This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.
A few weeks ago I went to my mother’s Nia class with her. I like trying new things. Especially ones that ask me to move my body. I was inspired, too, by Tracy’s report on her new SUP on this blog. I didn’t have any good idea about what Nia was. I had gleaned that it was something dance-y, with maybe a dash of martial arts. Yes. And more. I’ll get to that. I also assumed that it wouldn’t be too challenging physically. After all, my mother, who is vigorous but in her 70s, does the class. I imagined it peopled with other women her age. I imagined it would be a dawdle. Nope.
I go to a lot of new-to-me movement studios. One of the first things I do when I’m traveling somewhere is research my workout options (besides running) for while I’m there. Going to a studio in a new city is a fun way to check out the vibe of the whole town. On occasion I’ll look back through the studios that pop up on my Mindbody app, reminding me of some of the places I’ve been—yoga in Asheville, Toronto and Boulder; spinning in Phoenix, Calgary and Portland; aerial in Reno and Paris, plus rowing and SLT in New York. Susan Meehan’s Nia class in London, Ontario is one of the friendliest, warmest new places I’ve ever been.
I was still nervous. I don’t go to dance classes terribly often. I’m a bit awkward, and I’ve never been good at following choreography. I get self-conscious about my lack of grace. In this case, I added the extra fear of being a disappointing daughter, all elbows and knees. To be clear, that’s a self-generated thought, not anything my mother says!
First thing I noticed—the age range in the class seemed to go from mid-thirties through well into the seventies. I revised my expectations around anticipated exertion. The class started quickly, which I like because it keeps me focused. I was a couple of beats behind for most of the class, but the sequences repeated enough times that I started to catch the groove. Nia is indeed dance-related, plus martial arts, plus women’s empowerment, plus root-chakra-flirt, plus wild and free, plus a red face and a fast heartbeat. And a whole lot of sassy booty.
That’s another thing I’m not good at: inhabiting the traditional sexy-hips-and-shoulder moves. They feel false in my body, like something put on to please other people, not myself. I feel sexy when I’m just home from a strong run, or striding across town in my favourite green velvet boots. Have I mentioned the Nia outfits? Love them. Pants that widen outrageously below the knee, possible ribbon adornment, sleeveless off the shoulder on one side and sheer on the other. That’s just what I witnessed at the class I went to. This is a workout with fashion flair potential.
The class also included a portion of free dance, or really free-to-move-however. I relish any opportunity to let my body climb inside some music and see what happens; so energizing. By the end of the class, despite my various bits of fear, I was sweaty and limber, and my heart felt big and full.
Will I go to Nia now that I’m home in New York? I’m not sure. I’d have to give up one of the other workouts I love so much. But just knowing that I have it as an option in my back pocket is great; for a day I might need a bit of vavavoom. And I have a workout for with my mum.
How about you—any Nia practitioners? Or other saucy workouts you suggest?
I have talked here before about how badly I do running uphill. I could run downhill, I could run on a flat course, but uphill – no, no, and no. But since I was told that the only way to improve my uphill endurance was to… run uphill, I’ve been working on my hills, and while I still haven’t been enjoying them, things have been looking a bit better of late.
I had previously entertained the thought of running to work on several occasions. The problem was: I work up a very steep hill, and I never thought I could actually do it. It was the sort of idea that would float into my head only to be immediately dismissed as completely unrealistic. I had visions of myself arriving at the office completely exhausted (if at all) and being essentially useless for the rest of the day. Check out the elevation profile of my commute to get an idea of what I was up against:
Then, a month ago, I tried trail running at a mountain sports festival and unexpectedly enjoyed it a lot more than I ever thought I would. I had been quite nervous about even attending the workshop because I was afraid I’d be “that person” holding back the entire group and making a sad spectacle out of herself. This was decidedly outside of my comfort zone, so I was very relieved when it turned out the others had similar concerns (and, I will admit, also because I realised that I wasn’t the slowest group member).
But I think what helped the most was the instructor’s explanation of trail running as “basically a mixture of running and walking – you run when you can and you walk when you can’t or the terrain gets too difficult”. It made me feel much better about slowing down for a particularly steep climbs. Part of my problem with hills before was that I would beat myself up about having to walk when the going got too tough. Walking was “not allowed” in my mind. But all of a sudden, walking was allowed, nay, encouraged. I felt more at ease about those hills immediately.
