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Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

spine

Some people have spiritual journeys. Like the woman at the pool today. She gave me a copy of her book, the one she’s self-published about her awakening. Praise and bible verses sing their glory from the pages. She told me Satan still tempts her sometimes.

I’m going to have to read this because we’re neighbors. We need each other more than I need the security of my convictions. I’ll learn about her journey. No matter how indirect its impact on my life, a person’s story is a big deal. Reading a slice of it is a small task.

Lately, my journey has strayed far from the spiritual. I’ve gone on a physical detour, as if I’ve stumbled upon some hidden hatch and tripped into my own body. I wander through this wondrous machine, in awe of what I’m witnessing. Connections! Understanding! Everyone needs to hear about this transformation — You! Yes, you! — because it could be this good for you too! Really! This one simple set of practices could give you back life you didn’t even know you’d lost!

Because who doesn’t love hearing yet another opinion about how to improve oneself?

(more…)

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shavanaas

I take a deep breath and add another 2-1/2 lb weight to either end of the chest press bar.  These “graduation” days are bittersweet.  Each crossing of a threshold puts the lie to the comforting narrative that I’m only so capable, only so strong.  If I keep surpassing my own limits, I might start to believe that most of them are self-imposed.  How in the world can I avoid living my full life under those conditions?


Image: Mary Ellen Mark’s Photograph of Shavanaas Begum, the Indian Circus Strongwoman, 1989

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cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

The Cave of Dudes skews young.  They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off.  Their tattooed calves flex with effort.  When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless.  They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror.  They try to look like they’re not looking.

The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus.  They grip through fingerless gloves.  Intensity makes their neck veins pop.  Even though they lift less, they seem stronger.  Grounded.  The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.

I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers.  It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes.  It stinks of testosterone.  The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.

I go because I love the place.  It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with.  Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang.  With it, a clench of dismay.  Couldn’t it be silence?  This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone?  It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going.  There’s no reason to believe it would be now.  Still.  Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.

Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals?  If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party.  We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly.  We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner.  We could dance between sets.

But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome.  Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare.  Dancing?  Who would dare to try?

To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up.  Every gal has a store of Dude inside her.  She knows how to act remote and invulnerable.  How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street?  When it’s necessary, she taps  the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target.  No distractions.

Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.

I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention.  They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak?  What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)?   I’m safe here.

I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me.  Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting.  My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.

Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment.  I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar.  Eventually, the weights went on.  Week by week, they increased.

It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar.  Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control.  It’s danger, it’s power.  Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.

Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells.  A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench.  One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed.  It looks like a dare.  Or a hazing.

As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.

Oh, you again.

The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time.  But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice.  The timing makes me pause.  That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.

I stop.  I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it.  Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint.  Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together.  And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game.  We’d mess around with it together.

All this wishing.  Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister.  Wishing to be younger and stronger.  Or older and more free.  Can I actually change any of these things?  For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?

Or do I choose this?

Wishing without action is a destructive habit.  It’s biting nails and picking at scabs.  It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell.  It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.

He’s not here, Smirk.  It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.

Get to it.

I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.

Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.


Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand

 

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Triathlon

In the neighboring lanes, retirees walk the slow churn. Sinew writhes under mottled hips, hearts chug in their loose cages of hollowing bone.  We turn the creaking millstones of our musculature and send low ripples along the surface.

Mid-afternoon is a world apart from evening here.  During the late rush, fierce middle-aged racers tear a wake between ropes.  Teen divers knife skyward before the plunge.

Now, the most animated bodies in the water are a half-dozen preschoolers gripping swim bars and kicking with all their might.  The rest of us sway.  We are seaweed, we are prey.

I stir the lapping shallows.  My feet somewhere down there take the long strides of a sleepwalker.  A faceless predator closes the distance of its asymptotic approach, forever almost crossing over into awakening.  The water is a tar that grips.  Also, it buoys.  These competing forces are reminders of its latent power.  So too are the lifeguards with red floats who pace the edges and peer into our unsteady depths.  Even as we come to it to carry us over our pain, we all know that this pool could lay any of us down for good.

Rinsed and combed, up from the locker room and out through the lobby I limp.  Lopsided steps favor the right leg and give the left a breather.  Even with easy breaststroke, the busted hinge in my left knee pops and yelps.  But I’ve moved, I’ve worked up an almost-sweat.  This is energy, back for a throbbing moment, a reminder of what it felt like before.  What it may feel like again after the surgeon fiddles with the clockworks and seals me up.

But even if the repair is unsuccessful or — as is inevitable — temporary, here is water.  This is reason enough to be grateful.

