fitness

Self-Awareness Through Drag

I’m always interested in ways that people bring a feeling of wellness into their lives. Especially if it is an area I am not familiar with. Not too long ago, my cousin Rachel started talking about her fun new hobby – participating in drag shows. I could see from the way she talked about it that this new passion was bringing happiness to her life. If you love someone you are happy when they are happy and you want to know more about it.

Rachel is 25. She is someone I have known from birth and who I have always loved and greatly admired. Rachel really liked the idea of being interviewed for this blog post, about what drag means to her and how it brings a sense of wellness into her life.

Nicole – How did you start participating in drag shows?

Rachel – Living close to the (gay) village, I saw drag queens on a regular basis. I started going out with friends to watch shows. I have always loved to dance. It wasn’t something I thought I wanted to do until my good friend wanted to try it and it was kind of like “If you do it, I’ll do it”. And then I went down a rabbit hole.

Nicole – How do you identify in this environment?

Rachel – I call myself a drag queer – in the community, this means “gender fuck” – I go both ways – I like dressing really sparkly – showing my hyper femininity – and I am also attracted to the attitude of a man and playing with the masculine parts of myself. Drag is playing with gender – gender is the butt of the joke.

Nicole – tell me about your stage name.

Rachel – my stage name is Jen Durex – when I was getting into it, coming up with a drag persona, I knew I wanted to do something in between male/female. Gender X – something in between – androgynous. Jen is the feminine side. Durex (yes, from the condoms), is my masculine side.

Nicole – Do you have thoughts on “women as drag queens”?

Rachel – I can see drag changing a lot. But there have always been women and drag kings in drag.

While I feel as though I have found my people in drag and I have a really supportive community, there are aspects to being a woman in drag that can be upsetting. Women are not able to compete in some established community competitions. But it is changing all the time. There are more places for people who identify in different ways to compete. There are people who have joined the community in the last year who are pioneers of reclaiming space. There is a monthly King show (where I can compete as a King – and where I have competed and have won!). There are also inclusive competitions, such as the Empire’s Ball where all sorts of gender performers and skill levels are allowed to compete.

Nicole – What does performing in drag give you from a wellness perspective?

Rachel – It’s another persona. An opportunity to explore my dominant side. I feel as Rachel, I am more passive. I love to serve others but it becomes a weakness when I let people walk over me. I am naturally non-confrontational. As Jen I am fearless. I’m macho. I can do whatever I want. It’s a mask. I love having an outlet for this expression.

From a physical perspective – when I am up on stage, I am dancing my heart out. For the week leading up to the performance, I am practicing, dancing all the time around my house.

It’s given me more self-confidence. I feel way more confident in my body. It helped me with loving my body. Being able to dance and being able to be in a room with a bra and little dance leggings and feel like the hottest thing ever. It’s a great mode for “not giving two shits” about what I or anyone else thinks.

Through drag I have learned about my queer identity, and I have met a special group of people – both of these things make me feel that I can do anything and this transfers to my day-to-day life.

In a bigger sense, in a world full of negativity and strife, the drag world that I am in provides a cocoon of positivity. For example, there are fundraisers where we raise money for the community and it’s kind of, made me more of an activist, going to protests. Being more involved. Drag is a form of activism for me.

Dear blog readers, I have learned so much about this topic. Do you have any unconventional pastimes that bring you joy, a sense of wellness and community?

Nicole Plotkin loves to exercise and looks forward to her morning Americano misto
fitness

An Ode to the Morning Workout

The alarm goes off. It’s 5:30 am already. It’s cozy and warm in bed with my husband and two dogs. I’ve signed up for my tri-weekly strength and conditioning class. There’s a moment of “it would be nice to stay in bed for a bit longer”. But it would literally be about 45 minutes more. Not worth missing a good workout. Not to mention, the gym credit you would lose if you skipped class (too bad they didn’t have such incentives when I was in high school).

Time to brush my teeth and mildly untangle my bed head and put on my gym clothes hanging on the banister so I don’t have to rummage through the closet that early and wake up my light sleeping husband.

I go downstairs, feed the dogs, take my vitamins, grab my things and head out into the cold winter morning. My toque will further tame my bed head on the walk to the gym. I’m always surprised how many other people are already out at that time. The shift workers, joggers, the man who sleeps under the bridge, the acquaintance I don’t recognize in the December darkness, until I’ve passed her. Not to mention the full class of people, already at the gym, from the 5:30 class.

