women who are lifting heavy things and putting them down. Occasionally I will notice one of them is wearing shoes I’d like to buy. Then I come home, I make dinner, and I watch television commercials full of brain washing and still… somehow… I manage to see them for what they are and not buy a container full of chemicals to make me instantly [insert social desirable stereotype here].

Occasionally I’ll see an actress on TV who is skeletally thin. I use the term skeletal in a factual sense here as I can see, with my eyes, her actual skeleton which, if this is the look she is going for, is quite impressive. Occasionally on the street I will see a man who barely fits into his enormous sweat pants eating a double cheeseburger and drinking from a 2 liter coke bottle (true story!). 

I see these people. You know what though? They are not my problem. If a woman wants to starve herself to look a certain way then it’s her decision. If a man wants to fuel his body with high calorie foods then it’s all on him. When do we stop blaming society for making us sick, for making us fat or for making us thin?

As a pagan I am a true believer in free will. As I always say, are we not our own gods? If each of us contains, by nature, access to the power of will then where can the blame be placed but upon our own heads?

My will chooses Muirakai. All my focus is on her. What is her power? What is her will? How can she better serve the goddess, the universe and the men and women around her? 

There is something bizarre in humanity that makes us want to “focus on what other people are doing.” I hear it all day long.

“Oh. My. God. Look at what he’s eating.”
“She went to lunch for over an hour.”
“He’s buying his kids an iPad for [insert mainstream seasonal religious holiday here].”
“Her ass is so fat in those pants.”

You know what? Her ass might be fat in those pants but who gives a shit? Sometimes it’s all in perception like “My ass is so FAT in these pants! YES!” because some people are really into a fat ass. Goddess knows I’m working on my squat pattern for a reason. These gluts won’t stock themselves.

My trainer always quotes “comparison is the thief of joy.” She’s not wrong. When we let assholes rent space in our head we relinquish our power and let the actions of others dictate our path. Life is not immune to comparison and I am not on board with the total and utter censorship of my internal workings for better or for worse.

I refuse to hold myself to standards outside myself. One day I might look at someone and I may, in my head, “body shame” them. Sometimes I “body shame” myself. I know that both of these actions have internal consequences but I’m not going to make a pledge to not “body shame.” I don’t make pledges. As a pagan I understand that the energy I release into the universe comes back to me for good or ill.

We don’t want to judge others, but we sure will judge ourselves for judging others and we sure will judge others who judge us or who judge others in front of us. Why? Because we are just so amazing that we feel we need to hold the world to a certain set of standards that even we cannot comply with. Piss off. 

I’m not going to delve into the dark world of existentialism today. One woman’s evil is always another man’s good.

We are complex creatures filled with power, laughter, passion, fear and anger. We are horrible to each other. We love and support each other. We kill and we birth. We wage wars internally and globally. We seek peace and reflection. We seek to hurt and we seek to heal.

I cannot control the people around me. I do not try to. I cannot possibly force another life to adhere to my whim. If you want to “body shame” me then feel free. I’m emotionally OK with it. I would rather celebrate the will that enables you to think freely then celebrate the brainwashing that removes your free will.

Perception is a harsh mistress.