fitness · holiday fitness · meditation · motivation

Exercising During Ramadhan (Guest Post)

Picture of dates, a sweet fruit used to traditionally break fasts.

I have steadily gained weight since having my two kids. It’s been so gradual that with each gain, I told myself that this was the new normal for my body. I have never dieted (that’s another story) but I have tried to exercise at various points in my life. Early last year (2017), I managed to get into a groove of walking/jogging on a treadmill for two miles, about three times a week. I don’t think I lost any weight during that time (but that wasn’t my goal), but I stopped gaining more. My purpose was to build stamina and strength and I developed a decent routine. Then, around end of May, Ramadhan came and I stopped exercising altogether. I thought to myself that I will pick it back up after, but I never did.

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Last year, it started around May 25th (each year, the month shifts by 10 -11 days). Muslims around the world observe this month by fasting from right before sunrise to right after sunset. During this period, Muslims abstain from all food, liquid, and from any sort of physical nourishment. We also abstain from (or are supposed to anyways) from any sort of bad behavior, such as telling white lies, being impatient, or rude, etc. Anyone who cannot fast because they are ill or pregnant, etc., can make up the fast later in the year. Ramadhan is also the month when we develop the habit of giving to folks less fortunate. It is considered a deeply spiritual month, when one is a guest of God’s hospitality and mercy.

By February 2018, I had gained another 10 pound from May 2017. I also had my blood work done and found out that I had high cholesterol level (the bad kind) and borderline A1C numbers (thing that measures if I am diabetic). I decided to get a personal trainer at my local YMCA and we began to meet once a week around Mid-March. She built a good steady plan with me, though there were weeks where I didn’t do the expected 30 mins, three times a week (I would think to myself: let me do a little bit more grading/work-related-emailing/course prepping because …. life ). Despite building a (more or less) good regimen, I was dreading what would happen to it all during Ramadhan. If I can’t eat or drink for almost 17 hours, I could not possibly workout.

Fortunately, my (non-Muslim) trainer had spent time in a Muslim country during Ramadhan and had some familiarity with the life style changes. She seemed convinced that I could work out during Ramadhan, though internally, I was rolling my eyes every time she would say that. I decided to schedule our last appointment during Ramadhan (I had bought two packages of five sessions and it was the last of the ten).

I was feeling quite lethargic when I went in to the gym. I didn’t want to be there. We began by her going over how I was feeling. Here what I learned in the rest of the session:

  • Since I haven’t eaten in a while before my workout, my metabolic rate slows down. Working out would speed it back up a bit and so I actually experienced a surge of energy by the end of the workout
  • Try and schedule my workout as close to iftari (breaking of the fast) as possible. This way, I can eat and drink within a couple of hours of workout. (This is a bit hard for my family because we open out fast at our local mosque. There is a lecture before our prayers and then we open our fasts together. If I work out around 5:45 pm, it gives me plenty time to get ready, and head to my center by 7:30 and open my fast by 8:55 pm).
  • Lay off hardcore cardio altogether – or anything that makes me thirstier.
  • Workout in a cool environment.
  • During Ramadhan, I should exercise to maintain the habit of exercising and maintain my strength and stamina. This may not be the best time for me to make any new gains.
  • Build in 30 seconds to 1 minute break between reps, be in control of my breath before starting the next rep.
  • Breathe through my nose, not through my mouth so that my throat doesn’t dry up.

Other things I have incorporated for myself:

  • I am trying to not consume too much oily food at iftari– it gives me heartburn, especially since I am eating so late
  • After breaking the fast with a date and/or salt (which is traditional), I have fruits and water first, before having other stuff.
  • I try not to fill up my plate with food. Once I have my first serving, I don’t feel hungry at all.
  • Don’t eat excessively at iftari

I cannot say that I have been super regular with my workouts, but I do physically feel a lot better now that I have been doing them somewhat regularly.

Ramadhan is a month of introspection. We are meant to develop our relationship with God, which requires us to inculcate kindness toward fellow creations, but also toward ourselves. It is one month of the year when we focus on our character weaknesses and improve ourselves, so that we can carry on our good habits through the year. It is a month that is meant to impact all aspects of life – mind, body, and spirit.

I do remember, after last summer I would experience frequent pangs of disappointment from time to time, thinking about how I had failed myself in Ramadhan. And I had, but not in the ways I had thought. I failed to reflect on how my body was part of the spiritual journey. This Ramadhan, I am trying to incorporate exercising and eating better as an integral part of my spiritual experience, part of living life in moderation, something that will hopefully improve the sort of person I am.

