The Casual Blog

Tag: O2 Fitness

Cityscapes, intelligent plants, and weight loss work and play

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I got up a little after 6:00 on Saturday morning to allow time for walking Stuart, feeding him and the cats, breakfast, newspaper, and a little neighborhood photo safari at sunrise before yoga class. I’m still figuring out all the buttons, dials, numbers, icons, and graphs on my Nikon D7100, and experimenting with my new 10-24mm (wideangle) Nikkor lens. Adding to the challenge – wearing gloves. It was overcast, with temperature in the mid-30s.
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My neighborhood in downtown Raleigh has some stylish, pretty spots, and my usual way of seeing is to pay the most attention to those. But this morning I forcefully looked at older, grittier thing, and their shapes, patterns, and textures. I always enjoy construction sites, where you can see the innards of a building-to-be, but it was interesting looking at the opposite – destruction sites, and places where humans had run out of money or just don’t care anymore how things look. In those places, there’s nature: plants competing with concrete, pushing into cracks and crevices, revealing and exploiting areas that humans neglect.
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I read an interesting article this week by Michael Pollan on recent research into plant biology, and specifically neurobiology – how plants sense their environment and exchange information. Plant biologists are sharply divided on whether to call these abilities intelligence. Some scientists insist there cannot be intelligence unless there’s a brain, while others define it in terms of the ability to solve problems, which plants can do. But there seems to be general agreement that plants have some remarkable perceptual abilities.

Pollan describes plants’ “unique existential predicament as their being rooted to the ground and therefore unable to pick up and move when they need something or conditions turn unfavorable. The ‘sessile life style,’ as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one’s immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in place. A highly developed sensory apparatus is required to locate food and identify threats. Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty distinct senses, including analogues of our five . . . .”

Plants have also developed some remarkable chemical methods of defending against marauding insects and communicating with others of their species regarding threats and food opportunities, and even recruiting other species to perform services. One researcher estimated that a plant has three thousand chemicals in its vocabulary. Researchers have also found examples of plant learning and memory. Most plant behavior is either invisible or happens too slowly for humans to perceive, but time-lapse photography is opening new windows.
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One of the challenges of this research is the ethical implications. One scientist, Stefano Mancuso of the University of Florence, argues that “because plants are sensitive and intelligent beings, we are obliged to treat them with some degree of respect. That means protecting their habitats from destruction and avoiding practices such as genetic manipulation, growing plants in monocultures, and training them in bonsai.” Mancuso doesn’t go so far as to avoid eating them. He contends they have evolved to be eaten, which accounts for their modular structure and lack of irreplaceable organs.

Most of this research was news to me, but I didn’t find it hard to believe that plants have extraordinary abilities, or that humans might find this hard to accept. Some people have the same problem dealing with the existence of (non-human) animal intelligence. I guess it’s insecurity. To me, learning about and appreciating the abilities of other species of life makes the world that much more amazing.
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In health news, I’m happy to say I finally got back to my fighting weight of 155 lbs this week (that’s a BMI of 22), after gaining 5 during our Xmas holiday travels. It is certainly harder to take them off than to put them on. I did it by working more interval training into my workouts, like jumping rope or rowing as part of a weight circuit, and lengthening my longer cardio work (elliptical, stairs, and such) from 30 to 40 minutes. Also, of course, eating sensible portions of healthy things (fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains).

I also am grateful to my health and fitness guides, especially Larisa Lotz, who meets me each Thursday at 5:30 a.m. at Studio Revolution with several mind and body surprises. This week, for example, her latest workout creation had me lunging and twisting, slamming down a heavy medicine ball, squatting with a sandbag, old school dead lifts, rowing with kettle bells in plank position, and fast agility movements through a rope ladder, among several other aerobic and anaerobic activities. She didn’t have a new balance activity this week, but she’s got me working on several, including balancing on my knees on an exercise ball.

This week I also tried a new morning exercise class at O2 Fitness called Chisel. I’ve been enjoying/enduring the spinning class there on Fridays with Jenn, who is funny, inspiring, and relentless, and she told me I should give it a try. I hadn’t previously done gym classes other than spinning, in part because I’ve got plenty of other things I like to do, but also in part because of shyness – a little bit of fear of the unknown, of confusion and possible embarrassment.

But with Jenn’s encouragement, I showed up last Monday. She was, as usual tough and inspiring, and funny. The hour-long class involved a background of driving dance club music and foreground of intense intervals both with and without dumbbells. Hardest for me were the jumping lunges. I found it very sweat inducing, and after hanging on for dear life, I felt great afterwards – an endorphin surge.

