Guest Post · yoga

Vulnerability and Naked Yoga, Part 2 (Guest Post)

by Ellen Burgess

Last week, I wrote about my sailing adventure during my holidays in the first week of June.  As if the sailing this wasn’t enough excitement for one week, the day of my holiday, I boldly ventured out to an old friend’s yoga studio in Toronto to practice Naked Yoga for the first time.  Yep, that’s right, yoga in nothing but my birthday suit… TOTALLY STARKERS that is!

Upon my arrival, I greeted my fellow yoga practitioner (Don), who I had not seen in over 15 years when we did our Moksha Teacher training together. At that time, he had invited me to live in his house for a month, so we got to know each other quite well.  I was happy to see him after such a long time, and we chatted enthusiastically as he showed me around his hot yoga studio. He explained that the purpose of this class was essentially to reduce body shame and build strength and community through vulnerability that comes with practicing yoga with no clothes on.

“Right on”, I said, in my most hippy like voice, (secretly thinking, this sounds terrifying, but “bring it on”)! After all, I had already bragged to my friends that I was going to try this, so there was no backing out now.

Don had us all assemble in the practice room in a rectangle with our backside to the wall with the mirrors covered (thank goodness).  We were asked to disrobe when the lights went off and that, if at any time we were uncomfortable, we could lie down on our mats with a towel covering our body. 

Then he turned off the light and lit a single candle.  All I could see was the silhouette of a man in front of me.  I peeked around and sure enough, everyone was taking off their clothes, so I thought I better get with the program, so to speak. This was a silent class with series of 26 simple postures, so Don just named the postures when it was time to switch, but provided no other instruction.    Don also aligned himself in the rectangle with the rest of us and did not move around the room.  I strategically positioned myself several bodies away from Don.  Why? Well I guess I forgot to mention that Don is hot.  Yep… that’s right.  Upon reconnecting with him, I quickly realized that he was still as hot as ever 15 years later, so I didn’t want to be caught peeking!

I was actually surprised at how “raw and exposed” I actually felt once I had my clothes off. That may sound like a no brainer, but at the age of 55, I thought I was comfortable being naked anywhere, anytime. I had skinny dipped, slept in the nude in a room full of other people, not to mention disrobing many times in front of others during the wilder days of my youth. However, once my clothes were off, I felt a distinct flushing of my chest, just around my heart chakra and I began to sweat more than usual. I wondered if I experienced intense feelings in this area because my chest was always a source of body shame when I was growing up.

First we did pranayama breathing then moved into half-moon posture and then eagle pose.  By the fourth posture, I was really over being naked.  However, as we moved through more rigorous postures, such as downward dog flows, I really noticed some “base and raw” sensual feelings throughout my body. I wondered if this is how our caveman/woman ancestors felt. 

And then poof, it was over!  We showered and then I went out to the lounge and caught up with Don for an hour and a half before driving back to Guelph.

What was particularly interesting about our chat was the fact that I disclosed more about myself to him in those 90 minutes than during the entire 30 days I lived with him in 2004. And so, as I headed back to Toronto, I felt a more heart felt connection with my friend as it seemed our emotional intimacy had deepened significantly.

So maybe, just maybe, through a jam packed week of sailing and naked yoga, I am becoming more vulnerable through sport, which was the goal at the onset. 

On a final note, I must add that the REAL test of my willingness to be vulnerable is to be more emotionally vulnerable with those closest to me; by first being more honest with myself and then, by being more forthcoming about my true thoughts and feelings.  I am the kind of person that is will to try just about any new activity, but that is typically where I draw the line.  Emotional vulnerability is FAR MORE DIFFICULT for me than naked yoga or sailing, because I am required to put “my heart out there” without no guarantee of the response, and that really scares me. However, as Brene Brown states in her film “the Call to Courage”, “If we want to know love and connection more deeply (with both ourselves and others), we must choose courage over comfort”.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress!

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

beach body · body image

Sam is beach body ready

Yesterday Tracy posted about the “beach body blues” and asked for us to share our favourite “beach body” memes and images but since you can’t share pictures in comments, here’s my fave.

I love zeppelinmoon artwork. You can buy it on etsy here, . I think after the sexy beach manatee the sloths are my favourites.

