A modest proposal

When women turn 50 in Ontario, we get a happy birthday message from the provincial government that lets you know it’s time for a mammogram, a pap smear and a colorectal cancer screening.  Yay, happy birthday, you are officially old.


Recently, in my consulting life, I’ve been working with several professions that fall into the rehabilitation/ mobility realm, and I’ve developed my own little pet project that I would undertake if I were the minister of health:  a comprehensive mobility assessment at the age of 50, and the development of a personal plan for strengthening and sustaining mobility.

I have been thinking about this a lot as I’ve entered my 50s, and started experiencing the weird stiffnesses and aches and changes in metabolism that come along with this decade.  I’ve noticed an increasing number of my peers who can’t comfortably walk up or down two or three flights of stairs.  I’m not talking about people with the kind of injury or deficit where they might already be seeing a physiotherapist or other mobility professional — I’m talking about the “move it or lose it” kind of agility and strength.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to sustain mobility as we age.  There is a lot of evidence that physical activity in older people is a critical part of preventing disease and sustaining wellness, maintaining independence and creating a good quality of life.  If we can’t move our bodies in some ways, we’re at greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.  If we don’t feel comfortable walking a few blocks, there are fewer and fewer activities available to us.  Mobility is critical to aging well — which is one of the main points of this blog’s existence.

And, there is almost nothing in our current primary healthcare framework that focuses on fostering agile aging.  We are screened for the biggest problems inside our bodies — cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and there is an increasing focus on health promotion (participaction and the carrot app, anyone?) that encourage individuals to take action. But my suspicion — supported by anecdotal evidence by my colleagues in cardiac rehab and mobility professions —  is that most of those programs are going to sweep in people who already see themselves as physically active in some way, or if their health providers have told them to become more active.

I think there would be huge benefit in providing a safe, supportive framework for an assessment by a healthcare provider focused on mobility (physiotherapist, athletic therapist, occupational therapist) at the age of 50 or so, and the development of a personalized plan for each person, focused on aging with the greatest mobility.  We don’t all need to climb mountains or do endurance runs or ride our bikes across Estonia.  But I do think that aging with the greatest agility, strength and ease available to each of us is more accessible than some people think.

o-OLDER-WOMEN-EXERCISING-OUTSIDE-facebookRight now, for the most part, access to the services of physiotherapy and these kinds of professions fall into the 30% of healthcare in Ontario that are privately funded, not publicly supported.  If you have a benefits plan that covers physiotherapy, a comprehensive assessment in your early 50s and goal-setting personal plan is accessible.  But most people are only referred to physios when they are already injured, and for those of us without this kind of funding, it’s never on our radar.  I think making planning for long-term mobility a normal part of aging should be something we all do — and it should be an integral part of our health system.

What do you think?






Why I run when I travel

IMG_5996Two weeks ago, I got up early, opened the carved wooden doors and threaded my way through the tiny laneways of the Marrakesh medina, through Jemaa al efna  as the juice-sellers and food vendors were setting up their stalls for the day.  I was stiff, and I was tired, and for modesty, I was dressed too warmly.  The run was slow and awkward, zigging up and down the smallish park around the Koutoubia Mosque to eke out 5 kilometers.  But doing it filled me with absolute joy, and as I dodged motorbikes and cats in the lane going back to our riad, I glowed.

Last Sunday, we had a 24 hour layover in London on the way home.  In the same clothes I wore in Morocco, but a bit chilled this time, I ran from Trafalg ar Square up the wide mall to Buckingham Palace, accidentally encountering a changing of the Queen’s Guard, which caused a police officer to furiously wave me off the street.  I finished 5 km dodging tourists and pigeons, and going back to the over-stuffed hotel, I glowed.

IMG_2507I’ve written before about running when I travel, on the morning road in Uganda where the local people are carrying pangas in their hands and bundles on their heads, and where I’m just emanating the privilege of running for exercise or joy in the midst of people who must walk hours to work.  I’ve written about running in Barbados, where running puts me among the broken sidewalks that people who don’t leave the resorts never see.

I counted up the countries I’ve run in while I was running in London, and I think it’s 22.  The thing about running in other countries is, I remember almost every run. At home, the runs are all a big blur, some good, some not, rarely memorable. Good for me but workaday.  Like not remembering how many bagels with peanut butter I’ve eaten. But I have vivid, body-aware memories of runs in every other country I’ve run in.

