accessibility · disability · diversity · equality · holiday fitness · holidays · inclusiveness · meditation · self care

Making Space 2022: Day 3

This post has a lot of different things crammed into it, kind of like an average December day. I tried to make them into a somewhat coherent whole but I’m not sure it worked. Let’s roll with it anyway.

On Day 3 of her 2020 Wellness Calendar, Martha telling us to Remember to Eat. This is another one of the basic that we often let slide during this busy month. We don’t feel like we have time to sit down for a proper meal so we just grab a snack and the next thing we’re cranky and running on empty. While I get that this kind of thing will happen from time to time, please do what you can to prepare in advance. That might look like making a plan about when you will take downtime for meals or it might look like planning for something quick to eat while you are on the run.

Speaking of all the busyness of the month ahead, one of the ways I’d like you to create space for yourself today is by ditching something from your to do list.

I know that sounds like heresy when there is SoVeryMuch to do but that’s exactly why it is a good idea.

Have a look at your to do list -whether that is on paper, on a screen, or in your head and turn your attention either to the list of stuff that you will do ‘if I have time’ or to anything on your list that you are absolutely dreading.

I would like you to ditch (or at least change) one of those things.

Yes, decide right now that you are not going to do it.

If it is something on your ‘if I have time’ list, then you will be able to create a little extra quiet in your brain. You will have one less thing that can float up to fill any downtime you are trying to create for yourself. And you will feel better about not doing it if it is a decision instead of a lack of time.

If it is something that you are dreading but that you really feel needs to be done, I’m wondering if you might be able to pass it on to someone else. Could there be someone in your life who would happily take that on – maybe not exactly in the same way you do but that’s fine too. Perhaps there’s someone you can pay to do it. Maybe you can trade disagreeable tasks with someone else. Or, maybe the task itself can be changed, reduced, or reshaped to make it less dreadful.

And, I realize that in one of the paragraphs above I told you to add something to your to do list (plan for your meals) and then immediately afterwards I told you to ditch something from your list. I stand by that apparent contradiction.

Adding things to your to do list that increase your well-being and your ability to take good care of yourself are more likely to reduce your stress than increase it. Taking good care of yourself increases your capacity to enjoy the rest of the preparations that you choose to include in your month and to keep the things you *must* do in perspective.

When I prepared last year’s Making Space posts I tried to include videos of people with a range of body types and abilities. I was moderately successful but I am determined to improve things for this year.

Since today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities I wanted to be sure to be open about my intention to be inclusive and to invite anyone who reads this to share any videos that they find useful. I don’t always know what search terms to use and I may be missing excellent videos because my vocabulary is limited.

These Making Space posts are not exactly the forum for an in-depth discussion of these issues but since I have your attention, I wanted you to know that the theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world.”

I don’t think that my posts here are at all part of that sort of broad change but hopefully I can at least raise some awareness about today and give some of my readers something to think about.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about disability activism but some things things I do know are 1) every person on earth has the right to live with dignity 2) change depends on listening to those with lived experience 3) any practice, policy, or accommodation that increases accessibility, diversity, and inclusion is a good thing for everyone who makes use of the service/visits the building/ participates in the activity – an inclusive world is a better world 4) inclusive practices are not about catering to anyone or providing special treatment, they are about creating a more just world.

And I think we can all be part of that change by seeking more just and equitable practices in our organizations, workplaces, and daily lives.

Okay, back to the stated purpose of the Making Space 2022 posts: short workouts and meditations to help create space for yourself on your to do list!

A video entitled ‘7 Minute – No Equipment Workout – Ella’s Wheelchair Workout- Video 40’ from Ella Beaumont, she is wearing a orange tank top, has her hair pulled back in a ponytail and she is in her wheelchair in her living room. Behind her is a couch lined with multi-coloured pillows and a bookshelf filled with books and knick-knacks.

If you’re not feeling up to a workout today, perhaps this meditation from Headspace might be just the thing.

A video from the Headspace YouTube channel called ‘Feeling Overwhelmed? Try This Quick Meditation.’ The still image shows an orange rectangle in the upper left corner that encloses the word ‘Meditation:’ in white and blue text below that reads ‘Feeling Overwhelmed SOS’ on the right side of the screen is a cartoon image of an orange bucket that is overflowing with drops of blue liquid falling from the side into a blue puddle below.

