Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 7: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 7

A few months ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

Read week 5 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/16/book-club-week-5-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-5/

Read week 6 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/21/book-club-week-6-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-6/

Christine

This was a hard chapter for me to get through but that’s my issue, not the author’s problem. I am not the right audience for the discussion at hand.

Chapter 7 was about the motivation, benefits, and mindset for doing endurance events.

I am not wired for endurance events. I am not even wired for considering endurance events.

This may be, in part, due to my ADHD issues with time perception (lots of things already feel endless to me – I don’t need to take on extra ones) but also, I have a visceral negative reaction to the descriptions of the pain and suffering that are part and parcel of these events. I cannot wrap my mind around someone undertaking them on purpose. Even the descriptions make me frustrated and angry.

Is this a logical reaction? No.

Does it make any sense at all? Nope.

Would I try to talk you out of doing an endurance event? Also, no – because that’s your business. However, if you tried to talk to me about an event like that, I would probably have to stop you so you could find someone more positive to talk to about it. I wouldn’t want my issues to put a damper on your excitement and accomplishments.

McGonigal says that that what separates ultramarathons from masochism is context and I am just going to have to take her word on that.

Anyway, all of that being said, there was useful information for me in this chapter.

I appreciated the observation from hiker and author Jennifer Pharr Davis that you don’t have to get rid of pain in order to move forward. This idea has bounced up for me in a variety of contexts in the past and while Pharr Davis is primarily talking about physical pain, it also applies to other types of pain as well. I find comfort in the idea that sometimes you can have challenging circumstances AND still keep putting one foot in front of the other (literally or metaphorically.)

I did feel some connection to adventure athlete Terri Schneider’s discussion of her exploits. She describes how pushing her body to its limits felt joyful and how she felt freed from expectations about how a woman ‘should’ behave. As a martial artist, that resonated with me. I do enjoy a tiring class or belt test and I have definitely felt like I was stepping outside some ‘shoulds’ by taking pride in my punches and kicks.

However, the biggest feeling of connection and resonance for me started when McGonigal was describing her own experiences with wall climbing. Her description of a metaphorical ‘reaching-out’ to others for support when she couldn’t quite muster up her own faith made sense to me. And I enjoyed the resulting discussion of interdependence and how being able to offer and receive help is an added benefit of certain types of exercise.

After gritting my teeth through most of the descriptions (again, this is my issue, not an issue with the writing nor an issue with the people described) I was happy to have found this section at the end that let me relax into familiar territory and ideas that resonated with me.

Catherine

McGonigal explores the mystical world of the ultra-endurance athlete in Chapter 7. The stories chronicle pain, suffering, determination and hope. These are lofty sentiments, sincerely expressed and wholly appropriate to explain the process of achieving super-human feats.

But what about the rest of us? I, for one, don’t plan on running 100 miles, cycling across country in less than 2 weeks (check out the Race Across America if you’re interested), or hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. What is there for me to take away from these stories?

We are many of us endurance athletes, but of a different sort. Committing to a practice of running, swimming, walking, cycling, lifting, playing, training day after day, year after year, is most definitely endurance activity. We deal with aging, injury, illness, natural disaster, job loss, divorce, and depression. Life events can send us into distraction, despair, cynicism, and loss of agency.

Don’t leave yet! Here’s the good part: endurance is all about acceptance and hope. Acceptance that where I am is not the end, but rather a point along a line (maybe an undulating one) that leads me through my relationship with my body. The hope is for completion of segments of that line—new personal bests, recovery after injury or illness, or finding a new normal amidst a backdrop of very non-normal circumstances.

Endurance athletes like those McGonigal talks with strike me as special creatures with niche talents and unusual psychological makeups. They are cool to watch and hear about. For most of us, though, being an endurance athlete looks like life: get up, eat breakfast, put your gear on, pump the tires, and set off. You don’t know what it’s going to look like or feel like. But it’s what you do. That’s endurance to me.

Sam

Again, I liked the stories best. If there’s a reason to read this book, that’s it. There isn’t enough detail here about the studies that are mentioned to satisfy a reader who cares about research. That said, I’m not interested in challenging McGonigal’s claims and the stories are inspirational on their own.

(An aside: If you want a great research book on the topic of sports endurance, read Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I loved it and started reviewing it here and got distracted.)

A confession, while I am not an ultra-marathoner, endurance is in my sports repertoire. I’ve ridden my bike some pretty long distances. I liked that McGonigal’s discussion of ultra-races includes the community and connection aspects of such events. I’d never be tempted to ride my bike alone 660+ kms but I’ve done it lots now as part of the Friends for Life Bike Rally fundraising ride with hundreds of other cyclists. Recently I reviewed a book about a woman who rode around the world and for her, it was global community that sustained her.

