Katherine’s Wibbly Wobbly Walk (Guest Post)

From zero to completing a sponsored walk raising over £400 for hypermobility syndromes.

In 2011, after years of pain, exhaustion, worry and doctors’ visits, I was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome, a hereditary connective tissue disorder. I experienced a bizarre mixture of contradictory emotions- relief, joy, excitement, shock, fear, hope…. my main hope was a referral to physiotherapy. I had three appointments, and the gist of it was: “You don’t need any help”. “Hypermobility can’t cause pain. Your pain is because you are so overweight and unfit. Lose weight and do some exercise”, I was told.

Over the coming weeks, I ran what I’d been told over and over in my mind. I remembered how I had been working out daily while I got steadily sicker. How severe the pain had been when I was well inside the “healthy” weight range for my height. How it was the pain, frequent injuries and bone deep exhaustion that caused me to reduce my activities.

I thought about how hard I’d worked to get to where I was then, from being barely able to walk in 2008 due to an ankle injury, followed by 2 years of painful foot problems. I knew what the physiotherapist was saying wasn’t true- hypermobility syndrome does cause pain- painful, weak joints is a primary symptom of the condition. I also knew that it wasn’t true that inactivity and weight gain were the cause of my situation. But the important question was- how could I fix this on my own? I wanted expert help to find a way to sneak up on my body and rebuild my fitness, without increasing the pain and fatigue to intolerable levels, and without keeping injuring myself and going back to where I started, something which had happened many times in the past.

So I educated myself. I joined the Hypermobility Syndromes Association and too part in their forum. I googled. I joined online support groups. I listened, I talked, I discussed, and I began my journey, with much trial and error and very, very slowly. I increased my walking, I saved up and found a secondhand elliptical and started doing 5 minutes at a time. I bought pilates DVDs.

By September 2014 I’d made progress. My joints were more stable and I had a little less pain and was a little less exhausted. That was when I came across the No Excuse Mom 12 week challenge. My tummy squiggled with butterflies as I wondered, could I really attempt 12 weeks of regular workouts? What was I thinking? My progress had ground to a halt and I knew I had to push harder. Maybe committing to the challenge, doing it alongside others, was what I needed. So I signed up.

The first few weeks were something of a nightmare as I struggled to keep up with my other commitments and manage to do regular cardio, pilates and strength training. Thankfully, I am a very stubborn person when I need to be! By the time I reached the end of the 12 weeks, it seemed a little easier, and I kept going, hanging on and hoping to see results.

Fast forward to 2017. An idea had been growing in my mind for some time, to do a sponsored walk to raise funds for the HMSA, to thank them for the work they do to support people with hypermobility syndromes and in raising awareness of these greatly under-diagnosed conditions. I decided that now was the time. I chose a route- a 9 mile circuit on local moorland, taking in steep and rugged up and downhills, slippery and boggy areas and rocky passes. I set up a sponsor page and before I knew it, the date of the walk arrived.

The weather was bright and breezy, perfect for hiking. I set off, with trepidation but determined to just keep walking no matter what, until I reached the end. I wasn’t prepared for all the emotions I experienced. There were times of intense boredom, periods of elation and feeling utterly victorious, interspersed with weariness and anxiety and then back to joy and a feeling of being completely at home out on the moorland. The last mile, down a steep rocky path, was almost intolerably painful and my muscles were too fatigued to properly support my knee joints. I had to resort to stepping very slowly and carefully sideways and sometimes sitting down and sliding on my bottom. But five hours after setting off, I arrived back at my starting point, I made it!

That day, I proved to those who have been critical of me that I can be strong and determined and overcome challenges to achieve my goals. But more than that, I proved that to myself. As is common for those with invisible illness, I’ve heard discouraging messages from those who don’t understand or accept the difficulties I face. I’d also listened to those kind of messages from within myself, partly due to difficulty accepting my condition- “Maybe I’m not really ill, maybe I’m just weak and lazy, if I just push harder I can lead a normal life” and so on.

I believe that it’s only when you’ve looked around and experienced it seeming like every door is closed and locked in your face, that you really know what that is like. I want my story to be encouraging, but you will never hear me say, “Anyone can do it” or “Nothing is impossible if you try hard enough” or “If I can, you can”. I know the reality of living with chronic illness or disability is that many things are out of reach, locked behind those closed doors. Part of living the healthiest possible life is acceptance of that reality. But I also believe that most of the time there is something we can do, some tiny change we can make, that can lead to more babysteps of progress, and one day we can find we have achieved something we thought we never would.

