fitness

The luxury of attaining a meditative mind while running

When I run I seek that feeling I’ve felt many times before. The mindless forward trotting. The active meditation. It usually happens midway through a run. As a morning runner, I often finding myself waking up in the first 1-2 kilometres of my jog. Also, because I run in the city, there is not always an opportunity for a mindless flow. I have to stop at red lights and for cars backing out of driveways. I have to remain alert to the city hazards. Until I get onto the recreational path on Lakeshore. Here, I can run without worrying about many things. It’s often where I find my stride and my meditative mind. Somewhere after acknowledging my stiff legs, reminding myself I love this movement, if it’s feeling like a sluggish day, and perhaps giving myself the encouragement of “I Am I Can I Will I Do”, if I’m lucky, I’ll realize I’m in the quiet mind, body working in unison stage. The runner’s high.

But I am learning this is a luxury for many.

As a woman, I do have to be alert in certain circumstances. And, I never run too early when it’s dark. But once it’s light out, I rarely think about how I may appear to others or whether I may be perceived as a threat to others, in a way that could end up being a threat to me.

A white woman with long, straight, dirty blond hair, black tank top and multi-coloured tights, mid-stride on a trail.

I have thought about this, when hearing about tragic and unnecessary violence perpetrated on Black runners. For example, when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old Black man who was running through a Georgia suburb in February 2020, when he was pursued, shot and killed by two white men (a father and son) with guns. Cate wrote about this in this post.

A Black runner I follow on Instagram, recently shared an IG video from Christopher Rivas. His video explained how he feels as a BIPOC, running in Los Angeles. He describes how he doesn’t get to that runner’s high, because he spends most of his time, while running, thinking about what others are thinking about him and whether he is safe.

And, lest we Torontonians think this is an American problem, a BlPOC woman I follow on Twitter shared the following the other day:

“Went to the Scarborough Bluffs with the boys this morning. There was a ton of white people who were absolutely terrified of us. One white lady jokingly said that we looked like a gang…it was funny to her.”

For a second, I was surprised. I thought, who would say such a thing? But I know enough, to know, that I have the privilege of thinking this type of behaviour doesn’t exist in Toronto. It’s a sad reminder of how much work there is to do to support people who have to endure this type of racism, over and over, again. And the problem is Canada-wide, as this man eloquently describes in his article about being a Black man in the Canadian wilderness.

If one looks for information, they will see that this is a well documented and regular problem for BIPOC in the outdoors. There are lots of tips about how to be a better ally. The woman who tweeted the information posted above about the Scarborough Bluffs incident, mentioned in another post that allies can speak up when witnessing these types of situations.

Here are some links to resources about how to be an ally outdoors:

https://www.audubon.org/news/how-you-can-be-ally-outdoors

https://www.trailspace.com/blog/2020/06/03/diversity-inclusion-being-an-outdoor-ally.html

https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/10-instagram-accounts-outdoor-enthusiasts-come-outside/

I can’t be completely blissful with my meditative high, until I feel that the majority of people feel just as comfortable while participating in their outdoor activity of choice. I am committed to continuing my learning and finding ways I can speak up, acknowledge, follow and help those that seek to do so.

Nicole P. lives in TO with her husband and 2 dogs. Her favourite forms of fitness are running, HIIT style weight and conditioning workouts, long walks and indoor cycling.
fitness

Fitness while waiting for the world to change

What’s working for me these days? Alongside the noise of frustration about the continued pandemic, fitness is working for me. It continues to lift my spirits and provide energy. Walking and running also give me good reasons to get fresh air and see my neighbourhood.

Strava lets me know that my running pace was recently between 6:45 – 7:15/km and now my average is between 6:15-630/km. I don’t know why I’m running a bit faster, but I like it. I enjoy my runs, regardless of my pace. Especially this time of year, when the mornings are lighter, warmer and I can wear my running shorts. It feels freer than winter running with the many layers. And, much freer than much of the activities that are allowed during the current lockdown. I also wear a mask these days, under my chin if no one is around, but I pull it up if I can’t keep my distance from others. I don’t want others to feel stressed about me running and breathing near them.

Spinning on my indoor bike, has been gratifying too. I’ve mentioned what I like about some of the instructors here. D’Ercole’s “I Am I Can I Will I Do” has followed me on the running path as well. I’ve always said things to myself, such as “this is the best part of your day” when I’m feeling the burn in the later kilometres. Lately, I’ve added “I Am I Can I Will I Do” when I’m trying to keep up a faster pace and my lungs fully engaged. Also, I try to remind myself to smile. Either on the bike or on a run. It really can help when feeling tired and negative thoughts are seeping in. Side note: It’s OK to tell yourself to smile. Not OK to tell another person to smile.

Nicole in sports bra and biking shorts, heart monitor strapped to arm, ready for morning spin on bike to Peloton app (this was Jenn Sherman’s 45 minute mixed tape ride)

In January I did Yoga with Adrienne’s 30 day challenge and I enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve been less consistent. I’ve done the seasonal 108 Sun Salutations and a couple flow classes with my favourite yoga teacher, Lisa V. Her classes often feel like a combination of yoga and strength training so I should probably do more of them. As I’ve mentioned before, as much as I enjoy yoga, it’s often the first form of fitness I let slide.

Since I can’t workout in the park right now with a group and I haven’t been able to go inside a gym like most people since the Before Times, I have still been doing virtual strength and conditioning workouts once or twice a week. Some days, Zooming in for fitness feels a little too much with all the other virtual meetings. But if I get there, I still get a good workout. I don’t see going back inside a gym until we have herd immunity, so it’s important I figure out ways to get my strength training in at home.

