Week 26: Dancing on a Pole

This was, hands down, one of the best challenges of my year. So. Much. Fun.

I had planned on doing this challenge with a bunch of ladies from work, but planning an outing for six busy women proved a bigger challenge than I was up for. I ended up going with my friend Dominique, who was enthusiastic about the outing from the beginning.

We registered for a beginner pole dancing class at Brass Vixens in Toronto. Heels were optional, but we did not opt. I was a little nervous going into this – anything new and requiring a fair degree of confidence and booty makes me nervous. And it turned out that “beginner” doesn’t mean “first time ever”, so many of the other students had done classes before and seemed like pros to me.

The real pro, however, was the teacher. She had a real name, but I couldn’t remember it after she told us her stage name – Crystal Chandelier. I liked her. She walked in six inch heels better than I walk. Period. And she had fishnet stockings. And a lot of upper body strength. I really liked her.

Dominique and I picked poles in the back of the room, for obvious reasons. We wiped the poles down (DIY) and started the warm up. I immediately felt like I was all elbows and knees – my body just wouldn’t move the same way as Crystal’s. Her butt and hips seemed to move independently from the rest of her body. How does she do that? But it was a very positive environment. Everyone was trying something new and trying to be ultra sexy and confident, so it didn’t feel weird at all. It’s just like improv – it only looks awkward if you feel awkward about it.

We learned moves such as the body roll, the crawl (so much harder than what babies do), how to get up from the ground without falling over, two types of twirls around the pole, and how to pull yourself up the pole (pre-requisite for moves like sitting on the pole). It wasn’t the hardest I’ve worked in a class, but it was challenging.

I also understood why we had cleaned the poles at the beginning of class – my hands are really sweaty! We did one move where we would hold ourselves up on the pole (just hands, no feet on the floor), and I kept sliding down. Much like a sexy fireman.

The moves themselves were lots of fun, but what I enjoyed most was the atmosphere. It was a very sexy-positive vibe, and we were encouraged to try moving our bodies in ways we don’t usually (or I don’t usually, at least). Dominique and I spent most of the class giggling and attempting to emulate Miss Chandelier.

I am seriously considering a career change.

 

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Week 17: Fencing

Oh man, fencing is fun. It wasn’t originally on my list, but my friend, Liz, wanted to try it, and so I fenced.

There’s a place called My Fencing Club near St. Clair West and Bathurst that offers introductory adult fencing lessons on Saturday afternoons, which was super convenient for all parties.

The class had about 10 participants, and was led by Noah and Leesa (I’m not positive this is how she spelled her name, but she didn’t seem like a Lisa spelling). They seemed to be teenagers, but they also really knew their way around a sword. We learned about the three types of fencing swords/styles (foil, sabre, and épée), and got to hold the different styles of swords. The differences were negligible to my untrained eye.

After the history lesson, we were issued our weapons. After holding the real-deal swords, I was a little disappointed to receive a plastic foil sword to practice with. But I can also understand why we were given plastic – I definitely would have taken someone’s eye out with a metal sword, despite the dulled tip.

We learned how to stand, how to attack, how to defend, and the basics of how a fencing match works. As it turns out, it’s quite a bit harder than it looks (as most things are). There’s a lot of technique and stamina and skill in fencing – I mean, to win at fencing. Losing is significantly easier. It’s especially challenging when you’re trapped inside one of those fencing masks/helmets, which are super sweaty.

For example, to get a point you have to stab someone (obviously). But if you both stab each other at the same time, the point is awarded to whoever started their attack first (an attack is when you start straightening your sword arm). But if you attack first and your opponent parries (defends) and then attacks, they get the point. But this is negated if other things happen… full disclosure, this part got confusing. I will not be becoming a fencing judge in the near future. The point is, there’s a lot going on even though it looks like people are wildly stabbing each other for fun.

After practicing how to stab people (so much fun) by stabbing gloves and walls (so much fun), we did a few practice matches (so much fun). I wasn’t too bad. I found myself attacking quite a bit, and scoring a few (unofficial, but fun) points against my opponents. I can see this being a good activity for stress relief.

The one hour class was a surprisingly good workout and a good way to spend an hour on Saturday afternoon (especially because the walk home brought me past several delicious bakeries). I don’t know that I’ll be trying it again, but at least if someone challenges me to a duel, I’ll know how to handle myself.

 

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So what do you do?

This is a question we all get pretty often. What do you do? At one time, this was easy for me to answer. I didn’t like the answer, but it was pretty straightforward. Now, however, it’s a mish-mash of jobs, hobbies, and “others.”

It’s been just over two months since I quit my job, and I am so glad that I did. Sometimes I’ll be working, or reading, or doing nothing at all, and a smile suddenly appears on my face as I remember what a good decision I made months ago. Everything that I’ve done in the past 9 weeks has made me happier than the job I left.

