cycling · fitness

Just like old times: kids, bikes, and small pleasures

On Saturday I volunteered for the first annual KIT for Kids Bike Day, held in Boston. KIT (Keep it Tight bike club) partnered with Hope International MA to create an event where Boston kids got instruction on basic and important bike skills: starting from and stopping at intersections, riding in a straight line, cornering, balance, and coordination over changing conditions.

At the beginning of the clinic, they were all fitted with new bikes and new helmets. At the end of the clinic, they were told that those bikes were theirs to take home.

That’s right. Hope International raised $7K USD to purchase more than 20 bikes. The kids and parents were thrilled. As were all the volunteers.

All the COVID-19 precautions were in place: there was ample hand sanitizer on a table, lots of extra masks for those who needed them, gloves for all the volunteers, and parents were around to help with activities that involved touching the kids (like adjusting helmets, etc.) Everyone wore a mask. Absolutely everyone. Here are some happy and totally mask-compliant kids, modeling good public health hygiene and massive enthusiasm at the same time:

The fun, the frolicking, and the joy of being around a lot of other people felt so, well, normal. Just saying that word feels like a relief, a respite from all we’ve been going through and are going through still.

Back to the clinic: I was partnered with Doug to teach bike balancing skills. That translated into running slow races. If you’re not familiar with this concept, a slow race involves leaving the start line, and then riding as slowly as possible (without touching a foot down on the ground). You don’t have to ride in a straight line, but running into the other cyclists is a no-no. The last person over the line wins.

This is harder than it sounds. But Doug and I demo’ed it, and had the kids try it a few times. Then we lined them up in groups of four to run heats.

Two of the kids were early strong contenders, and were neck-in-neck for the championship.

We had a winner, but the kids weren’t focused on the competition. They were just happy to ride their bikes around and talk to each other. The atmosphere of fun, of normalcy, enveloped everyone there.

For the kids and parents, taking part in this event meant learning some important bike safety lessons, in addition to the infinite delight which a brand-new bike confers. For me and the other volunteers, we got to play our parts in supporting the activities, but also enjoy the mundane and precious pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of kids, doing what they do on a Saturday morning. Yes there were masks, yes there was social distancing. But there was also that feeling of ordinariness, which has been missing from my life for the past 7 months. I really enjoyed that feeling.

Readers: have you had any experiences of this kind of respite from pandemic consciousness lately? I’d love to hear about them.

fitness · meditation

What 101 days of meditation does (and doesn’t do)

On July 13, I started meditating (again). Meditation has been an off-and-on thing in my life for the past 30 years. I got started courtesy of an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course I took in graduate school. We did eight weeks of skills development for using mindfulness to reduce stress and tolerate pain (in case of those with chronic illness). I have to say, it didn’t take. To say I was a bit resistant is an understatement. Maybe this illustrates it better:

One person walking upstairs, against the downstairs flow.

But something must’ve wedged itself in my subconscious, because a mere 10 years later, I took the course again. This time, I was wide open; I had just been denied tenure and was trying to figure out what I was going to do– apply for academic jobs, leave the field, run away… Nothing was certain. But, I discovered stability and grounding in sitting and breathing. That’s it– just sitting and breathing.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I’m in an academic job I love (mostly), living in a place I love (completely, except for the traffic), and I’ve reintroduced yoga as a regular habit. Several of my yoga teachers use short meditations at the beginning or end of class, and I came to look forward to it. Sometimes I couldn’t settle– maybe I was hungry, or idly thinking about online shopping— but I got used to the quieting of my body, sitting, and focusing on the breath.

Still, meditation outside of class never made its way into my weekly schedule.

Until July 13, 2020.

I took a 4-day meditation workshop at 7:30 in the morning (which is the equivalent of 4:30am for most people) with yoga and meditation teacher Alex at Artemis, my beloved local yoga studio. I blogged about it here, saying what I learned in 10 days.

Now it’s day 101 of meditating every day. Really. I promised myself I would meditate each day, even if it meant doing a 3-minute meditation on the breath, or a meditation for sleep at bedtime (and in bed).

My life, post-100 days of straight meditation, is different. What has it done for me?

#1: When some emotion or feeling arises (sometimes feeling like a bus bearing down on me), I have some mental space between me and the feeling. That means I can now a) recognize that something’s happening; and b) take a moment and look at it to see what it is.

This is huge. Huge. HUGE.

#2: When I engage in the process outlined in #1, I focus on what this experience of whatever-it-is feels like in my body. I ask: a) where in my body is it? Throat? Belly? Head? Somewhere else? And then I ask: b) what does it feel like? Is it tingling? sharp pain? Pulsing or thrumming? Wavy? And then c) I take another moment to watch it, notice it. And what I notice is that it changes. Whatever feeling I have, it morphs, waxes, wanes, fades, dissolves, transitions to some other feeling.

