NYC 5 Boroughs Bike Tour (Guest Post)

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by Sarah Rayner

On May 3rd I had the chance to ride New York 5 Boroughs Bike Tour and it was an amazing way to see the city and surrounding boroughs while doing something I love which is to ride my bike. Four of my friends and I registered in December 2014 for the tour and as soon as the snow melted we started training on weekends and riding to work. We set out on tour bus on the Thursday night and arrived in Queens to our hotel on the Friday morning…traveling by bus for that period of time is only fun when you are with great people.

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We had 2 days to explore NYC then on the Sunday we woke and headed via metro with bikes in hand to the start and  I don’t think I was totally prepared as there were 32000 cyclists with only 4 start times. There were at least 5 NYC city blocks filled with anxious cyclists ready to start. There was music that filled the air to pump us up, and once we got started it was a very smooth ride. We wore our Canadian jerseys so we could keep an eye on each other and we played Marco/Polo if team mates lagged behind. This really sparked conversation between other cyclists asking us where in Canada we came from and sometimes others would answer Polo to my Marco. The New York Police even rode the 40 miles with us.  We did the 40 miles in 4 hours with stops along the way.The ride ended in Staten Island where there was a party with food and music.

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32000 cyclist, 5 boroughs, 1 day and 0 cars…it was a great ride going over huge bridges, riding through very cool neighbourhoods with a ferry ride back to Manhattan once done. We had great laughs and great conversation throughout the ride….We will be doing this ride again for sure.

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Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #29

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This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

By the way, Facebook recently clarified its stance on nudity, writing, “We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures.” For the full story see here.

Oh, so scary. Nipples!

Why does a fitness blog even care about body image? You can read about that here.

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‘You Are Beautiful’ Is A Global Campaign To Share Women’s Portraits And Authentic Stories

Beall, the photographer behind The Bodies Of Mothers, is currently fundraising for “You Are Beautiful,” which she described to The Huffington Post as “a rad new media platform for female photographers from all over the world to contribute un-photoshopped images and inspiring stories of women from around the world to promote healthy self-esteem, self-love and empowerment for women and our wee ones.”

The site will feature portraits of women accompanied by narratives about their lives and bodies.

The Right Swimsuit For Your Body Type Is Whatever You Want It To Be, So Go Ahead And Wear One Of Every Style

From the moment spring begins to breathe its pollen-y breath, talk of swim season and the ensuing bikini season permeate just about everything, from tabloids in the grocery line to billboards advocating for the “perfect” beach body. And we begin to hear the women around us ask about ”the right swimsuit for your body type,” as though there’s just one. As though there’s just one heavenly and glorious suit in existence that’ll make us look different — slender, toned, or whatever else we associate with aspirational beauty.

While I’m sure the “bikini body” struggle is one all women (and probably many men, in their own way) struggle with, I don’t doubt that it’s especially prevalent within the plus community. When you consider that plus-size fashion’s goal for so long was to minimize the body and make fat bodies look, well, not fat, then it’s pretty obvious that swimwear is the ultimate enemy of this ideology. Swim season involves stripping down, baring it all, and wearing what’s basically waterproof underwear out into the world, for all eyes and spectators to potentially judge you or hound you with accusations about your health or the “negative lifestyle” you’re encouraging by… existing?

The thing is, if you’re a plus-size woman, there’s no bathing suit in the world that’ll make you not look plus-size. We can, of course, wear tent dresses and baggy coverups, but at the end of the day, most of us will still be fat. And at the end of the day, everyone around us will still know that. I can assure you that no matter how many swim skirts and tankini tops I’ve worn in my life, I’ve never fooled anyone into thinking I’m skinnier than I am. But… why would I need or want to do that, anyway?

It’s OK To Be Fat. Go Ahead. You’re Allowed

I know the fat shamers on the anti-fat Reddit threads and the “concern trolls” all over the world will disagree heartily, but I am allowed to take up as much space as I want to take up. And, you know what else? I do not OWE IT TO ANYONE to be fat and healthy, either.

