fitness

Sleepless

One of the stereotypical beliefs about aging I recall learning as a kid is that older people don’t need as much sleep. Now that I am an older person, I am questioning this – a lot!

I am sleeping less, but definitely not because I need less sleep. Most days, I am physically quite active. I’m well past the stage of waking up because kids need feeding (or are late getting home).

I stay up too late and wake up too early. Sometimes I can blame the cats demanding food, but not always. There are other reasons too: arthritis pain, tiny bladder, muscle cramps, the state of the world and what that means for my kids (because you never stop worrying even when they are grown).

Sam’s solution of middle-of-the-night Wordle doesn’t work for me. Wordle just leads to Globle, Worldle, Nerdle, Waffle and Flaggle, and then eventually to social media, on-line solitaire, news from around the world, and sometimes Duolingo.

I know from experience that if I could just get myself to bed earlier, I would have a better chance of longer sleep. I get really sleepy in the early evening, but then perk up and stay awake until midnight if I don’t go to bed right away. The 5 am wake-up is constant.

But how to do that? Some of my exercise choices can’t be moved because evening classes are the only option. A book or magazine can help, if it isn’t too interesting – but why would I read a boring one? Camomile tea works well, despite the risk of tiny bladder consequences.

How I feel in the morning, surrounded by some of the things that help and hinder my sleep. Image is of my grumpy-faced cat, sprawled over a beige stuffed animal on a pillow, with a dull book on the bed.

Dear readers: help! What are your suggestions for building an earlier bedtime habit?

fitness · rest · self care

Go Team! March 29: Rest a little whenever you can.

How much rest have you added to your days lately?

Yeah, I know, you have all kinds of stuff that you want to get done.

And I know you are busy and that you are under a lot of pressure.

Maybe you feel like you can’t catch your breath.

I know that *I* have been dealing with a lot of these kinds of feelings in the past few weeks.

No doubt, at this point in history, it is a combination of run-of-the-mill busy feelings and the stress and strangeness of the so-called ‘return to normal’ when things are definitely not normal at all.

We’re all trying to manage a lot of different tasks, a lot of different stresses, and a bunch of competing priorities. Some of that pressure comes from the social soup in which we live, some of it comes from other people, and some of it comes from internal pressure, thinking habits we picked up without even realizing it.

The combination of all of that can leave us scrambling from one task to another, trying to cram everything in, with a plan to rest when we’re done all of the tasks on our lists.

That is not a wise plan.

One problem with it is the fact our to-do lists are pretty much self-replicating. We can’t count on reaching a clear end point when the ‘right’ rest time will be obvious.

Another problem with that approach?

It leaves us feeling like we have to totally wring ourselves out before we rest.

So, I vote no on the whole ‘rest later’ thing.

Instead, I invite you to consider sprinkling rest in whenever you can.

And while we might feel that long rests are ideal, even short ones can be helpful and restorative.

Short rests that you can enjoy are much better than long ones you can never get around to taking.

Try to plan some rest time long before you are starting to feel fatigued. (It can actually be harder to rest once you are already worn down because the energy cost of switching from the task of working to the task of resting can feel like too much work.) It you have decided on rest time in advance it will be a lot easier to actually take it.

And, if you find yourself at a natural pause in your tasks, choose not to scramble to the next one. Instead, extend that pause for a few minutes.

I realize that there are lots of life situations where rest isn’t easy to come by, when things are incredibly hectic, when you are under a lot of pressure, when your time isn’t your own. I still hope that you can take advantage of any opportunity for rest that arises or that you can create – even if it is spending an extra minute in the car, in the shower, or standing still and breathing slowly while the kettle boils.

You deserve to feel good.

You deserve to have ease.

You deserve to rest.

And your breaks don’t depend on proving how hard you worked beforehand.

Here’s a gold star for your efforts to include more rest in your day: ⭐️

Go Team! Get some rest!

And here’s a purple starfish to inspire you to, as my Dad says, “Hove off like a tourist.”

