Meet the Competitor – my Injured Self

One reason injury seems so devastating is that I start thinking the cycle of health and injury is inevitable. I’m not talking about contact sports, just running and some resistance training. When you mix in seemingly soft exercises such as yoga and swimming, the idea of injury becomes remote. I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

One thing I’ve helplessly noticed is my competitive streak. It’s hard-wired. For a decade, maybe more, I did nothing but walk, ride a bike, maybe mow the lawn. I didn’t realize I was falling into semi-retirement, physically. During this long period I was raising a great, headstrong son mostly by myself, earning a master’s degree, working everything from Seven-Eleven to Princeton Educational Services (handing out SATs), and trying to figure out steadier, better means of employment. I didn’t give competition a thought.

But thinking about competition and behaving competitively are two different things. I look back on the day I led a Sociology class in a lecture. I practiced the material over and over. I dissected student performances and swore to avoid their mistakes: losing my place, standing in front of the projector, falling into monotone. I was trying to stand out — against them. But also – and this is important – as measured against some cave-dwelling version of myself.

In the student-as-teacher scenario I was battling against social anxiety – a term I didn’t know at the time. Stage fright, yes. But stage fright was supposed to be normal and you just stood up to it. What I didn’t know is that there are degrees to all those anxieties. In order to succeed that day, I had to set my will-to-achieve self against my will-to-run-away self, and the result, while laudable on the surface (the class applauded), absolutely drained me. I had to go back to Married Student Housing and lie down. In a way I’d injured myself. The intense ‘training’ for teaching the class had taken me far beyond my limits. I wasn’t full strength for two days. You might say, fine, that’s how we get stronger. And it is. But how often are you going to demand these ‘farther-is-better’ days out of yourself? By pushing myself into the farther-zone, I am still feeling my sore knees a full week after I injured them (see post ‘Injury!’). I feel them when I wake up, I feel them when climbing the steep stairs in this Cairo flat. And I felt them on the golf course last Saturday.

That round of golf — ridiculous. We were going to play as a foursome, two women and two men. I was looking forward to socializing, joking, laughing. At the last I was stuck with three other men. The women played in a separate group. I knew this was trouble from the start. Frankly I don’t make enough money to golf. My friends have their club memberships underwritten, at least partly, by their employers (big military, big beer, big oil). The under-paid idiot is the teacher. These class differences meant that at least two of the men in our group played golf a few times each week. I’ve played three times in the last year. But who out of the group won a few junior tournaments at age 14?

The competitiveness leaped out from the first shot. I lost all consciousness about ‘swinging gently.’ By the fourteenth hole, I was done. I was using my nine iron to putt because the trip to the golf bag was too much to face. To boot, the two regular players were younger than me, one of them by at least twenty years. I was defeated before I got started – at least as the lowest scorer. My teen edge had worn away fifty years ago — imagine that?

Obviously competitiveness comes with the person, at least to some degree. I don’t remember my father caring whether I won anything. My mother was a huge fan but couldn’t recall who won the football games in which I’d scored a touchdown or two. The kid though – he always wanted to run faster, to shoot more baskets, to put the bat on the ball every plate appearance. For a brief period, that attitude was fine and well. Winning and playing ‘better’ than most kids gave me satisfaction, something I still crave in life.

But to drive oneself on in this manner is ultimately self-defeating, at least for most of us. I don’t mean that the concept of winning writes failure into the script for most of us. I mean, my body just can’t take the competitive push any longer. If I try to match each college swimmer who happens to fill the lane next to me at Tulane’s Reilly Center (when I’m stateside), I end up the loser most of the time. Petite Chinese girls streak past me like toy submarines filled with baking powder. The mental pleasure of winning the race is comically gone. I guess I’m getting a workout, but sometimes I kick so hard that my knees hurt when I get out of the water. I develop aches in my left shoulder. All from simply trying too hard. And for what? So I won’t look like those white-haired walruses that ply the waters up and down and look so decrepit, so used up. God forbid! The fact is, in time I’ll be happy to be able to join them. I hope that time is a little ways off, but what if I’m too injured to get in the pool? That would spell loss in an irretrievable way. Horrors.

