fitness · pseudoscience

Will drinking lettuce water help me sleep better? An FAQ

Q: What? Where did this alleged link between lettuce water and insomnia come from?

A: Honestly, I was googling various treatments for insomnia, got distracted, and before I knew it, I landed here. Skeptical but curious, I pressed on.

Q: What, exactly, is lettuce water?

A: No one really knows (or cares), but it seems to involve pouring very hot water over lettuce (unclear which varieties are the preferred ones), and then (waiting a suitable time for cooling) drinking the water. Wilted lettuce consumption is optional.

Here’s a video with some unsupported claims about sedative and pain-relieving properties of lettuce water:

Video with entirely unsupported and implausible claims about lettuce water and insomnia.

Q: Okay, but I want original sources, please.

A: Fine. Here’s Shapla Hoque on TikTok with her how-to post about making and drinking lettuce water to cure insomnia.

No caption needed– Shapla tells all, shows all, and then gets sleepy, on camera.

Q: I’m intrigued, but need a bit more convincing. Have there been any studies done on lettuce water and insomnia?

A: Why yes, there have. ON MICE. The little rodents were already sedated with pentobarbital (a well-established send-you-to-sleep-right-now drug), then were given a variety of extracts from romaine lettuce. They managed to stay asleep. The scientists declared victory, saying “Romaine lettuce is an interesting and valuable source of sleep potentiating material and contains antioxidant phenolics that protect from the oxidant stress caused by sleep disturbance.”

Q: Hmmm. I’m not really a science person, but does that study show anything about the somnolent effects of lettuce water on mammals?

A. No. And, I might add, the amount of lettuce you’d have to consume to get enough lactucin and lactucopricin (the compounds under investigation) would end up taking all night, thus defeating the purpose.

Q: So why did you bring this up in the first place, getting my hopes up and then dashing them, leaving me wide awake with just my salad bowl for company?

A: Fighting health-related misinformation is important, no matter what, no matter when, no matter how. 2021 has been a banner year for health misinformation, so whatever we can do (even if it’s just to keep you all from storming the salad bar, then rushing home to don your jammies and hope for a miracle) we’re going to keep doing.

Q: One more question, while you’re here. Should I get one of the COVID vaccines if I haven’t already?

A. Yes. Check with your health care provider, but basically, yeah.

fitness · Olympics

What strength looks like

Hey– anyone interested in experiencing a full range of emotions in five minutes? Watch this 5-minute video of the Olympic women’s 55kg category weight-lifting competition.

SPOILER: Hidilyn Diaz wins the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal. But even though you know how it ends, it’s so worth it to witness the process.

UPDATE: Since readers outside the US can’t view this (oops!), I found some other videos here and here and here. The first one is low-fidelity of people watching her on TV and screaming in delight when Diaz wins. The others are Philippines and Chinese news.

What do I see from watching women who are the best in the world at doing what they do, doing that thing:

  • What strength looks like
  • What concentration looks like
  • What decision-making looks like
  • What relief looks like
  • What joy looks like

Watching these wonderful women, I held my breath, barely blinking, and cried with relief and joy and gratitude at their efforts.

Okay, I admit it: the Olympics brings out the sappiness in me. So sue me. But I dare you not to get a little misty-eyed while watching these women.

Hey– anyone out there having a special Olympics moment they want to share? I’ve got extra kleenexes and am ready to use them; lemme know.

fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

Five things Catherine is doing differently this summer

2021 has been a very unusual year, and brought us a very unusual summer. Vaccination for many of us has made possible more close encounters with those we love, like, and hardly know. But it’s certainly not business as usual– that’s for sure.

However, looking back to mid-May, and looking forward to the end of August, I can’t say I’m feeling disappointed with how this summer has unfolded and will proceed. Here are a few ways I’m spending my summer that are a departure from my usual gadding about– conferencing, visiting family and trying to arrange a far-away vacation.

