fitness

Root to Rise: Voices on YWA Home

We’re all about the yoga this January at FIFI.  Many of us (me, Sam, Tracy, Susan, Christine — who else?) are doing the Yoga with Adriene Home 30 day yoga journey, along with scores of people in our 220 in 2020 groups and elsewhere.  It feels like a community tipping point, so I asked people what draws them to it.

(And to be clear, this is not a sponsored post — we are just really fans, lol).

Adriene with benji

  1. People appreciate who Adriene is as a teacher and a person

People have a lot of experience with yoga teachers who take it too seriously or give lectures about How to Live.  Adriene hits the right note of caring, humorous, affirming and expert.  

I enjoy Adriene’s humour, that she doesn’t take herself too seriously (Margot)

And she feels very affirming of where I am in that she regularly makes comments about how the hardest part is showing up. (Jennifer)

I find Adriene charming. I find her amusing, genuine, and supportive, which are unusual things to say about a person I don’t know at all, but–for me–this is what she projects.  (Maryjean)

I like how friendly (and marvellously goofy) Adriene is. She clearly takes yoga seriously but she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I like the foolish jokes she makes and the way she says ‘Hey-oh!’ If something she has said could have an off-colour interpretation.  (Christine)

I like her style – not so much yoga/spiritual/hippie stuff that I can’t manage, but just enough to help me buy in and learn more about myself. (Craig)

like YWA specifically because of the simple clean production of the videos and that she is not too too much into cultural appropriation. (Jason)

I also really appreciate her kind, calm, generous personality, as well as her unabashed goofiness. (Johanna)

For me, I cannot say enough about how positively I feel about Adriene. I have spent some time in every yoga studio in this town and I am invariably irritated by instructors. They are too advanced or they are too full of crap or they never stop talking when they should or they tell me how to solve all my problems and they are no older than my kids. Adriene triggers none of that for me. I relate to her even though she is about a decade or so younger. She is unserious, but totally serious. She has ease in her own self, even in her own self consciousness. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it’s darn close, for me anyway.  (Susan)

2.  January is hard, and having a regular practice helps create resilience

January is resoundingly awful, at least for the last few years. For the second year in a row, the whole family is sick except for me. Which means, I am often the first one up and the last one to bed, making many meals and snacks, and cleaning up from all of those, and there is not enough time for any exercise outside of the house. But last year, I made space for YWA’s 30 days, and I felt like it was part of starting me on the right track for 219 in 2019, and it was also a huge part of keeping me healthy when everyone else was sick.  (Jennifer)

A victory of hope over experience? I do like a New Year’s resolution and the idea of having a goal is appealing to me. Without the goal, it’s easier for me to let things slide. (Maryjean)

3.  The practice is short and doable, but generates something real

It also makes me realize I have time in my life for exercise. I’m doing this on top of my running but don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything.  (Craig)

It is the yin to my weight lifting yang. The older I get the more I feel the need for a balance of soft and hard exercise. I (Jason)

Some days I’m torn between thinking it’s exactly what I needed and I could have used more – there are also some days where I’m like “okay enough talking Adriene – let’s go” and others where I’m like “Holy smokes this is moving”.  (Craig)

Since I often only have time to sleep 6 hours per night, and I am spending a lot of the in between time exposed to the germs of school/commute/public transit/kids, YWA is just small enough that I can reliably make space for it, and it feels great.  I definitely find the time and space, and the getting to my yoga mat to be the hardest part, and if I spend the duration of the video breathing and trying (though often failing) to shut out my to do list, then I have accomplished something huge. So, the feeling of accomplishment provided by the YWA 30 Day calendar- especially the regularity of the feeling of accomplishment – is such a gift. (Jennifer)

They’re all shorter than I’m used but if they were a full hour I don’t know that I’d be as able to maintain the daily commitment. In some ways, knowing it’s short has given me an attitude of “of course I can fit this in before dinner”.  (Tracy)

The classes are a little short for me, but that makes sense for 30 straight days of yoga as opposed to my typical schedule, which might include no yoga or a quick 15 minutes on some days and an hour or more on others. (Jennifer2)

I’m doing it, not necessarily every day but many days and still her format makes it feel that you are right in pace. I like how she gives various challenge level for the moves.
I have a hard time keeping my eye on her as I am using my laptop and don’t know all the moves which can be a challenge but I like that I can go back and redo it after watching.
 (Alex)

4.  The dog!

OMG the dog !! (Alex)