On Saturday morning as usual I went to Blue Lotus Yoga for Yvonne Cropp’s open level Vinyasa class. This weekend is Blueversary – the seventh birthday for the studio – which made me particularly conscious of how grateful I am that it’s there. There were several new people in the class, which may have accounted for Yvonne’s keeping things relatively low-keyed, well within normal yoga conventions. It was good, as always, to really stretch and to breathe together with the class. Afterwards, there was a drawing for special prizes, and I won one – a basket with lavender-scented soap and such. I didn’t really need the lavender, but still, I felt lucky.

My fabulous teachers (fitness, yoga, and music) and seeing Dallas Buyers’ Club

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Our geranium on the balcony is a true survivor! Here we are in mid-December, after several nights sub-freezing nights, and it still looks perky. Sally asked me to take a picture of this marvelous plant, and so I did — several in fact, but these are the best.
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Getting out of a rut and trying new things takes some energy and effort. It also really helps to have a good teacher. As I came into the home stretch of this week, it struck me that I’m fortunate to have found several such teachers, who’ve been helping me with fitness, yoga, and music.

First, there’s Larisa Lotz, who is my regular personal trainer each Thursday at 5:30 a.m. at Studio Revolution. I always look forward to it, because there’s an element of play and fun, but I also always find I’m barely able to make it through. This is not by accident, of course. Larisa has got my number, and knows about where my limits and weak points are. And she works on those weak points – which get stronger.

This week, as usual, she had some new activities and combinations. For core work, I had a side plank with the top leg pulling in and kicking out to the side, and a TRX suspended push up from the ground followed by drawing the legs in. She had me throwing a soft heavy medicine ball as high as possible, to work on “explosive energy,” which she said was a gap in most people’s fitness regimen.

We did some agility drills with quick stepping in various patterns through a rope ladder. We also did some sandbag work, including a fast intense series with dead lifts, cleans, squats, presses, and rows. And several other things. I took home several ideas for new things to work on.

On Friday morning I got to O2 Fitness at 5:35, and did some of Larisa’s hip and leg exercises and some more traditional upper body work – chin ups, dips, push ups, rows, and presses. Then I took my weekly RPM spinning class with Christy. This class involves dance club music of the throbbing, driving sort, which is not my favorite music, but it makes the hard biking in place in a dark room relatively fun. Our class on Friday involved more sprints than usual. I kept an eye on my heart rate monitor so as not to redline for too long. I topped out at 162 – high, but with all that effort, I was surprised it wasn’t a little higher.
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Later that day, at lunchtime, I shot over to Massage Wallah for some therepeutic massage work with Emily Alexander. My neck and shoulders were in need of special attention, so that’s what she worked on. This was my second session with Emily, and it was fairly intense, but good. Emily is not overly chatty, which I appreciate – it’s good to concentrate on the sensation. But I asked her about her story, and learned that she, like me, went to high school at the N.C. School of the Arts, and went on to film school at NYU and movie and TV work in Hollywood. We compared notes on digital cameras. My neck was much better afterwards, and I thought my shoulder was improved.

On Saturday morning I went to Yvonne Cropp‘s Juicy Flow yoga class at Blue Lotus. This is an hour-and-a-half class that combines traditional vinyasa work with kriya practice, which as presented by Yvonne involves three minute or so segments set to dance music with rhythmic movements working different muscle groups. It definitely gets the heart going. I ordinarily can figure out the exercise, but there is one I can’t: rolling backward, then forward and standing up without using the hands. Most of my fellow yogis were doing it, so it’s definitely possible. Another challenge for the future.

It was rainy on Saturday afternoon, which was good weather for a piano lesson with Olga Kleiankina. I played Debussy’s second Arabesque and the first movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. As usual, Olga made me aware of some new dimensions of sound. We spent a long time working on the silences around the staccato notes in the Debussy. Along with a number of such tiny details, we worked on rhythm in connection with the larger structures.

For the Bach, she pointed out that one could never mistake Bach for Mozart, because Bach made much more use of interior parts of the measure for beginning and ending phrases – sort of like syncopation. She showed me how certain accents and timing tricks would bring the piece to life. Of course, knowing about it is one thing, and doing is another. It will take practice.

That evening Sally and I went out to Cary for dinner and a movie. When we go to the Regal at Crossroads, we like to eat at Tom Yum Thai, where the food is delicious and the service warm and friendly. They will take you at your word if you require things very spicy, and for me medium spicy is about right.

During dinner we talked about Dasani, the eleven-year-old homeless girl featured in a series of five articles in the Times this week. She’s a plucky, smart, athletic kid who faces very long odds at the bottom of the economic food chain. We got to know her large family, her teachers, and her homeless shelter in Brooklyn, where the conditions were dire. The series, by Andrea Elliott, is an extraordinary window into the world of poverty – well worth reading.

