Guest Post · yoga

Vulnerability and Naked Yoga, Part 2 (Guest Post)

by Ellen Burgess

Last week, I wrote about my sailing adventure during my holidays in the first week of June.  As if the sailing this wasn’t enough excitement for one week, the day of my holiday, I boldly ventured out to an old friend’s yoga studio in Toronto to practice Naked Yoga for the first time.  Yep, that’s right, yoga in nothing but my birthday suit… TOTALLY STARKERS that is!

Upon my arrival, I greeted my fellow yoga practitioner (Don), who I had not seen in over 15 years when we did our Moksha Teacher training together. At that time, he had invited me to live in his house for a month, so we got to know each other quite well.  I was happy to see him after such a long time, and we chatted enthusiastically as he showed me around his hot yoga studio. He explained that the purpose of this class was essentially to reduce body shame and build strength and community through vulnerability that comes with practicing yoga with no clothes on.

“Right on”, I said, in my most hippy like voice, (secretly thinking, this sounds terrifying, but “bring it on”)! After all, I had already bragged to my friends that I was going to try this, so there was no backing out now.

Don had us all assemble in the practice room in a rectangle with our backside to the wall with the mirrors covered (thank goodness).  We were asked to disrobe when the lights went off and that, if at any time we were uncomfortable, we could lie down on our mats with a towel covering our body. 

Then he turned off the light and lit a single candle.  All I could see was the silhouette of a man in front of me.  I peeked around and sure enough, everyone was taking off their clothes, so I thought I better get with the program, so to speak. This was a silent class with series of 26 simple postures, so Don just named the postures when it was time to switch, but provided no other instruction.    Don also aligned himself in the rectangle with the rest of us and did not move around the room.  I strategically positioned myself several bodies away from Don.  Why? Well I guess I forgot to mention that Don is hot.  Yep… that’s right.  Upon reconnecting with him, I quickly realized that he was still as hot as ever 15 years later, so I didn’t want to be caught peeking!

I was actually surprised at how “raw and exposed” I actually felt once I had my clothes off. That may sound like a no brainer, but at the age of 55, I thought I was comfortable being naked anywhere, anytime. I had skinny dipped, slept in the nude in a room full of other people, not to mention disrobing many times in front of others during the wilder days of my youth. However, once my clothes were off, I felt a distinct flushing of my chest, just around my heart chakra and I began to sweat more than usual. I wondered if I experienced intense feelings in this area because my chest was always a source of body shame when I was growing up.

First we did pranayama breathing then moved into half-moon posture and then eagle pose.  By the fourth posture, I was really over being naked.  However, as we moved through more rigorous postures, such as downward dog flows, I really noticed some “base and raw” sensual feelings throughout my body. I wondered if this is how our caveman/woman ancestors felt. 

And then poof, it was over!  We showered and then I went out to the lounge and caught up with Don for an hour and a half before driving back to Guelph.

What was particularly interesting about our chat was the fact that I disclosed more about myself to him in those 90 minutes than during the entire 30 days I lived with him in 2004. And so, as I headed back to Toronto, I felt a more heart felt connection with my friend as it seemed our emotional intimacy had deepened significantly.

So maybe, just maybe, through a jam packed week of sailing and naked yoga, I am becoming more vulnerable through sport, which was the goal at the onset. 

On a final note, I must add that the REAL test of my willingness to be vulnerable is to be more emotionally vulnerable with those closest to me; by first being more honest with myself and then, by being more forthcoming about my true thoughts and feelings.  I am the kind of person that is will to try just about any new activity, but that is typically where I draw the line.  Emotional vulnerability is FAR MORE DIFFICULT for me than naked yoga or sailing, because I am required to put “my heart out there” without no guarantee of the response, and that really scares me. However, as Brene Brown states in her film “the Call to Courage”, “If we want to know love and connection more deeply (with both ourselves and others), we must choose courage over comfort”.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress!