I love that she makes her dog Benji a part of her practice that she shares with us. (Johanna)

And I love Benji and how she incorporates him into each episode. Like for the relaxing day she didn’t take the blanket away from him because he was sleeping. That was cute. (Tracy)

it’s fun that she has her dog snoozing away in most of the videos! (Christine)

5. Community

Doing it with others has also been great – I look forward to seeing others talk and share and have a community.  (Craig)

My daughters are both doing it too and we are encouraging each other, plus I enjoy reading people’s experiences here. and seeing Benji walk in and out of the frame is great 🙂  (Margot)

6.  It fosters self-reflection and growth

What I love about YWA is that she gets me to try new flows and new poses. I generally use yoga to keep my body functioning and tend to do the same familiar poses/practices week after week because I’m not trying to grow so much in my practice, but more, I guess, to maintain both physically and mentally? It keeps my together and sometimes puts me back together. (Jennifer2)

I also learned something about myself and the need to recognize that different people are at different places with their practice – despite what she says (and what I thought) sharing experiences here and seeing comments has made it clear this is not as accessible as I thought. Also made me realize I’m further ahead in my own practice than I thought.  (Craig)

I’ve done a few of her January yoga journeys (I love how she doesn’t call them challenges!) before and I find it super satisfying to be able to feel progress in myself (in terms of strength and flexibility) by the time I get to the end. (Johanna)

For me, she strikes the balance between neither treating yoga just like any other gym class nor being toooooo esoteric for my own personal tastes. I really appreciate the nudges to be mindful and to appreciate my own body!  (Johanna)

YWA helps me engage with yoga in a different way. After Dedicate last year I continued inserting a few internet videos, some YWA, some not, into my practice every month and some of it has stuck in my every day practice. So, YWA has definitely helped me expand my yogic horizons.  (Jennifer2)

She really makes it okay to do yoga at your own level. Lots of time online videos feel (to me) end up feeling like you are failing if you can’t replicated what they are doing. Adriene has regular reminders that you can modify the practice or just do what you can, and she somehow makes it truly okay.  (Christine)

***

There are challenges to YWA Home, mostly that it might not be easy to follow as a true beginner — even with the variations she offers, some people aren’t familiar enough with the poses to modify in a confident way.  She does build “vocabulary” over the 30 days — introducing new poses and concepts, and then referring back to them.

I’ve been doing yoga for 25 years, and my experience tends to be like Tracy’s — intellectually, it feels short, and I start out thinking “oh this is simple” — and then there is a moment of “oh my god that’s intense and challenging,” then “oh, it’s over.”  The practice is cementing daily reflection and presence to my body, and is the perfect adjunct to the more intense running, crossfit and spinning that dot my week.  Like others, I feel oddly supported and cared for by a person I have never met.  What more could I ask for?

What about you?  Have you tried YWA?  If you’re inspired,go to the link and click subscribe to home — you’ll get emails every day starting with Day 1.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and practices in Toronto.  This image is one of Christine’s daily yoga inspiration drawings.  It refers to the “ground” practice, and I love how it evokes my favourite of Adriene’s refrains — “root to rise.”

 

fitness

108 Sun Salutations as a start to the year

Along with a whole pack of people I know, I’m doing the 30 Day Home yoga journey with Yoga with Adriene.  As always, Adriene and her dog Benji are delightful, and I love the way that even though we’re all doing this in our own spaces, I have a shared experience with people who are new to yoga, people who are deep into yoga, people who are in my city and people just out there (waving vaguely) in the world.  I need that in the dark and cold of January (both physical and metaphorical, these days).

I started the year in a very different yoga space, though:  with 108 sun salutations, on my own.

This is a thing that people do to mark transitions — one of the yoga studios I practice at hosts a class at the solstice (and I think at the equinox), a class Nicole has gone to. And Tracy has done self-guided practice a couple of times.  I did it last year, on Christmas morning.

The reason for 108 is one of those fuzzy “sacred” things that has been translated through a western lens so many times I don’t trust it at all — here’s one explanation I found online:

108 has many sacred connotations in various cultures and philosophies. Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth; the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. Such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance.

According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.

Okay.  I’m not going to ask an astrophysicist to validate those claims, and I’m not trying to emulate a spiritual tradition that’s not mine.  I like the practice because it provides a robust, ritualized commitment of time, energy and effort.  I like repetitive movement that enables me to go deep into my body, presence without thought.  And 108 is long enough to create multiple waves in the experience without being over-strenuous.  It’s about the length and physical effort of an intermediate flow class, but with a steady rhythm that creates a true meditative state.

