CONTENT WARNING: Religious themes and mention of child sex abuse
Crisises often have a way of reminding us about what is important to us and what we want from our lives.
I am slowly recovering from a personal crisis at the moment and, while I take the time I need to recover, it has made me reflect on some things that were important in my life the last time I went through something like this and what may be missing this time. Reflecting while recovering is hard, but it is also a helpful process and it was actually a friend who inspired me to turn deeply inward.
One of my friends from EP is taking time at the moment to connect with God and her Instagram post a couple of nights ago caused me to think about my relationship with God and his importance in my life. I am a person of faith (I wrote briefly about it here) but I haven't turned to God in a long time and I've had trouble recently reconciling my faith with the actions of the Catholic Church.
I chose, as an adult, to be baptised a Catholic and attended a wonderful church in St. Albans. It was a close knit, welcoming community, I was deeply involved in many facets, and truly felt I had come to know God there. When I moved away and went to a different church, I felt a true disconnect between what I had felt and come to know and what was being taught in this church. The second church was a large, cathedral type building, very lavishly decorated, that had obviously had a LOT of money spent on it and continuously spent to keep it looking good (the paint was never scratched, the pews were never chipped, there was never a speck of dust), and the disconnect between the church and the community was total. As a newcomer, I was shut out of involvement: I would put my hand up to do things, only to be passed over and so, after a while, I stopped putting my hand up. The priest was also very different and had a much more dogmatic and literal interpretation of the teachings of the Church than the priest in St. Albans. I will give you an example.
During my time attending church in St. Albans, the state I live in (Victoria) was engaged in a public vote on whether to decriminalise abortion. The Catholic Church teaches against abortion, but I am firmly in the pro-choice camp and believe that it is up to nobody but the woman in question and anybody she chooses to involve. During mass one day, the sister at the church stood up and spoke about how, as Catholics, we should be moving to protect the unborn and that our faith should move us to vote against the proposal. The priest waited until she had finished speaking and said that, yes, the Church did teach against abortion, however God gave us the freedom to form our own beliefs and make our own decisions, and Jesus taught us to follow the path we believe is right and He loves us whichever way we choose to walk.
It was the first time I had ever heard a priest speak, not exactly against the Church, but on a slight divergence from it. It helped me feel closer to God, helped me form my image of Him as a loving father who respected the choices of His children.
At the second church I attended after I moved, however, there was no deviation from the Church's teachings and if we were good Catholics we would act in the way the church taught us to act. I can clearly remember the priest at that church standing up during a homily and saying that, while we should love our homosexual brothers and sisters, we should also pray for them to find God and turn from 'unhealthy practices'.
I walked out of that church - turned my back on a priest in the middle of a homily - and never looked back, or attended that church (or any church) again.
Because, here's the thing: I don't know how God feels about homosexuality, or abortion, or anything else... but neither does any person in this world, even a priest. Just like me, they have faith and that is personal and between them and God, just like my faith is between me and God. No one person, be they priest or not, is an absolute authority on God, because the experience of faith is different for every person and the teachings of a church are the teachings that human beings have prescribed to God. They have come to these through their own faith and this is neither right nor wrong, but it is wrong to demand others follow their way or claim that their way is the only way or that it's God's way. They cannot know that; they may have come to that belief through their faith in God, but, at the end of the day, He gave us free will and we choose what we will believe and how we will act upon those beliefs. He is not a master or dictator, but a father, and He is mysterious - we cannot know Him in His entirety, only our experience of Him, and that experience will be different for each individual.
But I won't deny that my faith was rocked by the unveiling of the terrible extend of child sex abuse, and cover-ups, within the Catholic Church. The behaviour of these many paedophile priests, the disgusting abuses they perpetrated against the vulnerable and innocent, the actions of their superiors in covering them up and moving these men to other parishes are heinous and intolerable crimes. It drove me away from my faith for a long time as I grappled with how - HOW - God could have allowed these terrible things to happen and why He had allowed innocent people to suffer at the hands of those who were supposed to be His ministers.
