GETTING RE-PSYCHED: A TAKE-TWO POST
I knew I shouldn’t have been doing those overhead presses with weights, even scaling it down to little bitty weights, in the BodyPump classes at the YMCA in Nashville, this last winter — I just knew I shouldn’t. But I love that class, and I get caught up in the moment, and so I did it anyway, and, predictably, shredded the heck out of both rotator cuffs. Ow ow ow ow, and what a pain not just in the shoulder but in the butt it is, not to be able to left up and reach for anything.
But now it is June, and, having very carefully rehabbed those shoulders back to good health. Swearing to them (and myself, and my boyfriend) that I have learned my lesson, it is now time to return to the 3 times a week weight-training workouts I have done most weeks since my thirties, in addition to the walking and gentle yoga that I do.
And yet, even after all this time, and a clear sense of benefits of such workouts, I still have to pysche myself into it, block out the time in a too-busy life, make an agreement that I’ll work out, and stick with it.
I came across this story I wrote a year ago about this very topic, which was in turn sparked by the then-64 year-old writer Amy Tan. I re-read it. And what do you know, I re-inspired myself !
And so I’m reposting it for y’all, too.
Because while there are always good reasons not to work out… there are even more reasons to work out.
Let’s do this.
SOMETIMES A TRUTH PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO YOU FLIES OUT OF YOUR MOUTH
So it was when I heard myself say, “I don’t work out to shrink my body, but to expand my life.”
I revisit this insight periodically. It reverberates, continuing to reveal truth in ways unimagined back when I first said it, two decades ago, with the editor of a now-defunct magazine named Mode.
Mode was a fashion magazine which (radically) featured representatively-sized women. Then, as now, fashion magazines mostly feature unrealistically sized, non-average-sized women (What is average? According to the stat-bundling CDC, average, if you’re white, female, American and 50 years of age, is 170 pounds, 5 feet one inch tall).
I’d sold Mode an article on bellies: our ambivalence, our shamed suck-it-in reflex. I took a belly-dance class in the course of writing it, investigated “gut feelings” (for which there is physiological evidence) and looked at archetypal belly power (the moon-round globe in which members of our species germinate).
The editor liked my story. Wanted more. We kicked around ideas. Then I proposed becoming Mode’s fitness editor.
I could see her mulling this over. Would the idea fly with Mode‘s audience? Could real, non-model-sized women relate to fitness as a positive, not shaming, topic? The editor was herself (oddly), thin, muscular; perhaps in her heart of hearts, she wondered if a larger woman could even be “fit”?
I could feel, too, her considering me, scanning. Was she thinking, “Good writer, yeah, but would her size and shape be motivating to our readers, or a turn-ff?” I wonder now (a quick Google just turned her up teaching spin and yoga in California): I look good, and people often tell me I look young for my age and that I radiate energy. (To which I say, truthfully, thank you.) But, I’m neither buff nor heavy.
IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
I did not and still don’t fit the image of those who work out.
Yet, since my early 30’s I’ve remained a dedicated exerciser. I’ve stuck with it pretty consistently, despite episodes physical (broken leg) and situational/ emotional (three deaths of people I loved, five years of eldercare; much work-travel, a flood that destroyed part of my home) that could have put me off it, and at times nearly did.
Why? Because my life is better, happier, expanded — emotionally, physically, intellectually, and even perhaps spiritually — when I take care of the body, which St. Francis of Assisi called “Brother Ass.”
I love my healthy donkey-body: less for how it looks (though these days I like that, too) than for all it does. And for all it, like all donkeys, carries.
Of course I want to care for this loyal physical self. Of course it serves me even more willingly when I do.
That’s why I was able to say what I did to that editor. Why my words were succinct, cogent, as if I’d said them many times, though I never had before, not even in my mind. I don’t work out to shrink my body, but to expand my life.
I hadn’t ever said it, but I ‘d lived it.
ME AND AMY TAN
Recently on Facebook, I reposted Amy Tan‘s fitness journey after age 60, and I used those words again.
I said Tan was a “… woman after my own heart: I’m 63, devoted to working out not to shrink the body, but to expand the life. On the same path: physical and creative self-love, resilience, reinvention.”
Along with three buff pictures (chin tilted slightly with an I-earned-this show-offy defiant charm), Tan wrote, “I made a plan to … prove to myself that age doesn’t mean that everything ‘goes downhill…’ despite chronic disease, a history of broken bones, unrelenting shoulder pain, and early signs of osteoporosis…”
With zesty, cheerful braggadocio, she concluded, “This is what (I) look like after my workout… I can lift my suitcase and put it in the overhead compartment of a plane. Working out … makes a big difference in strength, balance, and endurance. I am now 64. ”
Upwards of 250 people, mostly women, commented on this post. Many mentioned my “expand the life” words.
I think the reason this jumps out at people, and jumped out at me when it first escaped my mouth, is: it goes to the core.
MOTIVATION: MOVING TOWARDS, NOT AWAY
I think we all know subconsciously that motivation doesn’t work if based in negation. It has to elucidate what you want to move towards rather than away from.
And sticking with fitness activities requires motivation.
Working out takes time, effort, energy. It requires a shift, every time; that we interrupt whatever fascinating, important, urgent thing we are doing, and focus elsewhere.
It usually requires we change clothes, locations. It has elements of discomfort, awkwardness.
WRITERS WORKING, AND WORKING OUT
Exercise, it turns out, informs the lives of many writers. Unsurprisingly: writing, a rarely-comfortable calling, also requires motivation.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, enough to take action: that’s the price of success. In working out, writing, life.
That Mode fitness column never came to fruition. But my words stuck with the editor. My front-of-the-book mini-bio in the issue with my article read, “Crescent Dragonwagon writes cookbooks, children’s books, and poetry. She works out ‘to expand the life, not shrink the body.'”
She – Crescent, like the rest of us one year older this year than last – still does.