This time last year, I wrote a piece (this piece) for my school’s Mental Health Blog. It was some thoughts about autumn. About change. Transitions. It is September again, which, as Gretchen Rubin says, is “the other January” and I want to share it with you now, here. Thank you for reading.
Autumn is a season of transition. Change. Slowly, the trees are shedding emerald garb in favour of majestic reds, browns and orange. Temperatures are declining, and the first sting of frost becomes apparent as the sun drops away behind the mountains each night. Here, at UVic, we too are in a period of transition. Moving from our summer jobs or travelling into the busy and often overwhelming rhythm of classes, library study sessions, and late night plans with friends. Perhaps we are returning to school after a summer away; perhaps this is our first time away from home, our opportunity to assert our independence, to choose what we’ll have for dinner, choose “who we want to be.” Possibly this month marks our first time living off campus: cooking our own meals, managing the commute, navigating roommates and chore schedules. For many of us, we are arriving in a brand new city: unfamiliar surroundings, school, people.
Change is challenge. Even for those who embrace it, who exclaim “I love change!” it takes a certain elasticity of mind and emotion to flow gracefully from one way of being into another. Unconsciously, we all have ways of coping with change, keeping our heads above the water, as the tide tugs us in a new direction. This might involve trying to take as much of our past with us as possible: struggling to maintain the same habits we’re used to. Morning runs. Friday night parties. Honey Nut Cheeri-Os. Finding friends that remind of us people we know. Sometimes, we see ourselves developing new habits: a new gym routine, Netflix binges, late night munchies, a vigorous commitment to our studies.
This isn’t easy. Even if we are not consciously aware of the discomfort, as we are thrown from one reality into another, there is a long period of adaptation. We might notice a shift in the quality of our sleep, find ourselves sporting a shorter fuse, or a lower threshold for stress. Importantly, we aren’t alone. We are human. This is life. Some of the ways I am managing my own transition this month (moving to a new city, starting a graduate program after a year away from school, living without roommates for the first time) is by establishing nurturing routines. Yoga in the mornings. Finding something each day to be grateful for and writing it down. Making plans with acquaintances, testing them out, but practicing being my honest self even if it means we don’t perfectly “click” (because I know that someone will). Cooking food that nourishes me. Scheduling phone dates with family. Exploring the city and in particular, the nature surrounding it. Mount Doug near campus is a beautiful park to explore, or we can venture further, for some puppy therapy at Beacon Hill Park, or to Fisherman’s Wharf to enjoy seals and colourful houseboats.
On my fridge I have posted a weekly calendar, dry-erase. This is my “self-care calendar” and each day I schedule something just for me: a yoga class, a hot bath, a massage, painting my nails, reading a novel. Often, when things get hectic, self-care practices are the first to go, because they seem “less important” than that lab due, that midterm next week, our workout…But this just isn’t true. How far will any car go if we neglect to fuel the tank? By writing out plans for ourselves, it becomes easier to prioritize fitting in 10, 20, even 60 minutes into our day to refuel. On the topic of “refueling,” I’m also committing to getting enough sleep, 7-8 hours every night. This is a major game changer…and coming from a girl who, in the last year of my undergrad, put sleep at the very bottom of my list, after school, gym, friends, bars and Netflix (Suits anyone? Sherlock)?! Right now, I am rising by 6 am each day, which I know means being in bed no later than 11. And time and time again, I am noticing that I am not feeling regretful for leaving the bar a tiny bit early. The more tired I am, the more stressed my body and mind are, leaving less room for patience, for embracing fun and social pursuits and for the things I just love to do.
Acknowledge the changes happening this month in your life. Recognize that it isn’t easy—for any of us. Choose self-love and nourishment. Because you are worth it. Now, grab a glass of fresh water, local “kombucha-on-tap,” ginger tea, or a pint of craft brew …and make a toast: to you. To your best health. To a precious and exciting, life-long relationship with your mind, body and the possibilities of change.
This is a concept that I have been conciously grappling with for the past few months. Or, not grappling with per se (it makes perfect sense, on paper)! but really struggling to remember, and to adhere to, at my core.
Stressed. Anxious. Worried. How many of us are all too familiar with these sensations? I sure am. The past few months have been full of stress over my thesis, my future direction, concerns re: family and friends, anxiety surrounding my health and body… This past June I had my first conference as a Master student and I had such worry over returning to Vancouver for it, nearly 2 years to the day since I had moved away (more on that in a minute).
…I can get wrapped up in my worries and carried away. I can wind up so far down some twisty road that it is all I can do to find my way back. You know when Harry Potter tries to get to Diagon Alley but ends up in a cupboard in Knockturn Alley — a noxious, stale, depraved place? It feels something like that. Alone, disoriented and stuck in a small, dark space.
This is where the question of fear vs. fact has really started to help me (that is, when I can manage to think logically and detach myself from the overwhelm of feeling). Is this a fear of mine, or an actual fact? Do I have proof? Recognizing when a worry or stressor stems from fear, suspicion or assumption, rather than clear fact can be a useful tool in easing my mind and finding my way out of that vanishing cabinet in Borgin and Burkes.
For example: I was nervous about that trip to Vancouver because when I was last there, I was incredibly unhappy (although not self-aware enough to realize it until I moved back home and was met by unanimous shock and concern). I used obsessive exercise to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings of pain. I was living with a roommate, previously a best friend, who had seemingly –bafflingly– grown to hate me. I left, thinking no one would miss me–so why stay? In the two years since that time, so much has changed–including about a decade of overdue self-reflection and healing. Still, I was afraid. I feared that I would somehow be transported back in time and find myself vulnerable, insecure and miserable once again.
