accessibility · aging · fitness · inclusiveness · strength training

Sam wonders about balance: How to applaud aging and weight training for functional fitness without shame and blame for those who can’t

There’s a very moving ad making the rounds about a grandfather strength training for Christmas so that he can lift his granddaughter up to put a star on top of the tree. I got teary watching it and likely you will too. You’ve been warned.

I love his grit and determination. I also love his smiles.

It’s called Take Care of Yourself and it’s the Doc Morris Christmas Advert for 2020.

I also love its message of functional fitness and strength training as we age for all sorts of very practical reasons.

I share a lot of ‘keep strength training as you age’ motivational material on the blog’s Twitter and Facebook page.

See, for example, 5 key steps to build muscle and its many science-backed health benefits.

“A small 2013 study of people between the ages of 88 and 96 years old found that those who performed strength-training exercises for two days a week over a 12-week period showed improvements in balance and a lower incidence of falls when compared to those who didn’t exercise. “It’s safe and important for older people to include strength training,” Jackson says. “Even simple bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and dips can help with strength and muscle building.”

See also What Older People May Be Missing in Their Exercise Workouts

Answer, “As people age, they often focus on cardio. They shouldn’t forget strength training.”

I’m not here to criticize the beautiful and moving strength training grandad commercial. Don’t worry. But I do worry that the focus on strength training for independent living buys into the message that physical dependence is a necessarily a bad thing. I hope to put off the time when I need assistance with everyday household tasks and personal care as long as possible. But I also hope when I need help that I and others can accept it without thinking I ought to have done more kettlebell swings or that it was a moral failing of mine to not care enough about my own health and strength.

I worry that our affection for the weightlifting grandfather is connected to a kind of ableism that celebrates movement and blames those who move less, even when we have no choice. In my own case I’ve talked about that in the context of becoming a non-runner and slower walker.

Regular long time readers will know that it’s hard to hold these two thoughts in balance. You’ll know that it’s something I struggle with.

After all, I wrote both Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice? and What does 74 look like? And how much choice do we have really?

Balance

Thought 1 is that older people are encouraged to slow down. It used to be that when people retired we bought them reclining chairs and told them to ‘relax.’ After all, they’d worked hard their whole lives. Not so much now as times are changing but it’s still true that gyms and fitness culture generally are geared towards young, fit, able bodied people. Older women worry they’ll look foolish exercising. If all of our fitness culture is geared towards aesthetics and maintaining beautiful youthful bodies, no wonder older people feel like they don’t belong.

We see this in the ad above when his neighbour looks to be judgemental of his fitness efforts. She seems puzzled about what he’s doing and why.

And yet, there is a huge cost in losing muscle, losing mobility, and increasing our risk of falling if we don’t continue to exercise–including weight training–as we age.

Older people have far more at stake than the young. The young can get away with a lot. They recover quickly if they are injured. And they bounce back from time off fitness efforts pretty speedily too. All of this gets more difficult as we get older. Indeed, if gyms should be there for anyone, it’s for the elderly.

Thought 2 worries that some of our dislike of old age is a tangled mess of ageism and ableism.

The thought here is that we engage in blame about the failure to age successfully when lots of people encounter the kinds of illness and injury in old age that can’t be overcome with kettlebells and powerwalking. In my post about what 74 looks like I talked about my very fit and physically active mother-in-law who used a wheelchair for mobility in the time after her diagnosis with ALS.

If you’re an academic reading the blog have a look at Christine Overall’s Old Age and Ageism, Impairment and Ableism: Exploring the Conceptual and Material Connections in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal.

See Valuing Old Age Without Leveraging Ableism by Clara W. Berridge and Marty Martinson. They argue that our medical model of “successful aging” without disability sets up the majority of the population, especially women, for failure. Berridge and Martinson write, “Phrases such as “70 is the new 50” reflect a “positive aging” discourse, which suggests that the preferred way of being old is to not be old at all, but rather to maintain some image of middle-age functionality and appearance.”

We want to encourage ourselves to keep moving and to stay strong. At the same time we need respect and compassion for those who can’t move and lift in the same way. It’s a battle I feel personally as I struggle to accept my physical limits without self-blame and still push myself in those areas of physical fitness where I can push. Wish me luck!

I’d appreciate your thoughts about keeping these two thoughts in balance, the push to stay fit and strong and mobile, on the one hand, and the understanding and acceptance when it’s not.

