fitness · mindfulness

Zooming for Mindfulness: report from a weekend webinar

You would think that a reasonable person would opt for just about anything other than 3-hour webinar on a SATURDAY, after a long week of Zooming here and yon.

Nevertheless, I opted.

My university paid (it’s so hard to turn down free things) for me to attend a Mindful Resilience and Wellness for Educators webinar. It was mainly for K-12 teachers, but the lessons applied to college students as well.

I know, I know– you are all probably a) already well-versed in, or b) heartily sick of tips for self care, wellness, resilience, bread baking, etc. during the pandemic. Me, too. BUT: this webinar taught or reminded me some things that I found valuable. Here they are.

The 20-20-20 Rule, which I had totally forgotten. Here’s what the Canadian Association of Optometrists says:

Many of us spend a good deal of our time staring at screens from laptops, computers, smartphones, gaming systems and television. This can put a lot of strain on our eyes and cause eye fatigue. When using your screens give your eyes a break.

Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

Woman in front of computer, hands on face, bathed in blue light (not in the spa way, but the computer-for-tool-long way).
Woman in front of computer, hands on face, bathed in blue light (not in the spa way, but the computer-for-too-long way).

Then, there’s screen apnea. Really? I hadn’t heard of this, although it’s a notion that’s been around a while. My favorite mindfulness folks at Ten Percent Happier explain it here:

Over a decade ago, researcher Linda Stone noticed that a majority of people (possibly eighty percent) unconsciously hold their breath, or breathe shallowly, when texting or emailing. She called it “screen apnea.”

In the short term, screen apnea can affect our well-being and our ability to work efficiently. Shallow breathing can also trigger a nervous system “fight, flight or freeze” response if we stay in this state of breathing for extended periods of time. It can not only impact sleep, energy, memory and learning but also exacerbate depression, panic, and anxiety.

And over the long-term, not breathing properly contributes to stress-related diseases and disturbs the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide, which keep the immune system strong, fight infection, and mediate inflammation.

Fortunately, combating screen apnea can be very simple, especially if you already have a meditation practice.  Simply bringing attention to your breath and body can make a huge difference. 

During the webinar, we did several mindfulness meditation exercises, designed to address screen apnea and the tensions that cause it. One was focused on the breath. Another centered on noticing any tension in the chest, legs, arms and mouth; we tightened these areas, then relaxed. We also did an abbreviated version of the loving kindness meditation, focused on ourselves.

Finally, there’s the encouraging notion of post-traumatic growth. The webinar leader, therapist and educational consultant Christopher Willard, talked a bit about how traumatic events (like the current pandemic) can result in post-traumatic stress, but also leave open the possibility of making meaning and learning from our experiences.

Here’s a great overview article in Scientific American about post-traumatic growth, if you’re interested. However, I learned a lot just talking in breakout sessions with others about how the pandemic had shaped our teaching experiences. Everyone said they now felt a stronger connection to their students (and vice versa), and spent more time just being with them, talking and listening. I feel exactly the same way. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate all my students more since the pandemic hit. When it’s over, I really want to take with me the value and practice of slowing down and taking time to just be with my students. I’ve learned a lot from them about the importance of resilience– how they count on me to hold space for them– and how they themselves manage their own lives in the face of uncertainty and danger. It makes me admire them more, and want to be better at my job.

All in all, the webinar was well worth my time.

Readers, did you already know about these notions? How are you developing resilience during this time? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · mindfulness

Alternatives to doomscrolling

I am addicted to my phone. No doubt about it. I start my morning by checking all the usual social media, including the newsfeed app built in to all of our phones. Most of it’s not a downer. But there are the obvious offenders – Covid-19 – big announcement of the day! and how much life has changed indefinitely; Trump/US Election/the end of democracy as we know it; Climate Change; fires; other ways we can get sick or die, besides Covid; the economy; another icon has died; and so on. The news often scream out for a meditation break.

A cartoon (from NY Times) of a woman in a red top and black pants in a seated meditation pose.

