Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: isekhmet (a.k.a. Christine)
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 Co-Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and I'm the current president of the St. John's Storytelling Festival.
I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.
It’s kind of weird how we all find our different paths to fitness and we all find different things that we enjoy. It’s even weirder what people in a given sport find fun.
Martial arts are definitely a case in point for weirdness.
Possible trigger warning: Physical violence. I am a martial artist so my sport involves getting struck. We employ all kinds of safety practices and I am never in danger but depending on your history, my descriptions might be upsetting or triggering. Please proceed with caution or feel free to skip this post..
I don’t know what you were up to last Saturday, but I spent my day choosing to be a target. And if my opponent missed, I advised them on how to kick and punch me more effectively. And then congratulating them when they did better in the next attempt.
This isn’t as odd as it sounds, I was actually at a sparring seminar hosted by our school and led by Grandmaster Laquerre, a highly skilled international sparring trainer.
I literally spent four hours taking turns kicking and punching someone and then letting them kick and punch me. And we observed each other’s kicks and punches so we could provide insight into how to fine tune our technique for when we are in the ring.
It was fun and challenging. I learned and practiced lots of great techniques.
Sparring is great exercise and great for letting off steam. I know that it’s not for everyone, though.
And I’ve been doing this for so long now that it seems completely normal to me but when I try to explain it to someone else it sounds so very weird.
And it kind of reminded me of that Facebook meme where you are supposed to describe your job in as odd a way as possible. (e.g. I’m a writer so my response was ‘I spend my days in imaginary worlds and try to get other people to pay to keep me there.’)
So, just for fun, how can you describe your fitness activities in a way that would make people raise an eyebrow?
Is there nothing the beauty industry won’t try to shame us about?
Then my eyes rolled out of my head and I had to spend some time patting the floor to find them.
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the target market for this gym. I wear make-up sometimes, mostly because I like the ritual nature of putting it on. I use moisturizer so my face doesn’t feel tight, but I am not regularly checking out the mythologized ‘7 signs of aging’ (according to the Oil of Olay prophecies). I’m not even sure what those signs are.
I get irritated by the idea that I am supposed to want to look younger. In fact, I get irritated by the whole idea that youth is an aspirational thing in any way.
I’m with (the late) Carrie Fisher on the whole thing, really.
And it’s not that I don’t get why things like a ‘face gym’ feel important – we’ve all been sold on the idea that our faces are our fortunes and the most youthful possible versions of our faces are worth even more. Every message we get is that youthful beauty is the only way we will be ‘worth’ anything in the world.
But if we don’t push back against some of these ideas then we will spend even more time chasing perfect appearances – as dictated by someone else – and we will have even less time to do the cool stuff we are actually here to do. We have inherent worth and the more of us that stand up and say that, the easier it will be for everyone to take up their space.
The thing is, I don’t exercise because of how I will look, I exercise because of how I will feel. And getting poked and prodded at a face gym does not sound like exercise and it does not seem like it will feel good.
If a face gym sounds like something you need, go right ahead, but understand what you are buying into – the idea that you are not good enough the way you are.
I’d rather see you buy into the idea that you are not a damn decoration and your face is terrific just as it is.
PS – I didn’t even get into the whole nature of the privilege involved in being able to spend $70 for someone to rub rocks on your face. That is a whole separate monster.
PPS – Besides, I am pretty sure the idea for the face gym was stolen from my Great Aunt Lucy who was telling my mom about how to pat her face to stay youthful over 50 years ago. Ha!
I understand that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is pointless.
However, I still HATE being told that I have to step out of my comfort zone.
For me, even the phrasing is upsetting.
It’s a disorienting piece of advice, like being told to abandon everything you know and leap into the unknown.
My immediate reaction is to say ‘NOPE.”
So, I was really expecting to agree with Melody Wilding’s Please stop telling me to leave my comfort zone it seemed like it was going to be the sort of advice I use with my clients. I was expecting to be disappointed that I hadn’t written the piece.
That’s not how it worked out.
Even though she and I share a lot of the same perspective on the value of ‘comfort zones’ and the same distaste for being told that leaving that zone is the only way to grow, I found her depiction of leaving a comfort zone to be very odd. It was as if, for Wilding, there were only two states of being – living in a comfort zone or constantly maximizing your stress.
