Wednesday, November 4, 2009
(Part 1 is here for those of you catching up.)
The search for less painful workouts has been on for at least a year now. It began a couple of years ago when I sprained my ankle really really really badly (go here for the first installment of that 31 flavors of misery), but it's become an even more urgent search with my recent general agitation and search for identity, blah blah blah. The first step in any healthy exercise regimen, which I usually forget about until Vinnie reminds me while I'm using my cold drink glass to ice a hip or ankle at the bar, is rest. The body needs rest in order to heal properly and (re)build tissues that you've worked out. Every now and then, maybe once every three or four months when I remember, I do an active rest week in place of my regular workout. I walk at a nice but not exhausting pace (about 4.0 mph, which is about how fast I walk around the office or down a sidewalk) instead of running or doing intervals, and I do yoga instead of lifting weights. I rely on movement first thing in the morning to set me up for the day, but I don't need to do tons of activity every time. Just enough that I don't fall asleep again if I lay my head back on the yoga mat while stretching or cooling down.
It's only been in the last couple of months that I realized that yoga could be a completely acceptable replacement for one of my cardio days. I generally do tough cardio M-W-F, weights with occasional yoga Tu-Th, and a long "fun" walk on Saturdays. A good yoga routine can replace one of those tough cardio days and still provide good health benefits. "You know, Pix," Vinnie said when I mentioned this back a couple of months, "we have research that shows that strength isn't built by microtears in the muscle fibers but rather by the muscle pulling away from the bone. And there are plenty of non-painful exercise that makes that happen, including yoga. It's not the worse thing you can do." So I do yoga. And when the weather's good, I can swim on the rooftop pool. But now that the weather's gone to crap, what's a girl to do for an alternative to her workouts before she loses her mind?
"When I'm in town in October," Kitty said during the summer, "I want to take a pole class. There's one not far from your condo, and it looks really fun on YouTube."
"Yeah, okay," I responded. I had zero interest in attending such an activity, but I'm glad to do what Kitty wants while she's here because my urban lifestyle affords her access to lots of things that she doesn't get living in the boonies in Georgia. So, on a cloudy and cold Saturday afternoon, we show up at the pole dancing studio in time to watch a more advanced class finish up just before our Introduction to Pole class.
And when I say pole dancing, I don't mean a bunch of Polish people dancing to a polka, which would be an honest mistake. I mean as in swinging around a pole and gyrating like you were working for tips in a g-string pole. Pole. Dancing. The room was mostly dark with loud music blaring, and there were five or six brass poles in the room braced firmly between the ceiling and the wood-look sheet vinyl floor, and there were women swirling and hanging and gyrating around and on and off these poles. Okay. Fair enough. That looked simple enough to accomplish.
Finally, it was the beginner's class' turn. We rolled out yoga mats on the floor and began stretching and doing some basic hip circles and rolls. It was at this point that I got extraordinarily uncomfortable with the whole thing. It's one thing to make these kinds of movements, it's another to make these kinds of movements in a roomful of strangers in a slightly darkened room while the class teacher keeps telling us to "go within", and it's still yet another to do all these tings with Usher and Prince playing on the iPod speakers. I don't "go within" to baby-making music, mm-kay Poopsie? Because if I do, this will turn into a very different class altogether. It's just...weird. And I'm totally comfortable with my sexuality and my identity as a woman--it's that this whole ordeal so far felt artificially intimate. I calmed myself down by telling myself that I only have to do this for two hours, and if Kitty wants to come back she can come back alone, or you can suffer another two hours, it won't be that bad.
But then, we started doing some other floor exercises, moves, and stretches that, while suggestive, were quite a workout. I mean, it really took some abdominal strength and tricep and deltoid strength to do the moves. And while they took effort, they were...new. And kinda fun.
And then we got to the pole. Turns out that picking yourself up onto a pole to swing around is really REALLY HARD. Dancers make it look easy, but it takes a lot of back and ab strength to make that move look smooth and not hurt like hell the next day. So we all tried some moves and some swirls around the poles, taking turns because there were ten people in the class and only six (I think) poles, but really getting into it. And when I say getting into it, I don't mean I was shakin' my boo-tay and thinking about getting it on or heading over to one of the strip clubs in town to see if I could pick up some extra money for the holidays, but I got into the idea of moving for the sake of moving. If, as the class instructor said, there were no rules here, then I could very well follow a butt swivel with a pointed toe leg lift like I was in ballet and then do a standing split that I learned in a yoga class in Vegas. The very notion of movement for the fun and sake of movement--and to the beat of music you liked, even!--was suddenly a really new concept to me.
Kitty and I went back a couple of days later for a private lesson with the main instructor and studio owner, and it was a blast. We learned some new strength and stretching moves, and we practiced some more with lifting up on the pole and spinning around, which was still hard to do. Our muscles ached terribly from the first class, but hell if I was going to miss the chance to throw myself into a state of centrifugal motion (as opposed to centripetal--since I was in the rotation, I was in a noninertial frame of reference, no?) and lift myself off the floor if only for a second. Also very cool were some of the conversations and philosophy that we discussed. We talked about engaging in movement for oneself and not for the pleasure of someone watching, and we also discussed taking up space, which women aren't taught to do. Think about it--if you're a girl, you're taught to take up very little space on the bus, to sit with your knees together at all times, and to move out of the way when ever someone's coming or passing. To hell with that--move the furniture out of the way and get your groove on.
Also worth noting were the women that attended the classes--our beginner's class had a size-16/18 girl with about five classes under her belt, and she could move. A superskinny librarian-looking woman pushing forty had great success in doing turns on her first try (turns is the official word for swinging around a pole), and a volleyball-player-looking Asian girl had great floor moves despite never having any dance training whatsoever. It was quite a relief for the class though when Kitty confessed that she'd daintzed before. One girl suddenly burst out "Ohthankgawd! I looked at you during the warmup and thought 'damn! I'm behind!'"
Since those lessons, I haven't been back to the dance studio, but that's because a) their classes start at 6pm, and that's about 12 hours after I start working out, but more importantly, b) I'm not much of a class taker when it comes to workouts. I prefer to lead myself most of the time, what with being the most motivated person I know. But I've been doing at least one day per week of just dancing around the living room like a goofball/exotic dancer/Paula Abdul-wannabe to playlists on my iPod...because it's fun. I get my heartrate up, and I get a good workout, but overall it's just fun. I'm so used to focusing on the "work" part of "workout" that I never realized it's not supposed to be such drudgery. I've managed to keep 20 pounds off for over four years. I think it's time to enjoy the process.
I may have to start using the raquetball court to dance in. The living room is getting too small for me to bring it old school to some Janet Jackson at 6:30am.