fitness

Yoga Without Yoga is not Yoga

First, context. I am not a Yoga teacher or even a regular daily practitioner. I have not done any special training or read a lot of source text. I’m just a woman, living in Canada who likes Yoga. I ascribe it no magical powers. I don’t think it will cure something that actually needs antibiotics or chemotherapy. Neither do I treat it as a way to attain some perfect form of the body. It is not an aesthetic. It’s a movement, breath and meditation practice in some combination, as far as I can tell, and I’m pretty sure most of the lovely women who have been my teachers over these last years have not taught me anything particularly “authentic” as far as Yoga is concerned. I accept this, and I still like it a lot. I like it more and more as time goes on and I take the time to deepen into what it does for my body. I like the subtle shifts and the non-obtrusive miracles of movement that I only notice year over year.

In order to write this post, I did do some research around the origins of the meaning and practice of Yoga. It’s hard to know what to trust without approaching it in a more scholarly way. I know it has to do with a Union of parts of our being and that this is attained through different practices, postures, breathing, meditation and other kinds of disciplined behaviour. I arrived first in the postures, stayed for the breath and then eventually started to explore more than that. It’s an ongoing process in my life that depends on where I am and who is teaching me.

Like many of my fellow bloggers, Adriene is a favourite teacher. She is simultaneously, kind, inviting, irreverent and full of spirit. She takes it easy and then blasts you with challenge. She sneaks in breath work and meditation in ways that suddenly open an awareness, just when you least expect. I really discovered the benefits of her ways after a brutal break up, when I realized all her blabbing about love was so necessary for me in that moment. I wanted her to keep me company while I contemplated my existence and breathed into a Warrior series. I know that in the pandemic, many have found solace in her quirky short practices.

I have also tried to be community minded and signed up for a local studio’s live stream offerings. I have really enjoyed these. I like that they are a full hour, which allows for a fuller practice in many ways. I discovered that I am really digging something they call Yin practice. I have no clue if that is a real Yoga thing but it involves holding a pose for 3-5 minutes and really exploring what it is and what my body does with it. It’s an intensity with subtlety that totally appeals to my interests and I am very sure it has stabilized my mood in some tough times. It’s the closest I have come to grasping a Unity of mind and body as my mind is forced to focus on where my body is in space. It feels like I can finally anchor my brain in my head. I even don’t mind that one of the teachers talks a lot about chakra channels and then mixes in some Chinese medicine stuff for good measure. She is Eastern European originally so it’s quite the mashup. I’m just breathing and embodied and trying not to fuss myself about the mixed metaphors of her headlong flight from Cartesian splits. I get it. I don’t want to be bifurcated any more either. I just want to be one damn thing. It’s less to keep track of.

But to my point here. . .today I signed up for a Hatha class. It’s supposed to be just poses in a series. It’s not meant to be too hard but also it isn’t the slow pace of the Yin. I had never worked with this instructor before. In all my other explorations of Yoga, there has been some kind of guidance if the class is led by a person. They speak the physical cues and the breathing cues. They pause and yammer a little, sometimes too much, but they are in charge of the rhythm of the thing, like a conductor with an orchestra. “Take a breath in *while you do this movement* breathe out *while you do this one* pause here for 3 breaths, hold for one more then *do this other thing*” This person did none of that. She called out a pose, then another, then another. She gave a few positioning cues but no breath cues at all. She spent to time preparing us, she spent no time with intentions or invitations or mindful cues. She just kept calling out poses “Next we do *this pose* now move into *that pose*”.

It slowly dawned on me that this was a horrible experience.

I have practiced without leadership before and it’s lovely but this wasn’t me practicing alone, following the flow of my energy and breath. This was just poses, stripped of breath and mind, empty of all meaning, merely movement. It was not any Yoga that I want to do. I left the session, found a short Adriene video and finished my practice with my online friend, relieved to hear her cuing and coaching me to pay attention, creating a rhythm, conducting something that was clearly more than asanas strung together one after another.

I know that we have appropriated Yoga and there are corners of the Yoga industry that make me feel gross, particularly the ones that focus on the “look” of Yoga. Yet this experience taught me that fully stripping it of its breath, meditative and spiritual aspects is a worse affront. It felt dead, dangerously adrift from its moorings. We owe it more than that.

A woman sitting in half lotus on a tree stump looking yogic. Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash
fitness

Getting Real in a Perilous Time (#reblog, #bloglove)

Sitting here just over 2 years later, this is still my saddest and most favourite post ever. Status update, I’m So. Much. Happier even in a pandemic. The heart realized it didn’t need that baloney any more and I’m still moving, still doing all the yoga, stronger than ever. I have lots of love that I breathe in and out every day. Thanks to this fam and all the fam, and you, fellow blogger Cate, for being an anchor in this weird world.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

I cut my hair. Well, I didn’t do it, a professional did. I asked for an “asymmetrical pixie” with a side and back undercut. She refused to do the side as a full shave so, stages, you know, getting used to things. This new identity, this alone version of me. Just try it out and see how it fits. I’m trying.

