Another one for the ladies: DivaCup review

Seriously–to any male readers out there, this post is going to be like my review of the Instead Softcup. So unless you’re interested in reading reviews of feminine hygiene products, I suggest you skip this one. You’ve been warned.

Last month, I had the period from hell. It came early and lasted about three weeks, and as far as I can tell it was all because of the birth control pill I was taking. As soon as I stopped taking it, my period ended (I guess that’s one way to figure out that you might be better served taking a different pill). The only thing that made those three weeks mildly bearable was my DivaCup. My goodness, I can’t even tell you how relieved I was to have that thing! I mean, a 3-week-long period. Do you even know how many tampons and pads that equals?

Diva Cup review

Image via alittleadrift.com

Back when I wrote my Softcup review, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the full menstrual cup experience. In spite of reading hearing nothing but rave reviews, I couldn’t get past the idea of having to empty out a cup of my period blood every 12 hours or so. And to be honest, my Softcup experience didn’t really help convert me–with the inevitable noises and messes that seemed to be part and parcel of the Softcup, I figured something like the DivaCup would be completely out of the question. But as time passed and I grew more and more tired of always struggling to make sure my pads weren’t bunching and shifting around overnight, forgetting to throw a couple extra tampons in my bag, and just dealing with the discomfort that tampons have always caused me, I decided I might as well give the DivaCup a try.

So, what’s to love about the DivaCup, you ask? Well, only everything. For example:

  • I was able to insert it correctly the very first time I tried it. By comparison, I never got the hang of the Softcup.
  • Once in place, this thing stays where it is. Not only that, but you really don’t feel it at all.
  • Removal isn’t nearly as difficult or gross as you’d think. In fact, it’s a pretty simple, quick, and straightforward process.
  • You can have complete confidence in it. I never felt good enough about the Softcup to wear it during a run or intense workout, but I’ve run 11-mile training runs and made it through 60-minute Doonya classes without the slightest problem from my DivaCup. This is a pretty big deal for me. My period doesn’t have to be a source of inconvenience in my exercise routine!
  • You can wear it for up to 12 hours at a time so no more annoying overnight pads!
  • You pay a bit more up-front than you would for a box of tampons (the average cost of a DivaCup is about $40, but I got mine for less on Amazon), but in the long run you save a ton of money because you cut down so significantly on your various period paraphernalia.
  • There’s no risk of TSS.
  • It’s great for traveling. All you have to pack is your DivaCup and you’re all set.

I know, I probably sound like I’m being paid to say all this. I swear I’m not! I bought the DivaCup with my own money, and all opinions are my own. And of course, there are a couple downsides. You end up having to wash your hands a lot. Once before you insert or remove, and then of course once after. Just be prepared for drier-than-usual skin. You also have to do some planning when it comes to where and when you’ll use the bathroom. If it’s possible, you’ll want to avoid having to remove or insert your cup when you’re in a public place. You don’t have to wash the cup every time you empty it (although if you’re not going to wash it, you should wipe it out), but you really should if you have the opportunity. Maybe not the best thing to do in the sink at work. As with any cup-style product, you’ve got to be pretty comfortable with your lady parts. The DivaCup works by creating a seal around the cervix, and in order to remove it, you have to break that seal. And unlike the Softcup, you can’t wear the DivaCup during sex. Personally, I have no problem with that, but those who like the Softcup for that reason should take note about this difference.

To me, all the good things about the DivaCup far outweigh any of the negatives, and I’m going to go ahead and declare myself a convert. I am now part of that cult of women who consider their menstrual cups miracle products that forever changed their lives and liberated them from the tyranny of their periods. Join us.

YOGAudacious this week and every week

Cross_LeggedThis week I’m the featured yogi on YOGAudacious, and I am pretty excited about it. As I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of how glamorized yoga has become over the last few years, and I’m disappointed that it’s now often used to make people feel bad about themselves. Today alone there were at least three different pictures on my Facebook feed of people in that one-arm balancing split pose that everyone seems to be doing these days (except me). It frustrates me that these are the pictures of yoga that we see most often, and that we risk developing inferiority complexes about our own practices as a result.

But I’ve already gone on about that, so let me get back to YOGAudacious.

YOGAudacious was started this year by my favorite YogaVibes instructor, Gigi Yogini. One of the things I like most about Gigi is how open she is about the importance of having a positive attitude toward your body. Here’s how she describes the YOGAudacious mission:

In 2014, YOGAudacious is celebrating 52 different courageous women (one each week) to help diversify the faces, bodies and stories of yoga in media. We believe that not only does it take courage to show up on your mat, but doing so can help you feel even more brave. By sharing the different stories of women benefited by yoga, we hope to create new role models who inspire more women to get on their mats.

