Fitness Is in My Genes

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I was reflecting on the origins of Gal on the Go. Who inspired me to change and live a more active and healthful existence? I was fixated on coming up with a woman in my life; then it dawned on me; it’s my Uncle Joe!!!!

Ever since I was a little girl, I was aware of my Uncle Joe’s commanding presence and dedication to fitness. However, I didn’t realize the impact his healthy lifestyle had on my mindset. In my teens and college years, I was preoccupied with navigating my life. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the power of his influence by way of example through his fitness work ethic.

Today, at age 75, my uncle could put many 20 somethings to shame! I was curious about how 61 years of daily fitness became a part of his life. So, I picked up the phone, called him, and had a lengthy heartfelt discussion with him.

The following is part of our conversation. I hope you find it insightful and inspirational…

Q: How old were you when you first started working out?
A: 14; I was a freshman in high school.

Q: Who or what influenced you to start exercising?
A: You know, we come from a big family. I didn’t have much growing up, and I didn’t know anything about exercise. One day, Uncle Phil and his son came to our house. They lived four doors down on the same side of the street. Phil was my favorite uncle. Phil told my father that he joined this health club and was working out, and my cousin made a muscle, a bicep. I looked at it like wow! Uncle Phil talked my father into allowing me to join the gym with my cousin, who was already a member.

I believe Uncle Phil paid for my first year — it was around $50 for a one-year membership back then. At that time in the 1950s, I didn’t even know what weight training was. I never heard of it. I didn’t know anybody who was lifting weights. I just knew my cousin’s muscles looked huge. I didn’t know how he got them.

As I got older, I added cardio to my weight lifting regiment because heart problems run in my father’s side of the family. There were five boys, and all of them died of heart issues. I felt doing cardiovascular exercises on a regular basis would help to minimize my chance of having a heart attack or something.

Q: What was the first gym you ever belonged to?
A: American Health Studio. It was a bodybuilding place — strictly weight training. Back in the 1950s, they didn’t have an indoor track, and all the other stuff gyms have today. It was just bodybuilding. There were two sides to the gym; one for competitive members, and another for beginners. We lifted on the non-competitive side, and I was grateful because when you start as a kid, you’re benching like 75 pounds. If I had watched the guys on the competitive side, I would have been intimidated by how much they lifted.

Q: How many gyms have you belonged to in 61 years?
A: At least 13. The average life span of a gym is usually seven to eight years. There’s so much competition. I belong to two gyms at a time for a challenge and change of pace, you know, different scenery. I was given the keys to several gyms over the years because the owners respected me. So I was able to work out any time I wanted, even on days when the gym was closed, like on Christmas. I prefer family-owned gyms because I feel that when you go to a smaller gym, you’re never among strangers. When you walk into a large commercial gym where there are 500+ members, it’s not the same. At smaller gyms, you get to know everybody, and it’s more personal.

Back in the day, there were very few gyms; now there is one every two blocks. Also, years ago, you would never see a woman in the gym. In the 1960s, I saw some women at the gym, but they were using vibration machines. I never saw them lifting weights. In the 1980s, I saw a few women weight training. Now I go to the Lockport YMCA, and there are an equal number of women, if not more women than men strength training.

Q: How many times a week did you go to the gym when you started in your teens?
A: About three times a week at the most. It was hard when I was younger because I didn’t have a car. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 26, so for years, I had to take a bus to the gym. In the beginning, there were periods when I would take a few weeks off from working out, but then I always returned. I think the periods of rest were good for me. When you go back, even though it’s challenging to start up again, you get stronger and stronger, because your body is rested.

One time, for some reason I hadn’t worked out for a long time because I was very sick. When I returned to lifting, it was tough for me to get back into shape. I swore that I was going to make sure I was disciplined. I had gained some weight, and I didn’t like it. It took a lot of effort for me to get down to the weight that was best for me. I vowed that I was never going to put myself through that again, and I never did. For more than 40 years, I’ve been very consistent.

I felt so good lifting. As I became stronger, I gained confidence. I had a newfound realization. When you are a freshman in high school, guys pick on you, but as I grew stronger and stronger, no one would bother me. I went to school at Canisius where kids had cars at age 16 and came from families with lots of money. I didn’t have any money, you know, I was the second eldest of eight kids from a family on the west side. The only thing I had to give my friends was protection from other kids. They counted on me if they were having trouble to solve their problems.

