Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letting Go of the Best

This last weekend I ran the See Jane Run 5K in Seattle. While I placed fairly well, finishing 10th overall and 4th in my age group, I was way behind both my personal best and my original goal pace for the race. To me, these personal metrics are far more important than how I rank against others, because I always compete with myself first and foremost. Normally, I might have let this outcome cause me to feel discouraged and defeated. However, this weekend I didn't let myself slip into that kind of mental space. In fact, I actually felt the exact opposite: proud of my achievement and grateful that I'd been able to accomplish what I did. Let me share how I got there.

My race day started by arising early Sunday morning, while my husband was still fast asleep in bed, eating a healthy breakfast, and making my way down to Gas Works Parks in Seattle. After watching the half-marathoners take off and warming up, I took my place at the start line. As I was counting down the minutes until the start gun, I reflected on my training leading up to this point.

As some readers may know, I've been dealing with a chronic illness for the past year and a half. My illness is not serious in the sense that I will ever die from it, but it is serious in the sense that it can be very debilitating at times. Unfortunately, because of not feeling very well in the months leading up to the race, I really hadn't been able to train like I'd wanted to. There were training runs that I skipped, cut short, or didn't push very hard in, due to not feeling my best. In short, I did what I could.

As the start gun went off, I set out with the rest of the pack. Less than one mile in, I could already feel my lungs heaving and my legs tiring. My Nike running app let me know my pace, and I was almost a minute behind where I "should" have been. At the halfway point, the discomfort had increased immensely and my legs were began to feel like lead. A little voice in my head started to whisper that I should quit, saying, "You know you could just stop running and walk. No one is here to know. Just give up and put an end to this." While another voice chided me for my perceived poor performance: "You ran a half marathon last year at almost the same pace that you just ran two miles. You aren't an athlete. You aren't strong. You are weak."

Yes, I was battling with both my mind and my body.

The course was laid out in an out-and-back fashion, so that as I was running the second half of the race, I was passing by the rest of the 5K racers who were coming along behind me. Just as I was the midst of this negative internal monologue with myself, one of the women I was passing by cheered for me and yelled out "You are my hero."

You are my hero.

Just the words I needed to hear. A boost to the spirit and psyche at just the right moment. I  responded by pushing on through mile three. As the end of the race came into view, I broke into a sprint and crossed the finish line.

With my lungs feeling like they might explode and that my legs might crumble beneath me, I knew I had given it everything I had. I'd left nothing on the table. I'd held nothing back. And while I might have not done my best in the absolute sense, I most certainly had done the best that I had in that moment. I could have walked across the finish line. I could have stayed at home in bed. I could have let my illness hold me back and never even signed up for the race to begin with.

And this is why I wanted to share this antecdote. I think it's so easy to berate ourselves, to listen to the internal voices that tell us we aren't good enough. That we didn't do our "best", either in comparison to ourselves or others. To always be measuring and finding ourselves lacking in some area. To be quick to point out our flaws and why we aren't deserving when someone gives us a compliment.

But in actuality, all we can ask of ourselves is to give our best in the moment. And the moment is an ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-expanding, and ever-contracting actuality. We can only access the resources immediately available to us. Life must be lived in the infinite now.

So whether it's a race, a belly dance performance, a presentation at work, or whatever situation we are asking ourselves to perform for, just let go of being the "best", and just be you as you are in the present moment.That's all we can ask of ourselves, and it's perfect just as it is.

I would also conclude by adding that there is great power in encouraging others. As the saying goes: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Yes, be kind, compassionate, and encouraging. Just like my fellow racer did for me, a kind word of encouragement can help others in ways you might never know. She could have just kept running, focusing on herself and her own race,  But instead she choose to give of her energy and share solidarity, comfort, and inspiration with a complete stranger. To that woman, I say, you are a hero as well.

Photo credit: (Top) 
(Bottom) The author crossing the finish line in the See Jane Run 5K

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dancing with the Superstars

This past weekend I attended two workshops taught by Jayna and Stefanya of the Bellydance Superstars, as well as the evening Cairo Nights Vol. 4 CD Release show and party, produced by Roxy. Jayna taught double 3/4 double circular veil technique, and Stefanya taught a choreography that she uses for the Bellydance Superstars tour.

The first workshop of the day was with Jayna. Trying out double 3/4 circular veil with Jayna was a new prop that I'd never attempted before. Jayna credits her 3/4 circular veil inspiration to her mother, Marta Schill. Marta was one of the founders of national non-profit Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association ("MECDA") and co-author of the book The Compleat Belly Dancer.

I don't think I was personally that successful at it, but Jayna definitely had some wow-factor moves. I was hoping she had a video of her double veil posted online, but unfortunately I wasn't able to find one to share with this post. (I have one that I took during the workshop, but I don't like to post without videos without people's permission.) So instead, for your viewing pleasure, check out her skill at double sword!

The second workshop of the day was with Stefanya. I don't usually care for learning choreography in workshops, but Stefanya won me over right away with her emphasis on artistry and expression.  A couple great tips that Stefanya shared were:
  1. Three connections - in any performance you must make sure you are establishing the three critical connections, which are (a) your connection with the earth, in which you ground yourself down into it, (b) your connection with and relationship to the music, which like in any relationship, sometimes you lead and the music follows, and sometimes the music leads and you follow, and (c) your connection with and unity to the breath, which is your spark for creative expression. 
  2. Engage in the inner thighs - to find the right muscle to engage, place your arms straight down at your sides, then take the hands and move them to the back of the leg (you should be touching just below the ledge of the glutes) and then think of squeezing these two points in toward each other. I had never actually had another teacher talk about engagement in this exact place or manner, but when I activated here, I automatically grew taller as it caused the arches of my feet to engage upward and it also caused my core to automatically draw in to the proper engage position.
Not the same choreography that we learned, but to see Stefanya's artistry in action check out the video below.

Photo Credit: Cover of Cairo Nights Vol. 4