running

Where did all my running buddies go?

Finishing up some last business on my next Run Like A Girlbook for the publisher, I got to the task of writing acknowledgements. Figuring they would be somewhat similar to those I wrote for the first RLAG book, I had a look back. Surprise. There was a lovely list of friends I ran and cycled and cross-country skied and went to yoga with. Not one of them is a regular workout partner anymore. In fact, in the 8 years since that book came out, my life has apparently changed so radically, that my only frequent workout partner anymore is my life partner (and when he’s not with me, I bring podcasts for company). 

Absorbing the full scope of the changes in my life, didn’t feel good. I wasn’t feeling lonely when I started the task, but that outdated list landed on my heart with a thud. Did I do something wrong? Did everyone stop liking me? 

Yes, I could go through the list and find reasonable explanations for each of the losses—children, moving, long-term injuries, marriage break ups and new travel schedules. Also, after a rough patch in my own relationship, I re-evaluated my own tendency to jump out of bed super-early and have been reveling these last years in the pleasures of sleeping a bit more and waking up together. Sometimes we really geek out and I read poetry aloud before we get out of bed. 

I haven’t “broken up” with any of the friends on that old list; most remain close. I even get to run with them here and there, which is always a ginormous treat. But mostly, when I see them now it’s purely social and sweat-free.

It’s not the same. There’s something different and, yes, extra-special about a friend on the road. Especially now, when so much of life is interrupted and mediated by our devices, the time together during a workout feels intimate and unguarded. Running and jubilating. Running and crying. Running and raging. Running and analyzing. Running and solving. Running and chatting. I have had the great good fortune to run in all these ways. These are the treasures of running (or cycling or cross-country skiing or any workout that allows time to talk on the go) with a friend. 

While struggling to write my new acknowledgments, I’ve begun the uncomfortable task of pulling together marketing, which involves positioning not just my book, but me. Hello, irony. The marketing people I’m working with (who are great) have come up with the idea of pitching me (as manifest in the book) as “your running buddy.” Once I get past the strange sensation of viewing myself from the outside, I know it’s a fine idea, even as it also strikes a melancholy chord.     

I miss my buddies. I feel so lucky to have had many precious companions over the years. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this moment of fresh understanding, it’s that life is going to change. Again.  And again. I’m enjoying the current pattern of my workout life and the time with my partner. I look forward to new configurations, too. 

With this post, I send out my love to all my workout buddies over the years! I invite all of you reading this to send out some of your own love to past and present mates in the comments section. 

meditation

The Interior Design Benefits of Meditating

Yesterday I hit Day 45 in my meditation streak. The streak was inspired in part by Sam’s post about streaks, another part by the utter randomness my meditation practice had become and a third part by a meditation workshop I participated in on December 2. The last time I meditated for as many days in a row was in 2015. 

For this streak, I’ve asked myself to sit for at least 10 minutes every day, which means that for about 40 of the days I’ve sat for … 10 minutes.  

Small sculpture of cross-legged yogi reading a book and wearing a nightcap, with a red string around it’s neck, scarf-like (Mina got the red string on her first meditation retreat)

I’m tempted to judge myself for the shortness, but hey, I’ve been meditating regularly and so I’m less prone to! 

Have I achieved a higher level of consciousness? Am I having deeper thoughts now? If I am, then I should have noticed. After all, I am supposed to notice the thoughts I’m having (and, of course, then allow them to float past without attachment). Our workshop leader instructed us not only to notice our thoughts, but also to notice our noticings