Some mornings I need a couple sips of coffee first at the gym. I gather with my fellow bleary-eyed gym mates. The coach is already perky from teaching the first class, asking us how we are feeling. Most of us talk to her with our eyes. We are good. We are here. Maybe a little sleepy, anxious for the work day ahead, some are working out before going home to their babies.

The initial warm-up starts blood flowing through my body. Some days my body feels heavy and creaky on the rowing machine. The mobility exercises massage my joints and lengthens my muscles. Some days my hips feel extra stiff. My hamstrings are always strung tight.

Off to our “big lift” of the day. Will it be a PR day? Either way it always feels good seeing how much I can lift, whether a push press, bench press, back squat or deadlift. You can never practice too often, pulling your shoulder blades back, keeping your spine neutral, optimizing your lift in some way.

The accessory moves are always my most challenging. Whether a split squat, step-down, handstand, or the dreaded pull-up, I replace with a low TRX pull. These moves always seem to test my ego, along with my balance, my ability to activate my glutes while wobbly, my overall stability. Some days I see improvement. Some days I remind myself it’s OK not to be good at everything!

The cardio portion is where the endorphins reside. 12 minutes or so of a number of different moves, ball slams, wall balls, push-ups, jump squats, cardio machines, alternating at an optimal rate to maximize sweat and stress relief. The feeling at the end of the combined big lift, plus a good cardio session, provide the reason to wake up early to get here. I feel the same way at the end of a good run (although a good run deserves its own description!).

My head is clearer, my body light for the moment, the sweat released can release a lot of imaginary weight and stiffness. That feeling at the end of a good workout transcends self-doubt, body image, familial discord, external stresses, global disharmony, and a host of other ills. I am ready for the day ahead.

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk and loves working out in the morning.
fitness

2020 Wishes and 2019 Gratitude

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Whatever that means for you. Hopefully there is delicious food in your belly, a warm place to snuggle another human or loved pet. As we near the end of 2019, and we are about to start 2020, the barrage of resolution inspiration is tangible. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking about what resolutions mean to me.

When I was a guest poster on Fit is a Feminist Issue, I wrote this Sweet Things post, where I talk about there being something enticing about marking the beginning of something. I talk about the sweet things I wish for myself in the coming year (on the Jewish Calendar), including: patience, “Don’t mess with me vibe”, Focus, Contentment, Indifference, Less Fear, and Gratitude. These are the kinds of things I like to think about as a new beginning is marked on a calendar.

I am not one to make a list of resolutions I’d like to keep for the year ahead. Mostly because I like to think of goals I have for myself on a regular basis, not only at one time of year. I’m not a fan of the idea that if you don’t resolve to make changes in a specific period of time, you will lose your window of opportunity to do so.

Also, rigid rules and lists don’t work for me. The same way rigid calorie counting, weighing myself regularly, detoxes, and the like, do not work for me. I am more inclined to make small changes in areas that are important to me, until they stick and become regular habits. Also, to me, wellness and health are more about mental health, physical strength and healthy mobility, than what size I am at any given time.

In my late 40s, I want to focus on what I want to accomplish in this life, whether in my career, or in relation to what type of wife, daughter, cousin, friend, co-worker, I want to be.

Currently, a few things I would like to focus on in 2020 are:

Feeling more Confident: a colleague gave me a mug for a festive mug exchange at work that says “Boss Lady”. She said she gave it to me because I exude calm, cool, boss lady vibes. I do not feel like this most of the time, particularly in a 6 month old job, where I am not a “subject matter expert” in the way I was in my previous jobs (for the past 20 years). Nor do I feel I have a lot of opportunity to be in a “Boss Lady” type of position at this stage of my career. Although, I think It’s more about a vibe in all one does, than about a particular position, and the compliment (and mug) gave me confidence to See it. Hear it. Be it. Particularly because the woman who gave it to me does actually seem like a Boss Lady to me. So, it’s an inspirational gift. I would like to feel that I exude the confidence that others apparently see in me on occasion. This sense of confidence can extend to my workouts.

Better Emotional Intelligence: In this I mean I would like to have the ability to be assertive without being emotional or worried about how my assertion will be received. If anyone has any tips, I would love to receive them. I admire this quality in others, but do not feel I achieve this when I am feeling most vulnerable.

More Energy: I often feel I am inexplicably tired late in the day. I regularly get 7 hours of good sleep. I exercise, take my vitamins, etc. But I would love to figure out how to have more energy (without too much coffee) in everyday life.