A purple starfish and a few shellfish on rocks in a touch tank
Okay, so this starfish isn’t gold but it is illustrating my point nicely. Find your own (possibly metaphorical) rock and sprawl out for a rest, mentally and/or physically, whenever you need it…maybe even before. Image description: a light purple starfish is resting on a rock in an aquatic touch tank. Ceiling lights are reflected right above the starfish on the surface of the water and there are more rocks and some shellfish in the tank.

Speaking of being a tourist, I took the photo above in the Interpretation Centre at Terra Nova National Park a few years back.

PS – No matter what you do about your rest situation, please don’t be hard on yourself for how challenging it is to fit rest into your day. Just do what you can and be kind to yourself about it, pretty please. 💚

health · sleep

Christine Goes Medieval On Her Sleep

When my kids were babies, they never quite got the knack of sleeping. For 5 years of my life, I was awake every 90 minutes (or less) until they both were finally (mostly) sleeping through the night.* Ever since then, it takes only the smallest interruption in my sleep pattern to throw my mind back to that time when I was doing the best I could, managing on very little sleep, and just feeling a little out of it all the time. Even a single night of weird sleep sends some part of my brain into a spin about getting stuck in that situation again.

A few years ago, I was having trouble sleeping and I figured out that using a sleep mask was the solution to getting better sleep and feeling more rested. I’m still using a sleep mask but I’ve been through a few different ones since then. My current favourite is an Alaska Bear sleep mask which is not shaped like a bear, covered in a bear print, or made of bear fur and it neither transports me to Alaska nor does it turn me into a bear but it does, despite all of that, it help me sleep.

I’ve been having a good go of it with my sleep since the sleep mask discovery. The occasional bad night, like everyone has, but no recurring issues. Until the last month or so when an external factor has been weighing in.

A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’​
A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’

The Situation

One of my family members semi-regularly needs my help with a minor but persistent health issue at some point between 1am and 2am. It’s not every night but it may be a few nights in a row, or every second night for a while, or a couple of times in a week. You get the idea.

Technically, I *could* let them deal with it on their own and just get my sleep. But it’s really important to me to be able to support the person who needs my help. And the whole thing is temporary so I’d really rather be there to help and just figure out how to minimize the effects on my sleep until the situation passes.

Solution Attempt #1

Since, under normal circumstances, I go to bed at 11:30 or 12, I tried just staying up later and just managing with less sleep.

That was not ideal.

A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to ​land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’
A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’

Apparently, I need at least 7 hours sleep to be relatively human the next day and for my ADHD meds to work the way they should. My meds do make things better even when I am sleepy but the sleepiness is an added obstacle that I do not need while I am trying to focus on the work of the day.

Solution Attempt #2

Then I tried taking what I was calling ‘a nap’ from 10:30 or 11:00pm and getting my family member to wake me when they needed me.

This worked a lot better. I was getting enough sleep overall but I was finding it challenging to get back to sleep once I was up. (I think this is a carry-over from when the kids were small. 99% of the time, once I am up for more than a few minutes, I am AWAKE and I could stay up for hours.)

A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’​
A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’

Even with being fully awake shortly after going to sleep, it was still better than staying up extra late. And I figured out how to optimize that nap – doing some of my before bed routines earlier in the evening so I could shorten the time between ‘I should go to bed’ and actually lying down, making sure that I had the right weight and texture blankets, using my mask but leaving a small light on so I slept well but not too deeply and so on.

Basically, I was using one of my most useful skills – making the best of a tricky situation – and applying it to a temporary challenge.

All The Feelings, Damn It

But, I was still finding it a bit tricky. I didn’t love the fact that, when I settled in at 10:30 or so, I was going to be interrupted so soon.** It didn’t often stop me from falling asleep but it made me feel a bit cranky about the whole thing, even though I have willing signed on to support my family member. I didn’t want to feel cranky and I certainly didn’t want them to think that I resented their need for help.

Obviously, my feelings are valid and I can feel however I feel about the situation. But I didn’t want to get so caught up in those feelings that I generated any extra distress – not for me and not for my family member.

A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.
A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.

After all, I can’t choose my feelings but I can choose how I act on them. I knew I needed to reframe how I was thinking about the whole situation so I could act more effectively.

