fitness

Athletes are Humans Too (and the beautiful/terrible things that happen when they remind us)

If you would have asked me three weeks ago whether I thought my post would be about the Olympics in any way I would have laughed at you. I can’t stand the Olympics in principle. From the bankrupting of Montreal, to the painting of lawns green in Beijing, to the murdering of Sochi dogs, to the removal of impoverished communities in Rio, the Olympics to me is mostly a legacy of arrogance, colonial mindset, wasting of public money for little social gain and general decadence while the planet burns. I had planned instead to write a post about how, while I’ve had to give up on my upper body strength work this year because of a shoulder injury, my attention to yin yoga meant my flexibility was off the charts. Kim had graciously remarked “that is just as useful in the apocalypse”. There is a cute little blog in that right?

But no, I can’t write about that, because I’m transfixed by the Olympics and what is going on there with these amazing young women in multiple sports. I am not particularly transfixed by their performances, although many are admirable. What I am transfixed by is their authenticity and their outright refusal to play the game that has been set before them by the rules that usually would eat away their little souls like lye on roadkill. I am flabbergasted at what they are saying out loud about how they feel about their performances, their lives and their mental health. Suddenly, the painful reality of the sacrifice and demand of sport, along with its stunning achievement is just laid out in the sun, exposing all the wet, rotten moldy realities and it is about time.

Let’s start with the home town gal, Naomi Osaka. She is the next gen superstar on the tennis circuit. She had pulled out of Wimbledon, frankly declaring that the pressure to not just perform on the court but perform to the media had overwhelmed her. She wanted to get her head on straight for the games. She lit the Olympic Cauldron, of course she did, representing everything the organizers wanted us to think the games were about, brilliant performance, diversity, the future. She was eliminated in the third round and let people know why.”I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.” She was honest, she is struggling to cope with this ridiculous situation she is in. There was a lot of support and a lot of garbage said about her, sexist racist garbage. We will come back to this.

Then there is Simone Biles, gymnastics superstar who has achieved things that are so spectacular, the system can’t cope with or understand the value of them. She has been dominant, envelope pushing and full of life . But in the profound weirdness that is this pandemic driven games, she lost it, literally. Her spatial awareness, so key to her capacity to execute these mind blowing moves, seems to have abandoned her. Instead of risking severe injury, she knew her own mind and body well enough to pull out. But that’s not all! She did something else that stunned the world, she told the truth about it. “The mental was not there”. She talked about “the twisties“, something that high performance gymnasts all recognize but has never been identified on this kind of stage. She spoke about the work it takes to stay in a sport she loves, even though she was betrayed by the disgraced team doctor, as so many other young women were in the US gymnastics program and of course other places in sport where hungry, young elite performers meet opportunistic predators in power. There was lots of support for her choice from her team mates and the public. And then again, waves of racist, sexist garbage.

And right here, is the conundrum I have about the Olympics. When I listen to these young women speak to the media, talking about their truths, their hopes, the fun they have had, the garbage they have endured, their depression, anxiety, perfectionism and the one perfect moment where they knew they gave everything they had, I want to cry. I love them and I am so honoured to be let in on the drama that is their achievement, medal or no medal. When I hear the honesty that is getting uttered into the public sphere about the mental health of the mental game, I’m floored. I think it really means something that these women have access to the language and can speak their truth about their experience, all of it.

But then, this honestly and authenticity enters the grinder of the hyped up commercialized nationalistic, racist, sexist pile of garbage as represented by the IOC and Twitter and I need to walk away. Most of the people competing at the Olympics are kids and young adults. They arrive in this realm, the so called “world stage”, just wanting to do their best and have some fun. This Olympics, staged as it is entirely inappropriately during a health crisis, is all of the work and none of the fun. No crowds to cheer, no other people to meet, no touring of the host country, no nothing. Do your event and get out. Try not to catch or pass COVID along while you are at it. Oh, and if you find this all a bit much, what with COVID, racial injustice, insurrections, fires, floods, bombs and the erasure of democracy in any number of your home countries, well, boo hoo too bad suck it up and dance for us. Like, I hate it.