The thing is, I need to find another virtual strength and conditioning workout. The gym that I’ve been going to for about 5 years, and continued with through virtual and park workouts in the last year, has made some choices lately relating to how they are handling the lockdown/stay-at-home order. They are choices that I can’t support. I really love the workouts, am fond of some of the coaches and have developed friendships with other members. It’s been very helpful to see friendly faces at the park and on screen. Making this decision truly saddens me. But, while I see that our ICUs are full and they are opening up adult ICUs in Sick Kids Hospital and critical surgeries may be cancelled, seeing some of the rhetoric posted by one of the coaches who manages the place was upsetting. Cate alluded to it in this post. But, even worse, they’ve now posted this:

I don’t think I need to explain that I feel for gyms that have been hard hit by the last year. But, throughout the year, I have seen many other gyms make hard, but ethical choices. I’m not sure if this is legal or not, but it doesn’t seem ethical to me. Not alongside the conditions in hospitals that I described above. Not while teachers and parents are feeling the brunt of having to continue to go back and forth between in school and virtual learning. Not while young people are suffering mentally. Going inside a gym at this time, with the risk of airborne aerosols in such an environment, with the guise of mental health, is not right. It may not be ideal for some, but they can help address the issues they claim to be concerned about by encouraging more walking, running, sprinting (socially distanced), providing more at-home programming, understanding that there other ways through this. Not to mention the risk to the staff that will be working in this environment. And the frustration of many, including myself that this type of behaviour is contributing to the feeling that we are never going to get our numbers under control and the very thing they are so upset about (lockdowns that are affecting their business) are never going to end.

So, my formerly beloved gym is not working for me right now, while I’m waiting for the world to change.

What’s working for you in fitness these days? For me, even in another lockdown, fitness isn’t cancelled. It’s just a little different. I would add fitness to this list:

A list of things not cancelled beside a drawing of a bear. Black lettering on yellow background. Examples of things not cancelled: sunshine, spring, love, dancing, imagination, kindness, conversations and hope.

Note: In the midst of worrying about when we will get our shit together in Ontario, and being frustrated with anti-science, anti-vax, anti-mask rhetoric (like the woman who yelled out her car at my husband and I that “wearing our masks outside would make this go on longer), I am encouraged by reading about amazing scientists, including this woman: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/health/coronavirus-mrna-kariko.html?fbclid=IwAR2Wb0huw_gCLQ6AwgyBtN-8nPazJY5rFglakSCzxZWdkTzDeO5jUSdosmE who laid the groundwork for the mNRA vaccines. Scientists like this are going to help see us though the finish line and beyond in this pandemic.

Nicole is trying to focus on the things that are working these days, including fitness.

fitness

When Being “Too Much” Is Just Right

On Monday, while I was riding along with Christine D’Ercole on the Peloton app, I was inspired. I am not always inspired by mantras while exercising. I enjoy D’Ercole’s classes because they tend to involve a lot of power (although I ride standing up more than she suggests) for a good chunk of time. She plays good music (today was New Wave with a bit of Goth), and I can relate to her, as a woman close to my age.

D’Ercole is also know for her mantra “I Am I Can I Will I Do”. I like this one and I will get back to it. Mainly, I’d like to talk about what she uttered today, “Maybe whatever you are too much of, is your best fucking thing?”

A photo of Christine D’Ercole doing a side lunge on what appears to be a wooden fence in a grey tank top and black athletic pants and white sneakers. Her hair is in a pony tail. She’s probably thinking “I Am I Can I Will I Do”.


During the ride, she said, something to the effect of “Have you ever been told you are too (loud, quiet, big, small, etc.)…what if that is the thing that makes you special (I’m paraphrasing)?”

When I followed her on Insta after class, I saw her repeat in her stories “Maybe whatever you are too much of, is your best fucking thing?”

MAYBE?

I have wondered this for awhile. I realized some time ago, that often labels people give others, aren’t necessarily bad things. If you are told you are opinionated, what does that mean? That you have a different opinion than others? Have you ever heard someone parroting what others are saying in a group, being accused of being “opinionated”? Probably not. It’s mostly used when someone says something that others in the group have not already said. It doesn’t matter if the group is loud, expressive, dominating, and you say it quietly, thoughtfully, carefully. If your opinion differs, it may be considered “-ated”.

I was often told, when I was younger, that I was too opinionated. It was mostly on a personal level. From people like my ex-brother-in-law, who would say this when he was spouting off his toxic bro comments and I had the nerve to respond.

I have been told this at other personal events when I listen to a number of people say things that I don’t agree with and ignore it and then, when it seems like the right opportunity, or I can’t take it anymore, I try to interject with some of my beliefs. It doesn’t matter how rational or informed my opinion is, often in response to uninformed hyperbole, but in certain situations, I’m cast as the one being “too political”.

Another part of my personality is that I really prefer to avoid confrontation. I am the person that will pay an extra fee that I shouldn’t, rather than call a customer service line, if I think it will be a stressful call (see internet service providers). So, for a long time, I took this criticism to heart and kept some of my thoughts to myself in many circumstances. Unless I was in a very safe setting, with like-minded people. I stifled myself.

Some of my learnings in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space have helped me understand that if people are in the 20% of those who aren’t interested in what you are saying, you aren’t going to reach them anyway, and no need to raise your heart rate in those cases. But, there are 20% who are very interested. And, 60% who are interesting in listening, even if they are not ready to hear you. It’s worth sharing your thoughts with those people.

In a previous workplace, I would be asked to fill in the gaps in meetings, told this is exactly what was needed, and then told later on, that I should cut back on that a bit. Often, for the sake of quieter men in the meetings, who really weren’t interested in saying anything. I’ve also learned that this is not uncommon for women in the workplace.

I don’t know if it’s age or I’m increasingly surrounded by people who are interested, but lately, I share what is meaningful to me. I’m finding out that others appreciate it. People are seeking me out in ways that show me I have relational, coaching, facilitating skills that are derived from parts of my personality that have sometimes been described in a negative way.

Things that I’ve often been told I’m too much of – too much of a bleeding heart, too opinionated, too concerned about “being politically correct” ARE proving to be my strong point. I’ve been asked to do more and more work in DEI. I am being asked to help put together lunch and learns on things such as “Why Representation Matters” in relation to the “Boys’ Club”. Part of me wonders when I will be asked to cut back. To be less. But for now I love it. I am starting to believe that, perhaps, I am not “too much”.