Now I’m someone who isn’t so much bothered by the beach body messaging. Tracy addresses me and my kind in her post when she writes” If you’re able to ignore the cultural messaging without any consistent effort to undo the damage of a lifetime of normative pressure, I applaud you. For many it is not as easy. “

I don’t think it’s easy to ignore but I am over it. I have been for a very long time.

Why? Well, for one thing life is really, really short. Thinking about death and the very short time we have on this planet to enjoy the beach makes me care a lot less about what other people think. It’s a real upside of aging. If there is anything that I hate about aging, it’s not what I look like at the beach, it’s losing friends and family to death. Everything else pales in comparison to that loss.

Second, it’s not that I’m simply able to ignore the messaging. Rather, it’s that mostly it’s never felt like it was directed at me. I’ve felt enough like an outsider as a fat/larger person that “beach body” in the sense that advertising/normative femininity means it wasn’t accessible as an ideal. The smallest I’ve ever been is still “overweight.” See The unexpected advtanges of growing up chubby .

Third, on the positive side I’ve had lots of access to queer communities where my body is loved as it is. Queer community and coming out means you’re aware, often an early age, that society is wrong about lots of things. Once you question mainstream ideas about sexual attraction and relationships, the whole package is up for questioning. See Body positivity and queer community. I also love this post from a cheerful chubster.

I watch young, beautiful, thin women mincing behind towels at the Y and I watch the Cheerful Chubster, and I know which short of person I’d rather be.

I guess it also helps that I have lots of friends who are larger than me who I think are really attractive. It’s hard to both think that and think I’m too big to be on the beach.

So it’s not sheer force of will that keeps me from internalizing these norms. Rather it’s social exclusion, on the negative side, and alternative communities and norms, on the other. It’s (mostly) not my world.

I was going to write a thank you letter to the guy who yelled “fat bitch” out of his truck window at me. Thank you to my boyfriend’s older brother who said he didn’t want me sunbathing on the porch because I’d bring down the property values. Thank you to all the people who said mean things about my body and my size growing up. Why? Well, there is zero danger of me internalizing that message. And I think because I heard all that growing up I developed some good internal responses. I learned to ignore those voices because they were obviously mean and hateful .

Here’s one more “beach body” favourite!

I blogged about this tweet before here, .
boats · fitness · Guest Post · sailing

Vulnerability, Sailing, and Naked Yoga, Part 1 (Guest Post)


by Ellen Burgess


I recently watched a Netflix special by a woman named Brene Brown on the topic of vulnerability and courage.  She defined vulnerability as “the courage to show up and letting ourselves be truly seen” (weaknesses and all), when you can’t control the outcome (or reactions of others). She was talking primarily about emotional vulnerability but as I discovered this week, that can show up in all areas of life including in sport and fitness.

So this two part blog is all about two new activities I tried this week, which required two distinctly different types of vulnerability: 1) learning how to sail which involved a willingness to make mistakes in front of my loving, but sarcastic cousin Dale with 60 years of sailing experience and 2) participating in a naked yoga class! Yep, that’s right folks, nothing but my birthday suit…aka: totally STARKERS! However this week’s blog will only address the sailing component. You will have to follow up on next week’s post to hear all about the Naked Yoga!


My cousin Dale had invited me to sail with him several times in the past but I had declined. This year he told me he was selling the boat by the end of June, so this was my last chance. 

So off to Michigan and Lake St. Claire I went.  Prior to this week, I had planned to do an online sailing course, which I proudly announced to my veteran sailing cousin 6 weeks ago.  Sadly, I bit off more than I could chew and only finished chapter 1!  So, when I got on the boat, all I could do was name basic boat features including: the main sail, jib, boom, port, starboard, bow, and stern.  In fact, that was about all I knew. Dale was duly unimpressed since I was one of only 2 crew for his 30 foot boat and we were racing that night and the next.  He mumbled that it was “a good thing we have 2 hours before the race gets started!”

He then began giving me directions to rig the boat on my own instead of enlisting me as a helper which would have been easier for both of us.  This was a great strategy for me to learn quickly, albeit somewhat embarrassing at times, as I was prone to confusing port with starboard and right with left!