This is really huge. Why? Because when I’m having an experience of, say, panic or shame or fear, I have somewhere to go, something to do. Which is:

  • Stop.
  • Breathe.
  • Notice.
  • Locate.
  • Identify.
  • Watch.
  • Then resume whatever I was doing.
  • Notice that nothing much happened.
  • But also notice that something tremendous happened.

Meditation isn’t a cure-all. It’s not even a cure-anything. It’s not about curing. Here is what it doesn’t do:

#1: Change me into a person who isn’t vulnerable to fear, panic, anxiety, shame, and other strong emotions that I struggle with.

I still experience strong feelings, and dealing with them takes time, medication, support from friends, family and therapist. Those activities are also important for self-care, and they’re not going away in this lifetime.

#2: Solve other behavior change aspirations I have and work on when I’ve got the oomph to deal with them. I’m not neater, more punctual, a better paperwork processor, or an everyday exerciser. Or if I am from time to time, it’s probably not because of meditation. It’s rather that I approach these aspirations and hopes and plans with a greater sense of awareness of my feelings around them, and self-compassion for the difficulties I have and have always had around them.

At the same time, I am happier, less judgmental of myself and others, and sold on the idea that daily sitting practice is indeed just what the doctor ordered. And that doctor is me.

Readers, if you meditate: what does it do for you? what doesn’t it do for you? I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have.

cycling · fitness

Indoor cycling: lower-tech options?

Last week I wrote about my fall fitness plans. An important part of those plans is continuing to cycle outside into the fall and early winter. However, I’m not as intrepid a cold-weather or night-rider as I used to be. So that means planning for indoor cycling as well (also on my fall plan).

Sam is happily Zwifting, and she writes about her adventures in all sorts of rides and workouts here and here and here, to name a few. Cate has been doing outdoor spin classes and will be continuing virtually with her new spin bike (I forget the details, but we will be hearing about her plans as they unfold).

As for me, I’m a late or non-adopter of high-tech tech when it comes to cycling. Not for any ideological reasons; rather, they’re inertia-based. So, what I have are the following:

  • road bike with variety of wheels, including my trainer wheel
  • Cycle Ops fluid trainer
  • ratty old beach towel that my dad used when he washed his car (to put on floor underneath bike)
  • old German and French language textbooks (they’re the perfect size) to put underneath my front wheel, as I prefer a slight up-angle for indoor cycling
  • music playlists, in dire need of updating

Here’s the issue: I’ve had all this gear (such as it is) for a long time. But, I’ve done very little trainer riding the past few winters. I’d like to change that pattern this year. Why? I miss both the feeling of being better cycling and overall physical shape and the process of doing what one does to be in better cycling and overall physical shape. Yes, I want both process and product!

In service of shaking things up and looking for attractions to get me on the trainer at home, I’ve turned to Zoom class shopping. There are loads of Zoom spin classes out there. Here’s the thing: I don’t like standard spin classes. Yes, I know– they are a thing in itself. They are NOT traditional cycling training workouts, but another thing altogether. I could just give myself over to them, but… no. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work for me.

This is why Zwift cycling is so cool– it’s cycling, in all its forms. They even have pre- and post-natal cycling workouts (we know this courtesy of Sam). Zwift doubtless has exactly what I’m looking for.

But I’m not giving up my old-school setup. Not yet. When things look their darkest, there’s always YouTube to turn to. And in this case, it doesn’t disappoint.

There are Garmin workouts of many types and durations, and I like the variety of locations. I can cycle in the Italian countryside or along the California coast, for instance. That’s nice.

But there’s something about being connected with other people in real-time that helps with motivation and also fun during a trainer session. Youtube doesn’t give me that.

I’m thinking about trying to organize some of my own Zoom trainer sessions with friends. It’s not clear how well this will work, with schedules and time preferences, etc. But we’ll see how it goes.

Readers who do indoor cycling: what are your plans for fall and winter? Are you a Zwift or Peloton person? Do you rock it old school on a mag indoor bike trainer and iPod? Do you eschew the trainer altogether and ride outside no matter what? Do you like spin classes? I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas as I move indoors more.

fitness · season transitions

Fall fitness: back in/on the saddle again

It’s really properly fall now– pumpkins (and pumpkin spice infused items of all sorts) are everywhere, the light is changing in quality and quantity, and temperatures are falling.

I love fall. Usually.

