Cardio-vélo à deux voix/ Spinning in two voices

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a bit spinning-crazed.  My friend Joh and I did the Bike Rally together last year, and now we go on workout dates. Last week, I dragged her to a fancy spinning studio for the first time.  I wanted to know how she felt about it, so we had an email conversation.  Joh is from Quebec and makes me step up and use my French, so here is our conversation, in two voices, hers in French and mine in English — Cate

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Hi Joh — so I took you spinning in a real “spinning studio” for the first time last night.  I looked at you red-faced and damp at the end of class and thought, “I need to hear how this was for her.”  What did you think?

Pour moi, les dix premiers kilomètres sont toujours très ardus, que ce soit sur la route ou en cardiovélo. Ce fut le cas hier soir, lorsque j’ai cru devoir abandonner au début… jusqu’à ce que je réalise que j’approchais le fameux 10 km où je prends mon second souffle.

That’s interesting that you had the same experience with spinning as you do on the road.  What happened when you got your “second wind”?

C’est alors que j’ai réellement commencé à avoir du plaisir, à entrer dans le jeu, à apprécier la pénombre et la musique, à pousser et tirer sur les pédales au rythme de celle-ci sans réfléchir à autre chose que d’écouter les instructions et de porter mon attention sur les deux chiffres au cadran (de tour/minute et de watts). Ceci a duré pour les prochaines 20 prochaines minutes, jusqu’à ce que l’instructeur, Brian, nous demande (ou plutôt, nous intime l’ordre) de nous lever.

I’m glad you found the fun of it — you know I love the fact that it feels like a game or a party.  There IS pleasure in pushing yourself this hard with the music flowing through you.  How did you feel about the way Brian structures the class?  He can be a bit … bossy, lol. 

C’est alors que l’instructeur, Brian, nous a demandé (ou plutôt, nous a ordonné) de nous lever. J’ai obéi pour la première ronde, mais au moment de répéter l’exercice, la rebelle en moi s’est exprimée : il est malade, pas question! Je déteste me lever sur les pédales et en plus, j’ai terriblement peur à mes genoux. Et je me dis que ce n’est pas quelque chose que je fais sur la route, donc à quoi bon m’y exercer en cardiovélo!

I actually think that’s really important — you have to listen to your own body and do what feels right.  I think that’s something I wish everyone understood about spinning or any kind of class — there is this combination between the group pressure of everyone pushing you, which I really find motivating — and you also that you just do what feels right.  If you feel like standing doesn’t work for you or hurts your knees, don’t stand!  How did that work for you?

À la place, chaque fois que la classe se levait, j’augmentais mes rotations et je gardais la cadence à plus de 100 tours/minute, comme un sprint. Tout en espérant qu’il ne m’interpellerait pas devant les autres… et puis, si ç’avait été le cas, j’aurais prétendu ne pas avoir bien compris les instructions… en souhaitant que mon accent français serait assez convaincuant! Mais non, il m’a laissé tranquille et les intervalles se sont poursuivis, ainsi que le fil de mes pensées : assis-debout-sprint-augmente la tension-diminue la tension et on recommence… combien de temps reste-t-il? Est-ce une classe de 45 minutes ou de 50 minutes? Est-ce que je vais me rendre jusqu’au bout? Ah, quelqu’un vient de partir… mais non, pas moi. Je vais terminer ceci, à tout prix! J’aurais besoin d’une autre serviette, la mienne est toute trempée déjà.

LOL — you have captured exactly the same inner dialogue I have during every class.  In many classes, I’m arguing with myself about whether I could actually just get up and leave or not. But you stayed!  

Eh oui, je suis restée, tout en me disant qu’il faut être masochiste sur les bords, et que l’instructeur doit être un peu sadique. Mais, en même temps, que c’est relaxant de ne pas penser à autre chose que ces deux chiffres, répéter les coups de pédale, suivre le rythme de la musique, regarder le tableau de bord et me comparer aux autres participants.

I think you just hit that exact moment of presence that really makes spinning work for me — the numbers seem abstract, but they give you something to fix on and stay focused.  Like an object of meditation. And everything just gets very…. now.  

I know you’re strong, but I was impressed at how you stayed in it.  I tried not to look at you too much but I did look at your numbers on the screen up above the class.  You were very … persistent, lol.  How did you feel at the end?

Vers la fin, j’ai été surprise de l’annonce du dernier sprint. Déjà? Yé! J’ai réussi! Je vais monter ça à 125 tours/minute pour terminer en puissance! Et voilà, c’est fini!! Je suis trempée de bord en bord, essoufflée, rouge, mais souriante et heureuse.

Thanks for playing with me ;-).  Will you come again?

