on the subject of exercise and abhorrence of the gym


It's not exactly a big secret... I really dislike going to the gym. I've tried a few times to go on my own, always failing due to lack of motivation and also feeling intimidated by all the wannabe hardbodies. I know that's a gross misrepresentation of all gyms, but I've never had a good experience going to one and for whatever reason (it's never really seemed like it could become a natural part of my routine, attempts to go with other people have fizzled). I've preferred to get my exercise through other methods, mainly solitary walks where it didn't matter if I had any special equipment or it didn't really matter what the weather was like. But walking uses a particular set of muscles and wasn't really satisfying all of my exercise requirements. While I wasn't actively seeking out something that would help meet those requirements, quite coincidentally Sarah mentioned to me a few weeks ago how she had signed up for a beginner's pilates class at the City Art's Centre. The idea of the class sounded appealing to me for a couple reasons, one being that someone I knew would be going and also because I used to do pilates on my own and rather enjoyed it, but since moving to Edmonton hadn't really kept it up. A class (not at a gym ) would be a good way to get back into the habit.

Although I stopped dancing in junior high, part of me always slightly regretted it, if only because the rigours of dance practice meant that I maintained close to peak phsycial fitness. But the competitive pressures were a bit too much for me to handle and instead I disappeared into my books and was active enough through various sports teams (volleyball, track) although I was never what you would call a great athlete. I did hold on to some of things from dancing though. I was pretty flexible and I didn't mind doing series of stretching and strength exercises in my room a few times a week. I had a bit of a fondness for certain fitness magazines. My favourite was the now defunct Women's Sports and Fitness (it ceased publication in 2000), which was actually quite a fantastic magazine because the models were healthy and athletic looking and the articles were interesting and informative. The headlines were less about getting a bikini butt in six weeks, but instead about anorexia athletica or a longer form editorial piece about a rather odd running cult. And then of course there were articles with top female athletes, some dancers, some surfers, some beach volleyball players, tennis players where they would talk about body issues, healthy eating, sexism in sport and then also provide the requisite tips for staying fit but in a way that promoted health over aesthetics. It was a good formative publication for a skinny flat-chested teenager, who, with a crazy fast metabolism and boundless energy, had yet to encounter any sort of real body related issues.

sunday experiment

And then in the fall when I turn 17 my body decided to go a little bit crazy and I've spent the last eleven years getting used to a whole new set of challenges, with unexplained fluctuations in energy levels and frustrating health complications that thankfully have never reached the severity of the first particular incident. But what this has meant body-wise is coming to terms with a body which reacts differently than the one I grew up with. And I don't mean that in a way that the maturation of my body is what bothers me... wider hips, bigger bust and buttocks, who cares? No, it was more-so my capacity to just pick-up and do whatever, whether that meant going for a run or lengthy swim... and not be plagued by the physical tiredness that sometimes catch up on me and affects more than just my muscles. It's taken me a long time to recognize when my moods are being affected by my iron levels.

At the risk of sounding sort of exercise pretentious, I was rather eager to join Sarah at the City Art's Centre pilates class because I was looking for a bit of a stress reprieve and I was pretty sure that pilates could help with that. I'm sure I must have first read about pilates in one of my magazines, and I was curious enough that during a shopping trip to some larger metropolis I came across the book The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler, a pilates trainer in New York. The book was laid out nicely and the mat exercises looked easy to accomplish without having to go to any sort of great expense for equipment. Plus, it appealed to my teenage sensibilities of having a lean and lithe dancer's body (and when you're 5ft 9 and a bit and skinny, you would prefer to be thought of as lean and lithe rather than bony and awkward). What I liked about pilates immediately was the way you would breathe, expanding the rib cage on the inhale while keeping your lower abdominals stationary. I would lie on the floor of my basement bedroom and stare at the acoustic ceiling tile while practicing my breathing. Later on my sister and I purchased some pilates VHS tapes, soon to be replaced with a couple DVDs and we would work out in the living room while various members of our family would come by and mock us.

