covid19 · Happy New Year! · motivation · new year's resolutions

4 “Old Year” Resolutions for the New Year

New year’s resolution web articles normally help readers to set and achieve their big goals. This year, some authors—including Christine, Catherine, and Natalie at FIFI—have shifted to encouraging smaller “micro-resolutions” or to changing our approach altogether. The author of this article from The Atlantic claims that resolutions aren’t “vibe” for 2022, and instead encourages folks to reflect on “small good things” that reveal why our goals matter in the first place.

Working from home last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve started a few random habits that motivate me to help me care for my health. After reviewing this article on the “small good things,” I realized that these are behaviours I’d like to carry over from the previous year because they connect with things I value.

So, here are four of my “old year resolutions” for 2022:

#1 Sun Salutations – D&D Style

D20 on a yoga mat
A die with 20 sides on a yoga mat.

Because I work at my desk all day, I need to stop and stretch. But I find stretching boring. So, for my stretch breaks I’ve started doing sun salutation sequences while regulating my breath. But how many cycles do I do?

I also like to play games. So, when I get up for a stretch, I’ll roll a D20. Whatever my roll, that’s how many repetitions of the asanas I do. I get a needed break from sitting and the die roll connects with how I value games and keeping exercise fun.

#2 Empty and Refill Station

Over the years I’ve tried so many ways to drink more water–setting a timer, drinking a glass of water at every 3rd hour, toting water bottles around with me everywhere, using flavour crystals, etc. Nothing seemed convenient for me (my value) to work.

This past year, I discovered that I will have multiple glasses of water in a day if I drink them…right after my pee break. So, I keep a water glass in every bathroom now, because while I’ve already got the faucet on and am washing my hands, I might as well fill’er up. I also wash the cup now and then with the soap!

#3 The “Hungry Enough” Apple

Because I enjoy snacking, I normally don’t wait until I am hungry to eat. Snacking has been made easier during WFH. But I have a sensitive tummy, I will snack mindlessly until I start to feel sick.

Then, I remembered the “hungry enough” apple (or any fruit equivalent) to avoid over-snacking, a tactic I learned from a past colleague. Now I keep a piece of fruit on my home desk, and if I am “hungry enough” to snack I tell myself to eat it first.

I am NOT suggesting that others should police their food consumption in any kind of way–everyone’s relationship with food is their own and I fully respect that. However, I’ve found that I feel better when I eat fruit before other snacks, even though fruit is not my first snack choice.

#4 Permission to Feel Comfortable

I have about 6 pairs of dress pants in my closet that I used to wear regularly for work, but they have not seen the light of day since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

At first, I reproduced my time-consuming rituals and put on uncomfortable clothing items in order to “dress for work.” But after many months of WFH, I have started giving myself permission to be more comfortable. I still make myself presentable for a professional work environment, but at my desk I use a heating pad, aromatherapy, and stim toys that help me to manage my fidgeting.

I am fortunate enough to have the space and the freedom to adjust my clothing and working environment, but comfort while working was a value I never knew I had until recently.

Making Evolutions, Not Resolutions

These are small behaviours I stumbled on over time that have become helpful habits for my health. They are evolutions, not resolutions, that I hope to keep this year and as long as I can because they reflect what I value.

What “Old Year” resolutions do you hope to keep or maintain in the new year?

diversity · fitness · inclusiveness · team sports

Pickleball

Two women in green shirts smiling and posing with racquets and a silver cup
Team Racquet Ralph (Grace-Ann and Elan) posing with the league cup we certainly did not win, but took a photo with it anyways.

Know someone playing pickleball right now? If you do, they will likely tell you it is a great sport–easy to play and growing widely in popularity.

As a newbie to pickleball (just finished my first half-season this fall), I would like to share some early reflections (and random internet searches) to consider why pickleball is gaining popularity, and for whom.

A Fun Sport for Seniors, and Others

Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Seattle by three men: two are described by this article as a congressman and a “successful businessman” who thought up the sport to entertain their bored children.