The run in Auckland 22 years ago when I meant to let go of the 24 hour journey with a 20 minute gentle jog, but got lost and ended up in an hour long trudge, the sidewalks swooping up at me in my sleep deprivation.  The run through icy drizzle along a little seafront trail in Reykjavic, where I felt for a few minutes what it would feel to live there and have this chilly finger morning routine.  An overheated, glare-hot run along a busy beach road in Spain after a fight with my then-partner, trying to bake my way back to equanimity.  The short, incredibly plodding 15 minute run along a lake in Sri Lanka I added to an 80 km bike day, where my feet would barely move and I got caught in an explosive rain storm.  An attempt to get into a park in Bangkok where I spent 10 minutes trying to navigate the impossible tangle of traffic signals, then found myself the only westerner joining the Thai joggers who all stopped and stood respectfully when the national anthem played over loud speakers at 8 am.

A run in Myanmar, among the temples of Bagan early in the morning before they were sifted through with visitors, where I got trapped by a pack of wild dogs.


The run along a narrow dirt road in the Pantanal in Brazil, in heat that forced my feet to stop involuntarily every 5 minutes or so, weaving my way around the lazy caimans who lay right in the road, surrounded by capybaras, egrets, ibis, kingfishers, parrots, parakeets.


I carry those memories physically, too.  I have a big scar on my knee from tripping down a hill in Kigali, my water bottle and phone shooting into the road, baking from the inside out as I limped back to my hotel, where ice was not a thing.  I got a sunburn from running in Capetown that I’m pretty sure triggered the basal cell carcinoma on my nose — but that solo encounter with the sea was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.

I used to say that I run because I “have to,” but I don’t say that anymore.  Mostly, in my real life, I run now because it’s an efficient way to get my body moving, because every few runs I feel really good, and I have enough history and foundation of running over 23 years that I know how to do it without hurting myself.  It helps keep me in balance, mentally, emotionally, physically — but it isn’t the imperative it once was.

Unless I’m traveling. Then, running is a necessity, something I have to do to connect to a place, to feel it by breathing it in differently than I can any other way.  Running, I’m alone with the space, feeling the people around me, the feel of the sidewalk or road or sand.  Running in a new space is pure, trusting exploration — I don’t know where I’m going or what I will find or what the road will feel like beneath my feet, what pollution might be in the air, how my sweating, toiling self will be perceived by the people I’m running among, whether I’ll be able to find my way back to where I’m staying.  When I’m in a hot place, walking makes me languid. Running is a thrust, pushing me into the space more fully, making me breathe hard into it.

I often talk about how even though I like to count things, I really dislike the concept of a “bucket list” — the notion that the world is full of experiences to “check off” before you die.  It feels weirdly transactional to me, more about acquiring experiences than living them.  Running is one of the ways I truly inhabit my experiences, have deeply connected, mindful connections with the places I visit.

Running when I travel is a gratitude practice.  Because my body is being fully, completely engaged, my spirit is fully activated.  It makes me aware that in this world, I have tremendous privilege — my body moves when I want it to, the ways I want it to, mostly; I have incredible economic means and a work and family life where I have the freedom to explore.  I have the privilege of being connected to a community of people I love on the other side of the world in the work I do in Uganda. I have the privilege of making choices of so many kinds.  Running through those privileges evokes absolute gratitude in a way nothing else does.




217 in 2017!

This is me, finishing a snowy, slow 4K run on Christmas Day, my 217th work out in 2017.


Sam and I have written several times about the “217 in 2017” workout challenge.  We were both part of a facebook group that was aiming to do 217 workouts in 2017.  Throughout the year, we’ve pondered “what counts?

For me, I count, any episode of moving my body that wouldn’t be a normal part of my everyday life –– a 6 hour 100 km bike ride and a 15 minute, 2.5 km run each count as one episode.  The point, as I explained to my 11 year old niece, is to “go play outside as many days as possible.”  (Well, a good chunk of mine were spinning classes and gym workouts, but playing outside IS a goal).

At the beginning of December, I missed a week of working out because I was sick.  But then I doubled down with a mini running streak (5 days in a row), and one day I doubled up a run and a yoga class (2 episodes).  Like a lot of people in the group, I high tailed it for the finish line, and it was only this goal that got me out into the amazing snowy woods on Christmas Day, when I was full of too much bacon and ham and in charge of the dinner.

