Getting Back on the Bike

When I was learning to drive, my instructor would always say, “Set yourself up for success.”

By this she meant, don’t make driving harder on yourself than it has to be. Especially as a new driver. Park in places that are easy for you to pull out of (i.e., forwards instead of backwards), drive routes you’re comfortable with, drive at times you’re comfortable with, have things in your car that allow you to enjoy your time driving (e.g., music you like or picked out yourself, etc.). I started driving young—you sort of had to where I grew up. And eventually I became someone who not only loves to drive, but who is also pretty good at it (if I do say so myself!).

I’ve been thinking about this advice now that I live in Toronto and no longer drive—or rather, refuse to drive in a city of this size and level of congestion. For so many reasons, I know that biking is the smart thing to do. And yet I have my serious hang-ups and anxieties around it. (Read here for more.) The gist of it is, urban biking scares me. I’m intimidated as a cyclist (by cars, streetcars, buses and other more experienced cyclists) and I probably just haven’t gotten enough hours in for it to feel very natural to me. More than that, having to take up urban cycling in Toronto of all places can make one feel as if they’ve been thrown in the deep end.

IMG_3029.JPG

Image Description: A view from Toronto’s Rail Path on the West End, near the Junction. The photo features a bright blue sky with abundant clouds, some development and small businesses. In the bottom right corner, two cyclists bike side-by-side. One of the highlights of urban biking is views like these.

Sure, I know how to bike. And heck, I’ve even biked around Toronto as a commuter a good handful of times. But now that summer is in swing, I find myself timid to get back on the bike…but at the same time, the last place I want to be is on a crowded subway car when I could be outside, and above ground.

IMG_2802.JPG

Image Description: A view of the Don Valley Parkway from the subway. One side of the highway is full of cars while the other side is empty. This photo was taken during rush hour and everyone is driving to get out of downtown. Commuting in a big city can be really exhausting and it doesn’t help when you’re stuck in traffic.

And then I remembered my driving instructor’s advice: Set yourself up for success.

What would this look like with regards to cycling?

First of all, my bike was a couple years shy of being an antique. Someone had given it to me when I had no bike, and I happily accepted. It was better than no bike!

But it had its share of issues. It was rickety and rusty, and while it was pretty cute, it was never fun for me to ride. It was uncomfortable. The seat was hard and even with a cushy soft cover, it still hurt one’s sensitive areas. Any time I’d ride over the slightest bump, everything would rattle (much like my first car, actually. An ’83 Ford Mustang that ran on about 3 and a half cylinders). Beyond riding, it was difficult to adjust anything on my bike—gears, the height of the seat or handlebars. (The bolts and screws were rusty and nearly stripped—probably as old as the bike itself.)

I don’t know why I didn’t realize sooner how little I enjoyed interacting with this bike. Maybe it’s the kind of thing when you decide to get rid of something, its flaws become glaringly obvious to you.

However, even with all these issues as I saw them, it was still a decent and functional bike. I listed it online and a handful of people were eager to take it off my hands. It was a great fixer-upper, or even decent enough to commute for someone who wasn’t too fussy. On Monday, I sold it to someone who was more than happy to buy it. (One person’s trash is another person’s treasure has never been truer!)

And by Tuesday, I’d tracked down a shiny new (not-rickety) bike at the Bikes on Wheels in Kensington Market. It jumped out at me as soon as I got there: a beautiful bright yellow bike with my name on it.

By Wednesday it was mine to ride home.

And WHAT A DIFFERENCE! A smooth ride, gears that shifted easily, a low bar (which makes it easy for someone short like me to hop on and off), lightweight (easy to pick up), and easy to adjust.

From the first test ride around Kensington Market I could tell that my reservations about biking weren’t all about Toronto traffic. A large part of my resistance was around having a bike that was difficult to deal with. It was like I didn’t even know that biking could be enjoyable.

Getting more comfortable on the road will come over time. That I’m sure of. I know that I’m still “too slow” as I often get passed by other cyclists. I’m cautious, but I’m lacking in a bit of confidence and certainty. But that’s what I was like as a new driver too. And over time, I became better, more confident, and developed a sort of sixth sense about driving.

I’ve made the first moves in setting myself up for success as a city cyclist and it’s opened up the city for me in a new way! I don’t feel beholden to transit, I can get places more efficiently than walking, and I’m excited to develop as an urban cyclist.

I’d love to hear your tips and stories about urban cycling. What do you do to set yourself up for success? What struggles have you overcome? Or what do you love most about it??

