Guest Post: Everyday Shakti (“Power”)

by Treena Orchard

My yoga journey began in January, as a way to deal with heartache- new year, old sorrows. I needed to move, not just out of my apartment but out of my head and the disappointment that had taken root there. There are only so many times I could cry or limp through my days feeling angry and hurt, only so many times I could listen to that broken heart soundtrack featuring Tina Turner (Typical Male, You Better Be Good to Me- wishful thinking, clearly), Alicia Keyes (Fallin), Lauren Hill (X-factor), and that 1990s favourite by Mazzy Star -Fade into You.

I wanted to do something else, but hadn’t done yoga for years. Is this what I want to do? Where? When? Do I still have yoga clothes? These are the questions I asked myself while scrolling through the studio options, weighing the pros and cons of each one: ‘Only does hot- nope, never done that, not ready for that’; ‘Too far away, I’ll never go’; ‘Too trendy, not up for seeing all matter of fit young things sweating up a pretty storm.’ Then I came upon my goldilocks place: ‘It does hot and normal yoga, is only a block away, and it looks cool.’

I chose a non-hot Yang/Yin class because it seemed the most basic place to start and with trepidation and excitement I strode through the red door of The Yoga Collective, ready to begin. As the Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Sundays too, began adding up so did my strength and desire to do more. It was like rekindling an old relationship with myself through my body, welcoming back the knowledge stored in the muscle’s memory. To remember is to become aware of something again and like our guru Robin often says at the end of class, when we’re all zenned out and just about to utter ‘Namaste” in unison, it’s like coming home.

Does all this goodness mean that I was totally on board with the 30-day challenge when talk of it first began to circulate through the studio? Hell no—NO. No, I can’t do that. That’s what my Vancouver friends did, super fit people who were into super cool things- namely yoga, brunch, and being from Vancouver. Could I do a yoga challenge too? Do I want to? I thought about it a lot and talked with my fellow women yogis, who seemed to be in the same see-saw place as me, wanting to do it but not quite sure about making the commitment. Making a commitment is making a promise and being dedicated to something, serious business.

Despite the positive traction that has been made to reframe how we talk about failure as well as success, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of failing didn’t matter. The image of a circus appeared in my mind, not an innovative, fashion-forward Cirque de Soleil thing but a more carny, less health and safety variety. I am high atop the crowd in a shiny, non-cotton leotard with those dreadful ‘spice’ coloured tights, traipsing inch by nervous inch across the tightrope towards a piece of wood nailed to a pole or some such fictional symbol of a successfully completed 30-day yoga challenge.

Clearly, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I did not want to fail and my primary concern was related to the physical nature of the challenge. Could I really do yoga every day? I’d only been going three times a week…The tipping point came when Robin said that he decided to hold the challenge when he thought we could do it. Enough said. Fuck it, I might not finish it perfectly but I’m going to do it. I was excited and proud of myself for making the decision.

But, I still felt nervous, especially as Day 1 crept up. These feelings continued into the first week of the challenge, when I was rather obsessive about “doing yoga” and “making time for yoga.” Happily, those feelings began to melt away as the incorporation of yoga into the rhythms of my daily life became ever more seamless. Time itself began to bend to the clock of yoga, which became the measure by which I paced, organized, and rearranged all other things. Tick-tock went the mornings and nights of practice.

As the days passed I felt stronger physically and mentally and those 30 days were an exceptionally creative time too, not just for ‘work work’ but also my own writing, reading, and thinking. The 6 am classes were my favourite. As I walked quietly through my apartment, packing my water bottle and looking at myself in the mirror before heading out into early summer’s dawn, I often thought of Sylvia Plath. During the last months she worked in the very early hours, the only time she could steal away for herself and her beautiful, caustic reflections on a life that was fast slipping away.

Women have always done this, always found ways to make room for themselves and their ideas, the things that matter. They have done this despite and because of others, whether it be the children they love, those who hurt them, or the world that remains caught up in repetitive cycles of patriarchal madness. We must make time and take space for ourselves because no one else will give it to us and because it is essential for our minds, souls, and bodies. Whether it’s a ‘room of our own’ or a yoga mat, amidst lemongrass diffuser mist and beside women and men who have become our friends, we all need that place where we can dwell inside the universe.