A Miracle: I would really welcome a positive turn of events with a family member. There are some events in life where we find we have less control than we would like, to shape how things are unfolding. In these situations all we can do is hope there are other forces that can help turn things around. I hope for such a turn around in the coming year. I know I am being vague, but this is just something I would like to put out in the world, without providing too much detail.

I would also like to take stock at the end of the year about the areas in my life where I feel gratitude. A year’s worth of energetic workouts at a gym I love (hey Move!), a completed half marathon, many great, meditative solo jogs, and great training runs with my friend/neighbor Mark, and his dog Tango (Tango can be a good pace setter at times). The privilege of another year around the sun. I got married! I have the most supportive, loving, husband, who is also my best friend. There was a time in my life where this event seemed completely unlikely. I am grateful for my daily snuggles with my two dogs, bad breath and all (I am a terrible doggie Mom, when it comes to dog dental hygiene). I am grateful for my supportive and loving family and my close and wonderful friends. I hope everyone finds what they are looking for in 2020. Do you have things you wish for that you would like to say out loud and share?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flowers.jpg
Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who works out regularly, enjoys food in all forms, enjoys time with her husband, family, friends and two dogs.
fitness

"Super Fit" does not Equal Healthy

I just came home from a festive work function and grocery shopping for a dinner party tomorrow. I sat down to relax for a bit and opened “CBC.ca” and was instantly annoyed with the title of an article in CBC Life that I couldn’t help opening 6 Things super fit people do to stay healthy over the holidays (and the rest of us don’t. I guess they succeeded with the click-bait, because even though I knew better, I wanted to read what they had to say. There are some decent tips in the article relating to nutrient dense food, fitting in exercise at home, etc., but the hyperbole surrounding the tips is cringeworthy to me. Here are some of the things I hate about the article, in no particular order:

1. The title implies that one is either “super fit” or a sloth. I guess all of us who work out regularly, but don’t obsess about it and don’t look like fitspo models are sloths. Oops, I had a few mouthfuls of decadent chocolate today, I guess I’m not fit and certainly not “super fit” through the holidays”. I’ll remember that while I’m at my weekly conditioning class tomorrow, where my heart rate will be raised, I will sweat out some tension, stretch my hips and connect with my fitness friends.

2. Who needs to be “super fit” over the holidays, if any time of the year? Is that sustainable? Necessary? Have anything to do with wellness and health? If you really want to help people, help them aim for fitness in a realistic way. Encourage them to take small steps. Unless you are training for an elite event, I don’t think anyone needs to aim for “super fit”. And if people are being inundated this time of year with a wealth of riches (in the form of chocolate, butter, alcohol, etc) and having their time stretched between work, family and festive gatherings that are eating into their sleep schedule and sanity, perhaps encouraging them to be “super fit” may not be helpful or realistic. And are some of the measures people take to be “super fit” even really healthy over the long run.

3. The spoiler alert is “they’re not that hard”. Now you’re being sanctimonious. You start off the article by talking about how much you eat and how this has inspired you to get help from “experts” to tell others to focus on “what they should eat, not what they shouldn’t”. So you allowed yourself to enjoy a some delicious food and this inspired you to have experts tell others what to do? And, how do you know it’s not hard for them. How do you know how many diets, bouts with disordered eating they’ve gone through and how many thoughts drift through their head every time they consider what “they should eat”. And sure “schedule it into your week and don’t make any excuses” may sound simple. But, as someone who schedules workouts into my schedule every week, I would never suppose how hard that might be for someone else with different circumstances. Don’t assume how hard these things are for others. If you truly want to help people add wellness behaviours into their life, don’t make them feel bad about the “excuses”. Instead, make suggestions and then encourage them when they are not working exactly according to plan and give the tools to adjust to their circumstances .

4. Stop giving health advice not backed by science. I have no problem with the idea that we need to stay properly hydrated. But “Increasing water intake will also fill you up, therefore you will take in fewer calories during your meal. Water helps fight off those nasty cravings, making it easier to select healthier options for your meals. Second to water, green tea should be your number one, go-to beverage when it comes to avoiding those winter pounds. There are so many benefits to drinking green tea!” – Give me a break. I can say that when I am having cravings, no amount of water is going to stop those cravings. Without getting into the psychology of those cravings, maybe not all cravings are bad for you. Perhaps, instead of telling people to call their cravings nasty, you should tell them to come to peace with their cravings, don’t label them good or bad. This may have more positive benefits than trying to tell them to avoid having cravings or washing them away with water and green tea. And for every “study” out there that says green tea “has so many benefits” there are others that say there have been no “scientifically proven studies to back those claims”. Drink green tea because you like it. Not because it is a “super food”.