However you choose to take good care of yourself today, I wish you ease in the process.

Please practice self-kindness.

fitness · inclusiveness

Gender is weird, or Sam’s first reflections on her fancy new gym

So I’ve joined a fancy gym. You know, the kind with fitness classes you book online using an app, wood paneling, gentle upbeat music in the lobby, and a coffee/juice bar. There are even blow dryers and mirrors with good lighting for getting ready for work after your workout.

I actually appreciate the app but the rest of it isn’t anything I need in a gym. My usual workout spaces are university gyms, the Y, or, for a time, a CrossFit box (as they say.)

I’m there because they have a pool and aquafit classes but also spin classes and hot yoga, a decent weight room, and a sauna and a hot tub. It’s lovely really and I’m spoiling myself during my winter of mostly indoor exercise as I rehab the left knee after surgery and pre-hab the right one before it too is surgically replaced.

One thing about these kinds of mainstream fitness spaces that I find jarring is that they do gender in ways that aren’t usually part of my world.

What do I mean by that?

Well, it’s not just the change rooms.

They also have a women’s fitness room within the gym. It’s not as nice as the main gym. There aren’t as many options. Likely I won’t ever use it. It looks like lots of women do though. But it also means there are fewer women in the general weightlifting area. So a space that can feel male dominated feels even more male dominated because some women opt for the women only space. And then, as a result, more women opt for the women only space. I find that frustrating.

I get that you want to include women who for religious reasons can’t exercise around men but the upshot for the rest of us isn’t positive. And it’s certainly not positive for those people who identify as gender non-binary.

There’s a webcam from the fitness center daycare to the women’s only fitness space that got me wondering about dads who bring their kids to the on-site day care while they work out. It’s like when there are infant change tables only in the women’s washrooms. I’m not sure if there is a web cam of the daycare accessible from the main fitness room or the men’s locker room. My guess is no.

I was happy to see though that the aquafit classes that take place in the women only pool are more gender inclusive. They’re open to women and gender non binary members. There are also ‘open to everyone’ aquafit classes in the regular pool. I’m glad because lots of guys have injuries that could benefit from exercising in the water.

Non binary aqua bootcamp class description

I’ve been feeling more and more that I don’t belong in women only spaces. It’s not that I don’t identify as a woman. I do. But lots of the people I want to spend time with don’t. I don’t want to be in spaces that exclude them. Lots of my friends identify as gender queer or gender fluid or gender non binary and it feels different excluding them than it does excluding cis men.

I’m still thinking lots about this and I’m not sure what this means for me and my future in women only environments. I used to think it was okay as long as they were trans inclusive but that’s no longer enough for me, I think. And it’s not that I don’t think there should be such spaces but I am wondering more and more about my place in them.

Juice bar image from Unsplash

cycling · fitness · inclusiveness · Zwift

Celebrating diversity on Zwift

Great news for the paracycling community and for those of us who see opportunities for greater inclusion in the world of virtual cycling. The latest Zwift update includes handcycles.

A handcycle in Zwift

To be clear people at home having been using handcycles to ride in Zwift but the virtual bike options didn’t match. And that matters.

Says Zwift in its announcement of the handcycle option, “Zwift is a platform for everyone and our goal is to represent all members of our community within the worlds of Zwift. We hope that the Zwift Handcycle will allow adaptive athletes to have more fun in-game and better represent themselves on the roads of Watopia.”

We’ve written before about inclusion in cycling both in the virtual and in the real world. See In favour of April Fools’ Day Trikes and Inclusive Representation and Not all bikes are pedaled by foot, Sam finds out. I’m happy that the Zwift developers made this a priority and I’m looking forward to seeing some handcycles out there this winter.

Zwift Handcycle

fitness · inclusiveness · running

Are women’s feet special?

I shared the following article to Facebook, Finally, Women’s Running Shoes Are Being Made for Women’s Feet, not sure what to think about it.

On the one hand, what’s special or different about women’s feet? On the other, if all running shoes–even women’s running shoes–are based on models of men’s feet, that may be a problem.

I’ve written about gendered cycling shoes in this post here on the blog, Is women’s specific anything just a bad idea? What’s the issue? If women’s cycling shoes are narrower then some men, those with narrow feet, will end up needing to buy women’s shoes. Some women, those with wide feet, will end up buying men’s shoes. But, I asked in that piece, why even bother with the gendered labeling? Why not just call them wide and narrow shoes?