But this year, we in the Northern Hemisphere are living with the uncertainty of what colder temperatures will do to our carefully distanced outdoor socializing and physical-activity making. My local yoga studio is likely not opening up for indoor classes, and the days of outdoor yoga are numbered. There’s Zoom, for which I’m grateful, but I really miss collective yoga classes.

However, one activity I’m feeling bullish on, even into the colder temps, is cycling. The past six months have not been an easy or active time for me– I was one of those people on Team Less during the pandemic. Sam posted a few months ago about this issue, declaring herself on Team More. Not that pandemic life has been easy for anyone– we’ve all had to find different ways to cope, escape, step up, or scale back.

Even though I usually ride a lot in the summer (often with my friend Pata), it just didn’t come together this year. However, now that fall is here (and the pandemic is still with us for some time to come), I feel like the fog is lifting, the feelings of overwhelmedness are receding, and some energy is coming back. I’m feeling ready to ride more.

I know, I know– it’s a little late. But hey– there are no bad days to ride (totally not true, but bear with me), just bad clothing choices. And bad tire choices.

So, moving through fall into winter, here are my cycling plans:

  • Resume weekly coffee rides (even if we’re drinking hot coffee from a thermos)
  • Take the bike with me when I go on local trips (I’m on Cape Cod now, with bike)
  • Take the bike with me when I drive to see family (1500km/1000 miles away) at Christmas
  • Do some exploring of routes/rail trails/parks within a few hours of home
  • Set up trainer for actual regular use in Dec/Jan/Feb
  • Come up with plan for zoom spin class or some such (I haven’t taken the plunge to go the Zwift or Peloton or other bike way… yet)
  • Implement aforementioned plan
  • Celebrate the fact that I already own gloves, hats, tights, jerseys, and jackets for cycling in cold weather
  • Report back to you good people, sharing successes, setbacks, and soliciting suggestions

I’ve got a road bike and a gravel bike (among others), in very nice condition and raring to go. Time to throw a leg over and get back in/on the saddle again.

Readers, what are you thoughts or plans for fall-into-winter activity? Do you have new plans, new gear, the same plans/same gear? Worries? I’d love to hear from you.

body image · fat · health · Science

Does my life depend on my body shape?

CW: discussion of body shapes and body weight, primarily with respect to a recent study assessing those variations in relationship to mortality risk. Lots of critique, too– you can count on that.

I have wide hips, large thighs and a large butt. Always have, always will. Regardless of my age, height, weight, fitness, that’s what my physical outline has looked like. My sister has always had slimmer thighs and butt, carrying more weight in her midsection. We are both in our 50s now, heavier and both carrying more weight in our midsections. We’re both doing what we do, happy to hang out when one of us can travel to the other.

My sister Elizabeth (left) and me, on the beach in South Carolina.
My sister Elizabeth (left) and me, on the beach in South Carolina.

All this is to say: we have the bodies we have, in the shapes they are. And even though the internet will offer you plenty of opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash on pills, supplements, gadgets and programs to try to change your body shape, I recommend saving it. It’s a waste of money.

So why do people worry about their body shapes and want to change them? In addition to all the messaging we get about what the “perfect” body shape is, medical science warns us of the dangers supposedly hidden in those shapes.

A new study came out in the past 10 days, looking at associations between body shape and mortality risk. Naturally, the press was on the scene, ready to inform us in the most provocative ways they could think of. Here’s a sample of the (inaccurate) headlines:

Headlines, the best of which is "thick thighs save lives". I wish this were the case.
Headlines, the best of which is “thick thighs save lives”. I wish this were the case.

What’s inaccurate about them? It’s not the case that having (or working to acquire) thick or chunky or wide hips and thighs will itself cause increased longevity; of course we know that. What these news outlets are saying is that people who carry their weight more centrally are at higher mortality risk than those who carry their weight less centrally. But is this true? Let’s see what the article is saying.

In a recent meta-analysis (study of a lot of studies) a team of Iranian and Canadian researchers set out to identify and quantify mortality risk factors specifically related to body dimensions and ratios Waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio are commonly studied measures for this type of research. In addition, this group studied thigh circumference, hip circumference, something called “body adiposity index” (roughly, a function of the ration of hip circumference to height) and another fancy biometric called “A body shape index”.

In case you’re still reading (one can hope), here’s what the researchers concluded:

Indices of central fatness … were positively and significantly associated with a higher all cause mortality risk.

Larger hip circumference and thigh circumference were associated with a lower risk.

The results suggest that measures of central adiposity could be used with body mass index as a supplementary approach to determine the risk of premature death.

What do I make of this? Well, glad you asked. Here are a few takeaways:

One thing: They definitely found lower mortality risk associated with larger hip circumference. But there’s more– look at this pair of graphs:

Two graphs measuring changes in mortality risk as hip circumference increases.