I cooked some desi (South Asian) food for our communal breaking of the fast.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima/

fitness · holiday fitness

What to do when spring refuses to arrive

Today is April 15– spring should be well on its way, even to the more northern climes.

Words saying "yeah but no" with drawing of arms crossed.
Words saying “yeah but no” with drawing of arms crossed.

 

You would think we’d be in a position to do this by now:

Woman in a pink outfit and white hat playing hopscotch in a park. And it doesn't look cold at all.
Woman in a pink outfit and white hat playing hopscotch in a park. And it doesn’t look cold at all.

Well, think again. Up in Ontario, where several of our bloggers reside, they’re getting this message:

Words saying 'potentially historic ice storm" -- Environment Canada. I'm sure we'd prefer it to be historic in the sense of in the distant past. But no.
Words saying ‘potentially historic ice storm” — Environment Canada. I’m sure we’d prefer it to be historic in the sense of in the distant past. But no.

Here in Boston, it’s currently snowing/sleeting/freezing rain. Love this trifecta.  However, the bigger issue is tomorrow, which is Patriot’s Day Marathon Monday.  Schools and government offices are closed, and lots of people (myself included) take the opportunity to head outside to enjoy running or watching the Boston marathon, or just frolicking in the spring weather. So many times I’ve cycled with friends, enjoying the last break before the end of semester crunch hits. But not this year.  Here’s what they’re predicting:

Boston Marathon forecast: raw, rainy Monday will create challenging course
Boston Marathon forecast: raw, rainy Monday will create challenging course

Not looking good at all.  At least we’re not having the full-blown ice storm that’s hitting southern Ontario, which is something to be thankful for.

So, what’s a fitness-interested feminist to do while waiting out this yucky weather?

  • Set up the trainer again? NONONONONONONONONONO.
  • Go to yoga classes? Yes.
  • Break out the Pilates and other fitness-y DVDs and have at it in my living room?  If I must.
  • Give in and watch all of the Oscar-nominated films on iTunes? Now, we’re getting somewhere. ..
  • All of the above? Yes, I guess so.

Into every life some crappy weather must fall. We in the colder regions will all get through it. And yes, southern-region friends– you now have my total permission to complain about heat this summer all you like.

I leave you with words of wisdom and an image we can all take as the best advice for dealing with cold weather:

There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing".

A big pile of muddy, raingear-clad, happy kids, sliding down a muddy mound.
A big pile of muddy, raingear-clad, happy kids, sliding down a muddy mound.
accessibility · cycling · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

eBikes: Moderate Exercise for the Un-Stationary (Guest Post)

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Elan Paulson is a moderate, unstationary exerciser.

You know about the health benefits of cycling, but you don’t prefer to exercise indoors and on a stationary bike. You also know about economic and environmental benefits of outdoor cycling, but unlike your cycling-obsessed social media friends (it’s the shorts, isn’t it?), you’re maybe not quite ready to commit to battling hilly terrain on human- rather than horse-power.

Enter the eBike! (“e” is for “electric.”)

I watched a bunch of Youtube videos about how they work, and I recently spent 4 hours riding one around the coastal city of Wellington, New Zealand. So, I am by no means an expert on eBikes (except to verify that it makes very good sense to own an eBike in this lovely but hilly, windy city).

eBikes sell for between $1000-3000. Apparently there were over 32 million of them sold in the Asian Pacific in 2016, compared to about 150,000 in North America. In 2017, Buddy from Forbes was fairly impressed with his eBike experience, describing lightness, ease of use, good top speed, and rain-proofing. As with all batteries, eBikes have a defined life cycle (Buddy reports 2-4 years, about 500 charges).

My report on eBikes, based on my limited but quite fun experience, will be simple:

  • EASY: With all the same gears, brakes, pedals, etc., it’s literally so easy it’s like riding a bike.
  • CHEAP: This is likely true if comparing money invested in both cars and gym memberships.
  • GOOD OUTDOOR EXERCISE: Go not with the throttle type but the type whose motor engages only when you pedal, and you can actually cycle in all types of weather.
  • FLEXIBLE INTENSITY: If you’re not feeling the burn on any particular day (or part of the ride), you can instantly toggle between electric gears to get a moderate to high “boost” when you pedal.

Just like any other device of convenience, you’ll have to remember to plug it in. And you may have to put up with jibes from your purist cycling-obsessed friends when you’re out on the trail together. (But when you’re passing them up the next steep incline, who will be laughing then?!)

