fitness

Which steps really count?

A few weeks ago I got a message that I had achieved a new level of steps on my Fitbit — the distance of a monarch butterfly migration! More than 4000 km, or 5.5 million steps in 15 months.

I do like to walk. But all of this is abstract — until I think about what went into each of those steps. Many are mundane — putting away laundry, walking to the streetcar, trying to find my way around the hospitals and universities I work in. Some are pragmatic and deliberate — workouts and the kinds of non-sublime runs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Some are privileged and rarefied — hiking in the mountains of Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, walking around Paris with my 14 year old niece, around Lisbon at the end of a work conference.

But the 30,000 steps I’ve taken over the past two days? These are the ones that matter.

I’m in a town in western Uganda I’ve been to many times. I’ve been part of running a project here since 2007, when a small group of Canadians wrapped our arms around 52 kids with no parents or no parental support and committed to supporting them until they are educated, grown, self-sufficient, strong members of their communities. Our project is called Nikibasika, which means “it is possible” in the local language.

We are almost there. Our commitment is to support each kid with vocational or skilled trade certification or a university degree. By May next year, only 17 of the “kids” will be remaining in the program.

The older “kids” in Kampala earlier this week

It’s an all volunteer, all donation commitment from Canada, with two stalwart leaders on the ground in Uganda. And because we are hitting the tipping point of more kids being done than in the program this year, we made this our last “official” visit, choosing to channel our travel money to the more practical.

Half of the kids are in the capital Kampala, and we saw them early in the week. The other half came from all of their schools around Uganda to gather in our project house. Four of the alumni came too, sleeping in tents (a novelty!).

Many of the kids asked me for one-on-one time, and I asked them to walk with me. “I like to walk,” said Siima, a primary care health officer with his own clinic now. “You talk and hear stories.”

It was oppressively hot, the sun blazing between the rains of April. The mountains are green, the roads are red, dust is everywhere. Now, I notice the smell of charcoal cooking fires when I first arrive and step into the tarmac, but it quickly fades.

A young Ugandan man in a blue checked shirt smiling and holding a passportI walk with Siima, talking about his upcoming visit to Canada and what it will be like for him to experience diversity and queerness for the first time, as an African man in a homogenous and homophobic country. He tells me he has already encountered discrimination as a western Ugandan in a school or easterners. “We must be adaptable and respectful. I must adapt.”

I walk and talk with Dorcus who breaks down when she tells me she worries about disappointing me if she fails one of her plumbing exams, the intense pressure she feels to support her extended family. She’s 20, and can’t sleep. We talk about boundaries and self-care and my unconditional love.

I walk and talk with one young man who is so quiet as he confesses his dream to be a songwriter and an artist, to connect his quiet voice to other people’s yearning. I walk and talk with a young woman who cries hard and tells me that our care feels deeper than her family’s, like we want her to know herself, be strong and independent. I walk and talk with four of the older girls, three of them complete, one married and so happy, who brought gifts to the kids still here. We talk about why we all want to stay deeply connected, support each other.

A shiny Ugandan young man, smiling widely, wearing a bright blue shirt.I walk with Brian, who was a lost tiny boy when we started coming, who learned so much from the love of my colleague Blair. Brian is now a man, doing his exams for a skilled trade. He finally found his father last year thanks to our director’s incredible persistence, and is so happy to belong to a family. He earns money at small jobs to pay his younger sisters’ school fees.

“When I was young I often shed tears,” he laughs. “But in Uganda men are not used to doing so. But even now, sometimes I have shed tears over a grade — and it is crazy to shed tears over a number.” We talk about how that means he cares, and how that is a good thing.

This project wasn’t intentional, and I often feel I have made far far more mistakes than anything else. Earlier, I was often impatient, resentful, so worried about fitting everything into our short weeks I tried to do everything and didn’t leave space for everyone’s voice on our team to grow. This project has been my crucible to really reflect on and reshape who I want to be on the world.