What brought me back, in a small way, was the realisation that there is a separation between God and The Church. I am a Catholic, so I speak from a Catholic perspective, but I realised that the same epiphany I had regarding a priest's knowledge of God as compared to mine held true here: The Church was an entity set up and controlled by men - and it was the men who failed to stop these terrible things and then hid behind God. The Church, as an institution, has strayed (I believe) and continues to stray. But God is separate from this catastrophic failure; He is not the bricks and mortar of the churches, He is not the hierarchy that allowed the abuses to occur unpunished and He is not the one perpetrating the abuses. These terrible things were done by men, and I do not believe, for an instant, that their desire to abuse children came from a place of faith or love, but from sin and a lust for power over others. It was not God who led these men to make the choices they did, but the men themselves who made those decisions.
And so, with this in mind, I slowly started to come back to God. But it was my friend's Instagram post from a few nights ago and then my own crash and crisis that really had me turning around and realising that, one thing I had last time I was going through this was a strong faith. That faith has lapsed of recently, it's been shaken, it's been clouded by outside influences and the cruelty of those who claim to preach it has driven me away from it.
Because the truth of it is, when I peel back the layers, that I miss God. I miss that feeling of faith, that quiet space within where I knew I could find Him. Of course, He was always there, always ready for me to turn to Him, but I never quite gave myself permission to find Him again. However, with the help of a friend, I am rediscovering His love and reaffirming my faith. I have always believed, but I am working now to cultivate that sense I had in the past, where I could find the quiet within myself where I knew He was there, that I could reach out to Him, talk to Him and simply be with Him.
This thought, that I am inviting Him back and returning to Him, has been very comforting as I grapple with recovering from my crisis and moving forward. I will never be a church-goer again, the church is a broken institution, too wrapped up in its own power and wealth, but I do believe in the Lord and I will take this opportunity to rediscover and reaffirm my faith and rebuild my relationship with Him.
I respect that there are those out there who do not believe and that is perfectly OK - I'm not going to try and make you see things my way and I only ask that, in return, you don't try to make me see things your way. My faith, my relationship with God, is personal: I'm keeping it between me and Him and won't be stuffing it down anyone's throat or shouting it from the hilltops. However, I will be sharing some of it here. If you don't want to read about it, if it's not really your thing, then that's fine, there will always be a content warning for religious themes attached to posts like these, so you can make an informed decision about whether to read it or not.
In closing, I really want to give a shout out to Shaz from EP, for giving me the inspiration I needed to turn inwards and reconnect with my faith. You are a beautiful soul, my friend, and thank you for helping me reconnect with God's love.
As some of you who know me will already be aware, I have been struggling with my mental health lately. A combination of internal and external pressures built up to boiling point recently and I've taken a step back and some time off while seeking help to put me back in a healthy and well place. I'm not going to go into details, but I will say that I have had some dark thoughts and come face to face with demons I thought I'd conquered long ago. As it turned out, they were just sleeping, waiting for me, and they certainly made their presence known recently. I haven't quite put them back to sleep, but I have regained more control over them now and am taking steps forward towards regaining my mental health.
The Lazy Yogi - who I have followed since I was in my late teens - recently posted the image above, along with words which I found very helpful as I slowly began to pull myself out of the hole I had fallen into, they may not resonate with everyone, but they were a good place for me to start as I looked ahead:
A demon is just a god acting out of turn. Our demons are not impurities so much as disharmonies. Understanding this difference will also alter our approach. Less fear, more focus. We don't have to be squeamish about recognising our demons because they do not define us. Their power comes from the way we ignore them. In the light of our attention, their ability to control us shrivels. Their influence no longer goes unquestioned. And their role is disentangled and returned to it's rightful place in our psyche. Stop distracting yourself. Stop running away. Turn and face your patterns and hang ups and you will find freedom.
As things started to build up for me, I tried to ignore them, push them down, drown them out and refused to acknowledge that they were there or that they were having an effect on my life. After the triggering incident, I described to a friend that I felt as if a part of my soul had died, but I didn't want to acknowledge or examine it: I shoved it down and told myself to just keep going.
In short, I did with Lazy Yogi reminds us gives our demons power.
And so they awoke.
But since I have turned and faced them, since I have acknowledged I need help to work through these issues and have turned to people who can assist me, the demons have had less of an influence on me. They are not gone, I haven't tamed them yet or put them back to sleep, but they are softer and not dominating my thought patterns.
This can only be a good thing.
Health and fitness is about more than exercise: diet plays a massive part in your overall physique, wellness, fitness and general, all over health.