One thing I would say, going back to the video that began this post, is that I wish he wasn’t lifting alone. I wanted a community centre for him to go too. I wanted peers for him to lift with and walk with and drink tea after. We need to do better as fitness communities making inclusive spaces for those who are aging, those who move in different ways, and those for whom both these things are true.

Sam’s biitmoji lifting weights

Often when I start thinking about inclusion and fitness I search for an older blog post by Krista Scott Dixon that always makes me smile, All are welcome in this house that strength built.

“So give me your poor, your tired, your weak of spine and crumbling of bone. Give me your mushy of muscle and burbly of digestion and bored of treadmill-hamstering.

Give me your old and young and everything between early bipedalism and death. And while you’re at it give me your non-bipedal: your limps and gimps and wimps and wheeled and caned and casted and bandaged. Untangle your sweaty hospital sheets and IV tubes and tentacles of fear and shame and move whatever isn’t strapped down. A finger, a leg, an eyelid. Whatever you can move, keep moving it. Next week, add some weight to that.

Give me your saggy, your baggy, your faggy, your haggy. Give me your freaks and geeks; steers and queers; sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, preppies, jocks, stoners, poindexters, punkers, rockers, hicks, drama dorks, superstars, homebodies, farmers, New Wavers and socs.

Give me your bodies wracked with life’s whims; your hormonally challenged; your rattling bottles of pills like morbid maracas; your diseases of disuse. Your old knee injury from when you tried drunken trampolining.

Give me your your shit-talkers and funk-walkers; the voices in your head who sing the Rocky training montage; your sniveling inner toddler who stamps and says “No!”. Leave your inner critic at the door, or do five pushups every time you speak to yourself seriously in her voice.

Give me your clueless big-eyed newbies and grizzled gray-prickly veterans. Give me your squashy and scrawny. Give me your chickenshits; you people hunting for your fighting spirit and tending the tiny flame of Yes we can inside your ribcage.

It doesn’t matter who kicked the sand in your face. Spit it out and let’s get to work.”

There’s more…go read it. And I love how it ends, “Wherever you are in your journey of strength, you are welcome here. This place is for you.”

aging · feminism · inclusiveness · stereotypes

I Chose Not to Have Children and I Belong Here, Too

Today, I hit 2 years straight in my daily meditation streak. When I started, I set myself the goal of 30 days. As time passed, I kept moving the goalposts. I feel good about my accomplishment (and I’ve written elsewhere about what I’ve learned). And yet, as soon as I sense those first inklings of pride, I hear the voice: “Well, you don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to meditate every day.” That’s the collective voice of women I’ve known, friends even. It’s also the voice of our society, which has insinuated itself into my psyche, passing itself off as my own judgments of myself. Every accomplishment I might celebrate is diminished by this subtext, “You don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to …” Write a book. Run an ultra-marathon. Start a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and one-on-one facilitations.

Not only do I not have children, I am one of the extreme few women who are childfree by choice. 6-10% by some estimates, but that number sounds high to me; especially given that the total percent of women without children is 15.4%, which includes women who tried without medical success or would have had children, if partnered. In other words, I neither tried, nor was I circumscribed by circumstance. Oh, and my decision is irreversible at this biological point in my life. That’s right, I’m also over fifty. What a disgrace! I’ve allowed myself to age and I did not contribute to society’s diktat of the highest and best use of my female body—having children. Not that our overburdened, beleaguered planet is in need of more carbon footprints. But it turns out that I’m the carbon footprint the world can do without. I am surplus. Not even worthy of pity, because I chose my condition.

How many times have I heard variations on the phrase, “you can do that because you don’t have children”? How many times have I watched a mother’s face cloud over when she asked me if I had children and I answered? How many times have I been told that children keep you young? How many times have I endured pronouncements and opinions prefaced with “as a mother”? How many times have I been told that one has to be unselfish to have children? How many times have I heard that a woman can only truly know love once she has children? How many times have I heard during COVID that it’s the grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren who are suffering most?

The subtexts of each of these statements are demeaning and hurtful.

How about this? –A friend once said that I could (and should) make the effort to buy a fuel-efficient car, but that she could not, because she had children. Not only is it my responsibility to pay school taxes (which I absolutely 100% want to do!), but apparently it would also be helpful if I reduced my consumption, to allow for more by people with children. 

This is the moment when I make the disclaimer: No, I don’t hate children. In fact, there are children I love a whole lot. Same as most people, regardless of their procreative status. More, I enjoy cooking for people and engaging in other standard nurturing activities. And, it distresses me to have to have to clarify these points; in case people think I’m the Wicked Witch for not having children.

