fitness · self care

What’s so great about more? Less is just fine as it is.

Samantha recently posted this picture on FB from one of the YMCAs near her– it’s a cute veggie-bicycle graphic with an encouraging health message.

A picture of a cyclist (made from vegetable images) with copy: more water. more veggies. more protein, etc, ending with more happy and fit.
A picture of a cyclist on bike (both made from vegetables) saying: more water. more veggies. more protein, etc, ending with more happy and fit.

Now, I love vegetable-collaged images as much as the next person. Here’s another cute one:

A fruit/veggie/crack collage of a giant flower and butterfly.
A fruit/veggie/cracker collage of a giant flower and butterfly.

Parenthetically, we should give due credit to the master of produce-collaged art, Giuseppe Archimboldo, whose famous Vertumnus is below:

Rudolph II of Habsburg as Vertumnus, by Giuseppe Archimboldo.
Rudolph II of Habsburg as Vertumnus, by Giuseppe Archimboldo.

But I come here not to praise vegetable art, but to crab about all this “more” talk. Yes, the good people of the YMCA mean well when they encourage us to do more of this and that. But we are always being told to do more of the things we are already doing.

Move more live more. Really?
Move more live more. Really?

I am moving some these days– not as much as I would like, but more than I did in the winter. And yes, I want to move even more. I’m trying, I’m trying!

As for living, I think I’m doing the same amount of that as I always have. “Living more” rubs me the wrong way, as if I’m not living enough now. Honestly, these days I’m doing absolutely as much living as I possibly can; trying to squeeze more living out of me is just going to make me start yelling. Hmmm, at least I will be doing “more” of something. This is starting to sound rather appealing.

More yelling (actually cut from a "no more yelling" graphic, but this suited me better).
More yelling (actually cut from a “no more yelling” graphic, but this suited me better).

But you might be thinking, hey Catherine, “more” is out and “less” is in. Didn’t you read or watch Marie Kondo? More causes stress, and less can bring joy.

It’s true– there are lots of folks out there rhapsodizing about the joys of less. But the stealth message they are sending is IF you do less of X, THEN you will get more of Y. Less isn’t good unless it’s tied to more in the end.

Even many of the mindfulness folks cannot keep their eyes off the prize– more productivity once you let go of [insert something here] and embrace [insert some other thing there]. Like the title of this blog post below:

I'm going to start yelling now.
I’m going to start yelling right now.

The world (or rather, the world of self-help and self-improvement) can’t stand it when we just scale back and do less. Our doing less has to be in service of some payoff, like increased success through fake-o less-doing.

Again with the "less, but"! What about "less" with no "but"? Will the world end? I think not.
Again with the “less, but”! What about “less” with no “but”? Will the world end? I think not.

What’s my point here? My point is that I sometimes I just want less.

  • less anxiety
  • less work
  • less self-judgment
  • less time feeling cornered by life circumstances
  • less sleeplessness
  • less coping with the above through overeating, avoidance, etc.
  • less shame about doing less when I want or need to

I’m not claiming that getting and doing less will create more of anything. Maybe it will, but we don’t always need it to. Sometimes we may just need it to be less. Period.

less is just less.
less is just less.

Readers– friends: what do you need or want less of? I’d like to know. I’m listening.

fitness · health · illness · self care

The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck

Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.

For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.

I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.

However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.

My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology,  has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.

She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.

The author, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a black shirt and glasses is not looking directly at the camera. She is sitting in a room with green walls and there is a white door behind her.
I just happened to take this photo the day before my conversation with M. I was participating in a web chat about writing and I was having trouble concentrating. I was tired, I knew I was going to have a headache the next day because of the specific way that my neck was aching. I did some stretches and took some ibuprofen in hopes of warding it off but it didn’t work – it never does, actually but I always try it.

I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**

I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.

M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)

Timeline graph of migraine symptoms. The background is purple and the timeline is orange. The graph illustrates that there are a few hours or days of symptoms that precede a migraine, the migraine itself lasts from 4-72 hours and there there is a 24-48 hour recovery period.
I had no idea that things like concentration and difficulty sleeping could precede a migraine. This graph was found here: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/

Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.