This is why the diet industry in Australia (and the world over) makes so much money with their exploitative programs and marketing that focuses on body shaming over wellness, as people know that diet forms a large part of how we look and feel, yet many people don't know where to start.
A site I really enjoy reading called Everyday Feminism posted a fantastic comic on the subject in 2017: Why Every 'Scientifically-Proven Weight Loss Diet' Is Actually A Total Scam and it pretty much sums up the predatory diet industry, including who benefits from their 'programs', in nine panels.
If you're wanting advice about your diet or some guidance on weight-loss and/or healthy eating, then I urge you to contact a dietitian or nutritionist, who will be able to advise you safely and take into account your health, lifestyle and needs, including allergies and other dietary requirements, while assisting you to eat well. If you're not sure how to find a nutritionist or dietitian, then a good place to start could be (you guessed it) a trainer at your local gym. Any Personal Trainer qualified in Australia will have done work on nutrition and will be able to guide you on where to start, and should also be able to recommend you to a nutritionist for further assistance.
Now, before I go further, I will say that I have never tried (nor do I have any desire to try) any of the many diet programs that bombard our internet and television advertisements. Part of this comes from watching co-workers and family members (all of who had wonderful bodies and beautiful temperaments) yo-yo from diet to diet, becoming stressed, unhappy, hungry and snappish while they counted down to their next unfulfilling, tasteless meal, all while spending hundreds of hard-earned dollars on something they hated, chasing results that were never going to come. Part of it also comes from the fact that I have never liked the idea of being told what to eat and how to eat it: I enjoy cooking and I'd rather make my own meals, which I know I will enjoy and will fill me up, than cook to someone else's specifications with ingredients that don't terribly excite me. Some people say food should just be fuel, but I disagree: food should be enjoyed too - not to such an extent that it becomes unhealthy, but you should like what you're putting in your mouth.
Which is where my recipe for 'Better-For-You Chocolate Crackles' comes in.
Now, I have a sweet-tooth, it's one of my major weaknesses, but I've got better over the years and am starting to reign in my sugar intake. One of my greatest weaknesses is dark chocolate (the darker the better, at least 70% cocoa solids) and I could happily eat a whole block of that stuff and enjoy every bite.
But that would do nothing good for my body. Dark chocolate is better for you than milk or white chocolate, but eating too much of it (like anything) won't help you in the long term.
Something else I have a bad habit of doing is snacking. I get hit by quite intense sugar cravings at various times and have been known to stick a spoon into the brown sugar container and eat it (NOT GOOD!). A few weeks ago I decided I had to do something about my snacking habit, which would also help with my sugar cravings: I wanted to create a snack that was better for me than anything processed from the supermarket, simple to make, that I could make in bulk, and that had a bit a sweetness in it without being overloaded with sugar.
And, from there came 'Better-For-You' Chocolate Crackles! I deliberately haven't called them 'Good-For-You', as they still contain sugar (there are two types of sugar within rice bubbles [sugar and barley malt extract] and dark chocolate, by its nature, has some sugar in it) but they have less sugar than many supposedly 'healthy' snacks you can buy from the supermarket. Also, these crackles don't use copha or butter, so have slightly less overall fat content than a regular chocolate crackle. However, they are still a snack and should be enjoyed in moderation. As the ancient Greek god Apollo once said: Medan Agan - Nothing in Excess.
Barbell Dancer's 'Better-For-You' Chocolate Crackles
Cook Time: 5 - 10 minutes
Cooling Time: 2 hours minimum
Makes: 10 - 20 crackles, depending on the size of the patty pans
And there you have it. If you make these I'd love to know how they turn out for you. Drop me a line in the comments section below.
Was scrolling through my Facebook feed tonight when I came across a particular article a friend of mine had posted on their wall. The article aired the personal thoughts of a pair of 'celebrity trainers' about 'the world's most hated exercise': the burpee.
You can read the article here, but the general gist is that they don't think it's an effective exercise and it shouldn't be used. While these men are entitled to their opinion and fully entitled to share it with their clients, I respectfully disagree.
Now, I'm not a personal trainer, but I've been through a few in my time and currently train under two incredible trainers at Evolving Physiques (EP). I've also done more than a few burpees in my time and, while I agree that they're no fun at all, I don't agree that they're a waste of time or ineffective. My reasons are below and reflect my personal opinion and what I have learned through my health and fitness journey.