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

body image · fitness

Body image, aging and the need for recognition

Content warning: This post mentions studies on negative body image, suicidal ideation, self harm, and negative self-esteem.

Now to the post proper:

The Mental Health Foundation Scotland released a report recently about body image, which included a poll about how Scots feel about their bodies. It was covered in the news here.

The poll – which was published as part of a report “Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies” – also found that just over on third of all adults said they have felt anxious because of their body image. 

And a quarter adults have felt “disgusted” because of their body image in the last year, while nearly a quarter said they had felt “shame”. 

The poll found that body image issues affected women more than men, with 11 per cent saying they have “deliberately hurt themselves” because of their body image, compared to 4 per cent of men.

One thing the report talks about in more detail that the news article doesn’t is how aging affects body image. The research shows a lot of different and complex results. On the one hand, older adults express more interest in body functioning than appearance. On the other hand, many adults (20–23% in the Scottish survey) express anxiety or depression around their body image.

This is not surprising news to any of us. But what’s underlying these feelings?

In a large 2017 qualitative study on women, aging and body image, researchers wanted “to capture the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that women at middle age have about their bodies and the experience of aging.” Here’s what they found:

Four primary themes emerged: 1) the physical and psychological experience of aging; 2) the injustices, inequities, and challenges of aging; 3) the importance of self-care; and 4) a plea for recognition of the need to maintain a contributory role in society.

I really like this quote from their interviews:

I think we all believe that we are young from our side of our eyes. We don’t look it, maybe, but ask anyone if they feel any different than they did when younger. We are women, we are sexual beings, we are capable of love and compassion, and we don’t want to be checked off because of a few wrinkles or white hair. I have always felt that when your hair turns white you become invisible.

And I love this one:

We are beautiful, sexy, mature women who have much to give to society and to the younger people. We have vast knowledge, experience and the ability to teach many things if you would listen.

Yes yes yes to this! What I want for myself as I continue to age is to be seen. To be seen as relevant. To be seen as functional. And to be seen as beautiful. There, I said it. It’s what I want. And I’m not alone in this.

When do I feel relevant and functional and attractive?

  • doing yoga
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • doing social things
  • doing helping or socially relevant things
  • doing professional things

For me, being out in the world and active helps me recognize that I matter, and it helps others recognize it, too. And– the extra added bonus– it helps others realize that people who are older, with older and varied bodies, matter.

What helps you feel seen, recognized for who you are– yourself in all your specific glory? I’d love to hear from you.

accessibility · fitness · Guest Post · motivation · race report · running

Julie’s Lulu 10K – in which the swag was good and Anita and Tracy were voices in her head (guest post)

by Julie

Last Saturday I embarked on the Lululemon 10K I would say that I am not too much into material things but for those that know me would say that might be a stretch when it comes to Lulu! I like to do races for the company and the swag but this race I only had the swag as my company, Anita and Tracy, have been globe trotting and training for the 30 K the past few months. 

I have to admit I have not run as often as I should but when I do I run hard for like 5 minutes and crash when I am on my own. Anita is the pacer of the group and without her I am often lost. When alone I often call this my ‘run like hell’ and die runs or sprint and walk. Tracy is the one that often motivates with her interesting and passionate discussions and the things I have gained from the both of them can not be measured in words.

Image description: full body shot of three women, Julie, Tracy and Anita, dressed in summer running gear (shorts, tanks, and running shoes), blue sky and trees in the background. Taken a couple of summers ago after a Sunday run.

I was a bit nervous but I had done a lengthy run 2 weekends before with Anita (almost died but survived) and I was going out every other night for my run and die sprints. So I felt confident and I approached it with the attitude of once I have the shirt I only have to finish and they had walkers at the end so no shame. 

I was grateful to learn that there was a pace bunny, incredibly people these pacers, just ask Tracy and I how grateful we are to have Anita to ‘slow us down guys.’ My approach that morning was no technology, no phones, no watch, other than my fossil time telling and no monitoring devices. Just me, the ground and 10 000 other racers.