No air travel: all my visiting and vacationing and exploring is happening by car this summer. I’m super lucky that I was able to finally give my 13-year-old manual transmission Toyota Matrix to my niece Gracie and buy a 2021 automatic Honda Civic Hatchback. Two bikes plus gear will still fit in the back with the seats down, but the interior is much more comfortable and gadgety. I love it.

A new car means I’ve happily undertaken the long drive (1000 miles/1600 km) to South Carolina to visit family, and I’ve stayed longer with them. Driving also means I take more breaks, generally in the form of walking in some green area en route, and also using hotel pools (now that they’ve reopened– yay vaccination!). And yes, driving means I can take my bike plus whatever other gear I want with me. I love love love not having to pack light or worry about carryon restrictions. Finally, driving has meant carpooling with friends and family, too– we’re all more slowed down and a teensy bit more flexible about schedules. Huzzah to that!

More walking with friends and family and their dogs: even after getting vaccinated (did I say yay vaccination? Yay again!), almost everyone I know is still in the habit of passing time together on foot, tooling around the neighborhood, to a local place for something to eat or drink, doing errands, or just to enjoy the warm weather. It’s been such fun walking with friends and family, as well as friends’ and family dogs. Yes, I’m talking about you, Baxter! And you, Dixie! And Kita! And Wylie! And Mopsy! And other canines not mentioned here. The thing is, I’ve got the time. Imagine that.

Upping my swimming game: this is a project still in process, but I’ve gone swimming much more this year than in decades. Fresh water, ocean, warm water, cold water– I’m dipping in when I can. Friends are a huge help, as I tag along behind them, taking advantage of their slipstream of purpose and intention. Yes, I’m talking about you, Norah! And others, too. Again, it feels to me like it takes more time and effort to go to a lake or beach to swim, but oh, the benefits and the joys! I’ve got plans to swim in two different states (Massachusetts and New Hampshire) next week.

Vacationing regionally with friends: In years past, I would try to do a longer-distance vacation, sometimes combined with a conference. This year I had planned to go to Utah with a friend and her family to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. But as time grew nearer, I found that I just wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t psyched about getting on a plane, going to what are apparently super-crowded parks during record heat in the west while COVID cases are on the rise. Hard to argue with that, right?

Instead, I’ve gone to Cape Elizabeth, Maine for a long weekend with friends, am heading to Brattleboro Vermont to see a friend, visiting friends in their new apartment in NYC, and going on a meditation retreat with friends in Rhinebeck, NY. All of these trips are short, an easy drive away, and involve fun times with good friends I didn’t get to see in person during the past year. Yay for being with those we love again!

Rethinking time: I’m not even sure what I mean here. But it’s true that since March 2020, I’ve had time to think about what’s important to me. Like many of you, that means friends, family, projects, pets, creativity, helping others, movement, and home. Cultivating and maintaining connections to those things takes time. And it turns out, we’ve got time. Who knew? More on this as it becomes clearer, but for now, I’m so enjoying just spending and passing the time of the summer, doing basic and satisfying activities.

  • Will I get on a plane again? Yes.
  • Will I take a far-away vacation again? Yes.
  • Will I go to an in-person conference again? Yes.
  • Will I forget these lessons I’ve learned about the importance of spending time, lots of time, on what I care about? I hope not. This is why I’m writing it down here and now.

What about you, dear readers? What are you doing differently this summer? How are the pace and scope of your activities different? Or are they? I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

fitness · mindfulness · motivation

What happens when you meditate for 60 days straight and then miss day 61?

SPOILER: the answer is, “nothing much”. If you have more time to read, check out the details below.

I’ve been using the Ten Percent Happier app and loving it. I’ve also gotten hooked on the milestones feature.

Listing of daily, weekly and session milestones. I’m at 450 sessions, 50 weeks, and 60 days. Until Monday…

I went to Cape Elizabeth Maine for the weekend with friends to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a friend’s 50th birthday (for which we had planned a trip in 2020 which– obvs– didn’t happen). I used the app each morning for wake-up mediation.

In the waking up section, there are loads of meditations to do either while still in bed (my choice) or upon first getting out of bed.