As I plod out the sliding doors, a man enters. Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk, towards the welcome desk.  Another ancient one here for the healing waters.  He leans on a cane.  Thin layers of marbled skin drape from thighs and elbows.  Around his left knee, a black brace.  The red flesh trapped inside grates at its confinement.  He moves with such care.  Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk.  His eyes are fixed on that low place on the floor one meter ahead, a place all too familiar to me now that avoiding a fall is more appealing than the vanity of vigor.

As I hobble past, I point to his knee and say, “I’m getting over one of those too. Thank goodness for the pool.”

He looks up at me.  His face cracks like the lid of a chafing dish.  Something in there simmers and pops,  steam and all.  A slow grin.  “I bet you didn’t get yours hitting a deer while riding on a motorcycle.”  He chuckles.  His wink, an invitation.  He holds his gaze a second, another.  Then he turns and limps on.

A buzz shivers through me, potent and odd and all the more startling from its unlikely source.  Out the sliding doors and into the parking lot.  Sun licks my shoulders.  A breeze cuts through the damp hollow where my hair lays across my neck.

There are no old folks here. Not broken bodies, no lost days.  We long for what we are, even now.  We are all younger than we imagine, as raw as we have ever been.

We are all being born.

We face the open water.  We surrender.  We surge.


Photo credit:  Uncertain origin; possibly from Triathlon Scotland

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Hand Wraps

His daughter sits on the basement floor and colors, if what she’s doing can be called that. The enchanted forest book was among yesterday’s Christmas loot. Green ink creeps in swirls as she embellishes the narrow space between the veins of a leaf. She barely registers the music screeching past as it thuds thuds in time to leather gloves pounding a heavy bag.

This is his three minutes. I squeeze into a corner of the blue mat on my back. My clasped hands are wrapped in ragged strips of fabric and swipe at the air as I curl into crunches, press towards 50 and then surge past. Close to my exposed flank – too close – he jolts and slips and ducks. The weight falls off as beads of sweat hit the mat. Shadows of sinew cut into his shoulders. Ropes braid his neck. He dances with power thrumming along every string.

The earlier chapters are carved into flesh hidden beneath skin. The tongue is lost but the meter of those verses is translation enough. Ghosts jammed their grappling hooks into his jaw and temple and laid their weight against the cables. Claw over claw, they tried to draw him with stubborn resolve down into that pit where they boil the tar and hemlock, where they chant their cold spells. Mother Gothel learned her arts there before planting her garden. You may know the place. The more you lean in, the stronger the scent of oblivion.

On the floor near my shoulder, his daughter chooses a darker green for the branches. “They’re supposed to be brown,” she says, “Like a tree. But I want them to be vines.” She paints the fine strands like jungle dusk.

He keeps his fists in his line of sight. I see how he grows muscle from sources both clear and buried. He laces up gloves and running shoes, of course. He pounds it out on canvas and asphalt. Yet under that, a core strength comes from a deeper exertion. He strains up, always up, forcing momentum to reverse against the compulsion to surrender, resisting that sweet temptation of relief.

To those whose bodies are matched to the pull of gravity, this effort is incomprehensible. But look closely and you’ll see the corrugated skin and voice, you’ll see the cuts like scars across the force field he emits from the moment he wakes even before the sun. You’ll see how his light’s flickering tempo jabs back against the black box of night.

He invites you into that basement where he does battle with an appetite for extinction. He powers up some deeper engine and keeps it running, makes it growl against the silent pulleys they use to draw him in. He keeps it humming, makes it fire, even when the key has gone missing, he pushes it from the hill and pops the clutch. He finds a way to spark it to life no matter how thick the rime obscuring a barely remembered green.

His daughter switches out jade for fern and loops spirals along the wings of a bird. She looks up, pausing to watch her dad’s fists fly against the bag. “Can I have a turn?” She asks.

“Sure, babygirl,” he pants. “Let’s get your hands wrapped after this round.” He smiles in her direction before turning a scowl back on the bag. It sways, creaking its displeasure at the assault.

I bend sideways to force my obliques into submission. I face him now, watch his bare feet shuffle over the mat as he circles his unyielding crimson opponent. He is strength here, he is courage. He is also their opposite. He is the admission of weakness, the acknowledgment of fear. He knows what is at stake. He’s felt the reeling sensation that comes when every treasure escapes his grip. He’s seen how close a man can come to failing to save the most precious.

He chooses fierce. Both coach and fighter, he splashes cold water in his own face and wakes the weary champion. He plays as if brave knight-errant, as if he was born for this, because he’s covered enough earth to know he is not. None of us is, and anyone who believes otherwise is Don Quixote, all fool and bluster.

This is why I love the softness there under the corners he’s trying to chisel back into his armor. Those tender places are just as welcome in my grip as the cut and thunder. Plenty of men are blind to their weak seams and show only scars that come with a good story. They have not been tested yet. They have not broken. It is always only a matter of time.

