Patience, Grief and Trust

The Journey
I believe that you need to look at your health and fitness as a journey. There will always be peaks and low points, and even plateaus. I also believe that the variance is what keeps you alive, learning, fighting for more, and making progress. If the journey was constantly the same you would begin to rest on your laurels, get bored, become complacent, and eventually stop.

Over the last two years my journey has changed drastically. I went from wanting to be competitive in CrossFit as a sport to not wanting to workout at all, all while experiencing pretty much everything in between. Each time I make may way through one of these transitional times in my journey I look back and appreciate all of the feelings and experiences that got me to where I am. The hard part is when you are actually in it and you feel stuck; like everything is going wrong. There are a few concepts that have helped me through.

Patience
Having patience with yourself is one of the most difficult things to do. We now live in a time of instant gratification. We are able to access anything and everything we want and need in a matter of seconds. When it comes to health and fitness, progress doesn’t come so quickly and we begin to judge ourselves, compare ourselves to others, and lose sight of what is really important. I have fallen victim to this many times. Limiting my social media and “unfollowing” accounts that got me feeling inadequate was pivotal in helping me overcome these judgmental feelings.

Grief
One concept that had a major impact on the last year of my life is grief. When I used to think about grieving death would be the only thing that came to mind. A good friend of mine helped me to see that we can grieve all kinds of things. I was grieving a version of myself that I was moving on from. Grieving the body I once had while trying to accept a new one; grieving for the status that athleticism made me feel; and grieving some of my personal identity as an athlete. It’s tough to let go, but we need to honor those feelings of sadness and grief in order to heal and go on with our lives as our authentic selves.

Trust
Another concept that has been critical in my journey is trust. This one was particularly surrounding food. For years I have been following some sort of diet. South Beach diet, low carb diet, Paleo diet, gluten-free diet, counting macros diet. I finally wanted to break free of all that and I have. I’ve been learning to eat again like when I was a kid. I’m talking about listening to my body’s signals that let me know that I am hungry and full as well as what I want to eat so that I am satisfied. Our bodies are amazing like that. We just have so much noise coming in that we forget how to listen to them. Learning to trust my own body again has been amazing and freeing!

Self-Care
Self care has been something that I struggle with because of who I am at my core (independent people pleaser) but also because sometimes I simply don’t make time to do it. Self care is different for everyone but usually consists of things that allow you to “fill your cup”; experience relaxation, joy, happiness, freedom, positive emotions, and radiant health. Examples of self-care for me would be getting enough sleep, being in nature, spending time with family and close friends, not forcing myself to exercise or obsessing over whether I got a workout in, and creating boundaries around my work life in order to create more peace at home.

I hope that by sharing my journey with you I can help you with your own. Let me know if I can help you in any way or if you’d like to know more about my experiences with patience, grief, trust, or self-care.

Cheers!

 

 

The Dark Corners

“Be happy”…
“Stay positive”…
“Turn that frown upside down”.

We are told to be happy, stay positive, choose to have a positive attitude. But what about when we just feel really crappy?

Something I am learning is to actually feel and honor feelings, whatever they might be. It seems simple but I actually find it very difficult. Instead of avoiding uncomfortable feelings I am practicing actually feeling them and being okay with them.

Life is not always sunshine and chirping birds. Sometimes there are dark clouds and dark corners that you need to push yourself into in order to grow. I find that I learn a lot about myself, life in general, and becoming a better human when allow myself to feel. And yes, most of the time it’s happiness and positive vibes, but other times it’s feeling down, hopeless, and sad.

When the dark clouds do roll in it’s easy to judge yourself. “I have everything I need in the world; a wonderful life, partner, home, job, family…I should feel happy”. Yes, I do have all of those things and more and those things allow me to feel happiness, security, and fulfillment, but they do not make me immune to all of human feelings that I experience.

Something that has helped learn to navigate my emotions and feelings is visualizing different “spaces” for all of them. Just as we multitask in life, we learn to multitask with our feelings. If I am feeling down I allow myself to feel it and accept that it is there, but I know that I can also feel happiness at the same time and acknowledge it. If I create space for all of the feelings I don’t feel like I have to avoid or push any of them away.