Contrary to popular opinion, I can be fat and healthy if I want to be. I can also be fat and unhealthy. Fat people have existed as long as humans have existed, so get used to us. We’re not going to go and hide just because a bunch of people who have a lot of time to waste on a computer are creating hate sights dedicated to making fun of our fat body. I’ve been fat for over 30 years. My fat skin is extra thick and used to your vile and mean comments. They roll right off my back. (And right over my fat ass, too.) And, the mean threads that are started by the fat haters actually fuel my fire and serve as a reminder as to how much there is still to do in the Body Acceptance movement.

To me, it’s plain and simple: You get to exist any way you want to exist. As Pink so eloquently put it recently when being attacked about her body: “I’m not worried about me. And I’m not worried about you, either. I am perfectly fine, perfectly happy, and my healthy, voluptuous and crazy strong body is having some much deserved time off.”

 

Doctorates, Down-Dogs and the Challenge of Self Talk (Guest Post)

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The day I submitted my PhD dissertation was also my 95th day of a self-imposed 100 day yoga challenge. I had never intended to complete both tasks in such quick succession. Indeed, the fact that I actually completed either task at all feels like a happy, but surreal surprise. Despite the five and half years spent researching and writing my dissertation, and the nearly four years of dedicated yoga practice, my accomplishments still surprised me. The reason being, I am a serial under-estimator. A career denial-ist. A seasoned veteran of negative self-talk.

It wasn’t actually until I developed a daily yoga practice (alongside Buddhist meditation classes I had been taking for years) that I became aware of the stories I was telling myself about myself, and began to see how these stories were holding me back. Negative self-talk usually accompanies an activity with which you might feel pride or success. Education and exercise are some of the most fruitful grounds for pride and success. They are measurable; in many cases quantifiable. Because of this, we must weave more elaborate personal stories to discount our work and effort. This was my sweet spot.

All the usual suspects were there: you’re in way over your head, there’s no way you can do this, you’re setting yourself up for failure – and the inevitable knock-out punch – no one will ever love you and they will be right. For anyone who hasn’t engaged in this kind of self-talk, I understand it sounds extreme. Those of us who have will know that these messages come after meticulous, and seemingly well-reasoned inner dialogue that leads to what feels like a logical conclusion: we are not worthy. Of success. Of love. Of letting go.

Beautifully, yoga teaches the opposite. I was encouraged to let go of expectations, to be kind to myself, practice gratitude, and celebrate the present. Each message was received in contrast to my usual pattern of self-talk. My pattern went like this: Your work is never good enough, your waist is never small enough, and every time you cross off something on your to-do list, two more tasks will take its place. This is where the contrast between my dissertation work and my yoga challenge became very apparent.

Academia, like many occupations, thrives on perfectionism and hierarchies. It’s processes encourage competition alongside dwindling resources and employment. For the final years of my PhD I found myself working 4 jobs, alongside writing what became a 250 page manuscript of original research. Even working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, I never felt I was doing enough. I couldn’t commit fully to any one task, and the shear volume of work on my plate meant that I was never finished. Such a reality only fed my already honed skill of negative self talk. Despite my best efforts, it was never good enough. I was never good enough.

Slowly, yoga taught me to appreciate intention. The act of coming to my mat, even if all I did was lie on the floor for an hour, was enough. And I did lie on the floor. A lot. And when I was lying there, I would repeat: you are enough. Slowly, I began to motivate myself, not through shame, but through kindness and gratitude. I began to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend. I began to encourage myself as I would encourage a student. I began to live in my body differently. Suddenly it wasn’t about what I looked like, it was about what I could do. I could touch my toes (for the first time at 30 years old!) I could hold plank, I could flip my dog, and on one glorious occasion, I lifted myself up into wheel. I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t talk myself out of it. It was happening.

This approach to my physical self began to inspire a shift in my approach to my intellectual self. I began to appreciate my intentions rather than material outcomes. I began to acknowledge my commitment to my students and their learning, in the face of institutional invisibility and economic exploitation, as a strength, rather than a weakness. As something that reflected integrity, not foolishness or incapability. I can say with absolute certainty that this intellectual shift was the only way I was able to make it through the process. I would never have experienced this shift, without the knowledge I gained from a dedicated yoga practice and a community of kind, wise teachers. I could easily have joined the ranks of students who have left graduate programs prior to completion. The system seems designed to work you until you reach a breaking point. Much like hazing, the emphasis is placed on how much you can withstand, not on the unique and beautiful things you bring to the table, just by being who you are.

