Human Rights and Animal Rights: We Are All One

10 Dec

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Today is International Human Rights Day, a day that is observed across the world every December 10th.

As an animal advocate, many times before I have heard these troublesome words being articulated out of peoples’ mouths: “There are too many human problems in the world that we have to solve first before we think about animals”. And also: “Why don’t you care about humans instead of animals?”

These are phrases that can be incredibly frustrating to hear by those of us who advocate for animals, because we want people to understand that we are all part of this web of life, all human and non-human animals, and whatever we do to animals affects human-beings and vice versa, so incredibly and impact fully.

As noted, people will often scoff at the notion of “animal rights” and say that they are for “human rights” instead. Without getting into the discussion of why we can’t just all be concerned for the well-being of all animals, including human-beings, I just want to address what we mean by the word “rights”, since that’s a loaded term in itself.

When I say “animal rights” or “human rights”, what I am referring to are the rights of these individuals to be treated with respect and compassion. The “right” for these individuals to not be treated as property, as they are their own beings with their own reasons for existing here on this earth. I fully believe that every creature was put here on this planet to live a life free of slavery, free of torture, and free of oppression – both human and non-human animals – and so we must be afforded this right to live freely as such.

And to only regard the rights of one species as being important, or being the most important, is what is called speciesism. Speciesism is the discrimination in favour of one species over another, simply because it exists as that species, and for no other reasons. I think speciesism is what often counteractively creates that unflinching divide between the notions of “human rights versus animal rights”. It is all the same thing.

We are all animals. Everything that happens here on this earth to one another affects one another, and, as humans, we cannot act independently under the badge of ‘human rights’ without it affecting all those around us, and vice versa.

I’m not advocating for anti-humanism – I’m advocating for the rights of all. There are many intersectional issues that affect other marginalized groups as well – such as people of different sexual preferences, different races, or those who are differently abled.

Highly acclaimed animal rights philosopher Dr. Will Tuttle wrote an article called “The Five Universal Taboos and Animal Use”, in which he proposes five universal taboos that humans do not tolerate against each other:

  1. Physically harming or killing others.
  2. Stealing from others.
  3. Harming others through sexual misconduct.
  4. Deceiving others.
  5. Forcing others to ingest drugs, alcohol, or toxic substances.

In our society, we work hard to ensure that humans enjoy freedoms from these five taboos.

However, then why do we condone, encourage, and sometimes celebrate these atrocities against non-human animals, when it comes to food, clothing, entertainment, vanity and other purposes?

What does this say about us as humans?  What does this say about our efforts for social justice?

a31What Dr. Tuttle says is: “How can we as a society expect that our efforts for social justice for ourselves can be realized while we are acting so heartlessly, unfairly, and violently toward those whose vulnerable lives we hold in our hands? How can we respect each other’s interests, when we don’t respect the interests of billions of animals (and other humans), knowing that their interests are as important to them as our interests are to us?”

I want to implore everyone on International Human Rights Day to open your hearts and recognize that we’re all beings of this earth, and that every living soul deserves to be treated with respect and compassion rather than with neglect or harm.

We must all unite on the issues of the suffering of all beings, not just certain species, and recognize that we are all in it together on this Earth. We all feel suffering and pain. We all want to live. We are all here to live on this planet, and to thrive and enjoy life.

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures, there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.”

~ Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer

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A friend’s fight with endometriosis – and she needs our help

29 Jun

Today I am making a collaborative post that I worked on with my dear friend Jenni Rempel. Jenni and I worked closely together on the Animal Voices radio show and in the animal rights community. She has just launched a fundraising campaign to raise money so she can have much needed surgery for endometriosis, a chronic hormone and immune disease that affects 1 in 10 women worldwide. We put together this interview about endometriosis awareness and the fundraising campaign.

Alison: So what is endometriosis?

Jenni: Endometriosis is a chronic hormone and immune disease where diseased tissue that responds to hormones (similar to the lining of the uterus) grows inside the body. It is commonly found on the bladder, bowels, and abdominal cavity but has also been found on the lungs and brain. There is actually very little known about the disease. For example, the diseased tissue responds to hormones and produces fluid which causes inflammation, but no one know what is really being produced… blood? acid? ketchup? who knows! It can also create scar tissue, lesions, and adhesions (when one organ sticks to other organs). Oh and chocolate cysts (aka endometriomas). Sounds yummy but they are actually horrible dark blood filled cysts in the ovaries. There is no cure for endometriosis.

Alison: How did this happen to you?