I felt good and we started early so this bode’s well for me and my bathroom habits so off I went, alone, into the running coral. I pulled into the Green coral for the 61-75 minutes and found a bunny. It was typically crowded and the weather was exactly perfect, not too hot or sunny and I was dressed right. When we started to go I felt strong and listened to Anita in my head telling me to hold back and slow it down. No need to burnout I did this once and it was very self defeating. 

I passed the markers with pretty good ease and tried to stick to a 10 min run and 1 min walk as I normally do but I was feeling good after 20 minutes so I kept pace behind the bunny with only about 3 walks for less than a minute for the total race. I could hear Tracy in my mind commenting on the pacing and the feeling of the race, there were bands and singers, lots of energy and at one point I passed a series of spin cyclists biking and cheering us on. I wondered what Tracy would have thought she likes to see these things along the race and  there were the giant angels with donuts, the dancers and of course the witty signs. However, with all of this I looked up and saw that 7 km had gone by with a fair bit of ease so I picked up the pace and rounded the bend to the uphill.

I remember this from my Scotiabank Race a few years back but I was strong, calm and Anita was there chanting in my mind to keep a steady pace. I hit the top of the hill and with 2 km left to go I picked it up more and the crowds were a bit heavier. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of runners etiquette with many slower runners going 4-5 wide and it was difficult to pass. No one was moving to the right and a couple of times I almost ran into people in mid stride on the left side of the lane who just stopped. I was tired but used a few tricks Tracy told me about in her training (1,2,3,4 …I can run a little more, 5,6,7,8 … keep on going get to the gate … 9,10 do it again!) 

I rounded the bend and saw my chance and took off for the finish. 

I finished the race in good time 1 hour and 3 minutes!! The worst part of the race was the finish line where everyone stopped before hitting the third marker and then the crowds came to a slow crawl. It seemed to take forever to get the medal and there were people just crowded everywhere. One could not go left or right. They handed out Sage essential oils and some snack bars but I did not get these as I was not able to see anyone in the mosh pit of a finish line. I got my banana and tried to get to an exit which was impossible. They handed out boxes of what I learned later were dry and dusty donuts but the box was neat. It took about 20 minutes to go from the finish line to a clearing. 

All in all I was so happy with my time and my t-shirt and I purchased some extra swag at the end with Toronto 2019 and coordinates on them so that was a nice $$$ takeaway. 

Would I do it again? Given the distance from home it is a bit more $$ but if you make it a bit of a trip and like the gear then it was fun. I am happy with my time and I got my banana! I also learned that the people you run with over time become a part of your race and inspire you in so many different ways. No technology made it better I think as I was not focused on a wrist watch and I instead felt my feet on the pavement, my breath in the air and my friends in my mind. I will rate this one a success and on to my next race or Sunday run with Tracy and Anita (if they are up for the challenge)!

Julie Riley – Fitness enthusiast at times reluctantly but always a team player! Runner, CrossFit and general city walker who also teaches yoga on the side. Julie is passionate about working on her healthy choices one day at a time without judgement of the setbacks!

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Facing Forward to Find More Fitness

Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.

I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.

And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.

I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to  the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)  

Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.

Their posts hit me hard.

In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)

All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.

Image of a mountain road with rocks and trees on the right hand side and blue sky above. White centre text reads 'Don't look back. You're not going that way.' Mary Engelbreit  White text in the bottom right corner reads 'University of Liverpool Online Programmes'
Sure, it’s obvious but it’s not untrue.

And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).

This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’

That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.

I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.

I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.

I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.

I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.

I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.

I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.

A multicoloured background with white text that reads 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for. (from slickwords.com)
This is my new plan.


*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to  help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.

beach body · body image · Guest Post

Marjorie thinks only she can decide she’s “beach body ready” (Guest post)

I care about how I look. I care about what size I am (within a range), and that I have visible muscles, at least a little bit. I like feeling pretty. I like feeling strong and moving in a way that suggests I’m capable and athletic.

