I wrote on Saturday about #coronavirustime, and my deep deep fatigue. Apparently anxiety and being with intense emotion take up a lot of energy. Who knew? Well, some people did. I just haven’t experienced this particular combination of weltschmertz and personal disruption before. I’ve been sad and upset and traumatized by things happening in the world, and I’ve had my life upended before, but never both at the same time. It’s a lot. And it turns out, my version of this kind of anxiety is for my body to shut down, like an old fashioned mantle clock that no one remembered to wind.
These retro metaphors keep coming up for me — that’s part of the time-out-of-time feeling. Is this 1918? The 30s? I keep making my own bread and thinking of new uses for beans, so is it the 1940s? Or some unwritten future where a teenage girl is going to have to save the world?
ANYWAY. Fitness. As I wrote on Saturday, I’m having a hard time feeling motivated to move my body, even with allllll the online options out there, and the sunshine beckoning. Several of you commented you are having the same experience — and feeling bad about not being able to adjust.
Well, this is an unprecedented time in our world. Most of my work disappeared overnight. I stood in line today to buy groceries at two different stores, with limits on the number of people able to go in to peer at the empty canned goods and toilet paper aisles. Things are… disorienting. It’s completely normal for our bodies to be mirroring our emotions. We need to take care of our mental health — with some good resources here. And for some of us — including me — that means reframing my physical fitness as being primarily right now about my mental and emotional wellbeing.
As I wrote the other day, I can’t seem to get motivated to… do.. much. But I do feel better — if still exhausted! — if I manage to do something. So what is making that possible? First, I’m better at moving my body if I have a timing around it — especially if I make a plan to meet someone for a walk or a hike or bike ride (observing all the protocols — don’t be dumb and get the parks closed for everyone, people!).
I am also doing much better with the actual “working out” by doing real-time small group classes with my regular (excellent) trainer by zoom. We are paying Alex a small fee for two weeks access to daily classes. I know there are free ones out there, but I believe in supporting small and fledgling businesses through this time — and a designed-for-us personal class is exactly what I need right now. Different every day, reflecting where we are right now, and supportive and encouraging.
The sense of community around this — all of us on isolation or social distancing in our homes, doing this together — is soothing. It’s a light and reassuring connection when so many conversations are intense right now. We laugh, we wave, we sweat. People’s kids and cats interrupt. Alex modifies for each of us as we need.
More than the community, though, there’s something about the resourcefulness of this that feels like it’s teaching me something I need right now. Like making homemade bread, I need to feel competent in unfamiliar ways. We need to mcgyver our lives — in new ways. Today — assuming no one has home gym equipment — Alex designed a workout, part of which included two lulu bags filled with books and wine bottles instead of dumbbells.
I couldn’t imagine trying to lift an actual barbell right now. Deadlifting or back squats seem to belong to another type of person altogether — “but that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead,” to retrieve a quote from my long ago undergrad in English. There’s something fitting about working out by moving a towel around on a slippery floor with our feet, doing step ups on a chair, lifting bags of books. It’s very RIGHT NOW. “If this is too much, take some things out of your bags,” enjoined Alex as we moved from curls to flies.
That’s how I feel right now. I’m lifting unfamiliar things, every minute, and I need to take some things out of my bags. Integrating this literal metaphor into my workouts is reassuring me that I can adjust. I’m not in it alone. We’re all looking for community. And we’ll all adjust.
The cats, meanwhile, are delighted that I’m home all the time.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is breathing with all of you.
This post is late. Because I’m on coronavirus time.
This is a time zone that seems to hover above clock time, first-day-of-spring time, days of the week. My body is inhabiting some zone where my energy is fed and sapped by a kind of invisible anxiety — I have food, no one in my personal life is sick, I always work at home, so this shouldn’t be “that different.” But, everything IS different because we don’t know what to expect from moment to moment. And that is showing up for me as powerful, irresistible fatigue.
I’ve been coaching people throughout this week about how they’re navigating this time, and everyone is in a surreal space, in a tango between anxiety, loss of control, fear of scarcity, and knowing they have resources but having a hard time using them.
