fitness · meditation · yoga

How yoga sneaks up on you

IMG_4269I lift my heel and flex my toes in high lunge, and feel every part of my foot flicker to life.

*

I roll down into forward fold and I flash through an inner dialogue of hips taut, hamstrings tight, feet turned in a little too much, fibrous muscle catching over my left knee, piriformis sore, toes further away than last week.

*

I sit in dandasana and feel hips, thighs, spin, neck race into position, work to constellate into an upright, strong posture.

*

I sit in hero pose at the beginning of a class, legs tucked under, looking like I am doing NOTHING, and my quads fire into agitated life, screaming to be released.  At the end of class, I sit as comfortably in this pose as in a chair.

*

I balance in warrior three, feel my leg root, glide forward in complete equilibrium.

**

I’ve been doing yoga at least once a week for more than 20 years now.  These poses are “easy” asanas — but I was reflecting in my class on Monday that I experience them fresh every time.  I discover my toes anew every time I step on the mat, am present to these little bits of my body that work for me all day, every day, but which I never really feel or pay attention to until I’m directly engaging them.  I feel like different parts of my body literally greet me when I fold, stretch, balance — hello calves!  hello arthritic big toe! hello side-twisty bit!

At the same time, I experience the poses as familiar, attached to a story — “oh, interesting, I’m so much stronger and deeper in chair pose than I was six months ago” — and as completely new — “how do I fold in suryanamaskar A in a way so it really feels like a flow?  how do I curl over my toes from upward dog to downward dog in a smooth motion?”  I’ve literally done 1000s of sun salutations in my yoga life — but every one has its own life to it, its own story, is a new question.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was contemplating going to her first yoga class ever, and she was reluctant because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to follow it, wouldn’t be able to “do” it.  I found myself quite passionately describing my experience of yoga as “never easy,” that there is no “right” way to do it, and that good yoga classes are always about never comparing, about going deep inside your own possibilities, being okay with the fact that you have been doing yoga for 20 years and still cannot do some of the things that other people can do easily.  For me this is getting my heels down in downward dog, doing Utthita Hasta Padangustasana without falling (grabbing my big toe with one hand and extending my leg out straight while balancing on other leg), comfortably doing eagle pose.  I have done these poses 100s of times, and they are a new, imperfect challenge every time.  As I said to my friend, “the joy of yoga is that there is simultaneously no failing and it’s all failing — it is never perfect.”

Other people doing variations on a pose my massage therapist tells me to do and which continues to elude me.

**

My meditation teacher Jeff Warren once said that yoga is a “spiritual trojan horse” — that many people start doing yoga for fitness or stress reduction, and then find themselves “deliciously, inexorably, sometimes alarmingly – moving along a course of spiritual development they never expected.”

That has been my experience with yoga.  Not in a namaste and sanskrit tattoo kind of way — I have strong feelings about the cultural appropriation side of yoga.  But I do know that a guided meditation during shivasana back in 1996 was the first time I really experienced the connection between my body and a deep felt sense of “mystery” — the first time I had a somatic experience of my self and all of its yearnings for meaning.  Over time, I’ve developed language for these yearnings, journeyed through meditation, reflection, solo pilgrimages, all the “work” to face my demons and look as unflinchingly as possible at what it means to be a present, emotionally honest, flawed, vulnerable human, capable both simultaneously of inflicting harm, of weaving golden connections, of great generosity.

Yes, yoga is a way to keep my aging body more supple, to build strength and agility in the muscles and connective tissues that get worn and frayed through daily life, through sitting, through running and cycling and walking in the wrong shoes.  Anyone who thinks it’s “not real exercise” is misguided — I rarely go to hot yoga, but I always need a shower after a class.  It’s physical WORK.

But there is also a meta-experience of that physical work that always brings me back to the mat.  Yoga is lesson after lesson.

On the mat, I do the same kind of observation and noting of what is happening in that very moment that I seek in meditation — the unexpected stubbing of my toe as I hop back to the front of my mat, the ease and depth of triangle, the three breath limit for full bridge pose.  Presence reveals an endless flow of news, slows me down.

Every time I do handstand, I have a moment of hesitation, a prick of fear about turning myself upside down.  That flicker of hesitation is a continual re-engagement with my own courage, with the intertwining of self-aware strength and vulnerability to strive for in my entire life.