Treena is an anthropologist working in the School of Health Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. She lives with her adorable cats Shiva and Mr. Marbles, her art and books, and gets back home to Saskatoon as often as she can.

 

 

 

Guest Post: A Compatible Movement Practice (part 2 of 3)

Really, yoga is literally right next door to my home: zero commute time, zero extra carbon emissions, frequent classes with highly-regarded teachers… Plus, the people coming in and out just exude a kind of peaceful stretchy wisdom I should want to want for myself. The yoga people are actually very nice, not all of those people are cis-straight women with lululemon bodies. So I suppressed my trepidation.

Over several introductory sessions, I was relieved that nobody seemed exasperated with me for being unshaven, restless, too tightly-wound to touch my toes, and allergic to anything form-fitting. I did feel physically worked-out after each class, and the teacher seemed to be full of insight. My partner had long since gotten with the program. She does yoga regularly and even looks forward to it. It’s so clearly good for her. We could be a happy yoga household, right?

Yet I remained lukewarm at the prospect of going back, setting up the colorful mat that would define my bubble for the hour, and imitating pose after pose. If that first series of yoga classes felt like a sustained insult to my mildly butch self-image, surely I should embrace this as the spiritual challenge of working through the yuckily gendered semiotics of my embodiment. (“My ego feels like it’s in downward dog the whole time. Is that a good thing?,” I asked my friends.) Who was I to reject stamina and coordination and enlightenment? Something about the bodily discipline of yoga felt vaguely stifling, as though I might be able to visit, but could not make a home for myself there.

My yoga-loving partner listened patiently to my ambivalence. She did not crave the things I had treasured in past practices — things like laser-focused intensity, swinging hard at things, having to react quickly to shifting stimuli, being occasionally upside-down and underwater with my legs wedged into a boat. But she listened. I began to own my yearning for adrenaline and kinetic challenge. I yearned for these things, during yoga, the same way my kid craves coffee ice cream instead of the rest of the rice and veggies on her plate.

But here’s the hard thing about self-knowledge: Knowing that I crave something is not the same as knowing whether it’s good for me. And I felt as though the whole world had begun quietly chanting at me that it was time for my middle-aged self to learn to Eat Those Veggies. (My partner, meanwhile, loves all vegetables openly, and doesn’t understand how eating them could seem like a chore.)

Luckily, my therapist dismissed my yoga-vegetable-guilt-complex and forged ahead with brainstorming further ideas for a workable fitness regime. As I parried each suggestion with logistical objections or a picky aversions, I braced for a lecture about rationalization, laziness, and self-sabotage. Instead, she urged me firmly to focus again on aikido. She had seen the way my eyes lit up about aikido when I narrated my long history. “Scour the internet!,” she said. “Get leads from every dojo in driving distance, email friends of friends of friends to get recommendations for freelance instructors. Put out an SOS on craigslist, if that’s what it takes!”

Aikido and I had been seriously together for only a year, back when I was about 30. A relationship can only develop so far in one year, but I was a single and child-free itinerant academic when we met, so I had been able to immerse myself in dojo life, learning from an elegantly-bearded and compact Burmese sensei who radiated gentleness and precision. When I left that city because of a job, I found myself in a place remote from any aikido community. At the time I didn’t grieve much, since various projects kept me busy. But whenever I talked about it, there was a telltale sigh of loss.

So of course I rolled my eyes at this therapist and told her I had already done plenty of looking, and I was rusty at aikido by now anyway, so this yearning was pointlessly nostalgic. Surely I just needed to grieve like a mature person for not having an aikido connection anymore and find a way to hang in there and fall in love with… yoga?

But I promised I would put in a good faith effort at finding an aikido connection again. And on that Monday afternoon, my online search turned up an actual dojo within a workable half-hour drive, with all the right signs of hosting an active and friendly community. (I swear, it was hiding from google last time I looked!)  I dashed home, rummaged through storage for my old wrinkled gi, and drove there just in time for the 6pm “basics” class listed online.