Right now, I have seven-ish paying jobs, although two are wrapping up for the winter season:

  • tour guide (x2)
  • bootcamp instructor
  • newsie
  • swim instructor
  • marketing for a zombie clown show
  • writer (my first post for blog TO just came out!)
  • being a Kijiji god (although this is done now)
  • fitness instructor (volunteer)

I am working on two new job leads and I just applied to Big Sisters Toronto. I am also turning my biking across Canada blog into a book, and pitching the idea to travel publications. On top of that I am doing improv, attending shows, reading, writing, doing my challenges challenge, baking, working out, and thinking about what I want to do in five years.

So basically I’m keeping busy.

The newsie job is where I spend most of my time (a whopping 15 hours per week), and pays most of my bills. It’s a very easy, very relaxed job: I hand out free newspapers to morning commuters. All I have to do is smile and say “good morning.” That’s it. There’s no stress, no pressure, and no mean people yelling at me! Although my first day on the job I ended up with a ton of ink on my face.

I have a new sense of freedom. With that freedom, though, comes a bit of anxiety. Of course I worry a little about money, but I’ve done a pretty decent job of only taking gigs that pay well, so it’s not a huge concern. I think the anxiety comes from not feeling like I’m doing enough: some days I feel unproductive and like I’ve wasted time. Writing “to do” lists for the next day before I got to sleep, and keeping my calendar up to date is helping with this. Being organized and being able to cross things off a list as they get completed is a great feeling to me.

I’ve also been turning down work that either doesn’t interest me, or won’t pay enough per hour. I’m valuing my time more than I was when I was employed full-time, and getting better at saying “no” to things that won’t further my goals, and will take away precious time I could better spend working on things I enjoy. And that feels great.

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Week 11: Fitbit!

I used to work in a gym, so I used to get paid to work out. Now it’s all up to me, and boy am I lazy.

OK, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that I’m not as motivated to actually go to a gym, or push myself. One of my favourite things about teaching classes (and attending them) is that I get pushed further than I would ever push myself when I work out alone. Two pushups? Yeah, that’s probably good for the day. Who has cake?

So when my boyfriend bought himself a shiny new Fitbit (it’s actually pretty cool, it keeps track of your heart rate and sleeping patterns), his old one was up for grabs. And free – let’s be honest, I was mostly interested in the fact that it was free.

His old Fitbit (my new Fitbit) is pretty basic: it keeps track of the steps I take and the calories I burn. I’ve never been a big believer in a machine’s predictions of calories burned, but since I’m looking at it every day, it’s a nice gauge of how I did compared to yesterday.

And now, I get to compete. I’m a pretty competitive person, so when I’m offered a challenge (do over 10,000 steps, have over 60 minutes of activity, exercise 5 days per week), I have to complete that challenge. Even if I set the challenge for myself. I find myself “forgetting” things in one room so I’ll have to walk to them later to get my step count up.

The Fitbit is providing accountability for me. I’ve made my steps visible to my friends (at least I think I have, I’m still figuring out the app), so if I don’t achieve a goal, everyone will know! And I will not accept public failure.

For example, my boyfriend challenged me to a “daily showdown” challenge today (please insert your own duh-duh-duuuuuhhh music here, because that will help this sound way cooler). Unfortunately for me, he walks about 20,000 steps on a work day, and I work from home. Needless to say, I’ve been doing a lot of on-the-spot jogging today. But I also went for a run and did some yoga, because that was also a part of my goals.

The Fitbit app also offers a calorie food counter, which I would never have used before. When I was working in the gym, I could basically eat whatever I wanted, and then just volunteer to teach a bunch of classes and work it all off. Now, I could easily spend the day in front of the computer eating everything in the fridge, and lose my incredible two-pack (which is actually better than a six-pack, for reasons I won’t get into now). So I’ve started keeping track of calories in and calories out. This is actually a good idea for me because some weeks when I do end up teaching several classes, I sometimes don’t adjust my food intake accordingly and end up not eating enough. You think I’d have figured this out by now.

Although this is a weekly challenge, I think it’s going to be more long term. At least to make sure I get 10,000 steps, and as a tool to motivate me to workout. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go walk back and forth in the hallway because I’m losing by 8,000 steps.

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Get stepping!

 

Week 5: Oh my god it’s hot (yoga)

They are not exaggerating when they call it hot yoga.

The idea of hot yoga was brought to me by a friend I used to work with, Sienna. She’s been doing hot yoga for about three years, and had a “free buddy” pass, and suggested that I join her. I’ve done yoga before, and I’ve been in hot places before, but never have I thought, “you know what would be fun? Combining this unbearable heat with a good workout.”

