Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

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What’s on your keychain? What’s in your heart?

I listened to an interview the other day on the Outside Magazine podcast. It was Tim Ferris, of all people, talking with Cheryl Strayed.  And boy is she something! I knew this, of course, having read Wild and cried over Tiny Beautiful Things. But Tim Ferris? Not really my thing. But he was, and so was she. They talked about writing, among other things, and she mentioned a favorite writing prompt to be about an object, a talisman— beginning with something simple like your keychain.

My keychain has a long, shiny, neon-pink rod with a tapered end attatched. It’s ridged all the way down, with a flat bottom. It looks like something that might belong to Christain Grey . . but it’s acutally a self-defense keychain, or kubotan. A tool– or a weapon, depending on how you think about it. I have mixed feelings about it.  I’m not interested in weapons. I don’t like guns. I wish we could all just get along, hold hands, et cetera.
I’d never, ever initiate violence against someone— but I would defend myself or my loved one if it became necessary. That’s a powerful thing to learn about yourself— or decide about yourself. I decided that about myself in my first year of becoming UNFUCKWITHABLE (2017). Listen,  2016 felt disasterous to me in a lot of ways, and I felt so sad and defeated at the end of it. 2017 was the year I decided to get up and handle my shit. I started learning self-defense (krav maga), got stronger, focused on yoga and meditation, planned my priorities carefully. I met some amazing friends and teachers. I cried for a while, and then I started working to close the cracks in my life.
And now, I have this keychain. Sometimes, I hold this object in my hand, my thumb over its flat base, my fingers slotted into its grooves, as if ready— and it changes my fear and sadness into power.

Transformative practices

It’s something that you do, deliberately and consistently, whether or not you feel like it, the circumstances are right, you do a good job— this is what makes it a practice,— and it causes a fundamental shift in some part of your life— this is what makes it transformative.

So often we seek change— we want to be happy, or lose weight, or feel better, or be more creative.

We try to create change by limiting or denying ourselves, and we feel worse. It seems clear to me that saying “I’ll stop eating french fries,” “I’ll stop watching TV,” or “I’ll stop slouching” is ultimately no fun, and when we inevitably mess up, we are angry with ourselves. These aren’t things you decide to do, they’re things you decide not to do. Different.

We can, however, invite change through practices. This is way more fun and rewarding, and sometimes we change in wonderful ways we didn’t anticipate. The neat part is, almost any practice can be transformative. It’s the practice, not the transformation, that needs to be deliberate. You can start a practice and realize eventually that it has been transformative.

Here’s what makes it work: Continue reading

Overcoming the fear of The Group

Hi, I’m Zabby, and I’m a Capital-I Introvert. Often when I tell people this about myself, they laugh and say something like “but you’re so friendly!” There’s been a lot of discussion in the general zeitgeist* these days of what real introversion means (Exhibit A , Exhibit B). Really, it comes down to the fact that social interaction takes energy. A lot of introverts are also sensitive, like I am— and that combination can be challenging. I find it hard to talk to people I don’t know, and I hate being in the middle of a crowd (I’d rather be on the edge). I don’t like loud things with lots of stimulation or being forced into conversation. I hate feeling trapped. I DON’T hate people— I have friends who I love deeply and want to be with. But I have, like, eight, not fifty.

At the same time, I believe in the benefits of a group— for motivation, accountability, energy, inspiration, pushing boundaries, learning.  It’s NOT about competition, comparison, or shame. “Make a date with a workout buddy!” is such common advice now that it’s almost a cliche.

I know those benefits are waiting for me, if I can push myself over the “OH NOES! STRANGERS! TALKING!” wall that I sometimes manage to build.

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beach yoga

How to REALLY relax

Do you work out when you’re on vacation?

I do. But before you tell me I’m nuts, lemme ‘splain: I don’t work out to look a certain way or be a certain size. I don’t need to be in tip-top shape for an event or a race.

It just makes me feel good. My body likes to move. If I skip a few days of exercising, I feel antsy. At home, I exercise for health, for stress relief, and to feel strong, fast, and beautiful. When I’m away, I still want those things!

I know— vacations are made for sleeping and eating and being lazy. But you know how the best sleep is when you’re really tired, and the best meal is when you’re really hungry? It’s hard to work up an appetite from a chaise by the pool.

With a view like this, you almost forget you're running up 7 flights of stairs.

With a view like this, you almost forget you’re running up 7 flights of stairs.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to lock myself in a sad hotel gym for a 45-minute slog on the elliptical while everyone else is enjoying margaritas by the pool, though.

It DOES mean that I like to walk around the city rather than take a cab to the restaurant. I like to swim in the pool for a while before I plant my butt firmly in the lounge chair. I like to jump in when a hot Mexican  instructor named Eric is trying to talk everyone in to his water aerobics class. I like to race the elevator up to my floor. And I LOVE to work out on the beach just after sunrise. LOVE it.

After that, my margarita is ten times more delicious and my nap is ten times more restful. And when I get home, I feel . . . rested, and ready to get back at it!


I was at a yoga workshop recently and the teacher talked for a little while about the idea of safety. I think someone asked if a particuar pose was safe, and she answered that no pose was “safe,” that yoga wasn’t “safe”, and that, honestly, there’s no such things as safe. Yoga can be dangerous. Yoga can be healing and miraculous, too. Someone might get injured doing sukhasana (called “easy pose”), while others can do eka pada rajakapotasana

but, is this safe?

but, is this safe?

and reap enormous benefits with no problem. In the long run, it isn’t even safe to sit still. So, the question shouldn’t be whether something is safe, but whether for you, now, it’s more beneficial than harmful.

This is something I try to get across at work, too. . . we talk about the safety of medications, for instance. When we say a medication is safe, we mean that it didn’t cause major problems that we know of for the majority of people on whom it was tested. Is tylenol “safe?” Not if you have liver damage. Is advil “safe”? Not if your kidneys don’t work properly. Is chemotheraphy safe? NO! It poisons your cells. Does that mean it shouldn’t be in use? Of course not. Becaues cancer isn’t safe either. The alternative isn’t “nothing,” it’s “status quo.” Are you “safe” right now, or are you developing muscle stiffness, heart disease, autonomic dysfunction, or depression?

That means that every decision is actually the weighing of two options, neither of which is necessarily “safe.”

That means that every different person in different circumstances has a different decision.

It means that sometimes, there’s no one to blame, because there was no “safe” option.