I am a practical person. So I am not looking to cut out doomscrolling completely. How else will I have interesting things to talk about during virtual coffee breaks with colleagues? But I do think it would be valuable for me to make a concerted effort to interweave activities that are good for my mind and soul. Here are some options:

Not a complete list, but some ideas:

  • read a book (currently reading Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo)
  • go for a run or walk (practice active meditation)
  • prep a meal
  • tidy up (not my strong point these days)
  • do some push-ups
  • complete a task for work
  • call someone on the phone (voice calls are having resurgence during the pandemic)
  • take a hot bath (and read a book)
Drawing (from @mylittleparis on Instagram) of a woman in a bubble bath surrounded by a basket of fluffy towels, a stack of books, a glass of wine – optional – I prefer coffee these days – and candles. No mobile device for doomscrolling in site.)
  • go workout in the park (the winter doesn’t scare me, I will dress for it)
  • watch a show (endless streaming can result in watching crap shows. I recently watched a German series called The Last Word, that was quirky and touching and more up my alley). I also caved and added Crave to my subscriptions.
  • have sex (no partner required if one is self isolating!)
  • or just snuggle
  • trim my nails and remove some of the calluses from my feet and try to ignore the worsening bunions
  • shave my legs, but really, I let that go a lot these days too
  • start a sourdough bread or bagels
A picture of a batch of my sourdough bagels (I couldn’t resist)
  • clean out the fridge
  • sort out the clothes closet
  • clean the floors (I hate cleaning floors and we have two dogs, so that is not a good combo)
  • listen to music!
  • check in on a friend and try to make them laugh
  • do some jumping jacks
  • kiss my dogs
  • take a nap
  • do Sun Salutations
  • play Sporcle
  • practice my deep squat, do the “couch stretch” for my quads, do “up dog” stretches for my lower back, roll on my foam roller..
  • make plans for a socially distanced walk with someone not in my bubble

What activities do you enjoy between, or instead of, doomscrolling?

Nicole P. is trying not to doomscroll too much.
mindfulness · technology

Meditation apps: a non-systematic survey

Our lives would be very different if we didn’t have smartphones apps to occupy our time and attention. They help keep us on track with schedules of waking, working, taking breaks, moving, eating, playing games, shopping, and all the other things that comprise our daily routines.

A world inside a phone: the app.

But what about when we want to be still, stopping all those activities or distractions? Worry not, there’s an app for that, too.

Some of the many apps for meditation out there in phone-land.

I’ve added and deleted loads of meditation or chill-out/relaxation apps over the past years. Once the novelty wore off, I would move on to something else, or more likely just revert to my default non-mindfulness routine.

In July, when I restarted a daily meditation practice, I found myself looking for guidance and accountability to help me make sitting a habit. Apps can be great for this– they track your sessions over time and the time you spend each session. They also tend to offer a variety of guided meditations of different lengths and for different times of day and different purposes. Apps are nothing if not extensive in their offerings. Here are some I’ve tried and what I think about them.

  1. For many years, I’ve used old-fashioned recordings of guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs. I just discovered: there’s an app for that! The series is available on Google Play for $10 each–look up JKZ series 1, 2, and 3. I use series 1 often, but the others provide that variation I was talking about.
I still own the 4-CD set of these meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn. They’re the Chanel suit of guided meditations.

2. Meditation Oasis is one of the OGs of the meditation app world. It started as a podcast and expanded to apps, each focusing on a specific purpose of meditation, like sleep or stress/anxiety reduction. One crucial feature of any meditation app is the voice, and I happen to like Mary Maddux– she is calm but also sounds like a real person. You can add in sounds or music to the background, which I’ve enjoyed from time to time. There are individual apps or bundles that range in price from $3 to $12.

A bundle of apps from Meditation Oasis. Not fancy illustrations or features, but very solid content.