When I went home, the next morning I slept late, and didn’t do the wake-up app. I lazed around, watching tv and playing on my computer. Didn’t get around to proper sitting meditation. By the time I was thinking of turning in (and picking a sleep-easier meditation), it was past midnight.

OH NO!

Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing-- Sunday! Argh!
Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing– Sunday! Argh!

I had just reached the 60-day milestone, too, and was looking forward to chugging along to 70. Now I had to start all over again. Grrr. Argh.

It felt…. uh, how did it feel?

After the fussing and fretting passed, it didn’t feel like much of anything. I wasn’t numb or paralyzed, or deflated, just… there.

Wow.

Today, I woke up and decided to do a sitting meditation. It would’ve been day 62 in a row, but instead was day 1 in a row. How did it feel to start over? Honestly, it didn’t feel any different– just like, well, meditation.

Wow again.

Why wow? Because unlike most things I do, where I don’t like tracking numbers (we wrote about fitness tracking recently here), I really got into tracking my meditation practice. Why? Because developing a practice means doing something habitually– often, regularly, consistently. Consistency is not my strong suit, but I’m drawn to the idea of creating the conditions for stillness and quiet in my body and mind each day. So I’ve been meditating regularly, several days a week, for the past year, using my mediation app to keep track.

The thing is, once I noticed I was racking up the weeks and days in a row, I started getting attached to those numbers. Each day or so I’d check my milestones menu, looking ahead to the next goal. Is this a bad thing? No. But attachment comes with disappointment when goals aren’t met. And I didn’t meet a goal.

But the funny thing is– my body and mind were like, oh yeah, I guess we forgot that one. Hmmm, do we want a banana? And then the next day, I just sat down and meditated. Again. As one does when one is developing a meditation practice.

There’s a huuuuge literature on mediation and attachment, about which I know very little. But a quick takeway is that when we get attached to things or people or outcomes, we can become less happy, more anxious, and (importantly) lose the connection to ourselves in this moment.

Whether it’s meditation, cycling, yoga, swimming, writing, or whatever activity you want to make a regular and solid part of your life, having goals and plans and schedules are important. So is realizing that goals aren’t always met, plans sometimes go awry (love that word!), and schedules occasionally get broken. Whatcha gonna do then?

Get up the next day, get back to the practice, and do the thing.

Although I’m still a little bummed about not being on a 62-day streak, today is really about my one-day streak. As it is every day.

Hey readers– how do you deal with interrupted streaks of whatever? Does it throw you off your game? Do you just keep on truckin’? I’d really like to hear what your experience is here. If you’d like to share…

fitness · holiday fitness

Catherine’s slowness plan update: replace FOMO with POMO (pleasure of missing out)

Last month I wrote about my slowness plan for the summer of whatever-this-is-with-respect-to-the-pandemic. If you missed it, here’s the short version:

Feel free to go slow.

Just to clarify, the slowness plan is not this:

Cutesy but demanding message saying “it does matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”. No.

Nor is it this:

Go slow to go fast? Not part of my slowness plan.
Go slow to go fast? Not part of my slowness plan.

My slowness plan is about paying attention to what I want to do, how I’m feeling (physically, emotionally), and how adjusting my pace or frequency or duration will affect my ability to do things and also my satisfaction in doing them. This reads well on the page, but is not so easy to implement in reality. Why? FOMO– Fear Of Missing Out.

I love being with my peeps, doing what they’re doing. Saying no to something that’s potentially fun or interesting is hard.

But, this weekend, on a trip with friends to Cape Elizabeth, Maine (yay for vaccination!) I tried out POMO– Pleasure of Missing Out– instead. How is POMO possible?

Because, in reality, we all have needs and limits. Some of us (in this case, me) aren’t early risers. Others of us, aren’t into ocean swimming. So we don’t all need to do all the things all the time. We can take a pass. As my friend Madeline says, we don’t need to have ALL the fun. Wise words, those.