Here’s the highlight reel of this morning’s thoughts-while-meditating: I should replace the woven wool blanket that’s wrapped around this pillow I’m sitting on. The blanket got so many loops of pulled yarn and holes from my cat, who died almost 7 years ago. I still miss him. I can let the blanket go. But my mother made it. Well, I could replace the blanket with one of the quilts she’s made me, which would be aesthetically more pleasing, even though I can’t see it while I’m meditating. I’m noticing that I’m thinking about my meditation set up. Let the thought go. Oh, I could use the quilt that used to be on my bed, because now I have a duvet. I really love the Boll and Branch sheets on my bed. Nice sheets feel so yummy. Those sheets at that Airbnb in Paris were crap. Scratchy. Or is sticky a better word? I should get a Boll and Branch duvet cover. Oh right, I can’t. I tried that and it doesn’t fit the CocoMat brand duvet. Why do I keep forgetting that? Well I could replace the duvet, too and put it on the guest bed. That bedspread is pretty old and not even bleach is getting out all the stains now. I’m noticing that I’m thinking about bedding. Really? What? Is that the gong to signal the end of the meditation? I didn’t hear the interval bells … Oh, I guess I can stop meditating now. 

Mina’s meditation cushion (really two stacked firm bed pillows) newly covered by a quilt her mother (a quilter, knitter and weaver!) made

The thing is, even in the midst of all these unZen thoughts, I feel pretty good. Like maybe I do have a bit more space in my mind. Less like I’m pushing against life. 

This morning I was out cross-country skiing after a big snow storm here in the Sierra Mountains. The only sounds were the shush of my skis and the phoomff of big clumps of snow falling off the Jeffrey pines and Red firs. Halfway through I realized I was in a bit of a trance, feeling the quiet inside my moving sweat-warm body and enjoying the little thrill of cold air under my arms through the open pit-zips of my jacket. The ski had become a moving meditation.

I’d like to keep my sitting meditation streak up for a while longer. Maybe I will find more of that meditative energy and strength in my workouts.  Maybe I’ll figure out some other small interior design issues.  

Anyone else streaking on something at the moment?

aging · fashion · self care · yoga

Mina’s Naked Yoga Toes

I’m in yoga looking at my naked toes. It’s not a pretty sight and distracts me from my breath, flow and alignment. Running has thickened several of the toenails, so wearing nail polish feels like a favour to anyone who has to look at my toes. The long-term, non-stop polish practice has yellowed the nails and left white deposits of I-don’t-know-what and, yes, aging is having its way. 

It’s the new year and for the second year in a row I’ve decided to give my toenails a breather, literally. I’ll leave the polish off my toes until it’s sandals season again. The first days of my naked toes depress me unreasonably. Last year was more traumatic than this year. I hadn’t bared my toenails for well over five years. Their gnarly nudity makes me feel like I’m accelerating down the cliché slope of letting myself go

Fortunately, after a few days of toe blues, I remember several important things. First, the whole concept of a woman letting herself go is sexist and obnoxious ageism, as this article in Flaunt points out (As I Am Now, So You Will Be: Your Ageism is Hypocrisy). Why would I turn that flawed idea against myself (or anyone else!)? Second, the reason I have so long to study my naked toes is because I’m in aerial yoga class. Instead of having a toe-vanity crisis, I should be high-fiving myself for getting to class. 

Closeup of legs and beautifully polished toes of woman on hammock doing aerial yoga

By the third yoga class of the year, my head clears and I’m able to notice that in fact my toes are happy and enjoying their toe-pranayama (that’s the cleansing yogic breathing). How do I know? Because they start to look better. And this year, being the second year, they are perking up faster. They will never be ready for their close-up and I don’t have a future as a foot model; still, their evident improvement makes me feel kind to my body and is a comforting reminder of my body’s capacity to repair itself.  

I’m not giving up polish on my toes. The sight of my toes’ shiny candy-tips jazzes me. They add zing to all my sandals and inspired me to breakdown and buy open toe ankle boots, which seemed like a ridiculous and impractical fashion, until I bought a pair and realized I could wear them long past sandals season and continue to enjoy the polished insouciance of my toes.  My favourite colour is a dark night sky blue with a tiny bit of twinkle. But that’s just my default, I enjoy the ritual of choosing a hue that suits my vision of the weeks I’ll be wearing the colour. I have a bit of a colour obsession—I choose yoga mats, blankets and aerial hammocks depending on my mood. The woman’s dark red yoga pants and polished toes in the picture above, paired with the dark grey yoga hammock, satisfy my appetite for colour harmony.

