fitness · yoga

I have a yoga crush on Jessamyn Stanley

If you haven’t heard of Jessamyn Stanley, today’s your lucky day. Let me introduce you…

Content warning: some of her quotes include copious profanity, which I will coyly edit with **s. Not sure why, but I figured I would. So know those words will be there, and you’ll know what they are, but there will be a little editing.

Now on to the post proper.

The world is complicated.

A very cute cartoon ghost saying "duh".
A very cute cartoon ghost saying “duh”.

Likewise the world of yoga. Especially the world of commercialized western yoga. As some bloggers have pointed out (definitely read this article if you’re interested), it tends to look like this:

A group of white women, dressed all in white, seated on yoga mats.
A group of white women, dressed all in white, seated on yoga mats.

There are a few worries that this picture provokes for me:

  • the extreme whiteness of yoga here in North America
  • the extreme thinness of yoga here in North America
  • the Westernization/appropriation of yoga here in North America

Jessamyn Stanley takes aim at all three of these things, and she obliterates them in one fell swoop. Or rather, one swell soliloquy, found on her FB page:

Short story- yoga is not about practicing yoga postures perfectly it’s about peeling back the layers of bullsh*t that envelop all of us.

That means I DONT GIVE A F**KKKK if you follow along perfectly with the sequences… Literally couldn’t care less.

You can legit spend the whole class in #corpsepose and I will be so happy for your *ss because we’re not in a dance troupe and this isn’t synchronized swimming or any sh*t where we need to move in tandem. You just do what you need to do and we gon be alright.

Yoga is not exercise.
Yoga is not fitness.

Don’t bring fitness bullsh*t to my yoga class and we’ll be square.

YES. I am living for this.

We’re not in a dance troupe.

Modern dance troupe at work.
Modern dance troupe at work.

This isn’t synchronized swimming.

Synchronized swimmers, looking up with arms raised out of the water.
Synchronized swimmers, looking up with arms raised out of the water.

So if yoga isn’t fitness and it isn’t exercise, then what should we look for? Jessamyn says it’s not anyone’s job to serve as our inspiration.

What authority do I have to intentionally inspire? I’m just like anyone else. I wake up, I fall down, I make mistakes. I’ve got wildly contradictory and problematic opinions. I’m vengeful and I can be quite spiteful. I’m jealous, and I allow my jealousy to cloud my judgments.

And yes, I practice yoga. I practice yoking the light and the dark in life. And yes, I’m shamelessly fat.

But my goal is not to inspire other people. I don’t think desiring followership is in the best interest of any yoga practice, let alone mine.

(Honestly, I think the best way to inspire people is to mind your f*cking business, drink water, get some sleep, and keep your spirit moisturized.)

Most excellent advice, in my view.

Jessmyn’s book Every Body Yoga, is great, with lots of honest stories and good tips about how to put together a yoga practice that works for you.

The cover of Jessamyn's book, with her doing a hard yoga pose.
The cover of Jessamyn’s book, with her doing a hard yoga pose.

But her FB page and Instagram feeds are presenting, confronting and sharing ideas about self, size, love, acceptance, acceptability, breaking with conventions, and instigating new conventions. Here’s an example:

Jessamyn, in a bra and panties standing beside a stereo. Her quote: Is being fat and black only chill when it makes other people feel good about themselves? #fat
Her quote: Is being fat and black only chill when it makes other people feel good about themselves? #fat

And this:

Jessamyn Stanley, covered in green and yellow paint, on her yoga mat.
Jessamyn Stanley, covered in green and yellow paint, on her yoga mat.

The quote with this picture is long, and worth reading:

I tend to revel in anger. Especially when it’s justifiable. My anger manifests as a fiery weapon & I gleefully burn away everything in my path. But maybe yoga is supposed to help manage my weapons before I accidentally hurt myself. Digging into Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider” for @spirithouse_inc’s Harm Free Book Zone has got me ready to amp on everyone in my life who refuses to admit that they’re complicit in upholding white supremacy. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I’m mostly just angry at myself. Angry that I am complicit in white supremacy. Angry that I officially spent my entire adolescence and young adulthood trying to buy into a system that will never let me in. Angry because, much as I loathe it, I CONTINUE to actively buy into this sh*t every day. And I think it would be quite easy to never do any analysis of this emotional circuit.

