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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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How-To

Jul 03, 2018

How to Use Your Body: Learn from world renowned artist Erika Lemay

Erika Lemay has used her body as a tool for a lifetime. Here, she talks about how she developed

WRITTEN BY

Erika Lemay

Erika Lemay is an internationally awarded performer and public personality. She is requested for the most prominent events on all 5 continents : Anniversaries, celebrations, TV shows, films, product launches, private functions for VIPs, celebrities, Royal Families, and World leaders. More information can be found on her website.

I was an over motivated 15-year-old, a promising Cirque artist with a strong feeling of invincibility that made me fearless. I remember how brave everyone (including myself) thought I was for performing a highly acrobatic act with a newly subluxated shoulder: two men perched on small platforms, would throw me high in the air above a net. I would execute flips and spins and then they’d catch me. My stubbornness, enhanced by a strong cocktail of painkillers, made it possible for me to perform the act, but at the cost of further damage. Today, I can’t even begin to understand what my immature, younger self was thinking. One of the most significant teachers in an athlete’s career is his or her own physiological feedback. Developing an accurate understanding of our body’s way of expression is one of the most important assets we have to improve our performance, general physical condition and wellbeing.

HOW MUCH CAN YOUR BODY TEACH YOU?

“unless you overcome the belief that listen-ing to your body makes you fragile, you won’t ever be able to use your full range of abilities and become the pro-athlete you crave to be.”

“Body awareness” is a multi-faceted term. It somehow became a taboo expression, especially in cases where we have to push our boundaries daily and often deal with pain in order to reach our peak. However, unless you overcome the belief that listen-ing to your body makes you fragile, you won’t ever be able to use your full range of abilities and become the pro-athlete you crave to be. Body awareness involves sensory awareness—the ability to identify and experience inner sensations of the body (e.g., a tight muscle) and the overall emotional/physiologic state of the body (e.g., relaxed, tense). If you have been working with your body as your main tool for a lifetime as I have (starting as a 4-year-old who took her ballet classes very seriously), you might know the feeling of analyzing every single movement, angle, type and intensity of pain. For many years, my very first thought upon awakening in the morning was: “How painful?”

I haven’t always been reasonable, I have greatly abused my own body for years

I would proceed, from my bed, to mentally quick-scan my whole body without moving and then, further examine every discomfort, recurrent pain and known injury in order to determine how my day would go and how I could adjust my training in order to get the most out of it. I haven’t always been reasonable, I have greatly abused my own body for years until I slowly learned, oftentimes through bad circumstances, to develop a two-way relationship with my body and get the best out of natural biofeedback.

OVERTRAINING IS NOT A MYTH

The first big mistake an athlete makes is to not listen to signs of distress. The human body is an amazing creature, it has the capability to communicate down to the smallest detail what’s right or wrong, giving us helpful hints in order to improve wellness. Knowing one’s exact conditions is a very powerful advantage. The sooner you identify that you are on the wrong path, the less damage you will do. If you put a lot of consistent effort into your training, yet no longer improve and even sometimes regress, you might want to ask yourself whether you are training the wrong way. Should you reassess your techniques and overall plan, or are you simply training too much? I’m no stranger to both mistakes but I can now recognize when my lack of result or my diminished strength, energy, concentration and motivation is not due to laziness but to a wrong approach or simply my body’s cry for help asking for 48 hours of rest.

We should think of body awareness as body intelligence; every input we are given can be used to enhance physical performance, especially the most subtle ones.

In extreme sports, we tend to not give a lot of value to people being attentive to pain or weaknesses. We should think of body awareness as body intelligence; every input we are given can be used to enhance physical performance, especially the most subtle ones. Managing pain and discomfort doesn’t mean ignoring it. I am not implying either that you should back off at the first sign of muscle soreness; be more open and understanding to your own body and use the weaknesses to eventually become more powerful.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My relative wisdom is the result of a long journey influenced by many episodes of injuries, overtraining, total loss of body abilities (dramatically thinking my career was over), desperation and eventually getting some common sense. Personally, I’m still an overachiever, highly motivated to improve my physical art. Nonetheless, what has changed today, is that I retain a completely different mindset to the one I swore by when I was that 15-year-old acrobat. I treat my body kindly, and am very sensitive to all its needs. I now rarely suffer from real injuries, because I am able to prevent them by recognizing early signs and acting accordingly. I adjust my nutrition, and my training timings and intensity daily, yet I follow a fixed plan in order to reach new goals.

A FEW TRICKS TO START WITH

Learning to not only hear your body’s needs but to listen to them is the first important step to developing body awareness. This is what I believe marks the difference between a good and great athlete, and improves the duration of one’s career. Start by consciously evaluating and journaling the way you feel physically at the beginning and end of each day, detailing as many aspects as you can notice and remember. There are three basic things that you need to personalize and connect to your journaling: training, diet and sleep. Make sure to monitor these along with the way you feel. This simple task should soon become part of your athletic routine. Secondly, by simply stretching properly, you will improve your brain’s relationship with your muscles and joints and their ability to monitor muscular coordination and function. By improving such connections, the physical screening I’ve described previously will become easier and more accurate. Additionally, meditation can be a valuable extension to biofeedback. The meditative state requires awareness of internal, physical and psychological cues, and thus, may be useful as a mental skills technique especially during stressful situations such as competitions. My message is meant to reach every person, elite athlete or not. Stop listening to what you “should” be doing, and start listening a little bit more to your own body, it is astounding how much it will teach you.

Illustration by Dhruv Vyas

This article originally appeared in the Fitness column of The Outdoor Journal Summer 2015 issue. Subscribe here.

