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Thursday, December 31st, 2009

In Shape And Being Healthy

There’s a big difference between being in shape and being healthy. You can be healthy but not be in shape, and you can be in shape but not be in good health. When I was training for the circus I was in great shape. I was a lean 165 pounds, ripped to the core, training 8 to 10 hours a day. I’d start the morning with handstands and finish the day doing chin ups. Three times a week I would train MMA style at the local fighter’s gym and teach self-defense at night. This went on for four years.alvintam-plank

But I was not healthy, despite my fit appearance, acrobatic agility, and intense physical lifestyle. I’d start the morning with a chocolate muffin and milk and finish the day eating instant Ramen noodles. Most of the week I was in pain – a rotating kind – where each day the suffering would migrate to a new part of the body. I had severe back issues for most of my second year in training, sprained ankles for most of my third, and uncountable cuts, bruises, bumps, and scars for the entire duration. I fought the flu at least 2 to 3 times a year. I ate randomly, whenever I wanted, and almost always the food contained sugar and white flour. I slept late, woke early, trained hard, and slept late again.

The outside projected pristine health – the glowing physical prowess of an athlete in training, full of youth, well-oiled body parts, and a fully revved engine. I was hitting red line RPMs with a smile on my face and eagerness in my heart. The totality of training was a way of being extreme, young, and fully alive.

I was definitely in shape but not healthy. Slowly, my body was falling apart. This youthful race car was starting to hiccup and limp to the finish line. By the time I completed my training I was strong, skilled – and injured. My grand denouement or final act at the circus school was a pulled rib cartilage that rendered me incapable of even sitting up on my own. I was condemned to four weeks of shallow breathing, slow walking, and much time to reflect.

There was a gradual dawning that although I could make the packaging look good, the contents inside were rotting. I needed to invest in better foods, wiser training habits, and more sleep. Health was an elusive benefit that not even a professional acrobat was privy too. You had to work for health too.

Although today I may not be doing the same number of flips, jumps, and spins as I did during my training, I consider my current state as one of the healthiest ever. I am mostly without pain, with the exception of the occasional intense workout. I eat well and allow myself to be indulgent when I want to be. When I’ve had enough of Thanksgiving turkey, apple pie, and cider beer, my body tells me and I naturally bounce back to eating fresh, organic foods again. My body knows health, and is attracted to it.

I’m not at my performance weight but not far from it. I train when my body feels like moving – which is almost every day, but not always. I sit and watch Friends reruns and then get up and hike in the desert. The definition of health has changed for me over the years and it is by far the healthiest yet.

I used to never drink, fast for days, do week long herbal cleanses, and exercise religiously. It was a regiment of to do’s to align myself with what I thought was true health. I felt great for a while, but in the end, lost the rhythm of the cleanse, changed exercise programs, and gravitated to a new type of fast. It wasn’t consistent.

My current understanding of true health is the ability to carefully listen to the needs of your body and act upon them. Over-training is as dangerous as not moving at all. Severe diets, cleanses, and fasts can be as detrimental as junk food for breakfast everyday. There is only one book that can give you the recipe for greater health, and that book is written by you.

alvintam2-headshotTo drink in consciousness, to eat ice cream in consciousness, and to watch football in consciousness is a greater sign of health than exercising because a sheet of paper, handed to you by your trainer, tells you to do so. Developing consciousness is the greatest catalyst for developing sustainable and natural health, because you already know what you need. All you have to do is listen for it, and then act upon it.


Alvin Tam is a Human Touch Health & Wellness council member and enjoys relaxing in his HT-7450 Zero-Gravity massage chair.


“I notice that using the massage chair has helped to radically reduce tension in my neck from all the computer work I have to do. I also have an overall sense of well-being by not having any back tension at all during the day.” – Alvin Tam