So I did, on Saturday morning. Instead of cycling to the coffee shop and cute general store 3 miles away, I stayed in bed another 45 minutes in a very quiet and peaceful house. It was … heavenly. Then I got up, made myself a latte, meditated, and worked on a piece for my writing class (I’m a student for the next month! Yay!)

When the coffee riders returned, I was happy to see them. Michele offered to take a short ride with me to nearby Kettle Cove. It turned out to be a sort of POMO pilgrimage site– not much going on, but loads of pleasure in just being there.

You might be thinking, hey– you didn’t miss out! You did a thing and enjoyed it. How is that POMO? Well, for me, giving myself space to NOT do everything that’s offered allowed me to take great pleasure in the things I ended up choosing instead:

  • sleep (oh, sweet sleep!)
  • coffee (oh, necessary coffee)
  • meditation (…)
  • impromptu short ride with friend

Hey readers, have you tried saying no to a thing and watched what happened (and didn’t happen) instead? Have you pulled off the POMO state? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness

Things that make me feel good in my body, circa 2021

Hi everyone– it’s mid-summer in a year marked by hope, tentativeness, anticipation, a little experimenting, and scurrying back to familiar ground when things get too scary. Or is it just me? Probably not.

In past years, I’ve posted about things that felt good in my body. Here’s the list I generated in 2017:

  • yoga
  • reading Natalie’s posts
  • sex with myself
  • doing some prettifying activity– for me this meant hair color and treatments
  • walking
  • cycling

In 2019, here’s where I stood on bodily feel-good activities:

  • yoga, especially yin
  • the gym
  • cycling

Then came 2020. Feeling good in body or mind was in short supply. Here’s what I went for:

  • sleep
  • yoga
  • nature
  • walking
  • cycling
  • water (in theory– didn’t actually do much watery activity)

Well, here we are, mid-2021, and I’m a little betwixt and between. I’m betwixt the before-times and after-times, and I’m between fear and courage, paralysis and momentum, pessimism and curiosity. And yet.

There’s a feeling in me of increased awareness, increased clarity. Maybe partly it’s from sitting still for so long in one place. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing in some ways. At any rate, here’s this year’s list of things that make me feeling good in my body, 2021:

  • meditation– sitting in stillness and awareness helps me appreciate and tend to my body (from the neck up and from the neck down) more immediately, accurately, and tenderly.
  • swimming– I am swimming more this year, and every time I go, I love it. Being in water reminds me that my body is built for strength and endurance and grace.
  • walking with dogs–I’ve been on dog walks with friends/family and their dogs, and also just with the dogs themselves. I love the slow pace, the friendly conversation (with other people and all the dogs), and the feeling of having taken care of another being.
  • eating with people–I’m loving sharing food at the same table with others! Boy did I miss that during the past 17 months or so. My body feels good eating with others, sharing and enjoying food in the context of humor and pleasure and taste and love.

Right now, it’s all about the sensation and emotion around bodily activity that I’m reveling in. What about you, dear readers? What’s feeling really good to you in your body these days? Are you back at the gym weight lifting? Are you gardening? Doing group rides? What is making your body sing? I’d love to hear from you.

aging · beauty · body image · fat · fitness

Need to style your hair while fat? Look no further

CW: Quotes and discussion of fat-phobic comments and advice on women’s faces, bodies, and hairstyles.

The internet is a twisty-turny road, with surprises around every blind corner. A friend’s mom was looking at Pinterest for crafting ideas, and what did she run into? A world of websites, all dedicated to hairstyle advice for women who are a) fat; b) over 50; or c) both.

Honestly, this is no surprise. Policing women’s bodies and appearance is a pastime that’s never gotten old. For those of us who are fat, the messaging takes on an increased urgency. Heaven forbid that we rock an outfit that’s form-fitting or sexy or athletic or avant-garde or cute. What would happen?

Ditto for older women. We must be advised on the manifold restrictions governing age-appropriate clothing (say such sites). Really, the effort and bandwidth devoted just to marketing specialized bathing suits for women over 50 is considerable. Sam blogged about one such scheme here.