Black lettering “You Exist Too Much” on a colourful green, blue, yellow, white background

Recently, I asked FIFI bloggers what they think of as “self care” that’s not related to “fixing something” about themselves. I was inspired by an episode of Shrill. I may get more into this and share some of their thoughts in a later post. For now, part of self care for me is to stop worrying if I’m too much. If others think I’m too much. If I think about these things too much. Post too much. Am I too introspective? Too opinionated? Too concerned with doing things that are meaningful to me? Do I have the right to talk about certain things, based on my role, my education, my age, my demographic? I need to tell myself I am just enough of me. Let the chips fall where they may. People who appreciate what I am “too much of” will get it. Those are the people I want to reach.

Going back to D’Ercole’s mantra “I Am I Can I Will I Do”, as much as I enjoy doing some of the things I’m trying out (public speaking), I still have some nerves to contend with. And entrenched Imposter’s Syndrome beliefs that I need to work on. In addition to trying to think of people who have inspired me, in order to up my confidence, when I’m feeling nervous, I do like the idea of trying to believe “I Am I Can I Will I Do”.

See, some mantras, heard while enjoying a virtual spin class, can truly be inspiring!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. Fitness keeps her sane-ish.

What are you “too much” of? Are they are your super power? Go use your super power!

fitness

Nicole and Christine have reactions to this article: “I Want to Look Damn Good When the World Sees Me Again”.

Sam shared this Atlantic article with the FIFI bloggers “I Want to Look Damn Good When the World Sees Me Again”. Nicole and Christine have some thoughts.

Nicole: I Want to Be Happy and Healthy When the World Sees Me Again

It’s been a year. While the end of the tunnel seems to have some unpredictable forks in the road, some people are starting to make plans for the other side of it. Me, I’m treading cautiously. I have been trying to take the approach of “one day at a time”. I’m not always successful. I can’t help but notice that a third wave was just declared in Ontario. That our vaccination roll-out leaves a lot to be desired. I’m also worried about people’s behaviour once some are vaccinated, but others are not. I see myself sticking close to home still for quite awhile. I’m still worried that everyone stay healthy and COVID-free.

Part of the author’s thesis is that he used to be fairly “healthy” based on his outward appearance and that he’d like to regain some of that outward appearance before he re-joins society. He describes getting back into fitness recently. Yay! I have no problem with getting back into fitness.

He goes on to describe the increased interest some fitness trainers have described to him about wanting to get back to that beach bod. That it’s heightened this year. This assures him that he’s not the only one who’s self absorbed.

Look, we are all a bit vain. That may look different for different people. I may not be proud of myself for it, but I am concerned about how I look in Teams meetings and would like to maintain a youthful glow that is probably not realistic.

The thing that bothers me is that focussing on getting that “beach bod” (which we all have, by the way because we have a bod, and just need to find a beach), is the idea that this translates to healthy, which it does not. He seems to have missed the memo that YOU CANNOT TELL HOW HEALTHY OR FIT A PERSON IS BY HOW THEY LOOK.

Teal font on white background: “Reminder: “strong” doesn’t have a look. Neither does “fit”. People who work out look all kinds of ways. from @it’sjennaj

The author does go on to include information about how focussing on weight, shame, etc., is typically not going to help people reach their goals and he realizes he may be more likely to be drinking a six-pack, than having one, at the end of this, but that his routine has made him feel less shlubby and better about his future self.

But he doesn’t really mean it, based on the title (or the accompanying photo of him looking at his penis while working out, but that may be the editor’s choice, not his).

Photo from linked article of grey (or blond?) haired man laying on red exercise mat with legs open, knees up, head up and a dumbbell in each hand, as if about to do a form of a chest press (while gazing at his penis).

I am one of the lucky ones, whose situation in the last year has allowed me to maintain my regular workouts. It has helped maintain my sense of wellness. It gives me my regular dose of endorphins. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days of sadness, lethargy, frustration at the world. And, the one thing that has kept me working out regularly for the last 20 years, not just through this pandemic, is by focussing on how movement and exercise makes me feel, not how it makes me look. It’s the only thing that has mattered over time.

At the end of this pandemic, when I can meet my friends in restaurants again, and go to my parents’ condo, go INSIDE, and give them both hugs, hang out with my nephews on couches again, I promise you that what I care about most, is that I feel happy and healthy. Not whether my abs are toned or my pants are smaller.

A photo of Nicole with her mother, youngest nephew and husband, pre-pandemic, close together in a restaurant.

Christine: I will Not Play Along with the Messages of How I *Should* Look.

My first reaction to this article was based on the title and the photo alone… I fear that I may have sprained something during my reflexive eyeroll.

The actual article was far better than I expected but it still makes me sad and frustrated to have this appearance-based framing for fitness and exercise.

I get that we live in a society where appearance matters far more than is good for us. This isn’t about any one person being vain or foolish, it’s much bigger than that, and we all have to participate in the society that exists while we work to create change. I know that some people work in industries where their appearance is, unfortunately, a bigger factor in their employability.

A photo collage of a Zoom meeting filled with smiling faces. (We included this because they look so happy and, of course, we hope they are avoiding the pressures described in this article.)

But, that being said, I think it is good to be aware of when we are buying into those social pressures. And I think those of us who are aware should be more conscious of our framing when we are talking about fitness and wellness.

The only way we are going to change things is by fighting back against the social pressures around appearance. It’s not one person’s job to force those changes but our individual actions matter and they will, eventually, add up to social change.

Two Black women walking briskly with big smiles on their faces.

I appreciate that the author brought some differently framed perspectives into this piece but I think a different framing overall would have been beneficial AND, I wish that the publication had chosen a different headline, at the very least.

My fitness levels during the pandemic have been pretty much the same as they always have been. I am consistent in my search for consistency. My fitness challenges aren’t pandemic-related, they are ADHD-related and I’m still figuring them all out.

