fitness · holidays

Silly holiday self-care gifts: the hot and cold edition

It’s that time of year again: manufacturers of all sorts of gizmos and products are ramping up their advertising to unload their goods on us, the holiday shoppers. And as your Fit Feminist Consumer Reporter, I’m here to help you wade through all the hype on the latest holiday wellness gift lists. So here we go.

Up first: the eight sleep pod cover.

The eight sleep pod is a cover over your mattress that cools, heats, vibrates and who knows what else, all from your phone, of course.
The eight sleep pod is a cover over your mattress that cools, heats, vibrates and who knows what else, all from your phone.

This mattress cover adjusts your bed temperature from 55F to 110F, tracks your sleep, and wakes you up in the morning (either through vibration or temperature change, which sounds ominous to me). All for the low low price of $2195. Of course, that doesn’t cover the required membership (read monthly fee of $15–24) for the app, which takes your data, makes adjustments to the cover’s function (they don’t let you do it manually) and uses or sells said data for their own nefarious purposes.

Don’t get me wrong– I like to sleep in a chilled out state as much as the next person. And post-menopausal me sleeps in a cooler room and in lighter clothing than past-me. I have even been known to use this gadget to help me sleep cooler at night, and would recommend it to anyone. Oh, and it doesn’t need an app.

A box fan, available at many stores for $25 or less.

Call me cheap, but I just saved y’all $2170. You’re welcome.

Continuing the cold theme, there’s the cold plunge. As best I can figure this, it’s a big ol’ tub that will chill water down to 39F. And it comes with a cover. But you have to fill it with water yourself, and a garden hose isn’t included. Nor is a dog, although there are several of them in the photos.

Bad news: it costs $4990 USD. Good news: it comes with a cell phone holder.

If you prefer being way too hot over being way too cold, don’t worry! This season’s fitness gift marketers have something for you: the Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket. I watched the info video, and here’s how it works:

  • unfold it on a heat-resistant surface (so you and it don’t catch fire)
  • use your custom sauna towel ($75 extra) OR cover yourself up from neck to toe with clothing (I assume to avoid skin burns)
  • plug that sucker in and let her heat up (not liking this at all)
  • zip yourself in (no way)
  • Stay in there for 30–50 minutes (oh hell no)
  • In case you lose consciousness or cease to exist during your session , the timer shuts off at 60 minutes, so your next of kin won’t be paying the extra electric costs

For entry into this hellscape of sweating, you’re supposed to pay $699. Nope. You couldn’t pay me $699 to do this. No siree Bob

Finally, in the warmth category, this item kept appearing on holiday gift lists for the fitness-minded. I kid you not.

A hoodie. That’s it. It’s black.

I mean, this nike fleece hoodie is perfectly fine. But how many of these do you already have? And don’t you just wear your favorite one all the time anyway?

Readers, what’s on your gift lists for this year? Did I miss something really good? I didn’t include these, as they failed to fit the theme. But feel free to let me know what else I missed.

fitness · food

The lure and fantasy of the out-of-town farmers market

I’ve been in Baltimore this weekend for a post-wedding party; a dear friend’s daughter got married this summer in Europe in a small family ceremony, and they’re celebrating with a big group of friends and family back home where they live.

One of my favorite outings of the weekend was a visit to one of the local farmers markets. I love farmers markets– they give you a great view of the artisanal food culture, and of course there’s wonderful people-watching! This market didn’t disappoint on any fronts: there were loads of folks, live music (a very good jazz trumpeter), a brightly colored school bus with an ample supple of hippie clothing and accessories, and vendors selling locally sourced and produced comestibles.

Which gets me to the lure and fantasy part of my visit.

I’m never more entranced by brussels sprouts and microgreens and king oyster mushrooms than when I’m out of town, visiting friends, and very far away from my own kitchen. Yes, I do cook at home– with vegetables even– but I tend to stick to a narrower range of foods. My work and home and social and family life feel extra-busy these days. I just don’t have the mental space to conjure up a romanesco dish for dinner.

But, when I’m on vacation, my inner supertaster and chef come out to play in my imagination. Sure, I could use some more flavored oils and vinegars. Mangoes? Yes please. Oh, what a salad I could fashion from lovely microgreens, those cute watermelon radishes and tricolored carrots. And of course I’ll take a bag of apples!