Today, pickleball is often regarded as a retirement (or near retirement) sport. This 50 Plus Today website article describes the key benefits of pickleball as:

  • Healthy (and easy on joints)
  • Easy to learn
  • Social
  • Space friendly
  • Playable at various ages
  • Playable at various skill levels
  • Affordable
  • A year-round sport

As a tennis-style game, but played with a wiffle ball and on a slightly smaller court, it can be played singles or doubles. Because the point count ends at 11 points (with a 2-point difference), a round of pickleball can be played in as little as 10-15 minutes.

Where I live, in Ontario, Canada, the province’s Pickleball Ontario association has a publicly available policy statement on diversity and inclusion. The document describes the board’s commitments to increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups in pickleball, and includes a long list of inclusive key terms. The rec league I have played on is “open,” so no gender specific teams.

Paying to Play

The above suggests to me that the sport is aspiring to keep its barriers to entry low by encouraging players of different ages and abilities.

Pickleball isn’t an expensive sport compared to some others, but it still requires equipment (paddles, nets, court shoes) and sufficient indoor or outdoor space. Although you can make an available tennis court work for free, sports clubs organize leagues so charge individuals and teams to play.

Folks with philanthropic and economic interests are tapping into the growing popularity of pickleball. On one webpage I found that pickleball was being used as a charity fundraiser event. On another page, an investment company provides advice to retirees by comparing wise investing with pickleball strategy. To understand and play pickleball today is to have some social and cultural capital.

For some, the sport itself may represent affluence. This Wall Street Journal article from 2018 highlights tensions in an American retirement community after some residents proposed installing a pickleball court, while others disagreed due to the high cost. The article’s author describes the disagreement among these residents as a symbol of the growing wealth gap in America.

An “International” Sport

Pickleball has been described as a sport as growing in popularity around the world. This site lists over 2 dozen national pickleball associations. I do notice that mostly Western and middle- and high-income countries are on the list. 

On the web I found evidence of pickleball being played in some countries not on the above international associations list–but the players are vacationers, not residents. Examples below describe all-inclusive pickleball getaways, featuring special training and tournaments:

At the time of writing, there are only a few web articles I could find that consider the racial and ethnic diversity in pickleball, but both articles I found were behind paywalls.

The Future of Pickleball

The folks I’ve met in our fall pickleball league at the YMCA gym are a friendly and fun group, mostly couples or buds in their 40s to 60s. I expect most of them only wish they were retired.

Next season, the league moves to a venue across town with indoor courts that are dedicated for pickleball. The cost to play will double.

Pickleball evolved from other racquet sports. It will be interesting to see how this game continues to grow and evolve, depending on who plays it, and where.

media · soccer · team sports

Fitness in Ted Lasso

In Apple TV’s Emmy-winning show, Ted Lasso (TL), the titular character is a goofy, Kansas-born football coach who must adjust to a very different life as head coach of a pro football (North American soccer) team in England.

Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group
Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group

I watched both seasons, then I joined ~22K fans in the Ted Lasso Talk FB group. Some fans of not only the show but also the sport of football discuss with enthusiasm actors like Cristo Fernández (Dani Rojas) who are real life football players, and parallels with real-life players and actual British clubs.

But you don’t need to be a football fan to participate in the lively conversation. TL fans love to ask and answer questions about all aspects of the show (many have watched both seasons multiple times). So I asked folks to share what they’ve noticed so far about any representations of exercise and fitness.

[WARNING: Modest show spoilers]

Exercise Made Fun(ny)

Coaches have to find the right words to inspire their teams during practice. Here are a few of Ted’s choice expressions to get his team in action (crowdsourced enthusiastically by the FB group fans):

  • “Your body is like day-old rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen.”
  • “Touch your toes. Now touch each other’s toes! Your feet fingers!”
  • “Making quicker transitions from offense to defense. Y’all gotta start making your hellos your goodbyes.”
  • “We all know speed is important. But being able to stop and change directions quickly? Well, that’s like Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. It don’t get nearly enough credit.”
  • “We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ ’cause it’s all about controlling possession.”

Ted doesn’t use the traditional language of training and exercise; rather, he makes quirky comparisons and memorable pop culture references to get his team moving.

What Fitness Looks Like

All the players on the fictional AFC Richmond team appear physically fit. In the locker room scenes, outfit changes reveal lean, muscular, ready-to-run bodies. A few times we see players using the treadmill and free weights, but there aren’t a ton of game, practice, or training scenes that highlight the pro players’ peak athleticism.

