220 in 2020 · fitness · rest · yoga

Sam gives "nap yoga" a try

To start, it’s not actually called “nap yoga.” Its name is “restorative yoga.”

But still, there were pillows and blankets and there might have been some snoring. It was dark and warm and 8:30 at night.

“Restorative yoga is a practice that is all about slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching. … During the long holds of restorative yoga, however, your muscles are allowed to relax deeply. It’s a unique feeling because props, rather than your muscles, are used to support your body.” From An Introduction to Restorative Yoga.

You might think it looks like this:

But really it looks more like this:

After some hemming and hawing I posted restorative yoga in the 220 workouts in 2020 group. All the while I was wondering, does this count? Is it really a workout? Whenever I find myself asking that, I have two responses. One, I count 120 km bike rides as single workouts so it all balances out. Two, if the point of counting things is to motivate to me to do things I wouldn’t usually do then this counts. With my injured knee I’m trying to stretch and relax more. I’m going to massage therapy. And now I’m going to restorative yoga it seems. The minute I posted it, Tracy commented, “How did you like it?” She knows me well and knew it wasn’t my usual thing. There was nothing heavy to lift, no speed, and no throwing people around. Heck, except in winter when I love the warm, even regular yoga isn’t really my thing.

At the end of a rough day at work, and after several days of hard workouts, it felt right.

What did I like? I enjoyed the length of time in the postures. The room was warm but not hot. I enjoyed some of the guided meditation. I didn’t fall asleep.

I mention not falling asleep because in earlier attempts to lay still and meditate and relax (childbirth classes) I’d fall hard and fast asleep, pretty much almost instantly. That was little use in preparing for childbirth since the pain meant sleep wasn’t an option. This was really my first successful attempt at completely relaxing while awake.

I’ll definitely do it again.

cycling · Guest Post · planning · running · yoga

A different kind of running (Guest post)

By Shawna Lewkowitz

The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election. 

For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.

As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization,  Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.

 This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.

Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate. 

Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.

But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do. 

I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.

My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in. 

There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door. 

There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard. 

I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line. 

The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives. 

Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves. 

fitness · yoga

More impossible yoga poses, by Gracie and Bethie (and bad Yogi)

Bad yogi is one of my preferred online yoga teachers (although I admit that yoga wth Adriene is my absolute fav). I like Bad Yogi because there’s a real variety of short yoga practices, done with a sense of humor and lack of reverence. About 90 days ago, I signed up for Bad Yogi’s 100 poses 100 days email– each day for 100 days, you get an email with a link to one yoga pose, and a short youtube video for that pose. I’ve written some about this: yoga poses I simply can’t do. Some of these poses are ones that non-contortionist people with certain types of bodies can do (but others happen not to be able to do). Sam just wrote about one of them (that neither she nor I can do): Hero Pose. I think that anyone who does yoga knows that there are some poses that their body just balks at, and some poses their body finds easy or fun or relaxing. Everyone’s mileage varies.

And then there are the poses that just about no one can do, except maybe Bad Yogi on a good day. At least that’s what I thought, until I was on vacation with my sister and her kids and some of their friends. I enlisted my niece Gracie (17), and her good friend Bethie (18) to test-drive a few of the more advanced-looking poses. You can judge for yourself how doable you think they are in real life.

First up, sundial pose:

Bad yogi in sundial pose: seated with leg leg behind head, left arm holding it.
Bad yogi in sundial pose: seated with leg leg behind head, left arm holding it.

This pose involves first getting one of your legs behind your shoulder, and then using your free arm to grab the foot and extend the leg. Here’s Gracie and Bethie doing sundial:

Gracie and Bethie, with left legs up, kind of behind their arm, extending a bit, with artful other arm over head.
Gracie and Bethie, with left legs up, kind of behind their arm, extending a bit, with artful other arm over head.

I think they’re doing great.

Then, there’s the standing split:

Bad yogi in standing split-- head below knee, one leg almost straight in the air.
Bad yogi in standing split– head below knee, one leg almost straight up.

Gracie and Bethie got to work on this right away:

Gracie and Bethie in standing split. Each has a leg in the air, and neither is falling down.
Gracie and Bethie in standing split. Each has a leg in the air, and neither is falling down.

We decided to mix things up and try a balance pose next: side crow. Here’s bad Yogi:

Bad Yogi in side crow, balancing her thighs on her left upper arm. Really.
Bad Yogi in side crow, balancing her thighs on her left upper arm. Really.

Gracie and Bethie struggled a bit, and I couldn’t get a shot with both of them doing it at the same time, although both did do it. Here they are:

Gracie's in the air, and Bethie just finished a short but true side crow.
Gracie’s in the air, and Bethie just finished a short but true side crow.

Gracie and Bethie can totally give Bad Yogi a run for her money on standing balances. Here they all are in standing big toe hold:

Not all of the pose attempts sparked joy for everyone. Fair enough…

However, some other poses that I found too hard to do, they moved into gracefully and fluidly:

We could’ve done this all day long, but had pre-arranged plans for mini golf with the rest of the family, so I had to wrap things up. Just to show you all that there’s a yoga pose day out there for everyone, here’s Bad Yogi in child’s pose:

Bad yogi in child's pose, arms down by her side.
Bad yogi in child’s pose, arms down by her side.