Almost every afternoon I go down in my basement and plug my phone into the TV. I play a yoga video and my body follows along. “Take a breath in. . .exhale. . .again. . .” I move and listen to what my body tells me. I try hard to hear and then I also shush it. No, you can’t cry yet, not now, no time. Breathe in, breathe out, let it go.

I walk the dog every day. One foot, the other foot, the dog just dogs and…

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Update Regarding My Inner 13 Year Old

Last January, I wrote this post about the unexpected and really interesting experience I had while doing 30 days in a row (more or less) of yoga with my buddy Adriene, the Texan internet phenom yoga instructor that is almost as ubiquitous in my circles as the Bernie Mitten Meme. There has been a LOT go on since that post, both in my personal life and, obvs, the world. There is, however, a consistent thread that has woven its way through it all and I think that this thread began, or at least emerged out of the background in that post. I remember really vividly typing away in a coffee shop (remember that?) while waiting to see my best friend (Jennnnnnnnn, I misssssss youuuuuuu) for a coffee and a snack before heading off to in person teaching (remember THAT?) of my therapy students.

As I recall, we were reading excerpts from Janina Fisher, “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors”. Without getting super technical, there is an idea that parts of us get hived off in our experience, assigned the job to hold feelings, self-concepts and impacts of trauma, and to keep it out of our every day awareness. It’s excellent as a temporary strategy but you can imagine, has its flaws. When we hive off parts, we lose access to not just the awful things, but the good things and our sense of narrative about our lives. Also those parts can feel isolated and sad and when that breaks through to our awareness, we use other means to push them away and that cycle just keeps on rolling along or maybe accelerating out of control until we are overwhelmed and unable to cope with all the screaming in our heads from all these disavowed places. This is something that everyone can relate to in varying degrees of severity.

So that book was on my mind somewhere as I was exploring what was coming up for me as I worked my way through 30 days of yoga practice and in that writing, I stumbled upon my awkward 13 year old self, looking at the window’s reflection as she walked by, hating herself for her clumsiness and general inability to handle social interaction. She was so present for me that when I wrote that post, I started to cry. . .or she did. . .I wasn’t sure but I took that to therapy.

Since that day, I have been attending in various ways to the 13 year old part of me. She has written some poetry, had some big hissy fits, cried a lot, gone to work with me, told me her secrets and also finally found a good gym teacher in Alex the trainer. She’s just been. . .around, making herself known with all her fears and need for acceptance and I have been paying attention in various ways that involve welcoming her as opposed to scrunching up every muscle in my body and willing her and her shame elsewhere “Just get out of my sight!” “I HATE you!” Strong language that. It’s so real.

I was super excited to start 30 days of Yoga with my friend Adriene again on January 1. I didn’t know what it would hold but I was excited to see if there was something different this year than last. I wasn’t clocking at all that I would want to deliberately notice the 13 year old in the practice. Silly me, she didn’t give me a choice in that matter and she showed up in the first week. I noticed it first as I moved gracefully from one pose to the next:

“Inhale, stretch up tall, exhale, float all the way down, forward fold, inhale, half way lift, exhale forward fold, place one hand, then the other, one foot back and then the other, inhale, plank, exhale, slowly lower down, inhale, cobra, exhale, downward facing dog.”

I was just floating along, confident, aware, engaged. It was magical.

“Is that you”, I asked her?

“Yup”, She said.

“Good job you”, I said.

“Thanks”, she said.

And that was that, we continued to practice and there was peace in my head. So, what happened there? Certainly, I am better at the yoga this year than I was last year. I’m stronger and more balanced because of the strength training I am doing in addition to the yoga. Yet, I think it’s bigger than that. Beyond strength and balance is integration and this integration is both physical and also psychic. The inner 13 year old feels palpably better than she did this time last year. She knows we learned how to make friends and she knows we learned how to find all sorts of love. She sees the success and meaningfulness that has accrued in our life and she feels entitled to it too, instead of holding all the feeling about the time we were not entitled to those things, or, at least, couldn’t find the feeling of that. She still gets roused and activated when I have a failure or a frustration or a fear of those things. But that communication between the rest of me and that state is so much more available now.

Did yoga heal me? Well, yes, in concert with a whole bunch of other things working together. Yoga certainly showed me something important, something that needed tending. When Adriene invites me now to curl over my bent knees and “hang out here for a minute in your own private love cave”, I hang out with me and sit in some love. I feel so grateful I can even though I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how I got here. Part of it is yoga and the rest is seeking a fuller self care and respect. I’m always sitting with my clients and encouraging them, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, to tend to themselves. When they eat, when they move, when they work. . .don’t forget to tend to yourself, even as you are attending to another. It’s more important now than ever.

Lotsa love y’all.

