fitness

Naps as a form of resistance… and they’re good for your brain too

Square with abstract lines in a criss cross pattern on the right side, and the words: "THE NAP MINISTRY We believe rest is radical and revolutionary. We believe rest is a form of resistance" on the left side.
Image description: Square with abstract lines in a criss cross pattern on the right side, and the words: “THE NAP MINISTRY We believe rest is radical and revolutionary. We believe rest is a form of resistance” on the left side.

There is a nap revival going on, and I’m 100% behind it. I blogged about it in recent months. See “Rest Revisited…and I mean naps.” I’m just back from China and my sleep is disrupted, and I’m feeling it acutely. I have always enjoyed afternoon naps. They are a luxurious privilege that not everyone has access to. I associate them with leisure, vacations, and weekends. When I’m at work, there is no nap time. 

And not all people have access to leisure, vacations, or even weekends (in the sense of time off).  There is definitely a class issue around naps — if you’re working multiple jobs to pay the bills, chances are you don’t have a lot of time for naps even though you might be sorely in need of them. Napping is indeed a social justice issue.

Besides the simple value of sufficient rest, naps have cognitive and health benefits. According to this article, new research shows that “a nap can help with how we process and react to information.”  The researchers reported that their study “indicated that sleep was responsible for inducing improvement in tasks that were processed unconsciously.” So there’s that benefit.

I also recently read an article on wired.com about the health impact of consistent sleep deprivation. Apart from making us less cognitively capable than we might otherwise be, sleep deprivation makes us: “more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, [neuroscientist Matthew Walker] said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.” So it’s not good for the health on many levels.

And yet our fast-paced world glorifies over-busy lives and minimal sleep. This is why my most favourite message these days is from The Nap Ministry’s Facebook page.  They have a website too. This is not simply a group that promotes naps as good for your physical and mental health. Based in Atlanta and founded by nap bishop Tricia Hersey, they see naps as a form of resistance.

Their mission statement exudes hope for a new way of living, with naps as a form of resistance against sleep deprivation and the glorification of the capitalist consumer machine that chews us up and spits us out. The statement says:

Black square with white writing that says: "Naps help you wake up. The Nap Ministry @thenapministry
Image description: Black square with white writing that says: “Naps help you wake up. The Nap Ministry @thenapministry

The Nap Ministry is a community organization that examines the liberating power of naps. We use the power of performance art, poetry, installation, public performance interventions and community art making to illuminate the artistic, spiritual and creative power of rest. It reimagines why rest is a form of resistance and shines a light on the issue of sleep deprivation as a justice issue. It is a counter narrative to the belief that we all are not doing enough and should be doing more. We are community centered. We are focused on radical self-care. Naps are a dream space that offers us a place to invent, create and heal. When we don’t nap, we miss out on precious creative time to hope and imagine. Hope is what will sustain us. Sleep will restore us.

Even better (and this makes me wish I lived in Atlanta or at least visited more often), “The Nap Ministry hosts Collective Napping Experiences that allow the community to experience a safe space that has been curated for rest.”

When people tell me they are too busy to rest…when I myself feel too busy to rest…I feel sad. When someone boasts about how little sleep they can function on, I raise a skeptical eyebrow. I mean, I realize that there is a lot in this wonderful world. And I realize that there are only so many hours in a day. But life is not just about consuming experiences and adding them to the collection. I like the idea of carving out time for rest. To be. To restore. To allow creative time. And to find other people who place value on that challenge to the dominant attitude of do-do-do as a marker of what it means to be a contributing citizen.

Do you nap for rest and if you do, does it feel like a guilty pleasure or a birth right?

accessibility · fitness · monthly check in · motivation

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the April version

What’s up this month? The weather has been miserable this spring! I usually hate March and love April but not so much in 2019. It’s certainly affected my plans to be regularly riding outside now. And my knee pain has affected my ability to dog hike with Cheddar very much.

I’ve been commuting by bike to work but otherwise not really riding outside. It’s been cold, and wet, and windy. The last I can take but the other two have kept me inside Zwift-ing away into April.

As a result I’ve also been spending a fair bit of time inside at the gym: personal training, weight training on my own, rowing, knee physio, and fancy stretching. I love having the university gym so close to my office. It’s probably not the best gym for me but since the best gym is the one you actually go to, it’s best for me right now.

