rest · sleep · traveling · yoga

Sam has a bad flight and is fighting jet lag

I often claim that sleep is my superpower! 

I am one of those people who can sleep almost anywhere, anytime. I sleep on planes and I rarely experience jet lag. My trick is simple: arrive well-rested, spend time outside, make it through the day, and then bang, I’m good to go after a night’s sleep in my new location. It’s a good trick and I benefit lots from it. I’ve flown to New Zealand for four days and returned to work not much the worse for wear.

But right now I’m in Munich, speaking at a conference on Neglected Relationships.

” Personal Relationships have been a topic of philosophical research for quite some time. And rightfully so: they can contribute more to our well-being, give meaning to our lives, and generate salient moral duties and responsibilities. However, the debate has been focused on just a few types of relationships: friendships, the nuclear family, romantic partnership and co-citizenship. In this conference, we aim to explore the focus and explore what we call neglected relationships. These are kinds of relationships that play important part in our personal and moral lives, but that have gone largely underexplored by moral philosophers so far. ” My talk was on chosen family.

My flight turned out to be the Lufthansa equivalent of Air Canada Rouge. (It’s Rouge on the way home, I think.) I’m flying Basic Economy. I flew here on the “overnight” flight–scare quotes because it was just a 5 hour flight. The seats were super small, hard, and uncomfortable. I couldn’t sleep but I also couldn’t work because the person in front of me reclined into my lap. So I arrived sore and scrunched up and very, very tired. Thanks to my compression socks I didn’t have swollen ankles. But my knee hurt a lot from sitting squished into a small space with my knee brace on.

I walked to my hotel and that helped a bit. I napped too before settling down to work on my talk. But I was still really sore. Luckily Yoga with Adrienne came to my rescue! I discovered YWA through the 219 in 2019 fitness challenge group. I knew if I was going to make it to 300 workouts in 2019, I’d need an at home/travel plan. This series of moves really helped with the unscrunching. Indeed, after a day of sitting in talks I might just do it again!

My talk went well. I got some really good comments and I’m looking forward to working on it some more.

Here’s another good thing. Yummy vegetarian/vegan conference food. Also, no single use plastics. These are salads and dressing in glass bowls.

Glass bowls of salad and dressing. Yum!
fitness · yoga

Yoga poses I simply can’t do, and what I do instead

Fellow blogger Christine started a Yoga is For September challenge (and created a FB group for it, as one does). I was psyched for the social support around everyday yoga. I found that morning yoga just didn’t happen very often– I’m not a morning person at all. Yoga before bed did work, even if it was the 7-minute yoga with Adriene bedtime video. I admit I often turned the video on my phone and did my own before-bed yoga while she happily did her thing.

We are keeping the everyday yoga love alive– in real life and on FB, with a new name: Octyogafest. This month Christine and I are sharing in the care and feeding of the group. I decided to add in another challenge element this month, courtesy of Bad Yogi. She is doing a 100 poses in 100 days yoga challenge, and I decided to sign up.

October 1 rolled around, and what should the first day bring but bow pose! Here it is.

Bad yogi doing bow pose. Her hands are holding her ankles behind her, with legs bent up and chest high.
Bad yogi doing bow pose.

Sigh. I can’t do this pose. At all. I’ve never been able to do this pose. I can’treach my legs with my hands. I think this is a combo of tight quads and super-tight shoulders, which is what my body is like. Yes, I’ve tried it with a yoga strap, looped around one foot or two feet. I then just feel trussed up and awkward. Sigh.

I looked around online to see what other options there are. Of course I found some. This article approaches bow pose backwards, with grabbing the ankles as the last step rather than the first. I tried it, and found I could get a nice chest opening stretch and also quad stretch without worrying about either straps or trying to grab my ankles. Whew.

This got me to thinking: there are a few yoga poses that my body just flat-out won’t do. Not now, not in the past, and certainly at no time in the future. I’m not even talking about extremely advanced poses, like these:

Of course some bodies are made so that these are easier to do, and other bodies have been able and interested in developing practices so to be able to do these. You go, such people!