I’m the same — I have all the resources, for working at home, working out at home, connecting with people I care about, feeding the sense of community in the building I live in, friends close enough I can walk with and sustain social distancing norms. I have cats to cuddle. But I’m having a hard time *doing* anything. I haven’t touched Yoga with Adriene. I haven’t run since Wednesday and I had to force myself out. My art-making supplies are sitting out, untouched. Even though I’m usually pretty tidy, my vacuum has been in the middle of my living room for a week, there are little piles of laundry everywhere, my dishes fill my counter, and a new hallway rug sits rolled up on a bare floor. I am pretty good at “being with” what is happening — I can name it, I can navigate my scarcity fears — but I can’t seem to DO anything.
How are you managing? What’s making this surreal time manageable for you?
One thing that’s helping is making time dates to do things. I did a personal training session with the amazing Alex on Thursday, which helped. I have met a couple of friends for walks, touching elbows through our coats. I’m about to do one of the Amazing Alex’s online classes, and then meet Kim for a hike. Getting out of the inside of my head.
What about you? What is giving shape to your days? How are you finding grounding?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is living in a kind of feral way in Toronto.
We’re in the middle of a once-in-a-generation, unprecedented watershed moment in the world. We won’t know the global paradigm shifts this will spawn for a while yet — as my sister said, “the earth seems to be saying ‘if you won’t reduce green house gasses, I’ll do it for you'” — but the vast majority of us are having some pretty massive shifts in our reality and day to day lives already. One of the most immediate is shifting our distributed, active lives to our homes — with a ton of uncertainty and anxiety about making that work for us.
We’ve already covered “working out at home” fairly extensively on the blog, and I expect that will continue to happen as the weeks go on. I’m going to change gears today a little bit and talk about working at home. Even though this isn’t technically about “fitness,” I’m going to describe what I’ve figured out over time that lets me balance productivity and wellness. (This image is my cat Georgia, who spends a lot of time monitoring my computer usage).
I’m in the unusual position where I’ve worked at home the vast majority of my adult life. I’ve been self-employed since 1995, doing various evolutions of consulting work, for the past 12 years focused on strategy development and change leadership in health care and higher education. I also do a lot of teaching and coaching. This means that my work is split between in-person meetings on client sites, facilitating large groups and working in my home office. In that 25 years, I’ve figured out a formula that works for me. I asked people what questions they have that I might be able to offer some insight on, based on my experience.
I want to make a bit of a disclaimer at the front end that I offer this in the spirit of “your mileage may vary” — since my way of doing this differs a fair bit from most of the recommendations out there, which tend to have an overall message of “recreate the illusion that you are doing something completely separate from your homelife.” Most “expert” recommendations include things like: keep a strict schedule to focus solely on work, dress like you’re going to work, create starting and ending rituals, etc. That’s not entirely how I do it — but as you’ll see, there’s some intentionality and meta-structure behind what I do. Now to the questions. Some of my answers will refer to the Non-Pandemic Time, when we could freely go in and out of our houses — I’ve adapted some, and of course, you can adapt as appropriate for your current situation.
Do you keep regular business hours?
This is one of those topics where the “productivity experts” usually recommend structuring your day as though you are going into an external workplace, with clear start/finish hours, keeping to your schedule, dressing for work, etc.
Well, I don’t really do any of that. And my mental picture of the people making the recommendation is either of journalists writing on their laptops in their beds, dipping their hands into bags of doritos and wiping them on their sheets while writing about Meticulous Boundaries, or ladies in pristine corporate offices imagining that this is what they would need if they were to work at home.
Here’s the thing: I know how much time my work takes. I know I need to do my work. So I start at a reasonable hour and finish at a reasonable hour, but my blend of productivity and wellness means that sometimes I do things before I start working, ranging from laundry to calling my mother to going to the gym, and I always conjure up good coffee and a decent breakfast, and usually bring them to my desk to signal the start of my work day.
