Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.
You could say I’m more of an indoorsy person. Growing up, you’d find me curled up with a book – like any given volume of an encyclopedia – instead of running or climbing trees outside.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 12 when a new friend taught me in a neighborhood that wasn’t my own, where no one could see me finally learning a skill many kids pick up at a fraction of that age. You see, throughout grade school, all the other kids had age-appropriate bikes with banana seats, streamers on the handlebars, and training wheels to help them learn. We had an early 1960s, turquoise green, adult-size bike with no training wheels. I couldn’t even lift the thing, let alone have the strength to pedal it and stay upright, but that didn’t matter because no one really took the time to teach me. It just wasn’t important in our family. Besides, I wouldn’t be caught dead riding something that you could have seen on an episode of Happy Days.
I didn’t learn to swim until 13, and I purposefully braved the water in a place far from home for the same reason. This was after a year of laying backwards in the bathtub, nose poking out enough to breathe, just to get used to the feel and muffled sound of water in my ears. Of course, this assumes you can call it swimming, what I do in the water. I can’t really submerge my head without water shooting up my nose no matter how much they tell me to “blow out”. Even if I take a big gulp of air and blow out as instructed, I feel like I’ve exhausted what’s in my lungs, and there’s nothing left to sustain me while I’m submerged. I panic and feel my heart beating outside of my chest. Water and swimming are so unnerving, even to this day.
Growing up, I could not name a single person in my immediate or huge extended family who pursued athletics of any kind, except my brother. It was not our thing as a family. Today I have nieces and nephews and cousins 13+ years younger than me who provide a far better example by running 5ks and half marathons, but as a child, there were virtually no role models for me to turn to. Frankly, my parents scoffed at people who used their leisure time for “play” versus working for real, working at home, or spending time with family.
You can imagine, then, that Phys Ed was not my favorite class in school. Not by a long shot. I was often the slowest kid, severely winded when I ran, a bit uncoordinated when it came to team sports, and not very strong. Now for whatever reason, I was great on a trampoline and with any activity that resembled yoga, but I never connected those to anything I could or should do as an adult. No, I couldn’t wait for public school education to end because in my mind that meant I’d never have to take a gym class again! Woo hoo.
Nobody told me then that life IS gym class. Gosh darn it!
We humans are body, mind, and soul yet I’ve been perfectly content focusing on the latter two for most of my life.
It isn’t like I haven’t tried as an adult. I’ve had countless gym memberships. I’ve tried running, power walking, weight lifting, Jazzercise, ballet, biking, yoga, dancing, hiking, swimming, basketball, volleyball, and even rowing where I was on a team that actually won a medal. Downright amazing if you ask me!
Of all those activities, only four really stick with me: dancing, hiking, biking, and yoga. Three of those I did as a kid, and one I tried as an adult. Ok, maybe you can count power walking, but I do that just so I’m doing something. I can’t say I love it. I feel great when I’m done, but I don’t love it.
I have loved dancing since I was a little girl. We attended countless weddings while I was growing up, many held at the former St. Joseph’s Elementary School gymnasium in Wolfhurst, Ohio, and I wouldn’t leave the dance floor. I’d be a sweaty mess by night’s end but I loved every second of it. If there was a couples type of dancing, I was game: didn’t matter if it was disco, polka, jitterbug, or whatever. I invited a dancer friend of mine to a Polish wedding in Pittsburgh, and he whipped me around the dance floor in several polkas. It was such a thrill. And I can go to my grave satisfied for having danced a tango once with another semi-professional dancer who had his choice of a roomful of women to ask, but he asked me. It was pretty freaking awesome, let me tell you.
