Stoned Enough to Dance Burlesque

As far adventuring goes, this past weekend has been a very good one! On Saturday morning I had the opportunity to have a go at some typical ‘strongman’ stuff at CrossFit Causeway.

First up was an extensive introduction to the Atlas Stones. We started light, learning how to get the stones off the floor, how to ‘hug them’ and then ‘encourage them’ up to our shoulders. (Just so you know, verbal encouragement does seem to work – as long as you have a good relationship with your stone , I reckon it’ll listen and ‘work with you’ 😎.) The heaviest I managed in practice was a 40kg stone. Here’s me in the WOD (Workout Of the Day) lifting a 35kgΒ  stone (5 1/2 stone/ 77 lbs):

We also had a go at a Zercher carry. As you can see from the images (one of me and one of Gail, a fellow competitor in the upcoming powerlifting competition), the load is held in the crook of your elbows. The load isΒ  largely in front of you and this increases the demands on the upper back, while also increasing core tension.

The session was all about strength and this wouldn’t normally appeal to me (I like a bit of the old conditioning too πŸ˜‰ ). However, I really enjoyed it (I think it was because I’d never done anything like it before and I wasn’t even sure whether I could lift any of the stones) and my body obviously got a pretty tough workout because on Sunday morning my whole body felt like it was full of concrete!

I managed a sprint session on Sunday morning (without it I don’t think I would have been able to move very much at all) before heading to Belfast for the hotly anticipated Rock Goddess Burlesque workshop, led by the brilliant Soup du Jour (Laura Firby). I was sharing this adventure with a writer friend of mine, Belinda Bennetts. We’d both studied the joining instructions very carefully and were ready to throw ourselves headlong (or whichever body part might work best 😎) into the experience. We had our outfits. We had our attitudes. And we were up for it!

Obviously, we were a little shocked when the workshop started with everyone pretty much fully dressed 🀣🀣🀣.Β  During the first part of the workshop we learned how to ‘promenade’ and practised jiggling, hip-swivelling and shimmying (which is much harder than it looks). After a while, we were invited to put on our heels – and that made a real difference: I certainly felt like more of a performer with them on. Just before the tea-break we managed our first routine!

Belinda and I took an executive decision to go the whole hog and put on all our burlesque kit for the second part of the workshop. I was keen to have the full experience and see if dancing like this offered the opportunity to experience my ‘edges’ in new ways. Once it was obvious what Belinda and I were up to, another woman started to get changed. She was about the same age as me – also post-menopausal and also filling her life with new experiences.

I was rather taken with her leather bustier, but it was her homemade nipple tassels that impressed me the most! She’d already done a few classes with Soup du Jour and had obviously found her thing. I loved the joy and playfulness in her – and she had such a free energy in her when she was dancing.

In the second part of the workshop we learned how to take off gloves, take off clothes and do floor work (also much harder than it looks and requires LOTS of flexibility). By the end of the afternoon, we’d learned and performed a second routine. And I’m so glad I changed into my outfit during the tea break: it made such a difference. I felt much more in my body, much more powerful, much more willing to ‘let go’ and try on the full-on burlesque persona. Being in a dance studio, we all faced ourselves in the mirror. As I watched myself, I kept my eye out for things I’d never noticed about myself before.

I noticed how strong I looked and I could see how my adventures have changed my body. I noticed how ‘in my body’ I was, too: I wasn’t trapped in my head. As I watched my body move, I noticed that I was not self-conscious or embarrassed in any way at all – rather, I was thrilled that my body was moving and enjoying the movement. I had invited it to dance and it had accepted the invitation ‘with knobs on’. And when it got to the floor work (I’d say you’d call that the ‘rudest bit’ 🀣), I noticed how playful my body was.

Burlesque dancing was a brilliant way of finding out where I am in my post-menopausal journey. I am happy to confirm that I feel free, confident, playful and have no hang-ups to speak of about my aging body. I actually love what my body can do – and wants to do. I love that it remembers how to do things, even when my mind has forgotten. I love that it still learns quickly (much faster than my mind). I love that it gives things a go – and keeps giving things a go until it find its own way of ‘getting the hang’ of it.

Burlesque dancing is also a brilliant way of connecting with other women. It was interesting to me that most of the group were young women (in their 20s and 30s), but there were some women there in their 40s – and at least two of us in our 50s. I felt a much stronger sense of sisterhood with the older women, and I have the feeling that if there were a class just for more mature women, it might be pretty wild!

If you’re interested in having a go at burlesque dancing, and you’re based in Northern Ireland, I strongly recommend Laura’s classes. The class I did was a single workshop, but there are courses spread over weeks too. You can do the Rock Goddess Burlesque class at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on 2 June!