The first time I did this practice, I was in Australia, doing the sun salutations on a grassy spot at the top of a hill out of sight of most of the people at my hotel.  The second time, I was in downtown Singapore, at the rooftop pool of a really nice boutique hotel — the kind of hotel that provides a yoga mat in every room, tucked into a cunning little space under the bed along with an umbrella and a folding ironing board.  (And yes, I realize how privileged I am to be able to type these sentences ;-)).

I’d been up on the rooftop at midnight the night before, watching the incredible fireworks.

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Now, the space was impeccably cleaned up after the party.  Singapore is hot, but there were ceiling fans and shade. And a pool beckoning me for a splashy finish.

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I was alone when I started at around 930 am on New Year’s Day, my little pad of paper to track my progress and bottles of water on the table.  I started with some trepidation — it’s a lot to contemplate! — and my body was tired from my bike trip and two weeks of travel.  It was hot. I worried about having enough water, about privacy.

After about 10 vinyasas, I realized I needed a towel under my sweaty palms.  I also started to feel the blisters under my right big toe and my pinky toe start to get more raw.  I put on my favourite podcast, letting Krista Tippett  float in and out of my consciousness.

Around that time, people started to show up to sit by the pool.  I tried to ignore them, but noticed that their presence made me super self-conscious of the noises I was making — little grunts when I hopped to the front of the mat, sharp exhales of breath when I felt my hamstrings tug, sharp intake of breath when the raw part of my toe started to burn more.  I also noticed that their presence made me more conscious of form — no one was watching me, but I felt my shoulder blades move further down my back in up dog, my butt angle more sharply into a tighter down dog, my back flatten in the high lift.  Shadow teacher with a hand on my back.

IMG_2934The previous time, I’d found myself doing annoying mental math to track my progress.  This time, I’d prepped my tracker in advance:  little squares to cross off for every 5 sun salutations, in sets of 5, with two squares for four, one of which I crossed off at 54, to know I was exactly at the halfway point.  This system alleviated the flickers of distraction I’d had the previous time.  Five is easy to keep track of, and stopping to make the x gave me a chance to have a sip of water.  (Did I mention it was hot?)

Halfway through, I desperately needed to pee.  I actually stopped to pee vigorously three times during this practice — I’m sure there is some physiological reason for this, something about lymph.  There is definitely something about churning up the fluids in my body.  At one of the points when I stopped to put on my flipflops and go to the restroom, a woman sitting with a book asked me if I wanted her to take my photo.  Her English was thin, but she was clearly my champion.

I felt self-conscious, but I let her take photos with my phone for a set of five.  I’ve never had photos of my actual practice before, and looking at them, it’s like an inverse lens from what I feel like inside my body —  to my surprise, I kind of look like a yogi.

The first time I did this practice, it felt more like a trudging marathon, a strange sensation that I never did a single “perfect” sequence in any one of them.  I let the unfolding of my imperfections be the experience.  This time, even with the distractions, the heat, the peeing, I felt a different kind of flow.  I wasn’t tracking whether I was doing it “right” — I was just going deeper.

That’s a good lesson to hold for the start of a year that has already demanded a lot of holding our expectations lightly.

Have you ever done 108 sun salutations?  What did it mean to you?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she’s going to stay for a while.

fitness

Trampoline Park with Coach Renee (Guest Post)

by Renee Frigault

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Renee jumping at a trampoline park. Her arms are extended making a T-shape with her body.

Partner, kiddo and I met up with another family last weekend to spend the afternoon at a trampoline park. Backyard trampolines were common where I grew up, and I went on to train and teach with my university trampoline club in the 1990s. I even certified with Gymnastics Canada as a trampoline instructor, but it has been a very long while since I’ve bounced regularly. But backyard trampolining has grown a lot recently, with kids learning tricks via social media — and the indoor parks are an expanding concept, with most North American cities seeming to have at least one.

I tried my first trampoline park about 6 years ago. Every time I go, it seems like most all of the grown-ups are on the benches. Thought I’d share some information on trampoline basics for any adults looking to join in the fun!

The type of trampoline will affect how high you can bounce:
Almost all big trampoline parks and backyard trampolines use a tightly woven jumping mat surface. These mats have a smooth durable surface that also has a side effect of limiting bounce in comparison to the ones seen at the Olympics. Competitive trampolines have a mesh bed that lets air pass through the mat to help maximize force transfer to the springs. They are also rougher on your skin. Smooth beds ‘steal’ some of the force transfer to push the air under the bed out of the way. Mesh beds just let the air pass right through. It is physically harder to jump high on a non-mesh trampoline. The smaller mat sizes at trampoline parks also act to limit potential jump height which is good to know for anyone worried about bouncing too high or those looking for really big air.