Jenni: No one know for sure what causes endometriosis but researchers have found diseased cells even in embryos so it is suspected to be a genetic disease stimulated by environmental factors. As Lady Gaga would say, I was born this way (laughs). For me it all started when I was 21. I was living in New York City at the time volunteering as an intern for Mercy For Animals and devoting my life full-time to helping animals. I woke up one morning to the start of my period, which had never been heavy or painful before, and next thing I knew I was passed out in the bathroom of the Harlem IHOP throwing up and calling an ambulance.

Alison: An IHOP?

Jenni: IHOP doesn’t have very many good vegan options so I never would have gone there otherwise, but I just needed to get to a washroom badly. It was my first encounter with how cruel and cold people can be towards those with invisible illness actually. They have a policy where you have to make a purchase to use the facilities and I wasn’t really interested in having something to eat so I tried to just give them a $20 bill that I had in my wallet. I couldn’t even see straight and collapsed on their waiting room floor. She still wouldn’t take the $20 and said I had to order before I could go. I think they would have been content to let me die there. Harlem is a neighbourhood with lots of socio-economic barriers so I suppose they have likely encountered odd-looking people coming in to use the facilities before, but I was really disappointed with how they treated me.

Alison: Does that kind of cold treatment towards people happen often in the city?

Jenni: Quite a bit. I’d tell people I worked with that I was in the ER over the weekend and they didn’t even seem concerned. I guess because I look normal and there were no obvious physical injuries people were not concerned… I have always done lots of freelance work as well and having endo has really affected my ability to work. It’s a lot of “when are you getting better?”, “why are you still sick?”. It’s very hard to keep a job or relationships with people when you become so unreliable. I wish I could flick a switch and be fine again but it doesn’t really work that way. And people don’t want to hear that you aren’t doing good and that you aren’t getting better. I feel like such a downer sometimes but that’s just the way it is with this disease. There is no cure, and I am in more and more pain every day.

Alison: So what does it feel like to have endometriosis?

Jenni: It’s often called killer cramps. At first it was only during my cycle that I’d have this horrible pain and end up in the ER. I’ve been on morphine for this; it isn’t pain you can ignore. I also usually start vomiting and have trouble going to the bathroom. Over the past two years thing have gotten worse and now instead of 1-2 days a month of pain it’s almost everyday. There’s also the “endo-belly”. I get so bloated from the inflammation that it looks like I am pregnant. It is very uncomfortable. There are lots of complications too – things that aren’t necessarily symptoms of endo but that are related. For example, because of all the vomiting, I have such a small appetite now. I also get very fatigued and have muscle and back pain – even sitting at a chair in a restaurant is a challenge for me. I think I am becoming malnourished from not being able to eat so often. And it’s very isolating, too. I have stepped down from all my volunteer positions and lots of jobs, too. I never know when I am going to be sick so it is very hard to commit to things or make plans. I feel like I’ve disappeared.

Alison: Why is it important to spread awareness about this disease?

Jenni: It is surprisingly common. It affects 1 in 10 women (and some men too!), but no one knows about it. I had never heard about it until I got sick. Growing up, I was always told that period pain was normal and to “suck it up”, etc. Back in highschool, girls would use it as an excuse to get out of gym class and because I hadn’t experienced it, I had no idea it could be this bad. Lots of women are sick for over 10 years before getting a diagnosis so I really want to raise awareness and try to change that. Suffering is not normal. Pain is not something anyone should have to deal with long term.

Alison: So tell us about your fundraiser.

Jenni: I wanted to do something to raise awareness about endometriosis, and I also really need financial support because the surgery I need is very expensive. They don’t really have long-term treatment options in Canada, so I have to go to the US. I am going to see one of the world’s top specialists in this disease and the long-term success rates are very high (which is uncommon for endometriosis surgery – many women have upward of 10 surgeries with no lasting results). Any amount that folks can afford to donate is hugely appreciated. Every little bit helps. And sharing the fundraiser also helps raise awareness about endometriosis which is really important to me.

Jenni and I marching for the animals at the Pride Parade in Vancouver.

Jenni and I marching for the animals at the Pride Parade in Vancouver.

 

Fundraising Website: http://jennissurgery.com/

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1595113407444972/

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Jenni Rempel is an animal activist and used to be an active volunteer in the Vancouver community before becoming sick with endometriosis. You can learn more about endometriosis, her surgery fundraiser and donate at: http://www.jennissurgery.com.

