I’m not suggesting you do it in public.
Be forewarned – if you just LOVE the gym, you should probably skip this post.
Ok, now that the crazy people are gone (honestly who really LOVES the gym, I’ve known maybe 2 people in my whole life I can honestly say LOvE the gym), let me just say I’m not opposed to exercise, but I don’t like the gym. The machines all look so unnatural (because they are) and the overall vibe of most of the one’s I’ve set foot in is very high school (the jocks gawking/snickering at the awkward/nerdy kids). The membership fees are usually nuts. However, since I live in a climate that has four distinct seasons, there are a good 4 months out of the year where I cannot consistently exercise outdoors. Simply, the gym has never been a place I want to go; it’s a place I force myself to go because good things are supposed to happen there… but I don’t always leave feeling better about myself. So what’s a girl to do?
I think back to the days when I was a kid and I exercised nearly everyday. But I didn’t call it exercise – I called it dance. I took dance classes from the time I was 5 years old, but for most of my childhood we could only afford one, 1 hour class per week. My parents had a sitting room on the main floor of our house and most importantly, it had doors that could be shut. On nights when I didn’t have dance, I would close the door to that room, turn on the music and dance. Freestyle. I put on whole concerts in my imagination. I would jump, roll, and plie for 15 + songs. I would come out sweaty and parched. But I never went into that room thinking, “I should really go work out.” I went into that room thinking “I wanna dance.”
My ritual stopped when I went to college, because dorm rooms just don’t have the space. I still took dance classes, which I loved, but it wasn’t the same as those hours I spent on my own private stage. I missed the freedom of just enjoying the notes and the beat and my body. My technique wasn’t prefect, I wasn’t even trying to get better, it was just moving – because I’m alive, and I can.
Somewhere along the line, I lost that. Life changed and I only danced at parties or in front of the mirror getting ready for a night out. My heart got broken a few times, I gained a few lbs, a few hurtful words started to stick in my mind… and that joy I once had, that was really rooted in loving my body for what it was, went away. I avoided using it, looking at it, thinking about it. I started to blame things on it. Which is silly, because my body is not something that makes decisions independent of me. I make decisions for it.
I started to think differently when my cousin Cari got cancer. She was a wonderful person, loved life, and was looking forward to raising a family with her husband. Until she got cervical cancer, and six weeks after her diagnosis, she died. 30 years old. The week we knew for sure there was nothing that could be done, it was January and there was a big snow storm. And all I could think about was how she would never walk outside on a warm sunny day again. I acknowledged how ungrateful I was that I could walk, and laugh, and breathe fresh air. And I resolved to stop begrudging my body for all the things it wasn’t, and start doing all the things it could.
That was the year I ran a half marathon, something I never thought I would be able to achieve. But my body didn’t let me down.
I wish I could say that experience ‘fixed’ my body issues, but it didn’t. I think that women, and men, are constantly being told they have to achieve such a specific, narrow standard of physical success that it is easy to berate yourself for not being able to reach the highest bar possible, and instantly. We never allow success to be personal – it is measured against how others look and perform. Too often, we have amnesia for our moments of pride, and we cling to our moments of disappointment. It’s a sad way to live.
I long for a day when I can feel the joy I felt in my own skin, when I was a child, dancing by myself.
Part of my new fitness routine is this: twice a week, I crank up the music in my apartment and I dance. Not as gracefully as I once did, but who cares! I don’t worry about muscle groups and free weights or how high I’m getting my legs. I dance, and by doing so, I remind myself to love my body. Not 20 lbs from now – right now. It’s the only one I’ll ever have after all, it’s responsible for every moment I have on this earth.
I bet there was a thing you loved to do once – what was it? Play baseball or basketball? Swim or bike? Karate? Bowling even? Whatever that thing was, find it and go do it! And not because it’s exercise; because you love to do it. Because you are alive and you can. If you are overweight, it’s not that you can’t anymore – you can!
You might not be as good at it now as you once were, but if you work your way back into it, you can do it again. In fact, it’s quite possible that one of the contributing factors to your weight problem is that once upon a time you gave up a physical activity that you loved to do. This happens for lots of reason: we get busy, our schedules change, we move to a new city or state, get a new job, etc. It’s surprisingly easy to forget about simple activities that once brought us great joy when life is there to distract us. But let today be the day you reclaim that happy place. And don’t doubt yourself because anything that combines moving your body and genuine happiness, is worth holding onto.
Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to go dance in my underwear.