After that first positive experience with trail running, it was only a question of time until I attempted my first run commute – the time it took for my little trail running backpack to be delivered. When it finally arrived (I wanted a very particular one and it took a while to get here), I decided to try it out right away. The day before, I took an extra outfit to work and left it in the closet in my office for the next day, and the following morning I suited up in my running outfit and backpack. I carried some water, my glasses, keys, and a small makeup bag with the bare necessities to make myself look presentable for a day at the office. Luckily we have showers at work, so that wasn’t going to be a problem.
And the only thing I regret about it was not having run commuted before. It was fantastic! I’ve done it twice now, and the first time I only stopped for a few breaks when I had to check the map on my phone to make sure I was still on course. On the second run, I found a slightly less steep route (actually the one shown in the elevation chart above) and only stopped once to briefly check the map! Granted, the uphill bit is very slow going, but I actually found I could do it without walking. And I was rewarded for it all with a beautiful route along little paths through the woods and gorgeous sunrise views over the river valley.
I’m still optimising the route and my equipment (I ditched the water the second time because I found I didn’t need it), but it feels great to arrive at work with 5k already under my belt and the prospect of breakfast and a coffee while I do early morning emails. Unfortunately, because of the days getting shorter, I anticipate being able to do this maybe another two times this year before it gets too dark in the mornings to run in the woods. I won’t be doing it every day either, since I do other sports on other days, so at the moment once a week seems like a good routine.
I’m really pleased with my new adventure! Sometimes pushing one’s boundaries is just so worth it. I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve pushed your comfort zone when doing exercise. What was holding you back? How did you overcome that? And did you like it when you did?
First, the French Open decides one of Serena’s outfits back in June is cause to tighten up their dress code rules. I wrote about that only a few days ago in Let Women Wear What They Want. Yesterday, the U.S. Open penalized Alize Cornet for oh-so-briefly taking off her shirt during a match.
Have women’s bodies become so hyper-sexualized that we (okay, really men) can’t even see a woman’s sports bra without coming apart at the seams? Watch the video. Alize’s shirt is off for less than thirty seconds. On a break, she had changed out of a sweat-soaked dress. She accidentally put her fresh shirt on backwards. I’m in New York City. I can attest to just how blistering the heat is. Riding at 6 a.m. with a friend this morning, we felt like we needed amphibious bikes to wade through the stifling humidity. I start sweating just looking out my window at the sunshine.
We are super-saturated by media images of women in their scanties. Are you as tired of Victoria’s Secret billboard cleavages as I am? The more we sexualize women in the media, the less room there is for women to be comfortable in their bodies and in their strength.
Meanwhile, no surprise, the male tennis players are sitting around without their shirts on whenever they feel like it.
The powers-that-be blather on about respecting the sport as an excuse to sanction women. The women ARE respecting the sport. Now let’s give the women the respect they deserve!
Many of us here at Fit is a Feminist Issue have long appreciated Kathleen Wynne — the Ontario premier who soundly lost the election on Thursday — as an example of mid-life female strength of all kinds, including her identity as a runner. My friend Joanna wrote a powerful open letter to Kathleen about her impact as a role model, and I wanted to share it with the FiFI community, even though it’s technically not about fitness. It’s very much about female strength ;-).
You won’t remember me, but we met a few times when you visited Overland Learning Centre. I’m writing to thank you for your service.
Watching you, I had the chance to see true leadership in action. I learned so much from observing you collaborate and problem solve and sow the seeds of political engagement in the new generation. This has made me bolder and clearer in my own goals, and it’s inspired so many other women as well.
These past few weeks have been the bravest I’ve ever seen you. It must have been unbelievably difficult, but what you did was so valuable to the rest of us. It’s really important to show other women how to be strong in the face of defeat. Of course it’s vital that women attain success in fields previously reserved for men – we were over the moon when you became premier – but women also have to learn how not to crumble when they start to slip off that pedestal. As Michelle Obama put it, “I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do, and be okay, because let me tell you, watching men fail up—it is frustrating.”
Over the past few months, you have shown us how to fail badly and be okay. By “be okay,” I mean retain your composure, reaffirm your principles, and always sound like the smartest, most logical person in the room. By meeting failure head-on with unflinching honesty and even some humour, you demystified it, giving us all a little more courage. When we fear failure less, we will be more daring, and glass ceilings everywhere will start to crack.
I wish I weren’t thanking you for this. I wish I were writing to congratulate you on some new triumph, but each story has its own hero. Thank you for being that person.
Joanna Warden is a Toronto language teacher who is reclaiming her inner Social Justice Warrior. She is currently working for the ifp program at the University of Toronto, Overland Learning Centre at TDSB and English Central ESL Resources. She is also the writer of the blog Teacherpants and grandmother to the adorable Ethan.