I wish the Olympics was really the thing it purports to be, a place for the world to come together in friendship, respect and fairness. People of all the nations doing their best and having fun. Sometimes, in spite of itself, that does happen and in those moments, I tear up in the car, listening to the jubilance of a skate boarder and the elation of a rowing team. The chorus of support for Biles and Osaka swells and I will lend my voice to that. They made the best choices for themselves and drew lines where lines needed to be drawn. When the world pushed them too far and things fell apart, they tried to hold on to knowing it’s not all on them. That is a world I can feel better about, at least in this little corner, plague, flood and fire notwithstanding.

A picture of the Olympic flag on fire with fire in the background, how I usually feel about the games
fitness

In Search of Rest

We all need rest. It’s a simple statement and a simple concept, isn’t it? Is it? I have been thinking a lot about rest as I have moved toward some time off from clients and supervisees. In each stage of trying to hive out this space for myself to engage in rest, I have had challenges. I’m not sure if the challenges are somehow greater than they were before or if I’m just more aware of them now that I am older, wiser and 17 months into a pandemic. I knew I wanted to explore this idea of rest for my blog post because it just feels so complex to me right now. Come with me will you?

What is rest? It’s partly biological and physical. We need to stop after we go. We need time to recover in our muscles and energy stores. It is in the rest between the movement that strength actually builds, our fibres knitting together more strongly than before or settling into a state of more length and spaciousness than they sat in previously. Rest happens when we sleep or sit or hang out in a hammock. It happens when we read a book or even watch a movie (ugh SCREENS ugh). The body gets busy with the rebuilding. It’s awesome. I have a fantasy that on vacation, I will take a day to sleep until I can sleep no more, sleep without the barest twinge of guilt for spending the day in bed, sleep and sleep and sleep and then I will feel rested. But you know what? I have realized that is not what I need. I actually get enough sleep. I have developed into a pretty good sleeper in my middle years, only occasionally woken by peri-menopausal angst, at least these days. (I know the future may hold something else.) So, physical rest is not what I’m really craving.

Rest is also psychological. You may have read about an idea called cognitive load. That is basically the amount of present processing that the brain is doing. When there is too much, things slow down, the quality of decision making drops and both cognitive and physical function are impaired. In fact, it is exactly like what just happened to my poor little laptop. Ever since I upgraded to the latest operating system, it is often in a state of too much in the moment processing and it gets hot and the fan is too loud and I need to shut it down and turn it back on. In people, cognitive load can come in the form of work roles, responsibilities and demands, family roles, responsibility and demands, but also systemic pressures and demands. Low income, poverty, racism and other discriminations all create cognitive load and it interferes with decision making and the capacity to do other needful things. This is one of the biggest arguments in my mind for Universal Basic Income. Relieving the constant pressure and worry of food and shelter will allow people to put more brain power to thriving. It is yet another excellent reason to work to make environments, programs and institutions explicitly anti-racist and anti-oppressive, so that the burden of navigating space is more evenly shared.

Cognitive load is big and real and exhausting. In my life, it is comprised of all my responsible roles: mom, therapist, teacher, school running person, dog and cat mom. Every one of them has pulled on me hard this year and when I go back to my fantasy of sleeping and sleeping, I realize that what I want is to be able to not think about any of these roles and what they pull out of me. I want to find a way to stop running all these subroutines and just let the processor sit idle. I am definitely not as good at that as just sleeping. My “vacation” is full of to do’s, curriculum review and marking. I’m going to have to work on actively forbidding myself to do things on particular days or maybe just going at a pace that doesn’t feel pushed like it does when I am not trying to rest. Wow, even that phrase, “trying to rest” reads like an oxymoron.