IMG_3156.JPG

Image Description: My new bike, a yellow “Linus” bike with brown leather seat and handles. 

Boobs and Bathing Suit Shopping: My Response to the Whole “Bikini Body” Thing

This post isn’t exactly about fitness but with summer around the corner, I find myself thinking about the tired “bikini body” tropes. You know, how we all have to get our bodies “ready” to be seen by other people in public…

Well, this week my partner and I are headed to his hometown of Rockaway Park in Queens, NY. It’s an amazing beach community on the southern peninsula of Queens.

Rockaway_Beach_Queens

Image Description: A photograph of the beach around sunset with apartments visible in the background. Rockaway Beach is an amazing beach community south of Brooklyn on the southern peninsula of Queens.

 

In anticipation of the trip, I decided to give the whole two-piece bathing suit another try.

I finally figured out: Hey! I feel good about my body in my underwear—I think I look pretty damn good, even. So why do I feel so uncomfortable in a two-piece? Oh, I see… Other people.

Well, fear of what other people think be damned! The older I get, the more I realize (not only does it not really matter), but no one’s even looking at me anyway.

So off I went to in search of a proper two piece.

The main problem, however, was my boobs. Or rather, the lack of selection for those with a “D-cup-and-up.”

I started by doing some preliminary searching online… “Bikini tops for larger busts” yielded some results, but what I found was a lot of tops that tried to hide or diminish parts of the body.

What makes you think that just because I have a larger bust, that I also want to hide it? Or hide my stomach? Do larger busts and larger stomachs automatically go together?

large bust bikini.jpg

Image Description: A woman wearing a black bikini intended for larger busts, but also has a lot of fringe to cover her breasts and stomach. While I actually don’t think this is a bad option in terms of style, it seems ridiculous that so many options that are available for larger busts are also ones that hide and diminish the visibility of breasts and stomachs. This is just one example of the types of bathing suits available for larger breasted women: lots of fringe to hide behind! 

I continued my search at the Eaton Centre… I found that most companies offered larger sizes of bikini tops, but these are just simply larger versions of their cute flouncy tops that are meant for smaller busts. For those of you out there who share my struggle, you know this doesn’t quite work. Simply making a bikini top larger doesn’t always take into other concerns like support, side-boob coverage, the feeling of security that I won’t accidentally flash half the beach while coming out of the water. (#bigboobproblems)

The worst part of it was just how many useless tops there were out there. Certainly, I can’t be the only person with larger breasts who also wants to wear a two piece (AND move around with said two piece on her body without the fear of it falling off).

swim tops.jpg

Image Description: Some beach-ready items like sunglasses, camera, and bathing suit. This type of bathing suit top in particular was the predominant style when I went looking for a top. I’m sorry, but no matter how big you make this top, it still won’t work for a larger bust in terms of support, coverage, comfort, and general staying-up-ness. 

Lately I’ve become less and less impressed by what stores have to offer. I don’t consider myself to have an especially rare body type, but even if I did, what would I do then?? I’m annoyed (at best) and totally pissed off (at worst) when I’m made to feel like something is wrong with me because things in stores don’t fit me properly. (Not to mention other issues like high prices for low quality, the use of sweatshop labour to produce high volumes of clothes out there these days…)

So now what? I don’t have a particularly satisfying way to wrap up this post. I guess my frustration around consumerism, patriarchy, and other bullsh*t are just a bit higher than usual these days, and the bathing suit shopping incident was that thing that pushed me over the edge.

I have this note to myself written above my desk in my office that says, “Create before you consume” and this idea can act as the antidote I sometimes need against the bombardment of body and beauty standards out there in stores and malls. If anything, it’s a reminder…just because I live in a consumer culture, doesn’t mean I have to be a mindless consumer. I, too, am someone who is capable of creating things. And that, for me, has always been empowering.

I recently took up knitting and sewing as a way to make my own clothing. There are even classes in Toronto on how to make your own bras and bathing suits. While I realize this isn’t for everyone, I find something deliciously rebellious about not needing to buy stuff when you can make it yourself.

But this can mean lots of things for lots of people: Create a positive self-image before you consume… Create time for yourself before you consume… Create your own version of something before you consume… Whatever this means to you!