I love my Pride Hunter rainboots which come just like that, no gendered sizing, just wide and narrow.

I came to this point because I’m a woman who rides a men’s bike. A men’s bike just fits people with short legs and long torsos better. And guess what? That’s me.

And you know, I wouldn’t think it would bug me but it does. Each time I go to buy a bike someone in a bike shop, or a well meaning friend, recommends a women-specific frame. I have to tell them that it won’t work. As far as bikes go, I’m a dude since all women’s frame means is longer legs WHICH I DON’T HAVE. Grrrr. It’s a very minor exclusion in the grand scheme of things but it grates.

I don’t mind that the men’s and women’s bikes sometimes come packaged with different components and the men’s bike is the better deal.

What about running shoes? How different are men’s and women’s feet really?

“Shoes are designed around foot-shaped molds called lasts, which dictate the fit and feel as well as the aesthetics and proportions. For a long time, those lasts were based only on molds of men’s feet. But “female feet … are not algebraically scaled, smaller versions of male feet, as is often assumed,” a study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association declared way back in 2009. As a result, more and more brands started using female lasts based on the mold of a woman’s foot. For what it’s worth, some have opted for unisex lasts—an approach Katie Manser, the Supervisor of Research Operations at Heeluxe Footwear, an independent shoe research lab, dismisses. “There’s no such thing as a unisex foot—it’s anatomically a man’s foot or a woman’s foot,” she explains.”

But again, I’m not sure this gets it right. There may not be a ‘one size fits all’ foot but it seems unlikely all women have similar feet, or that the difference between men’s and women’s feet will be larger than the differences between different women’s feet.

The article I shared goes on to describe all of the different ways in which women’s feet differ from men’s but in each case there’s likely lots of variability between women. Also worth noting that some women were assigned male at birth and lots of people don’t identify as male or female at all.

In the end that article acknowledges that it’s not really about gender, it’s about variety and fit.

“The more knowledge you have about your body, the more empowered you are to make a decision regarding what you put on it. At the end of the day, the best shoe for you—no matter your gender—is the shoe that feels most comfortable on your feet. “

And with that, I think we can all agree.

Thanks to Christopher Sardegna @css for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 🎁 https://unsplash.com/photos/iRyGmA_no2Q
camping · cycling · disability · fitness · Guest Post · inclusiveness

One Way Bike Camping

The past twelve months of my life have been overflowing with adventures and exciting changes. In May 2021, I began to realize that my beloved London, Ontario community would not be my home forever. But I wasn’t sure what my next steps would look like.

In late August, I hopped on my trusty pedelec (pedal electric assist cycle) loaded with camping supplies and headed north along Lake Huron. At that time I assumed I’d be back in London by November or December, but had no plans set in stone.

In mid-October, I was biking from Wikwemikong to Manitowaning when I snapped a milestone photo showing 1200km on my trip odometer. Although I continued on to Kagawong & Ice Lakes afterwards via a bus-bike combo, in many ways it marked the end (or at least nearly the end) of my first bike camping adventure.

A week later I was supposed to catch the last ferry of the season back to Tobermory… but I didn’t want to leave. In the short time I’d been on Manitoulin, I had already begun to feel a sense of belonging. Community care, breathtaking beauty, and changing scenery around every corner make Manitoulin a place unlike any other that I came across in my travels.

Several weeks of stealth bike camping increased my comfort with making decisions based on rapidly changing contexts, rather than trying to plan everything in advance. Manitoulin feels like where I need to be during this season of my life. So I took a leap and unexpectedly moved to Northern Ontario via bike camping!

This December sunset bay photo feels like a warm winter hug! To the left, a few trees are silhouetted against a pastel pink sky. A couple islands can be seen on the horizon line. A thin row of rocks poke through ice which reflects the sky near the horizon, but is covered with snow closer to the shore line. The shore has patches of snow interspersed with sand and tufts of grass. On the left side of the foreground is the corner of a weather worn wooden fence, with tall dried grass spilling out to the right and gradually thinning out. Despite the busyness of this photo, it somehow feels inviting.
beach body · body image · diversity · fitness · inclusiveness · normative bodies · objectification · sexism

Inclusive objectification anyone?