But I know that’s not true for all endurance athletes and I wondered if some of the solo sorts might feel left out by this chapter. Cate has blogged here lots about her solo cycling adventures, also major endurance events, and while they’ve never tempted me, I know she’s not alone in craving that kind of radical independence.

Have you been reading along? What did you think? What bits of this chapter spoke to you?

Book Reviews · cycling · food

Book review: Felicity Cloake’s “One more Croissant for the Road” – food and cycling in France

Being in lockdown has left me, like others including Sam, with time to do more of some things, including reading. I’ve always been an avid reader, but in pre-Corona times other “extracurricular” activities occupied more of my free time than they do now. Given the dire situation in the real world, I’ve also given in to the temptation of reading as a form of escapism, and what better way to go somewhere when you can’t go anywhere than a travelogue?

“One more Croissant for the Road” caught my eye one day early in the lockdown as I was looking for a light and joyful read. The premise is extremely enticing: Felicity Cloake, a British food writer, decides to explore the culinary joys of France over a summer. She picks out 21 classic French dishes and decides to visit each one at its place of origin… by bike. The result is a highly entertaining dash across the country and a lot of eating, some of it – but not all – delicious. From Boeuf Bourguignon to Tarte Tatin, Felicity Cloake makes it her mission to try all of it, often on several occasions. In between, her trusty green bike and bright yellow panniers battle many a hill and zoom along many a country road (and some dual carriageways, too). All of it is interspersed with a second quest, that for the perfect 10/10 croissant.

It’s definitely more food than sports-focused, but One more Croissant for the Road makes for great quarantine reading. In addition to her light and humourous writing, Felicity Cloake includes recipes for each dish, so you can expand your lockdown cooking adventures if that’s your jam (see what I did there?) and you can manage to source the ingredients.

If you want to know more, here’s the official blurb from the publisher.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 6: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 6

A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

Read week 5 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/16/book-club-week-5-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-5/

Catherine

Chapter 6 of McGonigal’s book is about how nature helps us get out of our own heads and into a different state of mind. She cites E.O. Wilson on biophilia, who defines it as a hard-wired instinct that’s key to human happiness. Wilson says, “the emotions that modern humans tend to feel in nature—awe, contentment, curiosity, wanderlust—contributed to early humans’ ability to thrive as a species that had to find its place in a complex and constantly changing landscape”.

As I read this chapter about the feelings of transcendence, connection, care and contentment that immersion in nature brings, I can’t help but notice how distant those feelings are now. Parks and green spaces and beaches and wilderness areas are closed. And rightly so; when the governor of Florida re-opened beaches for socially-distanced recreation, crowds of people thronged the shores.

Does McGonigal have something to offer us for accessing the transformative powers of nature in these sequestered days? Yes. She describes how astronauts on the International Space Station all perked up around their new crewmember Rose, a spouted zucchini plant that one astronaut carefully nurtured from seed. NASA now recommends gardening in space as a psychological balm against the artificiality of space travel.

Yesterday I spent some time tending to my house plants, watering and pruning and staking and planning for repotting. I’m also starting an herb garden on my back porch. For me, caring for things live and green cuts down on the whingeing and promotes a quieter, softer mind state.

Walking through our neighborhoods, noting the developing buds and green shoots and flowering flora is a pleasure worth slowing down and taking in. Maybe we need to think of it like athletic training. I’m considering this and will report back.Christine

Christine

When comes to exercising outdoors, my ADHD-related challenges with *starting* an exercise session are compounded. Not only do I have to get myself organized to do the exercise itself, I have to get extra clothing on and I have to be prepared to face whatever weather is happening out there.

(Don’t start with the ‘There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing’ thing with me. I’m not buying it.)

I like to BE outdoors and I like doing outdoor things but, like with many things in my life, I have trouble bridging the gap between wanting to do something and actually starting it.

This is where McGonigal’s Chapter 6 ‘Embrace Life’ is going to come in handy.

This chapter is all about the underlying physiological reasons that exercising in nature is good for us. It’s not just about the movement, it’s not just about nature itself, it’s about the brainspace that we can access when we are exercising outdoors.