Samantha To The Rescue

On Saturday, Samantha saved the day by posting this BBC article about bi-phasic sleep by Zaria Gorvett: The forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’

The funny thing is, I have read about bi-phasic sleep before. If *you* had told me that you had to sleep in two chunks and that you felt weird about it, my brain would have tossed enough facts from that old article at me that I could have used them to help you reframe your thinking.

My brain did not choose to cough up those facts for me until I saw Samantha’s post.

But as soon as I read ‘bi-phasic’ sleep, I thought ‘OH! That’s what I’m doing!’ and my brain immediately began to reshape the story I have been telling myself about how I am sleeping.

Suddenly, I wasn’t having interrupted sleep, I was having bi-phasic sleep.

I had gone medieval and I didn’t recognize it!

A GIF created to look like a ​medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.
Okay, so I’m not thinking of being awake at 1am as a party but recognizing it as a possible sleep pattern is helpful. Image description; A GIF created to look like a medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.

I was getting up after my first sleep to support a family member and perhaps do a little reading or drawing before starting my second sleep.

That reframing puts a whole new slant on things.

It takes away the idea of the interruption as a problem and makes it a structure for my night’s sleep.

And, as mentioned in the article, it removes any anxiousness about being awake in the middle of the night. This is probably not how I will sleep forever but it is one way that people *can* sleep. I’m not sleeping ‘wrong’ and I am not doing something detrimental.

I’m just practicing bi-phasic sleeping at the moment and, by framing it that way, my brain can settle in around the pattern and stop trying to solve the ‘problem’ of being awake at 1:30am.

A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.​
A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.

*If you are warming up your fingers to type some advice about what I *should* have done back then, save your energy because I won’t play. I tried everything. I did all kinds of research. There are all kinds of things you can do to encourage sleep but sleep is neurological thing and sometimes all you can do is wait for the situation to change or a baby’s brain to mature a bit. If you know someone whose baby is not sleeping, don’t give them advice, give them support. Zip over there early in the morning so they can get back to sleep before they fully wake up for the day. Stay late at night so they can grab a nap before the evening circus starts. Run errands for them. Take the baby for a walk so they can do some yoga nidra. Just don’t offer more damn advice. They have tried it already and all the advice is starting to feel judgmental and aggressive. Trust me on this.

**I imagine that everyone hates interruptions and I can’t speak for how the neurotypical brain deals with them. For someone with ADHD, knowing that you will be interrupted (whether that interruption is scheduled or just impending) can put you into the dreaded ‘waiting mode‘ which prevents you from immersing yourself in what you are doing because you know that you are going to have to switch tasks.

fitness · motivation · planning · schedule · self care

Christine Is Trying To Take Her Retreat Home With Her

Ever since I wrote about doing yoga on my writing retreat last week, I’ve been considering my retreat state of mind.

A light haired dog is asleep, curled up on a grey and green bedspread.
Here’s Khalee doing a remarkable imitation of my relaxed retreat-brain. Image description: My light haired dog, Khalee, is sleeping peacefully, curled up on my grey and green bedspread.

It’s easier to write when I am on retreat, of course, that was pretty much a given. What always surprises me, however, is how much easier it is to do yoga, practice my TKD patterns, and to get out for a walk when I am on retreat.

I mean, obviously, it’s easier to do anything that I want to do when my schedule is fully under my control and I am the only person I need to take into account when deciding when or how to do something.

(In theory, it should be similar when I am home. Given that I work for myself, I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. My kids are practically adults so they don’t exactly need my supervision anymore. But I am part of a family, a household, so our choices do affect each other, at least to some degree. And given my personality/my ADHD, I will overthink (at least subconsciously) all the possibilities of how I might be disturbing someone else.)

And, aside from the schedule thing, when I’m on retreat, I only have so many activity options available to me. I can write, I can read, I can chat with my friends, or I can exercise. Having fewer choices makes it easier to rotate through them throughout the day.

When I’m home, I have so many things that I *could* be doing at any given time that I often have trouble figuring out what to do when. (Another personality tendency that is exacerbated by ADHD.)