It took me a while to work up the nerve to contact Gigi about being on the website–ironic as it is, I struggled for a long time about how my picture would look up there alongside other fantastic yoginis. Who was I to put myself in that group? But of course the whole point of YOGAudacious is to show that we’re all already part of that group, and that we just need more visual reminders of that fact. I feel really good about working up the courage to articulate what yoga means to me and how it’s changed my relationship with my body, and submitting my application.

I’m so proud to be part of this initiative, and I hope that YOGAudacious not only inspires women to practice, but also to love and accept themselves. Every body is a yoga body, whether you can balance it on one arm or not.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Running

A few weeks ago I started coaching workouts at Athleta on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It’s been so much fun, and has become one of the things I look forward to the most each week. Last night, while talking to one of the runners in the group, I realized that although I’m generally a quiet person, when it comes to running I have a lot to say. In fact, I probably have a bit too much to say. I just want people to love running, and to me, part of loving it is understanding it. So in an effort to get more people to love running as much as I do (and to shut up for a little bit and stop talking people’s ears off), I thought I’d start a series with tips, workout ideas, answers to common running questions, and all sorts of other things that falls into the category of stuff-I-want-to-share-with-you-without-overwhelming-you-with-too-much-information-all-at-once. Ladies and gentlemen (or, honestly, probably just ladies and ladies…or maybe just a lady or two), I give you Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Running.

Part I: Breathing

breatheBreathing while running is hands down the thing I get questions about most often, so what better place to start? In our day-to-day lives, breathing isn’t something that we think about all that much. Air comes in, air goes out, and as long as the process continues, we get on with our lives quiet happily. That, I think, is one of the reasons why breathing is such an issue for new runners. All of a sudden, breathing isn’t this comfortable, obvious, involuntary thing. Instead, it’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It requires thought and concentration. When you start out running, breathing basically sucks (no pun intended). But it doesn’t have to. And once you get comfortable with your breathing, it can become an incredibly powerful tool.

I’m going to break breathing down into three steps.

  1. Think about it. The first step in all of this is to make your breathing a conscious act. Spend time getting a sense of how you breathe–through your mouth? your nose? Deeply? Shallowly? Quickly? Slowly? From the lungs, or from the diaphragm, or even from your belly? These are things you want to know about your breathing, and possibly things you’ve not thought much about. How long is each one of your breaths? And are your inhale and exhale of equal length, or is one longer than the other? All these things are different for every runner, so you have to figure out what works for you. Once you get an idea of how your body naturally breathes, you’re in a better position to work with your breath while running. Find a rhythm that works for you. You can keep track of it by counting your breaths, making up a little song or mantra that helps you to keep your breathing even, or time your breath to your stride. I’m a fan of the latter, and fall very quickly and comfortably into a pattern of inhaling for two steps, and exhaling for two. Finding your own rhythm and concentrating on it until it becomes second nature may feel silly, but it will make your running life so much easier.
  2. Keep it openYou need room to breathe comfortably, and you get that room by maintaining good posture throughout your run. The shoulders should be relaxed, down, and back. The chest should be open. The spine should be straight. No slouching! At the same time, though, you don’t want to focus so hard on keeping your upper body straight that you get stiff. As my meditation teachers frequently say, you should be upright, but not uptight. If you feel yourself tensing up, take a few deep breaths. You can stay loose by breathing correctly, and you can breathe correctly by staying loose. It’s synergy.
  3. Choose the right breath for now. This one comes from Sage Rountree, who is one of my favorite yoga instructors. She uses the concept of finding the right breath all the time in her yoga teaching, and I think it fits running really well, too. Don’t force your breathing; be aware of it, but let it be determined by what’s going on in the moment. There are a ton of factors that can affect your breathing–you might be tired, wired, congested, who knows?–and paying attention to what feels best and then working with that instead of trying to force things in a direction they don’t want to go makes a huge difference in your running.

Like I said before, learning to breathe and work with your breath can be really powerful. Finding the pattern that feels right and being able to adjust it to meet whatever needs you have on any given run can change how far, how fast, and how often you’re able to run. But that’s a whole post unto itself. For now, just focus on finding your rhythm.

 

Yoga isn’t Perfection

A few months ago, I tried participating in one of those challenges where you take a picture of yourself doing something, tag it, and share it online. This particular one was a yoga challenge, and you were meant to post a picture of yourself doing a specific pose (determined by the people organizing the challenge) every day. The prize package for the winner sounded awesome, and I thought the challenge itself would be a lot of fun.