Playful sign on homey porch that reads: “Beware the Wicked Witch Lives Here”.
Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

This is a caveat to my disclaimer: Children’s parents can be self-important and insensitive.

I was moved to write this after reading this interview with Jody Day, psychotherapist, author and founder of Gateway Women—I’m losing my shame. Day talks about the pernicious pronatalism of our society, which tells a woman without children, “You’ve failed, you’ve got nothing to offer, you don’t fit in.” This message crashes up against what Day points out is our all too “human desire to be generative.” After all, aren’t children the ultimate generativity? Of course, that standard only applies to women.

I have been struggling lately with feeling generative. Because Day is right. I want to contribute to our society. I want to have a positive impact during my time here on earth. My last book came out in July 2019. I don’t have another one underway … yet. Early this year I founded a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and individual facilitations. We launched right as COVID hit, so we’ve been pushing uphill against all those obstacles. I don’t have a regular pay cheque, so I suffer the psychic degradations of an uncertain income. On occasion, in desperate fallow-feeling moments, like now, I think, “If I’d had children, this would be okay; because I could point to them as my raison d’être.” My children would be my accomplishment, my meaning. Instead, I have to stand in my own shoes. Live my own purpose. Find my own meaning. Offer my own grace.     

To do so, I need to overcome the explicit and implicit negative messaging that assaults me from all sides. Women should not be shamed or feel shame for choosing not to have children. One last quote from Day’s interview: “… [J]ust being a childless woman living shamelessly as you age is already radical enough.” Radical? I feel more generative already. I embrace that label. I don the cloak of radicality with insouciant pleasure. I slip it on over the cloak of invisibility assigned to me by society when I reached a certain age without children. My shoulders could feel crushed beneath the weight of the double cloaks. Instead, they feel lighter, looser and easier. The lens through which I’m looking at my life shifts. Free of society’s shoulds and musts, I feel the vitality of energies that want to flow. I remember that I made a conscious choice to be who I am. That choice was a generative act. A decision to share my energies beyond the borders of home and family.

Women without children are abundant; a radiant, radical power source. Let’s plug into our own energy shamelessly, so we can fulfill our highest and best purpose.  

clothing · cycling · inclusiveness · media

On representation and why diversity matters

So as many of you know, I’ve been riding my bike on the trainer a lot lately.

But all those hours Zwifting have been tough on my cycling clothes. I keep old stuff around and I tend to wear it to death. See here (from 2014) and it’s still true. I wear shorts with thinning lycra under dresses for work bike commutes (back in the pre-pandemic times when I commuted to work) and I wear them at home on the trainer. I have shorts that came with me on my first sabbatical in Australia 13 years ago. I still regularly wear my very first pair of cycling specific socks and they are nearly 20 years old! I keep inspecting them, looking for holes, and wear, but they are doing fine.

Those tenacious socks aside, things are starting to wear out. And the thinning cycling shorts aren’t just not decent, they’re also starting to get uncomfortable. Riding the trainer is harder on clothes I suspect. It’s sweatier and there’s a lot less time out of the saddle, moving around. They make indoor cycling specific clothing now but so far I haven’t been tempted to buy it.

In Zwift’s virtual world my avatar has a lot of cool kit to choose from. You earn kit through riding lots and from doing specific events. I have Pride kit from doing the Pride rides and I have team kit from TFC through riding for TFC.

I’ve been wanting some new bike clothes for my actual, physical, non-virtual, self.

I did a Betty Designs workout the other day and I liked the kit my avatar was wearing. It turns out they sell it for actual people. Of course they do!

Sadly their snazzy Zwift kit was sold out.

betty designs zwift kit
Model wearing Betty Designs Zwift kit

But I browsed the site anyway because why not, I was there. Every single model is wearing size S or XS. They sell larger sizes but there aren’t any models wearing it. Instead it’s screen after screen of super thin models. Mostly the same model actually. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m fine with smaller people and thin models. Some women wear size XS. There are lots of thin cyclists.

Not all cyclists are thin though. Some of us wear sizes L and XL and beyond. See Big Women on Bikes.

Compare Betty Designs to Machines for Freedom. I’ve written about MFF before. See Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me! and Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!.

And look at their models!

Plus Size Cycling Clothing is here!

See Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women for an interview with the people behind Machines for Freedom: “I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”

Between the fact that my Zwift avatar doesn’t look like me size-wise and none of the women on the Betty Designs site are anywhere near my size, you’d almost think that women my size don’t ride bikes. But we do. I do. And I’d like some representation please.

