aging · dogs · health · mindfulness · new year's resolutions · self care

Kim’s 2020 wellness goals, beyond the bike

Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.

As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.

Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.

Here I am in South Carolina last March, posing for a selfie in green helmet and orange gilet. I am smiling because RIDING. I’m posing with a sign that says “East Fork Baptist Church”.

First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.

(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how  dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)

Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.

I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.

A group of seven ordinary humans practice ‘hanging sirsasana’ (supported headstand) at a rope wall in an Iyengar Yoga studio. Iyengar uses a wide range of props to ensure all students are safe and supported in poses, which means they can receive maximum stretch benefits without any risk to joints.

Second, the mental health stuff.

I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.

I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.

(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)

Susan’s lab Shelby, in Christmas bow and posing with bedecked tree; this snap is from a post a few short weeks ago. Everyone needs more Shelby.

Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.

This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.

After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.

The cover of Bike Snob NYC’s 2010 book, “systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling”. It’s a grand cover, with hand drawings of a variety of nifty bikes around a kind of cycling “crest” with the title in it. It makes a superb Christmas present! Thanks, sweetie.

So, in sum from Kim:

Fitness = anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!

What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!


fitness · gadgets · gear

Should I buy a belly fat measuring machine for $379? an FAQ for you

January is not just the month of motivation; it’s also the month of measurement. Yes, we join gyms, buy equipment and sign up for 8-12 week programs to transform our bodies. We’re also pushed to take stock of what we’ve got going, from head to toe. We are expected to weigh and measure ourselves in every dimension, and at arbitrary levels of precision. Why all this detail? It’s not as if we’re planning on mailing ourselves to Argentina. Are these numbers helpful to us in pursuing our physical activity and health-according-to-us lives?

On the one hand, numbers can provide us with concrete information. I’m reminded of my absolute favorite New Yorker cartoon:

Numbers sitting in a police interrogation room. One guy says to the police, Look, the numbers don't lie.
Look, the numbers don’t lie. This always cracks me up.

On the other hand, numbers don’t always mean what we might think they mean. Case in point: the Bello belly-fat scanner.

The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.
The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.

Bello is supposed to tell you how much belly fat you have, rate you based on it (ranging from best to worst– really!), and then offer you tips on what to do about it. The tips include “exercise more” and “eat more vegetables”. All for the low low price of $379. How could you say no?

Well, that’s what we at Fit is a Feminist Issue are here for. As a part of our consumer products debunking division services, here’s an FAQ about Bello (and probably other so-called belly fat scanners).

  1. Should I buy this thing? NO.
  2. Why not? There are a bunch of reasons.

First, It says false things in its advertising. On its indigogo page, it says, “subcutaneous fat is a big issue, and an indicator of a number of metabolic issues, like diabetes and heart disease”. This isn’t true. Visceral fat (not subcutaneous fat) is a standard indicator of risk of metabolic disorders. How do I know this? I read about it in this journal article:

In contrast to visceral fat, it is reported that subcutaneous fat might even be beneficial against metabolic abnormalities…the relative distribution of body fat might be more important than visceral fat area (VFA) or subcutaneous fat area (SFA).

There’s also this article’s info, which contradicts Bello central:

no studies to date have explored the relationship between DXA-assessed SFM and T2DM.  Which means: using the state-of-the-art medical Dexa scanners (which cost considerably more than $379), there haven’t been studies looking for a relationship between subcutaneous belly fat and type 2 diabetes. So they can’t say there’s a relationship at all between the two.

Second, it’s not clear that Bello accurately measures either subcutaneous or visceral fat. It predicts them, based on its proprietary technology. Here is one of the messages it displays, which doesn’t list percentage of visceral or subcutaneous fat.

Bello app showing 89% outer fat, which is bad according to Bello.. I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be.
I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be. But it certainly looks bad here.

It may be able to predict overall belly fat. But belly fat, in and of itself, isn’t an indicator of medical disorders. And, according to the studies I’ve read, it’s the ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat that is more predictive of medical risk for various populations. Bello doesn’t and can’t provide that. So, whatever measures it gives you aren’t that meaningful in assessing medical risk. To assess your risk for various metabolic disorders, we need a lot more precise information. This includes information that medical research knows it needs but doesn’t have yet. Like this, from another journal article:

…abdominal fat distribution defines distinct obesity sub-phenotypes with heterogeneous metabolic and atherosclerosis risk.

