Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Tag: Wisdom from the bike

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common and natural part of aging.  If we live long enough, normal wear-and-tear breaks down the shock-absorbing discs between the bones in the spine.  Symptoms of disease are more likely in people who smoke, perform heavy physical labor or are obese. Although it’s not completely avoidable, we can minimize the process by building strong core, abdominal and back muscles, maintaining good posture and avoiding lifting heavy objects.

Ironically, lifting heavy objects is often a central part of weight training. CrossFit is the latest example of a fitness program that relies on heavy lifting to build muscular strength. It’s been called “the world’s fastest growing athletic specialty.” And it’s also been identified by doctors, physical therapists and rival fitness professionals as one of the most potentially debilitating forms of training.

My Dear Spine - Wear & Tear and Mis-alignment

My Dear Spine – Wear & Tear and Mis-alignment

I can’t attribute my DDD to any one training routine. But I’m pretty sure that years of mildly compulsive exercise didn’t help!

My recent ventures into weight training weren’t extreme. I kept my dumbbells light, listened to my body and adjusted poses with support from my trainer. But my DDD (diagnosed 20+ years ago) coupled with an undiagnosed osteoarthritis in my hips, lead to increasingly stiff and sore lower body.

I landed at Optimal Performance Systems – an alternative to traditional physical therapy and training.  Their corrective movement therapy and vitality program has loosened up my hips in ways that yoga and traditional stretching had been exacerbating. And it’s deepened my commitment to helping myself and others focus on holistic health. The OPS motto says it all: “Exercise is optional. Movement is mandatory.”


I love to ride my bike

I got back on my bike this weekend for Ciclavia Pasadena. While I loved it, I also realized I need to get a new set of wheels if I want to do any significant cycling. I’ll be giving up my old faithful road bike and the spine jarring mountain biking my husband and I used to love. But, I hope to find a way to keep enjoying the freedom and joy of riding my bike without further compromising my spine or hips.

When expected changes of aging or unanticipated challenges of injuries and illnesses arrive, we need to adjust. Ultimately, it doesn’t take heavy lifting to maintain functional levels of strength, flexibility and balance. Of course, if I ever need to move a large boulder or lift a car, I’m screwed!

At this point in my journey, heavy lifting is optional. But bending over to harvest zucchini and sweet peas from my garden is essential. I think I’ll choose the veggies and flowers!



Yesterday I got back on my bike–hooray for me!

I’ve been contemplating getting back on my bike for months. My shoulder injury and surgery last year put my cycling adventures on hold. In December I got back to cycling in the safety of an indoor studio. But since then, although I talked to my husband about it, spoke to my friends about it, committed to my spinning instructor that I’d do it…I didn’t get back on my bike.

Where was the motivation I once knew? I love to ride my bike. Of all the varied activities I engage to stay in shape, brighten my mood, and lift my spirit, cycling has been the most life-giving exercise for me.

What happened? Life happened.

That is often the story behind our inability to make changes, even changes we want. One thing we value gets in the way of doing other things we want to do, or things we know we need to do for our best health, our best life.

Preparing for change is a necessary, but often neglected step. I had to develop a plan in order to get back on the road. My bike had a flat tire, hadn’t been lubed, needed a tune-up. Which meant either taking it to the bike shop or enlisting the support of my husband because I gave up my bike-mechanic career years ago. And, I didn’t want to head out on my first ride in a year and a half by myself. Which meant planning with a friend or my husband (who hasn’t been riding either) a date to actually get the bikes in the car and meet at the Rose Bowl to ride. So, I enlisted Dave’s support and he got the bikes tuned up and tires pumped up a few weekends ago.

But then, life happened: we had dinner guests and other commitments one weekend, Easter and other plans already scheduled for the next.

You know the story. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. As my favorite Saturday Night Live character Rosanna Rosanna Danna used to say, “It’s always something…”

Making time and space amidst the competing priorities of life is another necessary step in the change process. This past Saturday evening I made a commitment to myself that I’d ride my bike on Sunday. One way or another, I’d do it. Even if it was only one lap around the parking lot at the Rose Bowl, I’d just do it.

Dave joined me and yesterday afternoon we put on our cycling clothes (another potential obstacle is not having the right clothes…right? Can’t ride a bike in any old clothes like when we were kids…), packed up the bikes, helmets and cycling shoes, and headed to the Rose Bowl.

It's always something: Oops, wrong shoes!

We unpacked the bikes and got out the shoes only to discover I’d packed my indoor cycling shoes that have different cleats from my outdoor cycling shoes! Ugh! Another obstacle.

