blogging

Top ten posts in November, #icymi

Our most read post of the month was Tracy’s post from a few years back on fear mongering, fear of fat, and seasonal eating. It included swear words and definitely hit a nerve then and now. The mixed messages start around the time of American Thanksgiving and they just want to make Tracy say “fuck off and leave me alone!”

Nicole’s post on feeling invisible was #2.

#3 was Susan’s thoughtful and politically engaged post on Brené Brown.

All of the posts except this one and Tracy’s #1 post were written this month. #4 was Cate’s older post on still menstruating at age of 53 and 1/2.

My post on pain and deciding whether or not to walk anyway was #5.

#6 Men, bodies, and shame was me talking about men and their bodies again!

Nat’s post about her experiences of perimenopause was #7.

A race report from our newest guest blogger Şerife Tekin was #8.

Dare not Compare, Kim’s post, was #9.

#10 was Cate’s post about catching butterflies with her vagina.

Blue sky, bare branches, yellow leaves. Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash
fitness · habits · health

Anchoring myself for December

I do December the same way most people who celebrate Christmas do – a rush of preparations combined with extra social events, with a hearty attempt to fit in all of the things that I meant to get done during the rest of the year. 

Image features two small blond children with white skin, the one on the left is wearing a green shirt and looking downward. The one on the right is wearing a yellow shirt and looking at the camera while they eat a sandwich made with white bread.  The text in the image is a Douglas Adams quote from the book 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' and it reads 'Time is an illusion, lunchtime, doubly so. '  The image comes from a site called brightdrops,com

Of course, I also get the bonus of having ADHD so, like Dirk Gently in the photo below, I laugh at the concept of time. I have to put a lot of mental effort into calculating how much time something will take. If I try to just ‘wing it’ with my estimations, I end up trying to cram 50 things into an hour or I give myself so much time to do a task that my brain refuses to get into gear because there is no urgency. 

A still shot of the character Dirk Gently from the BBC America series 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' - a young white man with reddish hair, wearing a yellow jacket, a blue tie and a white shirt - is in sharp focus against a blurred background of a park. The closed captioning below him reads 'time, I laugh at the concept.'
I’m pretty sure that Dirk Gently means this in a much more metaphysical way than I do…but it was a weird show, so perhaps not.

And, as a life coach, I end up observing my own behaviour so I can use it as an example when I am explaining things to clients.

So, over the past few years, I have been making incremental changes in my December plans. I have been trying not to get caught up in the rush and, instead, be conscious of what I am choosing to do each day and how those choices makes me feel. 

A snow covered porch rail is decorated with a string of large white plastic stars that are outlined with white lights.
Soft piles of snow and some star lights – that’s the feeling I’m trying to invoke for myself this December.

This year, I have the benefit of data from having made similar types of choices about September.

Previously, I used to just give myself a break in September and not try to add anything new beyond what had to be there (i.e. an arts festival and two kids starting school.) This year, however, I added a short yoga practice and a drawing exercise to my busy September days. 

Instead of feeling rushed and resenting the extra tasks, those two things became my personal anchor every day. Most days, I did them first thing. And I found that creating that little space of personal focus early in the day gave me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace. 

A sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace is exactly what I am looking for in December, too. 

So, I’m adopting a similar practice for the month ahead. 

Since I know that one good way to add a new habit is to ‘anchor’ it to something you already routinely do, I am going to add a short ‘warm-up’ to my day right after my yoga practice.

This YouTube warm-up from Fitness Blender is pretty easy on my brain since it is just one person featured against a white background and they give a preview of the next movement before they begin.

And, to stick with the formula from September, I’m going to write or draw on an index card every day, too.

An index card sits on a dark brown wooden surface. The card has a light blue background and features the gold outline of a large star that contains multiple smaller gold stars. The star outline is open on the point on the right hand side and some of the smaller stars are escaping outwards.
A drawing I did two summers ago as part of the Index Card A Day challenge hosted by Tammy Garcia at Daisy Yellow. As you can tell, I am a fan of stars.

I’ll check in a couple of times in December to let you know how things are going.