If the above picture of Khalee is my retreat brain, my at-home brain could often be depicted like this:

A small dog walks on its hind legs through a convenience store. It looks like it is shopping. Text above the photo reads ‘decisions, decisions.’
Image description: a small light-haired dog is waking on its hind legs through a convenience store, looking from side to side as it hurries along. Text above the photo reads ‘decisions decisions…’

It would be pretty hard to make my home like our retreat space. I’m always going to have to factor in other people’s schedules and I’m always going to have different priorities competing for my time.

BUT…

I wonder how I could move my at-home mindset closer to my retreat mindset and help make it easier to get into exercise mode?

I guess I could deliberate reduce the number of choices available to me at any given time of the day.

And I could probably set firmer schedule boundaries for myself so I don’t spend so much time factoring in the possible effects I might have on other people’s schedules.

And I could definitely put fewer things on my to do list each day, to help me have more of that retreat-style focus.

I’m going to give it a whirl and see if these things help make it easier to break out of decision mode and into exercise mode.

How would YOU go about bringing a retreat mindset home with you?

aging · birthday · fitness · fun

Christine and the Birthday Decisions

That kind of makes me sound like I’m starting a band, doesn’t it?

If that was my band name, what would our first album be called?

Ahem.

Back on topic:

Wednesday was my birthday and I had a great day.

A hand holding a sparkler at night.
My friend Elaine brought me sparklers and other treats for my birthday. She knows how to make everything more fun. Image description: Christine’s right hand is holding the handle of a burning sparkler – a piece of metal that has been coated at one end so it gives off a sparkly flame as it burns. It is night time.

Usually, on my birthday, I’m trying to cram in so many fun things that I actually end up amplifying my usual feeling that I *should* be doing something else.

I always have fun but I tend to feel a bit tightly scheduled and a bit frustrated.

This year, I noticed that feeling creeping up the day before my birthday and I made a conscious decision to get over myself and be clear about the facts:

I don’t have to limit my fun to one day a year. *

In fact, I can add more fun to every week.

I can even add a bit more fun to every day.

I can take my birthday attitude into the rest of the year.

In a surprise to no one, making that decision took all of the pressure out of my birthday.

And instead of keeping a tally of accumulated fun, I just did what I felt like doing in any given moment.

And that’s how I found myself dropping everything to take Khalee for a walk while the sun was out (instead of at a more ‘logical’ time.)

And, it’s how I found myself sitting peacefully, all by myself in the 5pm darkness, watching the small fire I had set in our fire pit.

Normally, I would have talked myself out of lighting a fire just for me. It’s a little bit of hassle and I didn’t have a lot of time before supper, but I had that bit of birthday ‘permission’ going for me so I crumpled some paper and got the kindling from the shed and settled in next to the fire.

I felt calm and restful and so very grateful for all of the good things in my life.

I even felt a bit more patient about the challenges I tend to encounter

It was a wonderful way to round out a day of giving in to my whims.

And, my birthday gift to myself is the decision to prioritize things like an early evening fire far more often.

I challenge you to do the same. 💚

A nighttime selfie of a woman with a round face wearing a dark hat and dark clothes, she is lit by firelight.
Enjoying the glow of the fire AND the fun of doing just what I wanted to be doing at that moment. Image description: a selfie in which I am outside at night, lit by firelight. I am wearing a dark hat and a dark coat. Only my face is visible and I am smiling contentedly.

*To be clear, I do take time to relax and do fun things on a regular basis. But, on my birthday, I give myself permission to maximize my fun.

fitness

Finding my Well-Being Sweet Spot

Sam recently shared an article on the links between too much time and mental health, with the comment that this was not her problem. My immediate thought was “Ha! I’m willing to test this hypothesis!” The study looked at perceptions of well-being and how that rose or fell depending on the amount of free time, controlling for scenarios such as depression, which might leave a person with too much free time.

The basic result was that the sense of well-being rose with about 2 hours of free time, but dropped if the person had more than about 5 hours of free time. But, what counts as free time matters. The sense of well-being came primarily with productive free time, for meaningful activities such as hobbies, social activities, etc. “Wasted” time (undefined in the article, but for me it means things like doomscrolling, social media, and playing computer games) does not have the same effect.

