It’s 9:30 pm on the last Thursday of the month, blog time. I settle in for inspiration. In front of me I see a collection of items artfully displayed. . .four circle bands, three kettle bells, two yoga blocks and a pilates ball on a stand. That sounds like a song but it isn’t. It’s my collection of items to enhance my early morning work outs. It’s located in the room where my dining table used to be, maybe will be again some day. But who needs a dining table when it’s just you and a cat and a dog, hiding from the viral hoards? Strung along the curtain rods are a few hundred orange LEDs. There is a festive banner of skulls adorning the lonely buffet cabinet. In the corner is my most excellent Halloween tree, festooned with little crows and a purple sparkly owl. There’s more, but clearly, I love this time of year and decorate like I have a 5 and a 7 year old, about to scramble up from the basement, put on their pj’s and hop into bed. No, those kids don’t live here any more. They are elsewhere, living with peeps of their kind, watching online lectures and getting their flu shots just like I asked. Is this paragraph chaos? Yes, yes it is. I was going to talk about cake.
I’m still walking, me and the doggo. She is aging so fast. She starts out with something that looks like boundless energy, happy to be alive and free in the cool air, but 5k in, she is slower, quieter, sniffier, conserving her energy, just like me. The vibrant colours are slowly cascading down, brief sparks of red and orange on the ground that fade to brown and mud. Nothing lasts forever. Winter is coming.
Two days to the Witches New Year, a time of sleep-like death or death-like sleep, which one is it? I guess it depends on your perspective. Plant the seeds I want to harvest and let them rest for now. I’m spooked though. Spooked through and through. One week until I help lead a weekend intensive for my students. We used to collect amongst the nearly sleeping trees and a river and a labyrinth and the warmth of camp fires. We’d work hard to hone the craft of listening to others and ourselves. We’d teach the magic healing of relationship and drink too much coffee and stay up too late talking about psychic resonance and souls. Now we will sit motionless in front of screens struggling to feel each other walking no more than 5 meters in either direction, to get a glass of water, to pee, to get a snack. Zoom is, after all, a four letter word. Oh, but the cake, I was going to link this to a cake.
5 days until the world changes, for better or for worse. . .or for nothing. When there is a choice to go for another walk or look at FiveThirtyEight.com, I often make the wrong choice. I want to rest. I want to stop. I’ve been reading the news non stop for 4 long years, looking for an end to it. There never is an end. Four years ago was not the beginning. We are locked in a cycle of hurt and relational trauma played out on a societal scale, century after century. My bones feel heavy with the weight of my oppression and my oppressing. Some dark mornings, while trying to get stronger, my body weight alone is enough to undo me. I know there is more in my heart and history to carry than all the kettlebells in my living room or yours. Oh yes, the cake!
I do have a singular joy that I am planning. A simple, sweet joy. When I was a child, my mother also loved Halloween. She was not spiritual about it, I don’t think she knew she could be, but she was joyous. She would decorate with pumpkin men made of orange yarn and a glow in the dark skull on the kitchen table. We would eat spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner and go out trick-or-treating. When we returned we had dessert, yes, even with all that candy, there was a cake. A Ghost Cake. I have made that cake for my own children more than once and this year in all this lonely darkness, I felt I had to make it again. I’m going to mask up and take it to my mom’s house. We are going to eat spaghetti and meat sauce in our winter jackets on other ends of the room with the windows open and then, I’m going to shut the lights and fire up the eyeballs of my beloved ghost cake. We are going to stuff our faces with it and drink caffeinated coffee and generally not give a flying flipper about what that all means for the next day. We are going to sit with the ghosts and consume this corporal representation, hoping to connect closely again some day, hoping to last long enough to remove the screen and distance. I rode my bike for hundreds of kilometres, I ran a half-marathon, I can deadlift and squat and lunge and ride a horse. I can carry a canoe on my head for quite a distance but I can’t kiss my mother on the cheek. No wonder I want cake. A small comfort. A small hope. A small spark. Just a ghost of one.