I wrote last week about why I like counting things, but right this moment, what feels the best about this is making a commitment in a busy, middle-aged life to put movement into as many days as possible.  Doing this 217 in 2017 thing, I noticed how my sense of accomplishment has changed.  I used to care about my running pace — and now, I care about being unbroken enough at nearly 53 to keep running.

My 217th workout was a short run between turkey bastings on Christmas Day.  I was at a cottage with my family that Susan kindly gave me the use of for a few days.  My brother-in-law, who is an intense mountain biker and does Half Ironmans and still thinks of me as the kind of runner I was 15 years ago, really wanted to run with me.  I laughed and said sure, we can run together, but you are going to be totally annoyed at how slowly I run now — you’re just going to say fuuuuuuuuck over and over when I stop every 600 m and plod up the snowy hills.  I didn’t feel apologetic or competitive — this is just a fact of how I run now.  In the end, we left together, and he lapped me for an extra kilometre.  We were both satisfied.  He conceded the 8 cm of fresh snow and icy roads had slowed him down too.

More than anything, I care about having the drive to integrate movement into my life. The 217 workouts group is a good way to keep myself accountable to that.

Sam hit her 217 on Boxing Day.  I asked her what it felt like for her to finish her goal, especially since she’s been struggling with knee problems that seriously limit her movements.  She said:

“I did it too! Love the group for the simplicity of counting what for you, at a time, counts as a workout. Love the variety of things people count. And I especially love the end of year push to make it. And we did, despite your illness and my knee, we did. See you in 2018!”

The guy who hosts our facebook group, Jason, also hit his 217 on Christmas Day.  I loved how we encouraged each other in the last two weeks to stay active.  I asked him what he did for #217 and how he felt:

Walking the Las Vegas strip might not be the first thing you that pops into your head when you think “working out”. But it was the workout I was most anticipating and most excited to complete in 2017. It’s exactly the kind of activity that the 217 Workouts in 2017 challenge is all about. I was excited because I could exercise with my Mom. We only get to see each other a few times a year and she has a knee replacement. Everyone knows it’s good to move well, move more, and more often. Yet as the owner of Fitness for People in a Hurry, the biggest obstacle I see a lot of people encounter when it comes to exercising is the way we have conceptualized working out. We have really built up workouts to only count if they are herculean feats of strength and endurance. I can’t tell you how many time I have heard someone say “I need to get in better shape before I can work out.” With the challenge, I wanted to deflate our conception of a workout and hopefully get people moving more. I’m really proud of the 217 workouts in 2017 FaceBook group because I think we have done just that. Even if you did half of the workouts in 2017, that’s still 108 times you got your body moving. There are no losers here. I hope that more people join us for 218 workouts in 2018.”

Happy new year everyone!


“We don’t need no stinking badges”

“You’ve achieved the March of the Penguin badge for lifetime steps!”fitbit

I got a notification on my phone the other day from Fitbit, congratulating me for walking 112km since I got my fitbit.  Apparently this is the distance that penguins march in Antarctica. (I think I watched part of a documentary about this once on a plane.  It’s a blur). I just got the fitbit in a burst of Black Friday greed, and I’m weirdly enamoured of all of the little artifacts of accomplishment.

As no one close to my life will be surprised to hear, I’m highly motivated by counting things.  I actually bought the fitbit because the integration of my iphone with the carrot rewards app was clunky and insufficient, and I got annoyed with the recent iphone health app “upgrade” where steps are only updated every 10 minutes or so.  If I’m counting steps, I want real time data. And, it turns out, I get a little burst of swelling accomplishment equivalent to some mini-high when I hit my carrot step target in a day and get my 2 aeroplan points.  And don’t get me started if I get the extra 50 points for hitting the target 10 days in a row.

This is the same reason I went for short runs four days last week in the final run up to hit my 217 workouts in 2017 goal.  I was on track, then was sick for 5 days, and don’t want to trip myself at the finish line.  I’m at #210.5 and determined to find another 7 in the next two weeks.