Anyway, I’ll be happily lounging on the beach this week in my bikini body; by which I mean, there will be a bikini on my body.

bikini body.jpg

Image Description: A drawing of a bikini with the words, “How to get a bikini body… put a bikini on a body.” This and similar memes are a response to the “Get Bikini Body Ready” rhetoric out there about dieting and exercising prior to putting a bathing suit on in the summertime.

How I Get Out of a Body-Image Funk

Sam and Cate’s recent post about weight gain made me laugh. Thank you to both of you for posting it! I’m always nervous to be outspoken about those sorts of feelings, but seriously—weight change is a reality! And sometimes we don’t care and sometimes we do.

Speaking of weight gain, one of my girlfriends is in her second trimester right now and we’ve had some laughs about her drastic weight gain in a such a short period. But it’s made me wonder: How can I be so encouraging and supportive of her body-self-consciousness but so critical of my own? Can I still be a body-positive feminist even though sometimes I desire to be thinner? Or will my membership card be immediately revoked?

Lately I’ve been struggling with my own body image. Spring often does that to me. It’s when I shed my winter layers and I’m suddenly very aware that I have a body which will soon be less-covered as it gets hotter. It’s also the time of year I tend to become weirdly critical of my own body in various ways.

kitten lion mirror.jpg

A motivational poster of an orange kitten looking in a mirror. The reflection is of a lion. The caption reads, “What matters most is how you see yourself.”

Another reason these feelings started creeping up is that, as summer arrives, I get a chance to see people I haven’t seen in a while (family, friends, etc.). And while it’s great to reconnect, one of my first thoughts is almost always: What if they think I got fat?

Weight changes are generally more obvious when you haven’t seen someone in a while. And my mother—God bless her—never sugar-coats this kind of thing. I can’t stress enough that she never intends it to be critical. She has, on multiple occasions, cited that her comments come from a different cultural understanding as she wasn’t born in North America. For her, commenting on weight is merely descriptive and even sometimes meant as a compliment, (as in, “Wow, you put on weight! You must be eating well!”).

i must be getting fa-bulous

A cartoon of a woman in her underwear holding her belly. The first panel reads, “*sigh* Look at this belly. I must be getting FA-” with the second panel reading, “BULOUS!” The woman, still in her underwear has a feather boa and sunglasses on, strikes a bold pose.

But still. My worries continue to weigh heavy on my mind (did I intend that to be a pun? I don’t know.)

One way I’ve started dealing with these concerns is by shifting my focus to other goals around strength and self-improvement. Yeah, I could set a goal about being thinner. But I find goals like these become frustrating and I even become a little obsessive. I don’t like the way I become with goals like these. Yet, I know that I am a goals-oriented person. I need milestones to work towards.

goals.jpg

A mock-motivational poster that reads, “Goals: You gotta start somewhere.” The photo is of a corgi jumping over a make-shift obstacle made of two pillows holding up a cardboard tube. 

HOWEVER! There are plenty of other types of goals that do work for me. Ones that keep me looking forward instead of in the mirror.

And since we’ve gotten to know each other over the past few months, I’m happy to share some of those here.

  • Gradually increase strength and lifting ability by 50% (e.g., 30lb to 45lb, or 45lb to 67.5lb)
    • I want to be stronger! In addition to writing and completing my PhD, I also work part-time at a brewery here in Toronto. One of the things I often have difficulty with is LIFTING KEGS. I can kind of do it and waddle around with one. But it would be nice if this were less of a struggle. More generally though, there’s something empowering about becoming stronger (and not needing to ask for help all the time–reminds me of this “FlexCam” video) and seeing this sort of progress when working out. Also having a specific and measurable goal helps me instead of simply saying something like, “I want to be stronger.”
  • Substitute biking at least once per transit ride (weekly)
    • I’d love to ride my bike more. I do it a bit, but honestly, Toronto drivers scare me (rightly so…they are awful) and I really don’t want to die like that. I’ve written elsewhere about my feelings on being an urban cyclist but this summer I’d like to push my boundaries on this and become a more confident cyclist and use this as my primary method of transportation eventually.
  • Use up remaining fitness class passes this summer
    • Before I joined the Y, I was using fitness passes for places like The Yoga Sanctuary or Rocket Cycle (a super cool spin studio in my neighbourhood). Then I joined the YMCA and go there for my exercise needs. I’ve still got some outstanding classes on my passes and would love to get my full use out of them over the summer, or even to mix up my routine. This should be easy enough.
  • Get more intentional alone-time (weekly)
    • This isn’t really a fitness goal, but more about personal time or self-care. Recently, I’ve been busy and haven’t consistently spent time alone doing the things that make me feel good (long walks, reading or writing in cafes, making things). It could be that missing out on this contributed to my feeling-crappy as of late.