One thing I know, though, is that how I look to other people is not a factor for me.

I am not a decoration.

I am not here to be looked at.

And I will not play along with the messages of how I *should* look.

My fitness concerns start and end with how I feel, how strong I can become, and whether I can improve how effectively my body responds when I ask it to do something.

…You know, I’m beginning to suspect that I was not the target audience for this piece. 😉

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and enjoys working out for how it adds to her overall sense of wellness.
A selfie of a white woman with chin-length light brown hair. She is smirking but in a friendly way.
Christine H. is a 3rd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo and likes any movement that contributes to her commitment to fun.

fitness

The Joy of Freedom Days

Sunday is Run Day. Saturday is Conditioning Day. Mondays and Thursdays are sometimes Indoor Bike Day (IBD). Wednesday mornings are Strength and Conditioning Day (SCD). Based on what’s available to me with classes and days I reserve for running, etc., I always end up with a pretty consistent workout schedule. But what about Freedom Days?

I’m not talking about Rest Days. Freedom Days could turn out to be a Rest Day, if that’s what freedom means to you on that day. But it could mean many things. The world is your oyster. That is the joy of Freedom Days. The main thing is you decide as the day goes, the movement you feel like doing in the moment. You are not restricted by a date or time in the calendar. You may be inspired by the weather, the amount of energy you have that day, good news or bad news that is shaping your moment.

drawing of a blue oyster with pink pearl inside and the writing underneath “the world is your oyster”

Fellow blogger, Marjorie, asked why “freedom” and not “unplanned”. I said because I think “freedom” sounds more intriguing for a blog post, and also, given all the rules and restrictions of the pandemic, who doesn’t yearn for a bit more freedom these days. And, as Mina mentioned, “freedom” has a sense of energy to it.

I had one such day recently. It was a rare sunny, February morning. Where the world was bright and shiny right from the get-go. Sure, it’s still a bit cold but the sun is so impactful by mid to late February. It warms my insides. My heart. My brain. It warms my life. And, yes, it gives me energy. I didn’t have a scheduled IBD or SCD or RD or CD. All of which can provide their own forms of joy. I had a flexible morning at work. I have an amazing boss, who encourages flexibility in the work day. I went to work, i.e., logged into my computer in my living room. I checked emails, responded to some, checked my calendar and realized I didn’t have anything pressing and I had a couple hours before my next meeting. I put on my mask, my hat, my coat, fingerless gloves and short walking boots and set out. Where to though? Wherever I want! FREEDOM

A photo of a young girl on a sidewalk, with a skip in her step.

Often I go east from my residence and circle back along the main street near me. But this day I decided to go north. So risqué. I bopped at an even pace, with the sunshine in my step, past the large park with the beautiful view of downtown Toronto. I didn’t even know where I was going. Would I go along the Danforth to Logan and back north? Would I cut east at Gerrard – or west at Gerrard towards Cabbagetown. I decided, mid-step, that I would run in to the grocery store about 20 minutes north, turn around and head back and pick up a coffee at a favourite local coffee shop on the way back (Rooster Coffee Shop – not my absolute favourite, which is Boxcar Social, but a very good one). I didn’t feel rushed to get back online. I wasn’t trying to fit in a walk or a run or something else. I didn’t have a specific time or kilometre goal. I was just being.

When I was back home and working, I was thinking, do I fit in some yoga later? Maybe, maybe not. I did fit in daily stretches. As I mentioned in a recent post, these have been prescribed by my pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Anyway, the joy provided by the freedom to do whichever movement I felt like, when I felt like, carried me throughout the day.

I highly recommend everyone find some Freedom Days. I wish you Freedom Days. I know it may be more challenging for some. If you have small kids, or you are an essential worker and you work shift work or many other reasons. But if you find yourself with time you hadn’t planned to do anything, and you decide to use that time with some movement that provides you joy – at your discretion – I really believe it will provide you with unquantifiable amounts of bliss-generating, creativity-enhancing and joy-inspired moments. And, we all need more of that type of energy these days.

Nicole on a fortunate Freedom Day on one of the trails outside Langdon Hall in October 2019.
Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves Freedom Days.

fitness

Nicole is paying attention to her pelvic floor

A couple of months ago, I started feeling a dull pressure on the left side of my body. Not my hip or knee or shoulder. No, I felt a weird pressure on the left side of my vaginal wall.

After a quick mind scan of what could be wrong with my body, a few ill-advised internet searches, and a reigning in of “jumping-ahead-of-myself fears”, I made an appointment with my doctor (GP) to make sure there wasn’t anything concerning going on.

As is common these days, my initial appointment was held virtually. My doctor went through typical questions and then confirmed I would have to come in for an internal exam. Thankfully, nothing concerning was noted. I mentioned that I had been doing my own internet searches (apologetically, as I feel I need to be when saying this to my doctor) and that it seemed that my discomfort may relate to my pelvic floor and maybe a pelvic physiotherapist would be a good next step. I was surprised when she agreed with me (this isn’t how those conversations typically go – eg, I’ve read about estrogen dominance and I seem to have some of those symptoms, what do you think? I don’t believe in that).

After some investigation, I made an appointment with a local pelvic floor physiotherapist. Again, the first appointment was virtual. I have heard other women talk about their experiences with pelvic floor physiotherapists. They were usually women who’ve had a baby or two. I had a pretty good idea what they do and wasn’t sure how effective a virtual assessment would be. But, the physio quickly put my mind at ease. She was extremely thorough. Between questions, watching me do certain stretches and movements in my living room (fully clothed – phew!) and answering my questions, I left the consultation confident that she understood what my issue was, and that she could easily provide some assistance. The session was ended by making an appointment for the following week – in person – and with homework for me – stretches – no nothing like that yet.