It’s a thin line between love and hate, the balladeers croon. I’m not certain about those dramatic lyrics, but I do know there’s a thin line between the workout that pushes a bit and the one that pushes too much. Point: I’m not going to fit within my 20-year-old skin anytime soon. The body parts have gotten a lot of wear over the years – think of those grocery bags being toted, those trash cans wheeled to curbs, those full water hoses pulled through grass, the many children riding backs, grabbing legs. If we lasted forever, we wouldn’t have all the sci-fi movies and books that play around with the theme of immortality. Being impervious to life’s knocks seems to be the most powerful ghost working.

There are other reasons than competitiveness for me to quit golf – fodder for a separate post. But I can’t quit exercising. What I dearly need to quit is competing against others – on the track, in the weight room, in the pool – and also quit competing with myself. Who is that person driving this game? He sure wants to win. Maybe somebody better redefine what winning is.

I can see I’m going to have to go back to my Tai Chi Chuan books. I’m going to have to really read this time (as if I’m going to teach that Sociology class) about chi, the Chinese concept of energy, and about the balance of powers, the yin and yang, that set the parameters for health. Health is not about winning competitions. If I can get that through my head – and through my body – maybe I can escape the cycle of injury-health-injury. To do so would be a kind of analogy to escaping the unending wheel of life-death-life – of course on a very finite, mortal scale. But that’s all we have.



When you search for strength, you’re sure to find weakness. It’s a fact. You can’t explore the boundaries of your strength – you can’t challenge yourself – without risking injury.

I’ve already admitted my pushup max – up now by one pushup to 31. But what else am I doing? [Never mind the why, which will get me into discussions of where I live and the facilities open to me and the irregular days of my work]. Right now I am mostly doing:

20-45 minutes of yoga daily

30 minutes of mostly running, on a local track and on a treadmill

5-10 minutes of planks (circling to build up my shoulders, forward-backward, and just holding the count in a frozen position)

5 minutes of alternating one-arm planks with one hand atop the rubber bubble-type thing and one hand placed momentarily behind the small of my back

Pushups (just one set)

4 kg dumbbells in two sets of shoulder-strengthening moves (taught by Dr. Bassem)

25-count set on each side of weird lifting of one jacked-up leg, as in tree pose, but on my belly with no bodily twisting (you feel the long back muscle jump out – taught by Melanie Weller in New Orleans)

Walking everywhere I can (in fact, I own no car here in Cairo) and up all stairs

Soon I’ll start to swim again – half-hour periods, swimming by the clock, not laps

Then there’s the occasional game of golf.

Okay, so with this dandy program supporting my return to exercise for the last two months, how could I possibly injure myself in the knees and then in the lower back – and then holistically everywhere?

It started when I was feeling just below peak-strength. A notch below what I identify as peak-energy. I’d been going for a week in this less than satisfactory state. I wasn’t listening to my body except on this one wavelength: the hyper-critical one. I wasn’t trying to distance myself and ask the obvious question: what is my body telling me?

This column is going to get messily confessional, but I can’t help but say – along with my exercise routine – that I’m a college instructor. I am constantly getting on students for not thinking – not thinking at all, not thinking enough, not thinking critically, not, not, not. I’m the sort who had to read a book about positive re-enforcement. All right, I’m sorry. Are we done already? Imagine how much a person like me suffers when I realize I’ve been my worst pupil? But on with the saga, because it actually gets funny. Pathetic but funny.