We set up a day and time to attend the class. And then she warned me. “I should warn you that you might feel nausea.” Great. Instead of making me feel prepared for this, the statement made me a good deal more nervous.

While attending an improv show, I mentioned to someone that I would be going to my very first hot yoga class. And then she, too, warned me. She said that bikram was very intense and pushy and she didn’t like it as much as moksha. Which would I be doing? Oh goodness I hope moksha.

Saturday morning finally arrived and I met Sienna at Yonge and Bloor to make our way down to Bikram Yoga Toronto. Perfect. Sienna further warned me not to drink too much water during the class, and that the first half of the practice was done standing, and the second half was done sitting. There would be no clock in the room so this would help me gauge how long was left in the torture session… sorry, yoga practice. I had brought my own yoga mat but borrowed a towel for 2 dollars (which turned out to be the best idea of my entire life). I got changed and Sienna and I chatted for a bit, and then we entered the room. To be honest, my first reaction was, “oh good, my toes will finally be warm.” I constantly have cold feet.

My next thought was, oh my, I might be overdressed for this. It was only that morning that I realized I had no exercise shorts. I’m a fitness instructor, and I only own capri length exercise pants. In fairness though, I don’t know that fewer clothes would have made much of a difference. Everyone got real sweaty in this class, regardless of their attire.

Our instructor was very good. His name was Richard and he was a pretty big dude (for a yogi), who wore only a pair of pretty small, grey, leopard-print shorts, and who spoke constantly and with a slightly Jamaican accent, and remembered everyone’s names. This proved to be extremely helpful because he would call out “Katharine!” if I need to shift my pose a little, or if I was doing a good job.

We started with some breathing techniques, which probably also helped us get accustomed to the extreme heat warning. We then moved through 26 poses, twice. Full disclosure, I googled the difference between bikram and moksha yoga today. As it turns out, bikram was invented in 1946, and moksha was developed in 2004. So much for the ancient practice of yoga. Fun fact, Bikram Choudhury called the hot room a “torture chamber.”

Honestly, I did not find this enjoyable. There’s been a movement in the fitness industry lately to move away from spinal flexion (bending the spine forward) and hyperextension (bending the spine far back). While I haven’t read the science behind this (it’s real complicated), it’s been explained to me by several very smart people, and it seems logical to me. We spend so much time hunched over our phones and computers and desks, that our spine experiences flexion excessively throughout the day. What we don’t need is to do this action more (it can cause herniated discs and back pain for a lot of people, as well as contribute to worsened posture because the muscles become overstretched instead of strengthened). Spinal flexion is especially advised against in the lower back (yay, no more crunches!).

But the fitness industry is pretty slow to change. So I had gone into the bikram class expecting to have a lot of spinal flexion moves, and I was not disappointed. What did surprise me is that some people bounced in these moves… which is really not a good life decision. I was also a little surprised to hear Richard encouraging us to stretch beyond our flexibility. Here’s the thing though, our muscles stop us from going beyond a certain point in order to prevent injury. So… hard pass.

One thing that did make me laugh was when Richard told us that once we had “improved our skeletal system” a certain pose would be easier. OK, how is my skeletal system going to change from yoga? I’m 27, so my bones are pretty set at this point. Unless he’s walking around with a baseball bat and a bad attitude, I don’t think my bones will change before I leave.

While I had thought the class was 60 minutes, I was a little disappointed to find out it was 90 minutes. It was a hard class! During the second half of the practice, I had to take it easy and sit some poses out. There was a lot of lying down/sitting up motions, and my stomach protested against this. I guess Sienna’s warning of nausea was warranted. Richard walked past me (he didn’t perform any of the poses, with apparently is how bikram goes) and checked on me a few times, which I greatly appreciated.

I also noticed that I wasn’t quite as flexible as I would have been after a workout. The hot room was heating me from the outside in, while a workout would warm me from the inside out. I can touch my toes better after a good weight lifting session than I can halfway into a bikram yoga class.

At the very end of the class, Richard left us lying in a meditation/relaxation pose, and then propped the door to the studio open. I loved Richard at that point because cool air slowly began to filter into the room and I felt like I could breathe again. I was completely soaked in sweat, as was my towel, but I was not as sweaty as some of the other participants. A couple of people had a small moat around them and their mats.

I slowly got up and made my way out of the studio. I drank a lot of water. Sienna and I caught up a little more, and then I changed out of my sopping wet clothes to go home.

I deliberately waited a day before posting this because I wanted to see how I felt the next day. Answer… OK, but not great. My side is pretty sore where I overstretched it. Would I go back to hot yoga again? Heck no. But I’m realizing that one of the benefits to my challenges challenge is that I’m getting to see some old friends I haven’t seen in a while, and that’s pretty awesome.