I can’t remember what the pose was on the first day, but it was something I couldn’t even do. I think the second day was side plank; I asked Nat, my fiancé, to take a picture of me doing the pose, and then had to force myself to post it online because I found it so unflattering. On day 3, the pose was another one that was (and probably still is) beyond my level of ability. At that point, I decided this endeavor was not for me, and I gave up on it. The pictures that I was seeing online of other people doing the challenge made it look like all the participants were advanced yogis with perfect, lean bodies, and a lot of flexibility. In fact, I’d say that 99% of the yoga-related pictures I see online feature models that fit that description, along with a complicated pose, and a beautiful setting.

Image via doyouyoga.com

Image via doyouyoga.com

We live in an age where photoshopping is de rigueur; nearly every photograph we see has been altered in some way, and that includes all those pictures we put our own ready-made filters on and then post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I guess it’s not all that surprising that the images circulating through the yogiverse would be held to the same standard as the rest of the pictures we’re exposed to. But when I see it in this context, I find it even more disappointing than I do when I see it everywhere else.

The image above was posted alongside an article entitled, “Is it Okay that I Will Never be Able to do that Yoga Pose…Ever?” Obviously, the answer to that question ends up being, “Yes, it’s okay!” In yoga, any expression of a pose is okay–whatever you’re doing, you’re pretty much doing it right as long as you’re not pushing yourself beyond your limits. The goal isn’t to touch your forehead to your knee while in a full standing split, or balance the weight of your entire body on one hand. There’s a reason it’s called a yoga practice. It’s not perfection. There’s no such thing as perfection in yoga. It’s not meant to be the ultimate anything in any way. So why don’t we get to see any of that in yoga-related media?

I want to see the openness of yoga and the diversity in its practice reflected in the pictures we have representing it. I want to see bodies of different shapes and sizes and yogis of varying abilities doing their practice. After all, that’s what yoga is–there’s beauty and grace in a long, lean body doing dancer’s pose, but yoga should also show us that there’s beauty and grace in every body in any pose. If nothing else, can’t we at least see a picture of an everyday yogi alongside an article about being one? Because if we’re really supposed to believe that it is okay that we might not ever be able to do that yoga pose, wouldn’t help to see someone else not doing it, too?

NEDAwareness Week: I Had No Idea

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme this year is “I had no idea”, drawing attention to the fact that although eating disorders are all around us, they remain private, mysterious, and often invisible. NEDA has a quiz on their website with some pretty surprising facts that dispel some of the myths about EDs and show just how pervasive they’ve become. For instance, did you know that there are more people in the United States with eating disorders than there are with green eyes? Take a look at the quiz and test your knowledge. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to EDs, but I didn’t manage to score 100%.

This year’s NEDAW theme raises a question that I find myself thinking about a lot: have disordered eating behaviors become so normal in our society that we’re losing track of what actual normal eating is*? So many of us are trying to conform to a beauty standard that is literally impossible for us to live up to–are we getting so used to the restrictive or other extreme food-related behaviors that seem to go hand-in-hand with chasing this impossible ideal that we no longer even notice them? It’s possible that when we say, “I had no idea”, part of what we mean is “I didn’t think this was disordered, it doesn’t seem unusual to me.” I want to be sure to note here that disordered eating and eating disorders are different things (I’m not using them interchangeably), but since disordered eating might as well be considered a gateway drug, I think it’s valid to discuss them both here.

I go through phases where I feel like there’s no point in continuing to talk about how photoshopped all the pictures we see are, or how nice it would be to see more diversity in body shapes and sizes. I mean, we all know this, right? Every picture has been retouched. We don’t all look like supermodels. And the images we’re exposed to that create this standard aren’t going to change anyway. As for my part, who’s even reading this stuff I write about body image positivity and eating disorders, anyway? What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do that will have a big enough impact to change anything. It’s discouraging to feel like you’re up against something so big and ingrained. But then I see facts like the ones below, and realize that no matter what, we can’t stop talking about these things, we can’t ignore them, and we can’t give up. Calling out the many ways in which our society encourages and rewards disordered eating will never stop being important, and it has to be done. So even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there’s no such thing as a perfect body, every body is just as good as every other one, and most importantly, every body deserves to be loved.

Media Literacyinfographic2_13

*I know the word “normal” often has less-than-neutral connotations when used in a context like this one. It’s definitely not an ideal word, but it’s the best I can come up with. I mean, trying to work out an alternative to “normal” is a post unto itself.