The rowing machine is my fave piece of cardio equipment at the gym and I start most days there with a 2 km warm up at a moderate pace. For me that’s 10 minutes for 2 km, or 2:30 for 500 m, My speedy pace is 2:00 for 500 m, or 2 km in 8 minutes. I’m not doing 2 km tests these days or racing in ergattas but I still love the rowing machines as my go-to piece of cardio equipment at the gym. My heart rate goes up. And most importantly, my knee doesn’t hurt.

I’ve also been doing lots of fancy stretching. I love being able to reply to emails while the machine holds me in a stretch position.

The other machine that I’ve discovered that’s hard but not knee punishing is the Jacob’s Ladder. See photo above. The thing is I like tough, challenging workouts. We can debate whether it’s right to say that I like suffering or whether endurance athletes are really all masochists or whether it’s okay to dub your indoor cycling space your pain cave. It’s been tough for me to find things that don’t aggravate my knee but are still challenging in the way that I like athletic activities to be. I miss CrossFit!

What makes it such a tough workout?

See Jacobs Ladder climbers reach tough fitness rewards.

“Jacobs Ladder, a moving, angled, climbing machine, may be named after the Biblical stairway to heaven, but it packs such a challenging workout people have dubbed it the stairway to hell.

Fitness experts say users of the fitness machine, which is a favorite among Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and “The Biggest Loser” television series, reap total body, calorie-busting rewards.

“It’s a great and tough cardio piece,” said Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. “Picture a step mill that combines the lower and upper body, and you have Jacobs Ladder. Except instead of steps, you have rungs.””

Here’s an argument for preferring the JL to your treadmill.

In April I’ve also come to appreciate some of my personal features that have helped me slog through this winter with my badly arthritic knees. It’s not just toughness though people say that about me and I’ll nod. Toughness isn’t enough given the nature of the problem. It’s also creativity and being positive when things are difficult. It’s funny because I know those characteristics are true of me in other areas of life but I haven’t thought about it in the fitness context.

Looking forward to spring and the warm weather coming up!

cycling · fitness

Kids riding bikes aren’t renegades or miscreants– officials should watch their language!

In my little corner of the cycling world, we have a great organization called Mass Bike— they do the usual advocacy and education things related to biking, like lobby for more bike lanes in Boston, sponsor educational sessions on cycling, and host social events and volunteer opportunities. I’m a member and get their newsletter, which is informative if not compelling.

Except for this week. The executive director of Mass Bike, Galen Mook, responded to a recent Facebook post by the city of Springfield, MA about a “crackdown on renegade dirt bike and bicycle riders”. Here’s the post:

Post on FB from City of Springfield MA.
Post on FB from City of Springfield MA.

Galen highlights the use of inflammatory language in his letter this week:

The City uses phrases like “miscreant” and “negative individuals” to describe the riders, instead of calling the riders what they are, which are kids riding bikes. This is followed by the Police Commissioner freely using words like “aggressive plan of attack” to “crackdown” and “eradicate this issue.”

What issue are we talking about here? Kids are riding bicycles (and dirt bikes) around town, and not obeying traffic laws all the time. People riding bikes to and from work sometimes run red lights or change lanes a lot in traffic. We know all about this– we’ve seen it from our bikes and cars, and sometimes we have done this ourselves. Galen notes that this can and has resulted in drivers considering all people riding bikes as the “other”, or “the problem”, which needs to be “eradicated”. This is bad, very bad for all of us. Galen says it this way:

… the point that sticks with me is how people who bike are commonly grouped together, and thus can be collectively “otherized” so one bad action by an errant rider puts all bikers in a negative light.

I’ve also been thinking about how we advocates group people together: “those cyclists,” “those bike partiers,” “those mountain bikers,” “those e-bikers,” “those darn kids…” And how these groupings separate people, and incorrectly assumes that we have intrinsic differences. Though we may tie our identity to our bike riding styles, in reality we’re just people who bike. We are people who bike fast, people who slow roll, people who bike in the woods, people who bike in spandex, people who bike in nothing (um, World Naked Bike Ride!), and people who ride in groups to blow off steam. This may be obvious but it must be stated: Even among all the tribalism in bicycling culture, we are all just people riding bikes.

Language matters. We’ve written about this a lot on the blog. Samantha has written recently about being a person who rides a bike and a cyclist, and how these names have effects– on her, on others who rides bikes, and on the community.

