fitness · Martha's Musings · meditation · yoga

When the humidex is high and the will is low

By MarthaFitat55

 

ian-keefe-354195-unsplash
Image shows a body of water with ripples formng a series of circles. Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

We have had high humidex levels in my part of the country we call Canada. Some people think it’s all snow and ice all the time, but nope, we get heat here too. The past few summers we have seen increasing periods of humidity, the kind that I only ever encountered when I lived in Ontario in the mid 80s.

I’ve been lucky too that my training times up to now in previous summers have managed to avoid the periods of extreme heat. This year though, it’s another story.

That’s because the gym has been hotter than the gates of Hades. In fact, several times my trainer has deemed it too unsafe to train, it’s been that ridiculously hot.

When it is so warm that breathing causes you to break out into a sweat, what’s the next best option to keeping the wheels turning on the training train?

For me it has been swimming and yoga. I’ve written about my swimming adventures here, here, and here. But my return to yoga this summer after almost four years away has been a revelation.

My former yoga instructor offered an eight week yin yoga summer program, and despite the heat some evenings, I, in fact, found it quite lovely and rejuvenating.

First off, though, there were no goats nor kittens, nor were there beers or bottles of wine. This was not hip yoga, unless you mean the kind that would help me keep my hips in good nick so I can keep walking and climbing stairs.

Yin yoga is sometimes described as a passive practice because you tend to hold poses for longer periods (thus doing fewer of them in a session), but it is this holding which allows muscles to stretch and fascia to relax.

It is my favourite form of yoga because it brings you in touch on a deeper level with your breathing and your core. It also means you have to focus on stilling the distractions that keep knocking on your mental front door.

The yogi chose a different quotation from her collection to guide our practice each night. One night she chose this one: I am my strongest when I am calm (Yung Pueblo). Even though summer yoga has been finished for almost three weeks now, that quotation still rings in my ears.

Our pace of life is one that is managed by multiple demands on our time from family, friends, work, community. I had returned to yoga because I wanted an alternative for the weight training hiatus. The effort of focusing reminded me how often those demands were like tendrils winding themselves tighter and tighter, sometimes even cutting parts of ourselves off from the whole.

I am my strongest when I am calm. As I write this sentence here, I feel the stress of my day leak away.  It reminds me I don’t have to be buzzing madly like a bee from one flower to another. I can pick a moment, or a pose, and lean into it, think about what’s happening, and noticing the little changes that emerge or arise the longer I hold the pose.

Those eight little words are profound. It’s made me think again about what strength means. For me it’s been about asking for help, stepping back, pausing to breathe, feeling the moment, accepting a change in plans, approach, direction. These days, it has also meant I rest with an idea to see what happens, to understand what emerges from the stillness, and to feel the surety that comes from embracing the balance that comes from both the push and the pull.

I’ve learned that it is also more than figuring out how long I can hold it (hey there dragon pose), or if I can push it (nice to meet you flying dragon), or if I need to release it (thank you child pose). It’s about recognizing the power I have within and knowing it will still be there when I go back into the gym once it is cooler.

I am my strongest when I am calm. Yes. Yes, I am.

— MarthaFitat55 is embracing her best self and best life through movement and fitness.

 

fitness · meditation

Update: Meditative but not always meditating

After today, I have three days left in this phase of my meditation experiment.

 

A white person's hand, palm upward, rests on their leg, just above the knee. They are wearing grey pants with black polka dots. The background is a red mat resting on green carpet.
I was told once that when you meditate, you put your palm upward to receive information from the universe and you put it down if you are being introspective. I’m open to ideas in this photo.

It hasn’t gone like I had hoped but I am still pretty pleased with the results.

 

Over the past couple of weeks, things have gotten more and more hectic for me.  my freelance workload temporarily increased, the weather got super warm ( at least warm for here),  and it seemed like demands on my time increased overall.  My schedule went awry and I lost any sense of *when* to do things (a big problem for someone with a slippery grip on time in the first place).