I can’t say where my journey will take me now. I am continuing to work hard at becoming as fit and helathy as I possibly can be, so that I can lead the most full and active possible life with my family. But maybe tomorrow will be the day I get another injury that severely limits my activities for weeks, months or even years. There are no guarantees when it comes to health and fitness, especially for those with bodies that are more vulnerable than others One of my dreams is to run a 10K, something I used to do with my beloved dad when I was a teenager, But at the moment, a short and very slow run results in several days of painful and scary instability of my knees, so I may need to find a more practically feasible goal!

Some links:
NHS page on hypermobility syndrome http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Joint-hypermobility/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Hypermobility Syndromes Association http://hypermobility.org/

My Virgin Giving page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/KatherineBaldwin

Wandererssong is Katherine, is a fitness freak who is fat, forty-something and a mum of four. Some of her other passions are- books, crime dramas, druidry, horse racing, biomedical science, Orphan Black, her schnauzer, campaigning for social justice, and all the music.

Taking the Lane: Gender and Cycling in Toronto (A Panel Discussion)

On Thursday, June 15, I get to talk about my favourite topic in cycling. Something I like better than debating wheel size on mountain bikes, frame materials for road bikes, or what type of shifters to use on a touring bike. I’ll be chatting about gender and cycling with four excellent people of a diversity of backgrounds. Joining me at the Parkdale Library will be Katie Whitman, Community Cycling Champion and researcher; Lavinia Tanzim of Bad Girls Bike Club; and Sivia Vijenthira of Spacing Magazine, with moderation by Tammy Thorne of Dandyhorse Magazine.

For some of you, this will be an obvious topic of conversation. “Of course that’s still relevant!”, you’ll say, “Why would anyone disagree?”

But I know I get a lot of questions about why we can’t just talk about getting more butts on bikes generally. “Just shut up and ride your bike” is a comment we get all of the time in the advocacy world, whether it’s about centering conversations on women and gender nonconforming (GNC) people, or attempting to convince people not to ride trails when they’re wet.

Why do we need to have this conversation?  I have worked in retail bike spaces, as a ride leader and as a mechanic for the past decade.  And the overwhelming drone in the background has always been cis-male* voices.  If you make a bike event open to all genders, take a look around the room. The gender diversity is likely to be pretty limited, with the bulk of your attendees identifying as male. If you brand your event as women-only, you’re still very likely to end up with a cis-dude* or two attempting to gain access These interlopers will at times be very understanding, having missed the fine (or bold) print, and will at other times be dismissive, derisive, or downright aggressive. That’s cool, we can (and do) deal.

(*cis-gendered = someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were born with)

The Good

So why am I so excited about this panel and these spaces? What’s the difference at events intentionally directed at women and GNC people? For me, it’s all about the energy and a willingness to ask questions. As a mechanic, the most refreshing thing has always been a woman coming in with her bike and asking questions or talking about her experiences. Events or drop-in hours where women and GNC folks are the sole audience have a lot more chatting, laughing, whooping, and questions than all gender events. There are a lot of generalizations and assumptions about why this happens, and we’re going to unpack the heck out of that in the panel.

The Bad

Note that I never said women and cycling, I said gender and cycling. How many of you jumped right to thinking this was a conversation about women and bikes? One of the aspects I find most difficult in organizing programs for not-cis-men, is making “women’s” events open and accepting of the trans* and GNC community. All of the events that I run are GNC-friendly. They have to be, because I identify as GNC. But I struggle constantly with the thought that my events are still exclusionary, as they’re often labeled as women’s events. If it’s a women-only event, does that mean our trans* and GNC friends aren’t allowed?  Women and GNC events often get read as queer events. Does that mean straight, cis women aren’t allowed?  There’s a barrier no matter what we do. My employers may not go for me labeling events as Women and Gender-Non-Conforming. It’s wordy, which is a hard pill to swallow when you’re trying to make a catchy and easily communicable event. If you write your event as Women and GNC, you may scare some women away who don’t know what that acronym means and feel this event isn’t for them. Throw an asterisk in there? People don’t read things. The complications and variations are endless.

So What’s the Question?

We know we need infrastructure changes and programs geared towards lower income people and newcomers to Canada, so that people have a safe and supportive way into bike commuting. But recreational riding, my main squeeze? How do we make these spaces accepting of all incomes, gender identities, and sexual orientations? Can we do it with one club, or do we need multiple clubs to make sure everyone has space?