3. The newest app that I’ve added to my meditation routine is 10 Percent Happier, which is a book and a podcast and a blog and an app. Dan Harris is the author of the book (which I haven’t read, but hear good things about). He has brought together a group of some of the best English-language meditation teachers and created a one-stop shopping mall of secular meditations for many aspects of modern life. There’s a coronavirus section, a section for busy parents, and other areas that we care and worry about. I use this app every day– mostly before bed (I do a different meditation in the morning). However, it’s expensive– $100 for a year’s subscription. Yeah. That’s a lot. For me, it’s worth it. There are courses, lectures, and a lot of top-quality content. Can you get great content without paying $100? Oh yes, for sure. But this is an excellent resource if you don’t mind the price.

I like the simplicity of this icon. And it looks like it’s smirking.

4. On the advice of a friend who loves it, I tried Calm, which bills itself as the #1 app for meditation and sleep. Like 10 percent happier, it is very professionally done and has loads of content from a lot of meditation teachers and writers. One thing Calm has that the other apps I’ve tried don’t have is a large selection of bedtime stories. These “sleep stories” are “soothing tales that mix music, sound fx and incredible voice talent to help you drift into dreamland” says Calm. It also has meditations, body scans, video of calm nature scenes with sound, classes, and (as they say) much, much more.

So (as they say), how much would you pay for this? The regular price is $70 a year, but when I clicked on the links, it offered me $42– such a deal!

I did a 7-day free trial (10 percent happier offers a free trial, too), but ended up not buying it. The sleep stories were nice, but I found myself too interested in them to fall asleep. I was really more interested in a meditation-focused app, not a sleep or stress reduction app. But YMMV– a lot of people love Calm. And it’s certainly got all the bells and whistles you would want.

Simple icon, complex world of Calm inside.

5. Finally, there’s one of my favorite stand-by meditation apps: Buddhify. First of all, the name is awesome. Second, it’s cheap– $4.99 for the phone or tablet app. Third, it’s so pretty:

Just looking at this color wheel, opening like a fan, makes me happy.
Just looking at this color wheel, opening like a fan in the app, makes me happy.

Buddhify has the usual varied content, with different voices leading you through a guided meditation. Their approach seems very personable to me; the recordings are part meditation guidance and part therapeutic/friendly reassurance. This is my go-to app when I’m really having trouble sleeping, as I find those voices and words soothing in addition to grounding.

I just saw that Buddhify has an expanded version for $30/year. Here’s one of the features:

Karaoke and meditation together in one app? Done!
Karaoke and meditation together in one app? Done!

Wow. I never thought I’d see the words “karaoke” and “meditation” together in one sentence. But I’m liking it. Maybe not enough to buy the membership, but it’s undeniably cool.

My very unsystematic review has barely scratched the surface of meditation apps. But I hope it offers you some information if you’re looking to get started.

Dear readers: have you used any of these apps? What did you think? Do you have other recommendations? I’d love to hear about them.

cycling · meditation · mindfulness · motivation

Mountain Bike Meditation

I love mountain biking. In these COVID-times, with all the additional stresses, the sport is a meditative source of grounding, focus and joy.

This was not always so. It took me a lot of years to arrive at the relationship I have with the sport (and my bike). I dabbled in mountain biking for many years; i.e. a couple of decades. The first time I tried out mountain biking was more than 30 years ago. I bought a mountain bike to replace the city cruiser I had, figuring that it could do double duty—replace my dilapidated cruiser and be a source of off-road fun exercise too. I couldn’t quite achieve the off-road fun bit. I didn’t trust myself or my bike. I was so frustrated by my lack of skill, that I could never relax enough to develop the skills. I spent a lot of time walking my bike, while simultaneously cursing my ineptitude.

Then about eleven years ago, we bought this place I’m at in the California mountains that’s a stone’s throw from a huge network of fabulous trails. I ride out the driveway and I’m on single track trails within 2 minutes. I started riding once a week, as an off-day from trail running (another love). I still walked my bike a lot, but I improved. Very. Slowly. Then, when various running injuries forced me to reduce my mileage, I started to ramp up my time on the mountain bike. Well, hello, turns out when I ride more than once a week, I actually improve. Noticeably. And that’s a pleasant virtuous cycle—the more I improve, the more I enjoy the sport. I’ll come back to what I mean by improve in a moment. Then 5 years ago, as solace after my father died, I bought a new mountain bike. And holy cow, was I shocked to discover that all the new bike tech really did notch up my potential. For the first time I really felt like I was riding with a partner and friend—my bike, that is. I painted a flower on her crossbar with green nail polish, in thanks.