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How-To

Jun 24, 2019

Dealing With Dietary Restrictions In The Backcountry.

Gluten intolerance, vegan, Halal, nut allergy, dairy-free, Kosher… whatever your dietary restrictions may be, you don’t have to let it hinder your ability to get out and enjoy the backcountry!

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

We spoke with expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, about his experience of maintaining a vegan diet on long kayaking expeditions. As a guy that needs to hike to remote rivers, nutrition, to maintain endurance is key. As Ben’s puts it “I began going after rivers that had not yet been explored, and quickly realized the endurance component of carrying a heavy kayak – sometimes days into a wild river or around unrunnable stretches of river – was the key to the mission”.

Read Next: Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesbury

We took Ben’s advice and put together some tips for dealing with your dietary restrictions in the backcountry.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Preparation is Key

It’s easy to head to REI and buy the pre-made freeze-dried backpacker meals. They are easy to prepare, lightweight, and a quick cleanup. The cons? They are expensive, kinda gross, and most likely don’t comply with your food intolerances or restrictions! So, instead of doing that, just prepare your own meals!

Plan your meals ahead of time, so you know exactly what ingredients to shop for before you go on your trip. Crack a bunch of eggs into a nalgene for scrambled egg dinners. Portion out oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips into a ziplock for breakfasts. Make your own granola bars, jerkey, and bread for sandwiches. Know exactly what food you will eat for each meal while you are in the backcountry, and prep it accordingly.

For Stookesbury, planning and preparing his meals before a long trip “takes some focus and forethought… but it feels quite empowering to be so much more cognizant of what I am putting in my body, and obviously there is simply no longer the need to eat much of anything that has all those nasty preservatives.”

Go With Good People

Unfortunately, some people are not as accommodating of food restrictions of others. I can’t say why, but some people think of food restrictions as “picky eating” and “high maintenance”, rather than a serious medical need or a spiritual belief. The fact that you may get seriously sick from eating gluten, or go into anaphylactic shock from your food being near peanut butter might not quite register on their radar. It doesn’t mean they are a bad people, but it might mean you avoid going on long backcountry trips with them in the future.

Alternatively, there are many people out there who are WONDERFUL to plan trips with. They will go out of their way to make sure you have the food you need, and will often sacrifice their own meal plan in order to include you in the group cooking. These people are the best, and you should keep them in your contacts for future backcountry trips. Sharing food and coordinating meals with the group will save both time and weight while carrying food into the backcountry, so going with good people who don’t mind accommodating your dietary needs is key!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Make Time For Three Full Meals A Day

No NOLS-style meal plans here. Stookesbury says one of the most important parts of expeditioning is “planning the time to eat three tasty meals a day.”

Give yourself enough time in the morning to cook up a hot breakfast. Plan a one hour stop mid-day to prepare a sandwich or wrap for lunch. Give yourself enough time in the evening at camp to cook a meal of veggies, protein, and carbs. Without the ease of the freeze-dried backpacker meals, you will have to put more time into your meal prep. But don’t worry, you’ll be happy you did when you are eating a freshly-prepared meal of roasted veggies and quinoa!

SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS!

Find a bar that works for you. And if you can’t – make your own!

I have spent the past year searching for the best gluten free and dairy free bars. I want the maximum amount of calories and protein, in the smallest possible package. As soon as I found one I liked, I ordered it in bulk on Amazon. I now have a stash of 50+ energy bars in my truck ready to be packed into a drybag, backpack, or ski jacket as soon as the need arises.

If you can’t find one that works with your diet, or can’t find one that you like – make your own! Any combination of dried fruits, nuts, oats, honey, and dark chocolate can make a damn good energy bar. You can find recipes online for homemade bars, then substitute various ingredients to make it work with your diet.

Stookesbury prefers the trail mix method to energy bars. “Nuts, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate is my personal substitute for an energy bar, and I call it a homemade energy bag! Keeping that ‘Power Bag’ of nuts, dried fruit, and some quality chocolate is a good way to keep your energy up and make snacking easy.”

Other popular snacking favorites include jerky, chocolate-covered almonds, cheese sticks (if you can eat dairy), and nut butters.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Be Prepared To Carry More Weight If Needed

I recently met a woman who has developed a severe allergy to all red meat, due to a bite from a Lone Star Tick. If she eats beef, pork, lamb, or any other red meat, she goes into anaphylactic shock. Even if her food is cooked in the same cast iron pan that has recently been in contact with red meat, she could go into anaphylactic shock. For these reasons, whenever she embarks on a backcountry expedition, she brings all her own cookware (and an EpiPen, just in case). She has learned to be adamant about her dietary needs on trips, and often prepares her food separate from the group. She is well aware that her food restrictions might force her to carry more weight than other members in her group, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her pursuit of overnight expeditions!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Examples of Day-Long Meal Plans for Various Diets:

Stookesbury’s Favorite Backcountry Vegan Meal Plan

Breakfast -150g oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemphearts, raisins and walnuts (add a little salt).

Snack – Powerbag (nuts, dried fruit, vegan chocolate)

Lunch – Hummus, veg (arugula, beet, carrot, avo) sandwich

Dinner – 150g Rice, lentils, broccoli, onion, garlic, with or without nuts, salt, and olive oil.

 

TOJ’s Favorite Backcountry Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Meal Plan

Breakfast – Pre-cut kale scrambled with eggs, avocado, and vegan “cheese”

Snack – Bobo’s gluten free oat bars, apple, and dairy-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Lunch – Gluten free tortillas with peanut butter and jelly

Dinner – Roasted root veggies (sweet potato, beets, carrots, potato), kale, and quinoa, topped with avocado and vegan “cheese” if preferred.

Photo: Brooke Hess

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