 

What do you think, Toronto? Who wants to talk about this with me? See you on Thursday, June 15th at 6pm at the Parkdale Library!

 

If gender identity is not your most important question, never fear. We’re going to talk about loads of things, including how to make streets safer from an infrastructure level, the importance of programs for youth and newcomers to Toronto, how to tie the suburbs into this conversation, and what the research says about all of these things.

 

——–

 

Event Info:

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/643794175823092/?active_tab=about


Join us on June 15 for TAKING THE LANE: GENDER AND CYCLING IN TORONTO! Pop by the 
Parkdale Library from 6-7:30pm for an a-one panel. The event seeks to unpack our city’s cycling past, where we need to go, and who is missing from the conversation? But at the end of the day the question is: how do we get more women and girls cycling?

There is a serious lack of conversation and action around intersectionality and cycling in Toronto. This event aims to highlight that many women and GNC people in the city do not feel comfortable cycling due to unsafe streets (a lack of infrastructure) coupled with a lack of outreach.


Alex has been working in the Toronto cycling community for the last nine years. A certified CAN-Bike, Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association, and bike repair instructor, Alex would be so happy to take you for a bike ride. In addition to their role with Charlie’s FreeWheels, a charity dedicated to teaching youth how to build and ride bikes in Regent Park, Alex coordinates group rides and clinics with Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop and leads women’s cycling programs as a rider for Trek’s Women’s Advocacy program. You can usually find them with a posse of rad women and non-binary folks in the Don Valley mountain bike trails.

Follow Alex @legslegum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

 

 

 

The future is foxy!

We’ve written before about our friend Rachel’s new cycling team. See Another win for inclusive sport: Introducing Foxy Moxy Racing.

Now things are really getting under way. Rachel’s been sharing the following pitch on Facebook and Instagram and I thought I’d share it here too.

Good luck Rachel! We’re cheering for you.

 

Hi there! I’m Rachel. I race bikes. This year, I co-founded a team, Foxy Moxy Racing, with the vision of promoting radically inclusive sport for trans and gender non-conforming people (gnc). That means showing people that trans/gnc people exist, and helping build a community for current and potential trans/gnc athletes. Sport is a human right. That’s in the Olympic Charter as the very first of the Principles of Olympism. But trans and gender non-conforming people have struggled to find a home in sport. I want to change that.

I’ve chosen to race this year as an openly trans woman, at some of the highest levels of women’s cycling in the US and Canada. I’m hoping you can help, though: racing bikes across the country (and across the continent) is really expensive. So I’m reaching out for help funding my summer of racing for trans and gender non-conforming inclusive sport.

I have a full race calendar planned. It started with the Pro/1/2 stage race, the Tour of the Southern Highlands. I was thrilled to win the Stage 2 circuit race. Here’s where I’ll be:

March: Sunshine Grand Prix (FL)

April: USA Crits Speed Week (SC, NC, GA)

May: Winston-Salem Classic (NC)

June: North Star Grand Prix stage race (MN)

June: Canadian Elite Road Nationals (ON, Canada)

July: Intelligentsia Cup (IL)

August: Crossroads Classic (NC)

September: Gateway Cup (MO)

I’m seeking funding to help with travel and race fees. This schedule will cost over $1500 in race fees alone. I live in Charleston, SC, and I drive everywhere to keep costs down. Every little bit you can contribute helps! Thank you!! #thefutureisfoxy

You can find me on Instagram: @mckinnonrachel

You can find Foxy Moxy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FoxyMoxyRacing/

Donate here.