Determined to make it happen, I took a short spin around the parking lot in my orange indoor/outdoor slippers and decided it was good enough. It didn’t matter what anyone else would think of me, decked out in all the right clothes with slippers on my feet. I just did it!

And it was great! We rode a few laps, got a tiny sweat going, and enjoyed the perfect spring day. I loved it. And I loved being back on my bike.

Obstacles to change, even change we want, are many. Preparing and planning for action, enlisting the support of others, and pressing through barriers that arise in the process are expected parts of change.

Integrative health coaching is a partnership and process designed  to help people make changes that support good health. If you or someone you love could use some help getting back on their bikes, reducing stress, making dietary changes, or anything else that might get in the way of optimal health, I or one of the colleagues I trained with at Duke University’s Integrative Health Coaching program would love to support you in the journey.

Contact me and I’ll help you get started on the road to the change you’ve been considering but delaying because life keeps getting in the way.

I took a bike ride today around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – a short 10 minute drive from my home.

On my last lap I met Saul, a maintenance worker at nearby Huntington Hospital.  He was plugging along at a steady 12 miles per hour up a slight incline as I pulled up alongside.  I nodded and said “Hi” as I began to pass him.

He gave me a huge grin, pulled his earphone out, and greeted me, “Great day for a ride, eh? Good to see you out here.”  His energy was magnetic. Probably in his late 50’s or 60’s, his eyes were hidden behind cycling glasses, but an endearing smile gleamed out from the life lines etched into his brown face.

I decided to drop my agenda for pushing myself through my last lap and slowed down to talk.  “Beautiful day, but my legs are killing me,” I told him, “I’m in the worst cycling shape of my life.”

He laughed and said, “Keep at it.  It gets better the more you do it.” And then he told me his story.

Make the Most of What You’ve Got

A year ago he was pre-diabetic and his blood pressure was high.  He was “tired of being old and fat” and decided to return to something he loved as a kid — riding his bike.  He works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. then comes to the Rose Bowl to put in his miles.  He loves it.  And he has lost 45 pounds and his health is great!

“The best part is how good I feel after I ride. I love feeling healthy. It’s not just good for my body, it clears my mind, gives me peace…just riding my bike!  You know what I’m doing, I’m just living like I’m dying, that’s it! I make the most of each day, ’cause that’s all I got. You never know how much life you’ve got left.  Gotta make the most of what you’ve got.”

Making the Most of Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl with My Beloved Dave and "Little" Ruth

Living Like I’m Dying

I’ve had a blessed nineteen years of life since my diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in 1992.  In the early years of life post-breast cancer, I did what Saul is doing — made the most of each day, did things that brought me joy, spent time with people I loved and rode my bike a lot!

In those days of “living like I’m dying,” people and pursuing my passions were more important than productivity.

In recent years my agendas for productivity battle for space on my calendar.  Saul’s interruption of my agenda to push myself on this ride was a reminder that while productivity can be a very good thing; it can also completely screw up my priorities.

People are more important than products.  Loving and enjoying my productivity but being unattached to outcomes is essential. When the drive to produce turns me into Bitchy Cissy or Pissy Cissy, it’s time to stop and get my priorities straight.

Thanks be to God for Wise Men dressed in spandex!

I hope you are making time and space in your life for the people and passions that energize and give you joy this Fall.

I fell in love with indoor cycling five minutes into my first class in 1995. In the early days of Spinning I took two or three classes a week.  I loved the speed, the sweat, and the music.  Plus, it met my extrovert needs for camaraderie without worrying about a group crash  that sometimes occurs on the road.   My attendance is more sporadic these days, but I remain a big fan of this high intensity cardio workout.

My health club recently acquired new bikes which track RPMs (revolutions per minute), wattage, time, distance and calories burned.  I guess this is akin to the rollout of upgrades on the  iphone.  This is the “2.0” of indoor cycling.  They’ve taken it to the next level by adding computerized performance measures designed to make the classes more effective.  Plus, I’m sure it adds a selling feature for the club (“Only at Equinox…generation 2.0 of the latest in indoor cycling”), while also generating more profit for the manufacturer.  Everybody wins, right?

Do I sound skeptical? Indeed I am!

I took my first “monitored” class the other evening.  I did not like it! I found it distracting and disembodying.  I don’t want to know my power output (wattage). I just want to ride my bike, enjoy the power of my body, and sweat.

