cycling · Guest Post

Coming Back to Fitness (Guest Post)

by Shannon Dea

I am a late blooming, on-again-off-again exerciser. In September, I flicked the switch back to the “on” position.

For many years, I was convinced that exercise and sport weren’t for me. I was born with club feet and for the first five or six years of my life wore casts and then leg braces. During this period, I had very limited mobility; so, I spent most of my time with books and paper. When I started to walk – comparatively late in childhood – I was awkward, ungainly and slow.

I also had an eye condition that left me stereoblind (that is, without depth perception – or at least, not much). So, in addition to having legs that didn’t quite move in the usual way and a general lack of fitness from spending more time reading than playing outside, I also had a tendency to walk into lampposts and fall up (yes – up!) stairs. 

I gained the reputation for being good at school and bad at gym. And I bought it. It was so much a part of my identity that I was a klutzy weakling that it never even occurred to me that practice might help. Year after year, I got A’s in school and the consolation pin in Participaction.

It was pregnancy that changed all of that for me – in particular, a pre-natal yoga class. Having avoided all forms of exercise up until that point, I don’t remember what inspired me to sign up. But I suspect that the fact that it was geared for pregnant people made it feel less like fitness to me. It was a gentle yoga class with slow movements and deep breathing, and I found it super boring, but I liked the teacher. So, I continued taking classes with her even after the baby was born. 

When Maya stopped offering gentle classes and started offering Ashtanga (power yoga), I remember being afraid of making the switch, but I trusted Maya and she encouraged me to give it a try. Compared to the classes I had taken before, Ashtanga was fast, hot and high energy. It was hard work. But unlike the pre-natal classes, it wasn’t boring; it was thrilling. I started to do Ashtanga daily and for the first time in my life I became fit. I was strong, muscular and flexible, something I had never experienced before. I became passionate about Ashtanga and took teacher training with some of the top Ashtanga teachers in the world. When Maya moved to another town, I took over as the local Ashtanga teacher. That was my jam during my late 20s and early 30s.

And then I went to grad school. Between grad school and raising my kid, somehow my yoga practices became less and less frequent until eventually I was quite sedentary again. You might wonder how someone could revel in their newfound fitness as much as I did and then become sedentary again. I don’t really know how that works – whether it’s because my default for so many years had been not exercising or whether it happens to everyone. 

In any case, I was professionally busy but physically sedentary for about six years, until a colleague at my new job invited me to join a departmental fun run team. That invitation sparked the second period of fitness in my life. Running was terrible at first, but for some reason I stuck it out until I was a fast, strong runner, who I learned to my own great surprise loved the second hour of running even more than the first. How was that even possible? 

During those years (my early 40s), my fitness was fueled both by my love of the endorphins I experienced during exercise and by the mutual support from the friends I exercised with. We ran, we cycled, we swam, we kayaked, we did aerobics classes. And races! We did 5 ks, 10 ks, triathlons, and eventually a half marathon. I was fit and strong and super excited about exercise. And then I sustained a knee injury that revealed some pretty substantial arthritic degeneration in both knees. No more running. I was so bummed not to be able to run that I stopped doing everything else too. It was a kind of mourning period, I guess, but I never really snapped out of it.

In the years since I stopped running (and doing much else, fitness-wise), I have often felt shame and grief over becoming sedentary again, and in a bunch of ways, that seemed to make it harder to recommit to fitness. Brains are weird.

I’m 51 now, and in September I started a demanding new job in a new city and province. I decided that all of that change makes this the perfect time to turn over a new leaf. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the winters here are hard. I knew I wasn’t going to go to the gym or reliably exercise outdoors year round. So I bought a fancy exercise bike and since the fall I’ve been religiously working out on it three times a week for about an hour at a time. At first, it was boring and the time on the bike really dragged. (Has it really only been 5 seconds since the last time I checked? Ugh!) 

But after only a couple of sessions, I started to get strong again, and started to experience those lovely endorphins again. I am panting and sweating again for the first time since I stopped running, and I’m loving it. With each workout, I get stronger and faster. I’m still at that stage where every workout is a new PR. When I’m not working out, I’m stronger, calmer and more energized.

