Archives for posts with tag: fitness
Hip hop street dancing, aka break dancing, in ...

not quite this style...

I just got back home after almost two hours of Hip-Hop Dance class. I’ve never really listened to Hip-Hop music, I’ve not paid much attention (outside of some sideline, “Oh, wow look at what that person just did, so bendy!”) to Hip-Hop Dance or Music videos, and I’ve not taken a Hip-Hop Dance class, ever, before this year.

A bit of a background: When I was five years old, my mother asked me if I’d like to take dance lessons. I said “yes”. Or, I assume I did, because I was soon enrolled in them. We did Tap. I took Tap Dancing for six or seven years after that. I also began Jazz Dance lessons from about age eight. When I was eleven years old, I stopped taking dance lessons. My feet had reached size 10, and, where I lived, low-heel tap-shoes were not available in a size above 9. I was not going to Tap Dance (let alone walk) in high heels when I was eleven years old. I didn’t get a pair of “heels” until I was in my twenties, for that matter.

So, I stopped dancing. I went out dancing from time to time in my late teens to early twenties, and jiggled around the dance floor a bit… but I always felt oversized and uncomfortable. When my bar-going friends mostly moved away, and I was a professional, busy working person, I stopped dancing altogether.

Last summer, I took a few African Dances classes. I liked it, I felt good after the classes, and they made me move. I still attend at least one of these classes every week. I am very comfortable with it now. I feel free and alive when I dance in that class. It is unlike Tap or Jazz Dance, but I do see some basic dance connections.

For fun, and with my friend’s encouragement, we took a Hip Hop Dance class one night this January. It was… a challenge. It was so different in structure and movement from dance I’ve done before. Despite all that, I found it to be fun!

Now I’ve been back to that class about four or five times, whenever my schedule allows. It is still a big challenge, and I do admit to feeling a little frustrated with that. However, I feel physically better after having done the class, and I recognise that the mental and physical challenges of extending my own comfort zones is a real benefit to me. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to take a range of different classes at my local YMCA. I didn’t have this opportunity as a child; who knows how different life would have been if I’d had a chance to dance wearing sneakers (Hip Hop) or barefoot (African Dances) !!!

It is never too late to start.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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Bikepath in parc Lafontaine, towards the south...

Parc Lafontaine... a place for springtime (and year-round) jogging...

Several months ago I spent a couple of hours in the gym injuring myself. How did I injure myself? In between running on the track and doing some weights, I used a stubborn elliptical machine for half an hour, and then I used a stairmaster afterwards. The inflexible machinery, made for a certain body with a particular stride and length of legs and arms, created a big ball of stress that centred on my knee. This stress was compounded by a tough workout on the stairmaster. I hurt myself from overuse on these machines that day. The injury created an awful tension in my left knee… so I lost a lot of flexibility and strength. I babied it, naturally, so that it became standard for me to limp slightly. I didn’t run anymore.

In the last couple of months, however, I have been attending regular yoga, dance, and classical stretch classes. I haven’t done very much “free elliptical” (that’s my term for the machines that allow you to choose your own stride, rather than having an awkward one prescribed to you) nor have I set my sights on anything like a stairmaster. I avoid the rigidly paced elliptical machine like the Plague. I have been using some free weights and doing a few lat-pulldowns every once in a while. That’s been pretty much it for exercise lately. Anyhow, the other day, I thought that I’d improved enough to allow myself a little run on a treadmill. I booked in about a half an hour on the treadmill, and maybe 20 minutes of that was spent jogging or running.

I went faster, faster, and faster. I felt like I could fly, again. It was a liberating feeling, a wonderful experience. I hope to be able to run through the Parc Lafontaine again this spring… there is nothing quite like flying amongst the blossoms and singing birds. Makes me even more glad to be alive.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Canadian Santa Claus drawing from 1875

Santa seems to be reminding us that sharing is one of the most important things to do during Christmas

When the heat of the season is upon us, there are a few ways we stay cool.

Break it down into little tasks. Decide to do a couple things every day and stick to that.

Be realistic as to what you can accomplish in a particular time-frame. It might be lovely to have a home bedecked with every imaginable DIY project out there, but if it is a total stress to accomplish, is it really worth it in the end?  A few branches and a couple candles are great seasonal décor items that require minimal effort to put together.  One plate of freshly homemade cookies (or choco-almo date balls) is always impressive.

