fitness

Cycling: Five Years On

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a road bicyclist for five years now. In that time, I have accomplished a lot of things that I never thought I would do. I have successfully buzzed around cities and towns, country roads and quaint paths, all with my feet latched securely to my pedals. I have gone up and down the Niagara Escarpment more times than I care to count. I have eaten a lot of bananas, drank a lot of coffee and known the agony of the “bonk” (a sudden drop in blood sugar due to insufficient calorie intake on a longer ride).

There are a few things I have not done. I have not become immersed in hard core cyclist culture. I was tempted. There is a lot of nobility in that crowd but there is also a lot of toxicity that my middle aged feminist self was not interested in. “The Rules” epitomize the complexity of it. I’m not knocking the folks who really get off on that sort of thing. It just is not me and never will be.

Still, the thing I enjoy most about road biking is the social component and without it, I doubt I would have carried on as long as I have or upgraded my bike to my delightful new one (Trek Domane 5, for those who care). In order for the social component to work, the cyclists have to be like minded in some way and I am so grateful that I found a little tribe of people who find the same things important that I do. Whether they are more experienced, stronger or faster what counts is the experience of the whole ride. We try hard and wait at the top of the hill. If someone is really full of beans, they buzz ahead and loop back. We drink coffee and eat butter tarts to fuel the adventure and as we speed along, we tell each other all the stories of bike rides past and those yet to come.

We look out for each other while we pee in the woods. We share water and tell each other how good we look on the bike. We praise strength. I have never felt so strong as I do riding my bicycle, amazed at my capacity to endure another 10km or to haul myself another 50m up that wicked hill on Limberlost Road. There is something about the rhythm of biking, especially in hilly Muskoka Ontario. It’s natural interval training amongst the call of the crow and the loon. It’s getting chased by the black flies and watching them fall away as you pass 11km/h. I can’t wait for the heat of summer when I can come back into the drive of my family cottage, lean the bike on the pink granite rock, take off my shoes and walk straight into the lake, bike clothes and all. That is pure joy, I tell you.

The older I get the more I realize that the benefits of exercise that we all read about are a synergistic package of things. It isn’t just the movement or the heart rate or the metabolism or the blood flow to the brain. It’s the feeling of competence, the possibilities of connection, the agency and the joy. They all work together whether it is a mountainous cycling trip or a social walking group.

You know, I didn’t know where this post was going to end up when I started it, but I think I’m starting to see my own point. Road cycling is the hardest, most extreme exercise I have ever done, and enjoyed at the same time. The reasons for this are the fullness of the experience as described here. What it is most decidedly not, is solely a mechanism to change my body or allow me to eat more ice cream. It is not the thing I punish myself with or do out of duty. It does not purify my moral short comings and neither does my skill or lack thereof speak to my worthiness as a human. I’m not doing it because my doctor threatened me. It’s just firkin’ joyful.

I hope you find that movement that is that thing for you.

Five happy people in bike helmets midway through second day of riding the giant hills of Limberlost
fitness

I Gave My Car Away

I live less than two kilometres from where I work and given all the things I like to do and hope to do in the future (like biking around NFLD) you’d think a small thing like biking to work would be a choice I’d make. Nope. I really like biking and walking, especially when I’m walking my dog but you know what else I like? Sleeping. Sleeping is one of my most favourite activities, especially in the morning when I am not supposed to be sleeping. So often, in spite of my best intentions to wake up 15 minutes early (that’s all it would take), I press snooze and take my car.

I feel like part of what I’m doing with this post is publicly shaming myself for that. Most of my good friends and lots of my fellow bloggers bike, walk and run to work. It’s certainly the more “virtuous” thing. And also, we are human and we just don’t alway live up to our virtues. I’m cool with that, you should be too. However, I’m also aware that I have planned this really cool trip and I don’t want to die. Consistent biking around my town during the day would go some way to keeping me moving in useful and constructive ways. it will also make it easier for me to get out on the weekends for more substantial training. It’s all about the baseline. And yet and yet, nothing.

Sometimes the solution to persistent motivation problems is to create a “safe emergency” situation. Lucky for me, the opportunity presented itself this week. My delightful son, who has just completed his second year of uni, had dutifully got himself a job as a labourer at a farm. What we hadn’t really worked out was how he was going to get there. His day starts at 7am. Remember that I like sleeping more than biking, walking and getting up early. So, There was no way I was going to get up at 6:30 in the morning so I could drive that boy to work, just to drive my own self 2 hours later. I did what any good middle class mom would do, I gave up my car to my kid. Yes he is spoiled rotten, his work is only 10k away, he could be biking up there, but selfishly, I am not letting him bike. I’M biking! Even though I had to give up my car to get myself to do it.