PS – I didn’t realize that my post was going to have two themes today but when I want to talk about how time is a slippery concept, Douglas Adams just springs to mind and when I want to talk about a feeling of accomplishment then I am all about stars. 🙂

fitness

Contemplating Brené Brown’s Contribution to the War Against Patriarchy

I love me a good TED talk and is there any TED talk that speaks more to the white middle class North American woman than this one right here on vulnerability? This thing hit the internet in the face like a sledge hammer back in 2010. It’s the story of a qualitative researcher who realized that the secret to overcoming the paralyzing effects of shame (about everything. .. body image, parenting, career, class. . .) was vulnerability and its sibling, authenticity . This controlling, perfectionist, driven woman, faced with this truth that she discovered, promptly had a breakdown. It was a horror to contemplate that being authentic in relationship was a necessary part of overcoming the paralysis of shame. It felt like a trap. So, she did what any self-respecting woman of privilege might do and put it all in a TED talk so that we could learn from her experience. It struck a chord. I’m sure that many of you are well aware of this talk, the subsequent books and the Netflix special that was recently released. I also quite loved the original talk. In this basic idea, that we cover up our shame with a myriad of false selves, each more impermeable than the last, she is bang on.

Certainly, she has been a commercial success for herself and with that has come the scrutiny of the public eye. In this revealing interview, she is somewhat honest about her discomforts and the way people interpret her intentions. I can feel the tension in her as I read the interview. She has something to say that she wants people to know. It’s important and it’s so hard to do. She wants to find a way to teach it so she can help but it keeps getting reduced to “Oprah Approved” and “Self-Help Queen”. She resists having her ideas over processed even as she markets them like a meal at slightly better than McDonalds food chain (I couldn’t pin one that I wanted. . .Milestones maybe?).

Then, into my feed this past week comes this blog post of hers on midlife. Since that’s what I’m up to these days, midlife-ing, I was interested in hearing what she had to say (she is 54 and when this was published, she was closer to 53). It has some parts that really resonate for me, like this passage:

If you look at each midlife “event” as a random, stand-alone struggle, you might be lured into believing you’re only up against a small constellation of “crises.” The truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade, quiet, and insidious, I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.

In this passage we again see the core struggle of Brené’s life, that being exposed as not capable of handling all the things is unfathomable, a no go, a hard stop, a nope. If she is allowed to pretend it’s okay, she naturally will. This is the story of many many many of us.

Also in this post, there is the force that is pushing the other way. In her first go around, it was her research that was screaming in her face “You won’t get anywhere by pushing, perfecting and controlling!” Her research said, if you don’t want to suffer shame so much, get real about who you are and express it. In this writing, it’s morphed into “the Universe”. The Universe says:

I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.

Basically, this is the same message. Stop worrying, show up, be seen. I mean, I love it. Yet, something was missing. There was a sort of screaming in my own head. It came up most especially in this passage:

What bubbles up from this internal turmoil is fantasy. We might glance over at a cheap motel while we’re driving down the highway and think, I’ll just check in and stay there until they come looking for me. Then they’ll know I’m losing my mind. Or maybe we’re standing in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when we suddenly find ourselves holding up a glass and wondering, “Would my family take this struggle more seriously if I just started hurling all this shit through the window?”

Most of us opt out of these choices. We’d have to arrange to let the dog out and have the kids picked up before we checked into the lonely roadside motel. We’d spend hours cleaning up glass and apologizing for our “bad choices” to our temper tantrum-prone toddlers. It just wouldn’t be worth it, so most of us just push through until “losing it” is no longer a voluntary fantasy.

Brené! Where is the next obvious paragraph? The one that notices that the reason we alone are responsible for emptying the dishwasher, picking up the kids, contemplating the drink ware and the sound it makes as it shatters, is not ONLY about our lack of courage to be seen. The layer of resistance is not ONLY about us hiding from our very personally held experience of shame generated ONLY by our close family of origin experiences. Brené, if we don’t include the systemic effect of, at a MINIMUM, patriarchy and colonialism, we will continue to fail and fail and fail.