Take time to relax. Take a bath, listen to relaxing music, watch your favourite seasonal movies or go out to dance.

Make more time for yourself and drop some things off “the to-do list”. Do I really need to make THAT many types of cookies? Do my guests care if my bathtub is sparkling or not?

Cook simply, for example soups and wraps.  Even if I am making the full traditional Christmas lunch, I try to prepare some things ahead of time so that I am not overwhelmed on the day when everyone is together in my home.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Working together can be part of the celebration.

Keep your regular routines in place, but spice it up here and there whenever it will be fun to do so! For example, if you really want to make reindeer-shaped pancakes, then do it! However if “everyone expects” you to make reindeer-shaped pancakes and you’re not feeling up to it, then do something from your “Christmas Fun List” when you do feel so inspired.  These activities and projects can be enjoyable, enlivening processes that help us find joy in the dark of winter.  If it is not, don’t do it.

Know that it’s not all going to be ruined if everything is not in place. It will be ruined if you have a nervous breakdown.

Stick to a budget. It is obvious that dealing with outrageous credit card bills in January, while trudging through the dark of winter, will not be pretty.  Everyone will still love you even if they don’t receive gifts that are completely beyond your budget.

Order things online. For example, we can order things online through Etsy and send them to loved ones.  Easy-peasy stress free gift giving.

If you are feeling emotionally frazzled, take a break from sugar, alcohol, grains containing gluten and dairy. Buy a big bunch of kale, some brown rice and the protein of your choice.  I know that this is the last thing we want to hear right now, but sitting down to simple meals helps to create peace.

We take time to chat with friends. Calling up a therapist can also be a good idea.

Take it outside. Take a walk after meals, go skating, go skiing.  Get a good dose of fresh air and take the time to exercise every day.

If you can, Don’t Drive. Notice how coo-coo it is out there right now? Avoid being outside during rush hours.

Try some fun things that could become new traditions… an example: three of my family members would go to Mass on Christmas eve. Two of us would not. My brother and I would make healthy pizzas while everyone else was away, play Beatles music very loudly and sing along, do our own thing. Then when everyone else came back, the music would change to soft carols, and we’d all share a nice supper together. My brother and I were assigned a task: “Make Supper” but it was made to be fun.

The last entry reminds me of that Dar Williams song, The Christians and the Pagans.  Taking on others and their religious expression, choice of profession, lifestyle, political leanings, etc., during the holiday creates a great deal of stress.  While being gracious towards others tends to be perceived as near-miraculous, often it can help a great deal in reducing stress.

Write a letter to Santa.

Two words: Take Out.

One word: Yoga.

Natasha Henderson and Tammy Schmidt, keeping the stress to a minimum in Montreal.

Chicago girls at Sokol Sports, Prague, Austria...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

We seem to be on a roll this week.  Women these days are encouraged to move it, even during times when they were traditionally told to slow it down.  This is not to say that women should not listen to their bodies, but that movement is generally a good thing.

Meet Olga!  Meet Ernestine!

Even during pregnancy?  Meet Angelica!

compiled by Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

Personal trainer showing a client how to exerc...

Image via Wikipedia

by Natasha Henderson, Montreal

The gym. It is a place to work out, a place to stretch the boundaries of how you feel and what your body can do. A place to work out problems, to work in peace, to work in silence or with loud, boisterous laughter. Depending on your gym (assuming you go to a gym, I understand that a lot of people do not) you might find it is a great place to meet people, to take on a class or two in something new, a place to build muscle and confidence.

It could be that you feel uncomfortable with all eyes staring at you. It could be that you don’t feel that you fit in with the hard-bodies that surround, or it might be because you are shy, and, well, some soft-bodies are busy eyeing up your fine physique. No matter what, a gym is one of those communal places where you need to find the right sort of place for you, at the right time in your life.

When I moved to Montreal, I found myself losing weight. It was delightful! The little furnished apartment I’d rented for a month upon moving here had a scale in the bathroom. Hot days, lots of walking, and new types of food all combined to melt the pounds away (as they say). The start of massive-weight-loss combined with that invigorating view of the lowering numbers on the bathroom scale inspired me to join a gym.