In these past three years, I have also come to understand deeply that rest is spiritual. The three years are utterly coincident with having extricated myself from a relationship with an alcoholic person. My spirit had been consumed with managing theirs for a really long time. This space, which feels less a space in the mind and more a space in the heart, is somewhere that I have found rest more easily, even in the midst of the pandemic. It has allowed me to access deeper different love and to be more present to the world, even as it burns. I’m accessing this spiritual rest, boringly, in my yoga practice, other physical movement and nature. It turns out that the divine really is that simple. Being attuned to a present moment and being in awe of the outer world sit in a balance. When that is happening, I’m resting, even if it’s biking up a rather unpleasant hill.

It’s evident now, as I write these last paragraphs, that my blocks to rest are highest in the psychological category. Quelle surprise! I’m also feeling very deeply that I have a good enough solution for the next two weeks of not seeing the people aka Vacation. I’m going to continue to sleep my 9 hours a night but I don’t need any more than that. I’m going to allow myself to complete some of my necessary, role dependant tasks every day but I will not consume entire days with these things. There will be lots of dog walks and hopefully a bike ride or two. There will be yoga, mostly in the Yin style. There will be some hard days too. My doggo has a no good very bad lump on her left front leg and some of these vacation days will be devoted to deciding what to do with that. There is going to be a lot of staring at trees and water. In fact, just now, I stopped writing for two minutes and stared at said water and trees. I am checking in with my body and there is the vaguest sense of unease, likely related to having to write a blog on my vacation, yet there is no regret there. This was a good exercise in figuring stuff out.

Yes, rest is simple, but it is also more than what an individual does or does not do. It’s essential to our health and we have an uneven access to it. We need resources to achieve rest in all domains. I’m super grateful for having those resources and when I am done this particular rest, I’m getting back to the work of making more space for the rest of others. For more inspiration about rest than I could ever evoke, go here: https://thenapministry.wordpress.com

This adorable sleeping black cat on a grey couch knows what rest means

fitness

Lost Year

Cate and I were sitting around yapping as we do when she said, “I remember when I was out for dinner with Ty a couple of years ago. . .” Then she stopped, mid sentence and said:

“Everything interesting is a couple of years ago.”

We sat basically in silence for about 30 seconds, which is a long time really, mid conversation.

Everything was a couple of years ago.

I was out on my bike today, for the third time in less than three weeks (yay me) and I was thinking about this idea, that everything feels like it was a couple of years ago. When I concentrate, I can recognize the year that has passed. One year ago this past weekend, we were wrapping up our final intensive, shifted online instead of residential and delayed from March. It was all out of sync, it was too much work, it was horrible. I was struggling hard with the adjustment to being an online therapist. I was hoping that it wouldn’t last past summer. I couldn’t contemplate any further than August. One year ago, I was cancelling travel and watching my kids suffer with online university.

There is a phenomenon in development where people don’t remember their childhoods either because there was so much trauma they dissociate or because it was so boring and void of stimulation there was nothing to keep track of the years. I think this past year was a little of both. There are varying combinations depending on who you are and where you are but we have all had some measure of crushing boredom coupled with trauma, acute or chronic. And so, who wants to remember any of it?

I want to be able to mark that a year has past and that things happened and that they were important. I don’t want this year to be a loss. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to mark down what happened that I think was important, inspired by or somehow pushed by this fricking pandemic. I’m focusing on physical things but also maybe some emotional/spiritual things. Why not?

