advice · covid19 · dogs · online exercise

Lessons from the Pandemic: a farewell post

As Sam mentioned a few days ago, we’re rejigging the schedule here at FIFI, and as part of that rejig I’ve decided to step away for a bit. It’s been a long few months and I’ve struggled like others; I’ve been cushioned from health and financial blows, thanks to the grace of good government and the privilege of a secure job, but emotionally this has been a roller coaster. I need some time to take stock, and I don’t do that well online.

As I was walking with my dog this afternoon, gorgeous fall colours glowing in the sunshine, the wind whipping past us with just a hint of Old Man Winter to it, I started to think about what joy simple, solitary walks give me, and how I’ll look forward to them as we all lock down, to different degrees, in the months ahead. No matter what happens I know I will still be able to leave my house with my dog three times a day, even if I must do so completely isolated from others. (And obviously: not if I’m ill myself, which I pray will not happen.)

The pandemic is no blessing, but it has had some real teachable moments for me. These crept up on me over the summer and are more and more tangible as everything churns up again now. I’m glad to have these moments with me, as reminders of the good inside the terrible, for the winter ahead, and I thought as a farewell-for-now post I’d share them with you.

Chewy the dog chilling with his toys on the sofa; now THAT is what staying in looks like. Image from Unsplash.
  1. The internet has a lot of great gyms in it. This is the most pleasant discovery COVID has brought me. I can work out multiple times a week for a very affordable rate in my very own kitchen, and I can reap the benefits of amazing feminist energy over Zoom, even if the connection is sometimes unstable. The strength I glean, both physical and emotional, from the wonderful people I’ve linked up with on the fitness web goes some way to making up for the connections I’ve lost or had to pause IRL.
  2. If your home is a safe place, it’s quite wonderful to have permission not to leave it. I always thought I was a full-on extrovert, but no; COVID has helped me realize how much I like not having to leave my house very much, or go very far. I felt a strong pressure to be social in the before times, but honestly social environments are stressors for me. I get performance anxiety. And I’m a hyper-vigilant anxiety sufferer, so the more people in a place and the more formal the event the harder it is for me to keep my eye on everything and make sure everything and everyone are doing ok. Not having to go out and perform Public Kim so often is a huge relief.
  3. If stuff goes wrong so what? It’s a pandemic. I find I learn this lesson best from my students. We’ve had to adjust to A LOT over the last couple of months and they are having to adjust to 5x as much of it as any one of their instructors. When stuff goes wrong in my wacky hybrid/Zoom classroom, I remind us all that it’s going to be fine if we just roll with it. I show them compassion and they show me some too; when the tech dies or the breakout rooms get messed up or, you know, name a thing, we try to laugh about it. Learning to laugh and then carry on imperfectly when things go wrong is also a good thing to take from university.
  4. Incidental movement matters. Boy does it ever! My first day back in my campus office and a real-life classroom last month reminded me what walking around a four-story building all day does for your step count. Finding ways to incidentally move at home is harder, but still totally doable (see dog walking above). I think I might download a step counter app because data helps in a situation like this. And the more I move, the better I feel about everything.
  5. Bodies change, sometimes because the world has changed, and that’s just fine. I’ve put on weight these last few months, though it’s not all COVID-related. Mostly I think it’s aging, the slowing metabolism that brings, and the decision I seem to have made to say to heck with the notion that certain foods are contraband, or only permitted after a killer workout. I love food and my partner cooks beautifully; I enjoy eating and also, um, it’s a pandemic. My body is changing because it is aging, because the routine ways we are usually permitted to move in the world are currently under duress, and because the stress of the situation is something else. I’m working hard on looking in the mirror and reminding myself that I am here, I am loved, and I am proud of my delightfully imperfect body. It is hard work – after a lifetime of terrible body and self-image issues, it can’t not be – but I’m really trying.
Me (in a purple fall jacket) and Emma the Dog (a Black and Tan shepherd-crossed-with-something) during a fabulous autumn walk last year. We are on a park bench (me sitting, Emma standing, ears in curious mode, mouth open in anticipation) and the ground is a blanket of orange maple leaves. I seem to be saying something like “Emma! Look at the camera!” because Emma is NOT looking at the camera. She is looking at HORSES.