Absolument! J’ai assez aimé l’expérience pour la répéter! Quand est-ce qu’on y retourne? 🙂

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month.

Joh est traductrice (de l’anglais au français) et correctrice, originaire de Montréal et installée à Toronto depuis 2014, où elle a découvert un nouveau réseau d’amateurs de plein air et de sport. Elle pratique le vélo, la randonnée pédestre et le pilates aussi souvent que possible.

Keeping your bike healthy

I learned how to ride a bike when I was 7, when my dad and Howie Stolz, beers and Rothmans in hand, took me and the Stolz kids to the top of a hill in a German campground, balanced us on our bikes and let us fly downhill.  By the end of the weekend, knees embedded with gravel, we knew how to ride bikes.

My bike has been freedom, openness and adventure ever since. But despite riding for 45 years — 3500 km last year —  I’ve never been able to keep it healthy and running myself. But I’m planning a solo, unsupported trip this summer in the Baltics, and I finally had to come face to face with learning basic bike repair.  My 4.5 decade strategy of having reliable bikes, befriending people with skills, hoping for the best and knowing that I can always call someone to come and get me if things fall apart won’t work when I’m alone in Latvia and Estonia.  So.  I spent last Sunday in a one-on-one bike clinic with an amazing mechanic I met on the Bike Rally last year.

 

Alex is an excellent mechanic, a born teacher and just an all round lovely human.  We spent 6.5 intense hours together, and I felt like my bike was slowly peeled apart and revealed for me.  I was literally and emotionally given the tools to move into an empowered, more intimate relationship with it.

I’m not remotely mechanically inclined. I’m also a total klutz. I once punched myself in the mouth and made it bleed trying to put a tire back on after changing a flat. (I also recently dropped a cup of coffee in my work bag and destroyed all of my electronics, but that’s another story).  So I’ve always engaged in bike maintenance with some indifference, a little fear, and a high sense of incompetence.  I oil my chain and keep the tires pumped, can put a chain back on on a ride, and once adjusted my gear cables. But as much as possible, I outsource my bike care.

Until now. Last weekend, I learned and did a 7 point A-B-C-D safety check (an intense 2 hours), adjusted my brakes, learned how to adjust my gears using three different points on the bike, created and fixed a flat, fixed a broken chain, replaced a spoke and trued a wheel by carefully adjusting spokes.  I completely changed a brake cable, adjusted the headset, and learned how to tape my handlebars.

IMG_3771Several times, I felt like the bike was inside out. We pulled the handlebars and stem RIGHT OFF the fork, and I felt actual anxiety when the handlebars and cables dangled down over the front.  But I also *felt* my bike in completely new ways.  By running my fingers down every cable and housing and threading them back into their slots, I felt like I was finding my bike’s veins. By pulling on the cables and derailleur gently and watching the gears shift, feeling the exact moment where the tension wasn’t perfect, I felt a new flow, the real connection between clicking the gear shifts and the bike’s response.  Gently tightening and loosening to find one spoke after another until the wheel spun evenly was meditative, truth in my fingertips.

A bike is physics, and craft, and engineering, and magic. The spokes act in tension and compression to distribute the weight of the bike and the person as it moves forward without allowing the wheel to squish — but there is, apparently, still a debate about exactly how this works.  Looking at the bearings on the inside of the wheel axle, I understood in my hips how balance happens when you’re pedaling. By feeling the layers of how the chain links slip effortlessly together, how to tighten them, I had a little physical sensation of movement.

IMG_3761There was a lot of laughing, and I had a lot of “ahas.” What felt scary and foreign became intimate.  Alex taught me mountain biker tricks about how to get “back to camp” even when your bike has been, basically, run over by a car, by twisting spokes together and whacking the wheel back into something approximating round. She broke me of my lifelong habit of trying to adjust both sides of the quick release wheel at once when putting it back on, explaining that the little acorn nut is the only one that really moves, and you don’t have to worry about the balance. (This will change my life — I take my wheel off a LOT). She also explained that it’s my habit of changing trying to shift the gears too hard on hills that makes my chain fall off so often — that I should just look ahead and start out in a gear closer to something I can sustain.  Changed. My. Life.

By the end of the day, I felt a tiny bit of shame that I had waited so long to try to understand my bike like this.  It feels like I’ve taken my bikes for granted my whole life, deriving huge pleasure and trust in them without bothering to really get to know them. Feeling a bike from the inside out, gaining intimacy and familiarity with parts I’ve literally never looked at — it makes me feel like I’m honouring what my bikes have given me. Bikes are miracles and deserve care.  And knowing how to listen differently, know what that noise means, how to respond to things that could go wrong out in the world, how to care for the parts —  makes me feel more intrepid, like anything is possible.