Instead, as one TL fan noticed, in the S2 finale it is the rival football team that is shown doing physically intense calisthenics (while Nate, recently defected from AFC, looks on). By comparison, Ted has his team on the pitch practicing a choreographed dance routine to N’Sync’s 90s hit song, “Bye Bye Bye.”

Other fitness activities portrayed relate to characters’ hobbies and social lives. The sports psychologist loves cycling. The gruff former star player-turned-coach shares a weekly yoga practice with retired women (then drinks rose wine with them afterwards). Ted is a crackerjack darts player, and he walks to work with his Assistant, Coach Beard. There are some pre- and post- sex scenes. So mostly, it’s regular people fitness.

Nutrition and Food

Representations of food and eating in TL do not follow sports nutrition myths, fads, and stereotypes. The players scarf fast food kabobs, drink beer in the locker room and out at the bar, and share potluck dishes they bring to a holiday meal. There is no excess of supplements, restrictive eating regimes, or protein shakes.

Coach Ted is as sweet as the food he shares and enjoys. He brings club owner Rebecca Welton home-made biscuits (sugar cookies) everyday. On the topic of sugar, Ted says, “I’ve never met someone who doesn’t eat sugar. Only heard about ’em, and they all live in this godless place called Santa Monica.” And on his favourite dessert, he says, “Ice cream’s the best. It’s kinda like seeing Billy Joel live. Never disappoints.”

The Fitness of Teams

In this sports dramedy, characters manage the stress not of the daily grind of elite level fitness training but of various personal issues and relationships. Although they come from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, the team players chat, bicker, and support each other as a team. As one TL Facebook group fan responded, “I love how fitness is not the centre of the story. Football and exercise are their job, but community and relationships are the centre.”

This LA Times article interviewed pro soccer coaches and players who are also TL fans because of the way the show features the interpersonal and psychological aspects of team play. The article quotes one American men’s national team coach who says that the strength of TL is not football itself but rather everything around football: “I don’t watch the show for what I see on the field. That’s not the point […]. But I think, in any sport, a lot of team success is what happens in the locker room. And they get that absolutely right.”

So, with the help of the fan group, I have discerned that TL is not, ultimately, a show about the fitness of professional football. However, there’s much more to say on how TL represents team dynamics, psychological health, and gender in sports. But I’ll have get back to you on those topics—after consulting further with my 22K fan friends.

covid19 · eating · food · holidays · overeating

What Serving Love Can Look Like

Growing up, no one needed to explain to me what I already seemed to understand: Grandma cooked big meals (especially over the holidays) to show that she loved us, and we ate as much as we could to show her we loved her.

That dynamic worked for me a kid because the food was delicious and I didn’t care about things like portion sizing, calorie counting, bad cholesterol, etc. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the complex dynamics involved in eating food and showing affection—which also involves aspects of power, tradition, expectations, guilt, body rights, etc., as other FIFI bloggers have described.

And, as Tracy recently reminded us, how food is offered and received can create much stress in social situations. In turn, these dilemmas focus our attention away from being merry and grateful for eating together in the first place. This is especially true if we are able to feast with loved ones while the pandemic continues.

Soon I am hosting our family’s upcoming holiday meal. While others may be planning how to respond to offerings of food, I am thinking about how I can create a dinner in which everyone feels attended to but not unduly pressured. Here is what I am thinking:

Share the menu in advance, and ask for dish suggestions.

It’s no secret I am planning a menu in advance, so why not share it to let people know what’s for dinner? I’m not doing exotic food theatrics like a on-fire baked Alaska, so I will leave the surprises to the wrapped presents under the tree. I will try to seek favourite dish requests–and put extras on the side–to ensure everyone gets something that accommodates their dietary needs.

Make the traditionals

In one of my favourite Christmas movies, The Ref (1994), Caroline experiments with an off-beat Christmas dinner menu, serving (to her family’s horror and disgust) “roast suckling pig, fresh baked Kringlors in a honey-pecan dipping sauce, seven-day old lutefisk, and lamb gookins.”