I have never been so grateful for a purchase in my life. The first time I started towelling dripping sweat off myself in my own living room, watching it pool on my wooden floor, I realized that the kind of intensity I get from working out hard, inside, on a piece of good equipment, is a unique, important experience in my portfolio of movement.
The bike is a Bowflex C6, which is about the same footprint as a peloton (i.e, unobtrusive), but about half the price (I paid $1399 Canadian, plus tax and a $125 fee + tip for a guy to assemble it for me). The major difference from a peloton is it doesn’t come with any kind of monitor — you connect to an ipad, phone, computer screen or TV with something like appletv. The bluetooth is seamless, and you can connect it to any streaming service that uses bluetooth (or do a virtual class without connecting; there’s plenty of data on the console). And it has an “ERG” mode, which means that with a virtual program like Zwift that enables it, the program will adjust the intensity of the bike automatically.
I love spinning, and I love my local spinning studio. I’ve been very grateful for the outdoor alley spinning Torq has offered through the summer, and I’m glad they’re able to offer a subscription to virtual spinning. I’ll buy the sub and do classes. And — as much as I love Torq — there is something about the relationship I’m carving out between this bike and a self-guided training program in Zwift that is satisfying a deeply personal need to work hard, in my own rhythm, at my own pace, in my own time. It’s something I forgot I needed.
It’s hard to explain why riding a bike inside, alone, in a virtual world, feels so meaningful. Right now, my life is over-scheduled, all mediated through screens and complex needs of a constellation of people. Weeks with literally 17 zoom meetings, several of them 3+ hours, where I’m facilitating all of the groups. It’s draining in a whole new way. And prep and follow up for all of them.
When I’m not in the zoom, you would think I would want to be outside, be with real life (distanced) people. And I do, and I’m walking, running, riding my bike for errands, hoping to spin outside at least one more time before the snow flies. But there is something elemental about working so hard, so focused, so simply, that is giving me access to a deep flow state that I sorely missed in my life. It reminds me of how I used to feel doing long, solo runs during marathon training: wiped out, on the edge, tested in the best ways, restored.
In fact, I’m so alone in my zwifting that on any ride more than half an hour, I’m often wearing the segment jersey, because I’m the fastest woman on the course. Often I’m the *only* woman on the course. But I’ll take the jersey anyway, because I’m working hard.
Fundamentally, Zwift is a simulation, a game and a social platform. I haven’t fully figured it out yet — it’s a massive, popular app, and there are a lot of gear-heady people, and a lot of teams, and many events. But I did figure out right away that the main way I’m going to use it is on my own. I’m so overscheduled that having one more mental timing in my day, one more planned event, is too many. I can’t add “time trials at 4 pm” to my day without something giving. Sam and Sarah have encouraged me to join some of their team events, and other friends have said “lets ride together!” I love that this is possible — and right now, this meditative time, hopping on the bike when the time presents itself for me, safe from traffic, safe from wind, with no timing, pushing myself to the threshold — doing it on my own is deeply restorative.
When I first signed up for Zwift and was figuring out the bike, I realized I needed some sort of vaguely structured program, but one that was completely flexible to my schedule. I came across an 8 week gran fondo training program, and impulsively signed up. (A gran fondo in real life is an organized “big” bike ride, usually a longish distance, but not a race). Right now, I’m in week three of an eight week gran fondo training program and… it’s intense. It’s three 50 – 60 minute rides per week plus a long ride — 56 km and almost two hours last weekend. With spikes for intense threshold intervals.
One of the slightly weird things about the virtual world of Zwift is that even when you’re riding “alone,” you’re in a world with a bunch of other people, from all over the world. Zwift manages the number of worlds available at any given time to create a sense of community — for the most part, anyone riding at that time is riding in one of three worlds. So I’ll be riding along by myself, and suddenly ride through (or be passed by) a peloton of riders. I like the way the avatars apparate (is that a word?) through and past each other, and I also like the Zwift habit of giving and receiving thumbs ups to fellow riders (called “ride on”). I also rode a guy from… somewhere … part of the way through that ride, and my “drafting” him pushed me above my intended threshold for that segment. (I got a little badge for the drafting, and we all know how much I like little badges).
