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This One Weird Trick

Posted at 12:00 on 22 Mar 2021 by Pandora / Blake



It’s been a long, locked-down winter, and a month ago I was feeling crappy: slow, sluggish and permanently overtired. I’m doing a hell of a lot better now than I was, and I wanted to talk a bit about why.

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about ‘self-care’. As a concept it’s not without its problems: not everyone has the time, energy, headspace or resources to devote to the various things it’s now recommended we all do to look after ourselves. As the idea takes firmer root people end up feeling as though they’re being blamed for their own difficulties because they’re not taking enough baths or buying the right sort of scented candle. In the USA there are health insurance companies who actually offer money off some policies if you can demonstrate your participation in certain ‘self-care practices’ -  which of course aren’t accessible to disabled people, overworked people, people living in poverty, people with inadequate childcare, or people with any number of other physical and environmental limitations. Holy ableism, Batman.

There’s something horribly dishonest about the idea that one must “feel good” all the time - and that those good feelings are entirely within our own personal control. Sometimes things are just shitty, and the best thing we can do is accept that we're gonna feel shitty about them. Sometimes it’s not even close to being your fault, and shit is being dropped on you from a great height.

But... sometimes there are things we can do. You might, like me, be a relatively privileged, relatively able-bodied person with an adequate support system. Perhaps you feel crappy because you have needs that aren’t being met, and perhaps you can do something to meet some of those needs. Yes, even in the midst of pandemic chaos.

I hate feeling bad. I much prefer to feel good, if at all possible. So I launched myself on a quest to figure out what that ‘something’ might be. Did I need to work less? We arranged some COVID-secure childcare so my partner and I could spend a whole day together. No work, no toddler - just us. Was that what I was missing? It was lovely - but it brought home to me how depleted I’d become. It took six hours of cuddling, talking, massage and snacks before I felt like I wanted a spanking.

Amidst numerous complaints about how crappy I felt, I shared that I'd heard a podcast the other day where both guests agreed that if they could only do one thing every day for their wellbeing, it would be exercise. I couldn't remember when I'd last done any. "I think that half an hour of Tai Chi a day would do you a lot of good," Felix agreed.

I’ve been doing Tai Chi for three and a half years, more off than on since we all got stuck at home. I was taking classes on Zoom for a while, but not since we moved house. 

So Felix offered to take the munchkin first thing before breakfast, to give me a bit of time when I got up in the morning. Why not try it for a week and see?

And what do you know? After a week, the difference was remarkable. After a month, I never want to stop.

I wake up, get dressed in joggers and a hoodie, drink a glass of water, and go out to our chilly conservatory where there's a bit of space. I do ten minutes of qi gong, then the 18-step Chen bare hand form three times, and ten minutes of weapons practice. I've been relearning Cheng Man-Ch'ing narrow sword from my notes, and have just started brushing up my fan form.

Doing the same thing every morning makes it easy to start. I don't have to feel energetic or make decisions - I can go through the motions at first. My mind is usually busy when I start, but by the time I'm doing the form I'm able to focus internally. That's when I really notice the benefits: when I bring my attention to my breath, and to my centre. I focus on making my movements smooth and flowing, strong and explosive, or soft and subtle. When my attention is focused on my internal experience rather than on racing thoughts, the practice is emotionally calming and mentally enlivening.

I knew Tai Chi was awesome, but I was literally stunned by how quickly I noticed the benefits from doing it every morning. I'm stronger and more flexible; my body simply works better. I have more energy and I feel more alert. I’ve become calmer and less reactive, even after a broken night, and I’m finding it easier to self-regulate strong emotions. My concentration and mental clarity have improved, I’m more cheerful and contented than I was, and my stress levels have fallen dramatically. I’m even sleeping better - in-between interruptions from the toddler, of course.

This is all amazing, of course, but the most startling benefit has been one I have no idea to expect: it’s totally transformed my relationship with my body.

I wrote recently about my thoughts after listening to Sonya Renee Taylor, author of Your Body Is Not An Apology. Since then I've been regularly reminding myself that “comparison is the ladder”. It’s proved a tough nut to crack - I still caught myself making judgements and comparisons about my body. But after a couple of weeks of doing Tai Chi once a day, I suddenly noticed I hadn't thought those things at all. I caught sight of myself in the mirror one day and realised I couldn't remember the last time I'd cast an assessing or evaluating gaze on my own figure. Maybe I look different and maybe I don’t - I actually haven't noticed. For the first time in my life, the only thing I notice about my body is what it feels like, and what it's capable of.

This is... revelatory. I’m blown away. It might sound like a small thing, but for someone who has struggled with body image over the years - it’s a huge shift, all the more delightful for being unexpected.

I’m not really trying to say that you should all rush out and start learning Tai Chi, not least because it might be tricky while there's a pandemic on. But if you're feeling crappy and there is some kind of exercise and movement you enjoy doing, and you’re not currently doing it, might that be a sort of low-hanging fruit? 