On the mat, I am often simultaneously deeply engaged and deeply bored, fully immersed in what I am doing and impatient at the same time, resisting checking my watch.  This is my monkey mind life, unable to stay still.  Yoga shows me this tendency, cautions me about it, reminds me that it just gets worse.

On the mat, I sometimes feel the deep vulnerability — the sadness, the hope, the loss, the fear — that is squelched in real life.  I am reminded to listen.

Every time I fall out of a pose, or can’t reach for something I’m aiming for, I’m reminded about letting go of attachment, of not taking what’s in front of me for granted.  This has helped me through losses and irritations, reinforced my gratitude for my body’s changing strength and agility as I age.

More than anything, yoga reinforces “beginner’s mind” for me.  Every time I’m on the mat, I discover what is true for me that day — can I hold a pose longer, or bend further, or is there restriction?  Can I hold that multi-stage balancing posture, or am I going to tip?  I am never the same yogi from one session to the next. It’s grounding and it’s freeing.  It’s a reminder that I can fail in one moment and there will always be another posture, I can succeed one moment and not have the same experience next time, I can be triumphant — see my handstand! — and I can be humbled — see me suddenly unable to reach my toes in a simple forward fold on a stiff day!  I am human and I am present to that human-ness.

When I learn these things on the mat, I learn them in my body.  When I manage to hold onto the wisdom off the mat, I am a better human.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, and other times she needs to say something out loud.

fitness · yoga

Can yoga body awareness/feedback translate to cycling or other sports? I hope so.

Yesterday I went to ropes yoga class with my friend Janet.  I’ve blogged about ropes yoga in the past: Asanas on the Ropes: Trying out Kurunta Yoga. It’s a lot of fun, as you use two sets of ropes to sort of truss yourself up in service of shifting weight and focusing on alignment and body awareness.  And you can also hang upside-down in midair, which is fun.

 

It’s been a long time since I was last at ropes class– almost a year. Last time I went, I felt weak and uncoordinated and unyogi-ish. This past year was a hard one for me health and fitness-wise (maybe everything-wise). I was overworked and menopausal (still am) and sleep-disordered and unfocused and fearful about how the previous problems would affect my fitness and general well-being. Blech!

However, this summer has been one of rest, recovery, fun with friends and family, and happy movement. Yay! A crucial part of the happy movement for me has been the gradual addition of yoga to my almost-daily regimen. 6 out of 7 days a week I do some (10–20 mins) morning yoga and (usually) evening yoga at home, using my favorite yoga youtube videos. FYI, Bad Yogi is a favorite (I go with the free videos), along with Yoga with Kassandra and Yoga with Adriene.  Adriene has a nice dog who makes appearances in many of the videos. I also love Jessamyn Stanley’s yoga videos (she has great demos with music soundtracks, too).

Yes, I still take classes at Artemis, my local yoga studio, but:  1) I need more yoga in my life; and 2) I often need it at times when there aren’t classes; and 3) I can’t always get myself out the door to class, even though it is a 10-minute walk away.  Truth.

Now, back to the present and the ropes class.  This class felt different to me in a big and important way. I used to blame my size or general physical shape or age or something when I couldn’t do some pose.  Here’s one I just can’t do– face-up plank on the wall (also called sunny-side up; not sure how to say that in Sanskrit):

A whole bunch of people with their feet on a wall, extending parallel to the floor, holding ropes to keep them in place.
A whole bunch of people with their feet on a wall, extending parallel to the floor, holding ropes to keep them in place.

See?  All these other people can do this, but I just can’t. And I finally figured out why– my left shoulder (with a partial rotator cuff tear) won’t let me.  It’s not strong enough. The rest of me is– I could feel that when I tried it.  The rest of my body was all ready to go, but the shoulder said no.  So I sat that one out.

So what’s the big deal about this? Yoga is known for having poses that one person may find effortless and another find impossible. I actually like that about it– it reminds me of  the tremendous variation among bodies; together as a group, we humans have an enormous repertoire of movements.  Yes, I know, no flying yet. But still. I think we’re pretty cool.

My problem has been that, in the past year in  yoga class (or on the bike, etc.), I totally forgot about that wondrous variety thing I was just rhapsodizing about.  All I focused on was how deficient my own body was– weak in this way, slow in that way, too big for this, not flexible enough for that. Blech again.