But in the course of ordinary yoga classes, poses or stretches come up that we may find are totally impossible for us, while seeing other folks doing them easily. And vice versa. It’s one of the many things I like about yoga: I can find out more about my body– its strengths and vulnerabilities– on the mat in a room with other people. So here are a few other poses that I find my body just doesn’t do.

My hips are not flexible enough to do this pose– it’s called shoelace pose, and can be done seated or reclined.

But not by me. My hips are just too tight to even get close. Luckily, there are alternatives, like this one, called half-shoelace:

A woman sitting with right leg out front, left leg crossed and bent over right.
A woman sitting with right leg out front, left leg crossed and bent over right.

If that doesn’t work, I can just sit with legs crossed. Whew.

Then there’s Virasana, or Hero pose.

A woman sitting with her knees bent and legs tucked in at her sides.
A woman sitting with her knees bent and legs tucked in at her sides.

This is impossible for me to do– my quads and feet and ankles are not flexible enough to do this without pain. However, this is a yoga pose that lots of instructors turn to for seated meditation, so I’m often faced with having to do something else. Luckily there are loads of variations, some of which work for me. Here are some below:

I use two blocks, along with sometimes a rolled up blanket to ease stress on my feet and ankles. More height helps my quads, and as I do it more often, I can occasionally use one block for a little while. Whew.

Then there are the poses requiring shoulder flexibility, like these two:

My shoulders have always been super tight, ever since I was a child. So there is no way I’ll ever come close to the pose on the right. The pose on the left I can do a bit with the help of a strap. Like so:

A woman bending her right arm behind her back, holding a towel; the left arm bends below and behind, clutching the bottom of the towel.
A woman bending her right arm behind her back, holding a towel; the left arm bends below and behind, clutching the bottom of the towel.

As a develop my yoga practice, I am more aware of what my body likes to do, what it doesn’t like to do, and what it absolutely refuses to do. Good yoga instructors offer lots of modifications, substitute poses, and gentle reminders that paying attention to how our bodies feel should always determine what we do that day.

Back to my shoulders: Yeah, I’ll do some modifications in yoga class, and I do work on strengthening (in plank, downward dog, other poses). I really like eagle pose as a shoulder stretch. Also thread the needle. And then there’s this face-down pose that stretches the shoulders– it’s shown done with one arm, but you can combine it with both arms– kind of a shoulder shoelace.

I tend to work on poses that improve my quad flexibility (and strength). This helps me in other activities (like cycling). I also do foot and ankle exercises almost every day to maintain and improve flexibility, which reduces pain in my everyday life.

Sort of a shoulder shoelace pose. Lie face down and thread one arm underneath and through. bend other arm and lie with head resting on it.
Sort of a shoulder shoelace pose.
Thread the needle pose. from hands and knees, bend over, laying one arm on the mat, threading it to the other side. Use your other arm for support or move it behind your back.
Thread the needle pose.
Seated eagle pose-- arms are crossed in front of your chest, intertwined with palms together.
Seated eagle pose.

Yoga, for me, isn’t about my ambitions to maximize my flexibility, strength, balance, serenity, or supply of cool leggings. It calms me, challenges me, gives me a wake up call about my vulnerabilities, and offers ways through or around or with those vulnerabilities. Yes, there are loads of poses I can’t do. And there are loads of poses I do instead. Thanks, yoga.

What about you, yoga-practicing readers? What regular non-advanced poses does your body balk at? What do you do about it? I’d love to hear from you.

p.s. If all yoga poses are easy for you, try the Destroyer of the Universe pose. No I didn’t make it up. If you try it, also let us know. But be careful– you don’t want to accidentally hurt yourself or annihilate all sentient beings.

p.p.s. If you and a friend want to try some partner poses, some of which look impossible, others of which look fun, check them out here.

yoga

Yoga on my Mind

I’m a creative life coach so I spend a lot of time encouraging people to write and create on a regular basis so when they NEED to write or create, their skills are right there waiting for them.