In her interview with the Guardian that I linked above, she actually does show an awareness of how patriarchy has impacted her career. She explains the struggle with the double standard regarding her work:

“That article that was written about me,” she says at the end. “The one where it said: ‘America Has a New Queen of Self-Help’? I’ve got to tell you, I cried for four hours, because I don’t think they’d ever do that to man who had been a researcher, a scholar, for 13 years. And it’s not unusual for me to be the only female speaker in a day-long list at a corporate event. With a predominantly male audience and to be paid half of what the men are. So I double my fee and then everybody leaps on me. Saying, who do you think you are? You know who I am? I’m the person trying not to vomit into my mouth when I hear what my male counterparts are making. That’s who I am. I’m just trying to stave off the throwing up. It’s difficult, difficult.”

Yet, 3 years later, she publishes this blog that fails to explicitly acknowledge that our experience of being squashed, unheard and unseen in our lives, careers or even on the bus has a good deal to do with the fact that we apparently cannot rely on our families or broader communities to notice we are losing our gourds trying to do every f-ing thing. We cannot rely on them because they tell the same story about us (and by “us” I am talking about those the patriarchy does not include in it’s power structure) that we are telling ourselves. This story, is the story of the dominant power structure, not just your withholding mom. It’s SYSTEMIC, Brené!

This post, and my use of poor Brené, as a counterpoint, did not come out of nowhere. In fact, I was contemplating writing about my kind of recent knowing that I am really quite fabulous exactly as I am in this moment. I am recognizing that all the choices I have made (although they looked chaotic at the time) have led me to a place of relative peace. That ole Universe whispered and I said oke doke. But you know what? That’s crap. Like Brené, I have lots of education and I have an overabundance of resources, both financial and community. It still took me until I was 50 to fully move out of and get radically pissed off at the role I was playing in ways that didn’t endanger my children or my own well being. This wasn’t just a matter of me listening to the inner whisperings of my soul, although I’m totally guilty of believing that at times, I love that narrative. This was me finally having enough power and financial security to be able to see my way out of the stories I was telling myself, without running into the block of fear. To hear Brené tell it, this fear is imaginary. We’ve made it up because we don’t want to feel the shame of our failures and all we need to do is be brave and poof, the way will be cleared.

Except it’s hard to be brave if you can’t afford decent housing and you don’t have pay equity and your can’t get a job because of how your name sounds and you are sexualized at work or you are misgendered constantly or you are not believed and you are not supported in your parenting or your health and all the ways this seemingly increasingly cold hearted community is abandoning people and telling them to suck it up.

Brené never talks about that and I really want her to. I want her message to make a difference to more than the middle/upper-middle class mostly white women who can actually use and execute her advice. But how?

What if, included in her message of personal empowerment, there was also an exhortation to give back somehow? In some ways this is counter-intuitive to the message. We are already giving and giving, this is about being real and brave and taking ourselves and our choices and our realities back. But if you can do that, as I can, it really doesn’t feel right to leave people behind. Maybe this is the evolution of Brene’s work that I long for (and maybe she IS speaking about this already, I didn’t do a deep dive). When we have benefited from our self-discovery and our bravery and our steps out into the light, we need to turn around and grab someone else and take them with us. It should be a person who can’t reach critical velocity of exit from these stories of the patriarchy because they can’t amass the resources, usually because of multiple points of marginalization. Ideally, it should be someone not at all like me and Brené. It could be through recognized charitable orgs, or even better, pick an individual and really make a difference. In the past 4 years or so, that’s been my choice. I don’t get a tax receipt but the impact on that one person is big. If everyone who followed Brene’s every word did that, what a difference that would make. It would empower an army of previously silenced people who could war more effectively against these narratives, continue to put good work in the world, maybe run for public office!

That’s what I hear the universe saying to me right now. Take someone with you.

A golden retriever with a white face and black nose in a black duffle looking sad that he's not going on holiday.
This is Sugar and they want to go with you
body image · charity · men

Would a mom bod + rescue dogs calendar sell? Why not?

