Monday, November 9, 2009

Wellness-Hacking Your Hobbies

Week after week I'm up here on the site hammering away at the same things. Mainly:
  • Eat vegetables, and I mean a ton of freakin' vegetables.
  • Don't consume much if any added salt and sugar.
  • Cook at home and don't eat pre-made crap.
  • Exercise, and by exercise I mean consistent daily exercise.
  • Don't buy gimmicky fitness equipment, and don't join a gym.
  • Don't make excuses, either get fit or be out of shape, either way don't stress about it.
I remember reading an anecdote in one of Janwillem van de Wetering's books (either The Empty Mirror or Afterzen) in which an old Japanese Zen master takes his graduating pupils to his house. For years these students have been studying under the old man, and have the deepest respect for his teachings and authority. The master takes them to his house for what they think is a celebration, but it turns out to be a final lesson. He shows them an old beat up couch, and says, "This is where I sit, all day sometimes, and watch Sumo wrestling on TV." And then he takes them out back and shows them the recycling bin, "And this is where I keep the empty bottles from all the beer I drink while I watch the Sumo. Sometimes I get really drunk!" What the master is trying to teach his departing students is that they need to let go of all attachments, even to the idea of their teacher as a pure and faultless person.

This post is going to be a little like that.

Sometimes I'll go out to eat with someone and they'll say something like, "Do you mind if I order dessert? I know you're the health guy and everything..." Or when I meet someone walking around town the first thing out of their mouth, even before "Hello" is "Oh my gosh I'm so sorry I haven't been to the studio in a while it's been crazy busy at work and you know I'm going to come back, it really helps me, the exercise, you know, of course you know heh heh... how are YOU!?"

Here's a newsflash for everyone. I like dessert. I also like being lazy and skipping workouts. I like drinking beer and sitting on the sofa all day. Except I don't watch Sumo. I play video games.

I love video games. The 8 bit Nintendo came out in the US in 1985. I was 7 years old. I was actually given my first system by an older boy whose family was friends with my grandparents. I remember asking the older boy, "Are you sure!? I mean, it's a NINTENDO." He said, "whatever, I never play it. And I need that time for baseball practice anyway."

Baseball... Choosing a game where you just stand there while guys throw things at you as hard as they can? Over a Nintendo!? There's no accounting for some people's tastes. Needless to say, I took the game system off his hands.

For a extremely near sighted chubby kid with no brothers or sisters around, video games were a revelation. I've gamed my way through a Nintendo, Genesis, Super Nintendo, GameBoy, PS1, Dreamcast, PS2, PSP, DS, and Xbox 360. Not to mention several dozen piggy banks worth of quarters at the local arcades.

I kept waiting to grow out of videogames, but the games just grew up right along with me. And so I find myself now, 20 odd years later, still way into games.

Now this puts me in an interesting situation, because playing a video game goes against almost everything I tell people to do in both yoga and the PCP. Mainly, it involves long hours of sitting with hunched shoulders, completely sedentary except for a few finger twitches. Over time, this will mess up a person's posture, muscle mass, and fat percentage in a big way.

So how could I with good conscious dispense advice on staying away from chairs and inactivity and participate in the same activities myself? The easy answer would be to say, "Well, I have an active job, I'm on my feet all day, and I'm so good in other aspects of my life, so what's the harm?"

This reeks of the number one mistake people make, rationalizing bad choices. Avoid this at all costs. When you feel the need to rationalize something, you're actually listening to the alarm bells of your psyche. Going through with the rationalization (I worked hard today, I deserve this Snickers bar) puts you on the fast track to poor health. Feeling bad/guilty about something is an important correction mechanism, and smothering that instinct with a bunch of excuses and loopholes will only end in trouble.

So, I knew that my rationalizations were a joke. But I still wanted to play some videogames.

The second answer was to just accept the cognitive dissonance that arose when I spent an afternoon gaming. "Yes, this is not good for my body. Screw it, I'm doing it anyway." This too is a dangerous path to tread, as a kind of destructive self-loathing spiral tends to take hold. Once you've made the choice to do something unhealthy, the next choice to do something unhealthy becomes even easier, cause hey, you've already blown it, right? The "acceptance of self-loathing" technique had the side effect of making game time much less fun, as the nagging voice in my head wouldn't shut up about how this really wasn't a very helpful practice for my body, and that I would feel it the next day.

But I still wanted to play some games!

Thus was born the middle path of gaming. Behold!

Technique 1: Gaming doesn't mean losing leg flexibility. In fact, it's a great way to spend time in deep stretches. This works best for portable gaming. I played through the entirety of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories in wide angle forward bend. 30 plus hours of gameplay. 30 plus hours of groin stretches.

"Gaining XP in real and virtual worlds!"

I often play DS games in a supported backbend. 30 minutes of this a day will keep your spine as supple as a cat. The PSP, at least the launch system I have, is too heavy for this. (Somebody mail me a PSP3000!)

"A new perspective on this Professor Leyton puzzle might help..."

Basic idea, stretch while you game, read, or use a laptop. It's not rocket science.

Technique 2: Strength training is a perfect counterpart to games. Gets the blood pumping and is a nice way to get grounded in the real world. Here's one of my favorite combos.

Street Fighter 4. Play an online match. SFIV online is pretty brutal. Those guys in G1 are not messing around. If I pull off a win...
"boo ya!"

then I do an easy set of neutral grip pull-ups, an exercise I really like.

"victory lap!"

But if I lose my match...

"son of a !"

it's a tough set of regular pull-ups plus a set of chin ups combined with leg raises, which I detest.

"Failure will not go unpunished"

After the loss I'm usually kind of mad at myself so it feels like a kind of penance. Then back to the Xbox. Repeat for an hour and you've gotten a great workout, as well as your Street Fighter fix. This can be modified for any exercise and any game that gives you a break every few minutes.

I won't bore you with all my other little tricks, because you're probably not a gamer. What's important is that you see there are ways to work with your little foibles and hang-ups besides shutting them out completely. The idea of becoming a healthy person isn't to erase your former self, it's to become your true self. That might mean someone who loves videogames, or baking, or movie marathons, or any number of things that can coexist happily next to your wellness based lifestyle.

We tend to slip into a mindset of all or nothing when it comes to health. There seems to be a false choice between being a couch potato or a gym rat, an out of shape office drone or an annoyingly chipper aerobics teacher. I just want you all to know that there is a middle, and that most truly healthy people dwell there, not at the polarities.

So take a look at that one thing you love to do but that you know is making a negative impact on your health. With a little thinking outside the box, it can probably be modified to support your body rather than breaking it down.

Being healthy is important, but not more important than being yourself. Game on!

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