Academia is not alone in this approach. In fact, the argument could be made that this is a cultural problem. The workoholic, the super mom, and the corporate ladder-climber, are each symptomatic of the same kinds of messaging: you are not doing enough. You are not enough. These messages are reinforced by the myth of meritocracy: success comes from hard work, thus, if you are not successful, you are not working hard enough. These cultural voices are loud and convincing. They speak to and embolden that negative inner voice that resides in each of us (even if yours isn’t as loud as mine, I suspect you can think of an example where you have engaged in negative self talk in relation to your own life, work or relationships). I think shifting our own patterns of self talk can have political, even revolutionary cultural consequences.

Writing a doctoral thesis and completing 100 straight days of hot yoga (did I mention it was hot yoga?) both involve a great deal of dedication, perseverance, and for better or worse, a LOT of alone time. Self talk becomes a life line, the only thing that keeps your fingers typing, and your arms extended in mountain pose. It was only by working on these two goals, simultaneously, that I was able to understand my own patterns of self-talk. Better yet, it actually taught me how to talk to myself differently. Rather than motivate myself through shame or projected judgement, I became kinder, more friendly and encouraging of myself as a human being; as flawed and imperfect, yet still whole and deserving of success. Of love. Of letting go.

Besides Savasana, Dr. Jen enjoys building a supportive community around teaching, learning and celebrating strengths. She aspires to be brave, passionate and helpful. When she isn’t teaching first year university students, or talking about her feelings, she is indulging her love of supporting moms and babies at a young mother’s group in London, Ontario.

Getting over heartbreak, the hill, that is

Back in the 80s it seemed every small Canadian town had a gay bar called Rumours. Halifax did.

Now as a cyclist, I note that many cities have a hill known by local cyclists as Heartbreak Hill. London does.

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As hills go, our Heartbreak isn’t much of one. I live in farm country, all flat land and rolling hills. We joke about hill training on highway overpasses.

Here’s some photos of roads I ride on from a recent flight to a conference:

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You can also see the grid patterned roads, north of the city helpfully labeled as “8 Mile Road” for example. Riding these big square blocks makes it easy not to get lost.

But there are some hills at this edge of our small city even if they’re nothing compared to the hills I encountered in Australia, New Zealand, and most recently in South Carolina.

Heartbreak is not steep. It’s not even that long. It annoys me more than it breaks my heart. Why annoying?

There’s a few reasons.

First, it’s on the way home. We never seem to head out down Heartbreak on group rides but we often come back that way. Usually I’m hot and tired and getting hungry, at risk of getting dropped, and then there’s that hill.

Other slow riders claim to have commitments at the other side of the town so they can break from the group before that hill. But for me, it’s actually on my way home and lying isn’t my thing.

Second, and this is another feature of group rides, we tend to accelerate into the bottom of the hill. Why? No good reason. But it means we’re getting tired before the hill even starts. One of my favourite, older, experienced riding friends usually manages to hold the group back, “Please don’t sprint to the bottom of the hill, friends.”

Third, this particular hill has a false summit. It looks to be over at one point and then no, you’re not done for awhile yet. Blech. My infamous strategy is to sprint up the bottom third and then slow down and have everyone pass me.

But, I’ve got some good news. I’m getting faster. I blogged about that here.

And this week earned me a new personal best on that hill. Last year my times on that stretch ranged from 4:43 to 6:13. Chasing my friend Jacquie the other day, I did it in 3:57. Improvement!

Again, it’s only satisfying when I focus on my personal improvement. The fastest times for women are a full minute faster than me. The speedy hill climbers include this blog’s frequent guest Kim Solga. I’m just 22 out of 33 women who’ve got a time on Strava for that stretch of road.

But I’m getting fitter and faster and that’s exciting.

Maybe the days of that hill breaking my heart are over.

Mallory introduces herself through her bike (Guest post)

My daughter Mallory is taking a speech writing class at university this summer and for their first assignment they had to find a way to introduce themselves to the class. She chose to introduce herself through bicycling. Surprise!