I have reached the point in my life that I mostly don’t care about how I look to YOU. I don’t care if I’m slender enough for nameless, faceless society (or a BMI chart). I don’t care if you think I’m pretty enough. I don’t care if you like the “tone” of my arms or if you think my muscles are too masculine. I don’t do it for you. I like the look of my arms. I do it for me.

And this is my first problem with the notion of being beach body ready–and Sam touched on this in her post already: it is defined by someone else–mainstream society or the media or Hollywood? It isn’t about MY values and preferences. These narrowly defined beauty standards, based on strict definitions of heteronormative femininity, white European body types and features, don’t represent the genuinely wonderful diversity of humanity. I care about how I look, but not in comparison to these narrow standards. Gratefully, somewhere along the way, I have internalized how arbitrary these standards are, and I’ve become ok with letting them go.

This isn’t to say that I don’t care what other people think of my appearance, but I am working on that being as tightly defined as possible. I care that my appearance is perceived as professional when I’m at work. I want to be recognized as safe and welcoming when I’m out in the community. How I dress, do my hair, and wear make-up impacts how people interact with me. Unfortunately, I have witnessed how my size changes these interactions, too. But I don’t maintain a smaller size because others approve of it more. I do it for me. In contrast, I absolutely wear make-up for other people, and I look forward to the day that I feel like I can put it aside and be treated with the same level of respect.

My other problem* with the notion of being “beach body ready,” is the implication of temporary status–I must do something to BECOME ready for the beach. Rather than simply showing up, at the beach. And this smacks of the obsessive, distracting, disempowering process of endless pursuit of body transformation that helps keep people from having the confidence to go about and live their best lives. I have no interest in pursuing temporary changes. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like punishment, restriction, and self-harm. Making lasting changes in lifestyle that impact my appearance have been empowering, and I would argue were necessarily empowering to “stick.” Who wants to spend the rest of their lives feeling less-than? Improving how I take care of myself has allowed me to feel stronger, more capable, more energized, and more in control. And I like how I look–yes, I’m smaller than I used to be (which is the least empowering consequence), and I’m also stronger, have greater endurance, and am more at ease in my own skin. No temporary pursuit of a “beach body” would have the same result.

I think it would be good if the feminist goal wasn’t to NEVER care how we look. I would like us to give each person the power to define for themselves how they want to look and to what degree it is important in their lives. Just as we want everyone to have the freedom to define success in other aspects of their lives like relationships, work, and family. The pursuit of an aesthetic is only oppressive if it is holding us back. I love that Cate discovered that she could change the stimulus (her clothes) and feel better about her body. And I agree with Tracy that many (most?) of us have work to do to heal the wounds of a lifetime of internalized body shaming, myself included. Part of that work for me has been making peace with the fact that I do have aesthetic goals for myself. I’m ok with working on it, as long as I am choosing the direction of “progress,” not society. Focusing on what I want for me, alongside having plenty of other goals to measure success by, keeps my self-talk pretty friendly. So, I get to decide how I show up at the proverbial beach, and in my opinion, I’m ready!

*My THIRD problem is that I live where the ocean water stays at hypothermic temperatures year-round, the air temperature rarely gets above 70 degrees (21 celsius), and the wind never stops blowing. So even in summer, you probably need a jacket.

Ariel photo of waves crashing on beach. Photo from Unsplash
fitness

Dodgeball nightmares …

Ever notice that syndrome when there’s a mention of something long forgotten, and you go “huh,” and then over the next couple of weeks, more and more articles spring up on the very same topic, just like dandelions on your lawn?

sunset water gif GIF

That’s how I feel about a recent spate of articles talking about dodgeball. I hated that game with the passion of a thousand burning suns, and here I am almost 50 years later, still shuddering at the memory.

Still, when Michelle Obama headlines a celebrity game, maybe you have to rethink your elementary and junior high horrors.