It has happened from time to time that my fantasy took over reality while visiting some far-from-home farmers market and I loaded up on fruits and veggies, intending to haul them home on a plane or train. Generally, things didn’t end well: there was lots of bruising of fruit, complaining by me about extra bags, and even resentment of the extra cooking work I took on once I got back to my regular life. No, my fantasy meals cooked up in my imagination should not be acted upon. At least not while out of town.

But why can’t I indulge my gastronomic fantasies closer to home? Can I pick a seasonal food I want to experiment with and go to one of the many markets near my house? You know, I could. It would require intention and setting aside time from cleaning/grading/laundry/social activity/everything else. But, it’s doable. Hmmm, something to think about. I’ll report back on the results of this idea, along with documentation of any creative and gustatory output.

Readers, do you love out-of-town farmers markets? How do you keep from loading up on berries and fresh bread? I’d love to hear from you.

223 in 2023 · fitness

223 workouts in 2023: Catherine has 15 to go

Hi readers– while this headline may seem like not-really-news-at-all to you, it’s in fact unprecedented for me. I’ve been doing this challenge since 2018, and each year I slide or skulk or scream over the finish line just in time. I’m talking December 30 or 31. I even documented it for the blog here and here and here.

Yes, it’s November 26, so I anticipate hitting the magic 223 by say, December 20 or so. But this year is decidedly different for me in a few ways:

  • I’m not worried about making my goal this year (unlike the frantic feeling in previous years)
  • a lot of my workouts have been fun activity with friends and family: on outings, vacations, visits
  • There’s been a fair amount of dog walking (with a fair number of dogs!) in the mix this year, which I really enjoy
  • Yes, there’s been cycling and swimming and yoga, but more as group activity

I think the month of December will include more of the above. I’m off to Baltimore next weekend for a big post-wedding party and will exploring the city with friends. Then I go to NYC for a 60th birthday party and some city and dog-walking (a great twofer!). Today I meet at friend at yoga for an in-studio yoga nidra with one of our favorite teachers. For the holidays, I’ll be in South Carolina visiting family and exploring both the neighborhoods and local nature with them (and more dogs, of course).

Looking back on this year, it’s been a time of increased connection with friends and family. And it’s shown in my workouts– they’ve been easier, more fun, gentle when I needed it, and quite varied in location and type. The cadence has been steady, and is continuing through to the end of the year.

I’ll post when I hit 223, but I don’t think (fingers crossed) it’ll be a breathless December 31 finish. That’s a relief and a pleasant surprise. How often do we get one of those? Feel free to enjoy it with me…

Readers, are you doing any challenges this year that you’re finishing up, not finishing up, that you long ago finished up? How’s it going? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · yoga

Catching my breath: Catherine does Pranayama yoga

So I’ve been sick with this monster truck cold virus for a month now. After several doctor’s visits, a chest X-ray, two types of antibiotics (doc thinking it could be bacterial), and endless cough drops, I’m finally on the upswing. I got a steroid inhaler, which has helped with my biggest problem: breathing. Yeah, that can be an annoying problem– not being able to breath without constriction and coughing. That was the situation (which Samantha has been going through, too). But, using the inhaler (which, due to US pharmacy staffing and drug supply problems, I only got on Thursday– Argh!) is making breathing and moving around while breathing much easier. Yay!

But then I found something that was perfect for what ailed me: a Pranayama yoga class at my favorite local yoga studio, Artemis, and taught by my favorite local yoga teacher, Liz P. Pranayama yoga involves a number of different breathing techniques, but it much more than that. Here’s what Yoga Journal says about it:

In Sanskrit as well as yoga tradition, prana means “life force,” and describes the energy that sustains the life of the body… The word pranayama is a combination of prana and ayama, which translates as “to extend, expand or draw out.” Some also say that the word is the combination of prana and yama, or “control.” With either translation, you arrive at the same concept: pranayama is a practice that involves the management or control of the breath. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, yogis believe that this practice not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself.