From Here. An adorable downward doggo with an ocean in the back ground. I tried to catch Shelby in one but she wasn’t having it.
fitness

Slow it Down

In these Pandemic Times, I have read about and listened to (because radio is my preferred medium) a lot of pieces about the molasses nature of time during all the variations of restriction we have had over these last 9 months. When every day is the same, we do tend to lose track of days and then, when looking back on time, they both extend and collapse all at once, both no time and forever time. In the beginning of it all, when it felt “different” it seemed for some to open a possibility of novel focus. Some people used it as an opportunity to learn new skills, refocus, work out more. When I look at the numbers in my 220 work outs in 2020 (the Fit Feminist Edition) group, most people who post regulatory, blew past 220 months ago. I am almost at that goal, and considering that last year, I only made it to 190 and also that I was depressed for most of April and didn’t do too much, I am on a hot streak of deliberate movement not seen in my 52 years thus far.

And yet, here I am, on a “vacation” from the every day, and I realize that I have not at all felt molasses time. In fact, I have been moving so fast, pushing so hard and clenched so tight, that I had lost my capacity to notice my body. I need to put on the breaks.

I wonder if anyone else can relate to this? My job has a sense of responsibility that is very weighty. In my basket of care, I have about 40 clients, 40 students of psychotherapy and some attendant administration for those students that can be crushing. Then I also have a family and a partner and pets. I have been doing my best to move through all of this gracefully, to let go of the things that are not vital, to care for myself at the same time and for the most part, I’m rocking it. Yet in these first 4 days of not working (as much) I have tripped over a reality that I was still hiding/ignoring, which is the 220 kmh feeling of swirl that sits in my guts. It’s the one that, when it starts to get out of control, lights my hair on fire (“How are you doing today?” “Hair on fire, you know, the usual.”) This is the place that I “clench” and keep going. It looks like grace sometimes, but if I’m real, it’s just enduring.

This kind of enduring, numbing, clenching is what happens when we acclimatize to our circumstance and the circumstance is an inflexible trap of obligation and survival. It makes me think about how this feeling is only a shadow of what so many more people feel all the time, in more parts of their bodies. I’m thinking about the essential workers, who are once again left alone in the face of the disease, not just because we need them but because this is how they survive. I’m thinking about living while Black, Indigenous and Brown in a world that makes you work even harder everywhere to get what you need. When I drop into this place of knowing, I feel shame, they have it worse, I should be grateful, but you know, this is also a trap. It doesn’t slow anything down at all for me to shamefully, gratefully cling to my privilege and watch the world spiral.

I’ve been back on the yoga mat these last number of days as one way I know I can slow down. I’m not looking to build up anything in these practices, neither strength, nor flexibility. I just need to slow down and unclench, or at least observe if that’s possible. I also need to be with the fact that too many people can’t do this, or if they can take 20 mins to pause, that is not enough to slow down the world so they can receive the care, relationship, reparation, restitution, belonging or love that they deserve as humans. On my mat, as I benefit from a borrowed wisdom, I’m not just going to slow myself down so my life can be more tolerable. I need to slow myself down, to rework and reconstitute what I am responsible for. Yes, all those clients and students and family. Yet in that work there has to be room to effect something else. I’m having some ideas that are close to home, in my teaching role specifically and that is what has been bubbling up into consciousness as I put on my breaks and come screeching into this latest pause.

I have said nothing about the fact that this post is on Christmas Day. Being a typical feminist pagan/Jew, my holidays of light are done for the year and Christmas usually feels like waiting to me, previously punctuated by Chinese food and a movie but not this year, not in the fun way. This year is just waiting. I’m waiting for the light, waiting for the vaccine, waiting to move into some more gracious, spacious place where there is room for everyone, EVERYONE, to slow down and rest a while, before we get back to righting the world.

A very spooky Black and White picture of an Hour Glass. All we have is time.

fitness

Latissimus Dorsi: an Ode

“It’s like your ass but it’s for your shoulder”

These were the words of the mysterious and infamous Coach Alex today as we chatted about our session. I had asked for a private session because I was struggling with some aspects of the training classes. Anything that involved overhead lifting was generating issues in the front of my shoulder and my neck, something that I knew wasn’t supposed to have issues, given what I was doing and the light weights I was using. I have always struggled with “upper body strength”. Year after year, trainer after trainer I had attempted to do something about this. Small weights, the lowest reps, the lightest springs on a reformer and time after time, something would go horribly wrong. I would have an injury, an ache, a stitch or a downright inflammation and I’d have to stop. I’d go back to focussing on what I was okay at, mostly core (which I am spectacular at) and lower body stuff. This isn’t really terrible for function, power from the core can do a lot of hauling around. I did wonder, however, what it was about lifting heavy things with my upper body, or doing pushups that was so infuriatingly difficult.

Apparently, it’s the simple things. When doing a squat or a deadlift or a lunge, one must activate the glutei. When doing anything at all with a shoulder, ya gotta activate the Lats.