I’m long-established as a bit of a “completist” — I notoriously rode my bike 30 km up and down a bike path in the rain to get myself to my 150 km on Canada Day when my fellow riders had stopped earlier for various reasons, and I never stop 2 or 3 km short of a round number.  I like to count the number of countries I’ve been to, and adding to the list is one motivator in my choices of where to go. And in my long-ago running past, people mis-interpreted my pleasure in hitting certain time goals as “competitiveness.”  It isn’t — I don’t care how I finish against someone else.  What does give me pleasure is beating my own times, or ticking off a desired distance goal.

I started to notice that this pleasure is both conceptual – yay me! — but there is a physical element to it.  A little spike of hormones coursing through my body when the fireworks go off on my wrist telling me that I’ve hit my 10,500 step goal for the day.

Do you remember the episode of Star Trek:  TNG where Riker brings back a game from a planet where he’s holidaying, and everyone starts wearing visors and dropping disks into funnel-like receptors by manipulating their eyes?  And every time the disk drops, they give a little mini-orgasmic sigh?

And of course, ultimately, this game is a way for the bad aliens to try to take over the Enterprise, with everyone entranced by their optically-induced orgasms?

Yeah, my counting thing is a bit like that.  Without the aliens.

It’s well established that exercise releases endorphins, seratonin and dopamine, which contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness, can help keep depression at bay, and can boost productivity.  It turns out that for me, because I’m so rewards-motivated, I get a double hit of dopamine, which is also known as the “reward hormone.”  I feel the surge o energy from exercising, then I get another hit of well-being from feeling rewarded for exercise.

Taking up a Quest for More Dopamine is not without its dark side.  There has been a lot of noise recently about screen “addiction” being fed by dopamine released by pings or likes on social media or levelling up on video games. I know I have been aware of this phenomenon when raising money for the project I work on in Uganda — I get the dopamine surge when I see the telltale email address that notifies me of a new donation, which is a little disconcerting.

Knowing that counting steps and workouts, getting little badges, aiming for distances keeps me motivated isn’t a bad thing.  I’ll take some extra floods of dopamine as I navigate the dark and busy time of year.  But it’s good to keep Riker and his little visor in mind and not let that penguin march right over me without question.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.  She writes for this blog on the second Friday of every month and other random times when she has something to say.






What does it mean to look my age?

A few years ago, I was sitting in a crowded waiting room to renew my passport and I fell into a conversation with a man sitting next to me.  He had immigrated to Canada from Chile in the 70s, and told me a little bit about his life here.  “Then suddenly one day, you’re looking in the mirror and shaving the face of an old man,” he said.

I had my moment where suddenly felt I “looked my age” a couple of weeks ago.  I looked in the rearview mirror of my car on a grey dim November day and thought “you don’t just look tired, you look middle-aged.”  Followed immediately by the thought, what the hell does that mean, anyway?

It was actually a complete coincidence that Sam wrote about this the same week — I’d been mulling over aging and looking one’s age for a while.  Like Sam, I have generally tended to not “look my age” — which I think is usually shorthand for “you have funky shoes and you look fit enough and still somewhat fuckable and not like the toll of your years is really showing on you.” But over the past year or so, I’ve realized that “don’t look your age” is a concept that only exists when people are thinking “oh, I know you’re a middle aged woman but you look pretty good…  considering.”  Which is… very different … than a simple “you look GOOD!”

NGU3ODE2MGFjNjE3NzQ3ZjI1OWFmNTc2ZDRmYzliOGIxNWY2MzExNGM4MDdjNGNkNzhhMWZkMjRkNGVlODp7ImRzIjoiaW1hZ2UiLCJmIjoiXC81XC84XC81ODg5ODhfZGVmYXVsdC5qcGciLCJmYSI6dHJ1ZSwiZmYiOnRydWUsImZxIjo5MCwiZn A younger (female) colleague recently commented that my arms and my other colleague’s arms “looked so toned.”  (Implied: for women in your 50s).  My aunt told me I looked good because I have “kept my figure.”  Yoga teachers and massage therapists frequently compare me to their mothers.  One of my students told me recently I reminded her of her bubbe.

I don’t really know what I feel about this or what it means.  There is a wide spectrum of the meaning we make of aging, from seeing it as inherently carrying deficit (I can’t do things any more! I am closer to death, which terrifies me!) or as a natural shift, possibly even one to be savoured (I have so much more wisdom and know the value of slowing down! I feel good about what I’ve accomplished in my life!).