See Part 1 here and Part 3 here

Guest Post: A Compatible Movement Practice (part 1 of 3)

I’m back together with an old flame after years of being apart. People see it on my face and ask my what this radiant energy is about. I find myself gushing about how — despite the larger grim picture of the world — everything is right with this little tiny corner of life!

I’d been drifting through the fitness doldrums for years. Satisfying bursts of activity came around now and then, like the out-of-breath exhilaration of shoveling just enough snow or being drafted into a little kids’ soccer game. But these were serendipitous. There was no libidinal zing drawing me forward between one workout and the next. It seemed my choices were to go without physical rigor altogether or to settle — to press forward into patterns of exercise that didn’t really fit me well.

So, what makes a fitness practice fit? Perhaps it’s not so different from how it is with intimate relationships. We carry visceral and often inarticulate cues about what works and does not, and yet all the noise of social norms and local expectations can obscure and distort these cues. And ultimately, as it is with a partner, compatibility has everything to do with quirks of embodied temperament. A practice can possess many of the virtues one wants to want, yet fail to engage us fully. Having to explain (spoiler alert!) why I wasn’t warming up to yoga, for example — to people who love yoga! — felt like trying to articulate to someone why I could not reciprocate their crush on me. I might end up reassuring, apologetically: “Hey, it’s not you, it’s me.” But of course it is you (talking to you now, Yoga!) who is not a good fit for me.

I should clarify that it’s not as though I haven’t had some great satisfying flings over the years with various ways of getting my body in motion. Among these I’d count soccer, racquetball, hiking, aikido, bicycle-commuting, tai chi, parkour, and kayaking. It’s just that things (always different things!) have gotten in the way each time: I had injuries, moved away from facilities and playing partners, had a child, moved again, got too busy, got left behind when teachers moved, and balked at the new commutes and scheduling obstacles. Despite heartbreaks and missed connections, I would intermittently cast about for more satisfying ways to move my body. It’s just that the trend was discouraging. I was getting convinced that I am just too damn picky.

springer_kayak_looking_up_at_roots

“Everything can be messy:” author sits in long thin wooden kayak at the edge of a river, touching and looking up at a massive tangle of roots exposed when a silver maple fell away from the river.

Now, I really do hate those romantics who insist that there is exactly one fated bond, which will come into our lives just when we demonstrate sufficient faith. Given how messed-up the world is, our options when it comes to exercise are compromised too — by distorted ideals of body and gender, by dynamics of class privilege and ableism, by forms of cultural imperialism and misunderstanding. But of course that’s true of virtually every social endeavor worth undertaking. It’s nonetheless worth holding out for those relationships (with persons, with community, with work) that will meet us half-way and make the whole experience very much Not A Drag. It’s OK to insist on an exercise practice that is not a drag.

Some months ago, my therapist agreed that it was time to help get me unstuck with respect to exercise. Self-knowledge Lesson #1, we agreed, was that I needed SSRI: Scheduled Social Reality Involved. If there are zero expectant faces to whom I must answer, I am depending on my own arbitrary and painlessly revokable decision to “work out” at this or that time. And something always seems more urgent to me than even a 7-minute workout: fretting about bills, surveying the laundry, staring balefully at the sinkful of dishes, grading and writing or feeling bad about overdue grading and writing, reading and commenting about terrible (or wonderful) things online. I needed to find a “This-Happens-Now” kind of thing.

Also, ROTC: Realistic Ongoing Time Commitment. In other words, it couldn’t be like the very sexy kayak gathering that required me to load up and drive over and paddle across and roll around and drive back and hose down and put gear away for a total of six hours on Wednesdays — which meant (given the pressures of life, work, and parenting) actually giving my upper body an isolated workout about twice per year. I needed something I could follow through with, and that wouldn’t penalize me or anyone else for occasionally dropping the ball to deal with a household illness or a work deadline.

Also, NAAK: No Aerobics of Any Kind, and that also means no Zoomba. Nothing where somebody else chooses a soundtrack for my ears to swallow, nothing where the social vibe is around rhythmically sexified bodies, nothing where the main advertised benefit is calories burned — as if one needs to earn permission to eat.