I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks projectΒ here.)

JT πŸ™‚

Celebrating all the Wins!

The last couple of weeks have been full of adventure, and I’m really enjoying getting things ‘under my belt’. I’m learning that the ‘having a go’ bit is where the real juice is, and whilst it’s lovely to achieve a goal, it’s the process of getting there that’s the real win for me.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I took my grade 8 Musical Theatre exam on 01 April. That was my first official #OldDogNewTricks adventure – and the results are in! *Drum roll* *Trumpets* *Dry ice* I actually got a Distinction, the top grade possible – and I was wearing my dressing gown in the exam too πŸ˜‰ (that’s the Mikado Effect πŸ˜‰ ). I’ll receive more detail about each element of the exam in due course, but in the meantime, I’m celebrating ‘the win’ πŸ™‚ .

You’ll also remember that I competed in the CrossFit Open for the very first time during February and March. CrossFit is helping me to prepare physically for my sprinting, powerlifting and swimming adventures. There were lots of things I couldn’t do during the Open (like handstand press-ups and double unders – where the rope passes twice beneath your feet between skips – and muscle ups), but there were lots of things I could (that I couldn’t do when I started CrossFit). I’m so glad I took part: it helped me to raise my game and I got to know other competing athletes at our box (gym) much better.

Here are my rankings for the CrossFit Open 2019, Female Masters (50-54). There’s another Open in October this year (due to a change in the way the Open will work in the future), so I’m going to give that a shot too. Who knows? I may be able to do handstand press-ups by then!

Emboldened by my experience of the Open, I recently gave weighted pull ups a go for the very first time – and I did it! Okay, I only managed to carry an extra 6kg, but I was thrilled with that. Here’s what a weighted pull up is – and how to do one. (And this experience really reminded me of the importance of just giving things a go because you never know what’s in you until you try something).

That’s all for now. In the meantime, I’m just going outside and may be some time.

JT πŸ™‚

Feeding the Beast

Today I’m talking a little bit about how I’m eating to support my adventure goals. My training schedule is intense and that means that I’ve had to work hard to make my nutrition work for me πŸ™‚ . It might also surprise you to know that I also have to fuel up for my musical theatre lessons: they are very physical indeed! I treat those singing lessons just like any other workout – and if I’m not well fuelled, I just don’t have the energy to support my voice.

In the video-blog I describe a typical day’s eating and mention some of my favourite ‘finds’. The recipes I talk about are listed below the video (with either full recipe details or a link to a recipe). If you think my eyes look a bit weird, don’t worry! I’m just out of the pool and my goggle-marks take ages to fade πŸ™‚ .

Just so you know, I also don’t drink alcohol, I aim for 6-8 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, and I avoid processed foods. I make my own scones, wheaten loaf and bread as often as I can. I’ve been following a phytoestrogen-rich way of eating to support my menopausal and post-menopausal experience for a while now (I can recommend The Natural Menopause Cookbook)Β and I am pleased to say that I’ve weathered the whole transition without a single hot flush, headache or any weight gain whatsoever. My diet is usually largely vegetarian, but (at the moment) I do eat red meat once or twice a week, oily fish twice a week and white fish once a week. I only eat whole grains too (so wholewheat pasta, wholemeal spelt bread, brown rice etc.). Oh, and I take filter coffee by the bucketful πŸ˜‰ .

Porridge
Soak a cup of oats and a tsp of oat bran in water overnight. In the morning add three handfuls of frozen berries (I like a mix of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries) to the saucepan, along with extra water if required. When the porridge starts to bubble, serve with a handful of chopped nuts (I like Brazil nuts best of all with porridge) and a heaped tsp of ground flax seeds or chia seeds. Add a shake of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey and you are good to go! (Honestly, this is my favourite meal of the day πŸ™‚ .)

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Soup
This recipe from the BBC GoodFood website is completely reliable and freezes really well. I eat it with a sandwich/wholewheat baguette. It works really well with a melted blue cheese and rocket sandwich! Also good with an egg or ham sandwich.

Protein Shake
I blend the following and drink immediately. By the way, I like a very thick shake. If you prefer ‘thin’, add milk! 1 banana, 1 slice of pineapple, 1 tbsp of natural yoghurt, 1 heaped tsp of nut butter, 1 scoop of protein powder (I sue egg white protein or whey isolate). When blended, sprinkle on some cinnamon and enjoy!