And I spend a lot of time reminding people that they can ‘cross-pollinate’ – use skills from one area of their life to serve them in another. My most used example is about how learning Taekwondo made me a better writer.

Yet, somehow, it has escaped me until now that having a regular yoga practice would yoga more available to me when I needed it. And, it never occurred to me to bring my ‘keep up a writing habit’ approach over into exercise. 

I’m not referring to the fact that the more often I do yoga, the “better” I get.

A  slightly blurred image of a white woman with brown hair and a dog with light hair.  The woman is  in the upper right corner and her hair is mostly covering her face,  the dog is  in the lower centre, at the end of a green yoga mat.  There is a beige couch in the background.
Khalee is my constant support, weighing down the end of my mat so it doesn’t go flying off. 😉

I mean that the more often I do yoga, the more likely I am to be able to call on it when I need it. AND the more likely I am to *think* of doing it. 

Not just because it has become a habit, but because I have it in my mental toolkit. It now occurs to me to try yoga when I feel a certain way, and it occurs to me to pay more attention to how I am breathing. 

So, even after only 17 days, I feel especially good about where yoga has taken me. Not just because my body feels good but because my brain likes this practice.

A drawing of a red fluffy monster with a beak, wearing a sports jersey that says ‘Yoga 17’
Today’s celebratory monster. I can only assume that Yoga Team jerseys would have polka dots.



Even on my busiest day so far this month, the first time that I couldn’t fit yoga in the first little while after I woke up, my brain kept bumping it up to the top of my list.

And, I swear, this practice is helping my September slow down a bit. 

The regulars in my Facebook yoga group have been doing marvellously all throughout the month, and I am really happy with the habit I am building. 

How has your yoga been going?

fitness · yoga

September is for Yoga: Day 6 Check-in

I am so glad I decided to add yoga to my September. My days have actually felt LESS busy because I am starting off by doing something kind for myself. 

I suspect that feeling stems from two things:

I like having a specific thing to do first thing in the morning, it gives my day immediate structure.

I have been maintaining that structure in two ways:

My mat has been a fixture in my living room since September 1 (a fact that Khalee fully approves of) so I have a visual reminder. 

And, I ended up setting up a Facebook check-in group and we decided that I would put up a post every day to remind people to check-in. 

My mat helps me to remember my plan and the need to do the check-in post helps me to stick to the plan. It’s the perfect combination!

I have, of course, selected a little weirdness for my check-in posts, an index card drawing of a monster with the day number next to them. So, I have the added bonus of doing something a little creative first thing, too. 

But because it is a side-effect of the group post, it’s not ‘make art first thing,’ it’s ‘make a quick drawing for the post’ and it feels like a smaller task.

The words/numbers Day 6 are handwritten in large print on the left side of a white index card. On the right there is a tall, green, cylindrical one-eyed monster with a yellow smile and two green feet.
You will notice, of course, that this particular monster has 6 spikes on their head in honour of Day 6.

I can focus my yoga to address something I need in that moment – relaxed shoulders, some relaxation, some ease in my hips.

One day, I knew I had a lot of driving ahead of me so I did some hip work to prepare myself for the day ahead.

That just feels really great – addressing a concern right away. And I don’t have to carry that issue all through the day until I can get around to it. 

Instead, I get to have a feeling of physical ease throughout the day. And there is no arguing with the benefit of that!

A brown-haired woman in a black t-shirt and jeans leans forward in child's pose (chest on knees, face downward, arms outstretched) on a green mat on a dark brown floor. A light brown and white dog rests nearby.
I’m trying not to be precious about my practice this month so I am embracing imperfection. So here I am doing child’s pose imperfectly, wearing jeans, with my mat on a floor that needs sweeping, next to a blanket that needs folding, and a bag of whatsits that needs putting away. The only two perfect things in this photo are Khalee’s guarding abilities and my NL Feminists Rock t-shirt.


Shout-out to the September is for Yoga Group

As I mentioned above, I created a Facebook group to keep myself and Team Yoga on track for this month and we’re having a great time. 

Lots of people have mentioned how the accountability is helping them remember to make a little time for themselves in the day. AND, we are all finding that even the tiniest bit of yoga is helping us to feel better already. 