It’s only day one and there are going to be more than a few days of exceptions when we will have to figure out something else. It only goes until June, conveniently, just before I leave for the epic trip. Maybe by then it will be a habit that I can stick with.

a picture of six stylized bicycles in rainbow colours
A rainbow of bikes I lifted from the Australia Bikes to Work site.
fitness

I’ll Open My Own Jar, Thanks

I don’t remember who it was but I think it was a client that I had years ago. We were talking about a break up of her marriage or relationship or something and she was telling me about her mom’s reaction. We had focused in on this one thing that seemed to distress her mom, or maybe it was just part of the argument for why she should try to keep her relationship. Her mom said, “Well, who is going to open jars for you?” As I remember it, the comment was matter of fact and so very out of context of the pain the person was feeling both in the relationship and because of the break up. However, it did seem self-evident to her mom that jar opening was a thing you wanted a man around to do.

There is a part of me that can imagine writing this piece from a place of grief after death of a partner and taking that phrase in that sense. I vividly remember my own mother’s grief after the death of my dad, encapsulated in the question, “Who will watch the snow fall with me?” This evocative moment speaks to connection, shared pleasure in company and its loss. The jar could be the same. I walk into the living room to find my loving partner and hand him this jar so he can do me this kindness, but he is not there and my heart breaks.

Except, that isn’t what that client’s mom meant. She meant that we need a man to help us with the hard and heavy and strenuous things and that we should put up with all manner of crap to keep that presence. Or alternatively, she thought so little of men that she only kept them around to open jars and clean the eaves in the fall. Either way, connection, pleasure in company, jars as symbols of love, this was not what was getting evoked.

I have been thinking about the jar issue as I adjust to being the only adult in my home that houses me, two pets and an occasional child. I am thinking about what it means to be self reliant and relying only on myself. Last week, I came home at 10pm after starting my day at 7am. It was garbage day the next day and my dog just refused to take the garbage out for me. The nerve. The cat was similarly uncooperative. I took it out myself. Laundry baskets that are full to the brim and well over 20 lbs must be carried upstairs. Snow was shovelled all winter. Bags of salt need to be emptied into the softener and cat litter needs to be moved from car to litter box. And yes, there were jars that I had to open. These were all things I used to defer to “someone stronger than I was”. It’s based on a rational division of labour, at least in theory. Yet I have come to think that I was doing myself a disservice by deferring even as much as I did. The dependence it can create, when we fear we can’t manage the heavy or hard things, can cloud judgement. It can stoke fear. The fear is that of being alone, lost and struggling, protectorless, perhaps vulnerable.

I’m not saying I’m not vulnerable. I’m just saying I’m strong. I’m strong enough to lug the garbage and the laundry and the salt and the cat litter. I have friends to lug motors to boats with me and honestly, I haven’t met a jar that ever beat me. It may take me a while, it may end up looking like the lid has been in a car accident, but it’s open.

Lasting companionship and connection is lovely. Lives don’t always work out that way. Opening our own jars gives us options and a certain clarity. I like that quite a bit. 💪🏻


fitness

Getting Real in a Perilous Time

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 I am a body moving. I need to keep moving, keep going, don’t stop, I’ll be stuck. I can’t get stuck, not here, not like this, not today.

I make food. I eat it. The emotional eating that soothed me so well in December is getting old. It’s not regulating anymore but slipping into not eating is so dangerous for me. So I take care to eat. I eat with care. One mouthful after another, with love, like my video yoga instructor tells me to.

In the basement again in a ball on the floor, “Breathe lots of love in. . . Breathe lots of love out. . .” I do it. All the love, universal, it’s enough, it will be, maybe sometime.

I go get the tests, the mammograms, the bone densities, the colonoscopies. “Do you have any difficulty breathing after going up one flight of stairs?” “No” “Do you ever have breathing difficulties?” “Only when I feel my heart breaking.” I didn’t say that to the doctor. I thought about how well I am doing with this 50 year old body that is definitely not alone in the world. But. . .I am alone. . .shhhhhh. . .not yet. . .breathe in, breathe out, let it go.

This 50 year old body that has grace and balance, more than ever, deeper than ever. This 50 year old body that has wisdom, a well of wisdom so vast, so full of answers. . .but we know there are no answers to the questions I’m asking. Why the heart can’t have what the heart wants, not all the time, not most of the time, if we are being real here. I don’t have that answer. Even in breath as a mountain, still, there is only silence to that question.

