Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-03-10

Florida Keys: Paddleboard Yoga as a Paddleboard Novice Fatty

To escape the brutalities of New York City Winter and Seasonal Depression, I asked my mom to give me cash instead of a present for Christmas and my birthday this year. I parlayed that into a pretty cheap vacation to the Florida Keys (her gift was enough to cover my $180 round trip flight, share of our $130 car rental and 3 nights at our cabin). Part of the way this gift helped me combat seasonal depression was putting a lot of time into researching our vacation. I went down the internet and you tube rabbit holes about things to do in the Florida Keys many Winter nights. (The FloridaKeysTV you tube channel is a treasure trove, btw.)

IMG957561All photos in this post are by Tara McCabe, who lets the class send themselves the photos she takes during the class from her phone when you return to the marina!

It was a you tube video that brought me to Paddleboard Yoga! As soon as we saw it, Dara and I decided this was a top priority vacation activity.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for six years but I’ve never been on a paddleboard. If I want to scoot around on water I prefer a kayak, where I can sit and enjoy the water while paddling. The idea of doing yoga on a paddleboard seemed scary in a fun way–I have a hard enough time with balance in the studio! Dara had never been paddleboarding, either, and she is not a huge fan of yoga but was totally sold on the adventure.

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We made a reservation with Lazy Dog Paddle Yoga (the studio? paddleboard rental place? featured in the video) and drove down to Key West from our cabin on Big Pine Key. The marina is not in the main tourist part of Key West and is right off the only highway through the Keys, the Overseas Highway, a 2 lane affair with breathtaking views.

We arrived 10 minutes before the class just in time for our instructor Tara McCabe, who founded the Paddleboard Yoga classes with Lazy Dog owner Sue Cooper, to give a paddleboarding basics class to those of us who are new to paddleboarding. A lot of the paddle mechanics were similar to kayaking but the positioning of the arms was different and I felt like I needed to have a lot more control over the paddle given that I was going to be standing up for travel. Tara mentioned we could kneel on the paddleboard while we were first getting used to how the paddle worked to navigate, which was really helpful.

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Since we were traveling from the marina to a little inlet off the canal nearby, where the yoga class would be held, we launched in groups of 3 or so from the boat ramp. As the rest of the class was getting outfitted with their boards and paddles Dara and I signed extensive waivers and paid the $30 each for the 9:30-11AM class. We could bring a towel and a water bottle with us strapped by a bungee to our board. I did some last-minute additional sunscreen application and left the rest of our bags inside the Lazy Dog shack.

We were handed one paddle each, sized to our height, and got on our knees to be shoved off into the marina. Dara went much faster than I did and I slogged along, getting used to the way the board moved. I followed Tara’s advice and waited until we were out in the canal and had made our hard right turn before I stood up on the paddleboard and began using the paddle in the correct holding from the top form.

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Being among last to arrive in the group, and the slowest paddleboarder, I felt okay about it. One of the lessons I learned early on in my yoga practice is that there is no way to “suck” at yoga, you just got at your own pace, paying attention to your own body and where your limit is. Running my own race instead of worrying about where my skills, physical ability and flexibility fits into the rubric of the class helps me just enjoy and settle in. I am often the least bendy yogi in a class but it doesn’t make me any less capable of getting all the benefits of the class and the practice. So when I was solidly holding up the rear of the paddleboard group coming into the alcove I was already fine with it.

Once in the alcove everyone dropped their anchors (these little heavy circles of some kind of metal that were clipped to the bungees on our boards) where Tara told us. She had a good sense of where the boards would drift and where folks would be best placed so as not to bump into one another. A couple of people chose to hug the mangroves for more access to shade. Mangroves are trees that line virtually every shore in the keys, with spindly roots that poke out of the water like stilts holding up the trees–mangroves are essential to the Florida Keys as they help secure land and prevent erosion. Dara was next to them during the class and said that sometimes the mangroves tickled her as she drifted into them on her board but it felt really nice.

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I intentionally wore a fatkini to the class. I sometimes am fat in public in a political way and sometimes I think showing skin is important to be like, I’m fat, I love my body and this is how I feel comfortable. But lots of people in the class, including some guys, were wearing clothes over their suits or wearing water clothing or something that you would buy in a surf shop.

Tara (pronounced with a long A) was an incredible instructor from start to finish. I loved learning paddleboarding from her, as she delivered the lesson with the patience and sweetness of a good yoga instructor. She made sure at the beginning of the class, when we all settled into our spots, that folks were reminded that yoga is not a competition and to run their own race. I know this already, but it is always nice to have a new-to-me instructor reinforce it as a class culture.

She provided great modifications to all of the poses and reminded everyone it was an all levels class. I tried to put myself into harder poses and would sense my limit and settle into wherever that was. Being in the middle of the board by the handle was the most helpful spot for balance. When preparing for this class Dara and I anticipated that one of us would fall into the water, and it turned out to be me while getting into modified Warrior 2. I don’t even know what happened or how but suddenly I was in the water. I was the first in the class to fall. (The only other person who fell toppled during a handstand and I think that was pretty badass.) Since where we were was very shallow it was really easy for me to hop back onto my board. And it did cool me off!