Those three conditions seemed picky enough. So I half-heartedly signed up with the excellent next-door yoga studio. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

See Part 2 here and Part 3 here

Guest Post: A Compatible Movement Practice (part 3 of 3)

Dear reader, it had been fifteen years. At the end of an hour of clumsy but exhilarating practice, I felt more than a little queasy. I had, after all, stepped into the equivalent of three dozen tight loop-de-loop rides in short succession. I’d been moved around more than my stomach was ready for.

But I also felt moved in a good way, by the compatibility of it. Like the relief of being in a relationship where no sliver of the self is compelled to shut up and hide under the table. (OK, the sliver of self called my left knee does seek to be excused from most of the ankle-sitting time in aikido, but accommodation is a thing!) Severe stiffness in my core muscles set in by Tuesday night; I was so sore I could hardly move, and I couldn’t wait to go back.

You can find out lots about aikido if you’re curious, but I’ll offer my own unofficial sketch. Aikido* is a 99% defensive martial art that hinges on this insight: a person who engages in an aggressive attack necessarily loses their center. Learn to perceive accordingly, and you (the target of the attack) can choose to keep your center, recognize the instability in the aggressor, and re-direct all that incoming energy. With practice, you can move into the eye of the storm, deflect, trip up, confound, and frustrate a wide range of attacks — so long as your focus is not on hurting the other but on responding dynamically to their projected effort.

Practice involves watching a technique demonstration, then pairing up to alternate turns for a while. Intermittently, the teacher adds a tip or a variation and has everyone change partners. Performing the techniques (being the nage* or thrower) means orienting to an initially unmanageable constellation of pointers about hands and feet and head and hips, but all these gradually give way to an inarticulate muddling-through. As the technique is mastered it requires less and less muscular exertion.

Taking the fall (being the uke*), however, is always a workout. In a good dojo it’s a safe workout, as proper forms of falling and rolling are top priority. But to be helpful, if you’re the uke, you present as much of a sincere blow or grab as the partner’s skill-level can handle. In the same practice hall, each pair quietly finds their mutual wavelength, some playing hard and fast, others deliberate and gentle. The partner aims to recognize and side-step your move, to harness all that excess energy (think of a baseball swing that doesn’t connect), and to send you tumbling. If the technique is done right, you will tumble exactly as hard as you swing or grab. Choose your adventure!

I had virtually forgotten about some of the things that make aikido a good fit for me. It might be the most intensive quasi-agonistic contact activity that simply does not classify bodies — not by gender, by sex, nor by weight. In the dojo, I am just about entirely free of the pressure to perform gender one way or another, whether it’s coping with machismo and vindicating my not-male body (OMG, ask me about parkour), managing sexualized body contours, or worrying about how flimsy my upper arms are. And the basic uniform — the gi* — is comfortable and minimally revealing. It doesn’t broadcast or amplify how our bodies are gendered, whether legs and underarms are shaved and/or dreadfully pale, what our waist-hip ratio is, and so on. The gi itself is boring, I admit. But the hakama* split-skirt worn by black-belt level practitioners is graceful, grounded, and handsome as hell. I’ve never seen a person who doesn’t look stunning in a hakama.

Here’s another thing: I am thrilled that this social encounter is more than what developmental psychologists call “parallel play.” When aikidoists help one other rehearse by modeling threats and responses, it matters that there are different people with different physiques, different styles, different resistances. I don’t have to be an extrovert in class (hooray!), but I do have to tune my senses — proprioceptive, visual, balance, haptic — again and again for each person standing or kneeling before me. Small adjustments in technique and attitude will make all the difference between being swept up in the dance of momentum and being awkwardly stymied by some nagging detail. Either way, we often smile at the chance to get up and try again.

There is, of course, a “point” to aikido as a defensive art; I might eventually find myself coping with a physical aggression with the aid of trained reflexes. Also, it’s great to know how to fall and roll smoothly! But the more mundane practical application is symbolic: a thorough habituation to remembering how to stay grounded, how to recognize aggressive energy and to find ways to defuse it with minimal harm to the other.