Image description: Four panels each depicting a 2022 Sports Illustrated cover from one of the four versions of the 2022 SI Swimsuit Issue, from right to left Kim Kardashian, Ciara, Maye Musk, and Yumi Nu. Image from https://swimsuit.si.com/swimnews/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-2022-cover-models-kim-kardashian-ciara-maye-musk-yumi-nu

Every time the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue makes the news, I am newly and naively amazed that it still exists at all. In 2017 it made the news because it included a 63 year-old Christie Brinkley in a red bikini. I got on my high horse about that here: “Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off so can anyone, right?”

That same year everyone applauded SI for including Hunter McGrady, whose fulsome curves defied the usual Swimsuit Issue body-type. Her inclusion was celebrated as a “breath of fresh air,” and I wondered whether anything having to do with the SI swimsuit issue is really a breath of fresh air. I don’t really think so, even if Hunter McGrady claims to be doing this not just for herself, but “but for every woman out there who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body and who wants and needs to know that you are sexy.” The same issue also included Serena Williams, a world-class athlete, to “prove” (to whom?) that a woman can be both sexy and athletic.

So this year we have a kind of repeat of all those themes — you can be curvaceous or in your seventies or have an unexpected “background” (their code for race or for ethnicity) and still we want to objectify you as a sexual object in one of our most popular issues of the year!

The editor in chief of this issue, MJ Day, doesn’t put it quite like that of course. Day says:

“We all deserve the chance to evolve. So in this issue, we encourage readers to see these models as we see them: multifaceted, multitalented—and sexy while they’re at it. The world may label them one way, but we want to focus our lens on all the ways they see themselves and how they own who they are. No matter your age, whether you’re a new mom, partner, sister, entertainer, athlete, entrepreneur, advocate, student, mentor, role model, leader or dreamer—or all of the above—we want to celebrate these women, their evolution and the many dimensions of who they are.”

(from https://swimsuit.si.com/swimnews/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-2022-cover-models-kim-kardashian-ciara-maye-musk-yumi-nu)

But in the end, despite all of their many dimensions and talents, these women are just reduced to their sexy-factor. I should note that I am not opposed to sexiness. I and several of us from the blog have been open about our boudoir photo shoots. What gets me with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the context. This is a magazine historically designed by men for men. And its main purpose is to cover sports news. What, I ask, do women in swim suits have to do with sports news and for whom are they striking sexy poses? If they want to do it “for themselves” they can do a boudoir photo shoot.

Instead of celebrating the objectification of an ever more inclusive range of women, I can’t help but thinking a more positive step for women would be getting rid of the swimsuit issue altogether. I don’t know any women who would mind one bit, but I predict a huge outcry from the men who look forward to this issue and a subsequent loss of a sure-thing revenue item for Sports Illustrated. As long as we are willing to get on board with the objectification of women for an audience the vast majority of which is straight and male, to celebrate it as something empowering for women, and to congratulate it for “breaking barriers,” we are going to be stuck promoting that idea that women — all women — need to be sexy-to-men to be acceptable. Surely we can promote inclusion without having to piggy back on that relentless message about what makes women worthy.

accessibility · fitness · inclusiveness

Moving back into the world but who are we leaving behind?

Today I posted on Twitter.

And then Pandemic Dark Dance posted to Facebook, “Tomorrow Night… Hopefully the last online Pandemidarkdance for a long while. I fully expect all 600-some members to login for it. We can’t take 600 requests, but we can take a few. You got any? Next Thursday (17th) we’ll be back in the Owls club, like olden times… Like nothing had ever happened… save for the vax check, tea-light squares, and the entry and exit wearing of masks…”

So we’re moving our fitness lives back into the world and the online options are closing down. Mostly (see above) I’m thrilled about that. I’m back at the gym I’m doing in person yoga again.

But who is being left behind?

I’m struggling with this in the university context too, trying to balance accessibility concerns, with wanting to be back on campus for in person learning.

It’s not just about being high risk for covid, or having perfectly reasonable concerns about social gathering when the pandemic isn’t over. There are also disability access needs that have been met during the pandemic. In addition, there’s the rural/small town/big city divide. I remember, in the early days of social media, when online friends in big cities would talk about getting off LiveJournal or Friendster or Facebook in favour of in person friends in the real world. I’d point out that their real world looked different than mine. I didn’t have the same access to in person events that they did.