My dedication to the DVDs would wane, one can only listen to the same cheesy background music so many times without being irritated by it, but when I remained committed to it I would see and feel the benefits. However, with moves and changes in life and work, the good habits I established were broken. I thought I'd try the gym again, but like always, it just wasn't for me. So pilates class it is. It was inexpensive and it's not a whole lot of commitment (once a week right now), and it fits my lifestyle - it's close to home and potential social activities and I get to spend time with a friend while I'm there. I realize I seem really quite excited about one class that I've attended, but it's good to be excited. Would you rather I be bitter and negative and really doubtful that I will make good progress this time?

The City Arts Centre is only about five minutes away from the apartment by bike, so I strapped my bag to my bike rack and wore my mat on my bike and cycled across the bridge. I misread the time and arrived ridiculously early (I would have been early anyhow, since I had yet to ride across the bridge and was being very conservative about how long it would take me to get there). It was beautiful out though, so after locking up my bike I sat on the grass and watched the future Wimbledon pros as they rallied. Sitting in the sun was a bit of a mistake, because by the end of the evening I had the most wicked sun headache and was nearly ready to throw-up on the LRT ride home. It felt fine at the time though and I was keeping well hydrated.

Our class was in the drama room, which had a border of these black and white tiles that Sarah and I both took photographs of. The class was pretty small, with about 20 people, but a whole mix of ages. Mostly older women, but there was one man who I'm pretty sure was the husband of the one of the women. They both looked like they were in their late 60s or early 70s. Joint exercise must be the key to a lasting relationship. The first class was pretty easy. We did a few standing arm exercises with the theraband and then we moved to the mat where we spent the remainder of the class with the exception of the final balance exercise which we performed standing (note to self: my left ankle has gotten weak).

I brought my yoga mat instead of my thicker pilates mat, but because the floor is not sprung like a dance studio I regretted not at least grabbing one of the thicker (but shorter) mats that most of the other students were using. For most poses it was fine, but there's one where you balance in a v-sit position and my tailbone was a bit sore by the end of it. Lesson learned. I will add additional padding next time.

After class, Sarah and I rode over to Safeway so she could grab some buns and then we rode to the bungalow for burgers. Rather than have me carry my mat on my back she put it on her rack (mine was occupied by my bag, just not in the photo below). Later when I was about to head home, Sarah and I strapped on her Carrie basket (which she's lending to me... yeah!), but just as I was leaving the garage the spot where my bungee cords were attached snapped. It was okay since I was taking the train home, but it meant that I had to sort of ride bow-legged the few blocks to the station while I held the basket in front of me. I looked rather comical.

I had left the bungalow feeling a headache coming on, but by the time the train was crossing the river I felt absolutely horrid. One would think with my special blend of Italian and Caribbean genetic spices that I would be less susceptible to heat exhaustion, but apparently all it takes these days is an hour in the sun watching some tennis (I'm not blaming pilates because it wasn't all this first session wasn't that physically taxing). Once I got to my station, I walked hurriedly to the apartment and leapt into the shower and nearly gave myself a heart attack with the cool water (think of what it feels like to jump into the lake or ocean after you've been sunning yourself on the beach... yeah, that kind of cold water shock). I went immediately to bed and meekly requested that the gentlemen fetch me a cold cloth for my head, some tylenol for the head pain and something that I could vomit into (thankfully it didn't come to that). He brought me a pot, which I thought was rather funny when later in the evening I said to him rather politely that he could take the puke pot away now, since it seemed I wouldn't be needing it. It was sort of a sad end to the night, because I didn't even get to admire all the work the gentleman had accomplished on the apartment while I was enjoying my burger (reports on that coming soon, the apartment not the burger). I didn't get to excitedly show him the pretty basket which I will be retrofitting with velcro and new flat bungees from RedBike (ditto on the report front). I felt much better by midnight, but subsequently was up until 3, and kept on pestering the gentleman who was in full night-owl mode and trying to get some work done. I'm sure I was quite annoying because he kept sending me back to bed like a bratty child who just wouldn't sleep. If only he had seen me hours earlier, snapping a self portrait outside Safeway while I guarded the bicycles and yoga mats from would-be thieves. My cheeks were rosy from a combination of exercise and heat exhaustion (1:2 parts respectively, even if I didn't realize it at the time) and I was happy.