I also love a pedicure. My hardworking feet earn the pleasures of a pedicure with all the miles they run and hike and walk and bike and cross-country ski and get wrapped up in yoga hammocks. 

After all, if we are going to ask our bodies to work hard for us, they deserve a reward, don’t they?

aging · fitness · injury · running · traveling

Not Running in Paris

I was in Paris for the month of December. Two weeks in my back started hurting for no discernible reason and I couldn’t run for the second half of my stay. In addition to the intense frustration at missing the pleasures of a run along the Seine (the light, the architecture, the people watching, the little exercise yard on the Left Bank), I felt old and creaky as I limped to the boulangeriein the morning for our breakfast baguette. (Side note—divine Paris breakfast—fresh baguette slathered with raspberry jam and sheep’s milk yogurt from an adorable little glass jar and crunchy salad of little gems, endive, snow peas, cherry tomatoes and carrots.) 

Top of Eiffel Tower through tree branches

Getting out of bed as slowly as my back demanded meant that age was much on my mind. So when I lost my scan card for the shared bike system (called Velib) and had to memorize an eight-digit access code, this mnemonic popped into my head as soon as I saw the numbers. I’ve rearranged into ascending order: 25—the age at which the media sets a woman’s prime; 32—the age at which I started to reclaim my power from societal norms of feminine delicacy; 49—the age I wouldn’t have minded sticking with for the rest of my life (the way my grandmother always said she was 29); 96—an age I hope to see, but only if I’m still enjoying life!

The access code is engraved in my memory. 

And fortunately cycling and yoga were still possible, so I rode the Velib bikes to the aerial yoga studio (Fly Yoga) and the spin studio (dynamo) I love in Paris. 

My back healed and this past Thursday (January 3) I went for one of the best runs I’ve had in I-don’t-know-how-long, a grand gift for the beginning of 2019. I felt light and strong. I don’t wear a watch, so I have no idea if I was actually faster than usual in my loop of Central Park. Does the time matter if I felt great? 

This aging business has made it clear to me that every time I heal from an injury and am granted the grace of strength and ease in my body again, a hallelujah and thank you is in order.

I’m starting 2019 with gratitude!

What are you grateful for as the year begins? 

fitness · health · injury

Can 180 Seconds At −245°F Improve Your Health?

Cryotherapy is a new-to-me wellness trend. Easy and scary, cryotherapy is a process by which a near-naked human spends two to four minutes standing in a cold chamber cooled to below −100°C. The protocol claims to reduce tissue inflammation, which aids in sports recovery, alleviates diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, increases energy, enhances sleep and focus, assists weight loss, brightens skin and reduces anxiety and depression (17 ProvenBenefits of Whole Body Cryotherpay + Side Effects). Better to ask, what doesn’t cryotherapy promise?

I decided to give it a try.

Despite the skeptics at The Guardian (Whole-bodycryotherapy: what are the cold hard facts?) and US News (ShouldYou Try Whole Body Cryotherapy?), there are a lot of celebrity fans (pro athletes and movie stars, including the reigning, though retired, James Bond, aka Daniel Craig) who swear by it. The skeptics make the point that cryotherapyis not a magic bullet (despite James Bond’s endorsement). The protocol does not eliminate the need to take care of oneself. Well, why would it? Seems obvious that cryotherapy is a therapeutic technique (like every other) meant to support and boost a healthy lifestyle, not replace it, or be a hack that enables a casual or reckless approach to wellness.

A quick online search gave me CryoHealthNY only a few blocks from my apartment.  The cryo-office was ultra clean and new looking, but the space also has an unpeopled feel, too. The General Manager, Sujellee, alone at the reception desk the first time I went, was glow-y and enthusiastic.

As instructed I took off all my clothes except bra and underwear and put on the robe, white gym socks and pale blue nurse clogs provided. At the gateway to freezedom, Sujellee gave me earmuffs, a pair of liner gloves, ski gloves and a surgical mask. At the place I went the set up is this: There are two adjoining cold chambersabout the size of a large telephone booth. The first is the pre-freeze chamber, where you take off your robe. From chamber 1, you step through an inside doorinto chamber 2, the cryo-chamber, which, in this case, is cooled to a cryogenic temperature of −245°F. The attendant presses play on the music you’ve selected from Spotify (David Bowie’s Space Oddity) and your three minutes begins.

