Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Christine Hennebury
I'm a writer/storyteller/director/creativity & lifestory coach with a black belt in ITF Taekwon-do. I read voraciously and I write like my fingers are on fire.
I'm the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and I'm a former president of the St. John's Storytelling Festival.
I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated April 7 as World Health Day and calls for us all to reflect on health, the conditions need for good health, health care, and access to that care.
The theme for 2021 – Building a fairer, healthier world – is about recognizing that good health and good health care is something that everyone deserves, not just some people in some places.
This is, obviously, a complex issue. We could (and do!) have a lot of discussions about what ‘health’ means and we could (and do!) discuss the myriad of ways that bias and prejudice affect access to health and health care, even in the wealthiest parts of the world. But the complexity of the issue doesn’t mean that we cannot begin to address it.
Their phrasing about the unequal access to the conditions for good health applies just as much to changes needed for health care in remote villages as it does those needed to assist a marginalized person seeking health care in a wealthy city:
“This [inequality] is not only unfair: it is preventable. That’s why we are calling on leaders to ensure that everyone has living and working conditions that are conducive to good health. At the same time we urge leaders to monitor health inequities, and to ensure that all people are able to access quality health services when and where they need them.” from the World Health Day website
While their campaign extends to equity in health care of all kinds, there is also a special focus on access to resources and treatments to fight COVID-19.
From their website: “COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.“
There are lots of groups and activists who have been raising awareness and taking action on these issues throughout the world. Still, the general perception is that health (and access to proper health care) is an individual issue/problem or accomplishment. In that system of thinking, individuals are blamed or judged for their health status.
I hope that this campaign and others like it helps more people to see the systemic issues and misguided policies that fuel the inequalities in health and health care around the world.
Since this issue is so complex, and since the call is to world leaders rather than to individuals, it seems difficult for one person (especially those of us with little political clout) to take any action to make a difference.
But, just like with any change, we have to start small.
If you know of a resource, a petition, or an organization that is seeking change in access to healthy living or working conditions for people anywhere in the world, or if you know of one that is working for change in health care access, please share it in the comments so others can find out about it and take whatever action they can.
That’s where our heroine, Khalee, comes to the rescue.
Because she needs a walk, it’s an automatic part of my day.
So, despite the fog, despite the chill, despite my lack of motivation, late this afternoon, I bundled up and took Khalee for a stroll.
As we walked along, looking around and taking deep breaths, I started to feel a lot better.
I started smiling at Khalee, sniffing her way along, wearing the dog shirt that I refer to as her ‘pyjamas.’
And I was filled with gratitude for this good pup whose simple need for exercise helped drag me out of today’s doldrums.
I was still tired but I didn’t feel meh at all anymore.
Thanks for taking your Christine out for a walk, KP, she really needed it.
*Last night, in separate dreams, I was searching for a piece of paper that doesn’t exist in real life, I was trying to remind my husband of things that aren’t happening in real life, and I was trying to teach a sewing class over Zoom (also not happening in real life- which is best for all concerned.)
I bought my first pair of hiking boots recently and I LOVE them.
I’ve *meant* to buy a pair for YEARS but somehow never got around to it.
I do a fair but of walking but I haven’t done a lot of hiking in the last. It seemed weird to buy special footwear when I could just wear my sneakers and do just fine.
But I plan to do more hiking and there’s a difference between doing ‘fine’ and doing well.
Any time that I *have* gone on a hike, my sneakers have let me down. Either my feet have gotten wet or I have slid around a bit or I have almost turned my ankle. My sneakers were fine but I looked in envy at my friends in their hiking boots who seemed to be having a smoother hike than I was.
Often, I’d get home and scope out hiking boots online and then put the search aside for later…and never get back to it until I was once again annoyed on a hike.
Recently though, I came across the perfect hiking boots in my price range.
They remind me of a pair my most outdoorsy sister had years ago, so that’s inspirational. And the fact that she used to wear them out clubbing almost as often as she wore them out hiking bodes well for their potential comfort. (She used to call them her ‘dancing boots, in fact.)
