The latest from Catherine’s USA yoga tour– Yinki class in San Diego

Last weekend I was in San Diego for the American Public Health Association conference, which is huuuge– at least 12,000 people were expected to attend. That means a lot of walking to and fro in a big convention center (and to a nearby enormous hotel for more meetings), and interacting with a lot-a-lot of people (albeit friendly public health folks).

I’m a classic extrovert (although the latest research and commentary is critical of the distinction and is at least reimagining it; here’s one newer take on it).  However, even I can get tired of all that interaction with crowds of people all day long.  So what’s the perfect antidote to a day of conferencing? an evening yoga class, of course.

It has been so much fun this year checking out yoga classes in other cities where I’ve been traveling for work. In July I encountered yin yoga for the first time at a lovely little studio in Tucson, AZ.  I wrote glowingly about how relaxing and also intense it was and could be.

Apparently I was late to the yin yoga party; Natalie and Cate have both enjoyed and posted about it here and here.  Others of our bloggers and readers also love it and some of them teach it, too.

Checking out yoga (or any fitness opportunities) in a new place requires a bit of advance research. I was looking for studios that offered classes I was interested in at times I could make it, and were also relatively convenient to where I was staying. Yeah, I guess all that’s obvious. But I was also looking for classes that seemed interesting or different from what I usually do at home or at my local studio.  And, for me, vigorous vinyasa was not on the table, as I’m still recovering from my sprained ankle (it’s going to take a few months to get back strength and balance. Sigh).

Imagine my surprise and curiosity when I saw this:

YINKI (registered trademark) (Yin yoga plus Reiki)

I was determined to check this out.  I know what yin yoga is, and I have some idea about what reiki is, but hadn’t experienced them together in one class.

Also, I just love the name Yinki.  It reminds me of the Teletubbies, in a good way.

The teletubbies– Po in red, Laa-Laa in yellow, Dipsy in green, and Tinky Winky in purple.

By the way, even the Teletubbies do yoga.  Well, actually, they watch some live-action kids do yoga. However, they seem flexible and rubbery enough to do many poses.  You can check out the episode  here

Back to the yinki class. Full disclosure: I am a reiki skeptic. However, the yin part of yinki was enough to get me in the door. And look what I saw when I entered this beautiful space:

A large Buddha head on a corner shrine with candles (lit during class).

The studio, called The Little Yoga Studio, is indeed little, but beautifully fitted up with warm wood paneled walls and honey-colored wood floors.  I borrowed a mat from them, got my blocks, bolster, strap, and even a little eye pillow, and proceeded to set up. 

The studio before class.

I was careful to put my mat in an inconspicuous spot, as the regulars at my studio can get a little territorial about their spaces.  Maybe it’s a Boston thing; after all, Bostonians are notorious for saving parking spaces in winter after they’ve shoveled their cars out.  Lawn chairs and trash cans are the favored spot markers, but just about anything obtrusive will do.

A milk crate with large doll in it, keeping watch over a recently shoveled parking space in Boston.

However, when I asked these women whether I was in anyone’s way, they looked friendly but quizzical.  They told me I could go anywhere I liked.  Okay, then..

Friendly women hanging out before yoga class.

What followed was 75 minutes of sometimes intense, sometimes soothing yin yoga.  The teacher went around to each of us and put her hands on us during every extended pose. That was the Reiki part. She also used some essential oils (I noticed the lavender especially) that she had on her hands, which smelled nice and not overpowering.

I didn’t feel anything unusual during the Reiki, but it was really nice to be personally attended to, and it felt comforting and not at all intrusive. I admit that I don’t mind at all when a yoga teacher touches me for adjustment; YMMV. If you’re not feeling touch-friendly, this is probably not the class for you.  But it felt therapeutic, business-like as it were, and fine.

Finding ways to be active, to move and stretch, to connect with how I’m feeling during conference travel is more important to me these days. Partly it’s because travel is harder on my 56-year-old body.  Air travel is uncomfortable no matter what, and my plane to LAX seemed even more tin-can-like than usual. Then there’s jet lag, restaurant food, reception food, and more sitting than I would prefer. 

There’s another reason I like to be active while traveling: connecting to a local studio or local active event makes me feel more at home, in part because I’m around people who are at their home. It’s a good way to learn about  potentially new-to-us ways that people do the things we do.  I’ve found this by doing some local group rides while traveling, and visiting local yoga places is a new fun thing that’s easier to do than cycling– less gear required, and if I pick the wrong level by mistake, I’m still in the same studio with everyone else. That is, all yoga classes are no-drop.  I like that.