She says that in our regular resting-brain state our minds are not quiet, they are, instead, chattering about our social connections – our relationships with others, our place in our own social world. This is not inherently bad (in fact, it is quite useful) but it can create challenges when we are dealing with mental health issues. In nature, however, our resting mental state almost immediately flips to a different sort of consideration. The sights, smells, and sounds of nature draws our attention outwards and we get ‘out of our heads’ and tune into the world around us. We begin to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

That’s the kind of information that can help me get past the challenges of starting.

I know that I feel better in nature – exercising or just being – but having it described in this way is very tangible and helpful. Knowing the specific type of feeling I am seeking (and how to achieve it) can be another little push in the direction I want to go.

I was also very intrigued by her descriptions of groups who do gardening/landscaping/outdoor work for their exercise and how they can be motivated by seeing their progress…that there is a visible difference in their space from the time they start to the time they finish. This ties in nicely with another struggle of mine – not being able to see how the pieces add up to the whole.

One of my challenges with consistent exercise is that it is hard for me to recognize that any given single session will add up to a greater whole of increased fitness. There’s not often a tangible, positive result from a single workout so it is hard to convince myself that there is any point to a given session (Yes, intellectually, I know the difference but it’s not my intellect that is front and centre when I am trying to convince myself to put on my sneakers.)

So, this chapter has me wondering two things –
1) How can I regularly remind myself that exercising outside will give me that expansive ‘unity sensation’ that I enjoy?
2) How can I add that element of tangible, visible results to my exercise activities?

Chapter 6 is an interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking chapter and I will definitely be able to make good use of the information it contains.

Sam

I’ve decided I like this book best when I ignore two things: brief descriptions of theory without enough detail to determine if they are actually backed up by studies–that’s not the kind of book this is, and also the analogies with drugs and drug use–that’s not the kind of person I am, though clearly the author thinks lots of people will find it useful to think of exercise that way. Not me.

What I do love though are the stories. This chapter has some great stories about our connection to nature and the implications for human happiness, especially when it’s outdoor exercise in green environments.

I loved reading about emails to Melbourne’s trees. Melbourne gave 70,000 trees email addresses so people could report on their condition and instead, or in addition, people all over the world wrote letters to the trees themselves. See People from all over the world are sending emails to Melbourne’s trees.

I enjoyed reading about the author’s difficult decision about what to do with her elderly, ailing cat and how it was all made easier by a walk in nature with her partner that put things in perspective.

New to me too are Green Gyms, a program in the UK that combines, exercise, outdoor activity and caring for the outdoor environment. “Green Gyms are fun and free outdoor sessions where you will be guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. Unlike other conservation projects, the emphasis is very much on health and fitness – volunteers warm up and cool down in preparation for a range of light to vigorous activities to suit all abilities.”

This appeals to me because I am often struck by how compartmentalized our lives are and how something as simple as gardening ticks a bunch of well-being boxes (outside, and everyday movement, and maybe even vegetables at the end).

Like Catherine, I’m thinking about the outside lots these days as I’ve moved even my bike riding to inside. I have wistful canoe camping thoughts and while it might be a very long time before I am back inside a restaurant or a mall, I want to get back into the wild as soon as possible. Heck, I am looking forward to eating outside in the evenings in our backyard as soon as it’s warm enough.

Also, I plan to garden. Wish me luck!

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 5: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 5

A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

This week is just Catherine and Christine chiming in. I’m too swamped!

Catherine

In Chapter 5, McGonigal writes about overcoming obstacles, generally by plowing over or through them. For the record, I have no interest doing a Tough Mudder competition. Ever. Any athletic event that involves even mild electrocution is not for me. I know whereof I speak, having zapped myself and blown several fuses in my house once with an ill-tempered hairdryer.

I can relate, though, to willingly embarking on a physical adventure where at some point you just take a deep breath and say, f**k it, here I go. My first scuba diving trip was just like that. I jumped off the boat into 15 meters of cobalt blue water, having no idea what would happen. There was terror at first, followed shortly by “hey, look at that pretty blue fish. Oh, look, there’s another one. I’m think I’m going to go follow them now”. I can’t convey how proud and thrilled I was for having lept into the wild blue water.

McGonigal’s exploration of the idea of high terror/low horror experiences is intriguing, and helps explain the appeal and payoff that comes from extreme events like Tough Mudder. However, I don’t think this idea applies to confronting serious physical challenges like recovering from or adapting to severe injuries. She relates inspirational success stories of people who trained at an adaptive fitness gym. They and their trainers set very difficult goals, and when they finally reach them, they get to post a message on the Wall of Greatness.