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Honouring Memories On Your Special Day

10 Apr

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Dear Ben,

It’s your birthday again. You would have been 46 today. Since I have known you, April 10th has always been a very special day to me, and I am honouring this day again. The last birthday you celebrated on this Earth was your 41st, and while the time may be swiftly passing, year after year, it is with due consideration that I stop to acknowledge your life and take stock of the Earth-bound years we shared together, and the many before that that I knew much about from all your stories. You cherished the memories of your past, both the good and the bad, and it was important for you to share them.

You were born in 1969. You grew up as a teenager in the 80s, developed as a young man in the 90s, and then a decade after that we finally met when you spent the final chapter of your life with me. Between all those years, you led a packed life of adventure, achievement, love, sorrow, struggle, pain, introspection, enlightenment, and many fun times as well, filled with laughter and good humour. I have to say that you also experienced all those sensations even in the short four-and-a-half years that we were together. Those years were nothing if not crazy active and emotionally provocative. It was a roller coaster ride – many ups and downs.

You almost made it until you were 42, and since then I still try to hold on to the memories that we shared. My memory of details in the past is bad, though, but fortunately I have many photographs that document our journey together to bring those memories back to life in my mind, as well as here, in words. And perhaps it is a good thing as well that all of those photographs depict the positive experiences we shared!

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River tubing in Dominica.

When I think of your birthday, for example, April 10th, 2009 comes to mind. That was the year we went on a cruise for your 40th birthday. I knew we would be on the island of Dominica in the Southern Caribbean on April 10th, so I gifted you with an adventure I knew you would love: tubing down the river rapids, like you used to do down the Cowichan River. That was a fun time.

What was not fun, though, I remember, was your feet getting so badly burned as you didn’t put sunscreen on them. You always did crazy things like refusing to wear sunscreen or taking other safety precautions in life, because you thought you were invincible. And judging by the many close calls you had in life, at the time, I was pretty much in agreement with that perception! Those burns on your feet made a permanent imprint that never went away, and perhaps that can pose as a metaphor for the memories I would also like to have imprinted in my mind forever.

Boquita and Ben.

Boquita and Ben.

On that trip, you also showed your innate love and care of animals to me, particularly dogs. I knew that a deep compassion for all beings dwelled inside of you, and that’s a large part of what drew me to you. We met a street dog named Boquita, sitting outside a Walgreen’s with her heroin-addicted guardian, and you fell in love with this sweet creature. You sat with her and petted her, and bought her food and water, wishing you could do more.

It was not easy to communicate with her guardian as he mostly only spoke Spanish, but the next year when we returned, we asked around for “la perra Boquita” and we found her! You gave her love again, and I recall you even helping her guardian as well by bringing him painkillers to help him with his drug withdrawal. You were a kind, deep-hearted soul and it was always within you to do good for others. This, in my opinion, was what defined you as a citizen of this Earth.

I like to think that you’re still experiencing “life” here with me in some way. I sometimes will do things or see things, for example, that I know you would love. A movie, a fast car, a Border Collie. I have often remarked to my sister “Ben would love to see this”, regretting that you’re not there to share this experience with me. But her response is always “he probably is”, and I hope she is right, acknowledging the possibility that you’re everywhere now, and you have the ability to do anything now, with no barriers to overcome.

In writing this today, I just welcome our memories to permeate through my soul and to acknowledge your life here on Earth, in a place where your presence may only be seen now perhaps in the rustling of the trees or the whistling of the wind. Today I honour you, Ben: the experiences you lived, the joy and pain you felt, and the person you were. Happy Birthday, my soul mate. xoxo

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Birthday celebration in the Caribbean ocean.

Birthday celebration in the Caribbean ocean.

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“The guy who passed away….”

10 Feb

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Hello my Soul Mate,

It’s that day again. February 10th. A day that is just another ordinary day for many, but not for me. This February 10th, the four year anniversary of your death, I am particularly conflicted by difficult emotions that seem to be uncontrollably arising above my usual moderated surface. I went to bed early last night, feeling unusually drained and emotionally stifled, hoping it would be better in the morning. It’s taking me longer than normal to form the feelings into words this year, but I have to do it, and so here we are.

I had a dream about you several nights ago. I don’t remember now what it entailed, but I know it wasn’t one of the typical “Ben” dreams I have about you where, in my wildest depths of imagination, I discover that, via some form of a miracle – or gross soap opera-like misunderstanding –, you didn’t die after all, and that you are really alive!! It’s always the most joyous feeling for me, to know that this has all been a big mistake and that you’re really here and that you’ve come back to me, after living in absentia for these past years, only to make the reunion even that more meaningful and special. Two soul mates reunited, and then everything is better. It’s the best feeling in the world, and I just want it to last forever. But then I wake up and realize it was just a dream.