Fear not, with woman doing crow pose (I think).  She’s doing an arm balance, which I still cannot do…

Dear readers– have you had good (or bad) experiences dropping in on yoga or exercise or other classes while you were out of town? Do you recommend this?  Do you have any tips? I’d love to hear from you.


Moving in new directions

Last week, I wrote about my relationship with yoga as a practice that goes well beyond the physical.  I didn’t mention that my current studio is actually called “spirit loft,” and they are less of a yoga studio per se and more of a “movement lab.”  They are very focused on form and on mobilizing and activating your full body — which fits me.  

I have done a few movement classes, but I don’t love them.  I like the idea of moving in a more freeform way, finding new arcs in space, exploring the edges of my ability to crouch into a deep squat, reach into a starfish shape as I roll.  But actually doing the classes challenges me in the wrong way — one teacher is sweet but too young to understand how to modify for aging bodies, and I hurt my shoulder when he had us helicoptering our arms too much.  In another class, I dislocated my thumb moving it around a pole thingy.  And in most of them, there is partner work where I always end up feeling clumsy, bad at following directions, and inept.  That is not what I want in a fitness class.  

But — I do like the concept at the essence of these classes — to go deep into the fundamentals of noticing how we move our bodies.  There is a yoga fundamentals class I really like, where we can spend an entire class opening up our hips in a certain way, rolling a little hard ball miserably up and down our hamstrings, finding deep alignment.

This fundamentals stuff is more and more appealing to me because I’ve been struggling with some weirdness in my quads, hamstrings and knees.  I’ve had odd knee pain in both knees, and my massage therapist has identified one part of my quads that is under-developed and therefore pulling me out of alignment.  I’m hyper fretful about my knees — I already have some cartilage damage and I don’t want more.  

Last week, I noticed that the person who teaches the fundamentals class was teaching a version of the movement lab for “midlife and beyond, though everyone is welcome.” I know that teacher (also one of the studio owners) is vigilant about precision and attention, so I scraped time in my Friday morning to go to the class.

So basically, we spent 90 minutes getting in touch with the hinge at our hips.  Moving a rug around in different directions with one foot while keeping the other firmly on the floor, bending with a dowel held to our backs in three places to see our real range without curving our backs, working up eventually to picking up a kettle bell from the floor with a very specific range of motion.

IMG_4548 So here’s the thing:  it was fucking HARD.  Twice in the past month — in this class and from my massage therapist — I’ve been reminded that just because I have strong legs and can do a lovely forward fold in yoga, pull my foot up onto the seat of my spinning bike to stretch — this really doesn’t mean I’m flexible.  My hinge range is about 45 degrees, not 90 — after 45, I start to curve my spine (even when my knees are bent).  That dowel thing was humbling.  And I thought I was doing a great job with the kettlebell until the teacher came and gave me a little yoga block to help me out.

This might seem esoteric, but the point of the movement for life class is to put you in touch with how the way your body moves affects your quality of life as you age — we will need to pick up things off the floor until we die.  Being able to touch your toes is great — but preserving true agility in your hips is even more important — for recovery if you start to slip on the ice, for support for your back when you pick stuff up, for strength and alignment for your knees.  

I liked the class, though I felt like it revealed all of my illusions about my own fitness. I’m strong and powerful in many ways, but there are more dimensions when I go deeper inside.  And that’s a whole new journey in and of itself.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works, and moves a blanket around with her foot in Toronto.  


Plogging your way to health and fitness

By MarthaFitat55

It started slowly last spring. I kept seeing references to plogging, a made up word that means picking up trash while jogging. Then a couple of friends talked about how much trash they picked up on their walks during their holidays.

By the time I saw a company video about a employee who adopted a stretch of road near his house that was part of his daily walk, I was starting to understand there was a bigger idea happening here than just trash clean up.

Community clean up is not new. Scouts, companies, schools and so on often organize group clean ups. One year my son’s scout group retrieved an office chair, a computer monitor and a bicycle from the waterway near his school along with filling multiple garbage bags.

Nor is the idea of linking physical activity with a community goal new either. After all, we have multiple rides for AIDS, sight, and MS; we have walks for cancers of all kinds, and we have other things like charity golf tournaments that link doing good with being active.

As with any new idea, there are those who don’t want to get involved. There are many, many comments on this one piece where the author indicates her complete lack of desire to plogg, but I admit I am more than a little horrified by her privilege and her class assumptions.