It seems bonkers to enjoy riding for two hours inside my house through a simulated landscape. (I think I was “in” Innsbruck that day). But there’s something incredibly freeing about working this hard with no other inputs — just my body moving, simple intervals — steady, hard, harder, recovery — the sweat dripping onto the floor, and the playlist my niece made for me called “Feel like you can do anything.” I love spinning classes — but the simplicity of this elemental kind of workout is soothing to my world-jangled self like nothing else.
When I finished, I was spent, in the best possible way. I didn’t have to navigate through traffic, or a flat, or getting my bike home, or juggling equipment. The two hours were really two hours, not half an hour getting ready, half an hour driving to the start, 20 minutes stopped at lights, etc. etc. My feet and body didn’t hurt the way they would if I’d run even half that time. Bananas and walnuts were right within reach. My dinner was ready to go on the stove. And I felt “in” my body in a way I rarely achieve.
So yeah, I like the bike. And I know I’m going to be even more grateful for it as the dark and cold descends.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, zooms and spins in Toronto.
On Saturday we did EMOMS in the park. That’s “every minute on the minute” in fitness speak. Before, during, and after, alternating side lunges, push ups, pulse squats to burpees, band rows and bicep curls with sprints (pant!) x 4, the 9 of us greeted each other with the familiarity of a close community. Socially distanced, of course.
In March, I wrote about Community and the Gradual Change of Normal. The world has changed in so many ways since March. For example, we are now at a point in the pandemic where seeing people in TV shows and movies who are close together and not wearing masks, seems weird! Social distancing and mask-wearing for every day activities were not part of most of our experiences before March 2020. There’s a joke going around that says “Today marks 5 years we’ve been in 2020.”
The anxiety of living through a pandemic, regardless of one’s personal situation, is heightened for most people. Many people have lost their jobs, couples have split up, people are struggling with their mental health in a myriad of ways. And we are just at the beginning of the long winter ahead in the northern hemisphere. It’s common knowledge that a sense of community is a vital part of maintaining a healthy outlook. I can confidently state that almost 9 months into this pandemic, the community provided through my workouts with MOVEfitness Club, has helped me maintain some semblance of normal. It’s no secret on FIFI that one of the main the reasons I work out regularly and consistently is to regulate my moods. It’s not just important “that” I work out, but also “how” I work out. Having a day or two with my MOVE community is a vital part of my tool chest. Being amongst other people, with a great coach, always makes me work just a little harder. It’s so important to me that I hope I can bundle up and continue the workouts in the park through most of the winter.
There has been much talk about whether boutique gyms should be open or not. Cate wrote about the importance of local small gyms here. Last week, the Ontario government said that dance studios could open in hot spots. It does make me wonder whether the people making these decisions understand how boutique gyms work in comparison to dance studios. They probably look very similar, in that they have less than 10 people in a class at once. They each have their own work station and they don’t share equipment. They also have to pre-register for classes and are screened for Covid before entering the class. I can say from experience, the classes are typically filled with the same cohort of people, class to class.
I am not going to get into whether boutique gyms should be open inside or not. Even us fitness enthusiasts have slightly differing views about how gyms should look during the pandemic. What doesn’t differ is our love for our community gym. While I have stayed outside since the beginning of the pandemic, I recognize the benefits for others and risk analysis they make, when choosing to go inside. And, if nothing else, a clear, consistent, and fact-based message from our government officials and health experts seems a reasonable request.
What does “boutique gym” mean? For some, “boutique” may sound chic and a little extravagant. But there is nothing extravagant about the sense of community that exists at MOVE. When one first enters MOVE, they may notice the fancy weight rig and the Kiehl’s cosmetic products in the washroom. The longer you stick around, you might be struck by the comfort that members have with each other. You may also notice the encouragement when someone does a lift they’ve never done before or hits a PR. Or the supportive small talk between sets. Not to mention the positive words about women’s strength and focusing on encouraging women to make the most of their own strength rather than on society’s definition of a healthy body. “Boutique” in this sense means community to me.