Not everyone in physical therapy or training is going to meet those goals, though. Sometimes overcoming obstacles means figuring out ways around them. One of my favorite mountain bike ride leaders Bill, who rides everything elegantly, always reminded us that “every mountain bike comes fully equipped with a hiker”. Some obstacles you commit to confronting and riding through or down or up. Other times, you get off and walk your bike around them.

McGonigal reminds us of the glorious feelings we can have in our bodies from doing, watching, witnessing and trying to master arduous physical tasks. I have reveled in such moments. Right now, they’re not resonating so much. Maybe it’s because we’re in the midst of Coronavirus time. I’m biding my time, moving my body in my local environment, keeping some resources in reserve. There will be “Cowabunga!” moments in my future. I’ll reread this chapter again when I’m ready for one.

Catherine

 Overcoming Obstacles

I am getting so much out of this book and it is meeting my need for certain key types of information that might help me work with my ADHD (instead of against it!) and become even more consistent with exercise. The (sort of) downside is that the information is wrapped in big ideas and big personal concepts that take a while to unpack and that kind of thinking doesn’t lend itself to a weekly review. So, I haven’t been covering everything that I want to cover each week but I suspect that I will be circling back to this book in future monthly posts.

The ideas in Chapter 5 – Overcoming Obstacles are definitely examples of the situation I am describing above. There is lots of great information in here but digging deep into how it applies to me and how it will help me will take a lot more thinking. So this isn’t all I will have to say on this topic!

Overcoming Obstacles is all about motivation, encouragement, and hope. She describes all kinds of different scenarios that illustrate the key components of activities and programs that support people to persevere and push themselves (in useful ways) towards the goals they have set for themselves. The personal stories are inspiring in themselves but her information about *why* they work is especially valuable.

In fact, the way that McGonigal handles stories is one of my favourite aspects of this book. Not only does she share individual stories as examples but she also refers frequently to people’s storytelling capacity, and to the stories they tell themselves as they proceed through their lives. As a storyteller and a life coach, I LOVE these references. In some cases, they confirm information that I already use in my practice and in others they expand it in new directions – it’s great!

I really enjoy the way in which McGonigal discusses the mental challenges involved in preparing for and completing physical challenges. Too often, the mental work of exercise is dismissed or lumped into ‘Grit’ or ‘Just set your mind to it!’ Obviously, grit and determination play a role in the mental effort required but it is much more complex than that (especially for those of us who are not neurotypical) and I appreciate the ways in which she addresses the thinking required to accomplish physical tasks.

Book Club · Book Reviews · cycling · fitness

This Rode I Ride (A very short book review)

I decided as part of my own #StayingAtHome that I’d try to get some more reading done.

I picked up This Road I Ride: Sometimes It Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself, a book I ordered after seeing it recommended by cyclists in various cycling Facebook groups of which I’m a member. Maybe it was Cyclists over 50? I can’t quite remember. Life these days feels a bit of a blur.

The book certainly tells an engaging story. It’s a story of Julianna Buhring, a woman who loses a loved one and sets out to set the women’s record for riding around the world on a bike. There are a few striking things about the book and Buhring’s story. It’s a gripping read. Lots of people talk about having read it all in on go and I can see that.

Buhring wasn’t a cyclist when she started to train for the journey on her hybrid commuting bike and she only started riding a real road bike just 10 days before she left. She wasn’t an athlete in the sense of having a sports/fitness background and yet she managed to ride 18,000 miles in 152 days. Even as she’s riding across various countries she still doesn’t sound like someone who is a member of the cycling community.

Instead the community that supports her trip–with subsistence needs like food and shelter and emotional support–are other former members of the cult in which Buhring grew up. She connects with them all over the world.

I talked about this book and the Joy of Movement which we are group reviewing here on the blog at a meeting of an International Silent Reading Book Club organized by fellow cyclist and blogger Todd Tyrtle. You can read about that here.

Now I want to read more about Buhring’s childhood in the Children of God cult. That book is called Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed by Those They Trusted.

My review is pretty short:

You can read more in this review from Kirkuk Reviews here:

“When Buhring (co-author: Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed, 2007) met adventurer Hendri Coetzee, she was working as a “quasi-missionary” for the Children of God in Kampala, Uganda. The two were immediately and powerfully attracted to one another, and for the next several years, they maintained an intense connection despite the distance that separated them. In 2010, just as Buhring (now an ex–cult member) was nearing her 30th birthday, Hendri was killed on an African kayaking expedition. More grief-stricken than she had ever been in her life, the author realized she needed to do something to save herself “or be swallowed up by the profound melancholy I was drowning in.” So she set herself a goal: to travel around the world by bicycle. She had no training and no sponsorship, yet within a year and a half, she gained both. Leaving her home in Naples, Italy, Buhring began her journey in the United States. Traveling against fierce headwinds, she cycled between Boston and Seattle, averaging 175 miles per day. After losing her way in New Zealand, she was forced to traverse—without a map or functioning GPS—through icy, mountainous terrain. She crossed the deserts of Australia and then made her way through Malaysia, Thailand, India, Turkey, and finally Italy. Hunger, illness, and the threat of equipment failure dogged her, as did moments of doubt and fear. As grueling as the journey was, however, ex–cult friends and strangers she called her “road angels” gave her the journey-affirming aid she needed. Buhring’s book is a testament to the human will to overcome and survive as well as a moving portrait of a woman on a deeply personal quest to define the meaning of her life.A searching, engaging memoir from an author who “can be at home no matter where…in the world.”

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 3: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 3

A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Catherine

Chapter 3 of McGonigal’s book is about Collective Joy, which it would be safe to say is in short supply these days. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

McGonigal tells stories that are likely familiar to many of us about the experiences of groups of people who are moving together. Some of them are moving in unison, like rowers or performing dancers. Others are moving at the same time, like yoga students. And, there are times when people are moving in their own ways for the same occasion, intentionally at the same place—like cyclists or kayakers or people dancing at a party.

What comes out of these collective movements? McGonigal describes the feelings in a bunch of ways:

Total attunement
Collective effervescence
Synchrony
Kinesthetic of togetherness
Muscular bonding

The idea is this: when we move together with others, we feel connected to them in a physical, visceral way—we have the physical sensation of being part of a larger whole. And these sensations do yummy things to our brains and bodies and psyches. They make us feel good, naturally, but they also promote cooperation with others. They may even be protective– physically and psychologically. McGonigal uses great examples of the sounds of people marching in unison and musk oxen circling in response to wolves to illustrate the power of joining with others to create a larger, more powerful collective being.

There’s more (this was my favorite chapter so far and is definitely worth checking out), but: given that joining big groups and merging to become a unified whole is most definitely contraindicated now, is there anything for us to use here and now?

Yes, I think there is. McGonigal talks about virtual togetherness through apps and even jogging drone buddies. But I’d like to share with you my experience of virtual synchrony these days.

I’m doing zoom yoga classes three times a week now—there’s no barrier to me getting to class, as my yoga mat is in the living room. It continually surprises and pleases me how much I’m getting from these classes. Each instructor creates their own atmosphere, and I feel connected to them and also to the other students. We all chat a little before and after class, but that content isn’t the most important thing. It’s the reminder that we are all part of this studio, doing this yoga practice, at this time and in our shared virtual space.

Last Friday, during Flow and Meditate class, our teacher Alex commented that it seemed like half the class was in need of burning off some extra energy and the other half needed a nap. He could tell this from tuning into us on our screens, and he adjusted our session to give some extra movement options for those with jittery feelings, and then did a soothing restorative exercise at the end. I felt seen, accepted, connected to him and the other students, and part of a supportive whole.

I hope all of us can find some collective attunement, synchrony and even effervescence now. Reading this chapter reminded me that it’s accessible, which is just what I needed to hear.

Christine

This was a weird chapter to read in this time of social distancing and vague, pervasive sorrow but it did give me hope.

‘Collective Joy’ is all about how synchronized movement with a group brings us joy and builds our connection to one another. McGonigal moves through a variety of examples – everything from dancers to groups of joggers to army drills- to illustrate how moving in rhythm with others creates group cohesion and creates a sense of individual and collective well-being.

I was especially intrigued by how people described participating in these group activities, the sense that they weren’t just an individual participating but they were part of a greater whole – something bigger than themselves. Moving as a group gave them a sense of belonging and built trust within the group..

The descriptions resonated with my own experiences in Taekwondo and Nia and in leading action songs in Girl Guides. The scientific explanations for the specific type of connection and happiness that develops during these activities was very satisfying.

As I said above, it was a bit disconcerting to be reminded of all of the good feelings that those connections bring right now. It made me long to get back into the second row of black belts in my TKD class, with Mr. James to my right and Ms. Gathercole to my left and Mr. Power in front of me and work our way through our patterns under the direction of Master Downey or Master D.

This chapter has left me very thinky, wondering how to apply this new knowledge of movement, connection and community-building in the various contexts of my life. How can I help people find more of that joyful feeling? What can I add to my classes, my coaching, and my volunteer work to help people feel that sense of belonging?