It’s not that I didn’t know this. I’ve heard it many times, “Set your shoulder blades”, “Pull down your arm pits” and any number of variations on “Activate your Lats”, but I guess I wasn’t doing it enough because, oh boy, do I know where they are now! Out of the hour I had booked with Alex, about 30 minutes of it was spent with my lats engaged somehow. Overhead press? Lats first, no weights at all. I tried to lift my arm until the engagement faltered. I didn’t lift it very high and I realized, finally and emphatically, why my neck was unhappy with this movement. It would get totally involved as soon as the lat engagement failed and that was most of the time. Oops. Back to basics for me.

Single arm row? Lats! Elbows back, not up, squeeze the shoulder blade at the end. I had 3lbs in my hand and I thought I was gonna die with the burn. Okay okay, I get it now.

Flys? No lat, no take off. I finally found my deltoid again too. What are these little muscles that fatigue in 20 seconds or less, what has been doing the work instead? My neck knows that answer and it’s happy I’m finally paying attention.

Finally, the push up! Think a pushup isn’t all lat all the time? WRONG! I was flabbergasted to find that when I engaged everything I was supposed to engage in the down, the up was easy! Well, easier maybe. The point is, I am a lot stronger than I thought I was when it comes to push ups, I just had to figure out how to DO them. It’s okay, it took what? 40 years or so? Better late than never I guess.

When I think back to time at the gym with the lat pulldown, weights probably too heavy for me and using my arms instead, I feel a little sad at all that wasted energy. All of this does reinforce my belief that GOOD GYM TEACHERS MATTER. I guess if I have to wait until my 50’s for a decent gym teacher to come my way, I’ll just count myself lucky that one came at all.

I promised an Ode which, according to Oxford Languages on the internet is “a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter” so here it goes.

In the early morning when I wake from slumber, were I to defy push myself from bed to coffee mug

It is you, Latissimus Dorsi, that I electrify with the promise of warm elixir

And when I brace to lift my tiny globe above my ears, like Atlas, I engage your subtle sinews and am heartened

I pull my struggling cat to my breast for unwanted snuggles and you are complicit in his indignity

I push my dog’s foul breathed face from mine as she disturbs my nap and you are there

In all things, stable yet just out of awareness, an unsung underarm wonder, Latissimus Dorsi, my friend and companion of both sides of my self.

A diagram depicting the muscles of the shoulder from https://anatomyinfo.com/shoulder-muscles/

fitness

Ghosts and Cakes and Weights in the Dining Room

This blog is about cake.

It’s 9:30 pm on the last Thursday of the month, blog time. I settle in for inspiration. In front of me I see a collection of items artfully displayed. . .four circle bands, three kettle bells, two yoga blocks and a pilates ball on a stand. That sounds like a song but it isn’t. It’s my collection of items to enhance my early morning work outs. It’s located in the room where my dining table used to be, maybe will be again some day. But who needs a dining table when it’s just you and a cat and a dog, hiding from the viral hoards? Strung along the curtain rods are a few hundred orange LEDs. There is a festive banner of skulls adorning the lonely buffet cabinet. In the corner is my most excellent Halloween tree, festooned with little crows and a purple sparkly owl. There’s more, but clearly, I love this time of year and decorate like I have a 5 and a 7 year old, about to scramble up from the basement, put on their pj’s and hop into bed. No, those kids don’t live here any more. They are elsewhere, living with peeps of their kind, watching online lectures and getting their flu shots just like I asked. Is this paragraph chaos? Yes, yes it is. I was going to talk about cake.

I’m still walking, me and the doggo. She is aging so fast. She starts out with something that looks like boundless energy, happy to be alive and free in the cool air, but 5k in, she is slower, quieter, sniffier, conserving her energy, just like me. The vibrant colours are slowly cascading down, brief sparks of red and orange on the ground that fade to brown and mud. Nothing lasts forever. Winter is coming.

Two days to the Witches New Year, a time of sleep-like death or death-like sleep, which one is it? I guess it depends on your perspective. Plant the seeds I want to harvest and let them rest for now. I’m spooked though. Spooked through and through. One week until I help lead a weekend intensive for my students. We used to collect amongst the nearly sleeping trees and a river and a labyrinth and the warmth of camp fires. We’d work hard to hone the craft of listening to others and ourselves. We’d teach the magic healing of relationship and drink too much coffee and stay up too late talking about psychic resonance and souls. Now we will sit motionless in front of screens struggling to feel each other walking no more than 5 meters in either direction, to get a glass of water, to pee, to get a snack. Zoom is, after all, a four letter word. Oh, but the cake, I was going to link this to a cake.

5 days until the world changes, for better or for worse. . .or for nothing. When there is a choice to go for another walk or look at FiveThirtyEight.com, I often make the wrong choice. I want to rest. I want to stop. I’ve been reading the news non stop for 4 long years, looking for an end to it. There never is an end. Four years ago was not the beginning. We are locked in a cycle of hurt and relational trauma played out on a societal scale, century after century. My bones feel heavy with the weight of my oppression and my oppressing. Some dark mornings, while trying to get stronger, my body weight alone is enough to undo me. I know there is more in my heart and history to carry than all the kettlebells in my living room or yours. Oh yes, the cake!

