fitness · yoga

Back to fundamentals

Two weeks ago, I spent three days in a coaching fundamentals workshop, re-immersing myself in the basics of creating generative space in a one-on-one conversation.  Last Sunday morning, I went to a yoga fundamentals class and immersed myself in the most essential elements of what happens inside our bodies when we focus on our shoulders for an hour.

In a flash of synchronicity, a friend of mine who is a coach — who trained in the same program I did the workshop in — showed up to my yoga class.  She just moved into my neighbourhood but we hadn’t had a chance to see each other yet, but I’d sung the praises of my studio.

After class, I asked her what she’d thought — I’m always a little nervous about whether people I’ve recommended something to will like it.  “It was amazing,” she said.  “You have to be so. present. to do this kind of class — my mind never wandered.”

That comment really tied together both of those “fundamentals” experiences for me.  Coaching isn’t my core work, but it’s an important aspect of it.  I’ve developed my skills through a weave of different kinds of learning over two decades, ranging from facilitation training, a graduate certificate in dialogue, a phd in communication, lived experience and meditation teachings.  But I’ve never done a core fundamentals workshop on this kind of really basic model.  I’m a pretty good coach, but focusing for three days on the basics of simple questions, letting go of your own agenda, treating the other person as “creative, resourceful and whole,” surfacing the bottom line, being fully present to where they are — it reshaped my practice immediately.  It made me examine where my mind wanders, how needlessly complex I can make things, how much my own beliefs influence what I hear.  I had to face stuff that isn’t as seamless as I want to believe it is, and it changed me, almost immediately.  I got more… patient, more present.  And that brought a lot of joy to my work over the past couple of weeks.

That yoga class was the same.  I do yoga fundamentals occasionally, but this one really focused me.  This was a teacher I don’t go to very often (a sub for the usual teacher at this time, whom I don’t totally love), and she was … perfection.  Every move was intentional.  We focused on shoulders and upper arms, and I found my shoulder blades in new ways, felt ropiness I’m never in touch with, heard clicks and pops I’m not in tune with, struggled with holding my arms in warrior two in true, full presence.  From the outside, we did very little that would look like “work”.  Inside my body, I was fully involved and engaged in the experience — feeling my right arm so much more mobile when raising it to the side, ache in my shoulders when I folded my arms across my body and grasped my shoulder blades with my hands, trembling in my legs in a simple squat.  I was IN my body in a way I rarely am, related to it differently.  (And ached the next day).

(My friend Grace took pics of me doing some of our poses at the end of class.  I don’t usually practice in a tshirt and socks but I was cold ;-).)

I’ve done a lot of yoga this year, and I’ve posted a lot about the experience. I’m trying to make meaning of this deep pull I have right now toward engaging so much in the kind of movement that emphasizes presence, stillness, a comfortable acquaintance with what’s *really* happening in my body.  I think it’s part of a years-long shift toward movement that truly matches what I need — and really inquiring into what that need is.

When I was 30, running far and faster was what I needed, for a lot of reasons.  Following a typical “10K training program” or another kind of externally defined program made sense, and served me well.  But as I’ve navigated various injuries, gotten older, slowed down, gotten busier and more tired, what I “should” do according to some expert model doesn’t work.  When I dabble in the bootcamp or barre classes in my gym, do a video HIIT workout, try to keep up with someone else’s running or cycling pace, it doesn’t work for me.  I hurt myself, fall out of rhythm, just quit, fail.

What I seem to be discovering is that I need to reshape my deep listening to my body, find movement I can do for the remaining decades of my life, do the things that will strengthen me, not harm me.  That’s an ongoing practice, not a one time definition.  I’m pretty happy that I have gotten stronger in bridge poses, in balancing postures, in handstand this year.  But the continual engagement with the fundamentals of things I think I already know — that’s what’s had the biggest impact on me.  In my movement, in my work, and in my presence in the world.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not wandering the world. She blogs here on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, which weirdly fall on sequential days this year.  Stay tuned for tomorrow!





fitness · holiday fitness · holidays · tbt · Throwback Thursday

On Pacing Yourself *During* the Holidays #tbt

We aren’t quite there yet and I’m not having any guests this year, but this post about pacing ourselves during the holidays seems like a timely #tbt nonetheless. Enjoy!


christmastreeI’ve just emerged from a couple of solid days in the kitchen (a treat for me, since I love to cook and don’t usually have time to make it a priority).

Sam posted the other day about pacing yourself after the holidays. But since by my count we still have a week of revelry to go, I thought it might not be too late to post about pacing yourself during the holidays.

I’m not talking about food, though of course there is that.  No shortage of magazine articles telling us how to deal with holiday parties and cookie exchanges and a time of year when it seems we’re surrounded by delicious food almost every where we go.  My advice on that isn’t all that helpful: eat it.