Still, maybe we should ask why plogg at all?

I quite like the idea myself. Where I live, we have quite beautiful trails, wild countryside, nice parks, and pretty decent roadways except for the garbage which covers the ground in all directions.

The fact that I live in a place where high winds are pretty much an every day occurrence means stuff gets around. If we all carried a small bag to collect garbage, that would make a big job easier to manage.

I often approach exercise by chunking up my activities into smaller bits. Taken all together I have a workout, and some parts don’t seem at all daunting split up in this fashion. Similarly, my gym often organizes fundraisers for non-sponsored athletes heading to competitions and every year, trainers and their clients chip in to support a family for the holidays. All of us giving what we can adds up to a big thing.

I see plogging in the same way. If everyone picks up a bit (or a lot!) of garbage, it doesn’t seem like a burden.  When we do it as a group, the impact is more obvious.

We also know doing something every day outside that requires an effort is better for our health. Lots of fitness advice recommends engaging in at least a 150 minutes a week. That’s 2.5 hours. At first blush we might ask, where can I find that amount of time. If we chunk it up throughout the seven days, it becomes more achievable, realistic, and possible.

The beauty of plogging is if we fall into the camp of not seeing oneself as a gym person, a pool person, or even a running-the-trail-person, maybe joining with a friend or a group of friends to adopt a trail will help us get used to the idea of physical activity as an every day thing. Perhaps it will even lead some of us to become an environmentally aware person who does their bit for the planet.

fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

fitness · tbt

The Shape of an Athlete #tbt

For today’s #tbt I’m reposting an oldie but goodie from the early days of the blog (when I wasn’t even yet into photography!). Howard Schatz’s amazing work debunking the idea of “one look” for athletes has helped us in countless ways as we do our best to be a voice for fit bodies of all shapes and sizes. If anyone doubts that athletic capacity is not all about being tall, thin and lean (though some of these athletes are that, yes), you need look no further than Schatz’s work in The Shape of an Athlete. Enjoy!


HS 1These photos by Howard Schatz, from his 2002 book, Athlete, have been making the rounds lately. Sam gave a shout-out to Schatz’s photos in her popular post, “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI?”

People–myself included–can’t stop looking at them.  They are all pictures of professional athletes ready for game day, that is, they’re in peak physical condition.

What’s so absorbing about them is the range of body sizes and shapes depicted?  The human body is for sure a thing of fascination and beauty.  And there’s something awe-inspiring about a body that can perform the way the bodies of professional athletes can. So that’s one reason these images catch our attention.

Their real power, I think, is in the impact of the group shot. We know there’s diversity among human bodies–different shapes, sizes, proportions, colors and abilities.  But though it’s obvious that a gymnast will, for obvious reasons, have…

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fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Left and Right (Guest Post)

by Amy Kaler

The road is never neutral. You are always moving towards something or away from something, bearing dread, hope, anticipation, longing, as you go. No one is the same at the beginning of the road as at the end.

Roads are also risky. “Highwayman” was once a synonym for the worst sort of thieves, a “roadhouse” is a place where bad things can happen, and when someone titles a novel “The Road”, you know it’s not going to end well. By now, there may be nothing new that can be said about a road – the metaphor itself as exhausted as the travellers.

Speaking of exhausted –

In mid-September, I was running on a road near Banff, Alberta, and I was exhausted. It was my first official road race – Melissa’s Race, 10KM – and along with several thousand other people, I was pushing through rain, snow, sleet, freezing mud, and cold water in all its forms. The weather was not just bad, it was apocalyptic. At the end of the race I ran into a friend who regularly runs Death Marathons and the like, and he used words like “gruelling” and “excruciating”. So now you know I did make it to the end of the road. But I am getting ahead of myself.

By the second kilometre I wanted to give up. My knees hurt, my chest hurt, I could not run uphill in slush and breathe at the same time. I wondered desperately if somewhat dramatically whether it was possible that I would actually die, just fall over and die, in mid-race, and whether that would be better or worse than giving up and revealing myself as a quitter who couldn’t handle the road. This run is supposed to be visually spectacular, circling upward through mountains, but all I could see was the metre right in front of my wet shoes, and the peripheral view of other runners moving steadily past me. My MP3 player with its curated inspirational running music had given up on me a few hundred meters in, so I jammed the cord into my phone and listened to the same six Fleetwood Mac songs over and over. I had to stop. But I had to continue.

