fitness · habits

More on movement rituals

For those of us who observe various forms of the Christian calendar, today is Easter Sunday. I’m a church lady, so the week of Easter is always busy for me every year. I buy pita and baba ganoush and lamejuns (Armenian sort-of pizzas; a recipe is here) and all kinds of yummy foods for my church’s Maundy Thursday dinner; I live around the corner from a great Armenian bakery and food store, so it is my happy errand to do.

Then comes Good Friday service, and on Saturday I help with brass and silver polishing in the morning, followed by helping get the church set up with lilies for Easter Vigil that evening. I rush home, then rush back for the service that evening. We have a little reception with bubbly beverages and nibblies, then I go home after 9pm.

Sunday morning is the main event, with a full court press of children in pastels running around, lots of sweets at the festive coffee hour, and the church filled with sights and sounds and folks I haven’t seen since Christmas. It’s one of my yearly rituals.

You can tell from my story that I like rituals. They are comfortable– familiar and predictable and soothing. Okay, maybe they can get monotonous, but I don’t usually mind monotony (at least in this context). There is also evidence that rituals (religious, personal, etc.) can provide provide us with feelings of more self-control over our behaviors.

Feelings of more self-control over our behaviors… Doesn’t that sound great?

This spring has been more than usually hectic for me– I took on an extra course for teaching, I’m serving on my university’s tenure committee, and recently became one of the wardens (yes, that’s the term) of my church. This is, in short:

TOO MUCH
too much. way too much.

I’ve noticed that, as my workload has increased and my stress level along with it, I’ve turned to some rituals in my movement. I do a gentle or restorative yoga ritual (well, youtube video, but ritual sounds nicer) every evening before bed. I make sure to move and walk and seek out stairs in my day.

I’ve also paid attention to a couple rituals for self-care lately. I have been turning off the light in my bedroom by 11:30pm. I have made time for a quiet coffee in the morning, even when I’ve faced a very long day. That’s what I’ve been managing.

The ritual of Easter weekend is almost over. I like immersing myself in it, but I don’t mind when it’s over. The rituals I engage in every day and every week (movement-wise, spirituality-wise, self-care-wise), support me day in and day out. I’d like to develop a few more.

Dear readers, what are your rituals or special habits that are soothing, or grounding, or motivating, or pleasing? Movement, self-care, whatever– we’d love to hear from you.

Movement Ritual
fitness

On Ritual, or Moving Religiously

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Today is Easter Sunday. For many Protestants and Catholics, that means attending religious services—on Saturday night, at sunrise on Sunday, but mostly on Sunday morning in churches jam-packed with folks who attend Christmas and Easter services but not other times of the year. There’s even a term for them: chreasters.

With attendance dropping and congregations aging, some churches will go to great lengths to attract and keep these twice-a-year attendees coming after the holidays are over. One pastor used a live lion and lamb in his Easter sermon (it’s true; check out the picture here).  But, according to many sources (like here and here), lots of self-identified Christians just don’t prioritize the ritual of regular church attendance. So today the pews will be packed with suited and hatted and patent-leather-shoed folks.

easter church

Next Sunday, those people will return to their newspapers, computers, kid soccer games, brunches, and other activities…

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fitness · trackers

My (fake-o) FitBit won’t make me fit, but it’s not its fault

I’m very late to the party, but I have finally gotten a FitBit.  Mine is a fake one ($29.95 on Amazon), and it does count steps, more or less.

Why did I get this gadget? Mainly, I want to know how active I am in my regular weekly routine; I haven’t been cycling much (yet), so walking has been much of my cardio-ish exercise.

So what have I learned after a week with Fake-o-FitBit?

First: My activity patterns tend to fall into one of three categories.

  1. working from home, I don’t get in many steps (3000-4000ish?) until I make a deliberate plan to take a walk.  I sort of knew this, but having the data makes a stronger impression.
  2. Teaching and running around on campus, I get in many more steps than I expected (6000-7500ish?). Still, it doesn’t feel like much of a workout.
  3. Any day in which I plan a walk somewhere (or am traveling—airports are great for lots of step accumulation) seems to rack up more than 10K steps, all told.

This is very useful information for me, because it’s telling me that if I want to be more active on days I’m working from home, I have to schedule it.  Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, including me, but somehow having the numbers in front of me makes the situation clear.

A week of steps...