The Lottery is Open

For the first time since 2004, the Marine Corps Marathon is using a lottery system for registration. As of today, the lottery is open, and will remain so until March 15 in order to give runners plenty of time to decide whether or not they want to throw their hats into the ring. It makes me sort of sad to see the MCM going the way of the lottery, since for a long time it was one of the few big marathons left that you could register for without having to qualify or get lucky. But given how hard it’s gotten to register in the past couple years, the move makes sense.

Photo on 2010-11-23 at 18.58

Post-race spoils in 2010.

I ran my last marathon in 2010, and it was a rough one. Since then, I’ve registered for them, but backed out of every single one. I can’t even remember anymore what I planned to do or when it was. I think the last time I signed up for a marathon was in 2012, when I planned to run the MCM. I grew up outside of Washington, so it’s a race I’ve always wanted to do. I got several weeks into my training and struggled through many a long run before I just sort of fell apart and realized that the race just wasn’t going to happen. With summer temperatures and the humidity, my running was just miserable. Mentally, I just wasn’t that into it. Ultimately, I decided not to do the race. I also decided I didn’t want to run marathons anymore. 

Fast forward a couple years, and I’ve once again experienced that desire to just hit the road and run until complete collapse (which, admittedly, would happen to me after roughly 8 miles at this point. But hey, that’s what training is for!). I’ve found myself missing the long runs, hour upon hour of putting one foot in front of the other. There’s something so pure and simple about training for and running a marathon, and the whole process leaves you with a feeling that you’ve been cleaned from the inside out. It scares me to say it, but I think I want to run another 26.2-mile race.

So when I heard that the MCM lottery was open, I went immediately to the website to find out more about the process. Here are some important facts: you’ve got 21 days to enter; you don’t pay any sort of fee until you register; race registration is $110, which is really reasonable given the cost of a lot of marathons. I almost entered immediately, but I stopped myself. I called it quits with marathons because they stopped being enjoyable. Instead of 16 weeks of highs and lows, the training period was just one long low. Runs would be preceded by tears and mental anguish. I never felt confident enough in myself to have any certainty that I would make it through my next long run. I got so wrapped up in the fear of failing that I put myself in a position where I couldn’t even try. I don’t want to go through all of that torture again.

What’s funny about all this is that if I enter the MCM lottery, there’s no guarantee that I’ll get in. I mean, that’s what makes it a lottery. But that hasn’t stopped me from getting nervous about it! If I enter and I do get in, there’s nothing keeping me from deciding not to register after all. And that hasn’t stopped me from getting nervous about it, either! Basically, I’m worrying about whether I should commit to the possibility of committing to running a race. I don’t think deciding whether or not to enter the lottery is supposed to be the hard part!

Fortunately, I have 21 days to think about this–three whole weeks to analyze the minute details of the pros and cons that accompany entering a race lottery to determine if you might get to register!

Hmm…Is it possible that I’m being a little silly about this?

I don't normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

2013: The Year of Giving Up

It’s taken me over a month of reflection to feel like I have any real insight into what 2013 was like for me. Even now, in the middle of February, I don’t think I’ve got the full picture. But that’s life. Can you ever really make lasting sense of it?

Looking back, 2013 seems a little bit empty. It wasn’t a bad year and it wasn’t a good year, it was just sort of there, you know? I didn’t race much, I didn’t run much, I didn’t really do anything big or significant. 2013 doesn’t have any distinguishing features…except that I kind of gave up on stuff.

I don't normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

I don’t normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

Giving up has such a negative sound to it, like you’re just kind of accepting that you can’t win and walking away. There’s resignation, and maybe even some resentment, involved. The giving up I’m talking about wasn’t all bad. I mean, it wasn’t meant to be. It was actually meant to be positive, more letting go than giving up: letting go of things that I thought were holding me back, of things that were too much, of things that were damaging. But at some point, I think I lost track of the things I was shedding, and now I feel a little bit naked.

If life is a balance of holding on and letting go, how do we decide which is more appropriate at any given time? I think my biggest fault this past year was telling myself that giving things up would be healthy and helpful, when in reality all I was doing in some cases was justifying the fact that I was throwing in the towel and no longer making an effort for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, the healthy part comes from the effort, while the act of giving up ends up being more damaging. At other times, it really is time to give yourself a break and try to connect with doing less in order to get more out of something.

I find myself thinking about this balance a lot. I don’t want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. Instead, I want to push myself while still respecting and understanding my limits. I want to do new things without beating myself up if I fail or fumble. I don’t want to give up just to avoid the discomfort that might come from an imperfect outcome, but I don’t want to keep holding on when I no longer stand to gain anything positive from a situation, either.

I guess that as in all cases that require some kind of balance, finding what works will take a lot of trial and error. Maybe that’s what 2014 will be for.