Shortly after I finished rigging the boat, it started pouring rain and there was zippo wind. Things continued that way until we got off the water at 9:30 pm. I was hoping the race would be cancelled since I was tired after all that learning and rigging, but no such luck, so off we went.  And we sat… for a long time… in the boat… in the rain…with no wind. 

After 30 minutes of 2-4 knots per hour, I started engaging in some idle chit chat with my cousin, because really, what else was there to do?  I was quickly informed that “this is no time for chatting, we are in a race, not on a pleasure cruise!” Okay, so this sailing thing can be really serious business I guess. On the bright side, since there was practically no wind the entire evening, Dale was able to teach me to tack and steer without any serious safety risk.

The next night the weather was much better and I was happy to demonstrate my new found ability to rig a boat on my own with minimal direction.  This time I was able practice some more tacking of the jib.  I learned that the combination of tacking and steering at an angle as close to the wind’s direction as possible, can get me to just about any destination that I choose (although I can’t say I personally experienced this!).

All in all this was a great experience and I look forward to trying it again in Guelph sometime, maybe with Sam and Sarah one night.

So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well at the age of 55, I do not learn as quickly as I used to, so I had to be willing to make mistakes without personalizing my cousin’s sarcastic and sometimes impatient remarks.  10 years ago, I would not have been emotionally strong enough for this type of situation. At that time, I had a thin skin and took myself way too seriously, so I probably would have wound up crying and feeling sorry for myself at the end of it all.   Instead, I felt proud of myself for trying something new and was really happy to have the opportunity to bond with my cousin. 

Overall, I would say there was both personal growth and learning in my sailing adventure. I am learning a new sport and stretching my limits physically and mentally as I attempt to learn something new. I was also able to vulnerable by “showing up and being seen” when I am not feeling strong and confident…  first by trying with no success, trying again with some luck, and then finally, trying and succeeding…all in a day’s work on a sailboat!

Ellen on her cousin Dale’s boat

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

accessibility · body image · fitness · SamanthaWalsh

Body Diversity (Guest Post)

By Samantha Walsh

Saturday was the Protest against Divisiveness with @connectionarts. It really was not a protest, but more of an installation. The event was to draw attention to the need for unity and collaboration.

Each model was able to pick their own slogan. I picked “Human Diversity.” I think this speaks to the need to value disability and that the notion of one standard body is a myth. Additionally, difference makes us stronger as a society.

The event offered an opportunity for onlookers to better understand why folks would be compelled to participate in body painting. My friend @elisabethalicee was my artist. (There were more models than artists.) I think she did a great job. The installation took place in time square and there was a mile long parade after to the flat iron building.

This was a very different experience than the other two events I have participated in. There was a lot more media. Folks in Times Square were a lot more vocal and sometimes rude. The day overall was great. However, I did end up putting clothes on part way through the parade, because I was at the back end of the parade and at points felt unsafe.

Overall, the experience was great and gave me a lot to think about. Another cool feature of yesterday is I have done enough body painting that I now know some folks from the past. Additionally, I met a really cool fellow disabled woman, she and I were steadfast in the feeling that representation matters.

I am so pleased Human Connection Arts is in my life.

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.


Friendship, fun movement, and false dichotomies

This weekend’s hot New York Times Health story, Smash the Wellness Industry, appeared multiple times in various social media newsfeeds. A few blog readers and Facebook page followers even messaged me about it. That’s how much up our alley it is.

Here’s a quote from it:

“If these wellness influencers really cared about health, they might tell you that yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health, yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too.”

Mostly I liked the message. That story quotes from an older piece in Scientific American about the health benefits of social connections.

“A long lunch out with co-workers or a late-night conversation with a family member might seem like a distraction from other healthy habits, such as going to the gym or getting a good night’s sleep. But more than 100 years’ worth of research shows that having a healthy social life is incredibly important to staying physically healthy. Overall, social support increases survival by some 50 percent, concluded the authors behind a new meta-analysis.

The benefit of friends, family and even colleagues turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. And by the study’s numbers, interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity.”

But that’s a false dichotomy, exercise or social connections. (What’s a false dichotomy,? From Wikipedia: False dichotomy is a dichotomy that is not jointly exhaustive (there are other alternatives), or that is not mutually exclusive (the alternatives overlap), or that is possibly neither.)

