Sunday, October 9, 2011


Freedom. Free. My online dictionary defines freedom as a state in which somebody is able to act and live as he or she chooses, without being subject to any, or to any undue, restraints and restrictions. The other morning I was feeling especially grateful to be free, so I updated my Tweetdeck feed to read… True freedom is being comfortable with the courage to speak & act without concern for approval, validation or judgment from others.

Even though many of us are physically free, we still restrict what we do, say, where we go, what we try and experience, who we interact with, what we explore because of fear. Fear of the unexpected and its results, fear of failure to succeed, fear of what someone else will say, think or do because of our choice.

Last night, I watched an episode of 60 Minutes in which they honored Andy Rooney – the editorial reporter who has been discussing random items at the end of 60 Minutes since 1978. He’s 92 years old and still says and acts the exact same way I remember him speaking and acting when my parents watched 60 Minutes in the 80s. One of the things he said during the interview is that he has always been comfortable speaking his mind, saying what he thought, and acting accordingly. He doesn’t regret anything except hurting the feelings of fans when they wanted an autograph from him and he refused to sign one or wanted to be left alone in public. If he had it do differently, would he? He said no. He thinks autographs are stupid and he values his private time whether he’s in public or not. I concur with both.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former Chairman of Apple, passed away earlier this week. There were many shows, online articles, Tweets, and FB posts about him, his life, his legacy and his death to the point that I was overwhelmed and didn’t go on Twitter or FB for the whole day and only watched one program – an interview with his co-founding partner, Steve Wozniak, on CNN. The main point that stuck with me about that interview was when Wozniak said that Jobs was totally passionate about what he thought and was creating. He didn’t care what other people thought, he didn’t care about what was hot in the industry at the time, he didn’t care that he wasn’t going to finish college… He was completely free. I admire that more than anything else in his story. The rest of history wouldn’t have happened without his willingness to be free.

I used to work in Jamaica teaching fitness classes and training fitness instructors at the various resorts. One week, I stayed and worked at Hedonism II in Negril. If you don’t know what Hedonism is, I suggest you Google it before reading the rest of this paragraph. I consider myself pretty “free” with nudity, but at the time of this particular week at Hedonism, I wasn’t as confident with my body as I am today. I was fit and toned and tight, but I was concerned about how small and droopy my breasts were. I didn’t want to put my breast-feeding A cups on display at the nude beach where Hedo vacationers with perfect plastic Cs and Ds with beads of ocean water dripping from perfectly perky nipples were sunning and giggling with their drinks on the beach.

As I was walking tentatively past the Prude Beach to the Nude Beach, I noticed a woman in her 50s or 60s smoking, swaying to music and laughing with the bartender between the two beaches. She was topless and wearing a bright-colored sarong around her hips. She had a little poochy stomach and cellulite on her thighs, but what intrigued me the most was the fact that she only had one breast. The scars from her mastectomy on the left side boldly curved from her arm under the space where a breast used to be. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help it. This woman with a pooch, cellulite, one breast and scar tissue was totally free… free to dance on both the Prude and Nude beaches, smoke, laugh and express herself regardless of who was around or what they thought. Since that day and that moment, I have boldly enjoyed my nudity – all of it – whenever I can.

Since the freeing of my great-great-great-grandparents who would have been slaves in the mid to late 1800s, I have had the choice to do what I want, go where I want, say what I want, and be who I want. I’m thankful every moment of every day for my freedom in every form.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Interview

Many people assume that the mates and spouses of ardent athletes and fitness freaks are also ardent athletes and fitness freaks. Hmm, not so much. In fact, unless a couple meets at a triathlon or while playing a sport, it’s pretty common that opposites attract – just like in most relationships.

Before I share the particulars of a recent interview with my husband – the opposite of an ardent athlete and fitness freak – please note that I asked his permission before sharing the details of his health, background and challenges with living a healthy lifestyle (so don’t call him and ask him why I’m putting his business in the street).

Background: My husband, Maurice, and I have been married for fifteen years and we are opposites. I love to do fitness stuff so much, I left corporate America and a growing career in finance to work in my passion of wellness and exercise. Maurice does not love fitness stuff. He did not leave corporate America and is a busy Fortune 50 executive traveling across time zones 40-60% of the month.

I eat sparingly – I love fruits, veggies and seafood – I hate soda and juice, only drink water, and avoid eating meat for digestive reasons. Maurice loves a well-seasoned piece of meat with sauce and thoroughly enjoys a bowl of ice cream and an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half sweetened ice tea).