Image credits: Lucky Bulldogs Rescue

Dad bods and rescue dogs! I love this calendar so much. You can read more about it here. You can order your calendar here. I’m tempted.

But still I wonder, why not a mom bod calendar? (I’ve wondered about this before. See The dad bod? Fine. But what about the mom bod? )

The calendar was shot by the shelter’s volunteer and board member, Lyndsey Wright. And she’s commented on the ‘mom bod question.’

Here’s a quote from the interview in Bored Panda.

Says Wright: “Some have made comments about why we don’t include “Mom Bods,” but that answer is pretty simple in my opinion… This calendar is about the dogs; the Dad Bods are just included to make it comical and unique. I can’t imagine a Mom Bods & Rescue Dogs calendar would be very well received by the public. This was just a bunch of regular guys who are friends or clients of mine who were up for poking a little fun at themselves and helping me out for a good cause. It wasn’t meant to be a body positivity thing, it was meant to be a dog thing with a funny twist,” the photographer explains.

So her answer is that it wouldn’t be seen as gentle or funny. Instead, it would be seen as political, as a body positivity thing. I’m not so sure. And why would a body positivity/mom bod calendar be a bad thing? I’m still mulling.

What do you think?

It’s like I love this ad for Southern Comfort but when I wrote about it here I wondered if we could even imagine a version with an older woman with a non-normative body.

fitness · holidays

Thanks-giving to physical activity

Today is Thanksgiving in the US. This holiday has a rosy mythology and a horrendous actual history. But here it is, and I’d like to take a moment to give thanks to the activities that make me happy and feel good, offer me social connections and time in nature, that test me and challenge me, and release stress and provide peace– peace in mind and body.

Thank you, cycling, for all the opportunities to move under my own power through space, rolling along roads and paths and trails. You remind me that my legs are strong, that my lungs can work hard, and that I can steer myself through life in very fine fashion as long as I keep my tires pumped and chain lubed (and preferably a friend whose wheel I can draft!)

Pata and me this summer, caffeinated and ready to resume our Friday coffee ride.
Pata and me this summer, caffeinated and ready to resume our Friday coffee ride.

Thank you cross country skiing, for giving me entry into magical snowy woods and fields. The quiet of winter is the perfect environment for gliding along on my skis, listening to the sound of my own breathing. I didn’t grow up with snow, so my snow-age still feels about 12; I get so excited to go out there that I will wake up and bound out the door early to take advantage of fresh snow.

Me in 2016, at a meadow near my house. Hoping for snow this winter...
Me in 2016, at a meadow near my house. Hoping for snow this winter…

Thank you weight lifting– we don’t know each other so well yet, but I got a chance this year to spend a little time learning how much you have to teach me about me. I always thought water was my element, but I think I need to expand it to include iron. Let’s make a date to get together and explore our continuing relationship in 2020, okay?

Of course that's not me, but we all have our aspirations (from unsplash).
Of course that’s not me, but we all have our aspirations (from unsplash).

Thank you squash (the racket sport, not the vegetable)– we have been together off and on since I was 21. You are definitely high-maintenance– I have to find courts and partners and times to enjoy you, and it’s not always easy. And once all those things are in place, you still ask a lot of me. My ankles and knees have lodged complaints, but you are still special to me. I learned a lot about competition– how hard it is to win and how easy it is to lose– from you. You gave me tough love, but love comes in many forms, and I appreciate yours.

Competition from 2014. Lost in game 5...
Competition from 2014. Lost in game 5…

Thanks swimming and scuba– one of you is a steady life-long love, and the other a passing (if too expensive) fling. You both offer me immersion in another element– water.

A big thank you goes to walking and hiking and playing around with friends and family. I’m grateful to be able to enjoy companionship and movement in so many ways that provide pleasure and satisfaction and occasions for silliness.

My last and biggest thank you this year goes to yoga. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you! Together we work through stress, anxiety, exhaustion, recovery from injury, healing from illness, and strengthening for all the other movements I do. Most of all, you help me come to know what state my body is on any given day, and prescribe some movement or stillness for that state. You know me better than I know myself. Thank you, yoga.