Ultimately, I know that so much about body image is all about perception. And I know that it’s normal to have ebbs and flows when it comes to body image. But I’ve found that shifting my focus helped me to diminish the funk I was in and kept me looking forward. But I’m curious to know what some of you do to get yourself out of these funks!

mirror bunny

A photo of a bunny looking at herself in the mirror. As if the bunny is giving herself a pep-talk, the caption reads: “u r beautiful and ur gonna do great today.” 

 

Me & My Fitbit Are On A Break

fitbit pictyre.jpg

Image Description: This is a photo of a woman’s hand holding a Fitbit Charge 2 with a purple wristband. The Fitbit screen reads, “Workout” with an animation of a person above the word. Even the instructions that come with the Fitbit suggest that the wearer should take breaks from wearing the Fitbit.

I was surprised that I even wanted one.

Me, the person who has always been (and continues to be) somewhat suspicious of technology. Or at least too much technology. Or too much dependence on technology. Don’t get me wrong—I love my laptop. And I would DEFINITELY, in a heartbeat, run into a burning building to save it. I also love my iPhone. Maybe a little too much—I bring it everywhere with me (to bed, to the bathroom, you get the picture).

Anyway, my wanting a Fitbit was a bit of a surprise to me and my loved ones—up until recently I didn’t even know what it was for. But in my renewed commitment to my fitness, it seemed like a great tool to help me along and encourage me to move every hour, track my heart rate (which I have always felt is too irregular, I don’t know why), log workouts, track sleep patterns, and so on and so forth.

And for the first while, it was great! We went everywhere together, I wore it to bed every night, and I kept earning all sorts of badges…

Sneaker Badge Web.jpg

Image Description: This is an animation of a Fitbit badge called “the sneakers badge” earned for 10,000 steps taken in one day. There are a variety of badges one can earn for meeting certain milestones when wearing a Fitbit. 

My Fitbit would be like, “Great job, Tracy, you’re crushing it!” “You’re getting all your steps!” “Great job!”

And I’d be all, “Oh you…” So flattering!

The next day, my Fitbit would say something like, “Wow, you’re meeting all your goals…you’re walking everywhere, and you’re doing like, 25 flights of stairs a day! Awesome!” (Even though this wasn’t always the case—since Fitbits can’t tell if you’re physically walking up stairs or taking elevators/escalators. But I didn’t have the heart to tell it that.)

For the first little while everything was great. Every time I’d meet my goals I’d enjoy watching the corresponding graphic on the Fitbit (digital fireworks or a little rocket ship taking off or whatever). It was like any other new romance! My Fitbit was telling me how great I was, and I felt super pumped about it. We were literally in sync.

Then, after a couple of months, I had a couple sluggish days, maybe a sluggish week or two. I’d get the weekly updates in my inbox saying how I walked 20km or 30km less from the previous week. Or, down 100 active minutes last week from the killer week I’d had before.

And it was rough because I felt like I could never explain myself and say, “I know, I know, I’ve just been really busy with work and with deadlines…” Or, “I had a rough week and just needed to chill out! I’m sorry!” Nope. I would open the Fitbit app and see all the areas I was falling short: Steps, short. Calories burned, short. Floors climbed, short. Active minutes, short. Kilometres walked—something my Fitbit had praised me for on multiple occasions—short. It became a real bummer.

Then I’d have moments where, if I left the house without my Fitbit on, I’d panic for a second thinking, Shit now all these steps won’t count! (In searching for pictures to go along with this post, I found MANY others experience this same panic and express their feelings in meme form.)

fitbit meme2.jpg

Fitbit meme.jpg

You get the picture—my motivation was starting to be fueled by what my Fitbit had to say and not about how I felt. Just because I’m not wearing the Fitbit, doesn’t mean those steps lose value. Yet I started to feel like maybe this was the case.

Other times I’d have days of way surpassing my goals: getting over 17,000 steps in a day (the average person gets around 6,000/day I’m told and the recommended is 10,000), or having over 100 active minutes in a day, or whatever the case was. But often those days I’d be completely wiped or burnt out. I didn’t feel healthy–I felt exhausted and had only surpassed these goals because I was running around doing 50 things that day and didn’t even have a quiet moment to myself.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case–sometimes I’d feel great for surpassing my goals for the day. But the point is, the raw numbers don’t tell you everything.