 

So many things were flying at me that I struggled to prioritize (again, not one of my strengths) and I didn’t even choose a time to do an update here.

 

This is exactly the sort of thing that my plans were supposed to help me prepare for but I wasn’t ready for the scope of my sudden-onset-busy-ness.

 

Things worked out in their own way, just not how I had planned.

 

The Downside

 

While I did pretty well on my first couple of weeks, during the second half of the month, I only *sat* to meditate a handful of times. My idea of clearing this space and increasing my meditation time slowly didn’t work at all like I envisioned.

 

Lots of times, I got interrupted by one urgent matter or another. Or the alarms I set had to be postponed because there was too much going on at the time.

 

And sometimes I couldn’t make myself stop what I was doing, either because my brain refused  or because I had a deadline.

 

The Upside

 

I can confirm that it takes 2-3 minutes for me to stop squirming and settle into my meditation – this is valuable information.

 

I can confirm that when I am having trouble ‘settling’ on my own, I can do a guided meditation and it will help.

 

And here’s the really big thing.

 

Even though I have not yet made a regular routine of twice daily meditation, my INTENTION to do so has made me more aware of my patterns – both of thinking and of doing.

 

In these hectic weeks, I became increasingly aware of how my time was being used. I began to have some space, some additional space, between me and the action I was taking. I started to breathe slowly when I felt stressed and reminded myself that the stress was temporary. 

A rectangular index card rests on a wooden surface. The card has a drawing of one side of an analog clock face, which is outlined in green, and the words 'Take your time' are written on the left side of the card.
In addition to meditation, this month, I have also been doing the Index Card a Day challenge. This is from one day when my meditation and my art practice was on the same page.

 

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So, even though I wasn’t sitting to meditate per se, I was in that kind of mental space.

 

It was almost as if the fact that I meant to meditate  was giving me the the breathing room that I hoped for.

 

I want to be able to have a bit more space in my head, I want to feel a little less reactive, and I want to be more thoughtful about things. I like it when I ask questions about why I’m doing things the way I’m doing.

 

So, I feel like I got one of the wellness benefits of meditating, or at least one that really helps me, without  going fully into a meditative practice.

 

In my earlier update, I talked about ‘doing the dishes meditation’ or ‘mowing the lawn meditation’ and I have found that I have had success with that again in these past two weeks. I am more conscious of what I’m doing when I’m doing it, I’m not self-conscious or anything,  but my reactions are not always automatic either.

 

Phase Two

 

The things I have gained feel great but  I still feel like I want to work toward steadier, specific meditation. I want to meditate a couple of times a day and work up to a longer times. I like how that type of meditation feels and I want that feeling more often.

 

So I’m going to keep working on it throughout August. I am going to work up to those two separate times in a day .

 

I’ll report back in a week or two and let you know how it’s going.

fit at mid-life · fitness · meditation · training

The power of the pact

Image description: low angle street shot of Tracy and Sam with a building and stop sign behind them on an overcast day. Tracy is standing, dressed in running gear, wearing sunglasses. Sam is on her bike, standing, left foot on the ground, right foot on her bike pedal, wearing black workout shorts, a black tank that says
Image description: low angle street shot of Tracy and Sam with a building and stop sign behind them on an overcast day. Tracy is standing, dressed in running gear, wearing sunglasses. Sam is on her bike, standing, left foot on the ground, right foot on her bike pedal, wearing black workout shorts, a black tank that says “FEMINIST” and sunglasses.

During the media around the book, someone, somewhere described Sam and my Fittest by 50 Challenge as a “pact.” Maybe it was that time we were on TV.  We’d never described it quite like that ourselves, but it was a pact. Our challenge was to be the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50. We made the pact when we were 48.

Now, there were lots of factors that kept us going through the challenge — not the least of it was the public accountability of the blog. But looking back, I think one of the most important factors was that we made a pact with each other.  The dictionary definition of a “pact” is a formal agreement. It involves a kind of mutual commitment to do something.