The dojo I’m joining has a woman at the helm, and regularly draws students of various physical builds, ages, and gender presentations. The world of aikido is not uniform; there are multiple branches of the practice, each with a somewhat different history and flavor. Few teachers have made progress on translating aikido techniques and rituals into forms that do not presuppose a particular template of upright embodiment.

I do realize aikido is not the exciting resolution to everyone’s fantasies. But I hope for a world in which each of us finds some satisfying and compatible practice that takes us as we are, and keeps us coming back for more.

*All these terms follow Japanese pronunciation rules: the vowels are the same as in Spanish (ah, eh, ee, oh, oo), and every ‘g’ is a hard one, as in girl or get.

See Parts 1 and 2, here and here.

 

 

Katherine’s Wibbly Wobbly Walk (Guest Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypermobility Syndromes Association http://hypermobility.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

So What’s the Question?

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

 

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

 

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

 

——–

 

Event Info:

 

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


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

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


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

Follow Alex @legslegum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

 

 

 

How the Amazons got me to go to the gym (Guest Post)

Like seemingly everyone else, I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend, and I’ve got to say, it is one of my new problematic faves. For a couple of reasons that it’s problematic, see here and here and here. For a couple of reasons that it’s my fave, see here and here and, most importantly:

Antiope (portrayed by Robin Wright), dressed in leather battle gear, prepares to punch a WWI German soldier, who is dressed in an olive green military uniform.

Antiope, Diana’s aunt and the greatest general in Amazon history, fighting a German soldier during a battle on a beach in Themyscira.

There are plenty of discussions to be had about this movie, ranging from the sharply critical to the “OH MY GOD THE AMAZONS THO.”

This post will be closer to the latter.

For the uninitiated, the Amazons are a group of women warriors. They are the inhabitants of Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira, a hidden island where no men live (and is thus a queer culture). The first twenty-ish minutes of Wonder Woman are set in Themyscira, but I could have watched an entire movie set there. The society is peaceful and just. The scenery is beautiful and a complete departure from the gritty, bad-Instagram-filter bleakness we have come to expect from the DC cinematic universe. And we get to watch the Amazons fight a lot. The Amazons place a high value on training for combat; they are fierce and intense and their training is rigourous. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite intimidated by the sight of a band of Amazons riding toward me at full speed. They are hardcore.

Five women warriors ride horses into battle on a beach. The warriors and horses are wearing metal and leather battle gear. They are led by Antiope, portrayed by Robin Wright.

Amazons riding into battle. Intense.

It is unusual and inspiring to see so many strong women depicted side by side in mainstream cinema. Muscular women are often characterized as being overly masculine and unattractive. Though it should be pointed out that most of the Amazons in the film are relatively slender, and it would have been cool to have more diverse body types portrayed, it’s nevertheless refreshing that their strength is glorified, not mocked. The performers are also genuinely strong; many of the Amazons were portrayed by professional athletes, making the group “look like the female version of 300.”

The Amazons (and indeed, the whole movie) made me go back to the gym. Obviously, I’m not a professional athlete. It often feels like an overstatement to call myself an athlete at all. I don’t really follow any fitness regimen to speak of, I tend to have more of a boom-and-bust cycle than anything regular, and I bounce from running to swimming to weightlifting to cycling to yoga and back again with no real structure or plan. This doesn’t really bother me—I just do what I like doing—and when I get bored, move on. Sometimes, I will get inspired to try something new or return to an old favourite (usually swimming, which is my one true love, but often weightlifting/strength training as well).

This time, what inspired me was the Amazons. I couldn’t believe how badly I wanted to hit the gym after seeing the film, and how truly excited I was to work out. I wanted to lift everything: myself, weights, tires. Heck, I would have lifted other people if they’d let me. Let me tell you, during this workout, I Wonder Woman’d HARD, including doubling my personal best for holding plank. (Yes, I’m bragging, and yes, I’m still sore.) Fitspiration, or “fitspo,” isn’t always a good thing, but in this case, Wonder Woman was the inspiration I needed. I wasn’t working out because I thought I deserved punishment, and I wasn’t working out because I wanted to look like an Amazon (although that would be cool). I was doing it because, even though I know the Amazons are fictional, I wanted to be one.

 

Now, if only I could figure out how to get to Themyscira…