This year I’ve been riding a lot. Not because I can’t run, but because I want to ride. In a period of such pervasive anxiety (societal anxiety fuels personal anxiety and around the merry-go-round the anxiety goes), mountain biking demands my complete presence and attention. When my mind strays, I get knocked off my bike. When my mind focuses, I make it over, through and around obstacles I thought were impossible. Over and over again on my bike, I get an up close and personal look at how my mind either obstructs my progress or harmonizes fluidly with the world. In the best moments, I feel like I’m dancing on my bike. Pure woohoo joy (yes, I shout out loud, the happiness is too much to resist). In the less harmonious moments, I can usually see exactly how my own thoughts interfered.

There are, for example, certain obstacles I only “make” on some days—a steep sandy uphill, a hairpin over rock clusters, a pincer gap between two boulders. The days I don’t make them, it’s most often because I’ve started talking myself out of it before I get there. I’m thinking too much about whether I’ll achieve. The days I stay on the bike, I find the flow between going for it and not worrying about the outcome. So, when I mentioned above that I have improved my bike skill, that’s the skill I mean. Not whether I can ride over, around or through an obstacle, but whether I can find the right mindset.  In other words, my mountain bike rides feel like an object lesson in learning to find that harmony between effort and no effort that allows us to feel in flow with the world. I liken this harmony or flow to what Taoism calls wu wei, or effortless action.  

Being in flow on my mountain bike certainly doesn’t mean that everything is possible. There are still obstacles that are objectively not within my skill set. Yet. Or maybe ever. Staying open to the flow and noticing its ebbs, enables me to see more readily where I can do more and where I should stay humble, get off my bike and leave that steep rock drop off for another day.

One more reason why mountain biking works as a meditation—because, even as my skill evolves, every previous challenge has stayed fresh in my mind. Even if the last time an obstacle stumped me was a decade ago, I am grateful each time I meet it with ease. There’s no complacence in my developing skill. Going around rocks, whooshing through gulleys or popping over fat tree roots, I remember that they used to stop me in my tracks and I take an extra breath of thanks. Gratitude fortifies my ongoing curiosity and seasons each new skill I acquire with humility. Inside this sport, I am present with the delicate balance between acquiring and acknowledging my own expertise, while simultaneously staying curious (without judgment) to what’s new or changed.  

The more I can learn to notice these subtleties in my rides, the more I can see how the same patterns play out in my life off-the-bike. How can I foster the harmonious coexistence of expertise and curiosity? Where can I find more flow? When am I giving up too soon? What can I let go of?

In meditation practice, being in the flow is what teachers describe as finding the calm below the turbulence of the waves in an ocean, or letting the silt settle to reveal the clear water in a glass. These are the metaphors for a clear, uncluttered, unobstructed mind. More than any other activity in my life (including my longstanding meditation practice), when I’m on my mountain bike, I get robust glimpses of the power of my clear mind. Again, meditation teachers tell us that the more familiar we are with that space and its possibilities, the more readily we can access our clear mind again.

I have found that to be true, on my mountain bike (and in life). The difficult part is that it takes constant curiosity. I was going to say hard work or vigilance, but those are such effortful terms. Just like peace is not achieved through violence, finding the flow of effortless action is not achieved by forced labour. What’s needed is expansive, open-hearted curiosity. Over and over. Staying alive to possibility is challenging. I want to do better. My mountain bike meditations help, but I’ve got a long road ahead. But then again, if the journey is the destination, to bowdlerize Ralph Waldo Emerson, well then, I’m doing okay.

How about you? Where do you find flow most easily in your life?    

fitness · mindfulness

Late-night self-care online shopping

There really ought to be a rule or regulation or something that prohibits or limits online shopping after say, 11pm. Maybe there’s a personal financial app that turns off our credit cards and Paypal during certain hours of the day. You know, like those apps that limit Facebook and other social media. They might work for you. I tried one of the Facebook cutoff apps for about a week, but my anti-authoritarian/inner teenager couldn’t abide the restrictions, so I canceled it. Still, a little tough love might be in order these days.