Having that commitment in place made it harder to back out. It didn’t exactly have the moral weight of a promise. But it still had some binding force or at least a sense of accountability.  In other words, the pact became a motivating factor in our fittest by 50 challenge. It also provided a framework for mutual support and encouragement. And a sort of shorthand for what we were undertaking to do — i.e. “planning to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we turn 50.”

We weren’t doing it for each other, but we were doing it together.

I realize that I quite like pacts. I’ve got a meditation pact going with a friend right now. We’re both committed to getting back on track with meditation. I started out on my own, deciding that I would do 90 meditations in 90 days. I’m on day 15 now. I mentioned it to my friend last week and he liked the idea. So we made a pact. Now we check-in daily–usually by text–to say we’ve done our meditation. And we agreed to have an actual conversation at least once a week about what our experience of meditation was that week–what shifts we might have noticed; what challenges we might have faced; anything we want to share about the previous week of meditation.

The pact has helped me stay on track, and has also given me a nice way to connect with someone with a shared commitment.

That idea of connecting with at least one other person who is trying to do exactly the same thing, even if not in exactly the same way, has power. Samantha and I each did very different things for our fittest by 50 challenge — she dedicated herself to training for the Friends for Life Bike Rally. I dedicated myself to training for an Olympic distance triathlon. Similarly, my meditation friend and I haven’t given any ground rules for what style or length of meditation we need to do each day. We might do quite different things and experience it completely differently. But having the pact means that we are more likely to do it, to report to each other about it, and to feel a sense of camaraderie about it.

So pacts aren’t just about being accountable. They motivate more by fostering a sense of connection and common purpose. I love a good pact!

Have you had any experience with pacts?

meditation

Slow Build Meditation – Christine Checks In

 

I’m enjoying my practice so far.

 

I mean, I both enjoy the practice of meditating and I enjoy that I have a daily meditation practice.

 

Here’s what I have learned so far:

 

Perfectly imperfect, perhaps?

A screen capture from the Insight Timer app, the author, a white woman in her forties, is pictured in a small round image, she has her short brown hair pulled back on one side, she is smirking and she is wearing red lipstick. Beneath her photo are 7 white circles representing the days of the week. Text below reads 'Congratulations, Christine. 3 mins completed."
My app is pretty happy that I have visited it 7 days in a row. I chose this profile photo to a) scare off creepy people and b) remind myself not to take things too seriously.

I have meditated on six of seven days. I actually started by ‘failing’ right out of the gate. I didn’t think about the fact that I was having people over on Canada Day so I would have lots of prep to do for that, and I had visitors until late into the evening. I decided not to worry about it and just pick things up on the 2nd. (that’s why this post is today, and my meditation app is happy for me to have seven days in a row – it includes today)

 

I think I have only managed to do two sessions on three of seven days. Despite that, I still feel that twice a day is worth working toward and even if I can’t do it every day, it’s great on the days that it happens.

 

And even though I haven’t been able to get myself to sit twice a day, meditation has come to my mind at other times when I couldn’t just sit and I chose to do my task more while breathing steadily. I guess, then, that I chose to be more mindful of those tasks?

 

So, if you will allow me that loophole, then I have done dishwashing meditation, icing-making meditation, lawn mowing meditation, and a walking meditation. That seems like a positive to me. 🙂

 

‘Don’t be precious about things, Christine’

 

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties with short brown hair is lying on a brown wooden floor. Her eyes are closed.
Here I am, right after meditating, lying mat-less on my living room floor. Working hard at not being precious about the details.

When I set out my plan for how I was going to meditate, I thought that clearly picturing myself meditating on my yoga mat on my living room floor, would be helpful. I thought it would be a good (metaphorically) separate space, a marker for when I should meditate.

 

However, my household was a bit busy this week and I couldn’t always commandeer the living room for my own purposes.