In these steps this week, I saw reflected back at me what I did right. These kids began in literal rags with no English, one meal of porridge a day. Today they are vibrant, eloquent, self-sufficient, reflective. Kagame talks about how he meditates every morning, learned when my colleague Bonnie began teaching yoga in the mornings. The youngest boy — at 15 — tells us the path he has planned for himself.

A group of Ugandans on a porch doing yoga

Because I have come back every year since 2008, these young people feel seen, feel cared for, feel heard. Phionah and I were talking on Monday and she suddenly stopped in response to something I said and said “why do you understand how it feels and no one else does?”

I listen. This is what I have done right. I share my own vulnerabilities. I have mobilized people. And I am persistent. So annoyingly, doggedly persevering.

This project is a miracle, taking abandoned children and the orphaned children and the children of parents who were too overcome by their own ills and sorrows and trauma to be able to parent — and gave them a family, a space to become themselves in a whole new world of independent women, men who can shed tears, who can look for their artistic voices.

7 young Ugandan women, one in her 30s and pregnant, a little Ugandan, and two Canadian women, one white and one tiny Chinese-Canadian woman.
Me and Bonnie with the “girls” in Kasese

It is a miracle, and it’s not done. We have one big final fundraiser this summer where we are trying to shore up enough funds to see the remaining 17 through finding their own lives. Please join us.

http://www.nikibasika.ca/the-triadventure/

A large group of Ugandan adults and young people with their hands in the air and a Triadventure banner

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto when she’s not wandering the world.

Donate to Nikibasika here:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/cate-creedes-2019-triadventure-page/

fitness

Physical literacy: why mobility matters

img_6402-2.jpeg

One of my favourite things about my work life is that I get to spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about Big Things about the World. I work in strategy and change leadership within healthcare, higher education and academic healthcare, and there is no world more full of committed, smart people trying to make sure that their work has meaning.

Last week I facilitated a major forum with a bunch of rehabilitation professionals — mostly physiotherapists — about the anticipated evolution of health over the next decade or so. Some of the ideas that we chewed on as a group are right in the sweet spot of what we care about on the blog: what is a truly equitable approach to fitness and wellbeing? what is the role of moving well in living well? what is the relationship between physical mobility and economic, social and emotional wellbeing? how do we define and support physical fitness in way that acknowledges and counters privilege?

Two of the ideas that really intrigued me both related to redefining what we take for granted about wellbeing. The first is the concept of “physical literacy” — defined here as: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.

The speaker on this topic works with an organization that leads programs and research around the relationship between positive social outcomes (life skills, academic performance, positive health behaviours) and developing physical literacy, activity and participation in sports among kids.

The concept of “literacy” can be a bit provocative — my group yesterday had a good conversation about the issues with implying that people are “illiterate” in their own relationship to their bodies before they are taught differently. But I also know in my own life that as I have increasingly learned to listen to the nuances and signals of my own body — and, for example, sought physiotherapy for pain in my shoulder before it becomes a real problem — I am much more confident about what I’m doing in the gym or on the road. I.e, as my literacy about my body and the things I can do to care for it improve, my health improves.

not dead yet

The other concept that really intrigued me was about the notion of redefining successful health outcomes as not being about lifespan — i.e., the pretty baseline measure of “I’m not dead yet” — to “healthspan” — how long a person is living a *healthy* life — or, how long am I living as fully as possible within my own definition of what’s important, meaningful and possible within my own body?”

IMG_6400

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years redefining my own notion of healthy living and aging. I’ve written before about the idea of having regular mobility assessment and plans as we age, which is possibly even more important than regular screening for cervical and breast cancer if we want to preserve our ability to move and do the things that give our lives joy and meaning as we get older. And I’ve about how I’ve already had several different identities around my fitness as my body and life have changed, from Action Figure to Aging Adventurer. Sam has also written eloquently and honestly lately about her increasing comfort with accepting that exercise and movement are sometimes necessary work, not just fun, as her body changes.