Above: eBiking. Scenery and vistas will vary.

Have you used/owned an eBike? What was your experience? Are there any downsides I have not considered?

fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

Cate tries to relax

IMG_3580

I just got back from a 5-night holiday in St. Lucia. I travel a LOT, but this was my first time at an all-inclusive — it’s usually very Not Me to go to gated places that are structured specifically for tourists. But two of my friends had separately been to this place on their own and raved about the focus on wellness, the yoga classes, the food, and most of all, the fact that you get a massage or similar treatment every day as part of the package. So in the middle of a cranky cold winter, I dove in. This was my experience.

Day 1: Arrival

Apparently I’m all about the Pampering for this holiday, so I use e-upgrade points to fly business class on Air Canada Rouge. It’s a 5 hour + flight and we’re delayed an hour, but it’s pretty painless. I share my gummi bears with the man in the seat beside me and nap.

When we land in St. Lucia I see connecting signs for St. Vincent, Martinique, Mustique, and remember that Mustique was where Princess Margaret hedonistically whiled away her final years (you can rent her villa now! it comes with 6 staff!). Channeling my own inner royal, I booked a helicopter ride to the resort. Nothing so plebian as getting carsick on a winding mountainy road for me!

Princessey-ness makes me impatient. We have to wait for two people for the helicopter and I mentally roll my eyes and harumph “this isn’t so much faster than driving would be!

The flight is actually an absolute joy. I thought I might feel motion sick, but it’s like floating, totally peaceful. It’s stopped raining and there are rainbows punctuating the rainforest all around us. The pilot tours us up the coast and sets us down gently. The other couple with me and I can’t stop raving about how magical it is.

Then there’s traffic between the local airport and the resort and we’re back to the ground.

Day 2: (Saturday)

IMG_3421The one major thing I wanted to do this week is climb the Gros Piton, the big pointy “volcanic plug” that’s in all the iconic images of the island. I booked the off-resort trek for my first day, thinking that I would get the 6 am start time out of the way and then sleep in the rest of the week.

Six a.m. (5 in my inner clock) is a cranky start, and ignoring the whole tropical paradise-scape unfolding in front of me, I locate the early set up for coffee and banana bread.  Then it’s a bit of a clusterfuck — the resort forgot to book the guide/driver. I remember that this is why I don’t like fancy hotels: I get five times as cross and impatient when things go wrong. The internal “if I’m paying this much I expect better…” track that serves no one starts to roll in my head. They wake someone up who shows up 45 minutes late and I manage to reset my crankiness and we have a glorious time climbing a strenuous 2000 feet of very scrambly ascent in 90 minutes. (More about this later).

Later, I lie in the hammock, have my first wellness treatment (lime and coconut scrub), and eat at the fancy restaurant. I upgrade my food choice from the inclusive menu to the seafood platter. I asked to be seated alone, not at the communal table, because I want to just read and eat by myself. Then I realize I recklessly wrote “birthday” on the registration form when they asked if there was a special occasion (this was a birthday present to myself, but my actual birthday was in early February), and I endure the serving staff singing happy birthday to me and bringing me a decorated plate, while the other patrons look somewhat pityingly at this poor woman celebrating her birthday alone.

I blow out the candle and smile.

Day 3: (Sunday)

I look at the list of classes I can do today, and get a bit paralysed. So many options. I go to 9:15 body stretch (I need it after the Piton hike), and then miss my opportunity for Caribbean Dance Fit because I faff about. I see the real threat of FOMO (fear of missing out) starting to emerge here. I spend a moment pouting that the resident Yogi is off for the day, then I set off for an off-resort walk/run.

It’s hilly and hot but perfect until I feel my arms crinkle in the sun and start to worry about burning them. I spot another pale guy changing a tire under a vehicle by the side of the road and ask him if he happens to have any sunblock. Weirdly enough, he’s too distracted by keeping his vehicle from falling on him to search for toiletries for me. I toil back home and then jump straight into the ocean.

Later, I take out a paddleboard for a while then do my first ever aqua fit class. Most of the older women in the pool haven’t exercised in years and are tentative even getting into the water. The instructor knows how to jolly them along with encouragement and Wham. I’m taken by a young blonde woman having a blast. We both punch the water hard.

Later, I upgrade my daily treatment to something with hot oily rocks, watch a really beautiful sunset, and then go for my fancy chef’s dinner. I upgrade the wine pairings.

I sleep for 10 hours that night.