Banana Ice Cream
Peel a banana and freeze for 3-4 hours. Remove from freezer and blend with a tsp of nut butter. Eat! (It tastes much better than it looks πŸ™‚ )

 

Wholemeal Wheaten Bread
This recipe is really reliable. I replace all the white flour with wholemeal spelt (makes it denser but I prefer it this way) and I replace the sugar with a tsp of honey. Don’t skimp on the salt! This loaf is beautiful topped with peanut butter and banana. Also works well with cheese and honey, and homemade lemon curd and butter.

In case you were curious about the fifth and final heat for the CrossFit Open (which I’m completing tonight), here are the details:

 

And here’s what a thruster looks like!

Right. I think I need a little lie-down before 19.5, tonight’s CrossFit heat. And maybe a wee piece of wheaten bread πŸ˜‰ .

I am just going outside and may be some time.

JT πŸ™‚

Going with the Flow

Today I’m video-blogging for a change! In the video-blog I talk about some of the unusual things that have been happening over the last two weeks:

  1. Experiencing a sentient landscape.
  2. Hearing my flow voice.

I’ve popped details of the books I mention, along with info about the CrossFit Open heats and Olympic lifting sessions, below the video-blog.

Alan Garner’s Thursbitch Every inch of this book is breathtaking: from the vivid language (which you need to tune your ear to, but the effort is well worth it) to the awe-inspiring depiction of a sentient landscape (a landscape that has a presence and that can feel yours); and from the interweaving of ancient rites and echoes from the past with a shifting and uncertain present to the gradual melting of boundaries in the liminal space that is the Thursbitch valley.Β 

 

Steven Kotler’s The Rise of SupermanΒ This is all about what ‘flow’ is and how to create conditions to access it (even when you’re not an adventure sports junkie πŸ™‚ ). I’m about halfway through and just getting onto the ‘how to’ bit. I’d say you need to be prepared to wade through a lot of stuff about men doing daredevil stuff (and couched in sports-technical terms) to get to the real juice, but it is worth sticking with. (Shame more women don’t get a mention. In fact, no women mentioned so far ….)

Here’s what I’ve been learning in the Olympic lifting technique sessions over the last 2 weeks (clean and jerk):

And here are the last two heats I’ve completed in the CrossFit Open 2019. For 19.3 I managed all the lunges and box step-ups but couldn’t manage a single handstand press-up (even though I had plenty of time!). For 19.4 I managed 4 rounds plus 6 pull-ups (so 16 pull-ups in total). The pull-ups were the limiting factor for me 😦 .

 

 

I’m just going outside and may be some time πŸ™‚

JT

Beyond the Boundary

At the end of last week I posted a blog about how my identity at any given point in time may be affecting, and driving, my adventures. I talked about becoming consciously aware of things that were stacking the deck in my favour and things that probably weren’t.

It was clear to me that I had some work to do around clearing up an old memory of feeling humiliated on the sports field – and that the part of me that was stuck as a teenager on a school sports day in the early 1980s needed some kind of liberation if I was to stand any chance of reaching my full potential as a strength athlete.

One thing that’s becoming increasing clear to me is this: my adventures are creating the context for rapid change and transformation. In the very week I realised I’ve been operating from the identity of ‘tiny, weak, sporting failure’ when I’m lifting weights, I had the opportunity to break through the boundary lines keeping that identity ‘safe’ and in place.

Last Friday I competed in the second heat of the CrossFit Open. I chose the scaled option because I’d only recently recorded a 40kg 1RM clean (lifting the bar for one repetition, only because that’s the most you can manage in one go πŸ™‚ ) and had 30kg as my 3RM (the most I could lift 3 times) for a clean . The clean was only a part of the most challenging lift in the workout. Here’s what a clean looks like:

Here’s the second CrossFit Open 2019 heat workout – and you can see it involves something called a squat clean. A squat clean is a clean plus a full squat #DoesWhatItSaysOnTheTin.

Normally in a workout involving multiple reps for this lift, I’d take a 20kg (44 lb)Β  bar. So you can see that the opening weight was already more than I’d usually lift – and that the second weight (35kg – 95lb) was, well, more than 3 repetitions and more than my 3RM personal record! (55lb = 25kg, 75lb = 35kg, 95lb = 43kg).

Here’s what a squat clean looks like:

I managed to get through the 25kg squat cleans, and it wasn’t easy! When I got to the 35kg squat cleans I was in new territory. On paper, I was in the land of the impossible – and my only aim was to get through the set before the 8 minutes were up. Honestly, I thought that’s as far as I could hope for.

