Archive for June, 2016

Stop the Fitness!

Comments Off on Stop the Fitness! Written on June 29th, 2016 by
Categories: General

We all know exercise is good, like eating vegetables or not smoking. Anyone who says says exercise isn’t important is just trying to be contrarian, seriously has their head in the sand, or has procrastination issues. That said…

Fitness is dumb.

There, I said it. Weird statement from someone who has dedicated her career to physical activity. What I mean by “fitness” is what people have started doing in just the last 45 years. And somewhere we’ve gone wrong. Very wrong. Once people stopped getting exercise through just living and working, we discovered we had to manufacture new ways to move. We began to aerobicise. Then came Jazzercise, Step, Slide, Zumba, Cardioboxing, Soul Cycle, whatever the flavor of the month until the next new hot thing came along. But sampling classes isn’t so convenient sometimes, so instead many just rotate their legs around on a bike or stick their bodies into machines and push weights around while planning their evening meal. Nothing ever changes (really). We do it to look a certain way or because we think it’s the healthy thing to do. We leave the gym with a general sense of doing something “right” like eating a salad with lemon juice or getting taxes done early. A little pat on the back, a righteous puff, and on to real life.

But the thing is, if you exercise regularly, say 3 hours a week, that is a heck of a lot of time and energy wasted literally running in place, checking another damn box. Our bodies have so so much more to offer us. Acquiring a physical skill, getting to understand how your body works mechanically, or achieving a physical goal is probably one of the most fulfilling endeavors a  person could ever undertake. There is a quote from a great book called Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe that sums it up, “Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not….A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong.”  We relegate the physical to the superficial. We think of it as not relevant to spiritual self-improvement, intellectual pursuits, or philanthropic interests. Working with your body is somehow self-involved and for women, dare I say it, weirdly, even a little anti-feminist?

But after 20 years of teaching everything from weightlifting to pilates to yoga, I’m continuously delighted by how giddy my clients get when they get something physically, either doing something they’ve never done or understanding something about their bodies they never understood before. Why do you think trainers rate so high in job satisfaction? We get to witness the most exciting (if unadvertised) moments in a person’s life.

People chase after things that they think matter, when joy is literally right at their own two feet. No career accolade or home renovation can compete with being able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room or knowing exactly how to free yourself of your back pain. And those that don’t buy this idea, have never completed a real physical challenge or had a profound physical epiphany, the kind that takes months or decades to achieve.

What programs are the most successful with at-risk youth? Circus programs, dance programs, sports programs. Kids start investing in these activities and suddenly they are doing better in school. Why would beating someone in a race or becoming the school’s merengue king have such a profound effect on everything else? It’s simple. You begin to realize you are capable of way more than you ever thought in a real flesh and blood kind of way. You surprise yourself. You become conscious of your body and when you do, you start to notice other things too. You become patient with process: with stagnation, with backsliding, with obstacles. And you realize that pain is just pain. You tap into mental fortitude you never knew you had. It’s possible that the best part about getting to your goal is that no one in the outside world is going to make a big deal about it (unless you happen to be 7 feet tall and great at basketball). You might get some people cheering for a day or a coach that smiles broadly or a high-five from a team mate, but for most amateur athletes, that’s it. The rest is just your own sense of understanding or accomplishment. To use a hackneyed phrase which in this case is actually true: it’s life changing.

I recently read an article that appeared in Slate criticizing the marathon as an inherently meaningless activity (unlike sonnet memorization, I kid you not and I’m not linking to click-bait!). Why someone, who has never run a marathon, feels qualified to judge with no data is perplexing, but also not uncommon. For me personally, running is like drumming or juggling, I’d never be able to concentrate on repetition for that long, BUT I respect people that do it, a lot. The dedication and discipline is tremendous. And I’ve never met anyone who regretted the time or money they spent doing the marathon. Is it the “healthiest” activity of all time? Heck no, but it isn’t the reason to do it.

I’ve surfed, skied, snowboarded, ice skated, ice climbed, flyboarded, kayaked down fjords, water skiied, climbed the tallest mountains in four countries, and vaulted on horses. I got a little banged up, drank copious amounts of salt water, ate dust, felt like an ass, got scared, cried, got kicked, and hobbled to the bottom. In addition, I was a dancer for 20 years, yogi for 20 years, and a professional trapeze artist for 15. Now I powerlift, proud of my deadlift at 200 lbs. My physical journeys have all been worth the commitment they took to complete. And honestly, I’m not the most physically talented person in the world. I’m not in the top tier of any of these things I’ve done or even close. Now in my 40’s, I don’t expect to ever be, no matter how hard I work, but I don’t care.

What if you are too injured to do something like the marathon? I’ve worked with the blind, Parkinson’s patients, and people with severe back trouble, who worked their butts off just to be able to stand on one leg for 10 seconds straight. The physical goal itself doesn’t matter, it’s the work it takes to achieve it. Those clients are serious amateur athletes too, and the payoff is just as exhilirating.

It’s unfortunate that a bowl of cereal is too big a commitment these days. So many endeavors are judged as too much work, too hard, too inconvenient. It’s like our ability to spontaneously go out for margaritas at any moment should never be compromised. But talk to anyone who has ever taken a sport or physical practice seriously, who has gotten up early to row when they don’t feel like it, who has missed a social event to train, who has dragged their sorry sniffly butt to class in the middle of snow storm, and they will tell you it was worth it. Totally worth it.

When you feel your own strength, (and forgive me, yoda) but your very life force pulsing underneath your skin, that experience is the definition of being alive. But you can’t feel that if you are too busy watching tv, listening to a pod cast, checking Facebook, or chatting with a trainer. You can’t feel your life if what you are doing isn’t consuming you, if you a multi-tasking, if you aren’t summoning everything you got to try just a little bit harder, or to focus on what you are doing a little bit more clearly.

Do we have to check boxes and multitask sometimes to get through life? Of course! But why waste opportunities to learn, to grow, to be present if we are going to exercise anyway?  If you really have zero interest in ever even trying a physical challenge of any sort and memorizing sonnets really does get your rocks off, then I will cheer you on. I will, because at the end of the day, really only you know what will bring you joy, and if it is putting tiny ships in tiny bottles, then so be it. However, if you are resigning yourself to just fitting in that workout because you feel obligated, or because you ate a brownie… Free yourself from fitness! Stop clocking minutes or steps or calories, and commit your body to something you never considered it could do.

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