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I loved the sway of being on the board during poses. I loved the moments where she had us do a pose and stick a foot or a hand or arm into the water. I actually really enjoyed doing it on the board versus a mat, because I felt like there was more cushion on my board than a traditional mat (I think this was because of the type of board I happened to be on). I also found downward facing dog much easier on the board for that reason–I was most worried about falling

Tara’s meditations were great, too! At the beginning of the class she called out the full moon we were experiencing, letting go of the junk from the Winter and opening up to the coming Spring. What she was saying was definitely right-on for me. During our shavasana/end of class corpse pose, she suggested we put a towel over our head if we wanted to (which I did, it helped with shade) and put our hands out into the water. While floating there she said, “Bevin, I need you to pull your hand up,” so I did, very used to surrender during yoga to an instructor. I kind of thought she was paddling by me as she floated among the class a bit while teaching.

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It turned out there was a tiny snake that was slithering by and heading for my hand. The raise gave him enough startle that he headed in a different direction, into the mangroves. Tara said she was glad I didn’t ask why so that she didn’t startle the class with news of the snake during the shavasana.

And then before we opened our eyes she serenaded us with a ukelele version of “I Can See Clearly Now,” which was so profound, being in that beautiful, warm place with no clouds in the sky and melting away the agita of a long, cold Winter.

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My sunscreen game was NOT on point for this adventure. Next time I am going to load up on sport sunblock SPF 80+ and reapply right before shavasana. (I was using Neutrogena dry touch waterproof SPF 55.) I got a really odd burn in parts of my body (especially my knees, which from being on the board rubbed off the sunblock and then got burnt during shavasana).

After we all grabbed our anchors and delivered them to Tara’s board before we headed back to the marina, we stood up and paddled back. I was in the back of the pack, again this time on purpose to visit with Tara. She would warn us when boats passed about what kind of wake we were in for. Unfortunately, in a deep part of the channel one of the wake waves really got me and I kind of toppled to the side and fell from my standing position. It took a lot of work for me to get back on my board. Being a fatty, it can be hard to pull yourself back up onto a board or into a floating vessel, depending on your upper body strength. (I have some but not a lot.) Tara was ready with another modification for me, this time having me try to get back on the board not from the side but from the back. That part worked, with some patience and some wiggling like a seal on a surfboard. I made it back to the marina by staying mostly sitting on my board. It was faster when I was standing but I wasn’t ready to chance it again. Also, standing required a lot of tension in my thighs to hold myself balanced and they were kind of exhausted by the end of all of that paddleboarding and yoga.

Paddleboard yoga was a total trip highlight! Dara and I had so much fun and felt so peaceful afterwards. I was super achy later, mostly my arms because I hadn’t done any serious paddling like that in a long time. I would highly recommend Lazy Dog for all of your paddleboard and paddleboard yoga needs, and Tara for yoga! She teaches at Shakti in Key West, leads guided paddleboard meditations through Lazy Dog, runs Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga training and founded the Paddleboard Yoga at Lazy Dog!

Next time we go to the Florida Keys, Dara and I intend to try doing it twice during our trip as well as a meditation!

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2014-03-05

Self Care Stretches Time and Creates Resilience

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

Self care is like driving a stick shift car in the city. Once you think you’ve got your gear set and you’re really rolling something comes up and you have to downshift or brake. There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate and things don’t go as expected. Self care is this constant balancing act. I want to make myself happy but I also don’t want to make myself suffer as a result of that happiness.

This morning, for example, I deeply craved a flavored black tea. I’m tea obsessed, and lately my jam has been complex, delicious, sweet black teas. Love Tea #7 from David’s Tea is perfect for this. But as I walked to the kitchen to start up the electric tea kettle I checked in with my body. My body is tense. I’ve been dealing with some mounting anxiety issues and I knew my body was going through it today especially. I sighed as I realized the better choice for me, in the moment, was to go for my “Feelings Tea,” a blend I create myself that is high on herbs that help calm down my anxiety (chamomile, lavender, catnip, along with oatstraw and hawthorne berries for emotional TLC).

I wondered in that moment if the self loving thing would be to give myself the pleasure I wanted by succumbing to the craving or if it was to take care of my body in the long-run and set my day up for more success than a rush of caffeine could offer?

That answer is sometimes both.
24383_379486228748_5305803_nI wasn’t sure what photos to use in this post so I decided to include photos of awesome people I ran into today on my way to a dentist appointment. This is Becca Blackwell, full of stories from the 90s, and who rules.

“Self care” is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the concept is fairly simple. I would define it as anything you do to take care of yourself.

Think of a parent, caring for a child. The kind of care that parent gives the child would vary depending on the child’s age, needs and parent’s inclination. The same goes for taking care of ourselves, the level of care we give ourselves depends on our needs, inclinations and how much attention we are paying.

Once we age out of someone else caring for us (or many of us never had someone providing all of the care we actually needed) suddenly we’re in the business of self care without a real roadmap for what that means.