Thanks Machines For Freedom for getting it right. Women my size do ride bikes and need cycling clothes. We also appreciate being represented in your advertising imagery.

Earlier, when I was planning to teach a course on feminism, ethics, and fashion I asked whether we had an obligation to buy from size inclusive brands. At the time some readers had given me flack for liking Oiselle sports bras. The issue is that they only offer sizes up to LARGE and while they fit me, they wouldn’t fit lots of athletic women out there. The issue in today’s post is not exactly the same. Betty Designs sizes do go up to XL and while that’s still limited, the worry I raised here was a different one. Their size range includes M, L, and XL but none of their models are wearing that size. They’re all S and XS.

Having people who look like you doing the sport in question makes a difference. I’ve made the point here in terms of shape/size but Black Girls Do Bike makes the point in terms of racial diversity.

Machines for Freedom are also keen to get more Black, Indigenous and all People of Color riders out there telling their stories about riding bikes. You can offer your support here.

“Black, Indigenous and People of Color have often been left out of conversations about biking. As a film festival with 18 years of experience seeking unique bicycle stories, we have a long history of searching for films by BIPOC filmmakers. We know firsthand how few of these films exist. We’re working to change that! Funding is a major barrier to filmmaking, which is why we’ve created this fund to award generous grants to emerging filmmakers. With your support, we can award grants to more filmmakers and help bring important stories and voices to the screen.”

advertising · clothing · cycling · fitness · hiking · inclusiveness

Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!

I’ve written about Machines For Freedom before in a blog post about safe cycling in the time of the pandemic where I noted that the model looked like me!

Because despite the stereotypes, you don’t need to be stick thin to be a cyclist yet it can be challenging finding clothes that fit. I keep saying to people who say they’ll ride bikes (or go hiking and camping) AFTER they’ve lost weight, that there is no need to wait. Do it now! Yet, the message you get shopping for clothes and gear is that as a larger person this activity isn’t for you.

I’ll have more to say about this in the future. It’s a theme of mine! But for now I want to just take a moment and applaud two recent success stories:

Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women

“Diverse populations of women are featured on the brand’s Lookbooks and bibs and jerseys come in a variety of sizes to fit a wide-range of body types. Representation and inclusivity matter to Machines for Freedom and it’s abundantly clear that it’s important to the company ethos.

“I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”

Kriske believes that the sport of cycling has much more to offer riders than tech specs and racing. “There is so much joy, adventure, and confidence that comes from adventuring on a bike. When it comes to storytelling, that is our NorthStar and it’s what has been driving us to broaden our community year after year.”

The hiking and travel world is finally getting its first plus-size backpack, as the industry catches up with the diversity of people who love the outdoors

“Over the last few decades, the outdoor gear industry made innovation after innovation in product designs. Jackets are now waterproof yet surprisingly breathable, tents are so impressively lightweight one might mistake the aluminum poles for bird bones. But you still can’t buy a plus-size hiking backpack.

“When I think about it too much, I get really angry about it,”  Jenny Bruso, the self-described queer, fat, femme writer and hiker behind the popular Instagram account Unlikely Hikers told Business Insider.

That’s why backpack maker Gregory’s announcement that they’re releasing the industry’s first line of plus-size backpacks in Spring 2021 is such big news. Finally, hikers and travelers will have size-inclusive backpacks that reflect the diversity of their bodies. And Bruso, whose frustrations with the industry is a driving force behind her activism within it, is partnering with Gregory to develop the line. The release will include more than 20 different plus-size packs across the day hiking, multi-day backpacking, hydration and lifestyle categories.”

fitness · inclusiveness · stereotypes · strength training

It’s 2020 York Dumbbells. Get with it!

It’s here!

They finally arrived!

My York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set is in the house, “The versatility of the York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set works for all your arm and shoulder exercises. The specially-designed threaded collars allow quick and simple changes of weight up to 22.6 kg, so you can squeeze the most reps out of a limited time.”

There are two bars and 8 x 2.5lb., 4 x 5lb. cast iron plates. Lots of flexibility.

York 50 lb. Adjustable / Spinlock Dumbbell Set | Sport Chek
Weights

I recently decided not to return to my discount gym. It’s reopening but I am not going. They were very understanding about allowing me to pause my memberships. I have warm fuzzy feeling about the nice letter they sent me and I’m definitely going back there when I am ready to go back.