I’ve really had to stop and think about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation. (Extrinsic being pressure from something other than myself; including striving for praise from a tiny computer.) I want to be the person behind my motivation to be fit and healthy. I want to do it for me because it’s what I enjoy, or what I find interesting or exciting or worthwhile.

And I get that the purpose of a tool like this is to encourage you to make positive changes. Certainly having a Fitbit for the purposes of daily activity tracking has been great in some regards. I was sleeping better, going to bed on time, waking up earlier, walking more often instead of taking transit, and getting up regularly to take breaks from desk work.

I’m sure that I’ll be happy to have my Fitbit back in regular rotation at some point in the near future. But things were starting to feel a little off.

I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to feel enslaved or beholden to a certain number or weight or outfit or angle or image or object when it comes to how I feel about my own body. So until then, my Fitbit and I are on a break!

We were on a breal

Image Description: This is a screen capture of a scene from the sitcom, Friends. Ross shouts to Rachel, “We were on a break!” The issue of whether or not the two were “on a break” at a point in their relationship was an ongoing dispute between the two.

What are Women’s Bodies for, Anyway?

 

 

katie sandwina holding 3 dudes

Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of Katie Sandwina, a circus strongwoman from the early 20th Century. Here she holds 3 adult men in suits up as balance on her arms and shoulders. Sandwina was capable of lifting over 300 pounds above her head and defeated Eugene Sandow (a famous circus strongman) in a weightlifting competition.

 

Happy Saturday to all of you taking the time to read this morning! For this month’s post, I decided to collaborate with my friend, Jaclyn, who has been mentioned in some of my other posts here and here.

We begin our reflection with this question from 1909, posed by a girl’s Phys. Ed. teacher:

“Who would suggest that the delicate, anaemic, hothouse plant type of girl, afraid of sun, wind, and rain, timid, nervous and clinging, … will make a better wife or mother than the strong, full-blooded, physically courageous woman, a companion for her husband on the golf links and a playmate with her children?” (Verbrugge 2002, 58).

Vintage Muscle

Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from the 1920’s, posing with her arm flexed. She has visible muscle in her biceps, triceps, forearms and shoulders. This juxtaposed with her vintage pincurl hairstyle makes for a striking image.

The suggestion being that women who were physically fit would make for better wives and mothers. In other words, the purpose of a woman’s fitness was not necessarily to benefit herself, but rather, to benefit those around her. The statement came at a time when cultural values were shifting away from the image of delicate femininity to what was referred to as the “New Woman,” who was seen as active, modern, vibrant and wholesome (55).

Some might look at this and laugh. Sure, this was over a hundred years ago. But things have changed. Right?

 

Rene Campbell bodybuilder

Image Description: This is a photograph of Rene Campbell, a professional female bodybuilder from the UK. She is in a black bikini and flexes her arms above her head. She is very visibly muscular. Female bodybuilders are often criticized for looking “manly,” “too masculine,” and have even been called “gross” or “disgusting” in reference to their muscular bodies.

 

We’re not so sure. In various chats over the last few months, we’ve noticed a staggering degree of negative comments and attitudes towards women who choose to pursue weightlifting. (Each activity receives its own negative commentary, but we’re going to stick to what we’re most familiar with.)

Jaclyn compiled a list of some of the highlights:

“Don’t get too fit”

“You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder chicks, are you?”

“Don’t get too muscular though, you won’t look feminine anymore”

“You’re not going to be one of those chicks that looks like a man—that’s gross”

…and one of our all-time eye-rolling favourites: “Okay, but don’t get too bulky because men don’t like that.”

Tracy, while newer to weight training, has experienced some similar cautionary comments:

“Okay, but don’t work out too much.”

“Don’t get too jacked/ripped.”

“Don’t be that person.”

These comments not only come from a place of misinformation, but they perpetuate damaging assumptions about women and heteronormativity. We discussed the possibility of comments like this coming from a place of concern for health. But Jaclyn noted that these comments aren’t exactly along the (more concerned) lines of: “You’re not going to become one of those bodybuilder women, are you? …Because I hear that involves the use of drugs which can have a negative impact on your mood, fertility, and general health or because overtraining can cause physical/mental burnouts.” Nope.

 

bikini

Image Description: This is a photograph of three women posing for a bikini competition. Each of the women are tanned, with long hair and full make up. They strike poses so as to highlight small waists and curves around their hips and busts. Unlike body building which focuses on larger muscle mass and definition, bikini competitions place emphasis on more slender muscle. This is typically seen as the “physical goal” for women’s bodies.