I have to get at least 7 hours of sleep (preferably on a firm mattress with cool silky sheets) to function well during the day. Maurice rarely sleeps a continuous 5 hours and is often found snoring on the couch in front of the television with the remote control still resting in the crook of his limp hand.

I naturally wake up early with the sun and enjoy a walk, yoga session or meditation outside before starting my day. Maurice sleeps until the alarm rings and heads out to catch a flight, meet a client or start a conference call.

I believe in self healing and Eastern alternative preventive care techniques. Maurice has several bottles of prescriptions for various health issues in the medicine cabinet.

The Issue: Due to his unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and a high-stress workstyle, Maurice’s cholesterol has been steadily climbing to a point so high, his physician put him on Lipitor, which he takes daily. He is overweight, stressed out and on meds.

We have tried working out together – not successful. He has tried not eating meat at all – not successful. He had a membership to LA Fitness – not successful. I suggested he stop playing video games and watching television until falling asleep in front of the screen – not successful. He tried taking martial arts with our sons – not successful.

End Result: I gave up and stopped making suggestions. I stopped paying attention to what he ate or drink when we went out – I accepted who and what my husband is and stopped trying. I found trail and mountain-hiking partners and stopped asking Maurice to go with me. I stopped eating what the rest of the family ate and started preparing separate evening meals for myself. I quit suggesting how Maurice could wear his clothing to camouflage his growing stomach and accepted what he wore and how he wore it. I stopped begging him to get a massage and acupuncture and simply kept up my own monthly preventive and pampering treatments. When it came to health and wellness – I went on my journey and he went on his. Happy couple – no arguments - It was all good.

The Interview: One morning last week, Maurice and I were leisurely hanging around chatting about politics, our kids and life when it dawned on me to ask him about wellness:

“You know, Maurice, I have clients with the exact same challenges as you. Yo-yo dieting, starting and stopping various exercise programs, on prescribed medications, stressed out. We both know that you have had challenges sticking to great programs, but what have you been doing lately that has stuck and worked?”

He was quiet and contemplated the question for a minute or two. While he ruminated, I thought about the changes I’d noticed in him the last few months. He looked trimmer and his arms were more muscular. His complexion was smoother and unblemished. He seemed more relaxed and engaging. In fact, I didn’t think I’d seen him pick up a video game controller more than two or three times in the last month or so.

“Well,” he started, “I have been eating something healthy every morning for the last three months. A bag of cheerios or a granola bar if I have to run out, or you may have noticed me eating a bowl of cereal.”

He was right, I had noticed that.

“I’ve also started swimming laps almost every day. And when I travel, I choose hotels with indoor pools so I can swim before or after my meetings.”

“How long have you been doing that?”

“Hm,” I could see him calculating the weeks and months in his mind. “Hm, for about a couple of months now.” He added, “And if I can’t get an indoor pool, I’ll take one with a gym on-site and I work out on the elliptical and do some pushups.”

I had noticed him doing pushups in the bedroom every morning before his shower since the beginning of the year. Cool.

“What else have you been able to stick to?”

“Uh, I’ve been forcing myself to turn off the television at night and go to sleep.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed you in the bed instead of on the couch!”

“Mm hm. Since I’ve started sleeping at night instead of playing video games and watching movies, I’ve had more energy during the day and I’m not as stressed out when dealing with stuff at work.”

We both sat in comfortable silence as we digested what he was saying. Unhealthy habits that he’d had for more than twenty years, he was slowly changing in his 40s.

“Oh yeah,” he continued, “I’ve also been watching my late-night sweets consumption.”

We both chuckled thinking about his nightly bowl of ice cream and my bag of gummy bears (I’m not totally innocent here).

“But I’ve noticed dirty ice cream bowls in the sink for the last few days,” I said.

“Well, I still get cravings just like you do, but it’s not my regular habit anymore,” he responded with a shrug.

He was right. I’d noticed that he wasn’t consuming sweets until falling asleep on the couch, the empty bowl resting at his feet.

“How long have you been doing all this stuff?” I asked him.

After a few seconds of thought, he said, “Since February or March.”

It’s July – that’s almost 6 months!

“What made you decide to do this now?”

Maurice took a deep breath and let out a soft sigh. “When I went to Dr. Ito and he showed me those cholesterol numbers over 300 and told me what could happen as a result, I knew I had to do something. I don’t want to take Lipitor every day for the rest of my life.”

