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.

Thoughts?

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.

photo-1512867957657-38dbae50a35b
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.