In our Friday evening restorative yoga class, Liz led us through several breathing practices, all done in quiet and restful but intentional poses, mostly reclined on the mat. One type of breathing we did was called ujjayi breath, or ocean breath. Again, here’s Yoga journal with some info:

An easy way to get the feel of Ujjayi is to imagine fogging up a mirror. Exhale with an open mouth, feeling the breath moving across your throat and hearing that “ocean” sound. Once you are accustomed to the feeling in your throat, practice inhaling and exhaling with a closed mouth.

We did several restorative poses using ujjayi breath. One series we did involved lying against a bolster on our side, top arm over our head to rest on a block, feeling the breath on the upper side of our bodies. Then we switched to face down, the other side, and finally face up, lying on a long bolster with the head at the edge. I got the feeling of opening up my chest in ways I hadn’t experienced in over a month. That expansiveness of breath was wonderful.

We also did what’s called alternate-nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. This involves using your ring finger and thumb to open and close one nostril so to breathe in and out through one nostril, then the other. This is not an exercise that appeals to everyone, but I love it. Within the specific structure of the exercise, I feel the flow of breath in and out, from left to right, and back again. Here’s some info about how to do it, if you’re interested.

And then there’s the bumblebee breath, or Brahmari Pranayama. It’s the same sort of breath you use to chant Om, but you do it with your mouth closed and your fingers in your ears. No, I’m not kidding. You close your ears a bit to enhance the sound, which is like a low rumbly hum. It’s great to be in a class full of people, all humming internally.

At the beginning and end of class, we chanted Om three times. This is one of my favorite things in yoga class. It’s like singing and breathing and praying and releasing, all at the same time, with others all around you. Just the physical feeling is enough to try it, if you’re ever in a yoga class that does this.

After a month of tightness and sickness and overall yuckiness, Pranayama was a real breath of fresh air. I’m feeling much better. Check out a class yourself if you get the opportunity.

fitness · research

Four fun things from days 2-3 of APHA, by Catherine

Today is Wednesday, the last day of the American Public Health Association meetings. I posted here about the first day of this huge conference of 12,000 folks from every perspective in public health. I’ve spent Monday and Tuesday getting in a lot of steps to and from sessions, visiting the expo to gather up as much free swag as possible, and then listening and learning about what’s important and new (which is a lot!). Here’s some of what I learned:

One: There’s a very interesting new documentary called “Shot in the Arm”, exploring vaccine hesitancy from measles to COVID. It opened in NYC on November 3, and will be screening in various places over the next year. We got to see numerous extended clips of the film, accompanied by commentary by the director, Scott Hamilton Kennedy (no relation to anti-vaxxer politician Robert Kennedy Jr.) The place was packed, which is no surprise. I’m looking forward to seeing it when it’s available.

Two: You’re not going to believe this, but: apparently there’s now a portable device, called the Veggie Meter that is used to measure someone’s fruit and vegetable intake by measuring skin carotenoid levels (I don’t yet understand this well enough to explain it; maybe later?) Suffice it to say that this gadget (not available on Amazon, btw) is an improvement over invasive methods, as it does something something reflection spectroscopy something light-scattering properties of carotenoids and their storage in the upper layers of the skin. The upshot is that the Veggie Meter may make nutrition research easier, cheaper and more accurate. That would be a good thing.

Three: I guess I already knew this, but my belief was revalidated: people will line up for free food and drinks no matter what the quality and what their economic status. At one of the local conference hotels that offered daily 6–7:30pm free drinks and snacks, people had already staked out spots in line and reserved comfy chairs and good tables in the lobby by 5:45pm. I know this because I was among them (with a friend). What can I say? One’s inner grad student still lunges at every passing free meal, even when they are obviously not top-quality.

Veggies, ranch dressing, chips and something looking like salsa, and random crunchy items, along with seltzer and bad white wine. Still, we consumed and were glad.

On a more substantive note: there were tons of sessions about health equity, increasing and improving health services and the lives of those affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and other forms of bigotry. I listened to presentations big and small, from big picture health policy initiatives to results from surveys about the reproductive health experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. All of them share an awareness of systemic breakdown and harms as well as proposals for addressing them in various sectors. Again, I felt proud to be a small part of this group and this work.

