fitness

Unexpected Surprise After Nearly 30 Days of Yoga

I am doing the 30-day yoga thing. Me and nearly everyone on the blog and half my clients and half my world. Cate did a round-up of reasons why a few weeks ago. Today I want to explore some of what has come up for me during this commitment to movement nearly every day. I’m especially interested in some of the surprises it has held for me, the things I didn’t expect, the kind of stuff that yoga promises but takes one by surprise nonetheless. 

This is the second year I have engaged in this project. Last year, I was in the throes of break-up grief and held onto it like the lifeline it was. It reminded me I was human and loveable. I suppose for some folks that is pretty profound but I feel fortunate in my personality constellation, that it doesn’t take too much to remind me of that fact, even when I’m being painfully let down by a human that loved me. So last year, the experience was visceral but kind of literal. Show up, move in the ways that feel good, breathe like you love yourself. Done.

This year, I was excited to engage in the project again, knowing what to expect a little more. I also had a better capacity and commitment to do it nearly every day. I think I finished the 30 days sometime in the middle of February last year. This year, I have been able to double up some days to make up for the days I miss or do something else. I’m still appreciating all the stuff I appreciated last year. I like how short they are. They are sometimes very technical but it’s only one thing, not a whole class of difficult stuff. I like the way she invites me into mindfulness and I love how gentle and forgiving her language is. Yet, in spite of this spaciousness, I have tripped over myself in a surprising way.

I have been pretty diligent in looking to get better at yoga. I’m paying attention to the next level of awareness of my body and where it is placed in space. I am trying to challenge the parts of me that have been traditionally stuck (in the physical or metaphorical sense). I’ve been digging deep where invited and hanging on a little longer. When I lower from plank, I do it s l o w l y. When I rise up before a twist, I really visualize and try to actualize growing taller, making space in the vertebrae before moving a little farther around. When I fold, I’m looking for ways to fold more fully. 

The truth is, it’s working. I am getting better at it. I am stronger in my arms and shoulders. I am more flexible in my hips.  My feet are definitely stronger. When I sit up, head over heart, heart over pelvis, I know where I am in my body and I’m carrying that sense all over the place. AND YET. . .

I have discovered a really sad little part of me that isn’t happy with all this objective progress and accomplishment. I have noticed that she thinks we should be stronger than this already and that the progress isn’t as much as it should be. She is craving some kind of transformation into an idea of graceful yogi that she simultaneously does not believe is possible. She is rejecting what is and longing for what could be, or what should have been if we’d been doing this diligently all along. 

In examining this part, I realize a few things. I am struck by how similar this expression is to the expression of a longing to be “thin”. That “if only-I should already-I could have-why didn’t I-what’s wrong with me” thing that I see a lot of in my work but has never felt this kind of “alive” in me before now. That makes me wonder where it is from and how much of it is really mine. It also makes me wonder if this little part’s fixation on her lack of willowy strength and flexibility is masking a whole lot of her experience of willowy strength and flexibility. So much of the “I don’t look right” felt sense of the body manages to ignore the clear and present beauty that exists. Even when we try to move away from any idea of “beauty” and shift it to strength, flexibility, balance, function and presence, there is still a risk of sliding into the not-good-enough space that is lurking always for almost all of us.

I’m having a memory of me at 12 walking along a street with storefront windows. I am catching my reflection and fixating on how my knees seem to stay bent in a weird way throughout my stride. It makes me seem like I’m tromping along in a galumphy way and I hate it. I long to be lengthy and graceful, not the angular, flailing and awkward human in the reflection of the windows. I imagine that if I could be that person, that I will find the acceptance and friendship that I think I don’t have. I imagine I will be popular and loved and happy. I feel I am none of these things.

This memory has come stumbling in, so very unexpectedly, yet entirely predictably given the practice I’m in. Every day, I’m sitting and noticing. Every day, I am tuning into my body and wondering what’s up, what’s there. I guess it’s a 12 year-old, a super sad and alone 12 year old that doesn’t imagine anyone but her parents will ever love her. She is someone detached from the growth, progression and accomplishments of the rest of me. She got left behind somehow and she is so vulnerable.