In my post on how I deal with anxiety I talked about running a diagnostic on your body, mind and spirit to find out what it is that you need in order to take care of yourself. In my experience I do this by journaling to see what is coming up and just trying new self care out to see how it works. It’s imperfect, but generally I can tell when I haven’t been doing enough self care because I get my own warning lights. My chronic digestive disease starts acting up, my anxiety is flaring, I’m snapping at my loved ones. When I’m doing the right amount of self care often I feel in my flow–like I am in synergy with the universe.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity and privileges people who are constantly “busy.” When you ask someone “How are you doing?” they often reply, “Oh I’m so busy!” Being busy is a status symbol, and being busy is often the number one excuse folks have for not spending the time needed to take care of themselves.

Being a body liberation activist I believe everyone deserves to love themselves and their bodies. And part of loving your body is knowing what it needs, and what you need, to take exquisite care of yourself. It’s really important to me that I am in touch with my body. How can I teach other people to love themselves if I’m not doing things to love my own self?

Self care is a hassle, but the rewards are infinite. In the words of my friend Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist, “Self care stretches time.” If you really are one of those constantly busy people, self care might be just the ticket for settling yourself down enough to create the time, identify and manage your priorities in order to live the life that you want.

tangerinejonesedbarnasI ran into Tangerine Jones, burlesque legend and incredible person. Check out the article she wrote in 21st Century Burlesque, Backlash Blues. Photo by Ed Barnas.

Self care is allowing yourself the time to digest what is going on in your life. Processing emotions and mental experiences are as important as rest periods when you’re training for a marathon. It’s that time when your muscles start to heal and become bigger–that’s what self care enables you to do with the mental and emotional stimulation going on.

So what constitutes excellent self care? That’s a highly personal question. Something as simple as brushing your teeth every day is self care. I’ve literally known people who were so strung out worrying about other people that they let their own hygiene fall by the wayside.

The more I’ve gotten to know myself and my body, the more I understand about what kind of self care I need. The more I’ve learned about what kind of care I need, the more of a priority I make it. This is a slow-going process of realization and eventual prioritization.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. If I were to do “perfect” self-care I basically could do nothing else. I could shove my day full of yoga, meditation, soothing time in a bath tub, reiki, writing in my journal, going to meetings, going to the gym, and on and on. Once I started making self care a priority I would turn it into a whole cycle of “never enough” tapes in my head and I had to get myself to come correct and stop punishing myself for not caring for myself enough. How’s that for a difficult cycle to break?

I treat self care as a job, but I also work hard to not get obsessed with not doing it enough. I give myself a threshold of about 5-7 self care tasks every day, not including day to day stuff like hygiene and eating. (Many of these 5-7 daily self care tasks only take about 1-5 minutes and some can happen while I’m doing other things.) This is a lot, but I’ve been focused on my own self care for about three and a half years, adding things slowly to that list. I watched a great video by Cheryl Richardson where she suggests only focusing on one self care activity at a time, and the rest falls into place.

In the Winter I am confronted with some significant issues with seasonal depression, so I know if I want to avoid a February and March downward spiral, I need to start in October working on my Winter Care Regimen, a beefed up version of what I do every day.

8332_157396603748_4263703_nI met Becca during our time vying for the title of Miss LEZ. Photo by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice.

Self care is about creating resilience. When you’re living in marginalized identities there is a lot of criticism and oppression to weather, and I do it a lot better when I’m on my self care game. This is especially true as I step more and more into the public eye.

Self care is about the more you have the more you can give.

Self care requires a constant diligence recalibrating. When you get sick or tired you have to stop and rethink, add more or delete other things going on in your life that are taking away from your ability to care for yourself.

I think a lot about fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Sometimes choosing the pleasure of the caffeinated flavor tea is not a sacrifice of my overall serenity, but I’ve learned how to drive my body well enough to know when that choice will have been like hitting a pothole. I can weather that pothole sometimes, and sometimes I can’t. Caring for myself means I need to lighten up a bit. These days emotional care nachos are a big choice during my girlfriend’s chemo treatment, in spite of my tricky digestive reaction to queso.

I’m compiling an epic self care post to go up this week as my mini series on self care continues! Comment with your self care ideas on my Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook Fan Page!

2013-05-20

The Forest of the Future: A Sanctuary at the Edge of the World

Back in March, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in an amazing sanctuary space amidst a temporary art installation in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s hard to explain what the Forest of the Future was, but for some background you can read the curator/producer Quito’s statement about it here. It really gives a good background of how they just wanted to make a magical space to bring together a bunch of the visionaries they’ve met in their world travels, see what connections and catalyzing could happen, and that space was a forest.

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Me, Quito, Sparkles and Dusty.

The Forest had a team of amazing artists who worked endlessly to make it happen. I first arrived on opening night to volunteer and everyone had clearly been missing sleep for days. No wonder, once you stepped inside the space was truly otherworldly. That doesn’t come without an intense about of labor, love and vision.

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This video by Ricardo Nelson is a treasure and gives an overview of what the Forest looked like that still photos can’t quite capture (I’m in the first few frames, fisting a tree).

Forest of the Future : A Sanctuary at the Edge of the World .. from Ricardo Nelson on Vimeo.

There were lots of events that happened at the Forest during its two-week run, but it was also open daily for hang outs pretty much whenever you knew someone was going to be there (or 3p-late if you didn’t know someone). Quito did a lot of sleeping at the Forest, so I did a lot of solo time because I could get in.