And this, too, from yet another article:

These observations suggest that clinically relevant sub-phenotypes of obesity can be defined by abdominal fat distribution, supporting the notion of obesity as a heterogeneous disorder with varying cardiac and metabolic manifestations.

What do these quotes mean? Just this: the researchers believe that, among populations with BMI>30, groups with different body types and also different distributions of abdominal fat will have different types and degrees of risk of future medical problems. They don’t have the full picture yet, but are working on it bit by bit.

3. Will Bello help me spot reduce fat on/in/around my belly? NO.

Bello suggests that it will help you reduce your belly fat by using their device every day and following the advice on their app. However, it’s not possible to do spot-reducing of fat. How do I know this? I have to admit, this time I just asked Google, and it said:

Targeted fat loss, often refered to as spot reduction, is not possible and there’s no solid scientific evidence to suggest that you can burn fat on specific areas of your body.

Thanks, Google.

4. Just out of curiosity, how many colors does it come in? WHITE ONLY.

5. Suppose I want to keep track of my belly size but don’t want to spend $379. What do you suggest? Funny you should ask. Here’s one idea:

A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.
A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.

Here’s another idea:

Don't worry! Be happy!
Don’t worry! Be happy!

6. Does the blog have any other targeted advice about bellies? WHY YES WE DO.

Check out Natalie’s post about belly patrolling, which celebrates her belly and bellies in general. Sam wrote about lizards loving their bellies, and what we can learn from them. There are plenty more where that came from– for more belly love posts, look here.

planning · Sat with Nat

On the cusp of a decade Nat thinks about longterm goals.

In October I turned 45, which makes this the year I’m exactly half my grandmother’s age.

I was asking her about what life was like for her at 45. She had been a grandmother for 3 years and I was her second grandkid. She has 9 now and at least 9 great-grandchildren and a step great-great granddaughter!

She told me it was in her 40s that she had a lot of aches and pains so her doctor prescribed some morning stretches and to walk every day. She still does her stretches and walks. It is clearly working for her.

I’m probably a couple years away from being a grandmother but who knows? My kids are 18 & 20. These things are not in my control.

In my chats with Gran we often talk about how life is filled with unexpected things. Looking over the past 10 years we’ve both had struggles and great joys. When I think about the next 10 years I am humbled.

I think it is important to make long term plans even if mine rarely survive a year. My plans for 10 years from now include things like saving for retirement, learning how to even better manage my mental health and enjoy moving my body.

My kids will likely be moved out. I want to still be walking lots, doing yoga and cycling. Who knows what else?

I’m mindful to cultivate inexpensive hobbies. I’ve decided that triathlon needs too much expensive equipment and a much more robust commitment to training than I’m willing to make.

I’ve tried rock climbing. My partner and oldest son love it. Me? Not so much.

I’m lucky that I have many friends 10 to 20 years older than me who share their joys and challenges around self-care, fitness and family.

From what I can tell the next 10 years will see a shift in my caregiving responsibilities so I’d best stay in shape to support my resilience.

It may seem a bit odd to take motivation from a possible future 10 years from now but it totally works for me.

A small stain glass peice of art shows a cyclist speeding down a steep hillside.

“Descent” by Paul Brown

This art reminds my partner and I each day about the thrills of cycling and the joy it brings.

Where do you draw your motivation and inspiration for fitness from?

climbing · fitness · Guest Post

On route names in climbing (guest post)

When you enter a long distance trail race, it isn’t called the Wet Dirty Crack 100k. When you enter a soccer tournament, it isn’t called the Spread ‘Em Baby Tournament.

When you take up rock climbing, you don’t have that “luxury.” You have entered a subculture where adolescent male sexual humour has had free play. By convention, the “first ascensionist” of a climbing route gets to name the route, and they name it for whatever is on their mind. Sometimes the results are delightful and witty. Names emerge from days of hanging out at the cliff, working hard, shooting the breeze with friends. There’s a rich kind of free association and play that works its alchemy.

But alchemists don’t always turn lead into gold. Sometimes they just end up with lead. Here’s a page from the recently released guidebook for the climbing in the Blue Mountains in Australia.