As someone who never felt comfortable in larger gyms, no matter how confident I felt with my workout, I have found my community in these types of gyms for several years. I have been going to MOVE for about 4 years now and I can say that the ties made with people I work out with on a regular basis, in a smaller setting, are important for my overall well being. Some people may get this benefit from other communities, it doesn’t have to be a fitness one, but for many of us the fitness community is crucial.
In the case of MOVE, it happens to be a women-only space. I didn’t purposely seek out a women-only space. But I do feel that I benefit from the comfort and camaraderie that is found amongst women of varying ages, and varying sexual and gender identities. When I did work out in mixed gender gyms, I felt a little uncomfortable if I had to cut in on the weight rig if there were hyper-masculine men working on the rig. Warranted or not, it is how I felt. Also, I do see value in being among other women testing their strength and stamina. I’ve had women I don’t know all that well give me a (consensual) hug if they overheard me mention someone I love was in the hospital, waves on the street and smiling faces in local stores, that I wouldn’t otherwise experience in a busy urban area.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virtual and outdoor park workouts have kept me connected to this community. While I currently have a Bowflex spinning bike on order, which I am confident will help me maintain my cardiovascular health, along with my running practice (currently excited about the Toronto Women’s 416 Run Challenge – thanks for the tip, cousin Nancy!), I know they won’t replace the positive benefits I derive from my workouts with my community at MOVE.
I am not the only one that feels this way. I have asked Kelly, the owner of MOVE, and a few other women to provide a little bit about what MOVE means to them.
Kelly, 45, says “As a woman in fitness, I am beyond grateful for my less than ideal journey to where I am today. My struggles with all of the toxicity in the fitness space have made me relentlessly focused and crystal clear on what type of experience I need to ensure I provide to women, and what I long to be part of. An experience that holds space for women to focus on becoming strong, empowered and recognizing all that their bodies can be capable of and forgetting the pressure that can have us believe our weight determines our worth. Community for me, means being a part of something that lifts your spirits, shifts your focus to a higher purpose and bring a collective of likeminded humans together, that all long to be part of the same movement.”
Laura, 30, says “MOVE workouts have been so important to me throughout the pandemic. Not only has exercise helped me mentally and physically, being able to see so many amazing women on a regular basis (even if it’s on a screen!) has made me feel connected to the community. I have made great friendships through the gym and getting outside with these women has been such a silver lining this year.
Cate (fellow FIFI blogger and who I met at MOVE), 55, says “For me, the small fitness spaces are a critical part of what makes my neighbourhood vibrant and connected. MOVE, Torq and Mend Physio have all supported the fundraising for the project I run in Uganda, underlining that they understand what’s important to us about community wellbeing in general, not just physical fitness. I understand who is in my neighbourhood and what’s important to them when I show up to local yoga spaces, gyms and spin studios. Their owners live in my neighbourhood, care about their members, support independent shops, and are a essential part of what makes it home.
Lesli, 49, says “Much like my own family, my fitness family is where I feel supported, encouraged, uplifted – it’s where I belong. My MOVE family has meant the world to me over the past four years, but especially during this pandemic. I am beyond grateful to this community for their support of both my physical and mental health. Whether we are coming together indoors, outdoors, or virtually; our connection is strong. We will get through this together as a community/family.
Kristy, 42, says “My workout is a time to get away from the stress of my life (this includes the constant barrage of corona news), move my body, be with like minded people and challenge myself to get stronger and be healthier. They give me a sense of purpose, something constructive to work on as the time slowly passes by. Without them my mood is low, I am not with people, my body doesn’t feel as good. I have to work harder to feel accomplished.
Brittany, 29, says “Since COVID began, prioritizing my mental and physical health has been challenging (as I know it has been for many). While MOVE, the women’s gym I once frequented 3+ times a week, had to temporarily close its physical doors, Kelly and team soon began offering live virtual and outdoor classes. Honestly, I credit the classes and community for keeping me sane these last 8 months.
Whether I take a virtual strength-based class at lunch or an evening class in the park to get my sweat on with ladies I love, it’s a chance to connect, boost my mood on days I need it most, stick to a routine and stay active. Bring on the snow suit, I’m ready to break a sweat outdoors all winter long!!!”