Fact or fear? Fact: I was unhappy the last time I was in Vancouver. Fact: I believed my friends no longer liked me — or feared they tolerated me, but liked me less than our other friends. Fact: I was living in Vancouver, finishing a degree, experiencing confusing, difficult relationship choices. …Fact: That is not this. Then is not now. Fact: I have evolved from the person/state I once was.
In essence, none of my fears were founded in any sort of fact or truth…they were just fears (“just”). And when I did find myself in Vancouver again, nervous but determined…I was wonderfully surprised by how pleasant it was to be back after so long. I had left on a bad note, but there had also been highs during my four years there. Good memories, previously clouded by a bitter taste in my mouth, slowly found their way back into my mind. Above all, I was gratified by the old friends who went out of their way to see me…because guess what? My fear that they didn’t like me? It was a fear. No one had told me “I don’t like you.” (Okay, that one roommate, but it was fear that let that single relationship poison my view of my other friendships, and of myself).
Now, on a near weekly basis, I am beginning to uncover fears I have treated as fact. For the past 18 months I have been haunted, over and over, by a fear that people dear to me no longer wish to spend time with me–or more accurately, dislike my company because they did (and perhaps continue to) view me as mentally and physically ill. Which I was. About 18 months ago. Yet even as I made huge strides in my health in the time since then, I persisted in imagining myself through others’ eyes — close friends, ex-lovers, even family (my biggest supporters) — and seeing only sickness. Anytime anyone would fail to answer a text or a call, or be unavailable to see me, this story became more and more cemented. Honestly, I cannot count the number of times or people with which this fear reared its ugly head. Yet I had no proof. I never once asked anyone if it were true. Slowly, now I am learning finally to see these stories for what many of them are: fiction. Or to use another Harry Potter reference: a bogart, pretending to be a dementor.
A pretty smart friend (okay, my therapist)! once told me that if I can change something, then change it, and stop worrying about it. And if I can’t? Well, worrying won’t help. My fact vs. fear analysis is something like that. So often now I am finding that the source of my stress or perceived unhappiness is not fact-based at all — and that realization helps free, however slightly, me from the tight grasp of those harmful emotions. Only this week, my Mother reminded me of a Chinese fortune cookie “fortune” I received three times as a child (which is about as many times as we ate Chinese food, since we rarely ever ate out or ordered in): Never trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you. Perhaps the “fates” were trying to warn me away from becoming the ball of stress that I ultimately did become. Today though, I will continue to question: fact vs. fear? I cannot so easily stop the worry or the instinctual emotions (aka this habit of “troubling trouble” of mine), but I can address and alter my thoughts. I can recognize that there is no proof that two weeks away from my yoga studio will render me too inflexible to perform kapotasana….and I can subsequently choose, deliberately, to let that worry go. (Spoiler: I tested this one and my kapotasana might actually have improved from the rest! Funny how life turns out sometimes).
Fear: Cho Chang will say no if you ask her to the Yule Ball. Fact: You have no idea. And if you’d only asked before Cedric…who knows?
Fact or fear. What fears are you feeding yourself, disguised as fact?
My ashtanga yoga practice has always (okay, for the past year that it has been a part of my life) been a curious mix of meditation, peace, fear, love, motivation, determination, competition, desire..and I’m sure a long list of other emotions. I am competitive by nature and I instantly loved the way that one can “unlock” new postures, even new series, with time, with patience and with effort. From the beginning, I have felt internally driven to improve such that I can progress within each series. Well…maybe progressing wasn’t always my goal. Once I was practicing full primary, I had the sense that I would be there many months and so the real fire in me became one to improve my hip mobility (oh, supta kurmasana…how you taunt me) and to master my standing drop-backs. Always though, I have been striving for “better.”
When I began to practice Second Series however, months before I ever expected to, I saw amazing postures ahead of me that I could not wait to learn — could not wait to be “gifted” by my teacher. I viewed each added posture as a reward for my hard work and persistence, a “gold star” to tell me how “good” I am. (I am realizing that, like Gretchen Rubin, I too am a bit of a “gold star junkie”). Then, this past January, two new yogis joined my studio, both at a similar place in their practice as I…and suddenly I had this secret race in my head, a burning to not let them get ahead of me. We were all working on kapotasana and I knew I had to master it first. I had to. Oh the ego…it really, really does not have any place in Yoga. But darn it, I said this was my yoga practice, not yoga “perfect!”
I began to grow nervous each morning as I neared kapotasana in my practice — it was so uncomfortable and my shoulders screamed as I tried to work them into position. I would spend many breaths at the wall, stretching them preparation. I had imposed an imaginary time limit on myself — I had to get this. Fast.
Eventually, I did. One day, my Teacher was able to move my hands so that I was clasping my heels…and the next, she had me try on my own and I succeeded. I was over the moon…but full of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do it again.
I did, however. I did, and I was taught supta vajrasana. I felt rewarded and…relieved. I had a slight breather now, a bit more space between myself and my fellow two yogis. (If you practice Ashtanga and you are reading this…you will think me ridiculous! How “un-yogi!” How absurd! I know my Teacher Frederique will likely read this. But it is what it is).
The fourth day though…I could not grasp my heels. Nor for the next week after that. I was told that kapotasana will come and go…but I wanted to should that I had only just achieved it! I felt a fraud for practicing supta vajrasana, and especially bakasana. I didn’t deserve these postures if I could not do kapotasana.
The dread before kapotasana grew stronger than ever. I spent longer and longer preparing for my backbend and experienced real fear each time I entered into the pose. I ignored the fact that I was experiencing shoulder pain with every chaturanga….and soon, in every down-dog as well. One morning I could not lift my arms to shoulder height in warrior II without a sharp, stabbing pain.