Read When will you feel okay about going back to the gym? and COVID-19 and the Gym: Building Engineers Weigh In about some of the views here on the blog about working out at home or in the gym.

But that’s not what I am here to write about. Decisions about returning to the gym are hard and complicated and the gym plays different roles in our overall mental health. I get that reasonable people will make different decisions. I miss deadlifting!

You know what’s not complicated? Understanding that not only men lift weights!

Here’s the instructions that came with my dumbbell system.


Nevermind the muscle-y stereotypical shirtless guy thing . I would have been okay a muscle-y woman beside him. I wasn’t hoping for body diversity or racial diversity or even gender diversity. Yes, there could have been a person using a wheelchair also lifting but that was too much to hope for.

Scream with me now. NOT ONLY MEN LIFT WEIGHTS!

And you know when companies do get it right, I’m so happy it’s ridiculous.

Dear York, Please do better. It’s 2020! Thanks, Sam and the other bloggers at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

feminism · fitness · fitness classes · health · inclusiveness

What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today? (Group post)

Image description: Tracy’s minimalist home workout gear: overhead shot of running shoes, a cloth basket with a tennis ball and workout bands and a few other indiscernable items, set atop a yoga mat on a wood laminate plank floor.

When Sam and I started the blog back in 2012, we were committed to offering feminist thoughts on fitness and to trying to incorporate our feminism into our fitness lifestyles as we approached our 50th birthdays. Now, as we approach our 56th birthdays in the next couple of months, we continue to reflect on the ways the fitness industry could be friendlier, more inclusive, and more approachable. We are both super pleased that we have managed to carve out and support a community of others who are seeking an alternative to the usual messaging.

I’ve been doing the virtual Superhero workouts with Alex (for more info, check out ABH Movement) a few times a week, and on Friday evening she had a team happy hour on Zoom. She sent around four questions for us to ponder before we met, with the plan to discuss them. We didn’t make it to all of them (because by the time we did a full round where we each talked about when we first started doing fitness classes, happy hour had already spilled into 90 fascinating minutes). But Kim and I thought the final question would make a great group blog post: What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today?

So I did the thing we do: I asked the Superhero team and the blog regulars for their answer to this question. And here’s what people had to say.

Nicole: I would take away the nutrition advice that some gyms provide. I don’t think there is a good way to do it in that environment. Also, it should be illegal for the instructor to say “did you indulge a little last night? Hungover? It’s OK, that’s why you are here!” No, I’m not here for that at all. Ever.

Tracy I (me): If I could wave a magic wand I would banish “weight loss” as a fitness goal from the entire industry. I would replace it with learning to believe in yourself and to love (or at least neutrally accept and value) and trust your body and appreciate it for what it can do, whatever that may be. Also: to encourage other women along the way to do the same. No comparing (I wrote about comparing back in the day)! ❤️

Cate: So many things– I’m 100% with both Tracy and Nicole on this — but I’d add I’d strip out any admonishment or encouragement to focus on anything except form. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing coaches — like Alex — plus yoga teachers and spin instructors who really understand how to support people to work for the next dimension while also emphasizing form, safety, alignment and the specific strength, needs and possibilities of your own body. But occasionally I wander into a class — like at the Y, or with a spin substitute — whose whole coaching is “harder!”. I went to a “boot camp” class at the Y a few years ago where the (20 something) instructor mocked me for doing my lunges slowly and carefully. This is obviously damaging for individual bodies and psyches, but also, I think, one of the biggest things that turns newbies away from fitness.

Sam: Oh there’s so much I would change if I ran the zoo. (Sorry, I can never resist that line from Dr. Suess.) But the most important thing for me would be a much greater emphasis on inclusion and diversity. I want room in my fitness world for people of all races, and genders and ages and physical abilities. Along with inclusion and diversity, I want to end the assumptions about who does what. I want more women in the weight room and more men in the yoga studio.

Coach Alex: As a coach, I desperately want everyone to know that if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t need to do it to “get in shape”. There’s this notion that certain movements/ways of exercising are most effective or necessary for the progress you want to make, and that’s simply untrue.