So what is my takeaway on this? I’m mostly doing okay with making time for things I enjoy. I get enough fitness activities to be healthy. If anything, I need to start paying more attention to possible overuse injuries. Right now, I am dealing with what appears to be swimmers elbow. This may be a perfect time to rebalance my activities a bit, especially since the weather is cooling so I will be swimming outdoors less over the next few months.

My rebalance will probably involve more horse time. My daughter is looking seriously at a younger horse for her own riding, since she likes to jump and Fancy, though still healthy and eager, is 19. Like me, she is getting to an age where we need to pay more attention to the risk of injury.

She is still great for flat work though, which suits me fine. Until now, I have been riding about once a week so that my daughter could get as much time in as possible. However, I will likely increase that to two or even three times a week over the next little while. Will I ever reach the 5-6 rides a week that would be optimal for her? Probably not. That is a big time commitment, and would move this leisure activity into the category of becoming a real chore. Besides, as we continue to age, we are both going to need more recovery time between outings.

And I’ll need that recovery time to do all the other things that are meaningful to me – gardening, elder care, cooking, sewing, spending time at my cottage property, possibly even some home renovations. More and more lately, I have been thinking about retirement. Unlike Sam, I don’t find my job as fulfilling as I once did, and I am definitely not as busy. Time spent on work increasingly feels like something that is crowding out the things I enjoy, and I work hard to cram them all in before or after work. Maybe my sense well-being will will improve if I make more free time.

Hmm… this post has taken a strange turn. How about you readers? Are getting enough free time to make you happy? If not, what might you do to adjust?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa (among many other activities).

fitness · habits · motivation · new year's resolutions · planning

Go Team! January 16: Pause Not Stop (a.k.a. Word Power)

I paused my workout plan for a few days this week.

I was sick on Monday and Tuesday so I couldn’t do my HIIT program or my yoga. I could manage to take the dog for very short walks and do a few neck stretches but that was it.

On Wednesday, I kept my cardio on pause but I could do some yoga.

On Thursday, I had lots of cardio at TKD and did yoga when I came home.

On Friday, I pressed ‘play’ went back to my regular routine.

As a storyteller, a writer, and a coach, I am all about the power of words.

That’s why I chose to say that I ‘paused’ my workout plan instead of saying that I ‘stopped’ it.

Stopping has a finality to it. You might start again or you might not.

Pausing feels like it includes an intention to start again.

When I’m coaching people and they choose to pause something they want to eventually continue doing, I ask them about their conditions for returning.

Will they start again after a specific time frame?

Does their return depending on finishing something else? (Another project, or letting an injury heal.)

If they aren’t sure about their conditions for returning, I ask them to pick a date or time when they will revisit their decision to pause. That frees them up from annoying themselves every day with ‘How about today? No?’ and it also helps them stay conscious of their plan to return.

If you have hit a snag in your workout plans, perhaps, instead of coming to a stop, you can make use of the power of a pause.

Obviously, if you can reshape your plans, that’s great. And it’s always a good idea to keep up the things that you *can* do, but go ahead and pause the plans that you can’t follow in the moment.

You don’t need to feel guilty about it. You haven’t failed, you haven’t messed up, and you aren’t quitting. You are being responsive to the reality of your life in this moment.

But by calling it a pause instead of a stop you are keeping the metaphorical door open for your return. You are making a conscious decision to temporarily alter your plans.

Fitness isn’t an all or nothing one-time project, it’s an ongoing, responsive plan.

And it is perfectly ok if some parts of that plan have to be paused from time to time.

(It’s also ok to stop your plan entirely if you find something that serves you better, but this post is about when you WANT to continue but you just can’t do it right now.)

Here’s your gold star for your efforts to increase your fitness by doing what you can and by responding to the reality of your life right now.

A gold star ornament hangs in the foreground, there are  decorated tree branches with lights and small visible pieces of other ornaments in the background.
This is a stock photo so this gold star wasn’t hanging on *my* tree, but I still wholeheartedly approve of its gold starry-ness.
fitness · health · illness · self care

The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck

Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.

For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.

I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.

However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.

My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology,  has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.

She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.

