Hm, where to begin? Maybe with joining the gym in January (how cliché). Or before that, going through fits and spurts of gym-going/at home workouts/regular yoga class attendance. Or taking it back even further, to five days a week of tennis, soccer or badminton depending on the season. All of which is to say that I’ve always been kind of athletic but never really hardcore physically fit.
I wanted to die when we’d roll up to elementary school gym class and the “sMILE” sign was on the door, indicating that it was time for our twice yearly timed mile run around the field. I was definitely never even close to the fastest, but I was never the slowest either (maybe like, the third slowest). It’s weird to think that somehow I’m more physically fit now than I was in elementary school, when the majority of the day is spent running around…I can pretty much run three miles without clutching my sides (although still not quickly)…and through yoga I can actually easily touch my toes. I remember when the pediatrician would scold me for not stretching daily, because I apparently had super tight hamstrings as a child and could not touch my toes or even come close.
But at the same time, it’s sad to think that I’ve probably reached my physically-fit pinnacle in life and now it’s just a matter of not spiraling quickly into destitution. I yearn for the days of daily two hour tennis practice, followed by weekends filled with pints of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream and popcorn. Those were the days…sigh…before eating delicious delicious junk food didn’t make an impact on my weight or mood; before the freshman twelve (in my case) and before it was even a thought to weigh myself. I’m not sure if it was great kid metabolism or the daily exercise (although, if I’m being really honest, much of those two hour tennis practices was spent chatting over the net or working on our “waffle tan” – aka when you put your racquet over your leg to see if you can get a nifty criss-cross patterned tan), but I can’t recall that trying to be “in shape” was ever a serious concern. Plus, I had for some reason bought REALLY large uniform skirts in 6th grade and continued to roll the the waist all the way through 12th grade. You’re welcome, parents, for not having to buy me new uniforms for six years! And thank you, single-sex education involving lots of “body image” convocations (that’s what we called assemblies), for, I think, making me fairly immune to any pressures to be extra thin. I still vividly remember watching a slide show of magazine ads, as the teacher pointed out where the model had been airbrushed, where her thigh had been sliced in half to look skinny, how that was really not her arm but someone else’s arm coming into the shot from a flattering angle, and how that shampoo bottle was strategically placed to come just below her chin so that it subconsciously reminded you of something more phallic – so sneaky these advertisers – I’m looking at you Herbal Essences!
But, getting back to the point, just because you are thin, does NOT mean you are in shape. Oh goodness, no.
So when I started working out at the gym more regularly, it was definitely slow going at first – 20 minutes of cardio here, a yoga class there. In the fall, back in Baltimore, I had worked out with my dad and his trainer. It was an incredibly hard hour, and the next day every muscle in my entire body hurt and I could barely move. However, one of the lovely benefits of not having a full time job, is that there is ample time to hit the gym. Before long, I had worked up to an hour of cardio, some weight-lifting, and even teaching two weekly yoga classes. When I went back home in the spring and worked out again with my dad and his trainer the hour was still ridiculously hard, but the next day only my quads were stiff.
I’ve never ever EVER been able to do a pull-up, but now that I’ve discovered the assisted pull-up machine, it feels amazing to know that I was adding 70 pounds back in December (in other words I was only pulling up my weight minus 70 pounds), and now I’m only adding 55 (or only 40 for a few reps on a good day). I’m happy with small improvements, and I know that if I can’t do as much one day as the last, that’s okay because everyday is different.
But then somewhere along the line, it all started going downhill. I had reached some sort of physical maximum, and then, as predicted by older friends, things started falling apart. First I tweaked a groin muscle; then I stretched in what I thought was a normal manner but ended up freezing my neck for a week; then in the biggest catastrophe to date, I was teaching yoga a few weeks ago when a searing pain pierced the bottom of my foot between my toes in some muscle I wasn’t aware of…or maybe a tendon…or maybe some sort of nerve thing. Anyway, it only really hurts when I push the toes back and put weight on it – like in lunge – which is kind of an essential pose when teaching yoga. Hmph. Stupid aging process.
It’s crazy how quickly you lose things if you don’t use them. For instance, if I don’t lift weights for a week, I’m surely not able to do the same weight when I go back to it. In yoga, if you don’t do it regularly, you’re probably not going to be able to balance on one foot, touch your toes or backbend as deeply. It pains me when I see people go farther than they should because they think they can. I just want to scream: stop that – ease up – work up to it! Remember how easy it was as a kid to do a handstand or a cartwheel? Now I can barely do a handstand at the wall because it’s scary to be upside down! And actually, come to think of it, I may have pulled that groin muscle “doing” a cartwheel. This is me: not taking my own advice.
And so that’s the story of my rise and fall from very brief meat-head-dom. One day you haven’t set foot in a gym in God-knows-how-long, the next, you’re there hours on end every. single. day. And then just as quickly, you randomly hurt your foot doing some unidentified mundane activity, and then you’re relegated to the stationary bike (where you can really just use the other foot) and some upper body strengthening exercises.
C’est la vie. Like I said, I was never that hardcore to begin with.