 

For the most part, comments like these instead seem to implicitly “fit shame” (the flip side of fat shaming) or “police” individual behaviors that threaten societal ideas of what it is for a body to be feminine (i.e., slender, with only “feminine muscle” or femininely acceptable muscle.) See Sam’s recent post about the new popular aesthetic of a slender woman with a larger bum.

All of this not only perpetuates the damaging assumption that bodies are either feminine or masculine (and that this strict binary only allows for bodies that fit within a certain standard), but it reinforces the messages that women’s bodies are always bodies-for.  In other words, women’s bodies are always bodies-for-other-people but never primarily for themselves. In the case of Jaclyn’s experience, she is (implicitly, though often explicitly) being told that her body is a body-for-men when people say things like “Okay, but don’t get too bulky, because men don’t like that”.  This comment, which she frequently encounters, involves multiple problematic assumptions:  first, that all men are only attracted to the stereotypically “feminine body”, second, that all men are only attracted to women, third, that her sexual orientation is straight.  While we will not address these and other assumptions in this post, it is important to note the amount of troubling assumptions at play in the “bodies-for” message that women in fitness often encounter.

We didn’t even touch on assumptions around motherhood and aesthetics more broadly (i.e., What if she doesn’t want to be a mother? What if she wants to have large, bulky ?).

And certainly, while much has changed in women’s favour in the last century or so, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed. The prevailing comments in response to women’s fitness pursuits aren’t always explicitly about how this will affect her as a housewife, mother, or golf partner, but the fact is that we still encounter this “bodies-for” messaging everywhere. Looking ahead, we wonder how much things will change a hundred years from now. Hopefully, for the better.

 

Katie (Sandwina)

Image Description: This is a black-and-white photo of Katie Sandwina who is posing in a one-piece jumper while holding a man above her head with one arm. 

 

 

 

Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.

Tracy is a freelance writer living in Toronto and completing her PhD in political philosophy.

Guest Post: Moments of Glory (Horseback Edition)

DSC_0233.JPG

Breaking from a trot to a gallop.

Growing up in the prairies, I rode for most of my life. I was terribly allergic to horses– (probably the dust and hay in the stables, actually.) But I was one of those girls who freaking loved horses. So, cowboy boots on and tissues up my nose to stop allergy-induced nosebleeds, I insisted on riding.

The horse’s name was Miss Terrific and she was a sweet and temperate horse, as her name would suggest. She was probably a quarter horse, which is a very common breed. But in my mind, she was an Arabian (a beautiful and mystical breed—think The Black Stallion—they carry their heads very high and have distinctively angular faces).

The Taylors were a kind and hospitable older couple who owned the property (and horses) where I rode. I had started riding with them when I was about eight or nine. My sister was a bit too young to ride (and not that interested in horses as much as she was into the sheep on the property and the three-storey tree house). So while I rode, she spent her time as Queen of the Sheep.

I was in the sandy arena with the others in the class, a mix of kids my age and adults who would bring their own horses to the lessons (which were about $10 an hour, if you can believe that!). Dan Taylor was our instructor, an older man who was pure, distilled Alberta with a bit of a drawl and a dirty white cowboy hat he always wore. His wife, Dawn, rode in the arena with us with her beautiful grey-and-white spotted horse and would demonstrate for us what we were supposed to be doing. She and her horse always seemed so impossibly in sync with one another; as if her horse could read her mind. Dawn would barely gesture and the grey-and-white would respond immediately, seamlessly.

IMG_1834 (1).JPG

At this point I probably hadn’t been riding that long. It might have even been my first or second lesson. We would start by all riding around the arena at a walking pace, building up to a trot, learning to post (which is stranding up in rhythm with the horse’s movements to avoid being bounced in the saddle), then galloping. I hadn’t galloped yet. I’m not sure if it was the speed that intimidated me or if I just couldn’t get Miss Terrific to go that fast.

A trot is a four-beat movement. You can feel all four of the horse’s feet hit the ground and if you don’t post, you’ll be bounced constantly and uncomfortably. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow… But a gallop is a three-beat movement—smooth—almost like gliding. In a gallop, the horse has at least one foot up off the ground. Just like when a person runs.

So there Miss Terrific and I were, four-beating it around the arena while others passed us, when another young rider came up alongside us.