5. Why do all the experts look like “fitspo models”? I have met a lot of different looking fit people in the various “fit” circles I frequent. Those perfectly coiffed, sculpted models are not the only way to look and be fit. Be better at representing what fit looks like. Fit is all shapes, sizes, muscle tone, ages. This isn’t news in 2019. And as a person who is fit and not a fitspo model, I think it is much more inspiring for people looking for healthy behaviours during the holidays and beyond, to see better representations of themselves.

If “CBC Life” or any other wellness or health blog is looking for ways to inspire people to live active and healthy lives don’t feed these tired clichés about “super fitness” and “perfection”. And instead of telling people to “focus on what they can eat, not what they can’t” how about telling them to prioritize what’s important to them (maybe that means walking more, limiting alcohol, getting fibre every day and getting enough sleep, but everyone is different and their priorities will be different) and then relax and enjoy their time over the holidays and not worry about an unrealistic ideal that won’t make them “super fit” or “super happy”.

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who works out regularly, enjoys food in all forms, enjoys time with her husband, family, friends and two dogs and is “just the right amount of fit” over the holidays or any other time of the year.

fitness

Shades in Between

Within the realms of a mind that has not been diagnosed with a clinical disorder, what does a healthy mind look like day-to-day?

At 47, I feel as though I manage most of my demons fairly well. I consider myself to be mentally well. Which does not mean I am happy all of the time.

Thanks to Facebook Memories, and my penchant for oversharing online (but not in real life – the sign of an extroverted introvert?), I can see that my “bad days”, the days where I feel inexplicably irritable, are not a new thing. It may seem they are related to hormones or a frustrating day at the office or too many encounters with self-absorbed humans on the way to work. But the evidence is clear. I am prone to some “bad days” here and there.

I have had my fair share of therapy over the years. I have taught myself how to: turn negative thoughts into positive ones; to exercise regularly for the undeniable mental benefits; to just accept my emotions, not try to change them, but not feed them; to be more careful with others when I recognize I am in that mood; to know that what I think others are thinking of me isn’t necessarily true (and not always important).

Not only have I taught myself how to manage my mind. My experience has made me the “therapist” to those close to me. I provide good advice about how to manage uncomfortable emotions.

The list of major topics that have caused me angst over the years are not unique: heartache, loneliness, academic failures, career discontentment. The way I have dealt with some of my angst has not always been healthy (see a number of uncompleted degrees).

There was a time not that long ago when I thought if I had a couple good days in a row, it was inevitable that a bad day was coming. More often now, I notice that the bad day is really more of a bad morning or a bad afternoon and I am able to infuse the bad day with a lot of good.

And I am able to recognize all the good in my life very deeply. I recognize the small things. The sights and sounds that give me comfort on my way to work (a city I love, the different seasonal delights, a perfectly made americano misto). I am incredibly grateful for the big things that create joy in my life. My husband, my family, friends, dogs, a safe place to live in the world. I also try to put my shit into perspective in comparison to real problems people have on a day to day basis. But I’ve also learned guilt for ones feelings doesn’t make one feel better either.

I am a big believer that people tend to look at things as black or white and that is a mistake. For example, in the media, it seems to me that people are good, until they do something bad, and then they are bad. People are not all good and not all bad. Even the evil people have a sliver of good in them.

Similarly, I think a healthy mind is not black or white. It has many shades in between and many healthy states of being. Some of us absorb a lot of the energy and emotions around us all the time. This can make us incredibly happy, sad, angry, anxious. And well adjusted at the same time.

I am writing this to celebrate all those shades in between.

Note: if you are struggling with feeling happy and you are not sure what to do, please speak to your doctor or mental health professional.

Nicole Plotkin on one of her especially grateful days.
fitness

Yes Please or No Thank You

I urge us all to try to break free from “I can’t because I’ve been bad, naughty, I fell off the wagon, etc.”. We all have different reasons for choosing to eat what we do, day in and day out. I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of different food plans. But if you are presented with food (cookies, chocolates, etc.) that you choose not to eat, simply say “No Thank You”. The location of the opportunity for snacking does not matter – it can be at work, your friend’s house or your parent’s place.

It can certainly feel like an overwhelming time of year if one is trying to follow a specific food plan. But let’s stop judging ourselves (I really don’t think anyone is judging others) by imposing morality on our decision to say yes or no to any particular food. You were not bad, naughty, or stumbling off a wagon, if you ate a few cookies on any particular day. Similarly, you are not good or virtuous if you choose not to eat those cookies.

