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Posts from the ‘Health’ Category

Genetic Testing Penalties, American Individualism and Political Nihilism

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been on the medical check-up tour.  I visited my general practitioner’s office, my gynecologist, my eye doctor and my dermatologist.  I’ve given my family medical history many times.  In the last visit, at the dermatologist, I realized when I had to check none of the boxes they were concerned with, that family-wise, I was in pretty good health standing.  On the contemporary view of American politics, this situation should make me shrug my shoulders at H.B. 1313, which passed out of committee late last week, which would allow employers to penalize employees who decline genetic testing.  While such testing might lead to higher insurance rates for employees who have certain genetic dispositions for illness, people like me might have little reason to refuse such testing (except that it’s a gross invasion of privacy). Read more

My first yoga workshop

Any day now I’m going to cry in yoga.  I’ve been having this thing happen to me where I’m holding a position and I’m sure I just cannot do it anymore and I have that emotional release that happens when you cry only I don’t cry.  I stay in the pose, and it is amazing.  Today I had that same feeling but only because I kept falling out of poses that I know I can do and it was so frustrating.  

Last week, I had a class that was really frustrating.  I didn’t seem to have my balance.  Poses that I had felt strong and successful doing in the class before were a struggle.  I was annoyed with myself.  I already mastered this!  Why do I have to deal with this again?  Lying there on my mat in shavasana in between poses it occurred to me that this is life–having the same struggle over again even though you mastered it before. Read more

Writing, Running and Yoga: The Pain and Possibility of Perseverance

Monday night I went to a high intensity interval training pilates class.  During my third minute of elbow planks, I thought I was going to cry.  I cried once when I was running a half marathon, when in the last half mile I realized I was going to PR.  There’s something about that moment when you think you are reaching your threshold and you just cannot do anymore and then you keep doing it.  That moment is where you realize the struggle is mental.

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  It also brings me close to tears.  Murakami makes me feel guilty for the times I have stopped because of the pain. He makes me feel bad for being a mid-distance runner and not a long-distance runner.  In the pilates class, which is grueling and unlike any pilates I have ever heard of, the teacher berates us for giving up.  I understand that.  Motivate, push yourself.  That’s all good.  But I had to learn to pay attention to pain in running and to take it easy–to do what looks like giving up, to stop feeling the exercise as demand.

At one point Murakami talks about the one time he ran an ultramarathon. After mile 34 his breathing felt good but his legs wouldn’t work, so he had to propel himself my moving his arms and hands.  Then at mile 47, he broke through a wall.  It stopped hurting.  He kept going.  He ran the next fifteen miles unencumbered.  I think I know that feeling.  It happens for me three minutes into an elbow plank.  It’s when you realize that you can persist through the pain if you tell yourself to just keep on. Read more

Running, Hot and Cold

When I lived in South Texas, where I took my running up another level, I got used to running in the heat.  In serious heat.  Summers could run more than 100 days with temperatures over 100 degrees.  We used to say there was a warm season and a windy season, which was also warm, but with wind.  I think my blood thinned.  It was hard.  I would have to work on drinking enough water every day to make sure that I didn’t get dehydrated.  I would feel sticky just walking out the front door.  But I rarely decided not to run just because of the heat.  I’d just wait for the sun to go down (which let’s be honest, didn’t help that much).

Since moving to Indiana, I’ve been running in the cold.  The real cold.  I ran the Jingle Bell 10k in Indy in the middle of December in below freezing temperatures.  I ran fast–for me.  I even won something.  img_1448The week before Christmas, I was in Spokane and ran everyday in below freezing temperatures on snow and in snow.  It was amazing.  Unlike running in the heat which feels to me like a sap on my energy, running in the cold is invigorating.  It wakes you up.  Cold running makes me happy.  Maybe because running releases the hormones that combat depression that winter often makes us prone to with the shorter days and the grayer weather.  I’ve been running on snow and ice in both Indiana and most recently in Spokane, Washington and find that running in the snow and ice slows you down but is an amazing core workout because you have to work those muscles just to stay upright.  img_0438

My first winter in Indiana I was not thrilled by the idea.  I ran on treadmills, but I don’t like the treadmill.  It doesn’t let me adjust my pace the way I would like to, the way that allows me to respond to my body and do what feels good, as I discuss here.  But it was so cold!  I invested in some gear: I bought a running hat and running gloves, more warm running clothes, I already had a running windbreaker.  With the right gear, I feel pretty good out there until about 15º and below (once, running outside my phone stopped working and said it was overheated, but since it was 10º outside, I decided that that’s the only temperature-related notice they have).  A colleague suggested doing a short five minute workout in my house so that I would already be warmed up before going outside, so I started doing that.  But still, there were days that I just chickened out because of the cold.

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Me after the Indy Jingle Bell 10k

I’ve been thinking about cold running because I have returned to hot yoga in the last week–I’ve gone everyday for the last five days.  When I first started doing yoga in graduate school it was at a Baptiste hot power yoga studio in University City in Philadelphia.  I liked the workout.  I would smell myself sweating out the toxins.  But boy is it hot (Bikram yoga, which is the bread and butter of this studio, puts the heat at about 105º with 40% humidity).  With this return to hot yoga in the context of a cold running routine, I’m not nearly as excited by the heat as I used to be.  It’s great.  I like the sweat.  But I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I’m twelve or fifteen years older than the last time I did real hot yoga.  Maybe it is because this studio is really not messing around about the heat.  Maybe the heat just makes you think about cold.  Maybe it’s because after a cold run my lungs feel bigger, like all the cold air rushed in and hasn’t left, while hot yoga makes me feel like I am never quite getting enough air.  Instead of feeling like a respite from the cold, the hot yoga has me missing cold runs.