Here is a list of amazing things I did while in the womb of the Forest of the Future:

I slow danced to “The Golden Age of Hustlers” as recorded by Justin Vivian Bond, with my then sweetheart. It’s a song I love deeply and never hear, so it was serendipitous that it played at that right moment and filled me with such sweetness and connection, not just to my sweetheart but to the universe.*

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I made out in the button bog.

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I had a couple of deep fights in the button bog that have left buttons in so many surprising places in my room.

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I read my tarot cards in the tree house when no one was in the Forest but me and some girl sleeping on the mushroom pillows in the field below.

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I did queer punk yoga twice, lead by Lizxnn Disaster.

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I cried my eyes out as LeRoi Prince read an amazing piece invoking the struggles of our queer ancestors. It’s the kind of thing that I try to invoke appreciation for before every Rebel Cupcake, but in long form.

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I had a flirtation/romance/make-out with a hot foreigner.

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I sang sea shanties along with a crowd, lead by a performance artist.

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I sat in on a discussion about queer communities, discussed what we owe communities as leaders and “who are your people.”

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I had a long conversation with a different foreigner about love and relationship permutations, polyamory, nonmonogamy and why we have such limited words for all the different types of romantic relationships we can have in the English language.

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I brewed and served tea in great cauldrons as a volunteer shift.

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I ate melty rose butter on fresh bread baked as an art installation.

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I made some amazing connections with people I already knew. I met a lot of new people. I developed a better understanding of radical faeries.

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I went to a sexy party that was dedicated to giving healing energy to Kate Bornstein. We all signed a card before people went off to their various corners/trees/button bogs/home to have some privacy.

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After a performance, during a dance party, I literally lost three hours. I thought it was 11PM and it was 2AM. All concept of time was erased that night.

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I cuddled on mushroom pillows.

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I did yoga in a field of soft fake grass and confetti. I never thought I would be able to say that. It was messy and liberating.

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I knitted. A lot. Many times during those two weeks I just packed up my knitting and hopped the train to the Forest. Quito brought a chair up from the green room just for me knitting. One time I wore fairy wings while I knitted.

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I watched Quito read from their upcoming book about Brooklyn nightlife and saw a lot of amazing photos of me and my friens from 2009-2011.

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I laughed hysterically as a bunch of buttons clattered out of my bra on the floor of the bathroom.

I saw people get rope suspension in the trees. It was so beautiful.

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I got yelled at by security for loitering in the wrong part of the building but my companion sweet talked them into letting us look at the view of Manhattan at night anyway.

And so much more. The Forest of the Future was an extraordinary thing in which linear time didn’t exist and reminded me how all amazing things don’t have to exist forever to change you forever.

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*My friend Silas Howard and Justin Vivian Bond and others are fundraising to make a video of the “Golden Age of Hustlers.” The video is going to be an homage to queers, transfolks, sex workers and will be really beautiful. They need to meet their fundraising goal really soon and can use any help you can donate!

2013-04-29

Fat Babes Pole Dancing Class

My new friend Jacqueline proposed two things after I told her about my recent break-up: a tarot reading (which I took her up on) and finding a pole dancing class. She wanted to go with a fat and/or crip person (two things she identifies as) who was not already a stripper because what’s the fun in being a beginner with someone who can already flip around a pole like it’s no big deal. I love trying new things with other fat babes, so I was all in.

Doing activities in the erotic genre are a great way to reclaim your body in the wake of a break-up and feel empowering especially when you might not be getting laid as much as you’d like to, regardless of your DTF* status. It’s also a great way to expand your repertoire and enhance your fat sex!

The class Jacqueline found for us was at Sacred Brooklyn, a yoga studio and pole dance palace three blocks from my old apartment in Bed Stuy on the border of Clinton Hill. I tried the studio once, for hot yoga, which was the one and only time I have done hot yoga and I got injured. So I haven’t been back.

The classes are a little pricey–twenty bucks for 75 minutes. (The going rate for yoga and exercise if not included in your gym membership is $15 in that neighborhood.) In spite of the price I thought it was cool to try something new and I also was certain I would have fun doing this with Jacqueline.

She did some recon ahead of time emailing the instructor to ask about fat babes in class and the instructor, Roz, was very body positive in her reply so I was stoked. It’s a great idea to reach out to the instructor ahead of time if you have any concerns about the class. Most yoga and exercise proprietors I know want their customers to feel engaged!

Post pole dancing kitchen talk. On a stoop. #babestagram
Jacqueline’s outfit for pole dancing. She took off the scarf and leggings.

The studio emailed us instructions to wear no lotions or oils the day of class and to come in a tank top or sports bra and shorts. Neither Jacqueline nor myself are shorts identified, so I went with a sweat skort (a skirt made of sweats material that has shorts sewn in underneath–I have two of these and swear by them for summertime gym-going) and my Yes Fats Yes Femmes tank top and Jacqueline wore a black and white stretch pinstriped pencil skirt and tank top. She’s just a babe like that. (Also red panties underneath that were plain to see when we did certain moves. Oops and sorry not sorry.)

Roz came into class like a house on fire! She was so full of energy and enthusiasm. I loved it! I used to be extremely loud and enthusiastic when I was in my early twenties and I’ve never met anyone louder than me until Roz. It was refreshing and beautiful. She had on a new push-up sports bra she got two for one at Lane Bryant and I appreciated the shopping tip!