At the end of this chapter, McGonigal says that some people have a ‘prosocial’ orientation to life and are more easily able to synchronize with others*. Judging by where my mind went with this information, I suspect that I am one of them.

*Even though I have written before about my challenges with coordination, I ‘tune in’ to other people’s simple movement patterns quite naturally. The trick for me to stop thinking about it and just let my body do its work.

Sam

This is my favourite chapter so far. But it was hard not to start mourning for hot yoga classes, Aikido classes, and group bikes rides.

I’ve had the most joy and done my best work in groups, whether that’s team time trials in the cycling world, being one of four people in a rowing scull, or playing defense in soccer. Cycling and rowing are the most alike. In both sports you match your cadence and effort to the people near you. I can always do more as part of a group. I am looking forward to getting back into group sporting events and training when we’re on the other side of this pandemic.

But it’s also made me realize why my Zoom and Zwift connections are so important. Community can take many forms. It’s not the same of course but riding in a group on Zwift is enough alike group riding in the real world of cycling that the time flies by.

I loved this chapter and I plan it read it again when we’re on the other side of the covid-19 pandemic.

Book Club · Book Reviews · cycling

Virtual Sam: On Zwift and other online communities

If you’ve been thinking about riding virtually, now is a great time to try it out. I’m not going to get into argument about the pros and cons of riding outside versus inside in these days of #StayingAtHome and #PhysicalDistancing. Probably during the pandemic and the associated restrictions on movement and activities, I’ll do a bit of both. But for me, right now, I’m saving far and fast for Zwift.

Recently as you might have imagined there have been record numbers of riders on Zwift. This is the month in Canada when most bike clubs start riding outside but all the bike club rides are cancelled. If you want to ride in a group, you’re going to need to find a virtual group. Lately I’ve been riding with the Swarm. See Sam goes SWARM-ing! . And I’ve been thinking about how much group rides there resemble group rides in the real world.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, what is Zwift? (from Wikipedia)

Zwift is a massively multiplayer online cycling and running videogame and physical training program that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world...Zwift allows players to ride their bicycles on stationary trainers while navigating through six virtual worlds (Watopia, Richmond, London, Innsbruck, Yorkshire, and New York – a seventh world, Bologna, is available for certain time trial events, and an eighth, Crit City, is available for short, criterium-style, races). Players may cycle freely around the game world and join organised group rides, races or workouts with other users. Zwift uses ANT+ or Bluetooth Low Energy technologies to transmit data that, in combination with athlete weight and equipment choices, is used to convert the athlete’s efforts as speed and power (watts). “Smart” trainers, which include a built-in power meter, permit accuracy in the measurement of watts as well as enabling an immersive technology experience, where resistance is applied or lessened to simulate the gradient encountered on the virtual course. Zwift estimates the power of users on conventional trainers via the user’s cadence and the power curve of a wide range of specified trainers.”

What’s to like, as a woman cyclist, is that it’s becoming relatively easy to find women to ride with. Also, it’s easy to find groups riding at just about every speed. If you’re a road cyclist on the slower side, don’t panic, there are lots of people riding in Zwift at your pace. There are groups for over 50s and groups for people just getting into riding and groups for people who want to learn how to race. It’s a little mind boggling how many options there are. That’s the advantage of connecting with thousands of riders all over the world. If it’s a thing that’s accessible to you financially, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Peleton might be the pandemic bike of choice for people who want a community of spin classes. But Zwift is the pandemic cycling option for people who want to join a community of cyclists.

When I ride on Zwift on my own, I tend to go fast (for me). I like the sprint segments. But for all sorts of reasons it’s good to go slow. In real life, I vary my speed by riding with different groups of cyclists. Now that I’ve discovered group rides on Zwift I can do that there too. I’m learning to moderate my pace and group ride virtually. Zwift is realistic enough that I have the same issues–zooming ahead downhill, for example. As in the real world, I’m learning not to wear myself spending too much time at the front. I’ve also just now learned how to play with Zwift’s interactive features–waving, giving fellow riders “ride-ons” and using the chat functionality. All of sudden, look, here’s me chatting with strangers on the internet. Weird. But there it is.

Do you ride in Zwift? Are there groups you like? Any social rides or training rides you recommend? Let us know.

And speaking of virtual communities and chatting with strangers on the internet, I also took part in an online, international book club this weekend, organized by my friend Todd Tyrtle. “Todd finds ways to connect with other humans – probably more than he was before the pandemic and organizes an international book club that you, too, can join.” Read Life Moves Online.

I talked about the book we’re reviewing here, see Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1 and about a book that I’m reading to review for the blog called This Road I Ride.