While I might enjoy preparing elaborate dishes with strange ingredients, I know my family mostly likes to eat the basics: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Unless I plan on making guests uncomfortable (and eating 16 portions of 8-day old lutefisk afterwards), it’s more realistic to give them what I know they will enjoy.

Plan an outdoor stretch break

Not everyone likes to feel trapped in a place where they can only eat and drink, and I can’t see my family getting into a lively game of charades, so I will remind everyone to bring their warmies for a relaxed winter wonderland walk outside at some point. I will make available extra scarfs, and maybe some travel tea, so this activity will be inviting and comfortable.

Ask once, judge not

I will only ask folks if they want more food ONE TIME. I will not repeat my Grandma’s loving mantra, “Eat eat eat.” I will not take offence to food that is not touched or finished. I will remind myself that people choose what, how, and how much to eat for their own reasons that have nothing to do with my cooking.

I admit this one will be tough for me, but I will remember that paying less attention to other’s plates means I can focus on conversation and fun. (And if folks really don’t like the food, then they should be offering to host dinner next year).

Provide takeaways

My own habit is to overeat so food “doesn’t go to waste,” even if I don’t really want more. But I can avoid waste-guilt all around by making takeaway containers readily available, so folks can eat more when they want. (If I get my act together in time, I can get neat lidded dishes from a second-hand store.)

So, this for this holiday dinner–instead of focusing all of my energy on the food prep and on the eating habits of others–I plan on giving people information, choices, and a little optional exercise to let them know I love them. If they show up and seem to be having a good time, then I know that they love me.

This post is dedicated to my late grandmother, Margaret Stanski, who was a loving person and a wonderful cook.

covid19 · fitness

Learning About Curling

By Elan Paulson

For my whole life I knew nothing about the sport beyond that it resembled the shuffleboard table in my grandparents’ basement and it was a Winter Olympics sport (again). I hadn’t even seen the Canadian romantic comedy, Men with Brooms (2002), with Leslie Nielson.

Then, in 2020—pandemic year 1–I joined a curling club. I am not amazing at curling, but thanks to many supportive players I picked it up faster than I picked up soccer as an adult.

Now in my second season of curling, I’ve discovered that this sport is growing its inclusivity and fitness focus, yet remains rooted in etiquette and community. Let me tell you a little about what I’ve learned about curling!

Curling is for Many People

Curling is an olympic and paralympic sport, with medals for four-person women and men’s teams. Men and women can play and compete together in mixed leagues and on mixed doubles teams (two people instead of four), since finesse matters as much as strength.

Curling is also a recreational sport for youths, seniors, and everyone in between. Learn to curl clinics are put on annually by curling clubs, and online information for new curlers is widely available.

There are various support tools for all types of curlers. These “sticks” and “crutches” aid the release of the curling rock that travels down the 146 to 150 feet of ice, providing stability and balance for players. The supports also alleviate pressure on the knees and body, giving all kinds of bodies a chance to curl.

Screenshot of Google search for “curling sticks and crutches”

Curling associations, such as Curling Canada, encourage the sport’s accessibility. The Ontario Curling Council explains that wheelchair curling leagues and curling competitions are available for those who are non-ambulant or can only walk short distances. Canada boasts talented, award-winning visually impaired and wheelchair teams.

In terms of gender inclusivity, my teammate tells me that some larger clubs have open and LGBTQ+ leagues. More clubs are also drafting inclusion policies, showing that this once traditional and gender-siloed sport is striving to grow and change with the times.

Curling is in Many Places

Curling clubs have existed in Canada since 1807, with the first curling club located in Montreal. Today, you can find curling clubs throughout Canada, but more than half of these clubs are still located in small towns.

Sports and recreation foster not only healthy activity but also local community. Studies have shown that curling supports the health and wellness of rural women and older adults. I hear that many people grew up with curling in the family (so kids learn to play whether they want to or not).

In the country and the city, curling has a reputation for courtesy. League games are non-refereed. Curlers are supportive and unpretentious. (When you throw a rock really well, you celebrate by complimenting your sweepers.) It is customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks for the losing team after the game. (This tradition of sitting together post-game was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Fitness of Curling

Curling has a reputation as a sport for being more recreational than rigorous. However, the author of this article from The Cut describes how throwing and sweeping rocks over two hours led her to conclude curling is a good interval workout. One study that measured participant heart rates after sweeping suggests that fitness training can help avoid fatigue during curling. At the competitive level, where athletes curl 10 ends a game and play multiple games in a tournament, mental and physical training is now standard.