Hi everyone! Today is launched a personal fundraising campaign to help with my season of racing for trans and gender non-conforming inclusive sport. Please consider helping me with this project: https://www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/rachel-racing-for-trans-inclusive-sport This year, I co-founded a team, Foxy Moxy Racing, with the vision of promoting radically inclusive sport for trans and gender non-conforming people (gnc). That means showing people that trans/gnc people exist, and helping build a community for current and potential trans/gnc athletes. Sport is a human right. That's in the Olympic Charter as the very first of the Principles of Olympism. But trans and gender non-conforming people have struggled to find a home in sport. I want to change that. I've chosen to race this year as an openly trans woman, at some of the highest levels of women's cycling in the US and Canada. I'm hoping you can help, though: racing bikes across the country (and across the continent) is really expensive. So I'm reaching out for help funding my summer of racing for trans and gender non-conforming inclusive sport. I have a full race calendar planned. It started with the Pro/1/2 stage race, the Tour of the Southern Highlands. I was thrilled to win the Stage 2 circuit race. Here's where I'll be: March: Sunshine Grand Prix (FL) April: USA Crits Speed Week (SC, NC, GA) May: Winston-Salem Classic (NC) June: North Star Grand Prix stage race (MN) June: Canadian Elite Road Nationals (ON, Canada) July: Intelligentsia Cup (IL) August: Crossroads Classic (NC) September: Gateway Cup (MO) I'm seeking funding to help with travel and race fees. This schedule will cost over $1500 in race fees alone. I live in Charleston, SC, and I drive everywhere to keep costs down. Every little bit you can contribute helps! Thank you!! #thefutureisfoxy You can find Foxy Moxy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FoxyMoxyRacing/ #girlslikeus #transinclusivesport #inclusivesport #lgbtq #transvisibility #socialchange #transrightsnow #allbodies #allgenders #strongertogether #cycling #strava #outsport @podiumwear @lazersportusa @everymanespresso @performancesci @madalchemy

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Another win for inclusive fitness: Outdoor fitness parks for adults

senior-playground-ukThis morning I heard a man from Cobourg, Ontario on the radio talking about an initiative to bring an adult fitness park into that community. Since we are big here on the topic of inclusive fitness, the interview really stood out for me. I’ve also been talking to my class this week about the way “old age” is pathologized and medicalized (that’s been interesting, too), about ageism, and about the oppressive social structures that prize and normalize youth and the capacities we associate with it (being in “our prime”).  And my own parents, spry and active still, are very close to 80. They are remarkable role models for how I wish to age — I mean, they’re about to go to South Africa for four months and have planned a two-week tour of Namibia in February. Still and all, they have a realistic sense of their changing abilities and I am certain they would take advantage of a park such as this if one sprung up in their local community of Haliburton, Ontario.

The idea of initiatives that embrace evolving notions of fitness and create accessible environments for people entering later life stages appeals to me.  The Cobourg group trying to garner support for this idea made a presentation to the town’s council the other night, making the case that the town’s Recreation Strategy and Implementation Plan should include an Outdoor Adult Fitness Park. You can read the report here.

As part of their presentation, they said:

Providing free access to fitness equipment in public areas would be a logical addition to Cobourg’s already gorgeous beachfront, and would not only benefit the town’s citizen’s by improving the health of our community, but could also help with tourism and attracting retirees to our community.

Providing such fitness installations in Cobourg would also be a signal to this community (that) seniors matter and are an important part of the fabric of our town.

I love their reasoning: accessibility, maximizing the use of beautiful spaces in inclusive ways, promoting health and tourism, and sending a signal that Cobourg values seniors and considers them “an important part of the fabric of our town.”

senior-playground04-41f93f07a35a2efa3f6147735c6f9f2f

These kinds of fitness parks are not entirely new. The idea caught on in the 2000s and you can find them in China, England, Finland, Japan, and Spain, even in Whitby and in Oshawa, both just down the road from Cobourg. They’re an enormous hit in Barcelona, where there are 300 of them.

The Cobourg group has a Facebook page to try to drum up support for their project: https://www.facebook.com/cobourgfitnesspark/?fref=ts They’re inviting people to “like” their page to show support.

I would like to see more of these types of facilities installed in cities and towns across Canada. And as we promote them, it would be great to think of where they go — not just into affluent communities, but into diverse communities. They look like fun and they cater to a segment of the population whose needs are too frequently not considered a high priority unless medicalized. Making exercise fun and accessible is an important social goal that can improve quality of life in a more inclusive way.

 

Row Row Row Your Boat Out of Your Semi Existential Funk (Guest post)

by Samantha Walsh

I would like to thank Fit is a Feminist Issue and specifically Samantha (who shares my name) for the opportunity to write a guest blog post.  Over the past two years I have been looking for, and thus experimenting with, new sports and new challenges. The impetus for finding new fitness activities was a neck injury that changed the way I have to participate in sport and activity.

 

A little bit about me

To begin a little info about myself: I am 33, I am doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. I have held positions in both non-for-profit as well as post secondary institutions. I identify as a feminist and have an interest in social justice work.  I also have a condition called cerebral palsy which effects my coordination and ability to walk. I use a wheelchair to get around.   Much of my research and written work focuses on the social position of disability as it relates to class position and intersections of identity.  This blog post will venture in a new direct as a personal reflection on shifting your paradigm and identity.  I hurt my neck two years ago, and had to give up many of the activities I really liked, for a time.  I have been cleared to go back to most of them but, still really struggle to get back to the level of fitness I once had. It was the pursuit of new activities that brought me to rowing; and rowing which shifted the way I think about my own situation.

