Hello you hard worker, you,
In the picture above I was deeply overtrained, overworked, and in need of rest I would be unable to achieve while sleeping at 6000m and climbing daily. I'd gone into my expedition on Aconcagua's Polish Direct fit as a fiddle and recovering from a gnarly bout with ketosis brought on by overtraining. My two-days-on-one-day-off routine (with eighty pound loads) for the twenty or so days on the mountain weren't helping.
By nature my athletic practice is driving, forceful, irreverent, and unstoppable. I never lack motivation nor enthusiasm for my many mountain pursuits. Over the last decade as an alpine climber I have, at various times, suffered physical ailments stemming from my inability to temper my enthusiasm for the mountains:
- Flus and colds
- Adrenal fatigue
- Ketosis (this is not a good thing CrossFitters!)
- Hyperthyroid disorder
Ouch, those really sucked and cut into my training time sometimes putting me in bed for weeks at a stretch.
Discipline and leaving it all on the slope come easy for me and many other mountain movers; our culture encourages our overreaching tendencies. Western society gravely truncates our learning about yin elements essential to a balanced athletic practice. Here I've recorded just the beginning of how to yin out as a mountain athlete.
What is yang to a mountain athlete? Your get-up-and-go, the power that you dig for to charge the final hill on your long run; your pep, verve, light. Your planning, your projecting, your motivation.
Why add yin to my practice? When we dip into our yang reserves, we get depleted and can run the risk of prolonged stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (I talked about the signs and symptoms of that here). Additionally, take another look at my list of yang excess ailments above. Uh huh.
How can I yin out? Yin is about doing less, going inward to clean up the self, or sometimes termed the strength in letting go. This essentially feminine (not to be confused with female) energy allows us to re-produce, re-juvenate, re-view--all key elements of a deep, integrated athletic practice. Yin is not about slacking off, eating too much, or debauching instead of training. Yin is about strategic rest, it is regular periods of necessary recharge.
Tiny yin practices: Sit in meditation for a few minutes. Better yet, try out some yoga nidra. Transform your bonk windows into grace windows by walking and feeding your way into them, practice positive self talk when you cycle in to them understanding that you'll bounce back. Get enough sleep. Take quiet breaks from hectic days of work or mountain travel.
Major yin practices: Balanced yin energy is less about what an athlete does and more about how the practice is conducted. Try to sense this first by finding the position of relative rest in your ambulation: the efficient gait of your uphill ski, the tiny rests between moves on the rock, lengthy pauses between steps at altitude, the signs that your anaerobic threshold is approaching. Implement a cyclic training practice, one that involves a balance between pushing yourself and mindful recovery. Meet with your favorite Chinese medicinal practitioner (acupuncturist, massage therapist, or naturopathic doctor) to discover the right foods and treatments to help you into balance.
As with any balance worth attaining, one is unlikely to hit the perfect balance and maintain it perpetually. Seasonal, hormonal, and other fluctuations in energy or inspiration will (and should) dictate whether an athlete focuses on her outgoing yang practice or her rebuilding yin practice. These fluctuations can (and will) switch on a macro cycle of years or a micro scale of minutes within an activity.
I hope you've enjoyed this update and look forward to bringing you more in-depth explorations of how balance feeds your skiing, biking, running, climbing, surfing, walking self. My coaching will deepen your understanding of how to best employ periods of strategic rest to optimize your performance.