 

I was annoyed with myself at first for not picking a better plan but then I remembered that there is no point in being precious* about the details (the heading for this section is a direct quote from me talking to myself). 

I have to remember that the details are supposed to serve me, not to hamper me.

 

So, I have meditated in my hammock, sitting in the front seat of my car before going into the supermarket, sitting at my kitchen table, lying on my living room floor without my mat, and lying crossways on my bed. I think I have only meditated the way I planned to on one occasion.

 

I’m completely okay with that.

 

Adjusting the plan as needed

 

Several times this week, three minutes has seemed ‘too short’, so I am taking that as a good sign for my plan to increase my time this week.

 

I think that two minutes may be my ‘getting into it’ time frame for meditation. I feel squirmy for the first minute or so (I have peeked at my timer – I am totally imperfect) and that second minute takes a fair bit of reminding to come back to my breath, but that third minute starts feeling really good. Let’s see how that holds out for my plan for six minutes this week!

 

Last week, I tried to have a specific place for meditation and that didn’t play out as I imagined. This week, I am going to try to have specific times. I like having alarms and timers for things so I don’t have to make a decision in the moment, so I’m going to set an alarm for 8:30am and 8:30pm and see how they suit me as meditation times. If for some reason I *can’t* stop what I am doing right then, I won’t just turn off the alarm, I’ll reset it for a time I will be free.

 

The photo depicts a pair of legs in a hammock. The person is wearing grey capris that have black polka dots on them. The hammock is grey and orange and is hanging from a large tree, there is an unpainted fence to the left.
My meditation location this morning was not a hardship.

Big picture

 

I feel good about this practice and I feel like it is worth explore how to make it work even better for me.

 

For a change, I was unfazed by not sticking to my exact plan, I just rolled with it the best I could.

 

I wonder where the next week will take me?

 

*I have lots of things in my life that are precious to me, I’m not using the word that way. In this case, I mean that I shouldn’t get too caught up in having perfect conditions, or following a specific ideal. I fall into that trap sometimes.

health · meditation

Meditate on this – Christine decides on a slow build to a new habit

This isn’t going to be a post about how I fight my brain in order to meditate. 

A large maple tree branch full of leaves against a blue sky with a few clouds in it.
This is the view from my hammock in my yard, it gives my brain the same kind of feeling that meditation does.

 

In fact, I really like meditating and once I sit down, I enjoy the process of bringing myself back to my breath over and over. I like the IDEA of it, and I like the practice.

 

Yet, I don’t meditate regularly.

 

It’s not that I don’t want to meditate, I just have trouble *starting* to meditate. 

 

Changing activities is a real challenge for me.  Even if I want to do the next thing, my brain hates to let go of the thing that I am already doing and transition into the next one.

 

So, I have to use some tricks to make that happen.

 

Through trial and error, over time, I have discovered that I can get over the transition barrier (that trouble switching tasks) by identifying how long it takes me to start to enjoy something once I switch into that activity.

 

Writing, for example, takes 5 minutes to become fun. No matter how much I don’t feel like writing in a given moment, if I spend 5 minutes at it, I stop fighting myself. Then I start to find the fun it, it starts to become rewarding.

 

With exercise, it usually takes 10 minutes before I stop fighting myself, before I can quiet the inner temptation to do something else – anything else. Once I hit that 10 minute mark, I am in the groove and I have fun.

 

So, I don’t let those initial feelings of discontent convince me to switch activities in that ‘warm-up’ time and as a result I spent my time in an intentional, purposeful way.

 

Oddly though, despite my desire to meditate, I haven’t applied that ‘warm-up’ approach to meditation.

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties, with light brown hair, wearing a black shirt, lies on a green mat. Her eyes are closed.
I’m not actually meditating here, obviously (how would I get a photo of that?), this was part of a photo project. Let’s pretend it is a meditation simulation.

 

It’s on my mental list of enjoyable things to do in a given day, but it rarely makes it into practice.