I have loose start and end times, mostly dictated by a combination of phone and zoom meetings, deadlines and what feels like a reasonable amount of work for one day. I am usually at my desk by 830 or so, earlier if I have something I want to churn something out quickly or an early call, a little later if I go to the gym, and I “finish” most days sometime between 5 and 6. In normal times, the end of my day is often marked by “which fitness class do I want to go to before dinner?” Now it’s “I should get outside before dinner.”
Sometimes — less than once a week, maybe 3x a month — I have something to write that didn’t get done during the day, and I am back at my desk from about 7 to 9 pm. And I have a pretty big job, so on about half of the Sundays, I do a couple of hours of work, mostly to make sure I’m ready for the week to come.
So mostly, I “keep” more or less regular hours — but without being rigid about it. I rely on a combination of bullet journal lists, my calendar, our project manager and my intuitive sense of what’s due, what’s pressing, and what MUST be done today to shift around my priorities throughout the day.
Do you dress for work?
Resoundingly — no. No way, never.
This is one of those places where the “experts” and I differ — although it may be different for YOU, I see no reason whatsoever to act as though I’m heading into an office building when I’m sitting in my home office surrounded by cats. (Not to mention that my work clothes would just end up covered in cat hair).
I do get dressed — I don’t usually shower until after I work out, but I get up and change out of jammies into workout gear or sweats. I’m up and dressed, just not dressed “for work.” I’m happier and more creative and more productive when I’m comfortable, and over 25 years of doing this, I’ve figured out how to put my head into my work because my work interests me, or because I have email or slack messages to respond to, or because I have a meeting coming up to prepare for, or a phone call right now.
I know that dressing for work is, for some people, a physical manifestation of a shift in reality from “home” self to “work” self. For me, brushing my teeth, washing my face and getting changed does that.
And of course, if I have a video call, I make my top self presentable. I’ve had to learn to put video calls in my calendar in a separate colour so I’m not running around looking for a bra at the last minute. (Mindy Kaling posted this excellent image on IG of herself in the “zoom mullet” as I think of it — business on the top, jammies on the bottom).
Designated space is really important
What about managing work time when you don’t live alone? How do you keep others from interrupting you (especially if you do quiet work)?
Having designated work space has turned out to be far far more important to me than any of the other structures. I have a big imac (desktop) that I use only for work (laptops are for streaming tv), and a home office (which is always where I keep my clothes, art supplies and pullout couch). If you don’t have the luxury of a home office with a door (cat infested or not), try to pick a place that is your “work” space, and let anyone else in your environment know that you need to be left alone when you’re in that place. Having a designated space is, for me, a mental signal to focus, and — if like so many people, you are not only working at home unexpectedly, your house is full of others — it can become a signal to leave you alone.
I live alone (apart from the cats, who are masterful intruders), but I’ve toted my work around to a lot of other environments over the past decades, and I know a lot of people who are trying to juggle kids, family members and others in their space. In my experience, the biggest issue is people continually interrupting because it doesn’t look to them like you are “working.” Or they don’t understand that a quick question can destroy your train of thought.
My best advice on this one is to get people together at a time when you’re not actually working and lay it out — “when I’m at my desk/the dining room table/ the kitchen counter, I’m working, even if it looks like I’m looking at facebook or something — I’m thinking. I need to not be interrupted until I stand up.”
Carefully selected noise can also be your friend here. I play CBC radio all day while I’m working, tuning in and out to the words as I shift in and out of thought. For some people, white noise is helpful; for others, it isn’t. If you are managing others in your space, try using headphones, either for white noise, or as a signal not to interrupt you. (Or be creative — “don’t interrupt me when I’m wearing this funny hat”). What I have also learned is to not reward the interrupters — pretend you don’t hear them, or give them something very unsatisfying like a long pause and a confused, what, sorry, I was thinking.
I know this has limited effectiveness with bored children, but keep trying. I feel you.
Do you host meetings at your home office?
