Gym Tales

Last week I documented my first steps in the Land of the Dairy-free and described the differences I’d noticed in my own health after what was a very short space of time.

Since then there have been more developments, surprising and welcome, such as less joint pain and an increase in energy. So far so good. I’ve continued to become accustomed to dairy-free milk and yoghurt, [opting for unsweetened almond milk and soya yoghurt] but I admit to failure on the cheese front.

In a parallel improvement I’ve returned to the gym, partly due to less painful joints. [I am now able to bend my right foot] and partly due to winter weather [walking in a deluge is not always a pleasant activity].

In my absence of about 18 months there are changes at the gym. Julia, the previous Friday morning yoga teacher has left and in her place is Michelle, a kind, enthusiastic mentor but one whose moves and poses are beyond me, both in difficulty and in pace. After one session of attempting to keep up with the downward facing dogs and sun salutations I spend the following few days crippled and feeling advanced in years by around 20 [taking me to 85, reader-not an uplifting experience]. The second session, while no easier, rendered me less incapacitated.

Encouraged, I reserved myself a place at ‘Easy Aero’ [in other words, aerobics for the ancient, the crippled and exercise virgins]. Ten years ago I was still leaping about in the exercise studio with gay abandon. Surely ‘Easy Aero’ wasn’t about to trouble me?

How wrong can you be? In the pre-class throng of the changing room there was a crush of greying, primped, powdered and blue-rinsed ladies clad in pastel lycra, chattering animatedly in front of the lockers. I stood back to wait for a space. They continued to chit-chat as they queued for the water machine and filtered into the exercise studio and I headed for the back in a bid to lurk unnoticed. In came Carla, a wisp of a girl with a broad smile, whose classes I’ve attended in the past.

Music on [a heady mix of 70s disco classics], Carla proceeded with the warm-up, when I realised this was not to be the gentle easing back into gym activity I’d expected. Ten minutes later, having undertaken a couple of routines I was not just warm, but perspiring. Hmm…

The dance routines were followed by some step-aerobic work and some core exercises, culminating in a ‘plank’ to finish off. I felt a glimmer of hope in still being able to hold a plank position for one minute, but overall this was a hefty enough workout for now.

Here’s a thing though; aerobics, like bike-riding is an activity that lingers in the mind. With the instruction ‘grape-vine’ I went instantly into that step side, step behind step. With ‘box-step’ I knew what to do. It’s heartening that even when you’re out of condition and struggling the brain cells can cope.

And the ladies? They are amazing! All power to them…

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Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

World Cup Football-the Agony, the Ecstasy and the Indifference

                There are people who are obsessed by sport. Some spend every moment either playing it or watching it. Then there are those who only want to watch, and many of these are in the champions’ league for slobbing on the couch with takeaway pizza, tubes of Pringles and cans of beer. Myself, I fall into a sort of twilight category, a section of society that flirts with both participating [in a very minor, non-competitive way] and keeping half an eye on international games whilst peeling the potatoes.

                At school I loathed team sports.  I was always frozen on the hockey pitch in winter [I was tiny] or frozen out on the netball court in summer [again, I was tiny]. I liked gymnastics, inside in the warmth of the cavernous gym, and was happy shinning up the ropes or somersaulting around a bar, although never brilliantly enough to catch anyone’s eye or warrant coaching.

                As a teenager I pretended a mild interest in supporting the local football team as a ruse to bump into a boy I’d earmarked for attention. Against all odds this strategy actually worked, which was exhilarating until I found I had to attend the local games on a regular, weekly basis in all kinds of weather clement or not.

                Later there came a period in my life when I and my children’s lives were dominated by football and cricket schedules to the point where outings, celebrations and holidays had to be planned around the fixtures-football in winter and cricket in summer.

                Nowadays I can get behind our national team to some extent, although not to knowing all the players’ names or who they are to play next. At the time of writing this has all become academic as England have just descended down the plughole with a resounding gurgle and the team members might well be packing their suitcases as I type were it not for one last, sad, compensatory game. Then the contest will rumble on without them.

                I suppose winning an international sporting contest does inject a ‘feelgood’ quality into the victorious nation, yet I am one of those who do not experience any strong emotions over my mother country or its sporting triumphs and cannot identify with those who weep openly when their team fails. Whether this is down to my lack of competitive spirit or nationalistic verve I don’t know.

                In my previous life as a proper working person [teacher], my team partner and I once organised a sports day based entirely on non-competitive activities and were roundly criticised for it; the doting parents preferring their little ones to be kicking one another’s shins than achieving their personal bests. The day was memorable in that one of the mums saw fit to grab me round the throat in frustration when I requested that her offspring wait her turn. It all goes to prove that you can’t win ‘em all…and England seem to win less than most…

Keep up! A parable for the third age.

                When I was in my early thirties and my youngest child was two I got a terrible shock. I was coming down the stairs one day and caught sight of a frumpy, fat, grey woman in a shapeless, elasticated-waist skirt I did not recognise. Who was it? It was me. For once I’d looked up into a mirror attached to the wall just where the stairs ended-the first look at myself full length for some time. I’d been preoccupied with matters of childcare-to the extent that I’d quite lost any sense of myself at all.

                Overall, that shock was a good thing. I was never a sporty type. I was born into a sedentary family. My parents invented the potato couch. My mother’s preferred activity was to sit in front of the TV and knit-preferably next to a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. My two brothers did not pursue any type of sport, or display any interest in sports activities. Aside from gardening, my father was alone among us in enjoying watching cricket. That was it.

                Despite this we were not fat children, and we played outside in all weathers as well as eating a somewhat conservative, but healthy diet.

                So having been jolted into undertaking an uncomfortable appraisal of my state, I took myself to an exercise class in a local church hall. This was the eighties; an era of leotards, tights and leg-warmers, an ensemble that most of my fellow exercisers had taken to with gusto and in a plethora of pastel colours [predominantly pink]. Swathed in a camouflage of baggy, jersey jogging pants [that had seen action as decorating and gardening gear] and shapeless tee shirt, I cringed somewhere near the back with little hope of blending in.

                But I loved it. I loved the cheesy music and the chance to almost dance, and I loved the way I felt afterwards, tired, aching and jubilant. I loved meeting my fellow aerobic-ers and being part of the shared ethic. Soon I progressed to a proper gym and even acquired some acceptable and appropriate clothing [not pink and not leg warmers]. Over time my shape became more conventional, but best of all I felt fit. I started running a bit-only half a mile at first, but slowly building up until I could do about 5 miles without too much discomfort.

                I probably reached a ‘peak’ of fitness [for me] at around 40-45. After that the joints began to complain, I slowed and had to start modifying what I did. I went to the GP with a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes under your feet. The doctor asked me why I couldn’t just go for a nice walk. It was a growing trend, he said, for the middle aged to present themselves with exercise-related injuries.

                Nowadays, being as fond of dance exercise as ever, I’ve taken to the ever popular Zumba, coupled with, as my doctor suggested, a good deal of walking [with a bit of cycling thrown in during nice weather]. During the day the gym is packed full of sprightly ladies [and a few gents] of more mature years all strutting their stuff. It is a wonderful and uplifting sight. I just wonder what my mother would make of it all if she were around and were to look up from her knitting and to see it!