That’s a very extreme view. It’s no wonder that she wants to stay in her comfort zone if the only other option is full crisis-mode.
I don’t want anyone to regularly spend time in full crisis-mode, that’s not good for your health. However, I also don’t want anyone to stay confined to a ‘comfort zone’ if they want something else for themselves.
That’s why, when I have to coax my clients toward change, I encourage them to EXPAND their comfort zone. To take small risks, be slightly uncomfortable, and gradually increase what the actions and activities that they are comfortable with.
I tell them that change is difficult and it can be uncomfortable. And I remind them that some people enjoy the disorienting feeling of jumping right into something new. If my client doesn’t enjoy that feeling, then there are lots of other ways to change and to grow – slowly.
It will require a certain amount of willingness to be uncomfortable, and maybe even a few minutes of panic, in some cases. However, they can build up their tolerance for those feelings.
And, in talking about this whole issue with some of the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers, I came to realize that there was an aspect of the issue of comfort zones that I had been missing.
Since I am firmly pro-comfort zone, I didn’t know that there are people (Hi Mina!) for whom the comfort zone is actually UNcomfortable – it feels too safe, too easy, too controlled. So getting away from that comfortable feeling feels GOOD to them, they aren’t ‘stepping outside their comfort zone’ in the same way I am. They are stepping TOWARDS something that feels better for them.
(So, perhaps there are multiple kinds of comfort zones. Maybe some are about staying the same and some are about constant change, depending on what feels right for you.)
But, when it comes to what we usually mean when talk about comfort zones (i.e. staying in a ‘low-risk’ area skills-wise), I agree with Wilding about their importance. There is a lot of valuable work to be done from within an individual’s comfort zone, a lot of good things come from there. I don’t advocate making yourself miserable for no reason, or worse, just to show that you can step outside your comfort zone.
And I think that she and I are probably operating in some of the same spheres – calculated risks, small steps, gradual growth – but I think that there is something off about setting up comfort and panicked stress as a dichotomy.
Ultimately, these quick snippets of advice that get tossed around as memes are lacking in nuance. They are one-size-fits-all and it can be annoying the way they held up as received truths.
When you are trying to make changes in your fitness, your self-care, or in your habits, you have to take your own path.
Maybe you thrive on the stress of the unknown and you love the challenge of overcoming your discomfort and meeting your goals. If that’s the case, keep stepping towards what feels good.
Or, maybe you are more like me (and, apparently, Wilding) and you find that full-on discomfort is overwhelming and prevents you from making progress toward your goals. If that’s the case, keep taking those small steps outward and EXPAND your comfort zone until you are where you want to be.
Neither approach is bad or wrong in itself. It just might be the wrong tool for a given person and we can’t presume that our approach is the ONLY way to get things done. Obviously, different tools work for different people
One of my favourite writing quotes is by A.J. Liebling – “The only way to write is well, how you do it is your own damn business.”
The same principle works when it comes to making changes – “The only way to change is by changing, how you do it is your own damn business.”
So, my question is, how DO you like to change?
Do you jump toward that feeling of discomfort or do you prefer to deal with it step by step?
I’m challenging myself to do yoga* every day in November.
Many of the writers here at Fit is a Feminist Issue are already very fit and have a consistent fitness routine but I’m not quite there yet.
I am moderately fit and I can keep up at Taekwondo but my commitment to consistent, regular movement varies. I am still working toward the point where daily exercise is an automatic part of my day.
I may not be consistent (yet) but I am PERsistent and that brings us to today’s post.
As much as I had hoped to be very fitness-focused these past two months, I have ended up doing bits and pieces of exercise all over the place. A few pushups here, a walk there, some yoga one morning, my Taekwondo patterns another. I’ve attended TKD classes but I have had to miss a few.
I’m okay with all of that , I have been juggling a lot of things and had a lot of pop-up tasks and it won’t help things if I start being mean to myself about not managing to get more exercise in.
I don’t enjoy this haphazard approach though.
It’s ‘good enough’ but it doesn’t increase my feeling of well-being very much.
I end up feeling kind of scattered. Not a feeling I enjoy.
I want some consistency. I want more physical ease. I want more fun.
And THAT brings me to daily yoga.
Just me and my mat, at home, every day.