Lurt would like to get skinny

I’d been to the gym before… Always would do a light round of weight-machines, and about twenty minutes of cardio. This would occur about three times a week. Once I found that I didn’t have the money or inclination to go to the gym (back in those olden days), I invested in a workout tape. I’d do step aerobics. I liked it, I got sweaty, I didn’t lose weight but I felt good when I did it. I also would garden, mow my lawn.. I counted that as exercise. I needed to understand that simple existence doesn’t “count” as exercise. Especially when you drive everywhere and reward your workouts with onion rings. 

The first gym I joined in this city was a Semi-Budget style of gym. My inexpensive membership included one session with a trainer, who convinced me to use two weight-machines, do lots of sit-ups, and to continue with all the cardio work that I could. The weight continued to fall off my body, and I felt fabulous. The gym was always crawling with people, but they kept the washrooms pretty clean. The gym was mostly utilised by local working-class people such as myself. Yes, I had a job back in those days. A job in the Fashion Industry… yet another story for another day!

When I moved closer downtown a year later, I knew that I’d need to relocate my Gymming too. So I eventually bought myself a membership at a more Chi-Chi gym. I let the salesman at the (quiet! not busy!) front desk convince me to purchase several sessions with a personal trainer. Over several months I became an almost “hard-body”. Well, I became pretty well-formed, and in the best shape of my entire life. I did still have a weird neck/shoulder problem that could have been related to the stress of my (then) job, but… I felt like a million bucks. It was good.

When I left that stressful job to become a Full-Time Artist, I still used this gym and my trainer… until one day my membership ran out. Did I have several hundred dollars to renew? Uh, no. No I did not. So, I figured I’d do push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges at home. A friend recommended the 100 Push-Ups programme. It had worked for her; it didn’t work for me. I needed to get out of my home for exercise. I continued with jogging (there’s another story, How I Learned To Jog) and “brisk walking”. Needless to say, some of the pounds rejoined my body. I still felt good, but not as well-formed. I was ok with this.

You can see a lot of pretty leaves when you're out running around outside

When I found my feet, found my pace, and decided to rent a shared studio space, I was quite thrilled to discover that in the same building as my studio was a Budget-Level gym. Ok, half of the equipment was broken, it was full of mean-looking men who would eye you up and down thoroughly before returning to their training and sparring (most of them were welter-weight boxers) and the changeroom was something to escape from. It was, however, about $100 for a year. I was happy. I did some exercise in this place, but certainly not enough. I seemed to fall into a pattern of twice a week, about 40 minutes of cardio followed by stretching. When I moved studios to another one across town, I let this gym membership slide away.

After a few months of no exercise, and finding that my middle was becoming increasingly softer, I had the opportunity to go to the YMCA gym. My neighbours let me use their free guest passes for this, and it was great. So great it was, that I eventually sprung for a membership of my own. I enjoy taking the African Dances and Yoga classes, and look forward to other classes, too. I plan to buy a swimming cap and goggles, and will do some swimming. I’ve worked out in the weights rooms, utilising the knowledge that my old personal-trainer had passed on to me before. I jogged around the track a bit, until my knee told me NO MORE. So for now I stick with the dance, yoga, potential-swimming… Pilates, other dance, maybe even belly dance some day! I need to embrace my wiggly side.

I like the YMCA. I like that there is a huge range of classes, and I like that there are programmes for everyone. Drippy nose-and-fingered kids take swim lessons (I am avoiding swimming on the weekends and after school), working-class people bring their one pair of shorts and jiggle around (my folks!), and businessmen with text-messaging beeping gadgets play racquetball. Self-employed artists and health practitioners and dance teachers go to classes together. It’s a lot of fun. The other day I saw several older women dancing to”something” in a room, complete with coffee and muffins. They looked to be having a sociable and fun time. Who wouldn’t want to be around that???

 
by Natasha Henderson, Montreal
 

When I moved across the country from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island to Montreal, Quebec a little over three years ago, I knew that I would experience many changes. Not the least of these changes, I felt, would be to my diet.

The view from Kitty Coleman, in the Comox Valley

I had in mind that I would indulge in new things, new foods, perhaps try French Cuisine… it is true that I experienced some change in my diet and lifestyle, and a lot of that was due to what was available in the supermarkets. Different vegetables, different prices, smaller cuts of meat, and a wider selection of new cheeses greeted me at the first supermarket I visited in the downtown core of Montreal. After a couple of months I learned about the fresh farmer’s markets in the city. I began shopping for goods that were more locally grown, and in season whenever possible. Now, three years into life here, I am signed onto a CSA programme with a local organic farm for weekly veggie and fruit delivery. While enjoying the process of transformations within my new life in a new city and province, I was developing an interest in what I was putting into my mouth… an interest beyond the question of simply flavour.