Anyway, I have been wearing them on my walks with Khalee lately and I am really understanding the difference between doing ‘fine’ and doing ‘well.’
Now that spring is here-ish, I would normally have ditched my winter boots for my sneakers. But, since I have hiking boots I have been wearing them instead and they are the perfect in-between for right now.
My feet are dry, I feel sure-footed, and I like how my boots look. I can’t wait to try them on an actual hike.
It feels like far longer than 6 weeks since I finished my series of ‘Go Team!’ posts so it is definitely time for a little encouragement boost.
So, let me jump right to the good stuff:
You are doing great and I am proud of your efforts.
It doesn’t matter if you have been pushing your physical limits every day or if you are just barely squeezing in a few extra steps here and there (which, frankly, *is* pushing your limits, just in a different way!), you are doing what you can, when you can, and it all counts.
Your efforts matter. Either way.
And, yes, I understand that maybe you haven’t followed the plan that you meant to follow.
Maybe you had days when you *could* have exercised but you didn’t.
Maybe you haven’t been giving it your all, or even your ‘some.’
That’s okay and you’re okay.
If you keep coming back and doing what you can to take care of your body – whatever that phrase means to you – you are doing well.
You don’t have to have a perfect record for exercise.
You don’t have anything to prove.
You can keep going, you can start over, you can try again.
You get a lifetime of chances to find the type of movement that makes you feel most like yourself.
Just please be kind to yourself about the whole messy process.
Being hard on yourself gets you nowhere. Being kind to yourself leads to progress AND you get to feel good along the way.
Here’s your gold star for today – a super-deluxe-over-the-top gold sparkler star for your spectacular self.
My plan for February was to do a little work on my upper back mobility every day.
Alas, that plan did not take into account the fact that February messes with me every year.
(I can’t really explain how it messes with me. It’s some sort of mid-winter slump combined with an odd sense of shortened time. Anyway, I have made note in my calendar to take it into account next year!)
But I didn’t get upset with myself about being less diligent than I had intended. I just did my stretches, movements, and yoga whenever I had the capacity and wherewithal to do so.
It turns out, though, that my lack of capacity for daily work on my upper back actually helped me to identify one of the underlying causes of my tight muscles.
Since I was aware that I wasn’t doing the stretches and everything that I intended to do, I really started paying attention to when and how my upper back felt the worst.
And observing that ‘when and how’ led me to realize that not only was my chair in my home office too low and at a bad angle for my back but my monitor was at the wrong height.
So I elevated my monitor and I switched out my chair for one that was less fun but better for my back.
Now, I’m not saying that this fixed the problem entirely. My upper back still needs me to do the stretching and yoga. I still need to pay attention to how I’m holding myself and how long I am sitting in one position.
But addressing that underlying cause of at least part of the problem has made an incredible difference.
It’s not just that my upper back feels more mobile and less tight, I feel better overall. I have had fewer of the specific type of headache that generates from a tight upper back and I feel more relaxed.
So even though I didn’t follow my exact plan I still got where I needed to go.
Last winter, I made an unfortunate error in judgement.
I left our snowshoes in the shed, planning to take them out once it snowed enough to use them regularly.
I didn’t realize that when it finally snowed enough, it would actually snow TOO MUCH and my shed door would be blocked by ice and snow for months.
In fact, I never did get around to snowshoeing last winter. Not even once. And that was annoying.
Annoying enough that I actually made a solid plan this past fall so it wouldn’t happen again. This year, when I put the patio furniture in the shed for the winter, I took my snowshoes out and stored them in my basement.*
Last week, as I was walking Khalee down the snow-covered sidewalk and distracting her from attempting to detour onto the walking trails near our house, I realized that I was missing an opportunity.
If I took out my snowshoes, I could let Khalee bound around in the snow on the path while I sauntered over the top of it without sinking up to my shins.
Now our afternoon walks are mini-adventures for the two of us. (Something Sam and Cheddar and friends clearly know all about!) Snowshoeing on a snowy path with trees on one side and a river on the other is much more relaxing than walking on a snow-smudged sidewalk with a dirty bank of snow on one side and the road on the other.