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Here’s her speech:

“The bicycle is a simple solution to some of the world’s most complicated
problems”.

This is a quote that I have hung up in my house. It seems a simple idea but a profound one.  Bicycles played a role in early feminism, allowing women increasing freedom and an independent way of travelling. Bicycles have been proposed as a solution for environmental issues as a more environmentally friendly way to travel. Bicycles have been proposed as a solution to poverty, allowing people living in poverty a cheaper way to travel to get to work or to other services. Now, why am I talking about bicycles? Well, to tell you a little bit about myself, I would like to start by talking about my bicycle. My name is Mallory and my bicycle is named Melisma.

I got Melisma as a birthday present near the end of high school. Since then, Melisma has been part of almost every aspect of my life. When I came to Western for summer academic orientation, I arrived on Melisma. I rode Melisma to my high school graduation. Melisma and I have ridden the bike path from Old South where I live to campus hundreds of times in the past five years. When I went on exchange to New Zealand for six months, Melisma came with me on the plane.

While I was there, Melisma and I cycled a rail trail through rural New Zealand. At
the end of the six months, Melisma came back home with me.  Melisma has been to Quebec twice on family cycling vacations, spending several days cycling along rail trails.  Last year, I did a two-month environmental- themed performing and cycling tour with Melisma. In those two months, we bicycled all across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with thirteen other people and their bicycles performing and interacting with thousands of people along the route. It was on this trip that Melisma received her name: as part of the tour, we all named our
bicycles to reflect their personalities.

So Melisma reflects my love of travelling. She also reflects my love of being active, including active vacations. The name “Melisma” also reflects my love of music as “melisma” is a musical term meaning a single syllable sung over multiple notes. The most common example of a melisma is a sung “Alleluia”. Melisma is also a reflection on my family. My parents are both avid cyclists and both own multiple bicycles for different purposes. In fact, they have had to set a limit on the number of bicycles they are allowed to own! (Family limit between hovers between 12-15). I have been on multiple cycling vacations with them as well as my two younger brothers and they have done multiple trips without me. Almost every weekend during the summer, we gather together a group of friends and spent an afternoon cycling and playing cards together.

Last year a friend of mine received a car from her grandparents as a graduation present. I am graduating this fall and joked with my parents that I would much rather receive a graduation bicycle than a graduation car. So last week, my dad brought home a new bicycle for me! It doesn’t have a name yet but I’m thinking it will be another “m”-name to match Melisma and Mallory. This new bicycle is a proper touring bicycle, built for travelling and long-distance cycling.

Today I started by talking about the power of bicycles. I talked about the power bicycles can have for complicated issues. I told you that by telling you about my bicycle, I would tell you about myself. And I have. I am a person who lives an active lifestyle. I am a person who loves travelling. I come from a family of cyclists. I am a lover of music, especially choral music. I am a cyclist and I look forward to future travels with both Melisma and my new un-named bicycle.

Recovering from Sports Injury (Guest Post)

You love participating in your sport. You hate pain and injury. Sitting on the sidelines sucks. This is the story of how I finally wised up and figured out what mattered most to me.

I’ve had a number of sports injuries since last year, including a torn meniscus in my right knee, a broken collarbone, and what’s probably a torn ligament in my right ankle (MRI pending). All of these were either caused by, or made significantly worse by, my very active participation in the martial art of aikido, which I began studying more than a year ago.

The first thing I need to put on the table is that I am fanatical about aikido. I fell in love with this martial art during my very first class, and for a number of reasons it’s something that brings immense value to my life. I attend four classes per week, and I’d like to keep doing aikido for years to come (I just turned 48). I enjoy aikido so much that I hate sitting on the sidelines when I’m injured, and because of that, I limped through a full schedule of classes for several months last year, gritting my teeth from the constant knee and ankle pain, and ignoring the implications of my continually swollen joints.

At their worst, my knees ballooned to the size of large melons; I couldn’t kneel (or even squat) without pain, it hurt to climb stairs, and the pain in my right ankle was so bad it kept me from falling asleep at night.

I wasn’t completely irrational about my injuries – I sought advice from my physician, who recommended physiotherapy. The physiotherapist in turn recommended exercises to strengthen and stretch imbalanced leg muscles, as well as rest. I was very diligent with the former, and pretty negligent about the latter.