The media is increasingly hyping the athleticism of the curling, and paying more attention to the bodies of players. An NPR article from 2014 describes the need for curlers to be extremely fit, not just for the sport but for the tight uniforms. The fitness element of curling also got press when “Superwoman” curler Rachael Homan won curling titles while 8-months pregnant and then again just 3 weeks after delivery.

My Oura fitness tracker ring tells me I don’t yet get a high intensity workout from curling, but I only play one 8-end game once a week. Watching others, I’m pretty sure that I would be a stronger sweeper and have more controlled throws if I were in better shape. So I might pick up one of the books available on curling training and strategy, such as Fit to Curl (2016) or Curl to Win (2010).

Still Learning about Curling

Curling was going to be my “retirement sport”—in another 15 or 20 years. But without other regular indoor winter sports to keep me active during the COVID-19 pandemic, I advanced my timeline (not the retirement part, sadly). I’m glad I did. It’s been a physical and social activity that has had many benefits for me.

Thanks to my teammates and my league, I am eager to continue to learn more about this sport, which is in fact way more complex than grandparents’ basement shuffleboard. I am grateful to the St. Thomas Curling Club, which has gone to great lengths to adjust the rules and maintain the safety of its members during the pandemic.

If you curl, what brought you to the sport? If you don’t, would you like to try?

fitness · gadgets · self care · trackers

A Fitbit for your Finger

By Elan Paulson

A number of FIFI bloggers have discussed the merits and problems of fitness trackers. Wearable trackers help folks to monitor their exercise, but they also track, store, and potentially share private health data. These high tech gadgets are slick, but their wearers can focus on the numbers rather than on the feel of exercise, during and after. They digitally reward–but also pressure–building a life around 10,000 steps per day.

More and more people in my life have fitness trackers. I held out on purchasing a wrist one because of the above issues, and watches and bracelets irritate my skin and get in the way of my keyboard.

But when I heard about a 6-gram titanium OURA ring that tracks activity, sleep, and more, I caved. I don’t know how the many sensors works in this smart ring. I just know what’s happened so far for me since I got a Fitbit for my finger.

Going Dry for Better Sleep

I can sleep for hours and hours—anytime, anywhere, like a cat (or a sloth). It has been a source of pride for me, but since getting the Oura the ring’s app reports that I am consistently only getting half of the nightly recommended “deep sleep” levels. Not enough deep sleep can negatively affect memory, cell regeneration, and energy levels. So maybe I can sleep all the time because I don’t sleep as well as I could.

The Oura’s app gives advice when it tracks sub-optimal levels. It has been tested to provide relatively accurate sleet data. So, I am now following its advice by going without alcohol for a month (for the first time in my life, I will add) to see if this lifestyle change affects my sleep pattern for the better. 

More Housework for Staying Active

Oura reports on activity levels, activity frequency, and daily activity goals. Many folks who have compared trackers (sometimes coming out better, and sometimes coming out worse, and even compared Oura to itself). It’s not the best or the worst of the bunch.

My Oura stays most happy with me when I move often, even for bits at a time, and one of the easiest way to keep moving on a regular basis while I am working from home is to take 5 minutes stretch and housework breaks.

I have never (in my life) been a regular house cleaner, but here I am tidying tidying, every day.

Smaller Wearable for Game Play

After a beautiful time playing scrimmage over the summer, I’m back playing indoor rec soccer. At our game on Thursday our ref stopped the game to tell my teammate she had on “illegal equipment.” It was her wrist fitness tracker. She had to remove it before the game could resume. Slowly I put my hands on my hips, Oura out of sight, then when the whistle blew kept playing.

Later this season, we have all been told no jewelry. But, with some tape it stays safe and out of sight.

Oura and charging station
The wee USB charging station on which my Oura charges every 4 days for about 20 minutes.

Sensors for What I am Not Sensing

A month ago, for a few days, I inexplicably became incredibly sensitive and grumpy. For days, I just wanted to cry, rage, and sleep. No other specific physical symptoms to indicated I was sick. What the heck was wrong with me?

