The Casual Blog

Tag: Studio Revolution

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.

Take care of your body

I used to regard the taking care of my body as sort of a bother — something much less important and interesting than, say, reading a good book. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come round to thinking of it as a fundamental — the thing that has to be done before anything else can get done. Being happy depends in large part on being healthy. And just as some people look forward to taking care of their pets or their cars, I’ve come to value the opportunity to care of my body with healthy food and exercise.

Getting healthier has made me happier, and happy about getting healthier — a virtuous cycle. It’s hard to believe — ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed it myself — but I actually look forward to getting up at 5:15 and going to the gym.

Lately I’ve particularly enjoyed my once-a-week early morning workout with Larissa at Studio Revolution. She’s sparky and cheery, and always innovative. This past week she had me doing a lot of new movements that required balance and coordination, and thus concentration. It isn’t always clear why we’re doing these things, but over all they seem to be producing good results. My rule of decision is, when in doubt, just trust her, and do the exercise. This is, I think, a good general rule: if you want to accomplish something, find a good guru, and then do what she says.

I applied this rule recently to a nagging shoulder injury. Most of my joints were working just fine, but my right shoulder did not feel good. What caused it I do not know. I could do most of the activities of daily life, but certain movements, like reaching behind my back to wash it, or taking off a tee-shirt, were painful.

After trying to ignore it, I tried healing it myself through strengthening it, which didn’t work, and then tried resting it, which didn’t work I tried massage, which helped a bit, but then the problem returned. I finally decided to return to the same physical therapist who resolved my lower back problems some years ago, Geert Audiens at Avante Physical Therapy. And two weeks later I’m feeling much better.

Geert (prouncounded Heert) diagnosed a small rotator cuff injury. To fully explain the situation, he had to use a lot of vocabulary I didn’t know. But the bottom line was clear: I had an imbalance of muscles that was causing pressure on nerves. He treated it with various stretches, exercises, and icing, and prescribed a somewhat involved set of these measures as homework. The exercises mostly involved 3-pound weights, which are so small I found it hard to believe they could do anything. But, they do! It’s amazing! If you have this problem, I recommend seeing Geert, and do what he tells you to do.

Getting over personal trainer-phobia

Although I’ve worked out at various gyms over the years, I haven’t had a personal trainer — until now. My reasoning was that exercising isn’t all that complicated, and if I couldn’t figure out how to do something by myself I wouldn’t care to admit it. Some people seemed to find trainers helpful in getting motivated, but I didn’t really have a problem motivating myself. But I recently was got over my trainer-phobia, and it made me reflect on the value of good teachers.

To state the obvious, staying reasonably fit is a good idea for a lot of reasons: feel better, get sick less, look better, think more clearly, live longer, etc. But it isn’t so easy. It takes persistent, continuous effort. It’s a challenge to find the necessary time (early mornings work for me) and to find ways of moving that you enjoy. But over time, it can get to be a habit.

At that point, there’s a different kind of problem. Doing the same thing over and over gets boring, and also at a certain point stops producing improvements. You need to change things up now and again. So staying fit takes some creativity and a willingness to try new things. In recent times, I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone by exploring yoga, and more recently got an introduction to the Pilates system. My teacher, Julee, recently left to go to med school, but not before reminding me of the value of having a guide in a new area.

In domains other than fitness, I already knew this. Learning new things is wonderful. Through trying to teach myself about things as diverse as science, music, and various languages, I’ve come to the general view that the best way to learn a new thing is to find a good teacher. It isn’t the only way, but it’s the most efficient and fun, and so the one most likely to succeed. A good teacher knows the ultimate goal, but also the interim levels, and taking into account your particular strengths and weaknesses, she will propose various possible ways for you to get to the next level. She guides you past blind alleys and hazards. You waste less time, and make faster progress. This makes it less likely you will give up. You work harder when someone else challenges you. You want to acquire the skill, but you also want to please your teacher. And if you’re fortunate, you and your teacher will form a meaningful human connection.

Anyhow, Julee’s departure, though sad for me, made me think about other things that I might like to try. My yoga teachers at Blue Lotus directed me towards Studio Revolution, just a few doors down the street. And so it was that I began working once a week on functional and TRX training with Larisa. We’re doing lots of variations on lunges, bends, twists, and squats, pulling against cords, moving sand bags, throwing heavy balls, and other tools for increasing core strength. She has introduced me to foam rollers. Larisa’s also making me conscious of which muscles are working in various movements, and which ones aren’t. I’m meeting some parts of my own body for the first time.