So that’s me for now, then; thanks for all the reading, friends. I will be guesting in this space again sometime soonish, I wager, but until then I wish you all a very safe autumn and the very very best to those of you heading to the polls. Thank you for keeping moving.

Kim

fitness · online exercise · strength training

And then, just like that, I did a handstand!

Tuesday mornings are becoming my favourite. I’m not a morning person AT ALL, but my strength class begins at 7:30, so no choice. I get up around 7am to fling the dog around the block; if I don’t she is a right pest all through the class.

Tuesdays are “skill work”, which is Alex-speak for circus tricks. I am not a flying trapeze kinda gal, but I have to say, moderate tricksterness is delightful to try on for size. I’ve learned the key to crow pose (and also fallen on my head, largely because of the sweatiness of the matter), mastered the wall walk, and that means the big fish left to me is… HANDSTAND.

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Woman doing cartwheel emoji: she has medium-brown skin and is wearing a green and pink bodysuit against a blue background. I LOVE this emoji. I think of it as “delighted handstand joy!!!” emoji. I use it for almost all happy things when I’m texting with my partner.

Today in Alex class (if you’re not already familiar with our blog crush on Alex the trainer, go here) skill work practice involved kicking up; half the team on the call were handstand experts, and the rest (including me) had never got up into handstand before (or tried).*

[OK, well, not quite: I have done two handstands before: one with the support of two fellow yogis in an Iyengar class about a year ago, and the other with the support of my teacher in another Iyengar class, using block props against a wall to achieve the correct low back and rib posture for the pose. In neither case would I really call this “a handstand” insofar as I had a lot of help. But it’s true that both helped me envision the experience and record it in my body, which made a difference to my confidence.]

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A split-screen image of a thin white woman in handstand. On the left, the correct posture; on the right, less good posture. The tl:dr is, engage your core and firm your shoulders; push into the floor and relax your head. Be sure to firm your legs and squeeze your glutes a bit too.

As usual, Alex demo’d all the moves before we got going. She made the “kick up practice” moves look so manageable that my fear began to dissipate almost immediately. After our “practice round” I realized I was feeling mobile in my hips and getting some decent air in my kicked-up leg. And I won’t lie: when Alex shouted at me through the screen, “KIM YOU ARE THERE!!!” it really helped.

It was half way into our first proper round when I did it: I touched the wall with my elevated foot. (This was another Alex tip: don’t stress about getting up! Just try to touch the wall with your free foot. You’ll be totally safe and see what you’re capable of! #besteveradvice.)

Then, just like that, BAM: I was in a handstand.

To my surprise, it did NOT feel that hard to hold. Alex began cueing me, to turn me from woman on right (above) into woman on left; this will be a work in progress. But the reality is, Cate and Alex and everyone else was right: I absolutely have the upper body strength to hold myself in a handstand. I do pull-ups and push-ups and all kinds of things. I can row a boat (strongly enough to pull it off course – not very well, in other words, but pretty powerfully). OF COURSE I CAN STAND ON MY HANDS.

Why did I think I couldn’t? Being upside down has always been a source of fear for me; it may be for you too. Slowly, I developed a sense of my own strength, and that happened primarily right-side-up. With good teaching and coaching, in both yoga and personal training, I began to nudge the edges of the possible. Working with people I trust to protect me and – crucially – to help me focus on good form, I got further and further into “hey! this is possible I think!!” territory.

And then one day, alone in my kitchen, with the dog on the rug and Alex on Zoom, I pushed through that barrier into a whole new fitness place.

I’m not here to tell you to try a handstand right now; if it’s not your thing or in your wish-box, do not worry – you do you! But I am here to say that the barrier you perceive is not impermeable; if you want to knock it down, you got this.

  1. Step one: identify it, and the fear you feel around it.
  2. Step two: find some supportive, skilled humans to help.
  3. Step three: give it some time. I promise it is possible!

[Insert future photo of me in handstand. I tried to take a few, but the one that actually included my head also saw me totally falling out of the pose. Which is a great lesson, too: I fell out of handstand, and survived!]

What about you, friends? Have you made any surprise fitness breakthroughs lately? What fears did you have to push through to get there?