I’m at the local high school training room. I’d watched Foxcatcher during the past week – it took more than three hours to download here in Egypt, off iTunes. I know I could have b-torrented it, but I was raised by religious people and the ethical impulse is still there. Besides, I agree with David Foster Wallace that we’re entertaining ourselves to the point of no return. Still. Foxcatcher – I was a high school and college wrestler. Granted I had trouble staying away from all the vices during that same era, but I did all right on the mat. So I watched all the chiseled bodies in that movie about John Dupont’s brilliant fantasy of building a wrestling training empire, of the Schultz brothers and other extraordinary athletes being drawn to a life of working out basically night and day.

A woman friend of mine said she found no one to identify with in Foxcatcher. I identified a little bit with everyone, including the deluded Dupont, because once wrestling enters your life, it’s like the CIA. It never goes away. One night in Cairo a number of news reporters were seated around our table and every last one of them was a wrestler. I’ll go further. We were all writers, including the two men who weren’t reporters. What is it about wrestling and taking on wretchedly difficult activities?

Never mind, the movie had started my blood running. I was in the training room and from some forgotten vault of my mind I remembered what I seemed to recall was a great stretch-strengthening pose.

Already I was in trouble. A stretch cannot be at the same time a strengthener. I was so high on endorphins, I didn’t realize I was wrecking both knees. These are the knees I injured 25 years ago. I’d been carefully testing their readiness to absorb impact via my running-walking program, the whole affair going magically well until this particular workout.

Later that evening I walked to a gelato vendor and said to my roommate, ‘My knees are talking to me.’ He said, ‘Uh-oh,’ which I resented, because I didn’t want to start thinking in scary mode. The next morning, as soon as I put my legs on the floor, I knew I was in trouble.

After a day of painful work I came home dedicated to a yoga session. I needed to stretch things out. No big workout, just the healing yoga.

Only I wanted so much to pull apart all my aching joints that I went over the top on stretching and twisting. Once I was done, my back had been wrenched out of alignment. I’d injured my back 35 years ago in New York City playing racket ball on Houston Street and had to leave the city for lack of anyone being able to help me. My back had been strong for a long time, maybe a year without incident.

That night I couldn’t find a place to sleep, the pains were so compelling. I took ibuprofen, but it was no help.

Can you imagine what it was like when I got home from work the next day? After having to sit in an office chair for nearly five hours? Knowing I couldn’t work out at all because of my multi-faceted pain?

I hope you can foresee the two gin-and-tonics that I swilled down. I then collapsed into a hot bath, went to sleep, woke up hoping – there’s that dangerous word – that I’d rise like Lazarus from the waters, healed in every way.

The only thing I felt was the addition of a vague alcohol-bilious feeling in my gut to go with the back and knees. I cascaded into bed, getting little rest.

On the next night, I knew I had to do very gentle yoga and did so, listening to my back pop and bump into something closer to alignment. Nothing to be done about the knees. However, a start. A start back from injury.

I can fairly easily say that this cycle describes a lot of my experience as a late-in-life return-to-exercise person. I started in my 50’s. I’m now 67. Can I possibly escape these starts and stops? Can I really smack down those delirious, glorious moments when I feel super-strong (no steroids needed), when I feel that I am close to the mountaintop, then find myself blowing out some essential part of my body? Then sliding into all sorts of bad habits.

I understand why people turn to OxyContin. But come on. One-shot feel-goods aren’t going to cut it. I have to rethink what I regard as pleasurable feelings. I’ve got to keep going like an adventurer who reaches the forest just at sundown, needing to travel through it to the other side, having to employ all his senses to do so. You wouldn’t expect such a person to devolve into fantasy or take out a pack of pills or find a beer in his backpack.

My knees are still talk-talk-talking. In an hour I’m heading out to play golf. The day is beautiful. I will swing gently (repeat three times). I’ll eat bananas for phosphorus, yogurt for calcium. I’ll take my One-A-Day. I’ll drink rivers of water. What else? Probably go online for advice. Probably end up making an appointment with Dr. Bassem. (Thought I was done with him two weeks ago, for the shoulder.)

I will be kind to my students. I will tip the caddies.