Day 4 (Monday):

IMG_3523

It’s overcast and we’re having a weird climate-changey infestation of seaweed. All of the watersport guys and a bunch of random local people are on the beach picking up and bagging this stuff that is apparently swimming over from Africa. There are bulldozers and much consternation. The seaweed is being tossed up by giant breakers that would make going in the water impossible even it if wasn’t covered in a gross skim of weeds.

I toy with the idea of Doing Nothing but my FOMO kicks in. I can’t seem to lie around and read for more than half an hour without feeling like I’m missing my only opportunity ever to learn how to do Krav Maga or Merengue.  I look at a map to figure out the routes for the organized morning walks I never go on and take myself for a two hour walk, punctuated with running some short humid hill repeats.

I listen to a fantastic podcast interview about a pioneering woman ocean explorer and conservationist, who says something like the fact that sentient life exists at all is a miracle and that we should savour every moment. I’m savouring these hills and the view across the sea to Martinique, and the wild ponies who just show up beside the road.  The FOMO finally recedes.

My third treatment takes place outside in a weird massage chair, focusing on my head and back. It feels good but exposed. While I’m being petted, I’m FOMO-ing that maybe I should have upgraded to the thai/shiatsu massage.

I try to finish the day with a peaceful yoga class, but halfway into the class the Zen Treehouse Deck is suddenly assaulted with huge puffs of mosquito fog. The yoga teacher is distraught, saying that they were supposed to wait until we were done. I roll up my mat and take my asthmatic self to the gym for an upper body workout, which is just like any other gym anywhere, people sweating and lifting things in a climate controlled environment. Unlike at home, though, when I’m done, I drink a gin and tonic and watch the sunset in my gym clothes.

I upgrade my dinner again, and then feel like I shouldn’t have.

Day 5: Tuesday

The seaweed has vanished overnight, and it’s all tropical semi-paradise again. I do all the things: a hoppy core vinyasa class, a good hot run, and a full body massage from my first massage therapist ever who is fully visually impaired. As I lie there and she feels her way around my privileged tissue, I wonder what it took for her to go to school in a country that’s not very well set up for people with disabilities.

I finish with a sunset yoga class that isn’t overcome with poison fog, keep my eyes open in Shivasana so I can look at the leaves and sky.  I eat dinner without upgrades.

Day 6: (Wednesday)

I cram everything I can into my final half day, starting with a 7 am spin class, a facial, and an hour of bobbing in the waves. Today is perfect weather and the perfect sea, and I don’t want to let it go. I finally found a rhythm of balance between movement and stillness.

I pay the bill for my upgrades and am picked up for my helicopter return journey. As always happens when you try to recreate magic, this pilot is kind of a jerk. He takes us straight across the island into the wind, wiggling and dropping the machine on purpose to make us scream. I’m about five minutes away from vomiting on him when we land.

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Despite that, I note how chill and relaxed I am at the airport. My business partner laughs at me when I text him and asks how long it will last.

I couldn’t arrange an upgrade for the flight back, and it’s cramped and long. The man next to me has brought literally nothing to do. I want to inform him that farting and jiggling your leg for five hours shouldn’t be a way for an adult man to amuse himself.

Home, I am grateful for the shape of this opportunity, for the money and time and other privileges I have that gave me this window of relaxation. I realize how much I struggle with savouring what is there, with the very real sense that there are so many other things one could be doing at any given time. For me, as always, the lesson is to find peacefulness with where I am right at any given moment. Having a whole resort where the point is to move your body and to have the aches of your body taken care of is a pretty good space to do that in. Just leave the FOMO at home.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here on the 2nd Friday and 3rd Saturday of the month as well as other random times.

cycling · holiday fitness · holidays

Rediscovering the love of simple bikes: Sam and Susan go for a ride on Bora Bora

Susan and her cruiser!

Cycling, more than any physical activity, sends me back to my youth. Whee! Bikes give kids freedom to get places and to do things, away from the adult world. See here.

Susan and I got a taste of that feeling on this cruise. The ship anchors and we take the tender to shore. But when you get there you’ve got your choice of organized group activities (catamarans, picnics, snorkeling in the reef, visiting vanilla farms) or heading out on your own. We’ve done some of the group stuff but some of the time it feels good to get away from all the people and explore.

The difficulty with heading out on your own is that my legs only take us so far. See here for an update about my knee. And there’s only so much time The beach in Bora Bora, for example, was 7 km from the pier. It was definitely too hot to walk. We could rent a car, but really, no.