I’m not proud of this, but one day I went to school on a Saturday and hit a kid because he was picking on a friend of mine. A friend drove me. I went to school, knocked on the door, and told the kid to come out. He was a year ahead of me. He wouldn’t come out, but I kept knocking. Finally, he came out, and I said something like I heard you’re picking on my buddy Tom. I hit the kid and the next thing you know, we were in a priest’s office. The priest punched me with his knuckle right in my chest cavity. I couldn’t breathe. He told me to get out of school. I figured I deserved it. I never got into further trouble.

Q: How many times a week do you work out now?
A: Seven days a week. Every other day I go to a gym. I belong to two gyms and alternate between them. On my “off days,” I work out at home briefly in the morning and then at night. When I work out at home, I use light weights and walk on the treadmill. Every day, in the early morning I warm up at home for about 20 minutes with light weights, then I go to the gym for two and a half hours and do a mix of cardio, free weights and some of the weight machines, and then at night I do another 20-minute light workout at home. I like exercising in the morning because it sets the tone for the day. I can commit to other projects the rest of the day and not feel resentful if I didn’t get my workout in.

Q: What are some changes you have experienced since you started weight lifting in your teens?
A: When I was younger, I thought a true man doesn’t work out on machines. He uses free weights, but as I have gotten older, I see things differently. If they didn’t have machines at gyms now, I probably wouldn’t be able to get much of a workout. Years ago I wouldn’t join a gym unless they had over 100-pound dumbbells because I had already mastered the hundreds and I could do many reps with a 100. Now, I go to a gym, and the first thing I ask is, do you have anything lighter? I’m at the other end of the rack now.

When I was in my 20s until about age 48, I used to lift weights, run five miles a day in Delaware Park, and play basketball. I liked to mix things up. I didn’t listen to my body. I had the “no pain, no gain” mentality. It was the philosophy at that time. I learned that there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. If your body is in pain that’s a problem, but sometimes your ego gets in the way, and you continue to bench press and exercise too intensely; that’s not good.

Over the years, I heard about a lot of the bodybuilders I knew who were not doing so well. Some of them were taking things over a period of time and paid the price. I never took anything but Creatine and Protein. Unfortunately, I knew people who took things and committed suicide — they would go into rages. At one point, there was a cleaning chemical called Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO) that some guys used to put on their skin to absorb because they thought it helped with the pain.

Q: What is your favorite weight exercise?
A: French curls, also known as tricep extensions. I think because people always made positive comments about my arms. I used to curl 175 pounds.

Q: What impact has exercise had in your life and in what way?
A: It has kept me healthy. I have only taken off from work a few days ever my whole life. Also, I was very shy and lacked confidence. It took a while, but weight training made me feel like I was on equal footing with others.

When I became a school teacher, I ran a weight training program for elementary and high school kids. I would show up early, around 7 a.m., and we would work out for an hour or so a couple of times a week. An assistant principal asked me to do it; the board of education didn’t want it for insurance reasons, but the assistant principal still gave me the OK to do it. One of my students, Mike Pariso, became a competitive bodybuilder on a national level and is known as the “Man of Steel.”

Over the years, people nicknamed me Jack LaLanne. They still call me that to this day. I consider it a compliment. Jack did a lot for fitness — he brought it into our homes in the 1950s. He did nothing but good for healthy living and bodybuilding.

Q: Who is your idol?
A: My son Joey. I say that because of all he went through. He never once lamented or felt pity for himself. He was determined to fight. I admire that kid; he’s something. (Quick Background: Joey is my cousin, who is my age and the son of my Uncle Joe. A few years ago, with no warning, he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, underwent drastic surgery, fought for his life, and is doing great today.)

Q: What advice would you give others?
A: The biggest thing I tell people is to listen to their body. You can remain uninjured by listening to the little signals your body sends you — this is too much; you don’t need to do this; rest, etc. There’s a difference between being sore the next day, and hearing tears as you do exercises. If you listen to your body, you can continue for many many years.

I don’t see why you can’t keep exercising, even in modified form for decades. My buddy Herbie, a retired police officer, is in his early 80s. We used to work out together back in the day at Turner’s gymnasium, a gymnastics place that had weights. Herbie still tries to exercise and seems to enjoy it. His body is broken down, but his will is strong! I have always looked forward to working out. As long as I can retain that enthusiasm, I’ll continue to work out. I don’t see it waning. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I didn’t get into fitness and develop confidence. I credit weight lifting with a lot. I enjoy it immensely and hope that I can continue to do it for years and years.