So too with Dark Dancing.

What is Dark Dancing anyway?

Elan blogged about it here.

From the No Lights, No Lycra page:

“WE DANCE IN THE DARK IN MORE THAN 75 LOCATIONS AROUND THE WORLD AND WE’VE BEEN DOING IT SINCE 2009! We turn off the lights and crank up the tunes to release our inhibitions, move our moods and work up a wild sweat – all completely sober. We are mums, dads, students, lawyers and baristas, from 12 to 100 years old. We all have one thing in common; in the dark we come alive, shake the blues away and get lost in the music….We grew from a small gathering in Melbourne into a global community, simply because joy is contagious, and people love to dance. Lights Out, Let’s Dance – there’s room for you on our dance floor. 

When the pandemic hit, dark dancing took off in peoples’ homes. If you use Spotify there are more than 300 No Lights No Lyrca playlists. I can’t dance due to my knees but these playlists have saved my life on the bike these past two years.

So as Dancing in the Dark returns to clubs, that’s great I guess. But what about those of us who don’t live in Toronto, New York, or London or who are choosing to stay out night clubs until the pandemic is gone for good? Or what about those people who dance in bed, or in their wheelchairs, for whom the night club, even sober, might never have been a real option?

I was happy to see that some dark dancing groups are running hybrid dance parties, in the club in whatever city they are in and on Zoom and or YouTube as well.

And I’ll be curious to see where we land in terms of hybrid forms of participation.

Dancing gif

How is this working out in your online fitness world? Are you losing online fitness options? What do you think we ought to do to keep online and in person fitness communities going? How is hybrid working out, if your communities are going that route?

body image · fitness · inclusiveness · strength training · weight lifting

Inclusion in Bodybuilding and Gym Culture: An Interview with Michael Collins

In this interview (part 1 of 2), Michael Collins compares bodybuilding competitions to Kiwanis music festivals, and describes his desire to be the “Julia Child of weightlifting.” Find Michael on Twitter: https://twitter.com/erlking.

How did you get into bodybuilding and gym culture?

I formerly worked in the academic field, but I left because of a combination of burnout, poor career prospects, and a feeling that my passions had shifted. I have always had a passion for bodybuilding and muscular physiques, which I felt I had to hide when I was in academia. I actually felt more shame and anxiety about being into muscles in the university setting than I felt about being gay! 

I’m 38, and I only became serious about bodybuilding when I was 31. Today I am a personal trainer and bodybuilding coach, but in terms of my own physique I am an amateur / passionate bodybuilding hobbyist. Like most sports, professional success requires a blend of genetic predisposition and starting young; what slim hopes I might have had of becoming a pro, or even a prominent amateur competitor, would have required me to start a dozen years sooner than I did. However, there are many reasons why someone would pursue bodybuilding beyond professional success!

Is bodybuilding culture welcoming of gay folks like yourself?

Unfortunately, professional bodybuilding can still be a homophobic space, but at the amateur level this has never been an issue for me, and in fact I’m a member of a large, robust, and mutually supportive community of gay and queer amateur bodybuilders. I definitely feel more comfortable being myself where I am right now than I did previously.

Can you explain what training and being a trainer in a gym is like?

Photo provided by Michael Collins

I consider bodybuilding competitions to be an artistic practice and a form of body modification, less a professional sport and more like the Kiwanus Music Festivals I would compete in as a youth. You labour in solitude for months to produce an aesthetic object that exists in time, then you produce that aesthetic object for a panel of judges alongside peers who have done the same, and then you are ranked according to a fairly strict and narrow sense of what determines worth in this specific arena. I think bodybuilders have more in common with concert pianists than they do with football players.

Before the pandemic, I wanted to be the Julia Child of lifting weights, helping people who are anxious about it and ignorant of it because of that anxiety, showing them this is their space too, and they have a right to learn how their body works and how to make it stronger. 

I trained in-person, mostly people I would call “beginners.” In the gym I taught basic fundamentals like how to deadlift and squat properly, how to make it so your back hurts less and you don’t get winded going up three flights of stairs, and so on. I had prediabetic clients who used weight training as a way of managing that condition.