Row Row Row your Boat But, Wait There’s More

I took a “Learn to Row” from the Argonauts Rowing club in Toronto last year (2015). A “learn to row “is a beginner program where you literally learn to row; I was introduced to some of the rowing lexicon. I was taught how to row with the most efficient form.   During this time I had the opportunity to row a single.  I was also taught about the different adaptations that can be made to a boat to support a disabled rower. For example: A fixed seat so the rower is using their torso and arms, if they do not have coordination of their legs.  In competitive adapted rowing it is my understanding that rowers are classified based on their ability and then their times are compared.

It was also at this time, I learned the beloved childhood song “Row row row your boat”, is delightfully inaccurate, as it should likely include the phrase “Legs, back, arms” or “Oh my hamstrings”. Rowing was a full body workout and unexpectedly profoundly challenging.  I had befriended some varsity rowers during my undergraduate studies and had always thought the sport was neat.  I had wanted to try but, really struggled to find a rowing club that would accommodate the fact I have cerebral palsy and cannot walk. I had shelved the interest until a neck injury, mentioned above, made it difficult for me to participate in my usual fitness activities.  I was looking for something: that was a full body workout; that was social; not a team sport; could be done recreationally and able to be adapted.

Finding a New Sport Not So Easy When You Have a Disability

I started googling…An ongoing challenge I find as a disabled person whom is interested in their own fitness and recreation but, not interested in competition or team sports, is that I really struggle to find opportunities that provide: a challenging and comprehensive workout with a social component.  I find it is difficult for me to simply enroll in a sport ’n social league or other recreational things because, they often assume the participant will be able-bodied. The able body is almost compulsory for joining any sort of recreational sport.  For example: I have able bodied friends who are learning how to curl.  This seems like a great winter sport. It’s a fun game with the tradition of a beer after.  I know there is Wheelchair Curling. I have seen it on TV. However, I cannot find a league near me which supports wheelchair curling, so I do not curl.

I find often when I do find mainstream activities that welcome me and are reflexive to adaptation it is through a friend, a fitness instructor or coach who is excited to have different bodies in their class. I still find that the most common refrain for finding adapted sport is to rely on a team based program such as wheelchair basketball or a rehabilitation initiative. Moreover, adaptive sports equipment is often double or triple what an “able bodied” athlete would pay. For example: Running shoes versus the cost of a Racing Wheelchair. I long to be able to join beer leagues, workplace softball teams and drop in yoga classes. I am at a point in my life where my leisure time is limited. I am not interested in the lonely pursuits of excellene or segregated sports (these of course have their place). This is why, I was impressed to see the Argonauts advertised an adapted learn to row on their website. I was able to join for a fee and with very little self disclosure of my disability.  While rowing is a sport which typically favors those of higher socio-economic status it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the club had an open-door policy in regards to ability. However, I do recognize that it is my own privilege of being employed and having a disposable income that made my adventure in rowing possible.

You Are Only New Once…Or In The case of Rowing You Are New For Almost Two Years….

As mentioned above, I took a “learn to row” in 2015 and then returned for a second year of rowing in an adaptive program in 2016. I was really focused on rowing as a way to get a full body work out. I chose to row a single with a sliding seat that was comparable to an able bodied rower.  The single had pontoons on it as almost a training wheel system while, I learned to balance.  At the end of the 2015 season, I met another rower, Bill  (who was an single leg amputee) at an end of season party.  He offered to row a double with me.  In 2016, I practiced rowing both a double and a single.  While I had really enjoyed rowing a single; I liked the coaching I was receiving and really appreciated the solitude that rowing a single occasionally brought (other times it was a lot of trying not to row into things).  Rowing a double was a bit of a game changer for me.

 The Little Voice in the Back of your head, Or  If You Row the Person Speaking To the Back of Your Head

I had been very happy rowing a single.  The coaching style of the rowing club was one of positive feedback and constant things to build on. I felt like there was an assumed mutual respect. I was not in a subordinate position but, rather someone happy to learn from another person whom was happy to teach. This coaching style was in part why I looked forward to rowing, it was a happy add on to the beautiful scenery and comprehensive workout. Rowing a single though had not yielded me very many social opportunities. I did not know very many of the other rowers and often only spoke with my only my coach on the dock.  Additionally, early on I had told the club I was not interested in racing or competitive rowing. That I would be rowing just to get back into shape. Pleasantly, everyone seemed to respect this. To be fair though a novice rower does not usually compete.