Temperature gauge of cryotherapy chambers, showing minus 125, because the session is over and the chamber has “warmed up” from minus 245

From the moment I stepped in, I was petrified. Panic nearly drove me from the Dr. Who telephone booth of deep space frigidity. Filled with cold fog, which makes it hard to see anything more than the shadowed specter of the attendant’s thumbs-up outside the window, I was claustrophobic, my breathing hard and choppy. I can’t even be sure how many times Sujellee’s disembodied voice piped into the chamber to let me know how many minutes and seconds were left. Three interminable minutes spent petrified. I had my hand on the door handle to the pre-freeze chamber when she gave me the five-second warning, and I busted out of there like a horse at the Derby when she announced “you’re done.”

The whole rest of the day I was exhilarated. Was it because I felt like I had dodged death? I may well have been experiencing some brush-with-mortality energy. All the way through to the next morning, underneath the warmth of my skin, I felt like I was wrapped in a hair’s-breadth-thick sheath of cold, a pleasant and tingly sensation.  

I also slept better than I usually do and felt springy and resilient on my run the next morning. That’s subjective, I know, but in the end, isn’t that what matters with any therapeutic protocol? Whether we perform better and feel better is the standard and goal, isn’t it?  

I am a willing guinea pig for so many new (and ancient) protocols. I’m curious about my mind and body. I have the good luck of being able to try things (at the place I went to an intro session is $55, a single session is $75 and a 5-pack is $300—I won’t detail the Black Friday specials). As to how often to cryo, I’ve seen recommendations of as many as 5 sessions a week, to once a week, or as needed when you’re feeling physically sore or depleted. At the price, I can’t imagine I’ll ever go 5 times in a week!

That said, I did go for my second session the very next day and took my partner with me. It was a lot less scary with the two of us in the Dr. Who chamber together. Neither of us experienced the same exhilaration I’d felt the day before. But then, he didn’t feel like mortality was an issue, since I’d made it out alive once already. In our US Thanksgiving double spin class the next day, I had strong energy. My partner wasn’t sure what benefits he felt, if any.  

A few days later my partner discovered he had e-coli. His bout was unpleasant and scary, but didn’t stop him from doing any of our usual activities, like going for runs and out for dinner. When he’d recovered a few more days later, we wondered if the cryotherapy had helped reduce the severity of his symptoms. We don’t know.

My third time (my partner’s second), I was still scared, but less so. My partner had a calf pull that felt particularly frozen after the cryo session and he said there was a healing heat sensation afterward. He said he felt more alert that evening and into the next day. I slept better than usual and though not all my sporting aches and pains disappeared, I feel more physically chipper. The next day at aerial yoga I felt more limber.  

My partner and I are going to go back a couple more times to see how we feel. Then we’ll decide if the therapy is worth integrating into a regular regimen or using to heal injuries.

What are your cryo-thoughts? Skeptic, curious or convert?

body image · bras · clothing · Fear · femalestrength · feminism · gender policing · men · objectification · running

Again?! Women at Rowan University are Serena’d

This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.

How much longer will we be having these conversations? After the brouhaha this summer over the ridiculous outfit policing by the tennis powers (which we wrote about on this blog), causing grief to Serena Williams (Let Women Wear What They Want and Serena Williams and the multiple ways of policing black women’s bodies) and Alize Cornet (Is Tennis Trying To Win a Chauvinism/Misogyny Award?), how is it possible the university administrators at Rowan forgot? Or did the news never even reach their ears?

Every time this happens, I am grieved by the lack of respect for women and their bodies. Men are responsible for their own lack of decorum and inability to contain their impulses, not us!

A sports bra is not provocative. It is comfortable. It is practical. It makes us feel strong and capable and empowered.

Oh … maybe that is provocative … because it provokes fear?!

Do you workout in sports bra only?

advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

photo-1512867957657-38dbae50a35b
amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.