But it’s not enough for the fat-phobic marketing monolith to invade our FB feeds, selling caftans, swimsuit skirts and capes, and long-sleeved tunics in muted colors. Oh, no. We can cover up to their satisfaction, but that still leaves our necks and faces on display. What to do?

Follow the advice of the hairstyle police! Here’s their general warning:

… there are some things you must consider when choosing a hairstyle if you are an overweight woman. The first thing is your facial features. You must consider your eyes, cheekbones, and shape of your face. Secondly, check on your neck... The last thing is your body size. If you are a little chubby, you must get something different from a woman with curves.

Note the urgency here– the word “must” appears three times. And, we are instructed in no uncertain terms to check on our necks. Okay, here goes:

The author, doing her best to check her neck. It seems roughly functional.
The author, doing her best to check on her neck. It seems roughly functional.

I went ahead and checked my body size off-camera. Yep, I’ve got a body, and it has size; it takes up space and has mass. Physics experiment done! Now what?

Time to talk hairstyles for the fat and over-50. The following is super-helpful:

Since you most likely have a wide body, it’s best to choose extreme hair lengths. For example, if you want it short, make it shorter than the normal shoulder length. If you want it long, go for lengths that reach the mid-section or a few inches higher.

Hmmm. Sounds like my options for hair looks are twofold: Rapunzel or Pixie. They don’t provide any super-long-hair options, so we’re on our own there. Here’s what the fat-hairstyle police had to say about Pixie cuts:

When having a round face or some extra pounds, the goal is to create an illusion. Side-swept bangs will help you shape your face, and a pixie cut can be the best haircut for fat older women. 

This woman's pixie is super-cute, and the photo cleverly disguises the fact that she's giving the hairstyle advice people her middle finger.
This woman’s pixie is super-cute, and the editing disguises the fact that she’s giving the hairstyle advice people her middle finger.

In a bold variation on the pixie, the fat-hair police suggest pink waves for folks with fat faces.

This woman's awesomeness is way too vast for this caption. Fat face? Fight me.
Her pink-curled awesomeness is too vast for this caption. Fat face? Fight me.

Updos, it seems, are an option for the fatter woman with hair. What a relief! Here’s the fat hair experts’ take on the beehive:

A beehive lookalike bun placed in the head’s midsection will make your face look slimmer and elongated. It will reveal your face and show that you still have sass even as a plus size girl.

I hope there’s a weapon concealed in this beehive hairdo for eliminating copywriters like the one who wrote the lines above her lovely picture.

Clearly, these people have no idea what they’re talking about. But fear not, FIFI readers– we are here to fill gaps where we find them. So, here are some hairstyle suggestions from me, a woman who is a) fat; b) over 50, and c) gray/silver-haired.

Suppose you want to wear your hair up? We got your options right here.

Finally, you may want to show off that luxurious hair in a more mysterious way.

Dear readers, how do you choose your hairstyles and colors? Do you think Rapunzel is a good hair role model in this day and age? Have you ever had a pixie? Is it your go-to look? And what about those pigtails? I’d love to hear from you.

cycling · fitness

To wear or not to wear lycra: it’s up to you

Not all cyclists wear lycra. How do I know this? The New York Times said so this week. In a lovely article, the reporter promoted cycling for people who may be new to it, coming back to it, or have felt uncomfortable about it because of issues ranging from road safety to fitness to being racially targeted or excluded in a sport that’s largely white and middle class.

If you haven’t read Samantha’s interview with Monica Garrison, the founder of Black Girls Do Bike, you can find it here.

In Boston (my town), Vivian Ortiz, a member of Black Girls Do Bike and Boston’s bike mayor, shows us that cycling-specific clothing is not at all needed for fun on a bike. Here she is, leading a group of kids and grownups in Lawrence, MA, at the Cyclovia event.

Boston’s own Vivian Ortiz, in yellow safety vest, riding with kids and grownups, with no lycra anywhere in sight.