It turns out my task this year in the 30 days of yoga is to discover and tend to that aspect. This has not a thing to do with whether I will ever have the strength and form to do a good chaturanga to up-dog. I mean, I might if I keep it up but that’s not really the point. Oh, Yoga, WTF? Why you gotta be so. . . .real?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Lots more to learn still.

Midsummer scene of a Willow tree by a river representing my longing for flexible strength
A very willowy Willow
yoga

Yoga on my Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

How has your yoga been going?

fitness · yoga

September is for Yoga: Day 6 Check-in

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

I suspect that feeling stems from two things:

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

I have been maintaining that structure in two ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shout-out to the September is for Yoga Group

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

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

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

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

fitness

September, Yoga, and Planning

The upheaval of September always makes it hard to take good care of myself. 

This year it’s going to be especially tricky.

Not only am I getting back into my usual routine but I have one son starting high school and another starting university (so many new things to figure out!) I am in charge of an annual arts festival, I have a couple of writing contracts and I am preparing to teach an online course.

All of those things are marvellous but I know there is a great risk of me losing myself in the shuffle. So,  I have been brainstorming ways to ensure that I can find time for my own well-being in the middle of the muddle.

Luckily, my dear friend Tracy came to the rescue this week – and she did it by accident!

In her good-bye post this week, amidst her lovely comments about me (<3 Tracy)  she noted that I love a short-term challenge and that set me on the right path for a September plan!

It’s true, I do love a short term challenge – a set of activities and plans already in place for a week, ten days, a month, gives me a real feeling of contentment. Whether it is a fitness challenge, a writing challenge, or an art challenge, (hell, I have even done a house-organizing challenge) I find a real sense of purpose and satisfaction. 

 I don’t complete every single short-term challenge that I take on but I ALWAYS make progress (on my own terms) and that feels great.

I think that my enjoyment stems from the fact that the nature of a short-term challenge is really satisfying for my ADHD brain because:

  1.  I can see the end right from the starting line so it doesn’t bring up that feeling of  ‘Ugh, I have to do this forever and I don’t even want to start.’
  2. For a WHOLE MONTH, I am free from the agony of prioritizing in that one area of my life. Having my priorities clear in one area frees up some energy for prioritizing in others. 
  3. I have a pre-generated plan so I don’t have to make a daily decision about what activities to do to match the priorities in that area.
  4. If I’m following someone else’s challenge, I usually have company (at least online) and some accountability.

So, oddly enough, with the impending chaos of September, I feel really happy and excited about adding one more thing to the maelstrom. 

I’m going to challenge myself to do yoga every single day in September. 

My plan is to do yoga for at least 7 minutes* every day as early as I possibly can** in my morning routine

I think this will make a good September challenge because I like getting up early, I like having a specific thing to do right away in the morning (a victory before my day really starts!)  and I really love yoga and how yoga makes me feel.

A middle aged white woman with shoulder-length light brown hair, wearing a purple tank top, smirks at the camera, behind her is a green wall, a beige couch and an endtable with knickknacks on it, there is a light brown dog asleep on the couch,  The woman's right hand is extended back away from the camera, in the position for Warrior II in yoga.
Khalee sleepily supervises my attempt at taking a selfie while doing Warrior II. By the way, even though you can’t read my shirt, I thought you should know that it says ‘Maybe Swearing Would Help’ 🙂

And, I am going to use this challenge to help me work on a challenge I face due to my ADHD. 

One of executive function issues is with task initiation. I have trouble getting started, no matter how much I *want* to do the thing I have planned. 

Since I love yoga and I love a short-term challenge, I really WANT to do them so it removes some of the issues with task initiation. I’m going to experiment with a variety of factors and see what approach makes it easiest for me to do what I am setting out to do here. 

For example: Will setting my yoga mat out in the morning make it easier for me to get started? If I use music during my practice, will starting the music cue me to be in the right mental space for yoga? Do I need to set a reminder on my phone or put a visual reminder downstairs? 