Two-foot rule:
Whenever possible, always try to land with both feet on the same surface. One foot jumping or landing with one foot on the trampoline mat and the other on the frame will affect your stability and increase the likelihood of twisting an ankle or knee. I have an old knee injury and avoid the dodgeball courts for this exact reason.

Bladder issues:
I’ve learned to always wear something absorbent in my undies on bounce days. A little pee leakage is pretty common for adults with female bladder arrangements. A shorter urethra that points more or less straight down combined with a larger body kind of puts the physics against us.

Clothing:
Anything comfortable that won’t flop around as you move around is fine. I like leggings, sports bra, and a long sleeve fitted t-shirt that tucks in. Long sleeves to protect my forearms from being irritated by the trampoline mat and tucked to avoid belly flashing. Long hair tied back unless I feel like spending the next few days working tangles out. My own preference is bare feet for a more secure landing, but most public trampoline parks require wearing socks with rubber treads on the bottom for hygiene. If you don’t own a pair, they will happily sell you some.

Fitness:
Bring a water bottle and remember to take breaks. Trampoline can be a great cardio and core workout, along with improving overall body coordination. I even read somewhere that rebounding is excellent for your lymph system… can’t say I’ve ever given much thought to the state of my lymph but, sure why not.

Finally, don’t forget that trampoline is usually loved by kids because it is simply fun. Fancy tricks are completely optional. Just bouncing up and down always puts a smile on my face.

How about you – does the idea of bouncing up and down appeal to you?

– Renee is a professional engineer and recreational aerialist. She works and trains in Toronto, ON.

 

fitness

Taking a breather from bike travel

(FYI, this post tips more into the feminist side of the blog than the fitness).

I just finished a 10 day bike trip in Cambodia and Thailand, which I wrote about here and here. ended that second post with the realization that I am going to take a bit of a breather from organized bike trips for a while – for reasons both petty and metaphysical.

First, the petty.  I’ve already written about how I don’t always mesh well with the rhythms of someone else’s organization, or the impulses of a group. Some of it is just my own fierce independence – I travel alone because I enjoy being alone, which puzzles people who prefer to hang out after dinner, usually drinking, while I go to bed early and read or listen to podcasts.

But there is also the more petty, judgy stuff.  I can get miffed about someone eating all the bananas, or vigilant about politics, or judgemental about the homesick American working as an expat in Mongolia who bitterly complains about the weird bones in the meat, or the lonely Slovenian who is just drifting from country to country and who steals the good hotel rooms every night.  I am judgy about people who want to be entertained all the time, or who think “Sri Lankan” is a language, or whose primary stories about cycling in Myanmar all involve drunken escapades.  Or who correct my paddling five times in a short kayak paddle. I can be kind of a (silently) judgy bitch when I’m put into close proximity with strangers.  And fighting this tendency isn’t super relaxing.

But it’s more than that, of course.  It’s about what it means to see a country when you’re traveling in a pack. Even as you’re seeing a land from the tactile place of a bike seat, you’re encased in the shell of a group, riding past things you want to explore because it’s not on the itinerary.  It becomes about the group dynamics, the group’s feelings about the guide, group members’ digestive issues, typical holiday-type complaints about weak wifi or “bad service.”  On my own, meat with weird bones in it becomes part of the adventure; in a group, it’s a disappointment.

This encasement means that you are always seeing a country through a whole range of filters – the pace, the guide’s choices, the rest of the group’s experience, the fatigue that comes from following someone else’s rhythm.  It’s a great experience – you’re still toiling up hills and whizzing down them, you still see the rock shaped like an elephant or the kid waving at you – but it’s always mediated by things outside of your control.

To really feel the pull of a country, I have to have space for serendipity.  When I step back, I realize that my most powerful memories of traveling in Asia are the ones where I wasn’t on a bike, where I wandered and then found myself alone with local people.  Spending a day with a monk I met at a temple at sunset in Mandalay, hiring a guide to take me on an 18 mile hike through the mountains of central Myanmar, climbing a temple in Bagan at sunrise with a 13 year old boy on a bicycle, meeting two young couples and a baby at a restaurant in Xian, China, on New Year’s Eve, and hearing their yearning for a more free life, watching Harry and Meghan’s wedding with an 85 year old Bhutanese woman at a homestay in the mountains.  She peeled me a mango and we oohed together at the dress.