Like a lot of people I know who are very focused with their workouts, I am not so focused on my stretching. I know it’s bad, but I am mentally done after a run or other workout and give a half-assed nod to a few stretches. So the stretches she gave me as homework, were a good reminder to do these more often. And that was part of our conversation, that in addition to my specific issue that I was contacting her about, I wanted to know if there were maintenance things I could do, to prevent further issues with my pelvic floor. One cannot reach their late 40s without knowing that there may be issues with their pelvic floor in the years ahead.

The exercises she prescribed pre-in-person meeting were: quad stretches, runner’s lunge, seated clam shell stretch, seated one-leg hamstring stretches, the glute one where you are lying on your back and have your foot in front of the other folded leg and pulling your thigh towards you and then another one that is similar, but kind of like a “half-baby pose”. As the physio explained, these muscles are all connected to your pelvic floor. And, as any of us who’ve experienced a muscle injury knows, it’s rarely about the one muscle. Weakness in one, will typically lead to injury in another. In my case, I have no doubt, everything is connected to my tight hips and hamstrings.

A poster showing a number of lower body stretches. Nicole has circled the ones prescribed by her physio.

On a relatively nice, sunny, February day, I walked to my physio appointment with my double mask and open mind. It probably helped that I had “met” the physio prior to this appointment that was about to become much more intimate. After asking me a few questions, she handed me the typical doctor’s office drape for the part of me that was about to be naked and I waited on the table until she returned for the exam.

This type of exam is never going to be completely comfortable, but she was very professional and had a confident manner that made me trust her. It wasn’t uncomfortable, from a pain perspective (I used to have painful Pap smears so it’s something I always prepare myself for in these situations), but I’m sure that can vary, depending on what the issue is. As she prodded and felt around and asked me to put my legs and feet in different positions, she explained what she was doing and why and what was likely the problem. She also started giving me my main homework. Reverse kegels.

We’ve all heard of regular kegels. Cate has written about tools for this purpose before on the blog. Many of us do them incorrectly. I have had other professionals explain to me how to do them. Not as “invasively”, but very specifically and it helped. This physio confirmed, with her hand in my vagina, that I was, in fact, doing them correctly. What I needed to learn how to do was “reverse kegels”. I was not a quick study in this regard.

With regular kegels, you essentially “zip up” your vagina, up as high as you can, to your navel, by strategically squeezing your vaginal muscles. With reverse kegels, I am to practice imagining that I am “opening my vagina”, at the same time that I am inhaling. These two things do not naturally go together. And, I am not naturally coordinated. It took me many tries and with her giving me different prompts – try with your mouth open, try in “baby pose”, when you practice at home, perhaps try in squat position – before she was satisfied with my efforts that I could practice on my own at home.

From a physiological perspective, the issue I am working on correcting or preventing from happening again, is my tight coccygeus muscle. The pelvic floor is a ‘sling’ of muscles, a bit like a small muscle hammock that runs between the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone at the back. 

A picture diagram of the pelvic floor. It shows the puboccygeus and illiococcygeus.

Armed with this new knowledge, I set about practicing the reverse kegels, along with the other stretches I was now doing daily. This was a few weeks ago and the pressure I was experiencing has greatly improved. I went back for a follow-up appointment, where she confirmed the muscle was less tight and practiced the reverse kegels with me again to make sure I was doing them right. I have a follow-up appointment scheduled for a few weeks from now, but she said if I’m still feeling better, I can go ahead and cancel it. It’s just a placeholder in case I need it. I appreciate that she is not asking me to come back for more follow-up appointments if they are not necessary.

Why am I telling you about this experience? Because I think there is room for women to share more of these experiences, so that we normalize pelvic floor health. It’s an important part of overall health, including ability to engage in regular exercise, as we age, and we should feel comfortable talking about it. Also, if you’ve been thinking about going to a pelvic floor physiotherapist and were nervous about it, don’t be! I recommend it.

Nicole P. lives and works in Toronto, currently doing both at home, with her husband and two dogs. She loves fitness, learning and being with friends and family.

fitness

Don’t put a serving of guilt on that

CW: this post talks about diet culture and eating plans

Every two weeks I write something for this blog. I write for this blog because I am passionate about fitness and how it can enrich women’s lives. Particularly women who might not otherwise expect it to enrich their lives, or who have felt left out of the mainstream fitness community in the past. If I can inspire one other woman who doesn’t see the benefits of exercise, or see themselves as someone who is fit, to see themselves in a bit of what I say, and to incorporate more movement in their lives, and derive a sense of fulfillment from it, I would be a very happy person.

Sometimes I wonder why I should write about fitness and health, when there are so many other pressing issues in the world. Particularly, right now. When I see Covid-19 variants appearing is scary ways, people are affected by lockdowns, health scares, illness and death of loved ones, war, homelessness, racism, and so much more, what right do I have to take up space writing about fitness and health?

blog, blog, blog – blogging concept on a napkin with cup of espresso coffee – Nicole is wondering whether it is beneficial for her to be writing about health and fitness right now.

But then, in a lot of the learning I am doing lately, one of the things that comes up about dealing with all the aforementioned concerns, is building resilience. And part of building resilience involves making space for one’s own mental and physical well-being. So, while it might seem trivial to talk about these things regularly, in the face of other more important concerns, I do think there is value in considering how to maintain one’s own sense of well being, so that we are able to handle everything else coming our way, and also have the strength to be of service to others, however we can do so.

A woman is sitting cross-legged on a dock by a lake and meditating – possibly building resilience.

Why am I considering these things? Because I want to talk about guilt and diet culture. I am asking myself what value I can bring to this conversation? What right do I have as a white, able-bodied, conventionally average-sized woman, to talk about this further?

I’m not sure I do have a right. But I do have feelings about it. And I think that others may share my feelings, whether they relate to my social identities or not. And perhaps, what I have to say will help others with not feel guilty about their emotions. Which, as I say later on, is a useless emotion. Also, selfishly, putting my overly-analytical thoughts down on paper helps me work through them efficiently.

Who hasn’t been there? You’re on a Zoom call and colleagues are making idle chatter about what they are eating and not eating. One person might say they feel guilty because they had McDonald’s for breakfast. Another might be proud of themselves because they had overnight oats with chia and cacao nibs. And I’m trying to prevent my eyes from rolling.

