Saturday, July 21, 2007

"You can dance, if you want to"

I spent a good portion of my therapy session last night talking about exercise. It seems that I develop headaches when I exercise and it is hot. It probably has a lot to do with several things physiologically, but my therapist and I were interested in all of the psychological issues that exercise holds for me.

I've always been chubby or overweight or obese (oh, the variety of words that can be used). For the most part, my family was not an active one. There were no camping trips or walks around the lakes. Neither of my parents went jogging or joined a gym. My dad golfed occassionally and there was the yearly trip to go fishing up north, but neither of those were terribly active.

So my model of activity was what we did as kids, playing on our block, or the PE classes in school and playground activities. Either because I was chubby or because I wasn't terribly coordinated, I didn't do well with competitive sports. Run and chase games would sometimes leave me feeling anxious and I would just stop running and let myself be caught.

I enjoyed dancing during PE - the schottishe, the Virginia Reel, square dancing - but the rest of that class was just painful for me. I asked, one time, if I could take ballet classes, but my mother sort of brushed me off. I was, after all, enrolled in soccer. Of course, I hated soccer. I was either one of the few girls on an all-boy team, or when I finally got onto a girls team, I was the worst player and got hopelessly teased.

My dilemma was made worse by the fact that my sister excelled at these things. Or she was good enough and got on good enough teams to seem to excell. She got trophies and there were awards banquets. The tropies for soccer, basketball and golf took up the top shelf of the entertainment center. Those trophies are symbolic, not only of the way that I felt a failure in exercise, but how I felt in constant competition with her...and it doesn't take much to guess who I thought always won.

In high school, I was able to do liturgical dance in my church. I loved this. I loved feeling like I was worshipping with my body. But if I had been more aware, I would have been able to acknowledge that I loved feeling graceful and coordinated. I loved this type of movement in my body.

In college, I took a conditioning class. I was intimidated by the dance classes and yet I wanted to get additional exercise - I was already walking regularly around campus. The class...well, it was sort of like PE. There was no real pleasure in what we did and since I wasn't in great condition, most of what was asked of me felt really uncomfortable. There were no instructions about keeping things at your own pace or how to make things more comfortable. And the bodies of most of my classmates did not look like mine.

The tragedy of this class is that one day, I was really getting into and enjoying a game of basketball. I hadn't played basketball for years and since I wasn't on a real team, I could enjoy the feeling of getting the ball and even the competition a bit. I jumped up to block a pass and when I landed, my foot rolled to the side and I went down. It hurt a lot. My teacher thought that I had a sprain and told me to walk it out. I wasn't allowed to use a phone at the sport facility (apparently this was their policy), so I ended up walking 5 blocks on what turned out to be a broken foot to get to a phone. It was awful, and in retrospect, I should have brought a complaint against the sports facility.

I have discovered that moving my body is a challenge for me. I like the feeling in my body after I exercise, but it is always the case that I struggle with movement for the first half hour that I do it. The one exception is swimming. I had to rediscover swimming. I never learned, formally, to swim, but growing up, as I did, in Minneapolis, it was a thing that one learned. I loved the water. I could be strong and mobile in the water. I could be light in the water. When I came to CA about 10 years ago, I took a water aerobics class and I fell in love with the water again. Now I've learned to swim with a snorkel and I'm amazed at how far I can swim...and how good my body feels the whole time.

I've also reclaimed my love of dancing. I'm taking a belly dance class and when I practice at home, I even put on a costume to feel authentic. It's silly, but it gives me pleasure and that's what's important.

It's sad that it's taken me so long to realize that moving my body can give me pleasure. I think that a lot of big folks have lost their memory of this. Our bodies sometimes make this difficult, especially as we age and the longer we go without moving. But moving keeps us strong and supple. It can help us build a better relationship with this body that our culture tells us is ugly or unacceptable.

I encourage you to think about the things that you used to like to do as a child. Did you like to dance or swim? Was playing on the jungle gym, your thing? Wrestling with your dog or doing somersaults? Is there some way that you can do something fun again with your body. Don't think of it as exercise, think of it as a way of playing and finding joy in your body again. I know it sounds silly, but recently I went rolling down a hill with my partner. I haven't laughed so much in such a long time.

Move, shake, dance, laugh, run, ride a bike, swim, walk, wave your arms whatever feels good.


Karen said...

I think everything you labeled as "silly" in this post is not...only silly as a good thing - I love rolling down hills too...and love your new blog!

suburbanhen said...

What you have been writing recently back at the other blog and now here resonates of my own story and that of my friend Sam. Sams struggle with her body is now over and hopefully her spirit is restful and free.
but I agree in that I just can't reconcile that if I am looking after myself, eating well, getting out and about and am otherwise healthy, then how is it that because I am a size UK 16 I should actually consider myself unhealthy when I know otherwise?

Spins said...

Thanks for the props, karen!

Hen - it's crazy, isn't it, that we can't be free of it. Imagine the energy that so many people would be able to direct to different things, if only we could let this issue go. I really am sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, Sam. She sounds like a wonderful friend.