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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month.  If you’re interested in deepening your own relationship with your bike, leave a comment and she will hook you up with Alex, who does freelance coaching and repair instruction and riding skills workshops — and is awesome.  (Alex is also reachable on twitter at @legslegum).

 

 

 

What makes a good spinning class?

(This post has a soundtrack.  Click here or go to mixcloud.com and search George Chaker. Click any of the spinning mixes and play it while you read).

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Spinning that feels like a dance party.  That’s George, at Torq ride.  I’ve been spinning, off and on, for about 18 years, and I recently discovered George.  He’s a DJ and a fitness guy and probably my favourite spinning instructor I’ve ever had.  He has just the right blend of presence, push and trust in the class.  George starts out moving fast and it just gets faster. No pauses, very little recovery of any kind.  But I do it and leave the class feeling incredible. Here’s what happens in my head when I’m in one of George’s classes:

I like the dark… that music is fantastic … RPMs not at 85, go harder, find the beat of the music, push harder, those watts are climbing…135… 149… 187… 201… reach harder… 210 … 201… 202… this is crazy but my body is keeping up… are my knees okay?   The guy next to me is keeping time by beating his hand on his handlebars… he’s so into it… up out of the saddle — form… 3 position, core, form… music …pedal harder… 35 km/hr… 241 watts… 30 second push… 335 watts… tension off, keep pedalling, stay at 85…That guy next to me is moaning… how is it george pushes us like this.  this was a terrible class to forget to grab a towel — my hands are slipping off the bars… use your shirt… everything is slidey… everything feels strong and breathless.. 5 more minutes… one more push… 334… oof… that guy is moaning again…push push push omg that felt so good 

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This photo depicts a row of barely visible people on spinning bikes in a dimly lit room.

50 minutes pass and I’m working in the hardest zone possible for the whole time.  I hop off the bike, stretch, dripping sweat.  I wash my hands, leave the studio and check my phone, clicking my email to get my performance numbers.

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That’s a good spinning class, 50 minutes that feel like a dance party, where you actually sing out loud with the ironic dance mix of You are my Sunshine at the end of the class.

I had a class this week that was the opposite.  I won’t name the teacher, but the music was mediocre and played too loudly, and she kept shouting instructions over the music that I could never actually make out. Here’s what I was thinking in her class:

I hate it when the teacher frames the class as “you’re going to hate me” — I want to be on a team with the teacher, not set up to hate my own sense of movement. Why is she pressuring us to hit these watts right out of the gate — this is actually hurting my knees.  She’s a much bigger person than I am — does she think someone my size can actually do that?  That music is so loud it hurts my ears.  What the hell is she shouting now? How long is this push supposed to be?  Or is this a sprint?  Where is the torq stick supposed to be?  How much longer in this stupid class?  Shit we’re only 15% done.  I’ll just click the stage button so I can’t actually see how much time has elapsed… that music is so loud it’s actually damaging my hearing… fuck, what would happen if I just stopped right now… how much longer… can I still count this as a workout if I stop after 30 minutes… were we supposed to end that segment with the end of that song?  She’s not really keeping track. Oof my knees hurt, why is my foot all twitchy?  Fuck 5 more minutes, I can hang on.

Here’s the thing:   on the numbers, I actually hit similar levels in her class as George’s. But the experience of being in George’s class leaves me euphoric, completely present to the ecstasy of driving music and moving my body in unison with 25 other sweating, pushing people in the dark.  We’re together, and strong.  I believe I can do anything and I push for it. It doesn’t feel like an “exercise class” — it feels like deeply grappling with my strength and a deep pleasure and what’s possible.

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This photo is a sandwich board with the message PUSH: Persist Until Something Happens

And so, I go back. And I get stronger.

Spinning doesn’t need to be a spiritual experience.  I have some deep skepticism about things like Soul Cycle,  which claims to “change lives,” not just bodies.  Torq is inspiration-lite, the sandwich board outside the only real “messaging.”

But every instructor has a philosophy that seeps through. The ones that don’t work for me?  Now you can go to brunch and have a mimosa with a clear conscience… This will make up for going out for St. Patrick’s day… You’re going to hate me…

The ones that work?  Like George, they’re about strength and being in your body.  Use this class to get out the stuff that’s bugging you.  Find your own road and dig just a little deeper.  We’re all doing this together — you can push each other just a little harder.  

Some instructors let you dig deeper than others.  And in a week where I’m in my head way too much, where I am in charge of too many things, putting myself on a bike and letting George create the soundscape and rhythm for my life for an hour takes me somewhere important.

cate new hairFieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to the blog. (Look for her the second Friday of every month).  She lives in Toronto, where she is a strategic change consultant and educator working mostly in healthcare spaces.  She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.