___________

[The end of our conversation… Listen, Kimmy, you made my day. I love ya. Bye, dear.]
My uncle rocks!!!! ❤️

A main goal of Gal on the Go is to motivate people to lead active fearless lives. I hope that you have an Uncle Joe in your life who positively influenced you or that you are an inspiration to someone else!

YOGI योगी INSIGHT (part 10 in a series)

If you are coming here for the first time, you have entered part 10 in an interview series with aspiring and experienced yogis called Yogi Insight. I hope that you enjoy each person’s shared journey. Namaste!

I met Daniel a few years ago when one of his businesses, Jammin’ Java, hosted Jammin’ Yoga — a music-infused pop-up yoga series with proceeds to benefit Music Makes Life Better. I admire how Daniel pays it forward through his community organization, encouraging people to “serve their neighbors in need.” His pursuits align with all of my life passions — music, community, and yoga, so I was stoked when he carved out time to sit down with me and share his yoga path!

Daniel Brindley

Yogi: Daniel Brindley
Studio: Down Dog Yoga

Q: How long have you been practicing yoga?
A: Nine years. I started at a local gym setting, and then I went to Bikram Yoga in Tysons Corner and Reston for a while. After about year or so of that people kept saying you should try Down Dog, it’s hot yoga, but different from Bikram. I started coming to Down Dog about eight years ago.

Q: Who or what influenced you to take up yoga?
A: You know what, I was probably latching on to the trend. In around 2009/2010 I was on a personal journey to get healthy and looking for things to get myself healthy in every way. Yoga just really resonated with me. It kept working for me.

Q: What aspect of practicing yoga do you like the most and why?
A: It’s different from when I started. Now it’s very much body maintenance, staying healthy. With the busyness of life, especially with hot yoga, it’s very much a rinse. From looking at screens all day, email, phone, business, kids, and running around it’s a good way to show up, take a pause and get it all out. Rinse out and reset! That’s the way I think about it now. When I started, I was on a mission five days a week. It was very much a path to transforming my life and then becoming a teacher.

Q: What is your favorite style of yoga class to take and why?
A: The yoga that we do at Down Dog is called Baptiste Yoga™, power yoga. It’s hot yoga. It resonates with me — the sweat and heat. They are critical for me — I love it! It feels like more of a workout. There’s a vigorous side to it that I appreciate. Other yoga styles I have tried are fine, in my view, they are softer, calmer, slower, but I don’t get much of a workout. I don’t do it often, but I like Bikram yoga, it’s pretty special. The heat is amazing — it’s a very good counterbalance to Baptiste.

Q: What is your favorite posture and why?
A: I know what poses I don’t like, balance poses. Those poses can be tricky for me. I have a bad left ankle. In general, I find balancing poses challenging. I don’t know if I have a favorite — the way that the sequence is set up in Baptise, Wheel Pose is very much an apex/peak pose. Thinking back to my full history of yoga, I remember in my early days when they would call Wheel it was very challenging and very exhilarating every time. It was like whoa! I don’t have a favorite, but Wheel is definitely something that resonates with me.

Q: How long have you been teaching yoga?
A: Roughly four years, but I took a break. I taught a lot at the top and then I kind of burned out, took a break and then returned.

Q: Who or what influenced you to become a yoga teacher?
A: It felt inevitable to me. As I said, when I started yoga I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t me really; I was a different person. It changed my whole outlook on everything. I got into immersions, training weekends away — it started feeding on itself. I did a teacher training with Baron Baptiste who started Baptiste Yoga™. I also trained with Patty Ivey, owner of Down Dog. I’ve always been that guy — a teacher, good communicator — I like sharing and being in front of people. I’ve always found it exhilarating. Then falling in love with yoga and seeing how transformational it is, it became a thing that was obviously going to happen. I remember questioning if I should go to trainings and spend the money, but I kept doing it and was inspired to teach. As soon as I finished the second training I was teaching a couple of weeks later. 