 

 

covid19 · fitness · online exercise · running · swimming · yoga

Exercising while pregnant: the second trimester (so far)

CW: discusses pregnancy

As I type this, I’m almost 21 weeks along, so this week the little bean and I successfully passed the halfway point of this pregnancy. The second trimester so far has been a steady improvement from the first in terms of how I’m feeling. The extreme tiredness and the not-too-bad-but-niggling nausea have gone away and I actually feel like doing things now. At the moment, I’m really enjoying my pregnancy. The little one is quite active and I get a lot of kicks, which is very cute. And I’m not so big yet that it’s becoming an issue.

At the same time, I’m facing new challenges: I’m definitely showing now, so I’ve had to invest in some maternity yoga pants (so comfy!), looser tops and sports bras in a larger size as my breasts have grown. There are definitely some yoga poses that are no longer comfortable. Running is slower and slower. Last Sunday, I went on the first longer bike ride (that wasn’t a commute) of the season and while my bike shorts still fit, I felt a bit like a sausage in my cycling kit. Unfortunately so far, I haven’t been able to find maternity cycling shorts, at least not from a European vendor (if I were to order something from the US now I’d worry about delivery times). I have, however, found a workaround for now: folding the front of the bike shorts down helps accommodate the bump a bit.

Bettina running down a hill in a blue flowy running top and black capris. You can’t really see the baby bump from the front but trust me, it’s there! (In the background, there’s another runner – she was doing hill reps and it was v impressive.)

And then of course, well, there’s the global pandemic that keeps us all from living our normal lives. I’m very privileged, so I won’t complain. But it’s having an impact. I miss swimming so much! Under different circumstances, I would have purchased a wetsuit and taken up open water swimming: in Germany, we are allowed to exercise outside, and that includes swimming in many lakes. But now that I’m pregnant, I’m not throwing my valuable Euros at a wetsuit that would fit me for all of a few weeks, or problably not at all, seeing as they’re not usually constructed to accommodate pregnant bodies. The first maternity clothing item I bought a couple of months ago – before the pools closed – was a swimsuit, and so far I haven’t used it even once. I really, really hope I’ll be able to return to the pool before the end of August, but I’m also trying not to get my hopes up.

I move a lot less than normal as I work from home, and I’m also finding that it’s really easy to become sedentary. Normally, I often go to my workouts directly from the office or as I’m out and about, so I don’t give myself the chance to sit down and get too cozy to work out. I find it harder to motivate myself these days, though when I do get out, I really enjoy it. So here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Yoga. I have switched from Yoga with Adriene to prenatal yoga videos now. Even better though, I have a colleague who is training to be an Iyengar yoga teacher, and she is giving me and my work mates classes over video conference at lunchtime twice a week. She is very thoughtful and makes modifications for me. The classes are challenging but I really enjoy them. I’ve also started playing with the new Downdog pregnancy yoga app, which is currently free due to the Covid-19 situation, and am enjoying it so far.
  • Running. Slow and steady, I try to get out for my 6k loop a couple of times a week during times when the paths aren’t too busy.
  • Hiking. The weather has been glorious here (though I won’t lie, in my darker moments the fact that it hasn’t rained in three weeks and we are having nearly-25°C temperatures in mid-April gives me major anxiety about bringing a baby into this climate catastrophe). So my husband and I have been doing some hiking, again trying to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, when there is nothing else to do, the sun is shining, and your government allows you to go outside, everyone else does the same thing. The woods are a busy place these days. Still, most people are responsible, keep their distance, and stick to immediate family as hiking partners.
  • Biking. I feel like this is going to be the next thing to go on account of my growing belly, so I’m trying to get as much as possible out of it while I still can. See the aforementioned sausage moment.
  • Other prenatal workouts. I’ve found some that I like on youtube, particularly this list by BodyFit by Amy. They’re varied (there’s a strength one, cardio, TRX…) and I can pick what I feel like on a given day, and they are also challenging. She gives different options depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and how far along you are, which is great.