What’s interesting to me here is that the top graph, which controls for BMI and waist circumference, shows the risk dropping well below 1 (which is set as the standard, so less than 1 is better). But in addition, the bottom graph, which doesn’t control for BMI/waist circumference, still shows a dip in the mortality risk below 1 up to about 112 cm, and a very small increased risk up to 120 cm.

Why is this interesting? Because the second graph shows that people with larger hips have a lower relative mortality risk, even apart from body weight.

Another thing: Here’s another set of interesting-to-me graphs:

Two graphs with mortality risk based on waist-to-height ratio for men (on left) and women (on right).

What we see here that caught my eye was how the waist-to-height ratio increase is fairly straightforwardly associated with increased mortality risk for men, but for women this is not so. As waist-to-height ratio increases, there is a dip in mortality risk for women before increased starting at around .52.

Which leads me to yet-another-thing: the researchers mention (which other researchers know but sadly, not reporters) that many of these associations disappear with age. That is, for people older than 60, these body dimension metrics and ratios don’t tell us much of anything about mortality risk.

Last thing: all through the text of this article, the authors either cite other studies or give results which suggest that body weight itself is not positively associated with increased mortality risk. They point out the need for studying different populations, including those who are healthy (vs. those with underlying medical conditions), smokers, ex-smokers, and never-smokers, and subcategories of those with men vs. women. What does this tell us?

Science is complicated.

A woman looking at the contents of a beaker; photo by the National Cancer Institute, via Unsplash.

So, does my life depend on my body shape? No.We have the shapes we do. Hundreds of features of both our bodies and the world our bodies inhabit influence how we live and how long that will be.

But I still kind of want this T shirt:

Thick thighs save lives.
Thick thighs save lives.

Readers: does this sort of body-shape research bother you? Do you ignore it? I’m curious about how these murky medical messages translate in the public. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

fitness · fun · play

Physical activity and its many moods: which are you today?

My friend and colleague Lee is the energizer bunny of teaching. She just keeps on going and going, coming up with new ideas and maintaining classic winning strategies year after year after year.

I just saw this post on her FB page, showing a way to invite students to talk about how they are doing this fall using a safe proxy: cat pictures. She asked them, which of Lee’s cats are you feeling most like today?

6 pictures of Lee's cats, in various kitty moods.
6 pictures of Lee’s cats, in various kitty moods.

What a great idea! It’s a way to talk about ourselves, but with a feline shield in case we need it. I love this and plan to implement it immediately.

Except I don’t have cats. Or dogs. I have a bunch of plants, but their moods seem to comprise blooming, being green, wilting, yellowing, and dying.

Well, maybe we’re not in need of much more mood nuance than that. Or are we? I happened to notice (while wandering the internet) this set of 20 cards to aid in identifying our emotional barometers. At first it seemed silly, but maybe we can use some help in unraveling our emotionally snarly selves. Here’s the set, which you can buy here (at the ICA museum store in Boston):

A color wheel of emotions, ranging from happy to envious to stressed and back again.

It doesn’t cost a ton ($21.95 USD), but I’m sufficiently impressed by Lee’s personal approach that I thought I should create my own mood packet. So, in lieu of pets or plants, I decided to do a grouping of various forms of me in motion, labeling each with some mood.

On a bike, in the water, running hard, paddling slow, climbing up or skiing down, we movers experience the full range of human emotions. It’s part of why we move– it both provokes feeling and reveals feelings we’ve kept inside. It’s one of my favorite things about physical activity– it feels… like… living.

So here are some mood collages of me in motion.

Clockwise, from top left: goofing around, happy, irritated, trusting, taking a risk, maintaining.
Clockwise, from top left: goofing around, happy, irritated, trusting, taking a risk, maintaining.

But wait, there’s more.

Clockwise, from top left: hanging on, barely hanging on, loving, done, Look ma, no hands!, and immersion.
Clockwise, from top left: hanging on, barely hanging on, loving, immersion, Look ma, no hands!, and done.

If you read this on the Fit is a Feminist Issue FB page or Twitter or Instagram (or other things I don’t yet know about), how about post a picture of yourself in motion (or stillness), and name the mood? Just for fun. Or for self-investigation. Or grousing. Or joyful exhortation. Hey, you never know.

Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg– Keeping the Practice Going

Hi readers, and welcome to the seventh installment of FIFI book club’s reading of Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness: a 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation. Each week we’ll offer some reflections as we move through the chapters, and maybe do some of the exercises, too. You are invited to join us, and we’d love to read and respond to any comments you’d like to share.

Last week we blogged here about week four. We blogged here about week three. we blogged here about week two. We blogged here about week one, Concentration. We blogged about Chapter 2: Why Meditate, here. You can read the first entry 1 here.