It took a full summer of steady activity for me to get to a mindset where I could notice and take in feedback from my body parts about what was happening during physical movements. My big breakthrough moment was at this ropes class, where I noticed all sorts of things about my body:

  • My left shoulder is weak (because of rotator cuff injury); it needs some rehab exercises;
  • My feet are a lot stronger and not crampy at all when I stand on one foot;
  • My left side continues to be more flexible than my right side;
  • I have more core strength since last year– I could pull myself up with the ropes while hanging upside down like it was nothing! Yahoo!
  • Both of my shoulders (had surgery on right one for rotator cuff tear 9 years ago) are in need of lots of attention to keep them flexible and make them stronger;
  • Whatever modification gear I need (blocks, strap, bolster, etc.) are there for the taking and make doing yoga possible, not wimpier and less good.

Go me! Go yoga!

 

Now, to the title question:  is it possible to take this body acceptance and body feedback mindset and apply it to other activities, like cycling? I love cycling, but get in my head very often and blame myself for what I see as sub-par performance. I blame myself in myriad ways.  And I’m having a moment where I can see that it’s neither exactly accurate nor remotely helpful.

There are some cycling activities that my body could never do, like really steep extended climbing.

There are some cycling activities that my body these days can’t do, like racing.

There are some cycling activities that my body needs some help in being able to do, like riding longer distances for multiple days at a time.

There are some cycling activities that my body enjoys doing (when my mind will leave it alone)– riding with friends, going on 30-something mile rides, tooling around town, and participating in fun bike events.

Next weekend I’m headed out to Northampton, MA for their annual Bike Fest and Tour of the Valley.  I’m doing the 25-mile ride with some friends and will get some other miles in as well.  It should be fun.  I’m taking my yoga mindset with me as I get on the saddle. Will report back next week.

Readers, have you had a shift in awareness from say, judgment to more neutral body awareness in your activities? Are you feeling stuck in the judgment mode? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

fitness · yoga

Cordelia and the Yoga Teacher (Guest Post)

by Amy Kaler

January 1 2018.  I went to a special New Year’s Day yoga class. The city streets were quiet and shut down, giving the class an air of muted carnival. The instructor wasn’t one I’d had before but I knew him by reputation – young, very enthusiastic, with a devoted following. This morning he was particularly enthusiastic as he broke open the new year. He was so enthusiastic that when we were all lined up on our mats, he commenced to give everyone a New Year’s hug, moving steadily but exuberantly down the rows of predominantly female students.

I am not a casual hugger at then best of times – I’m never sure exactly when to let go and how tight is too tight – and this was not the best of times, because I don’t really do the festive season, which is a whole story that doesn’t belong here. So when I perceived the teacher working his free-hug routine, my first reaction was – “aagh, there’s a sweaty man in a unitard, and he’s heading for me!”. My second reaction was clarified aversion – I do not want to give or receive a hug. I do not want to act happy and affectionate, not here, not now, not with this person.

The roots of this aversion go back decades. Growing up as a cisgendered middle class white girl, what I disliked most about normative femininity was the pressure to perform emotions. This almost always took the form of display of happiness and delight, coded as “being nice”. I learned that girls and young women (older women could exempt themselves) were expected to go through our lives in the public eye showing the audience that things were good, better, best, amazing, and that we were thrilled to be here. We smiled, we were super-sweet, we did that rising-intonation thing when we spoke, and in doing so we tacitly reassured everybody that the world was just as it should be.

I believe I was suspicious of this imperative from early years, although I was quiet about it. When I started to read literature in high school, I discovered that other people had been so before me and had articulated it much better – Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss, who proclaimed that this was the best of all possible worlds in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary, seemed a male version of the girls and women I knew who in public deemed everything sweet, delightful and fabulous.

Pangloss is played for laughs in Candide, but the fate of Cordelia in King Lear showed that the stakes of performing emotions are high. Cordelia, famously, cannot “heave [her] heart into [her] mouth” when her sisters are announcing their fulsome love for their capricious father when he demands shows of daughterly affection (King Lear, Act 1 Scene 1). Her father makes it clear that he wants the same from her, and offers her “a third [portion of his estate] more opulent than your sisters – Speak”. Cordelia answers, “Nothing”. “Nothing will come of nothing”, her father responds ominously, and within a couple of acts Cordelia is dead and the kingdom is in ruins, stemming from the moment when she refused to be nice.