It’s easier said than done and it takes A LOT of practice. I have discovered that I am very harsh with myself and very judgmental. But the first step is being aware and just that is a victory. Don’t fear the dark corners. They are there to help you learn and to make you a kinder, more accepting and balanced human being. Be good to yourself, allow yourself to feel what’s actually happening.

dont-fear-the-dark-corners

The New Year 2017

Before the New Year even comes we are bombarded with messages from diet, fitness and “health” companies usually trying to sell us a product or service that will make us smaller, tighter, and less fat than we were in the previous year.

It’s bullsh*t. Pardon my language, but I am just so sick of it. Ever single stinkin’ year it’s the same thing. The sad part is that it’s absolutely brilliant. At a time when we are feeling so guilty, not to mention bloated, from all the holiday treats and festivities, these companies come at us with ads and commentary about “New Year, New You”. It sucks.

As a health professional I even feel the pressure. I have practiced shutting these messages out for years and it helps me a ton mentally, but they are still there. Hearing and seeing these ads, whether on TV, radio, or in social media makes us feel like we are not good enough just as we are, like we need to be smaller or more fit, or that the extra body fat that we might have is unsightly and needs to go away…and fast!

Most of these products or programs cost money. Many people spend their money without giving it a second thought because they want to do whatever it takes to feel less guilty and bloated and they think they will be happy once those extra pounds are gone. The problem is that for true health and fitness there is no magic bullet, or challenge, or potion, or “fix”, that’s going to remedy it all. The truth, and the message we should be hearing, is that for true health and fitness we must do the work. 

You must eat a well-balanced, nutrient-rich assortment of foods. You must move your body; whether in a gym, outside, or in your home. You must have a support system and social network that encourages you. You must do this all consistently, making it your lifestyle and not something that’s optional or temporary.

That, my friends, is where the magic happens. It’s not with a pill or fancy shake. Those things can act as external motivators for some time and may in fact get you started, but the romance will wear off. If your desire to feel better and to take control of your health and wellness does not come from inside of you, you can almost guarantee it will be as temporary as the infomercial about stubborn belly fat.

For a long time I searched and searched for a way to get the perfect body, not realizing that there is no such thing. I have been through this journey and continue to learn about myself each and every day. I feel armed with the tools I need to hear all the noise around me but not let it get too far into my thoughts. I have practiced intuitive exercise and eating and I have found the magic there, along with a sense of health and well-being that took over 10 years to discover.

My wish for all of you in 2017 is that you find something that truly motivates you to want health for the body that you have right now. Whether it’s CrossFit, yoga, running, finding new healthy recipes to cook, or learning a new sport. If you’d like to chat with me more about health goals you might have or about where you are in you fitness journey I’d be thrilled to do so! Simply fill out the contact form below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

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Coach Ash and her pup, Chip!

 

The Holidays are Here!

Guess what?! The holidays have arrived. I am going to let you in on my secrets for not completely losing control of you sh*t.

  1. Stay active. Go to the gym, go for a walk or run, snow shoe, ski, yoga class, whatever, just please continue to move your body regularly. This will keep your mood up, it will help you to expend some of the extra energy (calories) you are taking in, and it will help you to detoxify your systems.
  2. Drink enough to have fun but not enough to be sloppy. Unless you don’t drink alcohol at all you will be faced with the choice of having drinks at parties. You need to establish a boundary to that you are not annihilating yourself all the time. Maybe it’s a 2-drink limit and “wine only”. Or maybe you know that you need to eat a full meal and have some water BEFORE you have an adult beverage. Whatever it is, find that boundary you are comfortable with and stick to it. You will feel much better and still be able to have fun at parties. The best part is that you will have mild hangovers, if any.
  3. Honor your food sensitivities. If you have any food sensitives, aka things that “mess you up” in some way, avoid them. For example, I cannot do gluten. I break out in weird skin rashes and eczema, mostly near my face and also feel very inflamed in my joints. Maybe it’s dairy or refines sugar for you, but if you know that weird things happen when you eat it, just don’t! Indulge in other things or find a way to make your favorites gluten-free, or refined- sugar-free, etc. It’s just not worth feeling crappy. Also, overdoing it with foods that don’t agree with you will affect your ability to move your body and/or make it to the gym (Tip #1).

Please comment if you have tips of your own, I’d love to read about them!

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Love.

