July 6, 2012

Shaping Up & Shipping Out

Comfy place to hang out for 9 hours....
One of the less obvious things we've been doing to prepare for the trip is getting in shape. Traveling for a year is a great adventure, but it can also be mentally and physically grueling at times. To keep ourselves mentally healthy, we are purposely taking a slow pace for The Trip and allowing ourselves longer stays to regroup if we get burnt out from the constant moving, packing, unpacking, trains, and packed busses. And, physically, we're about to put our bodies through the ringer; the overnight trains, cramped buses and lumpy hostel beds, the foreign foods and contaminated water, the constant walking and heavy backpacks. This part is especially concerning to me, as I have always had slight scoliosis and I also herniated the L4 and L5 discs in my lower back about three years ago (and trained-for and completed a triathlon without knowing it). Since then, I've had two major flare-ups that were pretty debilitating for a few weeks. It's painful and limiting, and I really don't want to have that happen on the trip, so my main physical focus over the next couple of months is getting more limber and strengthening my back and core.

I've dabbled in yoga in the past, going to classes sporadically and, once I got into the regular practice of of Bikram Yoga, which is hot yoga and the same 26 postures every class, but didn't like the repetition. Since then, I've tried different workouts - weight-training, running, cycling, swimming, P90X - and, while I can certainly benefit from any of them, I was regularly injuring my back. Once I realized that yoga was going to be the best thing for me, I had to choose the right kind of yoga. Eventually, I found Iyengar yoga and started taking classes at Santosha Yoga, which is only a 5 minute walk from our apartment. I've only taken 5 classes, but I can already notice a difference in how my back feels.
Iyengar yoga uses props to assist the body and help you get into the correct posture

Steph has always been exercise-averse. She's claimed many times to be allergic to exercise (something only she, herself, believes). But that's changing now - she's committed herself to running and is consistently out on runs, training for a 5k in August. This is a big step for her, as she's never run more than a mile at a time in her entire life. The biggest change she's noticed with her running is that her lungs feel stronger. She's been dealing with exercise-induced asthma for a long time, but she's breathing easier now. She also joins me at Santosha for yoga a few times a week and does Bar Method DVDs from home. BUT - Steph is pretty accident-prone. This past weekend she busted up her toe trying to keep up with our nieces in Alaska (post coming soon on this topic). She's taking a week off from running to let it heal, which is tough for her training. Just yesterday, she badly cut the palm of her left hand and can't use the hand right now, so she's pretty much off the exercise wagon at the moment. I'm telling you - she's a total klutz - the girl shouldn't be allowed out of the house or near sharp objects.

The biggest change we've noticed in our lives has come from the drastically altering our diet over the past 6 weeks. We're pretty much doing clean eating, which means no processed carbs (breads, white rice, pasta, etc...), while eating a balanced diet. Our meals typically consist of a 4 ounce portion of lean protein, a whole grain (like quinoa) and lots of fruits and veggies. During the week, we've been really good at keeping our diet healthy, but we've been relaxing things a bit on the weekends. It's been pretty easy to stay on track and, strangely we don't really miss sandwiches or crave bread. We're both feeling much better after meals - less heavy and tired, and we're having far fewer stomach aches or digestive issues. Things will change, obviously, while we're on the trip. In some ways, we might be eating healthier, but we're certainly not going to turn down naan or dosas while we're in India or avoid white rice for the entire year. This isn't a "diet" to us. It's a lifestyle change that we're committed to.

The hard part is staying in shape while we're on the trip. If we can keep up the veggie intake and do a few stretches each morning, I think we'll stay on track and, hopefully, be a bit more comfortable on our trip. We're even hoping to spend some time at a yoga ashram while in India - maybe a week or so. Some ashrams are pretty hardcore - not allowing you to leave the property and practicing yoga for 8-10 hours a day, but we're looking for something a bit more low key. This is partially because we're not that experienced in yoga yet, but also because we want to be able to walk around the town and have a more relaxed, balanced experience.

I'm sure many of our friends don't want to hear about us being concerned about getting "burnt out", getting travel fatigue, or getting worn down from our extensive and exotic travels (tough life, huh?), but it does happen and can affect your trip and experience. The way we see it, the stronger we are before we leave, the less body issues we'll have on the road. It's just another one of the many MANY ways we're preparing for this trip, but it's something we should have been doing anyway. Now, we just might end up being the hottest backpackers in India.

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