So many people struggle with developing a consistent and healthy relationship with fitness because it’s either a chore they feel they “have” to do OR they are fearful of starting in the first place (fitness is scary and intimidating). The reality is the fitness industry promotes fad diets, exercise trends, and equipment that ultimately will keep you hopping on and off the bandwagon- but if you find movement you LOVE (whether it’s weightlifting, Zumba, a sport, cycling, etc…) then THAT’S what’s going to keep you coming back. If you do burpees because you think you have to (but you hate them), you’re going to dislike that workout and dread coming back. I wish more people knew that just the act of MOVING is enough to keep you healthy and make fitness gains, and once you find a form of movement that sparks joy for you, that’s where the fun really starts 😜❤️

Chippy (Virtual Superhero teammate): What id like to change is that women are allowed to have muscles and that doesn’t make you unattractive. Those muscles take a tremendous amount of work and are beautiful. Strong is beautiful and there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with that for women 😊

And we’d love to hear from you. If you could change one thing about today’s fitness industry, what would it be?

fitness · inclusiveness · mindfulness · rest · self care · yoga

A mindful kind of fitness challenge

January: that would be the season of fitness challenges.

Here at FIFI, a good part of last month was spent thinking about them, from Yoga With Adrienne’s 30 days, to Nia Shanks’ 100 days, to the 220 in 2020 groups (check out Cate’s massively inspirational post about its power to redefine what counts as “fitness” here), to what is wrong with office “wellness” competitions (OMG EVERYTHING; click here).

I’ve been an absent voice on all of the above, because I don’t generally enjoy any kind of fitness challenge. This strikes me as very odd, since I’m actually a hugely competitive / super count-y person (aka, like Cate, #completist). I can’t explain it, except to say maybe at some point not too long ago I sort of stopped giving a ….

b1a
“The Field In Which I Grow My Fucks Is Barren”: this meme was made for me. I am recycling it here (thanks Catherine!) because holy crap I am busy ordering wallpaper with this on it right now.

Flash back to my last post, which was about kinds of wellness planning that Even Slightly Younger Kim would have pooh-poohed. Mental health. Joint health. Less cardio, more mental/joint health. I’m sorry what?

fd1
Gillian Anderson – Sex Ed hero – says: I’m sorry, what?

Since the beginning of January, I’ve been to my new therapist every second week, and I’ve also committed to a full session (that’s about 12 weeks) at my Iyengar yoga studio of choice, Yoga Centre London. And I’ve learned two really amazing new things*. (*New to me.)

I’m still doing all my fitness usuals, including time on my bike trainer (I have literally inhaled Call The Midwife, polished off Cheer, and am so excited about the new season of Sex Education [see above meme]), plus swimming and stair climbing, hiking and dog walking. But thanks to the therapy and the yoga, I’ve also realized that some things that seriously do not look like exercise are things I actually need to count as exercise. (Again, shout-out to the 220 in 2020 folks for figuring this out long before I did.)

Two weeks ago Monday I was up at the therapist around mid-day. I was cranky because I’d somehow let her book me into a slot that is usually swim time; I was going to have to sacrifice my swim and slot in something else as a result. I spent a good portion of the morning thinking about what else I could do in its place.

Then the session happened.

I’ve been going regularly to psychotherapy for many years, but this new practice is putting puzzle pieces together in ways I don’t always expect, yet clearly need to see and explore. As a result, I sometimes find myself crying my heart out for the better part of a session; this was one of those sessions.

As I left A’s office, I felt the clear, cold air on my face and realized it would be a perfect day for a ride up to the escarpment lookout that makes me feel most at peace. I made a mental note to pick that over the other options swirling in my brain and drove home.

An apple and a dog walk later, it was clear to me I was not riding anywhere; I was ready to fall asleep on the dog in the foyer while she stood in confusion on the “pause for paws!” towel. I chose to rest instead and reasoned I could fit in a late swim at my regular pool.

Of course, that did not happen.

giphy
Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) tells it like it is. I’ve also watched all of Schitt’s Creek in like 5 minutes. SO GREAT.

Instead, I did 30 minutes of simple and relaxing yoga poses in my kitchen while the supper was cooking.

In my cranky head this did not feel like “enough”. But my body knew it was sufficient, because my body had obviously done a huge amount of work in that therapy session, criss-crossing space and time to piece together experiences from my childhood that have shaped the hurt and damaged human I try to ride away from every time I get on my bike.
Fitness revelation #1: crying through the feeling is physical as well as emotional labour, and needs to be honoured with rest like any other kind.

Meanwhile, back at supper-time yoga, I was trying to work on my very sporadic home practice, doing the kinds of things I rarely do at home: Warrior 2, Sirsasana (head balance). Less than 15 seconds on my head and it was clear I was in no fit form to be doing that thing; see fitness revelation #1 above.