Being driven out of your palace and murdered in prison is a dramatic outcome of not performing a happy emotion, but as I moved from literature into sociology, I learned that there were names for the subtler dangers of the performance. Acting out emotions that we do not actually feel, over a lifetime, may collapse the distinction between what we show and who we are. Arlie Hochschild called this “deep acting”, studying the social-psychic lives of flight attendants (then called “hostesses”) whose embodiment of warm, smiling hospitality leavened by sexiness, for the benefit of paying passengers, became indistinguishable from the subjective experiences of the attendants (1983). Hochschild correctly identified this as “labour” – smiling and looking gracious was hard work which generated a profit, at the expense of the worker. Kurt Vonnegut put it more starkly: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be (1961).

And now, back to yoga.

A yoga class may seem an odd place to object to a hug. Yoga is not only very physical but also very inter-physical. We students are constantly being manipulated (in the neutral sense of the word) into stances and postures which are challenging to maintain, and which do not just involve neutral parts of the body like hands and feet but the more undignified and intimate bottoms and bellies. We accept the physical indignity as a necessary part of learning the bodily discipline of yoga.

But the New Year’s hug crossed the line between discipline and performance. It required the embodiment of affect which I did not particularly want to embody with these people at this time. A blurry lifetime of gendered conditioning seemed to hang in the air around me, where it met an insurgent but implacable stream of stubbornness. Lear’s Cordelia could not heave her heart into her mouth; I could not hug the yoga teacher.

Although this teacher was a mild and benign fellow, my embodied response was self-defensive. I remembered the straight arm block from Red Cross lifeguard training decades ago, a move meant to push back a drowning swimmer who might drag the lifeguard under. My straight arm block diverged into a firm handshake, and the awkwardness of physically repelling a perfectly harmless yoga teacher dissolved into a convivial greeting. He looked a bit puzzled but wished me a happy new year, I reiterated same, and the moment passed.

What tipped my actions in that moment? I think it was a cliché of parenthood that ran through my mind. What would I tell my daughter to do? What would I want her to do if someone wanted to touch her and she didn’t want them to? The good or bad intentions of the other person would be beside the point – the point is that you should do what you need to do in order that you don’t get touched when you don’t want it. Shake hands with the yoga teacher, produce a firm “No” to the importunate boyfriend or girlfriend, deliver a swift kick if required. Lear commanded his daughters to show a face of love, would I ever command mine to embrace?

Cordelia died because she didn’t act nice in the way enjoined by people around her. We might die a little bit if we do. In order to live, we may step out of the hug. Happy 2018 to you, yoga teacher. And now we continue with the class.

References:

Hochschild, Arlie (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Vonnegut, Kurt (1961) Mother Night. New York: Fawcett.

Photo of Amy Khaler
Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/amykaler/home?authuser=2. Some of her nonacademic writing can be found here: https://kayfergusonblog.wordpress.com/.

 

See Amy’s past post on running 10 km in the summer of 2018 here.

 

fitness · Martha's Musings · meditation · yoga

When the humidex is high and the will is low

By MarthaFitat55

 

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Image shows a body of water with ripples formng a series of circles. Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

We have had high humidex levels in my part of the country we call Canada. Some people think it’s all snow and ice all the time, but nope, we get heat here too. The past few summers we have seen increasing periods of humidity, the kind that I only ever encountered when I lived in Ontario in the mid 80s.

I’ve been lucky too that my training times up to now in previous summers have managed to avoid the periods of extreme heat. This year though, it’s another story.

That’s because the gym has been hotter than the gates of Hades. In fact, several times my trainer has deemed it too unsafe to train, it’s been that ridiculously hot.

When it is so warm that breathing causes you to break out into a sweat, what’s the next best option to keeping the wheels turning on the training train?

For me it has been swimming and yoga. I’ve written about my swimming adventures here, here, and here. But my return to yoga this summer after almost four years away has been a revelation.

My former yoga instructor offered an eight week yin yoga summer program, and despite the heat some evenings, I, in fact, found it quite lovely and rejuvenating.