There are three main factors, I think, that make this work for me:

  1. My routine starts gently, so I can begin no matter how tired I’m feeling. 
  2. It’s mentally engaging enough to hold my attention. I get bored easily, so I benefit from something that uses my brain as much as my body. Studying the forms, paying attention to my breath, where my weight is, the quality of my movement - it's interesting. And far more beneficial than just waving my arms around while thinking about work.
  3. By the end the physical intensity has ramped up enough that my heart is beating faster - which is energising and enlivening.


This won’t work for everyone, of course. Maybe you need something more or less physically demanding to feel good afterwards. But that’s what works for me.

So rather than dispensing advice, I'm curious: What have you found that helps you stay sane in the midst of this pandemic? Does regular movement like this keep you steady, or do you need something different? Please share your thoughts and experiences below - you never know, your One Weird Trick might help someone else as much as this helped me.

This post was funded by my 113 Patrons. To power my activism and my writing on sexual freedom and social justice, join my Patreon community here

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Tags: accessibility, body image, body positivity, health, mental health, movement, Patreon, self-care

48 comments

Comparison is the ladder

Posted at 15:00 on 29 Dec 2020 by Pandora / Blake



A few weeks back I wrote a very personal post about body shame, gender dysphoria and bodily autonomy that is up there amongst of the most raw and emotional things I’ve written for this blog. It was difficult to write and a little nerve-wracking to post, but it felt important both to me personally and as a wider topic for discussion.

While all that was stewing in my brain, my therapist and I talked about the things I was struggling with . She recommended a book called The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, and an episode of Brené Brown’s excellent podcast ‘Unlocking Us’, in which Sonya Renee Taylor comes on as a guest to speak about the book. I’ve not had a chance to read the full book yet, but the podcast alone has blown my tiny mind. All of the questions I asked in that post have been addressed simply by hearing Sonya Renee Taylor speak.

Her approach centres around a concept that she calls ‘the ladder’. The ladder is the hierarchy of bodies upheld by our oppressive society: the colour of your skin, whether you’re thin or fat, whether you’re disabled or not, how closely you conform to society’s beauty standards, your age, your transness or cisness. I hadn't realised it before, but most oppression in our society is based on the body, and on judging other people based on what they look like. Even wealth and class is often rooted deeply within the body; our size, appearance and how free we are to climb the ladder and gain status based on our body varied depending on our financial and social power. 

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Tags: body image, body positivity, body shame, feminism, food, gender, hierarchy, oppression, patriarchy, power, self-acceptance, self-love, shame, social justice, social transformation

2 comments

Body love

Posted at 15:00 on 8 Oct 2019 by Pandora / Blake

Pandora Blake post-partum body love

This is me 13 weeks post-partum.

Stretch marks, soft tummy, big boobs, one usually bigger than the other (depending on which one the little one has fed from recently). Strong arms, back and shoulders from carrying my child who is getting bigger by the day.

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Tags: Body positivity, parenthood, photos, post-partum

506 comments

Post-partum physicality

Posted at 14:31 on 3 Sep 2019 by Pandora / Blake

My baby arrived in early July, two days early, after a day and a half of labour. They're now eight weeks old, and we're entering the final month of the "fourth trimester". We're both in good health, and words can't express the enormity, joy and transformation of the last two months.

Human babies are born less ready to survive in the world than any other mammals, and their brains are very undeveloped when they're born. If it wasn't for the pesky ratio of pelvis size to head circumference, we'd gestate them until they were ready to move around independently, like calves and puppies can. But as it is, we have this unique experience of a parent/child bond during these first few months where I am, in a very real way, an extension of their body - they physically need me to survive. It's part of the magnitude of the experience that I'm beholden to them 24/7 for sustenance, hydration, ablutions, movement, temperature regulation, and physical closeness. I've been reading various books on parenting and the neuroscience of brain development that emphasise how important cuddles are - and talking, singing, play and other forms of parent/child interaction - for cognitive and social development in early life. Which is good, because I really like cuddles, and snuggling my baby is an indescribably wonderful feeling.

Babywearing - carrying my child around on my front in a sling - has transformed my experience. Being able to hold my baby in a close embrace, rock and soothe them, while freeing up my hands to do other things ({like type this blogpost) is a game changer. I'm currently sitting with my laptop at the kitchen table, bouncing on the yoga ball.

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Tags: body positivity, kink, parenthood, play, post-partum

49 comments

The Full Body Project

Posted at 00:16 on 28 Feb 2015 by Pandora / Blake

The Full Body Project by Leonard Nimoy

Until today, I'd never seen any of Leonard Nimoy's photography. He began taking photos as a teenager, but became famous for it after he (mostly) retired from acting. He took fine art portraits that showed the beauty and complexity of humans - particularly that beauty which often isn't appreciated elsewhere.

I absolutely love his Full Body Project, a series of nude photos that celebrate the beauty of full-figured female bodies. Some of the images are thoughtfully composed, others joyful and spontaneous. Each one has an undeniable sense of dignity and respect.