I’ll wrap up this weekend with a few more substantive comments on a session I attended on issues of body weight and stigma. But it’s now time to pack up, go to the last sessions and head to the airport. Wish me luck in getting back to Boston on time…

fitness · research

Catherine does Public Health: day 1 of APHA

Hi from Atlanta, y’all– I’m at the American Public Health Association meetings, held yearly in some big American city. I love Atlanta; it’s got loads of interesting neighborhoods, good places to eat and meet, a great system of parks and paths, and an efficient public transportation system (called MARTA). I took MARTA to my hotel from the airport, which was quicker than driving. One drawback of the city is bad bad bad traffic. But I’m car-free (I accidentally wrote care-free, which is also true), happy to move about on foot.

The main conference runs from November 12–15. More than 12,000 attendees are expected. I love seeing people from all areas of public health, from clinicians to researchers to administrators to business folks to academics to students and so on. And there is very good swag. The exhibit booths are staffed with people happy to chat about their programs and hand over water bottles, coffee cups, candy, hand sanitizer, masks, pens, buttons, stickers, and all sorts of doo-lollies you never knew you needed.

There are multiple sections of APHA that members affiliate with, and they sponsor sessions. I’m with the Ethics section (natch) and also the Food and Nutrition section. I also attend talks by the Women’s Caucus and other sections. This conference is a prime opportunity for professional development and learning about up-to-date research, initiatives, emergencies, movements, etc.

I’ll be blogging about each day I’m here, sharing a few snippets of what I experienced. If you are here, too (I mean, there are 12K of us at the conference– it’s possible) or have comments or questions, please do let me know.

Sunday is the first big day of the conference, and the opening session features public health leaders speaking to the enthusiastic crowd. This is a time to welcome the members, do some cheerleading for public health, and honor professionals whose work helps make the country healthier. This year they presented the Fries Prize, awarded by the CDC Foundation and the Fries family, to Dr. Katalin Kariko, this year’s co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, for her research in developing mRNA science, making possible mRNA vaccines (including the COVID vaccines). They also awarded the prize to Dr. Anne Schuchat, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) physician and researcher, for her work on Group B streptococcus, including developing guidelines for treatment that has saved countless babies.

Dr. Kariko recorded a message of thanks, and Dr. Schuchat was present in person and chatted with the APHA leadership. Dr. Schuchat reminded us of how Dr. Kariko faced obstacle after obstacle in her career, being denied grants, being demoted in her job at UPenn, many papers rejected from journals. You can read the story in detail here and here.

Dr. Schuchat added that she herself benefitted from a group of supportive colleagues at the CDC. She didn’t face those same challenges of a hostile work environment, and in fact she found opportunities to influence the culture of the CDC, to make it a better place. She thanked her mentor Claire Broome and also her colleagues and students, noting how public health requires many hands and many ideas.

Hearing about the decades of work these women have done, being surrounded by a crowd of mostly women, doing all the detailed and thankless work that needs to be done to keep us alive and healthy, I was moved to tears. Tears of pride and tears of gratitude. My heart felt full and I knew I was in the right place and in the right profession.

In a lighter moment, Dr. Schuchat shared with the audience that she was the role model for the researcher played actor Kate Winslet in the movie Contagion. The two talked at some length about the details of Schuchat’s work. She also added that Winslet asked her questions including, “how did you wear your hair during an outbreak?”, and “What sort of shoes would you wear during an outbreak?” Well, you want the details to be right…

There’s more to share; stay tuned this week for updates from the public health mothership.


Finding a meditation retreat that’s juuust right

I love meditation retreats. Correction: I love meditation retreats that:

  • don’t last too long (a weekend is fine, ten days is way too much)
  • are in-person (Zooming meditation retreat doesn’t do it for me; YMMV)
  • don’t make me get out of bed too early (5am: bad; 7am: manageable)
  • don’t involve too much meditation (6-8 hours: fine; >8 hours: I’m falling asleep)
  • Allow flexibility in posture (e.g. sitting with props, some movement during day)

Back in 2019, Tracy posted about her 10-day meditation retreat. It was a much more intense meditation experience. These are very common in the meditation world– in fact, I think they’re more common than the hypothetical one I describe above. You can check out her posts below.