I think, when our bodies change and age and hurt, and we get more tired, and movement doesn’t always come with ease, it’s very easy to let it slip away. (Confession: I am writing this post on my back in my bed with a laptop on my … well, lap, and a cat under my knees, after a long work week. I napped instead of working out. #thatsokay). But being physically literate to me is about recognizing that yes, sometimes, napping is what we need — but so is movement, and building strength, and doing the work part of fitness. And that means scheduling movement for the morning after my tortilla chip-fueled recovery nap.

Susan wrote a deeply lovely post this morning about finding new strength to open her own jars. Anytime I pay attention to an ache in my knee or shoulder and get it tended to so I can move better, anytime I shake off inertia and show up to a spinning or crossfit class or yoga class, or anytime I squeeze in a quick run or leave early to walk to a meeting — I’m looking for that same jar-opening strength. Reminding myself that I am in my own body, I own my body, and I’m making life fuller for the lithe old lady inside me.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and naps in Toronto.

fitness

Cate discovers feminist crossfit

IMG_5837

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something I never thought I would:  lunging and lifting and hopping in group crossfit-style classes.  And I’m completely enamoured of it.

I’ve tried crossfitty/boot campy things before, but every time I ended up hurting myself.  (One time — with a 23 year old instructor — I couldn’t roll over in bed without waking myself up yelping in pain for about two weeks).  The last time I did it — at my gym — the instructor (a guy in his early 20s) sort of mocked me for trying to hold a yoga-like form in lunges.  “Faster!” And I don’t like doing things without attention to form.  I end up hurting myself.  It makes me angry.  It makes me feel not looked after.  It makes a mockery of every single thing I have ever learned about my body.

In most of my adult life, I have stuck to the things I know won’t hurt me — riding, running, free weights, spinning, yoga.  And the things that don’t involve a lot of instruction — I’m not very good at translating verbal cues to my body without help.

But I’ve have been in a bit of a movement rut.  I was sick a good chunk of the first part of the year, and I tried to do the challenge with my spinning studio I wrote about in January.  I didn’t manage all of it — bronchitis will do that — but I did take on board the idea of trying a new gym.

And then a few weeks ago, I was walking past a fitness studio about a block from my house, and I made about my 50th mental note to check it out.  Then about six hours later, ads for it started to appear in my social media feeds.  I am pretending this is not creepy — I am letting it be a sign.  So the next day, I showed up and asked them to show me what they do.

It’s a fitness studio for women call Move, which I’d assumed was some kind of fancy gym, but it turns out to be an amazing blend of focused, no holds barred strength-building classes.  The fancy part is nice towels and a little sauna and kiehls products — but the gym is all about the best kind of hard work.

I did a class that day and I was hooked.  My instructor at the first class was the young Aussie Alice, and I have never been so well cued, so well supported.  I watched as she demonstrated form over and over, and told new people not to try anything until she had made sure they knew how to do it without hurting themselves, were targeting the right areas.  She was affirmative in a deep and authentic way.  I felt incredibly strong, and incredibly cared for in finding my own level.

Over the next few weeks, I’ve been back to several classes, and every instructor is the same.  Careful demonstration, careful observation and adjustments, advice for every individual in the class.  There’s a sense of community and child-minding and smoothies.  And most important, there is a kind of positivity I rarely find — not cheerleading, just presence and revelling in the strength and intuitive wisdom of women living fully in their bodies.

IMG_5902

Last night, Alice was demonstrating pushups and referred to the ones that are typically called “girl pushups” as “patriarchy pushups” — and in her distinctive Aussie way, said, “they invented these to tell us we can’t lift our own bodies, but that’s bullllllllshit.”

The founder Kelly is honest about her own journey that brought her to this place of focusing on strength — a journey through personal training, body building, disordered eating and addictive exercise — landing in a place of recovery that is about strength, not weight or looking good to someone else’s standards:

“My Team and I are here to actively and passionately be a part of the change and create a movement of warriors dedicated to changing the internal question from “how do I look” to “how do I feel?” In our opinion, far more important than how a woman’s ass looks in an Instagram post, no? “

This is a place where I feel at home.  We are in community, but we are each very much doing our own things.  There are always modifications for every action, and encouragement to try the things in your edges. An inherent assumption that everyone will get stronger.  Support for each other if we can’t quite get the moves.  Warmth to the sleep-deprived parents in the class.