Today’s group post is about keeping the practice going, so it will be our last one. For 30 days. We’ll be back in a month to update you on where each of us is in terms of meditation. If you are meditating, or have been reading this book or doing a course on meditation, we’d love to hear from you about how that process is going for you.

NOTE: we will all be checking back in a month from now to report on ways the book and the meditation exercises have affected our own meditation practices and also how mindfulness has inserted itself into our everyday lives. Stay tuned!

And now, without further ado, is Mina:

I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book and re-immersing myself in Sharon Salzberg’s gentle, yet firm voice. I love her straightforward insights. I love that she is very clear that meditation is about daily-ness—doing it regularly and showing up with more patience and kindness in our daily lives, in regular situations.

In a section of this Keep Going chapter titled, Make Sure Your Life Reflects Your Practice, I was struck by a quote she attributes to a teacher from India: “It seems to me that some people here want to meditate in order to have great transcendent experiences or amazing alternate states of consciousness. They may not be too interested in how they speak to their children or treat their neighbour.” Yes! Though I would also add that it’s not just about how we treat our children or community, but also how we treat our own selves, too. This is the biggest promise of meditation. Not fireworks and transforming into a cone of white light rising up into the sky to join the lucky enlightened ones, but more kindness, patience, ease and love.

Early in this chapter, there’s a multi-paragraph long list of all the benefits of meditation, including: help us drop painful habits, be calmer, be kinder to ourself and others etc… All of which brings me back to the first chapter of the book and a question I posed in an earlier book club post—is meditation alone enough to accomplish all this? I don’t think so. I have had a daily meditation practice for almost two years now. While I find it a powerful tool as I work toward that list of great outcomes, I need more resources to support the practice and access its benefits.

I think of meditation in terms of food pairing or food synergy—that’s the science of combining foods to access more of the nutrients. Meditation is the same. To access its nutrients, we have to combine our sitting practice with dharma talks and other sources of insight (therapy, retreats, or other self-refinement modalities). So that before we even take our seat on the cushion, we have begun to understand ourselves better. Combining multiple sources of wisdom, with what we are learning in our meditation, is a surer way to access the nourishment of our sitting practice.

That’s where books like this one come in. Meditation can definitely help us feel happier. Not instantly. Not without commitment. And not without the scaffolding of books like this, to give us the guidance we need to access the energy and aliveness that meditation offers. I feel revitalized after spending time in the company of Sharon Salzberg’s words.

Here’s Christine:

Reading Sharon Salzberg’s ‘Real Happiness’ has been a terrific investment in self-care.

Even though I didn’t put the work in to develop a consistent meditation practice*, I still got a lot out of the meditation that I did do, AND I got a lot out of reflecting on the content of the book itself – and the feelings that arose as a result.

This final section felt very good to read. I especially appreciated this commentary on the point of meditation:“This is why we practice meditation – so that we can treat ourselves more compassionately; improve our relationships with friends, family, and community; live lives of greater connection; and, even in the face of challenges, stay in touch with what we really care about so we can act in ways that are consistent with our values.”

Like most of us, that list encompasses my most important goals in life and even the little bit of meditation I have done during this process has helped me move closer to those ideals. And, I really love the idea that meditation is about giving ourselves internal space to respond differently – it’s not about changing ourselves or others, it’s about expanding the capacity we already have.

I also appreciated Salzberg’s advice about being willing to start over (which happens to be a specialty of mine) and about just showing up for practice. In her discussion of that latter point, she quotes the advice of her teacher, Munindra-Ji, who says “Just put your body there. Your mind will do different things all of the time, but you just put your body there. Because that’s the expression of commitment, and the rest will follow from that.”

I wish I had read that at the beginning.

I essentially give that same advice for developing a writing practice (short version – practice being in your writing spot, if you can’t write, just sit. Next time, sit and write a complaint about how hard it is to be there. Eventually, the regular writing will come.) and I hadn’t thought to apply it to meditation. I think I need to make a more conscious list of my procedures so I have it available for transferable skills moments like this.