My Oura noticed that my temperature was consistently elevated. So then I noticed. I followed its advice went a little easier on myself, physically but also mentally. Then, whatever was going on with me passed, and so did the temperature spikes.

Overall

My last attempt at wearing a step tracker revealed I was more motivated by people than by numbers alone. There are still the dependency issues and data risks. But right now–with only a few months into having the Oura–I have an empty bar fridge, a clean house, illegal equipment I can hide, and another way to pay more attention to my emotional health.

I have the Generation 2 Oura ring from this Finnish company (of the same name). The new Generation 3 ring (available now!) comes with more and newer sensors, and new features, including period prediction. (Slick!) So, I might just be asking for the Gen 3 for Christmas.

Do you have a fitness tracker or an Oura ring? What are your experiences?

covid19 · fun · play · soccer · team sports

In Praise of Scrimmage (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

Have you played scrimmage, shinny, or pick up? Until this past summer, I had not (as for many years I lacked a team sport to play, as I guest blog about elsewhere). Friends, let me tell you that I think scrimmage is AWESOME. I didn’t realize how awesome until after the end of our short “season” these past few months.

If you already know scrimmage or pick up is awesome, this post will not be news to you. But still, read on to re-affirm what you and I now know together.

No Refs = Self-Regulation

In regular team games, a referee is there to make calls so no one else has to. But when you are self-reffing, everyone has to monitor their own potentially illegal moves. Obviously, this leads to more individual accountability during gameplay, but it got players talking to each other about the calls. One time I saw players stop to discuss what might have been a hand ball, and compare what they knew about the rules about hand balls, but then play happily resumed.

In reffed games you always want rulings in your team’s favour, but without refs everyone seems to take more responsibility to play fairly, and the talking creates both game understanding and player camaraderie.

Slower Pacing = Safer Play

When you’re in a traditional team game, everyone wants to hurry up and score. But in scrimmage everyone takes their time, sets up, passes more. One striker with a killer goal shot deliberately eased up when she came in to shoot (which was fortunate for me when I was in goal). The result of slower play seemed to be that everyone got more chances to touch the ball, yet folks didn’t get tired out.

Also, no injuries. In the half dozen games I played in, I think I was the only one to get a minor injury—because I overextend myself. Once I took cues from others about pacing, I eased up and could play the whole game without getting myself hurt.

Friends on Both Sides = No Losers

In regular games, things are pretty fixed: everyone on your team has their positions, sub rotations are often pre-set, and the point is to win the game. In scrimmage, there is much more fluidity and choice. People felt free to take a water break whenever they needed, even if their team was short-handed for a minute. Most everyone took turns in goal, unless someone was nursing an injury and wanted to play there longer. I spent a little time as a forward, where I learned that “give and go” passing is not a skill that is totally beyond me. I even scored a goal! 🙂

When friends are on both sides, the stakes were lower. Goals were scored (or not), efforts were congratulated—but no one kept score. Maybe there were no winners each week, but no one walked off the pitch on the losing side either.

Is Scrimmage for Everyone? 

As someone trained to look at stuff through the lens of feminist theory, I see many overlaps between the values for which many feminists strive and the kind of play that scrimmage affords. Why aren’t we playing more scrimmage? If feminism is for everyone, and certain aspects of scrimmage reflect the values of some feminisms, then is scrimmage for everyone too?

Three reasons why not all of us are playing more scrimmage:

  • Logistically, scrimmage only works up to a certain numbers limit, and someone has to volunteer to take the added responsibility to be a convenor. (One of our wonderful friends put the extra work in to make ours happen.)
  • Usually the fields, courts, and ices are perhaps usually spoken for by organized sports associations, so it’s only in these strange pandemic times that these spaces may be more available than usual.
  • There are probably plenty of skilled and competitive types for which scrimmage/pick up is not speedy or challenging enough. Some people thrive most when there is structure and competition.

So, maybe scrimmage isn’t for everyone all the time. But for me, as a late-to-the-sport rec soccer player, the less structure the better. Whether you get to play for fun each week with a long-time bestie or a sister, or make some new friends (as I have), scrimmage is WHERE IT’S AT.

