Monday, January 28, 2013

Of Primal and Taiko

So, I'm a taiko player now. Those who've seen taiko players on stage - and those who have taken a workshop before, will know how physically demanding it is. Those who know me will know how unfit I was before I started playing. I've never done any sports. I'm not powerful. I don't have good stamina. But I love taiko, so I had to adapt.

My first two years were formative years, a slow upward hill where I was still a beginner in every sense of the word. Learning how to move; learning how to hit; learning the pieces. It was just a hobby, and I wanted it to remain that way.

But in September 2012 I went to Japan. Took workshops, spent 4 days living and drumming with the Kodo apprentices. Met all those amazing, amazing, incredible people. And when I came back, suddenly the "just a hobby" thing wasn't enough anymore. And I was very sad, and very lost, and yes, somewhat angry too. I had a knot in my stomach all the time, and only drumming or dancing would make it go away. So I drummed. And I danced.

One thing had been nagging at me for a while, was that I needed to make some changes if I wanted to get better. I'd been reading Mark's Daily Apple about the Primal Blueprint (here's a primer)... I have some friends who are Crossfitters and Paleo... I've seen the effects they claim are due to that way of eating and living. And I had a nagging feeling this would work for me. But I've also always believed that food shouldn't be a religion; that you should eat what's set in front of you; and especially that the greatest wisdom is to eat a little bit of everything. Some of my Paleo friends were all about meat, meat, meat, and that always seemed wrong to me. I've since found out that there are many, many ways of going about it; many different philosophies of the same current, and many ways of adapting it to what works for *you*.

In Japan we ate differently, nearly Primal, for three weeks, and it did wonders on my body. Of course, we ate a small quantity of rice every day, and some tofu, and some wheat noodles and tempura batter on occasion too, but most meals centered around tons of super fresh fish, fresh vegetables, soup and tea, and almost never any dessert. So I lost weight. I didn't crash anymore. I felt great!

When I came back, I decided it was time for a switch. We barely ate any bread already, except at breakfast, and we rarely ate processed foods. We were actually already halfway there. But I started eliminating pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, etc. from our evening meals, which means also that I eliminated them from our lunches, because we always cook more at night to have a lunch for the next day. I started by replacing them with sweet potatoes and squash, but now we don't really need even those anymore as a substitute. And I lost weight. So I started buying cheese again; avocadoes; whipping cream; Greek yogurt; nuts; bacon... I weighed a bit over 115 before the trip; probably around 110 when I came back. Last time I weighed myself, with clothes and shoes on, I was at 107. Believe me, I eat. I'm never hungry. I think it will stabilize now that the little bit of flab is nearly gone.

Next step was breakfast. For a few weeks, I struggled with this. And then, one evening, I made a big omelet, cut it in 4, and ate the 3 leftover parts on the next 3 mornings. Then I made eggs again; and then leftover pulled pork and avocados (a favourite combination of mine); sausage and salad; ground beef and cabbage soup (this is REALLY good in the morning); and when I don't have anything ready, Greek yogurt + almond butter + berries or bananas or apples + coconut flakes. The trick was stopping to think of breakfast as breakfast. It's just another meal! Just eat food!

And wow what a difference this has made!

I used to have hypglycemia symptoms when I didn't eat fast enough after a meal. Headache, sweating, wobbly legs, disorientation, irritability... now sometimes I eat lunch at 3 and there's no trace of a crash. I still can't skip a meal and feel good, but I expect it will come soon enough.

People have started telling me muscles are showing now in my arms and shoulders. I think this is partly due to the weight I've lost, because it makes them more visible. But this way of eating is supposed to help you bulk up, and I think it's working. And I'm sure the fact that I have more stamina means I can work longer and harder, which in turn means I build up more muscle.

I mentioned stamina... I was nearly always the first one to get tired, visibly, and I used to envy those who could go on and on and on... now, of course, my muscles hurt at some point, they get tired, it's unavoidable. But I still have energy. *I* don't get tired nearly as much. I used to be so tired after a 2 hour taiko lesson that I could barely carry the chairs back in the hall, let alone wash the floors. Now I just grab a rag and go at it without thinking. It was a big surprise the first time I found myself doing that, but now I know it wasn't an anomaly, because it has repeated itself enough times that I know it's a definite change.

When I came back from taiko before, I hurried home to eat before I felt too woozy, took a shower, then slept for an hour. Now I just take a shower, then sometimes I eat right away and sometimes later, and I don't need to take a nap anymore. Of course, I get tired and go to bed earlier on taiko evenings than on regular ones - I'm not a machine ;-)

I've been taking notes about the changes I noticed after I started changing my diet:
1- My sense of smell has gone crazy (one evening I picked up a piece of broccoli, and went whao, I never knew broccoli smelled this strange! it's like I could smell three different layers of smell added on top of each other). The downside to this... perfumes really get to me now, even more than before.
2- I can function well on very little sleep.
3- I don't get hungry much anymore, and I don't crash.
4- I want coffee all the time (this has resolved itself - I think it was just a transitional thing)
5- I like to eat bananas (this has resolved itself partly; I don't crave them anymore, but I still like them more than I liked them before, probably because the sugar they contain doesn't affect me as much as it did before)
6- I think my toenail is healing (I've had something weird about one toenail for years - doctor thinks I probably just hit it at some point, and I've always had doubts)
7- I don't get tired. My muscles get tired and they hurt, but I still have energy to go on, which is wonderful.
8- I'm not nearly as sore the day after a workout than I used to be.

I would really love to check out a Crossfit gym, but I can't see a way to fit it into my schedule, which looks like this:

Monday (free)
Tuesday (free)
Wednesday - taiko practice until 9:30pm
Thursday - Japanese class until 8pm
Friday - Taiko practice (observation) until 8:30pm
Saturday - Taiko practice (observation) until 1pm; often Japanese dance class in the afternoon
Sunday - Taiko class until 12:00

If I want to be able to sleep, at some point... I don't see how it can fit in. Maybe one day I'll figure something out!

There is a taiko event next weekend, we're going to Boston! Food is provided, but it's:
- pastries and bagels in the morning (well, I can eat the cream cheese at least)
- sandwiches for lunch (ditch the bread and it may mean a very small lunch indeed)
- fried noodles, fried rice and sushi for dinner (starches, starches and starches)
So I will be travelling with a cooler; decent breakfasts at least, and protein and fat for the rest of the day. Too bad I can't bring avocados to the U.S... I'll have to try and find some along the way before I get there, or go without!

If you're curious... I can give you links, I can recommend books... It might not be the right solution for you, but it has made an amazing difference for me.