Guilt is a useless emotion. It is often a default one. But, when is it helpful? Whether it’s someone feeling guilty while educating themselves about social justice causes, or whether or not they have called someone, or whether or not they should eat something, guilt is not the emotion that is going to inspire the person to make sound decisions.

Even though I have always been obsessed with food, I have never enjoyed hearing people talk about their eating plans. I don’t mind sharing a recipe or two. But I try not to assign virtue to what I’m eating and I don’t enjoy hearing others talking about their eating habits in this way. Sometimes this feeling is heightened. I might have been in a particularly sensitive phase and I wasn’t feeling good about my own eating or I was feeling good about where I was and I really didn’t want to hear the external noise.

When I say I have always been obsessed with food, I mean it in the sense that I am always thinking about what I will be eating next. This isn’t always in a “diet” sense. It’s often simply in an “I love food and planning what to eat next” way. I am chef-y about my food. I also try to balance nutrients. I listen to my body about what makes it feel good. I enjoy baking on occasion and I mostly enjoy giving it away to add a little sweetness in others’ lives. I have a keen sense about how to translate something I’ve eaten at a restaurant or elsewhere into something delicious on my plate. I remember vacations based on what I ate and where. I plan those eating excursions in advance too. My quest for delicious food can range from vegan, vegetable laden meals to an expertly made croissant, to a locally made cuisine. I might not remember the name of the town we were in, in Turkey, but I remember the name of the dish made by local women called gozleme. Not to mention the surprising bibimbap made by a local Korean woman living in a small seaside town in Turkey, after days of delicious, but repetitive meat skewers and veggies.

There have been times that my obsession about what I ate hasn’t been healthy. I’ve talked about some of my disordered eating in previous posts. But for the most part, I think I’ve objectively been steady about how I eat for a long time now.

Tracy wrote an excellent post about Why diet culture harms us. I enjoyed this post and I agree with many of the points Tracy made. But I was also left with some mixed feelings. Should I feel guilty that I feel better because I HAVE changed the way I eat in the last few months. If I’ve changed the way I eat and I feel better, does that mean I’m subscribing to diet culture. I don’t think so as long as I’m not proselytizing about what I’m eating, which I don’t think I am. And I am not interested in doing so. Some people have asked what I am doing and I will answer, but try to keep it related to how I feel and why, not about the weight loss that has also occurred, but which is not the driving factor. Tracy’s post talked about Health at any Size (HAES) and so does this wonderful article. Advocating for HAES makes a lot of sense to me.

I’ve mentioned my husband’s sugar was a bit high a few months ago. It was an opportunity to look at how our eating had been over the summer. Like many during the pandemic, we had been enjoying our fair share of comfort food. I still have a fond place in my heart for the Death in Venice Nutella Gelato! I have no doubt I will enjoy a bit here and there, in the future.

Because of Gavin’s lab results, the chef and wife in me set to work changing our meals. I felt inspired to eat the same way for two reasons (1) it’s easier if we are mostly eating the same meals, and (2) there is a strong incidence of diabetes in my family so I figured it couldn’t hurt.

It was important to me to do it in a way that I felt would be sustainable for us. There is a lot of consideration put into how satiating a meal will be. I removed the obvious, excessive, snacking. I changed the regular sourdough loaf I was making to a rye/spelt version. My husband hasn’t eaten rice, regular bread, etc. since we changed our meals. I don’t eat these things for the most part right now, except for the once a week sushi takeout. We do still eat potatoes, but mostly sweet ones. And we don’t go for seconds as much at dinner time. No drinking has been a factor also. I also tried some new recipes that we like for things like tortillas made from chickpea flour and cloud bread, which are mostly made from meringue. A lot of the things we’ve tried have been delicious and haven’t felt like a form of deprivation. Actually, I haven’t felt any sense of deprivation.

A picture of open -faced breakfast sandwiches made with cloud bread, turkey bacon and arugula and tomatoes

I’ve always resisted the low carb, low sugar trends. I am aware that there are studies that show people often can’t sustain these types of changes long term. Nor do many people want or need to make these changes. But for me, I have noticeably felt better. And my husbands blood tests came back normal after 3 months. And, because I’ve been trying to make things that are satiating, I believe this is sustainable for us right now. Being home all of the time actually makes it easier to manage what we are eating on a regular basis.

What also makes it easier, and potentially more long term, is I’m not placing value on our eating habits in terms of good or bad. We are eating this way because we are enjoying it and because of how we feel.

I am not saying these things to try to encourage anyone to make any changes.

The reason I am writing this is I don’t think one should feel guilty or proud or any virtuous emotion because of what they are eating OR because of how they are eating is making them feel. Does that make sense to you too?

Nicole P. is a bit tired and anxious about the state of the pandemic at the moment despite also counting her blessings. She tries to balance things with exercise, mental stimulation, connections and eating in a nourishing way. With no guilt.
fitness

What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise?

What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise. Are they helpful if our goal is to move more?

We are all aware of the health benefits of movement. But some seem to be hindered by stories they tell themselves. They talk themselves out of taking exercise seriously. If that person’s goal isn’t to move more, that’s fine. I’m a big proponent of “you do you”. But if they would like to move more (within their abilities) and are wondering whether they can shift the stories they tell themselves to help them do just that, that’s what I’m talking about today.

It’s not only the stories we tell ourselves. We hear stories from others, friends, family, media sources. It’s a mixed bag of good and bad influences. It can take a lot of work, but I think it’s important that we resist other people’s stories and figure out what we believe about ourselves and reinforce those stories.

A piece of lined paper with the question “What stories are you telling yourself?” Underneath the question are 3 lines “1., 2., 3.” with blank spaces for answers to be filled in.