Finally, I was forced to wake up to what I had been doing to my body. I had blatantly ignored its shouts and pleas, so intent on feeding my ego, with “beating” this lovely yogi couple whom I honestly liked. Intent on competition. I had tendonitis in both shoulders and was forced to modify my practice. With no other option, I began stepping rather than jumping back into nearly every one of the dozens of chaturangas and I stopped catching ankles in my assisted backbends.
…I can now grab my heels in kapotasana nearly every practice. But I still experience that anxiety — that dread, not of the discomfort I still experience in the posture, but of “failing,” of being found un-worthy of it and of where I am in Second Series. I fear discovering that I am an imposter, who progressed too far, too quickly. And perhaps I did — perhaps I needed to go slow, to learn patience and humility. Weeks later, I still rarely jump back and land in chaturanga — my shoulders are still healing and any one thing might cause a flare of pain and inflammation. Only twice have I caught my ankles in my standing backbend in the past month.
I am still learning the Lesson of Kapotasana — in this and in all areas of my life. But it has been a powerful message in patience and humility and one I cannot ignore. It has forced me to remember why I practice yoga — if I knew I would never learn another posture, would I stop? It has forced me re-connect my brain to my body, to both listen to and nurture my body. It has reminded me to leave my ego at the door and to keep my eyes on my own mat (or more accurately, my drishti). It has taught me…that often in life, you have to go slow to go fast. Build a foundation. Learn patience and consistency.
I know that I will continue to grapple with my ego, my desire to prove myself, to earn “gold stars” from myself and others. I hope, however, that this lesson will serve to give me pause — in my crossfit training, in my Master program, in my overall life’s journey. It is a lesson I have been trying unsuccessfully to apply in my internal battle regarding quitting my program. It is a lesson of letting go. It is a lesson of learning to accept myself as I am, where I am, regardless of the contests I may win or lose, participate in or abstain from. It is a big lesson. It is one that I am tackling slowly, day by day.
Quitting. The very word makes me physically uncomfortable — in fact, I am nervous just thinking it, as if the contemplation alone could send me down a path of…quitting? …Needless to say, I do not identify well with the concept of “quitting” and have long equated it with “failure” and “not being good enough” (two of my biggest fears).
Recently however, I have been wrestling with the notion of courageous quitting. Is it possible that quitting something could be the brave, bold choice? Are there times where sticking with a thing that makes you unhappy becomes the cowardly choice — one you take to avoid that feeling of self-judgement, in fear of letting down yours (or others’) expectations?
Part of my identity has long been the “good student:” good grades (ideally, the best grades), hard working, self-motivated, timely… I left high school confident I could go to any university and any program. Some of that ego was shattered that first year (okay, a lot of it) but my grades were high for the remainder of my degree, and once again, I felt confident that when I was ready to apply, I could study with any (geography) professor I chose.
Well, here I am. 1 year into my Master of Science degree. My coursework is finished and I find myself staring down a long, long, unending road…my thesis.
I am going to confess something. My thesis does not excite me. Our professors have drilled into us that we need to love our projects…our degree requires we pour hours, months, even years into this research with little distraction. The very notion makes me…dizzy. Ill. Miserable?
I don’t think I want to pursue geography/hydrology anymore. I don’t intend to segue into my PhD in geography, nor does the idea of working in government, researching these topics appeal. Don’t get me wrong — there is still something thrilling about research and science…but some spark has gone out of this work for me. Perhaps if my thesis were different…yet I find myself unwilling to entertain the possibility of changing topics and starting from scratch, when my overarching feeling is that…I don’t really want this degree anymore.
Well, okay, I do want it — sort of. I want to have my Master, just to have it. I want it because I literally always expected I would get it (it was only the PhD that was up in the air). My parents both have, at minimum, a Master degree, as do both of my siblings (at minimum). I’m smart. I do well at school — isn’t this my calling? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe I am in the wrong field.
I also want it as a safety net — a wild card of sorts, that might open doors to opportunities yet unknown. I desperately want to find the ability to power through and earn this degree…except that would entail a year or more of me and this thesis, every…single…day.
And I find myself very unhappy. I find myself, for maybe the first time…unable to self-motivate. To set deadlines. To sit down and do the work.
I find myself…waiting. Waiting to be happy. Waiting to live my life. Last year I was waiting to move to Victoria, to go back to school, to regain weight and become healthy and womanly again…And now, I am waiting for my thesis to end (assuming I can bring myself to start). “Just one more year” until…I can do what I want? Until I finally feel fulfilled?
Honestly, I don’t think quitting my thesis will make that feeling magically go away. But perhaps it will free me from some unhappiness — push me to find what really does light me up. Nutrition and nutritional therapy? Yoga and yoga therapy? I won’t know until I try.
So, my question — is quitting my Master cowardly or courageous? Is it me giving up in the face of hardship, me starting a dangerous spiral of never seeing anything through? Or, is it the brave course of action: choosing uncertainty, insecurity for a chance at happiness. Risking discomfort, regret, self-criticism. Giving up my current income as a graduate student.
Currently, I have no idea. I do know that I am done passively making my way through each day. I know that I do need to make a choice. One way, or another.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Today I overheard a child rattle this off in the grocery store and it struck a chord. I am curious — is it just an empty little limerick we parrot mindlessly? Or do we believe it? Or, maybe, do we say it as a mantra, willing it to be true?