Jennifer Wigglesworth at Queen’s University in Ontario (Canada) is working on a PhD on women’s experiences in climbing. The Globe and Mail this year published an article on her work. My own local community figures in that article, with a gym owner and route developer defending these so-called spicy names. You gotta like that the journalist ended the piece with a classic quote from him: he says that the critics of these naming practices should grow up.

It took me some time to get my head around everything I think is wrong with this route-naming practice. There’s still lots of open discussion to have in the community–about what’s problematic and about how to bring about change.

There’s the obvious colonial history of people “finding” places and naming them as they please. The history of climbing is historically deeply entwined with the European project of “finding” places that were never lost.

I see sexualized route names as a form of sexual harassment. Consider the comparison I started with. If someone down at my university’s athletic centre wanted to name a soccer tournament “Spread ‘Em Baby”, students would have reasonable grounds to object to that as a form of sexual harassment. Making it a price of admission to the sport that you have to take part in (or exclude yourself from) activities with sexualized names is just that.

Some people don’t take the analysis that far: what they object to is derogatory names, not sexualized names. So our local community’s new guidebook (not the one pictured above) has derogatory names removed–where the authors correctly identified that a name was derogatory. Derogatory names that they didn’t think of looking up in the urban dictionary remain. And the book treats us to nice long trips down memory lane explaining the previous derogatory names.

Sigh. Like buddy down at the gym who wanted to call it the “Spread ‘Em Baby” tournament was told no, he can’t do that—so he planted himself at the registration table and told everyone who registered how he came up with this oh-so-funny name and why, with the wisdom of age, since he has a daughter himself now after all, he now sees that “Spread” alone is better. “Spread” is a tournament he would be comfortable having his daughter register in.

One perspective you don’t see in The Globe and Mail article (one a local coach mentioned to me) is that the names become a problem when you are coaching a group of kids. What kind of crag are you willing to bring other peoples’ kids to?

This has been the germ of a whole new perspective I have on this naming behaviour. Given the well-known ability of 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls to crush hard routes that virtually all grown men only dream of climbing, I suspect the whole practice is really a move to keep away the most threatening competition.

I’ve made some surprising connections in my local community with women who love my suggestions for feminist revenge names. The process of thinking up revenge names is fun. Handy tip: you can just take the first ascensionist’s name and call the route “[Insert name]’s Sad [Dick/Crack/Hole] Joke”. I’m also planning a whole crag built around lyrics from Beyoncé’s Lemonade album.

I tried making a plea for some minimal standards with the sexualized joke names. Cracks are a rock feature often climbed. You can see where this is going. You can just imagine how worked up a sexually frustrated quasi-adolescent gets when repeating the word “crack” over and over again all day while trying to perform a physically challenging act on said crack. Crack climbs are absolutely the low-hanging fruit of sexualized route names.

So I proposed that we could at least have a moratorium on “crack” double entendres, on the minimal grounds that they’re just too obvious. To my surprise, some people in our little facebook debate were genuinely surprised to learn that their crack joke was not seen by everyone to be as clever as they thought it was. I guess that’s how potty humour perpetuates itself–generation after generation failing to perceive the obvious.

There’s a local crag (Sorrow’s End) with a route called “See with Joy.” Now there’s a name that captures something about the climbing experience. May there be many more names like that in the future.



Intentional movement

By MarthaFitat55

Inspired by my experience with the workplace challenge last fall, I joined a virtual group dedicated to 220 workouts in 2020. While I have not worked out every day since January 1, I have been inspired by the other group members to do more every day.

jamie-street-d6ktmgxv6e-unsplashA workout is defined loosely but essentially means you do something intentional and makes you move your body consistently for a period of time. It can be anything you like from biking (real or virtual) to yoga and all points in between. Members post what they do (every day or not) and there’s lots of encouragement.

What I like about this process is the lack of pressure and the collegial nature of the group. People share sometimes an aspect of their workout and it’s been really interesting to see all the different ways you can move your body with purpose.

Thursday I decided I would track my steps while I did laundry — collecting, carrying, sorting, loading, unloading and folding. In a 45 minute period (it’s the aftermath of holidays!), I achieved a steady level of activity and took more than 3000 steps.

Given our winter days when it is often too slippery to go out safely for a long walk, I can still do something consistently to get my steps in and meet my goal for intentional movement every day.