While we prepare for the winter ahead, I (Nicole) think it is a good idea to consider what community means to people and if they are not able to participate in their usual community activities, they may be grieving that loss for good reason. It’s another opportunity to be kind and supportive, even if it’s simply a matter of acknowledging their feelings.
As we all look towards next week and what so many of us hope will be the end of an extraordinary chapter in American history, I find myself reflecting upon the last four years and how my life has been shaped in the face of such tumultuous times. I’ve always considered my work as an educator serving disadvantaged communities to be a form of activism and empowerment, but after the election of Trump, I found myself needing to do more. I got involved in my union, started going to rallies and protests far more frequently, wrote more letters, signed more petitions, spoke out more often, and attended conferences to build my skills, network with other activists, and improve my effectiveness. During this time, I also became a better runner and a more consistent, and stronger, lifter. These two parts of my world, my activism and my fitness, reinforce each other, give me strength, and feed my soul in complementary ways. In no particular order, here are some parallel truths I’ve noted between activism, living an active life and the perseverance, tenacity, and ups and downs of doing the work over the long term.
Everything counts. Do something.
Embrace practices that play to your strengths.
Embrace opportunities to bring up your weaknesses.
It’s never too late, and we’re never too old, to get started.
Focus on what can be done, not on what limits us.
There will be “seasons” to our efforts, which is absolutely ok. In fact, it’s necessary to acknowledge so that we have the energy to keep doing the work over the long haul.
Progress is rarely linear.
Having the time is about priorities and setting boundaries.
Most of our efforts would benefit from getting more high quality sleep.
It’s ok, and maybe even advisable, to specialize for a while and develop “your thing.”
Recovery is just as important as pushing hard.
“Balance” looks like different levels of effort and commitment at different points in time.
Don’t rely on motivation, which can be fickle; instead build routines and habits to keep doing the work when passions recede.
Nothing is more inspiring than finally getting started.
Accountability and community in the form of friends with shared values and shared efforts goes a long way.
A certain amount of discomfort is required in order for there to be growth and change.
Consistency trumps perfection.
Remember this work is a privilege.
Celebrate every victory, regardless of how small. (And then go out and do the next thing.)
And finally–avoid confusing the goal for the work. Even if I lift the weight, run the miles, and hold government officials accountable, the work is not over. Next week, whatever happens on Election Day, the work of my activism will continue. The skills I’ve learned in fitness to push through the hard times, to reprioritize my time as my needs change, and to focus on the process over the outcome have served me well as I’ve shifted my energies and gotten more involved in politics and advocacy. I really want to be on the winning team next week. I’m tired of feeling so angry, and hopeless, frustrated, and scared. My life in fitness has shown me that I can weather whatever challenges face me next, but I’m really ready to take a break from what feels like endless new hurdles and celebrate some victories for a little while! Whatever comes, I raise a glass to all of my fellow activists and the efforts you’ve made alongside me these past four years. It is an honor to do this work with you!
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found organizing fellow educators, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.
On Saturday I volunteered for the first annual KIT for Kids Bike Day, held in Boston. KIT (Keep it Tight bike club) partnered with Hope International MA to create an event where Boston kids got instruction on basic and important bike skills: starting from and stopping at intersections, riding in a straight line, cornering, balance, and coordination over changing conditions.
At the beginning of the clinic, they were all fitted with new bikes and new helmets. At the end of the clinic, they were told that those bikes were theirs to take home.
That’s right. Hope International raised $7K USD to purchase more than 20 bikes. The kids and parents were thrilled. As were all the volunteers.
All the COVID-19 precautions were in place: there was ample hand sanitizer on a table, lots of extra masks for those who needed them, gloves for all the volunteers, and parents were around to help with activities that involved touching the kids (like adjusting helmets, etc.) Everyone wore a mask. Absolutely everyone. Here are some happy and totally mask-compliant kids, modeling good public health hygiene and massive enthusiasm at the same time:
The fun, the frolicking, and the joy of being around a lot of other people felt so, well, normal. Just saying that word feels like a relief, a respite from all we’ve been going through and are going through still.