“You’ve got to cluck to her,” he said, and clicked his tongue. (Some people give kisses—make a kissing noise to encourage the horse—or make clicking or clucking sounds, using audible cues rather than physical taps or nudges.) I could hear Dan over the speaker also encouraging Miss Terrific (come on, Miss Terrific, come on), and clicking into his microphone.

Alright, I thought. We can do this. I urged her with clucks and clicks and kisses and then suddenly—

We broke into a gallop. It felt smooth and perfect and somehow way better than the slower (and safer) trot I had been stubbornly hanging on to.

“Now you’re flying!” the other rider shouted to me as I took off past him. It was exhilarating. We had done it, Miss Terrific and I.

Over the years, I had the privilege to work with lots of different horses, both in Western and English styles. The Taylors always insisted that riding many different horses made one a better rider. And Miss Terrific was really their “beginner’s horse.” Eventually I graduated from her and learned to work with other horses; some who were feisty or faster or challenging in other ways. Some who were never property trained, some who tried to fight me, and some who just loved to eat and roll around in the mud. In later years, I learned how to barrel race and how to jump a course.

Even after nearly twenty years, I still find it the slightest bit intimidating, working with a horse. While you’re technically “in charge,” you should never forget that you’re working with a one tonne animal who could kill you if something went wrong, or at least kick you or throw you off. There’s something humbling to that.

IMG00213-20100827-1743.jpg

Sometime ago I was told that the Taylors had sold Miss Terrific to people who had more pasture for her to retire in. She was old, even when I knew her. It’s silly that I believed it. That’s got to be the one of the oldest lines in the book. I’m deeply grateful to her and I’m sure she’s peacefully grazing and galloping away in horsey heaven.

 

DSC_0209.JPG

 

The Flu and My Friend’s Fitness Journey (Guest Post)

Last week I got unexpectedly hit with the flu. (Come to think of it, is it ever really expected?) Anyway, it knocked me out hard and I was upset by the rough start to my 2017. (Needless to say I haven’t worked out but proudly made it to a Yin yoga class which my post-flu body could barely handle.)

While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do appreciate a New Year’s reflection on my overall life trajectory. What have I accomplished? What haven’t I? Where would I like to see things going over the next year?

new years ecard.png

New Year’s resolutions for me, like lots of people, tend to fall flat by Week 2. Sam wrote about December 1st as the new January 1st. I actually like the idea of getting a jump on a new year the months leading up to it.

In the fall, I was excited to recommit to my health and fitness. I’ve written here about how I am learning to see myself as an active person who is takes her wellbeing seriously. One of the people who inspired me to make the change in my own life also recommitted to her health and wellbeing exactly one year before I did (she in November 2015, and I in November 2016).

I thought that I would speak more formally with her about her experience, as there are things I recognize as similar about both of our stories: we both started out as relatively active children and young women but became discouraged and anxious about fitness as we got older. We both had multiple false starts over the years, and we both decided to integrate fitness and wellness in our lives around the same time.

 

Tracy: What does being “fit” mean to you?

Jaclyn: Being fit means loving, embracing and accepting my body for all the amazing things that I can do. This is not to say that now I love my body because it is leaner and has more muscle mass, and that I could not love my body before because I had a much higher body fat percentage. Getting stronger, lifting heavier, and getting my cardio up to a level I didn’t know was possible has led to an appreciation for myself and my body that I never had when I spent most of my days drinking, partying, and subsequently binge eating my hangover away the next day.

Tracy: Since you mention it, regarding your drinking/partying in the past, do you feel like you simply “replaced” those old habits with new ones or is it more complex? (Do you feel like a different person now than you were back then?)

Jaclyn: I think it’s more complex than that. I’m the same person, yet a different person. I think a part of the drinking was me trying to cover over parts of me that I didn’t like (or that I thought I needed to change to be liked). When I began my fitness journey, my new habits (nutrition, fitness, sleep, water intake, etc.) replaced old habits (binge drinking, binge eating, partying).  As my new habits began to slowly weed out and replace my old ones, there was a moment that I realized I was truly and genuinely happy. In that moment, I realized that this new lifestyle fuels me and allows me to be my most authentic and genuine self.

Tracy: That’s so wonderful and it’s been amazing to see your progress. What was your previous experience with fitness? Were you an active child?