Anyway, I love having that permission to just sit. And her further discussion in that section expands on that helpful beginning. She reminds us not to evaluate our progress over and over during a session and to use the right criteria for evaluation. In this case, the criteria she suggests is about how life is different and how well we are able to go with the flow rather than any sort of metric about minutes meditated or distractions therein.As I consult my notes, I realize that I could write essay after essay about the insights in this book in general and this section in particular so I think I will just finish here by saying that this book was worth every second I spent with it so far and I plan to spend even more.If you want to have a little more mental space in your day to day, you, too, may be able to find it by creating space in your schedule for reading this book and for doing the practices within. I made the space for reading but didn’t make quite enough space for the practices. In October, I’m going to create that extra space in my schedule so I can create even more space in my brain. I’ll let you know how it goes.*To be clear, the issue is not her program or meditation itself. Despite my initial intent, I was not able to prioritize meditation for a variety of reasons during the time frame of these review posts. And I’m ok with that. Now that I have read the whole thing, I suspect I will have more success with consistency. I always forget that I need the big picture when I am learning something new. In TKD, for example, I need to see someone perform the whole pattern slowly before I can start learning it. This meditation practice isn’t exactly building on the step before in the same way but I think I still needed the context of the whole to fully commit to practicing the pieces.

Here’s Tracy:

I am so grateful that Catherine invited me to this book club for Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, it really kick-started my fading meditation practice back into action. I have diligently managed to commit to 20 minutes a day almost every day for the past 5 weeks, with very few exceptions and it feels good.

I had a couple of insights when reading the final chapter, “Keeping the Practice Going.” The first was in response to when she says, “With a strong foundation in how to practice meditation, we can begin to live in a way that enables us to respect ourselves, to be calm rather than anxious, and to offer caring attention to others instead of being held back by notions of separation.” I love this idea of living more calmly and I have found over the years that I have attained the ability to do this at least some of the time. When I am practicing regular meditation I have a better chance of carrying a calm countenance into my day. I also like the notion of “caring attention.” I contrast this with a different kind of attention that I can give others when I am not grounded: annoyed attention; judgmental attention; frustrated attention; fix-it attention.

My favourite recommendation from this chapter for when the practice is waning is “start over.” Somewhere along the way a laminated bookmark fell into my hands. It says “Remember you can still start over every morning.” I taped it to my bathroom mirror alongside the quote that got me through my divorce: “Beware for I am fearless and therefore powerful,” from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I like to remind myself that I can actually start over at any moment of any day. If I didn’t meditate in the morning, I can meditate now. If I don’t meditate now, I can meditate before bed. Indeed, I can even do a bedtime / sleeping meditation, which I do in a pinch, when the day has gotten away from me and I know that I will not stay awake long enough to sit. I open the Insight Timer app and play one of Jennifer Percy’s Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditations. But mostly, I will do my 20 minutes of silent sitting in the morning. And if I miss a day entirely I will pick it up the next day. Meditation has helped me let go of all-or-nothing thinking where it has to be perfect. I love the idea of starting over, fresh page, new day!

I also appreciated the point about using ordinary moments. It’s fine to sit in silence, but I can also close my eyes and breath at a stop light while driving, or pay attention to my breath when I’m sitting in a meeting at work, or pause for a moment to be more mindful and attentive when I sit down to a meal.

And I had an insight when reading the section about life reflecting my practice. I used to think (recently, in fact) that in order to get my meditation habit kickstarted I would need to go away to the meditation centre for a ten-day course. That only ten days of ten hours a day of meditation would reinforce my habit. But I no longer think this. If I weave meditation throughout my day and into my life, then every thing I do can be a meditation of sorts. As Salzberg says, “Are we living according to our deepest values, seeking the sources of real happiness, applying the skills of mindfulness, concentration, and lovingkindness throughout all areas of our lives?” I don’t need to be at a meditation centre for that. Actually, as wonderful as the meditation centre is, it’s an artificial environment sheltered from my actual life. A stronger practice can emerge when I am incorporating meditation into my daily life and letting its effects flow into all areas. That’s a new way of thinking about it for me — quite dramatically different from my thought that I had to “get away” in order to “get it.”

That is the one new way of looking at it that I hope sticks when I am longing for the opportunity, lost this summer due to covid-19, to spend a month in the cloistered space of the Ontario Vipassana Centre.

Here’s Martha:

In some ways, I wish I had read this chapter first. It spoke to me so clearly. I loved the practical, focused tone – especially the part about perfection. However, I also recognize that if I had I wouldn’t have identified all the way I do practice a form of meditation. The issue is that I have no regular practice but I have an intermittent one. And Truth be told, I joined this read-a-long so I could form a regular practice. (I am just a bundle of contradictions today!).

The timing couldn’t be better though. I embark on my 60th year tomorrow and what better way to kick off such a momentous adventure than by committing to practicing what I have learned. I usually end my day with a quick think about what I did that day and I set out a plan for the next. Salzberg’s book is about taking on a lengthier process to ground one’s self and to be. She quotes a teacher who says “just put the body there.” I’m reading that as make the space, take yourself there and the rest will follow.