 

Running in Barbados

I’m running. My shoulders are hot with the sun, and the road is busy and the pavement is uneven and I don’t know where I’m going.

I’m running slowly, quite gently.  My toes are blistered for some inexplicable reason. My feet probably swelled on the flight, and I haven’t had enough water, and we walked to a fish fry last night through the hot dark night in the wrong shoes. Jessica wanted to show me a house for sale on the water, and I just couldn’t bear to walk another 200 metres.

I’m running in Barbados, the miracle of a 5 hour cramped flight on a rickety plane from Toronto, being decanted here on the swirl of turquoise sea. Jessica has been doing workshops here with local women, and her partner is here with their tiny twins, and I’ve joined them for a few days. A few bonus vacation days sliced right out of the middle of an incredibly busy time.

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I’m running after a 12 hour sleep, because my body and mind have been tuckered out from an intense work season, and I need to find my soul. My body is slow, and my feet hurt, and I’m hot, and I needed to use my inhaler this morning. Getting up and out of the air bnb place — not fancy (“it’s like we’re rich students,” says J), but right on the white sand aqua sea beach — was an effort. It would be easy to sit in the sand and let the lassitude take over.

I’m running because it’s one of the ways I explore a new place, and it makes me feel grateful in every cell. Grateful for my body that works, even if it’s more of an effort than ever before and I woke with a sore knee.  Plus the blisters. Grateful for a life where I have enough privilege, time, resources, support to take a few days off without much fanfare. (Trying to ignore the emails that are reminding me of what’s not done). Grateful for a life where I get to put my self into so many new corners of the world, find them.

I’m running because it’s the only way I would see these streets with just the tiniest hint of how someone who lives here might. Narrow sidewalks, having to veer constantly into the traffic when someone has pushed the boundaries of their property right to the edge of the road. The heat of midday, where a man is sleeping in a bus shelter, his fancy running shoes on the ground beside him.

I’m running never more than 100m from the ocean on this road, but I only see it in tiny glimpses, the wall of hotels and big houses sealing off the view. Down one idyllic lane, I see the ocean gesturing…. and a man is efficiently peeing against a wall. I notice the proliferation of Canadian banks, and global fast food places, and the number of places that have the same style signage as the place we’re staying. One local sign maker, I guess.

I’m running, looking for the boardwalk I was told was down here, and I see it behind a KFC. I’ve been running five km already, and I was planning on 7 — and I finally find true paradise, wide big waves, finally out of the traffic, my water bottle empty, my body aching with the heat. At the end of the boardwalk, I know I’m courting sunstroke, so I walk up a few steps to the pool deck of a fancy hotel and ask a server if I can please have some water. She brings an iced pitcher.  I express my gratitude, conscious of the privilege of looking like a white tourist, knowing that the guy selling bracelets on the beach can’t truck up here, wild-eyed and sweaty, and be greeted with ice water and encouragement.

I’m running, the last kilometre or so, counting up the places I’ve been lucky enough to run. All over Canada and the US, in the desert and in cool ominous mountains. Iceland, Norway, Prague, Rome, the Philippines, Uganda. Cornered by wild dogs in the ancient plains of Bagan in Myanmar. The incredible panorama of the ocean in Capetown where I had to beg a stranger for sunblock, the long dirt road in the Pantanal in Brazil where caimans — a kind of alligator — crowded close to the edge of the road, looking at me. The uneven streets of Kigali, Rwanda, where I tripped and hurt my knee. Getting lost my first day in Auckland, befuddled with jet lag. Laos, Vietnam, Germany. All of the places, windy and hot and frozen and drizzly, all new, trotted through on foot, absorbed and felt and explored. Every one of those runs suffused with recognition of how lucky I am to have the life I do.

IMG_3253]I’m running, not fast, and there is a lot of aching. I’m 52, and I’ve slowed down. I ate way too much last night at the fish fry and my blood was thick with the sweetness of a couple of rum and cokes. But when I stop, and get on the bus filled with locals to head back, apologizing for my sweatiness, bare shoulders, I feel I found something I can’t find bobbing in that glorious ocean, sitting on the beach.

Back at the place we are staying, I play with Ivan, one of the twins. He rolled completely over by himself for the first time this morning. He’s frustrated, wanting more from his body than his body is delivering right now.  We eat beans and rice and salted fish, and dip in the ocean.  Later there will be ice cream.