In medicine, there’s something called “people first language”. Instead of saying a person is “a diebetic”, saying “person with diabetes” is more humanizing. Galen is saying we are all “people riding bikes”. I agree. We are all people riding bikes, no matter what we are wearing, what bike we are riding, or how fast or slow or far we are going. I, for one, take on different cycling identities depending on which bike I’m on, what I’m wearing, and where I’m going. What’s important is that the community (especially those behind the wheel of a car) see my humanity regardless. We can start by calling me what I am– a person who rides a bike.

fitness

Perhaps Practice Push-ups…an update

My plans did not proceed perfectly. Perhaps I need more push-up practice?

Oh, I definitely need more push-up practice!

My aim for this month was to do my push-up routine three times a week and to use my pretty chart to keep track.

That didn’t exactly work out.

Challenge #1: I lost my fun chart.

It’s hard to use something for motivation if you can’t find it! After taking the index card chart out of my planner to snap the photo, I must have put it ‘somewhere safe for now.’  Spoiler: it may be safe but apparently it wasn’t just ‘for now.’

Not having my chart wasn’t that big a deal but it was annoying. I could have made another one but some part of me insisted that I would find it any second now so I couldn’t bring myself to recreate it. (Yes, I do know how foolish that was.)


Challenge #2: Our new dog started sleeping on my bed

That doesn’t sound like it would affect my practice but I am not actually clinging to just any old excuse here.

In early March, we got a dog. Khalee is 5 years old and, despite my allergies, I’m charmed by her. I want her to be happy and comfortable in our house so when she decided that I was her alpha and that she should sleep near me, I didn’t want to object.

What I didn’t realize was that my sleeping self is over-courteous towards the dog. Apparently, in my efforts not to disturb the dog during the night, I was staying ridiculously still.

Sleeping in one position is NOT ideal for my hips and back.

So, I spent one week of April with my back in knots and I couldn’t actually do any push-ups at all until my back smoothed out.

A medium-sized dog with light coloured fur sleeps on a gray and green bedspread.
Unlike me, Khalee’s back seemed to be unaffected by our sleeping arrangements.

Challenge #3: Push-ups apparently irritate my wrist

Remember how I broke my wrist last year?

Well, even though it has healed very well, there are apparently some movements that still cause me a bit of grief. Push-ups are apparently one of them.

I’ve spent quite a bit of the month with an aching wrist and a slightly swollen hand.  That is not something that adds to your motivation to do push-ups.

Challenge #4: I was busier than I expected to be this month

I thought I was setting myself up for success by picking specific times to do my push-ups.

However, through a stroke of luck, I picked up some extra writing and coaching work and that work affected both my schedule and my available energy.

So, what did all of that mean for my push-up plans?

Well, despite all of those challenges, I still did pretty well.

My plan was to do my routine 12 times in April. I did it 7.

That’s pretty good, especially considering how many things got in my way!

And, the best part?

When I was late for Taekwon-Do class one night,* I had to do 10 push-ups before I could join the class.

I did them from my knees but the 10 push-ups were pretty easy.

And, for some of them, I felt actual ease. I felt new power in my arms. There was actual fluidity in my movements.

It was encouraging, to say the least.


What’s next?

I’m going to keep following my plan into May with the following adjustments:

  1. I’m going to put my chart directly into my planner – not on a separate sheet.
  2. I have already shifted where the dog is allowed on the bed, so I’ll keep that up.
  3. I’m adding some wrist stretches to my bedtime routine
  4. I’m going to do my push-ups while I wait for the kettle to boil/my tea to steep at some point during my day. I make multiple cups of tea daily and I usually do busy work while I wait. I’m going to pick one of those times and do my push-ups.

Did you try adding any push-ups in April? How did you do with it?

Do you want to join me for May?

A paper calendar, open to May 2019, sits on a wooden surface. The words 'Perhaps Push-ups Practice' are written in black ink in one corner and there are stick figures doing push-ups drawn on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week.
Let’s hope I have better form than stick-figure me does.

*I wasn’t being disrespectful. On my way to class,  I saw a young woman on the side of the road struggling with a huge suitcase and I stopped to help her. She was a student, moving to a new apartment and trying to move all her stuff by walking it from her old place to her new one. I drove her and her suitcase to her new apartment but it did make me late.

fitness

I Gave My Car Away

I live less than two kilometres from where I work and given all the things I like to do and hope to do in the future (like biking around NFLD) you’d think a small thing like biking to work would be a choice I’d make. Nope. I really like biking and walking, especially when I’m walking my dog but you know what else I like? Sleeping. Sleeping is one of my most favourite activities, especially in the morning when I am not supposed to be sleeping. So often, in spite of my best intentions to wake up 15 minutes early (that’s all it would take), I press snooze and take my car.