Does your town have a bike mayor? If you’re not sure, you can look at Pattie Baker’s blog, Traveling at the speed of bike, which has loads of stories about riding bikes around and through our towns in sustainable and safe and low-speed ways.

Here’s a question: why aren’t these folks wearing lycra cycling clothing? I mean, cycling-specific clothing is designed to suit on-bike needs, like having zippers for ventilation, close-fitting shorts and tops that won’t catch on anything and won’t flap around (which, trust me, gets annoying really fast), and deep jersey pockets for carrying all sorts of things.

On the downside, lycra clothing:

  • is super-form-fitting, which isn’t everyone’s thing;
  • can be expensive;
  • doesn’t translate gracefully from on-bike to off-bike situations.

Riding to and from work or school, lots of people prefer regular street clothing. I don’t happen to be among them. Why not? One word: sweat. I start sweating as soon as I throw a leg over my top tube, and wearing, say, jeans and a sweater to ride (even to do errands) would be incredibly uncomfortable for me. Lycra dries quickly, and I don’t look or feel so disheveled walking into a store in cycling kit. I’ve gotten used to the form-fitting profile, and where I live there are lots of lycra-clad people on and off bikes.

But who says you have to be all one way or the other? Mixing and matching is a time-honored tradition, so we can feel free to be a creative as we like for cycling wear. For me, I have a few pairs of around-town cycling shorts that impersonate regular shorts. On top, I wear something that wicks away sweat (or tries to), and bring a change of shirt if say, I’m going to a restaurant (we can do that now (or soon)! Yay!) or meet-up with friends.

Unless it’s Halloween, in which case I’m wearing a banana suit. As one does.

Rachel and me in banana outfits, and Steph as Cruella, on wheels for Halloween.
Rachel and me in banana outfits, and Steph as Cruella, on wheels for Halloween.

Hey readers, what are you wearing on bikes these days? Have you made any changes lately? I’d love to hear from you.

cycling · fitness · habits · hiking · holiday fitness · swimming

Getting on board with the slowness plan

You would think that, now more vaccination is happening in the US and Canada, that we would all be waiting at the thresholds of our homes, raring to go, just waiting for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s starter pistol (which, in a way, has already gone off). Time to get out there, do the things, see the people, go to the places!

Track lanes, or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Track lanes 1–7, , or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

I’ve gotten the message, and am venturing forth. I’ve driven through 9 states and back to see family and friends, had a bona fide dinner party, and eaten in a few restaurants inside, with no masks. I’ve been to the beach and the pool, the grocery store and parks. It’s so nice to see other people I know and don’t know, out enjoying everyday life. Yay! Whew. Thanks, science!

Probably not a scientists pouring COVID-vaccine into a flask. But the color is pretty. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

But, life doesn’t feel back to normal. Not yet. Not even close. Just thinking about adding new things to my to-do list, filling my social calendar, resuming all the activities I used to do, makes me anxious and fearful. I’m not ready. Or at least not ready to do it all right away and fast, like the pandemic never happened. No sir.

But, but: life is returning, coming at us, speeding up, expanding to fill all available space and time. What are my options?

I can go slow.

What?

You know– slow.

Turns out I already have the start of a library of how-to-do-stuff-slowly books. Here are two of them.

I’m taking a memoir writing course online with an old friend and former colleague, Edi Giunta. One of the things she assigned for us is being part of a 100-word writing group. It works like this: people are assigned different days of the week. One starts, writing 100 words exactly. Then the next person writes exactly 100 words, taking inspiration from whatever strikes them in the previous writing piece. And so on.

I love this! It’s breaking down writing into sentences, words, punctuation. I admit I don’t write my pieces very slowly; but, given that it’s just 100 words, I feel like I have all the time in the world to complete it. What luxury– the feeling of rafts of time to do something, and then doing it within that time. WOW.

So I’ve been thinking: if slow writing feels this good, what else will be very satisfying doing slowly? Here’s one: swimming. After reading the Why We Swim book (which we reviewed extensively, you can start here if you want to take a look), I felt the urge to be in water, but not to swim fast or hard or long. I like just being in the water, moving around at my own paddly pace, stopping and treading water or floating to look around. There are slow swimming groups (here’s one on FB; I’m guessing Diane knows about them), but I am happy (for now) being a group of one or two or so.