#Babestagram

The class had twelve people in it (which is the max I think), an instructor and an assistant instructor. The demographic was all over the place, tons of gender presentations, body sizes, races and at least a twenty-year age span. There were at least two folks I would have pegged as “masculine of center” on the street.

Roz admonished us to “stay in your lane,” meaning we’re all at our own level of skill and we should try to do what we can do and not focus on what other folks are doing. This is a good reminder for most physical activity! Also good because even though this was a beginner class there were lots of “regulars” who had been coming for quite some time.

We did a long set of good stretches to hip-hop and R&B slow jams, a genre I love. It was sort of like yoga with a groove. The introductory activity was a mirroring exercise, where they paired us off with the “divas” (more experienced students) and the newbies maintained deep eye contact and mirrored the dancing from one side of the room to the other. These dances involved sexy crawling, erotic arm movements, basically hot stripper moves. Because it’s more than just on the pole!

You shouldn't come around here singing up to people like that.
I tried out being a blonde last weekend, too.

Then we did some pole exercises. The first was a “crunch” where we used our upper back, core and arms to lift us up off the ground. It was a little intimidating, but Roz showed us a few different variations for success. There are four poles in the room so three of us at a time rotated. The “divas” did a much more complicated version and I watched them out of the corner of my eye. We were all so co-cheerleading! It was such a positive room, a win for one was a win for all (and when you’re watching other babes doing pole dancing, probably that’s a win anyway).

There is some pole maintenance, like putting on this hand drying stuff and wiping sweat off the pole. It’s really hard to lift yourself off the ground if your hands are sweaty!

Then we did a spin exercise. I liked it, it reminded me of spinning on a playground. Roz gave us an ass dancing tutorial (which was a version of a “twerktorial” I saw the week before at Rebel Cupcake) and then wanted us to practice it.

In the “circle of love,” Roz had us all sit in a circle and each of us took a turn practicing a dance for the group. It could be something we saw in class, something we saw on youtube and wanted to try, we could practice the ass dance, or anything. It was fun and goofy and hot and liberating. Everyone was still so supportive!

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The twerktorial at Rebel Cupcake. Photo by Kelsey Dickey!

The last move was a reverse spin, that the assistant instructor Rebecca said was easiest if you exhaled as you began the spin, which I found really crucial to loosening up enough to let myself spin to the ground around a pole. Not an easy thing to do for me, falling on purpose and doing it with grace.

We exited the class (which Roz warned at the beginning would run late and it was almost two hours total) doing another mirroring exercise. I thought it was an incredible experience! I felt so positive, challenged and embodied. I could be silly and try new things and use my body in different ways.

I was sore the next few days like I had athletic sex. My knees hurt from all of that crawling, my inner thighs and arms and back were definitely feeling it. Jacqueline and I are definitely going to go back (and try to bring more fat babe friends).

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Dancing at Rebel Cupcake/Sweet Fox with Zachary. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

*Down To Fuck. See this post.

2013-01-25

How I Decided to Join a Gym

Up until October of 2011, I had never once joined a gym.* I debated for a long time joining the Bed Stuy YMCA before I took the plunge and I had a pretty detailed thought process that might help folks out there deciding whether to join a gym.

COST
There are a million gyms in New York City and they all vary wildly in how much they cost. In 2006 I was thinking about joining a gym because I wanted the benefits of an elliptical machine but I decided that buying an elliptical would cost me less than three months of a gym membership so I did that instead. I got a machine that was pretty good and $100 used on Craigs List. But when I moved to Brooklyn I no longer had space for it and had to let it go (and was able to sell it on CL for what I bought it for, thanks used marketplace!). I’ve also used the same logic before to buy home video workouts that I do enjoy but there’s something about the seriousness of going someplace to workout and using the nice machines and classes.

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Me and Hana at Brooklyn Pride.

What really pushed the decision forward for me was that the YMCA offers yoga classes and water aerobics. I love to swim and I love low-impact workouts and hadn’t done water aerobics for years. I figured at $45 a month** it was worth the membership if I attended three classes a month, since the NYC street value of a yoga class is about $15 now and water aerobics is impossible to find outside of a gym. Also the Y offers financial aid for folks who qualify.

It was helpful to me to determine the value in a realistic timeframe. Before I joined the gym I was going to yoga 2-3 times a month (with desire to do more but not the cash). It was not realistic to say I was going to go to the gym three times a week when doing the cost analysis because that’s not where I was in my fitness lifestyle at the time. I wasn’t trying to get “wishful thinking” value out of the gym, I was trying to see how it fit in financially with my lifestyle at the time. (Now that I am a member I often do go three times a week.)

FACILITIES
With the value factor figured out just from the classes available at the YMCA, I was leaning towards it. They had a member drive in September 2011 (with no joiner fee) and I went on a Saturday and took a tour of the facility. I really recommend letting people “sell” it to you, even if you’re already pretty sold because you’ll find out even more about the place than you would on your own.

The Bed Stuy Y is dope! Lots of new equipment, a ton of rooms, childcare, an indoor pool, giant locker room and showers, the aerobics/dance/yoga studio is really nice. It’s also a community place with a lot of activities and seemed really unpretentious.