Yes, you’re definitely an abstraction in my subconsciousness, taking up residence always in the back of my mind. You surface in my dreams, but also, I imagine, elsewhere during my days. When I randomly talk to you, or say “I love you”, I can only envisage that what prompted my inner mind to speak to you was the fact that you must be there with me, watching me, alongside me. And you’re absolutely welcome to be here with me whenever you desire.

Yesterday you were referred to as “the guy who passed away”, by a friend of mine who never knew you. I don’t want you to be only known as an entity who was here before and is no longer. You were a vibrant, living being, and I want you to be recognized for your existence, your meaning, your life, your purpose, your impact in this world and your achievements, aspirations, thoughts and dreams.

People enter and leave this world on a daily basis, and four years ago, it was your turn to leave, but you left me here and your imprint on me is still marked strongly. What you left here with me was an impression of a vibrant soul and being that can never be extinguished from my soul. Your memories dwell inside of me, because you were too dynamic of a being for them not to. Your imprint is always there.

Nine years ago we found each other, and it was meant to be. I don’t think that’s something that just happens every day. Certainly once in a lifetime, for me. I found you when I was 30; now I’m 39. The world still slowly cranks by me, day by day, as you go on to live in another dimension that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I believe you’re happy, and that’s what matters to me. Go on, wherever you are, and I’ll catch up to you one day.

Ben's 39th birthday celebration - eating cake!

Ben’s 39th birthday celebration – eating cake!

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Happy 45th

10 Apr

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Dear Ben,

Happy Birthday!! You would have been 45 today. Hard to believe! I remember you couldn’t believe it that you had even reached your forties, as the thought of “getting old” was paradoxical to you. You always defied your age with your youthful looks and demeanor and will be now forever young until eternity.

Not just today, but often I think about the person you were throughout your rich and varied life, and the many different experiences that you encountered in just over two decades – more than some people have in a long lifetime. So many stories you told me from the years before I knew you, and the weaving of all those varied experiences together formed you into the person you were when I met you, with still room to grow.

I think about how unfailing cute you were when you were a little boy. This is when you began to carve out your independence that served as the building blocks for the capable man you were to become. Camping out for days at a time in the forest alone with only your dog Mandy as company, and driving your dad’s car (usually supervised) when you were only 8 years old! Yes, your hamster Champ used to have little seizures that would knock him out comatose, and once when this happened, you took it upon yourself, at 8 years old, to take the car and drive it on your own for the 20 minutes into town to rush him to the vet. Then again, guessing from the speed that you liked to drive, maybe it took you a lot less time to get there!

You were so cute, and I admire your childhood photos gleaming with energy from your smiling face and long-lashed eyes. You were full of fire and a sense of adventure that followed you into your teenaged and adult years to come.

When you were a teenager, you joined the regular forces of the Canadian Air Force, with the goal of becoming a doctor. I’m not sure if this is where your love for airplanes was born, but that ardent passion certainly followed you into adulthood when you would watch in awe at anything with a motor that flew. Had you not blown out your eardrum while diving for golf balls in a lake when you were a child, you would have become a pilot. Your next option in the military was considered, to become an MP (military police), but you instead heeded your father’s advice at that time to not take on the role of an instigator, and instead strove to help people in a more compassionate way.

You loved your time in the military and I know this could have been a life long career for you had you not been discharged because of your ensuing illness. The order, discipline, sense of pride and productivity drove your passion to excel. Lieutenant Bateman, I know you could have been Doctor Colonel Bateman if you had continued on that path! You had all the aptitude necessary to make it there. And on a side note, thank you for always polishing my army boots when I asked. I miss having my pristine boots that I can see my reflection in. You were always the example to follow amongst your comrades, and I deciphered this knowledge from the many stories that you shared with me about this meaningful and memorable part of your life.

Despite your illness forcing you on a different path at that time, your life took you in further fulfilling directions. So many I could write about, but maybe I’ll get to more of them next year. I feel that so many experiences and accomplishments were packed into the first 30 years of your life because God knew that those years were the only opportunity to get it all in. It is this example that continues to feed my own life mantra: to live life to the fullest, while you can. You did that for many years, despite believing you were invincible. The irony is that you weren’t, and it at least somewhat fulfills me to know that you experienced many rewarding moments in your life. And when I knew you, it was my utmost goal to keep you “living” and continuing to try to live life to the fullest.

We had many good times, amongst the pain. Many laughs, adventures, revelations, and sharing deep thoughts, aspirations, and an impenetrable bond. These memories are frozen in time, and you will remain forever young.