  1. I learned to lift weights. They weren’t heavy but I finally learned properly in a way that I could understand and relate to my body. I can even fling a few around appropriately if I feel like it.
  2. I really sunk into my yoga practice. It started by clinging to my friend Adriene but has moved outward to something very deliberate and mindful that is extending my realm of flex and reach. I didn’t realize there was so much to accomplish by being still in a pose. It’s the best.
  3. Twenty kilometres is enough of a bike ride. This year, in these three rides I have done, I’m recognizing that I do not have any reason to ride except that I’m having a fun time and getting some exercise. In years previous, I have been training for something big but honestly? Right now, IDGAF. I’m going to ride when I can and only as far as I want to go. It’s totally fine.
  4. I claimed my space. I am one of those people who spent time, energy and money in-between hard lock downs renovating my space. It finally looks like I want it to look and feels like I want it to feel. It’s the first time in my life something has been entirely mine. I’m into it.
  5. I still don’t like running. I don’t. So I won’t.
  6. I am an expert in what I do. This one has been a process that certainly started before the pandemic but something about the intensity of having to adapt and make things work for clients and students and my colleagues who work with me has pushed me to a place that is different than before. I used to be plagued with imposter syndrome, even after 15 years of full time practice. Yet this year, something shifted. My teaching has become more solid and my confidence in my supervision and other work has just solidified. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s IDGAF. I don’t know, but I like it!!
  7. I made adults. Two years ago, both my children were still children. Now, suddenly, we are three adults, living in the house over the summer, negotiating stuff and generally having a good time. They have adapted and survived so well and are coming out of this mess with energy and hope, even as they have the usual gen Z anxiety about their actual future. This time has made me pay more attention to them, be more deliberate about my engagement. I think we are all better for that.
  8. IDGAF. . .about working to end white supremacy and patriarchy in loud ways. I’m working to get louder. I guess saying this here is part of that. My students and the work my school is doing to transform it’s curriculum, structure and student body is part of that too. I learn every day from beautiful people, especially my students.
  9. I’m no longer cool. I have accepted this. My coolness, such as it is, is an “old person” kind. Not only is this okay, it’s a relief. I can let go of the longing and the shame that I have no idea who you are talking about when you mention some actor in a thing that was in another thing. Popular culture is no longer mine. Take it, I don’t want it any more.

There may be more but that’s a good summary. Actually, quite of bit of living has happened in the last year and, as we start to accelerate into a future that is the “after-times”, I am planning to take all these lessons into my expanding world. It’s going to take some effort, some mindful remembering, but I don’t want this year to pretend to disappear. It happened, it was real and it needs to be integrated and remembered as more than just some unpleasantness. It was more than just some unpleasantness.

What is important about your “lost year”? How do you want to make sure you keep it?

“The Lost Year” by Hichter CC by 2.0
fitness

Tell Me It Will Be Okay

There are a lot of wonderful things about exercise in mid-life. We talk about them all the time on this blog. Fun with friends (my biggest motivator), overall health and longevity, quality of life, crushing the patriarchy etc. There is one thing that I do not like, Sam-I-am, and that is injury, especially a nagging, chronic, endless vexing type. The flavour of this season is bicep tendonitis. It’s been building for some time and I do believe it started with my 30 day yoga journey with my best virtual friend, Adriene. It’s not all flow but there is a lot of that sort of thing and I was really trying to increase my skill and my capacity to do more than 4 push-ups. Unfortunately, my bicep tendon was having none of it.

So, here I am, injured, in pain, prone to keep trying, then making it worse, then backing off and doing nothing and getting depressed and unmotivated and stiff and sad. It’s a cycle I endure over and over and sometimes it feels like it overshadows my gains.

I know that isn’t true.

I am doing my best to care for it, getting to the root of the problem maybe with my new chiropractor is a big part of it (my beloved osteopath is still not allowed to work in Ontario because of the way our pandemic rules are). He’s a beefy guy who likes to stick needles in me and zap them with electricity. I’m up for that sort of torture because I’m at my wits end with this baloney.

I think that I’m extra distressed this time because I feel the precious nature of my strength, balance and mobility more keenly with every passing year. When I was 40 and I injured my knee running, it didn’t feel like a big deal, I would just back off and it would heal and that would be that. But this year, perhaps because of the acute sense of fragility in the world, I’m just feeling defeated and a little scared. If I can’t do a downward dog any more, what does that mean about me? What if I can’t portage a canoe? Or wait, not even that, how will I paddle? All these things that are so precious, I know they will eventually slip away, but not yet damn it! It feels weirdly close right now, the end. It seems that bicep tendonitis has triggered a bit of an encounter with the existential givens.

Tell me it will be okay. I think everyone needs a little of that right now.

Two women in a yellow canoe with all their gear.
Me and my adventure friend Cheryl in Killarney last year. Send me good vibes for a shoulder that works and another adventure this year!
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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fitness

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