This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.

With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***

Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?

Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.

Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.

I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.

And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.

I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’  As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.

Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.

And that’s not fit.

For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.

*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.

**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.

***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.

fitness · injury · rest · self care · traveling

Tracy is an osteopath convert

Last week I published about my back troubles that ensued a few days after Anita and I ran the Around the Bay 30K. Lots of people jumped in with sympathy, empathy, encouragement and suggestions. Thank you!

The best suggestion came from Susan and others who recommended I try an osteopath. I know some people have had good results with chiropractors, but I’m deathly afraid of the idea of a snap adjustment. And I was in so much pain there was just no way. So a week after the race I contacted an osteopath who a friend had recommended for my neck issues but I’d never gotten around to calling.

I knew Grace from yoga way back when I did Iyengar yoga and she was in my class. She used to be a nurse and she also taught Iyengar yoga, which is very precise. So o felt confident she had the right knowledge base that I could trust her with my back. By the time I went to see her a week ago, I was in excruciating pain by the end of every day. It usually felt a bit better in the mornings after I’d been lying down for the night. And then ramped up throughout the day until by the evenings it had me weeping and almost unable to move.

Grace got me at the end of the day and could see that I was moving in a hesitant manner by then. Hesitant in that way you move when a possible wrong move will result in searing pain that makes the legs go weak.

She had me stand and then slowly walk so she could size me up. Then she got me on her table…very carefully. And started doing very general manipulations of my body (the best being traction, when she pulled ever so lightly on my feet, which immediately released my back). I told Grace I’d been doing back exercises and stretching and yoga and had gone for a deep tissue massage. And in her view, those were all the wrong things, explaining why it was getting worse not better.

What was the right thing? Rest. Total rest. She showed me two lying down resting postures for releasing my back. They both gave me wonderful relief. She showed me how to get into and out of a lying down position without putting strain on my lower back. She recommended I not sit for more than 15 minutes at a time. If possible, she said, take a day or two off of work.

Things were kind of urgent because I was flying less than a week later (Sunday) for a short trip and then a week after that to China for work. When I saw Grace, the idea of sitting on a plane for any length of time seemed impossible.

So though I couldn’t take a day off until Friday, I did go into hyper rest mode as much as possible, lying on the floor with my legs up on a chair or in “constructive rest” with a heating pad and bolster on my lower abdomen to release the entire area and hopefully reduce the inflammation in my back. Grace suspected the inflammation was pushing up against a nerve and that’s why it hurt so much and get worse as the compression of the day’s sitting took hold.

Friday I went to see the nurse practitioner at my family doctor’s clinic. By then, after following Grace’s instructions for a couple of days I felt way better than I had. Thursday, hardly sitting (I even chaired a meeting at work standing up), I didn’t experience a single spasm. I told the nurse everything I was doing and she said “perfect!” So that was reassuring. Then I saw Grace one more time and she tweaked a few things and off I went. By Saturday I was feeling confident I could fly. Sunday came… no problem on my three and a half hour flight to the Bahamas.

I write this on Monday, a day (with Anita) mixed with work, walking on the beach, swimming, constructive rest, and measured amounts of sitting. I’ve had quite a bit of work reading to do, and I have done most of it in a reclining position on my bed, legs bent at the knees. China doesn’t seem impossible anymore.

Image description: Tracy sitting on a balcony rail wearing ball cap, sunglasses, loose sleeveless top, boyshort swimsuit bottoms and bare legs, smiling, beach and ocean and blue sky in the background

And I’m a total convert to osteopathy after one round of appointments. Thanks, Grace!

Have you ever tried an osteopath?

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?

meditation · self care

Have you unplugged lately? Tracy’s at-home silent retreat

The last time we polled readers about what kind of content we could do more (or less) of, someone requested more on things like meditation and rest. We have posted a few things about meditation (there is this and this and this and this) and more than one of us has found it to be beneficial. I have had meditation as a part of my life since graduate school, when I bought myself a copy of a book called The Joy within in the hopes of finding some peace. It helped, even though it was really hard at that time even to sit quietly, in silence for five minutes.

And that was before the internet. Before cell phones. Before streaming. Before “devices.” So few people had email back then that it was exciting to get a message (can you even remember those days?).