Two Saturdays ago, I was noticing that I’m one of the oldest people in most classes.  And then I realized Kelly — who is 8 months pregnant — was working out with us.  And another woman whose baby was due in 2 weeks was in there too.  All modified for what we need.

 

After 25 years of working out, this feels like a whole new dimension for me — I am feeling confident about doing things I thought I my body couldn’t handle — like lunges and jumps.  I’m interweaving these classes with yoga, with spinning, with walking, with rest.  I already look and feel stronger.  And yesterday, I held an unsupported handstand for a few seconds for the first time in my life.

As I hopped down from that a thought flickered across my mind — this is FUN.  And I realized that I’ve never really felt that about working out before.  I love it, and need it, and enjoy it — but I rarely have FUN.  And this is fun.

It’s magic.

Where do you feel this kind of convergence of everything you need in moving your body?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and dangles from things in Toronto, and who writes here twice a month and whenever else she needs to say something.

 

fitness

A cure for February: ask people to say nice things about you

It’s deep mid February, the time when ice is penning people at home, my cats are restless and fighting with each other and a lot of the people I know are really struggling in various ways.  I am currently battling my fourth virus of this winter, and am secretly convinced I’m harbouring some vintage illness like whooping cough or consumption.  (My chest xray was clear; it’s garden variety crud).  The very thought of going to a gym and paying to run on a fancy treadmill seems like a far away dream.  So since I can’t work out and do the other things that give me joy and ease, I wanted to post about a thing I did for my birthday last week: I asked people I know to tell me three adjectives that reminded me of them.  Then I made a word cloud of it.

catecloud

I got this idea from my friend Grace, who asked me to contribute to her cloud, and wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks ago.  (I sent her three words when I got off the treadmill.  The LAST TIME I WAS ON THE TREADMILL whine whine cough cough hack hack whine).

We also do a thing like this in one of the programs I teach in.  That one is called “reflected best self” and is a bit more involved — it asks people to describe examples of when they saw these elements in the person.  Our students are usually very resistant to trying it — they are really self-conscious about asking people to say nice things about them — but people are always incredibly generous with their time.  And it has an incredibly powerful effect on our students — I think we tend not to be very conscious of or comfortable talking about the things we like about ourselves, and we don’t always have a good grip on the way people see us.  After we do that in our leadership program, people shift — they get more confident, more grounded in their authentic selves, start to use their strengths differently.

I was surprisingly moved by my word cloud.  I asked people I was working with, a few people by text, and all the people on Facebook wishing me happy birthday.  And I got about 50 responses.

People generally got the idea of saying adjectives that described me in what they see as my best self when I said “three different words you would use to describe me.” (No one wrote “irritable, stubborn and tiring,” — lol, although a few people did word association things like “goats” and “yoga” and “carrot cake” — all lovely things in themselves).  Then I made a list and put the words into one of those word cloud aggregators (I used wordle, but I had to download a java app to my computer to make it work — I’m sure there’s a better one).  This one makes the words bigger based on the number of times they appear.

Apparently people see me as adventurous, smart and generous.  That’s a pretty good self to live into.

As the words were coming in, I was on my way to a cottage for a weekend with Susan, her daughter and her daughter’s friend.  The driving was awful and snow squally, so I decided to inscribe the word cloud into my journal.  Every word I wrote with my own hand made me feel joyful, made me feel incredibly warm to the people I love.

IMG_5754

I think everyone should do this.  There’s a lot of power in writing “tough, strong and fierce” about yourself and knowing that other people see it.  There’s a lot of gratitude that comes when you know that people see you as compassionate, thoughtful a good listener.

I can’t do the stuff I want to do to move my body right now — even yoga makes me cough too hard.  My body needs recovery.  Seeing myself at my best refracted through other people’s words really helps me feel powerful in that.