First off, though, there were no goats nor kittens, nor were there beers or bottles of wine. This was not hip yoga, unless you mean the kind that would help me keep my hips in good nick so I can keep walking and climbing stairs.

Yin yoga is sometimes described as a passive practice because you tend to hold poses for longer periods (thus doing fewer of them in a session), but it is this holding which allows muscles to stretch and fascia to relax.

It is my favourite form of yoga because it brings you in touch on a deeper level with your breathing and your core. It also means you have to focus on stilling the distractions that keep knocking on your mental front door.

The yogi chose a different quotation from her collection to guide our practice each night. One night she chose this one: I am my strongest when I am calm (Yung Pueblo). Even though summer yoga has been finished for almost three weeks now, that quotation still rings in my ears.

Our pace of life is one that is managed by multiple demands on our time from family, friends, work, community. I had returned to yoga because I wanted an alternative for the weight training hiatus. The effort of focusing reminded me how often those demands were like tendrils winding themselves tighter and tighter, sometimes even cutting parts of ourselves off from the whole.

I am my strongest when I am calm. As I write this sentence here, I feel the stress of my day leak away.  It reminds me I don’t have to be buzzing madly like a bee from one flower to another. I can pick a moment, or a pose, and lean into it, think about what’s happening, and noticing the little changes that emerge or arise the longer I hold the pose.

Those eight little words are profound. It’s made me think again about what strength means. For me it’s been about asking for help, stepping back, pausing to breathe, feeling the moment, accepting a change in plans, approach, direction. These days, it has also meant I rest with an idea to see what happens, to understand what emerges from the stillness, and to feel the surety that comes from embracing the balance that comes from both the push and the pull.

I’ve learned that it is also more than figuring out how long I can hold it (hey there dragon pose), or if I can push it (nice to meet you flying dragon), or if I need to release it (thank you child pose). It’s about recognizing the power I have within and knowing it will still be there when I go back into the gym once it is cooler.

I am my strongest when I am calm. Yes. Yes, I am.

— MarthaFitat55 is embracing her best self and best life through movement and fitness.

 

fitness · yoga

Workplace wellness extending to the nursery

Last week I saw this video by the BBC about London’s youngest yogis. A yoga program for small children is being piloted in some London nursery day care centers, with the goal of providing the tots with inner strength for battling the stresses of modern city life in the 21st century.  Here’s what it looks like:

Toddlers on yoga mats, crouching and standing, one with head between knees.
Toddlers on yoga mats, crouching and standing, one with head between knees.

Honestly, to me it looks like any day at any nursery with any group of kids.  When they have a space which allows it, children regularly move around every which way.

But this is movement with a purpose.

The purpose, according to the CEO of a nursery company in the UK, is to address the lack of feelings of stability, of calm, of safety in a sometimes-dangerous and mostly-urban world. She says in the video,

Where do children get quiet? Where do children just get a time to be? Where do children get space, just to feel safe and able to just do a deep breath? 

The idea, it seems, is to institute a playplace wellness program at nurseries to help kiddos identify when they’re feeling sad or mad or upset or stressed, and to teach them movements (kiddy yoga and other things) to address those feelings.

We’ve written about workplace wellness programs on this blog before. Here are some of them:

Work, wellness, and weighty matters by Natalie

Problems with workplace wellness programs: where do I start? by Catherine (me)

There are also numerous posts about team step challenges and other sorts of workplace challenges by Tracy, Sam and others. Here’s a new one:

New job, new fitness challenge?#uoguelph by Sam

What’s the tl:dr version of all these posts? For individuals in particular workplace challenge programs, mileage varies.  Some find that them fun, and others find them stressful or interfering with their regular physical activity routine.

Looking at them in general, though, there are a number of problems.  First, they don’t actually seem to work— that is, they don’t tend to result in increased health among workers enrolled in the programs. Second, and more worrisome, is that many of the causes of stress and ill health are found in the workplace itself– long hours, uncompensated duties, no accommodation for life issues, short vacation time, lack of control over work time, etc.  Fixing those features of work life will make a world of difference (as opposed to offering a 7am meditation class in the conference room before work).

But back to the London tots and the word of that CEO. Where do children get space to move, breath, play, rest, and enjoy life?  How about in their homes, in their schools, in parks in their neighborhoods, in museums and playgrounds and pools and lakes and beaches and woods?  That is what we need to be working on and identifying and speaking out about.  Creating little zones of mini-serenity for children isn’t going to fool them into thinking the world is a happy-go-lucky place. Let’s get working on making neighborhoods safer, housing better, jobs more plentiful and better-paying, and healthcare more accessible for all.