The author, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a black shirt and glasses is not looking directly at the camera. She is sitting in a room with green walls and there is a white door behind her.
I just happened to take this photo the day before my conversation with M. I was participating in a web chat about writing and I was having trouble concentrating. I was tired, I knew I was going to have a headache the next day because of the specific way that my neck was aching. I did some stretches and took some ibuprofen in hopes of warding it off but it didn’t work – it never does, actually but I always try it.

I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**

I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.

M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)

Timeline graph of migraine symptoms. The background is purple and the timeline is orange. The graph illustrates that there are a few hours or days of symptoms that precede a migraine, the migraine itself lasts from 4-72 hours and there there is a 24-48 hour recovery period.
I had no idea that things like concentration and difficulty sleeping could precede a migraine. This graph was found here: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/

Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.

This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.

With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***

Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?

Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.

Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.

I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.

And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.

I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’  As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.

Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.

And that’s not fit.

For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.

*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.

**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.

***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.

aging · fitness

Listen to your body … when it whispers

Why does it all feel so HARD right now?  

I texted that to my business partner earlier this week, and from what I can see of the world around me right now, I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Last month I wrote about yin yoga, and how when I laid down in silence, I suddenly felt my body ache and tug at me. How had I not noticed that I was powering through my workouts and workdays so hard that I was actually physically hurting? At the end of that post, I wrote something about needing to slow down and listen to my body. A friend read the post and texted me “I think it’s unfinished — I think you are saying listen to your body when it whispers.”

She was right, and for the past month, I’ve been trying to really listen.  The yin class reminded me of how important it is to do the basic guided meditation thing of body scanning — what does your big toe feel like?  the front of your shin? — and even more, to scan what’s happening all over for me.

Physically, the scan turns up a lot of reasons for my bone weariness. I had a flu-cold thing, and am traveling for work a lot, and had a stretch of time where I didn’t have a day off from work for 22 days. And like Susan and Sam and pretty much everyone else in the known universe (except Tracy,!) I find the darkening days mean I just want to hole up in the blankies. In fact, I did just that last Sunday — tucked the kitten under my knees, made a bowl of popcorn and binged several episodes of Outlander without moving.

As I keep scanning, there’s another layer.  The work stuff that feels hard feels like one of those watershed moments — where I’ve reached a threshold of what I can do, and there are opportunities for deep learning. If I fight it, everything gets scratchy — and if I listen hard to what it’s teaching me, my work moves to the next level.

When I scan again, I also realize the obvious:  I’m having what is something like my 490th period of all time.  I started in October when I was 12. I’m 52 and have never had a baby.  At roughly 12+ periods a year for more than 40 years I have menstruated… well, probably more than 99.9% of the women in all of history.

I keep trying to act like this cycle of night sweats and frequent periods and surging PMS doesn’t phase me.  But it does.  I’m almost 53.  I’m tired.  It’s wearing.  And when I listen, I know that’s it’s part of why I feel so slow, so heavy, so constrained.  (And cranky.  Don’t forget cranky).

Right now, my body is just not supplying the boundless energy that makes my neighbour — a yoga teacher — shake her head and say “you work out more than anyone else I know.” I really don’t — but I’m usually pretty consistent. But in the past few weeks, I haven’t had a single vigour-ish workout that felt good — the few short runs I’ve managed to force myself into are plods, and I find myself slowing down in the middle of the weekly spin classes I’ve made it to. I renewed my membership at the Y in September and I’ve been exactly twice. Last week, I signed up — and paid for — two classes that I didn’t even go to. My body is telling me SOMETHING.

What am I hearing when I listen to the whispers? Slow down, move differently, listen to the invitation to learn something, make something new.

Slowly, I’ve started to accept that there is something about the current hormonal and cyclic flux of my body that craves vitamin B and sleep and rest and fresh air more than sweat and deep exertion. I heard a CBC podcast a couple of weeks ago about a Chinese tradition of “sitting the month” after giving birth — basically, giving yourself the space for your body to truly recover from birth, to transition to the next phase of your life.  I took that as another invitation to recognize that there is some kind of transition happening that I need to listen to.