And yes, there are a few challenges involved in the process. For example, Khalee is not a fan of the fact that I have to go out first and put on my snowshoes before letting her outside and she gets a bit worked up about that. And it is tricky to manage a bounding dog on a leash while trying to walk on snowshoes. And then there is the maneuvering involved in trying to ‘stoop and scoop’ while wearing snowshoes and being connected to a dog whose business at this location is complete and who is ready to move quickly away to the next adventure.
But, even with those challenges, it’s still a lot of fun and it feels a bit more cardio-y than our usual walks.
I’m really glad that I had the foresight to do that little bit of planning back in the fall.
*This kind of planning may not seem like a big deal to the neurotypical but the capacity to think ahead like this has never come naturally to me, especially about stuff that is just for fun. Just another way that my medication has made a positive difference for me.
Owning this item has also spawned three new things that delight me:
1) My son J connected my hat headphones via Bluetooth to my phone under the name ‘hatphones.’ It makes me laugh every time I see it. HATPHONES! HA!
2) I get to say ‘Oh, I have to remember to charge my hat!’
3) I get to say ‘Hang on, I can’t hear you yet, my hat is still talking to me.’
Yes, I find my fun where I can.
PS – I sometimes wear my hat inside for practicing TKD patterns or doing yoga. Unlike my other wireless (in-ear) earphones, my hatphones are sitting comfortably OVER my ears and while they reduce how well I can hear other sounds they don’t block them entirely. Also, I can easily pause (by pressing on the button over my ear) the video without having to scramble for my phone or for the remote control.
If your wellness plan for this year is physical or practice-based, you have probably already outlined the steps and systems that will take you towards your goals. Those kind of plans tend to have tangible steps that you can measure in some way – minutes of meditation, cardio, or yoga or reps of one exercise or another.
But if your goals are more intangible, you will have to choose a different approach to measuring your progress.
For example, if you have decided that you want to feel happier this year, you might find it a challenge to create a plan and it might be difficult to measure your progress.
These calendars and their supporting materials give you tangible actions to take that have been proven to increase people’s feelings of well-being and happiness. And they don’t throw them at you all at once (which can cause me A LOT of unhappiness), instead the tasks are ‘scheduled’ for specific days.
If you are a person (like me) who can get overwhelmed by a long list of future ideas, having them organized into a calendar like this can make the project of feeling happier feel a little more in reach.
So, if you are seeking happiness this year, you can follow their daily advice. Doing (or not doing) these daily tasks will help you measure your efforts and you can check in with yourself every so often to assess whether you feel generally happier overall.
Another note: Please don’t think that I am suggesting that you MUST do everything on both calendars. That’s a sure way to feel overwhelmed. Pick one or mix-and-match. Do what you can with the resources you have and then see if their advice helps you to reach your goal.
Here’s a link to a PDF of the calendar above that includes clickable links to articles about the task of the day. The Greater Good Science Center produces a new calendar each month.
Here’s a link to the Action for Happiness website where you can download a copy of the ‘Friendly February’ calendar. A new calendar is available every month.
I do try to notice when things get especially bad and I do take the time to stretch my upper body fairly regularly but Adriene’s inclusion of Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana) in this series of practices has made me realize that I haven’t been returning my upper back muscles to a relaxed state. I’ve been returning them to ‘somewhat less tense.’
So, I have decided to, in Adriene’s words, give my upper back muscles some attention this month.
I started on Monday with just some basic movements and stretches borrowed from my Taekwondo warm-ups and then I did some upper back yoga before bed. As the month goes along, I’ll add in some more specific physio type work and see what feels best.
I’m hoping that by the end of February, my upper back will stop being so frustrated with me.
Perhaps, we may even become friends.
Are any of your muscles annoyed with you on the regular?
It’s the last day of January and the last day of this Go Team series so it’s the perfect time to do a some ‘big picture’ reflection.*
The short version of this post would read: It’s ok to change anything about your plans, even your goal itself. Success may look different now than it did in January 1st.
The longer version? Well, that has more details:
If you’ve been reading this series (thank-you!), you probably started this month with plans and ideas for the habits you want to add into your life this year.