I know, I know– these are all idealistic and massively difficult goals.  But so is doing this:

A woman in a balancing pose with one leg behind her head and the other against her right arm, in the air. Yeah.
A woman in a balancing pose with one leg behind her head and the other against her right arm, in the air. Yeah.

Some goals are very very very hard, but worth working toward. Even small progress in this respect makes a difference.

accessibility · climbing · fitness · hiking · holidays · inclusiveness · nature · running · traveling · yoga

Women, mountain sports, and privilege – thoughts on an all-female sports festival in Austria

Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.

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View over a lush green alpine valley, from the beginning of our via ferrata.

I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.

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Bettina in full gear, taking a well-deserved sip of water after completing her first ever via ferrata.

The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.

But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.

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The really quite scary suspension bridge we had to cross during our trail run, complete with some runners from our group approaching in the distance.

The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.

The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?

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Bettina in a red t-shirt and hiking gear, beaming widely with one of the summits she climbed during her all-day hike in the background.

There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.

The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).

In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.

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Enjoying these views was part of our privilege: panorama of the Alps with some flecks of snow in the sunshine.

And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.

Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.

Fear · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting · yoga

Little steps leading to big leaps

This past month has been one focused on change. We went from a relatively cool June to a muggy July seemingly overnight and training in the heat has been difficult.

My trainer and I have been experimenting, from shifting when I train so I can manage the heat to trying different deadlift and bench approaches. I am still following my trainer’s lead regarding my program, and it’s a relief to let someone else take the reins of planning and directing. People hire me for my expertise in communications and let me take the lead all the time, so I’m perfectly fine relying on my trainer’s knowledge and experience to show me the way forward in the gym.

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Picture shows a person wearing flowered gym tights and grey sneakers in the sunshine

 

It’s a choice that has let me successfully continue with powerlifting as a training focus for almost five years. In that time, I’ve managed recovery from a hyperactive hip joint, a shoulder with attitude, and a knee that constantly whined for attention.

So when Vicky said let’s try a few things, I said okay and we carried on with me lifting heavy things and putting them down, albeit in some very different, challenging variations. We used bands, blocks, pins and posts. We took apart processes and put them back together, and not always in the same way.

I wasn’t always excited about change in the gym. I really worry about reinjuring various parts so I tend to look at new moves with suspicion and a decided lack of enthusiam. However, I trust my trainer and when she proposed deficit deadlifts, I said yes. When she added bands, I said yes, and kept my fingers crossed they wouldn’t snap mid lift. When she proposed pinch presses for bench, I said yes and hoped like heck it didn’t mean I was the one who got pinched. (I wasn’t).

Each shift made the lifts more challenging and I quickly mastered the new ways of lifting, despite how weird it all felt. Each shift meant I had to change the way I carried out my work compared to the traditional approaches.

I find deficit lifts challenging as everything tends to get squished the closer you get the floor and it isn’t so easy breathing either. I quickly discovered I needed a new way to fill my lungs as the heavier the bar the more energy and breath I needed.

I tried a couple of different moves and workarounds until I felt as comfortable as I would ever feel shifting a lot of weight around. I had to do the same thing with bench presses and squats too.

Well, those tiny changes had a big impact. After three weeks of tiny steps, Vicky brought me back to traditional deadlifts and bench presses. I’m thrilled with the results — new personal records in bench and deadlift for four repeats at 100 pounds and 200 pounds respectively.

When I think on it, all my progress has come from tiny steps: from making that first decision to hire a trainer and actually walk into the gym to the actual nurturing of trust in the process, the trainer, and myself.

Each stage builds on the next, creating a space where gains in strength and comfort are possible. Most importantly, I have seen changes in how I have made fitness a part of my life. I added swimming last year when my neighbourhood pool reopened and this summer I took up yin yoga.

When I did the latest survey on my Carrot app, I was delighted to see how much time each week is now devoted to a specific physical activity. The old joke asks “how does one eat an elephant? The answer: one bite at a time. Or in my case, one step at a time, consistently.

— Martha lives and trains in St. John’s.