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Another February 10th On Which To Reflect

10 Feb

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Dear Ben,

Three years ago today, I was planning to go visit you at the hospice. But then I got called into work, so I did that instead. This was the day my soul mate died, and I never got to say goodbye.

The passing of time is all relative, I know. One year can seem like an eternity. Three years can seem like an eternity. For me, the past 1095 days have flown by – as time usually does for me –, and this is an interesting thing to ponder. Every February 10th, I reflect on what has happened for me in this time, and who I have morphed into as a person now, due to your death – an extremely significant event in my life.

I’ve been told that people – such as you – come into our lives with a specific purpose, and then leave when they do – such as you did – because that’s what was meant to be. So the short four-and-a-half years that we spent together were because that was all that was meant to be. This is a thought that is difficult for me to grasp, because I don’t want your existence here to have only have been “meant to be” for a mere 41 years. I don’t want to reduce a person’s life to one little conclusion that is set in a box and sealed up, and then put aside. You were much more than that.

But who am I to judge what plans were in place for the next realm of your being? Maybe you are having a much better time doing whatever it is you are doing these days, and I actually wouldn’t doubt it, because I can believe that where ever you are and what ever you are doing, at least it is all without pain.

It’s extremely disconcerting for me to consider and remember how much pain you were in before when I knew you (and for two decades before that no less). I only experienced a short amount of time with you during it, compared to the many, many years prior that you suffered before our paths crossed. I only wish that I had known you long before so that I could have been there with you to help make it better. But I could always only do so much, anyway, and now I guess it’s no longer relevant at all, as all of those turbulent times in your life (and mine) are over now – by three years, and more, fading fast. When it’s happening, it seems like infinity; when it’s over, the time flies by fast.

In the past three years, I’ve been really trying to piece my life back together, because I feel it was really a mess when you left. It has taken this long for me to finally get to a point where I feel I am starting to have a balanced and organized life again. I crave simplicity these days, to counter the craziness of what my life was before. And with every day comes another day following, providing even further opportunity for improvement. So I look at each day with anticipation, knowing that if I try, I have myself, and only myself, to make my world and my existence even better. Your death certainly taught me that we only have so many days here on this Earth to make our lives what we want from them, and there is really no time to waste in the process!

I’ve always been interested in the mystery of the “afterlife”, and even have some books on this subject, which I have not read yet. Once, years ago, you – a very selective reader – took it upon yourself to pick a book off my shelf entitled “What Happens When We Die”, and commence reading it. I hope you found the answers you were looking for, as you knew it was something that would be relevant to yourself much sooner than later. You always said, anyways, that you weren’t afraid of dying, and neither am I. Because I don’t think of it so much as “dying” rather than just passing over to a different place – a place where I will see my Benjamin again. That won’t be a bad thing.

Today, a quote from one of your favorite singers comes to mind: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger….” Thanks for making me stronger, Ben. That is the primary consideration that I will take away from this anniversary of ours this year.

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.

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Review: Insanity DVD Workout Program – Part 2 (Days 17-60)

12 Nov

Finally, Part 2 of my review! (It’s been a very busy last month and so I’ve had to keep putting this aside to do in the past weeks)

I started the 60 day Insanity program on August 5th and completed it on  October 5th, doing my final Fit Test on October 7th, and the results are in!

In Part 1 of my  review, I covered only the first 2 weeks of the program, which was a good introduction on what to expect from carrying out the grueling 6 day-a-week fitness regime that was to continue on for another month-and-a-half more. I have to say that it took a lot of discipline to get the workouts in every day, with almost no fail (I only skipped 2 days, due to a bad head cold, but mostly made up for it later on in the week), and I commend anyone else who has a busy life who has made the time and effort to complete what is known to be the most difficult DVD workout program out there. But having discipline is essentially the single key to completing this program. And as I said before, there is pretty much no way you cannot be successful at this program as long as you complete it.

Here’s a look at the calendar (which comes with the DVDs) that I dutifully followed every day for 2 months:

The Insanity regime.

The insane Insanity regime.

So after completing Month 1, I was “treated” to the “Recovery Week”, which entailed following the same 37 minute “Core Cardio and Balance” DVD every day. You would think you would really get a break from during the workouts on this week, but I would say that it was only marginally easier than the preceding month, and I find that the “Core Cardio and Balance” workout is still a fantastically challenging session that will still leaving you sweating. (and I actually continue to use this particular workout now when I want a short,  but effective exercise session)

The purpose of this week of “recovery” was to give the body somewhat of a rest from what had been a month of extremely hard work. It could be described as the calm before the outrageous storm that was to come in Month 2!