Right now, I’m giving myself permission to do things that aren’t running and pushing myself hard, finding different ways to move, being open to things that feel like mystery. A few weeks ago, I spent 2 hours “ecstatic dancing,” moving my body in yoga clothes and my bare feet to an eclectic blend of music, ranging from bhangra to thrash to classical orchestral to tinkly sitar music. A week later, I went to a yin workshop for a friend’s birthday that included live music whose vibrations were intended to attune us to the vibrations in our bodies as we held deep connective poses.  Both of these things sound “flaky,” but they connected me to my body again.

Ten days ago, I embarked on a 21 day challenge with another friend, to each change one habit.  He’s limiting his sugar intake to one thing a day, and I am trying to shift my habit of mindlessly snacking after 8 pm.   Unless I’m eating out with people and we’re eating late, I ingest nothing but water or mint tea after 8 pm.  It seems simple, but the number of times I’ve almost put leftover dinner in my mouth when I’m cleaning up the kitchen, or felt the impulse to make popcorn or eat crackers and butter after 930 is… well, every day.  But I have adhered to it, and I feel better every morning.

Scanning and listening.

Last Saturday, I went to an all day meditation workshop with my cousin.  She lost her young son a year and a half ago and has been on her own transition journey of living with grief, creating her next self.  We spent a long time talking about what happens when you start to listen to what’s aching under the surface — in your soul and in your body. Most meditation practice teaches you how to be both present to and not pushed around by pain — sitting with it, it flows through you. When you don’t acknowledge pain — physical, fatigue, emotional — it persists until it breaks you.

I’m letting myself acknowledge fatigue, and the effects of darkness and hormones, and letting myself dwell in it.  Not to hide under the blankies, but to listen for what it’s offering, what the transitions are leading to.  And it feels right to nest in it.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.  Cate blogs here the second Friday of every month.  And other times when she has something to say. 

 

training · Uncategorized

If not Rest, then at least Active Recovery, Right?

Cat in lotus position (cartoon).
Cat in lotus position (cartoon).

Sam has blogged about the importance of rest days. More than once in fact (see here and here).  When I was mostly into weight training and not much else, I had a good handle on rest days as necessary for giving muscles time to repair and, more importantly, to build.  I understood that without adequate rest, I was at risk of overtraining.

That’s not to say that I always respected that knowledge. I get into things. And then I have difficulty taking adequate breaks. It’s one of these tendencies I need to stay aware of. I’m more likely to want to do something than nothing, even if it’s walking to work or taking in a yin yoga class.

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

Lately I’ve learned about something else: active recovery.  What is active recovery? According to this post at Built Lean:

Active recovery could be defined as an easier workout compared to your normal routine. Typically this workout would be done on off day from training. Generally an active recovery workout is less intense and has less volume. For example, a trainee worried about body composition goals could do active recovery by taking a brisk walk on an off day.

When defining active recovery, context comes into play. To a marathon runner, jogging at a slow pace on an off day will likely have little impact on their ability to maintain intense workouts on their scheduled training days; in fact, it ultimately may help their fitness goals.

You’re supposed to feel better, not worse, after you do something that counts as active recovery.

I confess that I still fall short with rest, simply because I have so many things that I’m trying to fit in and I can’t quite imagine what a day without exercise of any kind feels like. But active recovery? I can get on board with that.

Much of what I read about active recovery recommends low to no impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, walking, yoga, or foam rolling.  But you know, any of these (well, perhaps not foam rolling, but I’m not even sure of that) can be gentle or intense.  I’m not sure who I’m fooling when I try to sub in a very demanding 90 minute Iyengar yoga class as my active recovery day.  And my triathlon swim training is not active recovery. It’s an intense workout.

So I need to check myself and watch out for my tendency to want to keep at it and do everything at a high level of intensity all the time.  I have recently “counted” both yoga and swim training as active recovery. I’ve even counted easy but long runs.

And I’m ratting myself out right here and now by saying that the fact is, I do not have a rest day.  Sundays are my prescribed rest day for the Lean Eating Program, but I have my long run with my 10K training group on Sunday mornings.  It’s easy, but it’s long. And I don’t feel as fresh as a daisy afterwards. And my schedule of workouts resumes promptly at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings.

How do you do rest and active recovery? I’d love to hear from people who do a better job at it than I do.