Try it for yourself.

IMG_5720

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and trudges through icy puddles in Toronto.  This is her and Susan hiking in the snow last weekend.  Look at the rosy cheeks!  Look at the smiles!  Look at the cute mittens!

 

 

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · monthly check in

54

Today’s my birthday. I was going to do a big reflective post like I did last year.  Turns out, last year I  was full of gratitude for my life.

I still am.

But I don’t feel quite as reflective.  I’m good.  It’s February, and I am tired, and I’m still recovering from the flu.  But… I’m good.

I got home at 7 pm last night, and was super tired, but I went out for a short run and pondered what it means to be 54.  And I realized that 54 is really mid-life.  The things I’ve been working toward for decades — intentionally and just by wandering through my life — have come together. I am known for what I do, and I’m doing harder, better, more challenging and far-reaching work than ever before.  I’m on the edge of seeing the end of a volunteer development project with kids in Uganda I’ve been working on for 12 years.  I have the resources to have a home I love and to do all the travel I want.  I got serious about saving for my future a few years ago and don’t feel quite as panicked as I once did. I have the perfect cats. I have community and family I know and trust and care for.  My body moves the way I want it to, most of the time. I like my shoulder and calf muscles. I can do 108 sun salutations and ride 100 km. I have history and experience, and I’m living the fruits of that.

And the middle means… being stretched by aging and waning on one end, aging that just is, isn’t mindset or a construct, but just is.  My fingers are knobbled with arthritis that wasn’t there two years ago — I catch sight of my finger poking at my phone sometimes and am taken aback.  How is that my finger? That is an old person finger!  I’m fatigued, often — by unrelenting menopause, and disrupted sleep, and just less physical resilience than I used to have.  I had the flu in January and briefly caught sight of what it means to be frail and to live alone and to have your sink back up when you’re fighting a fever of more than 39.  I can feel hints of fragility and physical limits — and these are new.

And at the same time — 54 means still being tugged at by novelty, and adventure, and possibilities.  I still haven’t written all of the things that are in me, or learned swahili, and I know there are stories of who I am that haven’t unfolded yet.  There are chapters to be lived I haven’t even imagined yet, people to be loved and known I haven’t met yet, oceans to bob in and coasts to walk and roads to ride on.

54 is knowing myself. Knowing that even though I was tired when I got home last night, what my body and soul needed was a run from home to Coxwell and back. It’s knowing that I’ll sleep better and feel more satisfied in my soul if I scrub the kitchen before bed. It’s having a trusted spidey sense about what’s the right thing to do for myself — whether that’s yep, I need to do this work right now, there’s no other time to do it, or yep, yoga is what my body needs right now, not a spinning class, or yep, this is the right person to go on this date with, or yep, this is a good time to have a glass of wine. Or knowing that I am going to have a complete sugar crash that will mess with my life if I eat this brownie at this moment in time — and I don’t eat the brownie. It’s a knowing that comes with deep listening to myself, to what has unfolded because of the choices I’ve made in my life.

At 54, some pathways are off the table.  I’m not going to go to med school, or have a baby, or a 25th wedding anniversary, or, with this body and its various aches and vulnerabilities, run another marathon. Some things, you just time out of. And part of being 54 is being okay with that, in a way I wouldn’t have been five years ago.

For me, 54 is more about stretching myself more fully into the spaces I already know I love — rather than taking big leaps in new directions.  It’s getting better at the work I already do, and stretching into new niches. It’s embracing my role as Auntie Cate, for my own nieces and with various other people who wander into my life. It’s knowing that traveling alone truly feeds me in ways nothing else does — and finding every possible option to do that.  It’s going deep into yoga and shaping myself into forms I’ve never even seen before.

Like this one, from my Iyengar class on Wednesday.

51454859_1993339414054876_4207737317672091648_n

I don’t even know what that’s called — some kind of advanced fish pose. It was… exhilarating, opening in new ways. We spent about 45 minutes of that class in various forms of trikonasana.  It was intense, and hard, and focused.  And my body found new alignment, new edges.