In my experience, words hurt. I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones, although I have experienced a serious sprain, stress fractures, and other physical injuries. These experiences were challenging in how they impacted the way I conduct my daily life — for example, I developed the stress fractures when I was running 7 days a week…and obviously, they forced me to stop running for a time, to heal. Mentally giving up that daily habit (and admittedly, addiction) was hard — a lot harder than the actual pain.
But I rarely dwell or even think about that time. It was a short, acute “blip” in my life. The injury healed, the pain receded and I was able to continue running. Although it was only 2 years ago last month, when I started writing this post just now, I had completely forgotten about it. I wrote “I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones” and fully intended to add a period, and move on with my point. Well, my point is this — these injuries do cause physical pain..for a defined period of time (I won’t be getting into chronic injuries and pain today because that is a whole different can of worms, with chronic effects on our psyche and mental state). They happen, and then they pass and we can move on.
I have never forgotten the time that I was 19, getting ready to attend a wedding. I was wearing a dress I loved, and feeling beautiful — and made an off-hand comment about how maybe one day I’d wear my Nana’s wedding dress for my wedding, as my Mom had. The person to whom I’d spoken replied that it was likely too small for me.
I was blindsided. I didn’t see myself as large — and I’d never felt large in comparison to my Mom’s body type (albeit, a couple inches taller…actually, woah. Maybe that is what was meant. My Nana is even shorter than my Mom. Maybe I have completely misunderstood all these years. But regardless–). Those words hurt. I have not forgotten them. I internalized them. I felt large and awkward, and imperfect. I felt…like I was doing something wrong, to be bigger than supposedly my Nana had been, to be clearly so off-the mark from what was “ideal.” I felt like I was wrong.
“Words leave scars.”
Let me just say that I don’t blame anyone for this casual comment — we are all a product of our generation and of society, and we say things unthinkingly. I think too that we also believe some things unthinkingly (such as the notion that a 24-inch waist is “how a woman should be).” I once sat at a table with someone very dear to me — it was an antique with edges that came down very, very low such that I could not comfortably cross my legs under it. This person matter-of-factly told me that it was because of my big thighs, which were so much larger than his (he could cross). Just as with that wedding exchange, there was (and I know this for certain in my heart) no intent to harm. However, even those who love us, and with no malicious agenda, have the power to cause pain with a simple statement. I filed that moment away as a part of my identity, added it to my slowly growing fodder of self-dislike, and never forgot it.
I take issue with the “Sticks and stones” rhyme, not only because it is inherently untrue but because there is a connotation that words should not hurt us. That if they do, we are “too sensitive” (something I have been hearing my entire life), too weak. If words hurt us, we are doing something wrong andare to blame. In all honesty, since my first real exposure to sarcastic (and often vicious) humour in the 7th grade, developing an immunity to the power of words has been a necessary mechanism of survival — something I have managed, generally, to create the appearance of. Inside however, words have always pierced me. In society, it is a failing to react to something that is said to us…and so, if we are shamed by a comment, we then experience further shame for not being “strong” enough to be unaffected. I know firsthand the destructive effects that this cycle can have over the years.
I think it is time to put that tired, old adage to bed — and with that, to reclaim our sensitivity. “Sensitive” is not a dirty word. To feel emotions of any kind is not weakness. In fact, it is my believe that to allow ourselves to experience hurt and sadness is an act of courage. These sensations are not easy and the safer course often appears to be the one in which we build walls to shut them out, or to run away. It takes guts and practice to let discomfort in, to accept that as humans we are meant to feel. As humans, we are highly affected by the information and the world around us.
Hi. My name is Haven and I am vulnerable. I am sensitive.
My name is Haven, and I am human.
I’d like to propose that we all perform a mini self-experiment. First ask — what words have stuck with you throughout your life? Perhaps it was a comment about your body/appearance, as with my two examples. Perhaps, when you were about to get on a stage to claim an award for the highest overall average in your grade for the second year in a row, your Physics teacher told you that you were clearly in the wrong spot…and you felt shame, and embarrassment. Perhaps, although you joke about it now, you have never quite let go of how it made you feel, and every time since that you did not perform to your highest academic standards (hello 1st year University)!, those words taunted you: “he was right about you.”
Recognize these experiences. Start to unravel the impact that they have had in your life. Understand that we are all right there with you. Accept: words leave scars.
My second experiment is to be more thoughtful with our language. Very few of the life-altering and hurtful comments I have held onto in my life were anything more than an offhand remark. “You have little gremlin hands” (yes I spent years ashamed of my hands. Hands)! “He’s so cool…Wait, you’re his sister? You don’t seem anything like him…” (My brother was kind of a big deal in high school. At the time, 6 years younger, I was apparently not). Practice pausing, even just a moment longer than usual, to make sure that you do want to say what you are about to say. We have all felt the effects of words — so let us begin to be mindful in not perpetuating their damage in others. Let’s practice making the choice not to set the foundation for our peers and loved ones to construct destructive stories about themselves.
Sticks and stones can break my bones…but words? Words have done so, so much worse than that.
Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me.
With the 2017 Crossfit Open well in our rearview, and Regionals just days away, I haven (embarrassing typo haha)! been feeling an itch to write about my first Open experience — which I did about as fresh to Crossfit as a girl can be.
First though, I’m going to skip right to the punchline: The Crossfit Open really IS for everyone. Everyone and anyone.
Now that that is out of the way, let me share a bit about my experience–with the Open and with just getting started with Crossfit. And, hopefully, I will also convince you of my point here!