My sister and I decided to show the younger generation that we can be bad Yogis too:

Me and my sister in child's pose, arms in front in variations.
Me and my sister in child’s pose, arms in front in variations.

In summary, we are all Bad Yogis, probably in all senses of the phrase. I’m okay with that.

Readers, is there a yoga pose that you love, that’s hard, or that makes you crack up or makes you feel like a swan or crow or nightingale (or other animal of your choosing)? Let me know- I’d love to hear from you.

inclusiveness · injury · yoga

Sam's most hated yoga pose

Catherine blogged about her most uncomfortable yoga poses and what she does instead. I’ve also become “that free spirit yoga lady” who just appears to be doing her own thing in yoga class. It’s winter and I’m back at hot yoga in a studio and despite all the talk of ‘only you know your body’ and ‘this is your practice’ I feel some pressure to go along with the sequence of poses.

I thought I’d share my recent yoga frustrations with you. Or when I’m in a mood, let’s just call it “my most hated yoga pose.” It’s Hero or Virasana. Here it’s described as balm for tired legs at the end of a long day but for me it’s just excruciating pain. Also, several physios and a knee surgeon or two have just out and out told me not to do it. So I don’t.

Searching for “hero pose” on Unsplash–a royalty free photo site–the best I got was this image. Not exactly what I had in mind!

Spiderman! Photo by Stem List on Unsplash

Here’s Yoga with Adriene explaining how to set it up:

Knees are precious she tells us. Learn how to set up hero pose mindfully.

But the video also has the following text description:

” Yoga workshop! Learn the foundations of Hero Pose – or Virasana with Yoga With Adriene! Learn this delicate but powerful seated pose with at-home supports. No fancy yoga props needed. Learn to self adjust and use props intuitively and mindfully. Hero is a great stretch for the legs and feet. It can ground and calm the body with regular practice and help with digestion and bloating. Learn to explore a posture in a way that feels good. Avoid this posture if you have injury in the knee or ankle.

The bold bit is mine.

And that’s the thing. No amount of modification will help. There is no right number of blocks, no proper arrangement of towels that will fix things.

Other poses are challenging–pigeon, child’s pose, bow–but I can find modifications that work. Not in this case and that’s okay. There is no way to make all the yoga poses work for every body despite what some yoga teachers seem to think.

Instead, you can find me off doing my own thing. And I’ll join you again for the next posture.

Is there a yoga pose that your body simply can’t do? No matter how many modifications? Make feel less alone here. Tell me your story. 🙂

body image · diets · eating · feminism · fitness · yoga

Tracy objects to “yoga for holiday baking”

It’s that time of year where unsuspecting yogis or gym goers can be subjected to diet culture (not quite as bad as what’s to come in January, but still a risk) in class. It just slides into the running commentary that instructors need to maintain to keep the class moving along.

Image description: Christmas cookies (various kinds): gingerbread people, stars, stockings, trees, Santas, snow people, candy canes, snowflakes. Photo: https://www.959theriver.com/holiday-baking-yay-or-nay/

This happened to me the other day in yoga. I’ve been unable to run for a couple of months, so I’ve been going to hot yoga every day instead. It’s been a nice change (though I’m dying to get back to running). I’ve been a member at the same studio for at least a decade and I honestly have never experienced the normalization of diet culture there. But that commendable streak came to an end the other day when, in order to motivate a longer hold of a strenuous pose, the instructor said, “work off all that holiday baking!”

“Say what?” She lost me right then and there. I went back and forth in my head about whether I was overreacting. Despite that I don’t blog regularly here anymore, seven years as a feminist fitness blogger has given me a certain perspective and a keen awareness of nonsense that sucks the joy out of our workouts and replaces it with the suggestion that we need to whip our overindulgent selves into shape. I object!

I spent the rest of the class asking myself “do I say something or let it go?” On the side of letting it go: I know she meant it as a light-hearted comment. On the side of saying something: that’s how diet culture gets perpetuated; the yoga studio is the last place I expect to hear it; I’m probably not the only one who felt uncomfortable with the comment.

After my shower I approached the instructor. I had already decided to be nice about it. I love the studio and as I said it’s not a place I normally experience body shaming or anything other than body positivity. Definitely the comment was the exception not the rule.

Me: It was a good class but I have some feedback.

Instructor: Yes.

Me: I didn’t appreciate the comment about the holiday baking. I don’t come here to hear that sort of thing.

Instructor: I know! I’m sorry. The minute it came out of my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said it. But I didn’t know how to take it back.

Me: That’s reassuring. Thanks for telling me that.

Instructor: Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you felt able to express it.

I consider that a good news story. Instead of stewing in my juices, I opened up a dialogue. That yielded a shared understanding and also a willingness on the instructor’s part to do better in the future.

Using workouts to “deal with” holiday baking is a pretty normal message that is firmly entrenched in normalized diet culture. For most people it is just the way it is. But that’s not what we promote here. And it’s not what anyone who cares about body positivity and more self-nurturing motivations for our fitness pursuits should be promoting either.

I’m glad I said something. And I’m really relieved the instructor “got it” before I even opened my mouth.

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.