We saw Dallas Buyers Club, which concerns a macho Texas rodeo-type guy who gets AIDs in the 1980s and starts a business supplying unapproved AIDs drugs to the gay etc. demimonde. There are some colorful and funny characters, and a tour de force performance by Matthew McConaughey. He is almost unrecognizable, very gaunt, with a ton of grit and attitude. Of course, the subject is tragic. It reminded me of the first wave of the AIDs epidemic, and some of my own precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.

Find out your fitness age

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Jocelyn came home for a visit on Thursday, and she was glowing. After six months in New York, she’d (1) learned her way around, (2) found good friends, and (3) got a job she really liked. Also, she’d joined a gym and started working out regularly, and gotten focussed on nourishing herself in a healthy way.

This was music to my ears! My messaging on healthy habits, which I realize can be annoying, has not been all in vain. I’m delighted that my beloved offspring (including also Gabe) are taking good care of themselves.

That same day I came across an article in the online NY Times about assessing your “fitness age,” defined with reference to peak oxygen intake, which apparently is a strong predictor of future health. A large-scale Norwegian study examined oxygen intake levels at ages between 20 and 90, and also developed a tool using indicators including resting heart rate, waist size, and activity levels to determine fitness age.

The article had a link to the fitness age calculator. Needless to say, I gave it a shot. My fitness age? 28! Not bad for a guy born in 1955, right? But I soon began considering how I might get it down to 27.
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In our neighborhood, Glenwood South, there’s been a fair bit of construction, and also some destruction. Sally told me that an unattractive building on Glenwood across from the Creamery and catty-corner to the Armadillo Grill that had just been demolished, and I went over to inspect the site on Saturday morning. They’d walled off the site, but I got a good view from the adjacent parking deck. Sure enough, all that was left was rubble. It was overcast, but there was still a nice quality to the light, and I took some other pictures of the neighborhood on my walk over to the gym.

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No illusions, but not disillusioned

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At my post-surgery eye checkup on Thursday, after being scanned, poked and peered at, I was happy to hear Dr. Mruthyunjaya declare, “I like what I’m seeing.” My retina was back where it was supposed to be. This doesn’t mean everything will be just fine. Vision in my left eye is quite blurry now, and it will be some months before we’ll know how much there will finally be. The likeliest answer is substantially less than before. But as Dr. M’s fellow, Dr. Martell, pointed out, even if there’s a lot of blur, it could still help with peripheral vision, and serve as a backup in the event of a right eye catastrophe.

Anyhow, it is what it is. The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe died this week at age 82. I have not read his work, but the Times obit made me think I might like it. It quoted Nadine Gordimer as saying he was “a writer who has no illusions but is not disillusioned.” A good way to be.

I was also happy that Dr. M cleared me to resume exercising, though he suggested I wait another week before my next killer spin class. So early Friday morning, my usual spinning day, I happily did a functional fitness routine and a half hour on the escalator stairs. The stairs are a relatively new machine at O2 Fitness, and they are remarkably effective at pushing up your heart rate. As usual, while sweating away I listened to some opera (the incredible second act of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) with my MP3 device and read on my tablet device.

I reread some on the ideas of Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, whose name is pronounced “Hite,” as I learned this week when I heard him give a lecture at Duke. My earlier thoughts on Haidt’s theory are here, but I’m still processing his big ideas, which point dramatically away from traditional political theory and its reliance on rationality. His TED talk on the differences in ethical systems between liberals and conservatives is a nice introduction to his theory.

As Haidt observes in the TED talk, there are two types of people: those who like new ideas and experiences and those who prefer the safe and familiar. He notes that the latter are the people who like to eat at Applebee’s.

On Thursday Sally and I tried for the second time to eat at a new restaurant in our neighborhood, Dos Taquitos, and again failed. The place was cheerily hopping but the wait time was too long for us, so we went down Glenwood Avenue to the uncrowded Blue Mango for some Indian food. We had a delicious meal featuring masaledar allo gobhi (cauliflaur and potatos) and eggplant bhartha. We couldn’t finish it, and I asked for a take-home box, which I carefully prepared and then accidentally left on the table. Darn!

For more new musical ideas, I had a piano lesson with Olga on Saturday morning. It was invigorating! I played Liszt’s Liebestraum (Dream of Love) No. 3, a famously beautiful piece (here played wonderfully by Evgeny Kissin). She gave me a massive compliment, and I quote: “Wow!” She thought I’d vastly improved, and was getting a richer sound. But of course, it can always be better. We worked on getting a more stable connection between the body and the instrument, including not just the fingers, but also the back and the core. She showed me on a type of touch involving a very relaxed hand with mostly arm movement. She also gave me some new ideas on pedaling, including using a slow, slightly delayed release. As she noted, it makes magic.
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