Sometimes these random encounters are with other travelers – usually solo women.  Fiona, the American expat teacher working in Asia who became my companion in Hoi An, Vietnam a couple of years ago.  On this trip, Aisha, the young woman from England I met in Phnom Penh, and Ivanna, the Polish woman from Berlin in my hotel in Singapore who took my photo while I did 108 sun salutations by the pool on New Year’s morning, and who later tried to tell me, in miniscule English, what this trip meant to her.  Her halting words were full of emotion:  “I end 10 man, no 10 year with man, I travel.  I must learn English!”  I squeezed her hand and told her I understood.  She kissed me on both cheeks and gave me a huge hug, seeing each other beyond words.

I experience the world differently when I’m not with a group, and it’s the way I need to experience it, to find myself.

On this trip, I had a throughline of another voice as I rode, listening to Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in South Africa.  It’s riveting and powerful and heart-filling and provocative  – listen to it if you haven’t, go, now, shoo – and it also inspired my own critical gaze on myself.  What IS it I’m seeking from riding in so many places?  What have I learned from seeing so many developing countries close up, from working for more than 12 years in intimate relationship with a group of youth in Uganda?

Before I went to Uganda for the first time, an African American woman who’d also lived in east Africa said to me, in a slightly dry voice, “you know, you’re always just going to be a white woman in Africa.”  At the time, I was a bit offended – my relationship with the kids in the project I worked on was special!  I could belong! But of course, she was right – though my understanding of what that means has evolved every year, with every visit to east Africa and to different Asian countries.  And by that, I think I mean that my understanding of what it means to have western privilege gets deeper with every visit.

Western, white, cis privilege means that even when I feel anxious and watchful about the homophobic comments of my Cambodian guide, I know that I’m not actually going to be hurt.  I’m not going to be the ostracized nephew, the correctively raped wife.  Western, white privilege means that I can toil up a hill in the blazing heat for fun, passing the scowling man corralling his skinny cows, waving merrily at the children who don’t have shoes.  I can complain about being tired or hungry without ever having experienced hunger or the exhaustion of poverty in my life.  Western white privilege means I can ride in a jeep, protected by UN peacekeepers every 100 m or so, because I’ve decided on a whim to go see the Congolese gorillas, and to be surprised when a young girl who has never had a truly peaceful day in her life spits at me.

Western, white, cis privilege means that I can always leave a situation that feels uncomfortable or hard.  It means that my voice will matter if things go wrong.  I have money, I have insurance, I have the protection of my consulate, I have the container of a group.  So I can be cavalier with heat, with physical labour, and with the impact of where I spend my money.  And, I realized, I have been cavalier about my carbon footprint.

When I arrived back in the land of TVs in every restaurant, I was surrounded by the gutting images of Australia burning.  Right where I rode last winter.  And overwhelmed with outrage about climate change denial.  And then I realized I can’t avoid looking at my own travel and what it means from an environmental perspective anymore.  Intersectional feminism 101:  a critical gaze on my own privilege, at my own footprint.

Traveling is part of my identity.  Traveling on my bike is an even bigger part.  But at the end of this excellent trip, I feel a tipping point – I have to look at the impact of exercising my privilege.  I have to live into my own ethics.  And that means that instead of accumulating more and more experiences, I have to figure out what to make of the unique, rare, privileged knowledge I’ve gained from those experiences.  I have to determine how to channel that energy into fighting climate change, fighting harder for equity, fighting harder as an ally.  I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I owe it to that young girl who spit at me to figure it out.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and is rethinking her identity.

 

fitness

Riding in Thailand: serene and inviting

Yesterday, I wrote about the first part of my cycling holiday in Southeast Asia, a beautiful, complex, hot and intense week in Cambodia.  This is about part two of that trip, after we crossed the border into Thailand.

Our last day in Cambodia, we rode 30 km to the Thai border, the first 20 hilly and strong, the last 10 threaded through dodgy border traffic, especially trucks. At the border, we were handed off to a completely new set of guides and crew, our luggage walked across the border on a hand cart, like passengers on some secret railroad, where mystery lay beyond.

After some border nonsense (my fault — I had failed to realize I was supposed to make a second copy of my visa for leaving Cambodia), we followed our new guide across the border. Immediately everything was different. The roads were slick and paved, commercial brands lined the roads, and a shiny, organized and super professional guide replaced our opinionated, chaotic Cambodian head guide.