Will I lose momentum again like I did with yoga and running? Maybe. Probably. But that’s ok. People change, bodies change, schedules change. There are worse things than being an on-again-off-again exerciser, and I have enough stress without adding that worry to the pile. For now, I feel great. And every time I get fit again, it lays down a memory for my future self that I can always get back on the proverbial (and in this case, literal) bike.  

Shannon in a red helmet in front of the University of Regina entrance

Shannon is a Philosophy professor, a Dean, and a recovering desk potato. She philosophizes, deans, and exercises on Treaty 4 territory.

8 thoughts on “Coming Back to Fitness (Guest Post)

  1. Thanks for sharing your fitness story, or at least the latest update and some background, Shannon. It’s a great post. And super relatable because I think lots of us have fits and starts around fitness even if the extremes aren’t as extreme. Running was also a heart breaker for me, as you know. I’m curious if you still practise yoga much at all. Anyway, enjoy the bike and the endorphins and hope to see you out on the road on bikes someday. Maybe there’ll be a ride for pie even.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hardly ever do yoga anymore — which, at the peak of my daily yoga practice, I would have found inconceivable. Our last house was kinda cramped didn’t have very good space for sun salutations. There was a yoga studio down the street that I went to sometimes, but it was a heated studio (for the kind of yoga formerly known as Bikram’s) and I found the combination of heat and backbends often caused nausea for me. So, I stopped going. Now that I’m homebound in a spacious house with room for sun salutations, I keep thinking that I should get back into yoga, but it hasn’t happened yet. If I do, it will be interesting to experience yoga in my 51-year-old body with my 51-year-old psychology because I know that I will have less strength, stamina and flexibility than I used, but also that I will have more patience and wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This really resonates – I’ve also been someone who has oscillated between fitness as a routine and not. The latest round being the pandemic cutting off my gym access. Trying to re-build a routine in the face of no gym for the forseeable future but a strong need for the endorphin boost and the general fitness in my very late 50s.

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  3. Amen!
    It is so important to remember that no matter what we do, life will always shift unexpectedly.
    I’m sure when you were teaching ashtanga that you expected to be doing it for the rest of your life! But then you would have missed all that running.

    Can I ask a question? Can you drive? My daughter has a vision issue that, although she has had one surgery, her depth perception is still very poor. I was wondering if people adapt…

    Anyway, thank you for this reminder. I got up this morning for yoga and was thinking…2 years ago I would be raring to go, and the past year I have become very sedentary…how did this happen? Your post reminded me it ALWAYS CHANGES!

    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, I drive. While I am mostly stereoblind, I can judge distances by lines and angles — just like painters use to create the illusion of depth/distance in paintings. But I struggle a bit more driving at night or when it’s snowy, foggy, etc., probably because I can’t see those lines and angles as well under those conditions.

      The funny thing is, I have no real awareness of not seeing depth. An optometrist discovered my stereoblindness when I was around 30. I always assumed that I was seeing the same world everyone else was. It turns out that when you lose depth perception in early childhood as I did, you don’t know what the alternative looks like. My whole life, I have been aware of being scared on stairs, needing to use the handrail on stairs, being suddenly surprised by poles, doors, and oncoming balls, etc. But I didn’t know why these things were happening.

      How old is your daughter? I expect that the age at the time of the onset of the condition makes a huge difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She is almost 16.
        I believe the onset was around 12, but we didn’t notice for a couple years. She suddenly had double strabismus.
        They think she had it longer, but was able to control her eyes enough to function and look pretty normal.
        The strabismus was corrected, but she still has weird eye movement and double vision, which means her depth perception is poor.
        She is always scared on stairs! And trips over things!

        I feel like she will be able to. She isn’t interested now, but driving is important for independence!

        Thank for that!

        Anne

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  4. Great post! I’ve also had a variety of fitness seasons in life. It was difficult during the sloth years to imagine how to fit exercise in when things already felt busy and frequently overwhelming.

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