I love exercise. The stories I’ve created for myself have helped make exercise work for me over the long haul. Even though I have created them, it is essential that they are rooted in truth. These stories have been a work in progress. I didn’t always believe every aspect of them. I questioned certain parts of them. But I reinforced the parts I truly believed in despite my own skepticism or socialization.

I know I had stories about exercise and sport, when I was a kid, that were not helpful.

I don’t like gym. I like art class, reading, some parts of science and math and drama. But not gym.

My gym uniform doesn’t flatter me (This was partly true).

The volleyball is going to hit my glasses. (This was also partly true).

I’m just not the type of person who (skates, skis, plays team sports). Where’s the hot chocolate?

People skating on an ice rink in the background and a yummy looking cup of hot chocolate in a glass mug, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

These are stories I told myself when I was younger. They reinforced my dismissal of exercise as something that “wasn’t for me”. These stories prevented me from finding exercise that DID work for me. Until I was much older and started telling myself different stories.

It took some work to change the stories I told myself about fitness. It didn’t happen overnight either.

I am strong.

I am a runner.

I can do some things, but not all things. That’s OK.

I’m doing this for ME. No matter how shitty my day is, I have my exercise that makes me feel strong, alive, capable, present, enough…).

I don’t have to look like her to be fit. Fit has many versions.

All or nothing is nonsense.

Show up. Do what I can.

What I eat and how I exercise are separate components of my life. The only time they intersect is if what I eat will affect how I feel while I’m exercising. For example, there are certain things I am not going to eat before I go running. Anyone who has gone for a run, knows what I’m talking about. Choose what you eat before you run, VERY carefully, so you don’t HAVE the runs.

I am not exercising to atone for what I ate.

I bet I CAN run a half-marathon.

I bet I CAN EVEN run a full marathon.

It doesn’t matter that it took me 5 hours to run my first full marathon. I ran 42.2 kilometres, IN ONE PART OF MY DAY, no matter how long it took me!

Nicole finishing her first full marathon at the Toronto Marathon in 2007.

These are the types of stories I’ve told myself as an adult that contribute to my commitment to living a fit life.

I hear people tell stories that I don’t think serve them.

I haven’t been doing anything so what’s the point.

I am too tired to do anything (this may be true sometimes but not ALL the time).

It doesn’t matter at this point.

I don’t like to exercise. I mean, maybe you don’t. Or maybe, you haven’t found exercise that you like? Perhaps, because you think of it as exercise, and you have equated exercise with punishment, you automatically go to “I don’t like it”?

I need to wait until I’m eating better.

I’m just an all or nothing person and right now it’s nothing.

Lifting weights makes me bulky. (Yay, strong!)

No pain, no gain (ugh).

The last time I tried that I end up with a sore body part (and I didn’t find out why or how to prevent it next time).

I didn’t like that class so I won’t like others.

If I were thin, I wouldn’t bother (why??? exercise doesn’t always make one thinner, nor do I believe that should be the goal and what about the other things exercise DOES contribute to, such as FEELING better, physically and mentally)

I like to dance, walk, play tennis, garden, etc., but that’s not enough so why bother.

It’s too cold. I’ll wait until spring.

I don’t have exercise clothes I like (get a friend to help you find clothes you feel comfortable in. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. My favourite running shorts for years were a no nonsense pair of cutoff sweatpants).

The list goes on.

Do you think you tell yourself stories that don’t serve you and your fitness goals? Do you have great stories that inspire your fitness goals? Can I help you create new stories? I’d love to hear your stories!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and is exercising most days during lockdown
fitness

“Your bad habits can kill you,” Lebowitz says, “but your good habits won’t save you.”

The other day, I watched the new Netflix series “Pretend It’s a City” with Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorcese. I enjoyed it very much. I know bits and pieces about Lebowitz. Enough to know that she’s a “cool, New York, writer”. Sometimes, she gets herself in hot water, as outspoken thinkers are wont to do. There are a lot of things about her that I can relate to and a lot I can’t. But she’s the type of person I just enjoy watching and listening to.

Things that Lebowitz and I have in common are that she’s a secular (or atheist) Jew, and we both love to read. Also, she rolls her eyes in a city (hers is New York, mine is Toronto) at the increasing lack of awareness of people that they are sharing space in a big city. My husband laughed and side-eyed me when Lebowitz stops and complains inwardly as a younger man cuts her off getting off the subway. But, despite our similar annoyance at certain aspects of city life, we both love our cities.

Black lettering on white background “Being Offended is a natural consequence of leaving the house” – Fran Lebowitz

Things that we do not have in common are that she’s much cooler than I am and has a much cooler persona and/or fashion sense. She’s a successful writer. She’s over 20 years older than I. And, she’s a committed smoker, which I, thankfully, gave up almost 20 years ago. She’s also a luddite, in that she doesn’t own a mobile phone, a computer, or a typewriter.

Even though I participate in certain group endurance sports, I could still laugh at her amusement, when a group of people were willingly pulling tires from a rope around their bodies through the streets of New York, as a form of exercise. Her comments on these types of challenges are also amusing, even though I can disagree with her and see the benefit of some of these types of challenges. Link here to some of her quotes from Pretend It’s a City, including the one about climbing a mountain.

A screenshot of Lebowitz from Pretend it’s a City with her quote “Climbing a mountain is a fake challenge. You don’t have to climb a mountain. Okay?”

Something she said, stood out to me, and had me agreeing – and disagreeing – at the same time. “Your bad habits can kill you,” Lebowitz says, “but your good habits won’t save you.” This quote comes from the discussion in the series about her anti-wellness stance, which I can relate to, to some degree, as I don’t believe a lot of the “wellness” industry”, as it has evolved, has anything to do with health.

I agree, and believe the science supports, that your good habits “might not” save you over the long haul. Unfortunately, luck or genes or terrible accidents may not be on your side despite your good habits.

But, day-to-day, which is often a focus of my posts, I think our good habits can save us. And, it’s one of the main reasons I exercise, try to limit my sugar, get enough sleep, do some yoga or active breathing, etc., on a daily basis. These habits save me on a daily basis. They save me from bad moods, hormonal changes, lack of sleep on other days, stress from work or living through a pandemic – in a city I love that is a “hot spot” for Covid-19 rates. They give me energy and a feeling of strength.