I’m also back at the gym and have added a weekly yoga class; weekends will see me swimming now that the pool has been up and running again. I’ve chosen these external, structured activities to meet different goals — more focus to my weight training, greater attention to stretching and flexibility, and social time with my husband. While they will add to my total workouts for 2020, they also meet my personal goal of ensuring I keep putting my big rocks in first for my time.

How about your dear readers? Have you taken on a fitness challenge? What atypical fitness activities are you engaging in daily or weekly to get your fit on? Please share in the comments!


Book Reviews · fitness

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 41-50, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.

Read about Day 1 here.

Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘

Read about Days 11-20 here.

Read about Days 21-30 here.

Read about Days 31-40 here.

Catherine: Nia could’ve spent the whole book writing about just these themes in days 41—50. I see them all as ways to look at what we do and who we are from every vantage point, all the better to see possibilities for change, for validation, for appreciation.

Starting with the appreciation bits: Nia encourages us to embrace our natural abilities. I’m very good at organizing social activities and keeping up with friends. This translates for me into lots of opportunities to arrange or join in on physical activity and also share meals. When I’m cooking or eating with others, I eat in ways that are more healthy-to-me. What can I say? I like to go along with the crowd, and my crowd has a lot of eating and activity habits that I admire and want to incorporate into my daily habits.

Nia says we tend to take for granted some of the positive habits or abilities or life situations or gifts we have right now. Stopping for a sec to notice what we have, what we have done, all that we are—this is worth doing. I agree.

Now that she’s got us here, stopping, looking around, and noticing, here are some things she’d like to point out. One is our own aging. Yeah, it’s happening. Cursing the calendar or the mirror doesn’t help. Instead, she suggests doing what we can to age gracefully and maintain a good quality of life.

Aging gracefully—this phrase bothers me. I get what Nia is saying. But for me, aging is decidedly ungraceful. It’s awkward, unpredictable, jolting, and a big pain in the patootie. My long-time-colored hair is growing out, and I’m loving the unruly and uneven shocks of silver and white. My hips hurt when I sit for too long, so I have to stand up in the middle of long work meetings. This is decided ungraceful, especially because some of my male colleagues gently (but regularly) mock me for stretching and standing up whenever I do it. I’m serious. I handle it, but not gracefully. Nope.

I’m sure Nia would support me here—she’s all about us being ourselves and carrying ourselves proudly. I just want to point out that graceful, aging is not.

Nia also asks us to look at what we struggle constantly with. Here’s how she puts it: “a battle you find yourself facing again and again with you usually coming out on what feels like the losing side”.

I immediately thought of one that I’m going to work on: even though I’m not a morning person, my most productive time is the first 4—6 hours of my day. After that, my focus and determination flag. I struggle with how to spend those precious hours: Writing? Grading? Physical activity? Meditation? Making a schedule hasn’t worked well—whatever I’m doing at the time, I tend to follow that to its conclusion, and then worry about the other things I haven’t done in this Magic Period of Perfect Productiveness. Yeah. Blech.

How to respond to this daily struggle? Nia offers a couple of suggestions, one of which is to introduce chaos into your routine. Shake things up to see how we respond when the normal goes out the window. I’ve had this experience. When my car is in the repair shop, I have to improvise getting around. I have bikes, feet, buses, and trains at my disposal. They take more time and focus and energy, but they’re also invigorating and different. I’m now wondering how I can make my mid-late afternoons different and more invigorating. I’ll report back on this in a blog post. Thanks, Nia.

Christine: Overall, this section of the book had a lot to offer me in terms of staying aware of how I get off-track with my plans. I’ll be making use of a lot of these practices as I move through 2020 and continue to establish a fitness plan that is do-able for me.

The breakdown:

41 – Why are we never satisfied?

I like how she states ‘you can and should do whatever you want with your body’ but while I feel the pressure to always be doing ‘more,’ I have managed to sidestep that for now.

42 – What we take for granted

I talk a lot about this in my coaching practice, the idea that we need to notice the things we DID get done, the things we have achieved. I know there’s a popular meme that says ‘Don’t look back, you aren’t going that way.’ and that is valuable in some circumstances, it also keeps you forever pushing forward and never noticing how far you have come. I really like how Shanks frames that in terms of gratitude – gratitude for yourself and the work you have put in.