I laid next to him quietly for a long time after he said that. I knew the changes he’d made weren’t easy for him, and that he had to really be concerned about his health and our family’s future in order to do what he was doing. I also knew I had to share his experiences.

If I’m honest with myself and my clients, I can’t fully relate to the challenges Maurice and my clients have with eating and not exercising. My career and life are one big exercise class.

“Can I share this?” I eventually asked him. “Can I blog about it, can I talk about this conversation and your journey in my presentations? I think so many people will be able to relate to your challenges, your story and your successes.”

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” he said.

Then he got up, put on his swim trunks and left for the pool.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Dash

I’ve heard and read about the concept of the dash between the years. You know… on a gravesite headstone. There’s the year of birth, a dash, and then the year of death. The dash represents everything that happens from the time a person physically comes into the earthly world we know and then departs from it. Everything. That’s a lot of stuff for most people.

Many of us have the same routine from waking to sleep. There are a few hiccups in the routine, but for the most part, we do what we know to do, go where we know to go, say what we know to say, see what we know to see, hear what we know to hear. It’s rare that we step outside of our box of knowing and do something totally unknown. Something different.

I live for those rare moments in life. I hunger for stories shared by others. I listen with rapt attention as my husband unfolds stories of his business travels to other countries or when my studio clients tell me about their travels and life journeys. Out of the norm experiences that make the dash jump, twist and bend. Experiences that make the dash seem yards longer than the mere centimeters long it is to our eyes. Experiences that, when shared, make for great stories that last well past the date written to the right of the dash.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband made a business trip to Japan. He called me one morning and reported that “group exercise” was being performed in the park outside his hotel window. I suggested he partake in the exercises, and the next morning, he did! My 6’ 0”, solidly-built, dark-skinned, African American husband donned a pair of red basketball shorts and a grey t-shirt and joined the large group of native Japanese people of all ages and both genders all wearing white in the park. I could only imagine how he must have stood out – bigger and more colorful than the native people. Different. When they swung their arms, he swung his. When they bent over then reached up, he bent over then reached up. When they leaned briskly to the right and left, he leaned as quickly as his larger frame and new-to-this-program mind could handle. He was slightly behind the rhythm and timing of their moves, but he was there, doing it all. He heard a group of Japanese women behind him giggling and commenting, but he kept at it and reported feeling good afterwards. What an experience to add to his dash between the numbers!

Is our dash experience always a positive one, or can it be a traumatic learning experience that shapes the direction of our lives? I have a variety of emotions attached to my dash, but my most recent addition to the dash – the bioluminescent tour – is a combination of comedy, education, and… Hm. I can’t really find a word to describe it. I’ll leave it up to you to define it.

The BioBay

A few weeks ago, I was browsing Islands Magazine and read an interesting blurb about a rare microorganism that glows in the dark in deep recesses of water. There are only five places in the world for tourists to experience this unique phenomenon on the water’s surface. Cool, I thought. Then I kept flipping through the magazine.

When my husband and I arrived in San Juan, PR to start the celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary, we turned on the television in our hotel room and started watching the information channel about things to do in Puerto Rico. One of the info clips was about the BioBay – one of the five locations in the world where people can experience bioluminescent microorganisms creating streaks and blinks of light in the dark water. Cool, I thought. Then we started flipping channels.

When we went down to the lobby to find out about rock climbing, waterfall hiking and zip-lining through the rain forests, the clerk handed us a flyer about the BioBay and the unique nighttime adventure of exploring bioluminescent microorganisms. Okay, three times is too many for a coincidence… so we signed up for a tour with a company called EcoAction and, later that day, drove an hour to a funky (and I do mean the nasty smell funky) little corner of Fajardo, PR.

The first clue that this was going to be a dash-enhancer was the fact that there were three scraggly-looking street dogs pooping, farting and peeing in and around an open space where I happened to be sitting near the edge of water where nasty, brown seaweed and muck was washing up on a dry patch of grayish brown land.

I looked around at the ten to fifteen BioBay tour companies dispersed not far from us and planned my escape from the dogs. “Let’s go found out where our company, EcoAction, is located,” I suggested to my husband, even though we’d arrived about forty minutes early. As we walked away, I cut my eyes in a warning slant toward the panting, scrawny dogs jogging behind us like we were their owners.

In my determination to get away from the dogs, I didn’t realize that none of the flags or tents or brightly-colored t-shirts on the tour guides had EcoAction emblazoned on them. Not one. “Excuse me,” I asked a professional-looking guide wearing a KayakTours red shirt. “Do you know where we could find EcoAction?”