Well not right now, for sure, but for the most part, no. I do invite the kinds of colleagues who are also friends over occasionally for a retreat type meeting, and I do a little in-person coaching in my living room, but mostly, hosting clients at home would require me to pay more attention to tidying and professionalizing my space than I want to. (I even use a virtual background some of the time on zoom, implying that my home office has a lot more design flair than the cat-bed strewn, laundry-piled place it really is).
What do you do about breaks? What do you do about meals? How much flexibility do you allow yourself in your schedule?
The person who asked about breaks also said “like obvs. don’t do housework, but do you deliberately take breaks?”
Here’s my dirty little secret: I DO take breaks, and I do all sorts of things in those breaks: housework, yoga, short runs, crossfit, spinning, short errands (I can walk to the pharmacy or food shop). Sometimes I even take NAPS.
For me, the questions about flexibility, breaks, etc. mirror the same need to structure your day around work. My approach to this is to get a feel for how much work I have to fill a day (as though I’m literally weighing it), and then keep mentally weighing that during the day to decide if I have the space to leave my desk for more than 10 minutes or so. (Again, bullet journal lists are helpful here).
Obviously, if I have a major deadline, or a pile of phone meetings, or more to do than I can imagine doing, I’m not swanning off to spinning mid-day. But if I can mentally allocate the time — if I take an hour off for cross-fit at noon that might mean working until 7 to get x and y done, but that’s okay — I do it. And that tends to make me more productive when I am at my desk.
What I’ve learned is that when I’m not interacting with other people real time in calls or slack, I need a rhythm that is a bit ping-pongy. I work in an intense burst, then I take a brief break, then back into the intense burst. Most of the time, if I’m trying to write something, I manage my time with the pomodoro method : a set focused work time, with brief planned breaks. What works for me is that I set a timer for 25 minutes, during which I close my email, windows on my browser, etc, focus hard, then when the timer pings, pop up for 5 minutes to do one small useful non-work activity. Usually this is how I load or empty the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry, make lunch, take out the recycling, clean the cat boxes, etc. This is also when I do things like cruise through social media or answer texts. Sometimes if I’m really being productive, I reset the timer without getting up, but mostly, this popping up every half an hour to do a useful thing means that I get my work done and leave my desk at the end of the day to a reasonably tidy house.
I include meal prep in these little breaks, but I mostly eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. Again, your mileage may vary on this.
Do you co-work/meet other people to work together?
No. I know this is something a lot of people want and need, for many reasons, but it’s never worked for me. Getting into my productivity mindset means that I can’t switch *interaction* gears mid-day. I can take quick text or social media breaks, but actual human contact for non-work purposes tends to interrupt my train of thought. And even if it felt socially accountable to leave the house right now (which it does not), the only reason I can do all of the things that give me flexibility through my day (an organic approach to housework, errands and working out) is because I don’t add travel time or chit chat time. I know a lot of people who have and need regular work or writing “dates” (even virtual), but for me, I hoard time in a pretty miserly way, and to keep my work days a reasonable length, and to integrate working out, I don’t do anything social during the day, ever. I almost never meet people for breakfast or lunch, but if I need to, I tack it onto a time when I’m already out at a meeting. My major principle is “never add unnecessary commute time.”
What motivates you to get out of bed? How do you handle emotions? I go through boom/bust cycles in the day and get anxious if my routine is interrupted.
This is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? How do we stay grounded when everything we take for granted about our purpose, our routine, our sense of meaning is upended, and strung into a zone of severe uncertainty?
Right now, our anxiety is at its highest — everything has changed, and it keeps changing, and we don’t know when it will stop, and for most of us the things we need to do like social distancing are about protecting others, so it makes it even more surreal. And the initial nervous excitement of “what is going to HAPPEN?” has faded into dull anxiety.
On this one I can only talk about what motivates me to get up. It’s easy, of course, if I have an early meeting. But if I don’t, the first thing I do is call my mother most mornings. Right now, this is even more important, because she’s an at risk person who can’t go to the pool or see her friends, and I want to check in. And then once I’m up, I check in with some of the other important people in my life. I drink my coffee and sit at my desk, and start to remember the things that are important to me. Right now, this is connection. Caring for each other. Supporting each other in our anxiety. Using this time to reflect on what’s most essential.