43 – Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

This section really struck home with me. I’m not too caught up in notions of being ‘too old’ to do things and I’m pretty good at dismissing any ‘never’ or ‘always’ statements that bubble up but I still have to fight my inclinations towards a fixed mindset. When you couple that with the bizarre sense of time that ADHD has granted me, I often realize that I have been subconsciously holding on to the idea that the way things are today is the way they will always be. I notice it in my mood first and then have to dig in to find the thoughts that generated that mood. I like this reminder to be even more conscious of this issue.

44 – Stupid Advice

The stupid advice she is counselling us against in this section is the advice to ‘Just love your body.’ I am so glad she included this in the book. I see and hear this advice tossed around all the time and, to use a local expression ‘it rots me.’

It’s not like we can step outside of decades of cultural pressure and just make a sweeping change to dismiss all of that internalized garbage.

Obviously, discussing this in the larger context is beyond the scope of Shanks’ book but I like what she has done in this format. She advises us to notice when negative body feelings arise and do our best to work toward being indifferent towards those parts of our bodies. She adds that we can start focusing on what those body parts can DO and we can perhaps find an appreciate for them in that.

Day 45 – You do what you do. Why?

This is another day about noticing and this time she is asking us to notice our habits and to assess them for whether they serve us well. She advises us to make plans that will help us change those habits. I like how she cuts through all of the decision making around habits and breaks it down to, essentially. ‘notice, plan, adjust your actions.’ While there are always emotional considerations around these things, her suggestions are on a scale that makes sense to me and I could probably do them no matter what emotions swirl around them.

Day 46 – What is a constant struggle?

This section builds nicely on the last, asking us to notice what kinds of things regularly derail us and then to make plans for how to deal with those situations when they arise again. I tend to be very solutions-focused but I sometimes forget to do these sort of alternate plans so this reminder was super-helpful.

I’m still not keen on all the talk about how to manage your eating but, as far as I can see, Shanks doesn’t veer off into ‘diet’ talk so I just gloss over those sections as unrelated to my particular goals.

Day 47 – Embrace your natural abilities

This section is about noticing your strengths, not just in fitness but in all areas of your life. And, she makes a great suggestion about bringing your skills in other areas to apply to your fitness plans.

I love helping clients find what I refer to as ‘transferable skills’ and I love that she suggests finding them here.

Now, if I can only figure out how my ability to write really fast can translate into fitness, I’ll be all set. 😉

48 – Don’t disdain growing older

I like the advice in this section but it does seem a little out of place. I appreciate the positive approach she is advising and the reminder to focus on the things that we can control but it’s not clear how this fits in with the rest of the book. That could be just because I have, luckily, never been too invested in age-based restrictions. Or perhaps, at 47, the full cultural pressure of this one hasn’t hit me yet.

49 – Deliberately introduce chaos into your routine

I LOVE THIS SECTION. It terrifies me but since ADHD makes me especially susceptible to getting buffeted around by unexpected changes, I really love the idea of building (metaphorical) muscles for dealing with that chaos. I will be trying this ASAP.

50 – Zoom Out

This section is a great reminder of the big picture for people who tend to abandon their fitness related plans when they get off track. Shanks’ advice to zoom out puts a those few missteps into perspective.

Sam: I really liked this section of the book. So far I’ve been reading along and agreeing. Choose fitness goals that aren’t about aesthetics. Check. Aim for consistency not perfection. Check. Enjoy the journey. Check. All well and good but these are all things I already know. It’s nice to be reminded but I started wanting some new tricks in my bag. Days 41-50 were fun that way.

I liked Day 41–having goals is good but don’t keep resetting the bar higher and higher. Some is good doesn’t always mean that more is better. Take the time to appreciate what you’ve achieved. Nice.

Day 44 which talks about being neutral about your body instead of trying to love your body reminded me lots of Tracy! I’ve been missing Tracy since she’s away in Mexico so that made me smile.

I think we all liked Day 46 on identifying struggles and making plans.

But my fave day was Day 49 on deliberately introducing chaos into our carefully structured lives so we can learn to roll with it. I might try that. Thanks Nia!


108 Sun Salutations as a start to the year

Along with a whole pack of people I know, I’m doing the 30 Day Home yoga journey with Yoga with Adriene.  As always, Adriene and her dog Benji are delightful, and I love the way that even though we’re all doing this in our own spaces, I have a shared experience with people who are new to yoga, people who are deep into yoga, people who are in my city and people just out there (waving vaguely) in the world.  I need that in the dark and cold of January (both physical and metaphorical, these days).