There’s also slow hiking. Admittedly, I don’t have much choice on this one: I am a very slow hiker, no matter what my age, fitness level, geopolitical situation, etc. If and when it’s okay to hike slowly, I almost sort of like it a little bit. I mean, the outdoors, and woodsy hilly outdoors, are lovely. Being able to appreciate however much or little I want of it seems like an good approach for me. And yes, there is internet information on it, but I warn you: several pages I went to (like this one) featured a picture of a snail. Sigh… Still, it seems promising. And when I’ve done this with fully-on-board-with-the-plan friends, it’s been marvelous.

And then there’s slow cycling. That one’s hard, because I remember being not-as-slow and am not as satisfied with slow-as-I-am-now. But maybe this is the most important one. Why? Because 1) I love cycling; 2) I’ve missed cycling; and 3) I simply am a slow cyclist. At least right now. Given the choice between slow cycling and no cycling, I pick slow cycling.

My sister and I have done a bunch of slow cycling on beach bikes. It’s so much fun. She likes riding around beach neighborhoods, looking at the houses, and wondering aloud how much they cost. I like riding with her. This situation suits us both. In lieu of my sister (who lives, alas, far away from me), I’ll have to slow-cycle on my own or with friends who I’m comfortable slow-cycling with.

Dear readers, what do you like to do slowly? Anything? Have you considered taking up an activity or returning to it, but in the slow lane? I’d love to hear about it.

Book Club · fitness · swimming

FIFI Book Club: Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. This week: Flow

Hi readers– we’ve been reading a new book for this installment of the FIFI book club. It’s called Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. We’ve been reading and commenting on the various sections of the book over the past several Fridays. Today we wind up with the last section of the book in our final group post.

Five weeks ago, we introduced ourselves in terms of our past, present and aspirational relationships with moving around in water.

Four weeks ago, we reported on the section of the book titled Survival.

Three weeks ago, the topic shifted to Well-Being.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the section on Community.

Last week, we turned to Competition.

And now here we are, at the last section: Flow.

First up, Kim:

As we finish reflecting on Tsui’s book, I’ve been watching the city staffers tasked with sprucing up my local outdoor swimming pool. Just 250 metres from my house, it’s a gem: it’s the “beach” for all the older folks on fixed incomes who live in the supported housing building over the road, play-pad central for neighbourhood kids of all stripes, and the place I long to be every single time I pass it on a dog walk when the warm months are here and the sun is glinting off the mirror-glazed blue surface. Oh how I cannot wait the 11 days until it’s open!

“Flow” refers to being so in the zone you are In-The-Moment 2.0 – a state I’ve never experienced. I think of it like deep meditation, like the perfect Savasana, a state of intense being that borders on the dissolution of self with task, with state of play. Maybe I’m overthinking what flow feels like, but I know I’ve never experienced what Tsui talks about here – and yet, at the same time, there is no place in the world that makes me feel more fully alive than the swimming pool. And I’m not even talking about swimming; I’m most alive at the end of a swim, with the endorphins surging, when I float, weightless, bobbing and stretching and revelling in the touch of my skin to the water, and, in outdoor pools, in the unobstructed view of the wide open sky.

I confess Flow was not my favourite section of Tsui’s book, and I’m not really referencing its details here because, to be totally honest, I finished reading it a week ago and (unlike every other section) almost none of it has stuck in my memory. What will stay with me from Why We Swim, though, are individual stories: the human seal; Kim the unbreakable (who returns in Flow, FYI, and that is a wonderful bit of the section); the samurais. Like others I wanted more sometimes – more critical engagement with the racism embedded in swim access; a perhaps more potent ending – but there is no question that Tsui helped me connect with my deep love of the water, and to think about it in ways that I hadn’t been prompted to do before. I’m grateful to have read this book and excited to pass it on to others!