For me the facilities that were most important were a pool, plentiful ellipticals so I wouldn’t have to wait, and a rowing machine because I am rowing machine curious. Also, those recumbent bikes, I saw a fat person using one on a reality show once and I thought it seemed like a good bike alternative. It helped to have a list of what I was looking for and ask the tour guide to show me.

I discovered they had Bravo on the machines so it was a great way to get some Real Housewife action and I’ll be honest, sometimes I time my workouts with Shahs of Sunset.

There is also a “family” locker room for folks to use that might not feel comfortable in either gendered locker room. Most of my pals on the trans spectrum who work out there feel okay in one or other of the locker rooms but one time Glenn Marla and I had a really frank discussion about being fat and gender variant folks who work out at the Bed Stuy Y with the Membership Director. I had a really positive experience from that conversation and I think if folks have questions about multi-gendered folks using the Y’s gendered facilities they would feel comfortable talking to her.

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Singing Father Figure at a Fuck You Dad Father’s Day Event last summer.

GYM CULTURE
I think the culture of the people is so important to whether you and your gym will be compatible. I researched the culture of the Bed Stuy Y very diligently. The biggest thing that influenced my opinion was how many great Yelp reviews it had. Yelp, and other consumer review websites, can really give you insight into the culture of the place.

There were a lot of things that made me hate the idea of going to the gym. Not the least of which is being a fat person exercising. I don’t love to exercise but I do love how it makes my body feel and it is essential to my mental and emotional health. I need my exercise to happen in a fat positive or at the very least, fat neutral, environment. I combed the Yelp reviews and interviewed my friends who went there about how many fat bodies were working out and what it was like. Other than a slew of diabetes prevention program vis a vis weight loss flyers (which thankfully does not have a targeted fat body on it, the person’s face is thin-appearing), the focus of the gym environment there seems to be on fitness rather than weight loss.

On the other hand I would never consider the NY Sports Clubs because they specifically use fat hate speech in their advertising, which is gross and tells me everything I need to know about their culture!

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Damien goes to my gym.

I have heard about “cruisey” gyms and I also can’t stand the idea of someone hitting on me while I’m working out or anywhere close to about to work out. I’m not wearing make-up, my hair is sloppy and I’m in a comfy gym outfit. My mind is anywhere but on getting dates. I like that my gym is not cruisey at all and every now and again I get compliments on my leg tattoo when I wear a sweatskirt and my hair even when it’s all riled up and ridiculous from the pool. But they are nice compliments and not sleezy.

I’ll be honest, one time I saw a really hot queer working out on one of the weight machines and I briefly considered introducing myself and then I remembered by staunch opposition to gym cruising and decided to “let it begin with me” and trust the Goddess that if I was meant to meet this person they would end up crossing my path at one of my parties or something.

PALS THAT GO TO THE GYM
One of the biggest factors that went into it was whether or not there were folks I knew at the gym. I thought I would really need a buddy for those first few workouts to help me get over my intimidation at being a gym newbie.

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Glenn Marla is my favorite gym buddy. We aqua jog!!

It turned out it was really hard to schedule so I just started going on my own, but it was an incentive. It also gets me to go to some of the classes more when I meet up with a friend for a “good decisions date” where we attend a class and then gossip in the steam room afterward. But you can’t gossip too hard because basically all the queers in a 2 mile radius go to this gym. At any given time I’ll see a famous self-identified trans queer rap artist working out or a queer performance artist pal in the locker room.

The last 15 months at the Bed Stuy YMCA have been pretty boss and I am looking forward to getting pals to come with me to check out the other YMCAs in town. I hear the Vanderbilt YMCA is “so nice you never want to leave.”

*For awhile in the mid-aughts I worked out at Curves but I don’t think that counts as a gym.
**The Bed Stuy Y went up to $47 last Fall but still remains worth it.

2010-12-07

Holiday Gift Guide #1: Yoga Stuff

Filed under: Shopping — Tags: , , , , , — Bevin @ 11:35 pm

I am producing a multi-part Holiday Gift Guide this year. As per usual, I’m procrastinating about it. That’s real.

I am super into yoga. I’ve been doing it at least weekly for a year and a half, but at this point I incorporate yoga into my day at least once, and ideally three times a week do a full hour/90 minutes. I mentioned in my post, The Queer Fat Femme Guide to Beginning a Yoga Practice, that I was never fond of dvd yoga routines as they felt very Jane Fonda-y. Meera, the host and proprietor of Big Yoga, offered me two dvds to review and promised that they wouldn’t be Jane Fonda-y.

The first I reviewed was her latest video Flex-ability. I have been getting a big tattoo on my thigh this Fall and part of the bummer of waiting for it to heal was restricted motion (you use your thigh for a lot of things) and not getting to do as much yoga (no rolling around on the floor, for example).

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Photo by Adipositivity. Tattoo by Jason June (who did my shoulder piece as well).

Being a little stiff and off my game, I thought I would do the Flex-ability yoga routine to limber up before my return to my regular yoga class. I found the music a little corny, but typical for any yoga class, really. The movements were so beautifully basic and easy to understand. It was also really inclusive of all ability levels, people with mobility issues and people of all sizes. I loved that the instructor (Meera) is a person with a big belly and who acknowledges what range of motion someone with a similar body type might not have. I have a big belly and big boobs and it’s really hard for me to do a lot of yoga poses.