Jaclyn: I grew up an active kid; I was on the swim and synchronized swimming teams, played soccer, and did ballet. My family loves to camp, so I’d frequently go canoeing, hiking, swimming and kayaking with them. But gym class was a nightmare for me. As a shy and introverted child, cliques in gym classes (which often involved choosing partners and teams) intimidated me. My intuition was to skip the classes to avoid this.

In undergrad, I joined a couple gyms but never stuck with them because I had no knowledge about what I should be doing, how to use the machines and free weights, or how to bring variety into my workouts and how to eat in accordance with my goals.

I would never even dream of asking someone to show me how to do something, and I was too afraid of being judged using free weighs since I had never used them before.  So, I would go over to the one machine I knew – the treadmill – walk for 40 minutes and leave as quickly as I could.  After a couple weeks, I would get bored of the same old routine and frustrated by the lack of any tangible kind of progress, I would quit the gym.  Looking back, my social anxiety, shyness and introversion were the biggest obstacles for getting into fitness.

Tracy: I think that can be quite common—sometimes people see “gym culture” as macho or unfriendly, especially for someone who is new to working out or not that knowledgeable when it comes to fitness. How did you find this and what strategies did you find helpful in overcoming that?

Jaclyn: As someone with little knowledge about fitness and exercise, and as an introvert with social anxiety, breaking into the gym and developing a consistent routine was a huge obstacle. This time, however, I didn’t want to run; I wanted to face this challenge and move myself into a space where I could walk into a gym and do my routine comfortably.

As I’ve grown with my anxiety, I have learned things that I can do to help reduce attacks.  For example, in a conference setting, the more research I have done on my topic, the more comfortable I felt.  So, this was my first strategy in wanting to become more comfortable at the gym, to gain knowledge.

I’m fortunate that I could afford a starter package with a personal trainer.  My thought process was that if I was willing to spend the money I previously did on booze, then I could certainly take that money and invest in myself and buy some training sessions.  I thought that if I had an expert take me through the gym, show me how to use the machines and show me some free weight exercises, I would feel more confident walking in and doing it on my own.

Further, I thought that if I could learn the basics of form, that when I went on my own I would be less likely to injure myself.  Another alternative to training packages is to take full advantage of the growing fitness industry via social media platforms (such as YouTube). I used this to watch how certain exercises are done, would mimic the motions in the privacy of my own house, and then try them at the gym. Utilizing the knowledge from the training sessions and from my research online helped me feel more confident in the gym.

Tracy: You’ve mentioned your social anxieties, which I think are common for many people, especially when it comes to trying new things. How has fitness allowed you to grow in this area, and allowed you to become less fearful of being judged, etc.?

Jaclyn: In addition to gaining the knowledge necessary to make me more comfortable at the gym, I made sure to go during quieter periods (i.e., not during peak times), especially at the beginning. I would also wear a baseball hat, which almost acted like blinders—it helped me feel more “in the zone” and focus more on myself and less on others around me.

Over time, I became more and more confident in myself and in my place at the gym. The better I became at lifting, the less I worried about being judged.  Moreover, the more I fell in love with lifting, the less I cared about being judged; in fact, I don’t worry at all about this because I know that weight lifting involves stalling on reps, or failing a certain move.  I know saw failure as opportunity to grow and learn – understood that this was part and parcel of the process itself – and so I no longer feared being judged.  This process of working on my anxieties in the gym was by no means a speedy one, but I can now happily say that about one year later, I do not need to wear a hat, and I can walk into any gym, at any time, and get to the grind with no fear and no anxieties.

I found that this newfound confidence in the gym spilled into other aspects of my life.  Looking back at where I started and where I am now made me realize how strong and resilient I am.  It helped me realize what I want out of life, and what I wasn’t willing to compromise.

IMG_20161004_112239.jpg

Tracy: What surprised you most about the new lifestyle that you wouldn’t have expected?

Jaclyn: I never expected to fall in love with fitness and weightlifting like I did, but perhaps more surprising was the humbling self-love and acceptance that arose naturally out of the process.  I have cellulite and big thighs, but this no longer bothers me like it used to.  Instead, I am amazed by how strong and resilient I have become since I started.  I have become humbled by fitness and developed a love for myself that was absent from the larger part of my life.

Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Speaking with Jaclyn over the last few months have helped to keep me both motivated and patient with myself. It’s especially helpful when I have my own hang-ups or things that slow me down—like the flu, or like fainting (which I wrote about in last month’s post). I’m grateful to have her as a friend and role model and thank her for letting me write about this so openly in this month’s post!

party-lift-weights-ecards

img_20161017_131727