I want to see bulges and the crude patch job. These are the places where he stuffed whatever gauze and rotgut he could find. These jagged seams map his crossing, and they show him which way to turn if he finds himself back on that familiar route. The stitches hold the reminder of what happens when he loses his footing, when he almost falls so far he can’t climb back. I want to know he’s visited that place. Even if he stayed long enough in that pit to become a citizen, he chose to give up its Neverland promises and rise back up to life.

Evidence of that ascent is written into him. I see the callouses on his hands and know that he keeps them in shape both to hold his domain among the living and to keep climbing, even now, even when he could be justified in saying this is far enough.

The bell clangs, end of round. I stand. He lets out a breath and taps my hip before ripping off his gloves. I pull the straps tight on mine, bouncing on the balls of my feet as I wait for the seconds to tick down to my beginning. He touches his daughter on the head. She lifts her eyes from the twining vines and tangled leaves now waking to lushness across the page. “Let’s get your wraps on,” he says. “You’re up next.”

 

 

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Door Out

I was putting groceries away in the tiny kitchen when I opened a cabinet down below the silverware drawer. Empty. Large, deep, and completely bare. This was six months after I bought my home. For half a year, I had stood in front of this cabinet and chopped vegetables, rolled out pizza dough, stacked plates. I never noticed it.

For a condo dweller, this was gold. Free real estate had edged open new possibilities in my tightly packed world. My joy clanged through the house. I remember laughing as a whooshing sense of openness coursed through me. All that time I was fighting for room, this open place was right here!

I kept it empty for two days, peeking in the open door at that inviting space. Now, of course, sports bottles and travel mugs fill every crevice around the cupcake carrier stored down there. The 10-pound bag of rice I bought today is homeless, squatting on top of the loaf pans behind the cereal boxes. The hidden space in my kitchen has all revealed itself. New nooks only appear these days if I purge and rearrange them into being.

Tonight I stand at the counter inches from that packed cupboard and try to keep the knife steady. The handful of chopped spinach goes first on the plate. I flip the eggs, finish them with a quick brown skin, then nudge them onto the bed of greens. My lips are moving as I speak the steps. Garnish with the white cheddar. Rinse the grapes, take a napkin.

Stay alive one more night.

My wrists jitter. The counter is a mess. I carry the plate with two hands and leave the chamomile tea to steep.

I take a deep, uneven breath as I sit to eat. As I exhale, I quietly thank my younger self — Two year-ago me? Maybe pre-40-me? — for her generosity. It was thoughtful of her to stick with good habits at a time when skipping would have been inconsequential. She was already in a happy mood, hopeful and in love, yet that woman still walked every day. She renewed the gym membership, cuddled with the dog, downloaded the podcasts. She took the stairs.

Younger me went to the trouble of stocking fresh produce in the fridge week after week, even when it would have been easier to grab a Power Bar on the way to game night with friends. She stopped drinking alcohol on a whim, making the decision when she was lighthearted and clear-headed. She decided that being a teetotaler was both simpler and a helluva lot easier on the wallet.

I have to thank her, repeatedly and intentionally, to keep from hearing the foul invective spewing from the loudspeakers nailed to the walls of my mind. She and every other incarnation of me that has ever inhabited this skin is right now enduring a campaign of pure terror. I have slogged through two weeks physically shaking from the severity of this bout of depression. For the first time in my life, I understand the impulse to cut. What a relief it would be to concentrate the darkness, to focus it, control it.

The pain is everywhere. It is almost unbearable.

Except that I’m bearing it.

Because younger-me chose to stay alive. She chose, over and over again, to keep moving against her inner resistance. She decided to test the limits of her capacity instead of simply believing the rigidity of them. Along the way, she learned 100 new skills that she has put to work in her world. She chipped those boundaries away, smoothing the walls ever wider. She carved out for herself then — and thankfully, for me now — a studio (workshop? sanctuary?) that is as capacious as it is versatile.

That room is here.

Here somewhere. Under the counter or inside the next task. Within this ink, this dog’s willing flank, this 12th lat pull at the gym.

Maybe it waits inches from my knees, promising to steady them as they threaten to buckle under the weight of this vile albatross.

It’s somewhere close, and it’s been here all along.

It’s pointless to feel too urgently for it. Fingertips hungering for a secret recess in the stone wall of this dark maze will only rub themselves raw. Instead I mimic the sure steps younger-me practiced when she was stronger. I follow the songlines of habits she trod into our shared earth. I curl the free-weights in my shaking grip and count to 15. I walk the two mile loop. I slice the vegetables, drink the water, run the laundry, go to the office. Plaster on her smile. Look up and pretend I wear her eyes.