My yoga teacher read this last night during savasana at the very end of class. It nearly brought me to tears. During this holiday season remind yourself that you are loved, you are love, and you are perfect and enough – just the way you are.

love-courtney-walsh

I want to be strong.

The debate about CrossFit making women “bulky” rages on. Every time I hear this word I giggle a little and also get a bit annoyed because it is just such a loaded term. Like, what does “bulky” even mean? I love listening to others’ interpretations of what bulky means to them.

“Women get “bulky” when they do CrossFit”. I have my personal stance on this topic which I want to share with you.

I think that when people use the term bulky they are referring to mass added to the body (muscle and/or fat) after prolonged CrossFit participation, or, in other words, they get bigger. So…since women gain muscle very slowly, it’s safe to say that CrossFit will not make a woman bulky in a year’s time. If you’re lucky, you might gain a pound of muscle in a month – maybe. If you’re eating well, training appropriately, sleeping well, genetically capable, and limiting stress it’s possible.

As soon as a woman begins to appear more muscular than she once was she is automatically labeled as bulky by those around her who subscribe to the notion that women should be small, lean, dainty, and “toned”, but not muscular. Most of this mindset has been culturally and societal created and fostered by the media. We have been lead to believe that women should look a certain way and even value people based on their appearance. Many people believe that body fat equals laziness, lack of will power, unhealthy, low motivation, while leanness equals motivated, hardworking, healthy, beautiful. Many also look at well-muscled women and think (or say), “she looks like a man” while a thin, slight figure is more feminine and “natural”.

We see women who are professional CrossFitters. These are women who are training all the time, sponsored athletes, heading to the Regionals, and maybe even in the Games. They appear VERY muscular as a result of their training and dedication to their sport.  I don’t know about you, but if there was a realistic chance of me winning over a quarter of a million dollars and being that physically accomplished you’re f*cking right I would let my body take whatever shape it needed to!

Training at such a high level is not sustainable – the body cannot handle it forever and ever. So there is a point where these athletes will need to make a decision about how hard they are pushing. My thought is that if a person had the time, desire, and other resources needed to see how far they can push, then why would they not see how far they could go. #YOLO. It’s better than wondering for your whole life and wishing you’d pushed a little harder.

I totally see the other side of the picture too. Many women do not desire to look like CrossFit Games athletes and are concerned that by joining their local CF gym that this bulky look will soon be their destiny. As a CrossFit coach I try my best to assure women that this will not happen, but I still hear and see the fear on a regular basis. There is no perfect answer for everyone.

The truth is that every woman’s body is unique and different. After years of experience working with women I can give a good prediction, but I cannot see the future. I wish I could be there to create perfectly portioned meals and make sure enough water is being consumed and enough sleep is happening each night. But sadly, I cannot. It is mostly your responsibility to eat well most of the time, keep a sleeping routine that allows you to feel rested and recovered, and to drink enough water. I’m not going to tell you to not eat the cupcake, but I am also not going to tell you it’s okay to eat cupcakes every week if you want to be lean.

So yes, you might actually get “bulky” after YEARS of CrossFit. And by this I mean you might gain some hard-earned muscle. In my eyes this is not a bad thing because of my perspective and definition. I see women who gain a few pounds or whose weight remains the same but whose bodies morph into shapely, powerful machines. Their muscles are sculpted and visible. These women can lift weights and do handstands and pull-ups, but they can also go home and lift their children, their groceries, and the heavy boxes in the basement. I also see women who will not be frail and dependent on others in their older years of life. “Bulky” is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t equate bulky with bad, I see hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and strength. But I get it, it’s not for everyone.

I’ve been on both sides. I spent years going to the gym trying to be smaller and thinner because I thought if I looked this way I would fit in with society’s ideals for women. I wanted thighs that didn’t touch and arms that were skinny.  I got them. But being thin didn’t make my life any better. I thought I would be happy, but being this way only left me feeling bad if I couldn’t sustain it. And I couldn’t because it’s not the natural shape my body wants to take. The other downside was that I felt weak. My clothes fit better, but I felt weak and so tired. I lived alone at the time, so feeling weak was not ideal while trying to manage household tasks.