This transition was one of the most puzzling parts of the trip — it was one trip, with the same company. But not only did we switch over completely at the border, the guides hadn’t communicated — our itinerary and the Cambodian guide had told us we were riding 75 km that day. Thai Guide thought we had already ridden 75 km before the border and tossed us into the van for nearly 3 hours.  (It’s not unusual for cycling tour itineraries to differ immensely from what actually unfolds on the day, but it was very odd that guides from the same company leading the same trip treated the border like a sound barrier).

Our first major adventure in Thailand — after the long van ride, not so fun in tight sweaty bike gear — was a delicious lunch in an eco village, a boat ride and some Cultural Activities (which, puzzlingly, involved releasing farmed crabs into a mangrove forest).  We then rode a short, civilized 15 km tour around the local area, showing us typical Thai houses, dogs sleeping on the roads, temples, a reservoir, fields.

Our Cambodian guide’s style wasn’t very inclusive — typically, he would tear ahead with the German teenagers, dismissing the steady but slower group of women at the back.  Even when he was supposed to be the one sweeping, he would find a reason to leave us behind. New Thai Guide, we would learn, was more like a mama duck, keeping us in an even line behind him.  When the German boys started pushing him by pedalling faster behind him, when I told him he’d sped up to 27 km/hour from 22, he quickly slowed down.  It all felt so… calm.  Still work — there were hills, and it was hot — but so peaceful.

The two full days we spent riding in Thailand were holiday riding — significant distances of 60 km each day, but on forgiving surfaces, and at a pace that didn’t make us feel anxious about keeping up or being left behind.  Every break was at a temple, every meal as good as you imagine Thai food to be.  The second and last days, we ended at sandy beaches where we could plunge into the sea.

We did cultural activities — another boat ride, learning to make a hat in a muslim village, learning to make Thai rice cakes.  We looked at fish drying in the sun, and at shrines beside the road.  We ate vast amounts of prawns and seafood.  And then finally, we were dropped off in Bangkok to make our way to our next place.

Ten days on a bike in SE Asia is an odyssey.  We started with the Killing Fields, blazing heat and almost unridable roads.  There were waterfalls, and campylobacter, and chilling homophobia and racism, and children riding bicycles back to school after lunch, drinking lime drinks out of plastic bags.  There were hungry and skittish dogs and cats, and dips in the sea, and chilli prawns and cheap beer.  It was good and I had the complete break from my overheated work life I needed.

I was really grateful to experience both countries, both very different, by bike — and I think it will be my last organized bike trip for a while.  I’m going to write about why tomorrow.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and has now had the privilege of visiting 65 countries.

 

 

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Riding in Cambodia

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It’s one of my favourite photos of me ever.  I’m sitting in the prow of a little wooden boat on a still river, sunset behind me, looking completely peaceful.  Our ride that day was hot and hard — hilly red-dirt roads with deep holes and dust, sun blasting down, giggles and loud greetings from children.  Wheels caught in sand.  Now showered and surrounded by jungle sounds and the whirr of the boat motor.  The picture of serenity, someone posted when I put it on IG.

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And it was.  And — it came after a day with one of the most unsettling homophobic comments I’ve ever experienced.  And I could feel a rumble in my guts that later turned into an all night bathroom odyssey, and a Christmas day spent sleeping in a wooden hut in an eco-village, surrounded by an overly complicated mosquito net.

That is cycle-touring in SE Asia in a nutshell, to me:  moments of bliss, hard, hot riding, immersion in the humid, all encompassing landscape of a land built on jungle, the putt of motorbikes behind you, pathways that are an imitation of roads, the warmth of mostly welcoming people, casual racism and homophobia, a constant game of roulette with your gut flora, always hot blasting sun.

Over the past five years, I’ve been privileged to do significant trips in Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. I’ve borrowed local bikes to ride around the plains of Bagan in Myanmar at sunrise and sunset, the grey chill of Beijing, a night tour of Bangkok.  On this trip, we rode across the southern part of Cambodia and through eastern Thailand.  I’ve seen a lot of Asia — especially Southeast Asia — by bike, and it’s the most miraculous way to experience a country — the rhythms of the traffic, what the roosters sound like, how children react when you learn the local greeting, what the cats and dogs look like (mostly skittish and hungry), what burning rubbish smells like, what foods are in the roadside stalls, whether it’s mangoes or turmeric or rubber growing in the fields.  You see how people make their small livings, selling pieces of one pig with a scale by the side of the road, carrying a dozen bags of goldfish on a frame on a bicycle or motorbike.