I haven’t decided on the parameters of the task initiation experiment aspect of this but I have a whole week to figure that out!

Would you like to join me and challenge yourself to some yoga in September? You don’t have to decide to take it on for a whole month, you can join me for part of it. And your parameters don’t have to be exactly the same as mine. Let me know in the comments and we can figure out how to check in with one another.

Please wish me perseverance and watch for my follow-up posts in September! 

.

*If this seems familiar, it’s because I have done it before!

**I would say ‘first thing’ but my dog will have other plans so I don’t want to set myself up for disaster.

yoga

Sorry Dr. Seuss…

I will not will not with a snake, not with a joint, I won’t get baked.

I cannot cannot with a beer, just get that bottle out of here, not with a snake, not with goat, I can’t in the car but could on a boat.

It’s Yoga, you, I thank the sun. It’s Yoga, that’s it I’m done.

No, not even with you, cutie-pie

Inspired, in part, bythis story about snake yoga.

fitness

2019: Bring it on

Image description: head shot of Tracy, blue running cap covered with a paisley Buff, smiling, wearing earbuds, road and trees and overcast sky in background.

It’s a little bit late for a happy new year post but: Happy New Year. I am not one for resolutions, but I do absolutely love the exhilarating feeling of a fresh page. And that’s what the first week of a new year always feels like to me.

Even more than the first week after a birthday, there is a special sense of hope and optimism that I only experience once a year at the very beginning. So I’m kind of in that state of receptivity at the moment, excited to discover what the year may bring.

I ushered in the new year on a peaceful note, on my mat in a dimly lit yin yoga class that started at 11 p.m. and ended shortly after midnight when the thunderous sounds of “happy new year” fire works filtered into the silence of the studio to mark the end of class, the end of 2018, and the beginning of our new blank page. My good friend, Tara, was on the mat beside me, and we tilted our gazes towards each other and mouthed the words “happy new year.” Other friends–Jan, Jenn, and Kyle–had chosen a similarly quiet transition into 2019. It felt perfect.

By the time Tara, Jan and I ventured out into the night, the rain, which had been coming down with fury when we got to the studio just after ten, had stalled to a very light drizzle. It was an unseasonably mild evening and we walked back to Tara’s feeling light and happy, passing a few revelers on the way.

The next morning I lay in my bed deliberating whether to turn back over and go to sleep again, or to get out the door for a training run. Thinking on my fresh page, I reasoned that it would be better to start it with follow-through than with skipping. I’m a big believer in establishing good habits, and even though technically there is nothing dramatically different about January 1st, symbolically it sets a tone.

I reviewed my scheduled workout from the plan Linda sent me (I’m working with her again for my Around the Bay 30K training), checked the weather (a temperate 1 degree C), and got myself organized for an 8K run with hill repeats.

About ten steps into my run I knew for absolute certain that I’d made the right choice. I felt light, strong, and relaxed. I told myself I could shorten the distance if I wanted, but the 8K rolled out with ease. Even the hill repeats, which are never simple and which I’ve not done in ages, felt good. With just over a kilometre to go, my friend Pete, whom I’ve never run with, caught up to me at the tail end of his run. We ran alongside each other for about a kilometre and caught up about our respective new year’s eves. It felt like a nice bonus to have some unexpected, easy companionship for that last bit.

It was, all in all, the perfect start to my new year. I’m doing the 219 workouts in 2019 thing this year, focusing on running, yoga, and weight training. So far, I ran on the 1st, went to yoga on the 2nd, and have a weight training session later today. I’m feeling good about Around the Bay.

Life is not all workouts, of course. But if the workouts are any indication of how 2019 is going to feel, then “bring it on,” I say, because so far I’ve felt strong, relaxed, energized, and self-nurturing.

May 2019 be a year of amazing discovery and adventure for all of us!

How are you feeling about the fresh page that has presented itself this week?

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.

IMG_2449

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.