At the end of the Flex-ability yoga routine is a really deep relaxation that, should I need a simple relaxation, I might just skip to that part of the dvd. It’s a full 20 minute guided meditation. I found my lower back really stiff afterward, which is a sign I was very relaxed. (I was using a blanket and a dog bed as a bolster under my knees but I think I need to get a legit bolster for using at home.)

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The biggest surprise for me was that I was sore the next day! I could definitely feel the effects of the routine, and even though it appears to be super gentle and easy it is chock full of the good results of my more strenuous yoga routines.

At a later time I used the Big Yoga Beginner’s Hatha 1. The routine was great, full of modifications you could make for various ability levels. It definitely moved slower than a typical yoga class, but that was fine for my home use. I found myself wishing I had this dvd before I began yoga. It includes a great primer on a lot of what you need to know to begin a yoga practice and gets you familiar with the movements involved in basic yoga practice.

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There was even a section I thought was hokey, doing eye exercises. However, I felt it the next day in my eyes (who knew you should stretch those) and I think that makes this the PERFECT gift for the law student in your life. If only I could have popped in this dvd at 3 AM during finals and done some stretching and eye stretching. I had a lot of issues with eye strain during that time.

Really, I think both of these dvds are perfect for the person in your life who has always wanted to take a yoga class but hasn’t gotten up the gumption yet, or someone whose mobility has been lessened and needs a way to move and feel the benefits of yoga.

You can get both of these dvds at the Big Yoga website right here. They’re only $16 each.

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The other fitness/yoga related item I suggest is a double thick yoga mat. I have been craving one of these for a long time. I really love how many different colors there are to choose from and this one seems to be a bargain at only $20. Bean Products Yoga Mat 1/4

You can check out my procrastinator’s gift guide from last year here.

2010-03-10

The Queer Fat Femme Guide to Beginning a Yoga Practice

About six months ago I began a regular yoga practice. I had done yoga only a handful of times before but was always very discouraged by the activity. I’m fat, but as you know, fat people have incredibly different bodies. Mine happens to carry a lot of weight in my torso—primarily my ample rack and belly. This makes it terribly difficult, if not impossible, to do things like bend over or stretch in the ways required by a lot of yoga poses.

When I was working a 9 to 5, I did a lot of research into fat positive, fat centered, or fat inclusive yoga classes, and unfortunately was discouraged by the timing difficulties between my busy schedule and the very specific times these classes were offered. I bought a yoga dvd but found it didn’t give me the calm, meditative exercise I was looking for, it just felt too Jane Fonda-y.

After Michfest last year I was feeling the kind of spiritual connection and limber body one gets from two weeks in the woods with a bunch of woo woo women and other gender-oriented folks, and I solicited my friend Dana, a yoga regular, to take me with her to one of her yoga classes. It felt safe to tag along to a class with another fatty.

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We cycled through a couple of different instructors and thankfully landed on Jyll. Jyll is a miracle, plain and simple. She teaches yoga in exactly the kind of way I want to be a mom. Firm and instructive but also kind and nurturing; you really want to please Jyll. She knows when to push, when to prod, when to chide and when to back off. She also knows the difference between you not doing something because you’re at your limit physically or because you’re at your limit mentally and pushes you past your mental hurdle.

She is also good at teaching you alternative poses, showing how to use the tools of yoga (especially straps, blocks and bolsters) to modify poses for different bodies. I also feel liberated that she encourages modifications!

Even though I am consistently the fattest person in the class, I never feel “other”. She says reminders like “Yoga is not a team sport.” “Yoga is not a competition. Everyone needs to work at their limit.” She also reminds the class that everyone has different flexibility and that they shouldn’t let their ego get in the way lest they get an injury. (It’s how she pulled a muscle she’s still dealing with.)

I love Jyll and I always leave her classes empowered and with my ass resoundingly kicked.

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Taueret at Yoga.

What I like most about yoga is that I have to be really “in” my body. I need to pay attention to my limits, what it is like to push into the limit and really trust my body’s capabilities. As a life-long fatty I have gotten used to giving up really easily and not learning how to push myself. I remember what it was like to be a brave kid and climb waterfalls hiking with my Girl Scout troupe and I don’t know where I got into being a fraidy cat about stuff with my body.

I do notice that usually in every class I suck the worst. It feels a lot like my Hydrologic Science class from undergrad, when they put the high and low scores of the midterm on the white board and I realized my score was the low score. (I then took it Pass/No Pass–thanks UC Davis!)

But at the same time, I feel like it is really good for me to suck at something for an hour and a half every week. It’s humbling, it gives me something to work on and I still feel amazing afterward because I did something hard that was really good for me.

My friend Chris La Femme told me once:

“Truly though, there is no such thing as sucking at yoga.  Yoga is just about twisting your body in certain ways, to squish different organs and push blood around, and you don’t actually have to do the ideal poses for that.”

It’s really true.

Once I got into going to Jyll’s class, and then the wonderful erstwhile Yoga for Every Body classes at Re/Dress NYC (sadly our instructor moved to Ithaca) I was doing yoga twice a week and felt really amazing.