This past weekend I decided that I needed some silence. I usually enjoy silent retreats with a focus on meditation, but I won’t be able to do anything remotely like that any time soon. So when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that this past Friday night and Saturday were clear in my calendar, I blocked them off for a silent home retreat: 24 hours.

The first challenge was to keep them clear. How easy it is to allow things to seep into that open space in a schedule? It’s like a vacuum that wants to suck commitments into its void. But I did it.

The second challenge was to define my boundaries. I often listen to music at home. But if I was going for silence, then there could be none of that. Ultimately I made a list of what I could and could not do.

Permitted: meditation, cooking, reading (but not for work-only books related to meditation and spiritual practice), adult colouring (I have an adult colouring book I love), knitting (never got around to it), journalling, walking or running outside (alone, no music), naps, baths, photography (but no editing)

Not permitted: devices, communication, work.

I came home from my workout on Friday after picking up a new artwork, a lovely painting called “One Can Always Tango” by my talented friend Kim Kaitell. The firs thing I did was hang that painting with some music playing in the background because it wasn’t quite 7 yet and I wanted to be able to admire it on my retreat.

Image description: A textured canvas painting, dark in the lower half and light in the upper half, with three large red circles (grapefruit moons) and the silhouette of three birds, two standing in front of two of the moons and one off to the left side. Title: One Can Always Tango by Kim Kaitell.

I finished that (which promised to be a bit more work than I’d planned because I put a hanging wire on the painting and needed plugs in the wall, so it required the drill and all manner of measurements and so forth…but by 6:58 the painting was up, the music was off, and the phone was in my bedroom night table drawer on airplane mode without wifi).

If you have a busy life with lots of activity in it, it’s tough just to stop–or at least that is my experience. So I started cooking. Chopping veggies is kind of meditative for me, so I grabbed a rutabaga and a squash, neither an easy subject to tackle on a cutting board, and my favourite heavy knife, and spent the first 30 minutes of my silent retreat prepping them to roast in the oven. I had some lentils and rice simmering on the stove at the same time. And when I opened the veggie drawer in my fridge, I found some portobello mushrooms that needed attention and got it in the form of sauteed portobellos with a soy-maple glaze. Okay, so dinner was on its way. While I waited for everything to cook, I snapped a few pictures of fresh flowers, one of my favourite photo subjects.

Next up: mindful eating.

By the time I finished dinner, it was already almost 9. Still not ready to sit quietly in meditation, I took out my adult colouring book. I’m not artistic but I absolutely adore colour. I started a page that said: “Today is going to be awesome” with full confidence that it contained an accurate prediction about tomorrow.

Image description: Coloured-in page from an adult colouring book. In the middle it says in handwritten block letters “TODAY IS GOING TO BE AWESOME” and that is framed by a swirling abstract floral pattern.

Without belabouring every moment, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve done for myself this month. By the end of the first evening, my mind had quieted. It felt good to go to bed (after a leisurely soak in the tub) without having to set an alarm. I almost always have a Saturday morning yoga commitment and Sunday run, so there is rarely a day when I don’t need to get up for something. I lay in bed that Saturday and just luxuriated for a little longer than normal.

Then I got up and sat in meditation for 30 minutes and followed that with some candid and much-needed journalling. I didn’t do a whole lot of anything that day — a bit more colouring, a bit more photography, some reading, several timed meditation sessions, a 30-minute run. I’d wanted a nap but I think by the afternoon my mind felt so quiet and I was at peace and feeling rested, so I didn’t feel the need. And that was after less than 24 hours.

Image description: Two orange flowers in the foreground and one blurred in the background, against a further blurry (bokeh) light background.

By the time the clock was approaching 7 p.m. (and I did have a 7 p.m. commitment), I was so into my retreat that I didn’t want it to end. But I did one more meditation, a bit of journalling on my experience, silently expressed gratitude for the opportunity, and left the house to celebrate an occasion with friends.

If you think you’d like to try this, just google “planning a home silent retreat” or something like that and a few articles will come up. I used “How to Create An Amazing Silent Retreat at Home” as my rough guide. The whole thing felt like a loving thing to do for myself and I will be doing it again.