Festivities and poutine abound in Montreal

After realising how much I liked poutine, but how guilty I always felt whenever I indulged, I figured that I must find a way to make a healthier option of it… something I could do at home, too, and save a little cash in the process. The first thing that I tried was to purchase frozen fries at the grocery store, and whenever I had some leftover gravy (not that often, of course… it’s GRAVY) I would make poutine the next day. While experimenting a little more with cooking, I finally discovered the joyous root that is the sweet potato. One day I had some potatoes, so made some wedgie-fries like my mom used to make out of their delightful Yukon Gold potatoes from the home garden in Comox, BC. Butter in a pan in the oven, bake. Easy. I thought about some fried sweet potato chips a friend had treated me to a year or so before that, this seemingly exotic chip. We had dipped them in home-made mayonnaise. That’s another delightful story… I had found the intense flavour of the sweet potato a little powerful, a little overwhelming. So I made a batch of wedgies with some potato, some sweet potato. Perfect combination (for me, anyhow).

Using sweet potatoes in place of, or as well as, regular potatoes for the fries is a tasty option that makes a poutine “healthy”. Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins. Their flesh is a bright, appetizing orange, and their flavour carries a pleasant sweetness. Try to leave the skin on for your fries, like you would with regular potatoes. Just cut off the ugliest bits, and the “eyes“. Cut the sweet potatoes and potatoes into even-thickness strips, like house-fries in restaurants. One healthy option for baking the fries is to use butter or olive oil and fry them in a pan until soft, then bake until crisp. Another is to simply bake them in the oven until they are crisp, using no fat at all, or you can add a little olive oil or butter on the pan for taste. When the fries go in the oven, try sprinkling some salt, pepper, chilli pepper, garlic, steak spice, rosemary… any spice or flavouring that you like on them. You could even add some grated parmesan cheese, though with the upcoming level of cheese curds it might not be necessary. Bake them at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until done to your liking.

Options for the gravy include using butter or olive oil as a tasty start; you don‘t have to have fat drippings from a roast. To thicken and add flavour, stir into the saucepan a small handful of flour, about 2 tablespoons (depending on quantity of gravy you are making). If you’d prefer to not use flour, try using another starchy substance, such as cooked lentils or beans that have been mashed a little with a fork. Once browned, thin out the roux (browned flour or other starch) with a little veggie, beef or chicken stock. Use wine, beer, or water if you have no stock. Bring to bubbling while stirring, then simmer and reduce, adding more of your chosen liquid (or now switch to plain water) as you go. During this reduction process, I like to add a good generous sprinkle of pepper. Other spices can be added, according to your taste. Rosemary, garlic, paprika… the kitchen ceiling‘s the limit. Or, just leave it plain, and practice gravy-making to find your own favourite combo!

Poutine, the "UN-Healthy" version. Click to read CTV story...

The fries will take about an hour once in the oven, and the gravy can be re-heated once it’s made, so I would start in on making the gravy as soon as your fries are baking. That way the fries will be nice and hot when it is time to eat them, and that is quite important for full enjoyment of poutine. You can find cheese curds readily throughout Quebec, and in some regions across Canada. However if there are none in your supermarket, there are other options. A white, flavourful cheese is all right to use for this poutine (though purists would argue not.) I have used Edam, or Havarti, or Old Cheddar as a cheese curd replacement in poutine, with similarly tasty results. You could add a nice tanginess by adding some feta or parmesan, if you have it. Lately, I’ve switched to non-pasteurized, old cheddar and the results are excellent. I like to put the cheese onto the fries inside the oven, to melt a little, and even turn a light brown. Again, it’s about options and taste. It’s all up to you what you do with your meal. Some would add the curds and gravy to the fries, stir around so it is a melting mess, others like to layer their food neatly. If you are serving to guests, I would recommend placing the fries on each plate, then adding the cheese, then the gravy on top to melt the cheese a little.

Healthy Poutine. Seriously.

Now that I’ve shared a little dash of this story with you, I hope that you have fun experimenting with taking those traditionally unhealthy treats and turning them into sustenance to truly enjoy!

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