How did your training practice change once the pandemic took hold?

Gyms in Toronto were closed for almost nine months straight. It’s important to tutor beginners in basic physical movements to avoid injury, so it was difficult to train my clients virtually. Also, beginners don’t have access to their own power rack, olympic barbells, and collection of plates! 

So, during the pandemic, I shifted more to coaching people who are already well-versed in lifting and who want to further a physical transformation, often who want to compete as amateur bodybuilders (something I’m thankful I got to do myself for the first time in 2019). I shifted to work that can be done virtually, like programming people’s workout plans, diet plans, etc.

What is the best part of your craft?

Photo provided by Michael Collins

Some of my clients tell me they have had very troubled or even hateful relationships with their bodies. I find it very fulfilling when someone has discovered the pleasure of how strong their body actually can be, of how good it can feel to regularly test your limits and feel them gradually expand. It’s lovely to help someone transform in a way they long desired but felt was impossible. The sense of pride and pleasure that can awaken is very rewarding to see.

What advice do you have for folks who want to get more involved with bodybuilding and gym culture?

Find your people. They’re unlikely to be the influencers on Instagram who dominate the field (although I know of a few who really warm my heart with good, well-considered, intelligent feminist or generally progressive insights). Instead, find people who are working for a similar goal and who have similar values as you. People who are on a similar path, but who may be a step or two ahead. They’ll be a great resource for learning (and there’s so much to learn if you’re new) and for mutual support. For me, Twitter has been good for this.

Also, think about what kind of gym that’s available to you and what kind of community there is. The communities in smaller, independent gyms are normally male-dominated, but they are often supportive and focused on teaching, learning, and mutual support. And, if you have the money and you know someone who is a good fit for you, hiring a knowledgeable trainer is my best advice. 

Additional video interview

Hear personal trainer Michael Collins describe more about his journey to bodybuilding, his vision of the inclusiveness of gym culture, and how gym communities are shifting to support all types of bodybuilding enthusiasts.

Interview with Michael Collins [19:04]
inclusiveness · nature · self care · yoga

Yoga Outside

When it’s cold outside, and I’m lying on my couch in a Wordsworthian mood, I think about my summer fitness activities. Doing yoga outside for the first time was one!

Over the years I’ve done yoga almost exclusively inside (including stretching in my bathroom). What I remember about inside yoga:

  • Get there early to get a spot where you want to be–the mirrors or the walls, the back or the front, near or away from the door.
  • Can be a tight fit. Tape on the floors so you know where to park your mat.
  • People half ignoring you, half checking you out.
  • Water bottles, quick dry towels, and stretchy outfits outside of my price range.
  • Bells and bowls and Buddha statues and instrumental flute playlists.

This is a broad brush. I am certain yoga studios have a range of vibes. But the juiced-up versions of inside yoga seem to encourage focusing on all the wrong things about yoga. When Sam sent around this link, US-based yoga studio popular with celebrities opening first Toronto location, I could only imagine this chain’s next level of bougie. (As the lead image suggests, it’s teal-only yoga wear there).

Trying Yoga Outside

This past summer, when the studios were closed due to COVID, a few friends and I signed up for a morning outside yoga class. And when I say outside I mean we were on the grass next to the parking lot of a local craft brewpub.

A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head - Sanjali padmasana. Back view
“A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head – Sanjali padmasana. Back view” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0. So, not me.

Yoga outside immediately felt different from yoga inside. Sunshine, grass, trees, sky, breeze. A smallish group, there was friendly eye contact and slightly sheepish smiles. No floor tape–my choice of mat placement was shade or sun. Folks brought water, but registration also came with a beer, which you could drink after the session–or during, as our yoga instructor did.

When I stretched to the sky, I reached for tree branches. When I rolled a bit off my mat, soft grass cushioned my body. When I relaxed in savasana pose, the sun warmed my face. The traffic, bugs, and uneven ground were all noticeable, but they somehow made me feel more connected to my place and space. I didn’t need or want bells or a flute playlist.

Yoga in North America

I am far from the first to note that North Americans culturally appropriate yoga. As Yoga International’s Arundhati Baitmangalkar says, “Yoga is a spiritual practice. It is a way of living. It’s a practice of self-study and mind management. It is a way of thinking, speaking, being—and more. Yoga is a part of Indian culture and heritage.”