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Dara is going to raise goats and keep bees. She was a great instructor!

When the Re/Dress instructor moved away, I wanted to figure out a way to get into yoga at home that wasn’t with a dvd so that I could maintain my twice weekly pace. I flipped through this book at Re/Dress that Deb brought in and I fell in love. I bought it immediately. Here was a list of all of the yoga poses I had been learning over time, with explanations of what they did for your body and modifications for how to do them in a larger body written by a fat yoga instructor!

Mega Yoga by Megan Garcia in book form.

Mega Yoga in DVD form!

A sweet reminder that if you buy anything from Amazon using my links, the small referral fee gets kicked back to me in the form of gift certificates that help me buy books to read. *

I love using it at home so much! I can put on the cd of my choice** and go through the poses at my own pace. The slow flow of it really helps me. I can sit in a pose a little bit longer if I’m really feeling something. I also like the supplement to the classes I’m taking, because I learn the poses and get adjusted in class but learn more about them at home.

And another great “asking for help” moment, I asked my Butch Ironworker Roommate if it was okay to use her room because she’s got the only carpeted room in the house and free wall space for wall poses and she is totally fine with it.

They call it practice for a reason—it’s not ever going to be perfect. But so far I feel really enthusiastic about what yoga has helped me do with my body. I feel more limber, I feel more secure, I have more balance. It also very much enhanced a recent laycation, so if nothing else, being able to fuck in more interesting ways is a win-win.

So, if you’re at all curious about yoga, I have some suggestions:

1. Find a friend to take a class with you.

Sometimes it really helps to have the buddy aspect, not only for accountability*** but knowing someone else might be physically hindered by belly or boobs or is gender non-normative or uses a cane or something as well. It’s a million times easier to ask for help in a mainstream sort of class when you’re with another person in the same boat. Dana and I cap off our weekly yoga date with coffee next door and have gotten very close over the past six months because of it.

I would suggest finding a beginner or a I/II class. It seems intimidating to go to a class that has a specific kind of yoga, but I really think that novice yogis aren’t going to see a big difference. I go to a Vinyasa class, but the Monday morning with Jyll is “restorative” so it’s not as fast of a flow as Vinyasa usually is. You can look up the other types of yoga, but I think as long as the class is labeled beginner friendly you should be okay.

Also, don’t be afraid to yoga “shop”. If an instructor does not seem responsive to your needs or the class or studio doesn’t feel comfortable to you, try another one!

2. Find or create a class tailored to your body.

This is not always possible but it’s really incredible when you can. There’s also a really great class for folks with dis/abilities and genderqueer/trans friendly yoga here in Brooklyn. And GO to these classes, support that they happen! I was shocked at how small the turn out for yoga for all bodies at Re/Dress ended up being.

If you can get a critical mass of folks to commit to it, sometimes you can even organize classes of your own! If you live in one of those cities with porches and big open living rooms (my friend Lissa in Minneapolis has an upstairs yoga studio size living room with gorgeous sky lights) get an instructor to come in and teach you! There are a lot of instructors out there who are willing or open to creating a body-positive curriculum. And if six of you get together and pool $10 each—well, that can entice a teacher.

3. Don’t sweat the details or the small stuff.

I spent forever obsessing about what kind of yoga I was going to take, whether or not I needed equipment, what I was going to wear… My perfectionism took years off of my yoga practice! I wanted to take yoga so badly and I just never did it because I never felt good enough or prepared enough to do it.

I am telling you right now, it’s not that deep!

I wear velour sweatpants, the same two pair, and a tee shirt (cut out the shoulders, flashdance style because that’s how I do) and a sports bra. And like regular underwear not the fancy frilly kind. The idea is that you want to wear clothes that you can move in and that don’t hinder your body. Yoga is so not a fashion show and I never notice what other people are wearing except when Dana wears her “Live and Let Lez” tank top because, hi.

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Glenn Marla wears palazzo pants.

And if you’re really nervous to start, read Mega Yoga! She gives a really great primer on yoga and breathing!

4. Go go go go go.

I get so disappointed when I’m missing Monday morning yoga. It really does set you back a bunch when you miss a week. Prioritize your yoga practice. Self-care is really important and having time set aside for mind/body/spiritual connection is really important. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha absolutely won’t schedule anything on the nights she has her yoga class because it is so essential to her physical well-being and the management of her dis/ability.

5.Never be afraid to articulate your needs.

At the beginning of a class, usually the instructor will ask about any physical limitations, injuries or needs people have. It’s terrifying to speak up sometimes, but it is really crucial that you tell the instructor what your needs are. Use this as practice for self-advocacy in all other areas of your life.

* I’m hoping to get Urban Tantra next.
** I like Ani DiFranco’s “Knuckle Down” because it can fade into the background really easily but at the same time when I need to focus on something she is singing about topics on that cd which are things I need to be meditating on, like aging estranged father stuff, setting boundaries, old break-up stuff, etc… Ani isn’t for everyone, and thus may I suggest a cd of slow jams? Mint Condition anyone?
***I hate ditching class but I hate ditching Dana more!
****I am not a doctor, and of course before beginning any exercise or body work you should consult your hopefully body positive and supportive doctor.

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