1. Not liking an exercise is not a reason not to do it.
I no longer do cardio training at EP, as I get most of my cardio through pole training, but back in the days when I would attend regular cardio classes, you could guarantee (especially if Pat was taking the class) that there would be a burpee (or ten) thrown in there. I don't like burpees, they suck and I'd really rather be doing something else, but you know what else I don't like: renegade rows, dead hangs, resistance runs, bulgarians, one-legged sit and stands, swiss ball hip thrusts, push-ups, Russian twists, planks, bicycles, crunches... you get the gist.
Not every exercise you do is going to be fun, some exercises you will love and enjoy, but others you will go 'Oh no! Not this again!'
But you know what? Chances are high that, the more you hate that exercise, the better it is for you. For instance, I don't like push-ups because they make my shoulders tight, my core ache, my arms tense and my legs shake: but I have preserved with push-ups over the years and now, while I would never say 'Let's do some push-ups!', I can do three in a row on my toes before switching to my knees and I've gotten better at them. My body has got stronger, my level of tolerance for discomfort has increased, my knowledge of what is 'good exercise aches' and 'bad pain' has grown so I can now tell the difference. But, if I had gone the first time I went to do a push-up 'No, I don't like this, I think it's a waste of time and I'm not going to do it' then do you know where I'd be? Not here, that's for sure!
Now, if an exercise in a program is really ruining your training and taking the shine off what you're doing, then by all means talks to your trainer about it and see what they suggest. Every trainer has a different approach and, if you discuss it with them, they will be able to advise you, as you should be enjoying/getting something out of your training sessions with them.
BUT, that said, I believe an important part of training is building endurance and resilience, and if you can work through the exercise you hate, then you will be making yourself stronger, both mentally and physically, and ready for new challenges down the track. Short term discomfort* will always equal long term gain.
2. Why does an exercise have to do EVERYTHING to be 'effective'?
The trainers quoted in this article say that a burpee is only good for 'getting your heart rate up' and that it has no real application that can be transferred to any other exercise. They recommend other exercises which also give 'the benefit of explosive movement that's going to get your heart rate up but is also going to hit your hamstrings, glutes, lats and core'.
But when did a single exercise have to activate every single muscle group to be effective? Some exercises do, some exercises don't, and each is effective for various reasons and has a variety of applications. It would be like saying a bicep curl is ineffective because it doesn't work your hamstrings and glutes, or that a lunge is a waste of time because you're not exercising your pecs or triceps. See how silly that sounds? Burpees do many good things (which will come up shortly), and they may not work every single muscle group but they don't have to either. The thing about a good exercise plan undertaken with the guidance of a qualified trainer is that they can tailor it to suit your goals, needs and abilities, with a range of exercises that complement those goals and ensure you get the workout you need/want, and see some results.
Also, I don't know about you, but when I've done a few burpees in a row, I can feel it everywhere! My core, my hamstrings, my calves, my glutes, my shoulders, my arms... I couldn't help but wonder as I read these men dismiss the burpee for not working major muscle groups if they have ever actually done one, or done enough of them to have any effect. An idle thought, but they seem to assume that because they have not had/do not see any benefit to a burpee, then the exercise is useless. Exercise is different for everyone and different exercises affect different people and different bodies, well, differently! What has no effect on you may have a strong effect on someone else and vice versa. I'd hope that, as trainers, these guys know that.
3. The many benefits of a burpee
The trainers in the article say the only good thing a burpee does is get your heart rate going, and then they proceed to inform the reader that there are 'so many other tools to do that that will actually transfer over and help you in other facets of your training plan'.
You know what? That's probably true to a degree, but it's probably true of just about every cardio exercise under the sun if you take them in isolation. Also, depending on the training goals of the individual, any of the many varied types of exercise could be ineffective in terms of long term goals and results.
As far as I'm concerned, the burpee is a great way to get your heart rate up, but is also has the following benefits:
You might argue that you can get these wonderful benefits through other exercises too, and you'd be right, of course. But does that then mean that these exercises are 'better'? Of course not, no exercise is better than any other in isolation. It means that the burpee has many functions beyond getting the heart rate up and can be used accordingly. Every exercise has a variety of different benefits, and a good trainer will be able to tell you how to use these benefits to your advantage to achieve optimal results.