Q: What aspect of teaching yoga do you like the most and why?
A: I have never been into the fancy poses and dissecting them. It’s never been what I have been drawn to. It may be a guy thing; I’m not sure. For whatever reason, I’ve always just been more drawn to the simple straight ahead Baptiste style if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I make subtle changes/tweaks to the sequence in my classes. Within that for me, what I’m most drawn to is the inspirational, transformational lesson — that’s what I mean by the non-pose part of yoga. That’s what keeps me going — sharing things I’ve learned with others. Also, I have a keen sense I realized. With yoga, if you give yourself to it — it can be a powerful transformational experience. I reference Christian faith in it in terms of being born-again. I feel like yoga, granted not a religion, I do see different people in the room having been saved or not saved by yoga. There’s something to that, again, not in a religious sense, but personal growth and transformational human story.  When I walk into my class, frankly I’m not focused on the seasoned people in the room. I’m not that guy who’s going to take them into crazy poses. When I see brand new people who don’t even know how to touch their toes — literally, there’s no reaction or response.  I notice that they’re a beginner and think, wow, I have the opportunity to show them how freakin’ amazing power yoga is and how their life can be impacted positively by the whole experience.   

Q: Do you feel your teaching style is different than others? Especially as a male instructor?
A: I do air on the preachy side, but I’m conscious of it. I’m very excitable. I like to go off and share. I can only teach once a week. I kind of wish I had the time to teach more because I want to share all this stuff. That’s my sort of style. I also think I’m good at getting people motivated. The momentum in my class is this train is moving, and there’s no lagging. It’s powerful and challenging. That’s what I want to do because that’s what I reacted to with yoga. It’s designed to be a highly physical practice. It’s supposed to be hot. It’s supposed to be vigorous. There’s a speed to the flow. I think I’m good at keeping people moving, sweating and being challenged.

Q: Do you feel the student’s perception of you is different as a male instructor? Your class is always jam-packed.
A: I think my class resonates with people. They’re getting the poses they need. I don’t complicate it. I think I have the wisdom to share that people are seeking. It’s the same thing that makes them buy self-help books, go to religious services, counselors, it’s all the same stuff — people are looking for guidance and growth. It’s a physical practice first definitely, and it’s a spiritual experience. Before I started yoga, it would go to the gym and workout and go to wherever else for spiritual stuff. It was all segmented, but in yoga, it’s all integrated. I think people keep coming back to my class because I’m very tuned into all of that. I’m not just mechanical pose-to-pose. I also bring in the spiritual elements. I think it’s kind of a holy sh** moment for some people. Wait, I thought I was just coming to workout. I think there’s something to that.

Q: Do you think your role as a father, businessman, etc. influence you as a teacher?
A: It’s the other way around. Doing yoga and teaching help me in different areas of my life. There’s an interplay, but yoga has definitely transformed how I look at problems, business, people, etc.
SIDE NOTE: Before the interview, I took Daniel’s class, and he talked about staying in the flow of life and the perception of letdowns and setbacks. There was a time in his life when he would have felt “the sky is falling” if crappy stuff happened, or things didn’t go as expected. But he has a different outlook now. He shifted from seeing those things as dead ends or problems to each one of the seaming roadblocks as the opposite — a sign of possibility. For instance, he said he went to go swimming for some self-care time and forgot his goggles. At first, he felt frustrated that he didn’t have them and could have said forget it and went home. Instead, he changed his mindset, grabbed a kickboard and did a different workout than he originally planned. Swimming laps with the kickboard and running in the water turned out to be equally if not more fun for him once he adapted to the situation.

Q: What advice would you give to a new yoga teacher?
A: There’s not a lot of money to be made in teaching yoga, at least at the local level. It’s very common for new teachers to burn out. They’re very excited and keep saying yes to teaching lots of classes, but they still have to work a full-time job. You can easily burn out and lose the excitement because of all the busyness. Also, you don’t think of this, but people who teach a lot have that much less time to spend in the studio and practice. There’s a sacrifice. You should be strategic with setting up your initial schedule to make sure it’s sustainable because burn out is real.

Q: What advice would you give to other males?
A: There is a perception out there that yoga is a woman’s thing, but it’s kind of funny because a lot of luminaries of yoga were male. Find a role model you can relate to. For instance, Baron Baptiste is a role model to me. I don’t know him, I’ve talked to him, but I don’t know him. I read his books, took his training and other things. I encourage other guys to practice yoga and consider teaching. If you’re a type A male, you probably think that you should be in the weight room and do CrossFit, but you really should be doing the opposite. You’re probably good at all that stuff, but the counterbalance to it is where you should be spending your time and energy. Yoga is where you’ll get the balance — the counterbalance to what you can naturally do.