But yoga is a hand at the nape of my neck and it’s literally pushing my face into the mirror of truth. And I’m really f*cking grateful for that. Because while I’m actually quite happy with my anger (frankly, it arouses me), if I keep lighting everything on fire a b*tch will be burned alive. And why you use a perfectly good blaze to burn down your own ship, Jessamyn. #yoga

Yes. I’m listening, Jessamyn. Keep talking.

Hey readers, do you have any online activity crushes right now? Who am I missing out on? Let us know.

Crossfit · running · weight lifting · yoga

Tracy is taking suggestions…bring ’em on

mage description: Tracy's shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.
Image description: Tracy’s shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.

I’m bored with my workout routine. It’s not that I don’t like the things I’m doing. I’m getting stronger in personal training. I love yoga and feel as if I don’t do enough of it these days. And I’m itching to get back to running after my back injury took me out of it for more than a month and I’ve only just dipped my toe back into it since then.

But I feel as if a change is in the air. As much as I’m enjoying personal training, there have been quite a few developments in resistance-training these days, with more small gyms popping up offering different kinds of weight training in more of a group-class setting. One example, that I’ve not yet tried but has been recommended to me is Revkor. We have a studio here in London, and the idea of resistance band training intrigues me.

Another option, which I also have never tried, is something along the lines of CrossFit. My friend Tara has been going to a gym downtown where they do that sort of group workout and she is loving it.

I’m kind of old school and worry that if I’m not hitting heavy free weights in a gym setting I won’t actually get stronger. But at the same time, with my 14-month leave coming up, I feel as if I might need some more opportunities to be around people, and that these group workouts at specialty gyms might be just the thing. And though not cheap, they’re cheaper than personal training.

I’m also planning to spend the summer doing 10K training, 3-4 times a week. And I want to up my yoga classes from once a week to 2-3 times a week. At least that’s what I’ve got in mind.

But I’m open to suggestions. Have you tried anything lately that’s different and that you’re so jazzed about that you want to encourage others to give it a go? If so, please tell me about it and why you’re attracted to it.

accessibility · aging · fitness · yoga

Sam has become “that person” in the fitness class!

Years ago I remember watching a woman in a yoga class at the Y who seemed to be just doing her own thing.

The instructor would tell us what to do and sometimes free spirit lady followed along and at other times not. I was puzzled. Why even come to class if you’re not going to do the thing the instructor is doing? What’s that even about?

Zoom ahead twenty years and OMG I’ve become that woman in yoga class. I was at bike-yoga at the university. The instructor kept demonstrating postures I can’t manage. Some are ones I’m positively told not to do. Instead whenever the pose was one of the forbidden/impossible ones I did my own thing.

My knees were happy. I was having a good workout. But some of the university students looked at me in a funny way. I think they thought I didn’t hear or see what I was supposed to be doing. And then it dawned on. I was free spirit yoga lady.

I’m okay with that. I’m with Cate that knowing your body and what it needs and doing that is one of the joys of aging.

How about you? In group fitness classes do you ever do your own thing? How does it feel?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
fitness · yoga

Gonna fly now (sort of): aerial silks yoga and me

Last week was my spring break. I wasn’t traveling anywhere warm, so I decided to create my own heat through some new physical activities. I blogged about parkour class already, and am here to testify that you can work up a serious head of steam in a one hour class. 

Another class I’ve had my eye on has been aerial silks yoga. It’s basically yoga done with or in a silky nylon hammock that’s suspended from the ceiling. There are also loop handholds for more acrobatic moves.  

The yoga studio with an array of yoga hammocks, mats underneath them.
The yoga studio with an array of yoga hammocks, mats underneath them.

I went to a beginner class, required before attempting serious flipping around. I was the oldest person in the room by at least 25 years, I think. I was also the heaviest. I checked out the weight limits for the hammocks— they can hold 1000 pounds. Yay engineers! 

There seem to be two ways the silks function in these classes:

1) as a hammock. There’s helpful instruction for getting in and out of it (including backflipping with legs going over the head, feet landing on the ground. I tried it and it actually worked). You sit or lie down, with legs in many different configurations. For restorative classes the hammock turns into a cocoon, which may or may not feel soothing (I didn’t particularly enjoy being closed inside, but many people love it). 