And one final thing...
The last thing I would like to say before I close my defence of the burpee is that the entire tone and write-up of the article bothered me intensely. The opening by-line proclaimed that these trainers had 'busted a major myth' about the burpee and revealed that 'it's not as good for us as we believe'. This is tabloid journalism at it's finest; these men were doing in that article the exact same thing I'm doing in this article: expressing their opinion. They are more than entitled to have that opinion and news sites are equally entitled to publish that opinion, but it is just that: an opinion. It should not be read as evidence based fact.
Certainly, these men have experience in their field and have done well in their chosen career path. They deserve to be commended for this and I salute them for getting to where they are now, but they have no more authority than the next trainer to decide what exercises are good for everybody and which ones should be scrapped. The article gave their opinion weight because they are 'celebrity trainers' who 'own a line of gyms' - this is great and very good for them, but, at the end of the day, they are still trainers who are training their clients (some of whom happen to be very well known celebrities) and, obviously, burpees haven't worked for them. Does that mean they are a waste of time or, as these men colourfully described them, like 'adding garbage for the sake of it'? It does not.
The last thing that I found intensely irksome was a comment within the article that these men 'believe most people can't do burpees properly anyway' and that was more of a reason to stop. This comment actually made me angry. These men have built a career being personal trainers, and it alarms me that they have overlooked one of the most essential parts of their job: assisting people to have correct form while performing an exercise. A client can't do an exercise properly? Modify it! Their form is off? Correct it! Don't stand there saying 'you can't do it properly' and do nothing about it! This reads to me as out and out laziness and, at worst, negligence. I would certainly not trust these men to train me or anyone I loved if that is the attitude they take to people who can't do an exercise 'properly'. Further to that, 'properly' is going to vary slightly from person to person: form and technique are vitally important, but if I execute a push-up on my knees and the person next to me does it on their toes, and we both have correct form and technique, which one of us is doing it 'properly'? The answer, of course, is both of us, but we are doing it at the correct level for us and in the way that works best for our bodies and our results.
So if, like most people who exercise, you don't like burpees and if, like many people who read that article, you have thrown your hands up in the air and shouted 'Hallelujah! I always knew it!' I would invite you to pause, reflect and consider for a moment. You don't have to like burpees, and no one, and certainly no good trainer, is going to force you to do them if you really don't want to. But I would ask you to think about why you dislike them and what benefits could be gained if you persevere through them. Taking the easy road in the short term never led to anything good long term, after all, and training should be about the bigger picture. Wouldn't you like to look back in twelve months time, when you can do five burpees in a row, to the time when you couldn't even do one and say 'Wow! Look how far I've progressed'? That sounds like a better option than still moaning away in twelve months about how much you hate them and how uncomfortable they are.
We're all different, exercise affects us all differently, and each of us needs to ensure we are doing the right kind of exercise for our goals and our bodies. So before you dismiss the burpees because a pair of celebrity trainers in a news article said they were a waste of time, go and talk to a trainer at your local gym. Not only are they much closer and undoubtedly much cheaper, but they will have the time to sit down with you and work out the best exercises for you and your goals: burpees or no.
P.S. On Sunday (03/02/2019) I will be participating in the Destroyer Workout at Evolving Physiques, as part of a 'Mastering Your Mind' masterclass, hosted by Pat from EP. This workout involves the following:
I will be completing these exercises over a period of seven hours, while also attending the master class and learning about how to overcome mental obstacles and barriers; #wintersoldierdetermination will be out in force tomorrow! I will be uploading images and videos of various parts of the exercises to Instagram (@barbelldancer) so jump on if you don't already follow to see me take on this beast of a challenge, burpees and all!
* I don't like to use the phrase 'no pain, no gain' or a variant of, as pain is actually the body's way of alerting us that something is WRONG. If an exercise is painful, rather than uncomfortable, then you should stop immediately and tell your trainer. If you're not sure whether it's pain or discomfort, stop as well and tell your trainer where you're feeling it and what it feels like. Something one of my trainers told me was that an ache in the right place is good, but any kind of sharp, shooting or stabbing pain anywhere is bad. But everyone is different and you need to work at your own level: you know your body better than anyone. Over time you will learn how to tell the discomfort from the pain and a good trainer will always be prepared to pause and help you work out which is which if you're uncertain.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.