Again, contrary to my completist tendencies, I gave in easily, knowing it would be unsafe for me to continue pressing when I was not rested or prepared enough to manage safely head-standing. Instead, I began to think about the thing I don’t often think about when I’m doing yoga: the focus on gratitude that shapes the ethos behind the best yogic practices.

Of course everyone wants to be able to do side crow, headstand, handstand, and forearm balances effortlessly; in this way, our collective social attitudes to yoga are hardly different from our attitudes to any other group fitness practice (#competition).

But yoga’s not about that. It’s actually about giving thanks: for our bodies, their changing dimensions, and the labour they do to keep us upright, healthy, strong, and flexible regardless of that process of change. I’m reminded of these things every time we say the Invocation to Patanjali at the start of a class at my Iyengar studio.

Except that I’m also not reminded of those things when we say the invocation, because every time we say the invocation I am LITERALLY OBSESSED with the parts I know and the parts I still don’t know. I sit there, cross-legged on my block, singing out some lines very proudly while waiting anxiously for the lines where I’m more or less humming “um um um thingy thingy thingy” and hoping nobody hears me.

Which means the invocation is the most self-obsessed part of my yoga practice.

I realized this lying on my kitchen floor, my legs up the pantry doors in Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, aka the best yoga pose in the history of the world). I decided then and there to learn the damn invocation already.

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A woman lying prone in a white yoga space on a purple mat, with legs, belted at the thigh, up the wall, sacrum supported by a bolster, arms back and palms weighted. She looks happy. Because this is the BEST. YOGA. POSE. EVER.

That weekend, I downloaded a bunch of YouTube videos of yogis teaching the invocation, and I got into the bath. I sat in the warm, epsom-salty water until I had learned all the bits I had been fudging.

OK, so, again, here’s a thing that most people would definitely not call fitness: sitting in a warm tub memorizing lines. I think that’s technically called homework. But for me, it was so, so releasing. I can now say the invocation easily and instead of fussing and fretting I can think about its purpose, hear the sounds and feel their vibrations. I can move past the embarrassment and performance anxiety and find the stillness in the song.
Fitness revelation #2: sitting in a bathtub learning a valuable thing also absolutely counts as exercise, because it is a kindness to our mind-bodies.

I am hopeful that saying the invocation loudly and with depth of feeling will now help me strengthen my headstand, but I’m also super OK if it just makes legs up the wall feel even dandier.

I’ll keep you posted.

inclusiveness · injury · yoga

Sam’s most hated yoga pose

Catherine blogged about her most uncomfortable yoga poses and what she does instead. I’ve also become “that free spirit yoga lady” who just appears to be doing her own thing in yoga class. It’s winter and I’m back at hot yoga in a studio and despite all the talk of ‘only you know your body’ and ‘this is your practice’ I feel some pressure to go along with the sequence of poses.

I thought I’d share my recent yoga frustrations with you. Or when I’m in a mood, let’s just call it “my most hated yoga pose.” It’s Hero or Virasana. Here it’s described as balm for tired legs at the end of a long day but for me it’s just excruciating pain. Also, several physios and a knee surgeon or two have just out and out told me not to do it. So I don’t.

Searching for “hero pose” on Unsplash–a royalty free photo site–the best I got was this image. Not exactly what I had in mind!

Spiderman! Photo by Stem List on Unsplash

Here’s Yoga with Adriene explaining how to set it up:

Knees are precious she tells us. Learn how to set up hero pose mindfully.

But the video also has the following text description:

” Yoga workshop! Learn the foundations of Hero Pose – or Virasana with Yoga With Adriene! Learn this delicate but powerful seated pose with at-home supports. No fancy yoga props needed. Learn to self adjust and use props intuitively and mindfully. Hero is a great stretch for the legs and feet. It can ground and calm the body with regular practice and help with digestion and bloating. Learn to explore a posture in a way that feels good. Avoid this posture if you have injury in the knee or ankle.

The bold bit is mine.

And that’s the thing. No amount of modification will help. There is no right number of blocks, no proper arrangement of towels that will fix things.

Other poses are challenging–pigeon, child’s pose, bow–but I can find modifications that work. Not in this case and that’s okay. There is no way to make all the yoga poses work for every body despite what some yoga teachers seem to think.

Instead, you can find me off doing my own thing. And I’ll join you again for the next posture.

Is there a yoga pose that your body simply can’t do? No matter how many modifications? Make feel less alone here. Tell me your story. 🙂

accessibility · body image · disability · fitness · inclusiveness

Better language for inclusion needed: Not “all bodies can…”

As most of you know while this blog is very much a group project, I pretty much run our Facebook page solo. (I do get some help with moderation. Thanks blogging team!) But in general I read things that I think will interest our followers and I throw them on the page pretty quickly. I make mistakes. I learn things from our readers. I apologize.