The first night I rowed a double with Bill he made a point to introduce me to everyone he knew on the dock. Each person we encountered he would have a little story for. He would always introduce me with a little quip about losing a bet and having to row with him; or some interesting fact about me. I met a lot of different people very quickly.  In the boat Bill sat behind me doing a lot of the balancing and steering. He gave me feedback on my rowing.  He told me I was fast. He said I was always improving. Bill would go out in any kind of weather. Every time, I said the weather was bad, he would say something about the perfect day never comes. Often, I went with him on whatever adventure course he was set for.  He introduced me to more people. He talked to the coordinator and coaches about my progress.  He told me I should race. An interesting nuance or at least how I understood it.  The idea of racing was not to seize elite status but, to race for myself. Race as a challenge; a way to get more involved in the club; a way to meet more people. Everyone around me was receptive to this idea. I started to work on race starts, and being able to row racing distances.

Race Day

The regatta Bill and I enter was a recreational one hosted by our club. The water was awful that day.  It was windy and choppy.  At one point a coach remarked we would likely not be in the water but, it was a regatta.  But, remember, if you wait for the perfect day you will never go rowing. We rowed. It was too choppy to do a race start. The only goal was to make it to the end and not flip the boat. Just keep rowing!  We made it to the finish line. There was apparently an issue, our time was lost. I am pretty sure we lost. I was not really focusing on other boats just my boat and moving to the finish line.  When we got off the water there was a reception with social to follow.  I rowed a race, I met some new people and I left feeling better than I had in a long time.

Changing the Tide: Rowing as a metaphor for life

As someone who studies the workings of societies and social dynamics it is hard for me to believe that an individual’s success is not the collective sum of their social position and the resources they have access too.  I understand concepts of “positive thinking” or that individuals have total control over their destiny to be deeply flawed mired with classism and an erasure of systemic oppression. While I maintain these assertions to be true; acknowledging that even the opportunity to both try, and then continue rowing is made possible through a complex network of my own privilege and resources. I am forever, grateful that the opportunity to row and to race with Bill has reminded me: not to limit myself through my own expectations. Not to wait for the perfect day to try something and despite the choppy water and the ups and downs to keep rowing best you can; even if you are scared, even if you have to stop for a time. Rowing reminded me of my own resilience and ability to change courses even when the water is rough.  I am forever grateful to the great coaching staff and my doubles partner.

Getting ready at the dock! #adaptiverowing #adaptivesport #row #rowing #summer #summer2016

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Mommy and Me: Childcare as an Access Issue (Guest Post)

Sometime in the hazy overnight hours of my son’s first weeks of life, I decided to become a runner. I place the blame squarely on postpartum hormones that conjured up the words “role model” and sent me into a life-changing panic. I chose running because I bought into the dominant narrative of fitness that includes running as an Acceptable Aerobic Activity for Ladies. But that’s a post for another day.

Prior to this moment, my fitness experiences were limited to a few years trying to make a roller derby team, a handful of fitness videos, paying for gym memberships that I didn’t use, and a brief stint with a boot camp program. In other words, if I wanted to commit to lasting change in order to model a fit life for my son, I had to start from scratch. I Googled “exercise after pregnancy” and “fitness tips for new parents.” Advice ranged from “hire a personal trainer” to “take advantage of post-partum exercise videos.” One article suggested that I could walk up and down the stairs during “those precious 20-minute nap times.” Other articles suggested exercising with my baby by taking him out for a walk around the neighborhood or following along one of many “mommy and me” workout tutorials available on YouTube.

In the beginning, I considered this sound counsel and happily packed up the stroller for our daily walk around the neighborhood. I made a habit of wearing him in a sling while I did my powerwalking video to lull him into an afternoon nap. I congratulated myself for such efficient multitasking. When I was ready, I borrowed a jogging stroller and added running intervals to our walks. I joined a gym with complimentary childcare so I could add strength training to my routine. When I learned about a beginner’s running program sponsored by my local running club, I had to make sure my husband was free to mind the baby before I signed up. It was during one of my first training runs that I realized how privileged I was to have this time to myself, and that time alone to exercise should not be a privilege.