I’ve also trained hard in CrossFit to see how far I could push my body. It was exhilarating. To finally front squat 200 pounds and finally get muscle ups and to be able to do 30 kipping pull ups unbroken was stuff I’d always dreamed of. I was so strong and capable and I felt so great in the gym. Outside of the gym I felt like I had too much muscle to be accepted in the “real world” but I didn’t really care because I knew what I was capable of and that outweighed the negatives. I also had to be very diligent with my nutrition so that I was appropriately fueling my body and my training.

Now I am somewhere in between and it feels good. Although I am not as strong, I still feel like I am able. My muscles are not as defined and I have more body fat. I don’t know if people look at me and consider me bulky and I don’t really care because I love the body I have. I care that I feel good, healthy, vibrant, and strong. I participate in CrossFit class three times per week. I also love to take a walk or jog 1-2 times per week if I can fit it in. Otherwise I stay active around the house and by doing yard work. Once the winter comes I will probably get back into yoga, skiing, and snowshoeing.

What I think is important to recognize is that each woman has a different desire for her body and endeavors. What I want may not be what you want. Whatever the goals may be, we need to support each other and build each other up.

Side note: If you feel you are getting bulky while doing CrossFit, please be honest and sit down to talk with a knowledgeable coach. Usually there are solutions and tweaks that can be made in your training and nutrition that will ease your mind and get you the results that you desire.

Photo credit: Vanessa Halliday

Photo credit: Vanessa Halliday

Products I love!

It’s spring time in New England. I feel like I am finally coming out of my winter slump, slowly but surely. I wanted to share with you some of the products that keep my going these days. Enjoy.

  1. Champion Shape Too High-Impact Sports Bra. THIS is my go-to bra for any athletic endeavor. I have about 6 of them and I hoard them whenever they go on sale. They are pricey at $48.00 but so worth it because they keep the girls comfortable and in place. I can run, jump, do yoga, and Olympic lift thanks to this bra. Kohl’s sells them but I have also found them at the One Hanes Place Outlet stores in Kittery and Merrimack. **Champion may have discontinued this bra, but sometimes you can find them with huge mark-downs online. PIL bra
  2. ACURE Dry Shampoo. I love this dry shampoo because it is all natural, it works, and allows me to go an extra day without having to wash my hair. It’s got ingredients like corn starch, white clay, and essential oils and comes in some awesome packaging. Unlike other dry shampoos it does not come in an aerosol can or contain alcohols. You simply twist open the top and squeeze the container. Puffs of the powder shoot out and then your brush it through your hair with a brush or fingers. It adds volume to my hair and is affordable at under $10.PIL acure dry shampoo
  3. Young Living’s Breathe Again Roll-On. This roller has saved my life a few times with seasonal stuffy nose and sneezing from all the pollen in the air. I love being outside, but it’s rough this time of year. The essential oil combo in this pre-mixed roller helps to support the sinuses and the eucalyptus is refreshing and makes breathing a breeze! PIL Breathe Again
  4. Sunbeam Candles. I really love the light and ambiance that candles create. Most candles, however, are made from paraffin wax which is terrible to breathe in on a regular basis. Most contain artificial scents and perfumes and can give off carcinogenic chemicals when burned. I began to use an essential oil diffuser to create great-smelling air, but really missed the light that candles emit. Then I found Sunbeam Candles. This company creates beautiful candles using solar power, made with beeswax, soy wax, eco-friendly dyes and essential oils. Beeswax candles are great for air purification and may help with seasonal allergies and smells amazing when burned.

I hope you can get your hands on some of these products. Let me know if you have questions. Get out there and enjoy the sunshine!

Sunshine

Yesterday was an absolute 10. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. A little breeze.

As I drove down main street I couldn’t help but notice all the colors: green, purple, burgundy, yellow, white, so bright and vivid against the clear blue sky. I felt a sense of happiness. THIS is what we wait for. Through the raw, dreary and drizzle-filled days, we slog through to get to Spring in New England. There’s nothing like it.

The animals were happy as well. I saw a Baltimore oriole, a huge hawk, new calfs, goslings with their parents, and lots of chickens around yards. I’m not sure if it was because I was out around town more than usual, but I just saw so much life – everywhere.

I have to think that it was the sunshine and the weather. It’s this force that comes out to recharge our batteries after the dark and cold winter. I was so thankful for that yesterday. Grateful, I guess, is the right word. Sometimes it takes a little sunshine to see the things you’ve been missing.