That’s what 54 is.  Joy in going deep and full into the self I already am.

I’ll take it.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and practices yoga in Toronto.  She likes to count things, and notes that this is her 90th post for Fit is a Feminist Issue.

 

fitness

30 different plants a week: an update

At the beginning of January, Sam posted a piece about a British scientist — Dr. Megan Rossi — who recommends that a good goal for diversity in nutrition is to eat at least 30 different plant-based foods a week.  Plant-based diversity is thought to have a key role in good gut health — and a healthy microbiome (the internal constellation of bacteria in our guts) has an impact on many other aspects of our health.  I read a really thoughtful piece in the NY Times on the weekend about how far-reaching the relationship between gut health and brain health — including depression, dementia and Parkinsons — may be.

My sister and I were both intrigued by the “30 plants a week” thing, and both started tracking our plants in early January.  I was particularly interested in my sister’s take on it, because she already eats a super-mindful array of foods.  She has celiac disease (severe gluten allergy) as well as another auto-immune disease that she has been largely — out of necessity — controlling through food choices and naturopathic and traditional chinese medicine.  I knew for me I would be stretching to hit my 30 — but she’s a kale chip and homemade kombucha sort of person, so I thought she already had it in hand.

healthy-lentils-veggies.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

The first thing we both noticed is that we both already have pretty diverse diets — I don’t think I necessarily hit 30 different plant based foods in a given week in the winter “automatically,” but I did hit 22 my first week without thinking about it.  It helped that I was at a client site where I had meals from the Whole Foods salad and hot bar two days — it’s easy to add up a dozen veg and grains when it’s all spread out and arrayed before you.

My sister’s major comment that first couple of weeks was that it helped her realize what she was already doing — which was affirming.  She’s worked hard to gain control of a lot of her inflammation through organic, nutrient-packed foods, and she noticed that this has now become automatic for her.

Then it became a bit of a game for us — how could we ADD to this diversity?  I made a point of getting a salad for lunch from one place because I knew it had quinoa, pomegranates, chia seed and beets, none of which I would probably cook for myself that week.  My sister told me that having this tracking in her head “reminds me to reach for the fennel or kumquats in the grocery store when I might usually eat those particular plants less frequently.”  I’m adding flax to my steelcut oats along with the usual blueberries, bananas and walnuts.  And I bought a pre-made mango salsa on impulse — which I never would have done without this —  and found myself making a super healthy “bowl” dinner with halibut, mango, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, and a mixed wild brown rice medley.  Seven or eight plants right there.  And a much healthier meal than my usual Tuesday night default of pasta with roasted grape tomatoes.

Sometimes it became a bit of a joke.  I get random texts from her just reading:  Cauliflower. Sweet potato. Some leftover stir fry so a bunch of stuff (broccoli etc) Chickpeas. Kombucha.  I asked her if carrot cake counted as carrots AND pineapple.  (We decided it sort of did).  She said it was making her do things like choose mango gelato instead of chocolate to get another one to add to her list.  When I had the flu for a week, I texted my daily sad little list —  “orange juice, carrots in my soup, raw honey, linden tea” with a miserable looking emoji.

Neither of us is vegetarian or vegan, though we do both wander through vegetarian territory for a lot of our meals, and we are both very conscious that a more plant-based diet is better for the environment and generally a more ethical choice.  Being consciously mindful about diversity of plants, we are discovering, is actually fun and makes us more creative  — and a good way to move toward even more meatless and dairy-free meals.

How about you?  Have you tried the “30 different plant based foods a week” approach?

IMG_5624Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, and is aware that the Whole Foods salad bar, mango salsa and easy take away salads with quinoa and pomegranates come with a fair bit of urban and middle class privilege. Cate and her sisters Emilie and Melissa are pictured here skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa last weekend.