In Month 2, you move on to the 2nd half of DVDs included in the set, which make the workouts from Month 1 seem simple, premature and benign. This is to say that the program in Month 2 is 100% more hardcore!! Whereas Month 1’s workouts averaged at about 40 minutes long (that is, 40 minutes of torture), the different workouts in Month 2 average from 48-59 minutes each. So, minus the warm up and cool down components, instead of doing 20 minutes of intense non-stop exercises, you’re doing about 40 minutes instead – which means 20 more minutes of  jumping, punching, push upping, and, especially, dripping more sweat than you had ever imagined was possible. But, it IS possible, and the elongated workouts suddenly become the norm and you wonder why you even did the Month 1 workouts before, which now seem silly and ineffective in retrospect.

The extended Month 2 workouts throughout the week are simply a longer and harder version of Month 1’s workouts. After all, by now your bi-weekly Fit Tests have proven that your level of fitness has been progressing, so it’s time to step it up and challenge yourself even more, to the max! (hence the preceding “Max” in the title of each of Month 2’s DVDs) Month 2’s workouts also include a variety of new exercises, most building upon ones that you’ve already grown accustomed to carrying out for the prior 5 weeks, so the bridging is a natural transition, and the new moves also mix up the sessions to maintain your interest. Even the music played during the sessions changes up a bit as well! And, notably for Month 2, at the end of your 48 or 55 or 59 minute hard core session, you feel that much more accomplished, having completed a workout so strenuous and taxing that you have your doubts in your abilities while you are doing it – but as long as you keep pushing, keep motivated, and just keep going, you know that you’ll eventually reach the end of the session to allow yourself that grandiose moment of self-praise at  the end when Shaun T. proclaims “You did it!” (and while your DVD workout companions are aptly passed out flat on the floor).

Yes, these workouts in Month 2 are extremely strenuous and taxing on the body, so much so that I found myself to be injured for the whole last 3 weeks of the 2nd month, with a pulled shin muscle, a sprained ankle, and what felt like a dislocated shoulder (from all the vigorous punching movements involved). And the problem was that due to the stringent Monday to Saturday schedule of the program, with only Sundays off for rest, there weren’t enough days to recover the body from my injuries. This meant that for those last three weeks of the program, I was in constant pain, and continuously injured, and had to modify my movements as well, since I could barely jump at all when the exercises called for it.

The lack of recovery time in Insanity is a criticism I heard from a co-worker of mine as well who is familiar with the program, and this is an issue that should be taken note of when carrying it out. I chose to continue pushing myself every day, definitely toning down the intensity of some of my movements (the jumping), because I had to, but still working to my utmost maximum intensity so that I could reap the benefits (make progress) in the program as much as possible before it ended. I was determined to finish it, and I did!

Here are my results from each of the 5 scheduled Fit Tests that I did throughout. While the amount of progress in the latter tests sometimes wavered and even declined a bit (remember, my injuries), note the overall progress of results from the Day 1 test as compared to the final Day 60 test!

Day 1 Day 15 Day 30 Day 45 Day 60
Switch Kicks 134 137 150 148 150
Power Jacks 50 49 56 56 53
Power Knees 71 83 93 113 109
Power Jumps 32 40 44 50 49
Globe Jumps 28 35 40 37 42
Suicide Jumps 13 16 17 17 18
Push Up Jacks 27 30 35 37 40
Low Plank Oblique 33 50 76 74 93
The Fit Test exercises.

The Fit Test exercises.

The results don’t lie, and clearly indicate the increase of my overall fitness level from Day 1 to Day 60. So from this perspective, I have to say that I am rightfully impressed with the impact of the program. Shaun T. has designed a program that is guaranteed to greatly step up your fitness levels, as long as you abide by it and just try your hardest. You need not be as fit and ripped as your fellow workout classmates on the DVD (or even fit or ripped at all) to get results. From doing this 60 day program, I can say that I am now fitter than I ever have been in my life, and that’s been a lifetime of ongoing exercise since I was 13 years old. As a naturally “unfit” person, I now feel empowered to carry out intensive body moves that I had not delved into much before. They are now the norm for my fitness routine as, one month later, I am still doing the Insanity workouts as part of my regular workout program – just for fun! (and for its effectiveness, too!)