Make your day harder! (Guest post)

On the weekend, Sam and I found ourselves on this giant escalator ramp called a MOVATOR.  We were picking up a cake and samosas for a baby shower for mutual friends, and the grocery store we went to is on the second floor.  This MOVATOR locks you and your cart in place to go down to the ground floor.  (How do you say this?  Moo-va-tor?  Moe-vay-ter? moo-va-TOR? Try saying it without sounding like an ominous robot).

 

 

Both of us tend to scoot around the world at a fast clip, and being on the MOVATOR ground us to a halt.  Which got us talking again about the discussion Sam blogged about a couple of weeks ago about  walking on escalators. That conversation started out as a bit of good-natured griping on Facebook about our preference for scooting up the left side of the escalator and wondering why everyone doesn’t walk.

Well, as Sam captured in her post, people told us a LOT of reasons why many people don’t walk on escalators, and we were reminded, again, that we have a lot more capacity and health than many people.  And that no one should ever be judging anyone else’s mobility, hidden disability, pain, fatigue etc. by their external appearance.  Absolutely true. And… I was still feeling nagged by my original sense that escalators (and MOVATORS!) are, for me, an overall cultural trend where we gravitate effortlessly to doing the things that make our lives easier, that make us move our bodies less.  And I am a big fan of doing things to make my life a little HARDER whenever I can.

I’m very clear that there are many people whose bodily limits make all sorts of functional assists important and necessary — that’s not what I’m talking about.  And, I live on the third floor of a condo building with two easily accessed staircases — and almost every single person in my condo building takes the elevator down from the third floor to the first.  Of course sometimes you’re carrying things, or are fatigued, or it’s painful to take the stairs.  But half the time, it’s literally people in gym clothes, getting ready to go work out, who take the elevator. Because they can.

There was a good piece last week on CBC Radio’s The Current about treadmills, and how they were originally instruments of torture for prisoners, the ultimate hard labour with no satisfaction of producing anything.  Fascinating, and funny.

They also interviewed researcher Dan Buettner, who has studied what he calls “Blue Zones,” the places in the world where people live the longest.  He says that people with the longest life spans stay healthy when they integrate movement organically into their days — not carving fitness off into a category of activity on its own.  The people who live the longest, he says, live in environments that “nudge them into physical activity every 20 minutes or so.”  This nudging doesn’t have to be something big — it’s small things like gardening, or walking down the street, or hanging clothes outside instead of putting them in the dryer. He advocates for getting rid of things that make your life “easier” so you can add more organic movement — like taking transit instead of driving, for example, or who using a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer while cooking.  Leaving your laundry set up in the basement instead of moving it to the second floor so you have to carry clothes up and down a few flights of stairs a few times a week.

There’s a great video from Dr. Mike Evans about how these moment-to-moment choices that make us move can make a huge difference to our health. Sam blogged a little bit about this last month.

 

 

The world absolutely needs automation and supports so that people who need them can have them.  I am personally trying to get my condo board to install automatic doors right now to make our building more accessible.  And, for many of us, there are a lot of opportunities to integrate more, small movements into our lives if we look for them, if we don’t just punch the button for the elevator because it’s there.

img_2485In one of my roles, I teach in a newish building in downtown Toronto attached to a major hospital.  The designers of the building wanted to encourage people to connect to people in other departments and on other floors, along with promoting health. So they put a beautiful staircase right in the centre.  It’s one of my favourite features of all of the places I work.

And one of the things I love about this staircase is that it’s such an unusual thing to do that the fire code required that the builders put a *second* staircase, right beside it, behind a sealed door.  Because it’s so rare to put a staircase in the centre.

So that’s my mantra.  Put the stairs in the centre and take them when you can. Push the cart yourself.  Carry a backpack.  Walk to the store.  Shovel instead of snow-blowing. Leave your laundry in an inconvenient place. Ride your bike to work.  Make muffins using a wooden spoon, not a mixer.  Make your life just a little bit harder — and make your own “blue zone.”

8 ways to find balance (Guest post)

I turned 52 on Wednesday. My birthday always falls in the greyest of weeks, where even people who are close to me sometimes lose track of the date (one year, my mother called me the day AFTER my birthday, certain that it was the right day). My birthday always prompts a lot of reflection and exploration of where I am right now in my life — in some ways, most years, the greyness helps me focus.

This year, the usual February greyness has deeper clenching fingertips, with the sense of global political chaos and uncertainty, and a thin overlay of anxiety and fear for many people. Susan wrote last week about running as an antidote to despairTracy wrote about how odd it feels to be thinking about “frivolous” things like eyelashes when the world feels so uncertain.  A lot of people I know are feeling very personally off balance, worried that what they have taken for granted around “progress” has been a bit of an illusion.  One of my friends said the other day, “I don’t think feeling this much hate can be good for me!”