I bought a body pillow, the kind you can entwine between your legs and arms like a lover. It prevents aches and pains of more than one type. It has no tears on it yet. I sleep well. Sometimes I drug myself to sleep but there is no shame there right? Breathe in, breathe out. Take an Ativan because sometimes s*&! is just too real for being in the moment.

Every day I walk on a knife edge of abandoning my body, of forgetting to feed it or leaving it lying flat in a fallow field, unmoving. Every day I think about the cost of this lack of tears and wonder where they will choose to emerge, or where I will choose to let them emerge. Every day I am grateful for all these choices and knife edges and hard questions and the beating of a strong, broken heart. My heart can climb at least 4 flights without even thinking about minding one bit. At 50, my grandmother was barely leaving her apartment, weighted with a broken heart and no tears to be seen, just silence.

So reader, I’m sorry to break this silence with my broken heart and my 50 year old body clinging to populist yoga in 25 minute increments. But it’s what I got and it’s where I am and I bet I’m not at all alone in this. “Breathe lots of love in. . .breathe lots of love out.” I got you.


A white woman in a pink top with a black cardigan posing jauntily for the camera with her curly hair falling in front of her face
This is my new cut. It’s pretty cute.
yoga

Sorry Dr. Seuss…

I will not will not with a snake, not with a joint, I won’t get baked.

I cannot cannot with a beer, just get that bottle out of here, not with a snake, not with goat, I can’t in the car but could on a boat.

It’s Yoga, you, I thank the sun. It’s Yoga, that’s it I’m done.

No, not even with you, cutie-pie

Inspired, in part, bythis story about snake yoga.

fitness

In Praise of at Home Yoga Vids: The Adriene Edition

Oh January. The month of. . .well, I’ll call them “Intentions”. We can’t help it, we humans. We are wired for making meaning and nothing invites meaning making and purpose seeking like a new thing, in this case, a New Year. Don’t feel silly, it’s natural. We look out over the expanse of time and think perhaps we should plan a thing to make it more significant. It can involve change but also expansion and deepening. That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I don’t want to do anything new. I want to do more of what I already do in ways that add to my self-concept and my depth of experience.

So of course one of the things that I chose was more of Yoga. I say “of course” because there is a part of me that is kinda embarrassed that I’m doing such a white middle class woman thing. Blah blah blah, yoga, blah blah blah, Nameste. Except you know. . .there is something to this yoga thing. And these days, the incarnation of the yoga thing I am most fascinated with is the apparent epitome of the yoga girl, Adriene. This is her YouTube channel.

Okay so the truth is I love her. I’ve mentioned my love of her in a few of my other posts, in particular one about Yoga at home with my cat. Oh, goodness, did I actually just write that, “at home with my cat”? Yes! I did! It’s my cat and my home and I do yoga with a YouTuber. Sometimes I don’t wear pants. I LOVE IT.

Adriene is particular. Somehow, in spite of the demographic, my politics and my inherent cynicism, she worms her way in and makes me want to get on my mat. When I get there, she offers her skill as a teacher. She never asks for too much and always offers as much as you want as far as skill or intensity. She plays. . .with the poses, with her dog, with words. . .with me. She says things about compassion and self love and I believe her. You NEED to understand how significant that is for me. I am a total snob/cynic/curmudgeon when I read or listen to anyone in the popular dynamic talk about compassion. It’s mostly because I’m in the business of offering it as a therapist. I am attuned to garbage words and insincerity and just blah blah blah. Somehow, her blah-ing is really magical. I most especially love when you are curled up in a ball stretching and she says “take a moment to be present in your own personal love cave”. I mean, who says that and gets away with it? Adriene.

Even when you think she is going to blow it, like a video entitled “Yoga for Weight Loss”, she manages to nail it. The title was misleading. I suppose it’s great for searches and stuff. Once you start it, you only hear good things about what your magnificent body can do. Yes, she gets some heat going, but it’s not about punishment or paying for it. The heat is the flow of your energy. The heat is healing.

She sings stupid songs. She loses her thought process and makes jokes. She models making mistakes and then trying again. Each moment is one in which we can learn, attune and be with ourselves, no matter what that looks like. Her mindfulness and spirituality are genuine and relatable. Her sincerity should make me want to roll my eyes out of their sockets. But I don’t. I believe in her way and I’m so grateful to the light she shines out to the internets. Namaste Adriene, I mean it. 🙏🏻

Stay tuned later today for duelling at home yogis. Catherine will post about yoga with Kassandra.