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Tags: Body positivity, Politics

1 comment

Strength through humiliation

Posted at 01:07 on 31 Dec 2014 by Pandora / Blake

One of the things I love about working with Nimue is that she always opens my mind to new kinks. She is, hands down, the most interestingly filthiest person I know, which given the company I keep is quite an accolade. I love her mind, her acceptance of the darkest facets of her kinky psyche, and the way her fetishes and play personas combine strength and vulnerability in such fascinating ways.

On our most recent shoot she wanted to shoot a scene that was new to me - a point of view humiliation scene with me providing instructions and verbal abuse from behind the camera. This wasn't something I would normally consider, but I always feel very open to new ideas when I'm working with Nimue. She showed me the props she'd brought - a cheap blonde wig, make-up, high heels - and we discussed what she wanted, particularly the language.

Nimue is one of the few people I know who fetishises abusive language relating to her size. "Piggy" is her pet name from her top, and she enjoys "fat pig" humiliation play that criticises her body. As a submissive, this is a huge no for me - just as food control and starvation is another hard limit, another thing Nimue enjoys toying with. I admire the strength of character in someone who can choose to reclaim fatphobic slurs as a form of kinky play, thereby stripping them of their real-world power to hurt. Nimue described the mentality to me as follows - "I know I'm fat, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Call me fat, and you aren't insulting me, just stating a fact." She is no more immune to insecurity about her looks than the rest of us, and it takes a real strength of mind to resist and subvert the body-shaming messages we are bombarded with in media and advertising by turning them on their head, and using them as tools for kinky head games of her own devising.

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Tags: Body positivity, Fairtrade porn, Gender politics, humiliation, Kink activism, meta-analysis, Nimue Allen, Nimues World, Performers and producers, Politics, shoot writeups, those crazy kinksters, verbal abuse

9 comments

Bitch in business

Posted at 10:33 on 29 Dec 2014 by Pandora / Blake

Three Columbia Business School students have made a kick-ass feminist parody of Meghan Trainor's catchy hit "All About That Bass" (which I love, by the way). The feminist remake takes the pro-curves, body-positive message of the original and raises it with a message about intellectual and financial equality.

It's a hard-hitting topic, but the lyrics tackle it with playful humour. Bitch in Business is relatable and on-point. I think my favourite line is "a piss is the only thing that I'll take sitting down".

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Tags: Body positivity, F-M, Female gaze, feminist remake, Gender politics, male submission, media, parody, pop music, Videos

15 comments

Ethical porn: realness, feminism, labour rights and violence

Posted at 17:26 on 13 Nov 2014 by Pandora / Blake

So, you might have seen: I was featured in the Guardian. I'm really pleased with the article (kind of a relief, because if I hadn't I'd have had to lump it), but then I wouldn't have given Zoe Williams an interview if I didn't trust and respect her as a journalist.

I think the piece is intelligent and balanced, and I'm not just saying that because she says nice things about my work. (She also says the acting is like a school play, which made me chuckle.) She's not preaching to the converted (unlike, say, this blog), but she doesn't set out to persuade the anti-porn camp either. Instead the article is aimed at the sort of educated well-meaning lefty who reads the Guardian and doesn't really watch porn. With her trademark self-deprecating wit, Zoe positions herself in that category before describing how she became convinced that porn was not, in fact, a monolith of misogynistic degradation - and that a lot of it is not only ethical, but watchable.

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Tags: Body positivity, CrashPad Series, Dreams of Spanking, ethical porn, Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, feminist porn, Gender politics, Kink activism, Ms Naughty, Performers and producers, Politics, Sex worker rights, Sites and studios

5 comments

Hyperkinks: 'strange' fantasies, ethical porn, and sex work

Posted at 20:31 on 11 Nov 2014 by Pandora / Blake

Kink

 

Porn

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Tags: Body positivity, Bright Desire, camming, Dreams of Spanking, Erica Scott, ethical porn, Fairtrade porn, feminist porn, Gender politics, Kink activism, Ms Naughty, Nimue Allen, Nimues World, Paul Kennedy, Photos, Politics, sex work decriminalisation, Sex worker rights, Sites and studios, Videos, wooden hairbrush

11 comments

Porn Film Festival Berlin - first day of screenings

Posted at 20:04 on 30 Oct 2014 by Pandora / Blake

Violet Blue was kind enough to link to my last post about the Porn Film Festival Berlin. I kept notes throughout the next four days of the festival, but didn't have time to post anything until I got back. The following was written last Thursday evening in Berlin, after midnight.

Oh my god, where to start? I can't believe I've only been here for a day. Including shorts I've seen fourteen films today - I've never consumed this much media in one go before. Every spare minute in between has been spent talking, processing, connecting with people. The scarcity of tickets not only makes the films seem more valuable, but having limited time to chat to people in between makes every conversation significant - and really forces you to be efficient. I didn't want to waste a single second in the film-makers lounge on small talk. Give me shop talk, gossip and analysis every time.

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Tags: Body positivity, Bright Desire, ethical porn, Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, feminist porn, film festivals, Gender politics, Kink activism, Ms Naughty, Performers and producers, PFFB, Photos, Politics, Porn Film Festival Berlin, Queer politics, queer porn, Sites and studios, The Explicit Diary of Zahra Stardust, Zahra Stardust

4 comments

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