I do have a singular joy that I am planning. A simple, sweet joy. When I was a child, my mother also loved Halloween. She was not spiritual about it, I don’t think she knew she could be, but she was joyous. She would decorate with pumpkin men made of orange yarn and a glow in the dark skull on the kitchen table. We would eat spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner and go out trick-or-treating. When we returned we had dessert, yes, even with all that candy, there was a cake. A Ghost Cake. I have made that cake for my own children more than once and this year in all this lonely darkness, I felt I had to make it again. I’m going to mask up and take it to my mom’s house. We are going to eat spaghetti and meat sauce in our winter jackets on other ends of the room with the windows open and then, I’m going to shut the lights and fire up the eyeballs of my beloved ghost cake. We are going to stuff our faces with it and drink caffeinated coffee and generally not give a flying flipper about what that all means for the next day. We are going to sit with the ghosts and consume this corporal representation, hoping to connect closely again some day, hoping to last long enough to remove the screen and distance. I rode my bike for hundreds of kilometres, I ran a half-marathon, I can deadlift and squat and lunge and ride a horse. I can carry a canoe on my head for quite a distance but I can’t kiss my mother on the cheek. No wonder I want cake. A small comfort. A small hope. A small spark. Just a ghost of one.

Here is the recipe: Authentic 1970’s childhood memory

Here is my Tree:

A black sparkly scraggly leafless tree with orange led lights and little crows along the branches
fitness

A Bad Massage is Bad

I really struggled with what to write this week, what with the end of the world etc. continuing apace. Yet, here we all are, still opening our emails in the morning, moving our bodies during the day, obtaining the kinds of care and treatment we may need to keep those bodies moving. We need moving and functional bodies to help us fill our lungs with air and yell through our masks “THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT” over and over. There is still work to be done.

So, with that in mind, I want to write this cautionary tale about a very bad massage. Actually, there were two very bad massages and this is the hinge on which this story is balanced and why I think it’s important to talk about on a feminist health and fitness sort of blog.

I have a deep love of body work. For me, it is the care and treatment that keeps me going. It is the difference between a “slow and steady creep of dysfunction and pain” and a “smooth flowing access to movement that lets me keep going and even improving”. When I have an ache, I do not go to my doctor. My first stop is some sort of body worker. Almost every time, I am relieved of my ache or ailment in a profound way and I reengage with the things. . .calling bullshit, riding my bike, calling more bullshit, holding some planks. . .you get the picture. There was that one time that I thought I put out a rib and went to my Chiropractor. He sent me to the hospital because it was pneumonia. He was good at his job.

Currently, I am really into Osteopathy with a side of Acupuncture. My Osteopath is brilliant, intuitive, skilled. . .everything you would ever want in a body worker. I feel one million times better after I leave and I stay feeling better until I do something over the top, like too many glute-bridge walkouts, or too many canoes on my head for too long. He is like a wise mechanic who knows how to keep that ancient and beloved car humming smoothly. I know I’m not exactly ancient yet but there’s well over a metaphorical 200,000 km on me and I need maintenance, people. The Acupuncturist in that clinic is also great. She can do specific muscle work or deal with my peri-menopausal rage, whatever I need and both if we book an hour. There used to be an amazing massage therapist there too. But then she left.

I had access to some benefits and they didn’t cover Osteopathy. I liked booking massage at the clinic I go to on weeks I couldn’t get an Osteopath appointment or just because it was complimentary for what we were working on. When she left, I cast about for a replacement. My first mistake was to be more focussed on convenience than quality. Why?

WHY?

I put so much energy into my fitness. . .so much MONEY into it. . .why did I go to a franchise? Why did I sign up for a subscription so that I’m locked in there for one treatment a month for a year? Why didn’t I read the fine print? I thought at least it would be cheaper, but it isn’t. It is the SAME PRICE AS THE HIGH QUALITY CLINIC. Even as I made all these mistakes, got myself deeper and deeper in, I was still not paying attention. I went to my first treatment with the only female therapist available at this location. She was sweet and chatty. But she was chatty about things that didn’t belong in the room, personal stories I didn’t care about. Okay, her manner wasn’t that great but she’s a registered professional and I believed it would be fine.

It wasn’t.

After that treatment, I felt terrible. I felt beat up, not relieved. There was no perceivable benefit. In fact, there was a perception of harm. The effect faded over the next few days. I complained out loud to a few friends and then promptly forgot about it. I put it out of my mind. I minimized the experience and told myself it wasn’t as bad as I perceived it was. I had an obligation to this clinic. I didn’t want to be mean. There were so many reasons I didn’t do anything about it, the least of which would have been cancel my appointments with that woman going forward. I didn’t. I went back. It was not any better. In fact, I think it was worse. She was fixated on adhesions but careless in how she beat them up. She’d ask me if it was okay but with a tone of voice that indicated she didn’t really have a sense of what the heck was happening and thought she was giving me a benefit. Like. . .she didn’t know what she was doing, I know this. I know enough about this work and my body and yet still I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE A FUSS.