Have you ever retreated silently at home?

fitness · self care

When things get too busy

I am incredibly busy right now. I know everyone loves to “complain” about how busy they are, and how problematic our culture of constant busyness is (Susan wrote about this a while ago, and it still stands). But the fact of the matter is, for me, things are busier at the moment than they have been in the past. I think this will subside again, or I’ll get used to the new amount of stuff I have to do, but right now, I get to the end of a workday and I feel like I’m ready to crawl into a corner and sleep.

When things get too busy, I want to be this kitten.

Photo by Alex Pavlou on Unsplash

Others on the blog have written about self-care quite a lot, and why it’s problematic and a privilege and also about what it means for different people, or at different moments. So, acknowledging all that, and wondering (as I often do) whether I actually have anything new to contribute to this conversation, it’s something that’s been on my mind for the past couple of weeks since this hell-storm of busyness has broken loose. So let me say that I feel extremely lucky to have the privilege of being able to enjoy self-care during this busy period. But what does that mean to me?

When things get too busy, I tend to have problems switching my brain off. I spend a lot of the day troubleshooting. It’s part of my job and I enjoy it, but when the proverbial shit hits the fan, I tend to be in troubleshooting mode and thinking about work (and non-work) problems 24/7, trying to figure out a good way to solve them.

So when I notice my mind is spinning at the end of a work-day, I normally know it’s time to get moving. Swimming is best. The repetitiveness of the motions, trying to swim more effectively and efficiently, drowning out the outside world… it always works. I have never once emerged from a pool session and not felt much calmer and more clear-headed. Running is good too, in a different way. My mind wanders more, and I sometimes think about new angles to an issue, or – even better! – find myself lost in deep thoughts about something completely different than what was preoccupying me before. And then there’s bouldering, where you just need to concentrate so hard while you’re on the wall, and think about how to tackle a problem before you start, there’s no room to ruminate about other things while you’re at it. So yes, when things get too busy, doing some sort of exercise usually helps.

But then there are the days when I’m just too tired. Last Tuesday, I didn’t have swim practice (the school pool we train at was closed due to holidays), so I’d originally planned to go for a swim at a public pool instead. Well, it turned out those were closed too – apparently my hometown takes carnival more seriously than I had thought, and things close on Shrove Tuesday. I was also exhausted. So what did I do instead? I thought for a moment about doing something else – TRX or yoga at home -, but then I decided to sit on the couch and allow myself a rest day. Would I have normally taken my exhausted self to the pool? Probably. And would it have been worth it? Almost certainly. But I was pleased with my unplanned rest day, too.

A picture from Bettina’s run commute: still wintery-looking trees in the foreground, a town on a river being slowly illuminated by the rising sun in the background.

And then, on Wednesday, I resumed my run commutes. It’s finally light early enough in the mornings and late enough in the evenings to do that again – and it felt fantastic. It’s a great way of getting a workout in when I’m really busy: right before and right after work, on my way there and home, a trip that I’d have to do anyway. Also a plus in the self-care department: it forced me to leave the office at 5:30pm, before it got too dark (that will go away soon as the days get longer, but it was perfect this week).

When things get too busy, I’m finding that different things can help, that I need to listen to what my body is asking for, and that I have to strike a good balance between movement and stillness. Not exactly a groundbreaking finding, but an important one nevertheless.

Dear readers, how do you unwind? Do you have secret tips for taking care of yourselves during busy periods?

diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · health · overeating · self care · tbt · weight loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue #tbt

For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.

Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

campfire[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potentialFor more information about it, check out some of the links below]

Recently, after blogging about the thigh gap and taking Go Kaleo‘s recommendation to read Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery 2, and then reading Caitlin’s post that reminded us that, hey, we actually need to eat, the penny finally dropped for me.

Yes! I finally understand that metabolic health is a big deal. Huge. Bigger than the next fad diet, bigger than any particular training program, bigger than aspiring to have ripped abs or a thigh gap.

After we posted about fitness models earlier in the month, we noticed some fascinating discussion on a figure competitors’ discussion boards about ways to train smarter with more calories. Sam drew…

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