This is not an easy habit to break from. I find myself saying these things on occasion, even though I find the utterance of those words, from myself, frustratingly boring.

And if you say confidently “No Thank You”, you don’t have to say why. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Similarly, if you say, “Yes Please!”, you don’t have to recite the number of burpees you will need to do as a result. I’m all for exercise, but not as a punishment for choosing certain food. Exercise for the joy of it. Eat for the joy of it (whatever you choose to eat).

If we take the morality out of it, we will find that we make our decisions about what to eat much easier. We free ourselves from the weight of unnecessary judgment, and make room for other feelings – joy, contemplation, satisfaction, love (for ourselves!) – and the freedom to make whatever decision is appropriate for us at the moment.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flowers.jpg
Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband. She can be found this time of year, offering up various types of home baked cookies.
fitness

Right on Cue

I have mixed feelings about receiving cues while I’m working out at the gym. Some cues can be very helpful. Some cues I can recognize as helpful, but I’m not in a state of mind at the time to receive them. Other cues are just annoying.

One of the benefits of going to a group exercise class or paying for a personal trainer is receiving cues that enhance your workout. Good cues can make you increase your weight on reps, go faster in cardio bursts than you thought you were capable of at that moment, prevent you from injuring yourself and even boost your confidence, from doing something well because of the cues.

Recently, I received an excellent cue that really helped me with a move, I typically have difficult with – a step down on a box, bench, etc. The coach reminded me to ground down with the outer edge of my foot, rather than the inner edge. She also suggested I try without my shoes to get a better feel with my foot. I also gave myself my own cue – to look ahead rather than look down, to avoid letting my mind take over and inhibit the move. These cues really helped. My step down wasn’t perfect, but it was much better – enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Annoying cues are typically unsolicited from someone that is not paid to give you advice. I used to work out at a gym where a resident personal trainer (there were many there, he was not the only one) would often offer this type of advice. One time I was practicing a single legged kettlebell dead lift, in a particular way that another trainer had taught me to do it, for a particular reason. He thought it was helpful to offer why I was doing it wrong. Aside from the fact that I didn’t think I was doing it wrong, I am not the type of person in a general gym setting that wants to be pointed out in that way. I also would hear him gossiping with clients/gym buddies about how others were doing something wrong. Definitely not helpful, or cool!

There have been times where, even if the advice is useful, at the moment I would prefer just to be left alone – mainly because I just want to enjoy the moment. If I am not doing something that is going to hurt me. If I am doing something that might be targeting a slightly different muscle than the one intended, but I am still doing a useful movement, it can be nice to be left alone. If I have received a few cues that day already, I might just want to let loose, get sweaty, enjoy the moment, without worrying about perfect form. An example is if I’m learning a new move in a kickboxing class. I understand the importance of proper form. But if I am mostly doing it right, and I have received a lot of feedback already, just let me punch the bag! I am not going to be entering a ring anytime soon, and as long as I not going to hurt myself, let my punches reign free!

Whether I am weight lifting or practicing Warrior 3 in yoga, verbal feedback (one should always get consent before giving physical feedback) from your coach is usually welcome. The feedback should be realistic though. If I have been trying for months to do Eagle’s Pose in yoga, and it is clear that my physiology does not allow me to get into that pose, it is not helpful to cue me into the pose again and again – better to give me an alternative.

Cues I typically find helpful from my coaches (who are there to give cues – not random unsolicited people):

Reminding me to bring my shoulders down when doing deadlifts.

Encouraging me to add weight, if it’s clear I can handle it.

Making sure my knees are tracking over my feet properly and my back is flat during squats.

Telling me I am doing something well and to keep at it just like that – ie – “great push-ups Nicole”.

Encouraging me to speed it up when I appear to be slacking in Tabata (and I haven’t indicated I am tired, injured, etc. already).

Providing visualization cues, such as in spin class (close your eyes, imagine you are on a winding path, pretend you are passing the bikes to your right). Oh, and remember to keep your heels down so you are not only using your quads!

Reiterating that I should put a step under my bench so I can properly screw my short legs into the ground and brace my core while doing bench press.

Seeing that I am having difficulty executing a movement properly and showing me a subtle change that allows me to do such move.

Stretching cues – such as move your leg a bit this way, if you want to feel it in your hips, not your quads.

What cues do you find helpful when you are exercising?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flowers.jpg

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.