So by and large, it’s going ok and I keep moving. But, have I mentioned how much I miss swimming?

fitness · online exercise · yoga

Developing my Zoom identity: new options emerging

This is my first week as a Zoom person. I’ve Zoom’ed to department meetings, chit-chats with friends, one therapy session and two yoga classes. It’s surprising to me how effective it is at creating a platform for interacting with other people fairly authentically; I didn’t feel like I was in the same room with my colleagues, but we were all our full selves. In fact, we were more our full selves than usual, with cats and dogs and snippets of home conversations weaving their way into the meetings. I don’t have pets, but I tried out wearing hats for meetings (well, one per meeting), and I may keep it up. I also showed off my blooming orchids to everyone (they’re actually blooming– that’s not my attempt at old-timey English slang).

Therapy via Zoom went really well, and I hope y’all who are therapists or in therapy (or both) find it useful and satisfying, too.

But I’m really here today to talk about Zoom exercise classes. Friends are doing Zoom spin classes, Zoom strength training, and loads of Zoom yoga classes. I blogged about some things I liked about my first Zoom yoga class here: 5 great things about Zoom online yoga class.

One thing I didn’t mention there was this: in a Zoom class, we have choices about how visible to be. We can choose to listen to the instructor but not see them. A class I’m taking today (Jennifer Reis’ Five Element Yoga plus Yoga Nidra Sunday March 21 at 2:30pm, which you can register for here for free; she’s awesome) is set up so that we can see her, but she can’t see or hear any of us. There will be Q&A afterward, but it’s independent of the class.

On Friday, I did a wonderful Flow and Meditate class with Alex Amorosi, who teaches at my local studio Artemis. There were 50–60 people (he estimated at the time) taking the class via Zoom. It was cacophonous at first (in a good way); everyone had audio on, and people were greeting Alex and others they knew; I joined in the happy shouting with teachers and fellow classmates.

Then we got down to the business of yoga. We were all muted (literally), and it was just Alex’s voice (and image, when we looked up at the computer screen), leading us through meditation and asanas. I found it difficult to stay in some of the poses as long as he indicated, and so I came out of the pose for a moment, then got back in it. I do this in classes, too, when I need it. All of my teachers remind us at each class that we are in charge of our practice (workout), and I enjoy that vibe.

However, in the Zoom class, I felt more free to do a modification, or come out of a pose for a moment and then resume when I needed to. I’m sure this is because I knew the other students couldn’t see me, and even Alex the teacher couldn’t see or focus on individual students much during the online class.

One yoga colleague who took the Friday class told me that they turned off their camera and used audio only, as they wanted to be free to do their own thing during the class. They liked hearing Alex’s voice taking us through the series of asanas, and they joined and made modifications when they wanted. Having no video made it easier to do that.

When I posted on Thursday about Zoom yoga, one commenter wrote that she was going to take a Zoom Vinyasa class(more active and strenuous flow), and she was “worried that I won’t push myself as hard without others around me.”

That makes a lot of sense. I definitely push myself harder in classes with others than when doing yoga at home alone. However, I’m thinking of another opportunity that Zoom yoga offers: the chance to take a demanding class that I might not take in person. I’m definitely going to do this. More advanced Vinyasa classes involve poses or variants my body’s never even dreamed of doing (yes, we’ve all posted about this; see Sam’s most hated yoga pose, and my Yoga poses I simply can’t do). Also, they go at a pace that is sometimes way above my comfort level.

Enter the virtual yoga studio class. This is perfect– I can push myself as much as I like/can/want, take microbreaks if I need them, and do modifications when I want and need them.

I know, I know– yoga teachers everywhere are fretting and crying out, “But you are encouraged to do modifications all the time– everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s body has different functionality from day to day. We welcome you wherever you are in your practice!”

Thank you, yoga teachers everywhere. I know this and appreciate you.

Some wonderful things yoga teachers bring to us.

And yet.

I’m liking the idea of taking whatever class I want and not feeling one iota of self-consciousness (other than between me and me, but that’s another post). I get to practice yoga incognita.

By the way, Yoga Incognita is totally going to be my spiritual name if I ever find myself doing loads of kundalini yoga (you can actually request your own spiritual name here). Or maybe some other occasion that calls for a yogi name will come my way. You never know.

So, dear readers and fellow Zoomers, what are your impressions of Zoom movement classes? Do you like them? Are you finding that they are less motivating? More liberating? Hard to see or hear? A way to sneak into a new type of activity? I’d love to hear from you.