It’s sublime, and it’s work — I found the physical effort of Cambodia difficult on this trip, more than I expected.  I don’t like off-road riding very much, and about 70% of the Cambodian part of this trip qualified as off-road, even when we were technically on a road.  I don’t like having to look at the road constantly instead of what’s around me, and I find it exhausting to get covered in red dirt under a blazing sun, to carry a mild buzz of anxiety about whether the water is clean enough, the fruit is peeled, the yummy local snacks contaminated.

The other tiring thing for me is being with a group.  I relax most by following my own rhythm, even when I’m doing something physically arduous.  Left to my own devices, on a trip like this, I would leave at 700 am when it was still coolish and ride the whole day’s ride before lunch, then chill in the afternoon.  That’s how I ride when I’m on my own.  IMG_2495In Cambodia, we left at 830 most mornings, and stopped for Cultural Activities and lunch a lot of days, meaning we were riding on the hot rutted hills many afternoons.  The day after my Tummy Lurgy, I cut my ride short at about 40 kms, feeling lightheaded on the hills, choosing the air conditioned van and an early arrival at lunch, where I bought a local cat a fish.

I travel in a group in Asia because I couldn’t possibly navigate the route on my own.  I have ridden alone in Europe and Australia, but SE Asia is too hardcore for me — every time I encounter a person riding alone in Asia (invariably a man), they look feral and wild-eyed, over-baked and, usually, riding longer than planned.  (“I started in Bangkok and just kept going.  It’s been… I dunno, three months?”).  To see Asia by bike, I need the organization and container of a group.

The group dynamic can be challenging — my need to enjoy my time on my own and go to bed early can be interpreted by others as a rejection of their company.  On this trip, though, I had a new and unsettling dynamic that made the Cambodian part of the trip even more difficult to navigate.  Our local guide was an exuberant, self-styled comedian — introduced himself as Handsome Man, while saying many times that he was single because his skin was too dark.  He told a lot of long stories that ended with penis jokes.  He rode the pace that suited the teenaged sons of the German family, and left me and the three Irish women toiling to catch up continually on the offroads, and when I asked him to slow down, he just laughed.

There is a lot of casual racism and homophobia in Cambodia, with guides feeling free to comment “I don’t like Muslims” and to routinely insult each other with the term Ladyboy, with mocking effeminate gestures.  In the van one day, our Handsome Man guide somehow got onto the topic of homosexuals, mocking his “Ladyboy” nephew.  One of the Irish women said “you can’t punish people for how they were born.”  “Homosexuals should just die,” said the guide.  Giggling.

We started our trip with a visit to the Killing Fields, one of the most profound testimonials to what happens when one group starts to Other another.  And here I was, sitting in a van 40 years later, being laughingly told that another group should just die.

My sister and I were having a text conversation the other day about how so many Gen Z-ers don’t have gender or sexual orientation labels.  I was reminded, again — after my decade of annual trips to Uganda — that our privilege around gender and sexuality in the west is profound, and sharply demarcated.

This guide is from a traumatized culture, and clearly has a lot of unresolved issues with his own place in the world.  He confessed to me later — on that same serene boat ride — that he had converted to Mormonism, in a country where almost no one is a Christian, and his family were ashamed of this.  He carries a lot of shame, and American churches have a lot to answer for in developing countries.  (See also, the homophobic laws in Uganda).  But here I was, in a van controlled by a man who wants to be loved, who didn’t realize he was suggesting blotting out my existence.

I told him he was saying some very offensive things and he didn’t get to decide who gets human rights or not.  He laughed uncomfortably.  I put my headphones on and returned to my audiobook about Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa.  Watching the palms and fields go past, feeling the complexity of humans in their yearning and shame and brutality and love.

roads helmet

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and has had the unbelievable privilege of riding a bike in at least 19 countries.  

 

 

fitness

Walking in Hong Kong

IMG_1948I spent Tuesday swanning around Hong Kong, and then at about 530, Fitbit swooshed a new badge into my email: the “Hiking Boot,” for walking more than 35000 steps in a day.

Those steps were so many things.

They were “workout #339″ for 2019, representing a year where I shot past my goal of 300 workouts as I embraced a realization that moving my body pretty much every day is a necessity, like oxygen or water.