416418724_5403169779001_5403162873001-vs I think, culturally, we are in a significant shift around aging.  There is still a deep undercurrent that Aging is Scary and Bad —  in a quick scan of most birthday cards commercially available, at least half of them are mired in deficit (“Fifty — the new F word!”  “”Don’t sweat turning 50 — no one likes a sweaty senior citizen!“). Lifestyle magazines are constant reinforcing the desirability of looking younger, and ageism is still very much alive, in many contexts.  I had a colleague tell me a few years ago that she found a teaching job because she thought her years as a consultant were limited, because people “don’t take older women as seriously.”  Sam and Tracy have both written about midlife invisibility, which like most women my age, I’ve experienced over and over.

At the same time, there has been a strong force for the past couple of decades or so to redefine aging as a zone of vitality.  There is what scholars would call an emerging discourse about “successful” aging — i.e, aging as an opportunity to respect and revere natural life stages, live every decade as fully as possible, destigmatize old age. This blog is part of that movement in many ways:  the very premise is about recognizing that aging doesn’t mean being unfit, acknowledging that it’s a powerful stance to claim our strength and agility and physical ambition — whatever that means to us as individuals — as middle aged and older women/non-genderconforming people.

This shift in the social construction of aging is emblematized most memorably, perhaps, by Gloria Steinem resisting being told that she was “aging well” by stating  “this is what 40 looks like — we’ve been lying for so long, who would know?” She repeated that kind of assertion at 50, 60 and most recently, 80.

Being 50-something meant something very different when I was a kid. This is a picture of two of my great aunts in the 1960s.  They would have been in their late 50s or very early 60s at the time.


They are old ladies.  Below, this is me at almost 53.  I have visible crow’s feet and a certain softening of my features, but I don’t think I look like an “old lady.” I look like me, but a bit softened, a bit weathered, fatigue registering on my face more quickly and eloquently, thicker around the middle than I was a couple of years ago.

Feminist-ily (it’s a word!), though, this claiming-of-vitality is a bit of a double-bind. Looking to Julia Roberts or Gloria Steinem as the avatars of “what 50 (or 80) looks like” might not be the most self-preserving stance.  Bodies DO start wearing out in our 40s and 50s, and knees and hips and metabolisms can be stubborn and uncooperative.  A lot of my peers are wading through thick pools of stress and loss — empty nest transitions, ill parents and spouses, deaths, work pressures, loneliness, existential questions about the impact of what exactly our sense of purpose is here on this earth —  and it shows up in their bodies and on their faces.  Placing emphasis and value on “looking young” could easily become a way to avoid integrating and being comfortable with the inevitable changing experiences of aging.

My life doesn’t have built in transitions at middle age — no kids to wave off, and I don’t have the kind of career where I’m counting down the years to a pension in single digits.  But I’ve experienced that growing invisibility, the pragmatic clarity that some doors are just firmly closed now (I will never go to medical school, or be a mother, or celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary, or ever again run sub 5 minute kilometres as a matter of course) — and there is a trickling fear of irrelevance that comes along with the closing of doors.

One of my colleagues, a geriatric psychiatrist who works with people in their 80s and 90s, says that all of them talk about feeling like themselves, like the people they have always been.  The New Yorker piece linked above notes:

The young can’t grasp that most older people don’t feel so different from their youthful selves. When Florida Scott-Maxwell was living in a nursing home, in 1968, she wrote in her journal  “Another secret we carry is that though drab outside—wreckage to the eye, mirrors a mortification—inside we flame with a wild life that is almost incommunicable.” She felt like the person she’d always been.

That’s the fear, I think, that continually pushes us to wanting to look younger — the fear that the things we value about ourselves the most will disappear, will become invisible, will be rendered undesirable.  That we will suddenly look in the mirror and see someone we don’t recognize, whose body doesn’t match how we feel inside.  And realize that others can’t see anymore the us we feel inside.

I keep coming back to the word “congruence.”  Equanimity comes when we feel some congruence between what we yearn to do, our ability to do it, what we feel like, what we look like.  Aging is a biological process, yes, but I think it also should be a reflective practice of finding a way to live comfortably in the tension between continuing to pursue strength, dreams, fitness, agility, learning new things — and accepting the inevitable changes in our biology, our life circumstances, not as losses but as natural shifts, opportunities to re-engage with what it means to be ourselves.