I started the year in a very different yoga space, though:  with 108 sun salutations, on my own.

This is a thing that people do to mark transitions — one of the yoga studios I practice at hosts a class at the solstice (and I think at the equinox), a class Nicole has gone to. And Tracy has done self-guided practice a couple of times.  I did it last year, on Christmas morning.

The reason for 108 is one of those fuzzy “sacred” things that has been translated through a western lens so many times I don’t trust it at all — here’s one explanation I found online:

108 has many sacred connotations in various cultures and philosophies. Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth; the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. Such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance.

According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.

Okay.  I’m not going to ask an astrophysicist to validate those claims, and I’m not trying to emulate a spiritual tradition that’s not mine.  I like the practice because it provides a robust, ritualized commitment of time, energy and effort.  I like repetitive movement that enables me to go deep into my body, presence without thought.  And 108 is long enough to create multiple waves in the experience without being over-strenuous.  It’s about the length and physical effort of an intermediate flow class, but with a steady rhythm that creates a true meditative state.

The first time I did this practice, I was in Australia, doing the sun salutations on a grassy spot at the top of a hill out of sight of most of the people at my hotel.  The second time, I was in downtown Singapore, at the rooftop pool of a really nice boutique hotel — the kind of hotel that provides a yoga mat in every room, tucked into a cunning little space under the bed along with an umbrella and a folding ironing board.  (And yes, I realize how privileged I am to be able to type these sentences ;-)).

I’d been up on the rooftop at midnight the night before, watching the incredible fireworks.


Now, the space was impeccably cleaned up after the party.  Singapore is hot, but there were ceiling fans and shade. And a pool beckoning me for a splashy finish.


I was alone when I started at around 930 am on New Year’s Day, my little pad of paper to track my progress and bottles of water on the table.  I started with some trepidation — it’s a lot to contemplate! — and my body was tired from my bike trip and two weeks of travel.  It was hot. I worried about having enough water, about privacy.

After about 10 vinyasas, I realized I needed a towel under my sweaty palms.  I also started to feel the blisters under my right big toe and my pinky toe start to get more raw.  I put on my favourite podcast, letting Krista Tippett  float in and out of my consciousness.

Around that time, people started to show up to sit by the pool.  I tried to ignore them, but noticed that their presence made me super self-conscious of the noises I was making — little grunts when I hopped to the front of the mat, sharp exhales of breath when I felt my hamstrings tug, sharp intake of breath when the raw part of my toe started to burn more.  I also noticed that their presence made me more conscious of form — no one was watching me, but I felt my shoulder blades move further down my back in up dog, my butt angle more sharply into a tighter down dog, my back flatten in the high lift.  Shadow teacher with a hand on my back.

IMG_2934The previous time, I’d found myself doing annoying mental math to track my progress.  This time, I’d prepped my tracker in advance:  little squares to cross off for every 5 sun salutations, in sets of 5, with two squares for four, one of which I crossed off at 54, to know I was exactly at the halfway point.  This system alleviated the flickers of distraction I’d had the previous time.  Five is easy to keep track of, and stopping to make the x gave me a chance to have a sip of water.  (Did I mention it was hot?)

Halfway through, I desperately needed to pee.  I actually stopped to pee vigorously three times during this practice — I’m sure there is some physiological reason for this, something about lymph.  There is definitely something about churning up the fluids in my body.  At one of the points when I stopped to put on my flipflops and go to the restroom, a woman sitting with a book asked me if I wanted her to take my photo.  Her English was thin, but she was clearly my champion.

I felt self-conscious, but I let her take photos with my phone for a set of five.  I’ve never had photos of my actual practice before, and looking at them, it’s like an inverse lens from what I feel like inside my body —  to my surprise, I kind of look like a yogi.

The first time I did this practice, it felt more like a trudging marathon, a strange sensation that I never did a single “perfect” sequence in any one of them.  I let the unfolding of my imperfections be the experience.  This time, even with the distractions, the heat, the peeing, I felt a different kind of flow.  I wasn’t tracking whether I was doing it “right” — I was just going deeper.

That’s a good lesson to hold for the start of a year that has already demanded a lot of holding our expectations lightly.

Have you ever done 108 sun salutations?  What did it mean to you?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she’s going to stay for a while.