It took my breaking my collarbone six months ago to finally get me off the aikido mat for an extended period of time. I was scared of permanent incapacity, and finally gave my body the rest it needed to heal my injuries. But it wasn’t easy for me. Over the months of sitting on the sidelines at my aikido classes (which I still continued to attend religiously), I heard from many other aikidokas who had experienced injuries that cut into their own practices, and all were unanimous about hating to sit out classes. It’s much more fun to be on the mat, playing.

I stayed off the mat for 6 weeks while my collarbone healed, and gradually added light aikido practice without breakfalls back into my life. My biggest fear was commencing breakfall practice again, because that’s how I’d injured my collarbone in the first place. Three months after my collarbone injury I began practising forward breakfalls (rolls) on my non-injured side, slowly building up strength and confidence. I also added Rolf massage treatments and foam rolling to my rehabilitation routine, to release adhesions and restrictions in my fascia and free up my joints, which had developed quite a limited range of motion.

My aikido practice was interrupted again, however, by an imminent appointment with a knee surgeon that was supposed to take place five months after my collarbone injury. I started a series of low-level laser treatments on my right knee and ankle prior to the appointment, and stopped participating in aikido classes at the recommendation of my physiotherapist. After an abortive appointment with the surgeon (turns out I’d been referred to the wrong doctor), I decided it was time to stop and take stock of what I was doing to myself. For the first time in months I felt almost no pain, and I wanted to maintain that.

In the end I chose to take some additional time off the aikido mat to strengthen my legs. By that point my knee swelling and pain had virtually disappeared, and my right ankle was feeling a lot better, although still visibly swollen. I wanted to see if I could gradually add in mat time again without increasing the pain or swelling in either my knee or my ankle. It was no longer worth it to me to do aikido if it hurt.

I continued to practice breakfalls for five or ten minutes before every aikido class, but sat and watched each class once it had begun. After a few weeks, with the permission of my sensei, I did warm-ups with the class, but stepped off the mat when technique practice started.

Five months after I broke my collarbone, I started practising forward rolls on my injured side. It’s been six-and-a-half months since my collarbone injury now, and I’m thrilled to be doing all of my breakfalls – including advanced rolls – better than ever.

The knee and ankle have been trickier to manage. I’m finding it’s a real balancing act, trying to add more mat time without increasing my pain and swelling. I’ve started getting on the mat for one full class per week, and I’m monitoring my pain and inflammation. Eventually I hope to be able to participate in more classes per week, but for now if one is all I can manage without increasing the pain, I’m happy. A week ago I tested for my next aikido belt, and I can continue learning at this pace if I have to.

One of the unexpected side effects of my Rolfing and foam rolling has been releasing decades-old injury to my leg abductors – the tendons that attach to your “sit bones” and allow you to pull your legs together. For many years my yoga practice had been limited by being unable to bend forward at the waist without excruciating pain around my “sit bones”. With the help of ongoing foam rolling exercises, I can now touch my toes pain-free for the first time since my teens.

It’s no fun being kept from your favourite sport because of pain and injury. What I’ve learned is that it feels really good to live without pain.

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When Michelle Lynne Goodfellow isn’t on the aikido mat, she’s writing, taking photographs, and making art. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com.

Coming Soon!: Our Bodies, Our Bikes

“An homage to the classic Our Bodies, Our Selves, this encyclopedic, crowd-sourced compilation of essays, resources, information, and advice about the intersection of gender and bicycling covers a lot of ground—bold meditations on body parts, stories about recovery from illness and injury, biking to the birth center, and loud and proud declarations of physical and emotional freedom.

Includes accounts of bicycling while pregnant, tips about how to ride fast or what to wear when you need to look professional, stories of cycling with kids, biking with various experiences of gender, age, ability, sexuality, menstruation, chronic illness, an extensive and illuminating article about the vulva and contact with your bike saddle, thoughts about reproductive rights, and much more. There’s something for everyone in here, and something to expand everyone’s idea of what’s for them.”

You can order your copy here.

And I’m happy to say I have a piece in it about women’s bodies,  the history of feminism and bicycling and the ways our modern attitudes show that things really haven’t changed very much.