In fact, finding a meditation weekend that fits my description isn’t so hard. Lots of places offer them. I’ve been to retreats at the Kripalu Center in western Massachusetts and also to the Omega Institute in upstate New York.

A few weeks ago, I went back to the Omega Institute for an event called Meditation Party. It featured some of my favorite meditation teachers from the Ten Percent Happier app, and the app’s founder, Dan Harris. I’d previously attended a meditation weekend with Jeff Warren, one of the three teachers, so I thought it would be like that one, except with three leaders. I was really looking forward to it, as was my friend Andrew, who signed up to go with me.

Well, I clearly didn’t read the description carefully, or take it seriously. Which is totally my fault. I mean, it was at the top of the information.

Note: the word Party is on top line, followed by Reckless Conviviality. All clues to the nature of the event.

So, what is a meditation party? Good question. I’d never attended one before, so my expectations were that it would be like a meditation retreat, but with a bit more chat and jokes. Instead, the event was more like a live reality or talk show, with meditations scheduled into the format.

The huge crowd were huuuge fans of the teachers, the Ten Percent Happier app, and their podcast. They loved talking about their struggles in life and their attempts to meditate and their feelings of well-being after meditation during the many Q&A periods. The online folks (it was advertised as including both in-person and Zoom attendees) also welcomed the chance to connect personally with the teachers, and talked at some length about their hardships and their search for balance and peace. During the several breakout group sessions, people talked eagerly about the ways they tried to incorporate mindfulness techniques, and how it helped them during times of trouble.

At the end of the weekend, people expressed how much they loved the retreat and applauded when the teachers announced there would be more meditation parties scheduled in 2024. Apparently this format of meditation weekend really resonated with folks looking to talk about their paths toward mindfulness.

But (as you can tell by now), this format of event didn’t resonate with me. I wanted more meditation, less talk. However, I didn’t realize that was what I wanted until I was in the midst of less meditation, more talk. So, in an important way, the weekend retreat was successful and meaningful– it revealed to me where I want to go with my meditation practice, which is more sitting in person with others.

Luckily, there are loads of ways to do this. There is a local mediation center that I went to occasionally before the pandemic. I’ll be returning to sit with people some weekday evenings. Also, there are some livestream youtube meditation sits by Jeff Warren (Sunday night at 8pm Eastern time on the Youtube Do Nothing Project) and a friend of his who leads Wednesday night sits. I’ve sat with these folks online and it’s been really nice.

Meditation practice, like any physical activity, follows different trajectories for different people. And sometimes there are turns we don’t expect. That’s not a bad thing. We leave behind some things and move toward other new options. I realize that I want my meditation practice to be simpler right now. And so it is. For now.

Readers, have you made changes to simplify your practice of some activity? I’d love to hear about it.

fitness · top ten

Top Ten October 2023 Posts #ICYMI

This month’s top ten list is a mixture of the old and the new. Tracy’s post on the Shape of an Athlete, and Cate’s post on menstruating at 53, are perennial faves. Ditto for the NYT 6-minute workout commentary and the yoga poses Catherine simply can’t do (which is still true, btw). And, of course, Tracy’s post on Why diet culture harms us.

New top tens just out this month include #4, 5, 6, 8 and 9. You might check them out if you missed them.

What’s new for November? Well, stay tuned and see…

1. The Shape of an Athlete

2. I’m 53 and a half and I’m still Menstruating: is this a good thing?

3. The NYT 6-minute workout: commenters’ critiques and robust responses

4. A look back at fallacies and Oprah

5. Remembering: my loss and my gain

6. When depression glues me to the couch

7. Why diet culture harms us

8. Body weight and the relationship with longevity: looking beyond the headlines

9. Should I dress like a Pylon?

10. Yoga poses I simply can’t do and what I do instead

Dice with the words ENJOY on them. BY Ave Calvar for Uns
cycling · fitness

More spooky fun: trying to ride a bike while impersonating a banana (reblog)

Sometimes you invest $15 in a thing, and it wears out or gets torn up, or you lose it, or you just lose interest in it. Not so with the banana Halloween costume I bought in 2014. It has never let me down. It’s suitable for any occasion, but especially for silly Halloween rides.