Like Sam, I think I’m okay to “look my age.”  I’m not quite ready to go grey gracefully, but I won’t sweat the wrinkles.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, and who regularly blogs here on the second Friday of every month.









Movement lab

Like Sam, I’m doing this “217 workouts in 2017” thing, and I’m actually on workout #197.  That’s a lot of jogging and riding and bending and lifting semi-heavy things since January.  And yet, I’m sluggish, slower and gaining weight (thanks, peri-menopause!).  As I’ve written about a couple of times, my body is heavy and tired and tight and hurt-y, which makes nothing feel so great.  So I’m working out, but with definite reluctance and a lot of dragging-my-ass-ness.

I had a massage on Monday with a new RMT, and it was the not-fun kind.  But he was good and he pinpointed a few things about how all the stringy bits in my body are connected and firing off each other, and he Strongly Suggested that I explore something more … wiggly… than running and cycling.  I’ve been to a few yoga classes in the last few weeks (including goat yoga, which honestly, was more goats than yoga), but I had been curious about a class at the studio across the street from me called “movement lab.”

The class description says it’s designed to explore fundamental human movements like squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, hanging, locomotive patterns, hand-balancing and creative play. Be prepared to challenge your mobility, balance, strength, coordination, skill and adaptability using a wide array of techniques, tools and situations. This is great practice to fill in some of the gaps of your asana (yoga) practice and/or sport specific training.

The schedule also promised that the class would let me “Cultivate an intelligent and creative approach to how you MOVE and express your human complexity!”

How could I resist that?

andre-talbotIn a rare burst of alignment, my schedule lined up last night so I could go to the class.  I had no idea what to expect.  I studied the photos on the website to try to figure out if I needed to bring a yoga mat, and whether it was a barefoot or shoe-needing class.  The two images on the website showed guys doing squatty things in their barefeet so I figured I was good.

When I got into the studio, I dragged out a yoga mat (before confirming out I didn’t need one), and did some stretchy calf things.  A dancer-y young man came and shook hands with everyone as we waited and introduced himself and asked our names.  (Spoiler alert: he also gave me a big hug at the end.  Very warm and wiggly).

IMG_1359We started with “radializing” (rotating bits of our bodies), then did some sort of bendy things and some balancing and rotating things, then played with big sticks with a partner for a while, first jumping to catch the sticks our partners dropped, then “attacking” them in slow motion to make them dodge and bend.  Surprisingly hard.

Then we spent about 15 minutes starfishing ourselves across the floor, a sort of flat-on-back starfish, then one side balling up then rolling then unfurling.  It hurt my tender menopausal boobs to do it the harder way, which I had to tell the nice young man when he was trying to help me adjust.  I also had to tell him about the arthritis in my big toe, which made him say “my mom has that” very kindly.

The final half hour of the 75 minute class was the hardest, a series of animal moves.  (I’m sure there is a modality that this is all based on, but I cannot locate it).  Deep ape — what you might know as a deep squat; beast — on all fours with knees an inch off the ground balanced on your toes; loaded beast — same, but butts back; crab — hands behind you, butt off the ground — and a bunch of variations therein, lifting different bits at a time.  For about 10 minutes, we beast-walked around the studio in various configurations.  It was HARD.

We finished with 5 minutes of random shaking.  I reflected that I should have worn a running bra for my tender boobs, not a yoga/cycling bra.  Then some breaths of joy and the aforementioned big hug.

I truly sucked at all the beast things, and it was all surprisingly challenging but compellig, in the way that that one pose you can never do at yoga is challenging.  But it was fun and interesting and the teacher was sweet and I liked it.  And I woke up this morning more… jaunty.  A few bits were a bit sore, but my hips feel a lot more open.  More beast walking for me.





aging · fitness

Listen to your body … when it whispers

Why does it all feel so HARD right now?  

I texted that to my business partner earlier this week, and from what I can see of the world around me right now, I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Last month I wrote about yin yoga, and how when I laid down in silence, I suddenly felt my body ache and tug at me. How had I not noticed that I was powering through my workouts and workdays so hard that I was actually physically hurting? At the end of that post, I wrote something about needing to slow down and listen to my body. A friend read the post and texted me “I think it’s unfinished — I think you are saying listen to your body when it whispers.”

She was right, and for the past month, I’ve been trying to really listen.  The yin class reminded me of how important it is to do the basic guided meditation thing of body scanning — what does your big toe feel like?  the front of your shin? — and even more, to scan what’s happening all over for me.