I walked into my first crossfit box over the Christmas holidays (December 2016) when I was home visiting family for a couple of weeks. It was a free introductory, drop-in session where we got the “low-down” on what Crossfit was, practiced deadlifting a PVC pipe, received some rowing tips and hammered out some box jumps. Not the insane, knock-you-off-your-feet, make-you-think-you’re-about-to-die first taste of Crossfit that so many people rave about and what really hooks in these tough-as-nails athletes. It didn’t really matter though — crossfit had been on my radar for awhile (shout-out to my two badass, strong step-sisters right now) and after becoming obsessed with the Girls Gone WOD Podcast last fall, I was pretty damn committed to trying out the sport…And I couldn’t wait another day. (Which I suppose is why I did that drop-in intro. class in my hometown instead of waiting until I was back here on the beautiful coast)!
Fast-forward a couple of weeks to early January 2016. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (per se) I showed up at Crossfit Zone, the nearest affiliate to where I live for my first 1-on-1 session with my soon-to-be coach, Garrett. The Zone is pretty damn awesome in how they structure their on-ramp program — 12 individual sessions with a coach that becomes your coach for the remainder of your crossfit career (at least at that box). The sessions can be tweaked and tailored based on the athlete’s needs and “starting place,” and more sessions added as needed. As a stereotypically poor graduate student the cost of these sessions was a bit daunting, but Garrett managed to cram all that training into fewer sessions for me — although I had never laid a finger on a barbell before and kept forgetting what a snatch vs. a thruster vs. a clean vs. a power clean (lol) was, I had pretty decent mobility from my last year of practicing yoga, could do a pistol and a strict pull-up, and, if I say myself, had a pretty good starting level of fitness overall. (Okay mini self-plug: I had been training my pull-ups all fall and I actually got my first one (2! linked)! in that first session with Garrett. It’s pretty darn cool what a coach’s encouragement can do)!
And so, after completing my “Fight Gone Bad” (scaled) initiation workout, I entered “real classes” at the start of February (February 6th — my birthday, as a matter of fact)! All I remember about that first workout was that it had a ton of thrusters…which, as my weights have increased, I have recently developed a keen dislike for (we all have that one thing)!
Crossfit was 983924839883838x better than I ever imagined. Better than even Joy and Claire of the aforesaid podcast made it out to be (and they love it so much they’ve recorded over 200 weeks of episodes on the topic)! …How can I describe it?
How about…a mix of team sports (I played rep volleyball all through my teens) and elementary (maaaybe high) school gym class? Hm, that doesn’t quite right. But picture: FUN. So much damn fun. Crossfit is social (at least at the Zone). Everyone shows up for the class and chats and joke around while we warm up. Each class is a mixture of mobility, skill-work, strength-work and a conditioning “WOD” (Workout of the Day)…and everyone supports everyone else. We cheer each other other on. That tantalizing phrase circulating the internet — “Crossfit community” — that’s a real thing, guys. Now, doesn’t that sound better than an hour sweating it out alone on a treadmill watching a poker tournament on a mini television? Way better than doing the abductor machine in a dark corner of a Globo gym? It’s friendly, it’s competitive, everyone is doing the same work, you incorporate fun new skills and gymnastics, you bond over the same brutal WOD…
Anyway – wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the Open or something?
The Crossfit Open 2017…
As a keen observer may have noticed, I started joining in on “regular” crossfit classes (vs. my 1-on-1 teaching sessions) and doing actual WODs (albeit, quite modified) February 6th…and the first Open workout, 17.1, went live February 23rd… So I was pretty damn spankin’ new. I hadn’t been taught how to kip, along with a slew of other movements, and half my lifts I’d only performed once, with an empty bar, the day I learned them. I had no 1 rep maxes. I was in no way, shape or form prepared or “qualified” to compete in the Open.
Except I was.
Having heard so much about the Open, I was keen to try out the workouts if our gym was programming them into our regular Friday classes — but I had no intentions to sign up to join in on our gym’s “Friday Night Lights” Friday night Open workout jams. Definitely, no desire to be placed on an intramural team within our gym and have my poor team members weighed down by my total lack of skill!
Yet somehow that is exactly what happened. (Except the weighing down part — no one gives a hoot about that sort of garbage)! Simply, someone asked me if I was signing up (“Me?!” I asked in disbelief. “I’m so new!”)…and then over the next few classes they persisted in encouraging me to do it. Others joined in. I appealed to our coaches, presuming they would tell me to stay far away, and “how about next year, Grasshopper.” They didn’t. The seed was planted…and I realized that I wanted to do it. All that held me back was the worry that I’d look like a total idiot — something that has often held me back. But not this time. Crossfit is one area of my life that I give myself zero leeway for not giving it my 150%, regardless of “what others might think.”
It’s Friday night. I show up, rather nervous to the gym. No one from my 9:30 AM WODs is doing the Open and I know no one. The workout is: dumbbell snatches and burpee-box-jump-overs. A whole spankin’ lot of them, to be scientific (can you tell I’m avoiding expletives)? I am picturing doing a burpee and then having to jump all the way over a box and land on the other side. I am picturing myself standing there, clearly unable to perform a single rep.
Well, the short story is, I had a blast. I am a self-proclaimed Burpee Queen (I could do those bad boys all day), and I only had to jump ONTO the box, and then step off the other side. No problem. The scaled dumbbell weights were also appropriate for me–perfect. I finished well within time and felt…pretty good. Almost…cocky. Oh, Haven. So naive. Also, equally if not more importantly — everyone was so damn nice and friendly. Score.