One of my classmates lying in a purple yoga hammock.
One of my classmates lying in a purple yoga hammock.

2) twisted or bunched up, serving as a seat or swing or bind. We did downward dog this way, swinging forward and backward , then sat on the silk swing and lifted our legs to hang upside down. The instructor gave clear and very specific step by step instructions,  demoed the more complicated-looking moves, and came by to help us, making adjustments.

Some classmates getting into hammocks, with the one on the right bunching up hers.
Some classmates getting into hammocks, with the one on the right bunching up hers.

Some things I liked:

  • the novelty of using the hammock for movement 
  • Hanging upside down
  • The intense core exercises (at least in principle…)
  • Flipping around generally 

Some things I didn’t like:

  • The swaying motion of the hammock—I tend towards queasiness and sometimes felt vaguely so. This is common in their classes, and they have Altoid mints strategically placed all over the studio. Popping one took care of it for me.  Again YMMV. 
  • The lack of yoga-ness in the experience. Of course, it was my first time, so I was more preoccupied with getting this leg over there or making sure my hands were properly positioned on the silks than cultivating mindfulness. But, it just didn’t seem geared toward the body awareness I get in yoga classes. 

In the ropes yoga classes I’ve taken at Artemis, my local beloved studio, there’s a lot of instruction and demo to help you use the ropes to get in position. But once you are in position, the focus turns to the body— where you are in space, how you can choose to shift in small ways to feel differently, and how you might respond internally to the physical state you’re in. This is really why I love ropes yoga— it takes over some of the work my body usually does so I can shift my awareness and explore gravity, weight, weightlessness and the feelings those things provoke. 

I bought a two-class pass for aerial silks yoga, so next time I’ll try out their deep stretching class.    Will report back.

Readers, have you tried aerial silks yoga?  Ropes yoga? What do you think?  I’m feeling more than meh but less than whee.  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

fitness classes · yoga

Live music vs. live goats in yoga class: which is better?

Catherine on 6 ways live music is better than live goats in yoga class:

  1. Goats don’t have fingers, so they’re not adept at playing either keyboards or cello.
  2. Musicians don’t stand on your back during crocodile and plank pose.
  3. Musicians (for the most part) poop in private.
  4. Reproducing music for at-home yoga requires only a CD or mp3; reproducing goats for at-home yoga is a much bigger commitment.
  5. The kind of chanting goats do doesn’t conform to any Sanskrit texts I know of.
  6. Musicians might be bad but goats can be really baaaaaaaad…
The actual bass player who played for my yoga class (although this isn't my yoga class).
The actual bass player who played for my yoga class (although this isn’t my yoga class).

Sam on 6 ways live goats are better than live music in yoga class:

  1. Goats make me smile, especially when they stand on your back during child’s pose. Musicians don’t do that.
  2. Goat yoga feels less serious and more playful. Yoga with music might, for me, feel more like a performance.
  3. Baby goats are clumsy (like me!) and live music is usually rhythmic and orderly.
  4. You don’t get to feed the musicians bottles and tuck them into bed after yoga and the farm I do goat yoga at lets you do that with the goats.
  5. Goats provide excellent distractions when the poses are too hard.
  6. Goats sometimes nibble on your yoga clothes so everyone wears scruffy old clothes not pricey Lululemon matching outfits.
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#goatyoga

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Bottle feeding a baby goat

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So many goats

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health · injury · running · yoga

Yoga for what ails you

The idea of yoga as a strategy for managing what ails you is far from new. Before yoga was the trendy lifestyle package it has become today, I had B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Yoga: the path to holistic health. It was an illustrated book that laid out sequences of asanas (poses) recommended for different health conditions. It addressed physical and mental health, with an entire section devoted to stress. Back then, there was no YouTube. As a student of Iyengar yoga, I attended one class a week with the goal (as was the goal for most followers of Iyengar) of developing a strong home practice.

On occasion, if I was experiencing particular issues, I might flip to the section of the book that recommended a practice for those issues. But mostly I didn’t really take seriously the idea of yoga as a go-to for dealing with specific mental or physical health issues.

Fast forward 20 years. On Sunday, when my outer knee started to bother me at about the 7K mark of my 12K run, I knew my IT band was the culprit. I hate icing, but I know ice is recommended for the first 24 hours of any injury or flare-up. Besides that, though, it seemed obvious to me that there must be a sequence of yoga postures that would stretch that tight IT band and provide me with relief.