I know that I am feeling more relaxed over all and my hips feel mobile instead of tense. 

That’s pretty much as close to an instant result as anyone could hope for.

fitness · yoga

Competitive yoga: oxymoron, abomination or just a thing? You make the call

We at Fit is a Feminist Issue have a wide variety of personal viewpoints on yoga. I’m a huuuge fan myself, and have been immersed in it for the past four years or so (I’ve practiced off and on for 30 years). Tracy does yoga and meditation regularly and has even done the 108 sun salutation practice (108 Sun Salutations– Oh My!) Cate, inspired by Tracy, did 108 sun salutations on Christmas morning while on vacation in Australia (108 Sun Salutations on Christmas Morning). Christina has done yoga challenges, Mina has contemplated her toes during yoga, and several of our bloggers have tried goat yoga (for a compendium of our goat yoga posts, look here).

But nowhere in the vast oeuvre of Fit is a Feminist Issue will you find us discussing competitive yoga. Why not, you might ask? Don’t we have a responsibility to cover topics of import and relevance to the community? Indeed, we do. So, let’s settle in, breathe, and begin.

What is competitive yoga? It’s hard to get a neutral explanation; even its Wikipedia page is disapproving. So here goes: competitive yoga is a sport in which participants do yoga asanas, or poses, and are judged on them. The poses they do are very advanced or are extreme modifications of advanced poses, requiring flexibility and strength well beyond what any yoga practitioner needs or ever demonstrates in a class or workshop or retreat.

Pictures will make this clearer. Here are some:

Competitive yoga seems to combine yoga asanas with contortionist performance. That’s cool; it’s not what my body can or wants to do, but y’all go!

However, using the word “yoga” upsets a lot of people. In a Yoga Journal article on a documentary about competitive yoga (because of course there’s a documentary about it), yoga teachers expressed their unhappiness about it.

“I think competitive yoga is a form of misappropriation if they’re calling it yoga and making it look like they’re really doing yoga and competing,” Breaking India author Rajiv Malhotra says on-camera. Other yogis agree with him, suggesting that the focus on a mere three minutes of asana leaves out the spiritual side of the practice. “The word yoga competition becomes so offensive, because yoga is much more than posturing,” adds New Jersey yoga teacher Loretta Turner.

I haven’t seen the film, but we can all access it here.

I’ve been thinking this week about the idea of trying to perfect a yoga pose– being in competition with others, or even yourself. I admit that I do this often in yoga classes myself. I try to stretch more deeply, get those palms on the floor, straighten those legs, intensify that lunge, you name it. My friends have joked for years that I am competitive even in yoga class. I get the joke, and there’s truth in it.

What I love about my own approach to yoga, is that my efforts– for more intensity, for trying modifications, for stretching myself (literally), are about ways I want to feel, not ways I want to look. And they are all about what’s going on in my own body and mind and heart and feels.

On Friday I went to my absolute favorite yoga class– gentle and restorative yoga– with my favorite yoga teacher Liz Reiser at Artemis, my local and beloved yoga studio. My sister Elizabeth and niece Grace went with me. We all had different experiences there, as we have different bodies, different body and yoga histories, and were in different emotional and physical states that day. That day, when we did yoga nidra, an extended deep relaxation, I did it with my legs up the wall, not a standard pose for yoga nidra. It can feel uncomfortable, and you need hamstring flexibility for it to work. But I have that, and that evening it works blissfully. I felt calm and settled and relaxed and quiet. It was wonderful.

My sister and niece lay on their backs with legs on bolsters, covered with a blanket. It was good and okay for them, respectively.

I would not call my Friday experience competitive. I would call it attentive to the variations of life. Sometimes you are in the zone. Sometimes you are distracted. Sometimes you are injured or otherwise tender. Sometimes you are annoyed or distracted (maybe by goats). What I love about yoga is that the goal is to realize where you are, and do what you want and feel like you need to do. And you’ll have some experience or other. And that’s what winning is in yoga– have the experience you have.

Om.