Back to the clinic: I was partnered with Doug to teach bike balancing skills. That translated into running slow races. If you’re not familiar with this concept, a slow race involves leaving the start line, and then riding as slowly as possible (without touching a foot down on the ground). You don’t have to ride in a straight line, but running into the other cyclists is a no-no. The last person over the line wins.
This is harder than it sounds. But Doug and I demo’ed it, and had the kids try it a few times. Then we lined them up in groups of four to run heats.
Two of the kids were early strong contenders, and were neck-in-neck for the championship.
We had a winner, but the kids weren’t focused on the competition. They were just happy to ride their bikes around and talk to each other. The atmosphere of fun, of normalcy, enveloped everyone there.
For the kids and parents, taking part in this event meant learning some important bike safety lessons, in addition to the infinite delight which a brand-new bike confers. For me and the other volunteers, we got to play our parts in supporting the activities, but also enjoy the mundane and precious pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of kids, doing what they do on a Saturday morning. Yes there were masks, yes there was social distancing. But there was also that feeling of ordinariness, which has been missing from my life for the past 7 months. I really enjoyed that feeling.
Readers: have you had any experiences of this kind of respite from pandemic consciousness lately? I’d love to hear about them.
Ten weeks from now, we will have celebrated the end of 2020 and welcomed the arrival of 2021. Some of us will look at that last page and mark an X across Dec. 31. Goodbye and good riddance to the Year of the Plague.
I almost always start looking at the first quarter of the new year around this time. New Year’s is preceded by a number of holidays with the result that, unless you are in retail, pretty much everything starts slowing down mid month.
I figure I have eight weeks between Halloween and mid-December to finish up my year and start thinking about what’s coming on the work front, the home front, and the weather front.
I live in Newfoundland and Labrador so it’s not unusual for me to have five coats for six different kinds of weather and an almost equivalent number of boots. Rain boots, almost hip deep snow boots, walking on icy surfaces boots, shoeboots for dry, hard snow days, and sneaker boots for running to and from the car.
I realized in this plague year, I will need just as many metaphorical boots with which to stomp through whatever surprises 2021 chooses to fling at us. Perhaps rather than boots, what we need are mental shields to support our steadfast resilience, to deflect the metaphysical blows winter and the constantly evolving pandemic can bring, and to mirror good things like kindness, community building and love.
While I might be more than ready to give 2020 the boot, I know these five things will matter more than ever.
I take time for myself and my priorities. I was discussing a work project with a colleague and they mentioned wanting it wrapped up by Dec. 31. I asked how wedded they were to that date. They said they could be flexible and suggested mid January. In past years, I would have worked myself ragged to get everything done by the 20th. This year I want to be sure I have the time I need to enjoy the holidays and the space to spend time with people in my bubble.
I make time to connect. In seven months, we’ve spent a lot of time apart because keeping to our bubble meant we kept the community safe. But being apart doesn’t mean we are out of touch. I’ve had my share of frustrations with social media and the Internet, but it has made it easier to keep in touch with and on top of what’s happening with others. Keeping those threads strong and tightly woven means feeling less alone, less untethered as we are buffeted by the things we cannot control.
I make time to notice what is around me. I hadn’t realized how important this was until I read this article earlier in the week. Written by Rick Hanson, the author of The Anxiety First Aid Kit, the article offers a list of useful suggestions on noticing the good things, the okay things, the all right things. rather then zeroing in on the bits that aren’t working, Hanson suggests focusing on what’s going right. He offers this mantra — I am all right, right now — as a way to focus and calm the anxious state in which we can find ourselves. Hanson concludes his excerpt with this: “Settling into this basic sense of okayness is a powerful way to build well-being and resources in your brain and being, and it’s a way of taking a stand for the truth.”
