Every Wednesday night, I drive into the small strip mall parking lot on Ruffin Street in Dieppe. Once in the parking area, on my left is the Crossfit gym, on my right is Shanti Yogi. Every Wednesday night I have to choose which way I turn. I always turn right.
I have never been a Crossfit gym member, but I did do a few Crossfit classes 10-15 years ago when the whole thing was starting as cross training for cycling. The Crossfit motto is “Forging Elite Fitness”. And I am convinced that Crossfit definitely works if heightened fitness is your goal. Once you think you’re fit and strong enough, the next step is entering a Crossfit competition to test yourself against others. Not long ago I would certainly have been all over Crossfit with its “No Pain No Gain” culture, but today I know that I will never do Crossfit again.
At the beginning of each yoga class, the instructor asks us to scan our entire body from head to toe to notice how it feels. Are certain areas tense? Are other areas sore or aching? Does our body feel restless? Is our breathing smooth or laboured? At the end of the class, the instructor asks us the same question. And every single time, no matter how I felt as I stepped onto my yoga mat at the beginning of class, I always feel better afterwards. I always feel more grounded. I always feel more at peace. Strangely I always feel better without even trying really since for me yoga is really just a practice of taking the time to slow down my mind and body, sitting down with what is, feeling it, embracing it instead of wanting things to be different and wanting to feel better. Yoga is in no way a competition. There is no comparison with others. Yoga is simply acknowledging our true selves through mindful movement and breathing. Yoga is based on our truth, authenticity and wholeness. And all of these things breed healing, wellness and health.
Most people confuse fitness and health. They look at the very lean athlete and automatically think of him/her as the ultimate picture of health. But in reality fitness and health are actually two different things and even quite often exclusive. Peak fitness can’t be maintained for very long whereas health can. I am not even close to being as fit as I was 2-3 years ago but even with the lingering post-concussion syndrome I have never felt healthier. Even when the symptoms come, like when I try to rush, to do something fast, even if the feeling in my head is one of disconnection with the outside world, I can’t help but notice how much more connected I feel to my inside, to my body, to my true self, to my soul. I still can’t do what I used to before hitting my head but I’ve come to the point now where I don’t really mind anymore. I am now realizing that maybe what I was doing isn’t what I am meant to do anymore.
Scrolling through pictures from the last Fat Bike race I can appreciate the amazing photos and the smiles on the riders’ faces, but for some reason, for the first time in as long as I can remember I don’t miss being part of those races. That drive that I used to feel is dissolving. It’s not that I don’t enjoy riding my bike. I am still completely madly in love with riding. It’s just that I don’t feel the need to go faster than I did yesterday. I don’t feel the need to go faster than anyone else. I don’t need to set a goal for the upcoming year. I am simply content every single time that I hop on the saddle and turn the pedals riding at whatever speed I feel like at that moment. I remember feeling this way when I first learned how to ride a bike, but then gradually I began to compare myself and become obsessed with improvement, results and number to tell me that I was successful at playing the bike game. Riding my bike and focusing on the numbers had become my favorite vulnerability avoidance strategy. I had turned left. My riding had become my Crossfit. Now, like every Wednesday night, I always turn right. My riding has become my yoga.
It’s hard to explain how much my concussion has changed me. The past few years have been the most difficult in my life but I am now beginning to see how these struggles have molded a new me. Or maybe they simply chiseled away at the parts of me that were never real, the outer shell that I had created to try to protect myself? Even if it sounds cliché, in so many ways I feel like a new and better person. Strangely I have noticed so much stress melt away since ending my “just for fun” bike racing career. Even if bike racing has given me so very much in terms of life experiences and friendship, I am starting to question the whole competitive nature of sport that society has created. Even friendly competition breeds separation and right now I feel like the universe needs more connection rather than separation.
Now don’t take this the wrong way. I am in no way bashing Crossfit, bike racing or other competitive sports as a complete waste of time. Maybe it’s an age thing but I don’t feel attracted to the challenges that competition provides anymore? I am at a point in my life where I am beginning to question what society has been telling me that I should strive for. Everyone is looking for the secret to “success”, but what does that even mean? What does being successful look like? Is it in our exterior accomplishments and accolades? Is it being a champion, the best at what we decide to do? What about the homeless guy living on the street? Is he successful because he’s managed to not die even if society really would like him to? Competitive sports are only important because society has decided to give them such importance. Hockey is important and cool in Canada because we decided that it was (which was certainly influenced by the fact that we were also good at it). Cycling is popular and important in France because the people who live there have decided that it was. When human animals decided to live in communities it was to help each other. Times were tough and they all benefitted by working together. These communities were based on connection and not on competition. But when we take a look at our communities today, this connection has been mostly lost, replaced by separation, by competition, me against you. Is our power pyramid society structure really serving us or making us miserable?
My blog posts get written over many weeks as a bunch of thoughts jotted down as ideas as they pop into my head. Since I began writing this post, I have since started to notice that I have been physically feeling better and better. Initially I thought that it was just my normal post-concussion syndrome recovery pace but then it hit me that this sudden improvement in many ways coincided with a change in my diet last month. I have cut pretty much all food with added sugar and have reduced my carbs. I have been reading about low-carb / high fat diets promoting neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells, something that would seem important when recovering from a concussion so I decided to give it a try. Now I’d say that my diet is only at about 60-65% Paleo. I have completely cut carbs at breakfast and have reduced carbs at lunch and supper. I am still not on a true Paleo diet. I also fast for 14-15 hours once per week. Even with these minor changes I am blown away by how much better I feel. The brain fog seems to have lifted and my focus and energy are so much better. I’m curious and very excited to continue to experiment with this low-carb / high fat diet in regards to my recovery. And the counterintuitive thing is that I am pretty much going against all dietary advice that I received since my concussion. Like yoga, this is in no way a competition but rather my own journey to health and wellness. I’m curious to continue to learn where this journey will take me…