On the other hand, what is late-night life without some gratuitous internet merchandise browsing? I guess I could pick something to read from the big pile(s) of books in my bedroom (or dining room, or study). And I do.

But, oh, how tantalizing it is to just lie back and peruse specialized bakeware, comfy house slippers in twelve colors, or systems for creating magical gardens from seeds.

Full disclosure: I didn’t buy any of these (although I did buy a bunch of small herbs in pots today for my future back deck container garden). However, I have been yearning for something, I don’t know what, that will satisfy my imagined self-care needs while isolated at home.

About a week ago, around 1:15am, I gave up deep breathing in bed and trying to settle myself, and grabbed my phone (which is conveniently and imprudently beside my bed). Just 20 minutes later, I had ordered these:

Whew– thank goodness I was up late and didn’t miss out on the last copy of the Qigong beginning practice DVD.

I’ve tried the first DVD, and it’s fine. I can’t say as my stress levels have plummeted, but maybe I should try it one more time for good measure.

Speaking of piles of books, my desire for something to ease the malaise, the torpor, the disquietude that are my housemates these days has led me to order books that I don’t need. Here are a few recent purchases:

As you can see, my self-care-book buying efforts have yielded mixed results. Sharon Salzberg is a well-known Buddhist meditation teacher and author. I don’t really think that I’ll establish a meditation practice in 28 days, but it’s a very nice book with sensible instruction and perspective on mindfulness.

The Neil Fiore book, The Now Habit, was recommended by Publication Coach Daphne Gray Grant, who writes a blog and newsletter for writers that I love (which I heard abut from blog cofounder Tracy). I attended Grant’s webinar on tips for academic writers a couple of weeks ago, and she really likes this book. I am certain that when and if I open it, I’ll like it too.

The last book– Here for it, or how to save your life in America— hasn’t arrived yet (I ordered it at 12:30am last night), but I’m chomping at the bit to get at it. R. Eric Thomas is a political writer for Elle magazine, and he incorporates wickedly funny political satire while at the same time gushing over pop culture figures. Okay, I have to share a bit of one of his many columns on Auntie Maxine, Representative Maxine Waters from California, who he worships (as should we):

Representative Maxine Waters, the long-standing public servant who will not be intimidated, cannot be duplicated, and who should never be underestimated, was reelected to another term last night. Though she was denigrated by the often-agitated president, whose checks are always post-dated, her race culminated with her snatching up a decisive 75 percent of the votes. The constantly implicated head of state’d be wise to abdicate with haste as Waters, who is the ranking member of House Financial Services Committee, is poised to become its chair. Get ready to be investigated!

Maxine Waters: Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.
Maxine Waters: Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.

We would all do well to follow Auntie Maxine’s advice, myself especially. But instead of reclaiming my sleep time, I ordered yoga mats and props for my sister and her kids. They are in need of self-care, too, and I thought yoga might do the trick. Even if they don’t use the mats, or straps, or yoga blocks I sent, I figured they’d definitely use these flaxseed eye pillows:

Yoga eye pillows in various colors and patterns.
Yoga eye pillows in various colors and patterns.

Of course I can’t shop my way to more ease, better sleep, and less loneliness these days. No one can. The fact that I have enough financial resources to buy such things is a mark of my luck and privilege, for which I’m grateful.

Trying to buy or internet-browse our way out of sadness, boredom, fear, anxiety– we all do it. Sharing my silly online adventures (and these are true– I have the receipts to prove it!), looking for serenity in all the wrong places, is just my way of saying this:

If you find you’re up late on your computer, scouring the internet for the perfect pair of red capris (oh wait, that’s me again), or a French Impressionist-themed umbrella, know that you’re not alone. I’m probably up, too.

Hey readers: do you have any silly internet shopping or browsing to report? I told you about mine; I’d love to hear about yours.

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 ….

“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?

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.

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.

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.

aging · dogs · health · mindfulness · new year's resolutions · self care

Kim’s 2020 wellness goals, beyond the bike

Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.