Instead twice now we’ve rented bikes. They’re island bikes, the most basic of bikes. They’re cruiser style bikes with back pedal brakes. There are no speeds and no fancy gears. You just pedal and go.

Also, no helmets! Some Americans from the ship scolded us for riding without helmets. We felt like bad kids.But really no one here is wearing a helmet.

At home I have specialized bikes, a bike for each thing. I have a track bike, a fat bike, an aero road bike, another road bike, an adventure road bike that I use for commuting. You get the idea. This is not that kind of biking.

So on Bora Bora we hopped on our bright green cruisers and wheeled away. Whee! I loved riding with the locals most of whom use bikes as transportation. There were bikes with multiple kids hanging onto parents riding into town. Lots of kids riding by themselves too, with no adult in sight.

With no fancy bike shoes we could hop on and hop off at ease. With kick stands we could just set the bike upright and stop to look at roadside stands and festivals.

Yes, there was a fair bit of car and truck and bus traffic on the same road but no one was going anywhere fast. People seemed used to bikes on the road. We felt pretty safe.

Of course we stopped at the beach to swim and to rest! And when we were ready, not when the group was ready or the clock said so, we biked back into town. Freedom. Whee!

fitness · fitness classes · holiday fitness · holidays · walking · weight lifting

Working out onboard, staying active on a cruise ship, part 2

So far here on the ship I’ve found a few fitness options on board. We only have two days out of twelve total when we’re at sea. But when we had one, I wandered around scoping out my options for staying active.

First, there are fitness classes. There’s yoga and spin and social walking/jogging groups.

Second, there’s a salt water pool. I described it as a wave pool (it’s very wavy) but Susan pointed out that it’s likely just the motion of the boat causing the waves. It’s salt water, which I like, and not too warm. I like that. I was worried it would be hot.

Third, there’s the walking/running track above the pool. It’s busy in the morning and there are some serious runners and walkers up there.

Fourth, there is a gym. It’s got some weight machines, two benches, all the dumbbells, treadmills galore, one rowing machine and some elliptical trainers.

So what did I do?

First step, as always, everyday was knee physio in our room.

Second, I did a lot of lifting with dumbbells in the gym. One weird thing is that the ship’s motion is a lot more noticeable when you’re lying on a bench with fifty lbs over your head. There’s a lot of extra stabilization involved.

Third, I jogged in the salt water pool and chatted with some Australian women about the South Pacific. Like, why are you here? Isn’t it warm at home? Aren’t a lot of the birds and plants the same? They were fascinated by the islands and their history and this is a great way to see them.

I’d count this fitness activity on our day at sea as a success.

cycling · holiday fitness · holidays · swimming

Sam bikes on an atoll, sees a shark, and stays active on a cruise ship, part 1

Three photos of Susan and me in the sun and wind

As Tracy blogged earlier today not all travel is alike when comes to fitness opportunities.

This week thanks to the world’s best sister in law I’m in the South Pacific on a cruise. Specifically we’re on this boat cruising around French Polynesia. We’re having a wonderful time.

Here’s the view from our balcony as I write this:

One of my goals for this holiday, since it’s long and it’s warm, is to stay active. I’m also itching to get moving now I’m no longer in constant knee pain. On day 1 that just meant carrying suitcases, flying 14 hours, and doing physio for my knee once we’re ensconced in our cabin.

Day 2 had us anchored off the atoll of Fakarava. What’s an atoll? Don’t worry. I had to look this up too. An atoll is “a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands formed of coral.”

Fakarava is known to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. We weren’t there to dive though and we only had an afternoon to spend on the island. If you have more time here is a handy guide. It’s a fun read.

So what did we do instead? We rented bikes and biked along the paved road the runs along the windward side of the atoll. The bikes were basic cruiser style bikes with baskets. But that didn’t matter. The bikes fit the mood of the place.

We went out with the wind behind us and turned about after about 10 km.

Most people just stuck to the beach-y side of the island but the bikes allowed us to explore a bit more. The two sides of the island looked pretty different.

I was also very excited since this was my first time on a bike since before I knew about my knee injury. I stopped riding outside early this year. Needless to say, there was a very big smile on my face.

Image description: Bike rental shed though even rented from a competitor.

After our bike ride we went for a swim. The water was bright blue and 80 degrees. Just gorgeous.

Image description: Sam lying on her back in the blue Pacific ocean.

Oh, and after we were out of the water two Germans came running over to point out a shark swimming through the coral. My first shark sighting ever.

Today, we’re at sea so I’ll probably hit the boat’s fitness center.

Thanks Susan F for the beautiful photos!