Decompression Chamber

I’ve been going nonstop from meeting to meeting all day. Watch a class, debrief with the teacher, head to the next school. Repeat. Meet with administrators. Next school. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s been a long day, and I need to take my mind off work.

[Cut to the gym.]

I look down and set my feet straight under my shoulders keeping my weight balanced between my heel and the ball of my foot. I bend at the hip and knee, extending my arms to grip the bar just outside my legs, keeping my arms straight, and wrapping my thumb and fingers into a tight hook grip. Squeezing my quads, glutes, abs, lats, and grip I smoothly raise the bar, removing all other thoughts, and initiating the first pull.

As the bar comes past the top of my knee I initiate the second pull by explosively extending my hips, forcing the bar into a faster upward trajectory. This movement immediately merges into the third pull where with all deliberate speed I pull myself under the bar and extend my arms upward, whipping the bar into an overhead position. I then stand up through an overhead squat to finish the movement. With the snatch completed I let the bar fall to the floor, and along with the bar falls the stress and anxiety from the long day of work. Repeat, repeat, repeat to exhaustion. Decompression begins.

I love my work. I believe passionately in the power of education to transform lives, end cycles of poverty, and improve the world we live in. This work, however, is also extremely stressful. There is much at stake in education. Whether as a classroom teacher or now as an instructional coach, the work of education applies a very personal sort of stress on the educator. We are in the business of growing people, and as such we have to take people where they are with all of their own stresses, difficulties, and barriers and help them do the immensely challenging work of self-improvement. By uncovering, naming, and overcoming these barriers we, as educators, are constantly exposed to the stresses of others. Additionally, many educators, myself included, have high standards for our students and ourselves. We are continually looking at how to improve our work and achieve better results. It is natural that some of this stress rubs off on us and follows us home. We need ways to decompress.

For me, proper decompression comes through intense physical activity. I am continually thinking about education. I wake up thinking. I go to sleep thinking. I think through dinner and housework. I process, analyze, reflect, and evaluate my work constantly. For me to fully decompress I need to engage in activity that is so demanding of my focus that it becomes impossible for me to think of anything else. Crossfit fills this need.

The combination of volume, weight and intensity from Crossfit creates an ideal decompression environment in which I have no choice but to focus completely on the workout and put aside all other concerns. As with the snatch example above, I need to fully concentrate on moving my body in order to execute the proper lift. If I am not completely focused it could lead to poor results and possibly injury. This leaves no room for the business of the day, forcing me to shut those concerns out of my conscious brain. Once the workout is in progress all my energy is spent on breathing, movement, and persevering. The work is all encompassing and I enter a meditative state in which the rest of the world ceases to exist. When finished I can go back to my thoughts with new perspective and while I will be physically exhausted, I will be mentally revitalized.

Anyone living or working in a stressful environment needs a method of decompression. For myself intense physical activity is the right choice and has become an integral part of my life. For others it may be gardening, painting, a nap, or a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. It is important to keep in mind that the method of decompression should act as a net benefit to your system. A drink and a cigarette after a long day can be momentarily calming, however, the negative side effects incurred far outstrip the temporary relaxation. Likewise over training (in the case of exercise) can be very detrimental, leaving one more exhausted and unproductive. The activity should leave you with a feeling that you are capable of coming back to your challenges and attacking them with newfound vigor.

Being effective in your work requires balance in your life outside of work. In education we see the impacts of an unbalanced life every day in students. These students come to class hungry, tired, and under great amounts of stress, all of which prevents them from learning at the height of their abilities, and stunts their growth. Teachers have the same responsibilities to balance their lives in order to deliver the education that is at the height of their abilities as teachers and allows them to grow their practice. The grading will wait. Trust that the lesson is adequately planned. Go decompress and be mentally and physically prepared for a full day of teaching ahead.

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