I’ll try to forget that bomb that woke me up last night (remember, this is Egypt). I will talk to my family via Skype this weekend.

I will try to put it all together.

The Root Hog Conundrum

When I asked Bruce via email what he’d been doing since we were last plotting to overthrow the Nixon administration in 1970, he said, “Oh, basically root-hogging.”

“Doing what?”

“Oh,” he said, almost as an afterthought, “ran a small construction company.”

When Bruce said ‘root-hogging,’ I envisioned a ball-carrying rugby player approaching a clutch of tacklers. I saw – and have been one of — two exhausted wrestlers fumbling toward each other in the last fifteen seconds, score tied, almost falling down. Fill in the blank. We know what Bruce is talking about. We all root-hog to a certain degree.

But how often do we really have to root-hog? I mean: forgetting about everything else but the one activity that we must focus on – damn everything else, at least for the moment. I can remember only two crucial moments: one while hiking the Chihuahuan Desert having found the springs on the map crawling with rattlesnakes. Thereby denying me water. Much later I was caught in a rainstorm in the Romanian mountains. Temperatures fell. I began to shiver uncontrollably, on the inside – a terrible feeling. It was the onset of hypothermia. In both instances, I felt a switch click. I had to force-march. Sitting-down-waiting was not an option.

Do I want to pretend that lifting that five-pound dumbbell for the fortieth repetition is a matter of Chihuahuan-Romanian life and death? Do I want to feel like an Iraqi battle survivor once I attain my small, personal far-mountain peak of the afternoon? If so, why? To build my mind and will? So I can get ahead?

Egypt is an economic backwater. Back in 1995, a frazzled American friend who was moving back to the states said, summing up his tragic vision of the country: “If you’re Egyptian, you can’t hope to move up.”

Then there’s Nancy, a member of my one and only book club experience. She was raised in Oregon to a well-to-do family of transplanted Egyptians. Her last name is Arabic, but I’m not giving it away. At thirty-five – college-degreed and well employed — she uprooted herself (note the recurrence of ‘root’) and came back to live in a country she’d only visited. Was her extended family that important? Did she especially cherish her grandmother?

“No, it wasn’t any of that,” she said. “I just realized after my last visit that Egyptians are happier than Americans. I wanted to live in a happier country. I knew I wouldn’t earn as much.”

Her answer made me curious. “Do Egyptians know they’re happy?”

She raised her chin and thought about it. “They don’t talk that way.”

After living 14 of the last 20 years in Cairo – The Impossible City — I too think Egyptians are happier than Americans. But as well, notoriously so from the viewpoint of friends who employ Egyptians, they do not distinguish themselves as root-hoggers. “Everything takes longer here. It’s like moving through molasses,” said one young boss at an oilfield in the Western Desert. He was counting the days until his ‘time’ was served.

Many Westerners working in Egypt feel imprisoned. They are unhappy to be living among the happy. Some are enraged by Egyptians’ acceptance of their lot.

You have to love such paradoxes. Questions ping in every direction. The ground is set for radical (root) arguments. What is happiness? What is progress? Why are some people more backward than others? Hold it, what’s your definition of ‘backward?’

When the small thorn of a man who was the last Prime Minister of Iran said that the West had more to learn from Iran than vice versa, the standard American riposte was ‘yeah, right!’ But maybe he was talking about subjects Americans find worthless. Might root-hogging find a place in this discourse?

Last night I was exhausted from work. What wore me out so thoroughly? Sitting for five solid hours, except for five minutes of standing and moving. That’s the equivalent of flying from Cairo to Paris and going to the restroom twice. That flight is longer, I believe, than any one-way flight in America. With two and half more hours and a good tailwind, I could have flown from Washington to Paris. But after supper, after a yoga session of twists (25 minutes), I made myself root-hog 30 pushups. Thirty is my new limit. Don’t laugh. I could hardly do ten pushups when I started this exercise regime. I got to 29 when my muscles failed. I managed to get off the floor all right, but I felt defeated. Only 29.