A screen capture of the timer screen of the Insight Timer meditation app. The words 'Starting Bell' are at the top, and a bowl is depicted below with the word 'Basu' on it. Below the bowl are four oblong shapes indicating the duration of the timer (Meditation 3 minutes), the interval bells (none), the ambient sound (none), and the ending bell (Basu is listed again). The word Start is in a white circle at the bottom of the screen.
My timer screen for week 1. One of the things I like about Insight Timer is how peaceful all of the sounds are.

It’s time to change that.

 

In July, I am going to incorporate a short meditation practice into my day, lying on my yoga mat, using my ‘Insight Timer’ app to time myself and to journal about the experience.

 

In week 1, I’ll do 3 minutes, twice a day and if that is successful, I’ll increase in two minute increments each week.

 

I know those are very small goals but want to find that ‘warm-up’ point, and I want to keep the bar low. I’m not trying to do a great practice, nor a deep one, I’m aiming for a consistent one.

 

I’ll report back after week 1.

A screen capture of a phone app featuring a black screen with the word Journal at the top middle and the words 'Write your journal note here...' underneath it.
This is the journal page of my app. I like how plain it is.
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 · health · meditation

Tracy reflects on the restorative properties of silence…

Image description: SILENCE in blue neon lights over PLEASE in green neon lights, both against a dark brick wall.
Image description: SILENCE in blue neon lights over PLEASE in green neon lights, both against a dark brick wall.

I was so envious this past weekend because a few women I know went on a silent retreat. To some, a weekend of silence might sound terrifying. But to me, it would be a welcome respite from the noise of modern life. Seriously. I can’t think of anything I appreciate more than silence. It’s so… undemanding. And warm. And calming.

Last week I #tbt’d a post about meditation.  So clearly I’m craving more time to retreat into silence. It’s true that the inner world can be noisy too, when the mind churns and spins. But the more silence I am able to call into my life, the quieter the chatter in my mind becomes.

I went on my first silent retreat about 15 years ago, taking three days at a retreat centre on Lake Erie in the middle of the week. Other than the nuns and the kitchen staff, I was the only resident and I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot. They respected my desire for silence and allowed me to wander the beautiful grounds without having to interact with anyone.

For me, this is part of the restorative power of silence — not having to communicate with people. It’s not that I hate people, or even communicating. But as an introvert I get restored most when I withdraw into my own world and don’t have to interact. Silence sort of takes that to the next level because by definition, for those of us who are most used to speaking as our main means of communicating with others, being in silence interrupts that default switch.

I’ve since learned that I don’t need to go on a formal retreat to be in silence. Renald and I are really good at discerning when we need silence. Throughout our relationship, we’ve had many an occasion when one or the other of us has declared a silent morning, afternoon, or day. It provides time for meditation, inward reflection, emptying the clutter out of the mind, regrouping, and above all, taking a break from having to interact.

But silence need not be a big declaration either. Last weekend when I was running along the tree-lined, snow-covered lane in Haliburton, I paused to take in the silence. Whereas before I could hear the sound of my feet and my breath, when I stopped everything went quiet. When that happens, I immediately feel a sense of peace. When quiet stillness descends, I experience it as a profound moment. And that is the kind of thing I can do any time really — at my desk, at a traffic light in the car, in the woods, on the beach, on the sailboat.

Whether for ten seconds, ten minutes, an hour, or an entire morning, afternoon, day or days, an encounter with silence always restores me.

Maybe that’s why, ever since I was a young child, I’ve loved the library — it used to be a completely silent space. I have spent hours of my life in libraries, hiding out in carrels amidst the stacks, in silence among others who also remained silent (back in the days where you couldn’t bring lidded drinks in either, so you couldn’t even hear the sound of someone sipping on a latte). Again, I experience it as permission to retreat into myself with no obligation to interact, and that always regenerates my energy stores.

What is your relationship to silence?