He didn’t hesitate in pointing out the spot where I’d been sitting. The exact same spot where the dogs had been pooping and peeing at the edge of the muckiest part of the bay. Hm – not a good sign.

“EcoAction has a yellow truck and they’ll be over there in a few minutes,” he said. Then he smiled at me, with just a hint of sympathy in his eyes, before turning back to his well-organized group of tourists in matching red life vests standing in an orderly semi-circle.

I grudgingly returned to the bench near the poop, pee, muck and funk and waited patiently with my husband. We watched row after row of brightly colored kayaks parade in even lines out into the bay and disappear behind the shored boats through a tunnel of low-hanging trees.

Within minutes, a tattered-looking Toyota pulled up to the curb and a young man with his hat turned backwards jumped out. He nodded to us and proceeded to wave down a junky-looking yellow truck. The window of the truck was shattered as though someone had thrown a brick into the passenger side window. A white cardboard sign with the words ECOACTION BIOLUMINESCENT KAYAK TOURS was haphazardly taped to the window in an effort to simultaneously cover the spider web of cracks and inform customers that their tour guides had arrived. The driver pulled to a stop next to the young man and jumped out to give him a hand slap and a man-hug.

I tried not to judge this situation even though it was becoming harder and harder as each new element was making our situation seem more dire. The driver of the truck was wearing brightly colored plaid surfer shorts, thigh-high purple water socks, a pair of electric blue and black water mocks, a multi-colored surfing wet shirt, and a long tail of curly black hair peeked out from the back of his trucker hat. My eyes briefly met my husband’s.

Let me digress here for a moment. My husband, Maurice, and I have been married for fifteen years and we dated for five years before that. We don’t need words to communicate at this stage in our relationship.

The look on Maurice’s face and the communication from his eyes said:


“This is some shady, unprofessional $&!#.”

“Maybe we can get a last minute sign-up with one of the other fifteen companies out here with a more professional set up.”

“We should get in the car and get the hell out of here RIGHT NOW!”

Yep, his face said all of those things to me in one second. Literally – one second. I sighed heavily and I’m sure my shoulders physically sagged as I leaned depressingly forward and rested my head in my hands.

We looked around desperately and realized we were the only ones waiting in this section. I considered going back to the hotel right then and there and getting a free night’s stay for them booking me on this crappy tour, but in my infinite Yoganess (is that a word? I just made it up), I decided not to judge this situation from what my eyes saw. I took Maurice’s hand and softly said, “Let’s not judge the book by the cover.”

The look in Maurice’s eyes replied that he had judged this situation and was about to get the hell out of here. But he felt my Yoganess taking over, and simply stood there in his Chicago-stance. (There’s no way for me to describe the Chicago-stance. If you know someone from the Southside of Chicago, you know what I’m talking about.)

Wait a minute… was that multi-colored surfer-guy tour guide pulling kayaks out of the back of that beat-up truck and pulling it over the dog excrement into the brown foul-smelling muck? No way. No way. Yoganess gone. Maurice looked at me. My eyes and my mouth told him I was having a serious problem with this. I couldn’t – wouldn’t walk in that water right there. I couldn’t – wouldn’t step on the sacred city-dog-blessed-ground.

But we didn’t leave. It was as if we were determined to create a dash moment together. A traumatic experience that would bind us together for rest of our dashes. When another couple looking as dubious and cautious as we were walked up, we almost hugged and kissed them.

I will spare you the details of the two beat-up minivans pulling up with more tourists and squealing young girls speaking rapidly in high-pitched Spanish. All with reservations on EcoAction.

Eventually, multi-colored surfer-guy pulled out life vests and handed them to us. For some reason, I think Maurice’s life vest was a joke. It looked like it would have been more appropriate for our 9-year old than his height and size required, but I kept that thought (and a smile) to myself and listened while Peter, the head of this operation and our lead guide, began to explain – VERY rapidly – how to use the oars to steer the kayaks.

Peter further explained that we would be paddling a mile and a half in the pitch black through a tunnel of trees called mangroves. If we accidentally crashed into these mangroves, they would be slimy and we’d have some problems getting out, so we should try VERY hard to stay in an even line following the glowing light of the lead kayak. As he said this, he looked towards the kayaks and pointed, but there were no lights. He stopped speaking and stood still.

¿Dónde están las luces?” he angrily inquired of the young guy with the hat turned backwards.