I’m more interested in pacing ourselves activity-wise. For some of us, when the routine gets thrown sideways, even by good things, it’s…

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Exercising while Dean-ing: Sam finds ways to make it work, #deanslife

A painted rock which reads “play before work’ nestled in the fall leaves

Since becoming Dean of the College of Arts at Guelph in January 2018, I’ve struggled a bit to find time for fitness things. It’s a demanding job. It’s not that regular faculty positions aren’t demanding but this feels different.

The schedule is certainly different. This morning I was at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the U of G table from 7-9 am. A surprising number of things take place in the early hours of the day. There’s also a lot of evening commitments. Twelve hour days aren’t that uncommon. And it’s not that I didn’t work long days when I was teaching and doing research full-time but that schedule was under my control mostly. Now I have an assistant who schedules my days and I have to look and see what’s on and when.

When I first started I imagined I could just book fitness-y things and stick with it. See Start as you mean to continue,

But the thing is emergencies happen often enough that I can’t commit in the way I used to. If there’s a faculty member in crisis I can’t really say, yes, can I’d love to meet with you but I spin then so I can’t. And the hours mean that the usual thing of working out before or after work isn’t working that well for me. I am a big fan of 8 hours sleep a night. After almost a full year as Dean I thought I’d share with you what seems to be working for me.

What does work?

There are unexpected chunks of time. I keep a gym bag packed in my office at all times. I workout on campus. And I don’t need a full hour to make it worth my while.

I schedule personal training on campus over the lunch hour. I’d rather do that and eat at my desk or in meetings.

On the days when things do end early, I head to the gym. This unexpected time makes the gym feel like a treat.

I also have my bike set up at home on the trainer. I rarely do admin work at home and my email seems to begin and end with regular hours not distant from the regular work day. Again, no chunk of time is too small. Twenty minutes on the trainer is just fine.

I bike to work and I walk around campus a lot during the day.

I do random fitness classes when time permits. Bike yoga? Yes! Advanced AquaFit? Sure!

I’m still not sure where this will all settle out. I’m still trying different things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. But being much more flexible seems to be key. I’ll report back soon.

Bitmoji Sam on a boxing ring. Caption reads ‘You got this.”
cycling · winter

Snow commuting, still faster than driving

This story has been in the news a lot this week : Data From Millions Of Smartphone Journeys Proves Cyclists Faster

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

(There’s been a lot of analysis of the data, from smart phones and from Strava. For the big picture look here: Strava’s 2018 Fascinating Year In Review Stats)

I had my own version of the “biking is faster the driving” phenomena last night when someone saw me on my bike and offered me a drive to a meeting. I calculated the time to lock up the bike and get back to it after the meeting and quickly declined. I wanted the ease of having the bike near me for getting home after the meeting. The driving colleagues offered to let the others know that I’d be late. I didn’t think I’d be late. But whatever.

I was waiting for the elevator when the driving colleagues arrived. “Huh, you beat us.” 

They thought about it and noted that I got to park closer. They parked in a lot a ways a way but I locked up my bike in covered bike parking just outside the building.  But truth be told, I was ahead of them all the way. 

At the first light they were stopped behind a line of cars but I was the only bike in the bike lane.  Between traffic lights I’m not that much different than a car in terms of speed.

Last night, after the meeting, I had a magical ride home in the snow. I took a quiet route with almost no cars. The snow was falling pretty heavily and the plow hadn’t been by yet. I was curious to see how my “adventure road bike” would do. My fat bike is better suited to real snow but this bike did just fine.

What’s an adventure road bike? It’s not a cx bike, not designed for cyclocross bike. It’s not a technical mountain bike designed for mud and rocks. And it’s not a pavement only road bike either.

Here’s one description from Evans Cycle in the UK:

“Different brands have different takes on what adventure road geometry should be, in general they sit much closer to road bikes, but with a more relaxed geometry, a higher stack height for a more heads up riding position and sometimes longer chain stays for stability when carrying a load. The tyres will generally be fatter than road tyres, but with a semi-slick rubber that won’t hold you back on the road, so you’ll be comfortable switching between disciplines with ease.

Because Adventure Road bikes aren’t designed for technical, wooded areas and muddy racing, the bottom bracket stays in a position more akin to that of a road bike, and tyre clearance does not need to be as great. Since it’s unlikely you will need to hop off the bike, and run over obstacles or up banks, disc brakes are common place as low weight is less crucial.What are adventure road bikes good for?

Adventure Road bikes make fantastic steeds for commuting or touring duties – comfortable geometry, shorter reach and robust wheels and tyres mean they can cope with hefty mileage over rough terrain. Therefore, the bikes often have racks for panniers, mudguards and drinks bottles, so you can load them up should you need to.