It is well documented that women bear an unfair burden when it comes to childcare responsibilities, and I definitely felt the pressure. None of the articles I read about exercise and new moms included advice like “find out if your gym offers childcare” or “schedule time to exercise when a family member or friend is available to care for your baby.” Consider the answer to the question “What are some ways to start exercising?” from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “When you are ready to start exercising, walking is a great way to get back in shape. Walking outside has an added bonus because you can push your baby in a stroller.” As pragmatic and useful as this advice might be, it assumes that mom is already caring for the baby, and that incorporating an infant into your (perhaps new) exercise routine is a desirable default.*

In some cases, including mine, taking a stroll with the baby in those first weeks can offer additional benefits (like battling boredom) and is likely less effort than finding a babysitter to take a walk. But as my son grew, it became more difficult to include him in my workout plans even though I was still responsible for coming up with a solution and making concessions. I felt frustrated with the few options I had. Do I take him with me on a training run even though it will slow me down? Should I try to organize a childcare co-op with other running moms? Which is worse—the logistical nightmare of taking a squirmy toddler to an early morning race, or the guilt of depriving him of time with me, the fresh spring morning air, and a chance to see a squirrel? Childcare became an issue of putting aside what I needed from a workout (focus, adult conversation, and/or SILENCE) or dealing with additional pressure rather than a choice between equitable solutions.

Certainly, modeling an active lifestyle by bringing my son to exercise events when I can has its benefits, but despite my best intentions, not all gyms have childcare, not all races are stroller-friendly, and weekday evening group training runs always conflict with bedtime. My son is now an active preschooler, which makes it more difficult to include him in my fitness plans. In part, this difficulty comes from his limited attention span and desire to do anything other than sit in the stroller for an hour. Still, it warms my heart when he gets excited about a kids’ fun run, or says he wants to “look for our running friends” when we drive near our familiar park trail route. It seems that my efforts have yielded some positive outcomes for his perception of how exercise contributes to our quality of life, but I wish the decisions on when and how to include him were easier to make.

There are no easy solutions given the wide range of variables that make exercise and childcare a complex personal issue, but I think that it is important to acknowledge that childcare can be a legitimate (and often unfairly gendered) access barrier in our fitness communities. Parents who want to incorporate exercise into their lives can benefit from being supported by having fair choices about if, how, and when to make fitness a family affair.

 

*The “walk outside” advice also makes a lot of other assumptions like, 1) you have a stroller, sling, etc., 2) you have access to a safe outdoor space with sidewalks or paved paths, 3) you are able to walk when another activity would be more suitable for your health needs, and 4) etc etc etc. There are many more intersectional access issues to consider when talking about childcare and exercise.

A child wearing sunglasses in a stroller with snacks, a water bottle, and a book.

How my son gets ready for a 5K

Kate Browne is less than 200 days away from defending her dissertation on Foucauldian notions of subjectivity in weight loss memoir. She runs slow, lifts heavy, and owns a tri singlet. You can find Kate at her online fitness home Ramp and Stair Exercise Club.

Yoga as comedy! Yoga as pleasure!

I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years now. I began, somewhat skeptical, because others I knew were doing it; I got serious when a great new studio opened in my neighbourhood. (The Yoga Shack is now a London, Ontario institution, but it’s almost exclusively devoted to hot yoga, which I do not love. See below…)

I then tried a lot of things. I did what we might call “conveyor belt” yoga – the kind sold by  chain studios that run a pre-planned, branded “flow”– until I realised that the goal of CBY was to pack as many supplicants into the room as possible, in order to turn a profit. As a result I was getting no individual coaching – as if the instructors at those particular studios were likely to be able to coach me effectively anyway, given my challenging, specific needs (Ankylosing Spondylitis, isolated muscle strain from cycling and rowing), and the limits of their training and experience.

(Do I sound bitter? Sorry if I sound bitter. I know some CBY instructors are amazing teachers stuck on the conveyor belt. I do. But many – MANY – are not.)