Here’s our Zoom meeting of the book club!

Book Club · Book Reviews

Book Club on pause for a week while we all adjust to working from home!

A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

We’re taking a pause this week because of COVID-19 and its impact on our lives and yours too.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1

Welcome to our virtual book club! You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

The Joy of Movement

Here’s our thoughts about Chapter One “The Persistence High” and we look forward to hearing what you thought about it in the comments section below.

Sam

I’m so glad we’re reading a happy book. These aren’t easy times and I need something positive and uplifting to sustain me. Kelly McGonigal describes her book as a “love letter to exercise.” The theme of the book are the connections between exercise and happiness. Chapter One looks at the “persistence high.”

McGonigal doesn’t call it “runners high” but that’s the thing she’s talking about. I confess that while running (and riding) make me smile, as a person who doesn’t use mood altering drugs I hate the “high” talk. I confess I kind of glossed over McGonigal’s discussion of “exercise induced endocannabinoids” and went straight to the social bonding material.

The second part of Chapter One discusses the connection between exercise-induced euphoria and social bonding. McGonigal likes that idea that being physically active can enhance co-operation and help us extract even more joy from working as a team or helping others (30). There are some lovely examples of people who run as part of a group and feel better for both the running and the social connection. Her theory is that the good feelings of exercise enhance the social pleasures of sharing and co-operating. Regular exercise allows for more feelings of closeness and connection, companionship, and belonging.

Does this seem right to me? It certainly matches my experiences of group riding, group exercise in CrossFit communities, team rowing, canoe trips with friends and family and so on. But I am, by temperament, a social exerciser. I liked this chapter but I wondered about my friends who are solitary distance cyclists (hi Cate!) or who like to run ultramarathons and who train many hours alone, because that’s the why they like it.

I’ll confess that the academic in me also wanted more studies and footnotes. But it’s not that kind of book and that’s okay.

Christine

I confess, I was predisposed to like Joy of Movement. Two of McGonigal’s previous books ‘The Willpower Instinct’ and ‘Yoga for Pain Relief’ are in view while I type this. I like her writing style and I enjoy the way that she makes connections between ideas.

So, when I received an email promoting ‘Joy of Movement.’ I literally squealed.

If you read our posts for Nia Shanks’ ‘100 Day Reclaim,’ you know that I am puzzling out why it is so hard for me to be consistent with exercise and what part my ADHD plays in that challenge.

I found some very useful tools in Shanks’ book and, even just 62 pages in, I am finding some very satisfying ideas in McGonigal’s.

While I currently work as a writer/storyteller/life coach, the questions and interests that led me to my career are rooted in my anthropology/archaeology degree. I am interested in people, how we connect, how we work together, how all of our current patterns came into being over time.

So, McGonigal’s interconnected discussion of human evolution, social connections, and physiology and how they all play a role in the joy of movement is exactly my kind of thing.

A few challenges:

Like, Sam, I am a bit wary of some of the language in the discussion of a ‘runner’s high’ but I found the section very intriguing and useful.

I am also wary of how people might interpret the discussion of the Hadza, an African hunter-gatherer group, and see them as some sort of mythical ideal rather than as an example.

McGonigal avoided this pitfall and warned us against some aspects of it. However, I have taken too many anthropology classes that cautioned against the risk of idealizing another cultural group (it’s an easy trap to fall into) so I kept wondering about the possibilities of that as I read.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about whether someone whose movement is restricted would be upset by some of the ideas in the introduction. I understand (and am thrilled by) the fact that this book is about finding the joy in movement. However, some of the statements in the first chapter about how movement is our only way of interacting with the world and about how movement is connected with the most basic human joy did make me think about how those concepts would affect someone who is unable to move. Obviously, one book is not going to meet the needs of all audiences and, of course, McGonigal will expand and explain her ideas throughout the book, so this is just a question and not at all a condemnation.

The great stuff:

Those things aside. are some of the ideas in the book that resonated for me, so far:

Movement strengthens our feelings of community – I am thoroughly intrigued by the idea that the ‘feel-good’ results of certain intensities of exercise carry over into a desire to connect with other humans. And, the fact that she gets into a discussion of how things like sharing food and putting in a group effort further builds our sense of community makes this thread of ideas useful for me as writer, as a storyteller, and as a coach, in addition to how it helps me think about exercise.