Doing what I will call “middle-class white person yoga at 11 in the morning, beer in hand” was definitely NOT reflecting the culture and heritage of India.

But being outside meant no appropriated or commercialized artefacts or symbols. The instructor was inclusive and supportive in her instructions. She was not South Asian, but her shape and size was that of a regular person, not someone who stepped out of a Lululemon yoga ad. No teal.

Baitmangalkar goes on to note that in many studios the goal is a workout, not yoga. I fully accept that the outside yoga was more of a workout. But my friends and I were also looking for some mind management and self-care after having struggled with supporting others during the COVID pandemic. We wanted to reconnect with our spirits and the world that day.

I am not recusing myself of participating in cultural appropriation by doing craft beer yoga, but being outside the inside studio made me consider how I might further educate myself and engage with yoga living. I’m going to start with some of the recommendations in Baitmangalkar’s article.

For those who practice outside yoga regularly, please share your experiences in the comments!

diversity · fitness · inclusiveness · team sports

Pickleball

Two women in green shirts smiling and posing with racquets and a silver cup
Team Racquet Ralph (Grace-Ann and Elan) posing with the league cup we certainly did not win, but took a photo with it anyways.

Know someone playing pickleball right now? If you do, they will likely tell you it is a great sport–easy to play and growing widely in popularity.

As a newbie to pickleball (just finished my first half-season this fall), I would like to share some early reflections (and random internet searches) to consider why pickleball is gaining popularity, and for whom.

A Fun Sport for Seniors, and Others

Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Seattle by three men: two are described by this article as a congressman and a “successful businessman” who thought up the sport to entertain their bored children.

Today, pickleball is often regarded as a retirement (or near retirement) sport. This 50 Plus Today website article describes the key benefits of pickleball as:

  • Healthy (and easy on joints)
  • Easy to learn
  • Social
  • Space friendly
  • Playable at various ages
  • Playable at various skill levels
  • Affordable
  • A year-round sport

As a tennis-style game, but played with a wiffle ball and on a slightly smaller court, it can be played singles or doubles. Because the point count ends at 11 points (with a 2-point difference), a round of pickleball can be played in as little as 10-15 minutes.

Where I live, in Ontario, Canada, the province’s Pickleball Ontario association has a publicly available policy statement on diversity and inclusion. The document describes the board’s commitments to increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups in pickleball, and includes a long list of inclusive key terms. The rec league I have played on is “open,” so no gender specific teams.

Paying to Play

The above suggests to me that the sport is aspiring to keep its barriers to entry low by encouraging players of different ages and abilities.

Pickleball isn’t an expensive sport compared to some others, but it still requires equipment (paddles, nets, court shoes) and sufficient indoor or outdoor space. Although you can make an available tennis court work for free, sports clubs organize leagues so charge individuals and teams to play.

Folks with philanthropic and economic interests are tapping into the growing popularity of pickleball. On one webpage I found that pickleball was being used as a charity fundraiser event. On another page, an investment company provides advice to retirees by comparing wise investing with pickleball strategy. To understand and play pickleball today is to have some social and cultural capital.

For some, the sport itself may represent affluence. This Wall Street Journal article from 2018 highlights tensions in an American retirement community after some residents proposed installing a pickleball court, while others disagreed due to the high cost. The article’s author describes the disagreement among these residents as a symbol of the growing wealth gap in America.

An “International” Sport

Pickleball has been described as a sport as growing in popularity around the world. This site lists over 2 dozen national pickleball associations. I do notice that mostly Western and middle- and high-income countries are on the list. 

On the web I found evidence of pickleball being played in some countries not on the above international associations list–but the players are vacationers, not residents. Examples below describe all-inclusive pickleball getaways, featuring special training and tournaments:

At the time of writing, there are only a few web articles I could find that consider the racial and ethnic diversity in pickleball, but both articles I found were behind paywalls.

The Future of Pickleball

The folks I’ve met in our fall pickleball league at the YMCA gym are a friendly and fun group, mostly couples or buds in their 40s to 60s. I expect most of them only wish they were retired.

Next season, the league moves to a venue across town with indoor courts that are dedicated for pickleball. The cost to play will double.

Pickleball evolved from other racquet sports. It will be interesting to see how this game continues to grow and evolve, depending on who plays it, and where.