Bruce, I’ve been with you all these years and hadn’t known it. I didn’t realize I was a fellow root-hogger.

My question is: as an older fellow who longs for holistic health, what do I now do with this knowledge? To root-hog or not to root-hog. I hope my body and mind determine an answer soon. Nobody wants to waste time. Nobody wants to adopt a spirit that’s guarantees the searcher that the goal will not be reached.

A Trip to the Minotaur

I haven’t been able to add anything to this search-journal-for-strength, which I’m now equating with a search for well-being, because I’ve been unwell.

Not unwell in a clinical sense — although last night I felt that I might also be contracting an inflammation of my neural system — but rather I had not been able to keep a firm hold on key elements of health. During this bout of un-wellness (we ask one another how we are doing, then often follow up with the anticipated answer: ‘well, I hope’), I lost consciousness of anything but my suffering. Suffering over what, you might ask. It’s taken me a while to answer that particular question, and the answers may continue to arrive over the next few days.

For one thing, I lost hope. I’m not sure which came first, but I also lost my sense of orientation. It’s also easy to say I lost balance, which is slightly different from orientation, since balance is not about fixing on a central point but rather a playing off of opposite forces. I’m reminded of my Portuguese friend Manuel Gonzalves with Circus Vargas when I worked publicity for them. Manuel could balance himself atop rolling logs and would continue to add logs, stacking them in opposite directions so that the roll of one log would go right to left, while the log underneath would roll forward and backward. He performed this act three times a day. Often I was in his trailer visiting with him and his wife only minutes after a performance. His mind was always on something else. We never talked about his balancing or how he learned the art or how he felt while he was atop the logs being watched by five thousand people, his ears filled with a small but powerful band playing. The balance that Manuel possessed was clearly a gift, something not on loan to everyone, no matter the practice. Yet I think of Manuel when I can’t seem to balance my family life, my personal goals, my job demands, the dictates of a healthy diet, and the exercise that my body, like a dog, waits patiently to embrace at the close of every day.

When things fall out of balance in my world, I have the added, self-denigrating impulse to lapse into depression and begin to see all my pursuits as hopeless. That’s where this bit of prose started out, I believe: with the statement that I’d lost hope. However, there’s so much more involved to depression that to say ‘I am depressed’ properly, one would have to possess a voice like a symphonic orchestra. The word ‘depressed’ should always come out as polyphonic, because so many strands of life combine to make it happen. Depression should also appear as a Yellow Submarine-type character as drawn by Peter Max: a scamp who wears a coat of many colors, their principal hues on the dark side. But not entirely. There are golds and yellows, too, because depression is such a court jester: it’s making fun of our lives when it makes its un-grand, un-wanted entrance. Depression intends not to entertain us but to turn our existence into a joke – for no one but ourselves. It’s a wonder that we stand still for depression, but there you have it. One disappointing episode at work, one slightly wounding letter received in the inbox, one alcoholic drink with double the spirits that evening (as if that were going to shoot down these rocky experiences), together with dreams of oblivious sleep after which everything would be okay: dreams all right, as in dream on.

Any health journal worth its salt should acknowledge the backside of health, which is lack of well-being. And lack of well-being is painful. It hurts in the heart, the gut, and the neurons that keep firing those bad experiences over and over in the mind.

What to do? Personally I had to endure a second day of malaise. However, somewhere in the middle of the day I struck upon a tactic that might help me out of my problems at the workplace. Can you sense the flame of hope re-igniting? I couldn’t do anything about the alienating email (which wasn’t meant to be alienating; quite the contrary, I realized), so I let it rest. I made plans to exercise and run. I had visions of generating endorphins, then finishing with a sweaty thirty minutes of resistance training.

