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…

Advertisements

Grace’s Guide to Stress-Busting [at a stressful time of year!]

Many years ago, when I was  young teacher [and yes, I can remember that far back], I underwent some kind of training for something or other [I am vague about this part of the story] during which an older, more experienced ‘old lag’ mentioned that his most commonly used phrase to the students was ‘do your best’. As a new teacher I was happy to adopt others’ ideas and to try out their methods-even to use their phraseology, so I went away and back into my classroom to give ‘do your best’ a go.

On the face of it, ‘do your best’ doesn’t come across as an innovative, pioneering new educational method, does it? It would be unlikely to make a headline in The Times Educational Supplement or be lobbied for in Parliament, yet having tried it out in my own classroom I became an instant convert, finding it useful in a multitude of situations. Can’t find a glue stick? Do your best. Can’t solve the problem? Do your best. Can’t do your laces up? Do your best. Don’t like the person sitting opposite you? Do your best. Teachers of young children often find that while they are attending to one child they are beset by queues of others clamouring for attention. ‘Do your best’ works wonders.

All this was aeons ago, of course, even the final death throes of my career have faded into   the furthest reaches of the back shelves of the memory archives; but ‘do your best’ has not entirely disappeared from my vocabulary-rather it has metamorphosed into another, commonly trotted-out phrase: ‘I’m doing my best’. I advocate this retort to anyone struggling with anything. Behind with getting ready to go out? – ‘I’m doing my best’. Can’t manage the yoga Head-Down-Dog?  Can’t find a gift for your mother in law? Can’t get a novel published? Aha! That last one is complicated!

Then there is ‘I’m doing my best’s’ close relation, ‘I have done my best’; because while ‘reaching-for-the-stars’, ‘living-the-dream’ and all those other epithets for ambition are laudable aspirations only a few can actually say this is what they have done. Excellence is fine, applause, accolades and glory are desirable and fun, but all most people need is to be good enough; to be a good enough parent, an adequate bread-winner, have a comfortable enough home, scrub up well enough for a night out, ensure those around us are happy enough.

So with ‘do your best’ in mind, I would like to wish all readers, visitors, critics, the interested and the disinterested a most relaxing, uneventful, contented, unremarkable but good enough Christmas. Do your best. Don’t worry that you may be not having enough fun. And don’t attempt to change what cannot be changed or attempt what is impossible. That’s all.

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?

Ditch the Lifestyle Advice-It’s all Here with Grace’s Guide

I don’t make resolutions. I may have done so in the long, distant past, but some previous experience must have taught me that such determinations are bound to fail.

This does not prevent everywhere and everything else bombarding you with encouraging and/or harassing messages. Facebook, for instance has many well-meaning souls posting up urgent lists of to-do and not to-do. TV adverts are choc full of well-intentioned exhortations-‘STOP SMOKING’, ‘LOSE WEIGHT’, ‘GET RUNNING’, ‘EAT BUTTER’, ‘DON’T EAT BUTTER’, ‘5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WILLPOWER’, ‘GYM MEMBERSHIP OFFER’, ‘START COLLECTING’, ‘TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE’-blah blah…

The trick, as far as I am concerned is to begin any ‘life changes’ you want to make as soon as you are ready, ie now, next week, on August 14th or never, if that is what suits. I gave up smoking during a memorable mini-break in Barcelona with Husband one Easter, resulting in some explosive differences of opinion-one in the middle of a busy thoroughfare as I recall.

I used to be a runner. I began running one random morning, early, before anyone else was awake. I started with a miniscule stumble around the block. Years later I was regularly running ten miles, until injury broke in and stole the party. I happened to be jogging along the promenade one New Year’s day and met some ex-colleagues out walking. ‘New Year’s resolution?’ one suggested, provoking an affront that only an increase in pace and distance could assuage. I’d been running every day for about twenty years by then.

Rather than pledging lofty and unachievable goals I prefer to make myself suggestions. I think, ‘I might take up yoga’ this year, or ‘I might get back to my abandoned novel’, or ‘I could clear out those outgrown and outdated clothing items’. See what I mean? This way you don’t set yourself up for failure. It might happen; or it might not.

Another strategy is to qualify resolutions by adding ‘continue to’, as in ‘I will continue to walk to the shops if there isn’t a hurricane raging’ or ‘I will continue to reply to emails within the month in which they arrive’. As you see, I don’t try to make it too difficult. I’m not aiming to fail. Sometime during this weekend I just might take a look at the website for a new gym that opened towards the end of last year [matching my strategy very nicely] and I might even look for a yoga class to attend-but then again I may not have time.

So there you have it. Tried and tested lifestyle advice. My New Year’s gift to readers. Some people pay a fortune to lifestyle gurus to know how to improve their lives, be better, richer, healthier, thinner and happier. More fool them!