Friday, May 30, 2008

Five By Five

Today is exactly two months before my 40th birthday.

Now, I'm not all that big on milestones and the like but I did have to think about this some. Especially after talking with my mother recently who will celebrate her 80th birthday in December. I have to start thinking that I could live that long or longer. Or only live as long as my father did, dying at 58 from lung cancer.

That and I'm just not where I wanted to be in my life. I'm still very much on the periphery of the comics industry despite the professional credits I've accumulated. I don't live in a very nice place. I don't have the car I always wanted. Okay, I just don't have a car but that's besides the point. All in all, I'm not where I always dreamed of being at this point in my life.

In most of the books on aging, this is the age where I should be going through a mid-life crisis of some kind. Where I look at my goals and where I actually am and either adjust my goals accordingly or ditch those aspects of my life that aren't conducive to my achieving the goals I set as a young man.

Well, I don't go into doing things by the book.

And, while I'm not where I want to be, I like very much the things I have in my life. If anything, I want to deepen my most important relationships, personal and business, not ditch them for new things and baubles.

So what to do?

I've decided to take this next year plus, from this point until my 41st birthday, to change my life. Nothing radical (I hope!) just adding in some new habits, ideas, tools, and other things that will help me get to where I want to go.

The first change is with my health.

I'm not a completely unhealthy fat slob but I've always been soft around the middle. My arms and legs are firm and show the results of years of lifting comic book boxes (not light at all) and walking as my most common form of transportation. Yet I've carried a beach ball for a stomach most of my life. My weight has gone up and down over the years, but the fat gut has always been there.

Well, no more for that.

In the past I've tried to exercise many times only to quit in frustration and fatigue. I probably was doing too much at once. Or allowed that part of me that was used to how I looked and felt to rule the roost. This time I trying some different on that front as well.

In some forms of religious and philosophical thought, you are told to kill or silence the ego in order to make changes or get in touch with the higher self. That always bugged me. Which would garner the answer that it was my ego talking, not my real self. But it never really felt that was the answer. Even as I read Steven Barnes' blog where he shared the same ideas, I could only disagree to myself as I couldn't get moving towards manifesting my goals, a silent and damning indictment of my thinking I could change without slaying/quieting the ego.

Then I hear something from the late Alan Watts about that subject which validated my own thoughts.

Watts pointed out how the very desire to kill the ego is itself a very egotistical act. That the ego is you as you are the ego and many other things. That accepting the ego, moreso than trying to silence it, helps one to make any changes one wants.

Hearing that freed me from my last concerns about my desire to change my life.

That I am my ego. That my ego is a part of me that serves a purpose and doesn't need killing in order to me to make changes.

Hearing that has allowed me to start changing myself, starting with my body.

Having no engaged in any form of regular exercise for most of my life, I wanted something that would be both easy and as complete as possible. I found that, courtesy of Steven Barnes, in the Five Tibetans--a series of proto-yogic movements done in series in sets that are relatively easy to do. That was my beginning point. I started with three reps of each of the five movements more than two weeks ago. It wasn't as easy as I thought. For movements that aren't really exercise, the light layer of sweat covering my body at the end of each session said otherwise.

After a week of the Tibetans, I added the 5BX. Better known as The 5BX (Basics) Plan for Men, these exercises were created for the Royal Canadian Air Force following World War 2. I've had the little paperback book outlining these exercises for years. Mostly because Philip José Farmer mentioned the exercises in his faux biography Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life as being the ones Doc Savage did each day. I have possessed the book for a long time, tried using it from time to time, and allowed it to collect dust in my collection. No more. Last week I dug the book out again and put it into use.

Like the Five Tibetans, the 5BX are five basic exercises that work the whole body in a manner of minutes. Starting with a stretch and ending with a stationary run, one goes through the early stages of ab exercises and push-ups. Everything starts in simple forms and grows. There are six primary sections called charts broken down into levels that give the number of reps of each exercises one is to perform. Working up from Chart 1, for beginners, to Chart 6, for champion athletes, takes any number of days. For example, for my age group of 30-39, it is suggested to move through the levels at no faster than four days per level. Each level adds more reps to the exercises. Each chart modifies the exercises slightly to make them harder. And so on.

Again, a simple system that will provide a certain amount of challenge and variety for the coming year at least.

I made a couple of modifications to the 5BX. One, I'm using the Perfect Pushup to help make the push-up exercise harder to perform and safer for my wrists. Two, I'm using one of those pneumatic home stepping machines for the stationary run to save my knees while, again, making the exercise a bit more difficult. I initially replaced the ab exercise in the 5BX with a crunch. Until something told me to actually try the ab exercise as described. For Chart 1, it is simply to sit up far enough to see the heels of your feet that are shoulder length apart, while keeping your legs flush with the floor. I felt how challenging that was after two tries; much harder than doing the crunch. So I replaced the replacement exercise and have kept on stepping.

I start with the 5BX and cool down with the Five Tibetans. Or, as I call it, my Five By Five.

So far, so good.

I can tell my body is growing stronger, particularly my arms. And my fat gut is shrinking ever so slightly. Actually, I am reflexively pulling in my stomach muscles some. But that tells me they too are getting stronger, wishing to pull into my core. My overall energy level is picking up. I'm working longer and not feeling as beat. I could give an example but this post is already to too long. My eating needs are changing too. I'm craving more protein, so I will add a whey protein powder into my routine. That way I can cool out on eating all the meat that I have been last week.

I don't know what I will look like when I actually turn 40. My physical goals right now are simple: exercise today and tomorrow. Lather, rinse, repeat. Build the ritual and rhythm of doing the Five By Five into my life first, then worry about what I want my body to look like. Do each exercise and movement each day as its own thing. Notice how good I feel when I'm finished. Keep it simple at this stage and then go crazy later.

Then I can start changing other areas of my life.

I think this is going to be a good year.

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