It’s 5:30pm on a Tuesday and I’m racing out the office to make it in time for Caitlyn Visconte 5:45pm Vinyasa3 class. I whirlwind myself to the train station in time to make the first train from Park Street, luckily the commute only takes me 10 minutes. After walking through the door at YogaWorks in Back Bay my first inclination is to place my mat down on the floor, space is limited and most people arrive on time. I pull a Clark Kent in the changing room and rush inside the studio to begin my practice that begins promptly. Today, Caitlyn warmed up the class with some Sun Salutations called Surya Namaskara A. Through the slow and pleasant movement, she allows people to slowly synchronize ‘the breath’ with motion before beginning the challenge.
I’ve attended Yoga classes all around Boston but I decided to stick with YogaWorks because of their flexible class schedules and wide-array of instructors with different styles. They provide a focus on working the core and this is especially important to me since I work a sedentary job and train Jiu Jitsu which constantly requires core flexibility and strength. They also offer a class with a unique approach to Yoga where they play Hip-Hop music and let you to free-flow for a few minutes encouraging you to express your creativity and imagination with your flow. Sometimes, they’ll even throw on the black lights, but that’s a separate class.
For those that doubt the mental and physical toughness levels that Yoga requires, I simply challenge you to attend one of Caitlyn’s V3 classes. Within 15 minutes of class my mind is fighting to stay focused and my body is struggling to hold itself up. What keeps me coming back? Every other aspect of my life is enhanced from enduring the challenges in class. Everyone practices for their own reasons and people benefit from Yoga in different ways. For me, the feeling I have after finishing a class and the lessons that I learn on the mat which I can apply off the mat are essential to my well being.
When I step foot onto the mat, whether its Jiu Jitsu or Yoga, my mind quickly travels to the present. It doesn’t matter what type of day I’ve had, good or bad, I quickly come to grasp with a sense of ‘the now’. I had a coach early on that impressed upon me the importance of being present and showing up. It’s not just enough to get yourself to the weight room or practice, but making sure that you make it count each and every time you’re there. When I step foot on the mat, I focus on my breath and make sure to do a proper warm-up before I start drilling. When its Yoga, I begin my practice by closing my eyes and drowning out any heavy thoughts or burdensome worries from the day. If I’m stepping foot into the weight room I’m not stopping my motion, I focus on constant movement from the moment I arrive to the moment I walk out. My ultimate goal in any sport that I practice consistently is to tap into a state of flow where I am no longer listening to thoughts solely from mind, instead, I’m just acting with an instinct that comes from the synchronization of the body with the mind. It’s a beautiful experience and one that I believe is worth pursuing.
Starting a blog about my passion for fitness wouldn’t be just without explaining when and where that passion was spawned from. I was born in 1987 and grew up watching 90’s action films starring actors who without a doubt were the best of their time. Who were they? My top three were Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone. In hindsight, these three guys were the ultimate fitness models and inspired me from a young age to reach for a high level of fitness. It wasn’t obvious to me at the time but I had become obsessed with the idea of becoming fit even though I had no idea how to get there. Like any young boy without a clue, I went ahead and asked my mother and father how to reach my new goals. I literally asked my mom whether the food she was feeding me at the time would help grow big and strong, anything from spinach and broccoli soup to salad and colorful veggies I ate without any question and gladly asked for seconds. She wasn’t wrong in doing this but there was so much more to it than healthy eating.
Fast forward to high school, I had finally gotten over my ‘awkward’ years of growth and begun to see some slight changes in my physique. I was no where near what I was aiming to get to but I began lifting weights and seeing small amounts of muscle come in. Up till high school I was just running and playing sports so I had a pretty lean figure my freshman year. The changes in my physiology started to become noticeable when I started wrestling my sophomore year, for anyone who hasn’t wrestled in the past, it’s a sport that requires team collaboration throughout practice in the week and then an independent performance when you compete on the mat. Practices were run in a repurposed room that became so hot, you could see sweat drip off the walls. I competed at the 160-pound weight class category where I began to learn the meaning of hard work. We ran the halls, lifted weights, lifted each other, and sparred like Spartans. Wrestling was the beginning but it wasn’t the end. When I got to college I practically postponed my health and fitness goals to focus on ‘figuring it out’.
My post college experience is when things all started to come together. I finally had the time again to dedicate myself to doing the things I enjoyed and building the habits I wanted to. When I began to take fitness seriously I started by reading anything and everything I could get my hands on about fitness. What I ultimately learned…? I learned that fitness is a lifestyle, it’s built into a person’s habits. It starts with the food you eat but it continues into the type of exercise or movement you engage in and ends with allowing your body the time to regenerate and rebuild. It’s rare for someone to naturally be drawn to eating healthy, exercise on a regular basis and go to bed early. This becomes even more difficult to accomplish the older you get because life only gets busier and busier. However, like any obstacle that seems unsurmountable at first, you chip away at it long enough, you’ll end up on the other side before you even know it.