Well, I did it and earned myself another 4 minutes and the chance to squat clean 43kg. (I weigh 56kg, by the way. So I’d be squat-cleaning 77% of my own bodyweight.) At this stage the other competitors and our coach were standing around me, shouting encouragement. I picked up the bar but failed to get it up to my shoulders. I was going to stop at this point because I’d already got much further than I thought I would – and I genuinely believed that 43kg was impossible.

However, something very strange happened when I dropped the bar after the first failed attempt. Everyone was still shouting encouragement, saying things like ‘Plenty of time’ and ‘Take another go at it.’ In my head everything felt like it was shutting down, going very quiet. I remember swearing at the other competitors in a light-hearted way at this point but also feeling that I was really somewhere else – cut off from things, in ‘the void’. Then there was just a prickly, electric ‘head- silence’ (best words I can find for this at the moment) and all I could hear was our coach, Richard, saying ‘Pick up the bar’. So you know what I did? I bloody well picked it up, didn’t I? πŸ™‚ And I completed the lift. And every time I put it down, Richard said ‘Pick it up.’ and I did – 3 times!

Even though I got timed out at 12 minutes, I didn’t care. Something happened after I’d failed, after I’d tried really hard but not succeeded. Something switched off inside me and allowed me across the old boundary line, the old line that said ‘This is as far as you’re ever going to get, you “tiny, weak, sporting failure”.’ I’d say the first failure at the lift was me bumping up against the boundary and that bumping up against it (actually making an honest attempt at it) was enough to destabilise it so that the next lift was possible. Weirder still, every time I squat-cleaned that 43kg bar it felt lighter!

I’m curious about what happened last Friday night. Conditions for an altered state of consciousness were perfect. I’d say I was definitely in some kind of trance when I failed at the 43kg lift, and that I was probably open to suggestion in the hypnotic sense. I’d also say that maybe ‘flow’ was beginning (I’ll talk about that more in a separate post) – and I wonder what would have happened if I’d had more time to lift. Anyway, whatever happened last Friday was the beginning of something BIG that carried over into Saturday!

On Saturday morning I went along to an Olympic weightlifting technique session at CrossFit Causeway. The session was run by lifting coach, Damien Ledger and we were going to work on our snatch technique. Now, I don’t mind a power snatch at all. In fact, it’s one of my favourite lifts:

But I’ve always found a full snatch troublesome – even with an empty bar I found it impossible to get down into the full squat position. Here’s what a full snatch looks like, demonstrated by Sukanya Srisurat, the current world record-holder for the snatch in my weight category (58kg):

Damien’s a brilliant coach, very straight forward and very direct in his approach. We started off with drills using a stick, then using an empty bar. When we got onto the empty bar, more weird things started to happen. I could feel an incredible fizzing energy in my body, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought I ought to say something, but I couldn’t find the words for it. I wondered if it might be adrenaline because I was getting ready to do something my mind-body usually ‘refused’ to do.

Eventually, I managed to do the full move with the empty bar and actually enjoyed it – but the strange feeling was getting stronger. When Damien told us to load the bar up (I took wooden plates, the lightest option), the feeling ramped up even further.

Just adding another 4 kgs to the bar seemed to make the lift impossible. I could get it over my head but I kept bailing out of the squat. I watched as the other two athletes, whipped up that bar, dropped beneath it into a full squat and stood up. Damien said, ‘It’s a confidence issue. We’ll just wait for you to get one snatch.’ And you know what I did? I went and did 3 full snatches and I was delighted! And you know what else happened? The minute I dropped into the first full squat, that strange feeling disappeared.

When I was driving home, I got the insight about the feeling: it was fear. And that fear had probably been sitting there outside of my conscious awareness, doing its thing, for quite a few years!

So, that’s me now: I’m on the other side of the boundary line. I’ve had an undeniable experience of me doing something physical that I thought was impossible and I’ve had an undeniable experience of my fear ‘leaving the building’. Now fearless and in new territory, I wonder how much more of me there is to discover and how much more there is to learn. I wonder who I’m becoming.

Here’s what I know right now:

1. Possibility lies on the other side of the boundary line.
2. Failure is sometimes the first stage of success.
3. When fear shows up, you just have to show fear what you’re really made of.
4. I’m no longer aΒ  ‘tiny, weak, sporting failure’. (Right now I’m in the space between where I was and where I might be. I’ll let you know when I discover more about who I’m becoming and where I’m landing πŸ˜‰ ).
5. Being a post-menopausal woman doesn’t need to be a ‘boundary condition’. Being in your 50s doesn’t need to be a boundary condition. Whatever your age,Β  it’s really worth exploring the edges of yourself : if you bump up against any boundaries, you’ll know exactly where to push a little, knowing that the full possibility of who you are lies just on the other side.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.

JT πŸ™‚