A runner’s high is actually a ‘persistence high’ – Even though I struggle to be consistent, being persistent is one of my strengths. Once I get started, I can and will keep going until the task is done. (For someone with ADHD, this can lead to other challenges, but let’s stick with the positive here.) So, this idea that my persistence, when consciously applied to exercise could have even more rewards, is very inspiring. I’m very interested in the concept of additional physiological/psychological rewards for our movement efforts and the fact that it may have an evolutionary basis.

‘Continuous Moderate Intensity’ is the goal for feeling good – I know that short bursts of intense exercise can be good for me and that I sometimes enjoy them. However, I have trouble making myself start a high intensity session. Reading McGonigal’s information about the psychological benefits of continuous moderate intensity reminds me of the fact that I need to be exercising for about 10 minutes before it starts to feel good. I regularly forget that fact so this reminder, grounded in a kind of scientific discussion that is familiar to me, is helpful and motivating.

Group effort, personal effort, and feeling good- One of the examples that McGonigal uses to illustrate her ideas is a gym in London that is structured around its members doing collective good with their exercise. They run together toward the site for a community project, or their individual runs take them to visit someone who need their help and company.

One of my most satisfying days recently was the day I spent helping to shovel people out after a storm. I worked with various groups to excavate people’s cars and driveways and by the end of the night I had plenty of activity minutes, lots of energy, and the great feeling of a job well done.

Given my schedule, I can’t always do group projects like that but I have been looking for ways to do it more regularly. This section of the book put me right back into that ‘helping out’ feeling and reminded me that I have to keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Collective Goal – At another point in this chapter, McGonigal mentions a person in a spin class who feels like everyone in the class is working toward a collective goal. I love the idea of that and it matches my experience with Taekwondo – one of the few places in the world where you would say ‘nice work’ to someone who has just kicked you in the head. I’m really interested to explore how the positivity of a collective goal shows up for me in other forms of exercise and how I can use it for motivation.

There are many more useful and enjoyable pieces of the book, of course, but my section of this review is already a bit too long so I am going to leave it at that.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of Joy of Movement.

Catherine

Before I get started properly, I want to say how fun it is to read a book with others, commenting and reading others’ comments along the way. It motivates me to keep going and keep reading and writing—my own form of a “persistence high” that McGonigal talks about.

Like Sam, I don’t like the use of the word “high”, both for the reasons she gives, and also because I don’t experience what I would call a “high”. It’s rather a feeling of relaxing into the pleasure of the activity. When I used to train for bike races (more than 10 years ago), I found that 23 minutes into my workout on my bike trainer, all of a sudden I’d notice a drop in heart rate while expending the same effort. I noticed this outside as well. These days, it takes longer—probably 30—35 minutes— but I start to feel lowered anxiety, more relaxation, more pleasure, and less effort to go the same speed. It tends to persist, with some shifts with stronger efforts, but then the pleasure comes back in abundance. I find myself laughing after big efforts, and laughing while flying down hills. Is that what McGonigal is talking about? Maybe.

Her discussion of the ways we benefit by doing physical activity in groups was familiar and encouraging. However, the GoodGym group was doing a bunch of activities that account for the feelings of bonding, connection, self-satisfaction, etc. Any of us at any level of physical ability will benefit from volunteering in groups, helping others, working to improve the environment and providing services for those in need. Like Christine, I felt like people with physical limitations would feel less included in this section. I look forward to reading more, in part to see what McGonigal will have to say about movement and activity for all.

One more comment: I would also liked to have seen some study references, but I know it’s not that kind of book. In 2017, I wrote a post called Running is Contagious? It depends on who and where and when you are. (https://fitisafeministissue.com/…/running-is…/)


It cited a study that showed asymmetric patterns of motivation among runners’ groups. In short, when a slower runner reported a run, it motivated a faster runner in a group to go running, but not the other way around. Paying attention to the social dynamics of our activity groups may be just as important as belonging to them. But, I am getting ahead of myself and ahead of McGonigal, too. Let’s see what she has to say next week.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Chapter One? Let us know in the comments below.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Join the Fit is a Feminist Issue Book Club!: We’re reading The Joy of Movement

Joy of Movement

We’re reading a new book and we’re inviting you to join us!

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

When do I get started? Reading? I’d recommend this weekend! Commenting? We’re starting Tuesday, March 10th. Our review post will usually goes live at 2 pm EDT.

Is it a good book? Actually, we don’t know yet. We’re reading it week-by-week with you. It *looks* like a good book. That’s why we chose it! But we’ll see.

Feel free to drop in or drop out at anytime. This is a fun, informal gathering of feminist friends interested in reading books about fitness. If you’re interested, let us know in the comments to this post.

We’d also appreciate suggestions of other books to read and review as we go.