During the summer, I tend to cycle very often—riding around town from place to place, doing errands, etc.  I also take longer road rides alone or with friends. So, that activity takes care of itself. But if I’m not on two wheels and want more activity out of my day, I have to make a plan.

Second: step counts don’t tell me how hard I’ve worked physically.  Duh. But again, I needed to experience the week and see the data to conclude that substantial cardio fitness for Catherine will not automatically happen through just stepping a lot.

Third: It was totally worth $29.95 to get this information. Yes, I kind of knew this, but I respond well to data (even likely inaccurate and over-counted info from a possibly-pirated step counter).

Not that I’m planning on throwing it away, now that I’ve learned some things. I’ll keep wearing it and sync’ing the info to see if any different patterns emerge.  It seems like Fake-o-FitBit will help keep me honest and aware of what I am and am not doing each day.

Fake-o-FitBit won’t help me set my fitness goals and physical activity schedule. That’s not what it does. I have to do that my damn self. Which I will. But it does help me see what counts as sedentary/meh/more active for me in daily two-legged movement. That’s worth the price.

Thanks, Fake-o-FitBit!

Thanks, Fake-o-FitBit! (Photo by Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash)

Dear readers, how do you use step counters?  Do you find similar categories of activity? How do you use the data?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

fitness

March exploits and April realities

March was a month chock full of possibilities for me. Trying out new activities with interesting movements was so much fun. I went to sleep with visions of new athleticism dancing in my head.

New things I tried:
50+ parkour
Aerial silks yoga
Cool agility conditioning in gym
Qigong
Weight lifting (actually started in Feb, but it’s still new)

April is now here, and reality has arrived with it. Here are some of the highlights:

Jumping down from barriers and landing hard hurts my right ankle (sprained 7 months ago). So does backflipping out of the aerial yoga hammock- you can land kind of hard if you’re not careful (which apparently I wasn’t).

Agility conditioning can be hard on my left knee if I’m not careful about form. Ditto for qigong. It is all slow deliberate movements, but hanging out in a partial squat means being careful about where my knees are. Double ditto for weight lifting. I’m working with a trainer who is also a physical therapist, so I’m in good hands. But, it’s clear I’ve got vulnerable body parts which need shepherding.

Sam has been writing about her knee and the sad news about sports and activities left behind or altered and upcoming changes to her body. My news is more mild, but definitely along similar lines.

For me, April reality means this:

Delay parkour until ankle is more recovered and strong
Consider not doing parkour at all
Ditch aerial yoga
Work on more strengthening of ankles and knees
Be nice to my body and don’t try to do everything
I’ve still got cycling, which is awesome
Yoga feels great too

This isn’t bad news. It’s real news. So let’s go, April. And we shall see what May reveals.

Hey readers— any news on the physical front lines? It’s nice to know we are not alone, and I’d love to hear from y’all.









fitness · martial arts

March ends with more new things: Catherine discovers Qigong

March is almost gone, but to fill the March sadness void (and also exercise ennui for me), I’m trying yet another new thing. Sam wrote about how the Fit Feminist Team is trying new things, Not to be competitive, but I seem to be in the lead here, with parkour class, aerial silks yoga, and now a 2-hour Qigong workshop I went to on Saturday.

Why am I doing this? Really, the answer is that I am looking for different sorts of movement in my life these days. I have been feeling the need for more strength and agility and flow. Also I want to feel solid and stable– I want to feel my feet under me, my legs solid, my back strong, and my core engaged. This way I can use my upper body to lift and grab onto things, swing me or hold me in place, help me balance, and other things. Like leaping, for instance:

I happened upon the Qigong workshop, through Artemis, my local studio. Jules, one of my favorite instructors, was teaching it. I knew basically nothing about it. So here’s an intro blurb in case you’re in the same boat:

Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. There are likely thousands of qigong styles, schools, traditions, forms, and lineages, each with practical applications and different theories about Qi (“subtle breath” or “vital energy”) and Gong (“skill cultivated through steady practice”)

Qigong is credited with all sorts of beneficial and even therapeutic powers. Here’s what one website has to say about it:

Physically, slow gentle qigong movements warm tendons, ligaments, and muscles; tonify vital organs and connective tissue; and promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph). Thousands of studies have shown qigong effective in helping to heal life challenges ranging from high blood pressure and chronic illness to emotional frustration, mental stress, and spiritual crisis.