After a while I became aware of my feet. At first I noticed my feet because they were not cold, unlike most of the rest of me. Then I became aware of my feet running, side to side, right and left and right, like a pendulum swinging fast while moving forward. The oscillation started to weave into my monotonous survival-focused thoughts. I’m overwhelmed, I can’t keep going. I can do another hundred steps. I can’t do another hundred steps, I’m going to die. I can do another fifty steps. I can’t breathe any more. But I AM still breathing because I’m having this thought which I couldn’t have without oxygen in my brain. I have to stop before we get to the hill. I can keep going up the hill.

Eventually the thoughts narrowed down to I can’t run/I can run. I have to stop/I won’t stop. Left, right, left-and-right. Breathe in, breathe out. I can’t/I can. I have to/I won’t.

Many things invaded my mind, my imagination skittering around a wealth of images because linear thought was not really happening. I was bouncing amongst all the times when we say yes and no, real and unreal, what is and what isn’t, known and unknown. I was Vladimir and Estragon, who can’t go on/ will go on. I was a fresh Marine recruit at boot camp (when I first typed that, I wrote “boot can’t”) marching in cadence: I don’t know/But I’ve been told. I was a hundred therapists and yogis and spiritual teachers breathing: in with the good air, out with the bad.

Am I the only runner in the history of Melissa’s Race to fantasize that I was a yoga teacher? Left, right, left-and-right.

Every step was a question and a choice. Can I? I can. Left side, right side. I did not have the clean precision of a metronome. I was irreducibly organic and visceral, not mechanical. I tripped over roots, skidded on a Dixie cup discarded at one of the water stations and doubled-over a couple of times when I truly couldn’t breathe any more. I kept falling out of rhythm and then falling back into it. Left, right, sideways, then left-and-right again.

I have read that neurologists use diverse forms of bilateral stimulation, alternating sounds or pulses or light on the left side and right side of the body in order to calm erratic nerves and to help people integrate traumatic or awful memories into their present selves. I met no trauma ghosts as I was running, and even now as I write this, the awfulness of the cold and wet has moved away from me, become something I describe rather than something that I feel. But I can easily believe that the left-and-right, one-side-the-other-side, movement helped to draw me through a physically pretty intense experience.

I also believe that this back-and-forth of running opens into a bigger experience of ambivalence and contradiction. I’m in danger/I’m okay. I can/I can’t. I am/I am not. And all the while I am moving forward while I’m tiring out. I am not enjoying this road, but I’m not getting off it either.

You never know how far you can go until you stop, and at last I did stop, with ten kilometres behind me. In the final kilometre, my glasses fogged up so I was running through a fuzzy translucence in which I had to trust that there was an actual road in front of me, which is probably a metaphor for something. At the end of the road, I was indeed not the same person who began it. When I started, I didn’t know if I was the person who could run ten kilometres in terrible weather. I thought I was the person who would give in to the road, who might be humiliated by weakness and failure.

But I did get to the end of the road. I did it one step at a time, but more vividly, I did it step by step by step by step. I have to stop/I can keep going. I can’t breathe/I’m still breathing. I can’t/I did.

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here:


Two arguments for biking. Also, Sam finds one obstacle removed at her new university

Argument 1: It’s faster to bike. 

According to all of the data on our smartphones–here’s looking at you Google Fit!–in urban environments biking time beats car travel time hands down

Argument 2: It can also help you get enough movement in your day. This week there were many headlines proclaiming that fewer than 20 percent of Americans meet the recommended advice for amount of physical activity.

From the NPR version of this story: “With a few exceptions, the advice in the new guidelines is not so different from what we were told in the 2008 guidelines. But, here’s the trouble: Only about 20 percent of Americans meet them. This lack of physical activity is linked to $117 billion in annual health care costs, according to a report published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that lays out the new guidelines. The new guidelines marshal a growing body of evidence that documents immediate benefits of exercise such as reduced anxiety, improved sleep and improved blood sugar control, and long-term benefits (of regular physical activity), including cognitive benefits, and significantly lower risks of heart disease and certain cancers.So, how much physical activity do we need? On this point, the new guidelines haven’t changed: Adults need a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.”

For me, even if I do nothing else I meet these goals through bike commuting. 

What are your barriers to biking? One of mine has always been that I don’t like coming out at the end of the day to a wet, snowy bike. Once things get slushy I’m less likely to bring my bike into my office. Besides my workday often starts at other buildings and I’m arriving just in time for meetings.

I love that Guelph has abundant (like the one pictured here, centrally located, isn’t the only one) covered bike storage.

Covered outdoor bike storage at Guelph. Thanks Google for the black and white image.