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!

 

aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.

Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.

Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.

As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.

I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?

Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.

There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.

All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.

Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”

So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.

First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.

In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”

The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.

From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”

When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.

Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.

I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.

What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.

There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.

Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

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?