Perhaps you had a specific goal in mind, or a set of conditions you want to meet at points throughout the year. (Similar to a goal but maybe not the same.)
Now that you have had a month to explore those ideas and work on those things, do you still want them?
Perhaps this month has solidified your plans and you are dedicated to the path you chose.
Or, maybe you’ve realized that you still want the end result but the path/speed you chose isn’t going to get you there.
It could be that you’ve realized that that goal isn’t something you want after all, or, at least, it isn’t for you right now.
Now that you have a month of extra experience concerning that goal you could have any of a million different ideas/feelings about how much it suits you.
You are not stuck with the plans/goals you chose on January 1.
At any point you can change your plans, change your goals, change your approach.
Only you can know what success looks like for you. And since you are always changing and your life is always changing, your interpretation of what success means will change over time.
It’s all about how you want to feel, what you want to do, what you hope to train your body to do…at any given point in time.
You are the only one who can figure out what you want and if your plans and methods will get you there.
Only you can decide if you just need more time or if you need a different method or if you need a different goal.
Changing goals, changing methods, or changing direction are all valid things to do after a month of experimenting with fitness and wellness.
You haven’t failed. You didn’t do anything wrong. You are not lost.
If you feel like you have failed or that you have gotten lost, I invite you to Rudner your plans.
Ages ago, I heard Comedian Rita Rudner make this great joke about how she handles being lost and I have used the idea metaphorically ever since – sometimes literally.
I never panic when I get lost. I just change where it is I want to go.
To extend the metaphor a bit: Making changes at this point (or any point) is like when you are listening to GPS directions and you get off course.
The GPS voice will be telling you that you missed your planned turn-off and it will give you directions to get back to it. (Which is one option.)
If you keep going, it will tell you it is recalibrating and it will give you new directions to the same destination. (Another option.)
Or, you can reprogram that chatty machine and give it a whole new destination. (Also a good option.)
You are in control and you can choose how to respond to the directions from the GPS. Up to, and including, reprogramming it or turning it off.
You are the boss of you and YOU get to decide what success means.
Because, at this exact moment, *I* am deciding what success means. I hereby declare that you have been successful thus far.
You have made an effort, physically, mentally, emotionally, over and over, to move forward with your plans.
It doesn’t matter how far you have moved, I say that your efforts count and they should be rewarded.
Hence, I award you the largest gold star on my collection:
For your efforts, my friends!
Forge ahead. I believe in you.
*I revisit this theme on a regular basis. Here’s a post I wrote on Facebook a few years ago that expands on what I wrote above.
Here we are at the end of January. Go figure!
The end of any month tends to make us compare what we did with what we meant to do, and there is extra weight to January’s reflection because of all the new year brouhaha.
But, here’s the thing, that mental review only has the meaning that we give it.
And we don’t have to be hard on ourselves about it.
Not getting to the end of your to do list is not a personal failure, it is JUST information.
It might be telling us that our list was too long. (This often happens. We think our future selves will be at peak performance levels all the time.)
It might be telling us that we had less time this month than we thought we would have.
It might be telling us that our schedule doesn’t work well for us.
It might be telling us that our systems aren’t serving us well.
It’s information for our future selves to use in making the next steps, it is not an indictment of our past or present selves.
So, that being said, when you make your plans for February, see how you can use that information to be kinder to yourself. See if you can make your requests to your future self a little closer to their capacity and their reality.
(For example, please don’t make the mistake I make and think that a work day with three meetings can also include all of your routine tasks for that day. That’s not how time works, apparently.😏)
And, most importantly, as you look ahead to next month, add in time for rest and for play – especially during busy or stressful times. You need time to recover, physically and emotionally, from challenging times. That’s not weakness, that’s just how human bodies and human minds work.
Finally, as you look at your lists, remember to consider the routine things and the non-tangible things you did. Making meals, returning phone calls, providing emotional support, filing papers, those all count and they all take time.
(Or as I said to a friend of mine recently – “If I measure my success this week in words written, I’m not accomplishing much, but if I measure it in emotional support delivered, I am knocking it out of the park.”)
Be kind to yourself, my friends, things go a lot more smoothly that way.