If I were coaching someone who was experiencing anxiety at the disruption of routine, I’d suggest they explore their greater sense of purpose — beyond the way it’s usually employed in their occupation. Like, if you are a teacher who suddenly can’t teach (true for many of the people in my life), reflect on what you are able to create in your teaching relationships that matter, and how can those values be brought to life right now in a different way? Can you help parents with a little at-home curriculum design?Can you put some purpose into your day by phoning people who are alone and could use a friendly voice, can you be a shoulder, can you write to someone you have been wanting to mend something with, can you participate in “caremongering” and be of service in your community?
Most of my work has been postponed or canceled, because it’s “non-essential” during this time. One of the ways I’m coping with that to offer some pro-bono coaching hours to people who were experiencing disorientation and anxiety. I find that helping people define their values in this time helps me ground myself.
These are really surreal times, and our anxiety and uncertainty is showing up in different ways. And, paradoxically, this time of social distancing can also create opportunities to connect. And keep moving with our work and purpose. We are all in this together.
You got this.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works from home in Toronto.
Ankle mobility. Dr Em’s diagnosis and initial therapeutic advice was that the injury that seemed to come from skipping (and before that, loaded front squats) actually stemmed from poor ankle mobility. (This was not the first time I have been tripped up by my ankle mobility). So my first exercises (her recos) were for ankle flexion.
ankle mobilization that I can’t find online: kneel on a mat (or the floor) with one foot on the floor, the other kneeling; move the angled foot squatting, knee over toes, keeping your foot on the floor, and using your hand and body weight to increase your range of motion. make sure you are tracking the knee in alignment over the toes.
slow squats, loosely holding TRX for balance, practicing that same alignment and range of motion, and recruiting your glutes and hamstrings as you come up; if you can feel engagement in your inner thighs and core, you are shifting the pattern
The rest of this is from Alex; it’s been super super helpful to me — along with her encouragement and support.
Before anything else, start with one set of 6-8 SLOW body weight air squats. Check in with yourself and perform the following self-assessment:
How tight does each hip feel from 0-10?
How tight do my hamstrings and inner thighs feel from 0-10?
How tight or stuck do my ankles feel from 0-10?
After this self-assessment, complete the following sequence on ONE side of the body (ideally the tighter feeling side):
A) KB hip flexor smashing- lying on your front, the handle of the KB will “sink into” your abdomen, just above the hip bone. Play with the angle as needed, spending more time on any “radiating” or particularly sore spots.
(Editorial: see that look on my face? this is super painful. It is also super super super effective).
B) KB hip adductor smashing- lying on your side, drape your top leg over the handle of the KB. Keep the angle of the KB handle perpendicular to the inner thigh, and start with the handle as close to the upper thigh as possible. Extend the leg fully and then bend at the knee, keeping as much weight on the handle as you will allow. Gradually shift the handle down your leg, completing a few flex and extensions at each point until the KB is just above the knee.
C) KB calf smash- sitting on the floor, place one calf on top of the KB handle, starting with the handle just above the Achilles’ tendon, or a few inches above your foot. Similar to the smashes above, place as much weight as you can handle onto the KB and slowly roll your ankle around (full circles, flex and extend the foot, and roll the leg side to side). Gradually shift the KB further up your calve, repeating these motions every few inches. Spend more time on particularly sore areas as needed.
When you are done these three mobility exercises, re-do your body weight squat assessment. Do you notice any changes? Where do you feel the biggest changes?
Complete the other side of the body, then reassess your squats one more time.
After these mobilization exercise, Alex has given me a menu of stretches, including lunge and twist, banded glute bridges, inchworm/downward dog, and banded side steps — followed by activation for whatever movement I am going to do.
After two weeks of focusing on this repair work, I’m back to almost normal. In my lower back, anyway. I do have a sore throat, cough, headache and slight fever.
We live in interesting times.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying not to touch her face in Toronto.