“No se,” Hat-back replied and walked away as though it was okay that he didn’t know where the lights were for our kayaks. I quickly glanced at Maurice and immediately looked away after seeing the set of his jaw.

“First couple!” multi-colored surfer-guy called as he stood in the muck.

No turning back now. I sighed as Maurice and I gingerly made our way over the areas we knew had dog poop on it and stepped tentatively into the waiting red kayak. At least I didn’t have to step in the water.

“Wait by the red boat!” Peter called to us and four other couples that had safely made it out into the bay. That was easier said than done considering the waves of the boats and other kayak tours paddling out were causing us to be pushed into the shallow mucky water at the base of the mangroves. We tried to paddle our way into a little group, but kept running into each other, bow first. The shallow water was full of seaweed and as I tried to paddle us into position, the seaweed would get trapped on my oar and then fall into the kayak on my lap and on my head. I whimpered silently to myself.

Where was the guide? Where were the lights? Were we really going to try to stay in this one spot until all twenty kayaks got in the water? There were only five us in here now and things were not looking good for the five of us as one couple drifted into the mangroves and another headed straight for us. Everyone was fighting and fussing with their kayak-mates. I was immediately reminded of the Amazing Race, one of my favorite reality shows.

I watched another kayak company’s kayaks rowing out in orderly fashion past us. A red light glowed on the back and a green light glowed on the front of each one of the fifteen kayaks gliding silently and professionally past us. No arguing, no fighting, no Amazing Race drama.

Eventually, multi-colored surfer-guy waded through the shallow water up to us and placed a bright green glow stick in a little hole at the front of our kayak. He did the same for the other ten kayaks now milling about in the bay. He jumped into a red kayak without a colored light or glow stick and flashed a little light into the air. “Follow me in a single file line, people!” he shouted as he expertly turned his kayak and began stroking out into the bay.

More chaos ensued as the now fifteen kayaks (and more coming into the water every minute) tried unsuccessfully to get into a single-file line. We broadsided each other, we crashed, and Maurice and I got turned completely around. I know we looked like a circus side-show to the other tourists. I know each and every one of them was silently thanking their creator they hadn’t signed up with EcoAction.

Eventually, about six of us got it together and were gliding in a line toward the tunnel of mangroves. I hazarded a glance over my shoulder and saw the three-ring circus of the rest of our group crashing and bumping in the bay behind us, their frustrated voices bouncing off the surface of the water. But I didn’t have time to think about them. I got into a rowing rhythm with Maurice and we sliced silently through the dark water into pitch black.

There are no words to describe rowing in total darkness knowing that fish, eels, birds, bugs and trees are so close to you, you could reach out and touch any of them at any moment. Everyone in our small group must have felt it, because no one dared to speak above a whisper as they gave directions to their rowing partners. A fish streaked past us under the water and Maurice and I both gasped. The water around the fish was glowing bright blue and green and left a streak of illumination in the dark water behind it. Awesome.

We crashed into slimy mangroves, we crashed into kayaks going the other direction in the narrow tunnel, we crashed into our own sister kayaks. It was so dark, it would be impossible not to. I felt my eyes stretched open as wide as possible as I tried to make out the outline of anything, but to no avail. The only things I could see were the glowing green sticks on our kayaks and the outline of leaves against the backdrop of the lighter sky. Every couple of minutes, a flash of light from the multi-colored surfer-guy’s kayak would flash through the tunnel of darkness illuminating exposed mangrove roots and the rowing outlines of the people in front of us. When I looked back there was nothing but Maurice and total darkness. Awesome and amazing.

Eventually, we made it out of the narrow, winding tunnel and cruised into an open area about half a mile in diameter. When I looked down into the water, it was glowing an icy white-blue-green. Fish jumped out of the water leaving a spray of glowing water behind it. I passed my hand tentatively through the water and it glowed white-green. Luminescent bubbles surrounded my fingers and left a wake of glowing water in the trail of my movements. The water that had pooled inside the floor of our kayak was dotted with glowing light. I scooped up a palm-full of water and held it close to my face. The glowing water was alive and moving within my palm. It was truly unreal and amazing. Now I know why Island Magazine dedicated a page to this phenomenon and suggested it as a must-see experience for its readers.

After being a part of the actual tour, the foolishness that is EcoAdventures was forgiven (but not forgotten). Would I have had a story like this to share with you if we’d gone with KayakTours? No. Would my experience be as memorable? No. Would my dash be as abundant? No.

My prayer is that my dash moments live on to bring amusement, entertainment, education and joy to others, even when the number on the right is etched in stone.