“We’re all indoor cats now,” said one of my favourite podcasters last week. I had been thinking the same thing. I watch my cats pad around, sleeping everywhere in little balls, sprawling on the yoga mat, occasionally leaping into action for about a minute and then losing interest, getting overly excited about food — and yep, I’m one of them now.
I’m a different person in my body than I was before the lockdown. I have a new circadian rhythm — I start the day off relatively chipper, working out most mornings with my amazing trainer Alex and her “virtual superhero” zoom . I make coffee. I eat muffins. Sometimes I bake bread. I sit at my desk and poke at the thin stream of work. I try to catch up on things like bookkeeping, fruitlessly. I have the attention span of a fruitfly. I feel like I’m trying to blink myself awake, even at the best of times. And then in the afternoon, I’m bleary with fatigue, and in the early evening, I have my Daily Rage, as I look at death tolls and listen to the political bullshit south of the border. Then I stay up too late, sleep fitfully, and wake up, unrefreshed but reasonably happy, and through the day, grind myself down like a too-short pencil.
Being an indoor cat doesn’t suit me, but going outside is such a contested thing — how did the earth tip so it’s morally questionable to go for a run or a walk with a friend? — that I have started to avoid going outside. Even when I know it will make me feel better, and even when I know I can be distanced and responsible and safe, I’ve started avoiding it. Which is… not sustainable.
I wondered if my experience was common, so I turned — as I often have — to my different workout communities to ask how their relationship with their bodies and movement had changed during this time. The responses were rapid, generous, and very moving. I noticed four tendencies, that as a social scientist, I might label as Adapting, Redefining, Surviving and Discovering.
The people with an Adapting tendency talk largely about how they’ve adapted their workouts to the new circumstances, finding a way to more or less follow a similar pattern to their usual lives. They’ve had to adjust to constrained space, time and stress, but are able to parallel their usual practice, and focus similar metrics that we might use any time — strength, consistency, intensity, effect on sleep. They miss their usual communities and activities, but are trying to mirror their usual lives, with somewhat adjusted goals. A typical comment in this vein was this one:
I am sleeping longer which is good. So I feel better as I’m not sacrificing sleep for exercise. But I’m finding motivation is up and down depending. Consistency is key so I stay focused on my goal of hitting 4 bouts of exercise a week. I’m also comfortable with just doing it even if I’m not pushing it – just doing it means more than constantly striving for gains. This whole thing has been a bit draining as my work has picked way up and I’m dealing with difficult issues and providing guidance/opinions/producing at a higher than usual rate. So that makes it hard to be motivated sometimes, but also makes it essential that I exercise because I always feel better having done it.
Adapting tendencies have also led people to new joys — Sam has written a few times about how she’s joined a team and “rediscovered racing” through virtual cycling with Zwift, and another person in my community has experimented with new forms of dance and movement, commenting “this is all stuff I’ve known I should be doing for ages!”
People who tend toward Adapting largely talk about their movement in physical — though usually holistic — terms. In contrast, people with a tendency to Redefine have largely shifted their focus to mental health. Over and over, they talk about how the most important reason for working out right now is to manage stress and anxiety, to support sleep, and to keep themselves in some kind of emotional equilibrium. This comment was poignant – and typical:
This week more work anxiety — and big emotions as I try to homeschool my kids — brought me less movement, not more. Time to set aside time and space for my yoga. It’s tricky when I’m waking up later and the household is also waking – and I do want to have a slow morning/connection time with my kids. I tried one day to do it while the youngest climbed all over me, like she did when she was a toddler – so much of this quarantine time reminds me of my post-partum days – but I am so tender emotionally some days, trying to hold it together and feeling really overwhelmed, so I feel I just have to roll with it and try again later. I really miss my runs for this release.
The third tendency — Survival — is kind of a blend of the first two, but with more struggle. Comments in this category also talk about motivation, goals and mental health, but with an overlay of how hard they are finding it to achieve those things. Sometimes this is about time, space and stress — “I have a 4×6 foot space to work out in. It’s been a nightmare” — and sometimes it’s a deep yearning for the normal:
My favourite forms of movement (CrossFit and Hot Yoga) have not translated well for me at home. I think I really miss the separation of those spaces and all the sensory parts of moving in those spaces. I miss the heat from the yoga room on my skin, the sounds of a yoga class breathing in unison, the body-tinging feeling of complete relaxation at the end of a long, hot flow class. I miss the loud music at the CrossFit Box, the crash of weights, the sound of harsh breathing, being able to shout out, “MOTHERFUCKER” at the hard parts of a WOD, the sweaty slap of a high five. at home there is dog hair on my yoga mat, and there is not hot room and my class is cut short when the wifi slow and my children need a snack. CrossFit WODS at home with no one to coach me, cheer for me or high five me – honestly what’s the point? So while we are in lockdown I am doing a little bit of yoga and a little bit of CrossFit but it all feels rather lacking in comparison to the real thing.
Another person said “I joined a 5 day a week workout group in the first week of quarantine and credit it with being the best thing I’m doing for my mental health right now. It’s giving me connection with a group of strong women and getting me to push harder in workouts than I ever would on my own. I’m struggling with getting outside. I know I should because it always makes me feel better, but walking the dogs or even going to the backyard can often feel just so HARD.“
Many of the people having a Survivor-flavoured experience are having this overlay of Everything Being So Hard — they are going through the motions, as well as they can, but it’s a struggle to do it, and the rewards are baseline — I’m still functioning! — not invigorating. And for others, movement is just something they can’t get to — partly because most of their usual movement is incidental and spontaneous, and that just doesn’t exist right now
I have no motivation. I’m generally not an organized exercise kind of person, I’m just generally very busy and always moving. When I get antsy, I move. Being in my apartment, I really haven’t been moving much at all, if this is going to go on long term I need to figure something out.
That person went on to add something almost identical to my observation about myself: I live with a cat and our lifestyles are remarkably similar right now.
Clearly, I’m not the only one whose entire relationship with my body has changed during this time — I vacillate between Redefiner and Survivor tendencies. But I was surprised by the number of people who talked about Discovery tendencies. For these folks, slowing down has enabled more mindfulness, new strength, more attentiveness. They have experienced this time as a “pause,” not a “lockdown.” They have a lot to say, which I’ll capture in Part 2 of this post, coming this afternoon.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying to make herself go outside in Toronto.