A cartoon picture of a woman of indeterminate race seated cross legged and thinking,
This is totally me. Also? Doing it right. Image from https://yogalifestyles.com
fitness

Emotional Eating: An Open Eyed Foray

I guess this post deserves a trigger warning. I’m going to talk about my recent experience of emotional eating, something that I have never consciously recognized as a thing I did until the last few weeks. I want to explore what I am perceiving inside me as I address these feelings and “urges” explicitly. I am bringing to this discussion my experience as a therapist and client in therapy for many years. Your mileage may vary. If you don’t agree with what I say, you may feel free to say so but I’m asking you, reader, to be kind because the events that have led me here are painful and personal.

Challenges, I’m having them, the kind that impose themselves unwanted, unbidden and undeserved. That’s okay, it’s part of life. Over all, I’m doing really well.  After a few days of anxious dissociation, followed by disembodied calm, I have settled into a proto-new-normal. I’m stabilizing things, mobilizing others and realizing that I am absolutely going to be totally fine no matter how this all shakes out at the end. (Yes, I’m deliberately vague, but pick your major life issue, any would really fit here)

On the activity end, I am being vigilant about getting outside every day with the dog and doing yoga about twice a week. This is for my mental health and to keep my body moving. I’ve also gone to get body work done because as soon as this stress hit, every chronic thing regressed at lightening speed to it’s preferred natural state. My left side body likes to collapse in on itself setting off a whole bunch of issues everywhere. So, resources are going there. I love Osteopathy personally for that sort of thing but in the state I’m in any thing from Reiki to a Swedish Massage with a giant man named “Bjorn” would have been fine. Just the presence of another human whose nervous system is something below full throttle saying they will take care of me is probably a benefit. I just described over a quarter of the reason therapy works in that last sentence. Sitting in front of a person with their own feet on the ground who cares is a real life line in these terrible times.

Anyway, back to eating. The last time I was this stressed were events around my divorce around 13 years ago. It was a much worse situation then. My kids were younger and I didn’t have a job. I was desperate and dependant on people who didn’t have my best interests necessarily in mind. I couldn’t eat and I lost a scary amount of weight. I did not want that to replicate itself in this current situation. I have a lot more to hang onto and also a lot more to lose. I have to be present for clients and students in demanding environments. Having a starving brain is not optimal. So I went to the doctor and explained that I didn’t want to get addicted to Ativan, what other options were there? She suggested Remeron, an atypical anti-depressant, because it made a person sleepy, quelled nighttime anxiety and boosted appetite. Cool, all that currently ails me.

Now many of you probably have experienced the fact that anti-depressant medication doesn’t fix the things that you don’t have control over. All it does is settle down or level up some inner physiology, allowing you to stay in a “window of tolerance” of your emotions more easily. Amongst many other things, that means I could continue to think and make decisions without the dissociation or extreme numbing. I was also more rested, which contributes to resilience. I could hang on to all the things that I know about me. And then there it was, this new thing.

How curious. At night, after all my work was done (oh work, you great distracter), I felt a pull to the kitchen. Now it’s not like I’ve never snacked at night. If I stay up really late, I actually get hungry and can eat another meal. But this was a decidedly different feeling. It was new, a yearning. I was not hungry. I was not even peckish. I was certainly sad and. . .empty, not overwhelmingly so, but clearly and emphatically so. That emptiness declared to me, “Eat.” So I did. The first time I really mindfully paid attention to the phenomenon was about three days into the behaviour. That time, when my body said, “Eat.” I chose home made chocolate chip cookies and went about noticing what happened when I ate them. I found that the particular sad that was this empty feeling was not just filled, but actually comforted. It was like I was interacting with a person who was giving me a little love. It was, in fact, regulating. 

Now people, I’m sure you are going to have feelings about this. I ate two more cookies and was comforted. I let that comfort wash over me in all it’s sugar-butter-egg-flour-chocolate glory and I was not sorry. I was not, in that moment going to deny the pleasure and peace I was experiencing. Then I took my Remeron and went to bed.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with all this knowing. I know that “emotional eating” is a real experience that many people struggle with. Yet there is no denying that eating is not merely a function of the body. It represents many things according to context including pleasure, expression, connection, memory, hope, fun and satisfaction. I am not going to be sad forever. I also think that by allowing the empty space to be filled up just a little by a cookie, I am not doing myself any great disservice or starting down the road to hell. It took up a cookie sized space and the rest of the pain is still there to work through. I’m not going to, nor would I every be able to, plaster it over with cookies and I don’t think I have to try. So is this what I’m doing? Mindfully emotionally eating? Letting the comfort in for what it is and tending to myself in all the ways. I guess that’s what I’m doing.

 

A cookie sheet of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. These are the thick kind made with butter and brown sugar.
Delicious home made chocolate chip cookies on a cookie sheet just out of the oven. They look the same as mine.