As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.

Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.

Here I am in South Carolina last March, posing for a selfie in green helmet and orange gilet. I am smiling because RIDING. I’m posing with a sign that says “East Fork Baptist Church”.

First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.

(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how  dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)

Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.

I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.

A group of seven ordinary humans practice ‘hanging sirsasana’ (supported headstand) at a rope wall in an Iyengar Yoga studio. Iyengar uses a wide range of props to ensure all students are safe and supported in poses, which means they can receive maximum stretch benefits without any risk to joints.

Second, the mental health stuff.

I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.

I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.

(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)

Susan’s lab Shelby, in Christmas bow and posing with bedecked tree; this snap is from a post a few short weeks ago. Everyone needs more Shelby.

Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.

This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.

After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.

The cover of Bike Snob NYC’s 2010 book, “systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling”. It’s a grand cover, with hand drawings of a variety of nifty bikes around a kind of cycling “crest” with the title in it. It makes a superb Christmas present! Thanks, sweetie.

So, in sum from Kim:

Fitness = anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!

What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!


Fear · habits · meditation · mindfulness

Nine Nifty Things I Noticed in 150 Straight Days (and counting!) of Meditation

As I write this, I just hit 150 days of meditation in a row. That is a big accomplishment for me. My longest meditation streak ever. 

The day I started this streak, I participated in a meditation workshop and the teacher suggested that all we needed to do was noticeduring our sits, be mindful of our noticings. So that’s what I’m doing. 

The biggest thing I’m noticing is that I’m in a constant state of re-learning what I already knew, but somehow forgot or thought I had changed. Or I’m discovering that circumstances have changed and what I learned no longer applies. Or I am the circumstance that’s changed and therefore needs to learn anew.  I don’t got this, but I am getting it. Very few changes stick forever, no matter what, no backsliding. Good to know, so we don’t judge ourselves as falling short! This whole streak has been about impermanence and the wow-reallys?of staying curious. 

Small brass yogi sculpture in cross-legged seated position, reading a book, wearing a red string scarf (made of a string I was gifted by a fellow attendee at my first silent meditation retreat)

Here are 9 more noticingsthat jazz my curiosity and keep me coming back for more: 