However, I should address the issue of weight loss, since it seems that most people lose a great amount of weight on this program. I, however, did not. (surprise, surprise) As I had mentioned in Part 1 of this review, in the first 2 weeks, I merely maintained my weight throughout the program (but at least wasn’t gaining), and this continued throughout the rest of the program until I entered my 5th week and suddenly had no appetite (not related to doing Insanity, I’m sure), and so entered an involuntary 2 week fast, which mostly continued for a 3rd week as well, after my appetite had returned. It was only during this time that I began to lose weight, and dropped 9lbs and then gained back 1 in that first week of fasting, for a net weight loss of 8lbs, which I kept off after the program ended. I am certain this weight wouldn’t have come off if I had been eating during this time, so I definitely do not credit the exercise program for loss of pounds!

Whereas I didn’t notice much (or any) weight loss from doing the program, I did experience some marginal changes in my girth measurements of various body parts, which I took at the beginning and at the end of completing the program. These were my results:

Waist: loss of 1.25″
Hips: loss of 1″
Right thigh: no change
Left thigh: loss of 0.6″
Chest: loss of 1.25″
Right bicep: loss of 1/8″
Left bicep: loss of 1.12″
Right shoulder: gain of 1/4″
Left shoulder: gain of 1″
Neck: loss of 1/8″

Also, shortly after I finished the program, I went out for my first run in over 2 months, and it felt great! But of note is that when I checked my working heart rate, I noticed that it had gone down by 12 to 18 beats per minute, and this decrease in bpm (and thus increase in cardiovascular fitness) has maintained itself since then, I’ve noticed. This change is significant for me, since my bpm had been consistently at 180 for the last few years, and 192 all my life before that. Wow, is all I can say!

One more thing that I want to note in this review is that while my Fit Test results largely improved from the first day to the last (meaning that I could do a lot more repetitions of the different exercises in the last part of the program compared to the first day), and while I become noticeably stronger and faster, I never did notice that the laborious exercises ever became easier – and I don’t think that they are supposed to! You can see the über-fit classmates struggling hard on the DVD, having to take frequent breaks, and even Shaun T. can’t do the full  repetitions of many of his own exercises! So the challenge continues, and this is why I continue to follow the DVD workouts in my now “post-Insanity” regime. I’ve completed the 60 day program and am better for it, but there is always more that I can achieve, and I will still keep doing these workouts for awhile longer yet, until my next new challenge is to come. (I am aiming for P90X!)

Review: Insanity DVD Workout Program – Part 1 (Days 1-16)

25 Aug

Insanity-with-Shaun-T-and-trainers

How insane are you?

I’m always looking for ways to push my physical limits in order to achieve maximum fitness levels, and tackling the Insanity workout program has been on my bucket list for awhile now. It is touted as “the hardest workout ever put on DVD”, and also one of the most effective in achieving results of weight loss and accelerated fitness (along with P90X). The intensity of the workouts and its no nonsense approach have always been particularly appealing to me, and I wanted something that was going to promise results with a lot of hard work.

I don’t mind sweating for the prize at the end of the rainbow, and, in fact, I thrive off seeing results after you know you’ve worked your hardest. So this seems to be a great program for me and for anyone else who is willing to push themselves to their limits and beyond in order to achieve success, no matter how painful or inconvenient the process will be. This is just another challenge for me in the big picture that is known as “life”, and one of the most arduous daily physical demands I have ever faced.

The Insanity program is a 60 day prescription that involves knocking out daily workouts from Monday to Saturday with a day of rest every Sunday. That might sound really grueling, but every Thursday is also somewhat of a “rest” day (aka “Cardio Recovery”), where the workout follows a routine akin to a yoga session, so it splits the high intensity workout week into a psychologically manageable half. The sessions are led by trainer “Shaun T”, a super motivational guy whose never ending barks of enthusiasm are being etched into my mind everyday of this ongoing adventure. When I turn on the DVD and hear him yell at me to “dig deeper!”, I am reminded that this is what the program is truly all about – to do your own personal best and go beyond, whatever that means to you.

For each day of the first month, you follow a different workout DVD, specified from: the Fit Test, the Plyometric Cardio Circuit, Cardio Power & Resistance, Pure Cardio & Cardio Abs, and, as I said, Cardio Recovery. (the 2nd month follows a whole new set of workouts, but I’ll cover that when I get there) Each cardio workout in its entirety ranges from 38-41 minutes, with the exception of doing Pure Cardio (38 mins) and Cardio Abs (16 mins) in the same day, which starts occurring in the 2nd week. And each day’s 40-ish minute cardio workout starts off with an 8-10 minute cardio warm-up, followed by about 7 minutes of stretching, followed by 15-20-ish minutes of hardcore intense activity, followed by a 3-7 minute cool down stretch. When you see it broken down into these 4 segments, the workout seems much more attainable, rather than thinking about it as one big challenge.