I’ve watched as slow food, slow fashion, slow teaching have emerged and influence how we approach our everyday lives. Why not with meditation? Salzberg’s focus on making ordinary moments meditative ones highlights the mindfulness even as she encourages the longer focus. My approach to meditation has been fast; I flit from a moment to a moment but never go deeper. I’ll use my morning and evening resets as a place to start from and see where this new approach takes me. I like the idea of the meditation journal as a place to collect insights, howsoever random they may appear at first blush. The only thing I am sure of is that the next 30 days are going to be interesting …

And me, Catherine:

Daily meditation practice has been a lifeline for me these past few months. That’s not an exaggeration. When I haven’t been able to move my body– my usual go-to for anxiety, stress, and trouble focusing– I have been able to sit and listen to a guided meditation. Even 5 minutes helps. Even 3 minutes. Even 10 deep breaths. They all help.

How do they help? Meditation, over time, helps create a neutral space for observing, noticing what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. I cannot convey to you all how important that space is for me. Being able to occupy it sometimes, for a moment or two, offers a little perspective from which to see self-judgment, self-blame, other negative thoughts and emotions, as what they are– just some thoughts and emotions. They come. They go. That’s the way of them.

This morning is day two of ouchy-crick-in-neck time. I slept oddly, and it’s been bothering me. In addition to some gentle stretching and occasionally anti-inflammatories, I sat this morning and meditated on bodily sensations. My ouchy neck was the initial focus, but over time the feeling kind of dissolved, and I got sort of bored with it. I returned to the breath, and then noticed tingling in my right foot. So I focused there. At the end of 15 minutes, I felt more balanced– by that I mean more aware of my body as a collection of changing sensations over time. It was a relief to let go of focus on one thing and judgment of it as bad.

This doesn’t always happen in meditation; sometimes I’m thinking about lunch, or work, or imagining going to the beach, etc. At some point I’ll notice this and head back to the breath. This is what mindfulness is, says Sharon Salzberg: heading back to the breath when you notice you’ve moved away from it. Yeah, I can do that.

We’ll check back in a month from now. Until then, keep breathing…

beach body · body image · fitness

What should I wear for swimming when over 50? Whatever I want!

CW: discussion of body size and body parts of women, in service of arguing against thin-ideal stereotypes in swimwear.

If you’re a woman over 50 years old, some swimsuit marketers have lots of worries about what you wear on the beach or at the pool. Their worries often center on body parts, like upper arms and abdomen– what if they are larger or looser or exposed? What will happen? They don’t know, but they really want to avoid that possibility. So they do two things:

  1. they put together marketing campaigns aimed at reassuring you (and the general public) that they are on the scene, ready to perform miracles of engineering to keep you pulled up, sucked in, and in all ways suit-able for being seen.
  2. They design swimwear that either holds body parts rigidly in place through space-age elastic technology, or devotes yards and yards of bleach-resistant fabric for covering you up, like a dining-room table with a bunch of scratches and blemishes.

Here’s what I mean:

Just one of many brands that extol their ability to perform miracles in order to put women of diverse ages and sizes in swimwear.

A few things to note (which applies to many brands)

  • It is called the Miracle Suit, performing the miracle of smooshing women’s body parts inside a swimsuit;
  • It says you’ll look 10 lbs/5 kilos lighter in 10 seconds, like this is something we all want (and need?);
  • It uses the term “figure flattering”, supporting the view that bodies that don’t conform to thin-ideal or fitspo standards need to be covered or neutralized through copious amounts of Spandex;
  • It reassures you that, regardless of your size or flaws (of which the former may also count as the latter), they’ve got you covered– maybe with billowing tunics…

In this article for the website sixtyandme, the writer tackles the problem (?!) of what to wear on the beach or at the pool when you’re over 60. The author says both that body sensitivity is “in our own heads” (which it may be, but is also out in the world), and that there is still “a practical problem as well – finding flattering bathing suits for older women is much harder than it should be”. What do I think about this?

NO, courtesy of Gemma Evans on Unsplash.
NO, courtesy of Gemma Evans on Unsplash.

Okay, enough ranting. What to say about this?

Everyone deserves to enjoy the beach, the lake, the pool, the water. Because of body shaming and thin ideals and fitspo ideals, etc. some of us sometimes feel ashamed to show our bodies in public and want more covering for swimming or walking around. Given this reality, it seems like having a market to offer higher-covering swim and beach wear isn’t a bad thing.

But it comes at a price, namely with the messaging that older women’s bodies are inherently flawed or not suitable for public viewing. How about this: we just STOP marketing higher-covering swimwear by leveraging body-shaming tropes and jokes? Thanks.