This Halloween weekend I’m still recovering from what Sam called “the dreaded lurgy” and what I refer to as the “monster truck cold virus” (it runs over you, then throws it into reverse and backs up to finish the job). But, you never know– the banana may yet ride again this week… 🙂

In the meantime, please take a look at my post from way back when in 2016 about the most fun Halloween costume race ever– the Orchardcross cyclocross costume race.

Hey readers– what are you dressing up as this holiday? Let me know in the comments.

fitness · health · illness

Five lessons Catherine (re)learned about recovering from sickness

One would think, 3.5 years after the COVID pandemic hit it big on planet Earth, we would have figured out how to live in the world while a) being sick; and b) recovering from being sick. But we haven’t. We really haven’t.

About a week after Sam came down with “the dreaded lurgy” I got it, too. Nothing novel, just an awful conglomeration of coughing, congestion, fever, queasiness, lower GI symptoms, body ache, wheezing. I was in bed, unable to do anything for several days. This gets me to lesson one I learned this week:

Just cancel work. All the work. Don’t try to Zoom or email your way through it. Cancel. Call in/out sick. Because you are sick.

I learned this the hard way. Monday I tried teaching a 2.5 hour in-person freshman class over Zoom. This is not easy under optimal conditions, and my conditions were far from optimal. I played a TED talk, did some small group discussion, coughed a lot, and called it a day an hour and a half in.

Monday night, still having not learned, I planned to teach logic over Zoom Tuesday afternoon and emailed my class. By 4:30 Tuesday morning, my tune had changed– a mash-up of Chopin’s Funeral March and Johnny Paycheck’s Take this job and shove it. So I called in/out and canceled class.

By the way, I looked up calling in vs calling out sick. Here’s the latest:

A US poll showing 48% of the surveyed used “calling in” vs. 22% using “calling out”, with 19% using either and 11% not having any idea what you’re talking about.

Incorporating all the information gleaned from not following lesson one takes us to lesson two:

Being sick and getting better are going to take longer than you expect, even if you already know that and have factored in extra time.

This lesson is a variation on what’s called Hofstadter’s Law, which says a project always takes longer to complete than expected, even when the law is taken into account. No matter what we do, the complexities of real-life living throw spanners into the works of our finely tuned plans. So we (meaning me, this week) would do well to remember that sickness and recovery timetables are not really under our control.

Wednesday brought a bit of an upswing and the glimmer of recovery. I did some work at home and it went well. By Thursday, I really expected that I woulda/shoulda be well enough to get in my car, drive to school and teach my afternoon classes. I mean, I felt sort-of-less-bad on Wednesday. Doesn’t that dictate that I be sort-of-okay by Thursday? Uh, lesson three has news for me:

Sickness and recovery are not linear. They’re going to go up and down and all around.

If you google “recovery is not linear” you’ll get a huge number of hits and graphics, all trying to convey how unpredictable all of our patterns of change and adjustment are, in mental health and physical health and all their permutations. It’s crucial to our well-being that we recognize that the short and the long processes, the less taxing and the life-changing, all of them proceed in ways that aren’t about steady improvement, day after day. Nope. Many of you have seen graphs like the one below, but it bears demonstrating again.

A graph showing the road to recovery– a diagonal line is what we think it looks like, but what it really looks like is loopy loops going every which way.

Maybe this is particular to me, but just in case it’s meaningful for you, here’s lesson four:

Always have extra tissues and cough drops on hand. Don’t run out. Ever.

Two 10-packs of kleenex brand tissue boxes. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Lesson five isn’t really something I’ve learned this week, but rather something I keep relearning through my meditation practice. But, it applies here (as everything in meditation applies to everything else in the world):

Whatever you’re going through is going to change. It won’t be the same tomorrow, the next day, and so on.

This is neither good nor bad; it’s just the way things are. It’s infuriating sometimes– this unpredictability. I mean, I oughta be able to know what’s coming and when. Well:

Why, you may wonder, did I take all the trouble to write up these no-news lessons about getting better from being sick while I’m sick and getting better? Because however many times I remember them, I seem to forget them again. So, in case you’re feeling a little tickle in your throat, I can save you some valuable time and extra emails. Oh, and don’t forget to buy kleenex.

How’s everybody feeling out there? Lemme know. I’m thinking about you.