My best friend growing up took all the dance lessons, every kind that was offered. I wanted to badly to do the same but never had the chance. Now I’m a little too self-conscious to hit the dance floor. It’s not like I don’t. I do…there just aren’t many opportunities anymore and I’m well aware of how I look, and I look like crazy middle-aged white lady ought to sit her butt down. Lol
Hiking was another love that I didn’t even realize I had. Again, my best friend growing up lived almost at the top of a big hill, and when the winter weather broke, we’d go for a hike up into the woods and this would go on in the spring, summer, and fall. I had no idea how far we traveled, or whose property we were on. The mere thought of two 10 year old girls hiking alone in the woods today is insanity but it seems you could pull those things off in the 1970s…. Anyway, I never realized how much I enjoyed the sun shining through the trees; the fresh, wet smell of spring; navigating over logs and streams; and just enjoying nature as-is. I enjoy hiking in the woods today even though I don’t have quite the stamina to pull it off.
Biking at 12 was my first real taste of freedom. Once I learned to ride a bike, I could roam all around our neighborhood and I did as often as I could. It seems that every February the weather would break just warm enough where we could whip out our bikes and ride. My friend Stephanie and I would race home after school, and spend what felt like two hours cleaning off the grime of storage and the prior year, inspecting and pumping some air in the tires, and off we went until sunset or dinner time. It was glorious. And I continued to love bike riding until I dated a fearless mountain biker who wanted me to race up and downhill in the woods, even though I didn’t have the strength, confidence, or desire he had. He just made me feel ashamed for being unable to keep up, as if my athletic ability was my most important trait as a human. That guy never appreciated all that I am, which is why he isn’t my husband today.
Which leaves me to yoga. Little did I realize that the hours I spent as a child on my living room floor in various positions was actually yoga but I did it and I loved it. I was getting to where I could do a headstand, and I probably did but I didn’t keep it up the practice much longer after this achievement. This may not sound like much to you, but this is coming from a kid with zero athletic ability. This is a big deal.
Somehow I got reintroduced to yoga as an adult, and loved the slow, quiet, calm, meditative environment that came along with it. There was a time I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and attended Bikram Yoga classes for a few months until I became too pregnant to continue comfortably. I could tell I was getting better – stronger and more flexible – with each successive session. Yoga gave me a sense of balance, figuratively and literally, and I surprise people today with the poses I can do.
Now you’d think after all of this self-searching I would have zoomed in on the few activities I actually enjoy and get to where I am strong, and fit, and excel in any of them, but no! I have never been physically strong. Couple that with my relatively sedentary lifestyle, pseudo-chef husband, and nutrition ignorance, it unsurprisingly gets harder with each passing year.
I mentally know the importance of moving my body. Just move. We’ve heard how sitting is the new smoking, so I even asked for one of those standing desks at work and I’m building up the stamina to stand for a few hours each day. I even got rid of my wastebasket so I’d have to walk to the coffee station to throw away trash…every little bit to get more steps in. I have a hand-me-down Apple watch, and it tracks my steps and nudges me to move and breathe.
All of these little things help – they are me moving in the right direction but not enough and not fast enough. I can’t say that I’m biking, hiking, walking, or dancing more than I have before, and that disappoints me. I don’t want to look back wistfully on my life at all of the things this body was given the health and ability to do AND NOT DO IT. From a spiritual perspective, that’s not using one of the gifts we’ve been given: a healthy body so our spirit knows what it feels like to USE it.
Now I did attend a couple of yoga sessions this year for the first time in more than a decade and it was amazing to get back into it but something always gets in the way. When I look back on 2017, I’ve got more work to do on this “move more” goal, and make it a priority.
One of my dear friends is a doctor and author who writes books and produces webcasts on being a master’s (over 40) athlete and how important and possible it is to stay active, healthy, and vital well into our senior years. She writes these books and I swear it’s like she’s writing them for ME. She doesn’t of course, but it feels that way. I am often ashamed and embarrassed at how little I follow her advice, and I feel like she knows it, so I’ve kinda sorta avoided her because I’m insecure that way! lol I want her to be proud of me for turning my physical health around, but more than that, I want to be proud of me. I want my husband and kids to be proud. I want to be around for them in 20-30-40 years and do stuff with them. All the stuff. I want to be strong, flexible, and more lean, with energy levels to the sky.
Look for more on this in 2018.