For many of us, exercise is a thing we do with friends. It is our way of connecting with others socially. I know very serious athletes train alone following a personalized training plan but that’s not my world. My exercise world is mostly about doing fun physical things with friends.

There is a group of us associated with the blog all training for a long cycling holiday in Newfoundland. We’ll have the time away together but we’re also ramping up our weekend riding. We’re putting kilometers on the bike, stopping for coffee and lunch and mid-afternoon ice cream. Here’s Sarah, David and me.

Samantha, Sarah, and David having second breakfast at a cafe in Hespeler.

While I was out riding with Sarah and David, Susan was out riding with Cate, and Tracy was out at hot yoga + brunch with friends in London. That group’s photos shared on Facebook often make me wish I still lived in London and could go to hot yoga + brunch with Tracy. They look like they’re having fun

Now I will say that my recent knee woes have made me rethink doing all my social activities in the context of sports and working out. I’ve given up soccer and Aikido and I miss those communities so much. I thought that I’d just move and find a new martial arts community but the injured knee can’t take that. Snipe sailing has been a good alternative. It’s outdoors and active and I like the people even if it’s not as physical as the stuff I used to do.

So maybe don’t put all your social connections in one basket. But still, my main point is that social connections don’t compete with physical activity. For the curlers and the golfers and the runners and the cyclists and the derby girls these things definitely go together.

Let’s go for a bike ride, friends!


Sam is confusing GoogleFit

As regular blog readers know, I love GoogleFit. Unlike other fitness tracking software I use (hi Strava!) GoogleFit is all about encouragement and positive thinking.

Lately though I’ve been confusing it as I ramp up my training for our Newfoundland bike adventure.

As I said on Facebook, “Google Fit can’t keep up with weekend warrior nature of my fitness life these days. It keeps adjusting up and down on a twice weekly basis.

“Wow, you’re knocking it out of the park. Let’s adjust your move minutes up.”

“Oh, no. You’re having a hard time reaching your goals. Let’s make it a bit easier.”

Relax GoogleFit it’s all part of the plan.

cycling · fitness

Brompton meet hills, hills meet Brompton

One question that everyone asks about my new Brompton is how it handles every cyclist’s favorite landscape feature, hills. The answer is, not as bad as you might think. The bottom gear is pretty spinny. I took it to Vancouver this week for Congress and enjoyed riding it around town. The ride to the University of British Columbia was 12 km. There and back twice equals 48 km of Brompton riding, plus some bonus “getting lost/exploring” kilometers. I was super glad I brought it because even if I’d taken the bus to campus, it’s a huge sprawling campus and things I needed to get to were kms apart.

💖Highlight of riding Brompton in hilly Vancouver: Chasing road cyclists up a hill and staying with them for longer than I thought possible. They looked around and smiled. I think my helmet might be the giveaway that I don’t usually ride the Brompton.

Image description: Bright pink Brompton bike resting against a wooden fence at the top of a hill.

😞 Low point: When my heart rate finally recovered after the hill chase effort I was passed by a runner going uphill. He also smiled and suggested a race. I declined.

It’s true that on hills I was working hard. My heart was pounding and I could feel my legs working. That said, I was able to climb everything I encountered and even passed some people going uphill.

Four more random thoughts about riding the Brompton about town. First, it’s not an introvert’s bike! People love to stop and admire the bike and ask questions about it. Second, I had no problem bringing it in everywhere I went. It’s small and cute enough enough that it doesn’t get that immediate “no bikes allowed” reaction. Third, I love being in a city with bike lanes and so many cyclists. Fourth, so many e-bikes on the road here and I totally understand why, The commuting distances are big and then there are the hills. For many people it would be 20+ kms to work. I can see wanting an e-bike to extend the range of what’s commutable and also not arriving at work tired and sweaty from the hills.

Here are some more photos of my very scenic Vancouver commute.

Image description: The top of a hill, looking down, with the ocean in the distance.
Image description: Trees, beach volleyball, and sailboats.
Image description: Me in the mirror with my pink Brompton and pink toenails, all dressed in black with a white helmet.
Image description: More beach, with logs for sitting.
Image description: More beach views with trees and flowers.