I want to do other movement, too, of course, but yoga is the right answer for right now.
a) I like short term project commitments (a month of something feels do-able for me).
b) I find it easier to do something every day than every once in a while.
c) I don’t need to be wearing something specific to do yoga.
d) I can do yoga first thing in the morning without waking anyone else up.
e) I can do it right before bed without waking myself up.
f) And, most importantly, it doesn’t just feel do-able or manageable, it feels necessary. I WANT to do yoga daily.
Of course, going from no specific practice to a daily practice will be challenging, I know that.
That’s why I’m keeping my expectations low.
7 minutes** or 7 poses. Every day.
Care to join me?
*I’d like to acknowledge here that my measurement of whether or not I have ‘done’ yoga for the day will be if I have done asanas, the physical aspect of a yoga practice. I am working to develop my practice in all 8 limbs of yoga but that does not lend itself to measurement or to public discussion. I just want to be clear that I understand that yoga is more than stretching on a mat.
It wasn’t that I *couldn’t* fall asleep, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t sleeping for long enough, the problem was that the quality of my sleep was poor.
I thought I had tried everything – I went to bed earlier, I stayed in bed later. I stopped taking my ADD meds for while in case they were the problem.
I was doing basically okay but my energy was low and I felt out of sorts. Exercising felt like a HUGE effort.
I thought I should try to change my sleep environment – perhaps I was too warm, too cold, or the room was too light.
Then I remembered how, a few years ago, I had to ditch my light-based alarm clock because as soon as it brightened at all, I immediately woke up fully. There was no gentle awakening, I was asleep and then AWAKE and still tired.
And I thought about how, even though I went to bed fairly early, half the household was going to sleep after I did so there were lights going on and off in the hall as they got ready for bed. And then I considered that, when the sun rose, an unavoidable sliver of light leaked around my curtain and woke me up.
I thought about trying to get them to change which lights they turn on, and maybe buying a darker curtain for my room. That seemed complex and possibly expensive.
That’s when I hit on the solution….a sleep mask!
I even had one already – it came with a pair of pajamas my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago.
In my mind’s eye, I was going to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all sleepy glamour and tassled earplugs. (I can’t actually imagine wearing earplugs to sleep but to each their own)
In reality, of course, I look ridiculous.
More sleeping goofy than sleeping beauty.
Luckily I don’t have to watch myself sleep* – I can just enjoy the process.
And I REALLY enjoy waking up feeling refreshed.
It’s not just that the mask helps me regulate the light level in the room, it has also become a signal that it’s time to sleep. It’s almost like a focusing tool for resting. (I even use when I am taking nap)
Even though it feels faintly ridiculous, this small change has made a HUGE difference in my life.
Totally worth feeling like sleeping goofy.
Have you ever tried a sleep mask? Could you sleep while wearing earplugs? Do you have any other tricks for making your environment more amenable to a good night’s sleep?
PS – Yes, I have also tried melatonin, on the advice of my doctor, and it’s great. That was after the mask solved the problem, though. The melatonin just makes things a bit better again.
PPS – Also, I have been able to start taking my ADD meds again which makes life a lot easier.
*I’d end up awake all night laughing at myself. Even that photo is cracking me up. All glam, all the time, that’s me!
I realize how weird that sentence is. It’s bizarre to think that I have to work at resting, but it does require a concentrated effort.
If left to my own devices, I will keep doing the thing I’m doing until it’s done and then I will rest. That works just fine on small projects – a blog post, running an errand, doing the dishes – but it becomes a problem when the project is any bigger than that. If I am not careful, I’ll find myself working away on a large project until I run out of time or until something more pressing comes along.
I’m not a ‘workaholic’, I don’t feel compelled to work all the time, that’s not my motivation at all. I just have this mistaken idea that in order to really relax, I need to have all my work finished. I don’t want to have a time limit on my rest, nor do I want thoughts of my remaining tasks to intrude on my rest time. So it’s not that I want to do MORE work, it’s that I want it all out of the way so I can just sink into my rest.
Of course, things don’t work like that. I’m a writer and a life coach and I have two teenage sons, there isn’t really a point at which I am done. Instead, I can reach ‘done for now’ and ‘done for today’ or ‘that’s enough on that project.’ – see Jennifer Louden’s ‘Conditions of Enoughness’ for a good discussion of that last point.