And so the next 4 weeks passed quickly, and after that first day, I began to look forward to my Friday nights. It wasn’t always pretty. For 17.2 I ground out all strict pull-ups having no real concept of what a kip was. Slowly. 1 at a time. I think I only got to 14 and didn’t finish a round. I’m sure I submitted the worst score for my gym on that workout. ..Minutes before 17.3 I had to be shown how to snatch–and then surprised myself by getting the 55# overhead, and even making it to the 65# round (where I did not get the bar overhead and had to concede). 17.4 was 16.4 and didn’t involve any tricky olympic lifts or pull-ups and I felt in my element again, as with 17.5. 17.5 was single skips for scaled (NOTE THAT I DID EVERY WORKOUT SCALED. I’m not some mythical superhero destined from birth to go to the games. Scaled, scaled and more scaled)! instead of double-unders and I had a blast with those as well. Really though, above all, it was an opportunity to delve more into “Crossfitland,” see a different side of the sport and to meet a ton of damn cool people. For me, I had no expectation to score high — but I learned a ton, did things I might otherwise not have tried for another 1, 2, 5 months, challenged myself and made a bunch of friends. The community in a crossfit gym can be pretty damn awesome, but if we all tend to go to the same classes each week, we might only get to know a small handful of people.
Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me.
I don’t think my experience with the Open is unique. The scaled options for each workout are extremely approachable to anyone and even if you do find a movement out of reach — do the workout, and make it your own! Modify. Approach the Open as a fun experience. An opportunity to have a blast and to challenge yourself. Forget the leaderboards if that isn’t your thing, and just enjoy being a part of this broader, global tribe.
Maybe that is part of why I love Crossfit — I feel connected to this bad-ass, infinite tribe of humans.
…Well, it should be. I look forward to Tuesdays every week because it is a day that a number of my favourite podcasts release new episodes! (Thursdays are also exciting). It is sometimes difficult to remember my life without podcasts. I’m not huge of TV or movies for entertainment anymore and I spend a lot of time walking or bussing places…and I’ve found that popping in my earbuds and hitting “play” on a podcast episode really helps to pass the time (and even has me looking forward to my commutes)! I’ve started listening while I cook dinner in the evening as well–a side effect of living alone! As a bonus, a lot of the shows I subscribe to are information-based which keeps me up-to-date and learning re: some of my favourite topics without adding to my screen and sitting time (I do enough of that for my Master thesis, believe me)!
Anyway, to celebrate today, and all “Podcast Tuesdays,” I’ve collected a few of my favourite podcasts to share with all of you–in no particular order. If you end up giving any of these a listen, let me know what you think!
These two women have kept it fresh for nearly 300 episodes, through weddings, babies, cross-country moves and multiple best-selling books. Diane and Liz answer 1000’s of listener questions within the holistic health and wellness paradigm (nutrition, gut health, skin care, fertility and everything else you might imagine), interview top experts and manage to crack me up every episode. A must listen for every gal (and maybe guy)!
I am as obsessed with Joy and Claire as they are with the movie Mean Girls. I started listening before I began training in Crossfit, and not only did their passion for the sport make it impossible for me to not want to try it out, but they are two real, honest and funny ladies. Episodes range from the serious and personal, to hilarious “would you rather’s.” These ladies also regularly interview crossfit big-shots and other top-names in the wellness or fitness industry. Crossfitter or no–check these women out!
Self-proclaimed “healthy deviants,” Dallas and Pilar shed light on the common disconnects between the modern human and ideal health and happiness. Topics range from sleep quality to food choices, from slowing down to human connection and loneliness, addiction, shame and everything else under the sun. Their perspectives are fresh and delivered in a unique and eloquent fashion, with just a touch vulnerability that encourages a sense of trust in the listener. Every episodes ends with a suggested experiment you can implement in your own life and I dare you to try them and not find some improvement in your day-to-day.
Down to earth, adorable and full of kick-ass knowledge. Noelle and Stef dish out a perfect blend of love and “real-talk,” and offer a beautiful perspective on all things “woman:” nutrition, hormones, fitness, fertility, skin-care, body-image and self-love. Tune in and try to figure out which inspiring woman you’d prefer to be stuck on a deserted island with–personally, I can’t choose!
Real life stories told by real life people. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Funny. Sweet. Each episode features a number of so-called “average” people sharing a short personal story in line with that day’s theme. I can always find a story for every mood and frequently share these episodes with my family (who aren’t necessarily as psyched as I am to beef up their knowledge about holistic health and nutrition)!
…Whether or not this podcast is paleo, it is so much more than that. In this show, Kristin and Everette share their unfiltered perspectives on all things food and fitness. Crossfit and Paleo feature largely as well as good-natured banter. A good laugh is almost always guaranteed.
Katy is a movement specialist and a book-writing machine. Listening to this show has totally opened my eyes to all the ways I do and do not move, to all of the ways I limit and affect my natural mobility and body structure, from shoes to chairs to starting at my laptop screen. Katy’s perspective is totally different from what the average person is taught from birth…and it feels so right. Download any episode and learn something revolutionary about how your body is meant to work — and as a bonus, learn a good stretch or two!
These ladies are the ultimate podcast sweethearts. Two besties, they dish on their own journeys in health and happiness, and strive to help other woman discover a nourishing approach to food and exercise, as well as cultivate a sense of self-love. From eating disorders to autoimmune disease, Meg and Shawn have a wealth of personal knowledge and a willingness to share new information as they continue to expand their own learning – even if their specific recommendations for diet or exercise might shift over time. After all, as humans and women we are always changing, as is the current science!
Raw, explicit, hilarious. Juli, from the popular blog PaleOMG, keeps it unapologetically real as she chats about her perspectives on food, travel, fitness, children, French Bulldogs and plastic surgery. Be prepared to laugh and maybe keep the littles ones out of the room!