What do y’all think about competitive yoga? Working on super-hard poses? Not working on them? Is this inspiring, off-putting, amusing? I’d love to hear from you,

Guest Post · yoga

Vulnerability and Naked Yoga, Part 2 (Guest Post)

by Ellen Burgess

Last week, I wrote about my sailing adventure during my holidays in the first week of June.  As if the sailing this wasn’t enough excitement for one week, the day of my holiday, I boldly ventured out to an old friend’s yoga studio in Toronto to practice Naked Yoga for the first time.  Yep, that’s right, yoga in nothing but my birthday suit… TOTALLY STARKERS that is!

Upon my arrival, I greeted my fellow yoga practitioner (Don), who I had not seen in over 15 years when we did our Moksha Teacher training together. At that time, he had invited me to live in his house for a month, so we got to know each other quite well.  I was happy to see him after such a long time, and we chatted enthusiastically as he showed me around his hot yoga studio. He explained that the purpose of this class was essentially to reduce body shame and build strength and community through vulnerability that comes with practicing yoga with no clothes on.

“Right on”, I said, in my most hippy like voice, (secretly thinking, this sounds terrifying, but “bring it on”)! After all, I had already bragged to my friends that I was going to try this, so there was no backing out now.

Don had us all assemble in the practice room in a rectangle with our backside to the wall with the mirrors covered (thank goodness).  We were asked to disrobe when the lights went off and that, if at any time we were uncomfortable, we could lie down on our mats with a towel covering our body. 

Then he turned off the light and lit a single candle.  All I could see was the silhouette of a man in front of me.  I peeked around and sure enough, everyone was taking off their clothes, so I thought I better get with the program, so to speak. This was a silent class with series of 26 simple postures, so Don just named the postures when it was time to switch, but provided no other instruction.    Don also aligned himself in the rectangle with the rest of us and did not move around the room.  I strategically positioned myself several bodies away from Don.  Why? Well I guess I forgot to mention that Don is hot.  Yep… that’s right.  Upon reconnecting with him, I quickly realized that he was still as hot as ever 15 years later, so I didn’t want to be caught peeking!

I was actually surprised at how “raw and exposed” I actually felt once I had my clothes off. That may sound like a no brainer, but at the age of 55, I thought I was comfortable being naked anywhere, anytime. I had skinny dipped, slept in the nude in a room full of other people, not to mention disrobing many times in front of others during the wilder days of my youth. However, once my clothes were off, I felt a distinct flushing of my chest, just around my heart chakra and I began to sweat more than usual. I wondered if I experienced intense feelings in this area because my chest was always a source of body shame when I was growing up.

First we did pranayama breathing then moved into half-moon posture and then eagle pose.  By the fourth posture, I was really over being naked.  However, as we moved through more rigorous postures, such as downward dog flows, I really noticed some “base and raw” sensual feelings throughout my body. I wondered if this is how our caveman/woman ancestors felt. 

And then poof, it was over!  We showered and then I went out to the lounge and caught up with Don for an hour and a half before driving back to Guelph.

What was particularly interesting about our chat was the fact that I disclosed more about myself to him in those 90 minutes than during the entire 30 days I lived with him in 2004. And so, as I headed back to Toronto, I felt a more heart felt connection with my friend as it seemed our emotional intimacy had deepened significantly.

So maybe, just maybe, through a jam packed week of sailing and naked yoga, I am becoming more vulnerable through sport, which was the goal at the onset. 

On a final note, I must add that the REAL test of my willingness to be vulnerable is to be more emotionally vulnerable with those closest to me; by first being more honest with myself and then, by being more forthcoming about my true thoughts and feelings.  I am the kind of person that is will to try just about any new activity, but that is typically where I draw the line.  Emotional vulnerability is FAR MORE DIFFICULT for me than naked yoga or sailing, because I am required to put “my heart out there” without no guarantee of the response, and that really scares me. However, as Brene Brown states in her film “the Call to Courage”, “If we want to know love and connection more deeply (with both ourselves and others), we must choose courage over comfort”.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress!

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

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.