“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” — Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor in 1978 (and a follow up about HIV a decade later), arguing that our way of talking about illness (her primary example was cancer) demonizes our relationship with our bodies, positions us as victims and paralyses us from making thoughtful and informed choices.
Sontag keeps coming up for me as we navigate the world of a potential pandemic. Most of the people in my world — and at this moment, all of the blog authors — are in the kingdom of the well. We are (mostly) not immuno-compromised, financially sound, and have access to functioning healthcare. But the all-pervasive, constant flood of updates about covid19 has located us metaphorically in the kingdom of the sick. And this is causing some serious paradox and disorientation for me.
Quick note: I’m of two minds about writing this post. Like everyone I know, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the whole topic, and would actually just like to think and write about enjoying handstand practice and whether ice cream is a good idea or not. On the other hand, NOT talking about it feels like I’m trying to enjoy a peaceful bike ride while pretending there’s no pack of dogs howling around me. Everything seems to get mediated back to this topic — my work is up in the air, so I’ve had to change plans for to travel in May; I work in healthcare (though I’m not a clinician or a scientist), so every work conversation comes back to screening, or whether there are enough masks, or meetings that are postponed for “pandemic planning.” Friends in other parts of the world (Italy, Seattle) are experiencing shut downs, being asked to work from home, etc. Everyone is trying to find good answers in the face of high uncertainty.
The very purpose of this blog is to foster a lifelong inquiry into what it means to have a feminist relationship with our bodies, with fitness and with health. And I keep finding myself critiquing the discourse around covid19 and my own response to it from my foundational lens of intersectional feminism. So here are a few of my encounters and my response.
My first encounter: stigma and racism. A couple of weeks ago, when most of the cases were still located in Wuhan, a friend posted on social media about “coughing while Asian,” describing an incident on public transit where she’d been stonily glared at while coughing into her scarf. I was unsettled — though I guess not surprised — when I watched a dozen people pop into her feed to tell her that wasn’t fair because she was “clearly Canadian” and didn’t look like she’d just come from China. Right, good Asians (assimilated, whatever that means?) and bad Asians (what even is that?). Time for an allyship moment in the comments section.
My second encounter: a more complicated exploration of the feminist stance on economic impact. I was talking to a friend who noted that she had canceled a planned workout class because she had cold symptoms; the gym responded that cancellations are subject to forfeiting the class fee. “Shouldn’t they be encouraging people to stay home if they feel sick?”, she wondered.
As a general stance, of course this makes sense — we should be encouraging people to stay home if they’re sick, advocate for paid sick leave, and, if we live in a part of the world without funded healthcare, waive the fees for testing and treatment of coronavirus and other similar illnesses. So far so good. But how does this theoretical stance play out when the person you are asking to bear the cost is a small business owner, like an independent gym? And what are the ethical implications if someone chooses to take advantage of a virus-spawned discount, like cheap flights? And do those ethics change if this is a person for whom this presents a rarely affordable opportunity to travel?
My third area of musing: empowerment and choice. This is the biggest one for me. The essence of what we are all engaged in in this community is that in our relationships with our bodies, we are self-defining what strength means to us, what powerful means to us, what fit means to us. We critique dominant discourse about weight, about beauty standards, about gender, about aging, about cultural expectations. We are developing a new and agile vocabulary around personal choice-making.
And yet, I’ve noticed a pressure in the public discourse around covid19 to take blanket stances about how other people should behave. (Again: locating us all in the kingdom of the ill). Of course — and I will repeat this multiple times — if you are in a place with an outbreak and you are asked by public health authorities to stay home or avoid gatherings, you should do that. But if you are not, that blanket rule doesn’t apply.
It’s true that “social distancing” — limiting movement and large gatherings — is one of the primary means of containing a highly transmittable illness. And as ethical and accountable members of our communities, if we are asked to stay home, we should. But if we don’t have personal risk, and if the public health voices are asking us to be thoughtful, we shouldn’t be making those decisions for other people.