Hmmm… Thousands of studies? I took a look at the PubMed database and found loads of studies, including this one, suggesting benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi for some of the following:

bone density, cardiopulmonary effects, physical function, falls and related risk factors, quality of life, self-efficacy, patient-reported outcomes, psychological symptoms, and immune function.

Okay, so there’s evidence that Qigong is good for what ails ya. That’s nice. But what is it like? I found it to be different from yoga in that we were mainly standing in place, doing body and arm movements, syncing with the breath. They were done slowly and repeatedly. Even though the movements were (mostly) slow ones, we did generate some heat. You can definitely work up a sweat doing Qigong. But it’s also meditative, focusing on the breath and body movements. The names of the movements are poetic and descriptive. We did movements called:

  • King draws his sword
  • Cat gazes at the moon
  • Gather the sun and press the earth
  • Double hands hold up the heavens
  • several others

Some of the things I liked about these movement patterns were the ways they used my whole body. For some of them I was raising up, lifting my heels, arms in the air, balancing and holding myself up. We did lots of arm movements, which were slow, but involved control, focus, and attention to detail (some of the movements required thought). They also provided opportunities for grace. I loved one movement where we crossed our wrists in front of our navels, began a sequence, and then replaced the wrists to their original position, fluidly and elegantly.

Elegance– that’s really what I took away from Qigong. It’s meditative, it’s physical, and it’s elegant in its simplicity and efficiency of movement.

It also seems to make people happy. Here are some people doing qigong:

There are Qigong classes at yoga studios near me. I will be checking them out. Will this new form of movement become a regular part of my rotation? It’s too soon to say. But I’m intrigued on multiple fronts.

Have you or do you do Qigong (or Tai Chi)? What do you think? What does it do for you, and for your other forms of physical activity? I’d love to hear from you, dear readers.

fitness · weight stigma

Reducing anti-fat bias among doctors: will a little more knowledge help?

Here’s some good news: medical schools are (finally) paying attention to the fact that their students have a bunch of false beliefs about their fatter patients, which contributes to bad medical care. Johns Hopkins and NYU medical schools created some special 3-4 day courses devoted to better understanding obesity (a term I hate, but they use it, so I will use it here when I have to). Their goal is to help future doctors care better for their fatter patients.

For those who love references: you can read a news article about the NYU study here, and the actual NYU here. For the Hopkins study, there’s a JAMA article about it here, and the Hopkins study in more detail is found here.

Okay, now that the bibliography is done, here’s what the studies discovered about medical students’ beliefs and attitudes toward fat patients.

tl:dr version: lots of future doctors falsely believe that body weight is largely controllable. They also have negative feelings and attitudes toward fat people– a significant percentage think fat people are lazy or don’t make good decisions. Possibly as a result, they are less empathetic to their fat patients. This translates into bad medical care.

Here’s my deeper dive: from studies we know that a large percentage of 4th year medical students believe that lack of willower is an important contributor to obesity. The Hopkins study looked at 6 medical student cohorts who had taken a 4-day course on obesity. Before the course, here is what the students believed:

Across cohorts, 89% of students agreed or strongly agreed that obesity is a disease (range, 85% to 92%), and 89% of students believed it was behavioral (range, 82% to 92%). At the same time, over 90% of students agreed or strongly agreed that obesity results from poverty (range, 90% to 97%), and 57% believed that obesity is primarily genetic (range, 51% to 62%). Finally, 74% of students agreed or strongly agreed that ignorance contributes to obesity (range, 70% to 79%), and 28% had the opinion that people with obesity were lazy (range, 21% to 38%). 

This is appalling but not surprising. The NYU study found similar negative attitudes and false beliefs:

More than half of medical students rated unhealthy diet (62.0%), physical inactivity (56.3%), and overeating (52.1%) as very important contributors to obesity. Only 26.8% of students rated genetics or biological factors as very important. Lack of willpower was rated as less important than genetics or biological factors, but over 40% of students considered it [lack of willpower] to be at least a moderately important cause of obesity.

These disheartening results hold for practicing doctors as well. The NYU study cites this information:

In a survey of US primary care physicians, genetic factors ranked below physical inactivity, overeating, and high fat diet as important causes of obesity. More than 30% viewed patients with obesity as weak-willed, sloppy, or lazy, over 50% viewed them as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant, and only 50% of physicians rated genetic factors as a very important cause of obesity.