Next up is Bettina:

Like Kim, I finished reading this section a while ago. And also like Kim, I don’t think I’ve ever really been “in the flow” except maybe when writing, but swimming would still be the closest I have come. When I’m in the pool, the outside world does sort of retreat into the background as I focus on my strokes and breath.

Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever been “in the zone”, where physical performance is absolutely optimal. But again, I’ve never felt as physically amazing and strong as I have during some swimming sessions.

What I think I have experienced is “blue mind”, “a ‘soft fascination’ to let our focused attention rest and the default-mode network to kick in”. As I think I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve definitely had some of my best ideas and found solutions for some vexing problems in the pool.

“Flow” is home to the sentences that most struck a chord with me in the entire book: “Submersion creates internal quiet, too. […] We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We slip from thought to thought, and then there’s a momentary nothingness.” I have definitely felt that. And “Even in grief […] I have marked time by water. […] I will say that swimming, in all of its permutations – in a pool, in a lake, paddling a surfboard out to sea – has always helped me come out on the other side of a difficult time.

“Despite all these truths, overall “Why We Swim” fell just a little bit flat for me. I can’t put my finger on why. I have to say that I felt the same with other “swimming” books before, such as “Turning”, by Jessica J. Lee. I think in my case it might be a problem of expecting too much? I get so excited about books about swimming that they have a high (impossible?) standard to live up to. Even so, I enjoyed “Why We Swim” and would recommend it to other water enthusiasts.

Next up is Diane:

There were bits and pieces about this section I really liked, but overall I found it disjointed. I did like the bit about Lake George and the Tsui’s extended family there (it’s a place I only heard about this year. It is a famous open water swim spot, apparently, and will be doing its annual race as a virtual event – I won’t join officially, but I will track my distance for the race period). However, the poetry and problem-solving sections didn’t resonate at all. I am usually too busy working on my strokes or enjoying the sensations of being in the water to have big ideas or solve problems. Non-fiction of this type is not my preferred reading, but several swimmy friends liked it. Overall, I’m not sorry I read it, but it isn’t something I will read again.

Here’s Sam:

My own experiences are pretty far from Tsui’s when it comes to ‘flow.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been a flow state while actively swimming. It’s not that I am worried about drowning. I can swim some pretty long distances stopping to float for a bit when I get tired but if I am swimming I have to coordinate my breathing and that gets in the way of anything like ‘flow.’ I’ve always wanted that from swimming but it’s eluded me even when I’m swimming regularly. That said, I do have a happy relaxed feeling in the water but it’s not flow and I associate it with floating, not swimming.

Like everyone else I loved Tsui’s story of swimming across Lake George. It reminded me of my own lake swimming as a child. In a book that flitted about themes quite a bit I liked coming home to Tsui’s own swimming story.

And last up is me, Catherine:

I agree with the other reviewers that the last section didn’t quite live up to our expectations. However, writing about the experience of flow is like trying to describe something ineffable. What this section did for me is encourage me to go seek out my own ineffable water experiences. I’m a competent swimmer and I love the water. I’ve never competed, other than two triathlons that felt like swimming in a giant washing machine. I don’t think there’s any flow to be had there– more like agitate and then spin…

I do, however, profoundly relate to the idea that being immersed in water can create shifts in our perception of time. For me, it’s shifts in all spatial things. My body feels freer, less gravity-bound. My shape feels sleek, even hydrodynamic. I’m a seal, flipping around, diving under, flapping in greeting at my friends, floating on my back, comfortably held.

One of my favorite spots is the middle of Walden Pond. Whenever I go, I swim out to the center and hang out, floating on my back, looking at the blue or gray sky and the formations of clouds. Walden is a very popular spot in the summer, but the water muffles the voices. Everything and everyone recedes. This isn’t the flow you experience through movement (I have felt that on the bike many times), but it is a sort of blue-mind sort experience.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves water, or even wants to know more about loving water.

Let us know if you’re reading the book, or read it already. We’d love to hear from you.