Ropes yoga class, warrior 2 pose.
Ropes yoga class, warrior 2 pose.

Readers, what sport or activity or movement are you feeling thankful for these days? I’d love to hear what you have to share on this day.

fitness

Right on Cue

I have mixed feelings about receiving cues while I’m working out at the gym. Some cues can be very helpful. Some cues I can recognize as helpful, but I’m not in a state of mind at the time to receive them. Other cues are just annoying.

One of the benefits of going to a group exercise class or paying for a personal trainer is receiving cues that enhance your workout. Good cues can make you increase your weight on reps, go faster in cardio bursts than you thought you were capable of at that moment, prevent you from injuring yourself and even boost your confidence, from doing something well because of the cues.

Recently, I received an excellent cue that really helped me with a move, I typically have difficult with – a step down on a box, bench, etc. The coach reminded me to ground down with the outer edge of my foot, rather than the inner edge. She also suggested I try without my shoes to get a better feel with my foot. I also gave myself my own cue – to look ahead rather than look down, to avoid letting my mind take over and inhibit the move. These cues really helped. My step down wasn’t perfect, but it was much better – enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Annoying cues are typically unsolicited from someone that is not paid to give you advice. I used to work out at a gym where a resident personal trainer (there were many there, he was not the only one) would often offer this type of advice. One time I was practicing a single legged kettlebell dead lift, in a particular way that another trainer had taught me to do it, for a particular reason. He thought it was helpful to offer why I was doing it wrong. Aside from the fact that I didn’t think I was doing it wrong, I am not the type of person in a general gym setting that wants to be pointed out in that way. I also would hear him gossiping with clients/gym buddies about how others were doing something wrong. Definitely not helpful, or cool!

There have been times where, even if the advice is useful, at the moment I would prefer just to be left alone – mainly because I just want to enjoy the moment. If I am not doing something that is going to hurt me. If I am doing something that might be targeting a slightly different muscle than the one intended, but I am still doing a useful movement, it can be nice to be left alone. If I have received a few cues that day already, I might just want to let loose, get sweaty, enjoy the moment, without worrying about perfect form. An example is if I’m learning a new move in a kickboxing class. I understand the importance of proper form. But if I am mostly doing it right, and I have received a lot of feedback already, just let me punch the bag! I am not going to be entering a ring anytime soon, and as long as I not going to hurt myself, let my punches reign free!

Whether I am weight lifting or practicing Warrior 3 in yoga, verbal feedback (one should always get consent before giving physical feedback) from your coach is usually welcome. The feedback should be realistic though. If I have been trying for months to do Eagle’s Pose in yoga, and it is clear that my physiology does not allow me to get into that pose, it is not helpful to cue me into the pose again and again – better to give me an alternative.

Cues I typically find helpful from my coaches (who are there to give cues – not random unsolicited people):

Reminding me to bring my shoulders down when doing deadlifts.

Encouraging me to add weight, if it’s clear I can handle it.

Making sure my knees are tracking over my feet properly and my back is flat during squats.

Telling me I am doing something well and to keep at it just like that – ie – “great push-ups Nicole”.

Encouraging me to speed it up when I appear to be slacking in Tabata (and I haven’t indicated I am tired, injured, etc. already).

Providing visualization cues, such as in spin class (close your eyes, imagine you are on a winding path, pretend you are passing the bikes to your right). Oh, and remember to keep your heels down so you are not only using your quads!

Reiterating that I should put a step under my bench so I can properly screw my short legs into the ground and brace my core while doing bench press.

Seeing that I am having difficulty executing a movement properly and showing me a subtle change that allows me to do such move.

Stretching cues – such as move your leg a bit this way, if you want to feel it in your hips, not your quads.

What cues do you find helpful when you are exercising?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flowers.jpg

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

fitness

T’is the season to detox yourself from cleanses, diets and weird wellness claims (reblogged)

Another past post on dealing with diet culture during the holiday season. This one’s from Martha!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

By MarthaFitat55

It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.

Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:

The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?

 While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were…

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