In my world, one of the biggest discussions is about traveling, with many voices suggesting that the ethical thing to do right now would be to limit travel. For me, it’s an important thing to consider — but not a position I want to take on behalf of other people. Again, awareness of my privilege. For some people (like me), travel is a common experience — for others, it’s something to plan for years for. I have yet another friend with an upcoming honeymoon, a holiday she’s looked forward to and saved for for years. People have said to her “you should cancel your plans.” This stance means they’re not seeing her a person, but as a disease vector. Which, right now, she is not. As I write this, we have zero community-based incidents of covid19 transmission in Canada. Her plans are not to go to any of the places currently experiencing a significant outbreak.
This will possibly change, but at the moment, any risk related to my friend is purely theoretical. The official stance from public health voices in Canada right now is that the biggest concern about travel is being disrupted and possibly quarantined — not about contracting the virus. So doesn’t that come right back to thoughtful personal choice?
Of course we need to be informed and cautious — we need to track the emerging science, we need to speak up in the face of racism and stigma, we need to be thoughtful about the economic impact of global and local disruption, and we need to support the public health system and response that limits the spread. We need to make our own informed choices about travel, and basketball games, and staying home if we feel ill. We should practice self-care if we need to limit our exposure to the barrage of info. And most of all, we need to be kind to each other — not to let our own anxiety shut down other people’s processes of making personal, informed choices.
Uncertainty is hard, and we want rules. That’s natural. But the vast majority of us are actually living in the land of the well. And we need to make our own thoughtful, informed choices about how we enact that wellness at this point in history.
And of course, wash your damned hands. But that’s just good practice any time.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede; next week she’ll be back to writing about her SI joint and exploring tricep ring dips.
Zipping around this track turned me into a joyful 10 year old. The ice was a little mushy in the unnaturally warm February day, the track only took about five minutes to skate completely around, and I was wearing clunky, too-big rented skates — but I was deeply joyful.
Two weeks ago, I skated on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa with my family, all of us delighting that my 15 year old niece’s first real job is as a maker of Beavertails in the iconic hut right on the canal. My youngest sister pushed my 3 year old nephew in his stroller — being a Canadian, he CAN skate, but he was tired. The rest of us just tootled along, cold air fresh on our faces.
I am trying to understand what it is about skating outside that gives me so much joy — especially when I never make any attempt to skate in my own city. Going around a rink, inside or out, doesn’t hold a lot of appeal — it just makes me imagine cold and sore feet. And I don’t really have the perfect skating clothes. (And my skates live in Ottawa, at my sister’s, along with my cross country skis. Although it’s a very Canadian thing to say “hey there are some skates in the basement that may fit you — try those.”)
So why is skating around outside so appealing? Well, first, I’m a pretty strong skater, and a speed skater in my fantasy life, and it’s fun to do things that I feel good at.
Skating under the trees, in the sun, is elemental — look at me being at one with the wilderness!
Skating is unstructured movement, with no time goals, or strava segments, or requirements — you skate to the point where you are kind of tired, and then you stop.
Even though my figure skating days were pretty rudimentary, skating has that flow of movement that feels like dancing, and that’s a very joyful sensation.
But more than any of this — I realized — I love the *sound* of skating. I absolutely love the scratch of blades on ice, the skritch of a sudden stop, the whoosh of the soft wind, the flow. Blades on ice is one of my most satisfying ASMR-like sounds — followed quickly by the sound of an ambient hockey game, with the sounds of wood striking the puck, puck thwacking the boards added to the scratching of blades.
(It turns out I’m not alone in this — you can find several ASMR channels devoted to blades on ice — skating inside, skating outside with wind, hockey with and without words).
All of this made me wonder about the sensory aspects of physical movement that we don’t pay a lot of attention to. I have written a lot about the pleasure I take in music while running, spinning or doing cross-fit — but I don’t think I’ve really gone deep into the role of the sensory pleasure I take in doing these things.
But when I pause and immerse myself in sense memory? I feel the CLICK that happens when bike shoe goes into pedal and I fuse into my bike frame.
I shudder at the silken second skin of my favourite lululemon workout tights fabric as they smooth over my calves.
I feel the secure sensation of tucking my boobs into a perfectly fitting, smooth-fabric workout bra.
