I’m back together with an old flame after years of being apart. People see it on my face and ask my what this radiant energy is about. I find myself gushing about how — despite the larger grim picture of the world — everything is right with this little tiny corner of life!
I’d been drifting through the fitness doldrums for years. Satisfying bursts of activity came around now and then, like the out-of-breath exhilaration of shoveling just enough snow or being drafted into a little kids’ soccer game. But these were serendipitous. There was no libidinal zing drawing me forward between one workout and the next. It seemed my choices were to go without physical rigor altogether or to settle — to press forward into patterns of exercise that didn’t really fit me well.
So, what makes a fitness practice fit? Perhaps it’s not so different from how it is with intimate relationships. We carry visceral and often inarticulate cues about what works and does not, and yet all the noise of social norms and local expectations can obscure and distort these cues. And ultimately, as it is with a partner, compatibility has everything to do with quirks of embodied temperament. A practice can possess many of the virtues one wants to want, yet fail to engage us fully. Having to explain (spoiler alert!) why I wasn’t warming up to yoga, for example — to people who love yoga! — felt like trying to articulate to someone why I could not reciprocate their crush on me. I might end up reassuring, apologetically: “Hey, it’s not you, it’s me.” But of course it is you (talking to you now, Yoga!) who is not a good fit for me.
I should clarify that it’s not as though I haven’t had some great satisfying flings over the years with various ways of getting my body in motion. Among these I’d count soccer, racquetball, hiking, aikido, bicycle-commuting, tai chi, parkour, and kayaking. It’s just that things (always different things!) have gotten in the way each time: I had injuries, moved away from facilities and playing partners, had a child, moved again, got too busy, got left behind when teachers moved, and balked at the new commutes and scheduling obstacles. Despite heartbreaks and missed connections, I would intermittently cast about for more satisfying ways to move my body. It’s just that the trend was discouraging. I was getting convinced that I am just too damn picky.
Now, I really do hate those romantics who insist that there is exactly one fated bond, which will come into our lives just when we demonstrate sufficient faith. Given how messed-up the world is, our options when it comes to exercise are compromised too — by distorted ideals of body and gender, by dynamics of class privilege and ableism, by forms of cultural imperialism and misunderstanding. But of course that’s true of virtually every social endeavor worth undertaking. It’s nonetheless worth holding out for those relationships (with persons, with community, with work) that will meet us half-way and make the whole experience very much Not A Drag. It’s OK to insist on an exercise practice that is not a drag.
Some months ago, my therapist agreed that it was time to help get me unstuck with respect to exercise. Self-knowledge Lesson #1, we agreed, was that I needed SSRI: Scheduled Social Reality Involved. If there are zero expectant faces to whom I must answer, I am depending on my own arbitrary and painlessly revokable decision to “work out” at this or that time. And something always seems more urgent to me than even a 7-minute workout: fretting about bills, surveying the laundry, staring balefully at the sinkful of dishes, grading and writing or feeling bad about overdue grading and writing, reading and commenting about terrible (or wonderful) things online. I needed to find a “This-Happens-Now” kind of thing.
Also, ROTC: Realistic Ongoing Time Commitment. In other words, it couldn’t be like the very sexy kayak gathering that required me to load up and drive over and paddle across and roll around and drive back and hose down and put gear away for a total of six hours on Wednesdays — which meant (given the pressures of life, work, and parenting) actually giving my upper body an isolated workout about twice per year. I needed something I could follow through with, and that wouldn’t penalize me or anyone else for occasionally dropping the ball to deal with a household illness or a work deadline.
Also, NAAK: No Aerobics of Any Kind, and that also means no Zoomba. Nothing where somebody else chooses a soundtrack for my ears to swallow, nothing where the social vibe is around rhythmically sexified bodies, nothing where the main advertised benefit is calories burned — as if one needs to earn permission to eat.
Those three conditions seemed picky enough. So I half-heartedly signed up with the excellent next-door yoga studio. It seemed like a good idea at the time.