Are you in praise scrimmage too? Why or why not?

blog · climbing · equipment · fun · Guest Post · nature

Don’t Fall Out of the Trees (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

I have blogged previously about group exercise adventures–winter hikes, fun runs, wall climbs, etc.–so it was only a matter of time until we ended up at an aerial adventure park. Set at a western Ontario ski hill forest, this treetop adventure has courses of increasing height and challenge in which participants climb ladders, cross wood and net bridges, and zip line from tree platform to platform.

Through some Wikipedia surfing I learned that aerial adventure courses were borne from military training-style ropes courses and alternative adventure education. However, most of today’s adventure parks are touristy fun that Wikipedia describes as requiring “neither climbing techniques nor special/specific physical fitness experience.”

Judging by our next-day muscle soreness and little bruises, there is at least some physical fitness required. But more than exercise, it was thrilling to hop across wobbly bridges, and stand high in the trees without falling out of them. The course didn’t require teamwork to complete obstacles, but we encouraged and cheered each other a lot.

Among my GoPro pictures, I found one of my handheld carabiners that the trainer had described as “our hands” while we were out on the course. This meant that we were to latch one or both carabiners onto within-reach “lifeline” cables throughout the entire course.

Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment
Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment.

Using a self-belay system in a tree top adventure was a little scary because we were responsible for our own safety. We received some initial supervised practice on a training course, but in the park it was up to us to keep ourselves attached to the steel cables.

Looking at the photo afterwards, I realized that being responsible for my own safety had given my mind something to pay attention to in the trees and on the ladders. Each step was a reminder–in order to move forward I literally had to put one latch in front of the other. The carabiners kept my brain focused on a safety system that wouldn’t allow me to fall, and the constant latching also distracted me from thinking too much about falling.

The above photo also made me realize that I have not always put “safety first” and foremost in my brain when I go to exercise. This is especially true with activities that I perceive as less risky, or when I feel I am more familiar with the risks. But, on the treetop adventure, it was precisely because I was forced to put my safety first in a potentially dangerous situation that I confidently enjoyed the activity all the more (or, I suppose, experienced paralyzing fear all the less).

There is always risk in exercise, which is not an inherently bad thing. But, no matter how strange or familiar the activity may be, we are our own self-safety systems. Safety can create fun. In the future, I think that reminding myself of that fact when I go to exercise will be a good thing.

Elan with helmet, harness, and belay
Elan with helmet, harness, belay, and smile.

covid19 · Dancing · fitness

(Remote) Dark Dancing (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

“Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help.”

“Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen

After months of being house-bound due to the COVID19 pandemic, folks may be searching for new ways to break up the monotony of their indoor exercise routines. Dark dancing has been there all along, just waiting to be discovered.

Chorophobia is the fear of dancing, which stems from feeling judged as other watch us move our bodies, and it is apparently more common than people think. In the video documentary, Fear of Dancing (2020), director Michael Allcock talks about how chorophobia is something we grow into as we get older.

The documentary features a Toronto-based group whose members “meet once a week to dance together in a darkly lit room.” During the pandemic, some of these dark dancers moved from in-person twilit sessions to dancing together in the dark…in their own homes.

On Monday nights, the Dark Dancing TO DJ sends a Zoom meeting or a Youtube stream link to the group. Requests may be taken in advance; a playlist is made. Then everybody logs on around the same time and just dances to the curated music–together yet apart–for a little over an hour.

cat in front of two computer screens that are lit up by a background display
Pets can see you dark dancing. They don’t count.

I’ve been twice now. One week they used Zoom, and I turned on my camera but draped fabric over the camera for privacy. The next week, with the Youtube stream, there was no “room” to log into. Both times I did turn dance in the mostly dark…for authenticity.

For exercise, I find it fun. I can’t fail to score points like I do with Just Dance, and I won’t forget the choreography like I do in a live or recorded dance class. I get to wear comfortable clothes and have the whole floor to myself (except maybe other than my cat, Theo). And I hear music that I would never find on my own.

shadow of a woman on a door
Dancing with myself…

Both me and another dark dancer agreed that we prefer dark dancing in Zoom to the Youtube stream. You can’t see anyone either way, but there’s something about being with other people dark dancing, even if it’s only in a virtual room.