It’s a late Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in a Nero Café nearby my apartment in South Boston and I finally have the urge to write about some of my passions. One in particular that began just down the street from the café I’m sitting at now on West Broadway. This passion, otherwise known as Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art highly popularized in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, began 7 years ago after I graduated from college. I had gained 10 pounds from working and living a sedentary lifestyle and if you know me you’d know how much this really bothered me. I had little to no motivation to go to gym after getting out of work and I needed to figure out a way to get myself engaged in fitness. I grew up playing competitive sports in high school and I knew that if I could find a way to do a group sport where I was challenged both physically and mentally, that it would be key to maintaining my desired fitness levels. I had spoken to friend of mine who had trained in the ‘Arte Suave’ in the past, she highly recommended the sport to me and so I googled ‘Jiu-Jitsu South Boston’ and low and behold there a Carlson Gracie gym located just a quarter mile from Melcher street where I worked at the time. Overly excite and naïve about the physical torture I would eventually come to endure I called up and booked my first class. Of course, being the stubborn guy that I am, I took a somewhat cocky approach to the whole thing (I highly discourage anyone from doing this) because I had done some wrestling in the past, I thought it would be in line with what a training session with no-gi would be. I walked in and introduced myself to the trainer, John Clark or JC for short, who asked me a bit about my background. I proudly said I had wrestled three years in high school and went on to change and take my place on the mat. I followed everyone’s lead on the mat and tried my best and imitating the motions I saw others performing with ease such as a shrimp and a forward shoulder roll to warm up. After warming up we went ahead and partnered up with each other to drill, wasn’t the worst as I found it a personal strength in the past to perform athletically at new physical challenges. Once all the drilling was over with, we line-up and do a round robin sparring session. Now this is where my eyes were literally opened to a whole new world of pain and rigor. Within a matter a seconds my fellow sparring partner, Camillo, had tapped me in 4 or 5 different ways. I was quickly reminded that I had no idea what I was doing on the mat. It was then time for me to roll with Brendon, he took my back and reach for a choke but in doing so his nail found its way into the retina of my left eye and gently scrapped a layer of my skin off. For anyone who doesn’t know what this feels like, imagine closing your eyes and feeling the stabbing pain of a needle being forced into your eyeball. I screamed a loud shout and was escorted off the mat where I sat on a bench and applied pressure to my eye in hopes of alleviating the pain, this only intensified the pain I was feeling at the time. JC asked if I was okay and I quickly nodded and said its just something in my eye. I remained benched for the remainder of drilling and then stepped on the mat to bow off. I knew it was bad because the pain continued to get worse anytime I blinked and tried wiping the tears that poured from my left eye like a gorge. I got changed and quickly walked out so others wouldn’t see me in my moment of weakness. Thoughts going through my mind were directly related to my ability to work the next day since I use my eyes to stare at computer screens for the majority of the day and it just happens to be my good eye since I was born with a lazy right eye, it was very important for me to ‘fix it’ as soon as possible. I remember the struggle it was to drive home. I could only use my right eye which is shitty vision to begin with and with tears building up from the pain in my left eye it was like driving with pools of chlorine stinging and blinding your sight simultaneously trying to shift in my manual hatchback while applying pressure to relieve my eyes throbbing pain. It was a close call when a cop drove by and tried to keep my cool not minding the fact that I looked like a one eyes pirate with my face all scrunched up and red from the pain I was feeling. To my relief, he drove off without thinking twice about the strange vibes I must have given off. I got lucky and somehow made it home. I remember laying in bed with the lights off because it was all I could manage, I called my brother upstairs when he finally got home and convinced him to give me one of his pain killers from when he got his wisdom teeth removed. This barely got rid of any of my pain and I had a very light night of sleep waking up with pools of tears and sticky stuff around my eye, it was incredibly swollen. I called out of work and made an appointment at the eye doctor. The conclusion was that I had a hanging piece of skin around the retina of my eye ball which he had to cut off with a small pair of tweezers, he said I was lucky because had the cut been slightly deeper it would had required surgery and possible vision loss. I was given some drops which alleviated the pain and a contact lens to act as a band aid while the skin healed over itself. It took about a week for my eye to heal but it continued to open like a flap whenever I woke up in the morning. The Doctor said explained to me to imagine a pothole which requires constant filling and continuously opens back up when driven over after an extent of time. Here I was sitting and hearing this feedback but all I could think of was when I could get back on the mat to get better at this sport that had just severely threatened my vision for the extent of my life quite possibly. It didn’t matter, I had gotten the bug and after two weeks I showed up at Broadway Jiu-Jitsu and signed up for what would go onto become one of my life’s greatest passions. This is how I came to fall in love with Jiu-Jitsu and how my journey all began. Oss.
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