28 May 2016

Capoeira and My New Shell

Freddy, a tortoise burned in a forest fire in Brazil, got a new shell by way of a 3D printer.
source: iflscience.com
I recently got a new name, "Tartaruga Marinha," "sea turtle," after two years of training at Capoeira Angola Quintal, and eight months after making a commitment to myself to take it seriously. Or as seriously as I could, given work and family obligations.

The story of Freddy and her new shell really resonates with me, because I feel as though Capoeira has given me, figuratively, a new carapace.

I came to Capoeira after a truck rear-ended my little car and left me with slipped disks in my neck and a shoulder that hurt all the time. My son had started training, and his teacher, Mestre Ombrinho, talked me into trying it, even though I doubted I could get very far.

My bad relationship with my own body reached much farther back than that car crash. As a little kid, I had exercise-induced asthma, but I didn't know that; all I knew was that when my sled reached the bottom of the snowy hill and I tried to run back up with the other kids, I'd be gasping and dragging, the last one up the hill every time. My only way to understand it was that I must be lazy or fat. Probably both.

I grew up and got medicated. For 29 years, I've taken twice-daily medication to keep my lungs clear, and a simple cold can send me into a spiral of breathing difficulties. I've had numerous asthma attacks severe enough to send me to the emergency room. I went backpacking and ran half marathons and a marathon and biked thousands of miles, between touring and commuting, and did a few triathlons, but still I considered my own body broken, traitorous, defeated. And then there were ten years of infertility, a whole other story but another experience that left me feeling alienated from and angry with my body.

When I started training, I'd watch the more experienced Capoeiristas and I'd constantly think, "I'll never be able to do that." I'd finish a class, and the next day my shoulder would hurt more, but then the day after that it would hurt less, and feel stronger and more flexible. So I kept going back.

As a child, I could do a cartwheel, but when I started doing Capoeira, I couldn't because of the weakness in my shoulder. But the instructors showed exercises that would build to an "Au," the Capoeira version of a cartwheel, and one day I found myself with my legs flying through the air.

Queda de rins is another signature Capoeira move that looks something like this:
source: Women in Capoeira
The goal is to balance on the arms, with both head and legs in the air. The first few hundred times I tried this, the pain and inflexibility and weakness in my shoulder left me nauseous with the effort. But recently, I managed to balance -- just briefly, but I managed it.

A few weeks ago, something strange shifted in my head. I watched one of the instructors demonstrate a move, and instead of rolling my eyes in frustration, I thought: "some day I'll be able to do that."

Recently, the instructor for the class I was in asked the students to try one-handed cartwheels. A couple of months ago, I'd have rolled my eyes and said, "No way." The other day, I tried it, managed a hop in the right direction, and laughed. Some day.

27 May 2016

How Not to Turn On the Air Conditioner

In the past ten days in my neighborhood, we've gone from a night-time low of 44 degrees, when I got my winter coat back out to walk the dog for the last time at night, to yesterdays high of 89. I work at home in the summers, and I'm sitting very comfortably at my desk with no air conditioning.

Comfortably, I said. How is this possible?

It takes a little bit more time and organization than flipping a switch so a beast in the wall can roar into operation. But not much. And it's a lot quieter.

It's also only feasible as long as nights remain cool: it's been going down into the 60's every night, and will continue to do so for most of the summer. There's always that one week in August when it doesn't go below 80 at night, and that's a different story. But for now...

Keeping my apartment comfortable during the day starts with making sure to let it cool down at night.  As soon as temperatures drop in the evening, I open all the windows to let the cool air in. The next step is to keep the place as cool as possible during the day, I cover windows when the sun is shining directly on them to keep the sun from warming the air inside. The light-blocking shade in the bedroom is most effective, but even the sheer curtain in the kitchen makes a difference.

As soon as temperatures warm up, I switch to iced coffee. I also drink cool water throughout the day to make sure I stay hydrated. Running a fan on a low setting to keep the air moving also helps. I also dress for the weather. In the winter, I keep warm with wool socks, long underwear, turtlenecks and sweaters. In the summer, those give way to tank tops and sandals.

I limit cooking during the day. I made coffee this morning, but sometimes I'll do that that the night before and then refrigerate it to drink iced. For lunch, I had a sandwich and a salad. Bonus: eating cold food cools my body. I save the bigger cooking for the evening when the air is already starting to cool again.

And last but not least, when I go outdoors, I walk on the shady side of the street when possible.