Why have the page? It’s a great way to reach a broad audience and build community. Posts that aren’t shared there aren’t nearly as well read as posts that are. Also, there are a ton of stories that come across my newsfeed that I don’t necessarily want to write about but that I think will interest our readers and followers.

Yesterday I shared this story about plus sized outside adventurers. I commented “all bodies are outside bodies.”

But of course there’s reason to be wary of “all bodies” language. Our bodies vary a lot in shape and size and ability. One reader commented, helpfully, that we need better language around inclusion. She has ankle injuries and instability and can no longer hike and misses it.

Hey, me too! I can’t walk very far these days without my knee brace and even with the brace hiking on uneven ground is out of the picture. Now I didn’t say “all bodies are hiking bodies” I deliberately said “all bodies are outdoors bodies” because I was thinking of recent attempts here in Ontario to make provincial parks and beaches wheel chair accessible.

But I get the general point. I feel it when people say “it’s never too late.” Yes, as a matter of fact sometimes it is too late. I’ll never run or play soccer again.

So we want to make sure plus sized bodies are included so we say “all bodies” but not all bodies can do all things. What’s your thoughts about better language for inclusion? Do you mind all bodies talk? How about “all bodies are good bodies?”

athletes · body image · fitness · gender policing · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · Olympics · racism · sexism · stereotypes

Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal

Many years ago I had the good fortune to work with a board full of fabulous women representing a wide diversity of interests, experiences and backgrounds. One of the women had competed in the Montreal Olympics. She described for us one day what it was like to be subjected to a sex test. Her emotions were palpable, especially the anger.

In fact, we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements. This kind of scrutiny has now been enshrined with this week’s decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in which they ruled against middle distance runner Caster Semenya’s appeal of the IAAF’s move to enforce new regulations regarding athletes differences of sexual development (DDS). In particular, the IAAF says female athletes who have higher than usual levels of testosterone must take drugs to reduce those levels to even the playing field.

Semenya’s career in track has been dogged by constant allegations that her achievements in the sport are unfairly won. Curiously, US swimmer Michael Phelps, whose body produces less lactic acid, is deemed to be exceptionally fortunate to be born with this genetic advantage.

And yet, no one is suggesting Phelps should take drugs to enable his body to produce more lactic acid so his competitors have a more equal opportunity.

We cannot forget that along with the sexism this decision against Semenya perpetuates, it is also supporting a racist assumption on how black bodies perform compared to white ones. Acclaimed tennis champion Serena Williams has been constantly challenged on her accomplishments and her body size, shape and presentation. This CNN article gives a great overview about the biases against Williams, including the assumption that her excellence erases her female identity.

The belief that Williams and Semenya are so good at what they do, they cannot possibly be women is one that has long been used to attack women who excel in sport. But it seems particularly pervasive in its use against black women. Semenya’s body naturally produces more testosterone than is usually found in women. Yet the research is unclear how natural testosterone affects performance compared to artificial hormones used to enhance performance:

“What’s clear is that there is solid evidence that men who take excessive doses of testosterone … do get a competitive advantage clearly in sports related to strength,” said Bradley Anawalt, a hormone specialist and University of Washington Medical Center’s chief of medicine.The problem, said Anawalt, is that attempts to try to quantify that competitive advantage in naturally occurring levels of the hormone are “fraught with difficulty in interpretation.”

The CAS decision was meant to clarify and instead muddied the waters even further. They upheld the IAAF decision but said they should take more time to implement. They agreed with the concept of the rule DDS athletes should reduce their testosterone, but were concerned about the effects on athlete’s bodies. They said it was fine for the IAAF to apply this rule to athletes racing under 1000 metres but athletes running longer distances were fine.

The Semenya case has implications that are far-reaching. We know women have been over-medicated, often to their detriment. We know that chemical castration has been used to manage pedophiles. But Semenya is neither depressed nor a criminal. She is an athlete performing her best with the tools she was born with.

That the IAAF and its head Sebastian Coe have created an environment in which Semenya can be neither her best or herself is untenable. I am glad Canada’s Minister for Sport has called out this decision. We need to have conversations about sexism, racism, and transphobia in sport; more importantly we need action. Follow #HandsOffCaster or #LetHerRun, among others, on Twitter; sign this petition; become informed; and make your views known and heard.