But you know. Somewhere in the midst of these plans. I just. Laid down. In an instant I was out. I knew it wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t. But when I woke up, I felt hugely rested. Of course. It was the first true rest I’d had in 36 hours. At that point I could feel that my body – yes, back in touch with my body – was saying: don’t go running, don’t work out heavily today.

Instead, loosen up with a yoga video. I chose Rodney Yee’s 25 minutes on hip-openers, was going to follow it up with another clip on twists, but the power went off in our neighborhood. These days, in Cairo, power cuts are daily. Why do they always take me by surprise? Just the same I’ve figured out what to do. I can either sit in the darkness and meditate – a good option since there is no light coming into the house from any direction at all. Or, as I’ve discovered, the gas supply to the house doesn’t cut off in sympathy with the electricity. One can cook!

I don’t have to finish this story. You can see that I uncoiled out of my un-wellness; I got in touch with myself again. I have a feeling that you know all about these experiences. Don’t you think they have to be figured into any mindful quest for strength? Otherwise, we’ll begin to cut out whole sections of life. Life! To my way of thinking, it’s either all or nothing when it comes to monitoring health, which is a big part, but not all, of life. The periods of un-wellness count. The trick is to ride them out and pay close attention to how one finally manages to pick back up the thread to wellness.

The Anti-Pillars of Health

What are the pillars of health? Are they body, mind and spirit? I’ve never been able to feel satisfied by this triad. Just as is the case in contemporary physics, there would seem to be, in the individual, all manner of anti-worlds or worlds which theoretically can run differently than our usual ones – a comforting thought personally.

I think there is anti-body (not the medical term; rather, the opposite-of-body). When I stop contemplating the essence and limitations of the physical body I don’t immediately star-shoot to the mental. That’s not the only option. Nor when I exhaust the mental do I necessarily feel drawn to the spiritual realm. It feels to me that there is an arena of thinking about anti-body – the not-body – that figures into a larger vision of what constitutes health.

When people think of losing their body, they think of death. But that doesn’t necessarily apply if we are quite alive in our body but feel a notion to go elsewhere. What I’ve noticed is that yogic meditation and the deliberate verbal mobius strips of Lao Tze attempt to take us someplace we don’t normally go. Where is that place exactly?

Wrong question, right? Trying to pin things down like that. We can invoke Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle about this question of place. Where we want to go may also be a misnomer. More like: where do we end up? Can we exist there for a while? What is it like? Do we come back stronger, more multifaceted, more peaceful, more something?

This same notion infects me when I think of mental health. Having been inside the mental health corridors on various self-missions, not to mention reading about it as an amateur (like George Plimpton, I insist on amateurism in everything), I have never been satisfied with standard definitions of mental health. All one has to do is consult history to see total cultural dysfunction (which may be going on now around the world) and wonder whether, inside all these cultures, everyone is nodding their heads at one another saying, ‘Thank god we know. There are a lot of ignoramuses out there. But you and I, we know.’

It’s easy to make fun of these consensuses but harder to say what’s to replace them. Certainly on the macro-level, I have no interest in treading even a centimeter toward a solution. But on the personal level, I would like to contemplate non-mind. And even non-spirit. The opposite of mind; the opposite of spirit. Body, mind and spirit are not three peas under shells. We cannot just swap them around and say, ‘Ah, now you’re talking about body, not mind.’ Or, ‘But you’re moving out of rationality and into belief. That’s spiritual, not mental.’ It seems to me that the refuge I am often seeking is the empty fourth shell, the place of conscious non-being in any one of those dimensions. That would seem to be the place where the deeper meditation takes us — the deeper level of any ritual practice like Tai Chi Chuan.

Why can’t we just inhabit these places naturally?

I have no idea. This meditative space doesn’t seem to square with evolutionary demands on our attentions, our need to survive. Yet now, with the world in such imminent danger of ecological disaster – and a seeming inability to pull out of that highway to hell — it may be the path to survival, at least for you and me, the singular persons. Lao Tze admonished the unknown regional ruler to whom he wrote the Tao Te Ching to adopt a path of letting go, of submerging his desires until he and the Way joined up like roads that had formerly been running side by side, but in different dimensions.