These sessions are designed to get you into your best shape in all aspects of fitness, from cardiovascular health, to flexibility, to core strength and muscular development of the limbs, and I like this ‘all-round’ approach to the program, which focuses on what is called “maximum interval training”, as opposed to just regular interval training where you are doing intense exercises for shorter periods of time. Maximum interval training works you out at an intense level for a longer duration of time with only brief 30 second breaks between intervals.

What I also like about the program is that each day’s workout is short (only about 40 minutes), and you can do it in the convenience of your own home. I use floor space in my living room that measures about 1.5 metres squared, and this is all the space you need to carry out a myriad of different circuit exercises that involve all kinds of quick jumping, kicking and bending movements (many sports drills), plus many calisthenic exercises such as push-ups in various forms. You’re really getting an amazing workout here that doesn’t only make your body pour with sweat to burn calories, but is also working on your fitness levels overall! Just into the first week of the program, I could already see that there is no way that a person can do Insanity without improving his/her fitness levels, and this was proven with my Fit Test results from Days 1 and 15.

I don’t consider myself to be a super fit person (which is why I am doing this program), but I would consider myself to be “moderately” fit, since I incorporate a lot of exercise into my lifestyle already and have for many years. Being “moderately” fit, I may not be doing every exercise (or most exercises) in its perfect form or as fast as the fellow classmates on the DVD do (who are all outrageously fit, by the way), but I am still working my hardest and my heart rate is up where it should be, and there is sweat constantly dripping from every part of my body, and that is really all it takes to do what you need to do to achieve results on this program.

The first week of the program was really hard on my body – total soreness after the 1st and 2nd days, and by the time I got to my last workout of the week, my calves were so incredibly sore and tight, I could barely walk for a few days! This was the conditioning I needed, however, to prepare my body to get used to this daily event, which I actually mostly look forward to conquering every day. And into the second week, the complete muscle soreness was gone and my body is now acclimating to the new levels of activity it is taking on.

Weight loss is probably a main reason why most people do this program. If you look online for peoples’ results, you’ll see that weight losses of 30lbs or more on this 2 month program seem to be the norm. So I thought that maybe this program could provide the key to unlock my own process of doing something for effective weight loss. I thought that because I had never done an all-round fitness program such as this one, which works on improving your core fitness (and thus speeding up your metabolism), as opposed to just burning calories from a workout, that maybe I would experience some amazing weight loss results as well. However, on Day 16 here, this has not yet proven to be the case. I have basically stayed within the same 2lb range as what I started off as 16 days ago, and as of yesterday, my weight is exactly 0.6lbs less than Day 1 of the program, which really is no change at all.

But…. the real results lie in the comparison of my Fit Test that is done every 2 weeks on the program. The Fit Test comprises of doing 8 different exercises as fast as you can for 1 minute each, and then counting how many repetitions you accomplished. Here are the results from my first 2 Fit Tests, which speak for themselves!

Day 1 Day 15
Switch Kicks 134 137
Power Jacks 50 49
Power Knees 71 83
Power Jumps 32 40
Globe Jumps 28 35
Suicide Jumps 13 16
Push Up Jacks 27 30
Low Plank Oblique 33 50

While power jacks are not my forté because they put stress on my damaged knees, you can see here that a moderate amount of improvement in all the other exercises, in only the first 2 weeks, has taken place! I compared these results to that of another person who wrote a review online, and hers were similar as well. I am really looking forward to my next Fit Test in 2 more weeks! I thrive on seeing measurable results like these.

One thing to note is that while you only need about one hour in your day for each day’s workout (and that includes time for getting motivated, putting on your workout gear, and putting the dvd into the tv), this may prove a little bit difficult if you have certain days of the week where you just don’t really have time at all, which is what my Fridays are like for me – they’re a day that I normally take off from exercise. But because I totally want to do this program by the book and not skip a single workout (that’s 6 days a week for 60 days straight!), this just means getting up earlier in the day to quickly squeeze in that Insanity session. And yes, scheduling in the workouts may take some creativity and discipline, but it is totally worth it, and you know that after your 40 minutes are over and you feel so much more invigorated in life than you had 40 minutes before!

I’m sure I’ll have more to add in my next report about the program, coming up in a few weeks! If you have any questions about the program, let me know, and I’ll address them next time.

Check out a short video about the program here, so you can watch the moves in action. As one of the participants in this segment says, “This ain’t for everybody, but if you’re a masochist, bring it!”

Click here for Review: Insanity DVD Workout Program – Part 2 (Days 17-60).

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