I look for opportunities to make things better. There’s a dearth of kindness, of patience, of sharing humanity with others. People’s fuses are short and getting shorter by the day. It’s hard to smile when you are always wearing a mask. But there is still stuff you can do. This past fall, I’ve been having some problems with my car. I went to buy some oil, but forgot what kind I was supposed to get. The young fellow serving me said let’s go take a look and see what is written on the cap. He could have suggested I google it; he could have said he didn’t know. Instead he took time to explain in a kind way how I could find the information in the future should I forget again. Being kind takes little effort and makes such a difference.
I will always stand up. When I approach the squat bar, I know it is my training and committment that will ensure I will get back up, not just those words my trainer has stencilled there. I look at our world and I wonder how we manage to always get back up.
Sometimes I feel our kindness or humanity is like a muscle that has been supplanted — maybe by fear, anger, anxiety, an injury — who knows. But like any muscle, you can make it stronger by working it gently and consistently; you can repair it by training it carefully and thoughtfully.
Whether you call it practicing, training, coaching, or learning, making kindness a purposeful habit is really useful. Couple that with standing up for your values and your community. When I look back at 2020, it will be these insights I will focus on. What will you take from 2020 to keep you well in 2021?
MarthaFitat55 enjoys powerlifting, swimming and yoga. A longtime mental health advocate, Martha has spent considerable time this year thinking about how we can work on our mental fitness and maintain our mental wellness.
Anyone who practices yoga knows the feeling. You’re in a balancing posture — even something as simple as standing on one foot on your way to tree pose. You start to wobble, and the instructor tells you to focus on one spot on the floor. You focus on something — the instructor’s foot, a water bottle, something just outside the window, even a weird speck on the floor — and miraculously, you find your body stilling, balance suddenly possible.
This practice of focusing on one spot in yoga is called drishti. As with everything yogic, there are multi-layered philosophical and spiritual implications to this concept — but the most important aspect for me is the notion that when you focus your gaze, the energy and alignment of your body follows. As the writer in that link puts it, “a steady, intentional gaze provokes the same steadiness in the body.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about drishti in a broader sense over the past few weeks. Most of my work is about helping people define an overarching sense of purpose for their work, for their lives, and to help them use that purpose to stay steady when there’s a lot of noise, to make decisions when they have to pare things down.
I had a really cranky week last week, for no obvious reason except that I’m super busy with work, which is more fatiguing in zoom than when there’s more incidental movement. And <waving hands and gesturing vaguely at the world>. But I found myself externalizing that crankiness in not-so-generative ways, culminating in a weird argument with my building manager about his habit of wearing his mask under his nose (we have a bylaw about masks in public spaces in our condo building). And then engaging others on my building’s facebook page about this. Which went about as well as you’d expect.
This? Not my best moment. Not my best self. Of course I’m “correct” about the fact that he’s not complying — but was that really the hill to die on? Was it really something I needed to throw my energy into?
Last week, I lost track of the things that are most important to me right now, the things that are my metaphorical drishti: build community; be present to my clients; get my work done with minimal fuss; keep moving my body; be present to my friends and loved ones; do some things that give me a sense of play. And when I lost track of them, I started to flail.
One of my clients made a comment yesterday that “it feels like it’s been a long pandemic.” The phrasing made me laugh — like “pandemic” is now a unit of time, an era. But I feel her comments on a spiritual level. March was a long time ago, and the days are getting darker and colder, where I live. Usually, travel plans for the winter keep me going through the Fall — and clearly, that’s not going to happen. It’s easy to lose my balance. But awareness — that’s the key.
I don’t know about the intentions of ancient sages, but I do know the value of full awareness, of concentrating on what I’m trying to do here. On the focus that will keep me in balance over the next few months: presence to what matters, and letting go of what doesn’t. Community, work, play and movement.
That feels better already.
What about you? What’s your drishti? How can this concept help you stay in balance?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and tries to stand on one foot in Toronto. Here she’s practicing tree in her standard zoom work outfit — photobombed by Emmylou.
Dude bro comments, “Any chance the Beeb can put out a separate thread solely for the WSL? I have no interest in it and some of the headlines are written as if it’s the men’s game. I appreciate those who follow WSL and intend no slight.”
But I love BBC’s reply.
Thank you BBC. Thank you.