This show has evolved since its first season, but remains as real and badass as ever. Steph Gaudreau is a strong, courageous and knowledgable woman who works to foster these traits within all women. Recent topics include her experience as a beekeeper, thoughts on self-love and acceptance and ditching the “hustle.” Both men and women would enjoy this podcast, and her charming, accented husband/cohost, Z.
Honourable Mentions — Podcasts I’ve Listened to in the Past/On Occassion:
“…Yoga taught me to be tender toward myself and to connect with, and cherish my body.Ashtanga taught me the rewards of persistence and consistency and to believe that with these tools, anything is possible.”
At the start of 2016 I was perusing Instagram (where I had previously only followed close friends and vice versa) and I stumbled across a series of yogis performing seemingly effortless handstands, the splits and better yet — handstands and the splits, all rolled into one. That, my brain said. I want that.
That very day I began to practice yoga — just in my bedroom, alone, a few minutes a night. Basic stretches, short flows streamed from the Yoga by Candace website or the Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel. I quickly learned that yoga was not the boring, lazy “fad” I had perceived it to be during my time at University…yoga was hard. I had not the strength to lift and jump back into chaturanga nor the balance to perform a simple headstand…and let’s not even talk about handstands! I also did not have the patience or the courage to lie still in savasana, with nothing but my breath to shield me from my roaming thoughts.
…I persevered. I followed a “yoga for strength” video series by Candace, every day for a month and I saw my crow pose (bakasana) evolve and strengthen. The changes and the improvements felt huge…and before I even realized it, I was hooked.
After that first month I decided it was time to start attending classes in order to receive the benefits of real live teachers. Usually notorious for indecision (born of a fear of making “the wrong choice”) I promptly bought a membership to a local hot and room-temperature “fusion-style” studio that offered vinyasa, power, yin, hatha, restorative and even a led hot Ashtanga class. I also participated in my first Instagram #yogachallenge…
In a nutshell, that is how my love affair with yoga first began. And oh, but how it has evolved.
At my studio I gained an appreciation for slow.Soft. A respect for the patience and the strength that is required for Yin yoga, for remaining in a posture for one, two, for five minutes. For allowing the emotions and sensations that arise to rise, for seeing them without making a story of them and then simply letting them pass. I learned about the meaning of “yoga,” the yoke between our mind and our physical body. How to nourish one, we must nourish the other. And for the first time, I gave consideration to the idea that perhaps my body was not my enemy to be conquered…but a friend, seeking love.
In practicing yoga I also began to work through my pervasive fear of failure and my drive to be “the best.” Each class would be filled with yogi’s of all levels, abilities, ages. Everyone modified based on their own needs. On occasion, I began to practice stepping back into chaturanga, challenging myself to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of “doing less”, even as the person next to me jumped back. “I can do that too!” I’d want to yell. But I forced myself to step back. My purpose was to challenge myself — to practice doing less than my best, to practice coping with being “less skilled” in my mind than the others around me. To learn to compare less. To learn to give myself grace.
…Meanwhile of course, on Instagram: #yogaeverydamnday. Although seeing these advanced, lithe yogis contort themselves into complicated postures may have initally skewed my perception of what it means to “be a yogi” (tip — you don’t have to be able to perform any particular posture), these accounts motivated me and expanded my repertoire of what was possible. At the studio, every class had to be catered to accommodate the fresh-to-yoga yogi, which eliminated a large variety of postures that required practice and persistence to perform. By following these challenges, in which I would post a photo of “that day’s” posture (or my best attempt at it) my knowledge of the asanas grew exponentially and I was encouraged to practice more, and different and more difficult poses…and by maintaining my “at-home practice” I was able to dedicate the necessary time to improving a given posture or to reaching a certain goal. And so my muscles grew and strengthened, my balance stabilized and I felt my enticing front splits come slowly, slowly within reach.
At this point (although I’ve rambled long enough, I’m sure) I’d like to introduce you to my dearest love: Ashtanga yoga.As I said, there was one teacher (my beloved, feisty, Star Wars-loving friend, Frederique) who was an Ashtangi and who taught a couple of led Primary or half-Primary Ashtanga classes a week. Something about the primary series, the postures (Aside: Ashtanga is a set series of postures that grows as you advance as a practitioner — it is also typically taught Mysore style (more on that here)) felt so incredibly right to me, that I soon never missed an Ashtanga class. I loved the memorization of the postures that came, how I could lose myself in my Teacher’s count and in my breath (5 inhales, 5 exhales) and quite nearly shut-off my ever-whirring brain. I loved the natural transition from the standing postures into the seated sequence, how a series of hip-openers gave way to cleansing twists, then to backbends and inversions. I loved the energy that built in the room as we sang the opening and closing chants. I loved (and still love) the repetition of the same postures every practice, how I was forced to remain humble as my body taught me how different it would choose to be and feel every day — for example, some days a previously “simple” pose would feel impossible. Yet even with the fickleness of the human body, I loved how clearly progress could be marked. When you practice the same postures day in and day out the changes that come are unmistakable.
…I’ve since transitioned to the traditional Mysore style of teaching, travelled to Ubud, Bali, the sometimes proclaimed “yoga capital of the world,” and moved cities where I now practice 6 mornings a week at an Ashtanga yoga shala. I have worked hard, backed off during injury, and achieved things I never thought possible. I can grab my heels unassisted in kapotasa. I can drop back into wheel pose from standing, and stand back up in a single breath. I can do the splits (front…don’t get me started on transverse)! Yoga taught me to be tender toward myself and to connect with, and cherish my body. Ashtanga taught me the rewards of persistence and consistency and to believe that with these tools, anything is possible.