Or not. It seems dodgeball is one of those love ’em or hate ’em games (although I’m still not going to join ’em!).

Let’s look at the anti-dodgeball camp first. New research recently presented at one of the largest academic gatherings held annually addressed dodgeball as sanctioned bullying in secondary school. In an Ottawa Citizen story, lead author Joy Butler, professor of curriculum and pedagogy at the University of British Columbia said in her abstract:

“Despite the fact that many physical educators understand their vital role in helping students develop robust, equal, productive relationships and critical awareness, their practices on the ground do not always reflect this agenda. We suggest that this tension becomes sharply visible in the common practice of allowing students to play dodgeball.”

Or as co author Claire Robson told Global News: “Dodgeball is the only sport where the human body is used as a target.” On purpose, I might add, given that in some highly competitive sports contact can be accidental or even accidentally on purpose. (Am I bitter? Yes. The fact that I know rain is coming from a twitch in my right knee is thanks to a rather unpleasant collision playing basketball in the ninth grade, but I digress.)

Dodgeball, the authors of the study say, functions as tool of oppression sanctioned by gym teachers who ought to know better. Butler is blunt. She calls the game “legalized bullying.”

Not so, cry the members of the pro-dodgeball camp. The head of Dodgeball Canada went into damage control after the research made headlines. Duane Wysynski told CBC’s As It Happens that dodgeball is really about collaboration: “What we try to do with dodgeball is, especially for youth, we focus on the aspects of teamwork, strategy, of fellowship within the game, of communication on the court. And winning becomes kind of secondary at that age.”

I’m thinking that the adult dodgeplayer Wysynski wants to believe that because that’s his experience with adult teams. I’m not sure youngsters would agree entirely with that premise given that some of the youth the academic team spoke to were frank about the dynamics they saw at play. Perhaps Michelle Obama will rehabilitate the game for adults, the way ultimate frisbee is universally enjoyed as a competitive and challenging sport.

I’m not entirely convinced that dodgeball isn’t still a twisted version of musical chairs with painful shins as your reward for a hasty and painful exit. What say you, faithful readers? Is this game an exercise in strategic collaboration or is it the ninth circle of hell?

MarthaFitat55 is a dodgeball survivor who prefers instead to apply her collaborative strategies in the gym to dead lifts and squats.

fitness · running · training

Tracy’s lost cardio fitness

Oh wow is it ever a challenge getting back to running since I took an involuntary hiatus from it after the Around the Bay 30K sidelined me with debilitating back pain. By the time that started to resolve it was time to go to Rwanda. Then I was only home for 12 hours before flying to Vancouver. And then the jet lag kicked my butt. And then I got home to the week (or was it 10 days?) from hell.

During all that time (just over 2.5 months) I have run four or five times, not for more than 30 minutes. And I can report with confidence that 2.5 months is sufficient time to lose whatever cardio fitness I had gained through a winter of training for 30K.

My most palpable rude awakening came this past Sunday. Before that, all my runs were tentative, cautious outings aimed at testing my back more than anything else. But Sunday, my back having not given me any trouble for at least a month and no jet lag, I ventured out for a short run with the express purpose of getting back to routine. I planned for about 20-25 minutes of continuous running at an easy pace. Instead, after just 7 minutes I could hardy breathe, and that’s not because I went out too quickly. I just didn’t have the endurance anymore. I ended up being out for about 30 minutes of run-walk and it all felt pretty laboured.

I try not to feel discouraged when I have set backs. It happens. The conditioning will return. I know this. But it did shock me how very difficult that short run felt.

On a positive note: my strength training hasn’t suffered to quite the same degree. I managed 3 sets of 13 pull ups yesterday. And I have new shoes, which I tested out for the first time Sunday. They’re great!

Image description: overhead shot looking down at pavement, with grass beside, Tracy’s lower legs and feet visible in her new pink running shoes.

What’s your best strategy for getting back on track after a voluntary or involuntary hiatus?