When I think of health – of the nourishing and not-so-nourishing things I put into my body today; of the mental acuity and the mental lapses that accompanied me throughout the day; of the spiritual striving that I sometimes felt I needed to act upon during the course of the day – I can’t help but consider that all the many criteria of health constitute something of a frantic search that won’t bring about the deepest health. Not one bit.

If anything occurs during this search of mine, it’s the sincere hope that I will find glimpses of these other zones of awareness and being. They seem to be right there beside me – while I’m rubbing shoulders with my fellow bus rider this afternoon – yet frustratingly beyond my grasp, especially when I dismount the bus and have to craft a walker’s passage between the stop-start gasping traffic of Cairo where there are no stoplights, no police. Do you have any idea how long it takes me to get over this harrowing passage, day after day?

It seems we’ve created a world where we have to spend increasingly more of our time just retaining life, not advancing it.

That last sentence will result in a gauntlet being cast heavily – chain-ily, if I can coin a word – down to the floor. I’m going to do something this late afternoon: run, put on a yoga dvd, or wait until nightfall and swim in the pool at Cairo American College.

These attempts at health, no matter how shallow, end up inserting pads between my frustrations. That I know. With these activities, I’ll make it through another day without running to zero.

Ah, but then this weekend! Maybe then, the deeper search.

Know Your Goal (resistance training redux)

One twin trained for running; the other for field events. I got this great photograph at:

(Rennie, M. J. (2005), Body maintenance and repair: how food and exercise keep the musculoskeletal system in good shape. Experimental Physiology, 90: 427–436. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2005.029983. The article’s entire text is online. Sorry I haven’t figured out how to create a hyperlink yet.

Rennie’s article looks at the then-somewhat-new area of genetic inheritance. He assesses the research at that time (2005) as indicating a 50/50 split between genetic and environmental influence.

Lesson: be careful what you wish – that is, train – for. You can make yourself into many different you’s. Which do you really want? And why?

Rennie’s study also documents experiments showing reduced amino acid absorption in persons around 70 years and older. The article contains a novel tip (for me anyway): eat heavy on protein following exercise. He also says that the ratio of protein:energy should go up for aging persons. That is, protein should make up more of the total calories that older persons consume in a day. The studies show a loss of muscle mass and basic withering after age 50. Question: why? Answer (in part): reduced amino acids getting into the system.

I will continue searching for more up-to-date evolutions of the work of Rennie and others.

But about that resistance training and why I have such problems getting my mind and spirit to cooperate with ‘what’s good for me.’ Here’s an illuminating quote from yoga teacher Rodney Yee:

One of the things we always teach is to use the practice to feel what is. Not to BECOME (caps mine) something necessarily, but to focus on the unfolding of the present moment. There’s so much joy and so much beauty being offered to us in every moment. We always try to emphasize that the practice should illuminate what is unfolding in the present moment, not just what we desire to unfold,

(interview in The Blog by Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Mg. Editor, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee on Finding Your Inner Yoga. Posted: 12/23/2013 11:47 am EST Updated: 02/22/2014 5:59 am EST)

What I’m hearing is that Yee and Steadman Yee concentrate on nowness (or mindfulness), rather than goal-orientation. That is one reason why I don’t like resistance training. The payoff seems to be in the future. The exercise in itself is unpleasant, especially at the point of maxing out the muscle. Yoga is not designed to have this effect.

It’s true that when you start practicing yoga, or when you try new sequences, you can find yourself maxing out. In yoga, however, a good trainer will suggest that you not push. The practice emphasizes interior awareness. The building of stamina, flexibility, and strength is a by-product of continuing yoga, not the everyday goal of a yoga session.