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Your bathing suit body: It’s where you’re at right now.

It’s okay to accept where you are at right now. Right at this very moment in your life.

We are bombarded with messages about being better, being stronger, being happier…more positive, thinner, more muscular, smarter. The list could go on. There is also the inner voice, “If I could just get back to where I used to be, I’d be so happy” or “I’d feel so much better if I could lose this 15lbs.”

Have you ever thought about how it might be okay to just accept where you are at right this moment? Maybe even find happiness in this place?

I am beginning to believe that it’s not always about trying to push ourselves to be better, but more about trying to accept and believe that where we are right now is where we should be.

Take the summer season for example. “Bathing suit” Season if you will. If you are into health and fitness at all you understand the pervasive pressure of your body needing to be “bikini ready”. If you’re a guy it’s being able to be shirtless at the beach. I hear it all the time, “Summer’s coming, I want to feel good in my bathing suit.”

I began thinking about what that actually means. Now, I agree that exercising makes you feel good mentally and physically and staying active over the summer might make being more vulnerable and exposed in a bathing suit easier or less nerve-wracking. But why is there so much pressure? Are other people really judging us on how we look when we are half naked? I think that sometimes, yes, we are being judged. It’s unfortunate because people are not their bodies. People are their spirits, their intelligence, and souls, and senses humor.

I’ve been through it many times. Around April/May I begin to feel the pressure of bathing suit season. Is my body “ready”? Should I change up my diet or add in some kind of exercise to my routine to help tone my butt or belly? Ummmm, the last time I checked I could put my bathing suit on my body. If my bathing suit doesn’t fit I can buy a new one. Yes, I am ready.

It seems that it’s more of our own mental turmoil that we must endure if we feel like we are not “bathing suit” ready. This might be the perfect time to practice accepting our bodies for what they are at this very moment. This thought process might actually help us to relax and not stress so much about something we might not actually be able to control. Instead of dwelling on something that used to be (a body from a few years ago) or something that could be (a body we envision we “should” have) maybe it’s okay to say, “I am accepting of the body that I live in right now. I love my body and respect it, (perceived) flaws and all”. Maybe if we could be more compassionate and accepting we actually would be happier, etc.

The bathing suit season and bikini-ready body are manifestations of the diet and fitness industry. Most of the time these messages are marketing based. They aim at your insecurities and emotions in hopes that you will buy some kind of product. My guess is those messages are not going anywhere anytime soon. Let’s stand up to those messages and politely decline. “No, thank you, I am quite alright at the moment. I have a bikini, I will put it on when it’s sunny and I’m ready to go swimming”.

July 2011.

“I have a bikini and I will put it on when it’s sunny and I am ready to go swimming”. 

 

 

Put the “Shoulds” On the Shelf

We all have things that we feel we “should” be doing: people we should see or call, places we should go, things to get checked off the list. I have always have a bad case of the “shoulds”. “I should be fitter, leaner, happier, smarter…” or “I should be working out; I should go for a run; I should be saving more money”. You might be able to relate. Lately I have been really trying to “shed the shoulds” (Thank you Jessica Tomlinson for this amazing saying).

I’ve been turning those “shoulds” into “should-nots” and saying “No” to my inner self, the self that keeps telling me that I should be able to do it all. No,  I actually cannot do it all and some things must be put on the shelf in order to maintain my health and mental well-being. I’ve surrendered to the fact that some days I am just too tired to work out and even when my mind tells me I should be training, I can kindly tell myself, “No”. I am in the midst of grieving my former body – the one that could do 20+ pull-ups and effortless bike sprints and 800m runs. My legs are losing their size and therefore cannot squat as much weight as they used to. I can still squat though, so I am grateful for that.

I’ve had to say no to events which I felt guilty about, I struggled to keep the shoulds from creeping in. I remind myself that it’s okay to say no. By saying no I am actually empowering myself to not always have to say yes, to not feel guilty if I say no, or feel like I should be saying yes. This process, and the ability to say no, are always a work in progress. It takes practice and confidence-building to do this.

When I first began writing this blog I wrote about how every person’s balance is different. Everyone has their own way of handling and viewing life. It takes a long time to find what balance is right. I feel like I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel that is the beginning of me finding my balance.

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