I think she’s right.  This birthday, I spent a lot of time pondering my own sense of balance, what kind of self-care I’m practicing, and the effect that’s having.  I actually started a few new practices on January 1st, all of which were about adding mindfulness and fitness space to my day to day life.  My hope was that it would get me through the grey winter; I’m finding these things are actually really helpful scaffolds through uncertainty, and they help keep catastrophizing at bay.  In no particular order, here are eight practices keeping me relatively balanced right now.

#1: Looking at the world with a photographer’s eye

Since January 1st, I’ve been taking at least one photo a day that requires me to notice something and find a perspective that might be worth sharing.  I did the 365 photo project a few years ago, and found that I looked at the world differently when I had a more contemplative photographer’s eye open in my day to day life.  Not all photos are brilliant, but this practice does make me scan for a beautiful sunrise or sunset or shaft of light or angle of a staircase, and it makes me pause.  And there I am, deeply present in a moment.

#2: Mindfully connecting with my cat

My second daily mindful thing is to spend intentional time playing with my cat. Usually, I give her half-assed attention, petting her on my lap while I work or bending down for a minute or so when she bunny-stretches for me when I get home.  Giving her focused attention, often just before bed, calms us both.  We play fish stick and jingle mouse and I do nothing but pet her.  Sometimes she’s even the beautiful thing I photograph (though she actually tries to knock the phone out of my hand if she thinks I’m texting when I should be paying attention to her).

#3: Writing one page every night in a small gratitude journal

img_2542It seems hokey, but like playing with Emmylou, gratitude journaling reframes me before I try to sleep. Sometimes my notes are big things about people, or how grateful I am to do significant work — and sometimes they’re tiny things I am really noticing for the first time — like the comforting noise of the furnace in my cosy apartment, or the way it feels to crawl into clean sheets.  This is less about looking “on the bright side” and more about really noticing the things around me that make up the life I most want, the things (not always easy or pleasurable) that help me be the person I most want to be.

Since I started doing this regularly, I’ve noticed that when I omit it, I’m much more likely to churn through anxieties as I fall asleep.  Apparently, it actually rechannels my neural pathways in a good way.

#4.  217 Workouts in 2017

Sam posted about this “217 workouts in 2017” thing she and I are doing, along with our friend Joh and a bunch of other people.  Really, it’s just a public commitment to working out 217 times this year, with a facebook group where we post our workouts. Simple accountability — but like my photo project and gratitude journal, I can actually see whether or not I’ve done the thing.  If I haven’t posted in the group for a couple of days, I do some kind of workout.  Simple motivator, and it genuinely does force me to do things like haul myself out of bed for a quick 630 am run on a busy day, walk when I might otherwise drive, or hit a spinning class at an “inconvenient” time if I means I can see Sam and Joh.

#5: Making Friends with the Gym

At this time of year, committing to working out means I have to make friends with the gym. The gym and I have a pretty contested relationship generally.  I mostly belong to gyms to have access to treadmills and spinning bikes when I can’t easily get outside. For years I had small gyms in my condo buildings, but my current building doesn’t. For a while I belonged to a scruffy gym right across the street, but I didn’t like being there. I made the decision to join the Y a few months ago, and in some ways it’s a gym-y as it gets — but I can go to any location, which is good for squeezing in a workout between meetings, and there are classes for when I’m totally unmotivated, and I actually like being among a lot of people all sweating and jumping.  In this gym incarnation, I do stuff I wouldn’t normally do.  And that is a good thing.

(Except for bootcamp.  Don’t do that.  It’s everything you ever hated about gym class, but with people 25 years younger than you.  And you won’t be able to go down stairs without wincing for three days.  I’m just sayin’).

#6 Leaning into community and connections that matter

I’ve been making an effort to spend time with people who make me feel like the version of me I most like.  I spent the weekend of the Women’s March with my family in Ottawa, and was happy to have my sister and nieces with me for what felt like history.  And my other sister has a brand new baby, and well, there’s nothing better.

#7: Self- and other-nourishment

Woven into the people connections is attention to food.  Las weekend, Catherine wrote about self-nourishment as a huge part of fitness.  And in February, in a grey time, it’s even more important.  I bought cupcakes for people for my birthday week, I had dinner with three women I’ve been having dinner with once a year for 24 years, my cousin flew in a day early for a business trip so she could have a birthday dinner with me, and I have made many friend-and-loved-ones dining plans to stretch through February.  Connection and shared self-nourishment.