As a fat 58-year-old woman, what I want is swimwear that’s styled like thinner and younger women’s bathing suits, just in my size. I don’t want muumuus and blousy tunic-like coverup swim and active wear. This is because I like to swim, and all that fabric is going to interfere with the swimming. I want body hugging wear with the right fit to cover breasts and butt.

Other women may want different things— more fabric, tunics, etc. That’s great. You do you, and let the variety of options go forth and multiply.

But, I worry that many of us have been both shamed and niche marketed into a narrow range of swimsuit styles resembling either straight jackets or draperies. Just thinking out loud here. I’d welcome your thoughts, as always.

fitness

Midsummer heat too much? Try cold exercise…

With all the uncertainty that we live with now, one thing is for sure: the seasons change. It is officially fall now. Despite the week of delicious summer-like weather we’re having at the moment, temperatures are and will be falling. That means adjusting to physical activity in colder temperatures.

Riding and walking and running and doing yoga when it’s cooler are possible, and for some people (like me!), even desirable. I sweat a bit less, and also enjoy the coolness amidst all the heat I’m generating internally.

I wrote this post last year, having heard about gyms with cold exercise and even cold yoga classes. This year, we don’t need no gyms for this– DIY cold exercise is free, and available everywhere. We’ll be writing more about this as it happens, and– as always– looking to hear from you about how you’re moving as temperatures fall.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Some people are never satisfied with the weather. When it’s cold outside, they yearn for warm summer breezes. When that breeze comes, it’s either too windy, or it’s too darn hot.

Me? I love love love the summer and the heat that comes with it. I do have my limits, though. In Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days before a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, temps hit 108F/42C. That’s too much for me. But at 7000 feet above sea level, the south rim of the Canyon was great. And Sedona, although hot and dry (upper 90sF/35-36C), provided us with delicious swimming holes with delicious cold water. I love love loved it– the water was cold but refreshing and invigorating (no euphemisms here– it really was great).

But suppose you don’t have the benefit of…

View original post 603 more words

fall · fitness

My fall fitness plans, pt. 1– incorporating everyday movement into working from home

This fall, I’m working entirely from home, zooming for my classes and all manner of meetings. Who knew that the pandemic would bring with it even more meetings? Sigh.

Three things I miss about being at my workplace:

  1. seeing my students and colleagues in actual person
  2. the transition time of my drive to and from school (although I am thrilled to be temporarily shed of late-day traffic!)
  3. the everyday movement I get from walking and standing while teaching and tooling around on campus

With respect to 1, I’ve made camera use for my zoom classes optional, but told them I really like seeing their faces when they’re up for it. Many of them have cameras on various times, and some never do. But we’ve getting to know each other despite the limitations.

For 2, I’ve been meditating first thing in the morning (after coffee, of course). It’s helping me in a hundred ways, of which #46 is: provides transition between getting up and getting to work in the morning. It’ll do.

But for 3, I’ve had more trouble figuring out a plan. Standing with my laptop perched somewhere doesn’t feel comfortable for teaching. I’m sure there are lots of other options, especially with extra A/V equipment. But for now, I put my laptop on my yoga bolster (which is on top of my yoga blocks) and sit in front of it. It’s working well enough.

But that still doesn’t address the everyday movement problem.

Enter short yoga/qigong breaks. After class and in between meetings, I’ve been doing short (5–10 minute) yoga breaks, aided either by Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene fame) or Bad Yogi (another fav of mine) or my own memory of qigong classes I’ve taken (boy do I miss in-person yoga and qigong!). I also have some DVDs, obtained during a bout of late-night online shopping. Usually I do hip openers (to deal with all the sitting), but any movement feels good.

On days when I’m not teaching, I’m using a Pomodoro app to remind me to stop working and get out of my chair every 25 minutes for a 5-minute break. Tracy has used this technique and wrote about it here. Others among our bloggers like it, too.

For these breaks, it’s my choice. Sometimes I use the break to do something practical, like take out trash or recycling (which involves two sets of stairs down and then up). I’m right now thinking about other quick-ish fun exercise-y things to provide some novelty. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

One idea I had yesterday that’s coming back is incorporating the New York Times so-called 6-minute workout more often as a mini-break activity. I wrote about the skepticism and criticism around it here for the blog. But, this post also contains the list of all the exercises, in case you can’t get to the actual NY Times article. The workout takes longer than 6 minutes– more like 15 or so– but that’s still in the mini-category. I’ll report back on how smoothly it gets incorporated into the daily movement plan.

One final idea: set up my bike trainer to do short spins (10–15 minutes? Not sure). For this one, I’m not sure if I want to do this, or what I would do for a short amount of time. Ideas, anyone? Have any of you done short (say 20 minutes or less) workouts on a spin bike or trainer? I know, I can look this up. But I value your experience. Let me know if anything has worked for you.