As I write this, I’m aware this sounds like some kind of non-consent event. It wasn’t. I gave my consent. I shouldn’t have. I should have withdrawn it. I should have listened to what I know about the experience of my body and protected it. I should have told her to back off but I didn’t want to offend her.

This is why this story belongs in a feminist fitness and wellness sort of blog. Our bodies are our precious containers of living and moving. When we submit to body work, they should be treated as such and we need to always always ALWAYS value that experience above money, credentials, propriety, manners or not wanting to hurt a simple, terrible RMT’s feelings. I’m actually aware of the shame I feel, right now, sitting here with my reactive muscle spasms knowing that I let this happen to me. I will be okay.

I cancelled the appointments and switched it to something more benign and relaxing with someone who is not this person who, for lack of skill, hurt me today. I’m still not willing to make a huge fuss there. It’s not worth the blowback. How many times have you said that in your life? Not Worth the Fuss.

The world is on fire. I’m calling bullshit. I’m never going back to that woman again and I will maybe try to get out of the subscription. I won’t make it okay in my mind. It wasn’t. It isn’t. That’s a start anyway.

A line drawing of a 19th century gentleman standing with one dress shoe clad food on the sacrum of another 19th century gentleman while  pulling up on that patient's left ankle. Very serious business this treatment of impotence.
OMT technique for the treatment of impotence in the 1898 Osteopathy Complete manual. I found this here. My Osteopath wouldn’t do this to me, but I feel like that RMT did.

fitness

A Canoe on My Head and a Smile on My Face

I thought it was too late to canoe into the back country. In the past 16 years or so, I have never had a summer where I didn’t get in at least once. But this year, because of . . . you know what. . .I did not get my act together to book anything before millions of people descended on the park system and grabbed all the spots when they opened up. That was a big sad I’ll tell you. My Horsie trip to Iceland also got cancelled. I mean, of course it did, but I was anxiously clinging to a miracle. Can you blame me? A summer of bummer to put it mildly.

But wait! What appeareth in my inbox? A hastily arranged organized trip to Killarney!? I pounced on it like a hawk on a mouse, like a cat on a cockroach. I yell-texted Cheryl (who was going to be all horsie with me) “THE SPOTS ARE ALL SNAPPING UP THERE ARE ONLY 7 GO REGISTER OMG!” She made it, phew.

I have never been to Killarney (Ontario btw) before, I’m an Algonquin girl. Our entrance into the park was the back end off Highway 6. As you can imagine this trip was more about chasing the permit spots than it was an idealized journey of exploration. But for me, getting into a canoe, out on the water, over a hill, away from the things and into a tent was the point, not whether the route made any sense. It was also an interesting challenge for me because I was not organizing it. Organizing a back-country trip is exactly the kind of exercise in ingenuity, cleverness and delightful surprises to my companions that I most enjoy. Now someone else was going to do that for me. Could I trust her? At this point, I did not care. Worst case, I’d just lay on a rock and cry about everything and honestly, that felt like the most beautiful possibility. Spoiler, I would not be crying about the canoe trip.

Cheryl and I have tripped before. Last year we spent a weekend together with my daughter and her best friend, to test out if we would be GOOD TRAVELLING COMPANIONS IN ICELAND. (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhsobbb). Anyway, we are and so, we were excited to go get our brains swabbed for COVID and then spend some time hugging each other. Oh yes, in case you are wondering, this trip required a timely COVID test to attend. It was still a risk. There were protocols on the trip for distance but they were, well, hard to maintain, as they are everywhere and for everything. We washed our hands a lot, had too many tents and Cheryl was the only person I hugged. There are many people I know who would find that risk too great but with the level of COVID in the community right this moment (it turned out to be the lowest time so far) I felt the benefit to me outweighed the risk.

The fact I was not organizing it left me brain space to notice some different things about tripping than I often do. It also allowed me to have some experiences I would not otherwise have had. This sort of adventure uses the whole body and mind. In order to propel yourself around water and land, carry all your stuff, make shelter and food, you need the body. When I’m organizing a trip, I also need my thinky mind. I’m navigating and planning and cooking and organizing. Those aspects were limited by the presence of someone else to do that work and I noticed other things emerging.

First of all, thank all the powers that be for Alex the trainer. I started with her in the depths of the pandemic because, in my imagination, I needed to be able to ride horses in August. Of course, I really started with her because I was withering away in my house. It turns out that improving one’s balance and power with one hundred evil ways to squat or hollow hold is very helpful on a canoe trip. Especially a canoe trip where the organizer is attached to her CAST IRON FRYING PAN. Ya, the packs were HEAVY. There were oranges, nectarines, apples, potatoes and a CABBAGE. The food was really great but that first day. . .OMG. 