#8.  Choosing joy, extending gratitude

All of this is similar to what Chloe wrote about last week — do things that give you joy.  My business partner (and good friend) turned 50 recently, and had a birthday party shaped around what gives him joy.  He had an early, kid-friendly party (he has a 7 year old), we all ate lasagne and cake, and we sang songs that make him happy.  Singing — and his delight in singing — made us all joyful.

img_2268On my 50th birthday, two years ago, he made me a little jar filled with 50 slips of paper, each of which named something that he appreciated about me. I did the same thing for his 50th, plus brought an empty jar and a few stacks of post it notes to his party.  By the end of the night, the second jar was also full, and I even had four notes in my own pocket from a sweet mutual friend.  And I’ve noticed that since I spent the time writing out all the notes — I actually had more than 50 — I keep noticing the things he does that I appreciate, that make me feel more able to me the person I want to be, do our work well.  I am reminded every day how lucky I am to have a work partner I can be so creative and authentic with, and who I can depend on.

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My little set of balancing practices isn’t prescriptive.  People need to do what works for them to find balance – whether it’s creating a peaceful ring around a mosque, meditation, hosting a pizza and protest session, ski-racing down a hill, taking political stances, taking a media hiatus, building a blankie fort, going dancing, or making contributions to the ACLU.  But I know that for me, the types of practices that things that make me slow down and notice what grounds me, what comforts me, what connects me — these things build my resilience, balance me.  And that means I can step back and write thoughtful posts, call the Prime Minister’s Office, be present for my clients and the people around me, try to find a clear throughline that makes sense of a shifting world.

Travel, cycling and mindful surrender

I just got back from a month in South/SE Asia. I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka, where my first interaction when I arrived at my hotel at 230 am was an argument with the desk clerk who insisted (incorrectly) that I was sharing a room with someone, that I should sit down and wait for my guide to come, and who, despite my protests, called a stranger on the phone and said “I have a woman here for you.”

I finally managed to convince him that I wasn’t anyone’s woman, that I didn’t need my guide to get out of bed and come to me, and that all I wanted — all ANYONE wanted at 230 am after flying all day — was to go to bed.  At breakfast the next morning, I worked overtime to try (and fail) to get a very specific coffee.  Later that day I spent far too much time trying fruitlessly to get laundry done.

These arguments, this trying to make things work the way they “should”?  I wasn’t in travel mode yet.  I hadn’t yet found that space of letting go, of surrender, which is what I really seek when I’m traveling. Away is not home, and the further away you are, the more you have to peel off your expectations.  And as I get older, and my life gets more and more overstuffed, “time out” from certainty, from expectations, from thinking I know what’s coming, becomes a more and more important part of my mental and emotional resilience.

Over the month in Asia, I was on the seat of a bike for about 16 days. I blogged about my two week cycling trip in Sri Lanka here and here, and about riding in Laos here.  It was a fantastic experience.  Bikes bring you into mountains and remote places you would never “feel” from inside a vehicle or get to on your feet, and bring you into intimacy with people in villages, farm creatures, small cities. There’s no other way to find your way onto roads that are literally 6 feet wide that wind through tea plantations, the tiny places where the people who pluck the leaves we drink live, the unexpected tiny Buddhist and Hindu temples in every village.

 

On a bike, you realize that coniferous forests and burning garbage both smell the same wherever you are on this planet.  Roosters sound the same in California, Myanmar and Uganda. You learn how to greet people in their language, and to make eye contact with people where you find them, bathing or shopping or gossiping or working. You stop for breaks in random places, and children come running. In both Sri Lanka and Laos, I was continually surprised by how many people exchanged glances that showed that they thought I was simultaneously crazy and remarkably strong for riding a bike up a mountain — they laughed WITH me.  In a vehicle, you’re walled off from everyone, driving through.  On a bike, you’re at the same pace, more immersed. More available.

And, pedaling for 16 days — a total of about 885 km, with a hell of a lot of climbing (and two crashes) –is not what most people think of as a “holiday.” It’s mystical and illuminating and magical in many ways — and it’s physically HARD.  At the same time, I get bone tired and fully, totally awake. I think the reason this effort is so energizing is that it forces me to surrender to what is.  And that wake me up in ways I never feel anywhere else.

At the most basic level, for me, cycling is about mindfulness. I’ve written a bit on this blog over the past year about how pedaling is sometimes the only way I have to make sense of the world — that there’s something meditative about moving my body with the exact force needed for a long ride that frees up my mind from “stuckness,” as Pema Chodron calls it. Riding requires you to “be here now” — you have to have your senses alert to what’s around you, what’s on the road, how the bike is balanced — and for me, it also opens up the kind of flow that enables me to let go of the stuff that’s besetting me, let in creative ideas.