I can conjure up the softness of the pale warmth of sun on my skin on a winter day, the pure flame of summer sun promising eternal warmth to my bare shoulders.
I can sense the knobby texture of an unpaved running path under perfectly fitting shoes, and the smoothness of my favourite yoga mat under my bare feet.
I hear the flick sound of a perfectly dipped canoe paddle as it tangoes with the water, the cinnamon lemon smell of a killaloe sunrise beavertail on the Canal.
Sensory aspects of moving my body that have nothing to do with performance, exertion or outcomes. Just the joy of being with the incidental things that come along with moving. The things we don’t notice that shape presence in our bodies.
What about you? What are the incidental sensory aspects of moving your body that give you delight?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and should apparently skate more.
As anyone who has experienced joint or muscular crankiness knows, your first instinct is to lie on the ground demanding that people bring you frozen grapes. And then to put those grapes on the part that hurts, sitting still until everything eases up. Or seizes up.
I did that for half a day. Then I did a whole bunch of yoga and stretching and the things my chiropractor told me to do. I was such a good client she made a video of me doing TRX squats, ferociously tracking my knee over my toes to set new patterns.
That’s the thing: a lot of the time, if you do some sort of soft tissue damage, it’s not the thing you hurt that’s the problem. It’s the result of some other pattern of all those interrelated tissues. With me, it all began with poor ankle mobility, which goes WAAAAY back to 1999 when I trained for a marathon too quickly after a sprained ankle.
So my new mission: mobilize my ankle, learn to squat with the force of rotating my inner thighs, re-engage in form.
Over the week, I did some yoga, some more stretching and some light running. And then by the time I had personal training a week later, I was ready to let Alex boss me around again.
She started with some very intense hip and leg mobility, squishing every painful fascia and adhesion and overused muscle one by one against the hard handle of a kettlebell.
A friend wandered by when I was in that position and later said, “you looked like you were in so much pain I was ready to push her to the ground at your signal.”
The thing is, it did hurt like hell. But then it all released. And I had the good endorphins, and I was sweating. And 15 minutes later, I was doing this.
Wall walks give me a lot of pleasure. And for the whole day, my body was looser and calm and whole. No pain at all.
Coincidentally, another friend posted on facebook this week that she had hurt her back shoveling snow. Her feed was immediately flooded with injunctions to rest, drink tea, put her feet up.
“No resting!” I thought. “Motion is lotion!”
Then I started wondering what the actual evidence was for movement vs. rest. I have been thinking about mobility and aging and what it means to keep moving through the long list of discomforts as my body develops whole new ways to show its fatigue. Should we always “move through the pain?” When is it a good idea to keep moving our bodies, and when should we rest?
Turns out, of course there is no easy answer. The bottom line seems to be: of course your body needs rest and recovery, and you shouldn’t act as though muscular or fascia pain doesn’t exist. BUT slower movements and thoughtful stretching are an important part of both healing the injured area and preserving your mobility in the rest of your body. This applies to normal muscle soreness from an intense workout as well as muscular, fascia and joint pain.
But more important, to me, is that when we hurt, we have a strong tendency to stop moving. And then it’s a lot harder to start moving again. And if we don’t start moving again, all of the issues of aging and mobility stack up quickly. And then we just… stop moving. And then everything else in our lives gets smaller.
So I go back to what I’ve been preaching all along: listen to your body, and keep moving. Take the stairs, and walk places, and do things that give you joy. And now I have a new layer: focused, intense mobilization as part of my workout constellation.
Alex made me a little video of all of my stretches. And I now have this kettle bell torture program all laid out for me. And what the excellent chiro taught me. And what the stretch therapist I saw a month ago taught me. To stay mobile, I need to keep mobilizing. Sometimes, it IS the workout — not the prelude to the workout.
That’s a paradigm shift, but I’m slowly learning it.
How about you? Do you frame activities like stretching, physio, mobilization, yin and restorative yoga as workouts in themselves?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who wants to still be able to stand on her hands when she’s 85.