Adventure Road bikes are super versatile and with one bike you can cover a huge range of riding styles but there are subtle differences and it is a broad spectrum. Before you start browsing think about what you are likely to use the bike for and which features will be most key to your buying choice.”

Guest Post · weight loss · winter

Baby, it’s cold outside (Guest post)

By Eleanor Brown

It was a quite chilly minus 12, so I popped outside yesterday, without a coat, and stood in the driveway for a good 10 minutes, shivering. All in all, I’d call that a good day of exercise.

There was an unseasonable cold snap, you see. It was too icy for a bicycle ride, and too cold this early in the season for my as-yet non-acclimatized body to cope with its usual meandrey hour-long walk. Ah, but a good shiver… that’s some good calorie-killing time well spent.

Why? I was following advice, of course. I found it on the internet. Even better, I found it on a media website. Of a sort, anyway. The write-up is all about the horrors of winter weight gain. Ten pounds, on average!

To wit: « The shift to colder, winter weather often makes us feel lethargic and deters our motivation to go outside.

« But before you pull over the blankets or curl up by the fire to watch your favorite show, you should consider the potential benefits of cold-weather workouts.

« Exercising outdoors in colder weather has numerous health benefits. The average winter weight gain ranges from 5-10 pounds, Senior Director of Clinical Nutrition at Mt. Sinai Rebecca Blake told Accuweather. » That’s a weather website that makes money money as an app on my phone (and perhaps, on yours , too.)

Oh, there’s a lot of good stuff in the story. Winter exercise offers a bit of vitamin D via the faint sunlight exposure. It helps keep your body stronger in terms of immunity from colds, etc. The chill keeps you awake and cool, helping with temperature regulation. I buy all that.

But in the end it’s all about the thin : Winter exercise helps « ease fears of potential winter weight gain.»

It turns out that being outside in the winter can switch that terrible, horrible no good white belly and thigh fat into the Best. Fat. Ever. Yes, behind door number two you’ll find a transmogrification of the nasty bad stuff into the fantabulous calorie-burning brown fat. (Don’t ask me, it’s some miraculous sciencey thing.)

But when it’s very, very cold, I often just say no.

Thank goodness there’s this short-term option.

« Shivering, a mechanism to produce heat, also burns a significant amount of calories. Studies have shown that people expend five times more energy when shivering, compared to when they are resting. »

Now if I could just convince myself to stand outside every horrifically frigid winter day in shorts… why then, life would be perfect. Sadly, I am walking outside while wearing an undershirt today, and am therefore much fatter than I should be.


Eleanor Brown lives in Quebec, and as the Gilles Vigneault song goes, « Mon pays, c’est l’hiver » (my country, ‘tis winter).


Jet lag as a test of physical endurance

Tracy at the Great Wall of China on her big step day. Photo credit: John Hatch.

I’ve been in China for a week and I had some modest fitness goals while away: to do the hotel room workout my trainer gave me twice, to get enough sleep, and to walk when practical. I didn’t have any grand plans of using the hotel gym or trying to keep up with my running. I thought that if I set a low bar I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Turns out the bar wasn’t low enough. I haven’t done the hotel room workout once even (I could do it now because I’m awake and have been since 4 am). I haven’t slept well since arriving, getting at most 5-6 hours of intermittent sleep. I have walked when practical, including a big day on Sunday that included the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Judging by someone else’s step tracker that day was good for at least 25000 steps. But there has also been a lot of sitting in cars and meeting rooms.

And yet I feel physically taxed at the moment. The long days of meetings with Chinese partner institutions–which have all been productive and exciting–and totally reversed time zones (the part of China I’m in is 13 hours ahead of my usual Eastern Time Zone) turn out to be a brutal combo.

Most mornings we have been meeting for breakfast around or before 7, and I’ve been awake already mostly before 4 without being able to get back to sleep. We have usually had morning and afternoon meetings. I’ve had more coffee than I usually do.

And by the time I get back to my hotel room for the night there has been no way I could possibly consider working out.

I consider that totally reasonable. Though I do like to keep working out when I travel, on these short trips across the world where there isn’t even time to adjust before heading back home, the physical endurance required to get the day’s work done is enough of a workout for me.

When I’m sleep deprived it makes matters worse. I’m told there are things that can make it easier. Staying hydrated. Melatonin. Using drugs for sleeping (not an option for me). So far I haven’t found anything that makes it easier for me. And yet I love traveling. I think I just need to go on longer trips with more gentle schedules!

Most of all, I’m not going to be too hard on myself for not making the already low bar I set. It’s been a great trip and I’ll get back on track when I get home, which is tonight.

What’s your best advice for managing jet lag across many time zones? Do you keep to a workout schedule or find, like me, that the day’s events are challenging enough?