And the new badge meant fitbit was pointing out that this is the most steps I’ve taken in a day since I got the device two years ago. They added up, unintentionally, as I flitted, hummingbird-like, from one vague idea of what I might want to do in the city to the next. When I realized I was close to 30,000 and still 3km from my hotel, my Completist came to the fore, and I trudged home, weirdly proud of my little digital badge.

peakWhen I expand peel the onion one more layer, I also see those steps as a proxy for for my Explorer self, the Viking traveller Gudridor in me.  I came to Hong Kong on my way to Cambodia for a couple of days, just because I’d never been here.  On Tuesday, I set out from my hotel with no plan, found the cable car up Victoria Peak, tried to climb to the very top and followed the wrong google directions and ended up getting lost and accidentally traversing the entire peak, encountering unexpected wild boars, many blind alleys. I came down the peak and wandered around to find the dim sum my friend Grace recommended, the only solo diner in the crammed place. I navigated the unsettling pedestrian walkways to find the ferry across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui, up the road that “looks like Hong Kong” of my imagination, through a conversation with a couple of women near the ferry dock collecting images of protest. I signed one, and they gave me a little yellow origami hat. I had a hankering for afternoon cream tea in post-colonial fancy hotel, and then the slog home.

There’s yet another layer beneath the traveler — the person who needs to go out into the world to go inside myself.  Being in a place that is trying to shift itself, assert its voice, fits me.  Hong Kong is the incongruities of laundry hanging out the windows of decrepit apartment buildings, dried fish and herbs cramming the streets, traditional red lanterns beside graffiti proclaiming Police are Cunts, old women bent in half over sticks trying to make their way through the streets, glittering shops with unfathomable excess like a $20,000 stationary bicycle, a pulsing revolution of a completely new kind.

lanterns

This underneath self is what I need most from these steps.  I need liminal space, to hear my own voice, react step by step, rhythm by rhythm.  I had an overwhelmingly busy fall, mostly with work, but I’m in the middle of some shift and re-formation of myself. I know there is something Next, but I don’t know what it is.  I’m doing an intensive coaching certification program, and like therapy school, that means I’m being coached as well as learning to be present in new ways to people. Things in my life are good — and yet, I’m more present to the jarring places where work doesn’t quite fit, my sense of purpose hasn’t fully evolved, the pace I’ve sustained for years is wearing on me.  I’ve had a year of shifts, ending some work things that should have ended long ago, opening up new relational spaces, being more and more fully with glistening truths. I need this shivasana of the soul, where I just move according to what feels like the next impulse, settling into who I’m becoming.

Hong Kong is a two day liminal space between my real life and the real point of this trip to Asia, a 10 day bike trip in Cambodia. Adjusting to the time zone, adjusting to what it means to let go, temporarily, of the many many needs that beset the end of the decade for me.

My first day, I walked 35,000 steps.  My second, I completely let go of my plan and, after some desperately needed morning yoga, I wandered into a mid-day Thai massage, an unexpectedly perfect lunch atop a fancy rooftop.

While I’m here, I’m reading Mary Pipher’s book about women getting older, called Women Rowing North. It’s really about the developmental phase of our 60s onward, what comes next next for me. But Pipher has always captured my emotional landscape better than anyone else — exemplified in a story she told years ago where she and her husband were lying in bed, and she asked him what he was thinking about, and he said pie, and how much he liked pie, and how he would like to eat some pie, and he asked her what she was thinking about, and she said “the holocaust.”

That’s me, idly pondering genocide when other people are thinking about mango ice cream or the beach.  It’s not a bad thing — it’s just… present. And because this is my tendency, I’ve had to more deliberately shape my quest for happiness, for joy, for satisfaction — and, in this decade of my life, I feel that resilience more fully than I ever have.

Pipher writes about the part of mid-life when our bodies change, when the people around us are ill or experiencing losses, when doors close, as a developmental stage that brings huge opportunities for expansiveness:  “if we don’t grow bigger, we can become bitter… when our problems become too big for us, our healthiest response is to expand our capacities.  That growth is qualitative.  We become deeper, kinder to ourselves and others, and more capable of bliss.”

Statistics bear this out, Pipher says — “most women are increasingly happy after age fifty-five, with their peak of happiness toward the very end of life.”

With every one of those 35,000 steps, I stepped closer into that resilience.  Listening to my body’s impulses, feeling its strength, letting my curious explorer self just guide me.  Gratefully rowing north.

elevator

 

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and wanders the world.  Here she is getting ready to head out for her wandering day.