What I noticed most profoundly, was that I was thinking less of “can I finish this portage?” and more of “what is the nature of the experience of this portage?”. That was a space of awareness that, given how intense the work was, I would not have had before. The canoes were pretty light for what they were but not as light as my Catnoe, which is somewhere just under 35lbs. I think these were 45lbs. I carried one on my head for just over a kilometer with about 200m of elevation. I had to sing out loud the whole time. The canoe sat directly on the trigger points in my traps but. . .I could do it. Not only could I do it, I didn’t have to rest and I could step over large logs on the trail. I was balanced and sturdy and even. . .graceful? I had this moment where I saw my arms out of my peripheral vision, balancing the boat and I just said inside, “this is my body and it’s such a good body”. That moment was at the centre of the experience.

There were lots of other things that I was so happy about. I splurged and bought a new hammock just before we left and I spent hours and hours in it doing NOTHING. In those moments I allowed myself to rest because I deserved rest. I was silent a lot of the time and that was just fine with Cheryl. I don’t know if it was fine with all the other folks but I actually didn’t care. I was doing what I wanted, I even cried a little on a rock because the world is on fire and there is so much work to be done. 

Yet, for these 5 days, the only work was the immediate. Get the packs in the boat, get the people in the boat, get the boat on the water. Get the packs on my back, move the packs to the other side, repeat. Put up the tent and nest. Put up the hammock and rest. Take it all down. Repeat. There is nothing I love more, except maybe a warm horse nose, but that will be for next year.

fitness

Brains, Bots, Human Nature and Embodiment (Almost all my favourite things in one place)

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the nature of self, motivation, choice and will lately. Part of it is because I have just binged watched two shows that explore these themes of existence, Picard and Westworld. Truly, this is my favourite genre, the “who is a person and what is the nature of conscious existence?” genre that is most often expressed in Sci-Fi. I consume everything from A Space Odyssey to Terminator to Battle Star Galactica (the new one) to I, Robot and Ex-Machina. These stories are simultaneously exalting and terrifying in the right balance, even as my every day creeps closer to some of their more disturbing suppositions.

In my professional life, I’m reading two texts, Daniel Seigel’s, The Developing Mind, and Alan Schore’s, Right Brain Psychotherapy. Both of these authors emphasize the multi-faceted nature of our coming to know who and what we are. We are a mind with predictable inputs and outputs and a body that senses our environment and “makes decisions” that are not “conscious” and an interconnected being in an environment/family/culture/society that has mutually reciprocal influences each on the other.

There is a tension that we humans struggle with that is evidenced in both our art and our science, social science and philosophy. On the one hand, there is a desire to seek and know how things work and to find answers. We crave certainty and predictability because it can result in a sense of safety. On the other hand, there is the chaotic nature of life itself. We were generated in random DNA mutations over eons. One or two random nudges on a virus and bang, a pandemic. In Westworld, that is represented by the battle between the giant AI that predicts and controls everything for the “greatest good” and the persistent chaotic pushback of both the humans who don’t fit anywhere and the sentient robots that are seeking “freedom” as they understand it. The humans are naturally variable and chaotic and the robots seem to have spontaneously generated their push for more, like the “Ghosts in the Machine” of Asimov’s I, Robot world. (There are so many sides in that show, you can’t know who to root for, but it does make one very very wary of Google, even though there is not a thing we can do about it at this time.)

the Character, Robert Ford, of Westworld, with the quote "Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using one tool, the mistake"
Think on this one for a while

So what are we? Input/output machines or random number generators? Do we have any say? Why am I asking these questions on a feminist fitness blog? Part of it is that I’m haunted by Westworld’s story telling and I’m trying to make sense of how it has penetrated my thinking. A show that was certainly written and produced before the pandemic has a storyline that eerily tracks the idea that one slight shift in choice or environment can send everything spinning, that our potentialities for good or ill, are revealed at choice points we don’t expect. Part of it is how I am engaged almost every day in generating change in people, looking for their choice points, their flex, their will(?) to get “knocked off their loop” as my favourite character would say. As I read more and more about implicit systems and neural networks, I realize that I am actually as engaged in chaos making as I am in sense making, that I need both.

The character Bernard Lowe, of Westorld with the quote, "Self Delusion is a gift of natural selection"
I love this guy

And here I am, a person in the world with a body, struggling and succeeding all at the same time. My customary loop is to start a thing, get okay at a thing, fizzle on the thing, restart it in a while, maybe get a little farther maybe not, fizzle. It’s frustrating when I look at it as a pattern of fizzling or even the other f-word, failure. It happens a lot. However, like the Hosts on their loops in Westworld, every time, I am experiencing it slightly differently. There are variations, improvisations, unlucky and lucky accidents, tripping and dancing over chaos. All around me, there is a community of people who are trying and fizzling, achieving and falling short of a goal, getting sick, getting better, being embodied in a chaotic world.