Emotional Eating: An Open Eyed Foray

I guess this post deserves a trigger warning. I’m going to talk about my recent experience of emotional eating, something that I have never consciously recognized as a thing I did until the last few weeks. I want to explore what I am perceiving inside me as I address these feelings and “urges” explicitly. I am bringing to this discussion my experience as a therapist and client in therapy for many years. Your mileage may vary. If you don’t agree with what I say, you may feel free to say so but I’m asking you, reader, to be kind because the events that have led me here are painful and personal.

Challenges, I’m having them, the kind that impose themselves unwanted, unbidden and undeserved. That’s okay, it’s part of life. Over all, I’m doing really well.  After a few days of anxious dissociation, followed by disembodied calm, I have settled into a proto-new-normal. I’m stabilizing things, mobilizing others and realizing that I am absolutely going to be totally fine no matter how this all shakes out at the end. (Yes, I’m deliberately vague, but pick your major life issue, any would really fit here)

On the activity end, I am being vigilant about getting outside every day with the dog and doing yoga about twice a week. This is for my mental health and to keep my body moving. I’ve also gone to get body work done because as soon as this stress hit, every chronic thing regressed at lightening speed to it’s preferred natural state. My left side body likes to collapse in on itself setting off a whole bunch of issues everywhere. So, resources are going there. I love Osteopathy personally for that sort of thing but in the state I’m in any thing from Reiki to a Swedish Massage with a giant man named “Bjorn” would have been fine. Just the presence of another human whose nervous system is something below full throttle saying they will take care of me is probably a benefit. I just described over a quarter of the reason therapy works in that last sentence. Sitting in front of a person with their own feet on the ground who cares is a real life line in these terrible times.

Anyway, back to eating. The last time I was this stressed were events around my divorce around 13 years ago. It was a much worse situation then. My kids were younger and I didn’t have a job. I was desperate and dependant on people who didn’t have my best interests necessarily in mind. I couldn’t eat and I lost a scary amount of weight. I did not want that to replicate itself in this current situation. I have a lot more to hang onto and also a lot more to lose. I have to be present for clients and students in demanding environments. Having a starving brain is not optimal. So I went to the doctor and explained that I didn’t want to get addicted to Ativan, what other options were there? She suggested Remeron, an atypical anti-depressant, because it made a person sleepy, quelled nighttime anxiety and boosted appetite. Cool, all that currently ails me.

Now many of you probably have experienced the fact that anti-depressant medication doesn’t fix the things that you don’t have control over. All it does is settle down or level up some inner physiology, allowing you to stay in a “window of tolerance” of your emotions more easily. Amongst many other things, that means I could continue to think and make decisions without the dissociation or extreme numbing. I was also more rested, which contributes to resilience. I could hang on to all the things that I know about me. And then there it was, this new thing.

How curious. At night, after all my work was done (oh work, you great distracter), I felt a pull to the kitchen. Now it’s not like I’ve never snacked at night. If I stay up really late, I actually get hungry and can eat another meal. But this was a decidedly different feeling. It was new, a yearning. I was not hungry. I was not even peckish. I was certainly sad and. . .empty, not overwhelmingly so, but clearly and emphatically so. That emptiness declared to me, “Eat.” So I did. The first time I really mindfully paid attention to the phenomenon was about three days into the behaviour. That time, when my body said, “Eat.” I chose home made chocolate chip cookies and went about noticing what happened when I ate them. I found that the particular sad that was this empty feeling was not just filled, but actually comforted. It was like I was interacting with a person who was giving me a little love. It was, in fact, regulating. 

Now people, I’m sure you are going to have feelings about this. I ate two more cookies and was comforted. I let that comfort wash over me in all it’s sugar-butter-egg-flour-chocolate glory and I was not sorry. I was not, in that moment going to deny the pleasure and peace I was experiencing. Then I took my Remeron and went to bed.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with all this knowing. I know that “emotional eating” is a real experience that many people struggle with. Yet there is no denying that eating is not merely a function of the body. It represents many things according to context including pleasure, expression, connection, memory, hope, fun and satisfaction. I am not going to be sad forever. I also think that by allowing the empty space to be filled up just a little by a cookie, I am not doing myself any great disservice or starting down the road to hell. It took up a cookie sized space and the rest of the pain is still there to work through. I’m not going to, nor would I every be able to, plaster it over with cookies and I don’t think I have to try. So is this what I’m doing? Mindfully emotionally eating? Letting the comfort in for what it is and tending to myself in all the ways. I guess that’s what I’m doing.


A cookie sheet of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. These are the thick kind made with butter and brown sugar.
Delicious home made chocolate chip cookies on a cookie sheet just out of the oven. They look the same as mine.