 

fitness

High intensity interval spinning

Last week, I wrote about the 6 week challenge I’m doing with my spinning studio that is a good, challenging blend of all the fitness things — working out, sleeping, hydration, thinking more mindfully about the things I’m putting in my mouth.  screenshot 2019-01-19 09.19.07In my little burst of “trying new things” as part of this challenge, I noticed a new class on the Torq schedule:  a High Intensity Interval Training (+!) class.

Normally, I find most spinning classes aggressive enough for me, and I’m all about the intuitive movement these days, as I wrote about last week.  But I was looking for something to fit into a window of time for working out last Friday morning, and this fit my weird logic:  “I don’t love spinning first thing in the morning — it takes so long for me to wake up — but it’s only 30 minutes!  How bad could it be?  Then I’ll be done working out for the day!”  Also, I like Marawan as a teacher — he’s not shouty — so I got myself to an 840 class last Friday.

Because it’s a new class (and maybe because of all of the explosive language in the description), there were only four of us in the first class.  I had had a terrible sleep — still jet lagged and insomniac from my trip to Australia — and I had a busy day before I had to travel four hours the next morning for a family funeral.  I arrived a bit of a worn out rag, and gave all sorts of qualifiers to my Clear Intention Not to Work Hard.  Marawan was just gently encouraging — do what you can.

The class was… highly intense.  But in a really doable way.  I won’t say the 30 minutes “flew by,” but I was deeply engaged the entire time.  Marawan took us through a simple series of 3 patterns of about 12 minutes each, each marked by harder, more intense, intensest, briefly return to a hard baseline again again for a version of “recovery”, repeat.  We use torq sticks at this studio to increase and decrease the weight on the bikes quickly — moving the torq stick to the middle of the gear is similar to 1.5 full turns on the flywheel, to the right is like 3, then you can fling it back to your baseline quickly.  For part of the class, we used the monitor at the front of class to track our wattage output (total class average energy).

It was simple… and it did all of the things HIIT is supposed to do — pushes you hard with pockets of near-recovery, pushes you hard again, then you’re done, sweaty and pleased with yourself.  (A lot of people are HIIT evangelists, but there is a fair bit of argument among exercise researchers about whether it’s really “superior” for anything other than efficiency — but it’s definitely a way to get a really good workout quickly).

That class really stood out in a super busy week as my most intense, focused workout — I managed a quick run here, an exhausted trip to the gym there, a few self-guided yoga workouts.  But it was a week of a lot of driving and facilitating huge groups into the evening, and on Thursday night, I skipped my planned yoga class in favour of lying in bed, eating popcorn for dinner and watching netflix.  (See:  honouring what my body needs).

When Friday morning rolled around again, I had to really persuade myself to get out of bed and show up for class.  I am often daunted by knowing my workout is going to be intense, no option.  I try to fool myself into thinking “I can just take it easy.”  I know that in this class, there’s no room to coast — not in the structure of the actual class or the fact that there are so few of us.  I can’t hide behind the pole on bike 18, my preferred spot.

img_5509Yesterday, Marawan had us all (five of us this time) line up in the middle row and he sat in the middle, riding with us.  A really simple sequence:  three long climbs, with a tone going off every minute to increase the weight on the wheel by half to a full turn.  Within each series, sequences of hard, harder, intense, brief recovery, always to the baseline of the gradually increasing weight.  Between the three long climbs — 12 minutes, 10 and 7 — a minute of actual recovery.  (The pic is me in one of those moments).  In the last sequence, Marawan came around and had each of us work to our absolute highest output for 10 seconds as he encouraged us.

I was exhausted when I got on the bike, and energized when I got off.  I found the recovery I’d given my body by taking two rest days in a row, and felt… strong.  I was still well worn out, but in the best, internally glowing way.  I felt… human again.

img_5511

I’m probably not going to do this more than once a week — but doing something this intense reaffirms for me that I’m engaged in a long-term project of fitness and health — and even when I’m mostly tooling around in lighter workouts, there’s a warrior inside me.  Marawan is the best kind of teacher — light touch, firm effort, kind.  And I got a blue star for nailing my first week of the 6 week challenge.

img_5514Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.