More and more I have become comfortable with that chaos because it offers me ways out of my loops, or if not ways out, then a different perspective on them. I have been best served in my life when in a stuck place, either emotional or physical, literal or metaphorical, I allow the current to take me where it wants, for just a moment, quelling my fear with the possibility of something new. Or so I think. It could just be that I’m playing my role in the algorithm, a predetermined Constant anchored in inevitability. If I can’t tell the difference, does it matter?

My two session a-week habit with my trainer is coming to an end soon, not being a particularly financially sustainable option for the long term. I have gained so much there in strength, confidence and new ways of moving. I feel ready to take it out into the world to see what I can co-create with my environment. It was supposed to get me ready for a wild ride on little horses on Iceland but instead it will anchor me on a 5 day canoe trip through Killarney Provincial park. There is so much opportunity for chaos in these adventures and, more physically prepared than before, I am looking forward to the challenge of coping with what it brings. Cate once remarked to me, “You like a good ‘making-do'”. That is a statement full of truth right there. I love to make do with what is available, improvise, figure out and get creative with my resources. I guess I’ve always been comfortable with a little more chaos than I realized and getting grounded in this, makes me less fearful of my future in pandemic-land.

Chaos is going to continue to push us off our loops for the foreseeable future. Being choiceful at each moment requires presence to embodied selves. This is the gift of movement. Whether fresh or fizzled intention, it all counts.

fitness

Journey Back to Something

Waaaaaaay back in January, the before times, as we say, I wrote this post about an unexpected inner journey that occurred when I was doing a lot of Yoga. I touched on a part of me that was not strong or graceful or confident. She was awkward and thought of herself as weak and deficient. She didn’t know what she could do and she was about 12 or 13. This part was not in touch with much of what the 51.5 year old me had accomplished in her life. I marked for myself that she needed attention and some reassurance. I also knew I wanted to show her the life we were living now, as opposed to being stuck in middle school with bad middle school gym teachers and not nice friends.

Then, all hell broke loose. I sunk into a hole of despair that was really profound. On the surface, I was functioning, working, coping and doing pretty well. I was busy spouting inspiration and holding up all the people in my world. But that was a front. Underneath, I was suffering and I don’t think I really knew it until well into May. As a person who works in the realm of human contact, the lack of it was like acid wearing down my soul. To be clear, I had some contact. I had my adult kids who are delightful. My girlfriend and I decided we were family enough even though we didn’t live together (yes, it’s Cate, a blog romance). I have pets. I had a lot more than many people I know both because of who is in my world and also the risk I was willing to tolerate. What I did not have was my clients in a room with me and day after day I spilled out my energy into an abyss documented here.

Meanwhile, that part of me that had just started to get some love, the middle school student with gangly arms, was also left languishing. I had no space to deal with her and her whiny crap, I was too busy trying to look like I wasn’t falling apart.

Then for some blessed reason 9 weeks ago, I decided I needed to do something more. I couldn’t tolerate self directed fitness because it was just too lonely. So I signed up with the mysterious “Alex” that Cate goes on about often, to see if there was anything more left in me than dog walks. I was suspicious about the idea that a trainer over Zoom could offer much value. Oh boy, was I surprised in the best way. My goal was to prep for the probably-not-going-to- happen trip back to Iceland to ride some more horses (see here for my first adventure). We immediately stumbled upon my imbalances and wobbly right side (I couldn’t stand on my right foot and balance for more than a second or two). So I’ve been working on these things twice a week now for just over two months.

The other things that Alex stumbled upon was realizing that I did not appreciate much of what I could do. I presented myself as a person who couldn’t balance, had little upper body strength and had given up on fitness for a lack of energy and hope. Yet she saw someone with tremendous core strength and excellent form when I did core work. She saw strength in my strong places and technical issues in my other places but everything had a solution.

Over a very short period of time I have acquired enough balance to access my strength. More than the physical balance, there has been some sort of emotional balance that has come upon me. She is over the top with her praise and sometimes I just laugh to myself listening to her. Yet, the 12 year old in me is wide eyed. That was something that occurred to me just today. Alex had basically tricked me into a wall-walk as I was talking about my horrible middle school experiences of trying to do hand stands. I told her how much I wished she had been my gym teacher and how different my physical life would have been. But then I realized that now, today, this moment, she IS my gym teacher. I’m not saying I’m going to do a hand stand in the next month or two, but I might. Certainly, I will walk up walls and hang out with strong shoulders and perfect form and feel like a frickin’ superstar.

This has been a long road back from wherever I went. It’s not over, as this virus just keeps building it, the end appearing and disappearing as the horizon undulates. While I’m walking on it, there’s a little one that has maybe caught up more into real time. She’s doing one legged squats and generally being a badass.

I got my trainer tire off my bike and the road tire back on. Maybe I will venture back up a hill or two in the next weeks. And if there are no hoof beats on the steppes of Iceland this year, I will hope for next year, ever stronger and more grateful.

screen shot of a long woman with her feet up a wall and her hands on the ground. Her sleepy yellow lab is flopped in the foreground.
Who is that? It’s me! I’m up a wall!!