  1. Practicing daily makes it easier to drop into a meditation. Every day is different, but most days there’s a moment (often in the last moments of the sit) when I feel like my mind drops away and my body simultaneously gains 100 pounds and sinks into the earth and slips the bonds of gravity. I find that this moment may happen right away now. Not that it lasts the whole meditation, but the opening fidgets hardly have time to squirm before I’m noticing my mind and body in that more concerted meditation-y way.
  2. A short meditation is better than no meditation.When I started this streak, I sat for 10 minutes a day. I knew that if I demanded more from myself that I would fail. Why set myself up for failure in advance? There have been days when I’ve only managed 8 minutes of riding on the personal rollercoaster of my mind. Great. I accomplished what I set out to do. Often, I am more open to a longer meditation when I’ve given myself the grace of a short one the day before. 
  3. Noticing feeds itself, so I notice more details when I’m not meditating. Over the last months, I’ve become more aware of the complexities and hidden corners of how I am in the world. What feels most sharpened is my sense of responsibility for who and how I am. I notice that blame is futile. Better to open my heart, to consider how I might change the circumstance, even if that’s just changing my own attitude. Pissed off by someone else’s thoughtlessness, how can I be more thoughtful somewhere else? Noticing slows the world down enough to create a pause for reflection.    
  4. There’s a lot of dogma around meditation, which we should not be dogmatic about. A lot of people prepared to say that there’s one right way to meditate and at the end of their suggested path lies … fill in the blank—peace, bliss, no pain, wealth, happiness, fulfillment, career success, spectacular sex, love, the source of infinite wisdom and so on. The dogmas conflict, no surprise. We have to self-test and find the combination that works for each of us. To do that requires tuning into where our mind and body is at, making an honest assessment of our condition and situation and choosing for ourselves what feels right, which, by the way, may change. I’ve been self-testing a lot of different modes on my meditation app (Insight Timer)—various guided, recorded music or chanting, timer with background of rolling OM chants; plus some other guided meditations I’ve downloaded, and meditating on specific subjects or objects (my spirit guides, space-time, elevated emotions like joy and gratitude, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear). 
  5. Meditating on fear is squirrely and uncomfortable. I recently read Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear. These past days, I’ve tried on a bit of her dogma, meditating on fear. The idea is that getting intimate with my fear will transform the feeling into a healthy catalyst, instead of a dreaded obstacle. My list of fears stretches the length of the alphabet and more, ranging from losing my ability to move easily, to not connecting with people, to my washing machine going on the fritz and flooding the downstairs neighbour’s apartment. Plus, the existential, running subtext fear that my life doesn’t have meaning. Simply allowing fear the space to express itself, instead of telling myself to get over it, is new. I feel a small catalytic effect. As in: okay you’re scared, that’s okay, let it be, and hey, maybe you can still do the scary thing.
  6. Owning my woo-woo is scary. Meditating on, for example, one’s spirit guides feels out there. I fear that I’ll lose credibility (whatever that means) if I admit to any kind of woo-woo experiences or encounters. I am allowing myself to be more woo-woo curious and owning up to it (like in this piece about a puppy in India, that I wrote around day 100). 
  7. Sneezing during meditation is like an orgasm. As a kid, I read Where Did I Come From?, which compares an orgasm to a sneeze. Over the years I wondered if I have orgasms wrong, because they never felt like sneezing. Then I sneezed while I was meditating the other day. Because I was alone in my office and in the midst of a meditation and quite sure I wasn’t about to sneeze out great gobs, I just let myself sneeze without holding my arm in front of my face or ducking my head or any of all the twisting we do to be polite and not sneeze on others. Holy crap. That sneeze went right through me like a wave of sparkles over my nerve endings. Our well-justified, necessary public fears around sneezing mask the thrill of the simple sneeze.  Like orgasms, something to look forward to in private.
  8. I think a lot of non-contemplative thoughts when I’m meditating. In addition to thinking about sex when I’m meditating, back on day 45, I narrated a succession of interior design thoughts I had while meditating. I still have such thoughts. Everyone does, even monks on high mountains. Oh, and I did get the new duvet from Boll and Branch I was thinking about, which makes bedtime even more delicious. (I’m with Tracy, who writes often about the radical pleasures of sleep.)  
  9. Meditating regularly enables me to be kinder with myself. Noticing generates the gentle pause, in which we see our suffering from the outside and thus cultivate compassion. A truism worth repeating—if we are more compassionate toward ourselves, we will be so with others.

All of these noticings are small. Yet abundant enough to keep me going on my streak. Have you noticed anything in your meditation? Or in another streak you’re having? 

fitness · mindfulness · motivation · self care · trackers

Fitness as a very demanding lifestyle? Or, Sam likes tracking but not all the things!

“Celery juice, an online business and lifting heavy poundage. These are just three of a multitude of things that keep sisters, online health and fitness influencers and Western University alumni Hayley and Chelsey Liske moving all day, every day.” I read about Hayley and Chelsey in the Western Gazette. While I was excited to hear about their success, I was nervous about the details.

And I confess I was both shocked and amused by their daily schedule which included their meals, their workouts, time for gratitude journalling, social media, and meditation.

It reminded me of the new pink planner, pictured above, that I got over the holidays. I like the pink and it’s nice paper and a good size but the categories put me off ever using it. There are spaces for tracking food and exercise, fine, but also you have to write in your own motivational quote and track “self care.”

On the one hand, here at the blog we’re all about an expansive account of fitness that includes sleep, mental and emotional well being as well as having fun. But there’s something about tracking glasses of water alongside meditation, and gratitude rituals that rubs me the wrong way. Can’t I just go to the gym and fling some heavy weights around? Do I really have to meditate and list the things for which I’m grateful as well? Can’t I just have a hot bath without calling it “self care.” It feels to me like TOO MUCH.

It’s also precious and in this case, pink, and only available to a very small group of women.


advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.