In addition to Dark Dancing TO, there are other social media groups and streaming sites that provide music and live DJs from around the world for listening and dancing. If you have chorophobia, or are just looking something different, this may be it!

Have you tried dark dancing? What do you think?

covid19 · fitness · fun · Guest Post · hiking · temperature and exercise · winter

So Many Reasons to Hike with Friends this Winter (Guest Post)

By Elan P

As the days of winter get shorter and colder, we begin shifting our thoughts and habits to account for the winter. Tracy I , Nicole P , and Sam B have all blogged on winter exercise and how they love it, have grown to love it, or have chosen to love it (respectively). 

Of course, there is an added layer of challenge this year, as catherine w describes, when we must exercise during a pandemic. Many bloggers in the FIFI community emphasize how maintaining physical health also supports mental health during COVID-19 isolation.

Over the past few years I’ve posted about group exercise in a summer fun run and winter fun run. In her post, Catherine invited FIFI readers to share our winter pandemic plans: mine will be regular winter hiking with friends.

Just starting out on the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

Using a social media chat channel, each week those available agree on a 2 to 5 hour hiking route in SW Ontario, of easy to moderate difficulty, then on weekend mornings we just get up and go. If we carpool together, we wear masks. We keep track of our journeys with GPS, pictures, and good memories. Only a few times so far have we canceled due to poor weather conditions.

I asked this group how likely they are to continue hiking outdoors together this winter. Here is what some of them said:

  • I’m very likely to continue group hiking this winter. Why? It’s fresh air. It’s exercise. It’s community with amazing, diverse women who inspire and support one another. It clears my mind, works my body, and fills my heart. (Kimi)
  • As a single person during covid, it’s even more important for me to keep contact with my friends doing what we love, which is being outside being active. It’s all about mental health check-ins. (Sarah)
  • Our small hiking group this summer allowed us a sense of normalcy during a mentally and physically challenging pandemic. Hiking provided the perfect outlet for our need to stay safe and stay connected. I look forward to continuing our hikes this winter as COVID cases continue to rise and our fears and anxieties fester. Fresh air, friends and physical fitness are the remedies that will get us through this darker than usual winter. (Sheila)
  • Hiking has become a regular component of our self-care, especially since Covid. Everyone in our hiking group decided that we need to make time for this self-care ritual. For me, when I immerse myself in nature, combined with the methodical pace of hiking, I am soothed. And as a group, we are sharing this experience. Often we find ways to avoid, replace, or distract us from self-care. The hiking group has kept us all accountable and motivated to keep it a priority. We will continue even in tougher weather as part of our commitment. Self-care is non-negotiable. And snow and cold add a layer of physical challenge. (Marnie)
  • I am likely to continue group hiking over the winter because I’ve found a great group of like minded women who have a desire to challenge themselves to get outdoors, stay in shape and enjoy a beer. (Julie)

Exercise. Support. Clarity. Check-ins. Safety. Normalcy. Accountability. Motivation. Challenge. Sharing experiences. Self-care (which for our group usually includes enjoying a beer during or after the hike). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Friends hike the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

One person isn’t joining us for an upcoming hike due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak at her workplace. Here’s what she said:

  • I enjoy doing sports that are social. Hiking in this respect is social, and as Sarah said, for our mental well being this is so important! It might also be the laughing that happens is also food for the soul. Hiking is in the outdoors, and you don’t touch things, so the risk of spread is super low as long as people are hiking a bit apart. I feel our group has been smart and conscientious of our social distancing, while being able to enjoy and look forward to outdoor activities. Still, I will continue group hiking after this gets resolved at work. I don’t want to cause anyone stress.

Even when we hike outdoors together, we can’t forget to be vigilant about staying safe.

So, if you’ve been practicing physical distancing and you’re not showing signs of illness, grab a few friends (well, don’t grab them) and head outside for a winter hike. There are so many good reasons to do it. If you’re looking for a new crew, there are meetup.com hiking groups available. Choose a group with clear safety practices that follow local health guidelines.

A woman walks across a small wooden slat bridge in the forest with leaves on the ground
Marnie M. hikes the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)