And I was right. I did an internet search for “yoga for IT band” and up came articles and videos for preventive and therapeutic yoga for runners with IT band issues. I zeroed in on one from Do Yoga with Me, specifically titled as a stretch class for runners for the IT band. I set up my mat and hit play.

Though I wouldn’t call the instructor the most engaging yogi I’ve ever taken a class with, I did get a lot out of the sequence. It was a half an hour of basic yet effective yoga postures with holdings that took some effort yet weren’t too terribly long.

I’ve also had some great luck lately with a neck and shoulder sequence from Yoga with Adriene (whom I just love doing yoga with because she is good and yet not overly earnest). I happened upon it by chance sort of because Christine sent me the link by mistake, thinking it was a link to a much shorter session. I did it anyway (it’s only 18 minutes long) and of all the things I’ve done for my neck since I injured it in a car accident nine winters ago, it’s offered me the most release and relief. It’s also great for general neck and shoulder tension, the kind that kicks in when we spend too long at our desk working at the computer. Check it out:

With all of the online content available these days, it’s easy to find what you need if you need a yogic solution. I know that at some level, all yoga is therapeutic and that regular practice can keep the body in tune.

I also know it’s not a cure-all, but it sure does provide tried and true relief from mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual and has been known to do so for ages (literally for millenia).

Do you ever use yoga therapeutically to help you work through minor injuries, health issues, or other ailments? Do you have any particular internet sources that you’d like to recommend? If so, please chime in in the comments.

Namaste.

aging · fashion · self care · yoga

Mina’s Naked Yoga Toes

I’m in yoga looking at my naked toes. It’s not a pretty sight and distracts me from my breath, flow and alignment. Running has thickened several of the toenails, so wearing nail polish feels like a favour to anyone who has to look at my toes. The long-term, non-stop polish practice has yellowed the nails and left white deposits of I-don’t-know-what and, yes, aging is having its way. 

It’s the new year and for the second year in a row I’ve decided to give my toenails a breather, literally. I’ll leave the polish off my toes until it’s sandals season again. The first days of my naked toes depress me unreasonably. Last year was more traumatic than this year. I hadn’t bared my toenails for well over five years. Their gnarly nudity makes me feel like I’m accelerating down the cliché slope of letting myself go

Fortunately, after a few days of toe blues, I remember several important things. First, the whole concept of a woman letting herself go is sexist and obnoxious ageism, as this article in Flaunt points out (As I Am Now, So You Will Be: Your Ageism is Hypocrisy). Why would I turn that flawed idea against myself (or anyone else!)? Second, the reason I have so long to study my naked toes is because I’m in aerial yoga class. Instead of having a toe-vanity crisis, I should be high-fiving myself for getting to class. 

Closeup of legs and beautifully polished toes of woman on hammock doing aerial yoga

By the third yoga class of the year, my head clears and I’m able to notice that in fact my toes are happy and enjoying their toe-pranayama (that’s the cleansing yogic breathing). How do I know? Because they start to look better. And this year, being the second year, they are perking up faster. They will never be ready for their close-up and I don’t have a future as a foot model; still, their evident improvement makes me feel kind to my body and is a comforting reminder of my body’s capacity to repair itself.  

I’m not giving up polish on my toes. The sight of my toes’ shiny candy-tips jazzes me. They add zing to all my sandals and inspired me to breakdown and buy open toe ankle boots, which seemed like a ridiculous and impractical fashion, until I bought a pair and realized I could wear them long past sandals season and continue to enjoy the polished insouciance of my toes.  My favourite colour is a dark night sky blue with a tiny bit of twinkle. But that’s just my default, I enjoy the ritual of choosing a hue that suits my vision of the weeks I’ll be wearing the colour. I have a bit of a colour obsession—I choose yoga mats, blankets and aerial hammocks depending on my mood. The woman’s dark red yoga pants and polished toes in the picture above, paired with the dark grey yoga hammock, satisfy my appetite for colour harmony.

I also love a pedicure. My hardworking feet earn the pleasures of a pedicure with all the miles they run and hike and walk and bike and cross-country ski and get wrapped up in yoga hammocks. 

After all, if we are going to ask our bodies to work hard for us, they deserve a reward, don’t they?