Then I began practicing at a studio in east-end Toronto. My teacher there was Terrill Maguire, and she taught me three things I won’t ever forget:

  1. Yoga is for all bodies, all ages, wearing all kinds of clothing. There were physically and cognitively disabled people in our class, as well as people wearing sweatpants and T-shirts (I was one of them). There were younger people and older people. There were elderly people. Everybody was included and all bodies were considered “normal” and treated with respect and specific care.
  2. Props are useful; use them! This is, admittedly, an Iyengar Thing; the practice involves the use of props to get form right. Doing yoga incorrectly can lead to injury, just like riding a bicycle badly can lead to crashing (or, less extremely, to wasting energy and not getting enough positive benefit). Props help form; if you can’t reach the floor, no big: use a block! The normalisation of props in Terrill’s class reminded me how ashamed I secretly felt in CBY classes when I decided *not* to strain to reach the floor. And how utterly wrong that entire scenario was…
  3. Yoga can be a place of laughter. It should be a place of joy! When stuff went wrong we giggled about it. We tried again, of course, but the laughter broke the tension, loosened our bodies, lifted our hearts.

I left Toronto (and Ontario) in 2012 to move to the UK. Once settled there, I joined a chain fitness club that had, remarkably, some really great, independent yoga instruction attached to it. I found a class that I can’t describe as anything other than challenging: it involved me learning to do Crow for real, and at one point I almost did a tripod headstand (the “almost” is the key bit here). There were no props in this class, and the instructor was neither funny nor forgiving; this wasn’t chain yoga of any kind, though, and I learned from the class to push my practice to a new level of challenge and start attempting inversions.

Last year, I took a fresh leap of faith and spent 10 days in an ashram in Kerala, practicing 4+ hours of yoga a day. I had never before been the kind of person who could imagine herself at an ashram, let alone at one in India; I soon realised, though, that the regimented  days married to an otherwise relaxed life-way suited me well. I quickly befriended my roommate, another woman unaccustomed to the ashram life (a lawyer from Mexico City), and we worked together on aspects of the house yoga practice we found difficult, supporting each other as yogi partners in the open-air main hall.

(It was moving, and spectacular, and peaceful, and the food was simple but incredible. I’d go back anytime – right now in fact.)

When I came home (which is now the OTHER London, in Ontario), I realised I needed my practice to continue growing, and growing in the right directions, but that the options in LonON were limited. There was CBY, which I’m never going back to, and there was a pretty good independent studio, the aforementioned Yoga Shack, but it was now committed to hot yoga serving a primarily student demographic, and I just do not agree with hot yoga as a practice.

It doesn’t suit my body type, for one. I sweat a lot when I work out, and hot yoga is designed as a workout above all. When I do hot yoga, I’m instantly uncomfortable; I find holding poses properly to be difficult because my body is slippery with moisture.

For another, well – I could (and may yet) write a whole other post on the ways hot yoga encourages the mirage of weight loss on the mat (thanks, sweat!), and the detriment that causes to both yoga and the humans (especially young, female humans) who practice it.

Where to go, then? I turned to Tracy, who has been doing yoga for ages, and ended up at Yoga Centre London, an Iyengar studio with all the features I remembered from Terrill, and more. This year, I’m in a regular Friday class taught by Sue Brimner, and Sue has reminded me of all of the things I learned from Terrill were true but underappreciated in North American yoga practice on the whole:

  • That it’s about many different bodies working in harmony toward their individual needs;
  • That there will be loads of props, and that is part of the pleasure of it;
  • That sometimes – in fact, OFTEN! – we’ll laugh at how hard it is, we’ll laugh at ourselves, and then we’ll try anyway. And then we’ll laugh some more.

My favourite thing about my new practice at YCL is the extent of the accommodation available. Anyone injured, or struggling with chronic pain, is accommodated instantly, and as a matter of course. There are bolsters and planks and trestles and blankets everywhere, and instructors begin each class making sure students in special need have everything required set up perfectly for them. I’ve lost a bit of skin on both elbows recently as a result of bike injuries, and I cannot do a traditional headstand without significant pain. But no problem! YCL has a rope wall, and so I just hang, fully supported, in the inversion instead, sparing my skin the ache and strain. Best of all, we ALL hang sometimes, during our restorative practice weeks, when it’s understood that all of our bodies need a break and a bit of R&R.

And did I mention how much we laugh together? Because bodies are funny old beasts: smelly and gangly and awkward and hard to bend to the will of the titans. Iyengar yoga gets that, and gets that every body deserves the benefits of stretching and strengthening as part of a community of imperfect, normal bodies.

I couldn’t have imagined such a thing when I did my first corporate “flow” 10 years ago – and I just hope the young women in those classes now snoop around a bit, and discover that yoga is so much more than expensive stretchy pants, competitive triangles, and awkward reaches. In fact, that’s not yoga at all.