I’m a bit nervous about resting because I am afraid that I will derail myself and not get back to my tasks. I’m sure my natural tendencies on this point are complicated by my ADHD. I want to get things done before I get distracted, I see the work as a whole unit instead of seeing it as being able to be broken down into parts, and I want the work ‘out of the way’ so I can focus on the next thing – rest- without thoughts of work intruding.
I always coach my clients to rest more often and I have to coach myself to do the same thing. I have little notes posted all over the place reminding me to take breaks. I try to pay attention to how I am holding my shoulders and if my breathing is deep enough – two sure signs of needing to rest.
That works pretty well (unless I get deeply into whatever I am working on – my brain HATES switching tasks at that point) and I’ll end up lying in my hammock for a few minutes, or taking my tea out on front steps, or sitting down with my book for a while. However, I need more rest during my workday – especially since the nature of my work means that it doesn’t always confine itself to regular work hours.
When my kids were small and home with me all day, I used to joke that if stay-at-home moms had two guaranteed fifteen minute breaks and a half an hour for lunch every day the job would be a lot easier.
It wasn’t possible for me to do then but I am thinking about instituting that for myself these days (I work from home so I have a fair bit of control over my schedule). Maybe setting an alarm for a morning break and an afternoon break would make it easier for me to rest a couple of times a day.
I usually have success when I take something like that out of the realm of an in-the-moment choice and make it an automatic part of my schedule.
Just like Kim concluded yesterday, rest is restorative. I know that, even if I sometimes forget in the moment.
I don’t want to rest more so I can be more effective in my work (that’s a side benefit), I want to rest more because I feel better when I do.
How do you ensure that you get enough rest? What do you do when you are resting?
After today, I have three days left in this phase of my meditation experiment.
It hasn’t gone like I had hoped but I am still pretty pleased with the results.
Over the past couple of weeks, things have gotten more and more hectic for me. my freelance workload temporarily increased, the weather got super warm ( at least warm for here), and it seemed like demands on my time increased overall. My schedule went awry and I lost any sense of *when* to do things (a big problem for someone with a slippery grip on time in the first place).
So many things were flying at me that I struggled to prioritize (again, not one of my strengths) and I didn’t even choose a time to do an update here.
This is exactly the sort of thing that my plans were supposed to help me prepare for but I wasn’t ready for the scope of my sudden-onset-busy-ness.
Things worked out in their own way, just not how I had planned.
While I did pretty well on my first couple of weeks, during the second half of the month, I only *sat* to meditate a handful of times. My idea of clearing this space and increasing my meditation time slowly didn’t work at all like I envisioned.
Lots of times, I got interrupted by one urgent matter or another. Or the alarms I set had to be postponed because there was too much going on at the time.
And sometimes I couldn’t make myself stop what I was doing, either because my brain refused or because I had a deadline.
I can confirm that it takes 2-3 minutes for me to stop squirming and settle into my meditation – this is valuable information.
I can confirm that when I am having trouble ‘settling’ on my own, I can do a guided meditation and it will help.
And here’s the really big thing.
Even though I have not yet made a regular routine of twice daily meditation, my INTENTION to do so has made me more aware of my patterns – both of thinking and of doing.
In these hectic weeks, I became increasingly aware of how my time was being used. I began to have some space, some additional space, between me and the action I was taking. I started to breathe slowly when I felt stressed and reminded myself that the stress was temporary.
So, even though I wasn’t sitting to meditate per se, I was in that kind of mental space.
It was almost as if the fact that I meant to meditate was giving me the the breathing room that I hoped for.
I want to be able to have a bit more space in my head, I want to feel a little less reactive, and I want to be more thoughtful about things. I like it when I ask questions about why I’m doing things the way I’m doing.
So, I feel like I got one of the wellness benefits of meditating, or at least one that really helps me, without going fully into a meditative practice.
In my earlier update, I talked about ‘doing the dishes meditation’ or ‘mowing the lawn meditation’ and I have found that I have had success with that again in these past two weeks. I am more conscious of what I’m doing when I’m doing it, I’m not self-conscious or anything, but my reactions are not always automatic either.
The things I have gained feel great but I still feel like I want to work toward steadier, specific meditation. I want to meditate a couple of times a day and work up to a longer times. I like how that type of meditation feels and I want that feeling more often.
So I’m going to keep working on it throughout August. I am going to work up to those two separate times in a day .
I’ll report back in a week or two and let you know how it’s going.