I have to give a proviso. Many yoga sessions are indeed workouts. They feature exercise leaders, not necessarily yoga trainers with an eye toward inner awareness, which requires attention more than muscle exertion.

I suppose this makes me more of an essentialist than a utilitarian: I want the process to be equal in importance to the end-product.

It’s also true that the iron-grasper gets a mental zap, when he or she gets off on lifting a large weight or increasing the number of reps. But this effect is different from what Yee is referring to. The zap seems closely tied to endorphins and the attainment of pre-set goals.

Endorphins are bound to enter this conversation soon, right?

How much zap does a good zap zap, if a good zap is not zap?

Vive la Resistance!

My body is reeling today from my last workout with Bassem, my PT ‘doctor’ in Cairo. Honorifics are rife in Egypt, but Bassem is a legitimate degree-holder who teaches part-time at a university. I was recommended to him by Suzan, an Egyptian-Danish psychologist. Suzan is always jetting to Copenhagen or the Emirates, where she straightens out business-cultures gone awry. I wish I were in Suzan’s line of work. She flies a lot, works long hours, but seems well-compensated and, more importantly, vitalized, humming. The job, however, is a stressor on her body. She works out a lot. She tops it off with Arthur Murray dance classes — anything to maintain that edge and, apparently, to have a good time. It was funny when I mentioned my shoulder problems to her one night when we were coming home in the same car from a party last spring.

“Who have you seen in the past?” she said.

I reeled off three or four names, because I’d already told her I was no stranger to physical therapy. I’d had any number of bodily areas fall outside of the okay zone.

After each name I mentioned, she gave me a thumbnail digest of her experience with the same therapist. She’d been to them all. She said, “You should really try this new guy Bassem.”

“Okay. Where’s his office?”

“He works out of Gold’s Gym at Midan Mahatat (Metro Station Square).”

My heart took a dive. I can’t stand Gold’s. My wife gave me a membership there that cost plenty, and I was excited until I visited the gym. The pounding dance-hall music wore me out before I could get dressed. Then I started feeling that I was a freak just to be there. Everyone was walking around like Arnold Schwarzenegger – even the women. I’d never seen so many machines – here I mean literal machines. I didn’t know how to work them. The membership came with several trainer sessions. My trainer, nice guy though he was, took on that gym-trainer persona of a boot camp sergeant.

I had enough problems with authority at a military school in 1964. Does getting healthy have to run back along the path of those roaring voices?

Long before my membership ran out, I quit Gold’s. Now here, years later, I was being counseled to go back. I considered my options, ran through all of Suzan’s thumbnail sketches of the other PT’s in our neighborhood, and decided, ‘What the heck, give it a try.’ That’s when I met Bassem who I thought was going to give me a few massages and have me stretch my left arm up the wall, that sort of thing.

But no! Down on the floor. I was instructed to put my hands on a rubber half-moon that rolled and slipped beneath my palms. ‘Let’s go. Pushups. One-two…’

Like an automaton – after all, eight years of wrestling workouts each winter – I fell into the regimen. Bassem wasn’t nearly as much of a barker as my first Gold’s trainer, so I was able to bridle my doubts, my anti-enthusiasms, which occasionally reared up like cobras. At the end of the workout, my shoulder had stopped feeling strange.

‘What’s the problem with my shoulder anyway?’ I asked.

‘You have an overall problem with strength, my friend. You are weak up through here and into here.’ He began putting fingers on various parts of my shoulders, around my neck, basically everywhere.

So I’m brought to this conundrum with my health goals. I hate resistance training, but it seems to work. How do I dial it down to a scale that I can live with day after day?

I’ve been told that my muscles will get used to the strain and won’t hurt any longer. Why don’t I believe that? Why do I simply not want to do resistance training?

Deep, deep. I’ve got a few more chapters on this question, this issue that I want to lay out. I need to work through some fundamental questions. Where exactly is my inner resistance? Maybe if I can find my resistance to resistance training, I’ll find a piece to the overall puzzle.