I cannot sell yoga hard enough. Yoga is for everyone, whether it is yin or restorative, vinyasa, Bikram or Ashtanga. Hot power yoga to a Beyoncé soundtrack. Classical Iyengar (although I must here admit that I have never experienced this style, or Kundalini). Find a studio with teachers and a philosophy that vibe with you. Find a teacher that vibes with you. Unroll your mat at home with Candace or Adriene for free and just…get started. Roll out that spine and flex your wrists. Focus on breathing, on how it feels to fill your lungs and then slowly release the balloon of air. Maybe you are a hard-charging high-intensity athlete — well don’t kid yourself that yoga cannot be intense. I have seen professional athletes absolutely kicked after an Ashtanga practice. But more importantly, open your mind to the meditation in movement, in breath that is yoga. Give yourself that chance to tune into your body and your mind, to move in ways that feel good. Whatever it is you need or are missing–I believe that you can find it in a yoga practice. Just find the practice that is right for you.
Humans are inherently social beings. Even the most introverted amongst us craves some level of interaction and even physical touch. However, in my life, and I am beginning to find increasingly in others’ as well, relationships have been one of the most harrowing and challenging areas of life to navigate scratch-free.
Among many of us, there is a common desire to fit in. To be accepted, valued, included when, say, our peers make weekend plans. Sometimes, in our hunger for this, we might compromise some pieces of who we are in order to guarantee that we are “liked.” You like reggae? Oh cool, me too! Probably. Yeah, I hate beer—only wine for me too! Small things, but sometimes bigger things as well. Funny enough, this tactic, more often than not, winds up biting us in the butt.
My own story is very much that which I have described above. For as long as I can remember I have hungered for acceptance and friendships, simultaneously fearing judgement and dismissal. At some point in my life (high school? Before)? I began to automatically agree with others, even if in my heart I held a different opinion. My own values became less important than that someone—anyone—liked me. As a Type-A Perfectionist (recovering now, I hope)! I felt that I wasn’t good enough unless everyone appeared to consider me…what exactly? Good enough? The best?! …And I do mean everyone: friends, teachers, strangers, mean girls, even people with whom I had zero in common, and, had I paused to consider, quite probably did not even like. Who was I to be choosy about my friends? It was others who had the power (or so I felt) to like, or not like me. The possibility of the latter could easily keep me awake at night.
Fast-forward a couple decades to a meeting with my therapist. In this particular session, she fires off a real “stumper” at me: “Who are you? What do YOU like?”
Silence…More silence. “I don’t know,” I answer, feeling a shock as I recognize the truth of those words. Inside, a familiar voice whispers: “What do you WANT me to like?”
… (Does any of this sound familiar to you)?
All of those years of habitually sacrificing my own beliefs, opinions, preferences, wants in favour of others’, culminated, ultimately, in my losing myself. At 23 years of age, I was left without any sense of even which activities I truly liked to do…did I like running, or did I like how it made me look to others? Was I truly in love with hiking, or was I enamoured more with the epic photos it allowed me to post on Instagram and that I felt it made me seem “cool” and “adventurous?” When I think about this now, I am reminded of that scene in Runaway Bride where we discover that Julia Roberts’ character always eats her eggs in whichever style her boyfriend prefers: sunny-side-up, over-easy, poached. In my past, I would find myself listening to my boyfriends’ preferred genre of music. I would really get into it, claiming it as my own favourite. Probably, I claimed that it was from the get-go, in my quest to homogenize myself with others. (God forbid I stand out and risk standing out for “bad” reasons)!
…Enough about me. What can we do to reclaim our identities? How can we avoid perpetuating these mistakes, from entering into false friendship after false friendship? In my life, these relationships never provided the satisfaction I craved because they were not founded in truth – because even if I was “liked,” I was not permitting my honest self to be seen. Ultimately, this led me to feel constantly that I was not liked as well as others…and there I would go again, re-entering that cycle of “not good enough.” It is possible too that, at some level, our peers see through us – they sense that something, although we desperately do everything we can to be fun/nice/endearing/cool, is false.
What we can do is to make a self-promise: to commit wholeheartedly to being true to our authentic self. Ask yourself: What do I value? What do I want? In our past, in our desire to flee loneliness, we sought friendship of any quality, at any cost. Now, let’s do ourselves a favour, one that will save us from so much pain and confusion down the road: stop settling. We are worth more than that.
Acknowledge your fears. Ask: what am I afraid of? Being alone? Being found wanting? Stop everything. Right now. Pause…for just a minute. Remind yourself that you are enough. You are awesome. The relationship that we have with ourselves is the greatest and most critical. Do not disregard it. Be gentle with yourself. Recognize your worth, your gifts, your unique wonderfulness. And then hold out for friendships that nourish you, that encourage you to follow your values.
Lastly, recognize that this might entail a little bit of space, perhaps a lonely night or two as we sift through the masses for those that make us feel special and safe – those with whom we “click” when we are being our authentic selves. Remember that we are strong…and recall how lonely we have been our entire lives, even surrounded by these somehow unfulfilling friendships. This lull, this pause, as we find and form our supporting, nurturing tribe, might even be a wonderful gift: the perfect opportunity to fuel and nourish our relationship with ourselves. Nearly a year ago I began to practice yoga, to calm my mind and fill some empty hours – and it has become a true passion. In the evenings, I have a nightly journaling practice…and if there is something that I want to do, but no one to do it with? I grab a backpack and go anyway – be it exploring a local hike or farmers’ market, or trying out bouldering at a climbing gym or signing up for a community meet-up (acro-yoga in the park)?! Perhaps we can view this as a chance to practice self-love, self-forgiveness, self-patience…and a touch of grace. We are enough. We are precious—just as we are. And we deserve true friendship, true love and real happiness.