I turn away from the hissing indictments of my conduct and follow instead the sound of her simple affirmations. I pretend to be the woman she worked so diligently to become.

I may indeed lack the will right now to make room in myself for the needed restoration, yet it turns out I contain plenty.

I come to the end of another unbearable day.

It turns out I might be able to face one more.
 

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Two Women Dance

The girl who drove the Volkswagen bus plastered in Dead stickers fell off the face of the earth after graduation. West is what I heard. Community bordering on cult, new name. I pictured her in a homespun dress drawing water from the well for backwoods apostles.

She popped up on Facebook — as we all do — 25 years later. No bonnet, no copper kettle. Her profile shot is blazing female Gumby, bronzed flesh arched in a yoga bridge against the setting sun. The other photos are strappy heels, flashing sequins, rhumba beats and a man in a fedora testing the limits of her psoas muscle by pressing her stretched leg flat against his chest before dropping her into a dip.

She’s dyed her hair black and let it grow wild. It cascades down her back, frames coconut buttered cheeks, makes her diamond white teeth pop from inside that California smile. She teaches Zumba and places in Latin ballroom competitions. Her day job calls her just as much as the music. She’s a certified nurse who loves God’s gifts and bedazzles her posts with emoticons blowing kisses.

And she looks like this, only amplified by 10:

Black Fringe

I’ve just come home from my own Zumba class. I had to hack and slog through inertia to go, which is a truly sorry state of affairs. Zumba is one activity I undeniably, unconditionally adore. No matter how few hours of shut-eye or how burbly the belly or how wretched the commute, I go. I dance.

For seven years, Zumba has been the straightest route from ennui to awake. Some days, I have to remind myself of this unfailing truth. Some days, I’m too enamored of my misery to follow my own advice.

The firm reminder is necessary today because the car failed inspection. Gamble on repairs? Junk it and wave my magic wand to conjure up the cash for a new ride? This, just after shelling out a several thousand dollar deposit for a home repair project. I’d been saving my pennies for two years. I thought I had enough. For windows and a patio door OR a new car, not both. And certainly not to repair the leak in the bathroom ceiling that greeted me when I came home from work yesterday.

The firm reminder is also necessary because I spent the evening in the company of plumbers and neighbors and ears to the wall, and went to bed with an unsolved but very damp mystery on my hands. Its uncertain cost lurked in the corner all night long.

I’m weary from walking the dull edge of this knife (dull because who has the money to replace it or the time to go get it sharpened?) The paychecks are so thin I can see right through them. They cast a scorched sodium tint over everything further down the road. The anger surges, sprays scattershot. Anonymous ones catch most of it because once familiar, they become too cherished to fault and too fraught with their own troubles to be responsible for mine.

So I peel myself from my desk, pull my hair into a ponytail and head to my Zumba class. I’ve barely stepped out of the car when I hear the rhythm hollering at me from the studio. I aim for it. My feet alight and slip instantly back off the earth. Soaring first then bouncing, I ride air currents whose striations are skimmed from the walls of canyons. I am somehow both round as sugarbowls and long as lightning bolts. I multiply. Animal cocktail. Chimera. I am the mixed and marinating DNA of heron, tamarind, bumblebee.

Back home and filled with the liquid pulse, rich with all the Yes and all the Can, and money will come, and solutions will doubtless generate from this most fecund form, I click open Facebook,

And there she is.

Silver icestorm crashing past her skin. Lats and biceps, lean meat, light. She is elements, she roars. On the polished floor, her tiny tarsals are hailstones, flashing as they meet gravity and ping skyward again.

She knocks me flat.

Never, I think.

Never will I be so breathtaking.

Just moments from my own dance and I deflate. The material me frays from its grip on the wind, sags, and puddles back to earth. I become stretch marks and scars, lipids and flatulence, a jellyfish washed up on the shore. My bulk bloats and wheezes, suffocating any sinew beneath.

If only I could channel such discipline, such bliss,

such erasure

such entirely someone else.

And then I remember this:

Admire

The shift makes an almost audible crack, physic chiropractic, and I can see

SEE

This ravishing galloping creature, this distant woman who has found a way to spin straw into light. Art twines with skill, and her form becomes sharp as kites against cloudless sky. I can see her

because I stop trying so hard to un-see me.

I see how she slips stillness between motion to punctuate the moment, how her neck swivels and snaps, how the smile opens, impossibly, even more.

I see

that she is her own entirely, and I my own,

and also that we on our opposite coasts and intervening decades can dance ourselves together.

Then I am up, my spine remembering the long stride between cells, how even bone is blood and air,

how always a beat

to unblind me

again

again

a beat here

carries me again

here

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