So, I say try to keep your bad habits in check. Keep your good habits at your side and in perspective. And go read or watch some Fran Lebowitz for some good laughs or thoughts that linger with you for days after for some ponderance on your own.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves to run, do strength training, mostly in the form of HIIT, and is practicing daily yoga in short bursts this month. She is hoping her good habits save her day-to-day.

fitness

New Year, New Reflections

We are in the first week of the new year. What a year 2020 was. Every year there is push back to the idea of “New Year, New You.” But 2020 was the kind of year that has prompted more of this messaging. Lots of advice about being happy with just being. With surviving. Don’t worry about starting a new project or having a new goal. You are enough.

Black type on greyish white background, that says “you. are. enough.”

I have always loved the saying “you are enough”. It has helped me on low days. Days when I wasn’t sure if I was. I believe it. I agree that most people don’t need a “New You”. YOU are likely wonderful just as you are. But I don’t think New Year, New You is meant to be literal. It’s meant to inspire reflection if one wishes to reflect. And, if not, carry on without it.

In my case, towards the end of December I was finding some of the “F*ck New Year, New You” laments just as annoying as the push for newness itself.

“New Year, New You” isn’t an inherently bad idea. The problem is with the obnoxious way it pushes drastic changes. No, most people don’t need a “New You”. But, I don’t have a problem with a date on the calendar inspiring self-reflection and manageable, incremental, healthy changes. But then, I do enjoy lots of self-reflection – any time of the year.

I don’t wish to make radical change in any given year. And, for sure, I don’t think the idea that one should revamp everything in their life, because a new year has begun, is good advice. Or practical.

Most of us are well aware of the dangers of diet culture and the ineffectiveness (and unhealthiness) of the feast or famine style of eating. We don’t think it’s helpful to joke about gaining weight during a pandemic or to put too much value on the numbers on scale. We certainly know by now not to impart moral judgements on what we eat. And so it makes sense to push back a bit and offer different perspectives on society’s idea of what is healthy.

With respect to “New Year, New You”, I don’t have a problem with reflection or with the wish for self-improvement. The problem is doing something you don’t want to do. Doing what an advertisement has made you think you need to do. Buying into an all or nothing mentality. Or worse, spending your hard earned dollars on magic potions. Or, feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to do. Often, the images of what is “improved” is faulty also. Fuck ideals of what fit looks like.

A picture of Nicole working out in the park in 2020 and being fit.
Nicole in her sports bra and shorts, ready to do her virtual strength and conditioning workout in her living room, with Movefitness Club.

No, I prefer it if a person’s self-reflection helps them be confident with what THEY want for themselves. And then planning slow and steady, incremental changes, Which will usually win the day over anything drastic.

The exception to slow and steady for me would be when I quit smoking. I had to just stop. Exercise (mostly running) was a good way to distract myself from the nicotine cravings (after several tries over a few years). But I would not have been able to quit incrementally. I had to stop cold turkey in order to stop the habitual part of smoking. That doesn’t work for everyone but it did for me. And I would say that if someone’s goal this year is to quit smoking – GO FOR IT!

Quit Smoking Reminder For Today On Paper Pinned On Cork Board

It doesn’t have to be a new year. It could be any old Tuesday. But, if a date on the calendar offers a reason for self-reflection and areas where one might benefit from some tweaking, I don’t hate on that idea. Also, it shouldn’t be EVERY Tuesday.

Many of us have habits that aren’t serving us well at the moment. In my case, I am not snacking as much or eating as much sugar. I am not anti-sugar. If sugar is working for you, enjoy. It wasn’t working for me and I am feeling better with much less of it in our lives.

We have much less alcohol in the house. My husband gave it up in June and I was never a big drinker. But at 48, I was finding that even a couple extra was making me more tired the next day and I don’t enjoy feeling more tired than necessary, so I’m happy now that I have a glass of wine or two every couple months, rather than every week.

Neither of the changes mentioned above were made at the beginning of the year.

I don’t plan on making any drastic changes this year. I think about goals I want for myself throughout the year. The start of the year is just a nice place to re-evaluate, to re-affirm what is important to me.

So the things I plan to focus on this year, as long as I am able (2020 confirmed we don’t always have control over our plans) are:

  1. Supporting healthy goals by continuing to cook nutritious meals that are satiating.
  2. Maintaining my exercise schedule (running, cycling, HIIT strength and conditioning) because it keeps me feeling good, mentally and physically.
  3. Stretching more. I only spend a lot of time stretching when my hips and hamstrings tell me I better “or else”. I need to put stretching in my calendar, in the same way I put other exercise in my calendar.
  4. Give my best in my studies. I am starting a new course, in a new program at Ryerson University (continuing education) this week. If you look up “procrastinator” in the dictionary, there might be a picture of me doing anything but studying. My goal is to not procrastinate with my new course. Also, I get overwhelmed by the bureaucratic part of University and I would like to be patient with that part of the work.
  5. Drink more Matcha. I drink a lot of coffee. Good coffee. I love it. But, whereas I used to drink 1 or two big cups a day, some days it’s been 3 or 4 in the pandemic. And, that’s before the nightly decaf ritual. I plan to replace #3 and #4 with matcha. Not only might it be better for me, I think it will make me appreciate and enjoy #1 and #2 more.

The key to all of the above working for me is that I am not a perfectionist. I will do my best. I will probably re-evaluate every couple months. Including other dates on the calendar that remind me to reflect (birthday, Jewish New Year, some Wednesdays…). I will be kind to myself. I support you being kind to yourself too. If saying “New Year, New You” makes you cringe, ignore it. But if you still want to reflect and tweak some habits that aren’t working for you, in all of your glorious self, I say go for it.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs, Miggy and Barley. She wishes everyone a Happy New Year and hopes everyone is safe and healthy in 2021.