I also love of the other suggestions that follow:
@LewesFCWomen: So please can you remove suffix ‘Women’ from BBC website after all team names in WSL/FA Women’s Championship (or add ‘Men’ to Prem League etc)? Teams themselves don’t add it on eg Lewes, not Lewes Women, Arsenal, not Arsenal Women etc. League name indicates male/female. Ta
0094@0oonthe: Yes but every time you talk about sport; let’s say football; You don’t say men’s football you just say football, then when you talk about women’s football you say women’s football
On July 13, I started meditating (again). Meditation has been an off-and-on thing in my life for the past 30 years. I got started courtesy of an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course I took in graduate school. We did eight weeks of skills development for using mindfulness to reduce stress and tolerate pain (in case of those with chronic illness). I have to say, it didn’t take. To say I was a bit resistant is an understatement. Maybe this illustrates it better:
But something must’ve wedged itself in my subconscious, because a mere 10 years later, I took the course again. This time, I was wide open; I had just been denied tenure and was trying to figure out what I was going to do– apply for academic jobs, leave the field, run away… Nothing was certain. But, I discovered stability and grounding in sitting and breathing. That’s it– just sitting and breathing.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and I’m in an academic job I love (mostly), living in a place I love (completely, except for the traffic), and I’ve reintroduced yoga as a regular habit. Several of my yoga teachers use short meditations at the beginning or end of class, and I came to look forward to it. Sometimes I couldn’t settle– maybe I was hungry, or idly thinking about online shopping— but I got used to the quieting of my body, sitting, and focusing on the breath.
Still, meditation outside of class never made its way into my weekly schedule.
Until July 13, 2020.
I took a 4-day meditation workshop at 7:30 in the morning (which is the equivalent of 4:30am for most people) with yoga and meditation teacher Alex at Artemis, my beloved local yoga studio. I blogged about it here, saying what I learned in 10 days.
Now it’s day 101 of meditating every day. Really. I promised myself I would meditate each day, even if it meant doing a 3-minute meditation on the breath, or a meditation for sleep at bedtime (and in bed).
My life, post-100 days of straight meditation, is different. What has it done for me?
#1: When some emotion or feeling arises (sometimes feeling like a bus bearing down on me), I have some mental space between me and the feeling. That means I can now a) recognize that something’s happening; and b) take a moment and look at it to see what it is.
This is huge. Huge. HUGE.
#2: When I engage in the process outlined in #1, I focus on what this experience of whatever-it-is feels like in my body. I ask: a) where in my body is it? Throat? Belly? Head? Somewhere else? And then I ask: b) what does it feel like? Is it tingling? sharp pain? Pulsing or thrumming? Wavy? And then c) I take another moment to watch it, notice it. And what I notice is that it changes. Whatever feeling I have, it morphs, waxes, wanes, fades, dissolves, transitions to some other feeling.
This is really huge. Why? Because when I’m having an experience of, say, panic or shame or fear, I have somewhere to go, something to do. Which is:
Then resume whatever I was doing.
Notice that nothing much happened.
But also notice that something tremendous happened.
Meditation isn’t a cure-all. It’s not even a cure-anything. It’s not about curing. Here is what it doesn’t do:
#1: Change me into a person who isn’t vulnerable to fear, panic, anxiety, shame, and other strong emotions that I struggle with.
I still experience strong feelings, and dealing with them takes time, medication, support from friends, family and therapist. Those activities are also important for self-care, and they’re not going away in this lifetime.
#2: Solve other behavior change aspirations I have and work on when I’ve got the oomph to deal with them. I’m not neater, more punctual, a better paperwork processor, or an everyday exerciser. Or if I am from time to time, it’s probably not because of meditation. It’s rather that I approach these aspirations and hopes and plans with a greater sense of awareness of my feelings around them, and self-compassion for the difficulties I have and have always had around them.
At the same time, I am happier, less judgmental of myself and others, and sold on the idea that daily sitting practice is indeed just what the doctor ordered. And that doctor is me.
Readers, if you meditate: what does it do for you? what doesn’t it do for you? I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have.