I never thought I’d be looking forward to the cold runs.  But here I am.  Beep beep boop.

Day 27: Foucault at the Doctor’s Office

I just got back from the doctor.  Every time I go to the doctor I am amazed at how right Foucault is about the disciplinary power of the medical establishment.  Foucault explains that a number of institutions are put to work beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries to take control over–to discipline–bodies.  Sovereign power forms in order to protect life, and this protection of life, and this right to take it, becomes integral to the work of the sovereign.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, Foucault argues in the last lecture of Society Must be Defended, “techniques of power”… “were essentially centered on the body, on the individual body.”  These techniques organized, arranged and surveilled bodies in an effort to increase their (re)productivity.  Foucault writes:

They were also techniques for rationalizing and strictly economizing on a power that had to be used in the least costly way possible, thanks to a whole system of surveillance, hierarchies, inspections, bookkeeping, and reports–all the technology that can be described as the disciplinary technology of labor.

This is how going to the doctor feels to me.  Tests are done, questions are asked, personal histories are taken.  I have had this same conversation with my doctor about my personal history over and over again.  But she still asks the same things.  Apparently nonjudgmental questions that are loaded with judgment are asked: questions about your sex life, your alcohol consumption, drug use, cigarette use, whatever.  It doesn’t matter if you are doing something wrong or not, you feel like you are.  In fact, the being in the doctor’s office, like being stopped by a police officer, creates the feeling that you are somehow in violation, you need to be better disciplined.  They don’t even have to say it.  You feel it.   Read more

Day 26: Quacks: Doctors and Philosophers

In the first book of Plato’s Republic, Plato has Socrates turn to the medical art in order to argue that justice like other technai, or knowledges that serve some practical purpose, benefit those they serve rather than those who have the knowledge.  Socrates is responding to Thrasymachus who thinks justice is a purely conventional effort to use one’s power to serve themselves.  Socrates, as is his wont in Platonic dialogues, introduces the question of knowledge–how can we serve ourselves if we do not know what would serve us well?  Having Thrasymachus agree that we expect the ruled to obey, and that if they were to obey when the ruler was wrong about what serves him well, Socrates also gets Thrasymachus to agree that this view would have justice be both serving the rulers’ end and not.  Thrasymachus explains himself by saying the ruler is only the ruler when the ruler is right about what his advantage is. Read more

Day 22: On Running and Being a Runner, Pt. 3

At a certain point in my running life, maybe in my second year living in Texas, when I was running 5-7 days a week, I began to experience running as a demand.  I was unhappy with myself if I didn’t get a run in.  I’d make sure to run in the morning if I had an event in the evening or I’d go home and run between work and evening activities.  If I didn’t, I felt guilty.  Often, when I was visiting family or at a conference, I wouldn’t have the time or the wherewithal to run and then I’d feel like I was not really a runner.  People would ask at these times how my running was going and I, knowing that I hadn’t run in three days, would feel like an imposter of a runner when I said, really well, thanks.  Then I’d acknowledge sheepishly that I hadn’t run in three days.  I don’t think I realized that people were giving me odd looks because that did not seem to them to have any bearing on whether I was really a runner or not.

At one point in 2011, I think it was, I ran a hundred days in a row or so.  I can’t remember how many days it was, which I consider to be a sign of my mental health regarding running, because there was a time when I was pretty obsessive about knowing how many days in a row it had been on any given day.

Read more

Day 21: On Running and Being a Runner, Pt. 2

I just got back from a run outside.  It’s 25 degrees.  I would so much rather run outside, if it’s say, over 20 degrees, than run on a treadmill.  Last winter was the first winter I got serious about running outside and it was awesome-sauce, as the Greeks say.  There’s just something about being outside that spurs me on, while to be honest, it’s easier for me to give up on a treadmill.  And even though I’ve been running 3-7 days a week for about twenty years (which you can read about in Pt. 1 of this series), I still give up sometimes.  Especially on treadmills.  There’s two things I don’t like about treadmills.  The first is associated with one of the greatest fears every runner has: forgive me for being graphic, the treadmill makes my bowels seem looser and the possibility losing control of them more looming than running outside.  I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it does make me feel like that.  I speculate that it’s something about the way the belt gives in, nah, ok, I really don’t know.  But anyway, that happens.  I don’t like it.

The other thing about treadmills is that I don’t feel like I can adapt my pace and my stride to whatever is happening with my body in the moment on a treadmill.  That work of adapting my body and paying attention to my body to make microadjustments as I run became important to me after reading two books, Chris McDougall’s Born to Run and Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Runners. While McDougall’s book gives the larger anthropological and evolutionary account of why that’s important, Fitzgerald’s gives the specific advice about how to do it well. Read more

Day 4: A Gluten-Free Life. Really, It’s Just Been Six Months

I have always been someone who prided myself on being willing and able to eat whatever was put in front of me.  Once, the guy who lived in the apartment downstairs from me in West Philly invited me to an after-hours event at Vientiane Café, a Thai restaurant on Baltimore Avenue.  He was hosting a private dinner where they were going to serve even more authentic Thai food.  This included water bug pâté, which I ate.  So the first time I had to positively answer the question whether I had any dietary restrictions, I was embarrassed.  Even just last weekend, when a friend asked, “You guys eat everything, right?” I took it as a point of pride that we were thought to be “those kind of people,” the people who weren’t fussy.   Then I had to say, well, no, I’m gluten-free. Read more