It used to be we’d monitor our intensity based on a simple 1-10 scale.  A flat road was somewhere from 3-5.  At 6 you began a slight incline.  At 8 and higher you rode a steep hill.  RPMs were guesstimates at best, but everyone seemed to get a good sweat going and enjoy the ride.  And, best of all, we felt better afterward!  There’s nothing like a good spin to release stress and re-boot my mood at the end of the day.

But now, you don’t even need to attach your head to your body to know how your ride is going. The monitor does it all for you.  Just follow the little numbers on the screen and you can be completely disengaged from how your body feels, what your legs are doing, or even if you’re still breathing.  Isn’t technology great!

The instructor did a fine job introducing the monitor, telling us where to look and what it meant.  But I didn’t want to use the “wattage” number to gauge my workout.  I spent the past twenty years learning to listen to my body.  Why would I give that precious commodity up for the supposed benefit afforded by technological advances in fitness?

The spinning bike was the only cardio device available at my club that didn’t have numbers monitoring my progress.  I liked that.  I paid for that.

Now the great numbers game has taken over the spinning experience as well.  What’s next?  A pedometer that will measure the number of calories burned while climbing trees, skipping stones across a river or building forts in the backyard?  Hey – great idea!  We can attach them to children and give them extra treats when they burn enough calories.  Now that’s a great way to motivate people to move isn’t it?

Do I sound cynical? Sorry.  I don’t want to be critical.  But we don’t need more devices to track progress, or programs to tell us how to move or what we should or shouldn’t eat.  What we need is to listen to the wisdom of our own bodies.

I am greatly concerned about the national health crisis–especially the startling rise in obesity among children. But if teaching people to track numbers—be it on exercise equipment or on nutritional labels—replaces teaching them to listen to their own bodies, we’re on a fast track to even poorer health and higher rates of obesity in the future.

I say throw out the monitors and teach people how to sense and track their own progress through body awareness. It is a natural “monitoring” device that can be accessed by people all over the world, anytime, anyplace. Best of all, it’s free!

But keep it quiet!  If the word gets out that people are practicing body awareness some smart Steve Jobs type will invent an upgrade and try to sell it to us.

I love to ride my bike

I love to ride my bike.  I loved it as a kid, but then got “too cool” for it as a teenager and rode a moped instead.

In college my friend John, a competitive cyclist, convinced me to use part of a small inheritance to buy a road/racing bike.  He wanted company on his long training rides around Santa Barbara where we attended school.  Back on my bike after a ten year hiatus it was like I’d never been gone.  I loved it all over again.

Today (after fourteen weeks off my bike as I rehabbed my knee–my longest cycling hiatus in memory) I got back on my bike.   As we peddled up the South side of the Rose Bowl loop in Pasadena at a very slow ten miles per hour, my husband noted that this was fifty percent slower than we usually ride this route.  I told him that I didn’t care how fast or far we went, I was just happy to be back on my bike…although I didn’t say it that nicely!

After all my body and I have been through over the years, I am so blessed to be here:  alive (in my eighteenth year post breast cancer), strong (rode nine miles comfortably and without knee problems) and more content in my forty-eight year old body than I’ve been at any other time in my life.

I’ve been far more “fit” at other times in my life.  In fact, if I were to ride with John or his wife Susi (my best female cycling buddy over the years), they’d tell me in no uncertain terms that I’m in lousy cycling shape.  Heck, Susi said that the last time we rode together — and that was before my accident.

But true fitness is not measured by body statistics alone. As the stories of professional athletes’ struggles with addiction, violence and marital infidelity remind us, you can be in top physical shape and still be a psychological mess.

Or as my Aunt Margie recently taught me in the last days of her life, you can be living with cancer, preparing to die, yet more truly alive than much of the population. This is a photo of Margie taken at her “Honoring the Flow of Life Ceremony” held eight days before her death.  Over one hundred friends and family came together to celebrate her almost ninety years of remarkable life.  She is one of my sheroes!

My relationship with my body parallels the relationship I have with my life. In my less content years, I was too busy trying to control my body and achieve results to listen.  I was too busy trying to control my life and achieve results than to listen.  In those days fitness setbacks were a source of discouragement, frustration and anxiety.

But when I meet the physical changes and challenges of my embodied life with respect and a willingness to listen, every accident, illness, rosacea outbreak, new creek in my joints, mysterious symptom or discomfort becomes an opportunity to deepen my connection to my good body, to my self,  just as I am.

So, whether I ride my bike one hundred miles over steep hills and in unfriendly weather (as I did six years ago in the Solvang Century ride) or nine miles on the flats in perfect Southern California Memorial Day weather, I’m grateful to be alive, healthy, and growing through the changes and challenges each day offers.