So, we have a situation in which physicians and future physicians have false beliefs about human metabolism and controllability of body weight. Medical schools (and hospitals and medical associations and patient groups) are aware of this fact, and are trying to educate these populations to give them correct information and a solid knowledge base from which to view their patients more equitably and justly.

But the problem is: knowledge doesn’t seem like it’s going to make things better. In a followup survey, the Hopkins researchers asked the medical student cohorts how (if at all) the course changed their views about obesity. More than 50% of the respondents reported no change at all. 30% reported positive changes in their views. The rest reported either no change or more negative views over time.

As the NYU study authors put it in the last line of their article, “Research about the most effective methods for teaching the basis of obesity and reducing bias is sparse, however and more studies are needed to identify best practices.”

Yeah, I would say that’s right. So, what’s missing here? Some researchers say this: we don’t know how to teach people to be empathetic with others, especially about fatness. You might think that doctors or medical students who have struggled with body image and dieting yo-yo weight changes would be more empathetic toward their fat patients. But no– the data show otherwise.

So how do you teach people empathy? There are actually programs to teach physicians empathy for their patients. Knowing that how a primary care provider responds to us emotionally is a strong influence on how well they treat us (medically and personally) gives us a little more power in an area of life where people are relegated to the status of passive, silent patient. And if we’re up to the task, advocating for ourselves and others by calling out lack of empathy and calling for more empathy training might make going to the doctor less daunting and unpleasant. Here’s hoping…

Doctors walking down a hallway, rearview. Photo by Unsplash.
femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · habits

Some things that make me feel great about my body (this year)

This week I’m super busy and super-stressed about being super busy. But, I am also feeling pretty good body-wise. That is, I’ve been doing more activity and more types of activities that have gotten me out of my winter movement doldrums. Infusing my physical life with some novelty has been refreshing; it’s almost like spring has come early. Well, almost…

Sam posted about some of us trying new things, and for me it’s not over yet; more new things may be in the offing. Stay tuned to the blog for details.

Last year this time I posted about 6 things that make me feel great about my body. I’d like to update the list to reflect what’s happening this year.

Yoga is sill on the list, definitely. Last year I wrote this:

Hanging out in downward facing dog or wide legged forward bend, I feel strong, stretched out, grounded, engaged with my muscles.  In shavasana (corpse pose for resting on the mat at the end of class) I connect with the floor, feeling my limbs and back and head and belly all sink into relaxation and stillness.  And when I get up to leave I feel grateful for the body I have.

Last summer I discovered yin yoga, and it’s added enormously to my enjoyment of yoga, my enjoyment of my body in stillness, and my enjoyment of my body stretching and experiencing shifts from that stretching. I love it.

I also wrote last year that I loved primping and poufing and prettifying myself from time to time, especially focusing on my hair. This year, I’d say I’m not so into that. I do like wearing clothing that feels comfortable, sleek, with pretty colors, and accessorized with more color. What I want more this year is comfort and ease in the clothing on my body.

Walking was on my list last year. But in September 2018, I sprained my ankle, and was in physical therapy for a long time. I’m a lot better, but these days am preferring the gym or the yoga studio to loads of walking. Paying attention to where I still need more healing seems like not a bad thing. Also, working on strength and flexibility through different exercises is where my happy place is (for now).

Cycling was and is and will always be on my list of things that make me feel good physically. But these days I’m letting myself spend more time on other activities before turning to cycling more. Now that spring is here and temps are rising, I’ll be outside on two wheels a lot. It’s been a nice change of pace, however, to try out other ways to move and work my body.

A new addition this year has been weight training. I’m still in the early stages of working with a trainer, but so far I love it– working with free weights feels elemental and pure. I really enjoy how I can tune in to my body when deadlifting, benching, etc. I am still in the process of putting it in place in regular rotation, but I’m getting there.

Finally (and I’m not putting out a content warning, but I will talk about my eating here):

I have had to change some of my eating habits because of a health problem (I had pancreatitis recently). This different way of eating in response to and because of that diagnosis has resulted in my feeling a lot better than I had in a long time. I’ll blog about this sometime, complete with content warning. But for now, let me just say that some health-enforced changes have resulted in my body feeling a lot better. Yay!

Are you doing anything that is making you feel luscious, yummy, energized, comforted, serene, on fire, ready for anything? Let us know– we’d love to hear it.

Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled-- I don't know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.
Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled– I don’t know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.