I feel like part of what I’m doing with this post is publicly shaming myself for that. Most of my good friends and lots of my fellow bloggers bike, walk and run to work. It’s certainly the more “virtuous” thing. And also, we are human and we just don’t alway live up to our virtues. I’m cool with that, you should be too. However, I’m also aware that I have planned this really cool trip and I don’t want to die. Consistent biking around my town during the day would go some way to keeping me moving in useful and constructive ways. it will also make it easier for me to get out on the weekends for more substantial training. It’s all about the baseline. And yet and yet, nothing.

Sometimes the solution to persistent motivation problems is to create a “safe emergency” situation. Lucky for me, the opportunity presented itself this week. My delightful son, who has just completed his second year of uni, had dutifully got himself a job as a labourer at a farm. What we hadn’t really worked out was how he was going to get there. His day starts at 7am. Remember that I like sleeping more than biking, walking and getting up early. So, There was no way I was going to get up at 6:30 in the morning so I could drive that boy to work, just to drive my own self 2 hours later. I did what any good middle class mom would do, I gave up my car to my kid. Yes he is spoiled rotten, his work is only 10k away, he could be biking up there, but selfishly, I am not letting him bike. I’M biking! Even though I had to give up my car to get myself to do it.

It’s only day one and there are going to be more than a few days of exceptions when we will have to figure out something else. It only goes until June, conveniently, just before I leave for the epic trip. Maybe by then it will be a habit that I can stick with.

a picture of six stylized bicycles in rainbow colours
A rainbow of bikes I lifted from the Australia Bikes to Work site.
fitness

And if you can’t squat?

Image description: overhead shot of porcelain squat toilet.

I’ve been traveling this week in China, thanking my lucky stars that my back has been well enough for me to manage the toilets.

In China, the typical toilet is a squat toilet. Not of course in the western style hotel rooms but certainly in most of the restaurants and in most of the university buildings I’ve had meetings in. In a public toilet with multiple stalls, there may be one stall with a regular toilet. Maybe. Not always. And the rest are squats.

When I faced the same in India recently it was more an “aesthetic” thing. I am accustomed to a regular toilet and squatting just isn’t my thing. I know, I know –apparently in many ways squatting is better for digestion, a more effective position.

But this time I’m aware of just how much physical agility it requires to squat to pee. You need to be able to plant your feet and lower yourself down without losing your balance. Pee. Wipe (assuming there is toilet paper or that you remembered to grab some from the communal dispenser on the wall out by the sinks or that you have your own as I always do). Then stand back up again without assistance and without losing your balance. Two weeks ago I’d have been completely unable.

For me it was temporary. I have no idea what people with knee issues or back issues or in wheel chairs or with other sorts of mobility issues do. Almost all of the squat toilet stalls have at least one step to get up to them (I don’t quite know why this is). None of the many I’ve been in this week has had a hand rail that would be useful for getting back up.

It’s a real issue. And not just aesthetic. And it makes me appreciate that at least for now I can manage because being able to use a toilet when out and about is one of the more important necessities of basic living.

I have not asked around about what people do if they have mobility issues and whether this is considered an equity issue. If it’s not, it should be, even if squatting is a more natural position for this sort of thing. It’s not available to all.

I usually end with a question but I’m not about to interrogate our readers about their squat toilet experiences!

competition · femalestrength · weight lifting

CFP: **Strong A(s) F(eminist): Power in Strength Sports**

**Strong A(s) F(eminist): Power in Strength Sports** 
Noelle Brigden, Melissa M. Forbis, and Katie Rose Hajtmanek are seeking contributors to an edited volume on strength sports.

“Despite sports being a powerful site of social control and resistance in most parts of the globe throughout modern history, they have too often been ignored by scholars. Situated within this context of ongoing political struggles, and building on a literature that explores the intersectional politics of embodied practice and physical culture, this edited volume takes up the importance of sport, and analyzes the unique potential of strength sports as a site of gender contestation to the existing order.

Recognizing the importance of this radical understanding of empowerment for the future of strength sports and its potential to disrupt white supremacist patriarchy, we welcome intersectional feminist analyses of gender in strength sports, beyond a singular focus on women’s participation. This volume defines strength sports as activities in which the competition outcomes depend exclusively on the individual capacity to move weight, including but not limited to: functional fitness training, powerlifting, weightlifting, kettlebells, strongman/woman, highland games, and historic feats of strength.”