Using a bike to explore a completely unknown world is, for me, the most powerful alchemy of letting go and opening up. It’s all about comfort with uncertainty. No matter how many lists you make, no matter how prepared you are, you will not have all the right gear, and you will not know what the roads feel like under your wheels, what the borrowed bike will ride like, when it will rain, whether the cloud forest will descend or not, whether that mountain road on the itinerary will be surrounded by trees or open drop offs, whether those villages will be charming or filled with garbage and wild dogs. There is no way to know these things, and no way to plan for them.

For both cycling trips (and a night jaunt in Bangkok), I traveled this year with a company called Grasshopper Adventures, who are a great outfit.  Well organized, professional, good communications, experienced. I began to plan this trip in the summer, worked out every flight or hotel night between trips, made long lists.  Checked off boxes. Debated — camelback or water bottles? Bring pedals or not?

In the end, there was a long list of things that either I “got wrong” in pa1-26cking or that went awry on the road. First, shoes. I asked the tour contact if road bike cleats made sense for Sri Lanka (I used them in Vietnam last year); she said yes, but she was wrong. They were completely wrong on muddy, broken mountain roads, and I destroyed them on the second day.  I had no real back up — I had some vague notion that I could wear running shoes, but they kept slipping off the pedals.  So I ended up riding more than 800 km wearing my keens sandals.  (I actually tried to fi1-5x this by having someone in Canada go to huge effort and expense to find me mountain bike shoes and ship them for the Laos trip.  I got them, and the shoes were too small.  Back to the keens).

It was a lot colder in Laos than I expected in the mountains. The other people on my trip had long tights and sleeves and puffy jackets.  Not me.  I had t1-19o wear every layer I owned, including sacrificing a lacy top as a cycling layer and adding polka dotted socks with the keens.

On the last day in Sri Lanka, after getting a bit discombobulated by a crash, I left my glasses — my expensive progressives I need for, you know, basic SIGHT — behind in the bathroom at lunchtime, when I pulled them out of my pack to look for toilet paper.  (I was wearing prescription sunglasses). I had back up glasses — completely inappropriate for riding or everyday wear, the sequined cats eye ones I call “party librarian.” And it rained in Laos, so I had to wear them every day.

I didn’t expect the monsoons in Sri Lanka, or the muddy roads, or the steepness of the hills. I didn’t bring enough head wrap thingies. The bike in Sri Lanka was much heavier than I’m used to or comfortable with. I brought a little front pack so I could keep my phone handy, and the new phone I got just before I left didn’t fit in it.  The GPS on my new-last-summer bike Garmin just completely stopped working my second last day.  The guide in Laos forgot I don’t eat red meat and made a pork-only meal for lunch one day, with backup pork for dinner. In Sri Lanka, there were tons of discrepancies between the itinerary we’d been sent and our guide’s plan. We got lost a lot.  A new group joined us halfway through the Sri Lanka trip with a whole new dynamic. We got on a train and someone had taken our reserved seats so we had to take the bus. We had to ride in the van more than planned in Laos because of fierce rain. I crashed the first morning in Laos. And so on.  And so on.  I adapted.  And it was — all GREAT. None of this mattered.

I never found the point of complete surrender — it’s not super easy when you’re tired and sore (and keep crashing), and I got very cranky when someone on our Sri Lanka trip cut her riding short one day and requested a special transfer to the hotel just so — I’m convinced — she could steal my room and I had to go to the overflow, yuckier hotel.  Then there was the day we rode 90 km then got on a bus immediately for four hours to sloooowly go up a mountain without snacks. When we reached the lodge, I  needed to eat right away — and we had to dress up and wait for a formal dinner (See:  Why I hate fancy hotels). I hit the hangry point and demanded bread and butter and ate it right in the lobby. I’m hardly the poster child for adaptability and surrender.

But, I know this about myself.  My life is overstuffed, and I don’t let go easily. I need to push myself into places where I need to adapt, be reminded of what happens when you surrender. And doing it in a world where adaptation is a requirement is for life is the most vivid reminder of all.

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I know I’m privileged, to have the physical and financial resources and support to enable to me to take this kind of trip.  And engaging with such a different world, with people living completely different lives from me, making the most elemental human connection on the tops of mountains and in rice fields … lifting myself out of assumptions and expectations … all while using my own steam to cover almost 900 km of space… all of this solidifies deep awareness of that privilege, gratitude for what I have.

Riding hard, you slow down at the end of the day.  Most days, there was some kind of sunset.  You look and immerse yourself in it.  This sequence of sunsets from this trip is the mental imprint now that reminds me to still myself, practice gratitude, feel each day as it was.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to this blog. She lives in Toronto and explores the world whenever she can. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com