Physically, the scan turns up a lot of reasons for my bone weariness. I had a flu-cold thing, and am traveling for work a lot, and had a stretch of time where I didn’t have a day off from work for 22 days. And like Susan and Sam and pretty much everyone else in the known universe (except Tracy,!) I find the darkening days mean I just want to hole up in the blankies. In fact, I did just that last Sunday — tucked the kitten under my knees, made a bowl of popcorn and binged several episodes of Outlander without moving.

As I keep scanning, there’s another layer.  The work stuff that feels hard feels like one of those watershed moments — where I’ve reached a threshold of what I can do, and there are opportunities for deep learning. If I fight it, everything gets scratchy — and if I listen hard to what it’s teaching me, my work moves to the next level.

When I scan again, I also realize the obvious:  I’m having what is something like my 490th period of all time.  I started in October when I was 12. I’m 52 and have never had a baby.  At roughly 12+ periods a year for more than 40 years I have menstruated… well, probably more than 99.9% of the women in all of history.

I keep trying to act like this cycle of night sweats and frequent periods and surging PMS doesn’t phase me.  But it does.  I’m almost 53.  I’m tired.  It’s wearing.  And when I listen, I know that’s it’s part of why I feel so slow, so heavy, so constrained.  (And cranky.  Don’t forget cranky).

Right now, my body is just not supplying the boundless energy that makes my neighbour — a yoga teacher — shake her head and say “you work out more than anyone else I know.” I really don’t — but I’m usually pretty consistent. But in the past few weeks, I haven’t had a single vigour-ish workout that felt good — the few short runs I’ve managed to force myself into are plods, and I find myself slowing down in the middle of the weekly spin classes I’ve made it to. I renewed my membership at the Y in September and I’ve been exactly twice. Last week, I signed up — and paid for — two classes that I didn’t even go to. My body is telling me SOMETHING.

What am I hearing when I listen to the whispers? Slow down, move differently, listen to the invitation to learn something, make something new.

Slowly, I’ve started to accept that there is something about the current hormonal and cyclic flux of my body that craves vitamin B and sleep and rest and fresh air more than sweat and deep exertion. I heard a CBC podcast a couple of weeks ago about a Chinese tradition of “sitting the month” after giving birth — basically, giving yourself the space for your body to truly recover from birth, to transition to the next phase of your life.  I took that as another invitation to recognize that there is some kind of transition happening that I need to listen to.

Right now, I’m giving myself permission to do things that aren’t running and pushing myself hard, finding different ways to move, being open to things that feel like mystery. A few weeks ago, I spent 2 hours “ecstatic dancing,” moving my body in yoga clothes and my bare feet to an eclectic blend of music, ranging from bhangra to thrash to classical orchestral to tinkly sitar music. A week later, I went to a yin workshop for a friend’s birthday that included live music whose vibrations were intended to attune us to the vibrations in our bodies as we held deep connective poses.  Both of these things sound “flaky,” but they connected me to my body again.

Ten days ago, I embarked on a 21 day challenge with another friend, to each change one habit.  He’s limiting his sugar intake to one thing a day, and I am trying to shift my habit of mindlessly snacking after 8 pm.   Unless I’m eating out with people and we’re eating late, I ingest nothing but water or mint tea after 8 pm.  It seems simple, but the number of times I’ve almost put leftover dinner in my mouth when I’m cleaning up the kitchen, or felt the impulse to make popcorn or eat crackers and butter after 930 is… well, every day.  But I have adhered to it, and I feel better every morning.

Scanning and listening.

Last Saturday, I went to an all day meditation workshop with my cousin.  She lost her young son a year and a half ago and has been on her own transition journey of living with grief, creating her next self.  We spent a long time talking about what happens when you start to listen to what’s aching under the surface — in your soul and in your body. Most meditation practice teaches you how to be both present to and not pushed around by pain — sitting with it, it flows through you. When you don’t acknowledge pain — physical, fatigue, emotional — it persists until it breaks you.

I’m letting myself acknowledge fatigue, and the effects of darkness and hormones, and letting myself dwell in it.  Not to hide under the blankies, but to listen for what it’s offering, what the transitions are leading to.  And it feels right to nest in it.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.  Cate blogs here the second Friday of every month.  And other times when she has something to say.